Thursday, June 30, 2016

Muscle and snew

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 14:21-15:2

TO CHEW ON: "And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, 'We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.'" Acts 14:21,22

At the beginning of our reading today, Paul was in Derbe. It was practically the only city on this whole trip from which he wasn't run out of town.

But, spiritual father and pastor that he was, nothing could keep him away from his spiritual babies. When retracing his steps back to Antioch (his sending church - Acts 13:1,2) he went through Lystra (where he had been stoned and left for dead - Acts 14:19,20), Iconium (where he had been the object of abuse and near stoning - Acts 14:5,6), and Antioch in Pisidia (where the city leadership had expelled him - Acts 13:50). Would we have been so bold and brave?

On visiting the fledgling congregations he had 'hatched,' he built them up with a blend of realism and optimism. I love how Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message:
"After proclaiming the Message in Derbe and establishing a strong core of disciples, they retraced their steps to Lystra, then Iconium, and then Antioch, putting muscle and sinew in the lives of the disciples, urging them to stick with what they had begun to believe and not quit, making it clear to them that it wouldn’t be easy: 'Anyone signing up for the kingdom of God has to go through plenty of hard times'" - Acts 14:21,22 MSG  (emphasis added).

Jack Hayford interprets this combination of suffering and victory for our time:
"Triumph and victory may characterized the attitude of each citizen of the kingdom of God, and Holy Spirit-empowered authority is given to be applied to realize results. Yet God did not promise life without struggle.

"[…]The Bible teaches that suffering, trial, and all order of human difficulty are unavoidable; but God's Word also teaches that they may all be overcome. The presence of the King and the power of His kingdom in our lives make us neither invulnerable nor immune to life's struggles. But they do bring the promise of victory: provision in need, strength for the day, and healing, comfort, and saving help" - Jack Hayford, "Suffering, Tribulation," New Spirit-Filled Bible, p. 1518 (emphasis added).

PRAYER: Dear Father, thank You for Paul's example in suffering and tribulation. When problems come my way, help me to shun self pity, instead view them as a means to grow my faith and character. Amen.

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

Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.


Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The fickle crowd

Image: Pixabay.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 14:1-20

TO CHEW ON:
"But the multitude of the city was divided: part sided with the Jews, and part with the apostles … Now when the people saw what Paul had done, they raised their voices, saying in the Lycaonian language, 'The gods have come down to us...' … And having persuaded the multitudes, they stoned Paul." Acts 14:4,11,19

If you are a watcher of the news, you will doubtless have seen film footage of out-of-control crowds. Groups of people get riled up for lots of reasons: victory or defeat of a sports team; politics; perceived racial inequality; social issues like abortion, pot-smoking, or killing animals.

In our reading today the crowd and its reaction functions almost like another character. When the Iconium multitude was divided, half for, half against Paul and Barnabas, they continued to hold their meetings (Acts 14:1-4). But then something changed and the majority turned against them with murderous intent. When they became aware of the plans of the crowd they fled to Lystra (Acts 14:6).

There they healed a man who had never walked. The multitude's reaction was to recognize them as Zeus and Hermes (Greek gods) and the crowd tried to worship them (Acts 14:8-13). Paul quickly put a stop to this (Acts 14:14-18).

Shortly after Jews from Antioch and Iconium descended on Lystra and "…persuaded the multitudes, they stoned Paul," leaving him for dead (though he wasn't - Acts 14:19,20).

Crowds also played a big part in the life of Jesus. Throughout His ministry years Jesus was surrounded by multitudes (of sick, spiritually hungry, curious). The adoring, worshiping crowd that lined the streets of Jerusalem as He rode in on a donkey on Palm Sunday was soon replaced by a crowd that clamored for His death on the day He was crucified. Then where were those crowds who had heard His teaching, observed His miracles, welcomed Him into Jerusalem?

Crowd dynamics is a specialty area of study in psychology. Researchers who study crowd psychology have many theories about why crowds act like they do. They have identified at least two things that often contribute to mob behavior: an individual's feeling that he or she is anonymous (anonymity) and that everyone is doing it (universality).

I believe Satan is savvy about crowds, their power, and fickleness. He used them in the past and continues to use them now to incite opposition to the Gospel on one side while silencing and intimidating on the other. We need to be impervious to the ups and downs of crowds—both in the flesh and on social medial.

I love John's account of Jesus' reaction to a crowd:
"Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did. But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man" - John 2:23-25 (emphasis added).

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, help me to live constantly aware that You always see me and that not everyone is doing it. Please make me aware of when I am being influenced by a negative crowd. Amen.
MORE: The Feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul

Today the church celebrates the apostles Peter and Paul. The liturgy of the day begins with this collect:

"Almighty God, whose blessed apostles Peter and Paul glorified you by their martyrdom: Grant that your Church, instructed by their teaching and example, and knit together in unity by your Spirit, may ever stand firm upon the one foundation, which is Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen."


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


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Joy over opposition

"Paul Preached to the People"
from Treasures of the Bible - Church Age

Paul Preached to the People - Treasures of the Bible, Church Age

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 13:32-52

TO CHEW ON: "And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit." Acts 13:52.


The story of Paul's first missionary journey (Acts 12:25-14:28) is a fascinating succession of ups and downs. In today's reading we see some of them.

Paul and Barnabas had reached Antioch in Pisidia. When attending the synagogue, Paul got invited to share his "exhortations for the people" - Acts 13:15. Those ended up being an explanation of the gospel (Acts 13:16-41). His emphasis on the fact that sins could be forgiven on the basis of Jesus and His death and resurrection alone (and not by keeping the law - Acts 13:38,39) was such good news to the Gentiles, they begged Paul to talk specifically to them (Acts 13:42).

Next Sabbath a huge crowd gathered ("almost the whole city"). They were enthusiastic about accepting Paul's message of hope for the Gentiles. Many of them believed (Acts 13:48,49).

But the jealous Jews "stirred up the devout and prominent women and the chief men of the city, raised up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region" - Acts 13:50.

We would expect Paul and Barnabas to be upset and discouraged by this. Not so! They were "filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit" - Acts 13:52.

What?! It's almost as if the persecution was a signal to them that they were on the right track.

Joy in the face of persecution is a theme that runs through the New Testament.
  • Jesus said to expect such treatment for His sake and to "'...rejoice and be exceedingly glad…'" - Matthew 5:11,12, Luke 6:22,23.
  • Peter and John considered it an honour to be persecuted for Jesus - Acts 5:41.
  • Paul and Silas prayed and sang hymns after being beaten in Philippi - Acts 16:23,25.
  • Paul taught about being joyful in suffering - Colossians 1:24.
  • The writer of Hebrews wrote to readers who "...joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven" - Hebrews 10:34.
  • Peter encouraged readers who were in a fiery trial to "...rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings" - 1 Peter 4:12,13.

In our democratic culture where everyone is supposed to have equal rights and can stand up for them, we have the privilege and even feel responsible to stand up for our rights as Christians in the face of unfairness, hassling, put-downs, exclusions etc. (persecution).  When persecution comes we have the feeling, This shouldn't be happening to us. Maybe it's partly our fault in that we've let it happen; we haven't been watchful and outspoken enough.

But I suspect that persecution of Christians will only continue and get worse, even in democratic countries, and even where people are vigilant to do what they can to preserve rights and freedoms. It's time we (at least I) take a more realistic view of persecution, including joy in response to it.

Opposition may even be a backhanded compliment, in that it signifies we're doing something worth opposing.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, help me to be as loyal to You and as willing to joyfully accept persecution as these New Testament people were. Amen.

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


Monday, June 27, 2016

Are you a quitter?

Barnabas & Paul disagree - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 13:13-26

TO CHEW ON: "Now when Paul and his party set sail from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia; and John departing from them, returned to Jerusalem." Acts 13:13

Have you ever been a quitter? I have. It's not a good feeling when you're in the middle of it, and the fact that you've quit can come back to bite you.

Here Luke slips into his story, almost like an aside, the fact that John (John Mark - Acts 15:37) leaves their ministry party at this time—no reason given. Later, how significant a fact it becomes when, on the next missionary jaunt Barnabas wants to take John Mark with them again but Paul refuses (Acts 15:37-38).

Both dig in their heels, a rift develops, and one missionary team becomes two as Barnabas takes Mark and they sail to Cypress while Paul finds Silas to accompany him through Syria and Cilicia.

The Bible isn't kind to quitters. Some things it says to those with such an attitude:

  • Jesus says the person "…having put his hand to the plow, and looking back…") is not fit for the kingdom of God (Luke 9:62).
  • In another place He talks about how impossible it is to serve two masters (Matthew 6:24).
  • Paul describes those driven by doubt as "tossed to and fro and carried about…" (Ephesians 4:14).
  • James uses the same sea metaphor and calls doubters "double-minded" (James 1:6,8).

So what if we've quit. Have we blown our whole lives?

Not necessarily. There was another chance for John Mark. In the end, the fallout between Paul and Barnabas resulted in two missionary parties going out. And this was the Mark who later wrote Gospel of Mark.

We may not be able to undo our giving up but we can learn from it:

- The importance of perseverance.

- The importance of relying on God and not ourselves when we're tempted to give up (James 4:8).

- The fact that with God in the equation, nothing is too hard: "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:13).

PRAYER: Dear God, please alert me to attitudes that precede quitting, like self-pity, comparing myself to others, laziness… Help me to remember that with You I can do anything You ask. 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, June 26, 2016

Discipleship's competition

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 9:51-62

TO CHEW ON:
 "And another also said, 'Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.' But Jesus said to him, 'No one having put his hand to the plow, and looking back is fit for the kingdom of God.'" Luke 9:61-62


In one of his meditations about discipleship, Oswald Chambers says:
"If any man come to me and hate not . . . , he cannot be My disciple," not, he cannot be good and upright, but, he cannot be one over whom Jesus writes the word 'Mine.' Any one of the relationships Our Lord mentions may be a competitive relationship. I may prefer to belong to my mother, or to my wife, or to myself; then, says Jesus, you cannot be My disciple. This does not mean I will not be saved, but it does mean that I cannot be "His."

The three interactions Jesus had with potential disciples at the end of our reading today (Luke 9:57-62) shed more light on discipleship's competition. It can come not only as human relationships but also as:

1. Material security
When a man approached Jesus and promised, "I will follow You wherever You go," Jesus didn't do what we might have expected, either welcoming or turning him away outright. Instead He told the man I don't even own a place to sleep. We hear no more of the man following Jesus. As a footnote commentary in my Bible explains it: "An emotional enthusiasm that hasn't considered the cost of abandoning material security is insufficient." (New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1406).

Do we do that—get all glowy with the romance of following Jesus, and then reconsider when we realize, missionaries don't often own real estate, have fat pensions waiting for them at retirement, or have the luxury of a six-week winter vacation?


2. Procrastination
In a second case Jesus challenged a man to follow Him, but the man replied, "Let me first go and bury my father." Does Jesus reply, "'Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God,'" mean that the true disciple wouldn't even take time off for a family funeral? Hardly. I've heard someone explain this scenario by speculating that the man's father was probably not even dead at this point. Rather, he was in a life situation where he let current responsibilities trump Jesus' invitation to be a disciple by putting Him off with, 'I'll follow you later, when…'

Do we do that—put off sold-out discipleship for when our family is raised, our current project is finished, it's generally more convenient?

3. Distraction
In the third case, a man volunteered to be a disciple, but wanted first to bid farewell to those at home. Jesus' answer, "'No one having put his hand to the plow and looking back is fit for the kingdom of heaven,'" says to me that He knew the trip home for this potential disciple would be a distraction and a means to cause him to reconsider his decision.

Do we do that—after hearing His call, return to the people, the books, the advice that conflicts with His absolute claim on our lives? Like the seed that fell among thorns (Luke 8:7) didn't produce because of cares, riches and pleasures, our return "to bid farewell" can have a similar choking effect on our discipleship.

Oswald Chambers continues:

"Our Lord makes a disciple His own possession, He becomes responsible for him. 'Ye shall be witnesses unto Me.' The spirit that comes in is not that of doing anything for Jesus, but of being a perfect delight to Him. The secret of the missionary is - I am His, and He is carrying out His enterprises through me.
"Be entirely His" - Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, September 4th reading.
How will I respond to that challenge? How will you?

PRAYER:
Dear Jesus, Your call to discipleship was not casual in the first century and is no more casual today. Help me to be a true disciple. 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.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Four ropes out of a dark place

Image from Pixabay.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 77:1-20

TO CHEW ON:
"And I said, 'This is my anguish; But I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High.'" Psalm 77:10

The writer of this psalm ("A psalm of Asaph") begins in a desperate place:
He "cried to the Lord." He "sought the Lord" in the "day of trouble." He is restless and sleepless: "My hand was stretched out in the night without ceasing … You hold my eyelids open." He can't find comfort anywhere: "My soul refused to be comforted…" He feels irritated and overcome: "I complained and my spirit was overwhelmed." He is so anguished "… I cannot speak." He is also full of questions:
- "Will the Lord cast off forever?
- "Will He be favourable no more?
- "Has His mercy ceased forever?
- Has His promise failed forevermore?
- "Has God forgotten to be gracious?
- "Has He in anger shut up His tender mercies?"
 (quotes from Psalm 77:1-9).

What happened to make him so troubled?

The Bible doesn't tell us. But if we've ever experienced something like a bad diagnosis, a life-altering natural disaster, the untimely death of a child (and I could go on...) we can probably relate to his feelings.

Aspah comes out of his dark valley, though. Verse 10 is the pivot point where we see him turn around and start to move up. "But" is the hinge word that signals he's changing direction: "This is my anguish. But, I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High."

He goes on to recall details of times when he knew God was for him, to dwell on them, and take action to turn his attitude around. We could compare the four things he does to ropes a rock climber would use to climb out of a valley:

- "I will remember the years of the right hand of the most high … the works of the Lord… Your wonders of old."

- "I will meditate on all your work…"

- "And talk of your deeds."

- Walk (implied) - "Your way, O God, is in the sanctuary…" (quotes from Psalm 77:10-13).

In the remainder of the psalm (Psalm 77:14-20), Asaph alludes to the wonders God has performed for Israel in the past—historic events and stories that remind him that God is real and capable. He takes his own advice as he remembers, meditates, and talks.

I wonder if we could use Asaph's method to similarly rise out of our desperate places? Next time we are in deep trouble—indeed any time we're discouraged and down, let's:
  • Remember - God's goodness to us and His help in the past.
  • Meditate - on all He does and has done. What is the meaning of it? What does it tell us about who God is?
  • Talk - tell our memories and express the fruit of our meditation in words (if not actual conversation, we could journal them).
  • Walk - go to a place where we'll be built up: church, our home group, the company of a supportive believing friend.


PRAYER: Dear Father, thank You that psalm writers were human just like I am, and that they experienced times of trouble and desperation. Help me to follow Asaph's actions next time I feel overwhelmed by circumstances. 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, June 24, 2016

Sometimes God's ways get everyone talking

Zacharias and Elizabeth praying - Artist unknown
Zacharias and Elizabeth praying - Artist unknown

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 1:57-80

TO CHEW ON: "Then fear came on all who dwelt around them; and all these things were discussed throughout all the hill country of Judea." Luke 1:65

Little Annabel Bean started having stomach troubles when she was just four. Her parents' quest for a diagnosis finally led to "pseudo obstruction motility disorder," an incurable condition where the stomach muscles don't work properly.

One afternoon when she was nine, weary of the house and bed, she—a tomboy like her older sister whenever she had the energy—joined her sister on the high branch of an old tree. The branch started to creak and then move and the girls scrambled for the safest way down. In that scramble, Anna fell headfirst into a grotto-like hole in the tree's trunk near where they had been sitting.

It turned out the hole wasn't the entrance to a shallow wooden cave but the mouth of the trunk that was hollow to the ground. Anna fell 30 feet that day. She should have been killed.

But instead, she had a heavenly vision. "I sat in Jesus' lap," she told her parents later. When rescuers finally lowered a rope sling to rescue her, she told how an angel provided light so she could find and grab onto it. And that day was the beginning of her healing. Her story caused quite a buzz.*

Another story that got everyone talking was the birth of John the Baptist. His birth to elderly parents, his father Zacharias's inability to speak throughout Elizabeth's entire pregnancy, then his parents' choice of name for him—John instead of Zacharias II, defying all convention—provoked "fear" (phobos - dread, fear, reverence) in all who lived nearby.

Though we may never have experienced God working in our lives in such dramatic ways as did John the Baptist's parents or Anna Bean, He is at work in our lives too. Let's stay alert to His activity. When we do sense His presence in things like little "coincidences" to the miracles we may experience, hear, or read about, let's not rationalize away His working: Anna was just lucky to fall the right way. Her vision was the product of an overactive imagination. The fact she never needed another pain pill after this was just coincidence….

No.

Rather, let's view God activity in our lives and the lives of those around us with the fear, dread, and reverence of Zacharias and Elizabeth's Judean neighbours. Let's let such examples strengthen our faith and reassure us that God is alive and active in our world.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You that in my time, though filled with technological savvy where the tendency is to look for a natural explanation for everything, there are evidences that You still break through in miracles. Help me to believe, "The Lord's hand is not shortened that it cannot save; neither His ear heavy that it cannot hear" (Isaiah 59:1). Amen.

MORE: Nativity of St. John the Baptist

Today the church celebrates the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist. The day's liturgy begins with this collect:

Almighty God, by whose providence your servant John the Baptist was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of your Son our Savior by preaching repentance: Make us so to follow his teaching and holy life, that we may truly repent according to his preaching; and, following his example, constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the truth's sake; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

* Annabel's mother has told her story in the book Miracles from Heaven. A movie based on the story (Miracles From Heaven) was released in March, 2016.

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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, June 23, 2016

Kindness

Image: Pixabay.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Galatians 5:11-26

TO CHEW ON: "But the fruit of the Spirit is … kindness…" Galatians 5:22.


After all the back-and-forth about law-keeping and circumcision, Paul gets practical. His lists of the flesh qualities we need to weed out and the Spirit qualities to nurture are practical and convicting. One of the simplest items on the cultivate list is one of the hardest to live consistently: KINDNESS.

["Kindness (chrestotes) is goodness in action, sweetness of disposition, gentleness in dealing with others, benevolence, kindness, affability. The word describes the ability to act for the welfare of those taxing your patience. The Holy Spirit removes abrasive qualities form the character under His control" - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1638.]

  • The upright person is kind - Psalm 112:4.
  • The wise woman speaks kindly.
"She opens her mouth in wisdom
And the teaching
(or law) of kindness is on her tongue"  Proverbs 31:26 NASB.
  • Christians are (or should be) kind to each other: Romans 12:10; Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:12.
  • The highest, selfless, agapé love "suffers long and is kind" - 1Corinthians 13:4.
  • Kindness is the outworking of a chain of attitudes or qualities: faith—> virtue—> knowledge—> self-control—> perseverance—> godliness—> brotherly kindness—> love - 1 Peter 1:5-7.

The sentence in our definition that sheds light on why practicing kindness consistently is so challenging (at least for me) is "The word describes the ability to act for the welfare of those taxing your patience."
- That speaks of everyday living and the small things that so easily tax patience.
- That speaks of how the kind person takes the focus off him- or herself and puts it on the welfare of others, in this case the irritating person.

The last sentence of the definition draws our attention to where we go for help in being kind: "The Holy Spirit removes abrasive qualities from the character of one under His control." As we put ourselves under His control, He makes us aware of our unkindness, its roots in our attitudes and thoughts, and gives us the desire and ability to replace them with kindness.


PRAYER: Dear Holy Spirit, please be active in me in the tongue control department (and before that, in thought control). May my thoughts and my tongue truly be governed by the "law of kindness." Amen.

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

Scripture quotations marked NASB are taken from the New American Standard Bible®,Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973,1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission." (www.Lockman.org)

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The force in us

Image: Pixabay.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Galatians 5:1-10

TO CHEW ON: "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love." Galatians 5:6

Paul states his position about the need for circumcision. He says it doesn't "avail" anything.

Different Bible translations use different words for "avail": "… neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything" (AMP); "… means anything" (NASB); "… has any value" (NIV);  "…amounts to anything" (MSG); "… there is no benefit" (NLT).

[Ischyo is the Greek word translated "avail."  It means to be strong in body, robust, in sound health; to have power, be a force, avail, be serviceable, able.]

What does avail? It's "… faith working through love." That sounds wonderful and simple, though also somewhat ethereal. What does "faith working through love" look like in real life? Other places in the Bible help fill in the picture.

  • This love is a fruit of the Spirit - Galatians 5:22.
  • It grows in us as we make a home for Christ in our hearts and He reveals to us the extent of His love for us - Ephesians 3:17-19.
  • It is demonstrated through the body-like workings of the church - Ephesians 4:16.
  • As individuals "faith working through love" looks like:
    • Obedience: "But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfect in him. But this we know that we are in Him" - 1 John 2:5.
    • Love for our brothers and sisters: "He who loves his brother abides in the light and there is no cause for stumbling in him" - 1 John 2:10.
    • Avoiding the things that are against what the Father stands for: "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him" - 1 John 2:15. "World" is defined in the next verse as the "lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, pride of life" - 1 John 2:16.
The Message translation of this passage is so clear: "Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father" - 1 John 2:15,16 MSG (emphasis added). (See also 1Timothy 6:9-11.)

Wow! We might second what I can just hear the Galatians say when they understand the extent of what "faith working through love" means—Circumcision was a lot easier! But thank God they weren't, and we aren't, alone in this. For it's all Him working both the faith and the love in us and through us.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I need this force of faith working through love strengthened in my life. Thank You for living in my heart through Your Spirit and broadening my practical understanding of that what truly avails (counts, means something, has value, amounts to something, benefits). Amen.

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

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


Scripture quotations marked AMP are taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission." (www.Lockman.org)

Scripture quotations marked NASB are taken from the New American Standard Bible®,Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973,1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission." (www.Lockman.org)

Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

Scriptures marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.



Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Faith that remembers

Miracle of the Loaves - Alexandre Bida
Miracle of the Loaves - by Alexandre Bida

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 9:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "So they departed and went through the towns, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere …. So they all ate and were filled, and twelve baskets of the leftover  fragments were taken up by them." Luke 9:6,17

Put yourself in the place of Jesus' disciples in this passage. The things they experienced over the course of the events we read about must have rocked their view of life.
  • Jesus sent them out without provisions and supplies, yet their needs were met.
  • They were successful at preaching and healing.
  • They were part of the miraculous multiplication of five loaves and two fish so that 5,000 ate and twelve baskets of fragments were left over.

And yet Judas later betrayed Jesus, they all fled when the soldiers came to arrest Him, Peter denied Him, and Thomas demanded proof that He was risen. Their humanity, that so readily forgot the signs of God's reality and power in the past, reminds me of my own.

It seems we people quickly forget God's history with us and sink, like the exodus Israelites and these disciples did, into unbelief and panic.

I don't want to be like that. I want to have a faith that remembers.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, help me to remember that You are the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). May the way I live my life reflect that I believe that. Amen.

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Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotes are taken from the Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.

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Monday, June 20, 2016

Choose to believe

Jesus raises Jairus' daughter - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 8:40-56

TO CHEW ON:
"And He said to her, 'Daughter, be of good cheer, your faith has made you well. Go in peace.' … But when Jesus heard it, He answered him saying, 'Do not be afraid; only believe, and she will be made well.'" Luke 8:48, 50


The powerful common denominator of faith links these two miracles.

The woman with a twelve-year bleeding problem had a faith that drew God's healing virtue at her touch of Jesus' robe  (Luke 8:48).

To distraught Jairus,  father of the little girl who has just died, Jesus says, "'Do not be afraid; only believe.'"  Jairus must have, for his little girl came back to life (Luke 8:50).

Under the heading "Faith Prescribed" my Thompson Chain Bible walks us down a Bible pathway lit by faith.

Faith assures success:

~In the wonderful OT story of Jehoshaphat defeating the armies of Ammon and Moab with troops led by worshippers, Jehoshaphat begins the day's instructions by telling his people, "Believe in the Lord your God, and you shall be established; believe His prophets, and you shall prosper" - 2 Chronicles 20:20.

Faith is our duty:

~How do we work the works of God, Jesus' disciples ask? Jesus replies: "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent"" - John 6:28,29.

Faith is a weapon and a war:
~It is called a "shield" (Ephesians 6:16) and a "breastplate" (1 Thessalonians 5:8).
~Paul tells Timothy to "Fight the good fight of faith" - 1 Timothy 6:12.

Faith is essential to a relationship with God:

~ "But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him" - Hebrews 11:6.

Faith is necessary for answered prayer:
~ "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God … But let him ask in faith, with no doubting…" James 1:5,6.

Faith must be united with love:
~ "And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of HIs Son Jesus Christ and love one another…" 1 John 3:23.

For what do you and I need faith today? We can choose to believe!

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, Your words and the Bible's entire tone show me that faith (or unbelief) are a choice. Help me to be a woman of faith. Amen.

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

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Sunday, June 19, 2016

Demonized

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 8:19-39

TO CHEW ON: "When he saw Jesus, he cried out, fell down before Him and with a loud voice said, 'What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg You, do not torment me.'" Luke 8:28

The Yanomamo are a fierce tribe of Indians who live in the jungles of Venezuela. The story that Mark Andrew Ritchie tells in The Spirit of the Rainforest - A Yanomamo Shaman's Story is through Jungleman, one of the most powerful shamans of the tribe.

Though the Yanomamo had met white men (nabas) of various kinds—rubber traders, anthropologists and missionaries from various denominations— it was when they met Pepe (Joe Dawson who worked with New Tribes Missions) that the spiritual conflict really began. Pepe and his family came to live at Honey Village (at the Yanomamo's invitation) where Shoefoot (Jungleman's protegé and relative) was the shaman. Over time Shoefoot gave up his spirits. Here's what happened the next time Jungleman came to visit his brother-in-law and friend:

When I pulled my canoe up to the shore at the mouth of the Metaconi I felt the usual excitement that comes with meeting old friends. But something was very different. What was it, I wondered.
"Don't go in here," Jaguar Spirit told me. "There's too much danger here. We are afraid." It was the first time I had ever heard fear coming from Jaguar Spirit and it made me feel poor inside. My hands began to flutter and I held my bow tight to make them stop.


There can't be any danger here, I thought. These people are my friends. They have always been my friends. But it wasn't just Jaguar. All my spirits were crowding the shabono in my chest and making a terrible noise about how afraid they were.


When I saw Shoefoot I was stunned. "What has happened to your spirits?" I asked him, looking at his chest. I could see they were gone.


[...] It was a horrible visit for me. There was a spirit in Shoefoot's village that I couldn't understand. But it was powerful. That's why my spirits were so upset when I came. I hung my hammock next to Shoefoot and as soon as I lay down they were all there, every spirit I have, crowding my shabono.
"Please Father!" they all begged together. "Please leave here. It's not safe here. We are terrified." And they were. The new spirit in Shoefoot's chest had them all frightened like I had never seen them before.
When I first read the account quoted above, I thought immediately of the reaction of the demons that lived in the tomb-dweller of today's Bible reading.

Our society is fascinated with the paranormal (which would include what we see happening in this story). Fiction, movies and TV shows that highlight spooky, unexplainable (by natural, scientific means) activities are viewed as nothing more than a scary romp. However, if we believe the Bible, demons and evil spirits are real, and probably way more active in the 21st century than we'd ever imagine.

My Lectures in Systematic Theology book provides the following list under the heading "The Work of Demons":

1. They inflict disease (Luke 9:37-42).

2. They cause mental disorders (Mark 5:4-5).
"Although no doubt many so-called psychopathic cases come under this head, we must not forget that the Scriptures do not refer all mental disorders directly to the work of demons." Thiessen p. 208.
 3. They lead people into moral impurity (Luke 4:33-36).

4. They spread false doctrine (1 Timothy 4:1).

5. They oppose God's children in their spiritual progress (Ephesians 6:12).

6. They sometimes possess human beings and even animals (Acts 8:7; Mark 5:12-13).

7. They are sometimes used by God in the carrying out of His purposes and designs (Revelation 16:13-16).

My reaction to any study of Satan and his henchmen is the same as it was to reading the Spirit of the Rainforest book. It makes me want to crowd close to Jesus and not have anything to do with any other spirit.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for defeating Satan and all his hosts. Help me to recognize his activity and to stay away from anything that would involve or ensnare me in it. Amen. 

MORE: The Bushman and the Spirits

Several years ago, I found The Bushman and the Spirits on my father-in-law's bookshelf. It is the fascinating story of a Canadian trapper and shaman, who himself dealt with the spirit world but was set free by the power of Jesus. It's an excellent read—if you can find it!


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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, June 18, 2016

Panic or pistis?

Image: Pixabay.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 8:4-25

TO CHEW ON: "And they came to Him and awoke Him, saying, 'Master, Master, we are perishing!' Then He arose and rebuked the wind and the raging of the water. And they ceased, and there was a calm. But He said to them, 'Where is your faith?'" Luke 8:24,25

I can totally relate to the disciples. Though my storms aren't always physical (they can include things like relationship problems, unexpected expenses, family crises, as well as the physical stuff of accidents, sicknesses and acts-of-nature emergencies) they feel as threatening to my life and person as the squall on Galilee felt to the disciples.

Jesus' answer to the disciples' panic was a simple question: "'Where is your faith?'" It implies that faith was the key to their peace of mind.

A "Word Wealth" article in my Bible explains the Greek word pistis used for faith here: "Conviction, confidence, trust, belief, reliance, trustworthiness, and persuasion. In the N.T. setting pistis is the divinely implanted principle of inward confidence, assurance, trust, and reliance in God and all that He says" - Dick Mills, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1372.

It seems that Jesus expected the disciples to be familiar with God and His promises, and to trust Him.

Could that also be the secret to our peace of mind in the middle of our life storms? Faith? It means we need to have two simple things:
 

1] A knowledge of God and His promises.

2] Faith that He will keep His word.


PRAYER: Dear Jesus, help me to trust You and Your good intentions toward me and those I love. May my trust be so strong that it overwhelms the panic that naturally arises when I'm in life's storms. 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, June 17, 2016

Backsliding

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Galatians 4:8-31

TO CHEW ON: "But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage?" Galatians 4:9


In our reading today Paul continues to make his case against the Galatians returning to life under the law. What he calls a "turn again" we might label backsliding  [a relapse into bad ways or error]. We find the tendency to turn again, turn back, or backslide throughout the Bible.

Backsliding in the Bible

  • Moses warned the Israelites about returning to the ways of Egypt in his Deuteronomy sermon - Deuteronomy 17:16.
  • Throughout the Old Testament the prophets pleaded with the Israelites to stop their backsliding - e.g. Hosea 6:4. For them the symptom was often idol worship. Such backsliding was called a sin against God (Jeremiah 14:7) and a sin that angered God (Isaiah 1:4).
  • The backslider's heart was affected. It was self-absorbed (Proverbs 14:14), stubborn (Hosea 11:7), cold (Matthew 24:12), and loveless (Revelation 2:4).
  • Backsliding caused people to make nonsensical substitutions. The psalmist called it  a return to "folly" (Psalm 85:8). In Galatians 1:6 Paul called it a return to a "different gospel." In our reading he described that to which they were returning as the "weak and beggarly elements" which would put them in "bondage" (Galatians 4:9). Peter described such a return to the old as becoming "again entangled" (2 Peter 2:20).
  • Backsliding made the backslider unfit for kingdom work (Luke 9:62; Hebrews 10:38).

How to keep from backsliding


We recognize that we are as apt to backslide as were the Israelites and the Galatians. What can we do to keep from going back, both into old sinful lifestyles and/or old spiritual forms and practices?

* Guard who we associate with.
  Solomon was lured into backsliding by his idol-worshiping wives (1 Kings 11:4).

* Beware of the world's attractions (2 Timothy 5:10).

* Don't let success change us and tempt us to become self-sufficient (Zephaniah 1:6).

* Become rooted in God's word  (Luke 8:13).

* Fill our lives with good things (Luke 11:24-26).

* Depend on the Holy Spirit's insights (John 6:63,64,66).


PRAYER: Dear Father, please help me to be aware of my own tendency to backslide in big and little ways. May my life be one of progress in Kingdom growth, not regression into faithless fear, self-direction, and independence. 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, June 16, 2016

Adopted child


TODAY'S SPECIAL: Galatians 3:26-4:7

TO CHEW ON: "But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Galatians 4:4-5

Of all the metaphors used to describe our relationship with God, the father-child one may be the one we understand best. In the Old Testament God expressed His relationship with the descendants of Jacob that way, repeatedly calling them "My people" (Isaiah 43:1; Isaiah 63:16; Jeremiah 31:1)

In the New Testament, that kinship is expanded to all believers, Jew and Gentile.
  • It applies to all who receive Him (John 1:12).
  • Our sonship / daughtership is evident when we submit our lives to the Holy Spirit's leadership (Romans 8:14).
  • Our family characteristics ("blameless, harmless, without fault, shining as lights") will make us noticeable to the world (Philippians 2:15).
  • Our family likeness may cause the world to reject us (1 John 3:1).
However, this relationship is so worth it. It is one of tenderness and trust, shown by how we can address God as "Abba" or Daddy (Galatians 4:4-7). As our Father, we can look to God to:
  • Stand in for an absent physical father, and defend us when we're vulnerable (Psalm 68:5).
  • Guide us (Jeremiah 3:4).
  • Teach and mold us (Isaiah 64:8).
  • Hear and answer our prayers to Him (Matthew 6:9).
  • Give us good things (Matthew 7:11).
  • Take away our fears (Romans 8:15).
  • Deal with us fairly at life's end (1 Peter 1:17).

What an incredible inheritance. Who would want to be anyone else's child?

PRAYER: Dear Father God, thank You for making a way for me to be Your adopted daughter. Help me to live in such a way that I will make You and the family proud. Amen.

MORE: Brian Doerksen sings "Father Me"






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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, June 15, 2016

Law-living—so yesterday

Image: Pixabay.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Galatians 3:6-25

TO CHEW ON:
"What purpose then does the law serve?" Galatians 3:19


Paul attempts to dissuade the Galatians from reverting back to living by the Jewish law. His argument includes some facts about the law. Embedded in those facts are ways that the law is inferior to faith.

1. The law makes us aware of sin (without giving us a way to deal, finally, with sin). I love how clearly the Amplified puts it: "It (the Law) was added—later on, after the promise, to disclose and expose to men their guilt…" - Galatians 3:19 AMP.

2. It was given by angels and Moses
(while faith came through the "Seed," Jesus). The Amplified again: "…and [the Law] was ordained through angels and delivered to Israel by the hand of a mediator [Moses, the mediator between God and Israel, to be in effect] until the Seed would come to whom the promise had been made" - Galatians 3:19 AMP.

3. The law was complementary to the promises of God, not contrary to them. Though it couldn't give life, it led to Jesus fulfilling it and offering His life in our stead - Galatians 3:21,22.

4. Paul pictures the law as a set of rules that has people under arrest, in jail to sin, guarded by the law, which no one could ever completely live up to:  "But the Scripture has imprisoned everyone [everything—the entire world] under sin..." Galatians 3:22 (AMP); " But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law" - Galatians 3:23 NKJV.

5. The law is also a tutor or trainer
to prepare its adherents for full privileges as sons: "Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ..."  Galatians 3:24

What do these things have to do with us who have never struggled with the pressure of living under the Jewish law? Some things that come to mind:
  • Viewing the Galatians' struggle between law-based versus faith-based righteousness helps us understand God's plan and His gradual revealing of it.
  • The contrast between law vs. faith helps us appreciate the immensity of what Christ did on the cross.
  • The comparison between the two also gives us an understanding of how living by faith is better than living by law.
  • We are warned of the danger of getting enslaved by any set of laws.

I love the way Paul concludes his thought, one verse beyond today's prescribed reading: "For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ" - Galatians 3:26.

By faith we're not guilty and helpless to change, not jailed as prisoners to a set of rules we can never fulfill, not  students under discipline and training, but have the privileges of family, called God's very sons (and daughters)!

PRAYER: Dear Father, help me understand at a life-level how Your death and resurrection has set me free from earning my salvation by fulfilling any set of law requirements. Amen.

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

Scripture quotations marked AMP are taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission." (www.Lockman.org)




Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Don't slip back into legalism

Image: Pixabay.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Galatians 2:15-3:5

TO CHEW ON: "'For if I build again those things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.'" Galatians 2:18

It's easy for us to slip back into legalistic ways if we have been brought up under a legalistic system. Our reading today is Paul's reasoning against that.

In the first part, Paul repeats to the Galatians what he said to Peter and other apostles (Galatians 2:14-21). It is the argument he made in Jerusalem for justification (appearing pure before God—"just as if I had never sinned") by faith, not by keeping the law (Galatians 2:16).

Then he addresses the Galatians directly about their tendency to do the same thing: "O foolish Galatians! … Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?" (Galatians 2:1,2).

I love how Leslyn Musch sums up this principle in the "Truth-In-Action Through Galatians" article in my Bible. Under the title "The Walk of Faith" she writes:
"Faith accepts God's testimony in a trusting, childlike manner and salvation as a free gift. The Law was given to lead us to Christ; thus any use of the Law as a means of earning our salvation is a distortion. By nature mankind presumes to seek salvation by works. It seems offensive to the flesh to believe we cannot. But God's word says it is an offense to Him to believe we can" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1641.

And so Paul would say to us, who feel in our heart of hearts that God loves us more and accepts us on the basis of what we do and how we live—No.
 "Tell me this one thing: did you receive God's Spirit by doing what the Law requires or by hearing the gospel and believing it? How can you be so foolish! You began by God's Spirit; do you now want to finish by your own power? " - Galatians 3:2,3 (GNT).

Let's not rebuild for ourselves and others the legalistic structures of our time—church attendance, financial giving, time spent in fasting and prayer, amount of serving and ministry we do, etc.,—as ways to gauge how well we and they are living the Christian life and how much we're pleasing God and earning His love. For it's all a gift:

"Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing" - Ephesians 2:8-10 (MSG) emphasis added.  

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for paying the complete price for my salvation. Help that my motivation for living in ways You condone arises from my love for You and the realization that Your ways are designed for my best present and future. Amen.

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

Scripture quotations marked GNT are from the Good News Translation® (Today’s English Version, Second Edition). Copyright © 1992 American Bible Society. All rights reserved.


Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.



Monday, June 13, 2016

Taking a principled stand

Peter and Paul by El Greco
"Peter and Paul" by El Greco
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Galatians 2:1-14

TO CHEW ON: "And I went up by revelation and communicated to them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles." Galatians 2:2

In Galatians 1, Paul told the Galatians (a collection of churches in Galatia) that he had special revelation from Jesus (Galatians 1:12). In chapter 2 he goes on to explain how, after fourteen years of ministry, he went to see the leadership in Jerusalem to explain his position.

What was his position? That Christ's work on the cross alone was sufficient for salvation. The law-keeping work of circumcision was not needed to be saved (Galatians 5:1-6).

But in Jerusalem he got push-back.  Some "false brothers" insisted Titus (a Greek) be circumcised. He and Titus resisted this (Galatians 2:3-5).

The Jerusalem leadership did eventually accept his message and ministry to the Gentiles (Galatians 2:7-9), but not without reluctance from Peter, who had started avoiding fellowship with Gentile Christians. Paul pointed out the hypocrisy of this. Peter had earlier championed freedom from dietary laws so why was he now reverting back to separating himself in a "holier-than-thou" way (Galatians 2:11-14)?

What I admire about Paul here is his principled stand and how he stuck with it no matter what others said. He wasn't swayed by "false brethren." Nor did he change his message for "those who were of reputation"—the church leadership.

There's a lot of pressure on Christian leaders to change message of Christianity these days. That pressure is coming form outside the church and within it, to soften official positions especially in the realm of sexual ethics.

Though the Bible takes a clear position on things like adultery, fornication, homosexuality and gender identity, pressure is exerted from all sides (within and without the church) for churches to move from biblical positions of calling these things sin to accepting them as normal. Will our pastors and leaders have the courage to continue to uphold what the Bible says, even when it's unpopular? What about us in the pews?

PRAYER: Dear Father, help me to live first and foremost for Your approval. Help me especially to not be swayed by social pressure. 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, June 12, 2016

Are you partial?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 7:36-8:3

TO CHEW ON: "And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping, and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil." Luke 7:37-39

How do you respond when someone who is an outcast claims you as a friend? Perhaps it's a person who has mental health issues, or is generally a social misfit and does things that are awkward and inappropriate.

This is what happened to Jesus at the home of Simon, a Pharisee. A woman (which, in that society, was bad enough), who was a sinner (her specific sin isn't mentioned, but we can imagine), came into the room while they were eating and stood behind Jesus weeping. Then she washed His feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair and anointed (poured) oil on them from her flask of fragrance. Talk about an embarrassing, uncomfortable, squirmy situation for Jesus!

At least the Pharisee thought so. He was mentally judging whether Jesus really was a prophet because He  was allowing this to happen.

Jesus grasped Simon's thoughts. He showed them to be shallow by explaining to him how the woman's actions were the most sincere and real expressions of love in the room. They went way beyond Simon's own dinner invitation and the hospitality he was showing. The woman did this extravagant thing, Jesus explained, because she was sorry for the many big sins she had committed. And then He forgave her those sins.

We see Jesus had had this kind of interaction with women before. Among His most loyal disciples were a group of once unsavoury women, many of whom were still there after His death (Luke 8:2,3; 24:10).

Jesus' way of responding to this woman's unusual but beautiful outpouring is a big rebuke to me. I must confess, I don't handle irregular people well. I, sadly, think way more about how others will perceive me if I'm friends with them than what God sees in their hearts. James speaks about people like me . He calls this kind of behavior "partiality" and names it "sin" (James 2:9).

PRAYER: Dear God, please forgive my attitude of partiality. Help me to get past my fear of people and what they will say, to being more concerned with how You perceive others. Help me to extend Your love to all I meet today. Amen.

MORE: Utter abandon

I love the complete unselfconsciousness of this unnamed woman as she illustrates her love to Jesus and worships Him with the best she has. The song "Pour My Love On You" by Phillips, Craig and Dean translates that gesture into adoration we too can express.

"Pour My Love On You" (Phillips, Craig and Dean).



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

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Saturday, June 11, 2016

The impression of a life

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 13:1-12


TO CHEW ON: "As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, 'Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul to the work to which I have called them.'" Acts 13:2

Some Bible characters are depicted in more glowing terms than others. Barnabas is one of those about which it's hard to find anything bad.

He first appeared early in Acts as one of the believers who sold his property and gave the money to the apostles. Perhaps it was this lightness of possessions that made it possible for him to play the prominent role he did in the early church. Here are some other things we discover about him as we follow him through the New Testament:
  • His brand was encouragement.
Right from the outset he was known as an encourager with his real name Joses replaced by the nickname Barnabas - "Son of Encouragement" - Acts 4:36-37.
  • He championed the cause of the outsider.
He brought Saul/Paul into the fellowship in Jerusalem when everyone else was afraid of him (Acts 9:27). Then he encouraged a Gentile church plant (Acts 11:22-24).
  • He was trustworthy.
He was chosen by the Antioch church to courier an offering to famine-stricken believers in Judea (Acts 11:30).
  • He was useful for the spread of the gospel.
In our reading today, we see that the Holy Spirit singled him out, with Paul, for a special assignment - Acts 13:1-2.
  • He was tough.
He endured persecution, and gladly - Acts 13:50-52. In fact he had a reputation for risking his life for Jesus and the Gospel - Acts 15:25-26.
  • He wasn't a free-loader.
He labored, along with Paul, at a day-job to cover his expenses - 1 Corinthians 9:6.
  • He was content to let his student shine.
He went out of his way to get Paul involved in the church, but once Paul came into his own, Barnabas let him take the limelight as the chief speaker - Acts 14:12.

But even Barnabas wasn't perfect.
  • He was stubborn determined
Because he was fixed on his plan to take his cousin John Mark with them on a second missionary journey (JM had proved himself a quitter by leaving them on a previous trip), the Paul-and-Barnabas-duo split up - Acts 15:36-39.
  • He could be influenced by the wrong crowd.
He let himself be swayed by those Christian leaders who counseled that they separate themselves from uncircumcised Gentiles — a move that Paul labeled hypocritical - Galatians 2:13.

All in all, though, this overview of Barnabas leaves us with the impression of a life well lived. It brings me to the question what would the various snippets of my life add up to if someone gathered them into a list of characteristics, as I have done with Barnbas's? What about yours?

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Bible characters like Barnabas, whose human failings assure me that You use even the imperfect. May the final impression of my life be as positive as Barnabas's is. Amen.

MORE: The Feast of St. Barnabas

Today is the Feast of St. Barnabas. The liturgy for today begins with this collect:

"Grant, O God, that we may follow the example of your faithful servant Barnabas, who, seeking not his own renown but the well-­being of your Church, gave generously of his life and substance for the relief of the poor and the spread of the Gospel; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."
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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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Friday, June 10, 2016

Prophetic words of knowledge

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Kings 21:17-29

TO CHEW ON: "Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite saying, 'Arise, go down to meet Ahab King of Israel, who lives in Samaria. There he is in the vineyard of Naboth where he has gone down to take possession of it.'" 1 Kings 21:17-18

The sordid little tale of Ahab and Jezebel setting up the murder of Naboth so that Ahab could get the plot he wanted for his vegetable garden reminds us of similar intrigues. For example there was the scheme of David in arranging for the demise of Uriah so that he could cover up the fact that he got Bathsheba pregnant (2 Samuel 11:1-12:15). In both Ahab's and David's cases God sent one of his prophets to expose the sin and impose the punishment.

This kind of prophetic exposure of secrets and sin didn't happen only in the Old Testament. Jesus had such an encounter with a Samaritan woman (John 4:16-42). When Ananias and Sapphira conspired to give a false impression about their offering, Peter knew (Acts 5:3). He confronted them with their sin of lying to the Holy Spirit and both died, on that very day. (Read the whole story in Acts 5:1-11) 

Which just shows us that we can't sneak around on God. He knows what's up and has His ways of bringing our sin into the light.

The part Elijah played in the Naboth garden story also has something to teach us. The fearful, depressed, even suicidal man from our reading a couple of days ago (1 Kings 19:4) has disappeared. In his place we see the old Elijah, ready to leave on God's assignments at a moment's notice. Answering Ahab's wry, "'Have you found me, O my enemy,'" with the authority of his Boss: "'I have found you, because you have sold yourself to do evil in the sight of the Lord'" - 1 Kings 21:20)

I ask myself, would I be as quick to carry out such an intimidating task? Would I be as unquestioning, as Elijah seems to be, of later fallout for myself (remember, Jezebel had recently threatened his life)? Such an example puts new flesh on the bones of verses like, "I have been crucified with Christ. Nevertheless it is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God Who loved me and gave Himself for me." Galatians 2:20

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to live transparently before You. May I be as completely at Your beck and call as Elijah was. Amen.

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


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