Sunday, July 31, 2016

The God of counted hairs and split seconds

Sparrow
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 12:1-21

TO CHEW ON:
"'Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins? And not one of them is forgotten before God. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows'"  Luke 12:6,7


Writer and editor Bret Lott felt discouraged in late 2005. After six months in a new job as the editor of The Southern Review, he had found no time to write for months and questions filled his mind, questions like: Does my writing matter? What's the point? Have I made any difference at all?

On December 13th he recalls (in his book Letters and Life): "That morning I prayed to God that, despite how self-centered I was being in asking this, he would give me a sign, that he would somehow let me know that, well yes, I was making a difference, and that he would do it today. That day, Tuesday, December 13th" -Bret Lott,  Letters and Life, Kindle Location 791.

He was on the lookout for signs all day, but nothing. Despite the silence, he recalls that he had peace when he crawled into bed that night, for he knew he was worthwhile, not because of anything he had written but because God loved him as shown by Jesus' death for him.

The next morning, however, when he checked his email, there was a letter from someone he'd never met, telling him how his book had deeply affected his life. And guess what the date stamp on the email read? 11:59 p.m., December 13th!

A few days later he got a letter by surface mail from a women who had read another of his books. It also described how deeply the book had impacted her. The postmark on the letter? December 13!

Though Lott, with his story, makes the case for precision in writing because we serve a precise God, I think we can apply the care and precision Lott's story shows to God's interactions with us in all of life. The God who tilted the earth  at the exact angle and placed it at the exact distance from the sun to support life, who programmed a timetable of development into the embryo of a human baby is the God of our moments and days too. He sees you and me. He knows the second-by-second happenings in our lives. He is aware. He cares. Do not fear.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for Your words of care reported by Luke illustrated by the anecdote of Your servant. Help me today to be alert to Your care for me. Amen.

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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, July 30, 2016

Taking correction

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 11:29-54

TO CHEW ON: "And as He said these things to them, the scribes and the Pharisees began to assail Him vehemently, and to cross-examine Him about many things, lying in wait for Him, and seeking to catch Him in something He might say, that they might accuse Him." Luke 11:53-54


Jesus was invited to a Pharisee's home to eat a meal. Apparently He had neglected to go through the ceremonial washing procedure that was standard among those types (a footnote explains: "The washing of hands was not a matter of hygiene but of ritual cleansing to remove any moral pollution acquired by contact with sinners or unholy things." New Spirit Filled Life Bible p. 1411). So the Pharisee "marveled" that He had not washed. I see this not as a delighted marveling but as a holier-than-thou, gotcha, gloating marvel.

Jesus was not intimidated. Instead, He launched into a blistering attack against the hypocrisy this washing requirement typified. He called these teachers "foolish" and pronounced woes on each category of leader/teacher (Luke 11: 40-52). He named specific instances where they required things of others that they didn't do themselves (Luke 11:42, 46). He lumped them in with the prophet-killers of the past (Luke 11:47-51). He accused the ones responsible for teaching others about God of being the very ones who hindered them from knowing Hm (Luke 11:52).

Did these men come under conviction, repent or change their ways? Not a chance! Instead they were defensive, and attempted to find something wrong with Jesus so they could accuse Him back.

This story reminds me of an incident related by writer Carol MacKay in a recent issue of FellowScript. One day a guest (she called her Jane) attended their writing group. Jane was outspoken to the point of rudeness. When she asked what people wrote and Carol replied she wrote poetry, Jane came back with, "You're not one of those poets who don't believe in rhyme are you? It's crazy. There's absolutely no point to it."

That day Carol had gathered all her courage and brought a poem for critique. It was a poem that reflected the dark, somewhat gloomy outlook often evident in modern poetry. Though this didn't accurately reflect her own view of life, she had been convinced that this is what she needed to write in order to sell her work.

After she read her poem, the woman responded, "Why would someone write something like this? Where's the point? There's no point or purpose. When I write, I have a purpose: to glorify God."

At this juncture, Carol could have dismissed the woman's critique as coming from an unworthy source. She could have criticized Jane for her lack of graciousness and tried to find fault with what she wrote (the way the Pharisees reacted to Jesus). But she didn't. Instead, she let Jane's criticism goad her into re-examining her work. After thinking about it, she realized there was truth in her words, artless though they were. She decided, as a result of that day, to take her writing in a different direction. She sums up:

"In retrospect that horrible writing group experience has produced more good than it has ill. I don't think Jane's type of critiquing skills are in any way an acceptable method of constructive criticism, but oddly, without her harsh wake-up call, I would probably still be on the same dismal writing path, writing contrary to my faith and values." (Carol MacKay in FellowScript Volume 28, Number 2, May 2010, p. 12-13).

I ask myself, how do I handle criticism? How do you? Do we get all huffy and defensive, try to justify ourselves and find fault with the one who has criticized us? Or do we, like Carol, look for grains of truth in words of correction, regardless of the spirit in which they are delivered?

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to have the wisdom and humility to take correction, no matter who gives it or how it is delivered. 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, July 29, 2016

Obedience

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 11:14-28

TO CHEW ON: "And it happened, as He spoke these things, that a certain woman from the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, 'Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts which nursed you.'
But He said, 'More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.'" Luke 11: 27-28

The woman who called out to Jesus may have done it in the spirit of fan worship that infects so many of us today. She was saying, in effect, How fortunate are the people who have a blood tie to You, Jesus.'

Jesus' reply shows that the kinship she so values ranks lower in His regard than the relationship built by obedience. In fact in another place He says that the obedient ones are His mother and brothers. (I love how the Message puts it: "Obedience is thicker than blood.")

In today's passage we see some of the reasons Jesus rates obedience so highly:

1. It is our guard against demonization.
Jesus refers to demons re-entering a life (Luke 11:24-26). Though He makes no direct reference here to disobedience being behind it, the implication in other scriptures (e.g. Ephesians 4:26-27) is that willful sinning (disobedience) is one way we give the devil a foothold in our lives.

2. It helps us understand Him and why He came.
Jesus scolds the Jewish leaders and their generation because they continue asking for more signs in order to believe (Luke 11:29-32). He compares Himself to Jonah and likens His coming death to Jonah's stay in the belly of the whale. But unlike the Ninevites who repented when Jonah preached to them after his 'resurrection' these people refuse, and will continue to refuse, to repent (obey).


3. When we obey we live in light.
Our compliance with God's standards and ways of working affect how we "see" or understand all of life (Luke 11:33-36). A "Word Wealth" sidebar in my Bible sheds some light on 'darkness.'
"'Darkness' (skotos) from the word ska, 'to cover.' The word is used literally for physical darkness and metaphorically for spiritual, moral and intellectual darkness. The darkness arises from error, ignorance, disobedience, willful blindness and disobedience. Darkness is an evil system, absolutely opposed to light" - Dick Mills,  New Spirit Filled Life Bible p. 1411.

If our friendship with Jesus depended on a family blood tie, we'd be left out. But it doesn't. It depends (so far as we are concerned) on our obedience. It's so simple, yet so hard.

PRAYER: Dear God, I want a Holy Spirit-directed life that is full of light. Help me to make the connection, at a deep level, with how closely the fulfillment of this desire is dependent on my obedience. Amen.

MORE: More wise words on obedience
"The golden rule for understanding spiritually is not intellect but obedience. If a man wants scientific knowledge, intellectual curiosity is his guide, but if he wants insight into what Jesus Christ teaches, he can only get it by obedience. If things are dark to me, then I may be sure there is something I will not do. Intellectual darkness comes through ignorance; spiritual darkness comes because of something I do not intend to obey." Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, July 27th reading.

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

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Thursday, July 28, 2016

Go to God first

Image: Pixabay.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 107:23-43

TO CHEW ON: "Then they cry out to the Lord in their trouble
And He brings them out of their distresses." Psalm 107:28



"I've talked to God more in the last few days than ever before in my life," I heard a woman say on a news interview. She had just lived through the recent West Virginia flood.

It's not unusual for us to call out to God during disaster. The characters in Psalm 107 certainly do. In the middle of a storm at sea where the waves pitching the boat "… mount up to the heavens," then "… go down again to the depths," the sailors "… are at their wits' end. Then they cry out to the Lord in their trouble" - Psalm 107:23-28.

The writer of Psalm 107 tells of God coming through for the troubled and harassed:
  • He gets them out of trouble:
"He brings them out of their distresses
He calms the storm…" - Psalm 107:28,29.

  • He guides:
'He guides them to their safe haven" - Psalm 107:30.
  • He supplies (even supernaturally):
"He turns a wilderness into pools of water
And dry land into watersprings" - Psalm 107:35.

  • He blesses:
"He also blesses them, and they multiply greatly" - Psalm 107:38.
  • In fact, He even turns the natural order around for them:
"He pours contempt on princes
And causes them to wander in the wilderness
Yet He sets the poor on high" - Psalm 107:40,41.


The grand conclusion of all this is that God is a God of love and kindness:

"Whoever is wise will observe these things,
And they will understand the lovingkindness of God" - Psalm 107:43.


Whatever trouble we're in, whether it is from a natural disaster, a health crisis, a financial crunch, a storm in the family, the oppression of government, let's let this psalm inspire us to do the thing we often do last, first: Call On God. When he personally demonstrates His lovingkindess to us, perhaps we'll be inspired to pen our own version of Psalm 107.


PRAYER: Dear Father, the cynical side of me says, "This is too simplistic" and "It doesn't always work out so smoothly." So help me to trust Your lovingkindness when I'm in the middle of a crisis and don't see (or understand) Your goodness. Help me to have the simple faith of the writer of Psalm 107. Amen.

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


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Don't face trouble alone

Image: pixabay.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 107:1-22

TO CHEW ON: "Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
And He saved them out of their distresses." Psalm 107:19


The first part of Psalm 107 talks about many kinds of trouble, described in the language of bondage.
  • There is the bondage of being owned by the enemy (Psalm 107:2,3).
  • There is the bondage of homelessness and not enough to eat and drink (Psalm 107:4-7).
  • There is the bondage of terminal illness (physical—and spiritual? "… sat in darkness") that is caused by rebellion and insisting on one's own way (Psalm 107:10-14).
  • There is the bondage of foolish, self-destructive behaviour (Psalm 107:17,18).

The writer uses a variety of words to describe this subjection: "…wandered … distresses … longing soul … hungry soul … sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, Bound in affliction and irons … chains … gates of bronze … bars of iron … gates of death … destructions…"

It's easy to recognize ourselves described here. Perhaps we see ourselves as we were before we came to Jesus, lost and wandering. Or we've experienced the humiliating bondage of an illness or accident (when I was convalescing from my broken hip in 2014, the feeling of being limited and bound by pain and weakness was very real). It doesn't even have to be a big thing or event that binds us. I'm intrigued by the words:
"He sent His word and healed them,
And delivered them from their destructions" - Psalm 107:20
(emphasis added).
Sometimes slavery comes from within ourselves—our appetites for food, entertainment, our physical, emotional and social longings.

When we feel bound by a physical condition or mentally, emotionally or spiritually, do we do what the psalmist says to do here—cry to God in our trouble (Psalm 107:6,13,19)?

How He answers in our specific case—by supplying food and drink, or healing from illness, or helping us break chains of habit and addiction—is up to Him and will be tailored to us and our situation. But we do need to take advantage of the recourse we have.

PRAYER: Dear Father, when I am in trouble, help me to remember whose I am, and to call out to You for help, intervention, and deliverance. 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, July 26, 2016

Holy ambition

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Colossians 2:20-3:11

TO CHEW ON:
 "If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God." Colossians 3:1


"All initiative is not inspired," says Oswald Chambers. "A man may say to you -- 'Buck up, take your disinclination by the throat, throw it overboard and walk out into the thing!' That is ordinary human initiative. But when the Spirit of God comes in and says, in effect, 'Buck up,' we find that initiative inspired" - Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest, Feb 16 reading.

That's what Paul is telling us to do in Colossians 3:1 - to buck up and start making "those things which are above" a matter of thought and action. In other words, to have holy ambition.

"Holy Ambition" is a topic in my Thompson Chain Bible. Here are some of the passages listed under it - a sampling of "those things which are above" that we are to seek:
  • Enter (the Kingdom of Heaven) through the accepted entrance (Luke 13:23-28).
  • Be a hard worker in God's Kingdom, sharing God's word with integrity (2 Timothy 2:15).
  • Pursue love, the spiritual gifts, and the ability to proclaim God's truth with power (prophecy) (1 Corinthians 14:1).
  • Give life our best effort and finish well (collect the prize) (Philippians 3:13; 1 Corinthians 9:24).

It's a list of lofty things for sure. Translating these items from theory into everyday living is the challenge. What does it mean, for example, to enter through the narrow gate? It may mean being the only one in your family who believes and accepts salvation through Jesus. Living to finish well may mean persevering in a job that is sometimes unsatisfying and tedious.

Perhaps one way of applying such principles to life would be to ask ourselves questions, like 'Will this activity help me pursue love? Is it consistent with me being a Kingdom worker? Will it help me finish well?'

To quote Chambers again:

"The initiative of the saint is not towards self-realization, but towards knowing Jesus Christ. The spiritual saint never believes circumstances to be haphazard, or thinks of his life as secular and sacred; he sees everything he is dumped down in as the means of securing the knowledge of Jesus Christ….Whether it be eating or drinking or washing disciples' feet, whatever it is, we have to take the initiative of realizing Jesus Christ in it" - Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, July 11 reading.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to know the difference between human and holy ambition. May I have the imagination to see Jesus present in every circumstance.Amen

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

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Monday, July 25, 2016

Servants rule

Image from Pixabay.com
 TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 10:34-45

TO CHEW ON: "But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, 'You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all.'" Mark 10:42-44


If you are a reader of science fiction or fantasy you will be familiar with the idea of an alternate universe. It is the setting an author creates, where the sky may be pink, the animals talk, or people communicate by electronic waves filtered through nerve endings -- whatever the author has imagined and created.

In a way the Kingdom of Heaven, or Kingdom of God is like that alternate universe. When we give Jesus our lives and enter that kingdom, we soon discover that the 'laws of gravity' have changed.

In Mark 10 Jesus explains one of those changes to His disciples. The Zebedee brothers, James and John, have just come to Jesus asking for a special position in the kingdom they expect Jesus to set up (which they think will be earthly and happen any day now). The other disciples are understandably outraged. Who do these two think they are -- asking for special treatment!?

Instead of scolding them. Jesus gathers all the disciples around to take advantage of this teaching moment. He explains that, unlike the universe they have lived in their whole lives, where the great ones are the people with recognized position, in the Kingdom of Heaven, the great ones are the ones who serve. For, Jesus explains, even the Son of Man (God incarnate), came not to be served but to serve (vs.45).

We, or at least I, still struggle with this concept. I'm easily star-struck by someone's outward popularity or power, judging greatness by outward appearances (look how the media fawns over her, how often he is quoted, how many Twitter and Facebook followers she has, how many people follow his blog). But that's not what impresses God. He takes note of the unknown person who may be doing the lowest, most behind-the-scenes job (cleaning toilets, typing the minutes, cooking and serving the food) with an attitude of willing service. In His eyes, those are the truly great ones, the ones in first place, the ones who rule.

PRAYER: Dear God, please give me the heart of a genuine servant. Amen.

MORE: Feast of St. James the Apostle

Today is the day church liturgy remembers and honours the Apostle James, who is known for more than his request to get special treatment in Jesus' kingdom. Tradition credits him with being the first of the twelve apostles to suffer martyrdom for the name of Jesus. The liturgy for the Feast of James the Apostle begins with this prayer:

O gracious God, we remember before you today your servant and apostle James, first among the Twelve to suffer martyrdom for the Name of Jesus Christ; and we pray that you will pour out upon the leaders of your Church that spirit of self-denying service by which alone they may have true authority among your people; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


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

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Sunday, July 24, 2016

Persistent, overbold, shameless asking


TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 11:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "'So I say to you, ask, and it will be given you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.'" Luke 11:9-10


If you saw my monthly prayer list, you would know that I take these words of Jesus seriously. Many of the items keep reappearing month after month, even year after year. In some ways, the fact that they are still there is a "yes" answer. In the case of ill family members and friends, that they're still on my list means they're still alive to be prayed for.

It's good to know that instead of resenting our persistence (which can also be translated importunity, overboldness, and shamelessness) God encourages it.

A little footnote in my Bible explains it this way:
"Jesus teaches persistence in prayer along with a sense of urgency and boldness. He does not suggest that we must overcome God's reluctance to respond to our requests but that we must be earnest and wholehearted in prayer. The persistence is necessary for our benefit, not God's." New Spirit Filled Life Bible p. 1409.

For what do you continue to ask? What do you keep seeking? What doors remain closed? Whether your requests are for yourself or others, pester God about them. He doesn't mind. Instead, He invites bulldog prayer habits.


PRAYER:
 Dear God, thank You for this invitation to persist in prayer. Today it encourages me to pray with new energy for the things that have been on my prayer list a long time. Amen.

MORE:Prayer Lists

Do you use a prayer list? For years I have gone back and forth between using one and not. In 2008 I invented a form that I can fill in weekly (though I have been doing it monthly). It has a space for answered prayers. I describe it here.


How do you keep track of things to pray for?

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Saturday, July 23, 2016

Praying for a good land

Red Leaf House of Prayer: check it out.
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 85:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "Yes, the Lord will give what is good;
And our land will yield its increase." Psalm 85:12


Is the state of our land—the country we live in with its political borders, the very dirt under our feet—dependent on God's blessing? The sons of Korah, writers of this psalm, would make that connection. In this prayer for favour on their land they:
  • remind God of His past goodness to them including the fact that He has returned them from captivity  (Psalm 85:1-3).
  • beg for spiritual revival ("Restore us... revive us ... show us mercy ... grant Your salvation" - Psalm 85:4-7)
  • dream about how His mercy on the land will look (Psalm 85:8-13). It's a metaphorical picture of good qualities reunited: mercy and truth meeting; righteousness and peace kissing.  There's a new crop of truth springing from the ground like a germinating field. Righteousness looks down on it from heaven (we envision the sun, smiling down on new growth).

I do my share of complaining about the state of my country—its judicial foot-dragging, its penchant toward political correctness that turns a blind eye when some break the law while it clamps down hard on others, and its slide into immorality and ethical greyness. But do I bring these concerns to God as much as I bellyache about them to others?

If not, why not? I suspect it's because at some level I haven't made the connection between His power and the state of the country I love.

I want to pick up the slack so my land "will yield its increase" not only of physical plenty but of righteousness, truth, and mercy.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for being the God of nations and lands as well as individuals. Help me to cast my concerns about Canada on You. I pray for a time we will "make His footsteps our pathway" - Psalm 85:13.

MORE: Prayer for our country

In her book Praying with Fire, Barbara Billett writes prayers based on passages from the Bible. In her prayer for Leaders / Word Confession for Canada she writes the following—an excerpt from a longer passage  (substitute the name of your country in places there are references to Canada):


"Father, in the Name of Jesus, You have given me the keys of the kingdom; and whatever I bind on earth is bound in heaven; and whatever I loose on earth is loosed in heaven. Therefore in the mighty Name of Jesus, I cast down the wisdom of this world—that which is earthly, sensual and demonic from over our nation and the leaders of our nation in the Name of Jesus.

I command wrong mind sets, philosophies and belief systems to be utterly overthrown and demolished from the minds of our Canadian leaders in government, the law enforcement, and judicial systems, the Armed Forces, (the media [my insert]), and the educational system in the Name of Jesus.

It is written in Your Word that the heart of the king is in the hand of You, Lord, and that You turn it whichever way You desire. I believe that the hearts of our Prime Minister and the leaders of Canada are in Your hand and that their decisions are divinely directed by You..."

(Based on: Matthew 18:18-19; James 3:15; 2 Corinthians 10:4-5; Proverbs 21,1.

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

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Friday, July 22, 2016

"Do not cling..."

Mary Magdalene Repentant - Gustave Dore
TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 20:1-18

TO CHEW ON:
"Jesus said to her, 'Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, 'I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.'"  John 20:17

Jesus was dead and now Mary was being denied even the last thing she could do for Him. I can sense her outrage: "'They have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid Him.'" So when Jesus revealed Himself to her, it was beyond incredible. Not only was His body returned, but Himself, alive, warm, touchable, talking!

It was different than before though. "'Don't cling to Me,'" Jesus said. He wouldn't be held down. His mission continued and involved ascension—His permanent physical removal from earth.

Was it bittersweet for Mary, I wonder, having Him back and yet not? Being told to deliver this mysterious message about His coming ascension to the disciples?

It's easy for us, who know how the story continues, to think it was no big deal for them. Jesus ascended, the Holy Spirit came, and so the Spirit of Jesus was available to everyone—way better than when His physical presence was limited to one place at a time.

But Mary had no idea how events would unfold. It was as much a walk of faith for her as dealing with the unknown is for us. And just as Mary and the disciples came to understand the wisdom of God's plan as it played out, so we may see the same as we resist the temptation to cling to the past, and live in faith and obedience in the inscrutable now.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me not to cling to the past but to embrace Your plan as it unfolds in my life and circumstances. Amen.

MORE: The Feast of St. Mary Magdalene

The liturgy for this day begins with this Collect:

"Almighty God, whose blessed Son restored Mary Magdalene to health of body and of mind, and called her to be a witness of his resurrection: Mercifully grant that by your grace we may be healed from all our infirmities and know you in the power of his unending life; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen."
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The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.

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Thursday, July 21, 2016

20 things about Jesus in Colossians

Jesus by the sea - Alexandre Bida
Jesus by the sea - Alexandre Bida
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Colossians 2:1-19

TO CHEW ON: "For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily."  Colossians 2:9


"Colossians clearly portrays Jesus as superior to and preeminent over all things," writes Leslyn Musch in her Truth-In-Action Through Colossians commentary of my Bible. She says: "As you read this letter, look for all the things said about Christ" - Leslyn Musch, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1671.

Let's take up her challenge and look for clues about Jesus in Colossians.
  1. He has a kingdom. Paul refers to "the Kingdom of the Son of His (the Father's) love" - Colossians 1:13.
  2. We are redeemed (bought back) through His blood - Colossians 1:14.
  3. We have forgiveness of sins through His blood - Colossians 1:14. 
  4. He is the image of the invisible God - Colossians 1:15.
  5. He is the firstborn over all creation - Colossians 1:15.
  6. He created everything in heaven and earth - Colossians 1:16.
  7. He is before all things - Colossians 1:17.
  8. In Him all things consist - Colossians 1:17.
  9. He is the head of the body—the church - Colossians 1:18.
  10. He is called the "firstborn from the dead" giving Him the preeminence - Colossians 1:18.
  11. All the fullness dwells in Him - Colossians 1:19.
  12. He reconciles all things in heaven and earth to Himself - Colossians 1:20.
  13. In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily - Colossians 2:9.
  14. He is the head of all principalities and powers - Colossians 2:10.
  15. He makes believers alive together with Him - Colossians 2:13.
  16. He disarmed and triumphed over principalities and powers - Colossians 2:15.
  17. He is now sitting at the right hand of God - Colossians 3:1.
  18. He will one day appear on earth again - Colossians 3:4.
  19. He will reward those who fear Him and serve Him in obedience - Colossians 3:23,24.
  20. He is a mystery - Colossians 4:3.

There is much to ponder and wrap one's head around here!  Musch says, "Let faith rise in you as you see the unsurpassed greatness of who Jesus is and all that He has accomplished on our behalf" - source as above.

Let's take that challenge into our day!

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, these many aspects of You boggle my mind. Please illumine my mind and heart to begin to understand Your greatness, Your loveliness, and Your preeminence. Amen.

MORE: Fairest Lord Jesus - sung by Ross Parsley




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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, July 20, 2016

Part of a bigger story

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ruth 4:1-22

TO CHEW ON: "And they called his name Obed. He is the father of Jesse, the father of David." Ruth 4:17.

The story of Boaz and Ruth ends happily. The other relative and first-in-line with a right to redeem Naomi's land (and inherit Ruth as his wife) declines. And so Boaz gets the land and the wife, and soon there is a baby on the way.

Naomi becomes a grandma whose happy lot is lauded by the "chorus"—the women of Bethlehem. They sing the praises of Ruth while Naomi cuddles little Obed (Ruth 4:14-17).

And then the author does something interesting—recites a genealogy. By doing this, I believe he is telling us this story of Naomi and Ruth, Boaz and Obed fits into a much larger one.

Some of the characters of this larger story:

Perez

Perez was the son of Judah (son of Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Israel's patriarch Abraham) and Tamar. Tamar was that woman first married to Judah's firstborn son, who, when he died, Judah gave her to his second son. When he died too, Judah promised her to the third son. Tamar, not trusting Judah to keep his word, dressed as a prostitute and got pregnant by Judah himself. Yikes! (Read the story in Genesis 38. Perez appears in Genesis 38:29).

Nahshon

Nahshon was the head of the tribe of Judah during their time of wandering in the wilderness under Moses - Numbers 1:7; 2:3.

David
He was the second king of Israel and the prophets predicted Messiah would come from His house and line - Jeremiah 23:5; Isaiah 9:7; 11:1; Acts 13:34.

Flipping over to the New Testament book of Matthew, we see a continuation of the genealogy begun in Ruth and how it eventually leads to—Jesus! (Matthew 1:1-16).

All our stories are also part of a larger story. Just like Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz had no idea they were living out an episode in the narrative of God's big story of redemption, neither do we know the plot line or significance of the story of our lives.

God does, though:
"And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them" - Psalm 139:16
and
"For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" - Ephesians 2:10 (emphases added).

I'm looking forward to heaven—when I'll be able to read and understand the whole book, including my little chapter of it! You too?

PRAYER:
Dear Father, how exciting to zoom in on these little episodes of Your story and see You working in the details of the lives of ordinary people. May I be a sympathetic character in Your story on earth. Amen. 

MORE: I came across a short video about the book of Ruth by Dr. Daniel I Block (professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College). He has recently written the commentary on Ruth in the  Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament series. This under 5-minute video puts a perfect cherry on top of our short study! Watch it. It's so worthwhile!





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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, July 19, 2016

Two love stories

Boaz and Ruth - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ruth 3:1-18

TO CHEW ON:
"And she said to her, 'All that you say to me I will do.'" Ruth 3:5

The plot grows more intriguing as Naomi sets Ruth up to push for what the older woman has probably had in mind since she heard Boaz was in the picture—a marriage between Boaz and Ruth.

Some lovely bits that jump out at me from today's chapter:
  • Ruth's absolute trust of Naomi.
This trust comes out in her reply to Naomi's plan for the night visit to Boaz at the threshing floor: "All that you say to me, I will do." Doesn't that remind you of the reply of young Mary who was to be part of another risky chain of events (Luke 1:38)?

  • Ruth's words to Boaz: "'Take your maidservant under your wing…'"
We read similar words yesterday coming from Boaz: "'The Lord repay your work and a full reward be given you by the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge" - Ruth 2:12. I wonder if, when Boaz said them, he had any idea that he would soon be the very embodiment of those wings for Ruth?.

  • Boaz was a "close relative."
That sounds innocent enough to us, but in the Hebrew the meaning of "close relative" is way more load involving duties and responsibilities.

[Close relative - gaal  means to redeem, to act as kinsmen redeemer, avenge, revenge, ransom, do the part of a kinsman. To redeem from slavery. To redeem by payment.]

The story of Boaz and Ruth is a beautiful human love story. But it is also a type of the spiritual love story between God and us.

We people are Ruth.

 We come to Him in Ruth-like abandonment, as Paul did on the Damascus Road: "'Lord, what do you want me to do?'" - Acts 9:6.
 

Jesus is our Redeemer.
" Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree” - Galatians 3:13.

"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.


"In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace" - Ephesians 1:7.

"…knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot" 1 Peter 1:18,19.

He longs to take His lost ones under His wings.

"'O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!'" - Matthew 23:37.


PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for paying with Your life to redeem me by buying my freedom from sin and the demands of the law. 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, July 18, 2016

Tell your story—and tell it well

Image: Pixabay.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ruth 2:1-23

TO CHEW ON: "There was a relative of Naomi's husband, a man of great wealth of the family of Elimelech. His name was Boaz." Ruth 2:1

Don't you just love reading a story as skilfully told as this one? The plot of Ruth expands today as wealthy Boaz comes on the scene. There is just enough detail and zoom in on specific incidents to make the characters come alive.

We see conscientious Ruth doing all she can to provide for her aging mother-in-law. Her stellar reputation has reached the ears of landowner Boaz who arrives in a flourish of hoofbeats and dust (my imagination here). We watch his gentleness with her and her trusting response. We notice Naomi perk up when Ruth tells her of the day. We look forward to what will happen next as the at-a-safe-distance Boaz-Ruth relationship continues through the harvest season.

The question, Who wrote this? occurred to me this morning. My Bible's introduction to Ruth suggests Samuel:
"It is also reasonable to suppose that Samuel, who witnessed the decline of Saul's rule and was directed by God to anoint David as God's heir-apparent to the throne, could have penned this himself. The lovely story would already have attracted oral retelling among the people of Israel, and the concluding genealogy would have secured a link with the patriarchs—thus giving a steady answer to all in Israel who would desire their king's family background" - Jack Hayford, Introduction to Ruth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 349.

Ruth's story brings to mind the power and usefulness of our stories. I love hearing accounts of how God works in lives—stories that reassure us of God's faithfulness and thus build our own faith. Hayford's defense of Samuel as author (above) suggests other things about stories. They are sometimes first told orally before being written down. They serve as a link to the past. They also provide valuable information about the background of a prominent person.

We can tell our stories in many ways:

  • Orally to friends and family, and especially to the next generation.
  • More formally as part of a talk, presentation, or sermon.
  • In a written devotional.
  • In a memoir.
  • Through poetry. 
  • Via the actions and words of a fictional character in a novel.
  • In a play.

Do you tell your story? Do you know how to tell it well?
Are you conscious of things like how and when to introduce characters and events with a view to timing, tension and keeping the listener or reader on the interest hook?

Your story is worth telling—and worth telling well!


PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the beautiful narrative of Ruth and the stories You are telling through each of our lives. Help me to tell my story with skill and Holy Spirit anointing. Amen.

MORE: More on story-telling

Another word Bible writers use for story is testimony Here are a few verses that encourage us to tell our stories / testimonies:
  • Psalm 60:4
  • Psalm 107:2
  • Isaiah 12:4
  • Acts 1:8
  • 2 Timothy 1:81 Peter 3:15
  • Revelation 12:11

Get some story-telling hints from Jeff Goins:


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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, July 17, 2016

Coming full-circle

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ruth 1:1-22

TO CHEW ON: "Now it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem, Judah, went to dwell in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. … Now the two of them went until they came to Bethlehem." Ruth 1:1,19

Today we begin reading the book of Ruth. The story starts with an Israeli man Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and their two sons Mahlon and Chilion. They leave their home town of Bethlehem for Moab because of a famine.

In Moab Elimelech dies, the boys marry Moabite girls, and then the sons die. Naomi is left husbandless, and maleless with only two foreign daughters-in-law to show for her years in Moab. It's not a good position.

She hears the famine is over and decides to return to Bethlehem. But I would guess the decision is not an easy one. She has pretty much nothing to show for the Moabite years.  She is returning "empty" - Ruth 1:21.

The family may have been prominent in Bethlehem for when Naomi returns, not completely empty but with one daughter-in-law, "all the city is excited because of them; and the women said, 'Is this Naomi?'"- Ruth 1:19.

Can't you just hear the subtext? "Have you noticed Naomi's wrinkled face, her grey hair? She looked so good when they left. What happened?"

I can imagine Naomi dreading exactly such a thing. But I believe God is in this. Before He can move her on she has to come full-circle, back to the place where it all started (even though it means temporary humiliation).

I am reminded of at least two other instances where Bible characters are brought full circle.

Moses' return to Mount Horeb  (or Mt. Sinai) proves God's presence is/was with him (Exodus 3:12; 19;  the names Horeb and Sinai are used interchangeably for the same mountain).

Peter's full-circle trip to the Sea of Galilee is a confirmation of his call to leave fishing and follow Jesus (Mark 1:17; John 21:19).

What is God saying to Naomi when He brings her back to Bethlehem? Perhaps that her real provision ("Bethlehem" means "house of bread") and protection (Boaz speaks to Ruth of God bringing her to Israel to live under His wings - Ruth 2:12) are in God's land with His people?


Have you noticed God taking you full-circle? He's done that with me. Whenever He does, let's pay attention. There may just be something we need to hear.



PRAYER:
Dear Father, thank You that no journey with You is wasted—when even I'm brought back to old starting points. Help me to learn from Your full-circle leading. 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, July 16, 2016

Different styles of serving

Martha, Jesus, Mary (Artist unknown)
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 10:38-42

TO CHEW ON:
"… Mary … sat at Jesus' feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving." Luke 10:39,40

The sisters Martha and Mary make an interesting study in contrasts. Martha is an efficient go-getter. The Bethany home she shares with her siblings is called "her house" (Luke 10:38). She takes the initiative for the dinner party and obviously knows just how she wants the evening to go. It involves lots of details, which I'm sure she delights in, except she needs a little help.

Mary is the dreamy impractical one. While Martha flits around, Mary sits around, oblivious to Martha's "much serving" list and completely engrossed in Jesus and His words.

The contrast between the two sisters is seen again in another incident. It's another dinner in Bethany where again Martha serves (John 12:1,2). This time Mary does more than listen. To show her love for Jesus she pours perfume on his feet and dries them with her hair (John 12:3)! Who but a dreamy, impractical soul would think of something like that?

I believe Martha and Mary were different at a basic level. I think they were both right in serving and loving Jesus according to their makeup. Martha's mistake was to try and force Mary to leave her way of serving Jesus and do it Martha's way. Jesus' reprimand was probably an epiphany moment for Martha as He focused her on the value of what Mary was and was not doing.

I like how my Bible's commentary gets to the core of these differences.

"Martha's legitimate concern was to be a proper hostess. Mary's concern was to be a proper disciple. Jesus does not negate Martha's hospitable activities but is concerned with her distractions, worry and trouble about many things which cause her to underemphasize the one thing that is needed (Luke 10:42) that is to hear the word of Jesus" J. Lyle Story, commentary on Luke, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1408).

My sympathies have always been with Martha in this story. In my own life I see a tendency to get hung up on the practical details of service and ministry while losing sight of the big picture. And I would also like some support in my busy-ness. Perhaps you too?

Through this story we hear Jesus remind us, Don't be worried and troubled about many things. One thing is needed—to listen to My words. Your pursue that in your way and let others do it in theirs (my paraphrase).


PRAYER: Dear Jesus, help me to be a disciple in the way I have been created, while giving others the freedom to be themselves in the way they love and serve 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, July 15, 2016

Write your way through feeling to faith

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 52:1-9

TO CHEW ON: "But I am like a green olive tree
in the house of God;
I trust in the mercy of God forever and ever.
I will praise You forever,
Because You have done it;
And in the presence of Your saints
I will wait on Your name for it is good." Psalm 52:8-9

When I journal, I often find myself using David's method of writing the psalms. He starts with troubled thoughts, spilling them all onto the page—the distress, the anger, the outrage, the desire for revenge. (When he wrote these, I wonder if he had any idea that thousands of years later people would still be reading and finding comfort and enlightenment.) Then he writes his way back through his feelings to faith in God.

Psalm 52 is such a cathartic entry. According to an epigram in my Bible, it is a "Contemplation of David when Doeg the Edomite went and told Saul and said to him, 'David has gone to the house of Ahimelech." The story, (found in 1 Samuel 21 and 22) is of the time David was running from King Saul. Saul, jealous of David's popularity and fearful that the people would want him to be their king, was trying to kill him.

David went from his hideout to the town of Nob to get food for his men from Ahimelech the priest. Doeg, a servant of Saul's, saw him and reported to Saul that Ahimelech had helped David. Saul summoned Ahimelech and his sons, scolded them for helping his enemy and ordered them all killed. Doeg did the deed. He even went so far as to  kill the families of Ahimelech and his sons.

Is it any wonder David cries, "God shall likewise destroy you (probably referring to Doeg) forever. He shall take you away and pluck you out of your dwelling place and uproot you from the land of the living"?

But his focus doesn't stay on the villain. Instead, he writes his way back to mental and spiritual tranquility as he expresses his trust in God. He reminds himself of his position as God's responsibility: "I am like a green olive tree in the house of God," and the attributes of the God he worships:  "I trust in the mercy of God forever and ever. I will praise You forever…. I will wait on Your name, for it is good" (vs. 8-9).

Are you troubled and distressed about something that's going on in your life? Try David's way of talking yourself down from whatever ledge you're on by writing about it. Any ordinary scribbler will do as a journal. As you diarize your path from feeling to faith, you may be writing your very own psalms. They may someday encourage someone else. Even if they don't, looking back on the experience of finding your way back to faith in God will buoy you up

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the writings of David that show me it's normal to experience the gamut of emotions and okay to express them. As I do this, please help me, by Your Spirit, to find my way to truth and trust. Amen.

MORE: Spiritual Journals

If journaling, or the thought of keeping a spiritual journal is new to you, here are a few links to give you ideas of how to go about it:

"How to Develop a Spiritual Journal"

"Journal for You" (page contains links to more resources)

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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, July 14, 2016

Sifted

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Amos 9:1-15

TO CHEW ON:
"For surely I will command,
And I will sift the house of Israel among all nations
As Grain is sifted in a sieve;
Yet not the smallest grain shall fall to the ground." Amos 9:9


My earliest memories of sifting are from when I was a little girl and learning to bake. Mom taught me to make sure I always sifted the flour before putting it into anything. That was because beetles sometimes got into the large kitchen bin where we kept the 100 lb. quantities of flour we bought. I'm sure if I found beetles in my flour now, I'd throw out the whole lot. But not then. We'd simply remove the wriggling black interlopers and carry on, mixing the bread, cookies or whatever.

The act of sifting ("To pass through a sieve in order to separate the fine parts from the coarse") is referred to in the Bible at various times. It is God's way of revealing the covered or hidden things that shouldn't be there (e.g. Proverbs 20:26). The intention is to get rid of them.

However, the purpose of sifting is also to separate out and preserve what is good. Unlike the Ethiopians, Philistines and Syrians, which God says He will destroy, He will sift Israel so that he can preserve the "house of Jacob" (Amos 9:7-9). He'll separate out the bad stuff to preserve all that is good (down to the "smallest grain").

The process of sifting, when it affects our lives, is never fun. Just as the physical act of sifting disturbs every bit of the sifted product, so God's sifting of us is uncomfortable, painful, even life-shaking. Job is one man I think of when I think of the sifting of a life. Nothing he had was left untouched.

In the New Testament, Jesus refers to Satan asking to sift Peter. Though at first Peter failed the sifting test, Jesus told him that the sifting would eventually work toward him strengthening others (Luke 22:31-32).

Are you being sifted? All kinds of things can serve as sifters, from the normal tensions of work and family life to the unusual stresses of accidents, crimes, natural disasters, disease, unemployment, etc. If you feel like you are being sifted, remember the purpose of the process—to reveal what shouldn't be there so you can deal with it now, and to separate out what is worth preserving.

Peter speaks of the end result of such a purifying and separating process in 1 Peter 1:6-7 (using the metaphor of purifying gold in fire). "In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ."

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to realize that problems in my life may be part of Your sifting and purifying process in me. Help me to endure so my life will glorify You. Amen.

MORE: Paul Baloche sings "Shaken"





Paul Baloche tells the story of writing the song "Shaken" in this 1.5 minute video.



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

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The climax of judgment

Image: pixabay.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Amos 8:1-14

TO CHEW ON: "Shall the land not tremble for this .... I will make the sun go down at noon .... I will turn your feasts into mourning .... I will send a famine on the land ... of hearing the word of the Lord." Amos 8:8,9,10,11

Amos's prophecy starts with a vision—a basket of summer fruit. As if the image of fruit (an understandable metaphor for consequences) isn't enough, apparently the Hebrew word for fruit (qayits) and end (qets) sound almost identical. And so we have a word-play pun underlining this vision's message of judgment.

The judgment was for Israel's secularism and greed. The prophet reports their talk: "'When will the New Moon be past, / That we may sell grain? / And the Sabbath / That we may trade wheat?'" - Amos 8:5.

The judgment was also for their deception and unfairness. He reminds of what they do: "Making the ephah small and the shekel large, / Falsifying the scales by deceit" - Amos 8:5. (The ephah was a measure of grain. Making it small was lowering the amount of it. The shekel was money. Making it large was increasing the price of whatever commodity was being sold.)

The "fruit" of this is interesting to see. I read the consequences as being delivered in increments.
- There are natural disasters - earthquakes and unnatural daytime darkness (coming from volcanic eruptions, perhaps or wildfires) - Amos 8:8,9.
- Life's milestones and even religious celebrations that are usually occasions of joy become times of lament. They are characterized by mourning, premature aging and disease, ("...baldness on every head ...") and tragedy ("... like mourning for an only son") - Amos 8:10.
- But the climax of judgment is God's silence that results in a desperate but futile search for Him - Amos 8:11,12:
“I’ll send a famine through the whole country.
    It won’t be food or water that’s lacking, but my Word.
People will drift from one end of the country to the other,
    roam to the north, wander to the east.
They’ll go anywhere, listen to anyone,    hoping to hear God’s Word—but they won’t hear it - Amos 8:11,12 MSG (emphasis added).

My questions: 
  • Do we understand what a grave place we put ourselves into when we stop listening to God, ignore His invitation to eternal life and live in selfishness and disobedience—as a nation, as churches, as individuals?
  • Do we understand God's ensuing silence as the climax of judgment and ultimate consequence that it is?


PRAYER:
Dear Father, please help me to keep the cannel of communication with You open.

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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.


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The work of God

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Colossians 1:15-29

TO CHEW ON: "Him (Christ) we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily." Colossians 1:28-29

When the goal is in mind and the focus is clear we may surprise even ourselves with how single-purposed we can be. Hours spent designing those house plans, writing that book, preparing for that talk just melt away as we strive toward the goal we see so clearly.

Yesterday we looked at the part of Colossians 1 where Paul prayed that the Christians in Colosse would know God's will. That's like conceptualizing the goal. Today we can see what can happen when that knowledge is energized not only by our own desire to see it happen, but by the very working of God in us.

Paul's goal is to get the news, that eternal life is available through Jesus, out to "every man." But he doesn't do this in his own strength. He is energized by "His (Jesus') working which works in me mightily" (vs. 29).

This Christ-in-me working accomplishes more than just energizing the spread of the gospel. It has the potential to impact all of life as Jack Hayford explains in a sidebar article in my Bible:

"'In Christ' is the expression Paul most frequently uses to designate the new life potential through the gospel. The Messiah (Christ) being King, the term clearly places the believer in the circle of all that is represented and contained in the King, His salvation conquest, and His personal rule.


The essential truth is that the Savior-King has come, and in Him the rule of God has altered the limits sin has heretofore placed on individuals. People no longer need be ruled by their carnality (flesh) or controlled by evil (the Devil)" - Jack Hayford, "Terminology of the Kingdom," New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1673 (emphasis added).

May we all cooperate with "His working which works in me mightily" to flesh  this out into purposeful, victorious living.

PRAYER: Dear God, please give me a fresh picture of Your will for me, my neighbours and my world. Help me to find my place in accomplishing it as You work in me (mightily too, please). Amen.

MORE: Different roles
I'd be the first to admit I'm no evangelist. That's probably why Paul's passion for spreading the Gospel makes me feel guilty. However, I can get excited about other jobs that are part of kingdom work - like being a "waterer." I take inspiration from passages like 1 Corinthians 3:5-9:

Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor.  For we are God’s fellow workers…"

What do you consider your role in God's work?

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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, July 11, 2016

God's will for you and me

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Colossians 1:1-14

TO CHEW ON: "For this reason we all, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding." Colossians 1:9


Perhaps the greatest longing in the heart of every Jesus lover is to do God's will. And yet that will often seems unclear. Is it His will that I study nursing or pharmacy. Marry Jeff or Doug? Buy a house or continue to rent? Move close to the kids, or stay in the community where my friends are?

A little study of "God's will" through the Bible may not answer the detailed specifics of life for us, but it can give us some principles of how to discover and do God's will.

  • It starts with a heart decision—at least it did for David - Psalm 40:8. Many years later, Paul still talked of a doing God's will in a wholehearted way - Ephesians 6:6.
  • Prayer is involved. The psalmist prayed "Teach me to do Your will..." (Psalm 143:10). Jesus prayed, "'Your kingdom come, Your will be done...'" (Matthew 6:10). In our reading Paul told the Colossians that he prayed they would know God's will (Colossians 1:9).
  • Christ is an example of knowing and doing God's will. Jesus often said: "This is the will of God." He said it about Father God not willing that any soul given to Him should be lost and that all who believe in Him should have everlasting life (John 6:39, 40). He talked about how doing God's will was His very food (John 4:34) and proved it when, in Gethsemane, He faced the enormity of what doing God's would mean, still said "'Not what I will but what You will'" - Mark 14:36.
  • Doing God's will unfolds spiritual knowledge (John 7:17). It's as if we understand God's will not so much by learning about it intellectually, but by doing it (Romans 12:2).
  • However, doing God's will may not make for the easiest, most trouble-free life. Peter spoke about how doing the will of God may involve suffering (1 Peter 3:17; 4:1-2), and James reminds us that God's will means we are not the masters of our fate (James 4:13-15) {as if we ever were in any case!}.

In the end, which follower of Jesus would want to do anything but seek to do the will of the One who gave His life for us, and who promises, in return, to answer our prayers ( 1 John 3:22; 5:14), save us from destruction (1 John 2:17), and gift us with eternal life (John 6:40)?


PRAYER: Dear God, please school me in the ways of Your will. May my appetite to do Your will be a reflection of Jesus' words: "My food is to do the will of Him ... and to finish His work." Amen.


MORE: More on knowing God's will
"At first we want the consciousness of being guided by God, then as we go on we live so much in the consciousness of God that we do not need to ask what His will is, because the thought of choosing any other will never occur to us. If we are saved and sanctified God guides us by our ordinary choices, and if we are going to choose what He does not want, He will check, and we must heed. Whenever there is doubt, Stop at once. Never reason it out and say - "I wonder why I shouldn't?" God instructs us in what we choose, that is, He guides our common sense, and we no longer hinder His Spirit by continually saying - "Now, Lord, what is Thy will?" - Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, June 3 reading (emphasis added).

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


Bible Drive-Thru


Sunday, July 10, 2016

Showing mercy

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 10:11-37

TO CHEW ON: "'So which of these three do you think was neighbour to him who fell among thieves?'
And he said, 'He who showed mercy on him.'
Then Jesus said to him, 'Go and do likewise'" Luke 10:36-37

The practical working out of what we say we believe is never as straightforward as it looks or sounds. When the lawyer answered his own question to Jesus, "What shall I do to inherit eternal life," he probably rattled off his reply like a memorized response in catechism class: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself."

Jesus' story of the good Samaritan in response to the young man's question, "Who is my neighbour?" illustrates how much harder it is to actually live out loving one's neighbour than to just quote the answer. When the Samaritan responded to the poor beat-up man it took over his day with a busyness and inconvenience he had not counted on. He could have come up with so many good reasons not to get involved:

It's not my duty.
The victim may not have been a fellow-Samaritan, in fact, probably wasn't. In other circumstances the now helpless traveler would likely have snubbed the Samaritan.

It's not safe.
The man had just been robbed and beaten up. Who knew if the bandits weren't hiding behind the hill or in the bushes for someone just like him to come by and help.

I don't have time.
But he took time to stop, bind the man's wounds and help him onto his mount. Then, probably slowed down considerably, they made their way to the next town.

I don't have the money.
For the Samaritan, that seems to have been no objection. He was generous in making sure the man's needs were cared for.

Jesus' telling of this story illustrates the gulf between knowing the right thing to do and actually doing it. None of us will live the exact scenario Jesus described in this story. But, given life's ups and downs, one of these days we'll meet a 'neighbour' who needs mercy. I ask myself, will I, will you, have the wisdom to know what mercy looks like in the situation? And will we have the character and courage to act in mercy? Or will we take the easy way out, illustrating by our excuses that we really know very little about loving God with my heart, soul, strength and mind?

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me translate the love I say I have for You into practical demonstrations of mercy to those I meet who need it. Amen.

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