Friday, September 30, 2016

When God hurts us

"How deserted lies the city"
by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld
from "Bibel in Bildern"1851-1860

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Lamentations1:1-22

TO CHEW ON:
"Her adversaries have become the master, Her enemies prosper; For the Lord has afflicted her Because of the multitude of her transgressions. Her children have gone into captivity before the enemy." Lamentations 1:5


In the next several weeks we'll be reading through all of Lamentations. It is a sad book originally titled "Ekah," the first word of the book. Ekah means how or alas. Some also called it Qinot or "Lamentations" and that name has stayed with the book.

Many scholars attribute its authorship to Jeremiah. He wrote it against the backdrop of tragic events in Judah.

The kingdom was in moral decline. At a time when they were subjects to the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, King Zedekiah rebelled and Nebuchadnezzar came against Jerusalem (2 Kings 24:20).

Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem and many people starved. When Nebuchadnezzar finally broke down the wall, Nebuchadnezzar and his soldiers escaped. But the Babylonian army destroyed most of Jerusalem, burned the temple, and carried all but the poorest into exile (2 Kings 25:8-12).

As I read Jeremiah's poem of raw grief for his beloved land, I am touched by the images of Judah as a destitute woman. But I am also struck by the words "For the Lord has afflicted her."

Isn't life with God supposed to be good — better than life without Him? It seems that God has chosen to hurt His own people. Why?

A paragraph from the book's introduction in my Bible gives us something to think about in this regard:

"The Juhadites had been able to think of themselves only as God's chosen race. As such they felt that they would always experience good things. God had made covenants of blessing with them, but these were conditional. Blatant disobedience would mean that the pleasurable aspects of blessing would be replaced by punishment. The fulfillment of the promises of blessing could always skip a few generations of disobedient Israelites" - Paul B. Watney, New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1036.


"Conditional (covenants of blessing), "blatant disobedience," "punishment." Could some of the troubles God allows us to experience be related to these things as well?

It is easy to promise would-be converts that life will be smooth sailing if they accept Jesus. But God, in His knowledge of everything about us, does allow trouble in our lives too. Could it be that sometimes God, in effect, hurts us because we have been disobedient and strayed from Him. We can be sure, though, that even such seemingly hurtful treatment is a sign of His love (Proverbs 3:11,12).


PRAYER:
Dear God, please help me to have a realistic knowledge and view of my relationship with You. Help me to learn the lessons I need to from the difficulties you allow into my life. Amen.

MORE: Lamentations as poetry

Lamentations is a collection of five poems The first four, including poem 1 (our reading today), are acrostics. These are poems in which each stanza begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet (see also Psalms 25, 34, 37, 119).

Why the form? Writing acrostics may have been seen as a literary challenge in Jeremiah's day. Poems with predictable starting letters would be easier to memorize. We may also see such poems, in their going from Aleph to Tau (A to Z),  that the poet is  "...working through every grief, hurt, and fear, and opening up completely to both man and God" (from the introduction to Lamentations by Paul B. Watney, New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1037).

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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, September 29, 2016

Why angels?

Image: Pixabay
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Daniel 12:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "At that time Michael shall stand up,
The great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people." Daniel 12:1


Through this passage and a couple of others in Daniel we get a glimpse into the realm of angels.

Here Daniel, speaking as the prophetic mouthpiece of God describes the archangel Michael as the "great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people." Earlier a heavenly messenger sent to Daniel in answer to his prayer speaks of Michael as "one of the chief princes" and "Michael your prince" - Daniel 10:13,21.

Angel Power

It's evident that Michael is a powerful being. In a chapter on angels in his Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem says of angelic power:

*Angels apparently have very great power. They are referred to as:
-
"You mighty ones" - Psalm 103:20.
"powers" - Ephesians 1:2q.
"dominions and authorities" - Colossians 1:16.  
*Angels are seemingly "greater in might and power" than rebellious human beings - 2 Peter 2:11; Matthew 28:2. 
For the time of their earthly existence humans are "lower than the angels" - Hebrews 2:7. 
The power of angels is used to battle against the evil demonic powers under the control of Satan - Daniel 10:13, Revelation 12:7,8; Revelation 20:1-3.
- Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, pp.400,401).

Why Angels?

Grudem delves into the place of these fascinating beings. He gives five reasons for angels (and proves each statement with many supporting scriptures, which I'm not listing):
1. Angels show the greatness of God's love and plan for us - Hebrews 2:7.
2. Angels remind us that the unseen world is real - 2 Kings 6:17.
3. Angels are examples for us - Matthew 6:10.
4. Angels carry out some of God's plans - Revelation 12:7,8.
5. Angels directly glorify God - Psalm 103:20'
- Grudem, Op. Cit, pp. 402-405.

Guardian Angels?

Do angels interact with us personally? Do we each have a guardian angel, as we've often been told?

The idea of a personal guardian angel is rooted in Jesus' words in Matthew 18:10:  "'Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven.'"

Though the Bible doesn't explicitly say that an angel has been assigned to each one of us, the fact that one of angels' jobs is to protect people is reassuring:

"For He shall give His angels charge over you,
To keep you in all your ways.
In their hands they shall bear you up,
Lest you dash your foot against a stone."
Psalm 91:11,12.


PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for angels—these spirit beings that work in cooperation with You, though often unseen by us, to further Your purposes and glory. Amen.  
 

MORE: Feast of Saint Michael and all Angels
Today is the day the church celebrates the feast of Saint Michael and all Angels. The liturgy for the day begins with this prayer:

"Everlasting God, you have ordained and constituted in a wonderful order the ministries of angels and mortals: Mercifully grant that, as your holy angels always serve and worship you in heaven, so by your appointment they may help and defend us here on earth; 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.


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

In the meantime, revival

Habakkuk by Donatello (1423-6)
Habakkuk by Donatello (1423-6)
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Habakkuk 3:1-19

TO CHEW ON: "
O Lord, I have heard Your speech and was afraid;
O Lord, revive Your work in the midst of the years!
In the midst of the years make it known;
In wrath remember mercy." Habakkuk 3:2



God told Habakkuk earlier that waiting would be involved in the resolution of Judah's situation—that "the vision is yet for an appointed time; But at the end it will speak … Though it tarries, wait for it." In the meantime he needed to live by faith (Habakkuk 2:2-4).

But that knowledge didn't dampen Habakkuk's hope for the meantime. Here he prayed that God would revive His people even during the time of waiting: "in the midst of the years!"

Isn't that the cry of our hearts too? Wherever we are on the continuum of time between Jesus' ascension and return to earth, we long for God to again make His presence felt, to send conviction of sin like only He can, to break down resistance to wanderers returning to Him, and to cause a new spiritual sensitivity and fruitfulness in our land. And so we join Habakkuk along with David, Asaph, the Sons of Korah, and Isaiah in praying for revival:

"Then I will teach transgressors Your ways,
And sinners shall be converted to You" - David in Psalm 51:13.

"Restore us, O God of hosts;
Cause Your face to shine,
And we shall be saved!" - Asaph in Psalm 80:7.

"Will You not revive us again,
That Your people may rejoice in You?" - Sons of Korah in Psalm 85:6.

"Until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high,
And the wilderness becomes a fruitful field,
And the fruitful field is counted as a forest" - Isaiah 32:15.
 

PRAYER: Dear God, stories of revivals from years ago seem like fanciful tales—impossible to repeat. Would you send revival again? Please? 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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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Journey focus

Suitcase with travel stickers including family at the cross
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Habakkuk 2:5-20

TO CHEW ON: "But the Lord is in His holy temple,
Let all the earth keep silence before Him." Habakkuk 2:20


"The book of Habakkuk gives the account of a spiritual journey, telling of one man's pilgrimage from doubt to worship" - Sam Middlebrook, Introduction to Habakkuk, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1222.

Habakkuk sees his situation realistically. Not only have his countrymen fallen away from God, but the Babylonians are a constant threat. My Bible's commentary suggests that Habakkuk 2:6, 9, 12, 15, and 19 are a series of woes Habakkuk, pronounces on the Babylonian invaders.

Whether they were directed at foreign invaders or his countrymen, they show that the land of Judah had loads of problems:
  • People were taking what wasn't rightfully theirs and keeping the needy in subjection with high interest rates ("loads himself with many pledges" - Habakkuk 2:6).
  • People were running roughshod over others to enhance their own security - Habakkuk 2:9.
  • People were establishing towns through force and violence - Habakkuk 2:12.
  • People were influencing their neighbours to get drunk so they could take advantage of them - Habakkuk 2:15.
  • People were worshiping wood and stone images and looking to them for insight and direction (Habakkuk 2:19).

That's enough to make anyone glum. But Habakkuk doesn't give in to despair. Instead, he reminds himself of his hope in the God of power and action he worships:

"For the earth will be filled
With the knowledge of the glory of the Lord …" (Habakkuk 2:14).

"But the Lord is in His holy temple
Let all the earth keep silence before Him"  (Habakkuk 2:20) (emphases added).

We too can easily become discouraged as we look at society around us and the seemingly hopeless tangle of world affairs. At such times of potential discouragement on our journey, let's follow Habakkuk's example and shift our focus from our problems to our God. And as we lift our eyes let's give voice to that shift by offering faith-filled praise. God is in His holy temple. Someday the earth will be filled with the knowledge of His glory!

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your faithfulness in the past that gives me confidence that I can trust You for now and the future. On my journey through life, help me to keep my focus on You. 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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Monday, September 26, 2016

A real vs. religious relationship with God


woman praying
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Habakkuk 1:1-2:4

TO CHEW ON: "O Lord how long shall I cry,
And you will not hear?
Even cry out to You, 'Violence!'
And You will not save." Habakkuk 1:1


The times felt God-forsaken to Habakkuk. Judah had backslidden from Josiah's reforms. Violence towards citizens and oppression of the poor were rampant. Babylonia was gaining strength and threatened to invade from the north while Egypt and Assyria eyed other borders. It was in this setting that the prophet Habakkuk—a Levite—cried out to God.

His part of the conversation in Habakkuk 1 is refreshingly honest.
- He pours out his frustrations with God who seems deaf and disinterested -  Habakkuk 1:1.

- He confronts God with what appear to be contradictions—if God is holy why doesn't He deal with evil - Habakkuk 1:13?

- He appeals to the order of creation, showing God how man, in his anarchy, is no better than the creatures - Habakkuk 1:14-17.

God's reply (Habakkuk 1:5-11) is delivered with the same feistiness as Habakkuk's questions:
"Look among the nations and watch—
Be utterly astounded!
For I will work a work in your days
Which you would not believe though it were told you" (Habakkuk 1:5).

Habakkuk is a good example of a man who has a genuine relationship with God. In her Truth-In-Action Through Habakkuk commentary, Leslyn Musch says:
"Habakkuk's transparent interchange with God models for us a real relationship rather than a religious one."

Musch makes these points about how to make ours similar:
  • Ask God the honest questions of your heart.
  • Understand that He can handle them.
  • Draw close to Him through prayer.
  • Ask to gain God's perspective on injustice.
  • Ask the Holy Spirit to show you the deep things of God - 1 Corinthians 2:10-11.

Of God's reply she says:
  • Expect the Lord to answer you.
  • Approach God with an open heart.
  • Lay down any preconceived ideas of how He will respond.
  • Be ready to hear anything He desires to tell you.
- Leslyn Musch, Truth-In-Action-Through Habakkuk, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1229.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for being big enough for any question. Help me to trust You when I don't understand and Your silence and inaction look like a contradiction of who You are. I want to be open to Your answers, however You send them. 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, September 25, 2016

Reversal

Image: Pixabay
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 16:19-31

TO CHEW ON: " 'But Abraham said, "Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented." ' " Luke 16:25

The story Jesus tells of the rich man and Lazarus speaks to a range of topics, like treatment of the poor, the after-life state, and human skepticism. It also illustrates another Bible theme: Reversal.

My Thompson Chain Bible has a list of verses that show reversal—defined as "Changes in position because of God's intervention."

  • From as far back as Old Testament prayers and psalms, Bible writers express the belief that God has the ability to generally turn things around: "He puts down one, / And exalts another" - Psalm 75:7.
  • God can reverse the fortunes of rulers. This is illustrated in the story of Nebuchadnezzar where, shortly after Nebuchadnezzar congratulates himself on his position and power, he is afflicted (by God's hand) with mental illness - Daniel 4:28-33 (see also Psalm 107:41; Isaiah 40:23; Ezekiel 21:26).
  • God can also reverse the fortunes of cities - Isaiah 26:5.
  • Jesus spoke often of the reversal characteristic of the Kingdom of God:  " 'But many who are first will be last, and the last first' " Matthew 19:30.  (See also Mark 10:31; Luke 13:30).
  • Referring to kingdom in specifics, Jesus skewed our idea of fairness in the story of the workmen, where the one-hour-workers got paid as much as the all-day-workers - Matthew 20:16.
  • Another kingdom reversal comes in the area of stewardship, where Jesus said: " 'For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away' " Matthew 25:29.
  • And in our passage we see the after-life reversal of the one who was poor, sick and despised during his life on earth - Luke 16:25.

Does this mean we should impoverish ourselves and make our lives difficult in order to have a better heavenly destiny? Hardly. The writer of my Bible's notes offers these thoughts:
"Wealth does not automatically condemn one to hell, nor does poverty in this life guarantee eternal joy. One's destiny depends upon one's relationship to God, which is often reflected in the attitude toward material possessions" - J. Lyle Story, Study notes on Luke, New Spirit-Filled Bible, p. 1422.

  • Practically, this story and our look at reversal remind us to distrust what we see
  • We are challenged to understand there is more to the circumstances and conditions of people than what we see (and refrain from judging)
  • And we can ask ourselves are there ideas, beliefs, and convictions within us that will someday cause us to awaken to a surprising reversal? 

PRAYER: Dear Father, I know You see past my surface into my soul and spirit. Help me to see myself as You see me. And when I pray for the world, help me to keep in mind how capable You are of reversing things. 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, September 24, 2016

Home from far countries

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Jeremiah 32:36-44

TO CHEW ON: "They shall be My people, and I will be their God; then I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me forever, for the good of them and their children after them." Jeremiah 32:38,39

Jeremiah's buying of a field at a time of any-day-now Babylonian invasion and takeover is symbolic. God spells out what it signifies:

- A time when Israel will return physically to her homeland - Jeremiah 32:37.
- A time when Israel will return spiritually to Him - Jeremiah 32:38.
- A time of peace and unity among them - Jeremiah 32:39.
- A time when they again obey God - "fear Me forever" - Jeremiah 32:39.
- A time of hope and favor - Jeremiah 32:40,41.

I relate this passage to circumstances we may want changed in our lives. Whether we long to see changes in our physical state (where we live, how poor or wealthy we are, the state of our health, the job we have), or relationships (with family, co-workers, neighbours, within the church), I would suggesst that a change in circumstance may go hand-in-hand with making a spiritual change. Indeed, the spiritual change may need to come before the physical change, as it did in Jesus' story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32).

In fact, that spiritual softening, turning, and relinquishing details of our situation to Him may bring us out of that far country to a place where we again feel hope and His rejoicing over us even though nothing has changed outwardly.

PRAYER: Dear Father, when I find myself in difficult circumstances and feeling distant from You, please draw me and give me the will and way to come back to 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, September 23, 2016

A this-makes-no-sense prayer

The Prophet Jeremiah - Michelangelo
"Jeremiah" - Michelangelo (Sistine Chapel fresco)
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Jeremiah 32:16-35

TO CHEW ON: "And You have said to me, O Lord God, 'Buy the field for money and take witnesses'!—yet the city has been given into the hand of the Chaldeans." Jeremiah 32:25


Has God ever asked you to do something that made no sense? That was Jeremiah's situation on this day.

If we look at the context of our reading, we see the incident that sparked his this-makes-no-sense prayer. God had asked him to buy back the family farm in the village of Anathoth (Jeremiah 32:7) though he was a prisoner in a city surrounded by the Babylonians (Jeremiah 32:2). It was a symbolic gesture—a sort of down payment on the future. It was his act of obedience and faith in God's words, "Houses and fields and vineyards shall be possessed again in the land" - Jeremiah 32:15.

Jeremiah did what God told him to do, but he didn't understand. In his prayer, he unburdened himself to God.
  • He starts out with praise - Jeremiah 32:17-19.
  • He recounts how God has been faithful in keeping His promises to Israel - Jeremiah 32:20-22.
...but...
  • Israel has been unfaithful at every turn and, to Jeremiah's mind, deserves the fate that seems imminent - Jeremiah 32:23-24.
  • He ends - 'And you're asking me to buy land in this place, when the city is on the brink of falling to a foreign power?!' - my paraphrase of verse 25.

Perhaps God has asked us to do something similar—to step out in action, by faith, even though the surrounding events don't support the outcome we hope for.  Jeremiah's obedience in buying that field is a great example to us. His prayer is an encouragement, at least to me. It shows that even Old Testament spiritual giants had questions and the nerve to query God on what He was up to. Here Jeremiah was frank in his feelings. His faith needed stretching, just as ours does.

God's answer was no doubt a shot-in-the-arm to Jeremiah, and continues to bolster our faith these many generations later:

"Behold I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for Me?" - Jeremiah 23:27.

PRAYER:
Dear God, help me to be as quick to obey You as Jeremiah was, even when what You ask doesn't make sense to me. Thank You for the humanity of Jeremiah that comes through in this prayer. Help me to be just as transparent with You when I pray. Amen.

MORE: A Great Prayer of the Old Testament

Jeremiah's prayer here is considered one of the Great Prayers of the Old Testament. Walter Brueggemann, in his comments on these prayers draws a couple of lessons from this one for our prayer lives:

"First, we are permitted to pray all the dimensions of an unresolved life and an unsettled faith .... the God to whom we pray is hidden, mysterious, grand, and majestic, beyond all our patterns and systems of understanding. We celebrate a God of generous fidelity but this is a God who will not be mocked. We know about a God who calls to account, but beyond accounting there is the God of immense forbearance; therefore we must voice all those traces of God's holiness without managing them too closely" - Walter Brueggemann, Great Prayers of the Old Testament, pp. 73, 74 Kindle edition (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.


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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Coincidence or providence?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Jeremiah 32:1-15

TO CHEW ON: "Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord." Jeremiah 32:8b

How do we know when an idea, plan, or course of action is not merely our own, but comes from God? In Jeremiah's case it started out as an apparent coincidence. He relates his experience in Jeremiah 32.

His prophecy of the impending Chaldean takeover of Judah had offended king Zedekiah. To punish Jeremiah for saying such negative things and to keep him from spreading them, Zedekiah kept Jeremiah locked up.

One day Jeremiah reported, "The word of the Lord came to me." It's possible that he wasn't sure it was the word of the Lord at first. For this 'word' was the crazy idea that his cousin Hanamel would come to him and ask him to buy a field.

If he believed his own prophecy, buying a field at this time would make no sense, because the Chaldeans would be taking over the land. So perhaps at first he discounted the thought.

However, soon after, Hanamel was there, in the court of the prison, asking Jeremiah to buy that field. It is then he makes the statement: "Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord." These two things — the revelation, followed by its coming to pass — convinced him that God was in this.

Has something similar happened to you? It has to me. For instance while on vacation a while ago, I visited an old friend, with whom I had been out of contact for several years.

She told me that during the cleanup of a basement flood a few weeks earlier, she had come across some writing I had sent her years earlier. She sat down, read it, and was reminded of our friendship. "So when I got your call," she said, "I wasn't even that surprised."

I didn't get any prophetic meaning from my friend's advance notice of my visit, like Jeremiah did over the buying of his cousin's field (Jeremiah 32:13-15). But I did interpret it as God's little message to me, saying — See, I know about this visit. I even set it up by giving your friend this little hint you were coming. I am in such things.

Let's not be hesitant to interpret seeming coincidences as God's providence. Then let's proceed with confidence, knowing that He is in even the mundane details of our days.

PRAYER: Dear God, please open my eyes to see and recognize Your activity in my life. Amen.

MORE: Bible Coincidences

Here are some of my favourite Bible incidents that (I'm sure you would agree) are more than coincidental:

1. Abraham's servant, given the job of finding Isaac a wife, journeyed to the country of Abraham's relatives. The first girl he met was Rebekah. She offered to water his camels just after he prayed that the right girl for Isaac will do just that. (Genesis 24:1-26).

2. The Shunamite woman, whose son Elisha had raised from the dead, moved to Philistia for seven years during a famine. When she and her family returned, she went to the king to ask to have her land restored to her. It just so happened that the king was quizzing Gehazi, Elisha's servant, about the miracles Elisha had performed and Gehazi had told the king about Elisha raising the Shunaminte's son from the dead just before she was ushered in to see the king (1 Kings 8:1-6). Of course she got her land back.

3. King Ahaseurus of Persia discovered the account of Mordecai saving his life on the very night that Haman was in the palace intending to ask permission to have Mordecai killed on the gallows he had built (Esther 6).

Can you think of more?

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

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

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Reasoning's dangers

"(They) let him down with his bed 
through the tiling into the midst before Jesus"
 - Luke 5:19.

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 5:17-39

TO CHEW ON: "But when Jesus perceived their thoughts, He answered and said to them, 'Why are you reasoning in your hearts?'" Luke 5:22 NKJV

"But Jesus, aware of their reasonings, answered and said to them, 'Why are you reasoning in your hearts?'" - Luke 5:22 NASB

Our culture puts a lot of stock in the ability to reason.

[Reason (verb): 1] To think out carefully and logically, to analyze. 2] To influence by means of reason, persuade, dissuade, argue, debate.]

The thought processes of the Pharisees and teachers illustrate one of reasoning's dangers: how a true conclusion depends on a right premise.

Their premise was that Jesus was an ordinary man. Their argument went something like this:
  • Jesus is an ordinary man.
  • He speaks forgiveness to the paralyzed man for his sins.
  • But no one can forgive sins but God alone.
  • Therefore Jesus is a blasphemer.

Had they started with a different premise, they could have come to a different conclusion. Suppose they had started with an open mind about Jesus and the premise "no one can forgive sins but God":
  • No one can forgive sins but God.
  • Jesus speaks forgiveness to the the man for his sin. 
  • He reinforces His right to forgive the man's sins with a supernatural, instantaneous healing so the paralyzed man moves and walks right before their eyes (Luke 5:24).
  • Therefore Jesus must be who He claims to be.
Reasoning still has the power to trip us up and put us on an anti-faith path. Joyce Meyer, in her book Battlefield of the Mind says:

"Satan frequently steals the will of God from us due to reasoning. The Lord may direct us to do a certain thing, but if it does not make sense—if it is not logical—we may be tempted to disregard it. What God leads a person to do does not always make logical sense to his mind. His spirit may affirm it and his mind reject it, especially if it would be out of the ordinary or unpleasant or if it would require personal sacrifice or discomfort" - Joyce Meyer, Battlefield of the Mind, p. 86.

Do you and I ever try to reason our way out of the things God has told us to do because they make no sense? At such times, let's let Jesus' question to the Pharisees probe us: "Why are you reasoning in your heart?"

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the ability to think and reason. But help me to overrule my reasoning ability with faith when I do not understand Your directions, assignments, and ways. Amen.

MORE: Feast of St. Matthew
Today the church celebrates Matthew, whose calling is recounted by Luke in Luke 5:27-32 of our reading. The liturgy for the day begins with this collect:

"We thank you, heavenly Father, for the witness of your apostle and evangelist Matthew to the Gospel of your Son our Savior; and we pray that, after his example, we may with ready wills and hearts obey the calling of our Lord to follow him; 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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New King James Version (NKJV) Used with permission. The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

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)

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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Passing through foreign territory

Image: Pixabay
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ephesians 2:1-10

TO CHEW ON:
"And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience." Ephesians 2:1,2

Do you sometimes feel like the society in which you live is against many of the things you value? Marriage and the family are under attack. Public education removes any reference to God. The people most honored, admired, and influential are the beautiful, wealthy, and entertaining who charm and excite through movies, music and sports.

Feeling like we're misfits, traveling through a foreign land shouldn't surprise us. One of the reasons why is found in Ephesians 2:2 where Paul talks about a character, "the prince of the power of the air," who directs these things. The writer of my Bible's study notes describes his influence:
"The mood and manner of society is shaped by the prince of the power of the air, a title for Satan as he exercises influence globally and within each culture" Jack W. Hayford,  New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1646.

We see Satan referred to as a princely ruler in other places:

  • He tempted Jesus on the basis of this position: "'And the devil said to Him, “All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish'" - Luke 4:5,6.
  • Jesus predicted, and God the Father agreed, that Jesus' death would "'cast out'" the "'ruler of the world'" as He (Jesus) would " '…draw all peoples to Myself'" John 12:28-32.
  • Satan and his system had no claim to or presence in Jesus - John 14:30.
  • Jesus, before He died, told the disciples of the Holy Spirit who would come to them after He left. One of the Holy Spirit's functions would be (and is) to "…convict the world of sin, and of righteousness and of judgment …. of judgment because the ruler of this world will be judged.'" John 16:11. In other worlds, through the Holy Spirit we understand that God will someday judge this world's ruler and the system he oversees.
  • Satan has power over the minds of those locked in his system - 2 Corinthians 4:3,4.
  • And in our passage—Ephesians 2:2—Paul describes those in the clutches of this prince as "dead in trespasses and sins."

So maybe we should view our discomfort within our society and our sense of living at enmity with it as a good thing. When we feel like "strangers and pilgrims" it's a sign that we are really citizens of a different tribe, traveling through this earth system to a "homeland" and "heavenly country" - Hebrews 11:13-16.


PRAYER:
Dear Father, help me to know how to conduct myself while I'm in this world system controlled by the "prince of the power of the air." 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, September 19, 2016

Living alert

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Amos 6:1-14

TO CHEW ON: "Woe to you who are at ease in Zion,
And trust in Mount Samaria….
Woe to you who put far off the day of doom…" Amos 6:1a, 3a

When things are going well, it's easy to think life will go on this way indefinitely. Good times tend to lull us into complacency.

"Complacent" could be a word we'd use to describe the subjects of Amos's prophecy in Amos 6, and "self-indulgent" and "pleasure seekers," considering some of the things with which they were occupied. Around 760 BC Israel and Judah were:

- In denial: "At ease in Zion...Put far off the day of doom" (vs. 1, 3).


- Devising laws that actually promoted evil: "Who cause the seat of violence to come near" (vs. 3). Compare with Psalm 94:20 - "Shall the throne of iniquity have fellowship with You--they who frame and hide their unrighteous doings under [the sacred name of] law?" (Amplified)

- Absorbed with:
  • leisure and opulence: "Who lie on beds of ivory, stretch out on your couches" (vs. 4).
  • food: "Who…eat lambs from the flock and calves…" (vs. 4).
  • entertainment: "Who sing idly to the sound of stringed instruments and invent for yourselves musical instruments…" (vs.5).
  • alcohol: "Who drink wine from bowls…" (vs. 6).
  • cosmetics: "…and anoint yourselves with the best ointments" (vs 6).

- Refusing to face reality: "But are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph" (vs. 6). This verse is cross-referenced in my Bible with Genesis 37:25 which describes the sight of the Ishmaelite trader caravan approaching Joseph's brothers. The brothers then sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites and he is carted off to Egypt as a slave. In its Amos context, it seems to imply a refusal on the part of Amos's hearers to acknowledge their own enslavement (to the life described) and the danger of enslavement in exile.

When I look at Amos's condemning list, I can't help but think of another culture it describes -- one with which I am very familiar. I see likenesses at every point.

- Modern denial: But what is the attitude of the times even when we're in the middle of financial and global uncertainty? Pretend like things are just like they always were. For example, if you can't afford something you want, increase your line of credit to get it.

- Modern laws that promote evil: Our culture's socially liberal climate along with laws that allow for the killing of pre-born babies and the legitimizing of sexual unions and practices that are forbidden by the Bible are two examples. (In fact, the church and Christians are increasingly being drawn into and forced to take a stand on these matters, as this recent event illustrates:"Alberta Education Minister demands Baptist school board comply with LGBTQ Legislation"

- The "good life": A few hours' worth of TV commercials will show any watcher that our society is consumed with the pursuit of leisure, opulence, good food and drink, cosmetics, entertainment.

Amos warned his unaware listeners of coming doom: "Behold I will raise up a nation against you O house of Israel" (vs 14). We have Jesus' warning of His coming when we least expect it.
"As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man" (NIV) Matthew 24:37-39.

Let's pay attention to Jesus' words. Let's be alert watchers for His coming, not lulled into distraction by good times.

PRAYER: Dear God, please sharpen my awareness of how You are at work in my time and culture. Help me to stay watchful and alert. Amen.

MORE: End time signs

"What signs indicate that the end times are approaching" is one of many articles that come up when one does an internet search on words like "signs of end times." It offers food for thought. Below the article there are also links to other articles about Bible prophecy which may be helpful.

(Of course, as with all such internet articles, read realizing this is a person's opinion. Also, when looking at such writings, it's helpful to read the website's 'about' and 'statement of faith' sections to understand the worldview and theological stance of the writer/organization.) 

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


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

Sunday, September 18, 2016

What does it mean to "press in"?

"Behold the Lamb of God" by Alexandre Bida
John: "Behold the Lamb of God."  by A. Bida
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 16:1-18

TO CHEW ON: "'The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it.'" Luke 16:16

From time to time I've heard preachers admonish us to "press in" to God, the things of God etc. I've wondered what exactly they meant and thought it was a preacher-invented expression. But no—it comes from Jesus! He uses it here to talk about the advancement of the kingdom of God: "'Since that time (the time of John) the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it.'"

[The expression "pressing into it' is a transliteration of biazo. It means to use, force, to apply force, to inflict violence on. The word biazo is used one other place in the NT, in Matthew 11:12: "'From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.'"]

Other translations render the NKJV'S Luke 16:16 "…pressing into it" as "…forcing his way into it" (NAS), "… everyone tries forcefully to get into it" (AMP), "… eager multitudes are pressing in" (TLB), "… everyone is forcing their way into it" (NIV).

How does one press in to advance the kingdom of God? A sidebar article by Jack Hayford in my Bible is helpful. Below I quote and paraphrase his thoughts:

"Jesus declares the advance of the kingdom of God is the result of two things: preaching and pressing in."

Those who hear the preaching must respond or they will grow passive. That kingdom is advanced by words of truth and acts of love, but: "… apart from 1] an impassioned pursuit of prayer, 2] confrontation with the demonic, 3] expectation of the miraculous, and 4] a burning heart for evangelism, the kingdom of God makes little penetration in the world."

We must not go overboard in politicizing the kingdom and trying to advance it forcefully through "Earth-level rule" methods as they did during the Crusades. Rather: "Pressing in is accomplished first in prayer warfare, coupled with a will to surrender one's life and self interests, in order to gain God's kingdom goals" - Jack Hayford, "Pressing In," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1420.

It sounds a lot like sold-out discipleship to me

PRAYER:
Dear Father, please create within me the desire, will, and energy to press in to You and the bringing about of Your kingdom. Amen.

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


Saturday, September 17, 2016

Who dictates in your heart?

Image: Pixabay.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Jeremiah 9:4-16

TO CHEW ON: "And the LORD said, 'Because they have forsaken My law which I set before them, and have not obeyed My voice, nor walked according to it, but have walked according to the dictates of their own hearts and after the Baals, which their fathers taught them…'" Jeremiah 9:13,14


It's easy to read these Old Testament prophetic passages with an "I would never do that!" attitude. Yet I fear sometimes we are (I am) like these people. I do the very things God is scolding them about.

A couple of weeks ago I was asked to take on a small ministry responsibility that I hadn't counted on. It was the end of summer. My day planner for the next few weeks was full. And I really didn't' want to do that thing. So I declined.

After saying "No," though, I felt pangs. Why had I said no? Was it more about walking according to, as Jeremiah puts it, the "dictates" of my own heart, than the attitude I want to have of carte blanche "Here's my life, Lord. Do whatever You want with it"?

Now I'm not suggesting that we feel obliged to say "Yes" to every request (ministry or not) that comes along. But we do need to be open to God changing our plans in such ways. Those who know me know I don't do spontaneous well. I like to know ahead of time, to get my head around an activity, to plan for it. But God often seems to reveal His ways and make His requests by surprise. Our responses—my response says a lot about who dictates in my heart.

The prediction Jeremiah makes for the end of these folks is a warning to us—to me. A life of habitual following the dictates of one's own heart and its idols (anything we pursue more than God, including our own projects and productivity) leads to bitterness ("wormwood" and "gall" - Jeremiah 9:15), scattering, and eventual wipe-out (Jeremiah 9:16).

PRAYER: Dear God, may the dictate of my heart be to obey and please You above everything else. Amen.
 
MORE: Doing work for God

"True earnestness is found in obeying God, not in the inclination to serve Him that is born of undisciplined human nature. It is inconceivable, but true nevertheless, that saints are not bringing every project into captivity, but are doing work for God at the instigation of their own human nature which has not been spiritualized by determined discipline" - Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, September 9 reading.


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


Friday, September 16, 2016

An intercessor's tears

Jeremiah by Rembrandt
Jeremiah by Rembrandt

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Jeremiah 8:18-9:3

TO CHEW ON: "Oh that my head were waters,
And my eyes a fountain of tears,
That I might weep day and night
For the slain of the daughter of my people!" - Jeremiah 9:1


It is because of passages like this that Jeremiah is called the "weeping prophet."

Why does he weep?

Here he has just predicted the dreadful future God has showed him:
- The land is barren.
- Foreign invaders devastate the countryside and the cities.
- His people are in exile and cry "From a far country" - Jeremiah 8:19.
- It is the end of hope.

No doubt his tears are part sorrow for the grief he sees is in store for the people he loves—no matter how they treat him. But these things haven't happened yet. So could his tears also be the welling up of a spirit of intercession within him?

Dick Eastman in his book Love on Its Knees puts the word "intercession" under the microscope:

[Intercession is derived from the two Latin words inter and cedere: inter meaning "between," "among," "involved," intervention"; and cedere meaning "to go," "to yield," "to move," or" to pay the price of" - Dick Eastman, Love on Its Knees, p. 20.]

He goes on to list four implications about intercession from its meaning:

  • "First, the roots suggest that intercession means "to go between," as when stepping between someone and his enemy in battle.
  • Second, these terms describe one who "yields himself" among those who are weak and need assistance.
  • Third, intercession is a "moving in the direction of involvement" regarding the needs and hurts of others…
  • Finally, intercession means "to pay the price of intervention" - Eastman, Ibid (emphasis added).

Can you see how Jeremiah is this kind of intercessor? Though it costs him popularity, comfort, and safety, he feels compelled to speak God's words to his countrymen. He continues on, delivering God's warnings despite rejection, even threats, identifying with his people to the point of tears. (Jeremiah's tears remind us of another intercessor, who also wept over the people who rejected Him  - Luke 19:41).

Do we have such love for the unsaved, such an abhorrence of their eternal future without God that we would make ourselves available to intercede to this extent? For I believe such prayer, indeed such an intercessory life, happens only as the Holy Spirit empowers and prays through us.

PRAYER: Dear God, please grow in me the spirit of intercession to the point of tears—the intercession I see in Jeremiah and Jesus. Amen. 

MORE: Weeping prayers

"At times, God calls us to weep. This is His call to empathy, to vicarious intercessory identification with others. At such times, we must be sure to pray 'us' prayers and not 'them' prayers. We must identify with those in need, rather than condemn and accuse" - Wesley Duewel (quoted in Prayer Powerpoints, p. 163).

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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, September 15, 2016

Of barrenness and large families

Image: Pixabay
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 113:1-9

TO CHEW ON: "He grants the barren woman a home
Like a joyful mother of children." Psalm 113:9


Where have we heard parts of this psalm before? Out of the lips of once-barren Hannah - 1 Samuel 2:5,8.

Is barrenness (the inability to have children) still an issue today?

I think it is—but in a culture that doesn't value having children (at least not many children) nearly as much as the Hebrews did, it's often a private anguish.

I come from a large family. Even when I was growing up, we were an oddity. For example, people stopped beside us at a traffic light looked to be counting heads in the car. Nowadays with birth control, there's almost a feeling that it's your duty not to have many children.

In God's economy, children are a blessing. The barren women in the Bible are depicted as wistful (2 Kings 4:16), sad (1 Samuel 1:5-7), sometimes even cursed (2 Samuel 6:20-23). And despite our society's ambivalence toward children and large families, there is often deep sorrow in a women who wants a baby but has never conceived or carried one to term.

As Christian women, let's not deny or ignore this God-given drive—even need to mother, in ourselves or others. Three responses come to mind.

  • We need to support young mothers (and fathers) especially of those families that are bigger than the North American average. Even in the church they are sometimes the brunt of crude jokes. And life can be pretty overwhelming with four,  five, or six little ones.
  • At the same time we need to be sensitive to couples who have few or no children. We have no idea why. They may be living with great sadness. We mustn't add to it by making unfeeling remarks that come out of our assumption this is their choice.
  • Finally, we can pray that God will open wombs! Writers throughout the Bible acknowledge that whether we have children or not is in God's department: "Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord. The fruit of the womb is a reward" - Psalm 127:3 (see also Genesis 48:9; 1 Samuel 2:21).

PRAYER: Dear Father, please help me to have Your values when it comes to motherhood and children for my own family and for families in my church. Amen.

MORE: Prayer for conception

In her book Praying with Fire, Barbara Billett has a prayer for conception. Here is a snippet, to be prayed by both wife and husband:

"By faith we release the anointing life over my (wife's) ovaries, my husband's (my) sperm and my (wife's) womb, in Jesus Name. We thank You, Lord, that Your Spirit is hovering and bringing forth life to our seed together. We speak life to my (wife's) ovaries to release ova properly and correctly and for the Fallopian tubes and uterus to function correctly, so that conception and implantation occurs perfectly, in the Name of Jesus. Than You, Lord, for making me (my wife) a joyful mother and homemaker. For with God, nothing shall be impossible! Behold I (my wife) am (is) Your handmaiden, Lord, Be it unto me (her) according to Thy Word!" - Barbara Billett, Praying With Fire, pp. 48,49,

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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, September 14, 2016

The either / or message of the cross

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 8:12-30

TO CHEW ON: "Then Jesus said to them, 'When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself, but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things.'" John 8:28


Here Jesus, in a reference to His death on the cross at the hands of the very people He is conversing with (" 'When you lift up the Son of Man' "), makes an interesting claim. He says " '...then you will know that I am He' " (the embodiment of all the other claims He has been making about Himself  - John 8:16, 19, 21, 22, 23, 26).

This is a bold prediction. How was it so?

Supernatural events at the time of Jesus' crucifixion:
If the hearts of the Pharisees were at all open to the possibility that what He said here was true, then the unnatural happenings at the time of the crucifixion (the day's premature darkness, the earthquake, the ripping of the temple curtain, the dead raised) would have been powerful witnesses.

Jesus' death on the cross was / is also a personal sifting:
I believe this knowledge was and is more personal—a sorting event that revealed to the Pharisees in Jesus' time and continues to reveal, down to us today, our very hearts.

"They may be confused now, but they will know then. Whether this knowledge will result in salvation or judgment is not said. The idea is probably that they will at that point see the revelation shining at its brightest and have their hearts revealed as, in the light of that revelation, they either embrace or reject Christ and the God He reveals" - IVP Commentary on John 8, accessed through Biblegateway.com - emphasis added.

Still today the message of the cross sifts us (the message that entails our innate sinfulness, our need of a Saviour, and God's mercy, love and grace in sending Jesus to die in the place of each one of us). Some believe and accept it, some don't. It's either / or. 

Paul expresses it so well in 1 Corinthians:
"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. …For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" - 1 Corinthians 1:18, 22-24.

PRAYER:
Dear Jesus, thank You for obeying the Father in dying on the cross for us. Please continue to open the eyes and hearts of people all over the world to how this is the power and wisdom of God. Amen.

MORE: Holy Cross Day

Today the church celebrates HOLY CROSS DAY    .

The liturgy of the day begins with this prayer:

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. 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, September 13, 2016

In for the long haul

TODAY'S SPECIAL: James 5:7-20

TO CHEW ON: "Therefore be patient, brethren … Establish your hearts … You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful" James 5:7,8,11

If there's anything we moderns find hard it's exercising patience. Our fast-paced world of instant communication has us drugged on speed.

We keep our phones constantly on our persons so we see text messages and alerts milliseconds after they're sent and can respond.

Satellite communication has us witnessing events across the globe practically in real time.

Want an update on a news event or sports score? Check Twitter and you'll probably have your answer long before the information hits a bona fide paper.

James makes a plea to his readers for patience which we do well to heed. He presents it from several angles.

1. We need to follow the example of the patient farmer who works in the realm of nature. The "fruit of the earth" needs time and rain (James 5:7).

2. We need to "establish" our own hearts
("strengthen and confirm them in the final certainty" - James 5:8 AMP). I understand this to mean give our faith time to grow both in understanding and experience.

3. We need to follow the example of the patient prophets who were God's obedient mouthpieces during their times. James doesn't say it be we know that most of them never saw their words fulfilled. They had faith and patience that extended past their own lifetimes (James 5:10).

4. We need perseverance"the perseverance of Job"—who saw his trial through to the other side, to 'the end intended by the Lord," and so proved God's love and mercy - James 5:11.

Today I speak to myself more than anyone:
  • Be patient.
  • Establish your heart.
  • Persevere—through personal, career, family, church, community, national, international challenges and issues. Persevere in faithfulness to God and prayer (James 5:13-18)—and I (you too) will see "the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful."

PRAYER: Dear Father, I confess that I am often impatient. Help me to learn patience as I trust in You and grow deep in You through time and the challenges of my life.
 

MORE: "Deliver us from the quick fix" - an article by Ed Cyzewski you might enjoy.


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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, September 12, 2016

Two tests for our to-do lists

TODAY'S SPECIAL: James 4:11-5:6

TO CHEW ON: "Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin." James 4:17


In this practical section of James' practical letter, I see two filters or tests for our to-do lists for today, tomorrow, and into the future.

1. Is this God's will (James 4:13-16)?


After years of walking with the Lord, I still often find myself making plans and then feeling a check in my spirit and the question: "Have you consulted Me about this?" Or realizing that I want something to happen or work out NO MATTER WHAT and then getting the insight: this thing is self-conceived, self-imposed, and self-generated.

Author Janette Oke came face to face with such a dilemma when she began writing. At first she prayed:
"'God, I'm going to write this book. And if it works and if I discover that I have talent, I'll give it all to You.'"

But she quickly sensed that was not what God wanted. His response as she recalls it:
"'I'm not interested in your book after you're done with it. I'm not even particularly interested in your talent. If you are really serious about writing as a ministry, then I want it all, right now before you start.'"

At that early stage in her career, then, she made a hands-off commitment  and the result:

"She was free. She was free to write without worrying about the outcome. She was free from the pressure of getting sales. She was free from the temptation of pride'" -  Janette Oke: A Heart for the Prairie by Laurel Oke Logan, Kindle Location 3167.

2. Am I doing the good I know to do (James 4:17)?

The IVP commentary says about this verse:
"Suddenly James shifts his emphasis from whether we know God's will to whether we do God's will… The adverb oun ("Then"—in the NKJV "Therefore") provides grammatical evidence James intends a connection in thought. The picture is of one who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it" - IVP commentary accessed through Bible Gateway.

I see this enacted in author Oke's life as well. Once she'd had her first book published, she started planning another. But then letters began pouring in from people who wanted to know what happened next to the characters in her story and her editor asked her to write a sequel. So she abandoned her plans and did her duty to the publishing company.

Throughout the active years of her writing career, she continued to do the good she knew to do, delivering three books a year. And it wasn't always easy. In this interview she describes writing as " ... very time consuming and frankly, it’s hard work."

That, folks, is knowing the good one should do, and doing it!

PRAYER: Dear Father, help me to make plans subject to Your lordship in my life and to faithfully perform the good and humble duties You set before me. Amen.
 


MORE: The Reward
The reward to Janette Oke for relinquishing her work to God and faithfully doing her duty is still being seen. Her books have sold over 30 million copies. In 2002, Michael Landon Jr. chose that first book she wrote—Love Comes Softly—as the basis of his first TV movie for the Hallmark Channel. Over the years many more of her books have been made into movies, including the When Calls the Heart TV series, based on her Canadian West books.

But it would be my guess that the reward she is most looking forward to is meeting Jesus and hearing His: "Well done, good and faithful servant."




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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, September 11, 2016

Party time in heaven

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 15:1-10

TO CHEW ON: "'I say to you, likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.... there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.'" Luke 15:7, 10


The occasion of someone's repentance may or may not be a reason for a party on earth. If you are celebrating the return of a long-prayed-for-prodigal, it surely would. But in many cases, an individual's moment of turning from a self-directed to God-directed life is a pretty low-key occasion. In some countries, people keep it a secret because the decision to accept Christ is dangerous to life.

But it is cause for celebration in heaven. The angels, aware of the hugeness of what has just happened, throw a party (or however they express their joy) over each individual who repents.

Imagine, such a simple decision on earth, yet it has the power to spark a heavenly celebration. It's cause for angelic joy, and right up there with what the shepherds witnessed at Jesus' birth (Luke 2:13,14), and what John saw in visions of the exaltation of Christ (Revelation 5:9-10), the gathering home of the saints (Revelation 14:1-3), and the triumph of God as King (Revelation 19:6).

It makes me want to pause and reevaluate my priorities. It causes me to ask myself, do I value the things that heaven values? Am I spending time and effort on what will bring joy there?

PRAYER: Dear God, please make me aware of heaven's value system. I want my life to contribute to heaven's joy. Amen.

MORE: Roses on the stage

"There are fifteen roses in the vase this week," said the officiating pastor at the church we were visiting. I was puzzled when his statement sparked a round of applause. Then he explained. Each rose signified that someone had come to Christ through the witness and outreach of that congregation during the preceding week.

What ways have you heard of to celebrate people coming to faith in Christ?

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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, September 10, 2016

Descent into idolatry

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Exodus 32: 1-18

TO CHEW ON: "Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, 'Come, make us gods that shall go before us, for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him." Exodus 32:1


The Israelites' descent into idolatry is frighteningly swift. As we read the story closely, we can detect some of the catalysts:

  • Impatience: "...the people saw that Moses delayed..."
  • Alienation from God/Moses and the new order that had begun. It's as if the people had never really bought into or identified with Moses and the lifestyle reforms and religious observances he had instituted under God's direction: They referred to him as if he were a stranger: "...this Moses, the man who brought us up out of Egypt..."
  • Feeling abandoned: "...this Moses...we do not know what has become of him."

Aaron's reaction is surprising too. He doesn't offer any argument or resistance to their request. It's almost as if the same thing has been on his mind and he's all too eager to comply.

So despite the miracles of the journey—the Red Sea crossing, their GPS cloud, the bitter water of Mara turned sweet, the daily manna and more—they're back to the idol worshiping ways of Egypt. The ease with which they slip into their idolatrous celebration gives us reason to think such a practice may have been part of their Egypt experience.

I see several lesson from this story for me—for us.

1. Beware of impatience. Again and again in the Bible it sabotaged people, causing them to stray from God's best outcome (e.g. Abraham having a son by Hagar, Saul refusing to wait for Samuel to sacrifice and by this act forfeiting the monarchy of Israel to David's line).

2. Our quickness to fall back on our own devices may be evidence we aren't totally committed to doing life God's way. A knowledge of God's word and memorized Bible words can come to our rescue here. Also, have we cleaned out all the bits and pieces of our old lives so that it's hard to go back (thrown out the tarot cards, the astrology charts, the lucky charms, the books, CDs and DVDs that lure us to old ways of thinking, acting, being)?

3. When God feels absent, we can remind ourselves that no matter how it feels, God is never absent from any situation (Psalm 139:7-12).


PRAYER: Dear God, how easily I too slip into living by my own devices, doing things the old way, impatient with how slowly things are going, try to introduce action myself. Help me to learn from this sobering experience of the Israelites and the golden calf. Amen.

MORE: Our heart idols

"Idolatry is still a danger to the people of God, though it isn’t always so open or obvious. Idols are usually more subtle and hard to detect, for they set up their home in the hidden places of our heart.

If we want to know our idols, we need to consider our predominant thoughts, for what we think about most of the time may be an idol. Our last thought before we sleep, our first thought when we awake, our reveries throughout the day, are spent on the items and issues we treasure and trust. Any possession or person we put our hope in to bring us fulfillment, any goal or aspiration that becomes more important to us than God—these are the “gods” that attract our allegiance and subtly control our lives" - David H. Roper, Our Daily Bread Devotional for February 26, 2004.
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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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