Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Principles of success

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 39:1-23


TO CHEW ON: "The Lord was with Joseph, and he was a successful man..." Genesis 39:2

Who of us doesn't want to be known as successful? However, if what happened to Joseph happened to us—we were sold as slaves and then lied about and put in prison—we would probably feel anything but successful. So how did Joseph earn that label?

His success came despite confusing and unfair circumstances. It was not measured by education, favor or rank (though that would come later) but by the way all he set his hand to flourished. Under his management Potiphar's household was more prosperous than ever before. When he was thrown into prison, his trustworthiness, good sense, and administrative talents soon caught the eye of the jail keeper and gave Joseph favor with him.

The writer of Genesis attributes all his success to God: "Then the Lord was with Joseph.... The Lord caused all that he did to succeed.... The Lord blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake.... But the Lord was with Joseph ... and gave him success...And whatever he did, the Lord made it succeed" - Genesis 39:2, 3, 5, 21, 23.

Several principles of God-initiated success are on display in this passage:

1. God-ordained success is not dependent on or measured by our rank or position. Joseph was a successful servant and prisoner. I think we could say that the success that comes from God is available to us whatever our education or lack of it and wherever we find ourselves (at home, in a coffee shop, on the construction site, in the classroom, office or church, or wherever.)

2. God's blessing on our lives may be reflected in the success of those we work for. Potiphar's household reaped the benefits of having Joseph around.

3. A big element of God-initiated success is favor. Joseph gained the favor of the jail keeper. There are many other Bible characters who gained the favor of the powerful people in their lives: Daniel, Esther, Nehemiah are some.

4. God-ordained success is not, finally, about us but about furthering God's bigger purposes. Joseph eventually achieved even greater success when he was installed as one of the most powerful men in Egypt. But it wasn't to feed his own ego but so he could preserve his people, the Hebrews, God's covenant people, the family line from which Jesus would come. When our motivation is to honor God and further His cause on earth, we are good candidates for the kind of God-driven success that Joseph experienced.


PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for this encouraging story of Joseph. I would love for my life to be a visible testimony of divine blessing and success so that Your honour and glory are furthered as a result of it. Amen.

MORE: Success - what's my role?

We know we don't just sit around and wait for God to drop success into our laps. Joseph was an unknown quantity when he arrived in Pharaoh's jail. He must have done something, demonstrated some initiative, shown some quality of ambition or energy or willingness to be busy in order for the jail keeper to entrust him with responsibility in the first place.  Below are links to three articles on Michael Hyatt's blog that talk about some rubber-hits-the-road elements of success.


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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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Don't miss out! Get book tips on great books to read and my author news. The next newsletter coming September 1st. 





Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Breaking the bondage of confusion

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Isaiah 61:1-11

TO CHEW ON:
“… And instead of confusion they shall rejoice in their portion.” Isaiah 61:7

Today, as I read amazing Isaiah 61, verse 7 jumps out at me:
“Instead of your shame, you shall have double honor,
And instead of confusion they shall rejoice in their portion.
Therefore in their land they shall possess double;
Everlasting joy shall be theirs.”

I’d like to focus especially on one snippet of verse 7: “And instead of confusion they shall rejoice in their portion.”

Isaiah wrote this (entire chapter) to a nation that would spend many years in exile. This prophecy in the immediate spoke to them of a time they would again live in their own land.

A few word definitions:

“‘Shame’ and ‘dishonor’ describe the experience of the Babylonian exile of the sixth century” - Reformation Study Bible (accessed through Biblegateway.com).

“Confusion” (kalimmah) is also translated humilation, disgrace, reproach, shame, dishonor, insult, ignominy.

“Portion” (cheleq) means one’s share, part, territory, one’s possession
.

To the exile, this prophecy spoke of a time when they would come out of the confusion or “humiliation” (NAS) of being exiled outsiders to again owning and rejoicing in their own “portion” or possession of land.

One of the reasons this verse speaks to me at this time is that in our western society, one of our most precious possessions, our gender norms and sexual identity, are under attack. New theories that claim our birth sex means nothing and that we can decide whether we are wishing to identify as male or female on any given day, are being instituted and upheld in society at large. Of special concern to me is that these new theories are now mandated instruction and practice in the schools—whether religious or secular.

This is leading to the need for new pronouns in our dictionary to address those who feel they are neither a “he” nor a “she,” genderless bathrooms, changes on official forms to accommodate those who don’t want to be identified with their biological sex—in other words, a whole lot of confusion.

This is especially troublesome for children who are now to be taught this new fluid sexual identity theory as truth. Who, if they question their birth sex as defining their gender identity are being encouraged to experiment with living as the other sex and in some cases given puberty blocking medications* (drugs that may make them sterile).

As a Christian who lives by the principles of the Bible, I see this gender identity confusion as only one more evidence of the “Has God indeed said...?” rebellion first sown in the human heart way back in Eden (Genesis 3:1). For God has indeed said “…male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27) and has made His position on sexual relations between genders and gender identity clear in passages like Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Romans 1:27 and Deuteronomy 22:5.

Male and female is how He made us. This is not some cruel edict from a stern, unfeeling deity. It’s wisdom. It’s love. Living as a male or female, according to our physical biology is how we work best. We’re only asking for trouble when we defy the way we were wisely and lovingly created (see Romans 1:24-27).

So Isaiah 61:7 gives us the hopeful assurance that Jesus (who declared this passage was speaking of Him as the One who can bring liberty to the captives - Isaiah 61:1 compare Luke 4:17-21) can also set free from from this. Instead of the bondage of confusion over whether we, our children, and grandchildren are and should identify as the gender we were born, we can rejoice in our portion (our possession of a sure male or female identity).

Let’s pray this for and over ourselves, our children, and grandchildren in these days, as we are forced to navigate this tsunami of lies and confusion.

PRAYER: Dear Father, I pray for the children of this generation. Deliver them from confusion. Help them to recognize this theory as the lie that it is. Please help us as those who believe You created us wisely and well to know how to express Your loving intentions toward all people. Amen.

MORE:


*Additional reading about puberty suppression from The New Atlantis:
Growing Pains: Problems with Puberty Suppression in Treating Gender Dysphoria


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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, August 14, 2017

Are you covered?

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Psalm 105:23-45

TO CHEW ON: “He spread a cloud for a covering…” Psalm 105:39

Psalm 105 is a praise poem recalling the ways God has helped Israel in the past. On the list is the cloud that accompanied Israel throughout their wilderness wanderings.

It was a cloud that served many purposes:
  • It gave them direction, i.e. went before them telling them where to go. Exodus 13:21
  • It stopped them. When the cloud came to rest, they were to stop and not move on again until the cloud lifted - Numbers 9:17-23.
  • It gave them light at night, so they could travel by day or by night, to avoid the desert’s scorching heat - Numbers 13:21.
  • It shielded and hid them when the Egyptians pursued them. It was dark on the Egyptian side but light on the Israelite side. Its presence gave them light and time to cross the miraculously dried up Red Sea at night while obscuring the Egyptian’s way - Exodus 14:19,20.
The psalmist calls it a “covering.”

God provided other coverings for people as well.

  • He covered Adam and Eve with clothes, animal skin coverings after their disobedience stole their innocence form them (Genesis 3:21).
  • His covering or protection is sometimes referred to as wings. The picture is of a mother bird sheltering her young (Psalm 57:1) or rescuing them (Deuteronomy 32:11). Boaz referred to God’s sheltering wings when he singled out Ruth with an invitation to glean in his field (Ruth 2:12).
  • Bible writers also refer to God’s covering as a shelter or refuge from the elements of life and nature (Isaiah 25:4).
  • And then there are all the references to God covering His people in pure, beautiful clothes—way nicer clothes than those skin tunics of Adam and Eve:
- Robes of righteousness and salvation (Isaiah 61:10).
- Beautiful embroidered garments (Ezekiel 16:10).
- “Best robes” - Luke 15:22.
- Wedding clothes - Matthew 22:11.
- White clothes - Revelation 7:9
- “Fine linen clean and bright” - Revelation 19:8.

Who would not welcome such covering?

Sadly, not everyone. Jesus wept over Jerusalem, the people who spurned God’s wings of covering with their rejection of His prophets, including the final One—Jesus the Son - Matthew 23:37-39.

He reprimanded the  lukewarm church of Laodicea for their delusions of needing nothing and counseled them to '… buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich and white garments that you may be clothed that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed…'” - Revelation 3:17,18.

So, how do we put ourselves under God’s covering, under His protection, in His clothes? Revelation 3 continues on with this answer from Jesus Himself.
We invite Him into our lives: 'Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him and he with Me'” - Revelation 3:21.
Then we listen to His voice and follow Him.  Jesus again: "'My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand'" John 10:27,28. 

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, help me to live constantly under Your covering, in Your clothes. Please show me areas where self will, rebellion, laziness, self-deception, impatience, etc. leave me naked and vulnerable. 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, August 13, 2017

Tests

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 105:1-22

TO CHEW ON: "His feet were hurt with fetters; his neck was put in a collar of iron; until what he had said came to pass, the word of the Lord tested him." Psalm 105:19


The "his" and "he" referred to in the verses above is Joseph. What is the psalm-writer talking about when he says "...until what he had said came to pass"? I believe it was those outrageous dreams of Joseph's which we read about in Genesis 37:

"Hear this dream that I have dreamed: Behold we were binding sheaves in the field and behold my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf....Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me..." Genesis 37:6-9.

During his days as a slave in Potiphar's house and later as a prisoner, I wonder if Joseph ever thought back to those dreams and wondered — What was that about? His situation couldn't have been farther from what his dream predicted.

However, there was action toward the fulfillment of those dreams all through that time. The psalm-writer alludes to what was happening behind the scenes. God was testing Joseph.

It's interesting that the psalmist doesn't say that circumstances tested Joseph, or Potiphar and the jailer tested Joseph but "the word of the Lord tested him," telling us that these circumstances had God's knowledge and permission. They issued as "the word of the Lord," that same creative force that brought the worlds into being (John 1:1-3).

Joseph's response to this testing was positive. With faithful dependability he passed every test. Then on one day that began like every other, the test was over (Psalm 105:20-22). And of course, when his brothers came from Canaan seeking food, the fulfillment of his dreams came true in living color before his eyes.

Your current situation may also be far from what you feel God has promised you for your future. Viewing the unpleasant, difficult, and unfair things in your life as God's tests may help you gain courage, inspiration and the hope to keep going.

Joseph's story shows too, how completely and radically God can turn things around in a short while once the test is over. So don't be fooled or disheartened by appearances.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for this glimpse behind the scenes of the way You work in human lives. Please help me to pass the tests You bring my way today. Amen.


MORE: The test of waiting

You may find my article "In the Waiting Room" helpful if your test is waiting...and waiting... and waiting some 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.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Storm—a faith adventure

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Matthew 14:22-36

TO CHEW ON: “But the boat was now in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves for the wind was contrary.” Matthew 14:24

Here are some interesting details to note about this story:
  • Jesus “made” (NKJV) or “directed” (AMP) His disciples to get into the boat and precede Him to the other side (Matthew 14:22).
  • Jesus stayed behind to pray. It was during prayer He must have sensed the disciples were in trouble (Matthew 14:23).
  • The disciples were no doubt stressed, anxious, and busy fighting the wind and waves. The boat might even have been out of control, seeing how it was  in the “middle of the sea,” “tossed,” and the “winds were contrary” (Matthew 14:24).
  • However, it wasn’t until almost morning (the “fourth watch” is between 3 and 6 a.m.) that Jesus came to them (Matthew 14:25).
  • When He came, He encouraged Peter to risk, rather than react with caution (Matthew 14:29).

This incident impresses several things on me.

1. Since Jesus “made” or “directed” the disciples into that boat and then let the trouble go on for a while before coming to them, perhaps we can conclude that facing that storm was His plan for them. And perhaps storms and trouble are also part of God’s plan for us—a preparation for our continuing earthly life or destiny in eternity?

2. Jesus sensed they were in trouble during His prayer time. Has it ever happened to you that as you are praying, a name, face, or memory of an old friend or acquaintance comes to mind? Could that be a supernatural nudge that they have a need and we should intercede for them?

3. When Peter kept His eyes on Jesus, he had faith that helped him do the impossible. Let’s take from that that when Jesus is with us in the storm, we too can step out and risk rather than pull back in caution. My Bible’s study notes express it well:
He gives His followers the power to follow Him, even in adversity, and encourages adventurous discipleship” - J. Lyle Story, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1317.

PRAYER:
Dear Jesus, thank You that You know about my storms and that they are under Your control. Help me to view them as faith challenges and adventures. 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, August 11, 2017

How to have beautiful feet

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Romans 10:1-21

TO CHEW ON: "How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: 'How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!'" - Romans 10:14,15


This passage tells us some foundational things about the gospel (good news).
1. Its content is simple. To be saved (that would be saved from eternal separation from God) all we need to do is call on Jesus.

2. We nail it down with our words. This faith (calling on Jesus) works together with our confession (speaking about our faith) to cement God’s work in our hearts.

3. The gospel is for any- and everyone. Race or ethnic background is no consideration.

4. God needs and uses people to spread it.

Has it ever struck you that the feet of the gospel spreaders are called beautiful, and not their mouths? This says something about the importance of spreading the gospel far and wide.

Though not all of us may be sent to do this in a physical, cross-the-ocean kind of way, we can still all have a part in Operation Beautiful Feet.
  • We can support the ones God calls to go physically – with money, prayers, and thoughtful service when they return on furlough (like supplying a place to live, vehicle etc.).
  • We can support organizations that translate and distribute the Bible to peoples around the world (like Wycliffe, and our national Bible Society).
  • We can now go virtually. With the internet, distance and boundaries have all but disappeared. Web sites proclaiming the gospel abound. (Over the 2+ years my children’s devotional has been running, for example, people from dozens of countries have visited. If you write a blog, I’m sure you’ve had the same experience.)
  • Of course, no matter how much we feel “sent” to stay home, there’s nothing stopping us from taking the good news next door, across the street, across town – using our beautiful feet to reach our neighbors.

I ask myself, how have I done in the beautiful feet department? How have you? As we work together, we can accomplish the beautiful feet goal: “Their sound has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.” Romans 10:18


PRAYER: Dear God, please make me more aware of my responsibility (and privilege) to share the gospel wherever I am and by whatever means I have. Amen.

MORE:
“Shout to the North” by Delirious




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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, August 10, 2017

We are God's puzzle pieces

Image: Pixabay

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Romans 9:19-33

TO CHEW ON:
“But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ “ Romans 9:20

Sometimes these Bible Society readings gain weight by juxtaposition. Today’s reading, about God’s sovereignty, coming after yesterday’s story of Joseph’s brothers selling him to Ishmaelite traders who happened along at the perfect moment, is one such.

I can imagine Joseph, at the time, wondering what he had done to deserve such a fate. It wasn’t his fault that he’d been born to Rachel, Jacob’s favorite wife. He couldn’t stop the puzzling dreams that came to him at night. And who could resist retelling them in the hope that someone could explain what they meant? He was just trying to be a good son when he went in search of his brothers, and now this?!

Years later, he had insight into where it was all going, and why and who:
“But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. ...  And God sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you who sent me here, but God; ...” - Genesis 45:5-7 (emphasis added).

The same may be true for us someday—or not. In fact, we may never in this life understand the whys and wherefores of the twists and turns our lives have taken or been kept from taking. Someday, though, in eternity if not here on earth, I believe like Joseph we will understand how the bits and pieces of our lives fit into the picture of the “riches of His glory” - Romans 9:23
"For now [in this time of imperfection] we see in a mirror dimly [a blurred reflection, a riddle, an enigma], but then [when the time of perfection comes we will see reality] face to face. Now I know in part [just in fragments], but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known [by God]" - 1 Corinthians 13:12 AMP (emphasis added).

PRAYER: Dear Father, please help me to trust You with life circumstances I don’t understand, and that You will make my life an enhancement of Your glory. Amen.

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

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


Wednesday, August 09, 2017

The crafty gene

Joseph sold - Artist unknown
Joseph sold - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 37:21-36

TO CHEW ON:
"So they took Joseph's tunic, killed a kid of the goats, and dipped the tunic in the blood. Then they sent the tunic of many colors, and they brought it to their father and said, 'We have found this. Do you know whether it is your son's tunic or not?'" Genesis 37:31,32


The dysfunction in Jacob's family continues. To the list of favoritism, jealousy, boasting, and hatred, today we can add craftiness (deceit). Jacob's deceitful gene had not skipped his sons.

By selling Joseph not only did they rid themselves of an annoying, boastful tattletale brother, but they did it without human blood on their hands and made a little coin to boot. Lying to Jacob by implying  that Joseph had been killed by an animal absolved them of all blame.

Craftiness runs through the Bible.
  • The first cunning creature was the serpent (and we know who was embodied in that crafty creature) - Genesis 3:1.
  • Jacob, the father of these sons, had tricked his twin brother Esau out of his birthright and blessing (Genesis 27:16, 35).
  • When Joshua began conquering Canaan, the Gibeonites, a neighbouring tribe, tricked him into signing a peace treaty with them (Joshua 9:1-27).
  • The chief priests, scribes and elders "… plotted to take Jesus by trickery and kill Him" - Matthew 26:4; Luke 20:23. However, Jesus was not take in by the attempts of the religious leaders to trick Him into saying something that would get Him in trouble with the Romans (Luke 20:23).
  • In Paul's letter to the Christians in Ephesus, he explains that one of the reasons for gifts in the church is to grow Christians to maturity so they will no longer "… be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine and by trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting" - Ephesians 4:14 (emphasis added.

Though the craftiness of Jacob's sons may fascinate us, the scriptures above alert us to its satanic origin.

Let's be aware of who sows crafty thoughts and tendencies within us. Instead of crafty, let's aim to be the kind of person Jesus described to His disciples: "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents, harmless as doves" - Matthew 10:16.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to be alert to crafty tendencies within me and the fact that they are a form of deceit and lying. 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, August 08, 2017

The spiritually alert parent

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Genesis 37:1-20

TO CHEW ON: “And his brothers envied him, but his father kept the matter in mind.” Genesis 37:11

Jacob made more than one mistake as a parent. A glaring one was to show preference for Joseph over his other sons. It caused envy and jealousy among the siblings.

Joseph’s brash boasting about his dreams didn’t help. When he told his brothers about their wheat sheaves bowing down to his, they came to hate him. After a second dream, which he told his brothers and his father, even his doting dad rebuked him. But then Jacob did something right. He “…kept the matter in mind.”

This reminds me of Mary, mother of Jesus and her reaction to the unusual happenings around Jesus’ birth when she “Kept all these things and pondered them in her heart” - Luke 2:19.  Again when she saw his obvious giftedness in understanding and expressing spiritual truths at twelve, she “kept all these things in her heart” - Luke 2:51.

As parents and grandparents, one of the things we want most for our offspring is that they find their purpose in life. One of the ways we do that is to watch and then keep in our minds and hearts what we see of their gifts, strengths and weaknesses, and how God is at work in them. I believe this also involves praying into and over these things as we think about how to give them direction.

In his inspiring book Transforming Children Into Spiritual Champions, George Barna shares this bit of advice on how we give such direction.

“What can you do to help the youngsters with whom you have contact discover God’s purpose for their lives? As you explore their personality, spiritual gifts, passion, intellectual capacity, physical abilities, character traits and resonance with particular biblical characters and stories, funnel that knowledge toward guiding them to a clear idea of the role that has been reserved for them in God’s army. Encourage them to feel neither arrogant nor disappointed by that role. No calling is better than any other, and if it is God’s calling for them, then it is perfect for them" - George Barna, Transforming Children Into Spiritual Champions, p. 66.


PRAYER:
Dear Father help me to be a watcher, to observe and pray into the young lives around me and then encourage them in the dreams you have planted in 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.


Monday, August 07, 2017

Keeping the idols

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Genesis 35:1-21

TO CHEW ON:
“So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods which were in their hands, and the earrings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree which was by Shechem.” Genesis 35:4



There is something that doesn’t feel quite wholesome about the way Jacob dealt with these foreign god idols. As the writer of my Bible’s notes points out;

“… yet the ‘foreign gods’ were hidden beneath a carefully identified ‘terebinth tree.’ Thus paganism remained deeply rooted in their hearts.” R. Russell Bixler New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 52.

Aren’t we sometimes guilty of the same thing, though? We trust God yet secretly hang onto things that fill some need or help us get by on our own: old letters, emails, or text messages that feed our outrage and keep us from forgiveness, those “how to” books, blog subscriptions, or articles that are full of advice on living life by our own wits, lists of contacts to call when we need outside help, lottery tickets, a glimpse at the day’s horoscope…

Or what about the more subtle “good” idols we serve. In her book Embracing Your Second Calling, Dale Hanson Bourke alerts us to them in a quote from a Tim Keller modern-day idolatry identification worksheet:

Approval idolatry: ‘Life only has meaning / I only have worth if I am loved and respected by …’ 
Control idolatry: ‘Life only has meaning / I only have worth if I am able to get mastery over my life in the area of …’ 
Helping idolatry: ‘Life only has meaning / I only have worth if people are dependent on me.’ 
Work idolatry: ‘Life only has meaning / I only have worth if I am highly productive and get a lot done.’ 
Achievement idolatry” ‘Life only has meaning / I only have worth if I am being recognized for my accomplishments / excelling in my career’” - Tim Keller, quoted in Embracing Your Second Calling, p. 90,91.

I ask myself, what idols am I secretly keeping and serving? What about you?

And how foolish to think that God doesn’t know:

If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,”
Even the night shall be light about me;
 Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You,
But the night shines as the day;
The darkness and the light are both alike to You.- Psalm 139:11,12

Jesus: “ 'For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known.’” Luke 12:2

PRAYER:
Dear Father, please help me to recognize and destroy any and all idols in my life. Amen.

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


Sunday, August 06, 2017

Kingdom vision

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Daniel 7:1-14

TO CHEW ON: “Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom,
That all peoples, nations and languages should serve Him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion,
Which shall not pass away,
And His Kingdom the one
Which shall not be destroyed.” Daniel 7:14


Reading passages like today's shows me how puny are my customary pictures of God, His awesomeness, and His plans for history.

Bible scholars have looked into what or who the grotesque beasts of Daniel’s dream (Daniel 7:3-8) could symbolize and come up with a variety of conclusions. Personally I don’t even want to start down that path.

What does cause my heart to do a somersault, though, is the vision of God the Father and Jesus that Daniel records at the end of our reading. After all the beasts have lost their power, we witness “one like the Son of Man” coming from the sky to stand before the “Ancient of Days” (Daniel 7:9,10) and to whom is given dominion, glory and a kingdom “… His dominion is an everlasting dominion, / Which shall not pass away, / And HIs kingdom the one / Which shall not be destroyed” - Daniel 7:14.

A few verses beyond our reading, Daniel makes reference to this kingdom again: “But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom, and possess the kingdom forever, even forever and ever.”

My Bible’s study notes on Daniel explain: “Son of Man was Jesus’ favourite self-designation. Hence Daniel’s dream is in part messianic, announcing that the Messiah’s coming will inaugurate a new phase of God’s rule on Earth. Christ did this by bringing the kingdom of God into human experience, (vs. 18)” Coleman Cox Phillips, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1131.

Reflect now on Jesus and how often he talked about the kingdom. He was recognized as and accepted the title of king (Matthew 2:2; 27:11; John 12:13). He claimed that bringing the kingdom was the very reason He was born (John 18:37). He told many parables about it. In passages like Matthew 5,6 & 7 (parallel Luke 6:20-49) He described its principles and “laws of gravity.”

Jesus’ teachings about the kingdom bear out Daniel’s assertion in Daniel 7:18 that the kingdom is not a human kingly dynasty but is something we as individuals receive and possess now and for all eternity when we accept Him as Saviour and Lord (King).

How exciting to have this connection to the majestic coronation scene of Daniel’s vision!

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, passages like Daniel 7 put me in awe of God the Father and You, Son of Man, as they give me a glimpse into Your greatness and plans for history. May I never lose my awe and wonder at the enormity of You and Your ways. Thank You that I can live in Your kingdom now. Amen. 


MORE: Feast of the Transfiguration
Today the church remembers and celebrates the day Jesus was transfigured before His disciples. This collect prayer begins the day's liturgy:

O God, who on the holy mount revealed to chosen witnesses your well-beloved Son, wonderfully transfigured, in raiment white and glistening: Mercifully grant that we, being delivered from the disquietude of this world, may by faith behold the King in his beauty; who with you, O Father, and you, O Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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


Saturday, August 05, 2017

My destiny: God's choice or mine?

Image: Pixabay
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Romans 9:1-18

TO CHEW ON: "As it is written, 'Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated'" - Romans 9:13

"Loved"? "Hated"? Paul is here quoting the strong words of the prophet Malachi (Malachi 1:2-3). They bring up a lot of questions.

"'Loved ... hated' are not to be understood in their normal sense. They are best understood 'chose...rejected' based on the fact that God knew Jacob would better further His will," Wayne Grudem, study notes to Romans in the  New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1564).

In today's reading we bump head-on into one of the mysteries of the Bible and Christianity: If God makes everything, knows everything, is righteous and loving, how is He fair when He rejects some (like Esau), or when He creates some for destruction (like Pharaoh - Romans 9:17)?

Paul himself acknowledges the logical difficulty:

"So you see, God chooses to show mercy to some, and he chooses to harden the hearts of others so they refuse to listen.
Well then, you might say, “Why does God blame people for not responding? Haven’t they simply done what he makes them do?”
No, don’t say that. Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, “Why have you made me like this?”
When a potter makes jars out of clay, doesn’t he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into? - NLT - Romans 9:18-21.

Apparently you and I don't have any choice in the matter—or do we?

When we think it through, we realize that God's appointment of our final destiny is only the ultimate in a myriad of decisions God has made about us from the decision to give us life in the first place, to which family we belong to, country we're born in, what sex we are, whether our eyes are blue or brown, our IQ low or high, and on and on. It's impossible for us as creatures to comprehend the whys and wherefores of an all-knowing, all-powerful, all righteous, and all-loving Creator. From God's viewpoint, my life is entirely planned and set, as if it had already happened (Psalm 139:15-16).

However, from my viewpoint as a creature, I have choices and the Bible also bears that out: John 7:17; Hebrews 3:7-8; Hebrews 4:7.

H. C. Thiessen, in his Lectures in Systematic Theology, describes a way of reconciling God's sovereignty and man's choice in this bit:
"Man's part and God's part seem to be brought together in John 1:12,13: "But as many as received him, to them gave he the right to become children of God, even to them that believe in his name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." Man has the grace to accept Him or to reject Him. If he accepts Christ, God gives him the right to become a child of God by regenerating him; if he rejects Christ, he remains under the wrath of God. God's grace enables man to accept Christ, but it does not constrain him to do so.


"'As they went, they were cleansed' (Luke 17:14) is a principle that applies here also. As a man shows the least willingness to obey God, He gives him repentance and faith" - H. C. Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology, p. 231.

I personally don't spend time worrying about whether I'm one of the chosen or rejected, from God's point of view. Rather I do what is in my seeming power and ability to do. I chose to accept His salvation when I was eight years old and daily try to make the choices that confirm Him as Lord of my life.

What about you?

PRAYER: Dear God, Your ways are beyond my comprehension. Help me to daily accept and live in the grace You extend, making choices that are in line with Your will as revealed in Your word. Amen.

MORE: Calvinism vs. Arminianism

Throughout church history Christians have tended to coalesce around two opposing viewpoints regarding the sovereignty of God and the free will of man in the matter of salvation. Calvinists emphasize God's sovereignty while Arminians focus on man's freedom of choice.

"Calvinism vs. Arminianism - which view is correct?" is a brief explanation of the position of each.

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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 NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Jesus' hospitable heart

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Matthew 14:13-21

TO CHEW ON: “But Jesus said to them, ‘They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.’” Matthew 14:16

The amazing banquet of fish and bread we read of today took place in the context of  grief. Jesus had just heard of the death of His relative and friend, John the Baptist. He went to a deserted place, no doubt to process this sad news by Himself. But he wasn’t alone for long (Matthew 14:12-14).

The city crowds that found Him stirred up His emotions even more. On this day Jesus experienced the reality of human existence: death, sickness, hunger. His was no stingy, there-may-not-be-enough response. Rather, His every reaction was welcoming—a testimony to the enoughness of God in every category.
  • He welcomed the crowds with compassion, showing not a ripple of annoyance that they had intruded on his solitude.
  • He healed their sick.
  • He fed them. When His disciples suggested, very practically after this long day that He send them off to find food, Jesus turned their suggestion around to “You feed them.”

I love this glimpse into the generous hospitality of God. It’s an example to us of how we, as those indwelt by His Spirit, can count on, should count on Him to be enough for every situation in our lives and the lives of those around us. It includes having hearts, not full of ourselves but softened with compassion [splanchnizomai - tender mercies, feelings of affection, compassion, sympathy, pity] for those around us.

The last bit of the story, where the disciples picked up the leftovers, now multiplied to many times more than the original source (Matthew 14:20), speaks to me of how generosity and hospitality typically gets repaid many times over what was put in.

PRAYER:
Dear Father, please give me the faith to believe You are sufficient to meet the needs of those around me using me. I need Your generous, hospitable, compassionate heart. Amen.

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


Thursday, August 03, 2017

Acknowledge the past before transformation

Jacob Wrestles - Matthaeus Merian I (1593-1650)
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Genesis 32:6-32

TO CHEW ON:
“So He said to him, ‘What is your name?’
He said, ‘Jacob’
(supplanter, deceiver).
And He said, ‘Your name shall no longer be called Jacob but Israel (Prince with God)…’” - Genesis 32:27,28


We left Jacob yesterday alone and determined to deal with his past. For not only had he broken with Laban, but he sent servants to tell Esau, his estranged twin brother, that he was passing through (Genesis 32:1-5).

The servants returned with the news that Esau was on his way to meet Jacob, accompanied by 400 men.

That put the scare into Jacob!

He did all he could to prepare for this meeting that he feared would end badly.
- He prayed - reminding God of His promise to him - Genesis 32:9-12.
- He prepared and sent on ahead herds of animals as gifts for Esau - Genesis 32:13-15.
- He separated his most precious possessions, his wives and children, from the main company and sent them to the other side of the Jabbok River.

In the fear-filled and sleepless night before the meeting, Jacob experienced perhaps the greatest preparation for the day ahead (and the rest of his life). He met a mysterious stranger who wrestled with him. This man (a theophany? an angel?) made Jacob say his name (acknowledge his identity, Jacob—deceiver, supplanter) before He would pronounce the blessing for which Jacob begged.

Then God blessed him with a new name (identity): Israel—Prince with God, a reminder of the encounter (a lifelong limp), and a formal blessing (Genesis 32:26-29)

Perhaps what happened to Jacob may also be applicable to us. Before we get God’s blessing of transformation, we may also need to admit what we were, to acknowledge the human means we’ve used to this point to make our way in life. This so we can forsake them and in their stead lean on God and trust His ways of working.

PRAYER:
Dear Father, thank You for faithfully bringing me face to face with my human coping mechanisms in order to transform me into a person who relies on You.

MORE: The rest of the story…


To read how Jacob and Esau’s meeting went, read Genesis 33:1-16.

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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, August 02, 2017

Alone but not alone

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Genesis 31:43-32:5

TO CHEW ON:
“So Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him.” - Genesis 32:1

As we read the story of Jacob, we can feel the tension building in him. After years of living by the largesse of his father-in-law (and under the blessing of God), he wanted to make a break and strike out on his own. In fact, God had told him to do so - Genesis 31:3.

There were lots of reasons to stay put. His father-in-law Laban wanted that. And probably at the back of Jacob’s mind was the thought that to move anywhere, especially back to his paternal home, he’d have to deal with the Esau issue. He had left home those many years ago to escape his twin brother’s murderous threats after he (Jacob) stole Esau’s birthright blessing.

Finally, though, it was too much. In the section of Genesis 31 just before our reading is the story of Jacob and his multitude sneaking away from Laban. But Laban would have none of it. He pursued Jacob, caught up to him, and scolded him for not leaving properly.

Today we read how the two families parted ways in Oriental style with ceremony, offerings, memorials, a big meal, promises, hugs, and kisses. Then, at long last, Jacob and his family were officially on their own.

Jacob was, bit by bit, dealing with the roadblocks to what he knew he must do—break with Laban and travel back home. It’s telling that when he was finally alone, God visited him again: “So Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him” - Genesis 32:1. His experience reminds us of Abraham’s and how God showed up to him too just after he had parted ways from Lot (Genesis 13:14-18).

Perhaps there’s a lesson here for us. When we’re surrounded by a crowd and all manner of supports, life is too full, too noisy, too complete. We feel we don’t need God.

But when He finally gets us off to ourselves and we face our limitations, past mistakes that still need fixing, fears of all kinds, we find that He is there with us, reassuring us that we aren’t alone at all but in far safer company than when we were in the crowd we just left.

PRAYER:
Dear Father, help me to trust in You more than other people and circumstances. Please give me the courage to obey You and leave my securities when You say so. 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, August 01, 2017

Prospering against all odds

Jacob laying the peeled rods before Laban's flock - Bartolomé Esteban Murillo - 1617-1682
Jacob laying the peeled rods before Laban's flock - Bartolomé Esteban Murillo - 1617-1682

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 30:22-43

TO CHEW ON: "Thus the man became exceedingly prosperous, and had large flocks, female and male servants, and camels and donkeys." Genesis 30:43

The trickery between Laban and Jacob continued. When Jacob wanted to leave, Laban pressured him to stay, not for Jacob's benefit but for his own. He recognized that God's blessing on Jacob was seeping into his life as well.

Yet he seemed forever suspicious that what Jacob was actually doing was stealing from him. So Jacob suggested a foolproof way to determine his wages. His pay would be the less desirable sheep and goats of the flock—the speckled and spotted sheep and goats, and the brown lambs.

Laban agreed to this, after which he immediately removed all such animals from his current flocks, giving them to his sons. Then he separated his flocks (tended by Jacob) and the flocks of his sons by a three-day-journey distance.

Our reading describes Jacob's way of provoking "flawed" animals. My Bible's commentary says about Jacob's system of peeled rods:
"Jacob was not practicing superstition, he was exercising faith which he somehow associated with the rods. God, having designed the laws of genetics, intervened and honored Jacob's faith" R. Russell Bixler, commentary on Genesis, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 46.

Whether Jacob was at heart superstitious or faith-filled, only he and God know. But it worked—not, I would submit, because of anything Jacob did but because God wanted it so and had planned it so. Jacob's survival and prospering was one of the pieces needed to complete the picture of our redemption through Jesus. Mr.Bixler again:
"God's blessings are always able to exceed man's defrauding" - Ibid.

How encouraging this story can be to us. Even when events, circumstances, and people are arrayed against us, nothing can or will stop God's purposes as He determines (with our cooperation of course) to enact them through us.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to look to You and not circumstances, people or my own wits for success in the assignments You give me. Amen.

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

Monday, July 31, 2017

A legacy of dysfunction

Mandrake roots
Mandrake roots (Source: Wikipedia)
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 30:1-24

TO CHEW ON:
"Now when Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister, and said to Jacob, 'Give me children or else I die.'" Genesis 30:1


Jacob's harem was not a happy place. Rachel envied Leah's fruitfulness and blamed Jacob for her lack of conceiving. This provoked Jacob's anger. The rivalry between the sisters soon drew their maids into the competitive struggle and enlarged the circle of bigamy. In these women's eyes, even God chose sides, favoring one and then the other with sons. This all sunk to a new low when Rachel and Leah showed their superstitious side as they haggled over some supposedly aphrodisiac mandrake plants for a night with the man.

Some thoughts on this depressing installment of the story:

1. We see the wisdom of God's design of one man + one woman (Genesis 2:24) by the mess in homes where men had several wives (like this one and see also the story of Elkanah, Peninnah and Hannah - 1 Samuel 1:1-7).

2. Individual sinful tendencies and family strife are readily passed from one generation to the next. The tensions of Isaac & Rebekah's relationship are only magnified in Jacob's family.

Do we find such generational weaknesses in our homes too? Probably, to some extent at least. But do they have to carry on? How can we put a stop to such a  legacy of dysfunction? Here are some ideas. Can you think of more?
  • Ask God to show us where we are duplicating the sins of our fathers. We may be blind to these and need to grow sensitive again. One way is to read and apply what God's word says about attitudes to avoid (Exodus 20:1-17; Galatians 5:17-21) and those to cultivate (1 Corinthians 13:1-13, Galatians 5:22-26). Another way to gain insight is to ask close friends and family members what they see in our relationships and homes.
  • We need to beware that kids interpret  "normal" from what they see at home, and by God's grace set a different example than, perhaps, we saw in our own homes growing up. Emulate the good; reject the bad.
  • Remember that with God there are new beginnings.
" … put off … the old man … and be renewed in the spirit of your mind and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness" - Ephesians 4:22-24.

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new" - 2 Corinthians 5:17


PRAYER: Dear God, please help me not to make excuses for sinful attitudes and tendencies which have been part of my family. With Your enabling, I'm never too old to change. 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, July 30, 2017

Offending wisdom

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 13:47-58

TO CHEW ON: "When He had come to His own country, He taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished and said, 'Where did this Man get this wisdom and these mighty works?'" Matthew 13:54

The kingdom of heaven parables poured out of Jesus. In today's reading, we read the last of a series recorded in Matthew 13. In it, Jesus compared the kingdom to a mixed catch of fish (Matthew 13:47-50).

We take from it the message that the church's responsibility is to spread the gospel wherever it can, even to those who appear unlikely to accept it, for it attracts people of all kinds. And like the parable of the wheat and tares, here the 'fish'  who survive a sorting by the angels at the end of the age will be preserved while the wicked will be cast into a place that sounds a lot like hell - Matthew 13:50.

"Where did this Man get this wisdom?" the people in Jesus' home town inquired. Even though they may not have been referring to His kingdom of heaven speech specifically (He had in the meantime traveled to the place where he grew up - Nazareth), His teaching was invariably wise, thought-provoking, stimulating, and controversial.

Unfortunately even though townspeople called Jesus' teaching wise, they were offended by it (Matthew 13:57). It's the same reaction Jesus' teaching receives today (e.g. the ongoing controversy within Christianity about the existence and meaning of hell).

Two applications come to mind:

1. I wish I had a tiny iota of Jesus' wisdom, don't you? We are reminded of Peter and John and the reaction to their teaching: "Now when they (rulers, elders, scribes etc.) saw the boldness of Peter and John and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus" - Acts 4:13 (emphasis added). Is the secret to wisdom spending time with Jesus?

2. We need to be mindful of our own reaction to Jesus' teaching. Our generation has a tendency to select what it will believe and live by. A popular emphasis today is Jesus' message about caring for the poor, while we gloss over His message of judgment. Are we personally guilty of letting society's preferences dictate which of Jesus' words we take seriously and which we don't because they offend?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for the record of Your wisdom in the Bible. Help me to assimilate it into my life. I want my mind, life and speech to be changed by time spent with You. Amen.

MORE: What is wisdom?

Charles Spurgeon writes:
"Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. To know is not to be wise. Many men know a great deal, and are all the greater fools for it. There is no fool so great a fool as a knowing fool. But to know how to use knowledge is to have wisdom."
J. I. Packer writes:
"Wisdom is the power to see, and the inclination to choose, the best and highest goal, together with the surest means of attaining it. Wisdom is, in fact, the practical side of moral goodness. As such, it is found in its fulness only in God. He alone is naturally and entirely and invariable wise."
John Piper writes:
"Wisdom is the practical knowledge of how to attain that happiness. Therefore, wisdom is hearing and doing the Word of God."
For further reflection, see John Piper's 1981 sermon titled "Get Wisdom."

(From the website DesiringGod.org)

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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 29, 2017

What we can learn from an unloved wife

"Leah and Rachel" by Johann Friedrich Overbeck
"Leah and Rachel" by Johann Friedrich Overbeck
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 29:19-35

TO CHEW ON: "And she conceived again and bore a son, and said, 'Now I will praise the Lord.' Therefore she called his name Judah. Then she stopped bearing." Genesis 29:35

Trickery ran in the family it seems. Just as Rebekah had set up Jacob to trick Isaac about his identity, so Laban, Rebekah's older brother, set up Leah to trick Jacob about her identity on his wedding night. I'm sure the irony wasn't lost on the groom.

Leah, who was probably a willing participant, ended up being the third wheel in this marriage—at least affection-wise. But not otherwise. For in the area of having babies, which mattered a lot in that culture, she conceived and birthed son after beautiful son for Jacob.

Her reaction to each is interesting:
- "Now my husband will love me," she said after Reuben, son #1.

- "Because the Lord has heard that I am unloved, He has therefore given me this son also," she said after Simeon, son #2.

- "Now this time my husband will become attached to me," she said after Levi, #3.

- But after son #4, her focus shifted from her husband to God. "Now I will praise the Lord," she said and named the baby Judah which means 'praised.' Jacob later blessed Judah with the highest blessing of all his sons (Genesis 49:8-12). And indeed, King David and Jesus are descendants of Judah.

Some lessons from life we can take from Leah's story:

1. Our choices have consequences. They can last a lifetime.

2. We can praise God in spite of our circumstances—in our circumstances, as Leah did. After Judah's birth her focus was no longer on what, in the situation, she wanted to change, but on God.

3. God can bring good things out of bad. Unloved Leah was the mother of both Levi—the ancestor of Moses, Aaron and all Israel's priests, and Judah, the ancestor of David and Jesus. My Bible's study notes: "God's love for Leah is displayed in her becoming mother to the priestly and kingly tribes, Levi and Judah" - R. Russell Bixler, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 44.

One aspect of bringing good out of bad is conveyed by the word redemption. One of my favorite redemption passages underlines God's abilities here:

"So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten,
The crawling locust,
The consuming locust,
And the chewing locust,
My great army which I sent among you.
You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
And praise the name of the Lord your God,
Who has dealt wondrously with you;
And my people shall never be put to shame."
- Joel 2:25,26

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to consider my choices carefully, mindful of the consequences they hold.  Help me to praise You in the middle of right now, whatever my right now holds. Thank You that You can redeem  any situation. 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 28, 2017

Tender Shepherd

"The Meeting of Jacob and Rachel" by William Dyce (1806-1864)
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 29:1-18

TO CHEW ON: "Then Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice and wept." Genesis 29:11


Today's reading paints a very human Jacob. A tent-dweller versus outdoorsman Esau, he was a mama's boy (Genesis 25:27-28). Now, due in no little part to his and his mother's cunning, he (at 40+ years - Genesis 24:34) was forced to leave home due to twin brother Esau's threats to kill him after Dad dies.

Traveling east, he arrived at a well where shepherds were gathered with their flocks. He inquired if they know his mother's brother Laban, and they did! Then, even as they were talking, who should come along but Laban's beautiful daughter Rachel with her father's flock.

Jacob promptly removed the stone from the well (he may have been the indoors type but was obviously no wimp), watered Rachel's flock, told her who he was, and kissed her in a patriarchal greeting, so overjoyed at finding his family he broke down in tears.

We know, from reading the whole story, how his trials were just beginning. But God had big plans for him. To put them in motion, Jacob needed to leave home and live under the discipline of Laban. Laban would give him a taste of his own treacherous nature and Jacob would, as a result, develop into a man of character. Unlike Esau who, intent on instant gratification, sold his birthright to quell hunger pains, Jacob would end up working 14 years for the girl he loves.

The happy 'coincidences' in today's reading did no doubt reassure Jacob, as he thought back on them years later, when he again felt Godforsaken. They would remind him that God had led him, caring for him tenderly and personally—the shepherd of a human sheep, if you will—all that time.

God is the same with us. For if we examine our histories we will see how God's hand has been with us too, moving the pieces on the game boards of our lives in the big things, like meeting our spouse, to the little, like reminding us that we need to drop by the store. As Jesus put it:

" ' My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.' " John 10:27,28.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for watching over me as closely as you watched over Jacob. Help me to remember this and be reassured when I feel alone and afraid. Amen.

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

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Guidebook

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 119:129-144

TO CHEW ON: "Direct my steps by Your word;
And let no iniquity have dominion over me." Psalm 119:133



This deceptively easy request, if granted, could make life a lot simpler.
- Our struggle with resentment would be over, for we would forgive.
- Jealousy would be a thing of the past, for we would not covet.
- Rudeness, selfishness and generally living with a chip on our shoulders would be replaced with love.
- Etc.

So how many of us actually pray this and mean it?

Perhaps it's simplistic to interpret and spell out the results of this prayer so literally. It certainly is a lot easier said than done. But it does seem like the last part of our focus verse gives us a clue as to why obeying God's word is not only a good suggestion but vital to spiritual health. Because when we don't, "iniquity" will not only be present in our lives, but may rule us (Romans 6:12).

["Iniquity" is the old-fashioned word that means the bad stuff. The Message renders it malign: evil in effect, pernicious, baleful, injurious. It is bad attitudes, harmful tendencies, plain old sin.]

I'm going to challenge myself today to actually pray and mean this prayer. When negative attitudes creep in, when fear pops up, when my thoughts toward others are critical, negative, suspicious — anything but loving —I will ask: Does the Bible have a command, give advice, or tell a story about this that, if obeyed, would defeat this iniquity in me. And then I purpose to act on what I'm shown.

Will you join me?

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the Bible — so clear and practical. Please show me where sin has the upper hand in my life because I haven't let Your word direct my steps. Amen.

MORE: Obey — what exactly?
In order for this prayer to make sense, the pray-er needs to have some familiarity with what God has said in the Bible — His outright commands and the stories of how He dealt with people. Eugene Peterson, in the chapter on obedience from the book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction speaks of the need for getting familiar with that history:

"The psalmist [Peterson is analyzing Psalm 132 in this chapter] is not an antiquarian reveling in the past for its own sake but a traveler using what he knows of the past to get to where he is going — to God.


For all its interest in history the Bible never refers to the past as 'the good old times.' The past is not, for the person of faith, a restored historical site that we tour when we are on vacation; it is a field that we plow and harrow and plant and fertilize and work for a harvest." p. 168.

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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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