Monday, December 11, 2017

The impossible life

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28

TO CHEW ON: "Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." 1 Thessalonians 5:23

Reading through this passage, I'm struck by how impossible its instructions are:
"… be patient with all …. always pursue what is good, for yourselves and for all … Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks …. Test all things … Abstain from every form of evil…"

Can you do it? Neither can I!

The process Paul is describing here is sanctification. He uses a form of the word in a sum-up verse after naming the specifics above: "Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely..." - 1 Thessalonians 5:23.

The Encyclopedia of the Bible defines sanctification:
[…  the process of acquiring sanctity or holiness as a result of association with deity. Its synonyms are consecration, dedication, holiness and perfection" - Encyclopedia of the Bible, accessed through biblegateway.com.]

It's an impossibly tall order. However, the next verse has the reassurance that we're not expected to do it by ourselves. This process of sanctification is not, finally, our project but His:

"He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it" - 1 Thessalonians 5:24

Whew! So we can just sit back and it will happen? Not exactly. We have a part to play. It's really a joint effort.

An article in The Dictionary of Bible Themes lists means and obstacles to sanctification (each undergirded by many Bible verses*):

Means of sanctification:
  • The work of the Holy Spirit
  • Meditation on the Scriptures.
  • Our active pursuit of holiness and righteousness.
  • Obedience and self-denial.
  • Prayer.

Obstacles to sanctification:
  • A lack of faith.
  • Rebellion against God.
  • Satanic temptation.
  • Self-indulgence and greed.
  • Yielding to sinful desires.

Let's view the specifics of the sanctified life (the 'be patient with all," the "rejoice always," the "pray without ceasing," the "in everything give thanks" etc.) through the grid of these means and obstacles. Are we allowing the Holy Spirit to put His finger on where we need to change—be more joyful, pray more, give thanks etc.? Do we read the Bible? Do we meditate on it? Do we actually obey the things God tells us to do? Do we pray, confessing the times we resist, rebel, mess-up?

Or do we throw up our hands with "This is too hard!" and carry on as usual, resisting the voice of conviction to be joyful, pray, give thanks, procrastinating on obedience, telling ourselves, everyone else can live like they please—why can't I?

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the means You have given to bring about this set-apart life. I love the part of the definition that says it comes about through "association with deity." I want to hang out with You today. Amen.

MORE: *Access the article on Sanctification and view supporting Scriptures:
1. Click on the link 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28 (passage on biblegateway.com).
2. Click on "Study This" - the blue box that displays to the right of the reference.
3. In the right sidebar that opens, click on "Dictionary of Bible Themes."
4. Select #6745 "Sanctification."

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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, December 10, 2017

Preparing the way

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Mark 1:1-18

TO CHEW ON: “As it is written in the Prophets:
‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face,
Who will prepare Your way before You
The voice of one crying in the wilderness
“Prepare the way of the LORD;
Make His paths straight.”’”  Mark 1:2,3


Mark’s quote is straight from Isaiah 40—part of our reading three days ago. As we complete reading today’s passage we discover that the author is referring to the message and messenger John the Baptist, Jesus’ way-preparer.

In Mark John’s message was to get ready to meet Someone mighty and worthy who had spiritual power. In Luke, where John’s beginning and ministry are described in more detail, we discover his message of preparation focused largely on getting his audience to repent. He even detailed what repentance would look like to various of his listeners in real life:
- To the general public: give to the needy.
- To the tax collector: do your work honestly.
- To the soldier: don’t abuse your position or power and be content with pay
(Luke 3:8-14).

During Advent, as we review the story Jesus coming to earth as God in human flesh we also focus on our readiness. How do we ready our lives for Him to live with us and in us more fully?

Of course we know there is nothing we can do to earn His presence and our salvation. It is a free gift. But we also know that there are things we can do to prepare a comfortable home within us for Him.

I like the four Steps of Readiness  suggested in my Thompson Chain Bible. To make a comfortable home for Jesus with us, we:

1. Abandon idols
“Then Samuel spoke to all the house of Israel, saying, “If you return to the Lord with all your hearts, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths from among you, and prepare your hearts for the Lord, and serve Him only…” - 1 Samuel 7:3 (emphasis added).

2. Cleanse the temple (our lives)

 “And they gathered their brethren, sanctified themselves, and went according to the commandment of the king, at the words of the Lord, to cleanse the house of the Lord.  2 Chronicles 29:15. 
The whole story (2 Chronicles 29:1-17) is of Hezekiah the king purifying the temple so that Yahweh would again be among them and help them defeat their enemies in.

3. Return to the Lord
"He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” Luke 1:17 (emphasis added).
Here’s that “repentance” that John the Baptist admonished the people of his time to do. The words  quoted are what the angel told John’s father Zacharias, what his (John’s) role would be.

4. Pursue personal purity
“ Now in a large house there are not only vessels and objects of gold and silver, but also vessels and objects of wood and of earthenware, and some are for honorable (noble, good) use and some for dishonorable (ignoble, common). Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things [which are dishonorable—disobedient, sinful], he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified [set apart for a special purpose and], useful to the Master, prepared for every good work. 2 Timothy 2:20,21 AMP (emphasis added).


PRAYER:
Dear Holy Spirit, please help to make my life a more welcoming and comfortable home for Jesus this Advent. Amen. 

MORE: Second Sunday of Advent

Today is the Second Sunday of Advent. The liturgy for the day begins with this prayer:

Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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


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)



Saturday, December 09, 2017

God's view of TIME

earth in an hourglass
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Peter 3:1-18

TO CHEW ON: "But, beloved, do not forget this one thing that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." 2 Peter 3:8

The Advent season is one in which we are exquisitely aware of time. Our seasonal customs of gift-giving and celebrating with food and drink have us counting shopping days till Christmas. Advent calendars deliver anticipated treats to children every morning. Our agenda books are full of commitments to attend banquets, concerts, and gatherings.

Even when we slow down to ponder the meaning of the season, the issue of time is still there in the yearning voices of the prophets. They saw the coming of Messiah and salvation but from a distance. They didn't know when it would happen.

Our reading today reminds us about how our concept of time differs from God's. A thousand years is one day? One day is a thousand years? But it makes sense when you're the God of forever past and present, to express one day in such incomprehensible-to-us units. It brings to mind other mentions of time in the Bible and we ask, what aspects of time matter enough to God to include in His Word? Here are some:

Our time on earth is brief:
"Indeed, You have made my days as handbreadths. And my age is as nothing before You. Certainly every man at his best state is but a vapour. Selah" - Psalm 39:5.

There is a fullness of time—God's appointed time when everything is ready. This was true about the coming of Messiah—Jesus:
"But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law" - Ephesians 1:10.
This is also true of the end-of-earth aspect of filled-up time that Peter talks about in our reading:
"But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise etc.…" 2 Peter 3:10.

There is a right use of time.
"See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time…" - Ephesians 5:15,16 (emphasis added).
There is an acceptable time, favourable for seeking God.
"For He says: 'In an acceptable time I have heard you, and in the day of salvation I have helped you.' Behold, now is the accepted time; behold now is the day of salvation" - 2 Corinthians 6:2 (emphasis added).

However, we readily presume that time and opportunity will continue.
" 'Come,' one says, 'I will bring wine, and we will fill ourselves with intoxicating drink. Tomorrow will be as today and much more abundant' " - Isaiah 56:12.

Procrastination is our temptation.
"Now as he (Paul) reasoned about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and answered, 'Go away for now; when I have a convenient time, I will call for you.' " Acts 24:25.

But James warns us about how little time we have:

"…whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour that appears for a little time and then vanishes away." - James 4:14 (emphasis added).

What about us? Are we living on God's time wavelength? Are we conscious of life's brevity? Are we watching for signs of the fullness of time? Are we taking advantage of the acceptable time we're living in? Or do we put off for tomorrow those decisions and actions we know we should attend to today? Let's put ourselves into God's time-frame, adjusting our lives to His thoughts about time in whatever way they apply to us.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to view my time on earth realistically. Give me wisdom for how to use well the time I have today. 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, December 08, 2017

God will take it from here

Eagle in flight
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 40:18-31

 TO CHEW ON: "He gives power to the weak
And to those who have no might He increases strength." Isaiah 40:29


This chapter, that highlights in picturesque language God's cans, humankind's can'ts, His power, man's fragility, ends with a reminder of something we've all experienced—our exhaustion. It happens even to youths (Isaiah 40:30). God is the answer to this too.

Isaiah tells us the person who waits on God will be re-energized. That's how the NKJV renders it: "But those who wait on the Lord / Shall renew their strength..." - Isaiah 40:31. We get a picture of God, present and the supplicant waiting for His command or action. The NASB uses "for": "Those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength..." We see someone waiting for God to arrive on the scene. Which is it?

The Amplified mixes the two together in its typically wordy and helpful way: "But those who wait for the Lord—who expect, look for and hope in Him—shall change and renew their strength and power…" - Isaiah 40:31 AMP.

So we hope and wait for Him to arrive and expect and look for His action (though He is present everywhere, so I suppose it's more a waiting to feel or sense His presence).

I believe one has to experience this to understand it. One way this has proved true in my life is when I take my hand off an exhausting situation, as in stop trying to control it so that it turns out the way I want it to.  It takes a lot of energy and worry and thought and focus to stay in control. As soon as I relinquish it to Him, I feel myself relax. With relaxation comes a sense of well-being and new energy. 

Another way this waiting on/for God works is to be tuned in to Him continually—not only in a crisis. My Thompson Chain Bible refers, beside verse 31, to a list of verses titled "Seven Attitudes for the Spiritual Life"—a great template for balance.
  • Lying down for spiritual rest - Psalm 23:2.
  • Sitting for instruction - Luke 10:39.
  • Standing for warfare - Ephesians 6:14.
  • Walking for fellowship - 1 John 1:7.
  • Running for progress - Hebrews 12:1.
  • Leaping for ecstasy - Acts 3:8.
  • Mounting up for exaltation - Isaiah 40:31.


PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to give You all the things in my day, especially those that exhaust me when I try to handle them on my own. 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)

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)

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Depend on what lasts

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Isaiah 40:1-17

TO CHEW ON: “All flesh is grass,
And all its loveliness is like the flower of the field,
The grass withers, the flower fades,
Because the breath of the LORD blows upon it;
Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
But the word of our God stands forever.” - Isaiah 40:6-8


I mark the seasons with photographs. If you took a tour of my photo albums you would see burgeoning life creep into them perhaps as early as February with the first snowdrops and the thickening magnolia buds. By April I can hardly keep up with all the “flowers of the field” popping out in beauty around me. Then in September that record of flower life tapers off. The cold winds of December to January shut it down completely.

Wind testing life’s vigor is what Isaiah pictures in today’s reading. This wind is no weather gale, though, but the breath of God.

I usually think of the breath of God as life-giving (e.g. the creation of Adam:
“And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being” - Genesis 2:7 (emphasis added).

Here God’s breath is a test, providing proof of man’s frailty:
The grass withers, the flower fades
Because the breath of the LORD blows
upon it" (emphasis added).

That breath proves the worthiness of another entity through—“the word of our God.” It stands forever. I take that “word” as the things God has decreed will happen, both the things He has revealed in His written word—the Bible—and the secret things known only to Him.

As withering, fading humans, we can lean our weakening selves on that certainty. I like how the writer of my Bible’s study notes o Isaiah expresses it:
“The Spirit-breath of the LORD blows in the life of man, amplifying the frailty of his humanity by picturing man as a fading flower and withering grass. This fading, withering man is both comforted and given strength by the Word of God and the Spirit-breath of God. Failing man must focus his faith on the unfailing Word of God and the unfaltering resources of the Spirit of God” - Nathaneal Van Cleave, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 918 (my emphasis).

PRAYER: Dear Father, help me to be realistic about my fragility and limited lifespan. Help me to shift my confidence away from the false security of people and all mankind has accomplished, to the lasting rock of Your Word. 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, December 06, 2017

Ripe for a fall

Figs - Nahum 3:12
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Nahum 3:1-19

TO CHEW ON: "All your strongholds are fig trees with ripened figs;
They fall into the mouth of the eater." - Nahum 3:12


I wonder how the people living in Nahum's time felt about his prophecies. Did they think he was crazy, predicting the fall of such a strong, brutal nation and in graphic detail? Or perhaps they thought his writings were patriotic wishful thinking? Or maybe they did take him seriously, shining his words onto the bleak future like a miner's lamp lights an underground tunnel?

His predictions remind me of a book I read a while back. Implosion: Can America Recover From its  Economic & Spiritual Challenges In Time? by Joel Rosenberg (Tyndale House, 2013) predicts the possible implosion of America unless there are turnarounds on many fronts, especially the spiritual. He begins:

"Is it possible that the American economy—and more broadly, American society in general—is not simply facing serious challenges or a season of decline? Could America actually collapse in the not-too-distant future if serious, fundamental, and sweeping changes are not made soon? Once, such a question would have struck most Americans as ludicrous—even offensive. But times have changed ....

"Many Americans genuinely fear that God is preparing to remove his hand of protection and blessing from our country—or perhaps already has. They fear that unlike previous dark times in our national history, God may not intend to help us turn things around and get us back on the right track" - Implosion p. 1, 10.

He goes on to detail the situation the country is in, delving into many subjects in chapters titled: "America's Rising Anxiety," "Signs of the Times," "The Significance of the Rebirth of Israel," and "What Happens to America in the Last Days?"

He paints several possible scenarios of catastrophe in "The Financial Implosion Scenario," "The War and Terrorism Scenario," and "The Natural Disaster Scenarios," showing us how little it would take to bring a country even as strong and seemingly vigorous as America to its knees. (Of course, we have only to remember back to the impact of the terrorist attack of 9-11, the ongoing devastation that is left in the wake of recent hurricanes, wildfires and other natural disasters, and the jitters caused by tiny North Korea's nuclear capability, to grasp the truth of even America's fragility.)

Rosenberg feels that America is not unlike that Assyrian fig tree with its conquest as easy as shaking fruit from a tree, and that only a great spiritual awakening will turn the situation around.

Though I live in Canada, where many things aren't in quite the same state as the U.S., the moral climate here is, if anything, even more secular. The question for us is, what can we as individual citizens of these countries—that seem intent on marching to their doom—do about our ripe-for-judgment nations?  Here is the answer suggested by Rosenberg at the end of his book:

"... I believe with all my heart that if we are to avoid implosion as a nation, we must repent of our sins and turn to Christ—personally and nationally.

"Will you join me in that endeavor? Will you pray with me for our nation, for the church, and for a Third Great Awakening? Will you examine your own heart and seek your own personal revival? Will you work to engage your church and your culture with the truths of Scripture? Will you ask God to show you whether he wants you to be involved in political change, and if so, how? .... What are you and I willing to devote to saving this country?" -  p. 348

 PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to see Canada as You see it, and to do what I can to be salt and light in my little sphere of influence. Amen.

MORE: Christians and politics

In the last chapter of Implosion, Rosenberg suggests five answers to the question: "What role—if any—should Christians play in politics?" (Of course in the book he elaborates on each suggestion.)

Christians need to:

1. Pray faithfully and consistently for wisdom and direction for our national leaders.
2. Exercise their right to vote and mobilize others to vote as well.
3. Some Christians need to run for elected office, serve in some other governmental capacity, or serve as advisors to national leaders who are affecting the future of our country.
4. Some Christians need to stay completely away from the political arena.
5. Christians must not become addicted to partisanship - pp. 336-344.
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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, December 05, 2017

Chilling words

Battle Nineveh - Nahum 2:1-13
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Nahum 2:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "'Behold, I am against you,' says the Lord of hosts. 'I will burn your chariots in smoke, and the sword shall devour your young lions; I will cut off your prey from the earth, and the voice of your messengers shall be heard no more.'" Nahum 2:13

Nahum 2 predicts the fall of Nineveh in vivid poetic language.
"He who scatters has come up before your face.
Man the fort!
Watch the road!
Strengthen your flanks!" - Nahum 2:1

These staccato lines telegraph the urgency within Nineveh as a coalition of conquered nations (Medes, Babylonians and Scythians)  attacks. The Ninevites prepare their weapons, put on their scarlet uniforms. Soon war chariots are whipping through the streets, "like torches," "like lightning" (bringing to mind scenes from movies like Ben Hur).

The attackers destroy the palace (Nahum 2:6). My Bible's notes explain how:

"Besides the Tigris River on the west, the Khoser, a spring-fed stream, traversed Nineveh. A canal also ran through the city. Sennacherib (705-681 B.C.) had built a series of dams to control water flow. The invaders likely closed the gates of the rivers to stop the flow of water and make their approach to Nineveh easier, then suddenly opened the gates to release torrents of water and unleash a destructive flood on the city. The palace, likely constructed of dried mud bricks, would literally dissolve" - Timothy Mark Powell, notes on Nahum, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1219.

The city is "...empty, desolate, and waste" (Nahum 2:10) because God was against her.

That had not always been the case. Remember Jonah, and how he preached destruction to Nineveh, they repented and God relented? But now they had run out of chances.

We do well to take a lesson from Nineveh for ourselves. God is long-suffering and patient with us (Ezekiel 20:44, 2 Peter 3:9). But there will come a time when His patience is exhausted (Numbers 14:18; John 3:36; Romans 1:18; 2:5). How dreadful the thought of hearing the words "I am against you" directed at us!

PRAYER:
Dear God, thank You for being a God in whom love and justice are in perfect balance. Help me to live with Your righteous standards in mind. Amen.

MORE: Nineveh ruins


Nineveh - Nahum 2:1-13

The Royal Lion Hunt at the British Museum from the North Palace Nineveh 645-635BC. The king is shooting arrows while attendants repulse an attack from a wounded lion.

From Wikipedia.

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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, December 04, 2017

Good news of PEACE

Bible journaling - Isaiah 26:3 (V.Nesdoly)
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Nahum 1:1-15

TO CHEW ON: “Behold on the mountains
The feet of him who brings good tidings,
Who proclaims peace!” - Nahum 1:15

The book of Nahum delivers one main prophecy—the defeat of Nineveh (the capital of Assyria). Quoting from my study Bible’s introduction to the book:
“The kingdom of the Assyrians, with their capital at Nineveh, had been a thriving nation for centuries by the time Nahum appeared on the scene. … Ancient documents attest to the cruelty of the Assyrians against other nations. Assyrian kings boast of their savagery, celebrating the abuse and torture they inflicted on conquered peoples” - Timothy Mark Powell, “Introduction to Nahum,” New Spirit-Filled Life Bible p. 1214.

The introduction to Nahum goes on to describe how the prediction of Nineveh’s doom was a consoling message to Judah (Nahum 1:15). But how does this little book relate to us?

Nahum speaks of God’s ability and desire to judge wickedness—personified in this book by Nineveh. The book’s introduction goes on:
“Nineveh was indeed destroyed, but that partial and temporary defeat of evil awaited the complete and permanent conquest that would come only through Jesus Christ” - Op. Cit, p. 1215.

Nahum alludes to the messenger who brings that message of peace in Nahum 1:15 (as does Isaiah in Isaiah 52:7). His words bring to mind a chorus of Handel’s Messiah that we often perform or listen to during the Christmas season.



"How beautiful are the feet"





What message does that mountain messenger bring?

News of Peace

[Peace: shalom: Completeness, wholeness, peace, health, welfare, safety, soundness, prosperity, fullness, rest, harmony … shalom is much more than the absence of war and conflict; it is the wholeness that the entire race seeks” - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible p. 1218.]

In our world of personal and interpersonal, national and international conflict, isn’t shalom what we long for—for ourselves, our families, neighbourhoods, our nation, our world?

Its coming is what we celebrate during this Advent season. For where is that peace found but in Jesus (John 14:27)?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank you for these Old Testament prophets who point us to You in whom we find peace for ourselves and learn peace with each other. 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, December 03, 2017

Worship tug-of-war

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Micah 7:1-20

TO CHEW ON:
“Therefore I will look to the LORD,
I will wait for the God of my salvation
My God will hear me.” Micah 7:7


Micah’s hopeful declaration: “I will look to the LORD; I will wait …My God will hear” comes out of a deep desire to see Judah turn back to God.

Micah prophesied at the same time as Isaiah. They preached between when Israel was divided into two (Israel and Judah) and the destruction of the temple. Canaanite idolatry was popular. Though King Hezekiah had legislated reforms and had won a victory over Assyria, the people were still spiritually enslaved to idols. Micah knew: “Judah was bound to fall unless the nation turned back in wholehearted repentance” - Willard S. Elijahson, “Introduction to Micah,” New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1201.

And so Micah’s prophecies are full of warnings of what will happen if the people persist in worshiping idols versus enticements to come back to God. What “carrots” did he hold before the people of his time?
  • God would be their teacher - Micah 4:2.
  • God would be their righteous judge - Micah 4:3.
  • God’s fair judgments would bring peace and security - Micah 4:3,4.
  • If they repented God would shine light into their darkness - Micah 7:8,9.
  • God would shepherd them and lead them to good places - Micah 7:14.
  • With mercy and compassion God would forgive their sins - Micah 7:18,19.

We live in a time when idolatry looks different but is no less real. We are tempted to worship and trust in ourselves, our wealth, education, entertainment, science, technology, government, the democratic process, our legal system etc. But these things are, finally, no more reliable or efficacious than the images, high places, and divining ceremonies of the ancients. They will never deliver us from existential angst—that hole in our spirits that drives us to lust, greed, selfishness, pride, deception, etc., which inspire personal and interpersonal turmoil. Ours is a hole that can only be filled satisfactorily with God and a relationship with Him.

Let’s focus all our worship on God, who will also be these things (teacher, righteous judge, source of peace and security, light, shepherd, forgiving and merciful Saviour) to us.

PRAYER: Dear Father, thank You for faithful Micah whose words are still relevant today. Help me to see through the allure of false worship and to put all my trust in, give all my worship to You. Amen.
MORE: First Sunday of Advent

Today is the first Sunday of Advent! Today’s liturgy begins with this Collect:

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


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


Saturday, December 02, 2017

O Little Town of Bethlehem

Bethlehem City (Image: Pixabay)

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Micah 5:2-15

TO CHEW ON: “But you, Bethlehem, Ephrathah
Though you are little among the thousands of Judah
Yet out of you shall come forth to Me
The One to be Ruler in Israel
Whose goings forth are from of old
From everlasting.” Micah 5:2



Bethlehem first appears in the Bible as the spot Jacob buries his beloved Rachel when she dies suddenly on their trek through Canaan - Genesis 48:7.

Elimelek is from Bethlehem. When he takes his family to Moab to ride out a famine, he and his sons die. It is to Bethlehem that his widow Naomi returns with her daughter-in-law Ruth, also a widow, some years later - Ruth 1:19.

Boaz is from Bethlehem (Ruth 2:4). He declares his intentions to marry Ruth to the elders at the Bethlehem gate (Ruth 4:11) and their child Obed becomes the grandfather of David (Ruth 4:18-22).

David’s family lives in Bethlehem and he is anointed king there (1 Samuel 16:4, 12). He lives there, working as a shepherd while also employed at the palace (1 Samuel 17:15). He calls Bethlehem his hometown (1 Samuel 20:6) and longs for a drink from the well near the Bethlehem gate (2 Samuel 23:15).

Bethlehem becomes a town of defence under King Rehoboam (son of Solomon, grandson of David) - 2 Chronicles 11:6.

In Micah 5:2 (our passage) Bethlehem is the city out of which Micah prophesies “The One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, / From everlasting (literally, “from eternity”) will come.

Jesus is born there - Matthew 2:1. Angels announce the location of His birth to shepherds and they find Him in Bethlehem (Luke 2:11, 15,16).

My study Bible says of the present city of Bethlehem:
“Bethlehem, the city of David, lies five miles south of Jerusalem.… The Church of the Nativity was built by Helena (the mother of Emperor Constantine) in A.D. 328-330, over a site then believed to be the place of Christ’s birth…. In 1934 William Harvey carried on limited excavations, and about 18 inches under the floor of the present church he discovered portions of the mosaic floor of the original church built by Helena… At the eastern end of the chapel is a small crypt. A simple Latin inscription announces the most stupendous event in all history: ‘Here Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary’” Thompson Chain Bible, p. 2194.

I love how Phillips Brooks brings this iconic city into our personal lives in the third and fourth stanzas of  his beautiful carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”

3. How silently , how silently
The wondrous gift is giv’n!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of his heav’n.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still
The dear Christ enters in.

PRAYER:
4. O Holy Child of Bethlehem!
Descend to us, we pray:
Cast out our sin, and enter in;
Be born in us today
.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel.
(Emphases 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.


Friday, December 01, 2017

Two Advents

Fig tree coming into leaf (Image: Pixabay)
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Mark 13:24-37

TO CHEW ON: “Now learn this parable from the fig tree; When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So also , when you see these things happening, know that it (Son of Man’s coming - Mark 13:26) is near—at the door.” Mark 13:28,29.

Today is the first day of Advent. I’m participating with others on my friend’s Advent blog again this year. In the next 24 days, as we count down to Christmas, we’ll be noting milestones in Jesus’ story—a Jesse Tree Advent Calendar. (Jesse Tree because Jesse was the father of David, from whose kingly line Jesus came - 1 Samuel 16:1-13; Isaiah 11:1-10).

Today’s icon is “leaves.” So what a lovely surprise to find leaves in our Bible Society reading—the leaves of a budding fig tree, those leaves signalling that Jesus’ second coming is near.

Again (as we’ve seen in other accounts of His second coming predictions) Jesus’ emphasizes several things to us expectant ones here on earth.

- No one knows the exact time of that coming, only the Father.
A little aside: This reminds me of the ancient Jewish wedding custom where the groom’s father made the final decision of when all was ready and the groom could go fetch his bride. This wedding custom in connection with Jesus’ return, recalls the gorgeous wedding symbolism around that event (Revelation 19:7-10)

- The big word is WATCH.
  • Watch and pray - Mark 13:33.
  • Watch and work - Mark 13:34.
  • Watch all the time (so you’re not caught napping) - Mark 13:35,36.

- Finally, even the parable snippet Jesus uses fits with Christmas. That “man” who went far away is like Jesus who traveled a great distance for us by first leaving heaven for earth at His first coming, then leaving earth for heaven at His ascension.

As we watch the leaves unfold in looking back at Jesus’ story, let’s also remember to look ahead and watch for the leaves on our end-of-time fig tree, signalling Jesus’ soon second coming.


PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for making that long journey and more, for bridging the gap between our sinful selves and Father God for me when You came and showed us the Father, then paid the sacrifice my sins deserved by dying for us. Help me to faithfully WATCH for Your second coming. Amen.

MORE: Toward Christmas

If you’d like to follow the unfolding of Jesus’ Jesse’ Tree story with us, my friend Laurel’s Advent Calendar blog is HERE.


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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, November 30, 2017

The dark and glorious conclusion

film graphic
Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: John 12:12-26

TO CHEW ON: “Now there were certain Greeks among those who came up to worship at the feast. Then they came to Philip …and asked him, saying, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ … But Jesus answered them, saying, ‘The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified.’” John 12:20, 21, 23.

Jesus had just swept into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey accompanied by the delirious cheers of the crowd. Their Messiah had arrived at last! But when some Greek proselytes approached Philip asking to see Jesus, Jesus answered Philip with a cryptic and mysterious statement about being glorified. Then He added to the puzzlement by talking about His death. How does His answer relate to the Greeks who have come to see Him? And how is death glorification?

The IVP New Testament Commentary Series comments on John 12.

“…now we come to the beginning of the end. Instead of seeing Jesus doing signs, we see signs occurring through what others do to him."
- Mary anointed Jesus’ feet (John 12:1-8)
- Jesus made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem to the applause of the crowd (John 12:12-15).
- Gentiles came to Him. “… which signals that the long expected hour has arrived. Jesus announces the coming of his hour and speaks of his death.
- The Father endorsed Him - John 12:27-28. 
- IVP New Testament Commentary Series, accessed through Biblegateway.com

So perhaps Jesus’ answer to Philip speaks, as this commentary suggests, to the larger issue of what the visit of these Gentiles portends.  The nations are being drawn to Him. It’s prophecy being fulfilled so that His story can continue (see Psalm 2:8; Isaiah 2:2,3).

Jesus, speaking of His death, began by saying:‘The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified.’ How can death be glorification?

IVP Commentary again:

“…death is at the heart of the Son's revelation of the Father, for God is love and love is the laying down of one's life (cf. 1 John 4:8;  3:16). So in the cross the heart of God is revealed most clearly” - Ibid.

Today, the last day of November, we're on the verge of Advent.  During the next 24 days we prepare to celebrate the early part of Jesus’ life—the cute, happy, cuddly part. But that wasn’t all there was to it.

Now is a good time to pause and think about the whole story, including its hard end.

It’s an end that is stitched into Jesus’ story from its beginning when Simeon said to Mary: “‘Behold this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also)'” Luke 2:34,35. 

It’s an end Jesus Himself was well aware of, for we hear Him say, just beyond the scope of today’s reading:‘Now my soul is troubled and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour’” - John 12:27.

That purpose again? To come as a baby, live the Father before us, fulfill the plan God had set in motion from the beginning of revelation (Genesis 3:15), conclude its earthly chapter by loving you and me to the extent of laying down His life in our stead, and then defeating death in resurrection.

PRAYER: Dear Father, thank You for sending Jesus, who became that sacrificial grain of wheat for me. Jesus, I want to follow You, serve You, and be with You now and forever (John 12:26). Amen.

MORE: Feast of St. Andrew
Today the church celebrates the Feast of St. Andrew, apostle. The day's liturgy begins with this collect prayer:

Almighty God, who gave such grace to your apostle Andrew that he readily obeyed the call of your Son Jesus Christ, and brought his brother with him: Give us, who are called by your Holy Word, grace to follow him without delay, and to bring those near to us into his gracious presence; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Skewed priorities

"Swine Driven Into the Sea" by James Tissot

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Matthew 8:18-34

TO CHEW ON:
“And behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus…” - Matthew 8:34

Just prior to our focus verse, we see Jesus do something truly amazing—liberate two demon-possessed men (Matthew 8:28-33). These men have, till now, spooked all passersby. No one even comes close to the tomb-caves where they live because they’re too scary.

With a word Jesus frees them from the demonic spirits that have been controlling them. He gives those spirits permission to enter a nearby herd of pigs. True to their destructive nature, the demons cause the pigs to stampede to their briny deaths in the sea.

Then the swine-herders rush back to the city with word of what has happened. The whole city comes out and we (at least I) expect them to welcome with open arms Jesus, this Man who works wonders, who frees enslaved brothers. We expect another Samaritan Woman saga, when the whole town, responding to the woman’s testimony, becomes receptive to Jesus (John 4:28-42).

But no. The end of our story isn’t like that. The last part of Matthew 8:34 is a whiplash of surprise: “And when they saw Him, they begged Him to depart from their region” (emphasis added).

Oh no. Lost pigs are obviously more important to them than found men. We ask, how could they be that way—begging someone who has freed these men to leave? Obviously their priorities are skewed.

Yet, am I, are we so different? Who wins when we sense that introducing others to Jesus by responding to their needs will impinge on our time, our plans, our bank accounts, our peaceful tidy homes?  

PRAYER:
Dear Jesus, please help my life to be an open door to people meeting You, not a closed door sending You away because of my self-centeredness. 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, November 28, 2017

Poured-out life

Jesus heals Peter's mother-in-law - Artist unknown
Jesus heals Peter's mother-in-law.
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 8:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "… that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: 'He Himself took our infirmities And bore our sicknesses.' " Matthew 8:17

Jesus is busy and popular. We see him, at the beginning of today's reading (having just come down from a mountain teaching session followed by a huge crowd), talking with and then healing a man with leprosy. He walks to Capernaum and on entering the city gets waylaid by a Gentile centurion. At Peter's house one of his hostesses is sick so Jesus heals her. Then in the evening Peter's property becomes an impromptu healing and deliverance clinic for the town.

Now I realize that the Matthew narrative makes it sound like these things happened one after the other in close succession. There may well have been more time between the incidents than it seems. But even if these events occurred over days to a week, Jesus had a full schedule, which He carried out with not a whiff of a bad attitude.

There is no eye-shift of impatience when the man with leprosy stops Him. Rather, " ' I am willing (to heal). Be cleansed.' "

There is not a watch-glance of schedule-keeping when the centurion stops him. Rather, there is close listening, honest admiration of the man's faith, a mini-lecture to take advantage of the teachable moment, and the promise of an answered prayer.

At Peter's house, after a full day, He  heals before supper and then ministers healing and release from demonic bondage till long after dark.

No wonder Matthew recognizes Him as the fulfillment of Isaiah 53:4. It doesn't happen through His looking on but because of His intimate involvement with and service of humanity—of us.

I watch Jesus here and get convicted as I imagine what my reactions to the things He encountered would have been:
- I would have been irritated by all those interruptions.
- I would have been overwhelmed by all the needs.
- I would have been self-protective, insisting, for example, that we take a break after supper instead of getting back to work.

Later in the New Testament, we see the disciples living with the same bold, people- and ministry-centred focus that they had seen in Jesus. Where did they get this spirit? From being with Jesus (Acts 4:19)

Maybe if I, if all of us, hung around Jesus more, allowed His Spirit to take over ours, we too would be known for the assured yet compassionate, identifying-with-human-needs, poured-out life that characterized Him.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I am full of awe at the way You handled life and its demands. I need the ability to see beyond my list of urgencies to what's eternally important, and the courage to pour my life into those 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.



Monday, November 27, 2017

A remedy for spiritual complacency

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Isaiah 64:1-12

TO CHEW ON:
“And there is no one who calls on Your name
Who stirs himself up to take hold of You;
For You have hidden Your face from us
And have consumed us because of our iniquities” - Isaiah 64:7



Isaiah’s concept of God was rooted in the fearful, awe-inspiring moments when God gave him a glimpse of Himself and eternal things. The account of this is in Isaiah 6, where he saw God on His throne. The train of His robe filled the temple. Angels, their faces veiled from God’s holy presence with wings, shouted across to each other “Holy, holy holy is the LORD God of hosts / The whole earth is full of His glory!” Then an earthquake shook the place and it filled with smoke.

Isaiah became exquisitely aware of his own pollution. He felt dirty, sinful, alarmed at his unworthiness, conscious of his foul mouth. Read the account in Isaiah 6:1-8.

In our reading this same Isaiah (now years later) rues the complacency of his fellow citizens: “… there is no one who calls on Your name, / Who stirs himself up to take hold of You.” God feels absent and the people live as if God can’t see them and may as well not exist.

But Isaiah knows better. Just because God doesn’t show Himself at their bidding doesn’t change anything about Him. And so his prayer is full of apologies and repentance on behalf of himself and the people: “But we are all like an unclean thing … We are the clay and You our potter … Do not be furious, O Lord, / Nor remember iniquity forever” - Isaiah 64:6,8,9.

This reminds me of something I read recently. David Kitz, in his book Psalms Alive tells (in the chapter on Psalm 32:6-7) the story of how he and his brother avoided a stalking cougar on their Saskatchewan farm because of the barking of their dog. He makes this application:
“In a peculiar way, an unexpected encounter with the living God can be a lot like an encounter with a cougar. Suddenly, we realize our every move has been studied and watched; we are not alone. And that other being out there, watching us, is much bigger and more powerful than we are. Are you really prepared to meet Him around the next curve in the road, or just over the next hill?” - Psalms Alive p. 72.

I don’t know about you, but I can become as spiritually complacent as Isaiah’s countrymen. As a result I fail to see and acknowledge God in my day-to-day. I want to resist that. You too?  Let’s “stir ourselves up to take hold of” Him. One way to do this is to become aware of what He is really like.

PRAYER:
Dear Father, please forgive my frequent indifference and blasé attitude toward You. Please give me a glimpse of who You really are so that my relationship with You is rooted in fact, not some fantasy concocted by myself or those around me as to what You are like. Amen.
 


MORE: Francis Chan - Francis' Personal Testimony - Newday 2017


I recently watched a video in which Francis Chan tells some of his life story to a group of high school students in England. In it, he describes how Isaiah 6 impacted him: “Here’s what changed my life; when I understood reverence for God.”



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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, November 26, 2017

Recognizing Jesus

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 25:31-46

TO CHEW ON: " ' And the King will answer and say to them, "Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me." ' " Matthew 25:40


One of the popular motifs of the Christmas dramas we used to put on in Sunday School was the poor, beggarly misfit becoming a type of the Christ child. It turned out that the person who noticed and served this unfortunate one amid the hustle and decorations, the shopping and food preparations, was the one who had the true Christmas spirit.

Recognizing Christ in unusual places and people is the theme of our reading today. Seeing and caring for His needs in those around us—the hungry and thirsty, the lonely stranger, the forsaken prisoner, the person who needs warm clothes ("naked") and sick—brings not only the King's commendation but the label of "righteous" and escape from eternal punishment (Matthew 25:34, 45-46).

Jesus talks in other places of coming in disguise:

  • In Mark 9:41 the person who serves Christ's disciples with as little as a cup of cold water gets a reward.
  • " 'Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me receives not Me but Him who sent Me' " says Jesus in Mark 9:37.
  • At another time, Jesus answered a question about how to inherit eternal life with the parable we call the Good Samaritan. In it, the person (Samaritan) who helps his needy neighbour (a beat-up Jew) is the one who loves his neighbour as himself, fulfilling one of the conditions for inheriting eternal life (Luke 10:28-37).

I look at these examples and ask myself—do I recognize Jesus when He comes to me disguised as a child, or a needy stranger, or a sister in trouble? Or am I more like those "goats" in our reading, who will someday appear before the King with 'Duh… Lord, when did I see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison?'

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, please take the scales off my eyes. Help me to recognize You however  and wherever You appear. 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, November 25, 2017

God-Who-Forgives

mud bath
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 99:1- 100:5

TO CHEW ON: "You answered them, O Lord our God;
You were to them God-Who-Forgives,
Though you took vengeance on their deeds." - Psalm 99:8



Imagine you're a kid and have been caught in a rainstorm walking home on a country road. Soon the ground underfoot is soft and squishy. Clay clings to the soles of your feet, encrusts your pant cuffs, and you have grungy spatters all up your legs. Then a car motors by, splashing mud all over you. Finally you reach home, but there your mom bars your entrance. She has just washed the floor and vacuumed the white carpet. "You can't come in like you are!" she says.

That person covered head to foot in grime at the door of a clean house is a crude picture of us before a holy God. It brings to mind Isaiah standing at the entrance of the temple. Inside the angels are praising: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord." And Isaiah becomes keenly aware of his filthiness: "Woe is me for I am undone. Because I am a man of unclean lips" - Isaiah 6:1-5.

In this psalm the focus on God's holiness (Psalm 99:3,5,9) brings up thoughts of mankind's unworthiness in the writer. But then he remembers that God spoke to Moses, Aaron, and Samuel despite their imperfections. He was to them the God-Who-Forgives, though He didn't overlook their sins ("... You took vengeance on their deeds").

[Forgive: 1) to grant pardon for or remission of something and cease to demand the penalty for; 2) to grant freedom from penalty; 3) to cease to blame or feel resentment against; 4) To remit as a debt; 5) To show forgiveness, grant pardon; absolve.]

That's what God still does for us. No matter how dirty we are when we come to Him, or how much we mess up, He continues to be the God-Who-Forgives. Of course He doesn't overlook our sin-besmirched selves. He has made a wonderful way of dealing with our filthiness.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for being a God who forgives. May the love of Your holy presence be a hedge about me, keeping me from conscious and wilfull sin. Amen.

MORE: God cleans us up!
God not only forgives our sin but He cleans us up!

"Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols" - Ezekiel 36:25.

"...how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" - Hebrews 9:14.

"But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin" - 1 John 1:7.

"... and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth. To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood" - Revelation 1:5.

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


Friday, November 24, 2017

Salvation songs

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Zephaniah 3:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
'Do not fear;
Zion, let not your hands be weak
The Lord your God is in your midst,
The Mighty One, will save;
He will rejoice over you with gladness,
He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.' " Zephaniah 3:16,17


As we begin today's reading the litany of rebellion, disobedience, stubborn injustice, insolence, and sacrilege continues, along with God's reaction of cutting off, devastating, destroying, and punishing (Zephaniah 3:1-7).

Then, in verse 8, the prophet makes an about-face. He goes from reporting misdeeds and predicting doom to promising salvation. (There it is, the third component of our prophetic message: 1] Judgment; 2] Repentance; 3] Salvation).

Notice all the things that are righted:
  • There is a return to justice among nations (Zephaniah 3:8).
  • Their speech is cleaned up, now putting them in sync with God (Zephaniah 3:9). (One can't help but think of the Day of Pentecost when tongues and languages were indwelt by the Holy Spirit.)
  • God's people come back from exile, their ignominy changed to praise and fame (Zephaniah 3:10, 19,20).
  • Shame for sins committed is washed away (Zephaniah 3:11).
  • Meekness, humility and trust replace pride and haughtiness (Zephaniah 3:11,12).
  • Honesty and integrity of life characterize the remnant of God's people (Zephaniah 3:13).

Though Zephaniah's words were prophetic of events that overtook his country, and prophetic of end-time events still to come, I can't help but see parallels in his message for our life before and after salvation.
  • God changes us from rebellious, haughty God-haters, known for our insolence, treachery, pride, blasphemous speech etc. to meek humble folks of "a pure language" who "trust in the name of the Lord."
  • He washes away our shame and regrets.
  • He lives with us as the Holy Spirit, our constant guide.
  • He quiets our fears and soothes our restlessness with songs. I imagine all kinds of music here—praise, worship, and victorious battle songs for life, then songs of peace and reassurance the lullabies for sleep.

Leslyn Musch's words sum up Zephaniah 3:16-17 so well:

"Rejoice in the Lord! Did you know that God sings, shouts for joy, and dances over you because He loves you so much? Take time to think about that; let the Holy Spirit imbed this truth in your spirit. Allow this understanding to bring new joy, fresh freedom, and tender love for God into your devotional life" - Leslyn Musch, Truth-In-Action through Zephaniah, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1239.


PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for this picture of life-changing salvation. Help me to hear Your songs over me today. Amen. 

MORE: No Longer Slaves
The picture of God singing over us from Zephaniah 3:17 is expanded on beautifully in the song "No Longer Slaves" (Jonathan and Melissa Helser - Bethel Music). It has become one of my favorite modern worship songs.

 

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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, November 23, 2017

What to do BEFORE it is too late

clock showing almost midnight
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Zephaniah 2:1-15

TO CHEW ON:"Before the decree is issued,
Or the day passes like chaff,
Before the Lord's fierce anger comes upon you
Before the day of the Lord's anger comes upon you!
Seek the Lord all you meek of the earth,
Who have upheld His justice.
Seek righteousness, seek humility,
It may be that you will be hidden
In the day of the Lord's anger." Zephaniah 2:2,3


In the beginning of Zephaniah 2 we have the call to repent, Part II of a prophet's typical message.

Repent means 1] To feel remorse or regret over something you have done or failed to do; 2] To change your mind about a past action; 3] To feel such sorrow for your sins as to reform - Funk & Wagnall's Dictionary.

Though the word "repent" isn't used, the plea to "Seek the Lord" implies the hearer should turn attention from other things they are presently seeking, to seek God.

All the "Before"s in verse 2 insert a sense of urgency. This is not something to leave to whenever—a more convenient time. Do it now, "Before the decree is issued…the day passes like chaff… the day of the Lord's anger (fierce anger) comes upon you."

The attitude needed for this search is meekness. [Meek = a patient, mild, gentle, compliant disposition.] No more bristling at God, talking back to Him, insisting on one's own way.

The return is to God, to justice, to righteousness, to humility so that "it may be that you will be hidden / in the day of the Lord's anger."

As we view our own lives in the light of a still-awaited "Day of the Lord" so many of these things apply to us:
  • Like the people of Judah, we don't know when that Day will come. We still have time to turn "Before the decree is issued…"
  • Like them we too need meekness to admit we were/are wrong. If we've accepted Jesus as Saviour we have taken the first step for sure. But repentance can also involve a multitude of turnings as our lives are regularly checked by Scripture.
  • Our turning to God, to justice, to righteousness, to humility is without glamor and fanfare. There isn't self-exaltation here. The only way such qualities will trend on Twitter is as they disturb society's status quo… which may make them harder and less attractive. But God's judgments, such as those on unrepentant nations, spelled out in the remainder of the chapter, are enough to tip the balance in repentance's favor.

PRAYER:
Dear God, please help me to take seriously this warning about the Day of the Lord. Show me where I need to make changes to prepare for it by repenting and seeking the right 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.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Day of distress, disaster, desolation, darkness

funnel cloud, wind
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Zephaniah 1:1-18

TO  CHEW ON: "The great day of the Lord is near …
That day is a day of wrath,
A day of trouble and distress,
A day of devastation and desolation
A day of darkness and gloominess
A day of clouds and thick darkness." Zephaniah 1:14,15


In the next three days we'll be reading the entire book of Zephaniah. It's written by Zephaniah, a princely prophet (a descendant of King Hezekiah) who was a contemporary of the prophets Jeremiah and Nahum. He prophesied during the reign of King Josiah.

King Josiah was the king of Judah who purged the land of idols and idolatrous priests and practices. During the cleaning of the temple, the priests of God found the Book of the Law. That led to the people again celebrating feasts like Passover.

The feeling in the land was one of relief. The threat of the Assyrians was diminishing. Josiah's reforms led to a sense of complacency: All was again right between God and man in the Kingdom of Judah.
"Into this complacent atmosphere the devastating message (of Zephaniah) comes like a searing blast" writes Mary LaVonne Phillips in my Bible's introduction to Zephaniah (New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1231).
Why the doomful message when things were apparently going so well?

"In retrospect the reform was one of externals since the hearts of the people had not been changed" - Ibid.
Like many prophetic messages, Zephaniah's has three parts:
1. A pronouncement of judgment.
2. An appeal for repentance.
3. A promise of salvation.

It's easy to see that the part of the message we're reading today is the pronouncement of judgment. And lest we think predictions of "the day," or "the day of the Lord" or "judgment" are just in the Old Testament, consider these words:

Jesus: " 'He who rejects Me … the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day' " - John 12:48.

Paul: "But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God" - Romans 2:5.

Jude: "And the angels … He has reserved in everlasting chains and darkness for the judgment of the great day" - Jude 1:6.

John: "For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand" - Revelation 6:17.

It's a message of coming judgment that is out-of-fashion for us moderns—even Bible-believing Christians. Hearing about judgment makes us squirmy and uneasy in the climate of the present evangelical world that emphasizes the love, grace, and mercy of God. But there it is in the Bible—an uncomfortable truth that we all must face.

There is a day of distress, devastation, desolation and darkness ahead. But thank God that is only the first part of the message!


PRAYER: Dear God, help me to view You realistically as not only the source of infinite, boundless love, but as Someone whose standards of purity and holiness demand a day of reckoning. 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, November 21, 2017

God's sure word

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TODAY’S SPECIAL: Isaiah 21:1-17

TO CHEW ON: “…for the LORD God of Israel has spoken it.” Isaiah 21:17

Isaiah 21 is part of a longer section of the book which is concerned with international events. In our reading we see the downfall of Babylon (Isaiah 21:1-10), Edom or Dumah (Isaiah 21:11,12), and Arabia (Isaiah 21:13-17).

I’m not sure how much of Isaiah 21 was written after the fact and what was prophetic. My Bible’s notes explain distress at seeing Babylon fall: “Here news arrives in Jerusalem of Babylon’s 703 B.C. defeat by Sennacherib of Assyria. This terrorizes Jerusalem who fears she is next …Isaiah’s emotional response identified with Jerusalem’s at the thought of what Babylon’s fall might mean” - Nathaniel M. Van Cleave, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 896.

Some life observations and applications we can take from this chapter (emphases added):
  • Like Isaiah did, we who believe in and acknowledge God and His sovereignty will experience our nation’s fate like every other citizen.
  • No matter how prepared we are, international events that have implications for us are traumatic and can be deeply troubling. Isaiah was not blasé about the fate of his nation:
“Therefore my loins are filled with pain;
Pangs have taken hold of me, like the pangs of a woman in labor.
I was distressed when I heard it;
I was dismayed when I saw it.
My heart wavered, fearfulness frightened me;
The night for which I longed He turned into fear for me” - Isaiah 21:3,4.

  • God’s words and promises are dependable: “For the LORD God of Israel has spoken it,” declared Isaiah, before Arabia ever fell (Isaiah 21:17).
Other prophets asserted this too:

“For thus says the Lord: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place” - Jeremiah 29:10.
 
"'For I am the Lord. I speak, and the word which I speak will come to pass; it will no more be postponed; for in your days, O rebellious house, I will say the word and perform it,' says the Lord God.” - Ezekiel 12:25.

"And He has confirmed His words, which He spoke against us and against our judges who judged us, by bringing upon us a great disaster; for under the whole heaven such has never been done as what has been done to Jerusalem.” - Daniel 9:12.

So did Jesus:
 "'For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled'" - Matthew 5:18
"'Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away'" - Luke 21:33

We too live in the context of international conflict and uncertainty. Let’s familiarize ourselves with the words and promises of God, and build our lives on their firm foundation.

PRAYER
: Dear Father, please help me find and apply the Bible promises on which I can build my life, no matter what is going on in current events around 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.


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