Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Do you love God's rules?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 112:1-10

TO CHEW ON: "Blessed is the man who fears the Lord.
Who delights greatly in His commandments." Psalm 112:1

When was the last time you delighted in commandments or rules?

["Delights" (chaphets) means to take pleasure in, be bent or inclined toward, to cherish or be favourably disposed toward, to love and desire.] The psalmist calls the person who has this attitude toward God's commandments "blessed."

It may seem strange to us that Old Testament writers extolled the law that included odd-to-us rules about using materials in their pure forms, avoiding certain foods and observing standards of hygiene that included clothes washing, hand-washing, and observing specific procedures when it came to things like mildew-infested houses.

Yet, when we look deeper, we see in the Rule-maker a heart that was for the people, that sought to protect them from dangers of which they were unaware. For though we're still not clear about the reason for some of these commandments, others now make a lot of sense (ask anyone who has had to live in a mold-infested house).

Perhaps that is why these writers found "delight" in God's commandments. They knew God was for them and had given them these boundaries and limits for their own good.

We need to have the same attitude about the principles of holy living which apply to us today. Even if we don't understand the reason for them we know:
- They are given for our benefit.
- They come from Someone who loves us and has our best interests at heart.
- They come from Someone who we value and esteem. Our delighted inspection gives us information and knowledge about the Lawgiver.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to delight in Your word — not only its promises but also its commandments. Help me to see beyond their apparent restrictiveness to how You show Yourself to be for me in them. Amen.

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, January 30, 2017

Fasting: ritual or obedience?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 58:1-14

TO CHEW ON: "Is this not the fast I have chosen:
To loose the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the heavy burdens,
To let the oppressed go free,
and that you break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out;
When you see the naked that you cover him
And not hide yourself from your own flesh?" Isaiah 58:6-7

"Fasting is a powerful and effective part of the Christian life," begins a sidebar article about fasting in my Bible (New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 942).

Though the dictionary defines "fast" as abstaining partially or wholly from food, it seems that in our focus verse, God is telling the backslidden Israelites  (through Isaiah) that they need to fast from something besides food.

These people are getting frustrated because their fasting isn't getting the expected results.  Isaiah tells them why it isn't effective:

  • Because they are treating it as mere ritual and not entering into the self-denial spirit of it: 
    "In fact, in the day of your fast you find pleasure and exploit all your labourers" Isaiah 58:3. 
    "[Is true fasting merely mechanical?] Is it only to bow down his head like a bulrush and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him [to indicate a condition of heart that he does not have]? Will you call this a fast and an acceptable day to the Lord?" Isaiah 58:5b - AMP. (emphasis added).
  • Because they are treating it as a way to manipulate others and God:  
    "Indeed, you fast for strife and debate, and to strike with the fist of wickedness...To make your voice heard on high" Isaiah 58:4.

What, then is the fast that pleases God?

1. It is a fast from evil. It is ceasing unfairness, oppression, and putting heavy yokes on others (Isaiah 58:6). In other words, we can't expect results from fasting when we're living in blatant sin.

2. It is a fast from self-absorption. It is ceasing to see only our own little world, opening our eyes to the needs of others--the hungry, the poor, even one's own family--and responding with practical help: food, shelter, clothes, compassion.

We could sum up by saying that the fast from food that pleases God begins with the right attitude. It begins with a focus on the things that are important to Him.

The sidebar article with which I began continues:

"Jesus taught that some things are resolved only through prayer and fasting (Mark 9:29). However, fasting and personal holiness are acceptable to God only when we have our priorities straight....Fasting becomes offensive in God's sight when we ignore the people closest to His heart, the poor, the oppressed, and the needy." Keith W. Phillips, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 942.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me in my observances of spiritual disciplines like fasting, to begin by understanding Your heart for it, and for me through it. Help me to align my priorities with Yours. Amen.

MORE: The purpose of fasting
"It is sobering to realize that the very first statement Jesus made about fasting dealt with the question of motive (Matthew 6:16-18). To use good things to our own ends is always the sign of false religion. How easy it is to take something like fasting and try to use it to get God to do what we want. At times there is such stress upon the blessings and benefits of fasting that we would be tempted to believe that with a little fast we could have the world, including God, eating out of our hands.

Fasting must forever center on God. It must be God-initiated and God-ordained. Like the prophetess Anna, we need to be "worshiping with fasting" (Luke 2:37). Every other purpose must be subservient to God."

- Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, pl. 54.

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).

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The peacemaking gene

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 5:1-12

TO CHEW ON: "Blessed are the peacemakers
For they shall be called the sons of God." Matthew 5:9

When a new baby is born we study its face to see who it looks like—Mom or Dad. Children who never knew their parents, though happy in their adoptive homes, still often experience a strong urge to find their birth parents and discover their blood lines. There is something inside us humans that longs to be part of a family—to know where we come from. When we find our roots, we begin to understand where some of our distinguishing features of body and personality originate.

Being part of God's family is not so different. For just like human children inherit physical features and aspects of temperament from their ancestors, the children of God bear a family likeness. Jesus highlights one trait of the "sons of God" in the part of the Sermon on the Mount that we read today. It's peacemaking.

A sidebar article in my Bible elaborates:

"In our relationship with the heavenly Father, we display our family likeness by manifesting the fruit of the Spirit of peace and in doing what is important to Him: making peace. Jesus said, 'Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God,' and He also said, 'I must be about My Father's business' (Luke 2:49). His last will and testament was, 'Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you' (John 14:27). He came to bring peace, made peace through the blood of the Cross, and calls us to be peacemakers. Peacemaking is the family business we all need to share" - Loyd Ogilvie in "Call to Unity," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1297.

How does this family trait work itself out in everyday life? From the Bible we see that peacemakers:

  • Are slow to get angry, and in this way stifle contention (Proverbs 15:18).
  • Defuse potentially explosive situations with wisdom (Proverbs 16:14).
  • Hesitate to take a perceived wrong to court, preferring to do all in their power to rectify a situation themselves before bringing in the strong arm of the law (Proverbs 25:8).
  • Practice conciliation, even under extreme pressure (Ecclesiastes 10:4).
  • Make reconciliation with others a priority (Matthew 5:24), allowing the sensitive conscience of their brother or sister trump their own rights (Romans 14:19-21).
  • Show themselves to be spiritually wise by being peaceable (James 3:17).

I ask myself, do I carry this family characteristic? Do you? Would people be able to tell that we're children of God because we are peacemakers?

PRAYER: Dear God, please show me where my habits and reactions work against making and keeping peace. Help me to be more of a peacemaker. Amen.

MORE: "My Father's Eyes" by Amy Grant


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

Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Key to God's wisdom

Jesus Baptism - Artist unknown

"... and a voice came from heaven which said, 
'You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.'" Luke 3:22

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 1:18-31

TO CHEW ON: "For the Jews request a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." 1 Corinthians 1:22-24

If Paul wrote to us moderns today he would still be bang-on. For we still search all over the place—from old religions to nature, outer space to inner thoughts—for spiritual reality and truth. It seems we're willing to accept anything but Jesus.

However, it's in Jesus, Paul tells us, that God's opinion on the matter is in full display: "…but we preach Christ … the power of God and the wisdom of God."

[To be wise is to see clearly what is right and just, to have sound judgment, to be shrewd and calculating. When someone has wisdom they act according to their true and right discernment so that what they do is conformed to and dictated by it - paraphrased from Funk & Wagnalls Dictionary.]

In other words, wisdom acts. So we might say that if Christ is the wisdom of God, the reality of the matter is we humans needed a saviour—Someone to pay the penalty of our sin, that Someone not a sinner Himself,  that Someone being Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:18).

Once we've bought into this and accepted Christ's substitutionary atonement, applying God's wisdom to our lives doesn't end. For the wisdom of God, seen in Jesus, now becomes part of us as we live under the direction of the Holy Spirit. How?

Through God's Word, the Bible (2 Timothy 3:15). In it we discover not only how to be saved but how the means of our salvation—Jesus, God's wisdom incarnate—lived, the things He demonstrated and taught about what is important and what isn't, what is true riches and what will disappoint, what will last and what will decay, etc.

I love how Leslyn Musch sums it up in the "Truth-In-Action Through 1 Corinthians" article:
"As believers we are made righteous and holy in Jesus alone. Corinthians tells us that, having been sanctified, we are called to live holy lives. Holy living requires that we rely fully on the Lord's wisdom and not the wisdom of the world. … Find true wisdom, power, and holiness in Jesus. Reject living in your own wisdom and ability" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1606 (emphasis added).

Let's let Paul have the last word:

"He (Christ) is the key that opens all the hidden treasures of God's wisdom and knowledge" Colossians 2:3 GNT.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your wise, all-encompassing plan of sending Jesus to be and show Your wisdom. Help me, through the Holy Spirit, to translate what I see in Him and read about His teachings into my life. Amen. 


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

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

Friday, January 27, 2017

Your words = your character

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Psalm 15:1-5

“Who may abide in Your tabernacle? … He who … speaks truth in his heart.” Psalm 15:1,2

In this short psalm, titled in my Bible “The Character of Those Who May Dwell with the LORD,” it is interesting to note how many of these items that show off character involve speech.

A person of good character, according to David, demonstrates it largely by what he or she says and doesn’t say. A person of good character:
  • Cultivates a truthful heart.
Character starts with what we say to ourselves: “LORD, who may abide in Your tabernacle? … He who … speaks truth in his heart” (Psalm 15:1,2). We must begin by speaking honestly with ourselves and, from that inner place, acknowledge and agree with God in what He says about Himself and us.

  • Does not “backbite with his tongue” - Psalm 15:3.
The Amplified Bible renders “backbite” “slander”: “He who does not slander with his tongue” - Psalm 15:3 AMP.

  • Does not “take up a reproach against a friend” - Psalm 15:3.
A “reproach” (noun) means blame, censure, disgrace, discredit. The person with character shows his/her character by refusing to receive such blame, censure, disgrace, discredit (what we might call gossip) about his friend or neighbor and then pass it on.

  • Honors good people, specifically “those who fear the LORD” - Psalm 15:4.
This honor could be shown with actions but certainly could involve words too.

  • “… swears to his own hurt and does not change” - Psalm 15:4.
A sidebar article in my Bible rephrases this as a personal application:Honor commitments and your word even when it is costly to do so” - Leslyn Musch, Truth-In-Action-Through Psalms, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 719.

Despite the saying “Actions speak louder than words,” judging by how often speech is mentioned in this character-defining psalm, what we say or don’t say is undeniably important in displaying our own and discerning another’s character. We do well to ask ourselves, what do my words tell me, what do they tell you of my character?

Dear Lord, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart / Be acceptable in Your sight, / O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14). Amen.

 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)

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The work of fruitless effort

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Micah 6:1-16

TO CHEW ON: “You shall sow, but not reap;
You shall tread the olives, but not anoint yourselves with oil;
And make sweet wine but not drink wine.” Micah 6:15

Have you ever experienced fruitless effort—worked hard on a project only to have it fall apart before it was finished; created a product that didn’t sell; put years into training that never yielded a dollar of return in salary?

Fruitless effort is what Micah is predicting here for the people of Judah and Israel? But why? The preceding verses of Micah 6 give us some clues:
  • Their worship had become a dead form and ritual (Micah 6:6,7). The attitude of their hearts was far from complying with the three things that God required: “But to do justly / To love mercy, / And to walk humbly with your God” - Micah 6:8.
  • Their work was characterized by evil and deceit. Notice the list of things that offended God in the way they went about their day-to-day business: “...wickedness … short measure … wicked scales … deceitful weights … violence … lies … tongue is deceitful…” Micah 6:10-12.
  • These practices seemed to have become part of their culture, a culture that developed under ungodly kings: “For the statues of Omri are kept/ All the works of Ahab’s house are done; / And you walk in their counsels” - Micah 6:16.

Could it be that some of our work failures, our fruitless effort fiascos, come about for the same reasons? We shove justice and mercy to the bottom of the priority list (aren’t they more for bleeding hearts?). Instead of walking with God we drag behind or race ahead of Him, working to our own timetables and ambitions? We mimic the work practices of the culture around us. Why not work for cash and so avoid reporting income and paying tax? Why not take a few office supplies home for the kids? Why not call in sick when we feel we need a day off? Everyone else is doing and getting away with it!

A paragraph on this passage in the Theology of Work Bible Commentary sums it up well:

“This is a reminder that the world of work does not exist in a vacuum, separated from the rest of life. If we do not ground our values and priorities in God’s covenant, then our lives and work will be ethically and spiritually incoherent. If we do not please God in our work, we cannot please him in our worship” -  Theology of Work Commentary, accessed through BibleGateway.com (emphasis added).

And if we do not please Him in our work, we should not be surprised if He withholds His blessing from our efforts.

PRAYER: Dear Father, please help me to keep justice, mercy, and walking with you (not ahead or behind) at the top of my work priorities. Amen.

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, January 25, 2017

The necessity of Jesus School

"Saul Stricken" - Rubens
"Saul Stricken" - Rubens
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Galatians 1:11-24

TO CHEW ON: “But when it pleased God … to reveal His Son to me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.” - Galatians 1:15-17

Today the church celebrates the conversion of the Apostle Paul (first known as Saul). The story of his miraculous turnaround is in Acts 9:1-21.

Those of us who have switched careers or taken on new roles can begin to appreciate what a whiplash experience Paul’s conversion must have been to him. His whole world had been rocked. Everything he had staked his life on as a Jewish leader and Pharisee was now in question. He had been an expert but now he was a baby, a complete novice in this new belief system. All he knew was that Jesus was real, had knocked him off his feet, spoken to him, called him, made him helplessly blind, then sent someone to pray for him.

Our reading in Galatians talks about a three-year silent period in Paul’s life (Galatians 1:17,18). During this time he went off somewhere secluded—Arabia—and received divine instruction. We could probably put this period of time between Acts 9:21 (where news of his conversion sparked amazement) and Acts 9:22 (where we see him confounding the Jews in his hometown of Damascus).

I think there is something we can learn here about the timing of placing people in ministry (and going into ministry ourselves). When a big name celebrity comes to faith, the temptation is to schedule them on the rounds of radio and TV shows and display them on a pedestal as Christianity’s latest trophy and voice.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t give popular personalities a platform to share their coming-to-faith stories. But I do think we should be wary of looking to them as experts in the Christian faith.

If even the brilliant and theologically savvy Apostle Paul needed three years of Jesus School, how much more a movie, pop music, or sports personality needs a little time in Arabia before we lean on them for teaching and direction.

PRAYER: Dear Father, help me not to be star-struck by new Christians who  have been successful by the world’s standards. Please give me discernment about who I allow to speak into my life and influence me. Amen.

MORE: The Conversion of St. Paul

Today the church celebrates Conversion of St. Paul. Here is the collect prayer that begins the day’s liturgy:

O God, by the preaching of your apostle Paul you have caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world: Grant, we pray, that we, having his wonderful conversion in remembrance, may show ourselves thankful to you by following his holy teaching; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns

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, January 24, 2017

Exploring some Bible images

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Revelation 21:22-22:5

TO CHEW ON: “The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light.” Revelation 21:23

One of a poet’s tools to enrich and thicken a piece of writing is to plant within it allusions to past works of great literature and art. In that department, John’s vision of the New Jerusalem here is a visual poem that has those of us who love the Bible and its images in a tizzy of making connections. Here are a few, made with just three images from this passage:

LIGHT - Revelation 21:23,24; 22:5
  • Light is the first thing God created - Genesis 1:3.
  • God led Israel through their wilderness wanderings with a cloud that lit up at night - Exodus 13:2122.
  • Light shone from Moses’ face after he had been with God - Exodus 34:29-35.
  • Lights accompanied the announcement of Jesus’ birth - Matthew 2:1,2; Luke 2:9.
  • Jesus declared Himself the light of the world - John 8:12.
  • Light shone brilliantly at His transfiguration - Matthew 17:2.
  • The light was snuffed out at His death - Mark 15:33.

NO MORE EVIL - Revelation 21:27; 22:3.
  • The “curse” (Revelation 22:3) was first pronounced in Genesis 3:14-19.
  • The giving of the Ten Commandments that help us understand God’s standard of right and wrong - Exodus 20:1-17.
  • The rules of washing and purification that accompanied the Jewish sacrificial system (found throughout its descriptions, e.g. Numbers 8:6,7,15,21).
  • Christ’s higher-than-the-law standard of right and wrong - Matthew 5,6,7.
  • Christ’s blood shed to wash away and cleanse the stain of our sin - 1 John 1:7.

WATER - Revelation 22:1,2
  • The river of life-giving water in Ezekiel’s vision - Ezekiel 47:1-12 (this vision also has a temple and healing trees in it).
  • Jesus promised the Samaritan woman living water - John 4:13,14.
  • Jesus invited all to come to Him to drink and themselves become sources of living water - John 7:37,38.

I'm sure you could find more connections to the items I've chosen and we could choose more items and continue to make connections. The Bible has many references to the temple, gates, nations, healing, the Lamb’s Book of Life, the Tree of Life. (Maybe you'd like to work on those!)

These connections are what make the Bible such a rich and exciting book. They leave me in awe and wonder and praise—what depth, what a consistent message flowing through 66 books despite a variety of writers, what a Master Author!

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for Your amazing Word, presented to us through so many writers. Help me to hear what You are saying—today about light, purity, living water—and apply these things to my life. Amen.

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, January 23, 2017

A wedding made in heaven

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Revelation 21:1-21

TO CHEW ON: “Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me saying, ‘Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.’
And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem descending out of heaven from God.” Revelation 21:9,10

Imagery of God taking a bride is present already in the Old Testament. The book Song of Solomon—a celebration of married love all the way through—is interpreted on one level as “… the covenant love relationship enjoyed by God’s church” Donald Pickerill, “Introduction to the Song of Solomon,” New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 860.

Isaiah prophesied a time when the relationship of God and His people would resemble a marriage. About Zion (Jerusalem) he said:
“For as a young man marries a virgin,
So shall your sons marry you;
And as a bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
So shall your God rejoice over you” - Isaiah 62:5.

Bride imagery comes to us again through Jesus. When John the Baptist’s disciples came to Him and asked Him why His disciples didn’t fast while they and the Pharisees did, Jesus’ answer (‘Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and they they will fast’” - Matthew 9:15) implied that He was the Bridegroom and was not going to be around forever.

John the Baptist also recognized Jesus as the bridegroom. When people came to him (John) wanting a reaction to Jesus’ success at attracting crowds, John said, “‘He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled’” - John 3:29,30.

Paul picked up this imagery in his letters. In writing to the church in Rome, he spoke of their life of faith in Christ:
“Therefore my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ that you may be married to another—to Him who was raised from the dead…’” - Romans 7:4.

And to the Corinthian church he wrote:
“For I have betrothed you to one husband that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ” - 2 Corinthians 11:2.

Finally, in Revelation, John had several visions that included brides, weddings and wedding feasts. Among them is the vision of Revelation 19:7,8  when he heard the multitudes of heaven proclaim:
“‘Let us be glad and rejoice to give Him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His wife has made herself ready.’ And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.”

And then we have the beautiful image in our passage of Jerusalem, descending from heaven like a bride - Revelation 21:2,9,10.

Several thoughts come to mind in response to this:

1. The Christian community’s outrage at changes in society’s definition of marriage is easily understood in the light of the sacred covenant and union marriage symbolizes in the Bible. It’s one of the reasons some of us will never give in to demands that we change our stand on this.

2. The beauty and purity of the Bride, as pictured here, is a challenge to each one of us to keep ourselves ready, dressed in that “fine linen clean and bright,” our wedding garment, gifted and made possible through the shed and cleansing blood of our Bridegroom.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, help me to live in a spirit of repentance and purity, always aware of whose I am. Amen.

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, January 22, 2017

Crossroad event

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Matthew 4:12-26

“Now when Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He departed to Galilee.” Matthew 4:12

The news of John’s death seems to have been a turning point, a watershed, a crossroad moment for Jesus. Look at how many changes He made following that incident:

1. He moved residences, left Nazareth to live in Capernaum - Matthew 4:13.

2. He focused His message to 'Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand'” - Matthew 4:17.

3. He began choosing disciples - Matthew 4:18-22.

4. His presence, with its powerful message accompanied by healing virtue, attracted crowds and He began regularly to minister to the multitudes - Matthew 4:23-25.

It’s almost as if the death of John woke Him up to the life-and-death nature of His own mission. That incident seemed have been a catalyst, launching Him into living out His own destiny.

I ask myself, have I been similarly awakened—have you:
- to the fragility, unpredictability, and brevity of life?
- to the seriousness of living as a child and heir of the kingdom Jesus preached?
- to the possibility that such an awakening might mean changes in day-to-day living, in how we spend our time, where, and with whom?

What might it take to wake us up to these things? A serious illness? A brush with death? The death of friends and family members? Or…?

If and when that moment comes, am I, are we prepared to make the changes God might show us need to be made?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, help me to face the realities of life, death, and what really matters, as it seems You did when You were on earth. May I be courageous to make any changes You reveal to me. Amen.

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, January 21, 2017

The kingdom we long for

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Isaiah 8:21-9:7

TO CHEW ON: “Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom
To order and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.” Isaiah 9:7

Yesterday was the inauguration of the new president of the United States, Donald Trump. I don’t have to tell anyone how controversial he and the process of choosing him has been. I’ve heard America described, since this election, as two nations. In other words, it’s seriously divided. Many view this new presidency with hope; many others with despair.

As someone who lives in another democracy (Canada) I know how we as citizens take seriously our responsibility to cast our votes and do what we have the privilege of doing to the best of our ability. I too have experienced the frustration of my chosen candidate losing and the joy of of him or her winning.

But even the best of leaders by our judgement will fall short of the ideal. They’ll fudge on their pre-election promises. They’ll be thwarted by those who oppose them. Sometimes they’ll be caught in scandal. At other times, circumstances and world events will impact what they plan to do.

What a contrast to the leader described in our passage—the Child and Son whose government will embody wonder, wise counsel, God’s endorsement, peace. A government enforced by the very zeal of God.

Is this picture in Isaiah just a romantic ideal, as some would say—a fanciful paradise, imaged metaphoric perfection? Or is it a real future event we can look forward to? I believe the latter.

PRAYER: Dear King Jesus, I anticipate a time the government will be on Your shoulders, when You, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace will rule with perfect judgment and justice. Amen.

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, January 20, 2017

A church's personality

Detail from a church in Elora ON (V.Nesdoly)
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Revelation :1-17

TO CHEW ON: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”  Revelation 2:7, 11, 17

Those of us who have attended a variety of churches know that they have personalities as defined as any person’s. These church personalities come about because of various forces. The three letters to the churches in Revelation 2:1-17 and beyond illustrate what some of these forces are:

Location: The church at Pergamos was known to dwell “… where Satan’s throne is.” - Revelation 2:13.

Leadership: John scolded the weak leadership of Thyatira for allowing an evil Jezebel prophetess to teach and influence the congregation - Revelation 2:20.

History: The church at Smyrna had a history of tribulation, poverty, and persecution - Revelation 2:9.

Culture: The church at Ephesus had a culture of untiring work, patience, and holiness - Revelation 2:2,3.

Doctrine: The church of Pergamos tolerated bad doctrine - Revelation 2:14,15.

Let’s look at these aspects of our own churches as we seek to understand them, join ourselves to them, and represent them to the world.

  • Where a church is located physically—town, city, country, near a university, in the middle of a factory town etc.—and the spiritual climate of that place will have a huge effect on what kind of a church it is. (Imagine belonging to a church like Pergamos, known to be situated in a hotbed of satanic activity!)

  • A church with strong leaders that guard the congregation against false teachers will differ from one where leadership is easily persuaded and permissive. For Thyatira John prophesied sickness and death as God’s discipline for tolerating this false teacher - John 2:22,23

  • A church’s history—the stories of its founding, growth, even its building, do much to determine its outlook. It sounds like the persecution Smyrna had gone through in the past had left a residue of fear in the congregation - Revelation 2:10.

  • The culture of a church is often more caught than taught. It can easily become automatic and emotionless, as we follow along to fit in. It seems that may have been the case in Ephesus where the church had a reputation for good but the love had been squeezed out of its good actions - Revelation 2:4.

  • The doctrine of a church—what it teaches as truth about God, the Bible etc.— may well be what draws us to a particular denomination and its neighborhood representative. I believe that must remain a foundation for us. We must not let a church’s other good qualities—its closeness to our home, its friendliness, its history, its beautiful building, overshadow our desire to be part of a congregation where truth is taught.

Let’s evaluate our churches objectively and compassionately with a view to understanding them, and helping to make them bodies that a modern John would praise and encourage.

PRAYER: Dear Father, thank You for my church. Help me to understand it, pray for it, and take my place in it. Amen.

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, January 19, 2017

Word's power

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Revelation 1:1-20

“He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.” Revelation 1:16

This first chapter of Revelation has so many imagination-stirring images, it’s hard to pick just one. I’m going with what immediately jumped off the page at me on first reading this morning—John’s image of “One like the Son of Man,” focusing on what comes from His mouth.

It’s a two-edged sword - Revelation 1:16.

Where have we seen that before?
“For the word of God is living and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” - Hebrews 4:12.

In this verse I’m snagged by another word: “word,” which brings to mind:
“In he beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father full of grace and truth” - John 1:14.

So we’ve come full-circle back to Jesus, the word and glory of God (John 1:14 compared with Revelation 1:16).

Other Bible verses that elaborate on the God's word show us that it is:
- Like fire
- Jeremiah 5:14; 23:29.
- Life-bringing - Ezekiel 37:7.
- Prevailing and victorious - Acts 19:20.
- Salvation bringing - Romans 1:16.
- Our spiritual weapon - Ephesians 6:17.
- The implement God will use to enforce His rule on the nations - Revelation 19:15.

How exciting to have access to something so powerful! But also, what a privilege and responsibility to accept and respond to that word sword’s piercing, dividing, thought-and-intention-discerning work on us now, in this age of grace.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, please make me sensitive to Your piercing, probing, and discerning word on my thoughts, motivations, and actions. Amen.

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, January 18, 2017

Who is Jesus?

Jesus asking Peter who He is - Matthew 16
Jesus asking Peter who He is - Matt. 16
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 16:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "Simon Peter answered and said, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.' " Matthew 16:16

Peter's confession of who Jesus was is classic in its simplicity, directness, and boldness. Author Matthew relates it in the chapter that follows Jesus'  feeding of four thousand (Matthew 15:32-39) and another sparring match between Jesus and the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matthew 16:1-4). When Jesus and His disciples were alone again, Jesus warned them, " 'Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees' …" (Matthew 16:6).

The disciples puzzled over what He meant. Was He referring to the fact that on this particular day they'd forgotten to pack bread for lunch?

I can just see Jesus giving a bit of an eye roll and saying (in my words), "You've just seen me feed crowds of people. I can take care of you in the physical bread department. It's the leaven of bad doctrine I'm talking about" (Matthew 16:8-11).

What was the bad doctrine? Legalism and strict adherence to tradition by the Pharisees, and materialism and refusal to acknowledge the supernatural by the Sadducees (J. Lyle Story, Study notes on Matthew, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible p. 1320).

Peter's answer to Jesus' question: "'Who do men say that I am?'" would have scandalized both parties.  When he said, "'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God'" he acknowledged Jesus as the promised Messiah (Christ) that every Israelite was longing for, and as supernatural i.e. God (Son of the Living God).

I can just imagine Jesus' smile of congratulations. Yes, Peter, you got it!

Jesus then said two more important things to Peter:
1. God showed you this (Matthew 16:17).
2. Your realization comes with a responsibility and mission (Matthew 16:18,19).

Our relationship with Jesus starts in the same way as Peter's, by acknowledging Jesus for who He is—the fulfillment of the world's need of a Messiah and Savior from our sin. After we've found Him, there's no more need to go seeking after someone else to follow, to pattern our lives on, to do life with.

Like Peter, for us this "aha" moment is also engineered by God and communicated in ways as various as we are individuals.

After we've recognized Jesus and crowned Him king of our hearts and lives, we too have a responsibility. We're partners with Peter and every other believer across the ages in building Jesus' church and doing the "binding and loosing" work of His Kingdom.

What a heritage! What a responsibility!

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, please help me to recognize and acknowledge Your presence in my everyday life. Help me to give my life to Kingdom work. Amen.

MORE: Confession of St. Peter

Today the church celebrates Peter's confession in the Feast of the Confession of St. Peter. The day's liturgy begins with this Collect:

Almighty Father, who inspired Simon Peter, first among the apostles, to confess Jesus as Messiah and Son of the living God: Keep your Church steadfast upon the rock of this faith, so that in unity and peace we may proclaim the one truth and follow the one Lord, our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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, January 17, 2017

What is our "one thing"?

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Psalm 27:1-14

TO CHEW ON: “One thing have I desired of the LORD,
That I will seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the LORD
All the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the LORD
And to inquire of His temple.” Psalm 27:4

In this month of examining our lives, taking stock of where we are and where we want to go (spiritually, physically, socially, and in our work) the “One thing” declaration of David's has a familiar ring. Without the prompting of a life coach, he has formulated his priorities, summed up in the flag-plant: “One thing have I desired of the LORD … / That I may dwell in the house of the LORD / All the days of my life.”

I’m going to assume that in his statement, the “house of the LORD” wasn’t literal—that he didn’t want to move into the temple physically and live there for the rest of his life. So if not that, what?

Some things David may have had in mind when he made this one thing wish:
  • That he would continually sense and be aware of God’s presence.
  • That he would be surrounded, wherever he was, with a sense of God’s beauty. The word “holy” comes to mind here—that word that means “set apart, separate.” In the atmosphere of God’s beauty, perhaps he felt separated from from the ugliness, damage, pain, and hurt of sin.
  • That he would live with a sense of being in God’s family with its legacy and inheritance.
When we’re in someone’s house we catch glimpses of their experiences, history and what they value. Recently, for example, we visited friends who have worked for Wycliffe. On their walls were craft pieces depicting life in Asia. Also there, we saw photos of their daughter who recently died of cancer, and a quilt hanging made of her T-shirt fronts with their diverse sayings.
Similarly when we live intimately with God we remind ourselves of His story, of the way He has designed life to work best, and we choose to fill the atmosphere with good things--the fragrance of kind encouraging words, the music of praise, worship, and devotion, declarations that are positive and faith-filled.
  • That he would always have a sense of God’s availability to advise him and direct his way, so he could “...inquire in His temple.”

This psalm prompts me to ask, what “One thing” would I desire of the Lord this year? What about you? Would it in any way resemble to “dwell in the house of the Lord?”

PRAYER: Dear Father, it is good for me to pare my wishes down to “one thing.” Please give me more days of living in Your house. Amen.

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, January 16, 2017

Pursue unity

TODAY’S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 1:1-17

TO CHEW ON: “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” 1 Corinthians 1:10

I was recently followed on Twitter by a religious entity which, when I checked into it, appeared to be a cult. On their website was a video where people—all the same race and dressed alike except for the color of their clothes—were seated at desks placed in perfectly straight and parallel rows, smiling robotically as they read their Bibles.

I don’t think this is the kind of unity Paul is talking about here. In fact, in another place in this very letter he acknowledges differences among Christians:
“There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.
There are differences of ministries but the same Lord.
And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all.” - 1 Corinthians 12:4,5,6 (emphasis added). 

Later in 1 Corinthians 12 he uses an easy-to-understand metaphor for the church, comparing it to the human body (1 Corinthians 12:12-31). We know how that only works well when all its diverse members work together.

So what kind of unity is Paul taking about here when he says they should be: “perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment”?

I appreciate the application Leslyn Musch suggests for this verse:

“Intentionally pursue unity within the body of Christ. Do not give place to divisions or competition. Honor others, seek to be like-minded and recognize Jesus as the common ground for unity” - Leslyn Musch, "Truth-In-Action-Through 1 Corinthians," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, 1607 (emphasis in the original).

Notice the verbs Musch uses, reminding us that this unity doesn’t just happen but is intentional and takes effort. We need to to “pursue” unity. We refuse to (“do not”) entertain thoughts of division and competition. We “honor” others, try (“seek”) to understand them, and in it all “recognize” Jesus as the basis for our unity. Of course if His Spirit, the Holy Spirit, lives in each one of us, we have a synchronized inner guide that should cause us to be consistently united. Why it doesn’t always work out that way is a topic for another time.

PRAYER: Dear Father, help me to put this pursuit of unity into practice in my life—at home, at church, and as a member and representative of the church to the secular world around me. Amen.

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, January 15, 2017

Israel—a land in waiting

Jerusalem (Image: Pixabay)

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Isaiah 49:14-26

“… your walls are continually before Me … For they shall not be ashamed who wait for Me” - Isaiah 49:16b, 23b

On December 27th the United Nations Security Council passed its latest resolution against Israel—passed because the U.S., which has in the past supported Israel by vetoing such resolutions, chose to abstain from voting.

The result has been a war of words between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Israelite President Benjamin Netanyahu, and others.

The resolution is one of twenty the U.N. has adopted against Israel this year while passing just four for the rest of the world (one each for North Korea, Syria, Iran, and Russia). It seems obvious that anti-Semitic sentiments are again surfacing, indeed flourishing internationally.

In the context of the above, I find the prophecies in today’s passage reassuring. The first part of Isaiah 49 promises salvation for the Gentiles through God’s Servant (yesterday’s reading). Continuing on, God assures “Zion” (Jerusalem) who laments, “‘The LORD has forsaken me, / And my Lord has forgotten me”— that NO. God remembers like a mother remembers her child and "See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands" - Isaiah 49:15,16.

God’s promises to Israel in Isaiah 49 include:
  • “Your walls are continually before Me” - Isaiah 49:16. This promise brings to mind a particularly onerous part of the recent U.N. resolution that labels Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem including the Western Wall as illegal. This assures us that God is up-to-the-minute aware.
  • Victory over their enemies - Isaiah 49:17,18.
  • Adequate space to live - Isaiah 49:19.
  • Population growth - Isaiah 49:20.
  • International respect and obeisance - Isaiah 49:22,23.
  • God Himself as their defender - Isaiah 49:25.

What specific events loom in the immediate future for Israel are impossible to predict, though I don’t have a good feeling in light of prophecies such as all nations against Jerusalem (Zechariah 14:2) and other predictions of terrible trouble ahead for her (Zechariah 13:8,9; Jeremiah 30:7; Daniel 12:1; Matthew 24:21,22). But I know in the end, victory for Israel is sure because God keeps His promises!

PRAYER: Dear Father of Gentiles and Jews, I pray for the land of Israel (in waiting to realize her ultimate destiny), her people, her leaders and for the peace of Jerusalem. Amen. 

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, January 14, 2017

The Gentile's light

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Isaiah 49:1-13

TO CHEW ON: “Indeed, He says, ‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant
To raise up the tribes of Jacob,
And to restore the preserved ones of Israel;
I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles,

That You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.’” Isaiah 49:6

Here, way back in Isaiah, God states His intention to make a way for all people on earth to be saved from the death penalty of their sin. It will be through His Servant—who we believe is Jesus.

The old saint Simeon recited some of Isaiah 49:6 when he took baby Jesus in His arms and blessed Him on the day of His presentation:
“‘For my eyes have seen Your salvation
Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples,
A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles,
And the glory of Your people Israel.’” - Luke 2:30-32.

Still, the realization that Gentiles were included in God’s plan made a lot of waves in the early church. When the Holy Spirit fell on those assembled at the house of Gentile Cornelius,
“… those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also” - Acts 10:45.

Paul and Barnabas also recited this Isaiah prophecy as proof of God’s plan when the Jews in Antioch became envious over the multitudes of Gentiles who heard the Gospel:
 “ ‘For so the Lord has commanded us:”I have set you as a light to the Gentiles,
That you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.”’” -  Acts 13:47.

And Paul continued to boldly explain God’s plan to include all people till the end of the account of his ministry:
“Therefore let it be known to you that the salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will hear it!”  - Acts 28:28.

As a Gentile, I am eternally grateful that God’s plan includes me—that verses like John 3:16 truly apply to “the world” and mean “whoever.”

“For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He [even] gave up His only-begotten [unique] Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish—come to destruction, be lost—but have eternal (everlasting) life” - John 3:16 AMP (emphasis added).

PRAYER: Dear Father, thank You for sending Jesus to die for all mankind, that salvation is available for everyone, Jew and Gentile alike. Amen.

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)

Friday, January 13, 2017

Trial template

"David Lifting Up His Soul to God"
by Franco dei Russi - The Getty Trust

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 40:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "But I am poor and needy;
Yet the Lord thinks upon me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
Do not delay, O my God." - Psalm 40:17

The editors of my Bible have helpfully summed up this psalm with the title "Faith Persevering In Trial." So we know that trial will be one of its subjects. In it the writer (David) talks about two aspects of trial:

I - He shows us what a trial looks and feels like. According to David a trial feels:

  • Like it's going on too long. "I waited patiently … make haste to help me … Do not delay" He says (Psalm 40:1, 13, 17).
  • Disorienting, dangerous, life-threatening. David calls it a "horrible pit" and "miry clay" (Psalm 40:2). He's in the dark. I imagine him feeling helpless and terrified as quicksand sucks him downward. He fears for his life (Psalm 40:14).
  • Evil. He senses evil all around him and searches his own heart; maybe the evil within him is to blame for this trouble (Psalm 40:12).

II - He shows us how to bring God into our trial.
  • He cries out to God until he gets a sense that God is with him. He uses the image of God setting his feet on a rock (out of that miry clay - Psalm 40:2).
  • He praises and sings (Psalm 40:3-4).
  • He focuses on God's creativity and "wonderful works" (Psalm 40:5).
  • He re-commits himself to God (Psalm 40:6-8).
  • He testifies in church (the "great assembly" - Psalm 40:9-10).
  • After again giving in to feelings of despair, desperation, and panic (Psalm 40:11-15) he refocuses on God. He makes God big: "The Lord be magnified," even though in the last verse plummets us down to earth and trouble's reality again: "But I am poor and needy … Do not delay, O my God" (Psalm 40:16-17).

Though some of what David says in this psalm makes it seem like his trial has already passed, sprinkled throughout are reminders that he's still in the middle of it (Psalm 40:1, 13, 17). I would suggest that the things David does to bring God into the middle of his trial are things we can do too. We don't have to wait for trials to pass to sense God's presence, to praise Him, to testify to others and, if we find our thoughts again slipping into fear, to pull our focus back to God, who will also be our "help" and "deliverer."

May this psalm be our template as we go through trials of our own.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for David's honesty as he describes what he's going through. What a wonderful example hs is of someone changing his focus from trouble to God. Help me to do that with big and little things that come against me. Amen. 

Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version (NKJV) Used by permission. The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Lord of storms

lightning & storm clouds
Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Psalm 29:1-11

TO CHEW ON: “The LORD sits enthroned at the Flood,
And the LORD sits as King forever.
The LORD will give strength to His people;
The LORD will bless His people with peace.” Psalm 29:10,11

In Psalm 29 God is pictured as a storm-bringer. There is noise: “thunder” and a powerful “voice.” There is destruction: the storm “breaks the cedars” and makes them “skip.” It “shakes the wilderness” and even causes the deer to give birth prematurely.

The writer of my Bible’s notes says about this passage:
“Poetically the psalmist refers to an earthquake or thunderous quake in the Lebanon mountain range and at Sirion (Mt. Herman) which splinters the biggest trees, the mighty cedars, as if they were matchsticks” - K.R. Iverson, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 707.

What interests me about this storm, though, is the way the psalmist (David) sees God through it. He sees God not as pagan peoples did—a deity who needed to be placated to stop the storm (Jonah 1:4,5,6)—but as lord over it, commanding it.

We can conclude David trusted God, even His stormy side, because of the way he ended this psalm:
“The LORD will give strength to His people.
The LORD will bless His people with peace” - Psalm 29:11.

I ask myself can I, can we learn to trust God in storms—the physical and the circumstantial—like that? Do we still believe in Him, in His love, righteousness, and justice toward us when the house is torn apart in a hurricane or when our lives are torn apart by cancer, a stroke, or heart attack? It’s easy to proclaim to someone else: “The Lord will give you strength and peace.”  But how does one actually experience it?

Perhaps one way is to prepare to trust Him in big storms by building our trust muscles now, as we exercise them in the little storms we face each day.

Dear Father, these sentiments—God will give you strength and peace—are easy to speak when I’m in the calm. Help me to grow in trust as I lean on You daily in the small storms that come my way. Amen.

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, January 11, 2017

Getting God's direction

"Flight Into Egypt" by Gustave Doré
"Flight Into Egypt" by Gustave Doré

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Matthew 2:13-23

TO CHEW ON: “But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee.” Matthew 2:22

On Christmas Eve we watched a movie called “The Nativity.” Watching it I was impressed with how earth-shattering the events of the incarnation must have been to Mary, Joseph, and their families.

After an angel convinced Joseph of Mary’s purity and he took Mary as his wife, Jesus as his son, much rested on his shoulders. At least three times he had to break with routine so that Jesus would be safe—rush off in the middle of the night, move to a foreign country, move back home, but to which home (Matthew 2:13-14, 19-20, 22)?

We who know the whole story probably don’t appreciate the weight on his shoulders. Was that dream I just had a word from God or the result of my over-active imagination? Is my uneasiness at returning to Judea justified or am I being paranoid?

God directed Joseph, yes sometimes through voice and dream communication but also through his human emotions and intuition. It’s the same way I believe He directs us.

Even when we’re not sure which path to take, He is there, as He has promised (“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; / I will guide you with My eye” - Psalm 32:8).

He leads, sometimes in ways as obvious as an angel visit or a voice (”Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying,/ “This is the way, walk in it,”/ Whenever you turn to the right hand/ Or whenever you turn to the left” - Isaiah 30:21).

At other times His leading is as subtle as that almost imperceptible check inside us we call “fear,” or “this is right,” or “just take the next step”  (“I will bring the blind by a way they did not know; / I will lead them in paths they have not known. / I will make darkness light before them, / And crooked places straight. / These things I will do for them, / And not forsake them.” Isaiah 48:17).

PRAYER: Dear Father, thank You for my mind, emotions and experience that work together with Your word and presence to give me guidance. Amen.
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, January 10, 2017

No barriers

Cornelius - Acts 10 (Artist unknown)
Cornelius - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 10:30-48

TO CHEW ON: "And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on Gentiles also." Acts 10:45.

Here Peter is at the house of Cornelius, a Roman centurion. Under ordinary circumstances that's the last place you'd expect to find him. But on this day, after seeing a vision and being summoned by Cornelius's servants because of his vision (Acts 10:9-16 & 3-7), he is convinced that this is a divine mission.

He has just finished explaining about Jesus and how "'… whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins'" when it happens: "… the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word" - Acts 10:44.

How do they know? They hear them speak with tongues and magnify God, just as it had happened on the day of Pentecost for Peter and the believers in that upper room (Acts 10:46).

The incredible thing to these onlookers (the Jewish "brethren from Joppa" who went with him - Acts 10:23) is that God has bestowed Himself on Gentiles in this way. It blows their idea of God's plan all to pieces.

Even Peter who earlier linked Joel's prophecy ("I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh - Joel 2:28) with the initial out-pouring of the Spirit  (Acts 2:16-21) seems taken aback. But he is open to affirming this paradigm shift. For he suggests that there's no reason why these new believers can't be baptized (Acts 10:47).

In our day after a couple thousand years of living with the idea of the Gentiles included in God's plan, the incredulity of these early Jewish believers seems almost humorous. But I would submit we still have, in our minds, some Jew-Gentile-type barriers.  These aren't based on race but other things like intelligence, education, the lifestyle a person has lived or the sins he or she has committed.

Does God really call, forgive, save everyone? Can the Holy Spirit indwell and empower someone who is mentally challenged? Someone with minimal education (who, say, can't even read)? What about the person who comes to Jesus after having a sex change, or is a repentant thief, pornographer, or child serial killer?

Whatever barriers we have erected towards some of these groups, the Bible doesn't support them. It tells us over and over, God's grace is for everyone.

  • "Look to Me and be saved, All you ends of the earth…" Isaiah 45:22.
  •  "Ho! Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters …" Isaiah 55:1.
  • "… as many as you find, invite to the wedding" - Matthew 22:9.
  • "'If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink'" - Jesus in John 7:37.
  • "For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him" - Romans 10:12.
  • "… who desires all men to be saved" - 1 Timothy 2:4.
  • "Whoever desires let him take the water of life freely" - Revelation 22:17.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your invitation to ALL. Help me to demolish any barriers I might have toward people of any kind. May I see them all as candidates to receive Your saving grace and the Holy Spirit. Amen.


 Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotes are taken from the New King James Version (NKJV) Used with permission. The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Could goals be an idol?

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Isaiah 42:14-25

 TO CHEW ON: “They shall be turned back,
They shall be greatly ashamed,
Who trust in carved images,
Who say to the molded images
‘You are our gods.’” Isaiah 42:17.

This section of Isaiah 42, says my Bible’s study notes, is a “… lament looking back on the disobedience that led to God’s judging anger. The fundamental problem leading to the judgments was trust in carved images (Isaiah 42:17)” - Nathaniel M. Van Cleave, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible notes on Isaiah, p. 992.

Here at the beginning of a new year, the internet is full of hints on how to make resolutions that we’ll keep and goals that we’ll accomplish. The pristine calendars of 2017 ooze with optimism. So much could fill their pages!

For me there is in this a temptation to a 21st century brand of idolatry—not of the worship of molded images but of the worship of oneself—one’s own abilities, determination, agenda, 5-year-plan, productivity.

Now I’m not against writing down resolutions and goals for the new year. But I must always guard against making them and the accomplishing of them the main thing. I realize that what must trump them for me is the willingness to change all, or maybe not to make them in the first place, when the shepherd says something different.

My “one little word” for 2017 is LISTEN. My verses for 2017 are the words of Jesus in John 10:3,4,11:‘To him (the shepherd of the sheep - John 10:2) the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. … I am the good shepherd.’”  

May all my / our idolatrous supports and confidences for 2017 lose their siren appeal as we listen for and obey the Shepherd’s voice.

“Get into the habit of saying, ‘Speak Lord’ and life will become a romance” - Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest - January 30 reading.

“Obey Him with glad reckless joy … ‘Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it’” - Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, March 28 reading.

Dear Father, help me to recognize the idols in my life and turn from them for good. Amen.
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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