Friday, March 31, 2017

God's kids

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Romans 8:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God." - Romans 8:14

This verse tells us we prove or flesh out in real life our sonship and daughtership to God as we allow His Spirit to lead us. A footnote to this verse in my Bible explains Romans 8:14:

"It describes the lifestyle of those who are sons of God. Paul is giving encouragement not to live according to the flesh but to put to death the deeds of the body (Romans 8:13). Therefore being 'led by the Spirit of God' involves progressively putting to death the sinful appetites of the lower nature. This implies that, while all Christians are in some general sense being 'led by the Spirit of God,' there are increasing degrees of being led by the Spirit. The more fully people are led by the Holy Spirit, the more completely will they be obedient to God and be conformed to His holy standards.


Since the Greek word translated 'led' is a present participle, it may be translated 'as many as are being continually led by the Spirit of God.' This leading is not to be restricted to objective knowledge of the commands of Scripture and conscious effort to obey them (though it most certainly includes that). Rather, it more fully includes the subjective factor of being sensitive to the promptings that if genuinely from the Holy Spirit will never encourage us to act contrary to Scripture" - Wayne A. Grudem (the commenter on Romans in the New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1561-2).

It appears there is a delicate interplay, in living the Spirit-controlled life, between knowing the scripture in one's head, obeying it as a matter of habit, and being open to the Holy Spirit's personal leading in the circumstances of life that are not directly addressed in the Bible.

This reminds me of the stories in Acts of the Holy Spirit:
  • leading Philip when he was on the Gaza to Jerusalem Road to approach the Ethiopian's chariot (Acts 8:28).
  • leading Peter to go to Cornelius's house (Acts 11:12)
  • leading the Antioch church to send out Paul and Barnabas as missionaries (Acts 13:2).
  • forbidding Paul and Silas to preach in Asia (Acts 16:6).

And I'm sure there are more. Of such special instructions, our Romans expositor says:

"What one perceives to be a subjective leading of the Holy Spirit, especially in major decisions or promptings for 'unusual' actions should be subjected to the confirmation of several counselors (Proverbs 11:14; 24:6) to help guard against mistakes and to help get a clear picture of Scripture's objective standards" - Grudem, NSFLB, p. 1562.

Great advice, but cumbersome too. It's not something the people in our Acts examples could have done in all cases. Sometimes there was no one around from whom to get confirmation.

I think we can conclude that living by these Holy Spirit promptings is a life of faith where we can trust God Himself to issue "Stop" or "Go" orders in a variety of ways, including the advice of others, of course, and the presence or absence of inner peace. Paul says in another place:

"Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" - Philippians 4:6-7.


PRAYER: Dear God, what a privilege to be called Your daughter. Help me to live the fact of this by my sensitivity to Your Spirit's leading in my unexceptional comings and goings, and in my ability to hear Your special assignments, and then to eagerly obey. 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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Thursday, March 30, 2017

Crookedness—it's in our genes

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 130:1-8

TO CHEW ON: "If you, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord who could stand?" Psalm 130:3


Iniquities is an old-fashioned word we don't often use in everyday talk. However, the psalmist uses it here to tell us an uncomfortable fact about ourselves that remains true even if we no longer use the word. According to a word Wealth article in my Bible:

[Iniquities - (avon) means evil, fault, sin, iniquity, guilt, blame, moral illness, perversion, crookedness. It's derived from avah which means to bend or distort. Thus iniquity is the "evil bent' within human beings or the "crooked" direction or "warped" deeds of sinners - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 788.]

Think about that for a bit as it relates to us. No matter how our society tries to downplay that evil bent, even contradict it, have we not seen that sneaky self inside who wants its own way (selfishness), goes after honor and attention (pride), secretly desires the biggest and best (greed), yearns to have the stuff and good fortune of others (covetousness), etc.?

Cain used the word iniquity way back in the beginning when he said, after killing his brother in a jealous rage, "My punishment (iniquity) is greater than I can bear" - Genesis 4:13. That would be the reaction of each one of us—too much to bear.

What is the solution to this inborn natural tendency to be crooked? It's not in us. But it is with God:

"There is forgiveness with You," says the psalmist here (Psalm 130:4)

Isaiah makes it clear that forgiveness is in a specific person, the Suffering Servant, the Messiah—Jesus:
"He was bruised for our iniquities … and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all … For He shall bear their iniquities" - Isaiah 53:5, 6, 11.

What a gift of grace for us to ponder and give thanks for as we approach Good Friday and Easter when we commemorate Jesus' death. He carried all our iniquities on the cross. With that act God was able to forgive and our iniquity is no longer held against us as a death-worthy crime.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your forgiveness, rooted in Your substitutionary atonement on the cross. 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, March 29, 2017

Delivered from idols

All My Money - RGB Stock Photos
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ezekiel 37:15-28

TO CHEW ON:
"They shall not defile themselves any more with their idols nor with the detestable things, nor with any of their transgressions; but I will deliver them from all their dwelling places in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them. Then  they shall be My people and I will be their God." Ezekiel 37:23


If you're at all familiar with the Old Testament you'll know how big the temptation to worship idols was for the Israelites and how often they capitulated to it. Here God makes the promise that when this exile finally comes to an end, they will be cured for good of their inclination toward idolatry.

We have only to observe how many Hebrew words there are for "idols"—Easton's Bible Dictionary lists 18—to realize how multi-faceted this problem was. The two expressions for idols here: "idols" and "detestable things" are gilluwl and shiqquuts. Besides meaning "idol" these words infer contempt, dung, refuse, filth and impurity. Another word for sin in our passage—"transgression" (pasha)—means "rebellion."

Their release from this ungodly worship, these impure practices and rebelliousness comes in two ways:

1. They are removed from the source of temptation: "but I will deliver them from all their dwelling places."

2. They are cleansed and set apart: "but I will … cleanse them" and from Ezekiel 37:28: "I the Lord will sanctify Israel" (sanctify means to set apart, declare holy). 

What does this have to do with us? Plenty.

We may not bow down to god-images of gold, wood or stone, but how easily we give our allegiance to other things than God. In the powerful book and video series Gods at War: Defeating the Idols that Battle for Your Heart, pastor Kelly Idelman exposes modern idols. What are these idols and how do we recognize them? From the book description:

"According to Idleman, idolatry isn't an issue it is the issue.

"By asking insightful questions, Idleman reveals which false gods each of us are allowing on the throne of our lives. What do you sacrifice for? What makes you mad? What do you worry about? Whose applause do you long for? We're all wired for worship, but we often end up valuing and honoring the idols of money, sex, food, romance, success and many others that keep us from the intimate relationship with God that we desire." (Emphasis added.)

Once we've recognized our false gods, we can begin to deal with them—and in the way God helped Israel do it:

1. Remove ourselves from the place of temptation. This brings to mind Jesus' words from the Lord's prayer: " 'Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil' " - Matthew 6:13. 

2. Ask God to change us / cleanse us and cooperate with Him through the process. I love verses from the previous chapter of Ezekiel in this regard:

"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. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them - " Ezekiel 36:25, 26, 27.


PRAYER: Dear God, please make me sensitive to my own idols. Help me to avoid temptation and cooperate with You as You show me my sin and soften and change my heart by Your Spirit. 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, March 28, 2017

There is hope

"Valley Full of Bones" - James Shaw Crompton
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ezekiel 37:1-14


TO CHEW ON: "Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and have brought you up from your graves." Ezekiel 37:13

What a graphic scene of hopelessness we see in Ezekiel's vision of the Valley of Dry Bones.


1. The situation was VERY hopeless.
"...there were very many (bones) in the open valley and indeed they were very dry" (Ezekiel 37:2).

2. Bringing the bones to life involved action on Ezekiel's part:
God challenged his FAITH:
God: "...can these bones live?"
Ezekiel: "O God, You know."

God called for his OBEDIENCE:
God: "Prophesy..."
Ezekiel: "So I prophesied as I was commanded" (Ezekiel 37:3,4)


3. The fulfillment of the prophecy came in STAGES.
First the bones came together (Ezekiel 37:7-8). Then breath inhabited them (Ezekiel 37:10). Finally the revived army of people left the graveyard to again live in their own land (Ezekiel 37:12-14).

4. Of course this isn't about a literal crowd of people coming back to life but about the resurrection of HOPE (Ezekiel 37:11). And in that way, this passage speaks powerfully to us. For the same Spirit who gave life to the dead situation of people in exile in Ezekiel's time, is ours.

This prophecy came true in 538 B.C. when Cyrus the Great allowed the people to return home, as recorded in Ezra 1 and 2. 

We see:
  • A hopeless situations is no obstacle to God. He can breathe life back into it.
  • That process may require action on our part. We need to be listening for any instructions and be quick to obey.
  • The fulfillment may take a while and come in stages.
  • Our situation will probably not be an issue of our nation returning from exile, as Israel's was. Let's claim God the Spirit's ability to breathe life ("I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live...") into whatever our boneyard situations are, be they broken families, prodigal children, fractured churches, severed relationships, bankruptcy, financial ruin, storm-damaged houses, etc.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You that Your power can bring the most hopeless situation back to life. Please give me faith to believe this and act in obedience when I can be part of the solution. Amen.


MORE: Dry bones in art

St. Nicholas' Church in Deptford England has on display wonderful carvings of the "Valley of the Dry Bones" by Grinling Gibbons (a contemporary of Christopher Wren). Read more about the church and view the carvings 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.

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Monday, March 27, 2017

The high price of following Jesus

Jesus heals the blind man (Free Bible Images)
TODAY’S SPECIAL: John 9:18-41

TO CHEW ON: “For the Jews had already agreed that if any one should acknowledge Jesus to be the Christ, he should be expelled and excluded form the synagogue… So they cast him out—threw him clear outside the synagogue.: John 9:22,34 AMP


When the neighbors and acquaintances of the man who had been healed of blindness brought him to the Pharisees, the religious leaders demanded to know who had healed him. The discussion soon became about whether this miracle and miracle-worker were from God (John 9:8, 13-17).

The Jews then attempted to discredit the miracle by talking to the man’s parents. But they corroborated his words—he was their son and had been blind all his life. But they refused to express an opinion about whether Jesus was a prophet from God or not. Why? Because they feared excommunication (John 9:22). Indeed, excommunication was the treatment the healed man received after he defended Jesus (John 9:27-34).

The fear of excommunication appears in other places:

“Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue” - John 12:42.

'They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service’" - John 16:2.

What was this “put out of the synagogue” that was such a threat?

- From the Jewish Encyclopedia:

"Excommunication – The highest ecclesiastical censure, the exclusion of a person from the religious community, which among the Jews meant a practical prohibition of all intercourse with society. … its object being to preserve the solidarity of the nation and strengthen the authority of the Synagogue by enforcing obedience to its mandates" – Jewish Encyclopedia - quoted in “Unity and Excommunication” on Biblestudying.net (emphasis added)
- From Barnes Notes on the Bible:
"Put out of the synagogue - This took place in the temple, or near the temple. It does not refer, therefore, to any immediate and violent putting forth from the place where they were. It refers to excommunication from the synagogue. 
"Among the Jews there were two grades of excommunication; the one for lighter offences, of which they mentioned 24 causes; the other for greater offences. The first excluded a man for 30 days from the privilege of entering a synagogue, and from coming nearer to his wife or friends than 4 cubits. 
"The other was a solemn exclusion forever from the worship of the synagogue, attended with awful maledictions and curses, and an exclusion from all contact with the people. This was called the curse, and so thoroughly excluded the person from all communion whatever with his countrymen, that they were not allowed to sell to him anything, even the necessaries of life (Buxtorf). It is probable that this latter punishment was what they intended to inflict if anyone should confess that Jesus was the Messiah: and it was the fear of this terrible punishment that deterred his parents from expressing their opinion" (emphasis added - Barnes Notes on the Bible - John 9.).

What the blind man’s story and its fallout says to me is that putting our faith in Jesus can have serious consequences. We readily accept that such a belief severs us from the world. But here it separated a man from his religion as well including the community that was part of that faith system.

As contemporary Christianity drifts farther and farther away from its biblical anchors, could such separation be ahead for us too? And I ask myself, am I, are we willing to pay that price?


PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I love it that You sought out that excommunicated man and communicated to him who you were and that You accepted him. May Your approval and friendship be enough for me too. 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)

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Do our lives reveal the works of God?

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: JOHN 9:1-17

TO CHEW ON:
“And His disciples asked Him, saying, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’

Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in Him.’” John 9:23


This little story raises a question. We ask, did God allow this man’s congenital blindness, which he suffered with for many years before Jesus healed him, just so Jesus’ power could be on display at this moment in time?

Jesus’ entry into his life at this moment and saying what He did implies to me that all of the man’s life—even the time he was blind, was part of God’s plan for him.

God didn’t create the world with flaws. These things entered when Adam and Eve chose disobedience and rebellion. However, the disciples believed that the man’s blindness was caused by specific sins he or his parents had committed. Jesus said “no” to that. The writer of my Bible’s study notes explains:

“Assuming that an individual case of suffering was due to specific sin, the disciples inquired into the cause of the man’s blindness. Jesus, however, notes that beyond the tragedy of human defects, which result in a general way from man’s fall and the consequent entry of sin, sickness, affliction, and death into the world, God’s merciful and sovereign grace is available” - Siegfried Schatzmann, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1460.

What does this mean for us today? How do we square the fact that God does heal some, but not everyone who prays for healing gets healed? Is it that some don’t have enough faith? That they’re praying the wrong way? That there’s sin in the life?

For me the answer lies in Jesus explanation of why the man was born blind in the first place: '… that the works of God should be revealed.' In this man’s case it was a work of miraculous healing. But we also see the works of God displayed in lives lived under lifelong clouds of sickness, pain, debilitation—any one of the heavy consequences of the fall. To me the life of Joni Earickson Tada is an example of such a work of God on display in a many-year quadriplegic.

Here's Paul talking about a similar situation:
 "And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. - 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.


PRAYER: Dear Father, on this side of seeing You, it’s easy to be puzzled by our health (and other) problems. Help me to live by faith that You have a good reason for everything that You allow into my life. May Your presence within me reveal the works of God, whether works of healing or works of trust, faith, and rejoicing in and through pain, suffering, and sickness. 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, March 25, 2017

Nothing is impossible!

"Mary and Angel" by S. Botticelli
"Mary and Angel" - Botticelli
TODAY'S SPECIAL: LUKE 1:26-38

TO CHEW ON: "Then the angel said to her … He will be great and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever and of His kingdom there will be no end." Luke 1:31, 32-33


The day Jesus rode into Jerusalem accompanied by crowds of cheering followers, I wonder if Mary recalled the angel's words to her before Jesus was born (part of our reading today) and thought, Now it's coming true. The angel's promise is playing out right in front of my eyes!

I wonder how she grappled with her thoughts and emotions a few days later when all her expectations were dashed by Jesus dying on the cross. We can only imagine the emotional bungee plunge of all Jesus' followers when what seemed like an impending coronation turned into a crucifixion.

Of course with our long view, we know that this was all part of God's plan. It's a plan we're still living through, in faith that the prediction of the angel about Jesus ultimately establishing a forever kingdom will be seen and acknowledged by everyone on earth as we have acknowledged Him king of our lives and of the church.

Perhaps we can also take a lesson from this for our day-to-day lives. We pray. We get a promise. We think we're getting our answer as the circumstances line up. And then they turn. The door shuts. The heavens are brass. We cry and wonder, was my faith misplaced? Is God really going to make good on His promise?

Maybe, as it was for Mary, our answer will be way bigger than an immediate answer would ever be, like Jesus' ultimate kingship will be way bigger than just being a deliverer and king for the Roman-oppressed Jews of His time.

At times like that we can hold close the angel's further words: "For with God nothing will be impossible" - Luke 1:37.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to hang onto Your promises for their fulfillment in Your ultimate big-picture way. Help me to really believe that with God nothing is impossible. Amen. 

MORE: Feast of the Annunciation

Today the church celebrates the Feast of the Annunciation. The liturgy for this day begins with this Collect:
Pour your grace into our hearts, O Lord, that we who have known the incarnation of your Son Jesus Christ, announced by an angel to the Virgin Mary, may by his cross and passion be brought to the glory of his resurrection; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


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

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Friday, March 24, 2017

Exposing darkness

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ephesians 5:5-21

TO CHEW ON: "And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them." Ephesians 5:11

Mike Leehan in his book Ascent from Darkness, does exactly that (exposes the "works of darkness"). Mad at God after his divorce, he decided to give himself to the dark side. For the next about 20 years he lived as a servant and worshiper of Satan. In his book he tells about that life:

  • He describes how he repeatedly cut himself as part of his ritual and fasted to gain spiritual power.
  • He discloses his mission: to sow confusion and mayhem within churches. Some of the things he did were carry copies of the Satanic Bible so he could plant them on church premises, seduce women, attend small group Bible studies to introduce unbelief and doctrinal error.
  • He tells of numerous incidents when he had spiritual insight into people, sensing their spiritual protection or vulnerability.
  • He describes how he felt and acted around Christians. For example, he found it impossible to sit in a worship service and often blacked out when in conversation as he channeled spirits.
  • He shows us the terrifying side of spirit possession—the spooky nights filled with demonic phenomena and his ever-present depression and obsession with death. He was preparing to compose a suicide note to one of his kids the day he called out to God at a men's retreat and was miraculously delivered.

Why read such a book? Perhaps it's not for everyone, but it certainly opened my eyes.
  • It showed me the fearful price that Satan exacts in loyalty, obedience and servitude.
  • It showed how Satan's promises are lies.
  • It illustrated, by contrast, the light, life, freedom, and joy we have in Christ—things it's easy for us to take for granted, until we've experienced (vicariously, through reading about it was experience enough for me) what life on the dark side is like.
  • It provided an insight into what may be behind many of our society's bizarre and self-destructive behaviours (like rampant suicide, the prevalence of cutting, the spirit of lust that has taken down not only lay-Christians but many pastors too) and gave clues as to how to minister to demonically oppressed people.
  • Mike's spiritual zeal for and commitment to the dark side put me to shame as I compared it to my zeal and commitment to Jesus.

PRAYER:
Dear God, thank You for the freedom, peace, joy, cleanness and wholesomeness  available to me because of Jesus. Help me to live with a greater awareness of darkness, and to guard myself against it. Amen.

MORE: Why share such a story?

Here, in Mike's own words, is why he told his story:
"I have learned the only thing that evil can take over is darkness. Darkness invades our lives when we shut out the light of God's love. But where there is light, there cannot be darkness. Light pierces darkness and illuminates the truth.

We must realize that we are in a world that is spiritually intertwined. There is more to our existence than the obvious. We must open our eyes to see the spiritual realm, which is very real and very powerful. And we must learn the weapons of our adversary, not only to avoid becoming ensnared by darkness but to be able to reach into that darkness to rescue others, like me, with the light. We are instruments of change. We are powerful vessels carrying an eternal cargo of either life or death.

The reason for sharing my story in this book is to demonstrate the power of God over Satan and to show how merciful a God we have in heaven. To give Him the glory and praise, and to demonstrate the power of love over fear, to show the love our Father has for us, to let God's light expose the darkness—but mainly to facilitate the hope that by reading this story, people might turn to the King of Kings!"
- Mike Leehan, Ascent from Darkness, Kindle Location 3462 (emphasis added).



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



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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Providence meets faith

TODAY’S SPECIAL: 1 Samuel 17:41-57

TO CHEW ON:
“Then David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone; and he slung it and struck the Philistine in his forehead, so that the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the earth.” 1 Samuel 17:49

What are the chances that this youthful armed-only-with-a-sling shepherd would get the best of a 9 foot, 9 inch fully armed warrior? Pretty slim, I’d say. Yet here it happens before our eyes. What’s the explanation?

Surely David was skillful with his primitive weapon, so that’s one thing. However, I believe much bigger forces were at war here as they had been numerous times before in Israel’s history.

Right now our pastor is teaching a Bible study on Judges. There too we see unlikely Israelite victories.

  • Judge Ehud managed to get alone with Eglon, King of Moab, kill him with one thrust of his homemade sword, and get well away before the servants discovered the deed—a catalyst to Israel’s victory over Moab (Judges 3:15-30).
  • Tentwife Jael invited fleeing army general Sisera into her tent and, after he fell asleep,  killed him by driving a tent peg through his temple - Judges 4:18-24.
  • Gideon defeated an army of thousands of Midianites and Amalekites with only 300 men armed with pitchers, torches, and trumpets - Judges 7:16-25.

What’s at work in each of these incidents is people of faith and courage taking action. That faith combined with the providence of God is what led to these stunning victories.

David had zeal for God’s honour (1 Samuel 17:45-47). That zeal combined with his past experience of God’s help (1 Samuel 17:34-36) filled him with courage and faith, so that he took up what was at hand to do battle. But I believe it wasn’t only his skill that felled Goliath that day, but God’s providence that clinched his success.

My challenge from the story of David and Goliath is wrapped up in these snippets from my study notes on Judges:

“We take steps of faith and courage, and trust in the providence of God … Providence continues to be God’s gift to His people. What’s in your hand? As you partner with God, His grace will come on you. Take a risk this week. Believe God to be with you. Your “hand tool” will make a difference” - Derrick Hamre.

PRAYER:  Dear Father, thank You that as I step out in faith with You on my side, I too can win unlikely victories. 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, March 22, 2017

God sees past birth order

Siblings (Image: Pixabay)
TODAY’S SPECIAL: 1 Samuel 17:26-40

TO CHEW ON: “Now Eliab, his oldest brother, heard when he spoke to the men; and Eliab’s anger was aroused against David, and he said, ‘Why did you come down here? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your pride and the insolence of your heart, for you have come down to see the battle.’”  1 Samuel 17:28


Two days ago we looked at how various people viewed David. Here we see him from another angle—as his older brother saw him. David’s answer to Eliab’s “Why did you come here?” is almost a nonchalant shrug: ”’What have I done now?’” It tells me that this was not the first time Eliab was on his case.

Their interchange reminds me of other Bible first born / later-born conflicts.
  • Cain killed his younger brother Abel. 
  • Jacob connived how to get his father’s firstborn blessing from older Esau. 
  • Joseph (the second-youngest) was hated by his older brothers. 
  • In Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, it’s the oldest dutiful big brother who ends up being the antihero of the story.

Perhaps one reason Bible firstborns had trouble with their younger siblings getting special treatment was because in Israel special privilege was supposed to go to the oldest son, as in:
“… a larger inheritance, a special paternal blessing, family leadership, and an honored place at mealtimes (Genesis 25:5-6; 27:35-37; 37:21; 42:37; 43:33; Deuteronomy 21:15-17). … In Israelite ritual, the firstborn belonged to God (Exodus 13:2; 22:29-30; Numbers 3:13)” - “What's the significance of 'first-born' in the Bible” from GotAnswers.org.

As an oldest myself, I am not unsympathetic toward these Bible firstborns. Psychologist Dr. Kevin Leman has studied and written about characteristics that are often found in people according to their birth order (The Birth Order Book). I can see how many of the qualities typically found in last borns readily grate on firstborns.

Firstborn qualities: conscientious, well-organized, serious, goal-oriented, achieving, people pleaser, believer in authority, perfectionist, reliable, list-maker, critical, self-sacrificing, conservative, supporter of law and order, legalistic, self-reliant .


Lastborn qualities: manipulative, charming, blame others, attention seekers, tenacious, people person, natural salesperson, precocious, engaging, affectionate, love surprises - Kevin Leman, The Birth Order Book, 80,167.

God often chose those born later in the family for special assignments:
  • Of the sons of Jacob, middle-born Judah established the ancestral line of Jesus.
  • Moses, a youngest son, led Israel out of Egypt.
  • Solomon (not the oldest but middle or youngest) was the one chosen of David’s sons to become king.
But God also chose firstborns. Jesus, a firstborn, is our Messiah and Saviour.

All this to say that whatever qualities we’re born with or that our family has nurtured in us, we still need to be yielded to God for His purposes. It’s not birth order or societally mandated privilege that determines whether God can use us or not. It’s what’s in our hearts (1 Samuel 16:7).

PRAYER:
Dear Father, thank You for my family and how they have molded me. Help me to yield my firstborn tendencies to You for whatever destiny You have planned for 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.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

What defies you?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Samuel 17:1-16

TO CHEW ON: "And the Philstine said, 'I defy the armies of Israel this day; give me a man that we may fight together.' 
When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistines they were dismayed and greatly afraid." - 1 Samuel 17:10,11


Consider the description of this nine-foot, nine-inch man. His head-to-foot  metal armor weighed as much as a person (about 126 lbs.). He carried a bronze javelin between his shoulders (trying to envision how that would look!) and an iron spear with a 16-lb. head. He walked behind a shield that took another soldier to carry.

He reminds me of the superhero action figures of kids' TV shows or video games. Only, he was no cartoon, but real and heart-stoppingly scary as his voice boomed out, above the clinking and clanging of his armor: "I defy the armies of Israel..."

The way today's reading stops short of giving us God's solution to the Goliath problem has me looking at the problem aspect of the story more closely than I usually do. It reminds me of some of the giants that shout, "I defy you..." in my life: an issue that has persisted for over a year in our strata complex, family members who stay away from God, illnesses that threaten loved ones, a career challenge that's forcing me out of my comfort zone. These things easily bring out the "dismayed and greatly afraid" feelings in me that Goliath evoked in Saul's soldiers.

What things shout, "I defy you..." in your life? Identify and name your giants because I have a feeling we'll be taking steps to deal with them in the days ahead.


PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for this first step of facing and naming the things that seem too big for me to conquer. Help me to be honest with myself about the giants in my life. Amen.

MORE: A local giant experience

I am working on this post the morning after we attended the first meeting of Vancouver’s Festival of Hope—a series of meetings in Rogers Arena with lots of contemporary worship bands and keynote speaker Franklin Graham (Billy Graham Association).

There was much controversy over these meetings.
- Christianity Today ran a critical piece.

- So did the Vancouver Sun.

- Vancouver’s mayor opposed it with even some leaders of Vancouver’s church community wanting it shut down, or at least get the speaker changed from Franklin Graham to someone else (and not only leaders from mainline, liberal churches but so-called conservative, evangelical denominations like Baptists and Christian and Missionary Alliance).

It felt like a “I defy you” moment for the church and Christian community in greater Vancouver and it certainly spurred us on to pray.

This article details the results of that first meeting: “Opposition turns to opportunity for good news in Vancouver."


Thousands were in attendance. Rogers Arena was filled to the rafters March 3, 2017. Praises to Jesus rocked the place! (Photo © 2017 by V. Nesdoly)

Seven hundred came forward at decision time. Thank You Lord!!

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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


Monday, March 20, 2017

The "see" that really matters

Image from The Story of the Bible
 by Charles Foster (© 1873-84)
Drawings by F. B. Schell and others

David anointed at Bethlehem - F.B. Schell
David anointed at Bethlehem
TODAY’S SPECIAL: 1 Samuel 16:1-23

TO CHEW ON: “But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.’” 1 Samuel 16:7


In 1 Samuel 16 we have five different views of David, who was soon to become an important character for the people of Israel and a pivotal player in the story of redemption.

The Parent (Jesse, David’s father):
In the eyes of his earthly father, David didn’t even rate the day off to meet with Samuel. When Samuel had gone through the first seven and asked if that was it for sons, Jesse replied: “‘There remains yet the youngest, and there he is, keeping the sheep’” - 1 Samuel 16:11. David was the youngest. He was needed for work when the other older, more distinguished looking, filled out, fully grown sons got an invitation to worship with the prophet.

The Prophet (Samuel):
According to 1 Samuel’s introduction in my Bible, scholars believe that Samuel wrote 1 Samuel. So this description of David in the narration: “… ruddy, with bright eyes, and good looking” is probably how David looked to Samuel at this, their first meeting (1 Samuel 16:12).

God:
God’s reaction to David is found in his words to Samuel: “‘Arise, anoint him for this is the one!’” - 1 Samuel 16:12. God chose David by what He saw in David’s heart, for he had just had Samuel turn down seven of Jesse’s sons on the basis of what was, or wasn’t, in their hearts: “‘I have refused him (and him, and him…). For the LORD… looks at the heart’” - 1 Samuel 16:7.

What came next is also significant, for following Samuel’s anointing of David “The Spirit of the LORD came on David from that day forward” - 1 Samuel 6:13.

A Fellow Citizen (Saul’s servant):
Later, when King Saul had “distressing spirit” problems and asked for help finding someone who could ease him with music, a servant who knew the populace suggested David. This is how he saw him: “‘… a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is skillful in playing, a mighty man of valour, a man of war, prudent in speech and a handsome person; and the LORD is with him” - 1 Samuel 16:18. Talk about a fabulous referral!

The Boss (King Saul):

So Saul summoned David for a job interview and he was hired on the spot for Saul “… loved him greatly.” David obviously passed his employment probation, for Saul soon requested of Jesse that David be released from shepherding to work for him full-time because David had “found favour” with him and could also chase the dark spirit away from Saul with his music - 1 Samuel 16:21-23.

Two take-aways:


1. God still sees and evaluates us by our hearts. No matter how young or old, ugly or beautiful, insignificant or important, skillful or klutzy we are, He sees beyond all exteriors to our inner selves. There’s no fooling Him with a fancy outside.

2. I love how David’s anointing and the Spirit’s coming upon him only enhanced his appearance, reputation, and favour. Even strangers like Saul’s servant noticed that “… the LORD is with him.” And his boss Saul experienced it through David’s work. May we, in this time when the Spirit is available for all who accept Jesus, be so filled that others would say: “The Lord is with him /her.”

PRAYER: Dear Father, I know You see my heart. Help me to see and understand myself better. And may Your Spirit on and in me be evident in the skill with which I do my work, my courageous attitude, my prudent speech, and in the favour my life attracts. 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, March 19, 2017

The scandalous women in Jesus' genealogy

"Judah and Tamar" (1840)
Emile-Jean-Horace Vernet

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 1:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "And Jacob begot Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ." Matthew 1:16


There are only five women mentioned in the Matthew genealogy of Jesus. All of them had at least a little scandal in their lives.

The widow Tamar, overlooked by her father-in-law Judah as a wife for his youngest son (the way widows were dealt with justly in those days), dressed up like a prostitute and seduced Judah. When she was discovered pregnant and he called for her to be burned (talk about a double standard!) she produced proof that he was the father. The son Perez that came of their union is in Jesus' lineage (Genesis 38:6-30).

Rahab was a prostitute in Jericho. She hid the spies, telling them how the city was paralyzed by fear of them and their God. Later the soldiers rescued her and her family — the only ones to escape the falling walls of Jericho (Joshua 2). She married Salmon and mothered Boaz.

Ruth was a Gentile from Moab. This loyal young widow chose her Jewish mother-in-law's country and God over her own. She, in turn, was chosen by Boaz to be his wife. They had Obed, the grandfather of David. (Read her story in the book of Ruth).

The next woman isn't even named in this passage. "Her (who had been the wife) of Uriah"Bathsheba—was the beautiful woman idle king David found irresistible. When he got her pregnant he tried to cover his adultery by having her husband, Uriah, killed in battle. She was the mother of Solomon (2 Samuel 11).

And then we have Mary, the young women to whom the angel said, "You have found favour with God." Despite that favour, she had to face the disgrace of being pregnant and unmarried—leading to a reputation she was probably burdened with for years.

I love these women—Tamar for her determination to get justice; Rahab for her fear of God and courage to go against her own city; Ruth for her loyalty and care for a somewhat depressed mother-in-law; Bathsheba for her mother bear qualities when later fighting for Solomon's right to succeed David as king; Mary for her attitude of complete surrender, and for her thoughtfulness. The fact that God chose and used each one (and the multitude more that aren't named) despite flaws and shortcomings tells me there's hope for me, for you, for all of us.

This motley sampling of the women of God also makes me look at the women in my life — family members, friends, the women whose books and blogs I read — with a new appreciation. No matter what our pedigrees, histories, education, weaknesses and strengths, God has a place and purpose for each one of us too, in this, our time.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for these less-than-perfect women named in Jesus' genealogy. Help me to find and fulfill my destiny as they did. Amen.

MORE: Feast of Saint Joseph

Today the church celebrates Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus in the Feast of Saint Joseph.

The liturgy for the day begins with the following Collect:

"O God, who from the family of your servant David raised up Joseph to be the guardian of your incarnate Son and the spouse of his virgin mother: Give us grace to imitate his uprightness of life and his obedience to your commands; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."

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

Saturday, March 18, 2017

What feeds you?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 4:21-42

TO CHEW ON: "Jesus said to them, 'My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.'" John 4:34

Here, using the metaphor of food, Jesus states His life purpose.

Much in life is simplified if we know our life's purpose. Here are some worthwhile ones from the Bible for us to consider:

  • Serving the right master: "But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve.... as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord" - Joshua in Joshua 24:15 (NLT).
  • Seeking the right kingdom: "But seek (aim at and strive after) first of all His kingdom and His righteousness (His way of doing and being right), and then all these things taken together will be given you besides" - Jesus in Matthew 6:33 (Amp).
  • Finishing the job: "I glorified you on earth by completing down to the last detail what you assigned me to do" - Jesus in John 17:4 (Msg).
  • Finishing joyfully: "But none of these things move me; neither do I esteem my life dear to myself, if only I may finish my course with joy and the ministry which I have obtained from [which was entrusted to me by] the Lord Jesus, faithfully to attest to the good news (Gospel) of God's grace (His unmerited favor, spiritual blessing, and mercy)" - Paul in Acts 20:24 (Amp).
  • Winning the "heavenly prize": "I do not consider, brethren, that I have captured and made it my own [yet]; but one thing I do [it is my one aspiration]: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,
 I press on toward the goal to win the [supreme and heavenly] prize to which God in Christ Jesus is calling us upward"- Paul in Philippians 3:13-14 (Amp).

It is one thing to say we have a certain purpose, quite another to live it. To discover our actual purpose, we can ask ourselves, what captures our attention? What do we find ourselves daydreaming about? What absorbs our interest? What feeds us? May it be something that, in the end, lasts into eternity.


PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to God-centered and single-purposed, like Jesus was. 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 NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.


Friday, March 17, 2017

Living water life

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 4:1-20

TO CHEW ON: " ' Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.' " John 14:13,14

What an offer! Who wouldn't want this water, especially in the dry, thirsty Samaria of Jesus' time? Of course we know Jesus was speaking metaphorically (though by the woman's reaction, it seems she didn't pick that up right away). But what did He mean by living water inside oneself, becoming a fountain "... 'springing up into everlasting life' "?

Water imagery flows through the Bible.

  • Psalm 110 (titled "Announcement of Messiah's Reign" in my Bible) speaks of the brook that revives: "He shall drink of the brook by the wayside; Therefore He shall lift up the head" - Psalm 110:7.
  • Isaiah talks about joyfully drawing water from wells of salvation - Isaiah 12:3.
  • Ezekiel sees a vision of a healing river that gives life to all it touches - Ezekiel 47:9.
  • Here in John 4, Jesus promises an inner, self-replenishing fountain that springs up into everlasting life.
  • Later Jesus calls out during the Feast of Tabernacles: " ' If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water' " - John 7:37,38. Then John adds an author's aside that sheds light on the source of this river: "But this He spoke concerning the Spirit whom those believing in Him would receive" - John 7:39 (emphasis added).
This was prophesied too:
"For I will pour water on him who is thirsty, and floods on the dry ground; I will pour My Spirit on your descendants, and My blessing on your offspring" - Isaiah 44:3.

We could say, I think,  that to the extent that the Spirit has access to and control over our lives, living water will be a fountain within and flow out of us.

We can, of course, shut Him down too if we rebel against (Isaiah 63:10), blaspheme (Matthew 12:31; Mark 3:29), lie to (Acts 5:3), resist (Acts 7:51), grieve (Ephesians 4:30), insult  (Hebrews 10:29) and quench Him (1 Thessalonians 5:19).


PRAYER: Dear Holy Spirit, please have full access to my life. I want it to be part of that living water stream that flows through the centuries into eternity. Amen.

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



Thursday, March 16, 2017

God's wrath

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 3:22-36

TO CHEW ON: "He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life but the wrath of God abides on him." John 3:36


We 21st century Christians struggle with the concept of God's wrath. Why? Perhaps because we interpret it in human terms, as a loss of self control, or a sign that God feels powerless, has wounded pride, or is just bad-tempered and miserable. The tendency is to equate God's wrath with the wrath of, say, a parent that furied down on us out of the blue, seemed unusually harsh for our 'crime,' but was unpredictable too in that sometimes we got away with wrongdoing — it sort of depended on the parent's mood.

J. I. Packer has devoted an entire chapter of Knowing God to God's wrath. Hear his explanation of what God's wrath means and how it fits with His more popular attributes like love, mercy, and justice:

"God's wrath in the Bible is never the capricious, self-indulgent, irritable, morally ignoble thing that human anger so often is. It is, instead, a right and necessary reaction to objective moral evil. God is only angry where anger is called for. Even among men, there is such a thing as righteous indignation, though it is, perhaps rarely found. But all God's indignation is righteous. Would a God who took as much pleasure in evil as He did in good be a good God? Would a God who did not react adversely to evil in His world be morally perfect? Surely not. But it is precisely this adverse reaction to evil, which is a necessary part of moral perfection, that the Bible has in view when it speaks of God's wrath" - p. 167.

He goes on to explain how God's wrath doesn't make Him a monster because:
1. It is always judicious — the wrath of a judge administering justice (Romans 2:4-11).
2. It is something we choose for ourselves. Two verses from John 3 bear that out: Jesus' testimony about Himself (3:18) and John's testimony about Jesus (3:36).
"The basic choice was and is simple — either to respond to the summons 'come unto me...take my yoke upon you and learn of me' (Matthew 11:28 ff), or not; either to 'save' one's life by keeping it from Jesus's censure, and resisting His demand to take it over, or to 'lose' it by denying oneself, shouldering one's cross, becoming a disciple and letting Jesus have His own disruptive way with with one" - J. I. Packer, Knowing God, p. 169.
What is my response to the fact of God's wrath? What is yours? 
  • Do we begin to comprehend God's total and complete aversion to sin? 
  • Does His hatred and wrath against it put in us a healthy fear of Him and aversion to that same sin into us? 
  • Do we begin to appreciate what Jesus did for us when He died, taking the blow of God's wrath in our place?



PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for being against sin and moral evil. Please work in me the same revulsion against sin that so readily wiggles its way into my life in so many manifestations. Than You Jesus, for taking the wrath of God for me. Amen.

MORE: Want to read more?

If you want to read more about God's wrath, check out the quotes and links in the "wrath" entry of Rebecca Writes blog series "Theological Term of the Week."


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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, March 15, 2017

Are we in sync with God's ways?

Image: Pixabay

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Psalm 95:1-11

TO CHEW ON: “For forty years I was grieved with that generation,
And said, ‘It is a people who go astray in their hearts
And they do not know My ways.’” Psalm 95:10


Here we have a sobering indictment of the Israelites by God Himself. We pause and re-read, for any quality or action that grieves God [the word grieves is qut—to loathe, be grieved, feel a loathing or disgust for] is worth our close attention.

We know the story this passage refers to of the Israelites and how, on the doorstep of Canaan, they refused to put their faith in Yahweh, who had showed up for them countless times already on their trek from Egypt to Kadesh Barnea. Instead, they followed the advice of the ten faithless spies, balked at entering the land, and sealed their fate of wandering in the desert for 38 more years (Numbers 13 & 14).

For them it all started privately, we might even say innocently, enough “in their hearts.” However, a life lived habitually by the dictates of one's own heart (which could include the intellect, self-will, common sense, for the approval of others) led them, in the end, to an ignorance of God’s ways.

So how could the Israelites, how can we adjust the true north of our hearts to please God instead of grieve Him? How do we live in sync with instead of ignorant of His ways? For starters we need to:

Cultivate faith:
The biggie for the Israelites—and often for us too—is lack of faith.
“But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” - Hebrews 11:6.

Model our lives on Jesus:
We please God when we observe, listen to, and pattern our lives on Jesus, of whom God the Father said: “‘This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him’” - Matthew 17:5.

Do good with generosity:
“But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased” - Hebrews 13:6

PRAYER:
Dear Father, please change my heart from loving and following my own ways to living by faith. I want to become a person who knows Your ways. 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, March 14, 2017

Prayer—the battle on another level

Public Domain image from The Story of the Bible by Charles Foster,   Illustrations by F. B. Schell and others
Public Domain image from The Story of the Bible by Charles Foster, 
Illustrations by F. B. Schell and others

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Exodus 17:1-16

TO CHEW ON: “But Moses’ hands became heavy; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. And Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.” Exodus 17:12

We might consider the battle strategy that God gave Moses to defeat Amalek a little strange. There was an army and a captain (Joshua) naturally enough, but there were also onlookers. The main one was their leader, Moses, observing the battle from a hilltop. He had his arms raised to heaven. As long as he kept them up, the Israelite army prevailed. But when his arms got tired and he lowered them, Amalek prevailed.

So Aaron and Hur stood on either side of him and helped him keep his arms raised. By the end of the day, using these tactics, Joshua and the army below defeated Amalek.

I see this as a picture of how we need to fight our day-to-day battles.

  • They are also waged on two levels—the actual battleground of our life or church, or school, or community and in the spiritual realm.
  • Moses with his hands raised is a picture of our dependence on God. Moses is the personification, here, of prayer which should accompany each earthly battle of ours as well, from the war against our own sinful nature to the battle against the forces of evil and darkness in our families, churches, communities, countries, and the world.
  • Aaron and Hur are the intercessors—the pray-ers who help us to pray without ceasing, who keep our hands of prayer raised when we become too tired to keep them up on our own.
  • Israel’s battle went on for the whole day. It wasn’t until sunset that Israel left the battlefield victorious. Joshua and Hur stayed with Moses and kept his arms raised for the duration. We’d like our battles and those of our friends’ to be won and over in an instant. But that’s not how it works most of the time. Do we stick it out till the final victory in our own battles and in our intercession for others?

PRAYER: Dear Father, thank You for this picture of prayer. Help me to be faithful and persevering in prayer for the battles I face and in holding up the arms of others in intercession. 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, March 13, 2017

Enter the supernatural dimension

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: John 3:1-17

TO CHEW ON:
“Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Most assuredly I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’” John 3:3

Nicodemus started his conversation with Jesus by giving Him an almost generic compliment: “‘Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him’” - John 3:2.

Jesus’ answer (“Most assuredly I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God’” - John 3:3) didn’t seem to have anything to do with what Nicodemus had just said. Instead, Jesus cut to the chase, addressed the heart of the matter, probably got at what Nicodemus wanted to know: What do You have; and can I get it too?

In the conversation that followed, Jesus explained several things to puzzled Nicodemus:

1. He needed to be “born again” to see this kingdom of God - John 3:3.

2. He could only enter this kingdom through this new birth - John 3:5.

3. Being “born again” was not a physical but a spiritual experience. It involved water (baptism, repentance) and the Spirit.

4. The Spirit was the member of the godhead active in this new birth. The Spirit’s action is compared to wind (John 3:6-8). I can’t help but think of the Spirit hovering over unformed creation in Genesis 1:2 before the light arrived. Here, at the new birth, the Spirit blows over human lives to activate them toward God spiritually.

5. This new birth would be and is based on a physical time-and-space event—Jesus’ death and resurrection - John 3:13-16.

Still today we puzzle over the depths of Jesus’ words to Nicodemus. Thinking back to our own “new birth” experience, we may be able to detect the work of that Spirit wind as we felt dissatisfaction with life as it was, began a search for answers, were wowed by how God brought people into our lives, and seemingly orchestrated circumstances to bring us to repentance and faith. Suddenly we saw evidences of God everywhere. His fingerprints were all over our lives!

Jack Hayford sums up the new birth wonderfully in an article in my Bible:
“New birth is more than simply being “saved.” It is a requalifying experience opening up the possibilities of our whole being to the supernatural dimension of life and fitting us for a beginning in God’s kingdom order” - Jack Hayford, “New Birth,” New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1447 (emphasis added)

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for paying the death penalty for my sin so I could enter the kingdom of God. Please keep my eyes open to the supernatural dimension of kingdom life—even as I still live on natural earth. 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, March 12, 2017

Faith in God—not our words

woman praying on her knees
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Romans 4:13-25

TO CHEW ON:
"Therefore it is of faith …. God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as they they did…" Romans 4:17

In this passage, where Paul compares Abraham's faith in God's promise to make a nation of him to our faith in Jesus' death and resurrection to give us new life, these familiar words jump out at me: "God, who gives new life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did…"

I obviously haven't been paying attention for I have assumed that these words were a description of how the person of great faith prayed. But on a close reading, it isn't us who call things which do not exist as though they did, but God. Here is how the NIRV puts it:
"The God that Abraham believed in gives life to the dead. Abraham’s God also creates things that did not exist before" - Romans 4:17b (NIRV).

We're talking about the object of faith here. I like the simple definition of "faith" in the Dictionary of Bible Themes: "A constant outlook of trust towards God, whereby human beings abandon their own efforts and put their full confidence in him, his word and promises" (Dictionary of Bible Themes accessed through Biblegateway.com).

We put our faith not in the effort of our spoken words of faith but in God. It is only He who is able to "call those things which do not exist as though they did," to bring about the seemingly impossible for Abraham, for us in salvation, and for the requests about which we pray.

There is, in my mind, a big difference between this reading and how I've heard followers of the Word of Faith movement claim this verse—as a challenge to utter new things into being by the faith words one says or prays.

Yes, we make audacious requests, speaking in faith—that God will heal cancer, break addictions, turn whole nations around, etc. But we know it's not our words that will accomplish these things or our faith in these words, but God. I like how a sidebar article in my Bible explains this verse and how we can apply it when we pray:

"Notice that this verse does not say God calls things that are as though they do not exist but rather that God calls those things which do not exist as though they do exist. Thus we see that authentic faith does not deny the obstacle at hand, but declares that God is greater than the obstacle. Faith does not deny that a sickness is in the body, but declares Jesus' ability to heal the body (see Mark 5:23). Faith does not deny financial need, but acknowledges Jesus' ability to meet our needs (see Matthew 17:24-27)" - Gerald Brooks, "Pretending vs. Believing," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1555.

The fact that we utter faith-filled words does matter. But those words are never the power behind answered prayer. Our creator God is.

PRAYER:
Dear God, who calls those things which do not exist as though they did, please strengthen my faith in Your ability to provide creative solutions to the problems I bring to You each day. 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 passages marked NIRV are taken from the New International Reader's Version, copyright © 1995, 1996, 1998, 2014 by Biblica, Inc.®. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Grace that stretches over centuries

Cross, against sun and reflection on water
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Romans 4:1-12

TO CHEW ON: "For what does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.' " Romans 4:3


In his typically logical style, Paul sets out here to show how Abraham's and David's faith and God's grace and forgiveness combined to guarantee their salvation even though they lived millennia before Christ.

It wasn't works, Paul says using Genesis 15:6 as his proof text. Wages for work would be considered a debt, not a tally on the grace side as this is (Romans 4:4).

The work under consideration is circumcision. But Abraham believed before he was circumcised. Circumcision was only a sign of his faith, implemented later to mark those who were of his faith line (Romans 4:9-11). Some who weren't circumcised also had this faith (Romans 4:12)

It was faith. The column accounted for righteousness in the ledger of a life was faith in God's forgiveness says Paul, quoting David from Psalm 32:1,2. It was God forgiving, covering, not imputing committed sins to our account.

The implication for his readers—including us—is that salvation comes to us this way too. It is all grace flowing from Jesus' death for us. It flows back through the centuries to believers like Abraham and David, and forward to us. Our faith is in Christ and His death in our stead, which means our sins that should condemn us to death are similarly forgiven, covered, not imputed to our account.

I believe only eternity will bring home to us the immensity and blessedness of this truth.

PRAYER: Dear God thank You for your plan of salvation, enacted in a moment of time, but with efficacy for all people who have ever lived. 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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