Wednesday, May 31, 2017

A renewal of prophecy

Simeon Blesses the Child

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Luke 1:39-56

TO CHEW ON: “‘Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things, which were told her from the Lord’” - Luke 1:45

The writer of my Bible’s notes makes this observation about the time around Jesus’ birth:

“Note in chapters 1 and 2 (of Luke) how the new era is signalled by the renewal of the gift of prophecy which has been dormant. The various prophecies and songs of these two chapters reflect the best of OT piety and prophecy. (They) ...reflect a naturalness with and sensitivity to God’s former revelation in the OT” - J. Lyle Story, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1386.

What are these songs and prophecies?
  • Mary’s Magnificat - in our reading today - Luke 1:46-55.
  • Zacharias’s Benedictus - Luke 1:68-79.
  • Simeon’s Nunc Dimitis - Luke 2:29-32
  • Anna’s encounter with Jesus in the temple - Luke 2:36-38 (her words aren’t quoted).

I’m glad I attend a church that is open to prophecy. Prophecies that are given are not considered to have the same weight as scripture. Rather, they are in the line of an utterance made with the Spirit-inspired sensitivity and faith spoken of in Joel 2:
“And it shall come to pass afterward
That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh
You sons and your daughters shall prophesy
Your old men shall dream dreams
Your young men shall see visions
And also on My menservants and on My maidservants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days” - Joel 2:28,29.

Peter interpreted the prophetic phenomena on the day of Pentecost as a fulfillment of these words (Acts 2:15-18). But New Testament writers did not consider the Day of Pentecost a final or ending of prophecies, but rather a new beginning. They are named as one of the gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:10; Romans 12:6), and Paul writes to the Christians in Thessalonica: “Do not despise prophecies” - 1 Thessalonians 5:20.

I believe our passage names a key ingredient in the desire and ability to prophesy. It’s faith. Elizabeth begins her greeting of Mary with “‘Blessed is she who believes for (implying cause and effect) there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.'“ Paul also makes a connection of prophecy with faith in Romans 12:6.

Of course, faith will be tempered with wisdom and good sense, as we view prophetic messages through the lens of scripture. I don’t think it’s by accident that Paul’s instructions not to despise prophecies is followed by “Test all things; hold fast what is good” - 1 Thessalonians 5:21.

PRAYER: Dear Father, thank You for Holy Spirit, who enlivens both faith and prophecy in us. Help me to have the faith to make every part of me available for Your use, including my mouth to prophesy. Amen. 

MORE: Feast of the Visitation

Today the church celebrates the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin. The liturgy for today begins with this collect:
"Father in heaven, by your grace the virgin mother of your incarnate Son was blessed in bearing him, but still more blessed in keeping your word: Grant us who honor the exaltation of her lowliness to follow the example of her devotion to your will; 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.


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A woman who kept her promise

Hannah presenting Samuel to Eli - Robert T. Barrett
Hannah presenting Samuel to Eli by Robert T. Barrett
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Samuel 1:19-2:11

TO CHEW ON:
"'For this child I prayed and the Lord has granted me my petition which I asked of Him. Therefore I also have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives he shall be lent to the Lord.' So they worshiped the Lord there." 1 Samuel 1:27,28

Hannah was a woman of FAITH and INTEGRITY. We talked about her faith yesterday. Today we see her integrity.

In her prayer for a child she promised God that if He answered, she would give that child back to the Lord (1 Samuel 1:11). We never get the sense that she wavered from keeping that promise.

She kept her promise officially.
She didn't go with the family to Shiloh until Samuel was weaned—probably at least three years old or older. But when she went, she did it up right—took all the required offering stuff (Numbers 15:9 cf. 1 Samuel 1:24) and when they arrived presented Samuel to Eli himself (1 Samuel 1:25-27). The deed was date-stamped and done!

She kept her promise completely.

She told Eli "'I also have lent him to the Lord as long as he lives he shall be lent to the Lord'" - 1 Samuel 1:28. Perhaps the reason she had refused to go to Shiloh the years Samuel was still a nursing baby was because she knew her resolve would be tested if she did. Surely she'd heard the rumors about Eli's sons (1 Samuel 2:12) and could have rationalized: God wouldn't expect me to bring my innocent little boy into this snake pit, would He?  But even if she considered these things, none of them swayed her from keeping her promise.

She kept her promise worshipfully.

Our reading describes hers and Elkanah's action: "So they worshiped the Lord there" (1 Samuel 1:28). In her prayer (1 Samuel 2:1-10) we detect not a whiff of self-serving. It's all about God, lifting Him up, furthering His purposes, serving His destiny in the nation and the whole earth. Somehow, somewhere Hannah seems to have had a vision of what God wanted to do with her son and she offered him willingly in joyful worship.

Perhaps we have prayed and promised something back to God if He answered. He has and so we have a Samuel of our own.  What is my Samuel? What is yours? Is it some plan or ambition for life? Our spouse, children or grandchildren? Ourselves—our health, experiences, talents, abilities, potential?

Now is the time to live with Hannah-like integrity and keep those promises we've made to God. How might we do that officially, completely and worshipfully?

PRAYER: Dear God my heart is tried by Hannah's actions and prayer. I want to live with her brand of integrity toward You and others. 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, May 29, 2017

Faith that dries tears

Hannah and Eli - Artist unknown
"Eli thought she was drunk" - 1 Sam. 1:13
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Samuel 1:1-18

TO CHEW ON: "And she said, 'Let your maidservant find favor in your sight.' So the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad." 1 Samuel 1:18

The yearly religious trip to Shiloh was a particular trial to Hannah, it seemed. For not only did she have to watch as husband Elkanah gave portions to Peninnah and all her brood and receive a double portion from him herself (something that only made Peninnah's razzing and pestering of Hannah over her barrenness worse), but it was also a reminder that God appeared to dislike her too. For why had He not allowed her to conceive?

On this particular day, Hannah could take no more. So she went alone to the house of the Lord (the tabernacle) to pour out all her frustration and desperation to God. She prayed. She wept. She made a big promise. And then Eli came up to her and accused her of being drunk!

Oh no, she said, I'm just so sad. Then she went on to explain her situation.

Of course Eli saw her genuineness then and said a wonderful thing to her: "… the God of Israel grant your petition which you have asked of Him" - 1 Samuel 1:17.

Hannah reacted (went away happy) as if God Himself had spoken. But why? Nothing had changed had it?

Not yet. But she believed it would. Her happiness was the result of FAITH, that considered what God promised through Eli as good as done.

For what do you and I need faith today?
  • Wisdom?  (see James 1:5.)
  • Big prayer requests? (See Matthew 17:20 & 21:21.)
  • Healing? (See James 5:15.)
  • A shield against discouragement, temptation and other Satanic darts? (See Ephesians 6:16.)
  • Perseverance for whatever situation we're in? (See Hebrews 11:1-40.)

I love the Bible's definition of faith as much as any. It explains so well why Hannah could leave the tabernacle with her tears all dried up and why when we can also leave our stuff with the Lord and go away lighthearted:

"Now faith is the assurance (the confirmation, the title-deed) of the things we hope for, being the proof of things we do not see and the conviction of their reality—faith perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses" - Hebrews 11:1 AMP (emphasis added).

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to leave my issues with You as completely as Hannah did, knowing that You can and will handle things. Amen.

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

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, May 28, 2017

God keeps us

hand cradling feet
TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 17:1-11

TO CHEW ON: " ' Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are.' " John 17:11

How wonderful to hear Jesus pray for us—because this prayer was not only for the disciples present but also " ' … for those who will believe in Me through their word' " John 17:20. He prays that God will keep us. the need for such a prayer signals a danger of which we need to be aware: the possibility we could lose faith.

A short sweep through the Bible shows us some of the ways.  God keeps us:

  • Wherever we go. Like He was with Jacob, God is with us - Genesis 28:15; Proverbs 2:8.
  • Physically. The psalmist expresses it: "He guards all his bones. Not one of them is broken" - Psalm 34:20.
  • Always. He never sleeps - Psalm 121:4.
  • Through His name. What does it mean to be kept "through His name"? The Amplified Bible expresses John 17:11: " 'Holy Father, keep in You name [in the knowledge of Yourself] them whom You have given Me' " - John 17:11 AMP. I understand it as getting to know the breadth and depth of His essence (His name) and seeing how capable He is of whatever we need.
  • As we lay our anxieties on Him. He then guards our hearts and minds with His peace - Philippians 4:6,7.
  • From the evil one - 2 Thessalonians 3:3.
  • ...and what we have committed to Him - 2 Timothy 1:12. If we have committed our lives, His power can keep us through our lifespan until we see our salvation - 1 Peter 1:5.
  • From stumbling, so we will be able to stand in His presence with joy - Jude 1:24.
  • From the extreme test of end-time events, the "...  the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world to test those who dwell on the earth" - Revelation 3:10.

When we feel we are on precarious footing in our faith—perhaps after going through a test of sickness, bereavement, family troubles or whatever, we can take comfort in the fact that Jesus prayed for us to be kept. We can trust Him to make a way for us, through the difficulties, back to a firm footing of faith.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your keeping power. When my grip on faith in You is weak, please send an answer to Jesus' prayer 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.

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


Saturday, May 27, 2017

Beautiful humility

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: 1 Peter 5:1-14

TO CHEW ON:
“… Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for ‘God resists the proud / But gives grace to the humble.’” 1 Peter 5:5 (the quote is Proverbs 3:34)


Genuine humility has to be one of the most attractive qualities a person can possess.

The word “humble” serves as both an adjective and a verb. Its noun form is “humility.”

[Humble means - Adjective: not proud or arrogant but modest; having a feeling of insignificance; low in rank, importance or status; courteously respectful. Verb: to lower in condition, importance, or dignity; to make meek.]

A partial list of synonyms for humble helps us understand what humility feels like and how we communicate humility through actions: content, courteous, deferential, gentle, lowly, mild, modest, obliging, polite, quiet, respectful, sedate, simple, soft-spoken, submissive, unostentatious, unpretentious.

Aside from the fact that humility makes us attractive to others, it is also desirable because it is hugely attractive to God.
  • God “regards” the lowly (Psalm 138:6) “…For though the Lord is high yet has He respect to the lowly bringing them into fellowship with Him” - Psalm 138:6 AMP.
  • He will look “… on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit” - Isaiah 66:2
  • We are great in God’s eyes when we welcome the “least” person, e.g. a child - Luke 9:48.
  • Humility sets us up to be exalted by God while pride sets us up for divine humiliation - Luke 14:11; James 4:10.
  • God “gives grace” to the humble - Jame 4:6 and our focus verse, 1 Peter 5:5.

As we contemplate who God is and compare with who we are, humility is the only rational response. May we take this realistic sense of ourselves into the day, and more … may humility pervade our lives.

PRAYER: Dear Father, help me to see myself realistically and respond with appropriate humility. 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)



Friday, May 26, 2017

Armed for what is ahead

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: 1Peter 4:1-19

TO CHEW ON: “Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin” - 1 Peter 4:1.


“So, since Christ suffered in the flesh [for us, for you], arm yourselves with the same thought and purpose [patiently to suffer rather than fail to please God]. For whoever has suffered in the flesh [having the mind of Christ] has done with intentional sin—has stopped pleasing himself and the world and pleases God.” 1 Peter 4:1 AMP

Three ideas hit me as I read this passage today:

1. We need to arm ourselves with thoughts and purpose. 

2. We arm ourselves to suffer. 

3. This suffering comes from fellow citizens.

A little further along from our focus verse in the reading, Peter connects our suffering with those who cause it: "they" (1 Peter 4:4)—the friends, neighbours, colleagues and superiors who we formerly hung out with but don't any more because we now live by different priorities. Their astonishment at our Christ-centred lifestyle plays out in animosity and attempts to get us to join them in their activities of “shameless, insolent wantonness, in lustful desires, drunkenness, reveling, drinking bouts, and abominable, lawless idolatries" - 1 Peter 4:3 AMP.

A few days ago my nephew and his family came to Canada for a short furlough from ministry in Uganda. His Rwandan-born wife told of her experience that sounds a lot like 1 Peter 4.

After a childhood upbringing in a Ugandan orphanage, she enrolled in a large institution to train in the hospitality industry. As a young woman of Christian honesty, integrity, and courage, she quickly rose to become a student leader. This made her a target and someone to be brought down.

Classmates spread lies about her, trying to sully her reputation so she would be expelled. They stole her notes and textbooks so she couldn’t study. Someone even attempted to poison her. When a teacher told her she would fail all her 21 subjects, she said, “Madame, if I fail, the God I serve is not real. But I will not fail any of my subjects, except French.”

Months later she got her results. She passed every subject—except French.

Even still, about seventeen years after these events, her life of faithfulness to her husband and his to her is a source of disbelief and disdain to those around them.

We as Christians in Canada are accustomed to living in sync with our society. However, as it strays from Bible standards of right and wrong, we find ourselves increasingly at odds with it. 

The thought of preparing for this, of arming ourselves with the expectation that we will suffer (with an idea of what it might  actually look like) and the resolve to live the Jesus way no matter what the people in our lives say or do to us, is timely.

PRAYER:
Dear Jesus, please help me to live to please You above everyone else, no matter what it costs. 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)


Thursday, May 25, 2017

Jesus’ farewell—a blessing

"The disciples watch as Jesus ascends into heaven"
 


TODAY’S SPECIAL: Luke 24:36-53

TO CHEW ON: “And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. Now it came to pass while He blessed them, that He parted from them and carried up into heaven.” Luke 24:50,51

According to Luke, Jesus ascended into heaven as He was in the middle of blessing His disciples. This is a detail I’ve never noticed before.

I went on a little search for other places God blessed people:

  • God’s blessing came early, before the fall, when God blessed Adam and Eve
“Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth” - Genesis 1:28.

  • God pronounced blessing again on Noah, repeating some of the same blessings He pronounced on Adam and Eve. To that blessing He added a bit about the uniqueness of human life (a blessing, we might call it) in the form of a warning:
“ Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man. From the hand of every man’s brother I will require the life of man.
“Whoever sheds man’s blood,

/ By man his blood shall be shed;
 /For in the image of God
 / He made man”  Genesis 9:5,6

  • God blessed Abram:
I will make you a great nation;
I will bless you
And make your name great;
And you shall be a blessing.
 I will bless those who bless you,
And I will curse him who curses you;
And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” - Genesis 12:2,3

  • God blessed Jacob. After wrestling through the night with a Man, Jacob asked for a blessing. He received a name change (from Jacob to Israel) and a blessing - Genesis 32:26-29.

  • God blessed Mary, Jesus' mother-to-be. An angel visitor said this blessing:
““Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”[ - Luke 1:28.

  • Jesus blessed the children - Mark 10:15

  • Jesus blessed Peter after he answered Jesus’ question: ‘But who do you say I am?’ with “‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’” Jesus’ blessing:
'Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.'” - Matthew 16:17-19.
  • And here Jesus blessed His followers as He left them - Luke 24:50,51. 

I wonder what He said. Maybe something like the wonderful Aaronic blessing from Numbers 6:24-26?
“The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;
 The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.”’

Whatever it was it struck a good note, for the disciples left the spot of His last presence on earth, not with the tears of mourning we would expect from people who had just said goodbye to their dear friend, but with “great joy.” Their next days were characterized by "praising and blessing God."

Does Jesus’ blessing echo down to us? Are we similarly blessed [consecrated to God’s use, caused to prosper, made happy, favoured by God]?

I believe we are. Let’s live today with joy, praise, and worship in the light of Jesus’ ascension blessing on us!

PRAYER:
Dear Jesus, thank You for this account of Your ascension on the high note of Your favour. Help me to claim and live in Your blessing as mine today. Amen.

MORE: Ascension Day

Today is the day the church celebrates the ascension of Jesus into heaven. The liturgy for the day begins with this collect prayer:

"Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Savior Jesus Christ ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things: Mercifully give us faith to perceive that, according to his promise, he abides with his Church on earth, even to the end of the ages; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen."


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


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

A Holy Spirit drenching

Image: pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Acts 1:1-11

TO CHEW ON: ‘For John truly baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’” Acts 1:5

My pastor spoke on this passage two days ago (from when I’m writing this). What a happy ‘coincidence’!

One of the parts from his talk that sticks in my mind is the part about the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

On Easter Sunday in our church, 50 people were water baptized in front of the congregation in two services (eight planned, 42 decided that day in church, when pastor gave the invitation and made available T-shirts, towels, dryers, etc.). So the image of people getting baptized is fresh in my mind. They start out dry, they end up drenched and dripping.

The baptism of the Spirit is like that. I love how pastor expressed it:
 “Being baptized is being soaked, saturated, drenched. Jesus told the disciples to wait to be soaked, saturated, drenched in the Holy Spirit. He wants you to get caught in the rain of the Spirit” - Rev. Derrick Hamre, in “Making Room for the Spirit.”

Where I live, we get lots of rain and I know what it’s like to get caught in it. It soaks your hair and trickles down your neck. It spots your glasses and makes your jeans clammy and cold. It even squishes into your socks and shoes. I ask myself, have I ever been so Spirit drenched?

An aspect of this baptism Pastor brought out is that it’s not salvation. We do receive the Holy Spirit when we ask Jesus into our lives and make Him Lord (Ephesians 5:1-21, specifically verse 18). But this Holy Spirit baptism experience is often (but not always) subsequent to salvation. It was for the disciples. Jesus had already breathed the Spirit on them (John 20:22) but here they were baptized. It was also a second experience for the new believers in Samaria (Acts 8:13-17). For Cornelius and his family, though, it occurred at the time they first believed (Acts 10:44-48).

Finally, we need to keep in mind the reason for this baptism. It’s not for spiritual thrills and chills but for power to carry out Jesus’ final assignment to us:
‘But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the end of the earth’” Acts 1:8.

Let’s not get drawn into theological arguments over this Holy Spirit baptism (and I know there are many). Rather, let’s just read what Jesus says and be open to the Holy Spirit’s baptism of empowering as He came on the Christians in Acts—however and whenever He chooses.

PRAYER: Dear Holy Spirit, I open my life to You today. Drench me, fill me, use me in any way You choose. 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, May 23, 2017

Clap for God

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Psalm 47:1-9

TO CHEW ON: “O clap your hands, all you peoples!
Shout to God with the voice of triumph?” Psalm 47:1


Clapping is an interesting human action. Its #1 definition in the dictionary is “to strike with the palms of one’s hand against one another resoundingly and usually repeatedly, especially to express approval.”

When do we clap?

At concerts, lectures, and readings. At baseball, hockey, basketball, and football games. But in the middle of worship at church?

Here the Sons of Korah are urging worshipers to clap for God. Why? They give some reasons: Because He is awesome, the great King of all Earth, He controls nations and gives victory over them, gives an inheritance to His people, and is exalted.

This psalm shimmers with exuberance, energy, joy, and victory. It’s a psalm we’d read and identify with on a good day. Not so much on a bad one… or maybe that’s exactly the time it should be required reading—at the beginning or in the middle of a battle.

I love the story of King Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20) and how when he was threatened by surrounding nations, he reminded himself and the people of who God is. He told God how helpless he felt in the face of these threats. God responded by giving Jahaziel prophetic encouragement for him. The Levites replied in praise “with voices loud and high.” And the next day, Jehoshaphat arranged his army in an unusual way:

 And when he had consulted with the people, he appointed those who should sing to the Lord, and who should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army and were saying:
“Praise the Lord,
For His mercy endures forever.”
 
Now when they began to sing and to praise, the Lord set ambushes against the people of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah; and they were defeated (2 Chronicles 20:21,22)
Their praise moved God’s hand. Isn’t that wonderful?

In the light of that, maybe we could read, quote, and follow Psalm 47’s example of praise not just when things are good, but as part of our battle strategy. We could use it as a weapon of praise, a physical expression of faith (with clapping, singing, and speaking praise) reminding us of who God is.

PRAYER: Dear God, You are awesome and King over all Earth. Help me to remember this next time things aren’t going well with me, and give physical expression to my adoration of who You are and my faith in what you will and are doing with singing, praising, and clapping. 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, May 22, 2017

Your life—a finished story

books
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ephesians 1:1-23

TO CHEW ON:
"… He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love." Ephesians 1:4

Do you realize that your life's course is old news, a finished story, a foreordained destiny to God? One word the Bible uses to describe this is predestine (predestined/predestination).

[Predestine, from pre - before, and destiny. It means to destine or decree beforehand. Predestined: to foreordain by divine decree or purpose - Funk and Wagnall's Dictionary]

Here are some things the Bible says about His predestination (some other words used to express this concept are election, foreknowledge and foreordained):

1. God has something in mind for each person He created - Proverbs 16:4. For example, Paul explains the fate of Jacob and Esau on the basis of each having a foreordained place in God's plan - Romans 9:11.
2. God's plan of salvation as it unfolded in history with all its characters playing their parts was predestined - Acts 4:27-28.

3. Jesus was "foreordained before the foundation of the world" to be our sacrificial "lamb without blemish and without spot" - 1 Peter 1:18-20.
 

4. We—Paul's first century readers, down to us Christ followers all these millennia later are chosen, were chosen "before the foundation of the world for holiness" - Ephesians 1:4 (our focus verse).

5. We're called to be changed people, known and predestined to "… be conformed to the image of His Son" - Romans 8:28,29.

6. We're predestined to adoption as Sons by Jesus Christ to Himself - Ephesians 1:5.

7. God has good works planned beforehand for us to accomplish - Ephesians 2:10.

8. Our inheritance is predestined according to His purpose - Ephesians 1:11.
10. The church is part of God's predestined plan and the means, Paul says, to make God's plan known to demons and angels - Ephesians 3:10.

When we try to completely understand the idea of God's predestining of events and lives, we run smack into a wall of human thought limitation. We ask, how can a just God predestine some lives for wicked evil purposes that will take them to a bad end? Isn't that unjust? On the other hand, we ask, how can an omniscient God not know the path that every person will  take, the choices they will make?

The way I harmonize the Bible's teaching on God's predestination / foreknowledge / election with His justice is to reflect that as far as I'm concerned I have choices. I am not aware of a Divine Puppet-master, pulling my strings.  You too have choices. Everyone on this planet has choices. The choices we make in this life reveal and prove what God knew/knows about us all along—our pre-destiny.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for being bigger than my mind can comprehend. May my life today, the way I live and the choices I make, demonstrate that I am Yours. 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, May 21, 2017

A home for God

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 14:15-31

TO CHEW ON: "Jesus answered and said to him, 'If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him and We will come to him and make Our home with him.'" John 14:23

What a delightful possibility—to make a home with God, to have God make His home with us. This is what we have when we have the Holy Spirit. Our passage today gives us some ideas of what God at home with us is like.


1. We live with a Helper - John 14:16, 26
[Helper - parakletos 3875. Para = beside. Kaleo = to call. Called to one's side, intercessor, comforter, helper, advocate, counsellor. In nonbiblical literature parakletos had the technical meaning of an attorney who appears in court in another's behalf. The Holy Spirit leads believers to a greater apprehension of gospel truth. In addition to general help and guidance, He gives the strength to endure the hostility of the world system. - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1472.]
What are some of the ways He helps us? He will teach all things and bring Jesus' sayings to mind. For the disciples one way this promise was fulfilled was by the Holy Spirit bringing to mind the sayings of Jesus so Matthew, Mark, Luke and John could write them down in the Gospels. For us, it is words, ideas, songs, and memorized Scriptures that come to mind to encourage us in everyday life.


2. We live with truth - John 14:17
When the Holy Spirit lives with us we have within us a spiritual and moral compass based on what is real, true and unchanging. No longer is there any question about whether it's okay to lie, cheat, spread gossip, or nurture jealousy and unforgiveness.

3. We live with family - John 14:19-20
Jesus said, "I will not leave you orphans," implying that when He imparts the Holy Spirit, He comes with an aspect of family—of parenting. He also said, "I am in My Father and you in Me and I in you." This reminds us of how we carry the characteristics of our ancestors in our very DNA. Oh that we would carry God's characteristics in our makeup to that extent!


4. We live in a mutual relationship - John 14:21, 23-24
Our mutual relationship with God is characterized by revelation and love on the Father's part, obedience and love on our part. Revelation comes through His commandments (God's word - the Bible) and His promise to "manifest" Himself to us. We keep our end of the relationship when we become familiar with and obey His words, and thus demonstrate that we really do love Him.

A home is not made in a day. It is something that lasts and can endure a lifetime of day-to-days, of experiences, of walking through life together. That's what God wants to do with us—make a home with us, do life with us.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the Holy Spirit — in a way the oxygen, blood and synapses of my life with You. Help me to be a worthy, compliant and obedient host for Your life in me. Amen.

MORE: My Heart Christ's Home

I have in my packrat collections, a little booklet called "My Heart Christ's Home" by Robert Boyd Munger. A few years ago, I posted several sections of it on my personal blog promptings. Munger has done a wonderful job of extending the metaphor of our life being a home for God. The booklet is longer than these two sections, but they will give you an idea:

Heart cleaning — the library

Heart cleaning — the dining room

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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, May 20, 2017

The ready Christian

alter to the unknown god
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 17:16-34

TO CHEW ON:
"Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols." Acts 17:16.

Paul is such a good example of the ready Christian: "… always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you…" - 1 Peter 3:15. Here, in new-to-him Athens, watch how he does it:

1. He starts by observing his surroundings (Acts 17:16).

2. He goes to the hotbeds of thought and discussion—the synagogue and the marketplace to listen and talk. (Acts 17:17-18).

3. He accepts an invitation to speak at the Areopagus, even though the invite is hardly given in a  complimentary way. (They call him a babbler - Acts 17:18. According to my Bible's footnotes, a babbler was one who picked up scraps of learning here and there and peddled them. It seems this is a better description of those who "… spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or hear some new thing" - Acts 17:21).

4. He grabs their interest with something from their own culture—an inscription to an Unknown God seen on an altar. He dangles this need for something they haven't yet found in front of them: "Wouldn't you like to know Him?" (Acts 17:22-23)

5. He's a good closer. At the end of his message he urges them to take action: repent because judgment is coming (Acts 17:30-31).

6. He does all this while killing time in Athens—waiting for ministry partners to join him.

I ask myself, what would I have done if I had been in Paul's shoes? Sightsee? Probably. But with a view to giving my testimony and sharing the gospel? I don't know. I'd probably have viewed this as time off from ministry.

But for Paul—really for all of us—there is no time off. This story shows us that all kinds of situations can be a springboard for the gospel.

Though the fruit of Paul's ministry here is minimal ("For reasons Luke does not explain, results here were meagre—no baptisms, no new church, and no letter to the Athenians in the New Testament" - Gary Kinnaman, notes on Acts, New Spirit-Filled Bible, p. 1524), some believed. But Luke/Paul don't dwell on the low numbers. Paul has been faithful, and now it's time to move on (Act 18:1).

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to become a ready Christian—alert to any and all opportunities to tell about and defend my faith in You, and not discouraged by small results. Amen.

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





Friday, May 19, 2017

The fair-minded Christian

Bible study
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 17:1-15

TO CHEW ON: "These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness and searched the scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so." Acts 17:11


"These" were the members of the Jewish synagogue in Berea. Though not necessarily believers (yet), they reacted differently to Paul's teaching than "those."

"Those" were a segment of the synagogue attenders in Thessalonica. Paul reasoned with them for three weeks using the Old Testament writings to prove that Jesus was the Christ—the Messiah. There were two reactions. Some were persuaded so that "…a great multitude of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women joined Paul and Silas" (Acts 17:4). Others—"those"—became jealous, sparked a riot and ran Paul and Silas out of town.

"These" Bereans, on the other hand, "received the word with all readiness." They probably followed along (if they had their own copies) and read the passages around those Paul quoted to make sure he was using them in context. Perhaps they asked questions. They didn't let personal insecurity, jealousy and fear interfere with how they read and understood scripture.

The Bereans are a good example for us to follow when we hear Bible teaching of any kind, but especially when it clashes with what we believe. J. Norton Sterrett in his book How To Understand Your Bible talks about  Bible study principles that can guide us as we interpret any passage of scripture.  (Below is his bare bones list; he devotes a chapter to each item.)

1. Interpret a passage in the light of its context - p. 49. This means to read the verses before and after the verse you're focusing on.

2. Interpret according to the correct meaning of the words - p. 55. This could include looking up a word in the dictionary, noting the word's context, and using a concordance and lexicon.

3. Interpret according to the grammar of the sentence … the form of words and the relationship of words - p. 61.

4. Interpret according to the author's purpose and plan. … The purpose of the author is the object he has in mind for writing (e.g. 1 John 5:13). … The plan of the author is the way he structures the writing in order to carry out his purpose - p. 71.

5. Interpret in the light of the historical, geographical, and cultural background as far as that can be known - p. 77.

6. Interpret each passage in the light of the Bible's teaching as a whole"- p. 85.
As we follow these principles, perhaps we'll also gain the reputation of being fair-minded ("better disposed and more noble" - Amplified) Christians.

PRAYER:
Dear God, thank You for the Bible and those who teach it. Help me to dig into it in a fair-minded way for myself. Please teach me by Your Holy 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.




Thursday, May 18, 2017

Letters old and new

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Acts 15:22-35

TO CHEW ON:
“So when they were sent off, they came to Antioch; and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the letter.
When they read it, they rejoiced over its encouragement.” Acts 15:30,31


In these days of instant messaging across the world, it’s interesting to try to put ourselves in the place of these early Gentile Christians. Their missionaries had gone to Jerusalem to get a verdict from church leaders (the Apostles) on how they were to conduct themselves in this new life. Now Paul, Barnabas, and a delegation had returned with the Apostles' decision in a letter. What would the letter say?

Letters played an important role in Bible times.


Sometimes letters sealed a fate.
  • Uriah carried his own death sentence letter from David to Joab at the battlefront - 2 Samuel 11:14.
  • Jezebel (King Ahab’s wife) sent letters to Israel’s leaders with a plot to kill Naboth so Ahab could take his garden - 1 Kings 21:8.

Kings sent threatening letters to their rivals and enemies.
  • The king of Assyria sent one such to Hezekiah, prompting a panicked prayer meeting and divine help - 2 Kings 19:14.

Sometimes kings sent letters on behalf of their subjects.
  • The king of Syria asked the king of Israel to heal Naaman of leprosy - 2 Kings 5:5.
  • King Artaxerxes sent letters on behalf of Nehemiah asking for safe passage  for him through territory and wood for rebuilding Jerusalem - Nehemiah 2:7-8.

The book of Esther is full of letters.

  • The king sent letters mandating male authority in the home - Esther 1:22.
  • Haman’s plan to annihilate the Jews was spread by letter - Esther 3:13.
  • Mordecai’s victory allowing the Jews to defend themselves was spread by letter as was the establishment of a holiday to remember this event - Esther 8:10; 9:20.

Of course we know how the New Testament is largely made up of letters
—missives that, thankfully, do more than threaten or carry evil plots. The letter in our reading today is one such. We discover that the reading of it brought joy and encouragement (Acts 15:31), as did most of the letters of Paul, John, Peter, and James (along with teaching, reproof, and training in righteousness, delivered with large amounts of love).

Do you still write letters? I suppose emails and even text messages could be considered modern letters.

What can we moderns do with letters?
  • Send information about plans and events.
  • Think through and discuss ideas about anything—how to garden, to faith in God
  • Express gratitude and appreciation.
  • Assure the recipient of our care, concern, and prayers.
  • Tell someone we’re remembering them on a special day (birthday, anniversary etc) 
  • Encourage and cheer.

Let’s continue to use this old-to-new way of communicating for good today!


PRAYER: Dear Father thank You for distance communication that has survived the centuries. Help me to use the amazing modern communication resources at my fingertips for good today. Amen.

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


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Two kinds of worship

Church photo collage... a collection of memories for its 80th Anniversary.

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Psalm 66:1-20

TO CHEW ON: “O, bless our God, you peoples!
And make the voice of His praise to be heard…
Come and hear, all you who fear God,
And I will declare what He has done for my soul.” Psalm 66:8,16


There are two kinds of praise and worship in this psalm.

There is corporate worship - Psalm 66:1-12.
The psalmist calls “all the earth” to praise God - Psalm 66:1-4. He calls the congregation to praise God with him for remembered events from their shared history, the “works of God” when Israel passed through the sea and river on dry land (Exodus 14:22, Joshua 3:14-17) - Psalm 66:3-7. He even leads in praise to God for the times of testing - Psalm 66:10-12.

But he doesn’t stop there.

There is private worship - Psalm 66:13-20.
We see how the pronoun changes from “us” and “we” to “I” and “me” in this section as he testifies of what God has done for him personally and how he responds: “I will go… I will pay… I will offer… I will declare” - Psalm 66:13,15,16.  He is jubilant over answered prayer, though always aware of his sinful tendencies and unworthiness - Psalm 66:17-19.

This psalm is a good model for us. We too need both kinds of worship—corporate and personal.

We need corporate worship, those times when we get together with others and remind each other of God’s presence in our history—from Bible times till the present. Our church is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year. The staff has put together a wonderful visual reminder of our history with a collage of old photos commemorating the founders, old buildings and sites, and photos of our present building under construction. It’s a great way to remember and inform newcomers to the church of God’s faithfulness.

But we also need private worship, where we come to God with praise and thanksgiving for what He has done for us personally. We need to remember times of answered prayer for ourselves, our children and grandchildren, for healing from illness, recovery from financial problems, safety when traveling...

What will your thank-you list to Him include today?

PRAYER: Dear Father, thank You for Your faithfulness and help, for Your life-giving presence and the many times you’ve rescued me. I am so grateful for Your mercy. I bless You today. Amen.

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


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

What do you know about your inheritance?

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: 1 Peter 3:8-22

TO CHEW ON: “Not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this that you may inherit a blessing.” 1 Peter 3:9

Here Peter challenges his readers to counteract evil and insults with blessing. I like how the Amplified Bible phrases our focus verse:
“Never return evil for evil or insult for insult—scolding, tongue lashing berating; but on the contrary blessing—praying for their welfare, happiness, and protection and truly pitying and loving them. For know that to this you have been called, that you may yourselves inherit a blessing [from God]—obtain a blessing as heirs bringing welfare and happiness and protection” - 1 Peter 3:9 AMP.

Peter connects this surprising reaction to evil and insults with a Christian’s inheritance. He says that an inheritance of blessing is a consequence of responding to evil and insults with blessing.

This connection of our reaction and the consequence of inheritance set me on a small search for other things that impact our inheritance or are part of it. Here are a few examples:

  • David connected getting a godly heritage with fearing God’s name - Psalm 61:5.
  • The writer of Psalm 119 considered God’s spoken / written word (“Your testimonies”) as his heritage - Psalm 119:111. Paul reminded the Christians at Ephesus of this aspect of God’s word in his farewell talk with them: “‘So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, who is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified” - Acts 20:32.
  • The “servants of the Lord” are promised a heritage of God’s defense from words and weapons - Isaiah 54:17.
  • Paul urged King Agrippa to accept salvation through Christ. In his talk, he quoted the words that Jesus spoke to him on the Damascus Road. They include a heritage of going from spiritual darkness to light, being removed from the power of Satan to the power of God, and forgiven sins - Acts 26:18.
  • Our inheritance is in Jesus - Ephesians 1:11.
  • Someday we’ll get our inheritance reward from Jesus - Colossians 3:24.
  • It’s an inheritance that can’t be tinkered with or destroyed, awaiting us in heaven, as Peter explains it in 1 Peter 1:4: “…  an inheritance which is imperishable [beyond the reach of change] and undefiled and unfading, reserved in heaven for you” - AMP.

The inheritance we get from our parents and grandparents is largely out of our control. But this spiritual inheritance is one over which we have a lot of say as we:

1] Accept Christ’s forgiveness and leave Satan’s kingdom to enter God’s.

2] Take advantage of one of our Father’s greatest gifts to us—the Bible.

3] Serve Him and act like His kids (including how we return blessing for cursing—our focus verse).
4] Live in hope and expectation of the day Jesus will give us our inheritance in heaven.


PRAYER: Dear Father, thank You for this inheritance, awaiting me in heaven. Help me to live as Your child in the way I react to evil and insults with blessing. 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)



Monday, May 15, 2017

Vine life

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: John 15:1-17

TO CHEW ON: 'These things I have spoken to you that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.'” John 15:11

Jesus here relates life in the vine to joy—the joy that comes as a result of “these things.” What things is He referring to?

If we read back, we find Jesus has described life with Him using the metaphor of a fruit-bearing vine. He has talked about “abiding” in the vine, being part of it, dependent on it for life. In fact, we risk being severed from the vine if we don’t “abide.” When we do, we are pruned to bear more fruit.

We get the idea that living this way contains elements of giving up a right to be separate, to choose one’s own way, be one’s own self-determining, egotistical self. There is also love in the mix—God’s love for Jesus playing out in Jesus' love for us.

Leaving the metaphor aside, we might ask, how does this look practically?

I think one word sums it up: OBEDIENCE: 'If you keep My commandments you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love'” - John 15:10.

However, doesn’t “obedience” often conjure up visions of boring duty, being hemmed in by what we should and shouldn’t do, rather than what we want to do, feeling stymied by “don’ts” or guilt-ridden when we mess up?

Yet, following His description of the compliant vine, Jesus says:  'These things have I spoken to you that My joy may remain in you, that your joy may be full.'

What is He talking about? How does such surrender and obedience lead to joy?

The IVP NT Commentary gives this helpful insight:

But the obedience Jesus is talking about is an obedience not to societal rules, but to the Father who is all love. To obey him is to conform one's life to the very pattern of God's own life. Such obedience shares in his life, which is characterized by harmony, grace, goodness and beauty. We are in intimate union with him and swept up into his dance for which we were created and which brings the deepest fulfillment and deepest joy to our lives.

Jesus' joy came from such intimacy with the Father and his delight to do that which pleases the one who is all love and goodness.

Jesus is showing how our joy may be complete…. Indeed, we might ask ourselves, what does bring us joy. The answer will reveal to us our own hearts” - IVP NT Commentary on John 17:11 (accessed through Bible Gateway "Study This") emphasis added.

 That last question “What does bring me joy?”  is what I leave myself (and you) with today. If obedience to Him doesn’t bring us joy, we may discover why in the answer to that question.


PRAYER:
Dear Jesus, help me to experience vine life and its end product of joy to the extent that You describe it here. 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, May 14, 2017

A model mother

HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY!
Image: Pixabay

TODAY’S SPECIAL:
Proverbs 31:10-31

TO CHEW ON: “Her children rise up and call her blessed. Her husband also, and he praises her.” Proverbs 31:28

What a gorgeous—and intimidating—passage to read for Mother’s Day.  This model of biblical womanhood has been both a shining beacon and a convicting searchlight for me. I think if I was in her presence, I would watch and listen as I tried to figure out—how does she do it all? I love her industriousness, creativity, wide-ranging abilities, and energy. And I love her family values.

Today, let’s focus on her qualities as a mother.

1. She is a good example of marriage to her, children, by her faithfulness and support of her husband - Proverbs 31:12.

2. She works hard and willingly - Proverbs 31:13,18,19.

3. She puts the needs of her household above her own as she gets up early and stays up late to ensure they are met - Proverbs 31:15,18.

4. She is a good example in her treatment of the poor and needy - Proverbs 31:20.

5. She looks ahead, plans, and works for the future - Proverbs 31:16, 21, 27.

6. She speaks with kindness and wisdom, always, and to everyone - Proverbs 31:26.

The reward for all this? She gets praise from her husband and blessing from her children.

Is all the above worth it for a few words of praise and affirmation from hubby and the kids?

I would say yes, despite how our modern society would insist a woman needs more. For the sense of well-being conveyed by the word “blessed” goes beyond a mere word.

[Blessed - ashar - means “Happy, blessed, prosperous, successful, straight, right, contented. Its original meaning is to ‘be straight’” - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 841.]

The fact that she is called “blessed” communicates this woman’s inner sense of rightness as she does what she was created to do. Her life is straight, plumbs with how she was made. As a result she experiences deep inner peace and contentment in living out her industrious, nurturing essence.

May us mothers and the mothers in our lives (our own mothers, mothers-in-law, daughters, granddaughters) be similarly blessed.

PRAYER:
Dear Father, thank You for my mom, who was more like the Proverbs 31 woman than I will ever be. Be with the mothers in my life, rewarding them as only You can for their work and faithfulness. 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, May 13, 2017

The first thing God looks at on your resumé

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 1:12-26

TO CHEW ON: "And they prayed and said, 'You, O Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two You have chosen.' " Acts 1:24

Peter instigated the choice of another disciple to take Judas Iscariot's place. It's interesting to read how the early believers went about doing this:

1. They didn't choose just anyone, but someone who had been a faithful follower of Jesus to the extent that the original twelve were: "… who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us" - Acts 1:21.

2. They picked two men and prayed " 'O Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two You have chosen.' "

3. They cast lots (drew straws, flipped a coin, however they did it; it's interesting to note that after the Pentecost baptism of the Holy Spirit there is no more mention of casting lots in the Bible) believing that the outcome was a revelation of God's choice.

I wonder, are we as focused on who God has chosen for a job as they were? When we need to fill a ministry vacancy, what's the first thing we look at—talents, appearance, experience, or the person's heart toward God? Maybe that should be the thing we ask for help with and pray for insight about above everything else.

The story of Samuel at Jesse's home on the assignment of anointing a new king comes to mind. When he sees Eliab, Jesse's handsome oldest, Samuel thinks, surely he's the one. But God says to him: " ' 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 (emphasis added).

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me on two fronts: to be the person with the right heart for ministry, and to get Your insight on workers whenever I am tasked with finding someone for a job. Amen.

MORE: Eliab revealed
Eliab. David's oldest brother who Samuel thought was such great king material, shows his heart in the next chapter of 1 Samuel, when David (the youngest son of Jesse who Samuel anoints as the next king) comes to the battlefield and suggests the army should do more than quake in fear over Goliath's appearances. Eliab reveals himself as a carnal, sarcastic, bitter, and faithless man - 1 Samuel 17:28. Good thing Samuel didn't follow his original instincts to anoint him king!

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


Friday, May 12, 2017

Write yourself out of a funk

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 31:1-24

TO CHEW ON: "Be of good courage,
And He shall strengthen your heart
All you who hope in the Lord." Psalm 31:24


Do you notice how the writer's mood changes as we make our way through this psalm? David starts off in an emotional funk but ends in a much better place. Let's track his thoughts as he journeys from desperation to hope.

1. He cries for help (vs. 1-5):
From his bad place David cries to God "Deliver me...bow down Your ear...Deliver me speedily...Be my rock of refuge...Pull me out of the net...Into Your hand I commit my spirit."

2. He does some self-lecturing (even though, judging by what follows, his feelings aren't yet on-board) (vs. 6-8):
"I will be glad...You have considered my trouble...You have known my soul in adversities...(You) have not shut me up into the hand of the enemy; You have set my feet in a wide place."

3. He lays it all out (vs. 9-13):
David speaks his feelings and fears:  
"I am in trouble...I am a reproach...I am repulsive...I am forgotten...I am like a broken vessel...They scheme to take away my life." 
Thankfully he doesn't stay there!

4. He declares his faith in God (vs. 14-15a):
"But as for me, I trust in You, O Lord;
I say 'You are my God'
My times are in Your hand..."
In other words, even considering the worst that people can do, David reminds himself that God, not his enemies, is ultimately in charge of his life.

5. He requests specific help (vs. 15b-18):
David puts into words exactly what he needs:
"Deliver me from the hand of my enemies and from those who persecute me... Make Your face shine on me...Let the wicked be ashamed...Let the lying lips be put to silence."

6. Finally he offers praise to God, in faith that God has heard and will answer (vs.19-24):
"Oh how great is Your goodness...You shall hide them (those who fear You) in the secret place of Your presence...Blessed be the Lord...You heard the voice of my supplication when I cried out to You...Be of good courage ...All you who hope in the Lord."

My journal entries are sometimes a bit like this — a writing journey from trouble to trust. I find it helps to pour it all out on paper: the mixed-up feelings, the fears, the self-recrimination and revulsion. But it's important not to stay there but to move from a focus on self back to a focus on God.

If you're in trouble today, try writing your own version of Psalm 31. Just make sure you end up in the place David did — with your eyes on His face that shines on you.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for David's very real relationship with You, showing even his dark moments. I have them too. Help me to work my way out of them and back to You like he did. Amen.

MORE: Journaling resources

How to Keep a Spiritual Journal

Journaling: Being a Brave Soul (with more resources listed within the post and a link to more articles in Ann Voskamp's 2009 series about journaling).

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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


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Word that cuts to the heart

Stephen before the Sanhedrin - Artist unknown
Stephen before the Sanhedrin - Artist Unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 7:35-8:1

TO CHEW ON: "When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth." Acts 7:54

After taking his listeners (the High Priest and members of the Sanhedrin) on a trip through Old Testament history, recalling Israel's long record of rejecting the prophets, Stephen came to the climax of his message:
"'You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers'" Acts 7:51,52.

The reaction was immediate:
"… they [the Jews] were cut to the heart and infuriated, and they ground their teeth against [Stephen]" Acts 7:54 AMP.

The same expression, "cut to the heart," is used another time when Peter and John were brought before the Sanhedrin. Peter was defiant about their orders to stop speaking of Jesus. He accused them of killing the One who was now exalted as "Prince and Leader and Savior and Deliverer and Preserver…"  - Acts 5:31 AMP.  Their reaction was identical:
"Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart and infuriated and wanted to kill the disciples" - Acts 5:33 AMP.

In both cases the speakers—Peter and Stephen—used Scripture to make their points, retelling its stories, quoting relevant verses, and making unpopular applications. The effect this use of scripture had on members of the Sanhedrin reminds me of another verse that flat out states that the word of God cuts:
" For the Word that God speaks is alive and full of power [making it active, operative, energizing, and effective]; it is sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating to the dividing line of the breath of life (soul) and [the immortal] spirit, and of joints and marrow [of the deepest parts of our nature], exposing and sifting and analyzing and judging the very thoughts and purposes of the heart" - Hebrews 4:12 AMP.

As our society drifts ever farther from Judeo-Christian moorings, the message of scripture—the Bible—will become ever more controversial. But because it was authored by the One who created the human heart, who knows the deepest part of human nature, it continues to have the penetrating power to expose, sift, analyze and judge our thoughts and motivations. It still cuts to the heart.

This cutting can bring us to a place of obedience or resistance, as was the case with these Jewish leaders. Perhaps we should prepare ourselves for a time when the widespread reaction to it in our culture will be every bit as dangerous to us as it was to Stephen in Acts.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your Word which exposes me to myself. Help me not to resist it but to let it  cut, expose, sift, analyze, and judge me toward obedience. 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)

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