Saturday, September 30, 2017

Shining legacy

Milky Way (Image: Pixabay)
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Daniel 12:1-13

TO CHEW ON: “Those who are wise shall shine
Like the brightness of the firmament
And those who turn many to righteousness
Like the stars forever and ever." Daniel 12:3



Some years ago when we were cleaning up Mom’s apartment, preparing to move her to a tiny suite a fraction of the size of where she had lived, there was much stuff to dispose of. “Take this or that as a keepsake,” she’d urge us kids and grandkids. Very often the answer was “No thanks.” Mom's stuff was not what her family wanted as the legacy of this lovely lady.

Like my mom’s main legacy did not consist of stuff, neither does the legacy of the wise that Daniel speaks of in Daniel 12. Instead, we all understand the wish to leave a lasting legacy and hope that ours will be just that. Our verse today tells us that we do this when we “turn many to righteousness.” What does that mean?

The Amplified version expands on the phrase: “turn many to righteousness” (to uprightness and right standing with God).” The Message rephrases it to: “…those who put others on the right path to life ...” An expression used in many Christian circles to describe this activity is soul winning. Here are some conclusions about soul winning we can draw as we look at Bible passages that talk about it and the people who do it.

1. Soul-winning springs from the fellowship-desiring heart of God.- Luke 14:16-23.
2. It flows out of a right relationship with God - Psalm 51:12,13.
3. Soul-winners are motivated by their concern for others- James 5:20
4. The first soul-winners were trained by Christ.  He is the great soul-winning trainer - Matthew 4:19; Mark 1:17
5. Soul-winners are willing to make great personal sacrifice to succeed - 1 Corinthians 9:19,20.
6. They are vigilant over the authenticity of their lives and what they teach - 1 Timothy 4:16.
7. Successful soul-winners realize their actions count as much as – may be more than – their words - 1 Peter 3:1.
8. Soul-winners are wise - Proverbs 11:30.
9. They consider soul-winning an assignment from God - 1 Thessalonians 2:1-4
10. Soul-winners don’t need ideal circumstances to be successful- Philemon 1:10
11. They persevere despite a lack of visible results - 1 Corinthians 7:12-16
12. The legacy they leave “…will shine… like the stars forever and ever.” - Daniel 12:3.

I ask myself, am I working on leaving such a legacy? Are you?

PRAYER:  Dear God, thank You for entrusting me with the privilege and responsibility of influencing lives for You. Please teach me how to do this better. Amen.


MORE: Rita Springer: "All My Days"




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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, September 29, 2017

Prayer insights from Daniel

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Daniel 10:4-11:2
 
TO CHEW ON: “‘Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard; and I have come because of your words’” Daniel 10:12 NIV.

In today’s reading in Daniel 10, I see four things from Daniel's experience that teach us about God, us, and prayer.

1. God knew Daniel by name. He had a reputation in heaven.

When the vision described in Daniel 10 began, Daniel was petrified. The angel visitor began his reassurance with these beautiful words:
“‘Daniel, you who are highly esteemed….’”

Don’t you love how the angel called him by name (Daniel 10:11,12) and told him his heavenly reputation.  A note in the NIV Study Bible explains “highly esteemed”:
“A relatively rare Hebrew word … sometimes translated ‘coveted.’ Daniel is a highly desired, precious man whom God covets” (NIV Study Bible, Kindle Location 202,318).

The expression “highly esteemed” reminds me of a story told by one of the pastors at my church. In a series about hearing God, Pastor Mike told us of a day when he read a Bible story of God changing someone’s name. That morning in prayer he asked God, “Do you have another name for me?” He sensed God telling him to wait for an answer later in the day.

That night before bed he was wrestling with his young sons. At one point one of them straddled his head with his little legs, held Mike’s face in his hands, looked him straight in the eye and said, ‘Daddy, you’re expensive.’

Highly esteemed, highly desired, precious, coveted, expensive. What a reputation to have! Maybe the angels God sends aren’t always terrifying.

2. Daniel’s prayer set things in motion:
“Since the first day … your words were heard” Daniel 10:12.
On another occasion the angel Gabriel came to him with the message: “‘As soon as you began to pray a word went out’” - Daniel 9:23.

3. Daniel’s attitude in prayer moved God.
The angel said: “…the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard…” Daniel 10:12.

How had he set his heart to understand and humble himself? We can read his prayer of repentance and humility in Daniel 9:4-19.

4. The answer to Daniel’s prayer was delayed by spiritual warfare.
The angel’s words give us a glimpse of the spiritual warfare that was being fought in heaven ((Daniel 10:12,13,20) and which is also being waged around us (2 Corinthians 10:4-6).

God knows our names too. We too have a reputation in heaven (Psalm 139:1-18). Let’s keep praying with realism—the awareness of who we are in relation to God—and with faith, confident that our prayers also move God’s hand and that we too can be part of God’s kingdom strategy.

PRAYER: Dear Father, thank You for this glimpse into the connections between our prayers and Your answers. Help me to pray with realism,  perseverance, and faith that my prayers do make a difference. Amen.
 
MORE: Feast of St. Michael and all Angels

Today the church celebrates the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels.

The day’s liturgy begins with this collect prayer:

Everlasting God, you have ordained and constituted in a wonderful order the ministries of angels and mortals: Mercifully grant that, as your holy angels always serve and worship you in heaven, so by your appointment they may help and defend us here on earth; 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 noted otherwise, all Scriptures quoted in this meditation are taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.


Thursday, September 28, 2017

Players in the drama of light

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Philippians 2:12-30

TO CHEW ON: "Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world." Philippians 2: 14-15 (ESV)

The story of light is woven through the Bible.
  • God created light (Isaiah 45:7).
  • He lives in light (1 Timothy 6:16).
  • He is clothed in light (Psalm 104:2).
  • His sight penetrates darkness (Psalm 139:11-12).
  • His light is our life (John 1:4).
  • His word gives light (Psalm 119:130).
  • The Gospel is called light (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).
  • God's people are called children of light (1 Thessalonians 5:4-5).
  • A person's way of seeing and interpreting life (the eye) demonstrates whether one is a child of light or darkness (Luke 11:34-35).
  • We are blessed when we walk (live) in the light of His face (Psalm 89:15).
  • Crafty Satan, knowing the power of light, disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14)
  • We battle him wearing the armour of light (Romans 13:12)
  • And we are to be a light to those around us by our good works (Matthew 5:16, Luke 8:15, Ephesians 5:8-9) and by refraining from grumbling and complaining (Philippians 2:14-15).
That last—"refraining from grumbling and complaining"—seems like a paltry item on the list of grand light sightings in the Bible. Who of us hasn't done it—perhaps even today, in our minds if not out loud.

However, going against our natural instincts/tendencies to grumble and complain is the outworking of an attitude that is deep-rooted and affects all of life. It proves that we accept God's sovereignty in little and big circumstances. It demonstrates our trust in Him and His ability to deal well with us. And it is one more bit of evidence that we are players in the eternal story of light.


PRAYER: Dear God, please help me make the connections between my behaviour and living as a child of light. May my thoughts, words and actions today be thoughts, words, and actions of light. Amen.

MORE: A thought

"...we either add to the darkness of indifference...or we light a candle to see by..." Madeline L'Engle (quoted in Patches of Godlight - Jan Karon)

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Scriptures marked ESV are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®) copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. ESV® Text Edition: 2011. The ESV® text has been reproduced in cooperation with and by permission of Good News Publishers. Unauthorized reproduction of this publication is prohibited. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

God glorified through our hard times

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Philippians 1:15-30

TO CHEW ON: “Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death” - Philippians 1:20b


Paul would have had a lot to complain about if that had been his style. He was in prison as he wrote Philippians. Though fellow Christians were being emboldened by his clear witness to the palace guard (a good thing) some were preaching in a competitive spirit (out of “selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains” - Philippians 1:16).

But Paul was determined not to let any of this get him down. He saw the bright side of his captivity—the men guarding him were being exposed to his bold witness (Philippians 1:12,13). Because he was already in chains, they couldn’t use the threat of arrest to silence him, so he was bolder and more fearless than ever (Philippians 1:14). The competitive spirit of the fellow preachers didn’t please him. But he was happy that even through them the gospel was advancing (Philippians 1:18).

And in the matter underlying it all, the fact that he had lost his freedom, he seemed to be at perfect peace. We don’t see him whining that God didn’t send an angel to spring him from jail, as He did for Peter. Instead, Paul declaredFor I know … that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness as always so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or death (emphasis added).

I need more of that spirit. You too? So often my attitude is, Lord, I need you to take this problem away (this illness, condition, obstacle, lack…) so that You will be glorified.

But no. Instead I need the faith that God can be glorified as I go through the difficult things in my life: “Christ magnified in my body whether by life or death.”

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You that Your deliverance from and through our problems comes “through the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:19). Please fill my life with that supply 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, September 26, 2017

Come and get prayed for

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Philippians 1:1-14

TO CHEW ON: “‘And this I pray…’”  Philippians 1:9


In our church we have a Sunday morning prayer time. It’s an interlude during congregational worship when people people can come to members of the prayer team and get prayed for.

I’m on the prayer team. When I take my place during prayer time I never know what it will bring. Sometimes no one comes. At other times I pray for two or three. The needs are as various as the people that come. I always pray beforehand that God will, by His Spirit, give me the thoughts and words to pray for each person so that what is really needed, even below the felt need, is exposed and brought to God.

Paul, in his prayer for the Philippians, prays with a broad brush. His would be a prayer to fit a lot of requests in the way it addresses the deep issues of heart and life.

  • He prays for the quality of their love (Philippians 1:9).
Doesn’t that need—for a growing, intelligent, discerning love—cover a lot of requests that have to do especially with relationships (marriage, family, friend, work, ministry). A list of what a growing, intelligent, discerning love would look like is found in 1 Corinthians 13:1-13.

  • He prays for their excellence (Philippians 1:10).
The NKJV expresses it: “… that you may approve the things that are excellent…” The Amplified Bible enlarges on that thought:
“So that you may surely sense what is vital, and approve and prize what is excellent and of real value—recognizing the highest and the best, and distinguishing the moral differences.”

Doesn’t that sound a lot like a prayer for wisdom? It reminds me of a list of excellent thought destinations Paul gives us later in Philippians  (“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things” - Philippians 4:8.)

  • He prays that their lives will produce good fruit - Philippians 1:11.
Doesn’t that sound a lot like a prayer for success—a success whose goal is God’s glory not ours (“… to the glory and praise of God” - Philippians 1:11b)? Another list comes to mind: the fruits of the Spirit: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law" - Galatians 5:22,23. 

What a great example of an all-encompassing prayer! Praying it for ourselves or for someone else brings to God a multitude of needs, many of which we’re aware of, others we may not even know we have.

PRAYER: Dear Father, I pray that my love will grow in knowledge and discernment, that I will dwell on and give expression to that which is excellent, and that my life will be filled with the fruits of righteousness today. May I bring glory to You. 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, September 25, 2017

Just a little disobedience

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Exodus 16:17-36

"Gathering Manna" by James Tissot


TO CHEW ON:
“Notwithstanding, they did not heed Moses. But some of them left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and stank. And Moses was angry with them.” Exodus 16:20

When I read this part of Israel’s story I feel in very familiar territory. That’s because the book I wrote some years ago fictionalizes these very scenes. Today I’m going to share how I handled this manna episode in Destiny’s Hands.

A little set-up:
The character through whose eyes we see the action is Bezalel (the man who later became the chief artisan for the tabernacle and temple). He is a young man of 19 in our story, living with his family Grandfather Hur, father Uri (both Bible characters), mother Noemi and younger sister, 14-year-old Zamri (both fictional characters).

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“Zamri, it’s time to get up. The sun is already warm and you still haven’t gone for the manna.” Noemi’s voice was urgent.

From behind the tent partition, Bezalel heard Zamri groan and mutter, “I don’t have to. I collected extra yesterday.”

A minute later, Bezalel heard his mother exclaim, “Oh no! This is
awful!”

As he pulled on his tunic and tied his robe around him, Bezalel detected a smell of decay and rottenness. He went over to the basket of yesterday’s manna, looked inside, then drew back, repulsed. The food that had been deliciously edible the day before now stank and was crawling with maggots. It was disgusting.

Hur, hearing the fuss inside the tent, came in to see what it was about.

“It’s yesterday’s manna,” said Noemi. “Zamri collected extra without telling us. Today it smells and is full of worms.”

Zamri was up by now, fully awakened by everyone’s reaction to what she’d done.

“Didn’t you hear Moses’ command?” Hur asked. “We are to collect only enough for each day, no more.”

“My friends did it too,” said Zamri. “We wanted to sleep today.”

“Well, we’d better get out there now,” said Noemi. “The sun is already high in the sky. You know how the heat melts it.”

“I’ll help,” said Bezalel. He dumped the spoiled manna outside the
tent, but the odor lingered on the basket, so he left it outside and found another. Then he joined Noemi and the other manna-gatherers already sweating in the warm morning sun.

...(later)

Shortly Uri came back from tending the animals and the family sat down to eat. After everyone was satisfied, Hur announced, “I’m going to the gathering place to watch Moses judge the people. Uri, Bezalel, I think you should join me.”

When they arrived at the area that served as the camp’s meeting place, it was indeed as Hur had said. The queue of people waiting to speak to Moses stretched through the center of the natural amphitheater and beyond, past several clusters of tents. The three found a spot with other onlookers where they could hear and watch the proceedings.

People came with a variety of matters.

One man complained that a neighbor was making advances toward his wife. Others brought charges of theft, trespass, and annoying, noisy neighbors. “My neighbor’s extra manna smells so terrible we can’t sleep,” said a man who had just reached Moses.

Aaron, who sat beside Moses and did most of the speaking, answered.“You bother Moses with a small matter like that? Just ask your neighbor to take it away…”

But Moses flashed Aaron a quick frown and broke in. “This may seem like a small matter, but it isn’t. Is your neighbor here?”

When the complainant pointed out the man, Moses spoke to him in a surprisingly harsh tone. “I told you—in fact, I made it very clear—that no one is to keep any of the manna until morning. What about that command do you not understand? Collect enough for one day and one day only.”

Looking around at the people gathered, Moses proclaimed to everyone, “People, listen to what God says and obey Him for a change. Why do you keep cutting corners and not doing exactly as He says?”

Bezalel was surprised at Moses’ reaction. Was disobedience in such a small thing that big of a problem? It seemed that Yahweh demanded compliance down to the last detail. He also felt a wave of relief. It was a good thing their day-old manna matter had been dealt with this morning and within their tent. But what about other things in which Moses judged the people?

Excerpts from Destiny’s Hands, pp. 96-100


PRAYER: Dear Father, may my obedience to You be an outworking of my  respect for Your wisdom in all 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.


Sunday, September 24, 2017

Labor negotiations

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 20:1-16

TO CHEW ON: " ' Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?' " Matthew 20:15

Jesus, master storyteller that He was, created the problem in His parable by structuring it the way He did. The all-day workers would probably not have argued about their pay if they'd been paid first. But, alas, they were paid last after they saw the latecomers get the same amount they had agreed to work for. And so they expected more.

The takeaway from this story comes in the last two verses, where the landowner addresses his discontented servants. He makes several points.

- His money is his to do with as he likes. If we take the landowner to be God, we can see this is an affirmation of His sovereignty. He is sovereign over Earth and what happens on it.

- His generosity (goodness) with his late-coming workers brings out the envy/outrage (evil) in his all-day servants: " ' Is your eye evil because I am good?' "

- The "laws" of the kingdom of heaven (those principles by which it operates) are different than the kingdom of this world: " ' So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.' "

Several points rise out of this for our own self-examination:
  • God's sovereignty is great when we understand it. But like these discontented servants, it's easy to question what He's doing when we don't. We grapple with things as small as perceived unfairnesses to the old question: "Why do bad things happen to good people?" This brings us to our own interchanges with God like Job's:
GOD: " 'Would you indeed annul My judgment? 
Would you condemn Me that you may be justified?' " - Job 40:8.
JOB: 'I know that You can do everything,
And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You.

You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know
' " - Job 42:2-3
(emphasis added).

  • God's goodness underlies everything He does. When we get that stained deep into the grain of our belief, we'll find fewer occasions to gripe. The fact that we can even expect a reward at all is grace. "The parable affirms that God is absolutely sovereign and gracious in granting rewards. Those who serve Him can trust His grace" - J. Lyle Story, commentary on Matthew, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible p. 1327.

  • The kingdom of heaven never ceases to surprise. Let's continue to explore its "laws of gravity" and live according to them, even as we continue to walk this earth.


PRAYER:
Dear Jesus, thank You for Your sovereignty and goodness.  Help me to learn and apply these principles of Your kingdom as I continue to live and work on Earth.

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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, September 23, 2017

Prepare to be surprised

child doing handstand
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 19:16-30

TO CHEW ON: " ' But many who are first will be last, and the last first.' " Matthew 19:30


Again and again Jesus reminds His disciples that the kingdom of heaven is characterized by reversal. That's the word the Thompson Chain Bible uses to head a section that traces the kinds of reversals taught and illustrated in the Bible.

[Reverse: Adjective: having a contrary or opposite direction or character, order etc., turned backward. Noun: that which is directly opposite or contrary; a change to an opposite position, direction, state. Verb: to turn upside down, inside out, to turn in an opposite direction - Funk & Wagnall's Dictionary.]

- God reverses fortunes - Psalm 75:7; 107:41; "…Nothing shall remain the same…" Ezekiel 21:26.

- God hates pride. The proud person is a target for reversal - Psalm 147:6.

- God can remove the life props we make for ourselves - Isaiah 22:25. He can destroy the things we have accomplished and in which we trust: "The lofty city; He lays it low…" - Isaiah 26:5.

- God can bring down rulers - Isaiah 40:23; Luke 1:52. Nebuchadnezzar is an example of this, when he goes from being a proud king to a mentally deranged "beast" - Daniel 4:28-33.

- God sees the poor, neglected by the rich and reverses their state - Luke 6:25; 16:25.

- On the other hand, He also rewards good stewardship with more, that is, gives more to the person who already has while taking away from the one who has little - Matthew 25:29.

- Our expectations will be challenged. Over and over we hear Jesus say: " 'The last shall be first, the first last' " - Matthew 19:30; 20:16; Mark 10:31; Luke 13:30.


Some thoughts we can take from this into our day:

1. God hates pride. When we give ourselves credit for what we have and get puffed over what we've done, we set ourselves up for reversal.

2. The material things in which we put our confidence aren't as trustworthy as we think.

3. The world's rulers, those we love or hate, follow or resist, admire or fear, are targets for God's reversal. Let's remember that as we pray for our nation and the world.
 

4. We are responsible to be good stewards of what we have, whether it's much or little.

5. Knowing all the above, we'll probably still be surprised when, someday, we stand before God and see things as they really are.



PRAYER:
Dear God, please help me to live in the upside down, back-to-front paradigm of the kingdom of heaven while I'm here on 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.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Powerful hands

Detail from "Jesus and the Little Child" by James Tissot

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 19:1-15

TO CHEW ON: "Then little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray … And He laid His hands on them and departed from there." Matthew 19:13,15


I wonder what became of the little children Jesus laid His hands on that day. Was it a memorable day for them? Did their lives change after that?

The laying on of hands is powerful body language throughout the Bible, used to say a variety of things:

"I bless"
  • That's what the patriarchs did to their children and grandchildren - Genesis 48:14-15.
  • That's what the parents wanted Jesus to do to their children in our reading (expressed explicitly in Mark 10:16: "And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them." emphasis added).

"This animal is my substitute"

  • Laying hands on the animal that was to be sacrificed was part of the Old Testament offering ritual - Leviticus 4:4, 15, 29, 33. It was the way the sinner said, "I transfer my sins to this animal. It dies in my stead."

"Receive your healing"
  • In the New Testament, Jesus laid hands on people when He healed them - Mark 6:5; 7:32,33; 8:23. He commissioned His followers to do the same - Mark 16:18.
  • Ananias laid his hands on Saul/Paul and he recovered his sight - Acts 9:17.
  • Later Paul prayed for healing for the father of Publius with the same gesture - Acts 28:8.

"Receive the fullness"

  • On one of his missionary journeys, when Paul met a group of disciples at Ephesus who did not know about the Holy Spirit, he laid hands on them and "… the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied - Acts 19:6. In other words, it opened the floodgates for all God had for them.

"I ordain you"

Laying on hands in ordination happened in both the Old and New Testaments.
  • Moses was to lay hands on the Levites as part of their initiation to priestly work - Numbers 8:10.
  • He also laid his hands on Joshua when he passed on his mantle of leadership - Deuteronomy 34:9.
  • The New Testament has instances where church leaders laid hands on individuals prior to them being sent out to do ministry - Acts 6:6.
  • For Timothy, that experience confirmed a special gift that equipped him - 1 Timothy 4:14.

We can use our warm, personal, unique hands for so many things—both bad and good. Let's use them to do less hitting, dismissing, and cursing; to do more blessing, equipping, commissioning, and healing.

PRAYER: Dear God, I present my hands to You today as part of myself—a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God. (Romans 12:1). 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, September 21, 2017

Unlikely disciple

"St. Matthew" by Pompeo Batoni

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 9:1-13


TO CHEW ON: "As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office and He said to him, 'Follow me.' So he arose and followed Him." Matthew 9:9


I love Matthew's uncomplicated faith, shown when he dropped everything and followed Jesus. Didn't he have to give this career change some thought? Apparently not. Or maybe he had given it thought, had become increasingly discontented with his job, was aware of Jesus, secretly longed to get to know Him better, and here was his opportunity.

Matthew is an interesting choice as a disciple. The Bible tells us he was a tax collector—one of a class of people who worked for the hated Romans. Tax collectors made their living by charging slightly higher fees than the Romans for general, agricultural, census, and traveler taxes. Licensed tax collectors often hired publicans to do the actual collecting. Publicans, who tacked on additional fees, were usually Jews and doubly despised as tax collectors and traitors.

Matthew was one of these publicans whose booth was beside the road outside Capernaum. In addition to collecting the road tax, he may also have collected taxes from fishermen. Imagine how the career fishermen (Andrew, Peter, James and John) must have felt when this loathed publican joined their band!

However, Jesus knew what He was doing when He chose Matthew. He was probably good with numbers and could read and write. He was well educated in the Scriptures, judging by how much of the Old Testament he had at his fingertips to quote in the Gospel of Matthew.

He also had a missionary bent, shown when he shared his new Rabbi with his friends. Though the book of Matthew doesn't name him as the host of the feast described in our reading, he is named that in Luke 5:29 (actually Luke calls him 'Levi'—another name he went by).

That desire to share Jesus eventually led to his writing of the history of the life of Christ we know as The Gospel According to Matthew. What a legacy!

  • It contains the only account of the wise men visit.
  • Its detailed account of the Jesus' teachings (called the Sermon on the Mount) is three chapters long (Matthew 5:1-7:29) versus Luke's twenty-nine verses (Luke 6:20-49).
  • It contains parables of the Day of Judgment found in no other gospel (Matthew 24)
  • It emphasizes Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.
  • It stresses that Jesus was Messiah.
  • It depicts Him as King.
What an amazing contribution from someone who came from the most despised category of people, "tax collectors and sinners," whom Jesus Himself characterized as sick: "'Those who are well have no need of a physician but those who are sick'" - Matthew 9:12.

The story of Matthew should give all of us hope. For when Jesus calls us, He sees right through our family and job categories. He is not influenced by the labels others put on us or we put on ourselves. When He says "Follow Me" and we jump up and follow Him, we set out on the road to discover a potential and a destiny we never dreamed possible.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Matthew (Levi), a tax collector who became the writer of a history that has influenced millions. Help me to trust You with my future like he trusted You with his. Amen.

MORE: The Feast of St. Matthew

Today the church celebrates the Feast of St. Matthew. The liturgy for the day begins with the following collect:

"We thank you, heavenly Father, for the witness of your apostle and evangelist Matthew to the Gospel of your Son our Savior; and we pray that, after his example, we may with ready wills and hearts obey the calling of our Lord to follow him; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen."

Sources:
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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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Obedience Training

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Exodus 16:1-16

TO CHEW ON: “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Behold I will rain bread from heaven for you. And the people shall go out and gather a certain quota every day that I may test them whether they will walk in My law or not.’” Exodus 16:4

Have you ever raised a stubborn child, where the smallest request ended in a battle of wills? “Eat your vegetables.” “No!” “Brush your teeth.” “No!” “Buckle your seat belt.” “No!” “Stop hitting your sister.” POW!

Sometimes such battles can seem silly. Why press a child to tears for victory over a few peas or a bedtime with clean teeth? Yet the responsible parent knows that disobedience in such small things is a symptom of a deeper attitude of rebellion toward authority. When we ignore it in our children, we run the risk of them growing into rebellious adults.

In a way the Israelites were like children. They were untrained in the ways of freedom. They had recently broken free from the grip of generations of slavery in Egypt. Whether their new attitude of complaining and insolence was a pendulum swing as far from slavery as they could get (now we can do as we please!), or just the natural response of human nature to tough conditions, we don’t know. But God sensed their need for training and He started small, with basic, easy-to-follow directions about gathering food (Exodus 16:4,5).

God’s explanation to Moses of why He made such rules: “‘That I may test them.'”

[Test - nasah - To put to the test, to try, to prove, tempt. The basic idea is to put someone to the test to see how he will respond. - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Bible, p. 747.]

Predictably, perhaps, some failed this test by trying to keep manna overnight (Exodus 16:20), and failing to gather extra on the day before Sabbath, then finding no supply on Sabbath morning (Exodus 16:27).

On the flip side of this matter, Jesus taught that those obedient and faithful in small things would be rewarded with greater responsibility (Matthew 25:21,23).

Where do we sit in this continuum of rebellion to obedience (and qualification for promotion)? What tests are we facing? Are we passing those tests? Are we aware of what our acts of insolence and disobedience to the things of God say about our maturity and fitness for the responsibilities we have now, let alone greater responsibility?

PRAYER: Dear Father, please give me insight into how the mundane activities and attitudes of life are spiritual tests. Help me to grow in 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.


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Three thirsty days is a long time

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Exodus 15:6-27

TO CHEW ON:
"And they went three days in the wilderness and found no water. … And the people complained against Moses, saying, 'What shall we drink?'" Exodus 15:22,24

The Israelites had just experienced their most stunning victory—not through their own skill but through miracles straight from God. Even uptight Moses burst into song and matriarch Miriam led the women in a victory dance. But now, only three days later, there is complaining again.

For us, reading these stories, the Israelites' mood changes seem mercurial. They go from rejoicing to grumbling in four verses! Before we're too hard on them, though let's consider their situation.

They are in unfamiliar territory, walking in desert heat, sleeping in desert cold. And they're rapidly running out of the one essential that will keep them alive—water. Three days is a long time to be thirsty. Then, when they do find water, it's bitter. And so they grumble.

I ask myself, if I were in their shoes, would I act any differently?

The Israelites' desert experience demanded that the people mature in trusting God. It stretched them to look past how things appeared in the moment and see the situation with the eyes of faith. They were constantly challenged to remember how God had helped them in the past. Then they needed to apply that memory to current conditions.

"God knows exactly when to withhold or to grant us any visible sign of encouragement. How wonderful it is when we will trust Him in either case! Yet it is better when all visible evidence that He is remembering us is withheld. He wants us to realize that His word—His promise of remembering us—is more real and dependable than any evidence our sense may reveal. It is good when He sends the visible evidence, but we appreciate it even more after we have trusted Him without it" - Charles Gallaudet Trumbull, quoted in Streams in the Desert by L. B. Cowman - January 24th reading.

I too can go from high to low in a matter of days—hours! And so I too have lots of room for stretching and growth in the living-by-faith department. What about you?

PRAYER:  Dear God, I see myself reflected in these Israelites. Help me to get my eyes off circumstances and keep them on You and Your history and promises. Amen.

Streams in the Desert - 366 Daily Devotional Readings by Cowman

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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, September 18, 2017

Protection

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Exodus 14:19-15:5

TO CHEW ON:
“… and the pillar of cloud went before them and stood behind them. So it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel. Thus it was a cloud and darkness to the one and it gave light by night to the other so that the one did not come near the other all that night.” Exodus 14:19,20

When there was absolutely no human escape from the fast-approaching Egyptian army, God showed His hand. The cloud that had gone before the Israelites to guide them now parked itself between them and the Egyptians. In this way God bought hours and hours of time for the great multitude to cross the dried sea bed - Exodus 14:21,22.

There are other times in the Bible when God interposed Himself between His people and trouble. Some means He used:

  • Paralysing fear
Back in Genesis at the beginning of the nation, God put fear in the people that had dealings with the sons of Jacob so that they didn’t get hassled - Genesis 35:5.

Again when Israel was poised on the brink of Canaan, spies who hid in Rahab’s house heard from her how terrified the peple living on the west of the Jordan River were of the Israelites - Joshua 2:11.

  • A heavenly army
Elisha prayed for his servant to see a heavenly guard protecting them from the Syrian army - 2 Kings 6:17.

  • Blindness
During the same incident above, God struck the Syrian soldiers with blindness so they were at Elisha’s mercy - 2 Kings 6:18.

  • Protection
God protected the returning exiles during their long trek from Babylon to Israel - Ezra 8:31. Perhaps you’ve prayed for a “hedge of protection.” Are you aware that when you ask that you are using an expression coined by Satan (Job 1:10)?

  • Closed lion mouths
When Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den, God’s angel closed their mouths - Daniel 6:22.

We get the picture, don’t we? God overcame the most daunting foes in whatever way suited the situation. And the result was two-fold: God’s people were spared and God was worshiped and lifted up: Exodus 15:1-5; Joshua 2:11b, Ezra 8:35; Daniel 6:26,27.

Let’s similarly keep trusting God for His care and protection. When we get it, let’s not attribute it to luck or coincidence but give Him glory.

PRAYER:
Dear Father, I’m sure I don’t realize the extent to which You protect me daily. Thank You! Help me to be ever mindful of Your protecting and keeping hand in my circumstances, and to give You the credit. 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, September 17, 2017

When the enemy is nipping at your heels

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Exodus 14:1-18


TO CHEW ON: “The LORD will fight for you and you shall hold your peace.” - Exodus 14:14

“The LORD will fight for you and you need only to be still.” Exodus 14:14 NIV


Even read from the easy chair of hindsight, the incident in today’s passage is riveting. Can you imagine living it? Yet I believe some of us are in the middle of similar things.

When we’re in the thick of our plot of trouble with the ending still uncertain (to us, not to God) it’s easy to panic. So today, let’s look at this story to see how God was at work here with a view to discovering how He might be at work in our story as well.

  • God set things up
God directed Moses to lead the Israelites into a location from which there was no natural way to escape a rear pursuit. Then Moses told of Pharaoh’s change of mind and how he came after them. He interpreted it as God hardening Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 14:1-4).  It looks like a setup to me.

For us too, God’s ways involve a lot of little and big setups.

  • The Israelites weren’t consulted
God told Moses what He was going to do. Whether Moses got this insight before the Egyptians appeared on the horizon, or when they were already within sight we don’t know. At any rate, he had a basis for relief. But the multitude of weary travelers didn’t have a clue what was up. Their emotions careened through fear, desperation, anger, blame, resignation over inevitable death (Exodus 14:9-12).

Even though God is in our circumstances doesn’t mean we won’t live through times of stress. We don't know what's going on and we don't like uncertainty.


  • Moses told them to look at God, not circumstances
Moses encouraged the people with affirmations about God and His ability to accomplish things for them. He told them the Egyptians would not enter their lives again after this and that God would fight for them, and they didn’t have to do anything (Exodus 14:13,14).
  
We too need to focus our attention on God, not our troubles. If we truly had confidence in Him and took our hands off the situation, maybe it would be become less complicated as we got out of His way and allowed Him to work.

  • There came a time to stop praying and start doing
Though the Israelites didn’t have to get involved in hand-to-hand combat with the Egyptians, there was something they needed to do. God spoke to Moses rather sharply, telling him it was time to stop praying and start moving this crowd across the sea (Exodus 14:15,16).

There is also a time for us to take the next step.


  • God’s purposes were bigger than the incident
God told Moses His purpose behind this frightening encounter: “So I will gain honor over Pharaoh and over all his army, his chariots, and his horsemen. Then the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD…” - Exodus 14:17,18. 

When God works in our lives, He is also out to accomplish big-picture purposes that we may have no idea about.


Let’s continue walking with Him through our troubles in faithfulness and trust.



PRAYER:
Dear God, please help me to trust You, especially when I’m in circumstances that threaten, frighten, and challenge 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 NIV are taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.


Saturday, September 16, 2017

Grow up

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Romans 14:1-23


TO CHEW ON:"Therefore let us not judge one another any more but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in a brother's way .... Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil .... Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another." Romans 14:13, 16, 19.


If you have ever parented an infant, you have witnessed complete and total self-absorption. A baby cares only about itself, its hunger, its comfort, and its need to sleep or not. It does not ask you whether this is a convenient time for it to nurse, or go on a crying jag, or mess its diaper.

One of our jobs as parents is to channel that self-absorption into an awareness of others and their needs. We label an adult who is stuck in a childish, self-absorbed state immature.

Here Paul talks to the family of God in Rome about some of these maturity issues. Three "therefore"s signal the conclusions to three mini-arguments. They help us identify areas in ourselves that might be challenged by self-absorption.

1. "Therefore let us not judge..."
Paul ends a whole section with that simple conclusion (Romans 14:1-13). He does give an alternate response to cultivate: "rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in a brother's way." Another way we could express this is, Don't judge the actions of others; rather judge yourself and rein in actions that might cause someone to trip-up.

2. "Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil."
Paul precedes this with the opinion/belief that nothing is intrinsically unclean. He would probably be referring to the unclean foods and actions defined in the Old Testament law. What makes transgressing these old prohibitions sin, then, is whether they violate one's conscience. Paul pleads with his readers to take into account the tender conscience of fellow Christians before doing things they know others would find a problem.

3. "Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another."
Why? Because this attitude offends no one. It pleases God and people (Romans 14:18). Paul here advises a change of perspective. He says, in effect, Don't focus on living as close as you can to the boundary of unbridled liberty. Rather focus on maintaining peace with your brother/sister. Look for ways you can edify or build up (not stretch, shock, or offend) your fellow Christian.

Are we mature enough to be other-centered in these ways?

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to leave judging to You. May I be sensitive to the consciences of others. On the flip side of this coin, may I not be easily offended or tripped up by the liberties others take. Amen.

MORE: On maturity

"How often I have found that we grow to maturity not by doing what we like, but by doing what we should. How true it is that not every 'should' is a compulsion, and not every 'like' is a high morality and true freedom" - Karl Rahner .
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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, September 15, 2017

Super-natural

"Mount Sinai" - Artist unnamed
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Psalm 113:1-114:8

TO CHEW ON:
“Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord,
At the presence of the God of Jacob
Who turned the rock into a pool of water
The flint into a fountain of waters.” Psalm 114: 7-8


The psalmist has packed years of history into this 16-line poem. It speaks of the time Israel left Egypt and slavery. In the desert, God lived with them – hovering close in a cloud and overshadowing the tabernacle with His glory.

Nature complied with God’s plans. The Read Sea parted to let them cross (Exodus 14:16). After 40 years of wandering in the desert, the Jordan River likewise divided up so they could walk to the other side (Joshua 3:17).


The mountains and hills skipping like rams and lambs probably refers to the rolling and shaking of Mount Sinai when God met with Moses there (Exodus 19:18). The “rock into a pool of water" and “flint into a fountain of water” refer to God supplying their drinking water from rock – at least twice (Exodus 17:6; Numbers 20:11).

Don’t you just love the psalmist’s saucy questioning of these inanimate natural objects: “What ails you, O sea, that you fled? O Jordan that you turned back? O mountains that you skipped like rams? O little hills like lambs?” It’s a type of rhetorical question – to which the answer would have been, “We couldn’t help it. What would you do but comply (tremble) in the presence of God?”

We know, however, that at the time these things were happening the Israelites were anything but confident that God knew what He was doing. It was only in retrospect that His modus operandi became evident.

Does God still intervene in miraculous ways on our behalf? I believe so. I can just see us in heaven, with the benefit of perfect hindsight and insight, thanking and praising God for the stayed storms, the just-missed auto accidents, the at-the-time annoying delays which kept us from being in the wrong place at the right time.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You that even inanimate nature is under Your control. Help me to have confidence in You as the God of everything.

MORE: In “The Laws of Physics as God” John Piper makes a defense for a God who is behind the laws of nature, and above them.

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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.

Do your 8-12-year-olds have daily devotions? Point them to Bible Drive-Thru.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Whose side are you really on?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 12:27-41


TO CHEW ON: "But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him."


We see a tug-of-war between faith and skepticism over Jesus' identity as God in this passage. It's clearly stated in the two verses just beyond our reading: "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.

First we observe a serious Jesus who said disturbing things like "'My soul is troubled and what should I say? 'Father, save Me from this hour''?..." right in front of a crowd.  
 An onlooker might be skeptical and ask, could someone who is divine be a victim?

A thunderous heavenly voice answered Jesus' prayer. This caused confusion in the bystanders. They had various natural explanations about what this voice was, but Jesus told them it was God speaking for their benefit giving His very stamp of approval on Jesus.  

Faith: God speaking from heaven was a pretty strong endorsement of Jesus and His claims OR 
Skepticism: It was just thunder; He was deluded about what He was hearing.

Jesus then talked about being lifted up from the earth and drawing all people to Himself (John 12:32). As astute students of the Old Testament, which many of those in the crowd were, they would have recognized this allusion to the brass serpent that Moses erected during the Israelites' wandering, which those bitten by deadly serpents needed only to look to, to be saved (Numbers 21:4-9). 

Faith: Jesus is making some pretty powerful claims OR 
Skepticism: He's obviously crazy!

When they questioned, "You say 'The Son of Man must be lifted up'? Who is this Son of Man?" Jesus again predicted that He would leave them and pleaded with them to "'Walk while you have the light... While you have the light believe in the light that you may become sons of light'" John 12:34-36.

Skepticism: could a man linking Himself so openly with deity actually be subject to death?
Faith: He talked before about being light - John 8:12-30.)

Of course in addition to these verbal interchanges, there are all the signs and wonders Jesus performed - John 12:37.
Faith: Who but Someone with God's power could perform such powerful miracles?

All this back-and-forth did not move the skeptics, who had long since made up their minds about who Jesus was, from their position of skepticism. And yet "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; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God" - John 12:42,43.

They believed, but they didn't make it public by changing sides!

Ouch! Isn't there a temptation for us to do this as well? In a world where faith in Christ is scorned and ridiculed for many reasons, isn't it also our temptation to be secret believers, even though our fears of what would happen if we confessed Jesus openly are as well founded as the fears of these rulers were (John 7:13; 9:22)?

But if silent, embarrassed, ashamed belief is our temptation for whatever reason, there is another consequence we should bear in mind—a consequence far more serious than losing the popularity and praise of people.

"'Therefore, everyone who acknowledges Me before men and confesses Me [out of a state of oneness with Me], I will also acknowledge him before My Father Who is in heaven and confess [that I am abiding in] him. But whoever denies and disowns Me before men, I also will deny and disown him before My Father Who is in heaven'" Matthew 10:32-33 (Amplified)

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, help me to come out of the closet, as it were, about my faith in you. Help me to be confess You in all company. Amen. 

"I'd Rather Have Jesus"

MORE: Holy Cross Day

Today the church celebrates the cross. The liturgy for Holy Cross Day begins with this collect:

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him; 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.

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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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Jog your memory

"Fruit of the Spirit" wall hanging - Photo: V. Nesdoly
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Exodus 13:1-22

TO CHEW ON:
“It shall be as a sign to you on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes, that the LORD’s law may be in your mouth; for with a strong hand the LORD has brought you out of Egypt.” Exodus 13:9

To help us remember the special days in our lives we use oral and written story-telling, paper and electronic calendars, eating and gift-giving. In today’s reading we see it’s altogether biblical to use concrete things as reminders of our history with God. God instructed the Israelites on this.

The ban on leaven each year at Passover was a reminder of the morning of their hurried exit from Egypt (Exodus 13:4-7).

They were to pass their story on to their children (Exodus 13:8).

And they were to solidify the fact that they were God’s people with an act that was even more radical. They were to redeem the firstborn males of their own families and animals (Exodus 13:1,11-15)—another reminder of the tenth plague, when the death angel killed the Egyptians’ firstborn sons and animals. (The redemption of the Israelites’ firstborn sons is described in Numbers 3:40-51.)

These memorials were to be as visible and obvious as wearing a reminder on a hand or forehead (Exodus 13:9).

Did God expect the people to literally wear such reminders? The Israelites took no chances. My Bible’s study notes on Exodus explain:
“The later Jewish practice of wearing phylacteries while praying is based on these verses. Phylacteries are two small leather boxes attached by leather straps, one to the left hand and one to the forehead of an Israelite. They contain passages of the law” J.C.Tollett, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 93.

We customarily remember birthdays, wedding anniversaries, and holidays—some religious, some secular (the stores don’t let us forget even if we’d want to!). Perhaps we could also put more emphasis on remembering episodes and milestones of our personal walk with God—spiritual birthdays, the date of our baptism, dates of significant answers to prayer, and foundational passages of our faith and practice.

Do you memorialize such things? How?

PRAYER: Dear Father, thank You for the stories in the Bible that have given me a record of Your dealings with humankind over thousands of years. Help me to carry it on as I remind myself of what’s important to You and recall and tell the stories of your activity in my life to my children and grandchildren. 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, September 12, 2017

God's answers in real time

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Exodus 12:29-51

TO CHEW ON:
“And it came to pass at the end of four hundred and thirty years—on that very same day—it came to pass that all the armies of the LORD when out from the land of Egypt …. And it came to pass on that very same day that the LORD brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt …” Exodus 12:41,51

When the day of freedom from Egypt finally came for the Israelites, it was a big surprise—to them at least. For we read that they had made their usual night-time preparations for the next day (mixed dough to which they usually added leaven in the morning). But then came the tenth plague and they were “driven out of Egypt and could not wait, nor had they prepared provisions for themselves” (Exodus 12:39).

It was no surprise to God, though. The writer of Exodus (most likely Moses) even points out that the date of their leaving was a significant one—the 430th anniversary of their arrival.

The phrase “on that very day” occurs twice in this account, as if to emphasize the fact that God’s decisive action came in the real time of human history.

I take comfort form this for my life. God is still able and does answer our prayers on a particular day in time and space. I am looking forward to the day I can point to a date on the calendar and say, on this very day the project I bathed in prayer was completed, the healing occurred, the prodigal came home… Do you join me?

PRAYER:
Dear Father, I love the fact that You know my upcoming days as if they had already happened (“And in Your book they were all written, / The days fashioned for me, / When as yet there were none of them” - Psalm 139:16). I know You will answer the things for which I have been burdened to pray in “that very day” that you have foreseen they will occur. 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, September 11, 2017

Obedience—just because He says so

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Exodus 12:15-28

TO CHEW ON: “Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses. For whoever eats leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel.” Exodus 12:15

Have you ever entered a contest? What was the first thing you did before you prepared your entry and perhaps the last thing before submitting it? Study the guidelines? Read the rules?

Though a contest’s rules may seem arbitrary, we know that to have our entry considered for the prize, it must follow those rules. We don’t question the contest administrator’s right to make rules, debate them, or argue with them. Instead we comply, simply because the rules say so and if we break them, our entry will be disqualified.

In a way God’s prohibition about leaven may have seemed senseless and arbitrary to the Israelites. Yet here and throughout much of the Bible, leaven has a bad reputation.

What is leaven? The Bible Encyclopedia explains:

Literally:
”Bread was made to rise by putting a piece of sour dough from a previous batch of dough in the flour, which dough in turn brought on fermentation of the whole. Leavened bread was a regular part of the diet of ancient Israel (Hos 7:4).” (Bible Encyclopedia accessed through Biblegateway.com.)

Historically: Leaven had a special significance at Passover when leaving it out refreshed the Israelites’ collective memory of leaving Egypt in such a hurry they had no time to add it to their unbaked dough.

Figuratively leaven is mentioned several times in the Bible and usually gets a bad rap:
  • Jesus used leaven in His parables to illustrate the undesirable teaching of the Scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 16:6,11,12) and the pervasiveness of the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 13:33—and one of, if not the only time leaven is viewed positively).
  • Paul used leaven to illustrate the pervasiveness of evil (1 Corinthians 5:6) and the power of a little evil to contaminate the whole (1 Corinthians 5:6; Galatians 5:9).

Back to our Israelites, God’s harsh pronouncement on those who were careless about destroying leaven ("that person shall be cut off from Israel") reminds us of how God was (and is) a God of details. He wanted careful obedience, whether the thing made sense or not.

It reminds us too of the enormity of what Jesus did for us when He gave His life for us so we no longer need to be bound by these ceremonial rules.

Yet the principle of obedience remains. There are some things that God has said which we may not understand. But we obey anyway, just because He said so.

PRAYER:
Dear Father, please help me to obey You as carefully as I follow contest guidelines to win a fleeting, earthly prize.

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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, September 10, 2017

FORGIVE: without keeping score; without keeping track


TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 18:15-35

TO CHEW ON:
"Jesus said to him, 'I do not say to you up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.' " Matthew 18:22

Jesus is talking about forgiveness here—one of the pillars of the kingdom of heaven. He has just been describing the relationship of people united in worship and how God is there with them (Matthew 18:20) when Peter asks the question, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?"

[Forgive means to grant pardon for or remission of something; to cease to demand the penalty for; to grant freedom from a penalty; to cease to blame or feel resentment against; to remit a debt.- Funk & Wagnalls College Dictionary]

Jesus answers Peter's question with a story. In Jesus' story, the king forgives his servant a large amount. That servant turns around and tries to extract payment of a small amount owed to him. The king gets angry when he hears of the way the big-debt-ower treats the little-debt-ower. For the principle is: You've been forgiven much, now you give back in kind, even though the amounts are different.

Jesus' story illustrates two principles about forgiveness:

1. We should forgive without keeping score (Matthew 18:22), that is, as often as the person who wrongs us asks for forgiveness—even if it's some ridiculous number of times—70 x 7—we forgive.

2. We should forgive without keeping track (Matthew 18:24-28). Whether the offense is big or small, we forgive.

These principles apply to us. We've been forgiven much—our sins that call for the death penalty. Now we must go and forgive others' debts/sins against us:
  • Because that's what children of God do - Luke 11:4.
  • Whenever these offenses come to mind, especially when our thought of them interposes itself between us and God - Mark 11:25.
  • As one of the ways we guard and grow our fellowship with other believers (Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13).

PRAYER:
Dear God, "I forgive you" is easy to say but hard to do. Help me to forgive wrongs so completely that I no longer even remember them. Amen.

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

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Children matter

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Matthew 18:1-14

TO CHEW ON:'Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me.'” Matthew 14:5


Has it ever happened that as you sat quietly in your seat in church one Sunday, a family with children came and sight right beside you or behind you? Suddenly your peaceful morning became restless with those wee ones not able to sit still, asking for snacks, kicking the back of your seat with their little shoes.  (And I’m talking here about someone else's children, not your own or your grand-kids.)

How did you feel? Be honest. Was there not a glimmer of irritation? At the least a tiny a sigh of annoyance? At such times Matthew 18:1-14 would be a good bit to read and remember. In it Jesus invited a child to join him at center stage. Then He gave a little talk based on this living illustration. Some of His points:
  • You need to become humble like a child to be great in the kingdom of heaven - Matthew 18:3,4.
  • Receiving a child in My (Jesus’) name is equivalent to welcoming Me - Matthew 18:5.
  • Enticing a believing child to sin is super-serious - Matthew 18:6-9.
  • Despising one of these little ones puts you at odds with the paradigm of heaven where their angels have continuous access to Father God - Matthew 18:10.
  • Lost children are worth going to great lengths to save—God doesn’t want even one to stay lost - Matthew 18:11-14.

I’m going to remind myself of Matthew 18:1-14 next time I’m tempted to be irritated by kids racing down church corridors, leaving a mess, making too much noise, just being kids. Will you join me? Jesus loves them; let’s love them too!

PRAYER: Dear Father, I need to remember what it felt like to be a child. I need patience, kindness and Your point of view about children. Help me to see and love them as You do. 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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