Sunday, November 19, 2017

A life to aspire to

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: 1 Thessalonians 3:6-4:12

TO CHEW ON: “… aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands…” 1 Thessalonians 4:11

Who, these days, does that—“aspire(s) to lead a quiet life” or, as the Amplified puts it: “Make it your ambition … to live quietly…”? It’s far more common to want to be noticed, to get attention with lots of “LIKES” on social media, for example, or to achieve the goal of all goals and go viral.

Yet to me, perhaps to you too, there is something attractive and alluring about these instructions on how to live:

  • “lead a quiet life”
- “Lead a quiet life” brings to mind verses like “In quietness and confidence shall be your strength” - Isaiah 30:15.

- Peter’s instructions on how to be a beautiful-from-the-inside woman include: “… a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God” - 1 Peter 3:4.

- However, many Bible references to quietness also harbor within them an aspect of tension—the tension of waiting for something to happen: “It is good that one should hope and wait quietly / For the salvation of the LORD” - Lamentations 3:26.
“Truly my soul silently waits for God; / From Him comes my salvation” Psalm 62:1.

  • “mind your own business”
This advice is, at some level telling the people not to gossip and be busybodies. This must have been a problem in Thessalonica because Paul addressed it in 2 Thessalonians 3:11,12. I wonder how Paul would have viewed Facebook!

  • “work with your own hands”
From crocheting a shawl to building a house I’m sure most of us have experienced the satisfaction of a project we’ve completed with our own hands. Physical work is something the Bible endorses from cover to cover (Genesis 2:15; 1 Timothy 5:8).

These three bits of good-life advice are not only to make the readers’ lives better, but to serve as an example of a good and godly life to pre-believers - 1 Thessalonians 4:12.

In this time when we can be barraged with communication, information and noise from morning to night, doesn’t this lifestyle sound like a refreshing option?


PRAYER: Dear Father, at the root of this lifestyle of quietness, self-control, and work is confidence in You and Your ability to work things out in my life without my interference. Please help me to trust you so implicitly that quietness becomes my default setting. 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, November 17, 2017

A sanctified imagination

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Judges 5:11-31

TO CHEW ON: "'Thus let all your enemies perish, O Lord!
But let those who love Him be like the sun
When it comes out in full strength.'" Judges 5:31



Judge Deborah was a woman with a vivid imagination. The "Thus..." in the verse above refers to the details of her victory over Sisera as we find them in her song (Judges 5:1-31). This victory ballad is full of imaginative specifics.

She describes the incident of Jael, the tent peg, and the hammer in gory detail (Judges 5:24-27).

She imagines Sisera's mother waiting for her son to return from battle. When he delays, she envisions how this woman and her maids will explain his lateness to themselves:

"Are they not finding and dividing the spoil:
To every man a girl or two;
For Sisera plunder of dyed garments..." (Judges 5:30).

But Deborah's most inspiring use of her imagination is in Judges 4, before she ever had reason to sing that song. Then the situation was still dire. Israel under the thumb of Canaanite King Jabin (and Sisera, his army commander), hadn't seen a ray of hope in twenty years (Judges 4:3). Yet Deborah said to Barak (the commander of Israel's army):

"Up! For this is the day in which the Lord has delivered Sisera into your hand. Has not the Lord gone out before you?" (Judges 4:14).
Her faith in God fueled her imagination so that she saw the victory before it ever actually happened.

Deborah's use of imagination demonstrates three ways we can use our imaginative ability.

  • To communicate the human experience in literature: Her description of Jael's actions is imagination put to use in the service of story and poetry. It is one God-given way we can use our visionary ability.
  • To reassure ourselves: Deborah's speculation of how Sisera's mother was handling her son's delay shows how imagination can bolster feelings of well-being. However this kind of imagining can easily disintegrate into worry when we  fuel it with pictures of the bad things that could be happening.
  • To affirm our faith: We sanctify our imaginings when we use them in the service of faith like Deborah did. This is building a visionary future on God—His person and promises—and then going into action to make it a reality.

May we have more of the kind of imagination that, ignited by God's promises and fed by faith, sees victory before the battle has even begun.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for my imagination. Please help me to fuel it not with fear but with faith in You. Amen.

MORE: The gift of imagination
"Imagination is the greatest gift God has given us and it ought to be devoted entirely to Him. If you have been bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, it will be one of the greatest assets to faith when the time of trial comes, because your faith and the Spirit of God will work together" - Oswald Chambers, February 12th entry in My Utmost for His Highest.
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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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Thursday, November 16, 2017

When mothers arise

"Deborah" by Gustave Dore

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Judges 4:21-5:11

TO CHEW ON: "In the days of Shamgar, son of Anath,
In the days of Jael,
The highways were deserted,
And the travelers walked along the byways,
Village life ceased, it ceased in Israel
Until I Deborah arose,
Arose a mother in Israel." Judges 5:6-7


A mother arising—I love that picture. I can identify with it, especially as it relates to mothers arising in defence of their children.

  • Sarah was such a mother when she asked Abraham to expel Hagar and Ishmael from their home to guarantee that Isaac would be Abraham's sole heir (Genesis 21:9-13).
  • Jochebed, Moses' mother, arose, albeit ever so secretly, to protect her infant son from Pharaoh's butchers (Exodus 2:1-3).
  • Hannah's arising in the form of pleading prayers caused God to open her womb and she became the mother of prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 1:9-17).
  • Bathsheba's arising took the form of a meeting with elderly King David to remind him of his promise to anoint Solomon as his successor, even as Solomon's brother Adonijah was organizing his own coronation (1 Kings 1:15-17).

But Deborahs's arising was on another level altogether. Her mother-heart embraced all the citizens of the nation as her children. The forsaken villages and deserted highways—emptied as people hid in fortifications for fear of Jabin and Sisera—outraged her. She, together with Barak and their army of 10,000 eventually routed Sisera and his iron chariots. He alone fled on foot to Jael's tent where she dealt the final blow (Judges 4:21).

As mothers we have tremendous influence. The proverb "The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world" is no idle saying. And that influence isn't only through the impact of our kids. It comes in other ways too. Have you noticed, for example, how many women have arisen, often out of personal tragedy, to form organizations that bring good things out of bad:

Candace (Candy) Lightner started Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) after a drunk hit-and-run driver killed her 13-year-old daughter.

Betty Fox formed the Terry Fox Foundation (an organization that raises money for cancer research) after cancer took the life of her son Terry.

Wilma Derksen was instrumental in bringing Child Find to Manitoba and started Victim's Voice, an organization that supports victims of crime, after her 13-year-old daughter Candace was abducted and murdered. (She tells her story in Have You Seen Candace?)

As mothers let's harness the powerful nurturing force within us by rising up first within our families, and then by following God's leading into other ventures in our communities and nations.


PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the example of Deborah's mother-heart for her nation. Help me to take my place with all the godly mothers who have arisen to make an impact in their homes, their communities, their nations, and the world. Amen.

MORE: Wilma's story

In the 2011 100 Huntley Street video "Wilma Derksen—A Victim's Voice," Wilma and Cliff Derksen talk with Magdalene John about the impact of Candace's death, how God helped her through this time of unthinkable tragedy, and the good things that have come out of it.



The man accused and sentenced for Candace's murder in 2011 has since been retried and in October of 2017 declared not guilty. Read the Derksen's reaction to this development in "It's over for us" - (National Post).

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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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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Deborah - anointed leader

"Deborah" by Ferdinand Max Bredt

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Judges 4:1-16

TO CHEW ON: "And Barak said to her, 'If you will go with me, then I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go!' Judges 4:8

We read here of a rare time when a woman led Israel. Deborah was the nation's judge. Her wisdom attracted the children of Israel to come to her for counsel and justice (Judges 4:5).

She was also a visionary who called for Barak to deploy troops and go to battle against Jabin.

Barak was willing to go. But he wanted Deborah to go with him. Was this a lack of faith or wise realism? Even my Bible's notes differ on what his reluctance to go without Deborah meant. The footnotes to Judges attribute this to a lack of faith. But I like the interpretation expressed in the sidebar article "A Woman Essential to Victory":

"Barak, a great man of faith (Hebrews 11:32) is a classic study in the wisdom of a man's acknowledgment of the potential power of a woman's contribution to a goal. Because of Deborah's godly and skillful leadership traits, Barak (as commander of Israel's armies) would not go into this battle without her, even when told that he would not get full honour for the victory (Judges 4:9). His priority was the welfare of the nation, and he knew that their combined efforts would ensure success as each brought their distinctive, God-given strengths to the challenge" - Jane Hansen, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 319.

Doesn't Barak's reaction help us recognize our own desire to be led by people—men or women—in whose lives God's presence and power is evident? Such anointed leaders are God's gifts to us as individuals and the church.


PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the godly men and women who are the leaders in my life and my church. Help me to follow their lead and respect them as Your gift to me. May I be experience Your anointing as I lead in my small way. Amen.


MORE: Deborah in art

Canadian artist Donna Smallenberg uses art to depict inspiring Bible women and spiritual themes. Her painting of Deborah and the explanation of the painting give us even more appreciation for this Bible character. 

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


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Avoiding spiritual osteoporosis

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Matthew 24:45-25:13

TO CHEW ON: ‘Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing.’” Matthew 24:25

This passage has been a rhema word to me this morning. Let me explain.

Over the past few weeks I’ve toyed with the thought of ceasing to write these devotions. My idea has been to use the several hours of morning writing time for other projects. In fact, I’ve tried that out for a few weeks (frequently re-posting devotions here).

Yes, I’ve still had a short Bible reading and prayer time before the other writing. But the clock moves quickly and the start time for “work” comes all too soon. So these personal devotion times have felt unsatisfying.

Further, as I thought of no longer having a place to document what I’m learning (yes, I can record things in a my writing journal, but it’s not the same), I felt like I was about to demolish an important part of the structure of my daily life. (Reminds me of the verse “The wise woman builds her house, / But the foolish pulls it down with her hands” Proverbs 14:1.)

My decision to quit has been bugging me. In fact, before going to this Matthew passage this morning, I spilled some thoughts in my journal. As I did that, two verses came to mind:

"When I kept silent, my bones grew old
Through my groaning all the day long.

For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me;
My vitality was turned into the drought of summer" Psalm 32:3,4.

"Then I said, “I will not make mention of Him,
Nor speak anymore in His name.”
But His word was in my heart like a burning fire
Shut up in my bones;
I was weary of holding it back,
And I could not" Jeremiah 20:9. 

I noticed both had to do with deteriorating bones and wrote to myself: “I’m sensing a possible bone condition. Interesting thing about bones. They need exercise to stay strong. Perhaps God is saying to me—‘Violet, you can do this, stop writing these daily devos and posting them. But there will be consequences to you, just like if you stopped your daily physical walk. Do you want to get spiritual osteoporosis?  For your bones will weaken if you don’t feed and exercise them. This daily devo writing is a  good way to feed and exercise those bones and keep them from growing old.’”

And then I opened my Bible to work on the next devo and read Matthew 24:45. It’s not lost on me that the name I’ve chosen for this blog has to do with food.

When one reaches a certain age, one is expected to retire, at least in my culture. But God has made it clear to me this morning that the time to retire from writing these isn’t quite yet. I need to keep faithfully “so doing”—giving out this Other food in “due season.”

What about you? What is God telling you to be faithfully found “so doing”?


PRAYER: Dear Father, You are faithful in giving me the direction I need at the moment I need it. Help me to listen to Your voice above all others. so that I will be found doing the things You’ve tasked me with when You return, or call me home 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.


Monday, November 13, 2017

A promise we can count on

lightning (Image from Pixabay.com)
Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Matthew 4:23-44

TO CHEW ON: ‘Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.’” Matthew 4:35.

In our reading today, Jesus’ message seems mixed. On one hand, He says watch for these things (in Matthew 24:14-16, 29-30) for they are signs that the Son of Man is coming soon. On the other, don’t try to figure out the timing.

I like His example of the fig tree as a way to tell his coming is near:

'Now learn this parable from the fig tree. When its branch has already b'ecome tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near'” - Matthew 24:32.

My Bible’s study notes take the mystique out of the comparison:
“As the budding tree signifies the coming of summer, the signs described by Jesus will give warning of His coming” - J. Lyle Story, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1335. 
So we look at Jesus’ list of specifics and watch for them as we watch for signs of seasonal change in the trees. When we see them playing out, we know His coming is getting nearer, just like we know summer’s around the corner when trees bud in spring and the world turns green.

Over and over, though Jesus reminds His listeners (and us readers) that we won’t be able to tell the exact time, and not to be caught by surprise.  

His coming:
  • Will be as sudden as zigzags of lightning - Matthew 24:27.
  • As to its timing, will be a surprise to even the angels - Matthew 24:36.
  • Will come in the middle of life as usual - Matthew 24:38.
  • Will separate the prepared and unprepared in the middle of what they’re doing - Matthew 24:40,41.
  • Is to be on our list of things to watch for and expect - Matthew 24:42.
  • Will be as unwelcome a surprise to some as a thief breaking into their house - Matthew 24:44.

What if it were today? Am I ready and expectant? Are you?




PRAYER: Dear Jesus, this reading reminds me that I need to take the promise that You would return, seriously. Help me to live daily in this hope with this expectation. 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, November 12, 2017

The beginning of the end?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 24:1-22

TO CHEW ON:
" ' All these are the beginning of sorrows.' " Matthew 24:8

If you had never read today's passage and someone handed you its contents on a scrap of paper, would your impression would be (choose one):
a] This sounds entirely unfamiliar.
b] This sounds a lot like current conditions in the world.
c] This sounds like something that could never happen.

If you're like me, you chose b, because this sounds like the writings of someone in the room with me as I watch the nightly news or scan the latest headlines on the computer.

In early parts of this passage (Matthew 24:5-7) Jesus gives us a list of spookily familiar events that herald the near coming of His return to earth / the End:*
- The appearance of false and deceptive Christs.
- Wars and rumours of wars.
- Famines, pestilences and earthquakes.

But, Jesus says, these things are just the beginning of "sorrows." Some translations call them "birth pains" (NIV, NLT, NASB, ESV)—an interesting comparison suggesting earth-shaking events will become more frequent and intense as they near a climax. Could this be the time we're living in right now? If so, what do we have to look forward to? Jesus' answer:

" 'Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you and you will be hated by all nations for My name's sake' " - Matthew 24:9.

Who is the "you" Jesus refers to here? It was to His band of disciples He delivered this private message (Matthew 24:3). So we can, I think, conclude that His disciples of all eras are on notice. That's us. Jesus warns and advises (Matthew 24:10-14):

- We can expect offenses, betrayals, hatred, and death.
- We must be on guard against false prophets.
- We need to be aware of the potential for spiritual lawlessness and coldness.
- Our endurance will be challenged.
- While the above is happening there will also be a great spread of the Gospel to peoples of every nation.

Let's live alert in these perilous days!

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to remain watchful, to be unfazed if I am hated, and persecuted for being a Christ-follower, and to stay the course as I do my little bit in spreading the Gospel. Amen.

* "In His private teaching to the disciples on the Mount of Olives, Jesus responded to three questions, concerning 1] the destruction of the temple, 2] His Second Coming, 3] the End. These topics are interwoven and sometimes it is difficult to determine which event is being described. This difficulty is partially resolved with the realization that most prophecy is capable of both a near and remote fulfillment. Jesus uses the tragic events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D.70 as a picture of conditions preceding His own return" - J. Lyle Story, Study notes on Matthew 24:1-51, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1334.


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


Saturday, November 11, 2017

Your works - they're following you!

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Revelation 14:6-20

TO CHEW ON: "Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, 'Write: "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on."' '"Yes," says the Spirit, "that they may rest from their labours and their works follow them."'" Revelation 14:13

In the midst of the mayhem and chaos of Revelation 14, the thunderous voices and the smoke of everlasting torment comes the reassuring benediction of our focus verse to those who "die in the Lord."

Though death is something we all try to avoid, here the heavenly voice tells John to call them "Blessed."
["The word "blessed"  comes from the root "mak" meaning large or of long duration. "It suggests happy, supremely blessed, a condition in which congratulations are in order. It is a grace word that expresses the special joys and satisfaction granted the person who experiences salvation" "Word Wealth," New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1296.]

These dead are blessed for more than just the reason the cynical author of Ecclesiastes gives — because oppressions of life are finally over. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 lays out in detail why death for the believer is so hope filled. It's because Christ conquered death. Since He rose from the dead, we too can looking forward to resurrection — a life that goes on into eternity (1 Corinthians 15:20-23).

In Revelation 14, the Spirit refers to death as "rest." The time for working is done. But the effects of that work go on.

There are some interesting examples of after-death influence in the Bible:

1. On her death, Dorcas's friends mourn and show Peter her very tangible "work" — the tunics and garments she made (Acts 9:39).

2. Jesus predicted that the act of the woman who poured oil on His head would be retold wherever the gospel was preached (Matthew 26:6-13).

3. Perhaps one of the most curious examples is of  after-death influence is the story Elisha's. When a dead man was hurriedly buried in his tomb (the rush because of approaching raiders) on touching Elisha's bones, the man sprang to life (2 Kings 13:21).

4. However, it is clear that our works will follow each one of us to a final day of quality revelation:
"...for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is..." 1 Corinthians 3:13.

What a challenge to consider carefully how we live, what we live for, and the eternal reverberation potential of the common things on which we spend our time each day!

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to live mindful of how significant are the everyday choices I make. Help me to not to waste time or fritter away opportunities to do lasting work, work that will follow me, in any case, into eternity. Amen.

MORE: Remembrance Day

Today is Remembrance Day in Canada.

It is the day we remember and celebrate soldiers who died in war, giving their lives in the work of defending our freedoms and those of people around the world. We celebrate by wearing poppies and gathering at war memorial sites and cenotaphs to honour their memory with songs, speeches, military salutes, silence, and laying wreaths.

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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.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Peace—future and now

Mural - Vernon, BC

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Micah 4:1-5:1

TO CHEW ON: "Now it shall come to pass in the latter days....
They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
And their spears into pruning hooks;
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
Neither shall they learn war anymore." Micah 4:1, 4

Peace. It's another prophecy for end times.

It's not clear—and Bible scholars don't agree on—whether Micah's prophecy signifies the peace after a war where the combatants have gone back to fighting with literal swords and shields or whether the meaning of "...beat their swords into plowshares / And their spear into pruning hooks" is symbolic. The scene of weapons, whatever they are, turned into farming tools and people peaceful and secure on their own property is wonderful in any case.

However, this is a prophecy that will be fulfilled not only someday on earth as nations live side by side in peace. For peace is a key ingredient in the Kingdom of God. It can rule us right now as we cultivate:

Peaceful reaction:
Jesus' instructions to people when they were mistreated was to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39-42), and to love one's enemies (Matthew 5:44-48).

Peaceful interaction:
Luke's description of the early church shows us a wonderful ideal of harmony between Christians: "Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul..." Acts 4:32.

Inner peace:
  • We have peace with God (Romans 5:1) because we were made right (reconciled) with Him through Jesus' death (Colossians 1:20).
  • This peace is available for everyone and anyone, whatever their race or nationality (Acts 10:35-36).
  • When we receive Jesus, His Spirit comes to live in us and teach us in all His ways, including the ways of peace (John 14:26-27).
  • One fruit of the Spirit is peace (Galatians 5:220.
Have we taken advantage of that peace? We can live at peace with God, our fellow Christians, even our enemies!

PRAYER: Dear God, I love the picture of weapons being turned into tools of nurture and fruitfulness. Please help me to be an eager pupil in the ways of peace. Amen.


MORE: Remembrance Day

Tomorrow is Remembrance Day in Canada.  We remember in ceremonies at cenotaphs (or watching on TV) with prayers, readings, laying wreaths, and observing a minute of silence.  In this way we honor the people, dead and alive, who fought against tyranny and oppression in World Wars I, II, the Korean War, and those who are currently active in the Middle East and international peace-keeping missions.

The Remembrance Day mural is a photograph of one of Vernon B.C.'s historical street murals painted by Michelle Loughery & team.




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

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Thursday, November 09, 2017

No answer!

prayer - no answer
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Micah 3:1-12

TO CHEW ON: "Then they will cry to the Lord
But He will not hear them;
He will even hide His face from them at that time,
Because they have been evil in their deeds....
So the seers shall be ashamed
And the diviners abashed
Indeed they shall all cover their lips
for there is no answer from God." Micah 3:4,7



What a desperate feeling—to pray and not be heard, to expect and wait for an answer and none comes. Micah's denouncement on his contemporary prophets reminds me of Israel's first king. Saul found himself in this very predicament. After the prophet Samuel died and he faced the Philistine army, he cried out to God in desperation himself but "...the Lord did not answer him..."  2 Samuel 28:6. He felt driven to seek an answer from a witch and discovered his sealed fate (read the whole story in 2 Samuel 28:1-25).

The Bible gives some clues as to why we might pray and not get an answer:
  • We have been disobedient - Deuteronomy 1:42-45.
  • We are holding onto sin - Psalm 66:18.
  • We have ignored God's rebuke and been indifferent to Him - Proverbs 1:23-28.
  • Have have been callous toward the poor - Proverbs 21:13.
  • We have despised God's laws - Proverbs 28:9.
  • We have blood on our hands - Isaiah 1:15.
  • We are living in sin - Isaiah 59:2 and Micah 3:4.
  • We have stubbornly refused to listen to God's words in the past - Zechariah 7:11-13.
  • We waver and are double-minded, asking with a doubting attitude - James 1:6-8.
  • We ask with self-indulgent motives - James 4:3.

If we have been praying but the heavens seem like brass, perhaps we should examine our hearts in the light of the above to see if any of them describe us.

PRAYER: Dear God, please shine the light of Your word on my heart. Show me where my attitudes and actions have blocked the answer to my prayers. Amen.

MORE: Unanswered prayer quotes

"When He grants our prayers,
it is because He loves us.
When He does not, it is also
because He loves us." - O. Hallesby

"If the request is wrong, God says, 'No.'
If the timing is wrong, God says, 'Slow.'
If you are wrong, God says, 'Grow.'
But if the request is right, the timing is right
and you are right, God says, 'Go!'" - Anonymous

"God has not always answered my prayers.
If He had, I would have married the wrong man—several times!" - Ruth Bell Graham

All quotes from Prayer Points, compiled by Randall D. Roth, pp. 196, 197.

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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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Wednesday, November 08, 2017

God's heart for the poor

homeless shopping cart
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Micah 2:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "You who are named the house of Jacob,
Is the Spirit of the Lord restricted?
Are these His doings?
Do not my words do good
To him who walks uprightly?" - Micah 2:7


From Micah's scoldings we begin to understand the extent of Judah's sin. Not only were the people guilty of idolatry but also injustice.

Micah paints the picture of someone lying awake at night, conniving how he can add to his property and in the morning enacting that plan (Micah 2:1,2). Instead of protecting society's most vulnerable, the powerful act like returning warriors as they ruthlessly strip their trusting neighbours of life's essentials and evict women (probably widows) and their children from their homes (Micah 2:8,9).

If there's one thing God hates, it's injustice to the poor, the alien, and the helpless. His passion for the vulnerable comes out again and again in the Bible, no less here in Micah's condemning words: "Arise and depart for this is not your rest." In plain English: "Those who had removed others from a restful life would be removed themselves because they had defiled God's land with their sinfulness" - Willard S. Elijahson's commentary on Micah, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1206.

At this time of year, when we tend to focus on ourselves and the upcoming Advent season and Christmas celebration, let's not neglect to remember the poor. How might we do that?
  • Put money in the Salvation Army kettles when they make their appearance in December. Or volunteer to man a kettle for a few hours (it's probably not too soon to contact them now and arrange to be a volunteer in December).
  • Take part in church and community initiatives that help the poor (collecting toys and food for special Christmas hampers, contributing to Christmas funds like our local Christmas Bureau).
  • Donate to the local foodbank (grocery items or money).
  • Welcome the poor when they come to church and perhaps invite them for a meal to get to know them.
  • Pray for wisdom when panhandlers and beggars approach on the street asking for money. Consider buying them a meal instead of giving cash.
  • Volunteer to help out with Christmas dinner events served to the poor and homeless (locally Union Gospel Mission serves an annual Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners).
  • Give money in your loved one's name to World Vision or other organizations that offer proxy gifts to impoverished peoples in the world, instead of lavishing on each other gifts we really don't need.  (Browse the World Vision Gift Catalogue)

PRAYER: Dear God, please give me Your heart for the poor and unfortunate. Help me to be obedient when I sense You stirring me to love in practical ways. Amen.

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

Bible Drive-Thru


Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Do we have "high places"?

High places - Micah 1:3
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Micah 1:1-16

TO CHEW ON: "For behold the Lord is coming out of His place;
He will come down
And tread on the high places of the earth." - Micah 1:3


"Prophecies of Christ make Micah's book glow with hope and encouragement," says Willard Elijahson in my Bible's introduction to Micah (New Spirit-Filled Bible, p. 1202). It's a great book to read as we look forward to the season of Advent that begins in a few weeks' time.

Micah, the man, prophesied alongside Isaiah. Historians date his writings between 704-696 B.C. during the reigns of kings Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. His message is directed to inhabitants of Samaria and Jerusalem.

He begins his message by announcing the coming of the Lord. We get the picture of someone coming from elsewhere: "...the Lord is coming out of His place; He will come down..." - Micah 1:3.

The place God chooses to visit is noteworthy—the "high places of the earth." Though we might read this as elevated land masses (mountain peaks perhaps, which would give a good view of all the surrounding area) the people of that time would probably have understood high places to mean elevated pagan altars. God was coming to check out their disloyalty—the places they compromised, flirted with, and gave in to idols. Awkward! Embarrassing! Incriminating!

The picture of God coming down to check out the high places of Judah prompts me to ask, what if I applied this image to my society, my life? What would God find?

Dennis McCallum in his book Unlocking the Mysteries of Satan explains how, at the fall, Satan took charge of the world system or kosmos. He says:

"Perhaps the definitive passage on kosmos is 1 John 2:15-17.
'Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.'
Accordingly the kosmos is primarily a system of values. The lust of the flesh refers to living for ungodly pleasure. The lust of the eyes refers to owning beautiful things or gaining control over beautiful people. The boastful pride of life refers to the way humans try to establish identity and importance by competing with each other for attention, power, and admiration" (Kindle Location, 871).

McCallum goes on to suggest that the church and we as individual Christians have gone easy on many of these attitudinal sins:

"Many Christians think of 'worldly' things as gross sins like wanton sex, for example .... Many of the same Christians, however, would never recognize the world-system when looking at the Harvard University green or the Sears Tower. A glossy magazine advertisement showing a family luxuriating in a hot tub in Tahiti or a shiny new SUV would not ring the kosmos bell in their minds" - KL 887.

Are we in these ways building our own high places? As I imagine God coming to me, I ask, what high places is He finding in my life? Is He finding some in yours?

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to see my attitudes from Your point of view. Show me where I have bought into the world system and perspective. Amen.

MORE: Throwing down 'high place' attitudes
"Instead of arguing with Satan, Christians must learn to share the Word of God with him, like Jesus did. To match up with someone this smart, we need the help of someone even smarter, and God is infinitely smarter than Satan" - McCallum, K.L. 767.
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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Bible Drive-Thru



Monday, November 06, 2017

Woe to hypocrites!

Pharisees by James Tissot
Pharisees by James Tissot
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 23:13-39

TO CHEW ON: " 'But woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.' " Matthew 23:13

In one of His most impassioned speeches, Jesus denounces seven examples of Pharisaic hypocrisy:

1. They were legalistic. The Pharisees' strict legalism kept them and everyone else out of the kingdom (Matthew 23:13).

2. They were unjust. The Pharisees' long prayers, meant to impress others with their righteousness, were contrary to the way they treated the poorest people, like widows - Matthew 23:14.

3. They were evangelists of evil - Matthew 23:15. One thinks of a missionary or evangelist as one doing a good thing. But these missionaries were converting others to become fanatics of a tarnished religion.

4. They were blind guides
- Matthew 23:16-22. If anyone should be able to see, it's a guide! Yet Jesus showed how blind these men were by poking holes in the reasoning by which they came to rules about which oaths were binding and which weren't. The IVP Commentary explains the custom:
"An oath involved invoking a deity as a witness to the veracity of one's claim. On the popular level people had begun using many surrogate phrases for God's name hoping to avoid judgment if they broke the oath. Pharisees endeavoured to distinguish which oath phrases were actually binding" - IVP Commentary, accessed via biblegateway.com.
Jesus' attack was not just against these oath standards, though, but also against the Pharisees' inconsistent standards of holiness and the profanity of using God's name in such frivolous ways.

5. Their standards were inconsistent and out of proportion - Matthew 23:23-24. The Pharisees emphasized tithing the tiniest of spices while ignoring big issues like practicing justice, mercy, and faith.

6. Their lives were superficial - Matthew 23:25-28. Their fine exteriors masked a polluted inner condition.

7. They were self-deceived - Matthew 23:29-36. They claimed that if they'd lived in the time of the prophets, they would never have treated God's servants the way their countrymen did. Jesus' response: " 'Serpents, brood of vipers!' " You will prove how deceived you are by the way you kill, crucify and scourge the prophets, wise men, and scribes that come to your generation (my paraphrase).

Before we look with too much disdain on this lot, we do well to examine our own lives for similar hypocritical behavior:

  • Have we developed legalistic standards of our own that are barriers to people entering God's kingdom?
  • Do we give lip service to a holiness we don't practice?
  • Do we have self-made, inconsistent-with-God's-word standards that, for example, rail against body sins like smoking and overeating, but are indulgent toward TV and movies that pollute the mind?
  • Do our priorities line up with Scripture's? Do our lives reflect the things that matter to God? Or do we break fellowship over sidebar matters like which version of the Bible to read and the order of prophesied end-time events?
  • Are our lives authentic—the same in private as public? Or do we practice secret sin?
  • Are we realistic about who we are? Or does our lifestyle contradict what comes out of our mouths?

PRAYER:
Dear Jesus, Your denunciation of the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees shows me that my nature is not all that different. Please help me to detect hypocrisy in my life and to deal with it. 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, November 05, 2017

Serving versus impressing

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Matthew 23:1-22

TO CHEW ON:‘But all their works they do to be seen by men.’” Matthew 23:5


This word stabs me right where I live this morning, coming as it does on the heels of a prayer for how to handle something nasty I’ve seen in my own heart.

Pride! It stinks. And it’s so adaptable. You think you’ve finally dealt with it once and for all and then you sniff it coming from another area of your life.

The trouble with pride is it’s also subtle. You share a moment from your life on Facebook, perhaps, and then catch yourself growing more and more puffed up as the likes, reactions, and comments come in. Or you slip little bits about yourself into the conversation and feel miffed when someone changes the subject away from you. Yuck!

I see dealing with pride as similar to dealing with the eating / overeating issue. The trouble with weight control is you can’t just stop eating or you’d die. It’s similar with ego control. You can’t stop communicating as in sharing yourself with others. If you did you’d die socially and emotionally.

Detecting when that self-disclosure changes from a desire to share your life  in a healthy way to grubbing for compliments, praise, and strokes is similar, I think, to sensing when eating goes from a legitimate need for nourishment to indulgence.

Thankfully, Jesus didn’t stop talking at verse five. His solution to our easy-to-come-by overweening, self-exalting attitude comes in Matthew 23:11:

‘But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant.’

PRAYER: Dear Father, thank You for answering my personal and specific request with this passage today. Help me to give pride the boot by focusing on serving rather than impressing. Amen.

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


Saturday, November 04, 2017

When life turns out the lights

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Psalm 43:1-5

TO CHEW ON:

“Oh, send out Your light and Your truth!
Let them lead me
Let them bring me to Your holy hill
And to Your tabernacle.” Psalm 43:3


Have you ever tried to walk a footpath—even one you know well—in the dark? Without the benefit of light how easy it is to stumble on subtle unevenesses, to miss obstacles, to run into things, or “see” things that aren’t even there!

Such walking in darkness is bad enough in the physical, but we can also experience it spiritually. That’s what the psalmist seems to be going through in today’s reading.

His distress has several sources. In the verses preceding our focus verse he speaks of an “ungodly nation” and an “unjust man” who trouble him. In Psalm 42 (which commenters believe was originally joined to Psalm 43 as one psalm—note the common refrain in Psalm 42:5,11; 43:5) he speaks of cynics who mock him in his grief (Psalm 42:3) and a personal sense of depression and loss of hope (Psalm 42:5,6; 43:5).

And so he prays for light—a light that will lead him back to God and His house (“Your Tabernacle”), where he dreams of joining others in worship (Psalm 42:4).

It’s easy to identify with the psalmist in his cry for light. Life throws many surprises at us too. Loved ones get sick, or we get a bad diagnosis. Natural disasters wreak havoc with our surroundings and our lives. Money problems are the wreckage of marketplace storms. We often find ourselves asking why, what next, where to from here? We may feel left in the dark, as if God has abandoned us.

At these times, let’s pray, with the psalmist, to get back to Him:
“Oh, send out Your light and Your truth!
Let them lead me”

For He is the source of light (“… God is light and in Him is no darkness at all” - 1 John 1:5). With our hand in His, we can walk any dark path.

PRAYER:

Dear Father, uncertainty is so much a part of the human condition—of my condition. Help me not to stew about what I can’t see ahead, but to seek You, to join other believers in Your house, and in faith to enter into praise and worship no matter what my circumstances. 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, November 03, 2017

A literal step of faith

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Joshua 3:1-17

TO CHEW ON: And it shall come to pass, as soon as the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the LORD, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, that the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off, the waters that come down from upstream, and they shall stand as a heap.” Joshua 3:13


Moses is gone and Joshua is now the leader of the Israelites. His is a daunting job and he knows the challenges all too well for he was with Moses for the duration of the exodus.

His first task is overcoming a literal barrier—the Jordan River. He must somehow get an entire nation from one side to the other. How will he do it?

God's instructions are explicit. The priests carrying the ark are to lead the way. They are to walk into the flood-stage Jordan.

I wonder if there were any skeptics in the crowd that day. Probably. Because remember, almost the entire generation of Israelites had died off during the forty years of wandering. This relatively young crowd had only heard of the crossing of the Red Sea. The ark-carriers themselves had to have faith as they walked into the water when there was as yet no sign that anything unusual would happen.

I like Matthew Henry's reflection on this scene:

"God could have divided the river without the priests, but they could not without him. The priests must herein set a good example to the people, and teach them to do their utmost in the service of God, and trust him for help in time of need." - Matthew Henry's Commentary

The priests walking into the water is an illustration of how faith works for us too. Though God could work without us, He often asks us to step into the fast-flowing waters of our Jordan Rivers in a literal step of faith.

I ask myself, what Jordan River am I facing today? Perhaps it's starting a new project, teaching a class, volunteering in my community, or talking to my friend about Jesus. What about you?

Is God telling us to take a step of faith in regard to it and this way show our confidence in Him to help us do what seems impossible?

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to have the faith to obey Your directions when I face impossible circumstances. 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, November 02, 2017

Care-less living

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 26:1-19

TO CHEW ON: "You will keep him in perfect peace,
Whose mind is stayed on You,
Because He trusts in You." Isaiah 26:3


If you've been around the Bible for a while, you probably have this little gem of a verse (Isaiah 26:3) safely tucked into your memory. Spending a few minutes this morning digging into its corners, I see again why it is so popular. For it is powerful in its delivery of four big truths:

1. We can have an all-encompassing peace - "You will keep him in perfect peace…"
Isaiah describes the peace God gives as "perfect." [What a rich word peace is: (shalom) bodily soundness, welfare, prosperity, contentment, peace of relationships and more.] My Bible's study notes explain: "Perfect peace is expressed in Hebrew as shalom, shalom. … You will keep him in everything the word implies: health, happiness, well-being" - Nathaniel M. Van Cleave, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible. p.901.

2. But this peace is promised only when our mind … - "… whose mind…"
The word for mind here is not the most common "mind" word. [Mind (yetser) means form, framework, creative imagination, intellectual framework.] What Isaiah is saying is that the person whose intellectual framework and creative imagination is founded on God will have the above peace. I like how the Amplified Bible clarifies this: "You will guard him and keep him in perfect and constant peace whose mind [both its inclination and its character] is stayed on You" - Isaiah 26:3 AMP.

3. …assumes a necessary posture - "… is stayed on You…"
Having a mind stayed on God doesn't mean we're thinking about God all day long. Rather, stayed refers to the mind's posture. Some versions translate stayed as steadfast: "The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace …" NASB. [Stayed or steadfast (samak) means leans, lays, rests and braces oneself.] Therefore that mind of ours needs to lean, lay, rest, and brace itself on God (not public opinion, the news, the state of our health, not even our own common sense).

4. The result is care-less living -
"…Because he trusts in You."
That peace we talked about in #1 results when we live a life of trust [trust (batach) have confidence, be secure, safe, careless] in God.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to lean on You so completely today that peace, not care, will fill my day. Amen.

MORE: Feast for All Faithful Departed

Today the church remembers those who have died in the "Feast of All Faithful Departed." The liturgy for the day begins with this collect:

"O God, the Maker and Redeemer of all believers: Grant to the faithful departed the unsearchable benefits of the passion of your Son; that on the day of his appearing they may be manifested as your children; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen."


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

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

Scripture quotations marked NASB are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973,1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission." (www.Lockman.org)

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

God's seal--our identification and protection

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Revelation 6:1-17

TO CHEW ON: “Then I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God. And he cried with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, saying, ‘Do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees till we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.’” Revelation 6:2,3

What does the forehead seal in Revelation 6:2-3 remind you of? The forehead seal from the dark side? “He [the beast] causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, slave and free, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads’” - Revelation 13:16,17.

The seal of Revelation 6 is not that seal. It is God’s seal of identification and protection on those who are His. My Bible’s study notes explain:
“Those sealed by the Holy Spirit are God’s possession, in dramatic contrast to those who bear the mark of the beast - Revelation 13:16,17)” Earl Wesley Morey, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1827.

God placing a seal on those who are His occurs in other places in the Bible as well.
  • In Ezekiel it marks those who are troubled by and grieve over Israel’s idolatry - Ezekiel 9:4.
  • Paul mentions a seal on Christ-followers several times in his letters. He sees this seal as the Holy Spirit:
“God … who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee” - 2 Corinthians 1:22 (all emphases added).
In Him … also having believed you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise - Ephesians 1:13.
“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption - Ephesians 4:30.
  • Then we have these believers sealed in Revelation by God against the apocalyptic events to come.
“He who overcomes, … I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God the New Jerusalem … And I will write on him My new name - Revelation 3:12.
  • Scorpion-like locusts are released by an angel but not allowed to harm any with the seal of God on their foreheads - Revelation 9:4.
  • Those 144,000 sealed in Revelation 6 (our passage) appear with the Lamb before God on Mount Zion “… having His Father’s name written on their foreheads” - Revelation 14:1.
  • Finally, John in his Revelation vision sees God’s servants, the sealed, assemble before God in the New Jerusalem: “They shall see His face and His name shall be on their foreheads - Revelation 22:4.

What a grand thread to follow today! May we all rest secure in our identification with the name of Jesus and its power and protection, stamped on us by the indwelling Holy Spirit!


PRAYER: Dear Jesus, though I only understand imperfectly this concept of being sealed by You, help me to enflesh what I do understand of it. Thank You for Your powerful name and Your Spirit and how You have sealed me. Amen.  

MORE: All Saints’ Day

Today the church celebrates All Saints’ Day. The day’s liturgy begins with this prayer:

Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, 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.


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