Sunday, December 31, 2017

Are you worth imitating?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 3 John 1-14

TO CHEW ON: "Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God."  3 John 11


John mentions three men in this letter: Gaius, Diotrephes, and Demetrius.

Gaius is the man to whom John writes. John loves him, calls him "Beloved" three times after describing him "the beloved Gaius" in his greeting (3 John 1, 2, 5,11). John feels his "soul prospers" (though we're not as sure about his physical health - 3 John 2). John commends him for walking in truth. He is faithful in ministry especially hospitality, both to those he knows and strangers. He may have been young and impressionable for John tells him not to be influenced and copy Diotrephes.

Diotrephes is apparently a church leader who feels John and Co. threaten his leadership (his "preeminence among them"). He refuses to take these apostles in and spreads malicious stories about them. As if his cold shoulder isn't enough, he also forbids others to receive them (3 John 9-11).

Demetrius, on the other hand "has a good testimony from all and from the truth itself" (3 John 12).

We humans, being the social creatures we are, influence and imitate each other. We can choose good or bad people to copy. And others watch us. What if one of our church leaders wrote about us. Would he or she call us "beloved," commend us for walking in truth and being faithful in ministry, and recommend us as someone to imitate? Or would that letter contain a warning about us because we are rebellious, self-serving, undisciplined in speech and divisive?

PRAYER:
Dear God, I often minimize and even forget about the impact that my life has on others. Help me to be a person of truth and genuine good deeds that flow out of love for You. Please forgive me for times that I have undermined leadership. Help me to remember that I am always on display—before others, but especially before You. Amen.

MORE: Spiritual reputation
Over our lifetime with the Lord and in church, you and I build a spiritual reputation.

  • Demetrius had a "good testimony from all."
  • The early church had "favor with all people" - Acts 2:47.
  • Joses had the reputation of being an encourager to the extent that the apostles nicknamed him Barnabas (Son of Encouragement) - Acts 4:36.
  • Stephen had a reputation of being full of faith and power - Acts 6:8.
  • Hebrews 11 is full of examples of people whose lives were characterized by faith.

I ask myself: What is my spiritual reputation? What is yours?  

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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


Saturday, December 30, 2017

Discerning truth and error

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: 2 JOHN 1-13

TO CHEW ON: “Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. he who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son.” 2 John 9


This short book/letter of only 13 verses is nevertheless deep and thought provoking. Its key words are “love” (four occurrences) and “truth” (five occurrences). Its main themes are truth and error—concepts we’d expect to see addressed by the philosophical Apostle John. With efficiency John lays out the territory of each.

What is truth and how does it relate to the believer? *
  • It unites them in fellowship - 2 John 1
  • It lives in them forever - 2 John 2.
  • They remind each other of the truth they believe and affirm it in their greeting of each other - 2 John 3.
  • It manifests itself in their obedience to God - 2 John 4-6.  

What is error?
  • Its advocates are deceitful - 2 John 7.
  • They deny Christ’s incarnation - 2 John 7.
  • They ignore the teachings of Jesus and disobey Him - 2 John 9.
  • They are to be guarded against, even shunned (John tells his readers to not even invite them into their homes) - 2 John 8, 11.

In our time when a smorgasbord of Bible teaching is available through books and online, maybe we should keep some of John’s points in mind as we evaluate who speaks truth and whose teachings come with shades of deceit and error. Some questions we might ask as we evaluate what we read and hear:
  • Does this teacher acknowledge the deity of Jesus?
  • Does he/she teach what Jesus taught, or are they selective, leaving out controversial bits?
  • Is their teaching clear or filled with questions and an unwillingness to state clearly what they believe (so that what they really believe remains fuzzy; we can’t pin them down)?
  • What does their lifestyle say about their beliefs?

Such spiritual perception implies a familiarity with the Bible and Jesus' teachings on our part in the first place, so we can tell what’s off. Let’s be studious and biblically literate so we can be discriminating in choosing what teachers to put ourselves under.

PRAYER: Dear Father, please fill me with Your Spirit of wisdom so I will recognize truth and error. Amen.

* These points are taken from the Study Notes on 2 John from the NKJV Thompson Chain Bible, p. 2099.

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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, December 29, 2017

The Jesus brand

a harp and angels
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 148:1-14

TO CHEW ON: "Let them praise the name of the Lord, for His name alone is exalted; His glory above the earth and heaven." Psalm 148:13


In the world of books and authors there is a term called "branding." It begins to happen when a writer writes book after book in the same genre, written in the same recognizable style so that their name gets identified with what they write. For example when we say we read Brandilyn Collins, people familiar with Christian fiction will know we're talking about scary suspense stories, while if we read Beverly Lewis, we are readers of historical fiction about the Amish. The author's name becomes her brand.

[The Hebrew word shem translated name in "Let them praise the name of the Lord, for His name alone is exalted" comes from a root that suggests marking or branding. An article about "Name" in my Bible says, "...a person was named because of something that marked him, whether physical features or accomplishments he had made or was expected to make" New Spirit Filled Life Bible p. 254.]

That idea of a brand (identified by a name) delivering on expectations continues till today. We buy a brand-name product (a book, a piece of clothing, a particular food) with expectations.

What we get when we choose Jesus is not so different. A look at the names of the Lord Jesus are a wonderful study of what we can expect to get when we choose the Jesus brand:

  • Something that endures (Psalm 72:17).
  • Something that is beautifully fragrant (Song of Songs 1:3).
  • A Governor named Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).
  • A human person named Jesus, born to a real woman (Luke 1:31).
  • A Lord, before whom every knee will bow and every tongue admit His supremacy (Philippians 2:9-11).
  • A Being above the angels (Hebrews 1:4).
  • A Being that is frightening, majestic and mysterious (Revelation 19:12).
  • A Supreme Ruler: King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Revelation 19:16).

No wonder all of nature — the heavens (Psalm 148:1-4) and the earth (Psalm 148:7-12)— join their voices in praise of this name. Let's join in!

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, my mind can't begin to grasp Your greatness, majesty, power, and creativity. Help me to remember these things about You when I am tempted by any other brand. Amen.

MORE: "All Creatures of Our God and King" sung by David Crowder

Words by Francis of Assissi 1182-1226
Translated by William H. Draper



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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, December 28, 2017

Your new name

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 62:1-12

TO CHEW ON: "You shall be called by a new name
Which the mouth of the Lord will name." Isaiah 62:2

Whenever I read about a new name in the Bible, I think of Donna Smallenberg's painting by that title. In it a beautiful queen looks intently at a glowing white stone with an inscription on it. Smallenberg's inspiration for that painting came from Revelation 2 (Revelation 2:17) and Isaiah 62. She says of her depiction:

"This woman representing the overcoming church in Revelations 2 is given a white stone with a new name written on it. The white stone is symbolic of priestly revelation, the new name reveals her true calling and destiny. Isaiah 62 speaks of her shining like the dawn, of being a crown of beauty in the Lord's hand..."

What was her old name? "Forsaken." "Desolate" - Isaiah 62:4.

Her new name is "Hephzibah""My delight is in her," and "Beulah"—"married," and a "Holy People," "The Redeemed of the Lord," "Sought Out," and "A City Not forsaken" - Isaiah 62:4,12.

This new name promise is repeated in Revelation 3:12:

"He who overcomes I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. 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."

Neil Anderson, in an appendix to the book The Bondage Breaker lists statements that summarize our identity in Christ—our new names. Below are a few from a much longer list. Let's ponder them today and thank God again for the wonderful thing He did when He sent Jesus to earth to adopt us and make us His own.

  • I am a new creation - 2 Corinthians 5:17.
  • I am a child of God - John 1:12.
  • I am a son/daughter of light not of darkness - 1 Thessalonians 5:5.
  • I am Christ's friend, chosen and appointed to bear His fruit - John 15:15,16.
  • I am part of the true vine, a channel of Christ's life - John 15:1,5.
  • I am God's workmanship—His handiwork - Ephesians 2:10.
  • I am one of God's living stones - 1 Peter 2:5.
  • I am a joint heir with Christ - Romans 8:17.
  • I am a citizen of heaven - Philippians 3:20, Ephesians 2:6.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You that I am Yours and have a new identity in You. Help me to live true to the names You call me. Amen.

MORE: Our thanks back to God

In the last few days I've been listening to Robin Mark's 2009 Year of Grace CD while cooking dinner. One song I can't hear enough times is his rendition of "Greater the One." As we ponder Jesus' coming to earth as a baby and all His life means for us now (our new names and all the benefits of new life in Him),  this song is the perfect response. Sing along with Robin Mark these words of appreciation and thankfulness to our beautiful Saviour.




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

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Something new in 2018!

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Image: Pixabay
2018 is almost here! With it comes the desire to try something different on this blog. Following the daily Scripture reading guide from the Canadian Bible Society has served us well, but I’m feeling it’s time for a change.

One practice that appeals to me is reading the Bible through in a year. I’ve been on the lookout for just the right one-year reading plan and have found one that I think will not only take us through the Bible but teach us a lot as well. It’s put out by The Bible Project.

What is The Bible Project?

Here is an explanation from the "about us" page of their website:

“The Bible Project is a non-profit animation studio that produces short-form, fully animated videos to make the biblical story accessible to everyone, everywhere. We create videos, podcasts, and study guides that explore the Bible’s unified story.
The Bible is a divine-human book that speaks God’s word to his people. We believe it ultimately points us to Jesus, who has the power to change individuals and whole communities when we let the biblical story speak for itself.
We focus on the Bible's overarching themes and each book’s literary design and are committed to understanding the Bible in its historical context.”

The Bible Project has put out a reading guide which, if we stick with it, will take us through the Bible in one year and the Psalms 2 1/2 times. Each day’s reading consists of 3 or so chapters from somewhere in the Bible plus a Psalm. (Download a PDF of the reading plan HERE.)

To go along with the reading are several series of animated educational videos that explain each Bible book (Reading Series), delve into its historical roots (Torah Series) and explore Bible themes, words, and more (Theme, Word and other series).

I will still post a devo each day that that will focus on a verse or two from the day’s reading. (Some of these will be re-posts and some newly written.) I will also embed the relevant videos in the day’s post.

Will you join me on this journey through the Bible? We start January 1st!

In the meantime, explore The Bible Project website. It’s amazing!




Darkness

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 John 1:1-2:2

TO CHEW ON: "If we say that we have fellowship with Him and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth." 1 John 1:6

I live on a part of the planet in which, during this season, darkness is increasing daily. I'm talking about life in the northern hemisphere and physical darkness which, from June 21st to December 21st (this year), progressively takes over more of each day. Thus I am no stranger to darkness and can say without hesitation, I prefer light.

The Bible is full of talk about light and dark. Metaphorically light equals life with God and everything good. Today let's look briefly at what the Bible says about the dark.

First a definition: [Darkness - scotia - is gloom, evil, sin, obscurity, night, ignorance, moral depravity. The NT especially uses the word in a metaphorical sense of ignorance of divine truth, man's sinful nature, total absence of light and a lack of spiritual perception. Light equals happiness. Scotia as spiritual darkness basically equals everything earthly or demonic that is at enmity with God" - "Word Wealth" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1467.]

A brief stroll through the Bible illustrates some of the things darkness signifies.

  • Losing one's way: "...they shall walk like blind men..." - Zephaniah 1:17; "In the darkness they shall be driven on and fall in them" - Jeremiah 23:12; "They are blind leaders of the blind...both will fall into a ditch" - Matthew 15:14; "But if one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him" John 11:10.
  • Imprisonment: "Say to the prisoner, 'Go forth, to those who are in darkness, 'Show yourself' - Isaiah 49:9.
  • Death: "...Those who sat in darkness and in the shadow of death..." - Psalm 107:10
  • Natural human preference: "...men loved darkness rather than light" - John 3:19.
  • Consequences: - "Therefore you shall have night without vision. And you shall have darkness without divination" - Micah 3:6; "There will be no light" - Zechariah 14:6; "If your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness" - Matthew 6:23.
  • Competition: "And the Light shines on in the darkness, for the darkness has never overpowered it [put it out or absorbed it or appropriated it, and is unreceptive to it]" - John 1:5 AMP (See also Psalm 139: 11-12.)
  • Choice: "...cast off the works of darkness" and "put on the armour of light" - Romans 13:12; "Walk as children of light" - Ephesians 5:8.
  • Opposite (of all God stands for): "...God is light and in Him is no darkness at all" - 1 John 1:5

And it is here John brings us to a point of confrontation when he says, "If we say that we have fellowship with Him and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth" 1 John 1:6.

Let's examine our lives today for such darkness. Then let's bring any and all of it into the light so we can live with integrity before God and people.

PRAYER: Dear God, please show me where I'm hiding a dark past, storing dark attitudes, and still doing dark actions. Help me to "cast off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light." Amen.

MORE: Feast of St. John
Today the church celebrates the Feast of St. John the Apostle. The day's liturgy begins with this prayer:

Shed upon your Church, O Lord, the brightness of your light, that we, being illumined by the teaching of your apostle and evangelist John, may so walk in the light of your truth, that at length we may attain to the fullness of eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Bible Drive-Thru


Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Two Cautionary Tales

King Joash Repairs the Temple - 2 Chron. 24
TODAY’S SPECIAL: 2 Chronicles 24:8-22

TO CHEW ON:
“Then the Spirit of God came upon Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada the priest, who stood above the people and said to them, ’Thus says God: “Why do you transgress the commandments of the LORD so that you cannot prosper? Because you have forsaken the LORD, He also has forsaken you”’

So they conspired against him, and at the command of the king they stoned him with stones in the court of the house of the LORD.” 2 Chronicles 24:20,21



Our reading today is the sad story of Joash. He came to Judah’s throne when he was a mere seven years old. Under the influence of priest Joehoiada, he made an excellent start, repairing the neglected temple and restoring worship.

But after Jehoiada died, Joash allowed the leaders of Judah to influence him. They had a very different agenda. They steered him away from the worshiping Yahweh to idols and his idolatry became so entrenched even the “wrath that came upon Judah and Jerusalem because of their trespass” didn’t move him from it.

When Zechariah, son of Joash’s old mentor Jehoiada, warned him in a bold Holy Spirit-inspired prophecy of the inevitable consequence (“Because you have forsaken the LORD, He also has forsaken you” - 2 Chronicles 24:20), Joash had him stoned to death.

Fast-forward to the story of Stephen—the man whose life we celebrate on December 26th. Compare his end with Zechariah’s. When he spoke out against the leaders who had instigated Jesus’ death, he too ended up under a pile of stones (Acts 7:51-60). How eerily similar!

Two lessons jump out at me from these two tales:
 
1. We need to be aware of and intentional about who we allow to influence us. When Joash was under the tutelage of Jehoiada, he was inspired to honour God by fixing up the temple and restoring the worship of Yahweh. But when Jehoiada died, he allowed himself to be led by Judah’s leaders right back into the swamp of idolatry.

We too put ourselves under influencers. Who we spend time with, what we read, what we watch, listen to, the music we play—all affect our loyalties. Let’s not slip into modern idolatry by being careless about who and what we allow to influence us.

2. Being a mouthpiece for God can be dangerous. Zechariah and Stephen discovered that. As our society drifts ever farther from Judeo-Christian principles, we do well to remind ourselves of the price we too may be asked to pay when we allow the Holy Spirit carte blanche to our lives.

PRAYER: Dear Father, please help me to choose my influencers well. Help me, in turn, to be a good mentor to others. May I be willing to pay the price of being the temple of Your Spirit, no matter what the price. Amen.
MORE: The Feast of St. Stephen


Today the church celebrates the Feast of St. Stephen.

The day’s liturgy begins with this collect:

We give you thanks, O Lord of glory, for the example of the first martyr Stephen, who looked up to heaven and prayed for his persecutors to your Son Jesus Christ, who stands at your right hand; where he 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.


Monday, December 25, 2017

Review your Christmas story

Children in a Christmas Tableau
Christmas tableau at my church. (Photo © V. Nesdoly)

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 2:1-20

TO CHEW ON:
"And it came to pass in those days …" - Luke 2:2

One of the things I love to do as a writer is read and review books. So it's no surprise, I guess, when my reviewer persona kicks in as I'm reading stories from the Bible. Today I find myself reading the Christmas story—the story of how Christ came to earth, to Mary and Joseph—in that way. There is:

Setting: Author Luke is specific. This tale takes place within a certain time-frame, during Caesar Agustus's census, while Quirinius was governor of Syria. This story happens in a small corner of the Roman Empire—Galilee (Nazareth), then we move to Judea (Bethlehem) and a stable.

Characters: There are Joseph, Mary, a Baby, shepherds, angels.

Plot: Luke would be a master of flash fiction—telling a big story in a few words. We have the couple. She's pregnant. There is complication when they're forced to make a trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem right near the time she's due. We read between the lines—the labor pains starting, Joseph's desperate search for a place to stay in this census-crowded town. Yes! they'll take anything, even a stable. Just get Mary settled. The birth.

And then those unnamed shepherds, an angel appearance in multitude and glory, a special message and somehow they find that Bethlehem stable, that couple, that baby to deliver the angel's special words.

Point of view: Through whose eyes are we seeing all this? It looks like an omniscient narrator until we come to verse 19. There we find a hint of personal reaction and inner thoughts. It's Mary behind this story! I can just see her sitting with Luke, perhaps years from the event, telling him her memories, saying something like: I didn't know what it meant but it was amazing. "Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself" - Luke 2:19 MSG.

Fast forward to now—your life and mine. We also have stories of Jesus coming to us. Emmanuel. As the carol prays it: "Be born in us today"  ("O Little Town of Bethlehem").

What is the story of Jesus entering your life? What are the parts—the setting, the characters, the plot, the inner thoughts and wonder of God coming to you, touching you? This Christmas day, review it for yourself, tell it to someone else. Relive it and worship: "And it came to pass in those days…"

PRAYER:
"O holy child of Bethlehem!
Descend to us we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born in us today …
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel" - Phillips Brooks, "O Little Town of Bethlehem."


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


Sunday, December 24, 2017

Joseph—God's yes-man

"Joseph and the Christ Child" - Murilla 1670-75
"Joseph and the Christ Child"  - Murillo (1670-75)
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 1:18-25

TO CHEW ON:
"Then Joseph, being roused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife." Matthew 1:24

Though the Bible doesn't mention Jesus' earthly father Joseph often, what it does say gives us some insights into the man God picked to be the most influential male in the human Jesus's life. We discover Joseph was:

1. A descendant of King David. - Luke 1:27.

2. Kind. Even though he must have been incredibly hurt and confused at the discovery of Mary's pregnancy, his impulse was to spare her public disgrace and worse by putting her away secretly - Matthew 1:19.

3. Promptly obedient. He took Mary as his wife and left for Egypt in the middle of the night after angelic visits - Matthew 1:24; 2:13-14.

4. Self-controlled. He refrained from having intimate relations with Mary, even after they were married, in respect for the sanctity of Mary's pregnancy - Matthew 1:25.

5. A compliant citizen, obedient to Caesar's decree to register in Bethlehem, even though it "happened" at a most inconvenient time  (for him, but not for God's larger plan) - Luke 2:4.

6. Faithful and devoted in his religious practice, having Jesus circumcised on the eighth day and going up to Jerusalem every year to celebrate Passover - Luke 2:22-24; 41.

7. Sensitive, along with Mary, to the spiritual immensity and mystery of Jesus' destiny - Luke 2:33.

8. Sensible. He used common sense (which was confirmed by another angelic dream) when deciding where to settle on the family's return from Egypt - Matthew 2:22.

9. Trusting. He must have trusted the adolescent Jesus because at Jesus' 12-year-old trip to Jerusalem, he and Mary didn't keep close tabs on His whereabouts - Luke 2:43-44.

10. A responsible father. He and Mary searched for three days for their 12-year-old - Luke 2:45-46.

11. Puzzled? I wonder how he felt when Jesus intimated that His real loyalty was to a different Father - Luke 2:49-50.

12. Ordinary. To Jesus' neighbors and friends, He was known as "Joseph's son." Their surprise at His "gracious words" in the light of His supposed lineage tells us that Joseph was probably a very ordinary, unexceptional person in most ways - Luke 4:22; John 1:45.

I love it that Jesus' earthly father was so humble and ordinary. It gives us hope that all us ordinary nobodies can also be part of God's plan and purpose as we put ourselves at His disposal and keep saying "yes" like Joseph did.


PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the example of Joseph. I want my life to be remembered by my yes's to You. Amen.

MORE: Fourth Sunday of Advent

Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent. The liturgy for this day begins with this Collect:

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Handel's Messiah lyrics

The lyrics of the contralto recitative "Behold A Virgin Shall Conceive" are taken from Matthew 1:23 (which is a quote from Isaiah 7:14).


In this Tafelmusik rendition, the recitative is followed by the solo "O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion."




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

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Naive about Evil

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Romans 16:16-27

TO CHEW ON:
“For your obedience has become known to all. Therefore I am glad on your behalf; but I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil.” Romans 16:19


At lunch with friends a few days ago, the topic of church  came up. Because we all attend the same one, the tone was, perhaps predictably, mixed, with some criticism entering the conversation.

Criticism of church, its programs, leaders, worship style etc. (and the temptation to join in) always makes me a little squirmy. I’m too familiar with the story of the Israelites wandering through the wilderness for forty years, due in large part to their lack of trust in God and grumbling, to feel nonchalant about it.

Our focus verse  (Romans 16:19) and others (like “Be wise as serpents, harmless as doves” - Matthew 10:16, and "that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ" - Philippians 1:10) lead me to conclude that God values a certain innocence or naiveté toward evil.

My Bible’s study notes say about the phrase “simple concerning evil”: “Christians should not try to become experts about all the details of evil deeds” - Wayne Grudem, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1575. We simply don’t get involved in it and thus remain blissfully ignorant of its dark corridors.

But is church gossip really “evil”?

It is if we’re critiquing a pastor or pastors who are following God’s direction. For when we do that, aren’t we, in effect, criticizing God and demonstrating that we don't trust God to do good by us?

So how do we nurture a naiveté toward this brand of evil? Some ways, I think, are to refuse to let gossip go on too long in our hearing, to resist a critical spirit raising its ugly head in our own thinking, and for sure to set a guard against criticism from coming out of our own mouths.


PRAYER:
Dear Father, help me to be simple in my trust of Your goodness revealed in the leaders You have placed over me in my church. 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, December 22, 2017

Does God really keep His promises?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 89:38-52

TO CHEW ON: "Nevertheless My lovingkindnesses I will not utterly take from him
Nor allow My faithfulnesses to fail ...

But you have cast off and abhorred.
You have been furious with Your anointed.
You have renounced the covenant of Your servant
You have profaned his crown by casting it to the ground." Psalm 89:34, 38-39.

Ethan the Ezrahite closes his meditation on God's promises to David by expressing something that's really bothering him: the fact that God's promises and what's happening don't seem to agree.

The promise was: "His seed shall endure forever, his throne as the sun... established forever like the moon" Psalm 89:36,37.

But David's kingly line runs into problems. Ethan (a Levite, worship leader, and contemporary of Solomon - 1 Kings 4:30-31) sees that, and in this psalm brings to God's attention the way He is seemingly going back on His promise to David. Whether Ethan knew the extent of the demise of David's kingly line is unclear. But what he saw concerned him.

Did God lie to David? Or is there another fulfillment that Ethan couldn't see?

I believe there is. A footnote in my Bible draws our attention to it:
"This is a messianic psalm reaffirming the Davidic covenant in which his Seed shall reign. It shows that God is able to rescue His promise from the depths of the grave, if necessary, to fulfill it" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 755.
Though our Bible commenter makes it sound as if God was taken off-guard here, forced to do an emergency "rescue," I don't believe He was stymied for a minute by the fall of the David's royal family. He knew, from before creation, what would happen. Jesus' birth that first Christmas 2000+ years ago was no emergency Plan B.

This psalm underlines the fact that we can trust God's promises even when it appears He has gone back on them. To doubt God's faithfulness on the basis of what we see with our limited vision and understanding reminds me of another truth about God's ways:

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways,
And My thoughts than your thoughts" − Isaiah 55:8,9

When we're tempted to doubt God, let's review His promised faithfulness (e.g. 1 Kings 8:56; Romans 4:21; 2 Corinthians 1:20). Then, no matter what it looks like, let's carry on trusting in what God has said and praising the Lord, as Ethan does, even when we don't see:

"Blessed be the Lord forevermore!
Amen and Amen" - Psalm 89:52.

PRAYER: Dear God, even as I trust Your promise of salvation and eternal life, help me to depend on all Your other promises. Amen.

MORE: The importance of God's unchangeableness
"...if we stop for a moment to imagine what it would be like of God could change, the importance of this doctrine becomes more clear. For example, if God could change (in his being, perfections, purposes, or promises), then any change would be either for the better or for the worse.


But if God changed for the better, then he was not the best possible being when we first trusted him. And how could we be sure that he is the best possible being now?


But if God could change for the worse (in his very being), then what kind of God might he become? Might he become, for instance, a little bit evil rather than wholly good? And if he could become a little bit evil, then how do we know he could not change to become largely evil—or wholly evil?


...if God could change in regard to his promises, then how could we trust him completely for eternal life? Or for anything else the Bible says? ...


A little reflection like this shows how absolutely important the doctrine of God's unchangeableness is. If God is not unchanging, then the whole basis of our faith begins to fall apart, and our understanding of the universe begins to unravel. This is because our faith and hope and knowledge all ultimately depend on a person who is infinitely worthy of trust—because he is absolutely and eternally unchanging in his being, perfections, purposes, and promises" - Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 168 (paragraphing added to make it easier to read; emphasis as in the original text).
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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, December 21, 2017

A promise-keeping God

David crowned king in Hebron - Artist unknown
David crowned king in Hebron - Artist unknown

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 89:19-37

TO CHEW ON:
"Nevertheless My lovingkindness I will not utterly take from him,
Nor allow My faithfulness to fail." Psalm 89:33


In this psalm Ethan the Ezrahite praises God for His faithfulness to Israel for giving her David as a king (Psalm 89:20,21). Through David's line and God's covenant with him, they will survive as a nation (Psalm 89:22-29). Even their disobedience won't cause God to go back on His promises, though God will punish their sin (Psalm 89:30-37).

This psalm also has a prophetic tone. There are many places in it that remind us of Jesus:
  • He had power over the sea (Psalm 89:25 compare Matthew 8:26,27).
  • He repeatedly referred to God as His Father (Psalm 89:26 compare to John 5, 8, 10, 14, 15).
  • Paul called Him the "firstborn over all creation" (Psalm 89:27 compare to Colossians 1:15-17).
  • His throne / kingdom will last forever (Psalm 89:29, 36-37 compare to Luke 1:33).
  • He took the stripes for our sin (Psalm 89:32 compare to Isaiah 53:5 and Mark 15:15, Matthew 27:26).

God keeps His promises. The nation of Israel survives to this day. Millions have accepted God's free gift of salvation over the centuries because Jesus paid the penalty for our sin on the cross and then rose again to conquer sin's final penalty, death.

Are you in a place today where God seems distant and His promises broken?  Do you feel like He's forgotten you and left you to your own devices? Remember He is still the God of Ethan the Ezrahite and Moses and the New Testament writers. His faithfulness will not fail:
"Therefore know that the LORD your God, He is God the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments" - Deuteronomy 7:9.

"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever" - Hebrews 13:8.


PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for being a God who keeps promises. When You feel far away, help me to keep trusting You and the promises You have made. Amen.

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

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Count a different kind of blessing

"Songs of Faith"  hymnbook
Photo courtesy RGBStock.com
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 89:1-18

TO CHEW ON: "Blessed are the people who know the joyful sound!
They walk, O Lord, in the light of Your countenance." Psalm 89:15


When we feel discouraged or stressed or sorry for ourselves, we're often encouraged to count our blessings. Our list usually includes blessings of the physical life—food, shelter, clothes, family, friends, etc. But do we ever go beyond to also count our spiritual blessings?

Ethan, the Ezrahite, writer of Psalm 89, sets a good example for us in Psalm 89:15-18. Some blessings he names:

1. Familiar with the sound of worship: "Blessed are the people who know the joyful sound." For the Israelites that would have been singing, shouting, and instruments like the harp, the trumpet, and the horn (Psalm 98:4-6).

2. Life directions: "They walk, O Lord, in the light of Your countenance."

3. An association with a God of great reputation: "In Your name they rejoice all day long."

4. Worshiping a God who is righteous: "And in Your righteousness they are exalted."

5. The ability to glorify God through successes: "For You are the glory of their strength."

6. Divine favor: "In Your favor our horn is exalted."

7. Divine protection: "For our shield belongs to the Lord."

We could add these blessings to our count. Pause, sometime, to listen to the sweet sound of worship coming from the sanctuary of your church during a morning service. The music of our contemporaries worshiping and adoring God is a beautiful thing!

Similarly we can thank God for all the other blessings Ethan names—the insight we get  from the Bible on how to live, that our God is strong, righteous, gives favor, protection, and enables us to live for His glory. In fact, without these blessings as the foundation of our lives, I would suggest that the other blessings we so easily list would be mere shells of themselves.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the spiritual blessings that are the foundation of, and give significance to, all my other blessings. May I never take them for granted. 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, December 19, 2017

Jesus--is He your King?

"Adoration of the Magi" 
attributed to Joseph Christophe (c. 1690-1700)

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Chronicles 17:16-27

TO CHEW ON: "'And now O Lord, the word which You have spoken concerning Your servant and concerning his house, let it be established forever, and do as you have said.'" - 1 Chronicles 17:23


After hearing the prophecy about his kingly line, David went to God and poured out his heart in thanks and agreement: "... let it be established... So let it be established ... let the house of Your servant David be established before You" - 1 Chronicles 17:23-24.

[Establish means to make secure, stable or permanent, to fix firmly, to set up, to found or institute on a firm or lasting basis, to cause to be widely or unquestionably recognized and accepted. Two Hebrew words for 'established' are used here. 'Aman' (vs. 23, 24) means to support, confirm, be faithful to, uphold, and nourish. Kuwn  (vs. 24 second occurrence) means to be firm, stable, secure, enduring.]

If Jesus was indeed the descendant of David through whom this kingly line was established, we would expect to find evidence of that. Let's take a brief look through the Bible for signs of Jesus' kingship.

1. Other prophetic writings thought to refer to Jesus speak of Him as a king (Isaiah 9:7 and Jeremiah 23:5 are two).

2. The angel Gabriel's words to Mary spoke of Jesus' kingly destiny (Luke 1:32-33).

3. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, of which the prophet Micah said, "...out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel" - Micah 5:2.

4. Jesus' lineage connects Him to King David - Matthew 1:1-16.

5. Wise men from the east, guided by a supernatural star came seeking a "King of the Jews" and presented the baby Jesus with gifts associated with royalty - Matthew 2:1-12.

6. Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a donkey shortly before His death was an unmistakeable dramatization of who He was - Matthew 21:1-9.

7. Jesus Himself admitted He was a king, and Herod announced it to the world with an "accusation" nailed to the cross - Matthew 27:11,37.

8. The disciples believed Jesus was a king. They were persecuted and accused because of that belief - Acts 17:5-9. In another place Paul invoked Jesus' kingly power in a prayer - 1 Timothy 6:15.

9. John's visions of Jesus' reveal Him as King - Revelation 14:14; 19:15.

It seems abundantly clear that David's kingly line was established and fulfilled in Jesus. Perhaps all that's left to ponder is, what have we done with King Jesus? Have I established Him as King in my heart? Have you?

PRAYER: Dear King Jesus, please be the ruler supreme in my heart and life. 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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Monday, December 18, 2017

King forever

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Samuel 7:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne will be established forever." 2 Samuel 7:16

David's desire to build God a stationary house of worship ended in quite a tradeoff. Through Nathan the prophet, God said to David, "...the Lord tells you that He will make you a house" 2 Samuel 7:16.

[House (bayit) can mean a dwelling, a family or a temple. Here God was making a promise to David about the permanence of his family and unendingness of his kingdom (2 Samuel 7:11, 16).]

We know that in the short term David saw his son Solomon succeed him. But David's human line eventually petered out. So we see that this was a promise about something bigger than a mere earthly dynasty. Matthew Henry explains:

"These promises relate to Solomon... but they also relate to Christ, who is often called David and the Son of David. To him God gave all power in heaven and earth with authority to execute judgment. He was to build the gospel Temple, a house for God's name; the spiritual temple of true believers, to be a habitation of God through the Spirit. The establishing of his house, his throne and his kingdom forever can be applied to no other than to Christ and his Kingdom" - Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary.

Note how the Bible bears this out:
  • In Isaiah 9, a passage recognized as a prediction of Christ's coming, Isaiah says: "Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom to order and establish it ... from that time forward, even forever" - Isaiah 9:7.
  • The prophet Daniel's visions are clear about who this everlasting king is: "...And behold One like the Son of Man, Coming with the clouds of heaven!....Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom...His dominion is an everlasting dominion. Which shall not pass away...shall not be destroyed" - Daniel 7:13-14.
  • When the angel Gabriel came to Mary, his announcement reiterated the identity of the baby she was to bear: "He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end" - Luke 1:32-33.
  • John's vision of things still to come underlines the fact that Jesus is this everlasting king: "Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, "The kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!" Revelation 11:15.

This is the King whose birth we celebrate this season. Let's sing with the carollers:

"Who is He that from His throne
Rules through all the world alone?
'Tis the Lord...the King of glory"  (from "Who is He in Yonder Stall" - Benjamin R. Hanby).

"Hark! the herald angels sing,
'Glory to the newborn King...'" (from "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing" by Charles Wesley).

"So bring Him incense gold and myrrh
Come, peasant, king to own Him;
The King of Kings salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone Him" (from "What Child is This" by William C. Dix).


PRAYER: Dear Jesus, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, I pledge my allegiance and loyalty to You again today. I am honoured to be Your subject. Be the King of my heart, my mind, my home, and my life 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.


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Sunday, December 17, 2017

Brought back

Welcome Home
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 126:1-6

TO CHEW ON: "When the Lord brought back the captivity of Zion
We were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
And our tongue with singing." Psalm 126:1-2


It's doubtful whether most of us will experience the joy of a return from physical exile like the Psalm-writer describes here. But we do know other kinds of captivity—the prison of sickness, the pain of alienation from family members and friends, the feeling of being estranged from God…

When we come down to it, our times of exile are meant to drive us to God in the first place or back to Him if we have wandered away. In a little study of  what it means to be "brought back" spiritually I discovered four things:

1. Exile from God is called backsliding. Sin and neglecting to follow God's rules frequently led to actual exile in the OT. When writing about backsliding, the Bible writers often refer to it as an illness that needs healing - Isaiah 54:15, 18; Jeremiah 3:22; Hosea 14:4.

2. God is the One who instigates and does the restoring (Psalm 23:3). One of the things He does is deal with our sin (Micah 7:19) so that His anger toward us is placated (Psalm 84:5).

3. He also uses people in the restoration process. Paul, with the language of childbirth, describes his work of restoration among the Galatians (Galatians 4:19). He also enlists lay people to help restore those who have fallen into sin (Galatians 6:10).

4. Restoration is a party! Look at the story of the Prodigal Son - Luke 15:22-24;32. David prays for restored joy after confessing his sin with Bathsheba - Psalm 51:12. The people in our psalm are in a pinch-me-is-this-really-happening? state of ecstasy, their mouths filled with laughter, their tongues with singing.

Do we find ourselves in exile? If we are, let's respond to God who wants us back. He will restore us spiritually and has the power to restore to us other things as well (like health and relationships - Joel 2:12-14; 25).

PRAYER:
Dear God, the joy of restoration in these verses is palpable.  I pray that You will bring back those who read here from whatever exile they are in and restore that joy. Amen.

MORE: Vagabonds by Stuart Townend



Today is the Third Sunday of Advent.

The liturgy today begins with this collect prayer:

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.


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

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Saturday, December 16, 2017

What has God chosen you for?

Signet ring - with the image of Childeric

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Haggai 2:1-23

TO CHEW ON: "'In that day,' says the Lord of hosts, 'I will take you Zerubbabel My servant, the son of Shealtiel,' says the Lord, 'and will make you like a signet ring; for I have chosen you,' says the Lord of hosts." Haggai 2:23

Zerubbabel was a leader of the Hebrew exiles returning from Babylon in 537 B.C. He was a governor and is mentioned in Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai and Zechariah. In the New Testament, he shows up in the lineage of Jesus (Matthew 1:1-17 - Zerubbabel is mentioned in verse 12).

In our reading today we see one reason he was a significant Bible character. It is because God had a specific and special role for Zerubbabel in accomplishing His purposes. Here's what God wanted to do:

"I will shake heaven and earth. I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms; I will destroy the strength of the Gentile kingdoms. I will overthrow chariots and those who ride in them... (Haggai 2:21-22).

Zerubbabel was the man God picked for that task:

"I will take you, Zerubbabel...and will make you like a signet ring; for I have chosen you..." Haggai 2:23.

Throughout the Bible we can trace the pattern of God choosing an individual when He wants to accomplish some special purpose.
  • When God wanted to do something about wicked humanity but still save some, He chose Noah (Genesis 6:5-14).
  • When God planned to free the Israelites from the tyranny of Midian, He chose Gideon (Judges 6:11-16).
  • When God wanted the Gospel spread to Gentiles, kings, and Jews, He chose Saul/Paul (Acts 9:1-16).

In his book Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby says:

God never asks people to dream up something to do for Him. We do not sit down and dream what we want to do for God and then call God in to help us accomplish it. The pattern in Scripture is that we submit ourselves to God. Then we wait until God shows us what He is about to do, or we watch what God is already doing around us and join Him"  - Henry Blackaby, Experiencing God, Workbook, p. 34.

The challenge for us, then, is to resist going down a self-determined path. It means placing our confidence in God, not ourselves. We seek God's kingdom instead of what the world approves of and admires. We look for God's perspective in every circumstance instead of looking at how circumstances can serve us. Applying this viewpoint to life and work, we wait until we perceive God's activity before we decide what projects we should work on, instead of starting something on our own initiative and then asking God to bless it.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to put this into practice in my life. I need the spiritual perception to see where You are at work. I need wisdom to understand what this means for me. I need courage to cast aside self-generated projects in favour of assignments that come from You. Amen.

MORE: Signet rings

In ancient times, official documents contained a seal.  This was an impression or imprint on the document often made in a blob of wax. It told the recipient that the document was authentic.

Such seals were sometimes imprinted by pressing the ring the ruler wore (a signet ring) into the soft wax.

Wikipedia says of signet rings:
The wearing of signet rings (from Latin "signum" meaning sign) goes back to ancient Egypt; the distinctive personal signature was not developed in antiquity and most documents needed a seal. The tradition continues, especially among the armigerous, in European and some other cultures.  
Because it is used to attest the authority of its bearer, the ring has also been seen as a symbol of his power, which is one explanation for its inclusion in the regalia of certain monarchies. 
From "Seal (emblem)"
 So we see, when God calls Zerubbabel a signet ring, He is referring to the power and authority He has given this man He has chosen for this job.

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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, December 15, 2017

Come Desire of All Nations

Wise men worshiping Jesus - William Hole
Wise men worshiping Jesus - William Hole
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Haggai 2:1-9

TO CHEW ON: "For thus says the Lord of hosts: once more (it is a little while) I will shake the heaven and earth, the sea and dry land. And I will shake all nations and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations, and I will fill this temple with glory, says the Lord of Hosts." Haggai 2:6-7

Imagine having a clear sense, on a particular day, that God wants to use your tongue for His message. That seems to have been Haggai's experience "on the seventh month, on the twenty-first of the month." Thanks to his cooperation, we have his words to ponder these many years later.

As we read his prophetic message, we get the sense of double, perhaps multiple fulfillments. Some of these predictions came true shortly after Haggai's time, some were for a time in the distant future and some for the end of time. Even in our short  focus passage we see this.

"And I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and dry land. And I will shake all nations" (vs. 6-7) brings to mind passages we have recently read about the great end-of-earth disturbances Jesus predicts in Matthew 24:7,29.

"..and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations ..."(vs. 7) sounds Messianic. It reminds us of Jesus coming to earth as a baby and how representatives of the earth's nations came to Bethlehem to honour Him as King (Matthew 2:1-12).  But there is also a future picture here—one we see in John's vision (Revelation 7:9-10).

"… and I will fill this temple with glory"
is a prophecy that also has multiple fulfillments.

It was fulfilled in a sense when Haggai's contemporaries completed the temple and worship resumed there.

Jesus interpreted "temple" on several levels: the actual building standing in Jerusalem and His own body. His double meaning led to Him making controversial statements like  "'Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up' " (John 2:19)— claims which eventually became part of the case that ended in His crucifixion (Mark 15:48; Matthew 26:61) and his body-temple being changed to one of resurrected glory.

My Bible's introduction to Haggai explains how this is also a prophecy  for the future:
 "… what God will do in the new temple will one day gain international attention. After an upheaval among the peoples of the Earth, the nations will be drawn to the temple to discover that they had been looking for: the One whom all the nations have desired will be displayed in splendour in the temple. The presence of this One will cause the memory of Solomon's glorious temple to fade so that only Christ's glory remains…" Sam Middlebrook, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1241.

As we celebrate the coming of the Desire of All Nations to earth as a baby, let's not lose hope in the fulfillment of the parts of Haggai's prophecy that have yet to be realized.

PRAYER: Dear Desire of All Nations, thank You for coming as a baby. We look forward to the day You return in glory and bring peace. 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, December 14, 2017

God with us

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Haggai 1:1-15

TO CHEW ON: “Then Haggai, the LORD’s messenger, spoke the LORD’s message to the people, saying, ‘I am with you, says the LORD.’” Haggai 1:13

Haggai had a short active ministry—only four months in the year 520 B.C. But its impact reaches to us today.

According to the "Introduction to Haggai" in my Bible, Haggai was one of the exiles who had returned to Israel 16 years earlier (in 536 B.C.). These returned exiles started to rebuild the country and especially re-establish worship of the LORD (Yahweh). Though they started well, they had become distracted and were now focusing on themselves: their crops, houses and wealth (Haggai 1:2-6).

But it wasn’t working out that well for them. Haggai’s words rub it in:
You have sown much, and bring in little;
You eat, but do not have enough;
You drink, but you are not filled with drink;
You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm;
And he who earns wages,
Earns wages to put into a bag with holes” Haggai 1:6.


It’s easy for us to become like the people of Haggai’s time and get consumed with bettering ourselves. Our society drums into us that a newer car, a bigger house, flashier wardrobe, faster and more technology are what we need. And so, like these people we take our welfare on our own shoulders and work harder, longer, and yet find less satisfaction. We leave God out of our lives and then wonder why it all ends up being laborious and unsatisfying.

Haggai’s words to the leaders when they again decide to resist the prevailing wisdom to focus on themselves and instead focus on God, jump out at me: “I am with you, says the LORD.”

If we see ourselves in these people, let’s do what they did and again put God first—His concerns, His values, His kingdom way of doing things. and listen for His reassuring words to us: “I am with you, says the LORD.”

PRAYER: Dear Father, it’s easy to get caught up in the world’s self-made-man way of doing things. Help me to invite You into all aspects of my life. Amen.

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


Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Straighten the path

straight path through woods
TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 1:15-28

TO CHEW ON: "He said, 'I am
The voice of one crying in the wilderness;
Make straight the way of the Lord.' " John 1:23



These words of John the Baptist are a quote from Isaiah who even seemed to have John in the picture as he wrote it:
"The voice of one crying in the wilderness;
'Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make straight in the desert
A highway for our God."  - Isaiah 40:3.

"Make straight…" What does he mean by that?

[Straight - yashar means direct, to be straight, upright, pleasing good - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Bible, p. 807. ]

It is the word used in one of my favorite verses that promises God's direction to me:
"In all your ways know, recognize and acknowledge Him and He will direct and make straight and plain your paths" - Proverbs 3:6 AMP.

John the Baptist was preparing his listeners for the coming of Jesus when he quoted this. During Advent we too are in a season of preparation. We prepare to celebrate Jesus' coming by buying gifts for others. We prepare programs of music, drama, and readings. We plan menus and shop for food. We clean our "inns" and get them ready for guests. But do we, in the hustle and bustle, neglect to prepare our hearts? To make a straight, direct path for Jesus to come to us, even in the busyness?

Let's take some time this advent season to again appreciate what Jesus' coming means:
  • How it opens the windows of heaven for us:
"Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" - Luke 2:10,11.
  • How it gives us a glimpse into God's own heart:
 "Jesus said to him, 'Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?" - John 14:9.
  • How it gives even the most difficult experiences a penumbra of light -
"Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live' " - John 11:25.
  • How it dispels the shadows of our most stubborn fear -
"And Jesus said to him, 'Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise' " - Luke 23:43.

After those reminders of what His presence means, we may confess sin that makes Him feel distant and get rid of the distractions to His presence that the seasonal running to and fro erect. With these straightened paths He will be with us in our kitchens, banquet halls, malls, the traffic, the church, the hospital… We will experience Him as Immanuel this Christmas!


PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to clear away the rubble, do away with the detours so that You have a direct route to my most inner self this Advent season. 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)


Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Darkness vs. light



TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 1:1-14

TO CHEW ON: "And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it." John 1:5

Where I live Christmas day comes only days after the winter solstice. It's no wonder that for us, lights play a big part in our celebrations—candlelight, tree lights, spotlights. How wonderful that the connection of Jesus' coming to earth and light is not only a human invention but came straight from the heart of God.

Darkness as both physical phenomenon and spiritual symbol appears often in the Bible.

1. God was its creator (Amos 4:13).

2. It dominated the earth immediately after creation (Genesis 1:2).

3. Thick supernatural darkness lasting three days was one of the plagues on Egypt (Exodus 10:22-23).

4. Untimely darkness marked Jesus' crucifixion (Matthew 27:45).

5. "Darkness" is how Paul describes our pre-conversion state (Ephesians 5:8).

6. Dark activities include claiming to be Jesus' followers but living lives that don't back it up (1 John 1:6), hating others ( 1John 2:9,11), and cursing parents (Proverbs 20:20).

7. Darkness is frequently connected with judgment.
- Those who reject Jesus are cast into it (Matthew 8:12).
- It is the fate of rogue angels (Jude 1:6).
- Apocalyptic final judgments often include darkness (Joel 3:15; Amos 8:9; Revelation 6:12).

8. But when we come to Christ, we escape its clutches (Colossians 1:13)!

The use of the word "comprehend" in "The darkness did not comprehend it," is interesting. A word study article in my Bible delves into how that word enriches the meaning of this passage:


["Comprehend (katalambano) has three shades of meaning:
1) To seize, lay hold of, overcome. As such vs. 5 could read, "The darkness does not gain control if it."
2) To perceive, attain, lay hold of with the mind; to apprehend with mental or moral effort. With this meaning the verse could be translated, "The darkness is unreceptive and does not understand it."
3) To quench, extinguish, snuff out the light by stifling it. "The darkness will never be able to eliminate it."

Light and darkness essentially are antagonistic. The Christian's joy is in knowing that light is not only greater than darkness but will also outlast the darkness." - "Word Wealth," New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1443.]

John declares Jesus to be "the true Light" (John 1:9) that is incomprehensible to (controls, mystifies and quenches) darkness. 
"The the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we behold His glory..." (glory = splendour, radiance, majesty.)

 We avoid darkness and live in light as we stay close to Jesus.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, Thank You for coming to bring light. I want to live in Your light. As I expose my life to Your scrutiny help me to deal with any dark places. Amen.

MORE: "Here I Am to Worship" by Tim Hughes




Bible Drive-Thru

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