Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The most profound miracle and mystery of the universe

The Child Jesus by Alexandre Bida
"The Child Jesus" - Alexandre Bida
For the next week, we're going to take a Christmas break from our Bible reading schedule to focus on Christmas and the Christmas story.

(We'll still make it reading through the Bible this year, as the schedule we're following has one week of grace built into it!)


TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 85:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "Mercy and truth have met together,
Righteousness and peace have kissed." Psalm 85:10



This meeting of mercy and truth, righteousness and peace playing out in the incarnation has fascinated philosophers and theologians ever since there have been such people. They have tried to understand how it works, argued over its fine points, and parted ways over differences of belief. It is really the point of the whole Bible—the Gospel, good news.  I love how Wayne Grudem sums it up at the end of the chapter "The Person of Christ" in his Systematic Theology:

"It (the incarnation) is by far the most amazing miracle of the entire Bible—far more amazing than the resurrection and more amazing even than the creation of the universe. The fact that the infinite, omnipotent, eternal Son of God could become man and join himself to a human  nature forever, so that infinite God became one person with finite man, will remain for eternity the most profound miracle and the most profound mystery in all the universe" - p. 563.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for this mystery and miracle and what it means for me: I have Your mercy, I have peace with You. Thank You!

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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 18, 2018

Light some incense today!

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Revelation 7-9; Psalm 42

TO CHEW ON: “Then another angel having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand.” Revelation 8:3-4

In John’s vision, events in heaven continue to play out. He (the Lamb) opens the seventh seal to reveal an expanding vista of seven trumpets. The seven judgments they announce (8:2-11:18) are cataclysmic. The first four (found in our reading today) affect the natural world and remind us of the Egyptian plagues (hail, blood, polluted water, death to living creatures, darkness).

What I find fascinating are the two verses about the saints’ prayers that precede the fateful trumpet blasts. They seem almost out of place. Here, as earlier (Revelation 5:8), an angel presents these prayers to God as incense.

Incense has been associated with deity and worship since ancient times. Divination by interpreting the shapes that rose from incense smoke was an inexpensive way for poor people to determine the will of the gods. The Egyptians and other Gentile nations used it in their worship. Still today it is part of the practice of Buddhism, Christian Orthodoxy and other religions.

  • In Old Testament religious practice, only the priests were allowed to offer incense. Moses’ instructions to Aaron included strict regulations concerning its makeup and use (Exodus 30:34-36). 
  • God specifically forbade the personal mixing and use of the incense designed for worship (Exodus 30:37-38). 
  • David first likened prayers to incense (Psalm 141:2). 
  • God warned the Israelites through Isaiah that offerings, including the burning of incense, done while clinging to known sin were offensive to Him (Isaiah 1:13).  
  • In Malachi its use symbolized the universal worship of God: “In every place incense shall be offered to My name…” Malachi 1:11

That the prayers of the saints (us!) should be equated with something as integral to worship as incense tells us how important they are to God. Here they are directly connected to the judgments that follow. For after presenting the incense prayers to God, the angel takes the golden censer that held them, fills it with fire from the altar, throws it to earth, and the action begins.

This focus on prayer makes me want to spend more time on this aspect of my relationship with God. As Barbara Billet expresses it:
I ask You, Lord, that You would fill me with Your consuming fire today. I desire to be used as a house of prayer so that I can pray heartfelt, fervent, effectual prayers that will cause my prayer life to have much power, available, dynamic in its working.” Barbara Billet, Praying With Fire, p. 19

PRAYER: Dear God, please teach me to pray. Amen

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 42

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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 17, 2018

No-holds-barred worship


TODAY’S SPECIAL: Revelation 4-6; Psalm 41

TO CHEW ON:
 “The twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne saying”
‘You are worthy, O Lord
To receive glory and honor and power
for You created all things
And by your will they exist and were created.’” Revelation 4:10-11


The scene John describes in today’s reading is beyond comprehension and difficult even to imagine. It is not unlike other glimpses we get of God and the activity in heaven. There are striking similarities. Note the “sea of glass” in Revelation 4:6 and the sapphire-like pavement under God's feet when He showed Himself to Moses (Exodus 24:9,10) and the 70 elders on Mount Sinai. Note the exotic creatures (Revelation 4:7,8) here and described similarly in Ezekiel’s vision (Ezekiel 1:10). Note the abundance of eyes in both places.(Revelation 4:8; Ezekiel 1:18)

What does it all mean? An end-note in my Bible suggests that the sea of glass denotes the unapproachableness of God. The four creatures speak of majesty (lion), courage and strength (ox), intelligence (man) and speed (eagle) “in the service of the Creator.” The abundance of eyes symbolizes God’s unceasing watchfulness.(New Spirit Filled Life Bible p.1824)

These visions evoked fear, awe and above all, worship in those who saw them.

Worship (proskuneo; pros= toward, kuneo = kiss; kiss toward - "to kiss like a dog licking his master's hand") means to prostrate oneself, bow down, do obeisance, show reverence, homage, worship, adore. We worship only God and the risen and ascended Jesus – not angels, saints, shrines, relics or religious people.

Although we’re not currently in heaven, privy to these description-taxing scenes, where worshipers fall down before God and present their crowns to Him, we can also worship on earth in the here-and-now.

1. We can assume physical postures of worship as twenty-four Elders do here – kneeling, bowing, lying on the ground before God during our times of private prayer and even in church. Perhaps it would do us good to remind ourselves of our lowness in relation to God in this way more often than we do.

2. We can give our everyday lives to God (Romans 12:1) – your “ordinary life – your sleeping eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering” (Message). This is called your “reasonable (rational, intelligent) service and spiritual worship.” (Amp)

3. We can adhere to His standards and live obediently as people of His covenant - Isaiah 56:6,7 (inviting people of all nations to Christ, observing the pattern of life He has set out - like keeping one day of rest - and preserving our assembly place as a "house of prayer for all nations.")

4. We can be part of His plan by aligning ourselves with other Christians as “living stones” (1 Peter 2:4,5 NIV) members of His spiritual house.

Will we do these things with the same willingness and abandon that the saints in heaven worship in the awe-inspiring presence of God?

PRAYER:
Dear God, please give me a sense of Your otherness. I so easily take You down to my level. Help me to worship You with all I am and have. Amen.
The Bible Project VIDEO: Day of the Lord (Theme series)




MORE: I love John's comparison of God and heaven with precious gems, stones, and metals. Trouble is, I have no experience with many of these jewels. Here is a little about the ones mentioned in this passage.


Jasper

Sardius (similar to Carnelian, only harder and darker)


Emerald


Gold

Crystal

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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.

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

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Jesus - the A to Z

Alpha and Omega written on stones
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Revelation 1-3; Psalm 40

TO CHEW ON: “’ I am Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End,’ says the Lord, ‘who is and who was and who is to come…. I am Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last.’” Revelation 1:8, 11


God’s plan in time and space is wonderfully wrapped up and tied together in Jesus. Here He is called Alpha and Omega – the first and last letters in the Greek alphabet – the beginning, ending and everything in between.

As the beginning, Jesus is the creator (Genesis 1:1)  – the One through whom all things were made (John 1:1-3).

He is the first communicator – the Word (John 1:1-3).  In John’s vision  a “sharp two-edged sword” comes out of His mouth. Sound familiar? It’s right here (Hebrews 4:12).

He is the ever-present one – “who is and was and is to come.” Remember the strange name He called Himself to Moses: “I Am” (Exodus 3:14),  echoed by Jesus in John 8:58? What better explanation of that name than “the One who is and who was and who is to come.”

He is the end. He is the end of the law (Romans 10:4).

He is also integral to end-of-time events as the Bible predicts them – the time of harvest (Matthew 13:39) and judgment (Matthew 13:49,50). The end is the culmination of our opportunity (Matthew 24:13,14) to obey Jesus’ last command (Acts 1:8).  We have the promise of Jesus’ presence with us (Matthew 28:19,20) till then. But also until then our endurance and ability to stay true to Him will be tested (Mark 13:13).

Thinking about these things is like doing brain stretches. It’s almost impossible for our human minds to comprehend these dimension-challenging ideas – present before time, after time, ever present in time…

But we can grasp that here and now Alpha and Omega is the I Am to us. He can be present in our lives. He can help us endure. He  can enable us to live daily in obedience and on-task.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, be my Alpha and Omega. Live in my life as I Am today. Help me to fulfill my role in Your eternal plan. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 40


The Bible Project VIDEO - Revelation - Part 1 (Read Scripture Series)



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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, December 15, 2018

Spiritual bodybuilding

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Jude 1-25; Psalm 39

TO CHEW ON: "But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life." Jude 20-21

Jude, the brother of James wrote the short letter of Jude. It's a letter of warning to an unnamed church or churches. False teachers were the problem.

Jude talks of the havoc these teachers had created by comparing them to Bible characters. They acted in the spirit of:
Cain: destruction. Cain murdered his brother instead of caring for him (Genesis 4:8).

Balam: greed. Balam was a prophet who consented to try to curse Israel for King Balak in return for money (Numbers 21:1-22:41).

Korah: rebellion. Korah led a rebellion against Moses (Numbers 16:1-24).

How can the people resist these teachers? Jude says by "building yourselves up on your most holy faith."

The phrase "building yourselves up" brings to mind the gym. There people do multiple repetitions of exercises (sit-ups, crunches, leg lifts, bench presses, cycling, etc.) to build up different parts of the body. What would a spiritual workout look like? It could consist of reading, studying and memorizing the Bible, praying in the Holy Spirit (praise, thanksgiving, petition, intercession, worship), and singing.

The crowd of runners we pass on our way to church Sunday morning have tapped into another effective way to work out physically. They do it together for companionship, accountability, even safety. In our spiritual workout program, this would compare to being part of a faith community — a church, home group or Bible study group. (Of course Jude's letter, written out of the need to warn church members about false teachers within tells us that such togetherness also has its hazards.)

We know that in order for a physical workout program to accomplish what we want it to, it has to be consistent. That's where we get tested. For no matter how exciting a fitness program is at the beginning, it's hard to stick with it. Doing the same exercises over and over can get boring. Sometimes we're tired and don't feel like exercising. We may not notice any difference in our body and wonder if it's actually making us stronger.

Sticking with a spiritual fitness program is just as challenging. Some parts of the Bible are hard to understand. We may wonder if our prayers are making any difference. We may get discouraged by the spiritually immature tendencies we still see in ourselves and feel disheartened when temptations still trip us up. But just like sticking with a physical fitness program eventually brings about changes in our bodies, so sticking with regular routine of spiritual fitness will strengthen us spiritually.

Do you work out spiritually? If not, decide to make such a program a part of your routine. Life is full of challenges. You'll want to face them with a well-toned faith.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for being my teacher and trainer. Help me to be as devoted to developing my faith as I am to caring for my body. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 39

The Bible Project VIDEO: Jude (Read Scripture Series)



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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 14, 2018

Loving God, loving each other

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 John 1 & 3 John 1; Psalm 38

TO CHEW ON:
"And now I plead with you, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment to you, but that which we have had from the beginning: that we love one another." 2 John 5


When I first posted this devo some years ago (it is a re-post) we were in the middle of our annual church conference. One night visiting speaker Joel A'Bell (Hillsongs Church, Australia) talked about loving each other. He said something like, "We want deep teaching, to know what the colors of the priest's robes mean. But we don't obey Jesus' most basic commands to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and our neighbour as ourselves - Mark 12:29-31."

"Have you ever thought about what it means to love God this way?" he asked. He went on to explain how we love God with our heart, soul, mind and strength. Here are some of his thoughts (via my scribbled notes):

- Loving God with all my heart means having a heart to let go.
"We struggle when there's more in our heart than Jesus."

- Loving God with all my soul means to go slow.
"We're speedy; make decisions quickly, we're too fast on the inside, don't take time to think, meditate, pray."

- Loving God with all my mind is having a mind to change (i.e. repent).
"Maturity is evidenced by the decreasing time gap between the challenge to change and the actual obedience."

- Loving God with all my strength is endurance.
An example he gave of this is our tendency to become familiar with the things of God so they no longer move us. The person that loves with strength pulls his/her mind back to focus on the truths of God's word, the lyrics of the familiar worship song etc. and does "not give in to the weakness of familiarity."

Loving God this way will make us ever more convinced and sure and secure in God's love for us. The natural outflow of such love is for us to love others. I like how Leslynn Musch puts it in her Truth-In-Action in 2 John article: "If we are truly loved, then that love should affect the way we love others. Love others as Jesus has loved you" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1795.

PRAYER: Dear God, I know I often fall short of loving You with my heart, soul, mind, and strength and so it is no wonder my relationships with others are tainted by insecurity, fear, comparison, and competition etc. Please help me to bask in Your love, love You back, and from that loop, to love my Christian family and the world. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 38

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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 13, 2018

The "we know"s of John


TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 John3-5; Psalm 37


TO CHEW ON: "And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding that we may know Him who is true..." 1 John 5:20

As we read 1 John 5, the phrase "we know" keeps popping up. What are the things John told his readers way back in the first century, and tells us now, that "we know"?

1. "We know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments" (1 John 5:2).

[Know here and in its last appearance (in 1 John 5:20) is ginosko which means to learn to know, come to know, get a knowledge of, perceive, feel, understand.]

2. "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life..." (1 John 5:13).

[Know here is oida from horao which means to see with the eyes, see with the mind, perceive, know, become acquainted with by experience, to see, look, take heed, be aware.]

3. "... we know that He hears us, whatever we ask..." (1 John 5:15)

4. "...we know we have the petitions we have asked of Him" (1 John 5;15).

5. "We know that whoever is born of God does not sin" (1 John 5'18).

6. "We know that we are of God and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one" (1 John 5:19).

7. "We know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding..." (1 John 5:20a).

8. "...that we may know Him who is true and we are in Him who is true..." (1 John 5:20b).

As I read this list of certainties posed by John, I am again impressed with how the Christian life is a push-and-pull of faith and experience. Notice how our lists of knows (the know of experience) is bracketed by two knows (learning to know, getting a knowledge or perception of).

I ask myself, which of these knows can I declare with confidence? Which do I need to grow in? Most of all, am I progressively advancing in knowing Him (1 John 5:20b)? I do that by buttressing my faith through experience in all the ways John lists.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to have the confident knowledge of You that John expresses. Above all, help me to know You.


PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 37

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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 12, 2018

Do we walk in darkness, or light?

TODAY’S SPECIAL: 1 John 1-2; Psalm 36

TO CHEW ON:
“If we say that we have fellowship with Him and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” 1 John 1:6,7


Our reading talks about two ways to live: “Walk in darkness” and “walk in light.” These are metaphors. What do they mean?

The Zondervan Study Bible notes define both (emphases added):

To “walk in darkness” denotes a life characterized by wickedness and ignorance and an unwillingness to be open toward God and his revelation in Christ—lest one’s sinful behaviour be exposed.”

John actually quotes Jesus Himself on what walking in darkness is about:
‘For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed’” - John 3:19.
Here’s the old secrecy over disobedience cropping up again that began way back in the Genesis garden (Genesis 3:8-10).

To “walk in light” denotes a life characterized by truth and holiness and a willingness to be open to God and his revelation, resulting in fellowship with one another and with God.”

How do we, in our everyday lives, walk in light?

A start, I believe is to be open with God—to let Him search us through the Bible and in prayer and keep no secrets from Him. We can express our doubts, fears, issues, and questions to Him. When He shows us attitudes to change and exposes the times we’ve sinned, we acknowledge, confess, repent, make restitution (or whatever is required). We let Him shine light into the farthest, darkest recesses of our hearts to show us to ourselves so we can renounce all darkness and live in light. (I’m thinking this may take years as, in my experience, God deals with us in layers to get to core of our onion hearts.)

A wonderful side benefit of living in light is how it smooths our relationships with fellow-Christians: “… we have fellowship with one another…”


PRAYER: Dear Father, help me to walk in light by being completely open and honest with You. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 36

The Bible Project VIDEO: 1-3 John (Read Scripture Series)



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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 11, 2018

Seeing beyond sight

"The Transfiguration" Artist unknown

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Peter 1-3 Psalm 35

TO CHEW ON: "For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: 'This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.'" 2 Peter 1:16,17.


Do you think first-person accounts of people seeing visions of heaven and Jesus are believable? Or hoax? Or maybe you view them as sacrilege? In the last few years many such modern stories have surfaced. Several—Heaven is for Real and Miracles from Heaven—have even been made into movies.

I wonder if Peter's account of Jesus' transfiguration, which he refers to here (and is told in full in Luke 9:28-36) met with the same mixed response. There was no doubt in Peter's mind, though, as to the reality of what he had seen and heard. He used this vision as grounds for his authority (2 Peter 1:18-21). Indeed, most if not all of the prophetic writings in the Bible derive from God's communicating with people in ways we would call extrasensory or supernatural.

Most of us humans, though, live in a state of limited reception, especially to the spiritual realm. So when someone claims to have a vision, even Christians, especially us 21st century ones, influenced by the prove-it-in-the-lab-or-I-won't-believe-it mentality of humanistic naturalism, are skeptical.

I know there is room for caution when we hear stories of people experiencing the supernatural. Still, I hope that I am not so cautious as to disqualify myself from hearing from God in any way He should want to speak to me.

In this regard, let me leave you with some quotes from a book by author Mike Mason. The e-book Adventures in Heaven is the story Mason tells of his friend who claimed to have many supernatural and heavenly experiences. Mike himself saw Jesus only once. Here is some of his account:

"No sooner had he said these words than I found myself looking at Jesus! He was right there in front of me, larger than life. … The first thing that struck me was His joy. He was positively beaming like ten thousand suns. … And that face—how full of character! … And what is revealed in the face of Jesus is all love, all beauty, all wisdom, all goodness…." Kindle Location 3399.

This is how that vision affected him:

"Seeing Jesus, it turned out, far from leaving me with my head stuck in the clouds, was absolutely the best thing that could have happened. I didn't tell anyone else my experience. I didn't have to. I'd been filled with the joy and the love of God, and so all my contacts with people over the next few days took on a wholly different quality" - Kindle Location 3433.

PRAYER:
Dear Jesus, I'm glad that You are not bound by the limitations I feel within my human tent. Help me to perceive You in whatever way You choose to reveal Yourself to me. Amen.
 

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 35

The Bible Project VIDEO: 2 Peter (Read Scripture Series)




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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 10, 2018

Who is the boss in your heart?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Peter 3-5; Psalm 34

TO CHEW ON: "But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you are blessed. 'And do not be afraid of their threats nor be troubled.' But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts." 1 Peter 3:14-15. 


The fact of God actually living in people is a concept that spans the Old and New Testaments. However, Jesus sheds new light on it ("new" at least to the people of His time) when He explains the role of the Holy Spirit in the process.
  • Jesus calls Him the "Helper" whom He has petitioned the Father to send. This Helper will live with, indeed, in them - John 14:15-18. 
  • He will give them assurance of eternal life, interaction with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and He is the assurance of God's love - John 14:19-21.

Paul talks often about this life of Christ within people. Some of the things he tells us about it:
  • It is a life of faith that begins when we accept Christ's substitutionary death for our sin as our means of salvation (not our own works) - Galatians 2:20.
  • It helps us know the love of God - Ephesians 3:17-19.
  • It is the hope of a wonderful future beyond this life - Colossians 1:27.

Peter's words in our reading today talk about this life to believers who are in the middle of persecution. His short statement, "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts" comes right after he addresses their apparent puzzlement over bad treatment. They are righteous but they are suffering. Why? He reminds that this suffering is, in the Kingdom of God's upside-down way, a blessing (Matthew 5:10), and not to fear but rather to "sanctify (or set apart) the Lord God in your hearts."

He is telling them, in effect, Let God be the Lord (boss) in these things. Accept even persecution as from Someone who knows about it, who has power over it, yet is allowing it. 


The Message puts it this way:
"Through thick and thin, keep your hearts at attention, in adoration before Christ, your Master" - 1 Peter 3:15
As Paul explains in Romans "...all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." That purpose includes being conformed to the image of Jesus. Persecution may be a part of it. But the end of the story is good. It is glory - Romans 8:27-30.

Whatever we are facing, have we done this — set apart Jesus as Lord? Settled once and for all that He is in charge of our lives and is working His good purposes in them even through negative circumstances? Let's put this into practice:
  • By faith accept that Jesus lives in us by the Holy Spirit.
  • Believe that He loves us.
  • Sanctify Him as Lord — our hands off; He's in charge.
  • Let the good and bad things (at least 'bad' according to how we feel about them) He sends our way conform us to Jesus' image.
  • Live in hope not of this world's rewards but of glory in eternity.
PRAYER: Dear God, how often I take the steering wheel of my life back into my hands. How easily I question whether You know what You're doing when unpleasant things come my way. Help me to enthrone You as Lord in a moment-by-moment way today. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 34

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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, December 09, 2018

"Kept"

Guard
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Peter 1-2; Psalm 33

TO CHEW ON:
"… who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time." 1 Peter 1:5

It's easy to trust in God's keeping power when times are good. But when we get sick, or suffer setbacks in business, or go through heart-breaking times with our kids, or have all we own ripped away from us by fire, tornado or mudslide, or any number of other trials, can we trust that God is still there? Is He still keeping us?

Peter here reminds the "pilgrims of the Dispersion"—mostly Gentile Christians living in various parts of Asia Minor who are experiencing persecution because of their obedience to Christ—that even through their trials they are being "kept."

["Kept—phroureo is "a military term picturing a sentry standing guard as protection against the enemy. We are in spiritual combat but God's power and peace (Philippians 4:7) are our sentinels and protectors" - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1763.]

But we have our part to play in this keeping. For it is "through faith." And this keeping will not necessarily mean a return to how things were before the trial, but in ultimate salvation, completely accomplished and understood "in the last time."

If your faith is old, seasoned and experienced, a wealth of memories reminding you of how God has kept you in the past will buttress your faith now. If you're new to faith, you may want to spend time reading stories of Bible characters and biographies of modern Christ followers. The way God kept them through trials will build faith in God's creativity and faithfulness for your life. 

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for keeping me in the past and continuing to do so. Please help me to grow in faith as I experience your keeping power. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 33

The Bible Project VIDEO:  1 Peter (Read Scripture Series)



MORE: Reading list

Some Bible characters to read about:

  • Joseph - Genesis 37, 39-47.
  • Hannah - 1 Samuel 1:1-2:11.
  • Ruth - Bible book of Ruth.
  • Esther - Bible book of Esther.
  • Daniel - Daniel 1-3, 6.
  • Nehemiah - Bible book of Nehemiah.

Some faith-building biographies (links are to my reviews of these books):

  • Kabul 24 - Henry O. Arnold & Ben Pearson

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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, December 08, 2018

Two tests for our to-do lists

TODAY'S SPECIAL: James 4-5; Psalm 32

TO CHEW ON: "Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin." James 4:17


In this practical section of James' practical letter, I see two filters or tests for our to-do lists for today, tomorrow, and into the future.

1. Is this God's will (James 4:13-16)?


After years of walking with the Lord, I still often find myself making plans and then feeling a check in my spirit and the question: "Have you consulted Me about this?" Or realizing that I want something to happen or work out NO MATTER WHAT and then getting the insight: this thing is self-conceived, self-imposed, and self-generated.

Author Janette Oke came face to face with such a dilemma when she began writing. At first she prayed:
"'God, I'm going to write this book. And if it works and if I discover that I have talent, I'll give it all to You.'"

But she quickly sensed that was not what God wanted. His response as she recalls it:
"'I'm not interested in your book after you're done with it. I'm not even particularly interested in your talent. If you are really serious about writing as a ministry, then I want it all, right now before you start.'"

At that early stage in her career, then, she made a hands-off commitment  and the result:

"She was free. She was free to write without worrying about the outcome. She was free from the pressure of getting sales. She was free from the temptation of pride'" -  Janette Oke: A Heart for the Prairie by Laurel Oke Logan, Kindle Location 3167.

2. Am I doing the good I know to do (James 4:17)?

The IVP commentary says about this verse:
"Suddenly James shifts his emphasis from whether we know God's will to whether we do God's will… The adverb oun ("Then"—in the NKJV "Therefore") provides grammatical evidence James intends a connection in thought. The picture is of one who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it" - IVP commentary accessed through Bible Gateway.

I see this enacted in author Oke's life as well. Once she'd had her first book published, she started planning another. But then letters began pouring in from people who wanted to know what happened next to the characters in her story and her editor asked her to write a sequel. So she abandoned her plans and did her duty to the publishing company.

Throughout the active years of her writing career, she continued to do the good she knew to do, delivering three books a year. And it wasn't always easy. In this interview she describes writing as " ... very time consuming and frankly, it’s hard work."

That, folks, is knowing the good one should do, and doing it!

PRAYER: Dear Father, help me to make plans subject to Your lordship in my life and to faithfully perform the good and humble duties You set before me. Amen.
 


MORE: The Reward
The reward to Janette Oke for relinquishing her work to God and faithfully doing her duty is still being seen. Her books have sold over 30 million copies. In 2002, Michael Landon Jr. chose that first book she wrote—Love Comes Softly—as the basis of his first TV movie for the Hallmark Channel. Over the years many more of her books have been made into movies, including the When Calls the Heart TV series, based on her Canadian West books.

But it would be my guess that the reward she is most looking forward to is meeting Jesus and hearing His: "Well done, good and faithful servant."

My  short biography of Janette Oke, posted in the Encyclopedia of Canadian Christian Leaders is HERE.




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


Friday, December 07, 2018

Five ways to prove your faith is alive

Sprouting vegetables
"Receive... the implanted word" - RGBStock.com photo
TODAY'S SPECIAL: James 1-3; Psalm 31

TO CHEW ON: "But be doers of the word and not hearers only deceiving yourselves. … Thus also faith by itself, it if does not have works, is dead." James 1:22; 2:17.


In our reading today, James stresses the importance of living what we claim to believe. He begins by clarifying where those beliefs originate. They are not our ideas but come from the word: "… receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls" - James 1:21.

He goes on to give five examples of things we do that prove our faith is alive. The person with a living faith:

1. Controls his / her tongue - James 1:25
The phrase used for control in the NKJV is "bridle his tongue" (James 1:25). A bridle is "the head harness including bit and reins, used to guide or restrain a horse" - Funk & Wagnall's Dictionary. The bit goes into the horse's mouth, the harness—leather straps attached to each side of the bit—fits over the horse's muzzle and the driver or rider holds the reins to control and steer the horse. What a picture of a self-controlled mouth / speech—or better yet, a metaphor of speech controlled by the Holy Spirit, the One who should be in our life's saddle.

2. Gives practical help to society's poor - James 1:26.

"Orphans and widows" are named here.
Visit  - episkeptomai  is more than a mere social call. It means to look upon or after, to inspect, examine with the eyes in order to see how he is; to look upon in order to help or benefit; to look about or look out for one to choose, employ etc.

3. Stays pure - James 1:26.
The NKJV uses the phrase "unspotted from the world." The NASB says "unstained." The Amplified adds "uncontaminated." 

4. Treats everyone the same - James 2:1-9.
James takes quite a bit of space to describe the tendency of his readers to fawn over those who appear wealthy while sidelining the poor person. He calls it "partiality" and names it what it is: "sin" - James 2:9.

5. Is generous to the needy brother or sister - James 2:15-16.
James uses the word "give" to describe what they do for these people.
Give - didomi means to give of one's own accord, to let have, supply, furnish necessary things, hand out lots. The sense is of generous, no-questions-asked giving.

Two thousand-plus years later, this list is as relevant as it ever was. Let's challenge ourselves today by living out practical proofs in these ways—and others—that our faith is truly alive.


PRAYER: Dear God, help me today to express through my actions the love and commitment I say that have to You. Amen. 

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 31

The Bible Project VIDEO: James (Read Scripture Series)



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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 06, 2018

Sacrifice of praise

People praising with arms outstretched toward the cross
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Hebrews 11-13; Psalm 30

TO CHEW ON:
"Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name." Hebrews 13:15


Not only does the writer of Hebrews challenge us to continuous contentment (Hebrews 13:5,6) but to an even more radical habit. He suggests we live lives of continuous praise.

The phrase "sacrifice of praise" snags my attention. How is our praise a sacrifice? A sidebar article in my Bible gives this insight:

"The word 'sacrifice' (Greek thusia) comes from the root thuo, a verb meaning "to kill or slaughter for a purpose." Praise often requires that we 'kill' our pride, fear, or sloth—anything that threatens to diminish or interfere with our worship of the Lord" Guy P. Duffield, Hebrews commenter, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1746.

I look with chagrin at the trivialities that can quench my praise: the weather, problems with my stuff, a headache, a stressful schedule... Yes, praising God in and through the above will need a sacrifice on my part, though a tiny one. Perhaps those little irritants are meant as rehearsal for the big problems that will inevitably come along—terminal illness, catastrophe, death—so I can be praising through those things as well.

Of course our praise isn't a Pollyanna-ish refusal to look at life realistically. It is based on our thankfulness to God who, in Jesus, stepped into time and space. He sacrificed everything for me so that my eternal destiny is sure, no matter what my circumstances here on earth.

Our Bible commenter again:

"Praise will never be successfully hindered when we keep its focus on Him."

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, help me today to sacrifice any and all thoughts of discontent, irritation, worry, fear … substituting them with the fruit  (thoughts and words) of praise. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 30
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The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Final and finished

"O wretched man that I am..." Romans 7:24. (Artist unknown)
"O wretched man that I am..." Romans 7:24 (Artist unknown)
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Hebrews 9-10; Psalm 29

TO CHEW ON: “For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.” Hebrews 10:14

In today's reading we see Jesus offering Himself as a sacrifice.

The writer here is talking to people who know the code of laws and sacrifices God gave to Israel through Moses. He attempts to convince his audience of the efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice over the animal sacrificial system. He begins by stating this (animal sacrifice) system is imperfect because consciousness of sin dictates we have to keep making sacrifices indefinitely (“And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins” - Hebrews 10:11).

But Jesus’ sacrifice is different. His one sacrifice, where He offers His perfect life as the payment for our sin, means the need for all the animal sacrifices is forever satisfied. He has made our peace with God (Hebrews 10:12).

However, that doesn’t mean we’re perfect or the consciousness of our sin is lessened. Rather, it is the settled fact of our relationship with God – even as we are still in process – “we are being sanctified.”

[Sanctified =  hagiazo: to hallow, set apart, dedicate, consecrate, make holy.
In the Old Testament things, places and ceremonies were named hagiazo. In the NT the word describes the manifestation of life produced by the indwelling Holy Spirit” Word Wealth – New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1463.]

What does all this mean for you and me, here and now? Here’s how I understand it.

1. By accepting Jesus’ death as applying to me, I can live guilt-free in relation to God.

2. But this doesn’t give me license to do whatever I like – to sin as much as I want because in the next instant I can say “sorry” and be assured everything is okay between God and me again.

3. Rather, my right relationship with God shows itself in my lifestyle. I am set apart (by His Spirit in me) to live a life that is hagiazo.

I ask myself, does my life show this? Are His laws and ways being written on my heart and my mind. Am I continuing in the process of “being sanctified”?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for the sacrifice of Your life for me. Holy Spirit, please set me apart for Your purposes. Write Your laws on my heart and mind. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 29

MORE: Oswald Chambers’ insights on this passage
"We trample the blood of the Son of God under foot if we think we are forgiven because we are sorry for our sins. The only explanation of the forgiveness of God and of the unfathomable depth of His forgetting is the Death of Jesus Christ. Our repentance is merely the outcome of our personal realization of the Atonement which He has worked out for us…..


"It does not matter who or what we are, there is absolute reinstatement into God by the death of Jesus Christ and by no other way, not because Jesus Christ pleads, but because He died. It is not earned, but accepted" - Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest - Read, December 8 reading.

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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 04, 2018

Jesus our praying priest

"Christ As Mediator: Christ showing His wounds to His Father" 
Artist unknown; Illustrator of 'Speculum humanae salvationis', 
Germany (?), c. 1400-1500

Christ as Mediator - artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Hebrews 7-8; Psalm 28

TO CHEW ON: "Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them." - Hebrews 7:25

Theologian Wayne Grudem writes about how Jesus is pictured in Hebrews in relation to the Old Testament covenant:

"In the Old Testament, the priests were appointed by God to offer sacrifices. They also offered prayers and praise to God on behalf of the people. In so doing they 'sanctified' the people or made them acceptable to come into God's presence, albeit in a limited way during the Old Testament period. In the New Testament Jesus becomes our great high priest .... Jesus functions as priest in two ways:

1. Jesus offered a perfect sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 7:27; 9:12, 24-28; 10:1-2
and more).

2. Jesus continually brings us near to God (Hebrews 6:19-20 and more)" - Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology p. 626, 627 (of course Grudem expands on these points).

And Jesus does one more thing as our high priest. "He always lives to make intercession ..." (Hebrews 7:25).  In other words, He continually prays for us.

Though Bible students have interpreted "intercession" in two ways: 1] as Jesus' presence mutely reminding God of our right-standing before Him and, 2] as Jesus actively interceding, the Greek word used for intercession here, entygchano, "clearly gives the sense of making requests or petitions before someone" - Gruden, p. 627.

How does Jesus know what to pray for? Well of course He knows everything so He knows the intricacies of our lives, our weaknesses, what will endanger, threaten, and tempt us. But implied here too, I believe, is the fact that we pray and He brings to God those prayers, petitions, sometimes even wordless groanings.  Grudem again:

"...Jesus continually lives in the presence of God to make specific requests and to bring specific petitions before God on our behalf .... Although God could care for all our needs in response to direct observation (Matthew 6:8), yet it has pleased God, in his relationship to the human race, to decide to act in response to prayer, apparently so that the faith shown through prayer might glorify him" - Grudem p. 628.

What an awesome privilege—to have our clumsily worded requests, tainted by our human imperfections, relayed to God by Jesus our eternal and perfect High Priest!

PRAYER: Thank You, Jesus, for being my High Priest, taking my prayers and interceding to God the Father on my behalf. Please teach me to pray. May my faith grow so that my life honours You more. Amen. 

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 28

MORE: "He always prays for us according to the Father's will"  (Grudem p. 628)

Grudem ends the section on Christ's role as interceding High Priest with this wonderful quote from Berkhof:

"It is a consoling thought that Christ is praying for us, even when we are negligent in our prayer life; that He is presenting to the Father those spiritual needs which were not present to our minds and which we often neglect to include in our prayers; and that He prays for our protection against the dangers of which we are not even conscious, and against the enemies which threaten us, though we do not notice it. He is praying that our faith may not cease, and that we may come out victoriously in the end" - Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 403, quoted in Grudem, p. 628.

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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 03, 2018

Milk vs. solid food

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Hebrews 5-6; Psalm 27

TO CHEW ON: "For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are full of age that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil." Hebrews 5:13,14

What does the writer of Hebrews mean by "milk" and "solid food"? Where do you and I fit in this picture? Are we milk Christians, or do we eat solid food?

The writer gives us a clue when he talks about milk-requiring Christians as those who still haven't come to accept the "first principles" of the faith  (Hebrews 5:12) and again  refers to "elementary principles"  in Hebrews 6:1,2 where he goes on to name those six principles—the foundation on which faith is to be built. They are:

1. Repentance from dead works (see also Hebrews 9:14).
2. Faith toward God (John 3:16 comes to mind).
3. Baptism (see Acts 19:35).
4. Laying on of hands (some examples: Acts 8:17 and 19:6 where "laying on of hands" preceded people receiving the Holy Spirit; Acts 6:6 where it accompanied the commissioning of men for a special assignment).
5. Resurrection of the dead  (Acts 17:31).
6. Eternal judgment (Acts 24:25).

I ask myself, do I have a problem with / argue about / try to rationalize away any of these foundation stones of the faith? Because if I do, the writer would probably consider me a milk-limited Christian too.

On the other hand a "solid food" Christian is one builds a life of obedient practice ("...those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil") upon this foundation.

PRAYER:  Dear God, please help me to settle any issues I have with the basics, so I can go on to live a life of maturity and usefulness in Your kingdom.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 27

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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, December 02, 2018

Sin—not exactly as shown

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Hebrews 3-4; Psalm 26

TO CHEW ON: "Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called 'Today,' lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin." Hebrews 3:12-13

I remember how, when we were little, my siblings and I begged our parents to buy cereal because of the prize inside. Almost always, though, we were disappointed by that prize. For the large, sturdy toy pictured on the outside of the box turned out to be a fraction of the size and often broke even as we were trying to put it together.

Sin is like that. It looks attractive, desirable, must-have, must-do. But it never ends up as good as the picture.

Sin and deceit
  • Satan's deceitful depiction of sin's consequences (he said there were none) convinced Eve to disobey God and put us on the sinful road we're on (Genesis 3:13).
  • Deceit drags others into its net (2 Timothy 2:14).
  • Deceit multiplies (2 Timothy 3:13).
  • The deceived life is one of dissipation and selfishness (Titus 3:3).
  • Continuing to live in deceit results in corruption (Ephesians 4:22) and death (Romans 7:11).
  • We are to exhort our Christian brother or sister if we see them being deceived by sin (Hebrews 3:13).

The reason identifying sin's deceit is so important is because being fooled by it is the first step down the road that leads away from God. A footnote in my Bible says it well:

"Unbelief is caused by a hardened heart, which is caused by the deceitfulness of sin. The result is apostasy, departing from the living God .... Constant encouragement in the midst of a caring fellowship will help believers remain faithful" - Guy P. Duffield, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, notes on Hebrews, p. 1733.

I vaguely recall that often there was, beside those cereal box pictures, a disclaimer that read (in very small print) "Not exactly as shown." Next time we're tempted by sin's attractive image let's imagine those same words beside it: "Not exactly as shown."

PRAYER: Dear God, please open my eyes to sin's deceit. Help me to see past the pretty picture to the lie it represents. And give me the love and courage to exhort others when I see them being deceived. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 26

MORE: "Sin lives in a costume..."

"Sin lives in a costume; that’s why it’s so hard to recognize. The fact that sin looks so good is one of the things that make it so bad. In order for it to do its evil work, it must present itself as something that is anything but evil. Life in a fallen world is like attending the ultimate masquerade party.

Impatient yelling wears the costume of a zeal for truth. Lust can masquerade as a love for beauty. Gossip does its evil work by living in the costume of concern and prayer. Craving for power and control wears the mask of biblical leadership. Fear of man gets dressed up as a servant heart. The pride of always being right masquerades as a love for biblical wisdom. Evil simply doesn’t present itself as evil, which is part of its draw.

You’ll never understand sin’s sleight of hand until you acknowledge that the DNA of sin is deception. Now, what this means personally is that as sinners we are all very committed and gifted self-swindlers . . . . We’re all too skilled at looking at our own wrong and seeing good." - Paul David Tripp, Whiter Than Snow: Meditations on Sin and Mercy, p. 32 (quoted in The Glorious Deeds of Christ, "Why Does Sin Look So Good?")



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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, December 01, 2018

The excellency of God's Son

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Hebrews 1-2; Psalm 25

TO CHEW ON: “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son…” Hebrews 1:1,2

In Hebrews 1 the writer has put together a montage of Old Testament prophecies that predict the excellency of God’s Son.

1. He is creator
- Hebrews 1:2,10 (quoting Psalm 102:25-27).

2. He is the One who “purged our sins” - Hebrews 1:3.

3. Mission accomplished, He now enjoys His inheritance at God’s right hand. As such He is King of the angels—greater than, served and worshiped by them - Hebrews 1:4,5,6,7,13 (quoting Psalm 2:7; 2 Samuel 7:14; Deuteronomy 32:43 NLT; Psalm 104:4; Psalm 110:1).

4. His kingdom is eternal - Hebrews 1:8,11,12 (quoting Psalm 45:6,7; Isaiah 34:4; 50:9; 51:6).

5. His kingdom is righteous - Hebrews 1:8,9 (quoting Psalm 45:6,7; Isaiah 61:1,3).

6. His kingdom is joyous - Hebrews 1:9 (quoting Isaiah 61:1,3).

7. His kingdom is unchanging - Hebrews 1:12 (quoting Isaiah 50:9; 51:6).

As we come ever closer to the day we celebrate the incarnation of God’s Son (Jesus Christ), let’s stir up our adoration and worship by meditating on these grand prophecies and their fulfillment in Jesus:

“O come, all ye faithful,
Joyful and triumphant,
O come, ye, O come ye to Bethlehem!
Come and behold Him
born the King of angels!

O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.”

~ John Francis Wade circa 1743 (Translated from the Latin).

(It sounds like John Francis Wade may have read Hebrews 1 before he wrote this beautiful Christmas hymn!)


PRAYER:
Dear Jesus, thank You for coming to purge our sins and establish an eternal, righteous, joyous, and unchanging kingdom. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 25

The Bible Project VIDEO: Hebrews (Read Scripture Series)



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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 30, 2018

Gentled by love

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Philemon 1-25;
 Psalm 24

TO CHEW ON:
"It's as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus—that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains." Philemon 9,10.

There is something in Paul's voice that is sweet and appealing. Perhaps it's his reference to himself as old. Or maybe it's the helplessness he implies with the use of the words "prisoner" and "chains."

The tone with which he requests mercy for Onesimus could have been far bolder, he reminds Philemon: "... although in Christ I could ... order you to do what you ought to do..." Paul softens his request. It's tempered with love: "Yet I appeal to you on the basis of love" - Philemon 1:9.

I'm thinking that our relationships, within our human families and the church family would run more smoothly, and that there would be a greater will to comply with each others wishes if we communicated with the same gentleness. May God fill our hearts with the oil of love to lubricate our relationships and our speech.

PRAYER:
Dear Father, I need Your love to pervade and gentle my interactions with others. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 24

The Bible Project VIDEO: Philemon (Read Scripture Series)



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Unless noted otherwise, all Scriptures quoted in this meditation are taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.


Thursday, November 29, 2018

Rebuke

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Titus 1-3; Psalm 23

TO CHEW ON: "For there are many insubordinate both idle talkers and deceivers ... whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not for the sake of dishonest gain .... Therefore rebuke them sharply that they may be sound in the faith." Titus 1:10-11,13

A friend was sharing the story of her spiritual journey with me the other day. She told of a time, about a year into her walk with Christ, when substitute teaching jobs kept coming up on the day of her women's Bible study. Feeling the need for more money, she almost always accepted them.

One day when she again phoned her Bible study leader to tell her she would be away, the woman confronted her. "You know," she said, "you're a new Christian and you need this Bible study. You need to get off the fence."

"My leader's words really made me think," my friend said. "We don't reprove or rebuke people much these days."

My friend is right. Rebuke, reproof, confrontation—whatever word you use for it—our tolerant society isn't very tolerant of such corrective speech. But this is what Paul told Titus to do when he encountered the idle talkers [mataiologos  = speaking that lacks reason and worth and gives evidence of an undisciplined lifestyle - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1720] and the deceivers who influenced entire families against the gospel with motives of personal gain.

Titus isn't the only place the Bible mentions rebuke/reproof.

  • Proverbs speaks of the people who rebuke the wicked as having delight and gaining a blessing (Proverbs 24:25). However, the writer is realistic and also warns of the bad reception such rebuke may cause (Proverbs 9:7).
  • Luke tells us to rebuke with care, and forgive when the wrongdoer repents (Luke 17:3).
  • Paul tells his readers to expose the deeds of darkness (Ephesians 5:11). He lists "rebuke" as one of the routine duties of the pastor, along with "preach, exhort, convince, and teach" (2 Timothy 4:2). He tells Timothy to rebuke publicly so that onlookers will examine their own actions (1 Timothy 5:20) and Titus to rebuke sharply (our reading) and with authority (Titus 2:15).

Have you ever been rebuked? Have you rebuked someone? Maybe this is a biblical practice we should do more of, with the intention of helping people mature (Titus 1:13) and as an expression love to fellow members of God's family (1 Corinthians 4:14).

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to have the courage to rebuke a fellow Christian if there is a need. But more, help me to accept rebuke. Help me to see it as an act of love. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 23

The Bible Project VIDEO: Titus (Read Scripture Series)



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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, November 28, 2018

Last days religion

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: 2 Timothy 1-4; Psalm 22

TO CHEW ON: “Having a form of godliness but dying its power. And from such people turn away.” 2 Timothy 3:5.


I have been following with interest the story of Gretta Vosper, the atheist pastor of a United Church in Toronto. That there should even be a debate over whether she keeps her job seems to me the big story here. Of course Ms. Vosper is free to believe what she likes. But to call herself a minister and leader of a faith in which belief in God and the Bible are the foundation while she has bluntly stated she “… does not believe in God or the Bible” shows how far down the path we as a society have wandered toward the last days scenario of “having a form of godliness, but denying its power.” (In early November 2018, her "heresy trial" was called off and she was assured a continuing position with the United Church despite her beliefs that go against the doctrinal statement of the denomination.)


Such a theological symptom is part of a quite horrendous list of self-absorbed behaviours:
“Men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self control, brutal, despairs of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” - 2 Timothy 3:2-4. 

(Had Paul been watching, in prophetic foresight, one of our newscasts?)

A little further along in the passage, Paul gives more insight into “last days” religion: “… always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” - 2 Timothy 3:7.

This reminds me of the description of a modern stream of the Protestant church called "Emergent" found in the book Why We’re Not Emergent:
“Certainty for the emergent church is the same as pinning down Jesus and summing up God, while uncertainty is a breath of fresh air.”
 The authors quote Brian McLaren (a man prominent in the Emergent church movement): 
“‘ Drop any affair you may have with certainty, proof, argument—and replace it with dialogue, conversation, intrigue and search … since reality is seldom clear but usually fuzzy and mysterious, not black-and-white but in living colour’” - Kevin DeYoung & Ted Kluck, Why We’re Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be, Kindle Location 522, Brian McLaren quote source: Adventures in Missing the Point, by McLaren & Campolo, 84.

What does Paul advise Timothy to do in the face of such beliefs and behaviours? He says simply: “And from such people turn away.”

[“Turn away” - apotrepo - means to turn oneself away from, shun, avoid.]

It might be tempting to get a little involved in the self-first behaviours that are so common today (often whipped up and spurred on by social media). Doubt is cool. It’s sophisticated to keep one’s belief options open to any and every belief system. But, Paul tells Timothy and us, that isn’t the path of the Jesus follower who lives by the certainty of God’s word - 2 Timothy 3:16,17.

PRAYER: Dear Father help me to detect any side trips I may be tempted to take into the realm of self first and denying of the truth and power of Your word. Amen. 

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 22

The Bible Project VIDEO: 2 Timothy (Read Scripture Series)



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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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