Wednesday, July 18, 2018

What flows out of you?

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Ezekiel 45-48; Psalm 44

TO CHEW ON:
“He told me, ‘This river flows east through the desert and the Jordan Valley to the Dead Sea, where it will heal the salty waters and make them fresh and pure. Everything touching the water of this river shall live…’” Ezekiel 47:8,9 TLB


What a lovely picture Ezekiel’s vision paints, of life returning and springing up as a result of living water flowing from the temple!  Ezekiel was not the only one who spoke of this.

Joel saw a similar vision:
“… water will fill the dry stream beds of Judah and a fountain will burst forth from the temple of the Lord to water Acacia Valley” - Joel 3:18.

So did Zechariah:
“Life-giving waters will flow out from Jerusalem, half toward the Dead Sea and half toward the Mediterranean, flowing continuously both in winter and summer” - Zechariah 14:8.

John in Revelation saw it too:
“And he pointed out to me a river of pure Water of Life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb, coursing down the center of the main street (of the Holy City, the New Jerusalem - Revelation 21:1). On each side of the river grew Trees of Life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month; the leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations” - Revelation 22:1,2 (compare Ezekiel 47:12).

The beautiful thing is, Jesus also mentioned this life-giving water, but in an even more personal and present way. In John 4, He offered living water to the thirsty Samaritan woman:
“He (Jesus) replied, ‘If only you knew what a wonderful gift God has for you, and who I am, you would ask me for some living water … But the water I give them,’ he said, ‘becomes a perpetual spring within them, watering them forever with eternal life.’” John 4:10,13.

Then, in the temple, preaching to the crowd Jesus said:
‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. For the Scriptures declare that rivers of living water shall flow from the inmost being of anyone who believes in me'" (John 7:37,38, quoting Isaiah 55:1).

John interprets this pouring out as the pouring out of the Holy Spirit (John 7:39). Isaiah spoke of it this way:
“For I will give you abundant water for your thirst and for your parched fields. And I will pour out my Spirit and my blessings on your children” - Isaiah 44:3.

As those who cling to Jesus’ death and resurrection for our salvation, and who have surrendered ourselves to the Holy Spirit, this life-giving flow can be, should be flowing in and through us to others.

We do well to ask ourselves, am I a clear channel of living water? Does my presence bring God’s life, health and wholeness? Or have I become a muddled stream, the sort of which James speaks:
“And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth … Dear brothers, surely this is not right! Does a spring of water bubble first with fresh water and then with bitter water?” James 3:10,11.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, through the work of Your Spirit please flush all that is bitter, stale, and putrid from me. May only living water flow through my thoughts, words, and actions.
 
PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 44.

 *********
Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from The Living Bible (or TLB) copyright © 1971 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved. The Living Bible, TLB, and the The Living Bible logo are registered trademarks of Tyndale House Publishers.

Thanks for reading! This year we are using The Bible Project "Timeless Reading Plan" to read through the Bible in 2018. If you'd like to read along in your own Bible, you can download a pdf of the reading plan HERE.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

When life turns out the lights

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Ezekiel 40-44;  Psalm 43

TO CHEW ON:

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PRAYER:

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

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 43

 *********
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, July 16, 2018

The breath of hope

Bambus in the wind
Image from RGB Stock Photos
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ezekiel 37-39; Psalm 42

TO CHEW ON:
"Thus says the Lord God to these bones: 'Surely I will cause breath to enter into you and you shall live.' " Ezekiel 37:5


The people with whom Ezekiel would have first shared this vision were far from home. Their beautiful Jerusalem had been ravaged and they were living in Babylon amongst those who spoke a different language, ate different food, had differed customs, and worshiped a different God than they did. Ezekiel's vision would have filled them with hope.

The hope begins with the action in verse Ezekiel 37:5 - God causing breath to enter those bones.

[Breath - ruach is breath, wind, spirit  of living breath in man and animals, spirit as the seat of emotions and mental acts, and the Spirit of God.]

Ezekiel's vision has various interpretations. According to my Bible's study notes,* this vision may be:
- a prophecy of the post-exile return of the exiled Jews from Babylon.
- an Old Testament picture of bodily resurrection.
- an analogy for spiritual regeneration and the birth of the church.
- a prophecy of national Israel being restored in end times.

If we take it as an analogy for spiritual regeneration and apply it to our own lives, it can also give hope to us.

Spiritual life in the Bible begins with that birth / wind of the Spirit. Jesus, talking to Nicodemus about being born again, used the picture of wind: "' Do not marvel that I said to you, "You must be born again." The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes form and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit' " - John 3:7,8.

Spiritual work continues with the Spirit's enabling. After His resurrection, Jesus came to the disciples before He commissioned them and "He breathed on them and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.' " - John 20:22.

Spiritual work takes off by the power of the Spirit. Jesus told the disciples to wait for the Spirit's empowering and when He came on the Day of Pentecost and baptized them all, He came with "… a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind…" - Acts 2:2.

Whatever that pile of dead bones is in our situation, God can also revive it with His life-giving breath. Like the exiles of Ezekiel's time found hope in this picture of breath coming into the dead bones of their situation, may the thought that the Spirit can breathe spiritual life into what seems dead to us also fill us with hope today.

PRAYER: Dear God, please come into the discouraging things, the disappointments and areas of my life that are dead with Spirit breath of life. And we remind You of our loved ones that appear spiritually dead. Please revive them with Your breath of spiritual life. Amen.
* New Spirit-Filled Life Bible study notes on Ezekiel authored by Howard M. Ervin, p. 1098.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 42

 *********
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, July 15, 2018

Anti-shepherds

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ezekiel 34-36; Psalm 41

TO CHEW ON: "I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven away, bind up the broken and strengthen what was sick; I will destroy the fat and the strong, and feed them in judgment." Ezekiel 34:16


The book, Journey on the Hard Side of Miracles by Dr. Steven Stiles is an account of one California church's youth group during the Hippie era.

Stiles, the youth pastor at a small church in Santa Cruz, had a heart for youth, the homeless, street people, and the addicted. His passion for street ministry led to the purchase of several old school buses that the youth used for outreach. Under his leadership the youth department grew till it rivaled the size of the main congregation. Not surprisingly, though, the edginess of the ministry led to conflict.

Eventually the senior pastor who was solidly behind Stiles and his evangelistic style was replaced by a man who was much more traditional. He had the ear of the old guard.  One day a board meeting changed everything for Stiles and his band of Jesus People. Here's what happened in Stiles' own words:

"As the end game developed, a final squeeze was put on the youth group. A formal demand was made requiring change in the ministry's basic identity. 'Too Christ-centered,' some critics said. Others voiced their opinions as well: 'Too much time doing worship and devotions, and not enough recreation.' 'Too much use of the Bible and not enough use of denominational material.' 'Too much time together.' 'There's a problem with undesirables.'


Having been unable to jettison the flood of young people that were arriving for help and fellowship, the new church board decided to let us know with final clarity that the youth ministry as it then existed was not wanted" -  Steven Stiles, Journey on the Hard Side of Miracles, p. 90.

I see this story as a cautionary tale. It's easy to give verbal support to reaching the lost. But if your church has ever had a ministry to street people, addicts, and those in recovery, you will know that it is messy and does threaten the status quo.

How do we react when we find derelicts, former or current addicts, and those living in halfway houses sitting next to us in church, sometimes in loud conversation during the service, taking numerous trips outside for smokes, ourselves aware that we have to watch our purses because valuables have been known to go missing?

These things have happened in our church. I can understand the reaction of those California traditionalists trying to take back control. However, it is so against the heart of the Good Shepherd as Ezekiel describes him:

"I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven away, bind up the broken and strengthen what was sick; I will destroy the fat and the strong, and feed them in judgment." Ezekiel 34:16

PRAYER: Dear God, please preserve me from being such a stuffy, self-righteous, self-protective anti-shepherd. I need Your compassionate shepherd-heart for the lost, hurting, bruised and sick. Amen.

MORE: Parking lot sadness
"On the night of the church board's final meeting to decide the fate of the youth ministry, a large group of young people came and waited patiently in the darkness outside. Standing in the parking lot of the church where they had come to know Jesus, they prayed and struggled to understand what was going on.


The decision of the board was finally passed on to those outside, and when the group heard the news that they were not wanted, they stood and wept. Their tears were not of rejection but of loss, for they deeply loved that church" - Steven Stiles, Journey on the Hard Side of Miracles, p. 91.

 
******************
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, July 14, 2018

Story of a proud tree

Tree hit by lightning (Photo - RGB stock)
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ezekiel 31-33; Psalm 40

TO CHEW ON:
"Therefore thus says the Lord God: 'Because you have increased in height, and it set its top among the thick boughs, and its heart was lifted up in its height, therefore I will deliver it into the hand of the mighty one of the nations, and he shall shurely deal with it; I have driven it out for its wickedness.' " Ezekiel 31:10,11

The fault of the great tree in Ezekiel's prophecy was not that it was so magnificent and towered over all the other trees in the forest—but that its "heart was lifted up in its height" - Ezekiel 31:10.

This chapter is a prophetic warning to Egypt. In it, Ezekiel recalls magnificent Assyria, the great tree in our reading. Ezekiel says that just as God allowed Assyria to be cut down by "…aliens the most terrible of nations" (thought to be Babylon), so Egypt is on notice:

 " 'To which of the trees in Eden will you then be likened in glory and greatness? Yet you shall be brought down with the trees of Eden to the depths of the earth …. This is Pharaoh and all his multitude,' says the Lord God" - Ezekiel 31:18.

I find this passage both a warning and a comfort.

It's a warning against pride—exalting oneself. And this is certainly not the only place in the Bible we are warned. We cautioned against pride by:
  • The example of the angel Lucifer—the father of pride - Isaiah 14:13,14.
  • The stories of those who were proud, like Pharaoh (Exodus 9:17); Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:16); Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 32:25), Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4:30) and Belshazzar (Daniel 5:23).
  • The Bible's proverbs and wisdom - Proverbs 17:19; 25:6,7,27; 27:2.
  • Jesus Himself - Matthew 23:12; Mark 9:33-36.
  • Paul - Romans 12:3; 1 Corinthians 4:6; 2 Corinthians 10:5,17.
  • Peter - 1 Peter 5:3.
  • James - James 3:16; 4:10.
  • John - 3 John 1:9

It's also a comfort to know that God has the kings and kingdoms of earth under His control
(Proverbs 21:1). Any dynasty or regime can be toppled at His bidding (Isaiah 40:23; Ezekiel 17:20; 29:4).

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to be wary of the sin of pride in my life and of how foolish any self-exaltation is in the face of Your sovereignty. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 40

The Bible Project VIDEO: Ezekiel - Part 2 (Read Scripture Series)



*********
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, July 13, 2018

A Cautionary Tale

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Ezekiel 28-30; Psalm 39

TO CHEW ON: “You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created,
Till iniquity was found in you.” Ezekiel 28:15



This part of the “Proclamation Against the King of Tyre” (the title given this chapter in my Bible) sounds a lot like a description of Satan and his fall. Like Lucifer’s (Satan’s) fall is described within the prophecy against the King of Babylon in Isaiah (Isaiah 14:12-21), so it seems to be described here in the prophecy against the King of Tyre (Ezekiel 28:2-19).

We can learn several things about Satan from this passage:

1. He was beautiful, gifted and favoured:
“You were the seal of perfection
Full of wisdom and perfect in beauty” - Ezekiel 28:11,12.

2. He was created for a special purpose and assignment:

“The workmanship of your timbrels and pipes
Was prepared for you on the day you were created.
You were the anointed cherub who covers’
I established you;
You were on the holy mountain of God” - Ezekiel 28:13,14.
My Bible’s study notes explain:
'Anointed cherub who covers' indicates high office with authority and responsibility to protect and defend 'the holy mountain of God,' an illusion to God’s throne. The high order and specific placement of Lucifer prior to his fall afforded unique opportunity to bring glory to God. Verse 13 suggests his role included leading heaven’s choirs in worship of the Most HIgh” -  Howard M. Ervin, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1086.

3. His fall came because of pride, unchecked ambition and self-will:
“How you have fallen from heaven,
O Lucifer, son of the morning!…
For you have said in your heart:
I will ascend into heaven,
I will exalt my throne above the stars of God;
I will sit on the mount of the congregation…
I will… I will…” Isaiah 14:12-14.
and
“By the abundance of your trading
You became filled with violence within
And you sinned;
Therefore I cast you as a profane thing
Out of the mountain of God
And I destroyed you, O covering cherub …
Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty;
You corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor
I cast you to the ground…” Ezekiel 28:16,17.

The sobering part of this is that the sins that caused Lucifer to be expelled from God’s presence and thrown out of heaven—pride, ambition, self-will—are no strangers to us. They are what drive many in our society and so easily and readily infect us. Can you say that you are a stranger to them? Neither can I!

Let’s take this sobering account of Lucifer’s fall as a cautionary tale, a warning about the end of pride, personal ambition, and self-will (Isaiah 14:15; Ezekiel 28:17-19; Revelation 12:7-9).

Instead of being captive to these things, let's give ourselves to lifting up and making big the One who is truly praiseworthy and good. Not ourselves but our creator God and all HIs works and ways.


PRAYER: Dear Father, please help me to detect all whiffs of pride, selfish ambition, and self-will within me. I know their origin and I want no part of them in my life and destiny. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 39
 *********
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.

Thanks for reading! This year we are using The Bible Project "Timeless Reading Plan" to read through the Bible in 2018. If you'd like to read along in your own Bible, you can download a pdf of the reading plan HERE.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Path to desolation

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Ezekiel 25-27; Psalm 38

TO CHEW ON: “For thus says the LORD God: ‘When I make you a desolate city like the cities that are not inhabited, when I bring the deep upon you, and great waters cover you, then I will bring you down into the Pit, to the people of old and I will make you dwell in the lowest part of the earth, in places desolate from antiquity with those who go down to the Pit, so that you may never be inhabited; and I shall establish glory in the land’” Ezekiel 26:19,20


Part of our reading today is a prophecy against Tyre. Some facts about the history and setting (gleaned from my Bible’s study notes):
  • Tyre was an important Phonician seaport along the northern coast of the Mediterranean. It was in present-day Lebanon.
  • Tyre was a city of two sections, one on the mainland and the other on an island half a mile offshore.
  • Tyre’s destruction is prophesied in other places: Amos condemned Tyre for selling the Israelites to the Edomites (Amos 1:9), and Jeremiah prophesied their destruction by Nebuchadnezzar in Jeremiah 27:1-6.
  • The destruction of Tyre happened in two parts. Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the mainland city in the siege of 585-572 BC. The island city was destroyed by Alexander the Great in 332 BC. The prophecies in Ezekiel 26:4,12,14 came true when Alexander captured the city by building a causeway using the debris from the city on the mainland.

Ezekiel describes Tyre as a wealthy, diverse, established, bustling and proud seaport. People hearing his prophecy may have thought, how can his words ever come true? And yet Tyre fell as predicted.

As citizens of wealthy, diverse, established, bustling, and proud towns and cities on a continent of similar communities, we may also feel secure and certain that nothing can take our society down. However, even now in our developed democracies cracks are appearing.

Note, for example, the polarization of the people holding to left-leaning (liberal / progressive) and right-leaning (conservative / traditional) thought and lifestyle in the U.S., illustrated by an ad developed for the Republican party, that plays back threats and calls to action by their left-leaning opponents.

The Left in 2018: Unhinged



 As pressure mounts between the two sides, political watchers predict a blow-up. One can see how the nation could explode and implode in civil conflict.

In Canada the conflict is not as overt. Yet if one listens to talk shows and follows comments on Twitter and social media, one can see the same polarization developing.

Let’s not be smug and secure in our own society's outer beauty, sturdiness, wealth, knowledge, and systems of defense, like the citizens of Tyre were (Ezekiel 27:3-11),  when God sees rot and we’re also marked for destruction.


PRAYER: Dear Father, help me as a citizen of a wealthy peaceful nation to resist putting my confidence in possessions and government, especially when that government turns its back on You and urges me to go along with the breaking of Your laws for right living in the areas of accepting, even celebrating sexual perversion and confusion. Help me to cling to Your word as the standard by which I live no matter what my society and government tell me. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 38

 *********
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.

Thanks for reading! This year we are using The Bible Project "Timeless Reading Plan" to read through the Bible in 2018. If you'd like to read along in your own Bible, you can download a pdf of the reading plan HERE.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Do not fret

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ezekiel  22-24; Psalm 37

TO CHEW ON: "Cease from anger and forsake wrath
Do not fret — it only causes harm (it only leads to evildoing - NASB)." Psalm 37:8


So much of our frame of mind and sense of well-being depends on our thoughts. In Psalm 37 David gives us some good thought guidelines. He begins by telling us some thought patterns to shun: anger, wrath, and fretting. In fact, he warns against fretting three times (vs. 1, vs. 7, vs. 8).

"Fret" in Hebrew is charah, a primitive root also translated angry, and kindled. Its English definitions are so telling for our context:
1] to be vexed, annoyed, troubled.
2] to become worn, chafed or corroded.
3] to bite away bit after bit of something with or as with the teeth.
4] to eat through something by or as if by corrosion.
5] to rankle, fester.
6] to become rough or agitated, as water.
Synonyms are irritate, vexation, annoyance, uneasiness.

Do you tend to fret? I know I do. When something troubles me I am like a dog with a bone, biting, chewing, gnawing, then burying but always coming back to uncover my worry so that I can bite, chew and gnaw some more.

David doesn't leave us to fend for ourselves against the negative thoughts  of anger, envy and fretting. Psalm 37 is full of good thought options. We can instead:

"Trust in the Lord" (Psalm 37:3). This is putting the weight of ourselves - our past histories, present circumstances, and future hopes, dreams, expectations, and fears - on God.

"Dwell in the land" (Psalm 37:3). Though not a thought per se, dwelling connotes a rooted, settled, contented existence.

"Delight yourself in the Lord" (Psalm 37:4). We need to focus on God's good character and gifts to us and not on our lacks as compared to what someone else has.

"Commit your way to the Lord" (Psalm 37:5).  Literally, we roll ourselves and our way onto God. We let God take the wheel of life, not fixated on the route we take but giving Him the right to move us here or there,

"Rest in the Lord" (Psalm 37:7).  We are silent, still, at ease, relaxed.

"...wait patiently" (Psalm 37:7).  We aren't in a hurry to see things completed. We live by God's timetable.

"Cease from anger" (Psalm 37:8). We refrain from, let go of, withdraw from anger. This is something we can do — a willful action on our part.

We don't need to be at the whim of negative thinking. But to avoid the tyranny of our destructive thoughts we need to first recognize, then put the brakes on angry, anxious, fretful ones, and finally replace them with thoughts of trust, contentment, delight, commitment, rest, and patience.

PRAYER: Dear God, in the days ahead, even today I'm sure I'll be tempted to fret. Help me to replace fretting with constructive thoughts of You and Your goodness to me. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 37 

*******************
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, July 10, 2018

Faithful

A faithful eagle pair guard nest and young
TODAY’S SPECIAL:  Ezekiel 19-21; Psalm 36

TO CHEW ON: “Your mercy, O Lord, is in the heavens;
Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.” Psalm 36:5
 

Faithfulness. It’s a quality as old fashioned as afghans made by grandmas – and just as comforting. Faithfulness isn’t particularly trendy or sexy. In fact it’s unfaithfulness that contributes to the Hollywood mystique and puts our society’s heroes and stars on ET.

God, on the other hand, is faithful. What does that mean?

Faithful is from emunah (eh-moo-nah) which means firmness, stability, faithfulness, fidelity, conscientiousness, steadiness, certainty, that which is permanent, enduring, steadfast. The word “Amen” (It is firmly, truly so) comes from the same root.


This psalm details some of the ways God is faithful:
- He preserves man and beast.
- He shows lovingkindness.
- He is trustworthy and provides security.
- He provides abundantly and His provisions satisfy physically, emotionally and spiritually.
- His ways are ways of life and light.

 How has God been faithful to you? Can you see His hand maneuvering your circumstances, bringing things together in wonderful little seeming-coincidences?

Or perhaps there are times in your life when (on the surface at least) God has appeared unfaithful? If you look closely, can you see evidences of His faithfulness below the surface, or working in the background of even dreadful situations?

PRAYER: Dear God, I thank You for Your faithfulness. Help me to see evidences of that faithfulness even in times when I feel forsaken. Help me to take the knowledge and experience of Your faithfulness through this year. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 36

MORE: When I think of God’s faithfulness, I think of the song “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” Here is a little background to that song:

“The author of this hymn, Thomas Obediah Chisholm, was born in a log cabin in Kentucky. At age 16, he began teaching school, despite the paucity of his own education. He came to Christ at age 27 under the ministry of evangelist H. C. Morrison. But Chisholm’s health was unstable, and he alternated between bouts of illness and gainful employment in which he did everything from journalism to insurance to evangelistic work. Through all the ups and downs he discovered new blessings from God every morning. The third chapter of Lamentations 3 became precious to him: “His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23).

- From Then Sings My Soul – Hymn Stories by Robert J. Morgan – p. 285, emphasis mine.
**************
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, July 09, 2018

What vine are you attached to?

green grapes on the vine
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ezekiel 16-18; Psalm 35

TO CHEW ON: "Say, 'Thus says the Lord God: "Will it thrive?
Will he not pull pull up its roots
Cut off its fruit
And leave it to wither?
All of its leaves will wither,
And no great power or many people
Will be needed to pluck it up by its roots…" ' " Ezekiel 17:10



In this riddle / parable, the vine refers to Zedekiah with whom King Nebuchadnezzar replaces the legitimate King of Judah, Jehoiachin (who he carries away into exile  - Ezekiel 17:4).

Supported by Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon, Zedekiah becomes a healthy vine, though humble ("…vine of low stature" - Ezekiel  17:6).

Then another king comes along "…another great eagle with large feathers…"—Egypt (Ezekiel 17:15). So the vine shifts its allegiance bowing to the new power, perhaps hoping to placate any Egyptian attempts to overrun and overpower Judah. But it doesn't work out so well. The new power plunders the vine, then neglects it so that when the "east wind" (interpreted as Nebuchadnezzar and his army) comes along it "utterly withers."

The prophetic meaning of this parable aside, it is also a picture to me of what a difference one's vine-source makes.

Here Zedekiah (the vine) looks to Babylon and then Egypt to sustain his power. His kingdom does well as long as Babylon is benevolent. But Egypt is another story. When he tries to curry favor with the new power, disaster.

I ask, from where does the vine we're attached to, I'm attached to, get its life?  Am I, at the most basic level, depending on God, attached to Jesus, so that when circumstances change in my life, the sap of my supply keeps flowing anyway?

Or am I looking to other things to sustain me—things like my health, my savings, the political peace of my country, the well-being of my family? If the "east wind" blew in my life, when it blows, will  I still be vigorous and fruit-bearing, or withered and easily uprooted?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, please help me to be securely attached to You, so that no circumstance will interrupt Your flow of life in me. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 35

 *********
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, July 08, 2018

Building with untempered mortar

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Ezekiel 13-15; Psalm 34

TO CHEW ON:
“So I will break down the wall you have plastered with untempered mortar, and bring it down to the ground, so that its foundation will be uncovered; it will fall, and you shall be consumed in the midst of it. Then you shall know that I am the LORD.” Ezekiel 13:14

“The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart
And saves such as have a contrite spirit.” Psalm 34:18


I read the blog of Rod Dreher (author of The Benedict Option). In a series of posts last week, he reported on accusations of sexual abuse of a teenage boy by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick 50 years ago. Though McCarrick denies that this happened, Dreher uncovers the picadilloes of McCarrick and other priests, actions that have gone on for years and which were widely known (read “Church: Cardinal McCarrick is a  Molester”).

Dreher was investigating allegations of McCarrick’s sexual activity with student priests (adults) as long ago as 2002 but no one would testify “on the record” and so the story went nowhere. The Catholic priest sex scandal drove Dreher to leave the Catholic church years ago in disillusionment.

At the end of another post (“Uncle Ted & the Grand Inquisitor”) Dreher quotes an email he received from a reader about his reporting on these things. It says, in part: “I simply don’t understand your eagerness with this prosecution of McCarrick. … We must protect our brand, our shield, our faith! … In short, we must handle these issues swiftly, legally, but privately. … Image is everything and when it comes to the One True Church we MUST protect her” (emphasis in the original).

The false prophets of Ezekiel’s time would agree that “Image is everything.” But it’s not everything to God. And when the protection of image comes at the price of truth, I would submit that that’s pretty much building a wall or a life with “untempered mortar.”

I ask myself, am I doing that—are you—building a life and reputation on image that’s covering up sin and rottenness?

David, in Psalm 34, tells us how to get back on track with God (the only One to whom our image really matters). It’s with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, by coming clean with tears of “sorry,” then leaving our sinful ways behind.

PRAYER: Dear Father You see everything. I can’t cover anything from You. Help me to build my life with the trusted mortar of truth, not the “untempered mortar” of lies. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 34.

 *********
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.

Thanks for reading! This year we are using The Bible Project "Timeless Reading Plan" to read through the Bible in 2018. If you'd like to read along in your own Bible, you can download a pdf of the reading plan HERE.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

God is never shocked

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ezekiel 9-12Psalm 33


TO CHEW ON: "The counsel of the Lord stands forever,
The plans of His heart to all generations ....
From the place of His dwelling He looks
On all the inhabitants of the earth;
He fashions their hearts individually;
He considers all their works." Psalm 33:11, 14,15

On April 28, 2012 three families traveling on the highway between Fort McMurray to Edmonton (Alberta, Canada) were all but wiped out in a head-on collision. In an instant nine (and a half) dwindled to two. Only the three year-old son of Pastor Shannon Wheaton's family and Mark Penny (whose pregnant wife was killed) survived the crash. The three family members in the other vehicle were also killed. (Read about the accident here.)

Why, we ask? To us the shattering of these families makes no sense. Predictable questions rise in our minds:
- Couldn't God have prevented the accident?
- Didn't evil triumph over good here?

In answer to that last question—yes. In one way every time someone dies evil triumphs over good. For death, from whatever cause, is part of the curse that came on earth because of mankind's first choice to defy God and do our own thing, i.e. sin.

But looked at another way, such happenings never shock God. He is aware of each event. He is more than aware. In a way, He planned them (or maybe better said, 'planned for them') in the first place:

"The counsel (that is the whole program for mankind in history) stands forever;/The plans of His heart to all generations" - Psalm 33:11.

Neither is He just a God of the big plan, but He knows each individual:

"...He looks / on all the inhabitants of the earth;/He fashions their hearts individually;/He considers all their works" - Psalm 33:14,15.

If God knows, plans and ok's each event in my life, your life, the Wheaton's and Penney's lives, from the wonderful to the tragic, and He is good, you and I need to keep trusting Him even in the circumstances that seem like they got away from Him for a minute. Because they didn't.

And so we find hope and comfort in the very God who permits tragedy to touch our lives. As Gerry Bridges explains it in Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts:
"All people—believers as well as unbelievers—experience anxiety, frustration, heartache, and disappointment. Some suffer intense physical pain and catastrophic tragedies. But that which should distinguish the suffering of believers from unbelievers is the confidence that our suffering is under the control of an all-powerful, and all-loving God; our suffering has meaning and purpose in God's eternal plan, and He brings or allows to come into our lives only that which is for His glory and our good" - Jerry Bridges, Trusting God Even When Life Hurts, p. 33.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to trust Your sovereignty and goodness in situations that feel all wrong. Amen.


PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 33

************
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, July 06, 2018

The burden of concealment

Achan hides his loot - Artist Unknown

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ezekiel 5-8; Psalm 32

TO CHEW ON: "When I kept silent my bones grew old through my groaning all day long." Psalm 32:3


David writes Psalm 32 from a place of relief. He had covered a sin, then come clean and confessed it.  He contrasts the way it feels to be holding his secret with the relief of having confessed. Let's take a look at the effects of covering or concealing sin on David - Psalm 32:3,4:

"When I kept silent…
  • "…my bones grew old…" - He felt a sense of fragility and weakness.
  • "…through my groaning all day long." - He experienced day-long agony of spirit.
  • "For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me;" - God's presence felt heavy, not comforting.
  • "My vitality was turned into the drought of summer" - he felt useless and unproductive, like a plant shrivels and grows weak without water.

A brief overview of others who practiced concealment in the Bible show more side effects of covering sin:
  • Adam and Eve attempted to hide from God (Genesis 3:8), though it was and is impossible (Psalm 139:11; Luke 12:2; Revelation 6:16).
  • Achan and Gehazi had to sneak around and hide their stolen treasures - Joshua 7:21; 2 Kings 5:24.
  • Isaiah talks about permanent deep changes to the person who lives a life of concealment. He calls it becoming "warped" - Isaiah 47:10.

I don't know if you have ever refused to confess a known sin, but I have.  I can witness to how accurate David is in describing what it feels like.

Contrast those feelings with how everything changes for him following his confession:
He feels:

  • a desire to be with God again - Psalm 32:6.
  • security in God's presence -  Psalm 32:7.
  • joy, expressed in singing and shouting - Psalm 32:7, 11.
  • direction and purpose - Psalm 32:8.
  • gratitude for God's mercy - Psalm 32:10.

If you are holding onto a secret sin thinking you can live like this indefinitely, stop kidding yourself. Expose your secret. Make it right with God and any person involved. Then watch the vitality and joy flow back into your relationship with God and others.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for David's vivid and accurate description of concealment. Help me to live my life clear and transparent before you and others. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 32

***********

The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.




Thursday, July 05, 2018

"Eat this scroll"

God's word is sweet - Ezekiel 3:3
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ezekiel 1-4; Psalm 31

TO CHEW ON:
"Moreover He said to me, 'Son of man, eat what you find; eat this scroll, and go speak to the house of Israel.' ... Moreover He said to me: 'Son of man, receive into your heart all My words that I speak to you, and hear with your ears.'" Ezekiel 3:1,10

I love this food/eating metaphor of how we are to relate to God's word. I think of many ways it applies:

  • We eat by taking a bite of something.
Similarly we assimilate God's word in small portions.

  • We chew our food, mixing it with a part of us (saliva) to make it digestible.
In the same way we think about and meditate on Bible words, mixing them with aspects of our lives to make them our own.

  • We swallow food, taking it into our inner beings. In the stomach the assimilation continues, unseen, unfelt but but very real as our bodies change the food  we have eaten into energy, body parts, and fat.
Hopefully God's word gets into us energizing, restoring, and changing us in the same DNA-changing way. As God told Ezekiel, "...receive into your heart all my words..." Ezekiel 3:10.

  • Physically we fill our stomachs, eating until our hunger is assuaged. God tells Ezekiel here "...fill your stomach with this scroll..."Ezekiel 3:3.
[Fill - male - means fill, fill up, be full. Male is the source of Hebrew words relating to fullness and fulfillment: filling something to the brim, causing something to be thoroughly saturated... Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible p. 992]
Would this filling imply that there is room for nothing else in Ezekiel's stomach / heart? Maybe part of why we're spiritually malnourished is because we view God's word as a snack or appetizer instead of the main course.

  • Of course our appetite and eating is not an end in itself but a means to an end. We eat so we have energy to live, work, and raise families.
Spiritually our eating has a similar purpose. God told Ezekiel, "eat this scroll and go speak to the house of Israel."  How do we use the spiritual energy we get from Bible study?  Is it just to satisfy ourselves? Or does it fuel testimony, witness, and kingdom work?

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to ingest Your words into my life so that my very self is changed. Then help me to use that stored word as the energy for testimony, witness, and work. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 31

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



***********
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, July 04, 2018

Turn back

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Lamentations 4-5; Psalm 30

TO CHEW ON: "Turn us back to You, O Lord, and we will be restored; Renew our days as of old." Lamentations 5:21

The bleak book of Lamentations ends on a bright note—the possibility of returning to God.

Stories of repentance (turning back to God) run through the Bible.
  • David repented after committing adultery and murder (Psalm 51:1-19).
  • Josiah repented when the priests found and read the books of the law (2 Kings 22:11,19).
  • The pagan Ninevites repented at the preaching of Jonah (Jonah 3:6-9).
  • Even evil King Ahab repented after hearing about God's coming judgment from Elijah (1 Kings 21:27).

I love the story of the Prodigal Son and the wording Luke uses to describe his return: "But when he came to himself he said...I will arise and go to my father and will say to him, 'Father, I have sinned...'" (Luke 15:17-18).

I'm sure you can remember your own coming to yourself, that moment when you 'repented' (turned, changed direction) from unbelief to faith, self-direction to God-direction. I know I can. I tell my story here (end of "My Rambling Story").

Of course following that one moment of big repentance when life takes a whole different direction, there are hundreds of smaller repentances. Each time we find ourselves again taking control of our lives and letting our old carnal self have the upper hand we can repent, turn back and be restored and renewed.

Jack Hayford says about repentance:

"The implications of biblical repentance are threefold:
1. Renunciation and reversal.
2. Submission and teachability.
3. Continued shapeability.


There is no birth into the kingdom without hearing the call to salvation, renouncing one's sin and turning from sin toward Christ the Saviour (Acts 3:19)" - Jack Hayford, "Repentance," New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1293.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for drawing me back go Yourself. I pray for the prodigals in my life, that You will bring them home in the same way. Amen.

MORE: Praise is Rising by Brenton Brown and Paul Baloche
"Hear the sound of hearts returning to You
We turn to You
In Your kingdom broken lives are renewed;
You make us new..."




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

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

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Intercession: patriotism at its highest

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Lamentations 3; Psalm 29

TO CHEW ON: "My eyes overflow with rivers of water
For the destruction of the daughter of my people.
My eyes flow and do not cease
Without interruption
Till the Lord from heaven
Looks down and sees." Lamentations 3:48-50


Jeremiah* here shows himself a patriot whose heart breaks when God comes through with threatened judgments against Judah. What a picture of persevering intercession for his nation!

We are reminded of other leaders who prayed for their people.

  • Moses interceded for Israel when God threatened to destroy them after the golden calf incident (Exodus 32:30-32), and again when God's anger was hot at their refusal to enter Canaan (Numbers 14:17-19).
  • Samuel prayed for the people when they wanted to return to God after a time of backsliding (1 Samuel 7:2-6).
  • David interceded for God's mercy on the people after they were inflicted by a plague following his sin of initiating a census (1 Chronicles 21:16-19).

We don't have to be leaders to intercede for our country. Dick Eastman says of the intercessor:

"An intercessor is a man or woman—or child—who fights on behalf of others. As such, intercession is the activity that identifies us most with Christ. To be an intercessor is to be like Jesus because that is what Jesus is like. He ever lives to intercede (Hebrews 7:25; Romans 8:34)!"

Eastman goes on to give four insights that help us understand the role of the intercessor and grasp its impact:

1. We must understand our "privilege" as intercessors. Christ is ever at God's right hand (Romans 8:34 linked above), and from this position He intercedes for the saints continuously. To be at God's right hand is spoken of in the Bible as being a great privilege and pleasure (Psalm 16:11).

2. We must understand our "position" as intercessors. We are energized (Ephesians 2:45), elevated (Ephesians 2:6: "raised... up together"), and enthroned with Christ in intercession (Mark 11:22-24).

3. We must understand our "promise" as intercessors. Our objective is to see God's Kingdom established (Isaiah 11:9).

4. We must understand our "power" as intercessors. See Luke 10:19... "Our Lord is saying that those who move in the direction of involvement and are willing to pay the price of intervention will have all the power necessary to confront demonic forces in their citadels."

— Dick Eastman, summary and quotes from Love on its Knees, pp. 21-25.

What a privilege to be able to serve one's country in this way!

PRAYER: Dear God, please give me the urgency and conviction of interceding for my nation that I see in Moses, Samuel, David and Jeremiah. Amen.

MORE: Intercession's impact

"I am convinced that when we stand before God with the record of spiritual successes and failures, we will learn that intercessory prayer had more to do with bringing about positive changes in our world than any other single spiritual activity." - Dick Eastman, Love On Its Knees, p. 17.


* "The author (of Lamentations) is not named, but traditions long before Christ claim that Jeremiah wrote it"  - Paul B. Watney,  "Introduction to Jeremiah," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1036.


PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 29

***************
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, July 02, 2018

Suffering and lament

Jeremiah - Weeping Prophet by Julius Schnorr Von Karolsfeld
"Jeremiah"  by Julius Schnorr Von Karolsfeld
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Lamentations 1-2; Psalm 28

TO CHEW ON: "Judah has gone into captivity
Under affliction and hard servitude;
She dwells among the nations;
She finds no rest;
All her persecutors overtake her in dire straits." Lamentations 1:3

Lamentations is a book of laments. Four of its five poems are acrostics, perhaps the writer Jeremiah's poetic way of exploring his feelings of grief from Aleph to Tau (A to Z).

Jeremiah was mourning the fall of Jerusalem and with it the kingdom of Judah. Second Kings and Second Chronicles tell the story of her moral decline. Despite prophet warnings, the nation has continued downward, perhaps feeling too secure in God's promises of ultimate protection. Finally after a starving siege by the Babylonian army, Jerusalem fell, the city was destroyed, the temple burned, and all but her poorest  citizens marched into exile in Babylon. So Jeremiah weeps.

Some of Lamentation's themes help us understand and deal with our own griefs. (Themes are suggested by the "Introduction to Lamentations" in my Bible, by Roy Edmund Hayden, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, pp. 1037-1038):

1. Their suffering was the result of their sin (Lamentations 1:5, 8, 18, 20).
2. Their suffering was seen as coming from God rather than from men (Lamentations 1:13,15).
3. Their suffering could direct them to God.
4. Suffering, tears, and prayers belong together (Lamentations 1:12, 16, 20).

The reasons we suffer may be different from the reasons Jeremiah and the Israelites suffered. We live under a different covenant where even blatant sinners may not experience punishment for sins until after death (2 Peter 2:4-10). But often we are forced to live the consequences of past actions. And suffering is also allowed to discipline us (Hebrews 12:3-17).

In a personal application part of Lamentation's introduction, R. E. Hayden shares some helpful thoughts about suffering with us:

"We need to submit to what God is doing and attempt to learn from the experience. If it is God's discipline, it will last as long as is necessary. There is no quick-fix solution to some of these problems and no easy way out. Discipline will direct us to God, drive us to prayer, and bring us into submission. We need it" - R. E. Hayden, "Introduction to Lamentations," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1039 (emphasis added).

PRAYER: Dear God, I hate suffering as much as Jeremiah did. When trouble comes, may it drive me to You. Help me then to learn all the lessons I need to learn. When I am not suffering, help me to be sensitive and comforting to those around me who are. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY:  Psalm 28

The Bible Project VIDEO: Lamentations (Read Scripture Series)





**************
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, July 01, 2018

Abandoned

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Jeremiah 51-52 Psalm 27


TO CHEW ON: "When my father and my mother forsake me,
Then the Lord will take care of me." Psalm 27:10



"Abandoned on a street corner by his mother at the age of 12, Pastor Bill (Wilson) sat and waited for her at that corner for 3 days. She never came back. A Christian layman who was on his way to see his son in the hospital stopped and picked him up. Anybody could have stopped, but it was the Christian man who stopped. After getting him a hot meal, this gentleman paid for Pastor Bill to attend a Sunday School camp, where he gave his life to Christ. This was the start of his incredible walk with God – one that would change thousands of lives..." - Bill Wilson, founder of the Metro World Child organization, a Christian, non-profit organization dedicated to serving inner-city children throughout New York City and various urban centers around the world.

The love and care of one's parents is pretty well a given. We view it to be foundational to growing up as normal, healthy adults. The belief that kids need their parents is behind the current outrage over the children of people crossing the Mexican US border being separated from their parents. Parents are being jailed for crossing the border illegally while the kids are kept in children's centers while their parents' fate is decided ("Separation of parents, kids at US Mexican border" - CBC news)

 How many stories haven't we heard of messed up adults whose problems are attributed to being neglected or abandoned as kids? Does our focus verse today mean that God can counteract such a basic lack in one's life?

I believe it does. Look at the stories of noteworthy Bible characters torn from parental care and love: Joseph, Daniel, Esther, the little Jewish maid of Naaman's wife.

Look at God's heart toward the abandoned as it comes out in other scripture passages:


Exodus 22:22-23:
“You shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child. If you afflict them in any way, and they cry at all to Me, I will surely hear their cry"

Deuteronomy 10:18
"He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing."


Psalm 10:14
"But You have seen, for You observe trouble and grief,
To repay it by Your hand. 
The helpless commits himself to You; 
You are the helper of the fatherless."

Psalm 68:5
"A father of the fatherless, a defender of widows,
 Is God in His holy habitation."

Psalm 146:9
"The LORD watches over the stranger
He relieves the fatherless and widow;
But the way of the wicked He turns upside down."

Proverbs 15:25
"The LORD will destroy the house of the proud,
  But He will establish the boundary of the widow."

Jeremiah 49:11 
"Leave your fatherless children,
I will preserve them alive; And let your widows trust in Me.”

Malachi 3:5
"And I will come near you for judgment;
I will be a swift witness
Against ... those who exploit wage earners and widows and orphans,
And against those who turn away an alien—
Because they do not fear Me,”
Says the LORD of hosts."

If you have been abandoned, remember that God is for you. He promises to take care of you. He will fill in the physical and emotional holes that your experiences have caused. You can say with confidence:

"When my mother and father (or my spouse, or my children) forsake me,
Then the Lord will take care of me."

PRAYER: Dear God thank You that You are for the abandoned, neglected, forgotten, bereaved, and passed-over ones. Help me, as Your child, to inherit Your heart of compassion, concern and care for them. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 27

MORE: Covenant House
Covenant House is an organization that houses and takes care of homeless and abandoned youth in cities around North America.


*************

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.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...