Monday, February 28, 2011

Let it rain!

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Deuteronomy 11:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "And it shall be that if you earnestly obey My commandments which I command you today to love the Lord your God and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, then I will give you the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the latter rain, that you may gather in your grain, your new wine, and your oil." Dueteronomy 11:13-14

Moses paints a picture of rain-blessed hills, valleys, and fields producing grain, olives, and grapes as a consequence of obeying and serving God. The patter of all that rain sent me on a little hunt through the Bible to see what else it says about rain. Here are some of my discoveries:

1. In numerous places Bible writers acknowledge rain as God's idea and creation (e.g. Amos 5:8).

2. It is usually viewed as a blessing (Psalm 65:10) which falls on us whether or not we are deserving (Matthew 5:45; Acts 14:17).

3. But God also uses rain as a judgment.
  • Sometimes the judgment is too much rain as at the flood, where all humanity but Noah and his family were destroyed (Genesis 7:12, 23).
  • More often the judgment is too little rain, as in the case of a three-year famine when Ahab was king (1 Kings 18:1).   

4. Thus it's no surprise that various Bible writers warn that living a life that displeases God will lead to a lack of rain. That's what Solomon  did in his temple dedication prayer in 2 Chronicles 6:26-27. And that's also what Moses does in today's Deuteronomy reading.  "Love God, serve Him with all your heart, and He will bless you with an open heaven," he says. "Or turn away from Him to other gods, and the heavens will be shut."

In fact, God's open heaven in regard to rain isn't limited to physical rain. Isaiah 55:10-11 likens the effectiveness of God's Word freely spread to the effectiveness of rain. Just as rain accomplishes its purpose when it waters the earth, growing our crops and nourishing our bodies, so God's word accomplishes the nourishing of spirits wherever it goes.

And Joel, after predicting a time when people will see "the former and latter rains," culminates his prophecy with the description of God pouring out His Spirit on all flesh (Joel 2:23, 28).

I want to be under that open heaven. I say, let it rain!

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for rain. Help me to take seriously the admonition to live for You with all that is in me. I want to live under Your open heaven. Amen.

MORE: "Healing Rain" - Michael W. Smith

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Friday, February 25, 2011


TODAY'S SPECIAL: James 5:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord — that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful." James 5:11

Perseverance is not my strong suit. I have more than once abandoned something because it seemed impossible to carry out and I was discouraged. Thus James' encouragement to persevere through the fiery trials he talks about early in the book, and the rich oppressors alluded to in 5:1-5, and the long wait for Jesus' return in 5:7-8 snags my attention.

James refers to the perseverance of Job. We know about him — that man who saw his fortunes turn so that in a matter of a day or two he went from being a wealthy leader in the community to a man who was posessionless, ill, and pathetic. Even his wife encouraged him to give up: "Curse God and die."

We know he didn't. And after he had persevered (we're not told how long his illness lasted), God replenished his state to even greater than it had been before.

Jerry Bridges in his book Trusting God Even When Life Hurts talks about perseverance in the chapter on adversity. He defines perseverance as "the quality of character that enables one to pursue a goal in spite of obstacles and difficulties" (Kindle Location 1897).

He cites Romans 5:3 and James 1:3 — which both speak of adversity and perseverance — noting "We see here a mutually enhancing effect. Adversity produces perseverance and perseverance enables us to meet adversity" (KL 1914).

Then he draws this conclusion about driving force behind perseverance:

"Though perseverance is developed in the crucible of adversity, it is energized by faith...consider the analogy of weight training. Although the weights on a bar provide the resistance needed to develop muscle, they do not provide the energy. That must come from within the athlete's body. In the case of adversity, the energy must come from God through faith. It is God's strength not ours that enables us to persevere. We lay hold of His strength through faith" (KL 1918).

So it is God's strength I need to help me to persevere so that I can get to "the end intended by the Lord." Then, when I have persevered and come out the other side, the realization I will have is that the Lord is compassionate and merciful. I will see that the test or trial through which I had to persevere was for my good and sent because God loved me too much to leave me untried by adversity and faith-flabby from a lack of needing to persevere.

PRAYER: Dear God, it's easy to theorize about perseverance when life is going smoothly. Help me to put these principles about adversity, perseverance, and faith, into practice in my life's small challenges, so that when big ones come, I will have experience with trusting You and knowing that with Your strength, I can make it through. Amen.

MORE: "Whatever Comes" - Brian Doerksen

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wait for God

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 62:1-12

TO CHEW ON: "Trust in Him at all times, you people;
Pour out your heart before Him.
God is a refuge for us. Selah" Psalm 62:8.

It would be interesting to know the story behind this psalm. One senses betrayal. David, in a kind of aside says (perhaps in reference to backstabbers?), "How long will you attack a man? ... They only consult to cast him down from his high position; they delight in lies. They bless with their mouth, But they curse inwardly" vs. 3-4.

And so in this psalm he again plants his flag. (When you say the words it becomes all the more real and set for you.) MY TRUST IS IN GOD!

- People - for whether they are poor or wealthy, powerless or influential, in the end they are as short-lived and inconsequential as vapour.
- Oppression - forcing his will on others.
- Robbery - getting his way illegally.
- Riches - buying his way.

For God is "salvation, "defense," "rock," "my glory," "a refuge." He alone has power (vs. 11). He alone dispenses perfect mercy and justice (vs. 12).

As I look at the list of things David doesn't trust in, I say, Oops! Don't I tend to trust in that same lot, to get my way to advance my career, to further the fortunes of my family? Other people — but it's who you know, isn't it? Force? Money? Even underhanded means (deceit, sneakiness, theft)?

David's challenge to trust in God at all times and to the exclusion of all else applies as much to us as it did to him and the people of his time.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to experience an attitude change so that I trust in, rely on, and hope for You — not other people or my own manipulations. Amen.

MORE: "Pour out your heart before Him" (Psalm 62:8).

This is an invitation to lay our concerns, worries, fears, and disappointments before God just as David did so often in the psalms. You might try that today, praying them out loud or, better yet, writing out your version of Psalm 62:3-4.

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Saturday, February 19, 2011

Marvelous things without number

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Job 5: 1-27

TO CHEW ON: "But as for me, I would seek God,
And to God I would commit my cause
who does great things and unsearchable
Marvelous things without number." Job 5:8,9

Ann Voskamp's little sister died in a tragic accident when Ann was only four. That incident dyed her life's outlook so that even after she had her own six beautiful children, she lived in the night of mistrust. She writes in her memoir One Thousand Gifts:
"The fruit's poison has infected the whole of humanity. Me. I say no to what He's given. I thirst for some roborant, some elixir to relieve the anguish of what I've believed: God isn't good. God doesn't love me.

If I'm ruthlessly honest, I may have said yes to God, yes to Christianity, but really, I have lived the no. Infected by that Eden mouthful, the retina of my soul develops macular holes of blackness. From my own beginning, my sister's death tears a hole in the canvas of the world" -  One Thousand Gifts, Kindle Location (KL) 139.

Job, whom Eliphaz is addressing in today's reading, had every reason to be skittish around God too after the series of calamities that pounded him. Though not all of Elphaz's advice is worth following, his admonish to Job to shift his focus to God's doings of "great things and unsearchable" is good.

That's what rescued Ann. A friend's challenge to her to identify, name, and list one thousand things for which she was grateful — in other words, to start noticing God's good gifts — outfitted her with a whole new set of life lenses.

I personally have joined Ann's "Gratitude Community." We share each Monday, at her A Holy Experience blog, our lists of gifts from the past seven days. The clincher for me was finally "seeing" the reference to thanksgiving in even my own life verse:
Be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and petition with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God...- Philippians 4:6,7.

Why don't you try it? Today, instead of focusing on worries and what ifs, on aches and pains, on dour predictions and dark expectations, turn the tapestry of your life around and study it for blessings. You may find, with Ann:

"The act of naming grace moments, this list of God's gifts, moves beyond the shopping list variety of prayer and into the other side. The other side of prayer, the interior of His throne room, the inner walls of His powerful love-beating heart. The list is God's list, the pulse of His love — the love that thrums on the other side of our prayers. And I see for now what it really is, this dare to write down one thousand things I love. It really is a dare to name all the ways God loves me. The true Love Dare. To move into His presence and listen to His love unending and uncontainable. This is the vault of miracles - One Thousand Gifts, KL 780 (emphasis added).

PRAYER: Dear God, help me, today, to catch that "love that thrums on the other side of my prayers." I want to live with my eyes open to your "marvelous things without number" today. Amen.

MORE: #1

The book trailer to One Thousand Gifts is more than just an advert for a great book. Watch it (below), then count it as #1 on your own list of 1000 gifts.

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Friday, February 18, 2011


TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 3:10-23

TO CHEW ON: "Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one's work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is." 1 Corinthians 3:12-13

Who of us hasn't seen video clips on the evening news of people sifting through the charred remains and ashes of their burned homes? Each time I am chilled by their, "This was all I had. My whole life was here. I lost it all."

That's the scene these verses from 1 Corinthians bring to mind. And I just know I don't want that to be me on "the Day" (of Jesus' return). I'm sure you feel the same way. So how do we avoid this? How do we leave a life-legacy that doesn't go up in flames?

As I view the rubble of the scene, I think of the warning Jesus gave:
"Don't lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal" Matthew 6:20.

Expending our efforts on things that last beyond this life, pouring ourselves out for the well-being of peoples' souls instead of amassing physical stuff and building monuments to ourselves is certainly one aspect of this.

But it seems that Paul is talking about more. The implication is that these people are all busy in spiritual work, building on Jesus, the right foundation (1 Corinthians 3:11). We can conclude that even in that there is a right and wrong way to build, a way to build with lasting materials or flammable ones.

Read any book describing cults and you will, I think, be struck by how many start with Jesus. He is part of their foundation. But somewhere their leaders and/or followers have used other materials than the Word of God, or stressed one part of the Bible ignoring other parts, or compromised in their lifestyles necessitating rationalization with its accompanying potential for false teaching.

A footnote in my Bible says about these building materials:

"To build on the foundation a building of durable material (gold, silver, precious stones) is to teach sound doctrine and live a life of fidelity to the truth, thus leading converts to spiritual maturity. To build with perishable material (wood, hay, straw) is to provide inadequate or unsound teaching or to compromise the truth by demonstrating a lifestyle that contradicts or fails to model it" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1583.

So how do we make sure we "teach sound doctrine and live a life of fidelity to the truth"? I would submit it's by getting very familiar with the building supply depot — the Bible (all of it, not just the red-letter parts, or the gospels, or the epistles, or the Psalms...) and by giving the Holy Spirit permission to apply it to our lives, even when it wreaks a little havoc with our current building projects.

PRAYER: Dear God, I don't want to stand before You someday next to a pile of smoking rubble, having accomplished nothing that lasts. Help me live my life with today's warning in mind. Amen.

MORE: Learning about world religions

There are thousands of belief systems in the world, hundreds of which name Jesus as part of their foundation. One book that helps the layperson through this maze is James Beverley's Nelson's Illustrated Guide to Religions: A Comprehensive Introduction. A part of the book that makes it useful is Beverley's evaluation of how each belief systems relates to Christian orthodoxy. This book would be a valuable addition to any home library.

(My July 2009 review of Nelson's Illustrated Guild to Religions is here).

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

The bad stuff

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 119:65-80

TO CHEW ON: "It is good for me that I have been afflicted.
That I may learn Your statues." Psalm 119:71

Three times in today's reading the psalmist refers to affliction as a positive thing.

Afflicted / affliction is not a word we use commonly these days. I'm not sure why as it does a good job of describing bad stuff. In English it means to distress with continued suffering, trouble greatly, cast down, and overthrow. It is sore distress of body or mind.

The Hebrew word for affliction (anah) is also translated force, disturb, do violence to, humble, oppress, mistreat, ravish, silence, treat harshly, violate, weaken.

The existence and continuation of affliction in a world created and sustained by a sovereign and loving God has taunted the intellect and faith of thinkers forever. Jerry Bridges in his book Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts faces this problem head on. He presents various popular views held by people in the light of this seeming contradiction about God (for example, God is good, but not all-powerful, or God is powerful but distant and not involved in the day-to-day events of His creation) then takes the entire book to explore how God can be both good and sovereign even in the face of bad stuff continuing.

The psalmist, here at least, doesn't wrestle with that problem. He is quick to name three benefits of his afflictions:

1. They drive him to God and right living:
"Before I was afflicted I went astray
But now I keep Your word" - Psalm 119:67.

2. They help him focus on and learn God's ways:
"It is good for me that I have been afflicted
That I may learn Your statues" - Psalm 119:71.

3. They test and in the end strengthen his faith in God's love:
"I know O Lord, that Your judgments re right
And than in faithfulness You have afflicted me" - Psalm 119:75.

In his book, Bridges names more benefits:

4. They help conform us to Jesus' likeness:
"God has an over-arching purpose for all believers to conform us to the likeness of His Son Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29). He also has a specific purpose for each of us that is His unique tailor-made plan for our individual life (Ephesians 2:10) - Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts, Kindle location 392.

5. They advance God's glory:
"As we watch tragic events unfolding...we often are prone to ask God why. The reason we ask is because we do not see any possible good to us or glory to God that can come from the particular adverse circumstances that have come upon us or our loved ones. But is not the wisdom of God — thus the glory of God — more eminently displayed in bringing good out of calamity than out of blessing?" - Trusting God, KL 1160.

"... God's infinite wisdom then is displayed in bringing good out of evil, beauty out of ashes. It is displayed in turning all the forces of evil that rage against His children into good for them. But the good that He brings about is often different from the good we envision" - Trusting God, KL 1171.

What great facts to know in our heads. Oh to know them in our experience and hearts, to the extent that we can say with the psalmist: "It is good for me that I have been afflicted."

PRAYER: Dear God, affliction hurts - me, my family members and friends. Help me to live with You so closely and trust You so implicitly that affliction doesn't threaten my faith in You, but only makes it stronger. Amen.

MORE: More on affliction

All quotes are from Trusting God by Jerry Bridges:

"God knows exactly what He intends we become and He knows exactly what circumstances, both good and bad, are necessary to produce that result in our lives" - KL 1180.

"He is the perfect teacher or coach. His discipline is always exactly suited for our needs. He never over-trains us by allowing too much adversity in our lives" - KL 1197.

"Just as we must learn to obey God one choice at a time, we must learn to trust God one circumstance at a time" - KL 461.

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Sunday, February 06, 2011

No one is a blockhead to God

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 6:13-24

TO CHEW ON: "And whoever says to his brother, 'Raca!' shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says 'You fool!' shall be in danger of hell fire." Matthew 5:22b

I read this and hear a little voice in my head saying, 'Come on, Jesus, You can't mean this.' For who of us hasn't called someone "Blockhead" or "Stupid" — the modern equivalent of "Raca," or thought, if not spoken the label "Fool" over someone?

A. W. Tozer gives an explanation of this verse in his essay, "On Calling Our Brother a Fool":

"What our Lord is saying here is not that a man will be punished with hell fire for calling another a fool, but that a man who can say 'Thou fool' to a fellow man is revealing a state of heart which will fit him for hell in the end. Not the relatively slight offense of calling a brother a fool, but the serious sin of feeling contempt endangers a man's future...

Contempt for a human being is an affront to God almost as grave as idolatry, for while idolatry is disrespect for God Himself, contempt is disrespect for the being He made in His own image" - Of God and Men, p. 82-83.

Tozer goes on to say how contempt is really a mask for pride. The contemptuous person's high opinion of himself is based not on the fact he is made in God's image but because he fancies himself to have virtues he doesn't have. His error is actually moral as well as intellectual.

Tozer points out how readily contempt flourishes in the realm of religion and church-going. We easily look down on the person who is an outright sinner and readily call fellow Christians, with whom we disagree, fool-equivalent names.

However, that doesn't mean that the Christian closes his eyes to sin. Tozer explains:
"He cannot avoid rendering moral judgment on the deeds of men; and, indeed, he is accountable to do so. 'By their fruits ye shall know them.' 'From such turn away.' But his disapprobation of the evil ways of men must not betray him into contempt for them as human beings. He must reverence the humanity of every man, however degraded, out of appreciation for his divine origin. No one for whom Christ died can be common or worthless" p. 84.

I confess, I have been contemptuous and felt convicted about it. The next time my ugly pride rises as contempt, I will imagine Jesus standing beside me. I will ask, How does He view this person?

I will do a little realistic thinking about myself and my own potential for sin ("There but for the grace of God go I").

And I will remember that Jesus died for us both.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to see others and myself through Your eyes. Remind me of the infinite worth of each person. Help me to reflect that regard, not only in my actions and words, but even my thoughts. Amen.

MORE: The Image of God

Have you ever thought about what it means to carry the "Image of God" — that thing which we name as giving humanity its special dignity. I challenged myself to define it when I wrote Bible Drive-Thru (devotions for kids ages 8-12). Here is a link to the meditation with my definition: "Special Creation." Your thoughts?

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Saturday, February 05, 2011

The mysterious life

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 2:1-16

TO CHEW ON: "But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory." 1 Corinthians 2:7

Something I love about the Bible is the way it shows itself to be increasingly interrelated and consistent, richer and more satisfying the deeper I dig into it. No matter what Bible topic I study — light, water, fire, new life — the more I mine, the purer the treasure I find. That's probably because in the Bible we're dealing with what Paul calls the "wisdom of God," truth that comes from God's pure gold, IQ-off-the-charts mind.

Paul calls God's wisdom a mystery. A footnote article in my Bible explains:

"Mystery in the New Testament does not mean mysterious or difficult to understand, but denotes a truth hidden in God's mind until He chooses to disclose it. God had the plan of redemption in mind before the creation of the world, and it would have remained unknown had He not revealed it in Christ..." New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1582.

I love how the verse that follows our focus one (vs. 8) tells us that no human in charge at the time or even Satan (the "god of this age" - 2 Corinthians 4:4) or the demons of hell ("principalities and powers" Colossians 2:15) had any clue about God's plan or "they would not have crucified the Lord of glory." Foiled!

But we can tap into that "mystery" mind. How? Through the Holy Spirit:

"But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit. For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets. No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit. And we have received God’s Spirit (not the world’s spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us" NLT vs. 10-12

It's as our little paragraph above finishes:

"...Believers live by a secret, the essence of which is Christ and His glorious purposes for the world" NSFLB, p. 1582.

I ask myself, am I living true to that "secret," that "mystery"? Do I set my priorities by it? Or do I let the din and clamour around me drown out that divine Pied-Piper song?

PRAYER: Dear Holy Spirit, please reveal the mind of Christ to me. I want my life to be part of Your mystery, lived in cooperation with Your plan that was "ordained before the ages." Amen.

MORE: What the above may mean:

"Never choose to be a worker, but when God has put His call on you, woe be to you if you turn to the right hand or to the left. He will do with you what He never did with you before the call came. He will do with you what He is not doing with other people. Let Him have His way."
- Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest, October 25th reading.

"God breaks up the private life of His saints and makes it a thoroughfare for the world on one hand and for Himself on the other.... Let Him have His way; if you do not, instead of being of the slightest use to God in His redemptive work in the world, you will be a hindrance and a clog."
- Oswald Chambers, My Utmost, November 1 reading.

"It is one thing to go through a crisis grandly, but another thing to go through every day glorifying God when there is no witness, no limelight, no one paying the remotest attention to us....The test of the life of a saint is not success, but faithfulness in human life as it actually is."
- Oswald Chambers, My Utmost, November 16 reading.

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Tuesday, February 01, 2011

God-ordered steps

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 37:21-40

TO CHEW ON: "The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord
And He delights in his way.
...The law of His God is in his heart;
None of his steps shall slip." Psalm 37:23, 31

I love to walk and try to get out for a walk almost every day. All my walking has shown me that I prefer some surfaces to others. I'd take a predictable concrete, asphalt or packed gravel path over an icy, muddy or tree-root-ridged one any day.

Our focus verses today use walking as a metaphor for life. Specifically, they talk about the very smallest parts of the walking motion — the steps. In walking, steps are the movements we need to make to get from here to there. In life, the steps would be the smallest increments of time, the moment-to-moment. David, makes some wonderful claims about God's involvement in our steps or moments:

  • "The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord," or as the Amplified Bible puts it: "...directed and established of the Lord." In other words, He does more than look on or stand back to observe how we're doing. He plays an active role in orchestrating the smallest details.
  • "He delights in his way..." ("... He busies Himself with his every step" - Amplified). I imagine God like a proud parent watching me take my first tottering steps of faith, cheering me on as I learn to stride, jog, and run, keeping me from a total face-plant as He hangs onto my hand when I stumble ("Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; For the Lord upholds him [her] with His hand" vs. 24).  
  • "The law of his God is in his heart / His steps do not slip." Verse 31 carries on with the step imagery, cluing us in to our part. It is to make sure that we who are doing the stepping know God's principles and have them engraved on our hearts to the extent that we are on God's frequency, tuned in and moving sure-footed to His rhythms. If we don't we are in danger of finding ourselves on treacherous, unpredictable footing. Our steps may slip.

Do you believe this? Do I? It's easy to say "yes," when circumstances mesh in wonderful humanly unexplainable 'coincidences.' But what about when I break my molar on a popcorn kernel, like I did over Christmas, or forget to take something I had promised to bring back with me from our holidays? Is God even in what feel like missteps? Knowing He is puts a whole new spin on what I consider to be trouble!

PRAYER: Dear God, I am both amazed and comforted that You concern Yourself, delight in, and are busy with my every moment. Help me to be a student of Your ways so that I will walk sure-footed with You. Amen

MORE: What's wrong with this statement?

"Pray for Luck

I landed my first book deal because a publisher was looking to expand into new topics — and I matched their needs perfectly at the time. By the time we were working on our next project together, their needs had shifted once again.

This time I found myself outside of their plans.

You can't underestimate the importance of timing and luck in the writing business..."

This is a quote from a book (which I will leave unnamed) about the writing business. What surprises me is that the author, who seems to credit "luck" with an inordinate amount of power, is a theologian and the book "which matched their needs perfectly" is a book about theology!

However, I ask myself, don't I often live as if my circumstances were orchestrated by a capricious, impersonal force? How much better to remind myself that a sovereign and loving God, and not luck, is ordering all my steps.

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