Friday, March 25, 2011

"The Lord is with you"

"Study for 'Ecce ancilla Domini!'
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti - 1849

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 1:26-38

TO CHEW ON: "And having come in the angel said to her, "Rejoice, highly favoured one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women.'" Luke 1:28

I wonder what the angel found Mary busy at when he came into her Nazareth house. Perhaps she was sweeping or preparing food, sewing or tending the fire, daydreaming or folding clothes. Whatever she was doing, the angel's pronouncement, "The Lord is with you" tells us God had watched and was there, present with her in her everyday living.

God is no less involved in the day-to-day of our lives. And we can be aware of Him by inviting Him into the mundane. I am reminded of Brother Lawrence, that 17th century man, of whom it is said in the preface to his recorded conversations and letter The Practice of the Presence of God:

"No conceited scholar was Brother Lawrence: theological and doctrinal debates bored him, if he noticed them at all. His one desire was for communion with God, We find him worshiping more in his kitchen than in his cathedral: he could pray with another

Lord of all pots and pans and things...
Make me a saint by getting meals
And washing up the plates!

And he could say, "The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer, and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God n as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees" -  p. 8 (in my 1976 edition).

Of course God is with us too, whether we acknowledge His presence or not. But why not? Here are some little things we might do to help us in this:

  • Play praise music while we work, instead of listening to talk radio or TV.
  • Review memorized scripture.
  • Pray for family members, friends, and the world situation as these things come to mind, even as our hands are busy dusting or setting the table.
  • Lay before Him the problems that come up as they occur to us.
  • Use our imaginations to see those around us as if Jesus were right beside us (because He is).

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to practice Your presence by consciously inviting You into every setting, gathering, and activity. Amen.

MORE: "He is Here" - Gaither vocal band

Today the church celebrates "The Feast of the Annunciation." The liturgy for the day begins with this collect:

"Pour your grace into our hearts, O Lord, that we who have known the incarnation of your Son Jesus Christ, announced by an angel to the Virgin Mary, may by his cross and passion be brought to the glory of his resurrection; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

True worship

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 4:1-24

TO CHEW ON: "But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him." John 4:24

There is at this time in Protestant church circles, a range of opinions on the best way to worship God. On one hand there are those who are discovering new-to-them practices of worship by exploring and reintroducing the old ways. A return to liturgy and various methods of contemplative prayer are gaining popularity. Here, for example, is an article by a former Baptist pastor explaining how he uses a rosary in prayer.

On the other side there are those who caution against any and all whiffs of the contemplative, warning that even though these things were modeled and taught by the early church fathers and mothers, they were influenced by paganism and thus tainted and suspect.

Personally, I understand the need for caution but also wonder if we're not going overboard when we label as dangerous everyone with whom we don't agree on every detail. I find myself siding with A. W. Tozer who, when he was criticized for reading and quoting Catholic writers like Julian of Norwich, Augustine, Francis of Assissi, and Michale De Molinos "...handled these naysayers in the same way he dealt with negative comments from his frequent references to the Ante-Nicene Church Fathers, or moderns such as Thomas Merton. These saints, from Tozer's angle of vision, knew the Lord intimately and he learned from their writings about drawing closer to Christ — even if he did not agree with everything they believed" - Lyle Dorset,  A Passion for God: The Spiritual Journey of A. W. Tozer , Moody Publishers 2008,  Kindle location 2074.

But how does one decide what to use, and what to throw out? Worship leader LeMar Boschman writes, in a sidebar article in my Bible:

"It is the believer's responsibility to discover how the Lord wants to be worshiped and to explore and cultivate a relationship with Him out of which sincere, Holy Spirit-enabled worship will flow. Jesus instructs it:
Worship in "spirit" — that is alive through new birth (John 1:12-13; 3:6-7) and aglow with holy Spirit enablement (1 Corinthians 14:14-15). This is not mechanical, rote or merely human activity but dynamically capacitated spiritual action.
"In truth" emphasizes biblical integrity joined to personal honesty, manifest in a heart of sincerity, a humble manner of transparency and a relational integrity. Meaning and being what we say, as well as being spiritually energized in our worship, opens the way to that worship the Father seeks" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1449.
With the Bible as our plum line, we won't go wrong.

PRAYER: Dear God, direct me to true worship through Your word. Please warn me by Your Spirit against any practice or method of prayer or meditation that is dangerous, forbidden, or will do me harm. Amen.

MORE: "Heart of Worship" - Matt Redman

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Friday, March 18, 2011

Bore deep into God

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 89:1-29

TO CHEW ON: "Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne;
Mercy and truth go before Your face." Psalm 89:14

Who of us hasn't set some person on a pedestal only to find, when we get to know them better (or if they are a historical figure, we read about them), there are, running through the strata of their lives, veins of unrighteousness, injustice, falsehood, selfishness, or other failing? We will never experience such disillusionment with God!

God is righteous and justice at the deepest level: "Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne" is expressed in the Message as, "The Right and Justice are the roots of your rule."

The result and evidence of His rule is love and truth: "Mercy and truth go before Your face" (NKJV) is translated "Unfailing love and truth walk before You as attendants" - NLT, and "Love and truth are its fruits" - Message.

Psalm 89:18 uses the adjective "holy" to encapsulate all God's good, sinless, peerless, authentic, above reproach qualities. He is called "The Holy One of Israel."

[holy - qudosh: set apart, dedicated to sacred purposes; holy, sacred, clean, morally or ceremonially pure...Holiness is separation from everything profane and defiling; and at the same time dedication to everything holy and pure" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 155.]

A commentary note in my Bible gives some ways to work the holiness of God, into our lives:

"Holiness is understood and learned by going directly to its source, the Holy One of Israel.
  • Search the scriptures to learn the truth of God's holiness.
  • Ask the Holy Spirit to enable you to walk in holiness (1 Peter 1:13-19) - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 756.

PRAYER: Dear God, I am so glad that You are holy through and through, that in You there is no hint of injustice or unrighteousness, no whiff of hatred or lies. I revel in Your name (vs. 16) — Your essence and reputation. Amen.

MORE: Thoughts on knowing God

"What were we made for? To know God. What aim should we set ourselves in life? To know God. What is the 'eternal life' that Jesus gives? Knowledge of God (John 17:3). What is the best thing in life, bringing more joy, delight, and contentment, than anything else? Knowledge of God (Jeremiah 9:23 ff). What of all the states God ever sees man in, gives Him most pleasure? Knowledge of God (Hosea 6:6).

In these few sentences we have said a very great deal.... What we have said provides at once a foundation, shape, and goal for our lives, plus a principle of priorities and a scale of values. Once you become aware that the main business that you are here for is to know God, most of life's problems fall into place of their own accord" - J. I. Packer, Knowing God, p. 31.

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Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Staged Christianity

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 6:1-18

TO CHEW ON: "Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do....And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites.... Moreover when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites...." Matthew 6:2a, 5a, 16a.

What is this hypocrite business Jesus so condemns here?

A word study article in my Bible explains:

"In Bible days actors wore masks, which included mechanisms for amplifying the voice. Since the dramas were questions and answers, the word describing the dialogue was hupokrinomai, to reply or to answer. Hupokrites is one who is playacting, reading a script, or one who puts on an act. The hypocrite conceals his true motives under a cloak of make-believe" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1299.

Our modern definition bears out the above. My dictionary defines "hypocrite" as one who practices "hypocrisy: The pretense of having feelings or characteristics one does not possess, especially the deceitful assumption of praiseworthy qualities; insincerity; masking or disguising one's true nature."

Jesus puts His finger on three practices the Pharisees of His time performed with insincerity. While charitable deeds, prayer, and fasting are all things easily performed in secret, they made sure everyone noticed a good work was about to be performed by sounding a trumpet. They prayed prominently in the synagogue or street corner where they were sure to be visible. When they fasted, their facial expressions broadcast to everyone that their stomachs were empty. They had corrupted these practices which were meant to minister to God, into advertisements for themselves and their piety.

Do we ever playact in a similar way? Oh, it may not look exactly the same but any act that should be God-directed but we're using to get something for ourselves is hypocritical. We volunteer at the mission and love the admiration we get for it. We give, and enjoy our reputation for being generous. We bless and encourage others with the real view to get them to reciprocate.

We may get what we want. But that's the extent of it. We have our reward.

How much better to examine our motives and expunge any vestige of self-interest. Sometimes that will mean we do things secretly, where there is no chance that anyone will see and compliment. At other times that will mean checking at the door any expectation of having the favour returned by the person who we bless. For "...your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly." (And doesn't even this promise feed into potentially self-serving motives? It could, although I believe God's rewards are often not in kind, but come along a different avenue)

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to recognize the hypocrisy living in me. I repent of hypocritical, pride-inspired actions. Help me to do my acts of devotion secretly, for the right reasons, and for Your eyes only. Amen.

MORE: Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday on the church calendar. This article tells us a bit about the day:

"In Western Christianity, Ash Wednesday marks the first day, or the start of the season of Lent, which begins 40 days prior to Easter (Sundays are not included in the count).

Lent is a time when many Christians prepare for Easter by observing a period of fasting, repentance, moderation and spiritual discipline. During some Ash Wednesday services, the minister will lightly rub the sign of the cross with ashes onto the foreheads of worshipers." the entire article

The liturgy for Ash Wednesday begins with the following collect:

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Monday, March 07, 2011

Faith: seed-sized to mountain-moving

Tree growing through rocks
Harrison, B.C.*

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 17:14-27

TO CHEW ON: "Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, 'Why could we not cast it out?"
So Jesus said to them, "Because of your unbelief..."- Matthew 17:19, 20a

In today's reading — a continuation of yesterday's story — Jesus is down from the mountain and very much back on earth. In fact, the first encounter He has is with the distraught father of a demon-oppressed son. The father tells of how he brought his seizure-prone, self-destructive boy to the disciples (presumably the ones that didn't accompany Jesus up the mountain) "but they could not cure him."

How Jesus' reply must have cut those disciples: "O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you?"

When they came to Him later and asked why they couldn't heal the boy, Jesus answered, "Because of your unbelief..." Then he talked about how even seed-sized faith was enough to move mountains ("a figure for an obstacle, hindrance, or humanly insurmountable problem" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1322).

Judging from His outburst in verse 17, even Jesus was a little jarred by the contrast of the mountaintop experience with life back in the earth-valley. We're not told which disciples tried to heal the man's son. I hope, for their sake, it wasn't the ones who accompanied Jesus up the mountain. How discouraging it would have been for them after seeing heaven open, to come back to earth and find they hadn't changed one whit and that their faith was still practically non-existent.

For that is the purpose of a spiritual high — to build our faith, to give us fuel for living lives that take God's presence and power into our problem-strewn world. A sidebar article in my Bible outlines how faith grows:

"First God says that you have a measure of faith (Romans 12:3). It is resident within you.

Second, God says that this faith comes alive by "hearing...the word of God (Romans 10:17). [For our disciples, this would have been hearing the actual voice of God conversing with Jesus, Moses and Elijah and then declaring "This is my beloved Son....Hear Him!" For us it's hearing God's voice through the Bible and the myriad ways He communicates its truths to us, including those spiritual mountaintop experiences at special weekend retreats.]

Third God says that you can apply your faith to see your daily needs met. How? You do something as an act of your faith. You sow the mustard-seed-sized smallness of your faith into an action of love... speak to your mountain and watch God set about its removal." - Oral Roberts in "God Has a Way of Getting Your Need Met," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 132.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to come down from spiritual high points with bigger faith so I can be more useful in Your Kingdom. Amen.

MORE: "Only Believe" - a collection of quotes by Smith Wigglesworth

* "When you plant a seed God changes the nature of that seed so that it becomes a plant; and the power of life surges in that tender young plant to such a great extent that even a mountain of earth cannot stop it from pushing upward!" - Oral Roberts in "God Has a Way of Getting Your Need Met" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1322 (see photo above).

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Friday, March 04, 2011

"I did the best I could"

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Romans 3:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin." Romans 3:20

Many people, if asked why God should let them into heaven when they die, respond with some version of: "I did the best I could." Even amongst us who claim to trust Jesus alone as our means to heaven, there is sometimes a sense of earning our way by being good enough.

In our focus verse from Romans, Paul squelches any possibility of that. There's a lot to explore in this one short verse.

1. It implies the need of humans to justify* themselves before God.
Way back in His unfolding revelation, God showed at least two things about Himself:
- He is personal: note His personal appearances to Abraham, Jacob, Moses and many others.
- He is demanding: shown by the giving of the ten commandments and the Mosaic law with penalties for failing to comply.

Theologian H. C. Thiessen says, in his Lectures in Systematic Theology: "The specifications of the divine commands with the announced penalty which would follow failures to obey served to arouse a conviction of guilt and fear of the consequences of sin" - p. 276.

2. It tells us that we can't be justified by keeping the law.
Though we do still take the Ten Commandments as our standard of morality, "They are repeated for our instruction as to what the will of the Lord is, but not as precepts that we are to endeavour to keep in order to become righteous. 'That would be useless,' Paul says,'by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified'" - Thiessen, p. 242.

3. It implies there is a way to be justified.
It is through Jesus. He paid the death penalty for our sin. We trust in Him alone.

"Paul declares that by the works of the law no flesh is justified in His sight. The law merely serves to reveal sin and to impel the convicted soul to flee to Christ. Jesus taught that the 'work of God' is to 'believe on Him whom He hath sent (John 6:29).

Men are not saved by 'doing the best they can' as the statement is commonly understood; but they are saved by 'doing the best they can' if thereby they mean that they believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 7:12)." - Thiessen p. 365.

No matter how "good" we are, it's not enough to save us. We are all, from the most heinous murderer to the most saintly Mother Teresa, on level ground before God and in need of Jesus' death to be justified (i.e. reconciled with God).

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for sending Jesus who kept the law, and then died in my stead because I can't keep it. Help me to hold my dependence on You and Your justification through Jesus always in mind. Amen.

MORE: "Welcome to the place of level ground" by Brian Doerksen

"Welcome to the place of level ground" lyrics and cord chart.

1] To show to be just, right or reasonable; vindicate.
2] To declare or prove guiltless or blameless, absolve, excuse.
3] To cause to be free of grievous sin, and be reconciled with God.

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