Tuesday, July 24, 2012

God can handle your rant

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 7:1-17

"Oh, let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end, But establish the just; For the righteous God tests the hearts and minds. My defense is of God, Who saves the upright in heart." Psalm 7:9,10

This psalm sounds like a bit of a rant. According to its title, David wrote it about a specific incident or person. He names "Cush a Benjamite." My Bible's notes suggest that it may  be connected with his flight from king Saul in the early days before he was king. Or perhaps David wrote it after Absalom tried to take over the throne when he fled the city and on his way out of town encountered Shimei, a Saul loyalist who cursed him roundly (2 Samuel 16:5-8).

In it he holds little back.
  • He calls for help: "Save me... deliver me..."
  • He tells God he didn't do anything to deserve this: "If I have done this: If there is iniquity in my hands, If I have repaid evil to him who was at peace with me..."
  • He suggests God come to his aid: "Arise O Lord ... Lift Yourself up ... Rise up..."
  • He even imagines details of his enemy's defeat: "He made a pit and dig it out and has fallen into the ditch which he made."
  • And then he ends on a note of serenity: "I will praise the Lord..."

I doubt that when David wrote it he had any idea we would be poring over it thousands of years later, sometimes even clucking our tongues over some of its vindictive passages. He just, as they say about personal writing, opened a vein onto the page, or scroll.

Judging by how the psalm ends, the method worked. It settled him down. By drawing his attention away from his enemy and back to God he regained peace.

This psalm's honest tone invites us to be just as frank with God. Can we give ourselves permission to do what David did? Can we bare our souls to God no matter how we sound and in this way write the poison from our systems and draw our focus back on God who is bigger than any vexing person or problem?

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the examples of honest writing in the Bible. Help me to use this means of working through my feelings to draw my attention from things that upset, frighten or perplex me, back to You. Amen.

MORE: Journaling

"Journaling is a time-tested and proven method of recording how God interacts with us in our everyday lives, as well as how we ourselves interact with Him. Journaling can be for the purpose of recording observations in Scripture, reflecting how God is dealing with us, or for recording our prayers. Regarding Scripture, journaling serves the useful purpose of assisting us in taking time to reflect and meditate on God's Word"  - From "The Journals of Jim Elliot"

For lots more information and tips about journaling and Bible study, explore Walk With the Word, especially the Journaling track.


Newly released from Word Alive Press: Destiny's Hands.

Order yours today!

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Sunday, July 22, 2012

The lingering Mary

Christ appearing to Mary Magdalene
by William Brassey Hole

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 20:1-18

TO CHEW ON: "Then the disciples went away again to their own homes, But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb." John 20:1-11

Of all the disciples it is Mary called Magdalene who puts the most human face on the grief Jesus' friends felt as His death. She is the Mary who was named among Jesus' women disciples. She is among the women "who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities." She herself was delivered from seven evil spirits. And she was grateful -- to the extent she traveled with Jesus and supported Him with "substance," probably money and service.

(This closeness may be why there has been unsanctified speculation about Mary being intimate with Jesus in a sexual way. There is no grounds for this in the Bible.)

Mary Magdalene was loyal to the end. She was there in the crowd of women, looking on from afar when Jesus was crucified. In our reading today we find her getting up while it was still dark on the day after Sabbath, to slip out to Jesus' grave  and grieve.

There what a cruel shock! The tomb seal was broken and the body missing. She suspected grave robbers. Distraught, she reported back to Peter and John, "They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him."

She then must have gone back to the tomb with the men, for after they left, we see her there again, weeping. Maybe to reassure herself that He really was missing, she entered the vault where His body should have been and encountered two angels in white. It was after a short conversation with them that she saw Him. Not only that, He talked to her!

It happened when she lingered. Not in a hurry to get on with her life, she stayed after the others had left. Jesus met her then.

Maybe we can learn something from this. Maybe we need to be a little less tuned toward entering or reentering the hustle and bustle of the day. A little more willing to linger.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, help me to learn from loyal, grateful, practical yet willing-to-linger Mary Magdalene. Amen.

MORE: Feast of Mary Magdalene
Today is the Feast of Mary Magdalene. The liturgy for this day begins with this Collect:

"Almighty God, whose blessed Son restored Mary Magdalene to health of body and of mind, and called her to be a witness of his resurrection: Mercifully grant that by your grace we may be healed from all our infirmities and know you in the power of his unending life; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen."

Magdalene is a historical fiction account of this woman by Angela Hunt.

Excerpt from a starred booklist review:

"Angered by the assertions of The Da Vinci Code (2003)--in particular, that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene--Hunt tells the traditional story, more or less, of Mary Magdalene. The "more or less" would be that Hunt turns Mary into a staunch feminist and downplays her history as a prostitute. She is Yeshua's shrewd advisor and helpmate, no more. And she is an interesting woman…"

From the archives

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Friday, July 20, 2012

Burning, pounding words

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Jeremiah 23:23-40

TO CHEW ON: "'The prophet who has a dream, let him tell a dream; And he who has My word, let him speak My word faithfully.
What is the chaff to the wheat?' says the Lord.
'Is not My word like a fire?' says the Lord,
'And like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?'" Jeremiah 23:28-29

As we finish the chapter in Jeremiah we began yesterday, the prophet continues on in his rant against Judah's false shepherds and prophets. Then God Himself breaks into the prophecy. He says, in effect (my paraphrase):

'(Despite all these false prophets) let the real prophets keep prophesying. For just as wheat and chaff are separated at harvest time, so someday it will be evident which were false prophecies (chaff) and which were true (wheat). My words are fire (effective, purifying, destroying) and a hammer (powerful, destructive, constructive).'

Scripture witnesses in many places to the effectiveness and power of God's words.

  • At creation: "Then God said, 'Let there be light'; and there was light" (Genesis 1:3).

  • In the lives of people: Sometimes God's words took a long time to come true, as in Jacob's life (God's promise: Genesis 28:15; its fulfillment many years later: Genesis 35:7).

At other times they were enacted instantly (like in the story of Gehazi, Elisha's lying servant. When Elisha confronted him with his lies to Naaman and pronounced the punishment of leprosy, Gehazi became leprous in that instant - 2 Kings 5:27).

  • The Gospels are full of examples of the effects of Jesus' words — turning lives around by dealing with root causes of sin (Matthew 9:1-8), healing people, even raising some from the dead (Mark 5:22-43).

The Bible writers' literary comparisons of God's word to fire, hammer or sword were no mere fanciful metaphors or wishful thoughts.

Still today we can trust God's words as they come to us in the Bible. They are far more insightful than any human-authored words that seek to explain how life works and how we should live. For His words are true and will happen as surely as the One who spoke them is reliable. We can look to them for direction for life and hope for death.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your powerful and effective words. Help me to actually build my life on their truths. Amen.

MORE: Book wisdom

"I  am a creature of a day. I am a spirit come from God, and returning to  God. I want to know one thing: the way to heaven. God himself has  condescended to teach me the way. He has written it down in a book. Oh,  give me that book! At any price give me the book of God. Let me be a man  of one book.--John Wesley

"When you read God's Word, you must constantly be saying to yourself, "It is talking to me, and about me." --Soren Kierkegaard

"The Bible is the greatest example of the whole being greater that its parts" –Michael Phillips.

Quotes from Tentmaker Quotes

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Thursday, July 19, 2012

False shepherd alert

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Jeremiah 23:1-22

TO CHEW ON: "'Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture!' says the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord God of Israel against the shepherds who feed My people: 'You have scattered My flock, driven them away, and not attended to them. Behold I will attend to you for the evil of your doings,' says the Lord." Jeremiah 23:1-2

I have, in the last while, run into evidence that the problem Jeremiah had with false shepherds in his day continues in ours. Otherwise, how do you explain a Lutheran pastor who describes himself as a "vedic buddhist pagan," or a local church leader who, in his role as TV host-interviewer is more preoccupied with pointing out how Buddhism contains truth than explaining how it contradicts the Gospel?

In our time, when blending belief systems with a view to getting along with everyone is the trend, I guess it's not surprising. But the pervasiveness of such tainted teaching makes it all the more important to be able to tell who the false shepherds/teachers are. Jeremiah in this chapter names several lifestyle and teaching indicators:

1. They are profane (vs. 11). I can't help but think of the trend in parts of the church these days to use spiced up language even from the pulpit, supposedly to attract the unbeliever: "See, we can relate to you because we talk just like you do."

2. They prophesy by Baal (vs. 13), i.e. hey incorporate the teachings and authority of another 'god.'

3. They commit adultery and live like the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah (vs. 14), i.e. their lifestyle is just as immoral as society's all around. 

Throughout the Bible false teachers / shepherds are mentioned often. Looking at those references gives us some more ways to spot them.

  • Unfamiliar teaching. Jeremiah describers them as teaching something "new" and says they "speak a vision of their own heart" (Jeremiah 23:16). Paul warns Timothy about their "doctrines of demons," and their "profane and idle babbling" (1 Timothy 6:20).
  • Human-centered. This may mean making up rules for people to follow, as the Scribes and Pharisees did (Mark 7:7). It could also include teaching human wisdom instead of Christ: "philosophy and empty deceit ...tradition of man according to the basic principles of the world and not according to Christ" (Colossians 2:8).
  • New take on Jesus. False teachers often tinker with Jesus' identity. Paul warns the Corinthians about preachers who proclaim an unfamiliar Jesus, a different spirit, and a different gospel (2 Corinthians 11:4). Peter warns about teachers who deny the efficacy of Jesus' work on the cross (2 Peter 2:1). Some may even use Scripture itself to challenge Jesus' identity, like Satan did during Jesus' temptation (Matthew 4:6).
  • No bad news. The false shepherds of Ezekiel's day avoided the bad and unpleasant, saying only things the people wanted to hear (Ezekiel 13:10).
  • Divisive. Paul warned Titus about teachers who were divisive (Titus 3:10). Related to causing division is the desire to build one's own following (Acts 20:30).
  • Hypocritical and immoral lifestyle. Jesus warned about teachers who lived lives of hypocrisy (Luke 12:1). Paul lumped heretical teachers in with those who practiced idolatry, sorcery and a lot of other things (Galatians 5:20).

The key thing in identifying false shepherds still always comes down to being familiar with God's word. When we know what it says, we'll be alert to someone who is trying to tell us something it doesn't say: "...holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and convict those who contradict" (Titus 1:7-9).

PRAYER: Dear God, I want to live by truth. Help me to know and understand Your word so that I will be able to detect error. Amen.

MORE: Doctrinal defection

"What we see today in the moral collapse of the ministry is not the worst priestly failure. Far more devastating for the church long term is the doctrinal defection of thousands of pastors away from the authority and sufficiency of Scripture and away from biblical truth.
"The Curse of Priestly Failure" By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org
(From the archives)

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

How far will God bring you?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Samuel 7:18-29

TO CHEW ON: "Then King David went in and sat before the Lord; and he said 'Who am I, O Lord God? And what is my house, that you have brought me this far?'" 2 Samuel 7:18

God's favour to David, as evidenced by His promise to make David's family a forever lineage, caused him to take stock of how far he had come. His humble beginnings as the youngest, stuck tending sheep while his brothers lined up for Samuel's anointing, would not have predicted this. Neither would the years he lived as an outcast on the run from King Saul. But no person or circumstance could thwart God's plans for him.

It's the same for you and me. Our humble beginnings and what has happened in our past is no obstacle to God and His destiny for us. However, when we're in the middle of humdrum life, it's hard to believe or even grasp this. Here are some verses to help us build faith in God's creative ability to transform our lives:

“Then I will sprinkle  clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed  away, and you will no longer worship idols.  And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I  will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender,  responsive heart.And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations" - Ezekiel 36:25-27, NLT.

"'For I know the plans I have for you,' says the Lord. 'They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope'" - Jeremiah 29:11, NLT.

"But He said, 'The things which are impossible with men are possible with God'” - Luke 18:27, NKJV.   

"And all of us, as with  unveiled face, [because we] continued to behold [in the Word of God] as  in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are constantly being transfigured  into His very own image in ever increasing splendor and from one degree  of glory to another; [for this comes] from the Lord [Who is] the Spirit"  - 2 Corinthians 3:18, AMP.

As Joyce Meyer puts it:
"I encourage you to take a positive look at the possibilities of the future and begin to "call(s) those things which do not exist as though they did" (Romans 4:17). Think and speak about your future in a positive way, according to what God has placed in your heart, and not according to what you have seen in the past or are seeing even now in the present" - Joyce Meyer, Battlefield of the Mind, p. 186.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for the example of David who came from nowhere to father the royal line from which You were born. Please give me the faith to live out the dreams I believe You have placed in my heart. I want You to bring me as far as I am meant to go. Amen.

MORE: All the Way My Saviour Leads Me sung by Chris Tomlin

(From the archives)

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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Pray before giving your answer

"The Word of the Lord came to Nathan" 
by C. J. Staniland

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

"Then Nathan said to the king, 'Go and do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with you.'
But it happened that night that the word of the Lord came to Nathan saying, 'Go and tell my servant David, "Thus says the Lord: 'Would you build a house for Me to dwell in?"'" 2 Samuel 7:3-5.

As we read on from the focus verse above, we see that God said no to David's idea of building Him a house. Rather, David's seed (his son Solomon) was the one God had picked to do this (2 Samuel 7:12-13). And poor Nathan had to go back the next day and burst David's bubble, so to speak.

Nathan's quick, off-the-cuff reaction to David's question reminds me of how I so often respond to ideas and opportunities that come my way: Oh, that sounds like a good idea, interesting, fun! Yes. I'll get involved. But I neglect to consult with God first just like Nathan. Then later, usually during my quiet time, God and I revisit the thing I've just committed to. More than once I've sensed I should pull back, or pull out.

That's why I'm trying to make it a habit to defer making decisions on opportunities, or projects, or new commitments until I've had a chance to check with the Boss. For what seems like a great idea to me may not be what God has in mind at all.

Even Jesus adopted this policy. He said: "... I do nothing of Myself but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things" - John 8:28.

Dear God, please help me to subject my opportunities and involvements to Your scrutiny and to be obedient to Your directions. Amen.

MORE: Prayer and work

"It is not prayer in addition to work, but prayer simultaneous with work. We precede, enfold and follow all our work with prayer." - Richard Foster (quoted in Prayer Points p. 54).

"There is a way of ordering our mental life on more than one level at once. On one level we may be thinking, discussing, seeing, calculating, meeting all the demands of external affairs. But deep within, behind the scenes, at a profounder level, we may also be in prayer and adoration, song and worship, and a gentle reception to divine breathings."  - Thomas Kelly (Quoted in Prayer Points p. 55-56).

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Monday, July 16, 2012

Unpopular prophets

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Amos 7:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "Then Amaziah said to Amos, 'Go you seer! Flee to the land of Judah. There eat bread and there prophesy. But never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king's sanctuary and it is the royal residence.'" Amos 7:12-13

We should probably not find it surprising that Amaziah, King Jeroboam's high priest, reacted to Amos's negative prophecies by telling him to shut up and leave. It is not comfortable to have an outsider come onto your territory and tell you that your country is prey for locusts, in danger of being burned and not plumb with God's standards.

However, the uncomfortable assignment of delivering unpopular pronouncements from God has always been part of a prophet's job description. The Bible is full of examples: Elijah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, Jesus.

Like a true prophet, Amos was not intimidated. I'm not a prophet by profession or birth, he told Amaziah. But my message is from the Lord. Then, not backing down an inch, he told the man in plain words what would happen: "Israel shall surely be led away captive" (7:13).

The assignment for modern prophets* is no easier. People in our society who speak against the way we as a people and culture are violating God's standards may well find themselves in similar hot water, banned from speaking publicly, reading or quoting the Bible, and in Canada hauled in front of Human Rights Commissions.

As our society drifts farther and farther away from biblical standards, what we as Christians stand for becomes less and less mainstream and popular. And so we may find ourselves tempted to alter the message to make it more politically correct. For telling it straight will probably mean having to pay the price of being an unpopular prophet. Am I up for that? Are you?

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me be bold and unafraid to tell and uphold Your standards. Amen

MORE: Human Rights Commissions

In Canada we have a system in place to gag people who dare express ideas that aren't politically correct. Human Rights Commissions are quasi legal bodies active in each province. Most were first formed to help people get fair treatment when they faced things like racial and sexual discrimination at work or in regard to housing. In recent years HRC rulings have frequently come down against Christians who have attempted to uphold biblical morality especially in their positions against homosexuality.

Here, for example, is a case in Alberta from a few years ago, described by Ezra Levant:
"An even more terrifying precedent recently was set in Alberta. The case involved a letter to the editor written by a Christian pastor and published in the Red Deer Advocate newspaper. The letter was a zealous, even rude, expression of the pastor's belief that homosexuality was a sin, and that there was a homosexual political "agenda" that had to be stopped. But instead of joining the debate by writing a letter to the editor, a local teacher complained to the human rights commission.

The commission's one-woman panela divorce lawyer with no expertise in constitutional rightsruled that "the publication's exposure of homosexuals to hatred and contempt trumps the freedom of speech afforded in the Charter." That was it: Freedom of speech, and of the press, and religion, all of which are called "fundamental freedoms" in our Constitution, now come second to the newly discovered right of a thin-skinned bystander not to be offended."
Read entire...

Jesus told us these kinds of things would happen. Instead of worrying about them, He assures us He will be with us when they do; we can face them with  carefree trust:  Matthew 10:16-19
16"Stay  alert. This is hazardous work I'm assigning you. You're going to be  like sheep running through a wolf pack, so don't call attention to  yourselves. Be as cunning as a snake, inoffensive as a dove.

 17-20"Don't  be naive. Some people will impugn your motives, others will smear your  reputation—just because you believe in me. Don't be upset when they haul  you before the civil authorities. Without knowing it, they've done  you—and me—a favor, given you a platform for preaching the kingdom news!  And don't worry about what you'll say or how you'll say it. The right  words will be there; the Spirit of your Father will supply the words.- Message

*prophet = nabiy

In the modern sense I'm thinking of the prophet as person who delivers God's message as revealed in the Bible (versus someone who foretells the future).

(From the archives)
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Friday, July 13, 2012

Will I find a rat's nest?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Corinthians 12:11-13:13

TO CHEW ON: "For I fear lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I wish and that I shall be found by you such as you do not wish; lest there be contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, backbitings, whisperings, conceits, tumults." 2 Corinthians 12:20

On reading this part of Paul's letter, we sense an undercurrent of suspicion. "Nevertheless, being crafty, I caught you by cunning!" he says (vs. 16). What is he talking about?

An endnote in my Bible explains: 

"2 Corinthians 12:16-18 - "I caught you": Paul echoes an accusation that he had tricked the Corinthians by sending others (Titus and the unnamed brother) to get their money (supposedly for Jerusalem) which Paul was keeping for himself. He refutes the charge by citing the character of his envoys, whom the Corinthians know to be honest (2 Corinthians 8:6; 16-24)" - Arden Conrad Autrey, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1625.

In verse 20 Paul lists attitudes he fears he'll find when he finally sees them face to face. It's a rat's nest of nastiness: "contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, backbitings, whisperings, conceits, tumults." It's discouraging, isn't it, that such things were found in the early church?

His suspicions remind me of a season in the life of Moishe Rosen. In his biography is the story of his break with the American Board of Missions to the Jews (ABMJ), a ministry that had trained, mentored and employed him for years. He was finally fired when his boss, with whom he had once had a close trusting relationship, suspected him of trying to raise a following for himself and undermine his leadership.

Moishe had no such intention. He had been tasked with reinvigorating the organization and was only trying to carry out his assignment. The break was painful. Moishe was shaken. But after he was cut adrift, he started Jews for Jesus—a Christian ministry to Jews that is still going strong.

The items on Paul's list of nasty qualities, attitudes, and actions don't belong in our lives any more than they belonged in the lives of the Corinthians. Sadly, too often they are there—in us, in the church, dividing Christian against Christian, ministry against ministry.

But thank God, He is not stymied by even our carnal selves. Paul and Barnabas's falling out led to two mission teams. Moishe Rosen's split with ABMJ led to two organizations that witness the reality of Jesus to the Jews. As a result of his experience, Rosen organized and ran his new ministry in a way that avoided some of the mistakes and weaknesses of the ministry from which he had come.

And Romans 8:28 is proved true again:
"We are assured and know that [God being a partner in their labor] all things work together and are [fitting into a plan] for good to and for those who love God and are called according to [His] design and purpose" - Amplified

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to face in myself the tendency toward contention, jealousy, outbursts of anger, wrath, selfish ambition, backbiting, whispering, conceits, tumults. Help me to nip them in their bud. When I find them amongst others, help me not to become disillusioned but to continue to work for the good of the church and Your kingdom. Amen.

MORE: Wisdom of Moishe Rosen

Ruth Rosen, the daughter-author of  Moishe Rosen's biography (Called to Controversey: The Unlikely Story of Moishe Rosen and the founding of Jews for Jesus) begins each chapter with a quote from her dad. Here are some of his sayings:

"When we shoot the gun of anger we can be killed by the recoil" - Chapter 7.

"Power is ability. Ability is organized energy" - Chapter 8.

"If things are going easier, maybe you're headed downhill" - Chapter 10.

"It's not so bad to be out on a limb if Christ is the branch" - Chapter 12.

"Patience is the virtue we want most ... for those around us" - Chapter 13. 

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Monday, July 09, 2012

Multiplied seed

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Corinthians 8:16-9:15

TO CHEW ON: "Now may He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food, supply and multiply the seed you have sown, and increase the fruit of your righteousness." 2 Corinthians 9:10.

Today—the day I am writing this, June 9th—I am looking at a box that wasn't in my office yesterday. It is a box filled with glossy folders. Each contains five sheets of paper. They make up what is called a press kit or media package, supplied by my publisher to help me sell a novel that I have written, and should be out by the time you read this. As I read our passage this morning, the focus verse, 2 Corinthians 9:10, jumps out at me as a benediction on my project.

Writing Destiny's Hands, a Bible fiction based on the character of Bezalel (the man God filled with His Spirit to make the tabernacle and its accessories) has been years in coming to fruition. Its history is full of seeds.

It started with the seed of an idea and grew into a story. Now I have these media packages—more seeds to help me grow interest in the book. Finally the book itself will work as seed, to plant truth within readers. Thus this prayer that Paul prays over the offering he is encouraging the Corinthians to give (for them the seed of money) resonates with me. It is what I pray will happen when the seed of the book I have written is flung around the world.

What seed has God supplied you with? Perhaps it's a creative project similar to mine. Perhaps it's people, a family of little or not-so-little ones, or the people you serve and mentor in your job. Maybe it's the money you make in your work, or your abundance of time.

For whatever seed we have and are planting, let's pray together that God will supply and multiple the seed we have sown and increase the fruit of our righteousness into more seed.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the many people who have contributed to the making of my novel. Now I need You more than ever to oversee its distribution. Please help all who read this with their seed. May our efforts come together to produce a wonderful harvest for Your glory. Amen.

MORE: A little more about Destiny's Hands
  • The book released on June 29th and I got my copies last Thursday, July 5th. The book is now available for purchase!
Amazon (e-book version available)
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Get a signed copy from me sent directly to you.
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Sunday, July 08, 2012

The trap of familiarity

"Jesus' teaching rejected by his 
townsfolk in Nazareth" 
by William Brassey Hole

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 6:1-13

TO CHEW ON:  "Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?' So they were offended at Him." Mark 6:3

Jesus' people—His own countrymen, neighbors, family members, clients or customers—were astonished when He knew so much and could do amazing things. They discussed among themselves: "Isn't this Jesus, the Son of Mary... etc.?" They were offended by Him.

Offended here does not mean that Jesus' actions offended them because He was disagreeable or rude or sinful. This is offense in the form of a snare or trap.

["Offended - skandalizo originally to put a snare or stumbling block in the way. The noun to which it is related referred to the bait-stick of a trap. In the N.T. skandalizo is always used metaphorically of that which hinders right conduct or thought, hence 'to cause to stumble'" Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1309.]

Thus offended, the people of Jesus' home town, who knew Him as a kid, His own family members, seemingly couldn't believe in Him. His familiarity hindered their faith so "...He could do no mighty work there" - Mark 6:5.

Can we likewise be offended or tripped-up by our knowledge of people, their past, their humble beginnings, their lack of education or experience, that we fail to acknowledge the power of God the Holy Spirit working in and through them?

  • The Holy Spirit can teach people - 1 John 2:27.
  • God can give ordinary folks authority and power - Acts 4:13.
  • Paul reminded his readers that the effect of his ministry was due to God revealing Himself to, and working through him—a clay container - 2 Corinthians 4:6,7.

Let's not get hung-up or offended—tripped or trapped—by the appearance or history of the clay container through whom God Himself would pour out His grace on us.

Dear Jesus, please help me to be open to You working through the humblest—the children, the poor, the simple. Help me not be an education, or status, or novelty snob and so miss the blessing You have for me through the uneducated, the lowly, and the familiar. Amen.

MORE: Qualified to serve
"Nay, but we will serve the Lord." It is not an impulse, but a deliberate commitment. You say - But God can never have called me to this, I am too unworthy, it can't mean me. It does mean you, and the weaker and feebler you are, the better. The one who has something to trust in is the last one to come anywhere near saying - "I will serve the Lord."  

We say - "If I really could believe!" The point is - If I really will believe. No wonder Jesus Christ lays such emphasis on the sin of unbelief. "And He did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief." If we really believed that God meant what He said - what should we be like! Dare I really let God be to me all that He says He will be?" - Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, July 9th reading.
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Thursday, July 05, 2012

Wait for God to promote you

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Samuel 5:1-25

TO CHEW ON: "So David went on and became great, and the Lord, the God of hosts, was with him." 2 Samuel 5:10

David was 30 years old when he finally became king. We don't know how old he was when Samuel first anointed him (1 Samuel 16:1-13)—10, maybe 15 ? So it took 15-20 years for something that began when he was just a kid to finally became reality in his life.

Those years were no stroll in the park. During that whole time he was in training.
  • He learned to lead.
That was what he'd need to be good at as a king and his apprenticeship was a long one. It began on the Judean hills as he led a flock of sheep. His unusual bravery in the Goliath incident led to a celebration chant (among the women no less) that sparked jealousy in Saul and began years of exile for David (1 Samuel 18:7-9). But even when he was on-the-run and living in caves and the desert, he never lacked a following. The fact that his followers were losers and malcontents meant his leadership training was rigorous and challenging to say the least (1 Samuel 22:2).

  • He learned to trust God.
"The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears,
         And delivers them out of all their troubles." (Psalm 34:17)
"But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God;
I trust in the mercy of God forever and ever." (Psalm 52:8)
"Behold, God is my helper;
The Lord is with those who uphold my life." (Psalm 54:4)

 were all written during his years of exile.

  • He learned to live by principle and not self-interest.
Very early in his life it seems he had made at least one firm determination: to respect God's revealed will and order. He knew that God had chosen Saul as king over Israel. Thus he refused to take advantage of Saul's vulnerability on at least two occasions when he could have killed Saul and snatched the kingdom for himself (1 Samuel 24:4-7 and 1 Samuel 26:9-12): "The LORD forbid that I should stretch out my hand against the LORD’s anointed."

In today's reading we have the story, finally, of the end of David's training. It culminated in his coronation, a kingship recognized not only by his fellow citizens, but internationally (2 Samuel 5:11-12).

Do you have a similar sense of God's call on your life? Perhaps you have known for years that you have a role to play in God's kingdom that hasn't yet been realized. Let David be your role model as you:

1. Get trained in the area you need training. David needed to know how to be a leader. Maybe you'll need to know how to teach, or extend mercy, or give generously. Whatever it is, be faithful in small things, and God will entrust you with bigger ones.

2. Build up your faith muscles. Learn to trust God in the everyday challenges that come your way. Because it's a sure thing that when you are elevated to a position of more responsibility, you will need all the faith and trust you have developed.

3. Wait for God promote you.  Resist the temptation to take matters into your own hands. "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord and He will lift you up" ["... and make your lives significant" - Amplified] James 4:10.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank you for David who modeled patience and waiting for Your time to realize the fulfillment of his destiny. Help me to follow his example of faithfulness and patience. Amen.

MORE: More wisdom about God's ways (from Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the will of God - Workbook)"

"If God has a great task for you, He will expand your character to match that assignment." p. 47.

"God will accomplish more in six months through a people yielded to Him than we could in 60 years without Him." p. 37

"Don't just do something. Stand there!" p. 19

(From the archives.)

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Tuesday, July 03, 2012

What are you?

"The Call of Gideon" by Gerard Jollain
Engraving, about 1670.

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Judges 6:1-21

TO CHEW ON: "And the Angel of the Lord appeared to him, and said to him, 'The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor!'" Judges 6:12

The description the Angel of the Lord gave Gideon — "mighty man of valor" — doesn't seem unusual until we read on and discover Gideon was anything but that. He himself argued against it when he said to the angel: "Oh my Lord, how can I save Israel? Indeed my clan is the weakest in Manasseh and I am the least in my father's house" - Judges 6:15.

Later, just beyond the end of today's reading, he did what the angel told him to do but at night, "...because he feared his father's household and the men of the city too much to do it by day..." Judges 6:27.

He reminds me of Peter. Remember the cowardly Peter, so intimidated by events that he couldn't even bring himself to admit knowing Jesus? Then, only weeks later, he was the one who stood up and explained the Holy Spirit coming on the Day of Pentecost, turned the healing of the lame man into an altar call, and just wouldn't stop talking about Jesus even when commanded and threatened (Acts 4:18-20).

What made the difference?

In Peter's case the priests themselves figured it out: "Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus" - Acts 4:13.

Gideon would also turn out to become what the angel said—a man of valour. When we read his whole story (Judges 6-8) we see that as he spent time with God, heard His instructions and did them he truly came to impersonate what the angel said he was (though at the end of his life, there was slippage - Judges 8:27).

What does God say about you and me? Here is a sampling:

  • We are the salt of the earth - Matthew 5:13.*
  • We are the light of the world - Matthew 5:14.
  • We are saints - Ephesians 1:1; 1 Corinthians 1:2; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:2.
  • We are God's living stones, being built up as a spiritual house - 1 Peter 2:9-10.
  • We are children of God and will resemble Christ when He returns - 1 John 3;1-2.

Do these things seem true about us? Or would we like Gideon argue otherwise? We can make it so as we spend time with Jesus, letting Him change us.

PRAYER: Dear God, I would love it if people puzzled over the grace and power evident in my life — and concluded that the only reason for it was because I had been with Jesus. Amen.

MORE: Five more things we are:

  • We are God's workmanship (handiwork) created (born anew) in Christ to do His work that He planned beforehand that we should do - Ephesians 2:10.
  • We are righteous and holy - Ephesians 2:24.
  • We are citizens of heaven and seated in heaven right now - Philippians 3:20; Ephesians 2:6.
  • We are sons/daughters of light not of darkness - 1 Thessalonians 5:5.
  • We are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession to proclaim His excellencies - 1 Peter 2:9-10.

*Taken from "Who Am I?" p. 8 of Resolving Personal Conflicts workbook, Dr. Neil T. Anderson, 1990, Freedom in Christ Ministries.

(From the archives)

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Monday, July 02, 2012

A seven-word antidote for life

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Habakkuk 1:1-2:4

TO CHEW ON: "Behold the proud,
His soul is not upright in him.
But the just shall live by his faith." Habakkuk 2:4

The prophet Habakkuk lived during desperate times. Josiah's reforms had run their course in Judah. The nation had again fallen into chaotic disarray with violence, oppression of the poor and the collapse of the legal system. Add to that the rise of Babylonia (the Chaldeans) who had conquered Assyria and Egypt and was eyeing Judah's northern border, and you have a grim scenario.

Habakkuk's innate sense of justice was deeply troubled by all this. And so he dared to question God. Subheadings in my Bible make it easy to follow their conversation:

Habakkuk: God, why don't You do something? (Habakkuk 1:1-4 - my paraphrase)

God: I will use the Chaldeans. (Habakkuk 1:5-11)

Habakkuk: Why do you use wicked people? (Habakkuk 1:12-17)

(To himself: I'm all ears to hear the answer to this!) (Habakkuk 2:1).

God: Write what I tell you so that you can easily spread this message when the time is right: THE JUST SHALL LIVE BY HIS FAITH. (Habakkuk 2:2-4)

The introductory notes to Habbakkuk in my Bible explain what these words probably meant to the prophet at the time:

"For the prophet, the promise is for physical protection in time of great upheaval and war. When the predicted invasion by foreign armies becomes a reality, that righteous remnant whose God is the Lord, whose trust and dependence is in Him will be delivered and they will live." "The Book of Habakkuk" New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1223.

Of course the words "The just shall live by their faith" have echoed through history. For Paul and the writer of Hebrews they were the anchor of salvation (Hebrews 10:38).  For Martin Luther they were the catalyst for the Reformation.

The seven words God spoke to Habakkuk way back in 600 B.C. also apply to us today. Everyday living demands faith. Handling sickness, catastrophe, and financial instability demands faith. Believing that we are really right with God demands faith (Philippians 3:8,9). Doing what we hear God telling us to do demands faith (Galatians 3:5,6).

For what do you need faith today?

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to follow my vague anxieties to their sources of fear and unbelief. Help solidify my faith in Your goodness and ability to bring into my life things that are good for me. Amen.

MORE: Questioning God

I love the way Habakkuk speaks plainly to God about the things that trouble him. And God answers back. A sidebar article in my Bible suggests five keys to hearing God's voice, gleaned from Habakkuk 2:1-3.

1. Meet with God regularly in a special place of prayer: "I will stand my watch."
2. Look for God to speak to you in dreams and visions: I will "watch to see."
3. Listen for the word of the Lord: "He will say to me."
4. Keep a journal of things that God says: "Write the vision."
5. Wait for God to bring it to pass: "It will surely come."
"Five Keys to Hearing God's Voice" by James W. Ryle, New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1225.
(From the archives)
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