Sunday, October 28, 2012

Build yourselves up


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

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

Jude talks of the havoc these teachers had created by comparing them to Bible characters. They acted in the spirit of:
Cain: destruction. Cain murdered his brother instead of caring for him (Genesis 4:8).
Balam: greed. Balam was a prophet who consented to try to curse Israel for King Balak in return for money (Numbers 21 & 22). 
Korah: rebellion. Korah led a rebellion against Moses (Numbers 6:1-24).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MORE: Feast of St. Simon and St. Jude

Today the church celebrates the Feast of St. Simon and St. Jude. The liturgy for this day begins with the following collect:

O God, we thank you for the glorious company of the apostles, and especially on this day for Simon and Jude; and we pray that, as they were faithful and zealous in their mission, so we may with ardent devotion make known the love and mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Soul anchor

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Hebrews 6:13-7:14

"This hope we have as an anchor of the soul both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil." Hebrews 6:19

What hope is the writer talking about?

 Scanning back, we see that it is the hope of God's "immutability" (unchangeableness - Hebrews 6:17) and his "oath"—that promise He made to Abraham ("Surely I will bless you and multiplying I will multiply you" - Hebrews 6:13 - quoting Genesis 22:17-18 where God goes on to say: "In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed").

The grandeur of these two things sends the author on a hunt to express how valuable and important they are. He comes up with two word pictures.

1. A place of refuge -  "... fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us" (Hebrews 6:18). The writer's language would have brought to the Jewish mind the picture of a murderer fleeing to one of the cities of refuge (Joshua 20:1-7) or to the temple to lay hold of the horns of the altar (1 Kings 2:28) where they were assured safety from their accuser.

2. An anchor - "This hope we have as an anchor of the soul" - Hebrews 6:19.

In other words, their hope of salvation because of God's promise made to Abraham, together with the fact of His unchangeableness is like a city of refuge or the horns of the altar (a place of escape from certain retribution) and an anchor (the means of surviving life's storms).

To any of us fearful of losing salvation, the hope of Christ as our city of refuge or horns on the altar is a powerful picture. To those of us who feel like we'll certainly get dashed to pieces by life's storms of sickness, natural disaster, personal and family conflict, or whatever, this hope of salvation and an eternity with God is our anchor.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You that You don't change, and that the blessing of the promise made to Abraham is even now blessing me in that I have peace with You through Abraham's descendant Jesus, and can enjoy real life now and through eternity. Amen.

MORE: Soul Anchor by Michael Card


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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The high position of servant

serving at a soup kitchen
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 23:1-22

TO CHEW ON: "But he who is great among you shall be your servant."  Matthew 23:11

It's easy for us to read this bit from Matthew and feel as superior as we did when someone else was getting a scolding from teacher when we were kids. On the other hand, it would be just as easy to sift through this passage and isolate pharisaical tendencies we find in ourselves. Instead, let's look at the attitude and behaviour Jesus commends—servanthood. And was He any better than the Pharisees at practicing what He preached?

[Serve: To work for, especially as a servant; be in the service of. To be of service to; wait on. To promote the interests of; aid, help; to serve God. To satisfy the requirements of. To perform the duties of a public office. To furnish or provide, as with a regular supply. To offer or bring food or drink; wait on at table. Funk & Wagnalls Standard College Dictionary]

  • If we take Jesus to be the fulfillment of Isaiah's Servant prophecies (and I do), we see that His destiny was to be a servant. That is what He was "formed in the womb" to become (Isaiah 49:5).
  • Well into His public ministry, Jesus purposefully keept a low profile, aware of the servant role into which He had been born (Matthew 12:16-21).
  • When we look at His three years of public work on earth, practically all we see Him do is serving. Though ministry energized Him (John 4:31-34), it also tired Him out. But when He tried to get away for some rest and the crowds followed him, He taught, healed, and fed them some more. The burden of His mission drove Him to spend long hours in prayer. His healing ministry sapped Him physically and the spiritual plight of mankind stirred Him emotionally. But His service went even further, for He served with not only His time, wisdom, energy, and grace gifts of healing and forgiveness, but His life (Matthew 20:28).
  • He taught His disciples the importance of service and then set a good example by serving them by performing the most menial act, washing their feet (John 13:4,5).

Paul summed up Christ's servanthood and what it means for us, His followers in Philippians 2:

"Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant and coming in the likeness of man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross." Philippians 2:5-7.

Dear Jesus, Your example of serving is supernatural, especially when we see You mocked, beaten, tortured and killed by the very people You came to serve. Help me to have the servant mindset of Christ. Amen.

MORE: Prayers for servants

I recently reviewed a beautiful book called Special Intentions. It contains a collection of prayers that take our minds off ourselves as we pray for others—often people that we don't even know. There are prayers for many kinds of servants in this book. Here is one for Caregivers:

In nursing homes, assisted living residences, and private homes,
there are men and women who care for the elderly.
They feed, bathe, and dress those who no longer can care for themselves.
They administer medications,
they dress wounds and bedsores,
they push wheelchairs,
they walk alongside the person with a walker,
they help with physical and speech therapy.
They speak with compassion
to the anxious,
the confused,
and those with severe dementia.
Say a prayer of thanks today for the caregivers,
they are gifts to the aged and infirmed. 
- Claire Coleman, Special Intentions, p. 58.

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Monday, October 22, 2012

Job's happy ending

Job's Prayer by Claude-Andrew Calthrop - Job 42:8
"Job's Prayer" by Claude-Andrew Calthrop

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Job 42:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "And the Lord restored Job's losses when he prayed for his friends. Indeed, the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before." Job 42:10

For those of us who like happy endings, Job's is the perfect story! After God addressed him in chapters 38-41, Job's humble reply (Job 42:2-6) showed that he was a changed man from the one who, full of self-justification, paraded his good deeds in Job 29.

Then God spoke to Job's friends, saying that Job was right and they needed him to pray for them. It's interesting to note the little word "when" in this bit of storytelling: "And the Lord restored Job's losses when he prayed for his friends." Does it imply that a right attitude toward his accusers was necessary for God to change the course of his fortunes? It's hard to pray for someone we haven't forgiven, so it seems that forgiveness was key to Job's future.

The word for pray here is palal.*  [Palal  means "To pray, entreat, intercede, make supplication.... Palal speaks of prayer as intercession, asking someone with more power and wisdom to intervene in behalf of the one praying" - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 680.]

Then God restored to Job everything—his possessions, family, most likely his reputation.

His story reminds me of something a former pastor often said: "Always remember, no condition is permanent!" When we're in the middle of trouble, it can feel like things will never change. But in His time and way, God can change anything!

Dear God, when I'm in the fog of trouble, pain, disaster or disease, help me to hold onto You, keeping the faith that You have good plans for me. Amen.

MORE: Palal prayers

Palal occurs over 80 times in the Bible. Here are some occurrences of palal intercession:

1. God told King Abimelech in a dream to restore Abraham's wife Sarah to him, and to ask Abraham to pray for him and his household in order to stay alive - Genesis 20:7,17.

2. During the Israelites' wilderness wanderings, they did a lot of complaining. At one point God sent fire into the camp to consume them. They ran crying to Moses, begging for him to pray for them - Numbers 11:1,2.

3. Hannah prayed for a son - 1 Samuel 1:12.

4. Samuel promised to pray for the Israelites after they repented of their sin of asking for a king -  1 Samuel 12:23.

5. Jonah prayed within the belly of the fish - Jonah 2:1-9.

6. Hezekiah prayed not to die, but to live longer - Isaiah 38:2,3.

For what are we palal-praying (for others, for ourselves)? Let's let God's response in the above situations build our faith today.


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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Two sides of wisdom

Sullivan Mine - Kimberley, B.C.
Entering the Sullivan Mine at Kimberley B.C.
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Job 28:1-28

TO CHEW ON: "And to man He said, 'Behold the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom,
And to depart from evil is understanding.'" Job 28:28

In wonderful poetic language Job describes mining for treasure. It's a dark job that sends searchers into the bowels of the earth for their bounty of gold, onyx, sapphire, coral, quartz, rubies, crystal, and topaz. But what he's really talking about is the search for wisdom, for that's what's on the line here. (His friends think he lacks it and that's why he is ill and his estate has been ravaged.)

He says, in effect, if you thinking finding treasure is hard, try searching for wisdom. You will find that in only one place: in God: "God understands its way. He knows its place" - Job 28:23. Where can man find it? "In the fear of the Lord and the departing from evil" - Job 28:28. It is proof to Job's friends, and to us, that he does understand the ways of God and His wisdom.

What strikes me about Job's description of wisdom here, and its mention in other places in the Bible, is the emphasis on not only finding and knowing what wisdom is (the fear of the Lord), but doing it. Obedience.

Moses: "Surely I have taught you the statues and judgements just as the Lord my God commanded me .... Therefore be careful to observe them" - Deuteronomy 4:5-6.

The Psalmist: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; A good understanding have all those who do His commandments" - Psalm 119:10

Solomon: "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter; Fear God and keep His commandments / For this is man's all" - Ecclesiastes 12:13.

One of my favourite teachers on this is Oswald Chambers. Here is a smattering of quotes from him (taken from My Utmost for His Highest) on Wisdom and how important Obedience is to it:

"My questions come whenever I cease to obey" - December 14th reading.

"All God's revelations are sealed until they are opened by obedience. You will never get them open by philosophy or thinking. Immediately you obey a flash of light comes" - October 10th reading.

"The golden rule for understanding spiritually is not intellect, but obedience.... If things are dark to me, then I may be sure there is something I will not do" - July 27th reading.

"The promises of God are of no value to us until by obedience we understand the nature of God" - November 17th reading.

Are we proving ourselves wise by not only having knowledge of God and what He wants, but also by living it in obedience?

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to gain wisdom by putting what I know of You into the crucible of life, i.e. by my obedience to what I read in the Bible and hear by the voice of Your Spirit. Amen.

MORE: Moment-by-moment obedience

We often think of obedience as the process leading to an end or a goal—leadership perhaps, or success, or greater responsibility. Oswald Chambers sees it differently:

"What we call the process, God calls the end .... It is the process not the end which is glorifying to God.
"God's training is for now, not presently. His purpose is for the minute, not for something in the future ... God's end is to enable me to see that He can walk on the chaos of my life just now ... if we realize obedience is the end, then each moment as it comes is precious" - My Utmost for HIs Highest, July 28th reading.


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Monday, October 15, 2012

Job's lament

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Job 24:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "Since times are not hidden from the Almighty,
Why do those who know Him not see His days?" - Job 24:1

In this dark chapter Job asks questions that he probably never had when he was healthy and flourishing. His experience has made him sensitive to evil and the general suffering around him in a way he never was when his life was going smoothly.

- He asks why God tolerates the bullying of the wicked (Job 24:2).
- He names ways they oppress the poor and helpless:
  • They take advantage of widows and the needy (Job 24:3-4, 9-10).
  • They force the hard-working and deserving to live on gleanings, without clothing in harsh rain and mountains (Job 24:6-8).
  • They murder and steal and get away with it (Job 24:13-17).
In fact to Job there is no observable difference in the fates of the evil and the good person (Job 24:22-24).

This is a pretty depressing read. Are there any redeeming features at all in Job's lament? Song writer and worship leader Brian Doerksen would say there are. In an article titled "Why laments are healthy" he says:

"I know in times of tragedy and crisis, it’s especially important that we express what’s going on in our hearts. To try and deny what we are feeling is the route that many modern believers have taken; maybe without realizing it strays from the biblical pattern laid out for us in the psalms and in the life of Jesus. In fact denial is one of the main ways that the world deals with loss and grief.

"There’s another ‘d’ word that describes the way the world deals with loss – distraction! Between denial and distraction you pretty much have the world’s way of coping with loss, disappointment and grief summed up. (The entertainment and travel industries are built on coping through escaping) But we are not called to take our cues from the world. We are saved and freed to live the life that Jesus showed us to live . . . and one of the many things I love about Jesus is that he was completely free to feel"

He sums up:

 "Worship is not always about bringing God our best and brightest. Sometimes it’s about bringing God our pain and grief. Sometimes it’s coming just the way we are!

"God wants to give us more than permission to feel – he wants to step into the middle of our feelings and be present with us; even in our suffering . . . even in the middle of our emotions. So let the tears flow . . . let the laments be sung . . . " Brian Doerksen, "Permission to feel; Why laments are healthy" - Read entire  (.pdf file, ellipses are in the original and do not indicate words left out; emphasis added).

PRAYER: Dear God thank You for being big enough to hear my complaints and negative feelings. Help me to be honest rather than in denial. Please help me to invite you into my times of pain and confusion and find comfort in Your presence. Amen.

MORE: How Long O Lord - Brian Doerksen

Brian Doerksen set the words of Psalm 13 to music, reviving an ancient lament.

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Thursday, October 11, 2012

The hurdle of riches

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 10:17-34

TO CHEW ON: "Then Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, 'How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!'
And the disciples were astonished at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, 'Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God!'"

Note the subtle difference in the way Jesus phrased His explanation, in response to the disciples' dismay, about the kingdom of God and riches: "'How hard it is for those to have riches .... who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God!'" It seems He is saying that though it's possible for the person with material riches to enter the kingdom of God, it's hard not to trust in riches when you have them.

Though Jesus was talking here about the riches of material things, I believe His statement about riches also applies to other kinds of wealth:
- the riches of talents and giftedness.
- the riches of friends and influence.
- the riches of intellect.
- the riches of position.

It's easy to trust in riches whatever kind they are. But these things won't buy us into heaven or, when used on their own, guarantee the accomplishment of kingdom work (though Jesus' words "'With men it is impossible but not with God; for with God all things are possible,'" makes me reflect that God can flip anything to do His purposes, even things we do with self-serving motives).

The real key to entering the kingdom of God and living life in it here on earth is poverty. Jesus expressed it clearly on the Sermon on the Mount: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" - Matthew 5:3.

The uncomfortable truth for many of us in the wealthy west is that it's hard to know at an experience level what it is to be poor in spirit because of our riches in other every department.

Dear God, it's hard for me to imagine life without the material comforts around me and I easily trust in all kinds of things besides You. Help me to view all my riches from a right perspective. Amen.

MORE: "We have nothing"

In a recent Canadian Bible Society newsletter National Director Ted Seres tells of Madam Guo, a poor Chinese woman who received her first Bible in 1990. Two years later, she became a Christian and ever since has led people in her remote village in Bible study. When Ted asked her why she became a Christian she answered: "Because I am poor; that's why I believe. Our lives are worth nothing on earth .... We are truly blessed only if we have Christ in us. Like my neighbours I have nothing. Nothing at all. My reward is in heaven. It is only because of the Bible that I know I am rich." - Canadian Bible Society letter, August 27. 2012.


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Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Love the cat

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Psalm 67:1-7

TO CHEW ON: “God be merciful to use and bless us
And cause His face to shine upon us. Selah.” Psalm 67:1

When I was a little girl I worked for nothing more than to get my mom’s approval. When I was a teen, not so much. But one thing was sure: I knew when she was happy with me and when she wasn’t. I read her face and could tell when she was annoyed, sad, grieved, or pleased because when she was pleased her face “shone upon” me. That’s what I think of when I read “God…cause His face to shine upon us.”

The beginning of this psalm comes from the priestly blessing God gave Moses. It was the blessing with which Aaron and his sons were to bless the children of Israel (Numbers 6:24-26). Here this blessing is imparted not only so that the blessee will be enriched, but so that those around will also get blessed: “…let the nations be glad and sing for joy!” As a footnote in my Bible says:

“It is evident here that God’s intent never was just for one race but for all peoples and nations to know and enjoy Him.” (New Spirit Filled Life Bible p. 735.)
Even the earth, the plants, crops, precipitation flourish under God’s smile of approval: “…then the earth shall yield her increase.”

You know the saying, “kick the cat” – a reference to how we take it out on others when we’re treated badly ourselves? Well, today you can love the cat – and everyone else who comes across your path because of God’s smile and general loving on you:

"The Lord bless you and keep you
The Lord make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you:
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you
and give you peace." Numbers 6:24-26

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your face that shines with delight at the sight of me. Help me to take this grace into my day and to spread it to others. Amen.

MORE: Paul Wilbur - "Let the Weight of Your Glory Fall"


(From the archives) 

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Monday, October 08, 2012

Are you being refined?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 66:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "For You, O God, have tested us;
You have refined us as silver is refined.
You brought us into the net;
You laid affliction on our backs.
You have caused men to ride over our heads;
We went through fire and through water;
But You brought us out to rich fulfillment." Psalm 66:10-12

The silver in the trinkets we wear has gone through a lot to get to its beautiful sheen. Because silver is usually discovered combined with other minerals it is subjected to various processes to isolate it and make it pure. Depending on what it is mixed with, it may be roasted, leached with acid, smelted, ground, refined in an electrolyte solution, added to molten bullion and treated by cupellation (which heats the silver-containing residue to a temperature of 800 C or 1450 F). So when the psalmist talks about us being refined as silver is refined, he is not talking about a pleasant process.

Whenever I come to passages like Psalm 66, which describe people going through such refining, a voice inside my head says, "Who are you to talk?" Because the truth is, I have not experienced much of such extreme refining in my life. However, I do know that even the light 'roasting' I went through, for example, stuck on the couch for a few weeks, many years ago, waiting for a troubled pregnancy to settle down and go to term, or end prematurely, was not fun (especially when it ended prematurely).

I did come through that experience refined and richer in many ways. I was more understanding of the hurts of others. I was less confident in my ability to make my plans and dreams happen. I was thankful for the supports in my life (my husband, family and church friends). And I was more determined than ever to trust God, even when I didn't understand what He was doing.

I will not pretend to know what your refining experience is like or presume to give you advice on how to handle it. But I do hope and pray that you will come through it pure, strong and beautiful. May the result find you bursting with praises like the psalmist's: "Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will declare what He has done for my soul" Psalm 66:16.

You may already know the verses below by memory. If not, you may want to put them on your 'to memorize' list for the future. When you are in the middle of a refining time, they will give you perspective. If things are going well for you, memorize them against the day that refining fire enters your life:

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 
1 Peter 1:6-7 (besides the NKJV translation quoted, the link goes to this verse in four more Bible versions - so choose your favorite).
PRAYER: Dear God, please be with my friends who are in the midst of refining -- coping with cancer or other physical problems, dealing with difficult family situations, caring for elderly parents, struggling with career disappointments etc. May each one come out pure, beautiful and praising You. Amen.

MORE: "Purify My Heart" by Brian Doerksen

(From the archives)
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Sunday, October 07, 2012

The power of a list

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 65:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "Praise is awaiting You, O God, in Zion;
And to You the vow shall be performed." Psalm 65:1

Do you make lists?

I do. Lists to remind me of what needs to be done, organize my thoughts, help me with shopping and packing, keep me on track when I give a talk or speech ...

Psalm 65 is David's list of praise and thankfulness to God. He praises God for:
1. Hearing and answering prayers (Psalm 65:2)
2. Providing atonement / forgiveness for sin (Psalm 65:3).
3. Choosing people to come near to Him (Psalm 65:4).
4. Being approachable (Psalm 65:4).
5. The temple (Psalm 65:4).
6. The joy and satisfaction of living in God's presence (Psalm 65:4).
7. The way God inspires confidence (implied is the need to remember ways God has come through for him in the past) (Psalm 65:5).
8. God's power illustrated in nature — the grandeur of mountains, God's ability to calm physical and people storms (Psalm 65:6-7).
9. That He is visible and available to all on earth (Psalm 65:8).
10. The reliability of day and night (Psalm 65:8).
11. God's nourishment of the earth with rain (Psalm 65:9-10)
12. An abundant harvest (Psalm 65:11-12).
13. The beauty of a pastoral scene (Psalm 65:13).

David's list is a good example of one way we can set the tone of the day by focusing on God's gifts to us. Instead of dwelling on what's wrong with life, what we dread, fear, or regret, let's focus on the good stuff.

I'm going to spend some time today making a praise and thanksgiving list (especially fitting, because this is Thanksgiving weekend in Canada). Will you join me?

PRAYER: Dear God, I'm sorry for my frequent lapses into worry and ungratefulness. Today I choose to think about You and reflect on the things for which I can praise and thank You. Amen

MORE: A gratefulness community

Canadian writer Ann Voskamp began an initiative some years ago to encourage everyday gratefulness.  She challenges readers to, over time, list 1000 gifts which they jot down and share with others. These can be things as small as the comforting taste of bread and butter, to life-changing events like the safe birth of a baby.  Bloggers from around the world come together on A Holy Experience (Ann's blog) every Monday to share links to their writings of gratitude. There is a Gratitude Community on Facebook too. Though I finished my 1000 gifts project some time ago, I found listing things for which I am grateful such a powerful focus-changer I have continued the practice privately. Why don't you give it a try.

Ann's book One Thousand Gifts released in January 2011 and continues to be a best-seller.

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Friday, October 05, 2012

The symphony of Jesus

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Hebrews 1:1-14

TO CHEW ON: "God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds." Hebrews 1:1,2

One gets shivers reading the grand words that begin Hebrews. Like the strains of an orchestral overture, they give us a sampling of the themes that will follow. Of course we recognize these themes so readily because we have heard them before.

For example, our focus verses take us back to John 1:

Hebrews 1:1, 2: "God ... has in these last days spoken to us by His Son..."
John 1:1, 14: "In the beginning was the Word .... And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us."

Hebrews 1:2: "... through whom He also made the worlds."
John 1:3: "All things were made through Him and without Him nothing was made that was made."

The writer continues by quoting prophecy after prophecy to show us the preeminence of Jesus over every other created being. His praise montage contains snippets of Psalm 2:7; 2 Samuel 7:14; Psalm 97:7; 104:4; 45: 6,7; Isaiah 61:1,3; Psalm 102:25-27; Isaiah 34:4; 50:9; 51:6; Psalm 110:1; 103:20.

They tell us:
  • Jesus is God's Son. 
  • The angels worship Him. 
  • His throne and sceptre are eternal. 
  • His perfect just rule is a reason for joy. 
  • Though the earth He created will someday wear out, He is unchanging and triumphant.
Whenever we see Jesus interacting with people in the gospels it's easy to read Him as entirely like us. Our familiarity can becomes a lack of respect, even contempt. But here we get a foretaste of the whole symphony—Jesus' creative work, His humanity and redeeming work, and now His high destiny at God's right hand, worshipped and served by angels.

May these pictures, like motifs of a magnificent piece of music, help us see the real Jesus, who is so much more than a historical character on whom to model our lives.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, help me to comprehend how great You are and worship You with the grand language of the angels. Amen.

MORE: Because of Love - Wes Hampton

We begin to grasp the uniqueness of Jesus personally when we accept His free gift—His life for ours to pay the penalty we deserve. Such love is supernatural.


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Thursday, October 04, 2012


TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 26:1-12

TO CHEW ON: "Vindicate me O Lord,
For I have walked in my integrity ....
But as for me, I will walk in my integrity ...." Psalm 26:1, 11

In this psalm David twice uses the word integrity—a word we don't run across often in the Bible. He uses it to describe his own life and lifetyle.

[Integrity means (according to my Funk and Wagnalls)
1. Uprightness of character, honesty, probity (virtue or integrity tested and confirmed; strict honesty).
2. The condition or quality of being unimpaired or sound.
3. The state of being complete or undivided.]

The first definition (uprightness of character, honesty, probity) is most likely the meaning we would think of when we describe someone's life. However, I would suggest that a life lived that way leads to a life and reputation that would embody the other aspects of integrity as well (i.e. a life unimpaired, sound, complete, and undivided).

David gives us some clues in this psalm about how he conducted his life so it would have integrity. Perhaps we can pick up some pointers from him about how we too can live that way.

1. David lived with the consciousness that God sees everything. 
David, it seems, had dealt with secret and public matters in his life to the extent that he was confident in inviting God's scrutiny (Psalm 26:1-3). This is surely the attitude of someone with no skeletons in his closet.

Have we cultivated such a clear conscience before God and people?

2. David was intentional about the company he kept.
He avoided spending time with hypocrites, evildoers, the wicked, and people who worshiped idols (Psalm 26:4-5). He was not naive about his own susceptibility to corruption and didn't want to end up with the corrupters (Psalm 26:9-10).

Though Jesus' great assignment gives us a reason to spend time with non-believers, and He Himself was a loving example of this, I believe we need to be as intentional about the company we keep as David was. The company we keep also includes the movies and TV we watch, the books, magazines, and online content we read.

3. He voiced his praise and thanksgiving.
David's guilt-free living ("I will wash my hands in innocence"  - Psalm 26:6) expressed itself in praise and thanksgiving to God (Psalm 26:7). 

What we express in words and song, even if at first half-hearted, is bolstered even as we speak and sing the words.

4. David loved to spend time in God's house and with fellow believers.
The fact that David loved God's presence is another witness to his integrity. He would not have been able to bask in God's glory (Psalm 26:8) if his life had been full of known sin. The "congregation" gave him a safe place to identify with like-minded people and encourage them with his presence and the aroma of his relationship with God (Psalm 26:12).

Our desire to attend church (whether that's going to a building or just being with fellow believers wherever) and spend time with other Christians can be both an evidence of our integrity and a way to reinforce it (with mutual encouragement and example).

Can we say with David, "I have walked in integrity .... I will walk in my integrity"? If not, let's make the integrity of our lives a matter of attention today.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for David and his articulate transparency that helps me find ways to examine my own life. I pray with him, "Search me, O God .... Try me .... see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Psalm 139:23-24). Amen.

MORE: More about integrity

"Keeping your word is the essence of integrity," says Michael Hyatt (former CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishing) in the blog post "Keeping Your Word." He goes on, "As Stephen Covey points out, 'honesty is making your words conform to reality. Integrity is making reality conform to your words.' It is essential to leadership. Without it, you cannot be an effective leader."

Read all of "Keeping Your Word" to discover the organic link between integrity and leadership.

(From the archives)


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Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Divine healing

 TODAY'S SPECIAL: James 5:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven." James 5:14-15

Chances are you know someone who is sick. Perhaps you are sick yourself. Problems, issues, pains, and malfunctions of the human body are everywhere.

When we are sick, we desperately want healing. When our loved ones are sick, the pursuit of their health turns our lives upside down as well. So it's not surprising that our chosen verse today is one of the most well-known and often quoted sections of James.

In it the author suggests a way for Christians to confront sickness. Let's look at these verses closely to gain insight on how to deal with sickness in our own lives and the lives of those we love.

1. "Is anyone among you sick? Let him call ..." (vs. 14).

Here we see that the sick person takes the initiative to call for prayer. When you think of it, this makes sense. Remember the last time you were in the middle of an illness and faith for even the next breath was hard to muster. Summoning someone to pray whose faith is not hampered by physical illness and weakness is a good place to start.

2. "Let him call for the elders of the church..."  (vs. 14). 

Elders are officers of the church. The qualifications of such officers (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9) ensure that they are men and women of personal integrity and character, full of discernment and (though not specifically named) people of faith and prayer.

3. "...let them pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord" (vs. 14).

The oil isn't medicine or magical. Rather it is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. It can symbolize the consecration of the sick person and, as my Bible's footnote expresses it: "the joyous presence of the Holy Spirit, in this case to bring healing in response to the obedience and faith of the elders" - Jon Mark Ruthven, New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1757.

4. And the prayer of faith..." (vs. 15).

We think of the gift of faith Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 12:9. Here that faith is for the healing of the sick person prayed for.

5. "...will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven" (vs. 15).

According to the study notes in my Bible, when James says "save the sick" and "he will be forgiven" he doesn't mean that the prayers save the sick person from sin. Rather, "save" here refers to physical restoration and the "sins ... forgiven" refer to sins that may have contributed to the illness. Although not all sickness is caused by sin, sometimes there is a connection (Mark 2:5-11; 1 Corinthians 11:27-30).

6. ...and the Lord will raise him up..."(vs. 15).

"James stresses God's healing power through prayer that accompanies the anointing" (NSFLB - p. 1757). In the final analysis, healing comes, not from the oil, or the floweriness of our prayers, or even the robustness of our faith, but from God.

It's hard to understand why God steps in with supernatural healing at some times and not at others. We will never have the answer to such questions on this side of heaven. But we do know that God has, through Bible writers, told us to bring our requests to heal sickness to Him. Let's do that, and then continue to depend on Him to work all things together for good in the realm of physical wellness as in other areas of life.

PRAYER: Dear God, I know that the power to restore health is in Your hands. Please keep faith for my ill loved ones alive in me as I continue to pray for them. Amen.

MORE: Smith Wigglesworth on this passage:

"We have in this precious Word a real basis for the truth of healing. In these verses God gives very definite instructions to the sick. If you are sick, your part is to call for the elders of the church; it is their part to anoint and pray for you in faith. Then the whole situation rests with the Lord..."

- Smith Wigglesworth, from Smith Wigglesworth Devotional,  p. 130.

(From the archives)
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Monday, October 01, 2012

Life-saving fear

Feast of Purim commanded - Melville
Feast of Purim Commanded - H. Melville
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Esther 9:1-19

TO CHEW ON: "The Jews gathered together in their cities throughout all the provinces of King Ahasuerus to lay hands on those who sought their harm. And no one could withstand them because fear of them fell upon all people.
And all the officials of the provinces, the satraps, the governors, and all those doing the king's work, helped the Jews because the fear of Mordecai fell upon them." Esther 9:2,3

Something... Someone supernatural must be at work here for the tide of public opinion to turn so dramatically for Haman one day, against him the next (although my Bible's notes suggest the Jews had some months to prepare for their defence).

The way the Bible describes it: "And no one could withstand them because the fear of them fell upon all people .... the officials etc. helped the Jews because the fear of Mordecai fell upon them," gives one the sense of an irresistible force on the Jews' side causing others to lose their courage and to give up on destroying them.

I am reminded of another time the fear of the Lord became a force in the life of the Jewish nation. Remember Rahab, the woman who hid the Jewish spies, and what she said: "...the terror of you has fallen on us .... all the inhabitants of the land are fainthearted because of you ... our hearts melted; neither did there remain any more courage in anyone because of you for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath" - Joshua 2:9,11.

Then there's the early church. After the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost and many joining the new believers "... fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles" - Acts 2:43.

It's comforting to know that God works in this way. Lets pray that the fear of God come over our nation where attempts to silence public witness about Jesus are becoming increasingly bold and pervasive. Let's pray that the fear of God come over other countries, especially those where it is illegal to be a Christian and converting is a death sentence.

PRAYER: Dear God, perhaps before the fear of God comes over my nation, it needs to affect me. Help me to have a view of You that begins to understand how worthy You are of my fear, awe, and worship. Amen.

MORE: Fear and wisdom

John Piper in a sermon from the text Proverbs 10:11 ("The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life.") says,

 "The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life" (cf. 16:22). So if the "teaching of the wise" is a fountain of life, and "the mouth of the righteous" is a fountain of life, then one element in this righteousness is true wisdom. Righteous people are people who live by true wisdom.
Then I remembered that the most crucial thing Proverbs says about wisdom is that "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (9:10). So I assumed that "the fear of the Lord" is right at the heart of the wisdom which is the basis of the way righteous people live (fear of the Lord—wisdom—righteousness). The surprising thing was the way this was confirmed in 14:27, "The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life."
So I conclude that the mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life (10:11) because righteousness is a life based on true wisdom which is a fountain of life (13:14), and true wisdom is a fountain of life because it begins with the fear of the Lord, which is a fountain of life (14:27)." - By John Piper. ©2012 Desiring God Foundation. Website: Read all of "The Mouth of the Righteous Is a Fountain of Life."


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