Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Father's business

St. Joseph the Carpenter by Georges de la Tour
St. Joseph the Carpenter by Georges de la Tour
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Luke 2:41-52

TO CHEW ON: “And He said to them, ‘Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?’” Luke 2:49

I wonder if these words of Jesus, “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?’ sent a pang through His earthly father Joseph’s heart. Did they drive home again the fact that, even at this early age, Jesus was not truly ‘his’ – even as our kids aren’t ‘ours’?

The reaction of Jesus to His parents reminds me of something Oswald Chambers says

"Are we going to remain loyal in our obedience to God and go through the humiliation of refusing to be independent, or are we going to take the other line and say--I will not cost other people suffering? .... if we obey God, He will look after those who have been pressed into the consequences of our obedience. We have simply to obey and to leave all consequences to Him. Beware of the inclination to dictate to God as to what you will allow to happen if you obey Him" - Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, January 11th reading.

So much for others’ obedience resulting in our inconvenience. What about the personal cost of being about the Father’s business? It is wide-ranging. Jesus’ words, “I do not seek my own will but the will of the Father Who sent me” (John 5:30), reverberate all the way down to us: “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” John 20:21

A sidebar article in my Bible says:
"Yielding to His call in the pragmatics of daily living means that we recognize His purpose for us during times we would otherwise seek indulgence for our self-interests or run from the demanding implications of His leading at a given moment (ouch!)… it is not ours to excuse ourselves from our places of service but to choose His choice, that is to say, His choice is my choice, my consecration to Him.”- Fuchsia Pickett, New Spirit Filled Life Bible page 1390.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me understand what a privilege it is to be busy doing Father-God business. I pray with the psalm-writer, “Take my eyes away from looking at worthless things and revive me in Your way” (Psalm 119:37) today. Amen.

MORE: "Hear the Call of the Kingdom" - Keith and Kristyn Getty

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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Lessons from washing feet

A foot-washing ceremony was
part of my daughter's wedding.

wedding foot-washing ceremony
TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 13:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "If I then your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet." - John 13:14.

There are layers of meaning captured in this beautiful story of Jesus washing the disciples' feet—told only by John.

Jesus meant for this act to puzzle the disciples—to provoke them to being alert to its meaning. He said, "What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this" John 13:7.

  • Jesus' answer to Peter's "You shall never wash my feet""If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me,"—implies a more thorough washing than feet is necessary for Peter and any disciple. Other Bible verses come to mind, verses like:
"Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity
And cleanse me from my sin....
Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean
Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow" - Psalm 51:2,7
"Then I will sprinkle clean water on you and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols" - Ezekiel 36:25.

  • But Jesus' insistence that their feet did need washing (John 13:10) suggests that even after we are cleansed by Jesus' atoning blood we continue to need cleansing from the defilement we pick up as we walk through life.
  • Jesus' words: "... you also ought to wash one another's feet" and His entire sum-up of the significance of what He did (John 13:14-17) has given rise to a foot-washing custom in some churches. I like the way my Bible's commenter on John explains this:
"Jesus was probably not seeking to institute a literal practice to be observed continually in the church, although some feel this to be the case. But He shows great concern that the meaning of true servanthood be well understood that no one deem it beneath his dignity to perform the most menial of tasks for others. Ultimately servanthood is a disposition of the heart and spirit, which expresses itself in concrete actions" - Siegfried Shatzmann, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1467 (emphasis added).

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to understand Your example of washing feet and how that translates into action in my life. Thank You for Your cleansing blood. Help me to wash my feet every day as I repent of the sins that dirty me along the way. Amen.

MORE: The Feast of St. John
Today the church celebrates the Feast of St. John, the writer of today's Scripture reading. He served us well with his contribution to the Bible—the Gospel of John and the three epistles, 1, 2 & 3 John.

The liturgy for the day begins with this collect:

"Shed upon your Church, O Lord, the brightness of your light, that we, being illumined by the teaching of your apostle and evangelist John, may so walk in the light of your truth, that at length we may attain to the fullness of eternal life; 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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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

In with the new!

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 6:8-7:2a

TO CHEW ON: "For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered to us." Acts 6:14

Less than 40 years have passed between today's story and the event we celebrated yesterday (Jesus' birth). It's a relatively short span of time, yet long enough to change the course of history. The council of priests here accused Stephen of the same thing they had accused the adult Jesus of — wanting to change the temple order of worship (Matthew 26:59-61). And though the witnesses against Jesus misrepresented what He said, the coming of Christ did mean the end of the temple order of worship, the foundation of Judaism.

I can understand the resistance of these leaders when confronted with claims that were so earth-shaking. We naturally fear and resist change, especially when it shatters the lens through which we view life. And that's the kind of change Jesus brings:

"Therefore if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold all things have become new" 2 Corinthians 5:17

What new things does Christ bring?

1. A new sensitivity (Ezekiel 36:26).
2. A new Master (1 Corinthians 8:6)
3. A new mind (Romans 12:1-2)
4. A new reason for living (Philippians 1:21).
5. A new guidebook (1 Peter 1:23).
6. A new interest (Colossians 3:1).
7. A new freedom (Romans 7:6).
8. New strength (Isaiah 40:31).
9. A new love (1 John 4:7).
10. A new song (Psalm 40:3).
11. A new destiny (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)

Reviewing all these new things that Jesus brings gets me all excited again about the privilege of being His child.

Have you invited Him to bring this newness into your life? Such a decision won't be without its discomforts, as you deal with the old: mindsets, values, priorities and allegiances. But it's so worth it!

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, again, thank You for coming to earth to bring change and make things new. Help me to embrace and incorporate all these new things into my life today. Amen. 

MORE: Feast of Saint Stephen

The "new" for the disciples also brought martyrdom. Today the church commemorates its first martyr, in the Feast of Saint Stephen. The liturgy for today begins with this collect:
We give you thanks, O Lord of glory, for the example of the first martyr Stephen, who looked up to heaven and prayed for his persecutors to your Son Jesus Christ, who stands at your right hand; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

See His glory!

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 97:1-12

TO CHEW ON: "His lightnings light the world;
The earth sees and trembles.
The mountains melt like wax
at the presence of the Lord,
At the presence of the Lord of the whole earth.
The heavens declare His righteousness
And all the peoples see His glory."
- Psalm 97:4-6

Today's description of God's awesomeness as He sets foot on planet Earth scarcely fits with the quiet events of the first Christmas that were witnessed by a few shepherds, a few astrologers, maybe the innkeeper's wife (if we believe the Christmas plays!). So why this reading about God coming with brilliance and terror? Didn't our reading guide writer make a mistake in assigning Psalm 97 for Christmas day?

On further thought, the words of this psalm in the context of Christmas do this celebration a great favour.  For though Jesus' coming was humble and quiet, it was destined to rock the planet too.  Dennis McCallum in his book Unlocking the Mysteries of Satan says:

"Although God apparently has been passive in the face Satan's evil actions, he hasn't really been. We can rest assured that he saw the whole thing coming. Before he ever created Satan or humans God knew about their future rebellion, and he formed a colossal, startling plan that suddenly and shockingly burst onto the world....

To the casual reader, it may seem like the biblical story meanders; that God was reacting to events that came up, trying this, trying that, being let down by people, blessing, judging, and eventually, after exhausting other options, sending Jesus. But this is not the case. Right from the beginning, God hinted that his plan was afoot" (Genesis 3:15) - Kindle location 96.

The Christmas chapter of God's plan is only one link—but a most vital one—in a chain of events that will culminate in God someday coming as conqueror to an awestruck, trembling world, as pictured in our reading.

We need to ask ourselves, whose side are we on in this epic clash? The choices are simple:

"You who love the Lord hate evil!
He preserves the souls of His saints
He  delivers them out of the hand of the wicked" - Psalm 97:10.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your overarching plan to defeat Satan, and for Jesus coming as part of that plan! Help me to live my life loving You and hating evil. Amen.

MORE: And the Glory of the Lord - from Handel's Messiah (London Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus version)

Today the church celebrates that Feast of Christmas. The liturgy for Christmas Day begins with this collect:

O God, you make us glad by the yearly festival of the birth of your only Son Jesus Christ: Grant that we, who joyfully receive him as our Redeemer, may with sure confidence behold him when he comes to be our Judge; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Wishing a blessed Christmas to all who read here!

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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Come Thou Long-expected Jesus

The prophet Isaiah - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 5:19-47

TO CHEW ON: "'You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life, and these are they which testify of Me.'" - John 5:39

Jesus knew who He was, and that He was the fulfillment of prophecy. Let's take up His challenge to the Jews, and search the scriptures to see how they testify of Him.

  • The first prophecies begin in the first book of the Bible, the opening scenes of God's dealings with humanity when God cursed the serpent and declared the woman's seed would triumph - Genesis 3:15.
  • Genesis 49:10 prophesies that the triumphant ruler will come from the tribe of Judah. More specifically, Psalm 132:11, Isaiah 9:7, Isaiah 11:10 and Jeremiah 23:5 all predict this King will be a descendant of David.
  • Isaiah predicts that a virgin will conceive and bear a Son—Emmanuel (God with us) - Isaiah 7:14.
  • Micah predicts His birthplace—Bethlehem - Micah 5:2.
  • Malachi predicts a messenger preparing the way for Jesus' ministry - Malachi 3:1.
  • God's Servant is characterized as having God's Spirit upon Him and being the Saviour of the Gentiles as well as the Jews - Isaiah 42:1; 49:6. He preaches good tidings to all who are bound - Isaiah 61:1.
  • Furthermore, this promised Son (Isaiah 9:6) will bring light - Isaiah 9:2.
  • Psalm 118:22 speaks of builders rejecting a stone which would become the chief cornerstone. Isaiah 28:16 refers to that stone as well.
  • Zechariah predicts His entry into Jerusalem on a donkey - Zechariah 9:9.
  • Isaiah predicts His marred body and appearance in Isaiah 52:14 and 53:2-7.
  • Psalm 69:21 names details of Jesus' experience on the cross, predicting He would be offered vinegar to drink.
  • His atonement and resurrection are predicted in Psalm 68:18.
  • We read about His eventual triumph, sitting at the right hand of the King with His enemies His footstool in Psalm 110:1. Isaiah predicts He will conquer death - Isaiah 25:8, and Daniel tells of His indestructible kingdom - Daniel 2:44; 7:13,14.

And there are many others!

As we celebrate His birth, let's do so with an appreciation of the rich story of which it is a part—a story that is threaded through the Old Testament in prophetic predictions, comes to pass in the New,  and of which we are a part if we have been born again into His kingdom

PRAYER: Dear God, I am amazed at the consistency of the writings about Jesus in the Old Testament. Thank You for these prophetic scriptures which bring home the foresight and intricacy of your plan of salvation. Amen.

MORE: "Come Though Long-Expected Jesus" - Chris Tomlin

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Friday, December 21, 2012

God's three requirements

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Micah 6:1-16

TO CHEW ON: "He has shown you, O man what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?"
- Micah 6:8

Micah's exaggeration in the verse just before today's focus verse is almost humorous:

"Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
Ten thousand rivers of oil?"

But the next item is no grinning matter:

"Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression
The fruit of my body for the sins of my soul?"

Micah, using exaggeration, is asking, if the extreme sacrifice of one's own child isn't enough to please God, what is? A footnote article in my Bible tells us about the demands of the law:

"The rabbis analyzed the law and found 613 precepts. Those are reduced to eleven principles in Psalm 15, and down to six commands in Isaiah 33:15. But here they have been condensed into three:
1] Remain just / right in all you do.
2] Cherish compassionate kindness and faithfulness.
3] Commit yourself to live in submission to your God" - William S.Elijahson, New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1210.

Micah is saying that no sacrifice is big enough if the heart is wrong. And a right heart is shown in three simple things: justice, mercy and a humble day-to-day walk with God.

Living with such attitudes is no easier for us now than it was for the Israelites in Micah's day. How can I show (or fail to show) a heart of justice, mercy and humility if:
  • I lightly scrape someone's car in a parking lot. The owner is no where around.
  • The telemarketer who always calls around dinner time is on the phone again.
  • My life takes a path I never envisioned. It includes sickness, heartache and disappointment.

PRAYER: Dear God, please engrave the attitudes of justice, mercy and humble relinquishment on my heart. Help me to not only say 'Yes, yes' with my mouth, but to live out these attitudes when I'm tempted to be dishonest, unkind, bitter or rebellious. Amen.

MORE: It's practical

"The expression of Christian character is not good doing, but God-likeness. If the Spirit of God has transformed you within, you will exhibit Divine characteristics in your life, not good human characteristics. God's life in us expresses itself as God's life, not as human life trying to be godly. The secret of a Christian is that the supernatural is made natural in him by the grace of God, and the experience of this works out in the practical details of life, not in times of communion with God."
- Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, September 20.

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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Seek God

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Zephaniah 2:1-15

TO CHEW ON: "Seek the Lord, all you meek of the earth,
Who have upheld His justice.
Seek righteousness, seek humility.
It may be that you will be hidden
In the day of the Lord's anger." Zephaniah 2:3

After sounding the alarm about the coming Day of the Lord, Zephaniah begs Judah—both the shameless sinners ("O undesirable [shameless] nation") and those who upheld His ways all along—to seek God.

The Bible is peppered with similar advice. We are to seek God:
  • When He feels distant - Acts 17:27
  • When we're in trouble - Hosea 10:12; Amos 5:4.
  • When we're in need - Matthew 6:33; Luke 11:10.
  • Continually - Psalm 105:4.
  • Wholeheartedly - Deuteronomy 4:29; Jeremiah 29:13
  • Before it is too late - Isaiah 55:6, Zephaniah 2:2-3.
  • Personally - Psalm 27:8
About such personal seeking, Matthew Henry in his commentary about our Zephaniah passage says:

"How careful should we all be to seek peace with God, before the Holy Spirit withdraws from us, or ceases to strive with us; before the day of grace is over, or the day of life; before our everlasting state is determined! Let the poor, despised, and afflicted, seek the Lord, and seek to understand and keep his commandments better, that they may be more humbled for their sins" (emphasis added).
  • And as a nation - 2 Chronicles 14:4; Zephaniah 2:1.
Matthew Henry on a nation seeking God in repentance:
"The prophet calls to national repentance, as the only way to prevent national ruin. A nation not desiring, that has no desires toward God, is not desirous of his favour and grace, has no mind to repent and reform....The chief hope of deliverance from national judgments rests upon prayer" (Matthew Henry's Commentary - his commentary and more study helps here - emphasis added).
I ask myself, am I seeking God with the zeal and urgency that Zephaniah begs his listeners to have? Do I pray for unsaved loved ones to seek God before it is too late? Do I have faith for my nation, and pray for a national turning to God?

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Zephaniah's words of warning. Help me to be diligent about seeking You, helping others to find You, and praying for my nation to seek You before it is too late. Amen.

MORE: O Come All Ye Faithful sung by Chris Tomlin

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Sunday, December 09, 2012

Your rhema

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Luke 3:1-22

TO CHEW ON: “While Annas and Caiaphas were high priests, the word of the Lord came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.” Luke 3:2

I wonder if John the Baptist fit in with the other boys his age. Did he play? Was he mischievous and spunky? In every Bible mention of him he appears intense, earnest, focused – one of God’s rockets.

In today's passage he would have been 30-ish (a few months older than Jesus) and spending time, not with a wife or friends but alone in the desert. But not really alone because God was there. During his desert retreat, “the word of the Lord” came to him.

[The word used for “word” here is rhema – as opposed to logos. Rhema is the part of God’s entire word (the logos) which communicates to the reader/hearer. It is the same word used in the Ephesians 6 armor of God passage (“And take…the sword of the Spirit which is the word [rhema] of God”) where as believers are told to wield a portion of the word as a sword in the time of need.]

The rhema which came to John that day in the desert was the message of repentance. Preaching it became his destiny.

Though you are probably not as intense and serious as John, God’s rhema word can come to you too. Looking for and finding such a message every day can make your relationship with God come alive. If you are having trouble hearing God, try these things:

1. Pray that God will open your ears to His voice.

2. Keep a record of God’s rhema words to you. They may come in many ways – through reading the Bible, hearing Scripture in song lyrics, remembering Bible verses, listening to talks, lectures or podcasts of Bible teachers…

3. Obey and put into action the things God tells you.

PRAYER: Dear God, I would like to hear from You every day. Please help me to be open and receptive to Your words.

MORE: Do you have a rhema word or passage that has guided your life?

Mercy Me sings "Word of God Speak."

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Saturday, December 08, 2012


TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 13:14-37

TO CHEW ON: "And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!" - Mark 13:37

When a word occurs multiple times in a bit of scripture, we'd better pay attention. In Mark 13:32-37 Jesus tells us four times to WATCH.

"Watch and pray," He says (Mark 13:34), "for you do not know when the time is." The time He is referring to is the time of Jesus' return (Mark 13:26). [The Greek word for watch here (agrepneo) means to be sleepless, to keep awake.]

He repeats the command: "It is like a man going to a far country who ... commanded the doorkeeper to watch.... Watch therefore .... Watch!" (Mark 13:34, 35, 37). [The Greek word for watch in these three instances is gregoreuo. As well as meaning alert and wakeful, it also signifies mental alertness and caution.]

The disciples are to be as alert as doorkeepers, guarding the house from thieves. They are to stay awake through all four watches of the night. They will find themselves in big trouble if the master finds them asleep. The picture is of the captain of the temple making his rounds. "The guards had to rise at his approach and salute him in a particular manner. Any guard found asleep on duty was beaten or his garments set on fire" - Vincent's Word Studies. (Oh my!)

The command to watch continues for us today. Though we are not to speculate about the date when Jesus will return (Mark 3:32 tells us it's pointless because only God the Father knows) we are to continue in this state of readiness and alertness.

Of course Jesus may come to some of us through death before He physically returns to earth. Here too we need to be watchful. As Matthew Henry puts it:

"We know not whether our Master will come in the days of youth, or middle age, or old age; but, as soon as we are born, we begin to die, and therefore we must expect death. Our great care must be, that, whenever our Lord comes, he may not find us secure, indulging in ease and sloth, mindless of our work and duty..." Matthew Henry's Commentary.
PRAYER: Dear Jesus, help me to be more mindful of Your anticipated return, and to live life alert to the possibility of You bursting on the scene at any moment. Of course I could meet You through death in the same sudden, unexpected way. Teach me to live a watchful lifestyle. Amen.

MORE: Watchful praying

From a 1982 sermon preaching from the text Colossians 4:2-4 John Piper makes these observations about watchful prayer.

“Be watchful in your prayers.” This means, be alert! Be mentally awake! Paul probably learned this from the story of what happened in Gethsemane. Jesus asked the disciples to pray, but found them sleeping. So he said to Peter, “Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray, that you may not enter into temptation” (Mark 14:37f). We must be on the watch as we pray—on the watch against a wandering mind, against vain repetitions, against trite and meaningless expressions, against limited, selfish desires. And we should also watch for what is good. We should especially be alert to God’s guidance of our prayers in Scripture. It is God who works in us to will our prayers but we always experience this divine enablement as our own resolve and decision..." Read all of "Persevere in Prayer" by John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: (Emphasis added.)

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Thursday, December 06, 2012

Shining legacy

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Daniel 12:1-13

TO CHEW ON: “Those who are wise shall shine
Like the brightness of the firmament
And those who turn many to righteousness
Like the stars forever and ever. Daniel 12:3

Vancouver residents awoke November 26, 2009 to the news that a popular city attraction was on the chopping block. At a meeting the night before city councilors voted to shut down the Bloedel Conservatory – a geodesic dome that houses exotic birds and plants. It sits on donated land on top of Queen Elizabeth Park and is now considered too expensive to maintain.

The cries of outrage were predictable. One came from a descendant of the man who donated the land. In a letter to the city, Virginia Bloedel Wright pleaded with councilors to respect “my father’s legacy.”

We all understand the wish to leave a lasting legacy and hope that ours will be just that. Our verse today tells us that we do this when we “turn many to righteousness.” What does that mean?

The Amplified version expands on the phrase: “turn many to righteousness” (to uprightness and right standing with God).” The Message rephrases it to:…those who put others on the right path to life ... An expression used in many Christian circles to describe this activity is soul winning. Here are some conclusions about soul winning we can draw as we look at Bible passages that talk about it and the people who do it.

1. Soul-winning springs from the fellowship-desiring heart of God (Luke 14:16-23).
2. It flows out of a right relationship with God (Psalm 51:12-13).
3. Soul-winners are motivated by their concern for others (James 5:20).
4. The first soul-winners were trained by Christ.  He is the great soul-winning trainer Matthew 4:19; Mark 1:17).
5. Soul-winners are willing to make great personal sacrifice to succeed (1 Corinthians 9:19-20).
6. They are vigilant over the authenticity of their lives and what they teach (1 Timothy 4:16).
7. Successful soul-winners realize their actions count as much as – may be more than – their words (1 Peter 3:1).
8. Soul-winners are wise (Proverbs 11:30).
9. They consider soul-winning an assignment from God (1 Thessalonians 2:1-4).
10. Soul-winners don’t need ideal circumstances to be successful (Philemon 1:10).
11. They persevere despite a lack of visible results (1 Corinthians 7:12-16).
12. The legacy they leave “…will shine… like the stars forever and ever" (our focus verse today).

I ask myself, am I working on leaving such a legacy? Are you?

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for entrusting me with the privilege and responsibility of influencing lives for You. Please teach me how to do this better. Amen.

Rita Springer sings “All My Days”

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Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Know your God

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Daniel 11:21-45

TO CHEW ON: "... but the people who know their God shall be strong and carry out great exploits." - Daniel 11:32b

The angel Michael's prediction continues on from our reading of yesterday—a detailed prophecy of events yet to come. Here is how the writer of Eerdmans Handbook to the Bible continues with matching these predictions to history:

"... Verses 21-24 (Daniel 11:21-24) aptly portray his character and policies (talking about Antiochus IV here). Through the treachery of Ptolemy's own men, Antiochus briefly gained control of Egypt in 173.

On his return he attacked Jerusalem and slaughtered 80,000 Jews (Daniel 11:25-28). The next time he attacked Egypt he was thwarted by the Roman fleet (Daniel 11:29-30). He turned on Jerusalem again and desecrated the temple (Daniel 11:31).

He was aided and abetted by some Jews, but others reused to compromise their faith though they died for it (Daniel 11:32-33).

Judas Maccabaeus instigated a successful revolt, so helping the faithful (Daniel 11:34).

Daniel 11:36-45 does not describe actual events at the end of Antiochus' life. These verses may refer to the end of Syrian domination, at the hands of Rom, the new king from the north. Or they may anticipate events at the end of time, which the sufferings of God's people under Antiochus foreshadow" - Eerdmans Handbook p. 437.

I get a sense of inevitability as I read these predictions—the same feeling I get when I read Jesus' prophecy about end times (Matthew 24:4-31). And the question arises—What can a person do in the face of such acts of people and nature that the earth seems to be headed for?

Here is one answer.  Get to know God:
"...but the people who know their God shall be strong and carry out great exploits."

In the angel's prophecy, the folks who did this stayed strong and more (though the next verse and the history imply that some of them were killed for their efforts - Daniel 11:33).

The Bible is full of pleas to "know the Lord."
  • From the Old Testament prophets: Jeremiah 9:24; Ezekiel 35:11; Hosea 6:3.
  • From Jesus, who intimated that obedience was the route to such knowledge (John 7:16,17), that it was the pathway to true freedom (John 8:31,32), and the means of eternal life (John 17:3).

In this vein I see the picture of the white-robed martyr overcomers from Revelation: Revelation 6:9-11 and 12:11:

"And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death."

PRAYER: Dear God, help me not to be lulled into complacency by my relatively trouble-free life. Rather, help me to use this time to get to know You, so that when trouble comes, I can overcome (even if that overcoming is accomplished through death/martyrdom). Amen.

MORE: A heavenly scene:

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”  All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying:

“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom,
Thanksgiving and honor and power and might,
 Be to our God forever and ever.

Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?”

And I said to him, “Sir, you know.”

So he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Revelation 7:9-17

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Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Tomorrow's news today

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Daniel 11:2-20

TO CHEW ON: "And now I will tell you the truth: Behold three more kings will arise in Persia, and the fourth shall be far richer than them all; by his strength, through his riches, he shall stir up all against the realm of Greece..." Daniel 11:2

Our reading today seems to predict history in detail. Who are the kings of the South? The kings of the North? Did Daniel's prediction actually come true?

The writers of Eerdman's Handbook to the Bible believe it did. The author of the section on Daniel matches his prediction with history:

"This chapter claims to set out the course of future history in detail. And from our vantage-point in time we can look back on its amazingly accurate fulfillment in the history of the Greek Empire.

There are to be three more Persian kings (2 Cambyses, Gaumata and Darius I) followed by a fourth (Xerxes). Xerxes invaded Greece but was defeated at Salamis in 480 BC.

The power then passed to Greece (Daniel 11:3,4). Daniel 11:5 refers to Egypt (the 'king of the South') and to Ptolemy's one-time general Seleucus, who became 'king of the North'—the powerful kingdom of Syria and the east.

Fifty years later (Daniel 11:6) the daughter of Ptolemy II married Antiochus II of Syria. But she was divorced and murdered, and her brother avenged her by attacking Syria (Daniel 11:7). Daniel 11:9-13 reflects the struggles between the two powers at the end of the 3rd century BC.

The Jews then joined forces with Antiochus III of Syria to defeat Egypt (Daniel 11:14-15). They gained their freedom from Egypt (Daniel 11:16), and Antiochus made a marriage alliance with Ptolemy V (Daniel 11:17).

Antiochus invaded Asia Minor and Greece but was defeated by the Romans at Magnesia in 190 BC (Daniel 11:18-19).

The 'exactor of tribute' ['one who imposes taxes' - NKJV] (Daniel 11:20) was his son Seleucus IV who was shortly succeeded by his brother Antiochus IV, the persecutor of the Jews" - Eerdman's Handbook to the Bible, pp. 436,7.

Note the dates when these things happened, compared to the date Daniel was written (beginning late 400s BC compared to sometime in the 500s [540-530]). That would be like someone writing a detailed prediction of what happened in our time almost 100 years ago and more.

But the God we worship is a God who knows the end from the beginning: Isaiah 46:9-10.

Remember the former things of old,
For I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like Me,
Declaring the end from the beginning,
And from ancient times things that are not yet done,
Saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
And I will do all My pleasure,’

And He knows not only the future of nations, but all the details about you and me - Psalm 139:15-16.

My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,

When as yet there were none of them.

Dear God, thank You that You know not only about nations but about me. Please lead me by Your knowledgeable Spirit to live wisely. Amen.

MORE: The prophet's call

In the introduction the "The Prophets" section of Eerdman's  Handbook is an interesting explanation of what a biblical prophet was and did. Here are a few excerpts:
"The true prophet claimed the privilege of being in the Lord's 'council,' a word which conveys the idea of both consultation (see 1 Kings 22:19-22) and of close companionship with God ....

The word translated 'prophet' signifies 'called (by God)', with the consequent task of proclaiming the message of God to men. God's call is not an invitation but an appointment (Amos 7:15) ....

The two other Hebrew words are both translated 'seer,' meaning 'one who sees.' These words point to the fact that by God's inspiration the prophets have an altogether unique ability to 'see': both into the affairs of men and into the mind of God" - Eerdmans Handbook to the Bible, p. 371.

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Sunday, December 02, 2012

Are you care-free or care-full?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 21:20-38

TO CHEW ON: "'But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life and that Day come on you unexpectedly.'" Luke 21:34

In the days leading up to hurricane Sandy unleashing her fury on the eastern U.S. seaboard, residents got lots of warning. The advice, especially to those living right on the beach, was to evacuate. Many did, but some didn't.

I remember seeing interviews of folks who rode out the terrifying storm. When asked why they hadn't followed the evacuation orders, they said things like 'We've lived here for 40 years and always weathered the storms before. We didn't expect it to be as bad as it was.'

In today's reading Jesus predicts an end-time storm that involves more than nasty weather. He tells His disciples that a Day of brutal warfare against Jerusalem is coming (Luke 21:20-24). Space phenomena will accompany it, along with distress amongst nations and widespread fear (Luke 21:25-26). The return of Jesus ("'the Son of Man'") will climax this time.Then Jesus says: "'Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads...'"

But like those warned of Sandy, many won't take these words seriously. Instead their hearts will be "'...weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life...'" and the storm will catch them by surprise.

The seemingly increasing recurrence of natural disasters, storms, earthquakes, tsunamis, economic upheaval, and national unrest has caused some prophecy watchers to suggest we are now in the time Jesus referred to: "'...when these things begin to happen.'" Are we taking Him seriously?

Though we may not be the partying type, the distraction of "cares" is something else.

["Cares - merimna. From meir 'to divide' and noos 'the mind.' The word denotes distraction anxieties, burdens and worries. Merimna means to be anxious beforehand about daily life. Such worry is unnecessary because the Father's love provides for both our daily needs and our special needs" - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1769.]

At this pivotal time in history, let's put those cares where they belong ("Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you" 1 Peter 5:7) and keep our heads up and our focus clear.

Dear God, please help me to watch the times and discern the time we're in on Your calendar. Help me to give my daily cares to You and to keep free of being distracted by life's details. Amen.

MORE: A sobering observation

Joel Rosenberg in his book Implosion: Can America Recover From Its Economic and Spiritual Challenges In Time? draws the following conclusion in his chapter "The Natural Disaster Scenarios":

"While the Bible doesn't specifically tell us which natural disasters will hit which countries in the last days, Scripture clearly warns us that a wide range of game-changing, life-altering disasters will occur with growing frequency and intensity as we get closer to the return of Jesus Christ. We can currently see 'historic,' 'rare,' and 'unprecedented' disasters happening with growing frequency around the world and here in the United states. Furthermore, scientists say we are due for even more powerful and cataclysmic disasters" - Joel Rosenberg, Implosion, pp. 184, 185.

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Saturday, December 01, 2012

Nitty-gritty holiness

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Thessalonians 3:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "And may the Lord ....  establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints." 1 Thessalonians 3:13

In his fatherly prayer for the Thessalonian Christians, Paul prays two main requests: that their love for each other increase, and that their hearts be holy.

Jerry Bridges in his book The Pursuit of Holiness defines "holy":

"To be holy is to be morally blameless. It is to be separated from sin, and therefore consecrated to God. The word signifies 'separate to God, and the conduct befitting those so separated'" - Jerry Bridges, The Pursuit of Holiness, Kindle Location 85.

[The Greek word hagiosune that Paul uses refers to "the process, quality and condition of a holy disposition...Hagiosune consecrates us to God's service in soul and in body, finding fulfillment in moral dedication and a life committed to purity. It causes every component of our character to stand God's inspection and meet His approval" - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1686. (emphasis added)]

"Oh yes, we want to be that way," our hearts say as we sit, stand, or kneel before God. But the minute we leave the quiet place our resolve is tested, and probably before we've gone one hour we've again found ourselves sidling up to sin—playing host to selfish, mean, or fearful thoughts, uttering sharp or unkind words, pressing on with self-exalting plans...

Bridges puts his finger on three what he calls "basic problem areas":

1. "Our attitude toward sin is more self-centred than God-centered." We focus more on our victory over sin than on how much our sins grieve God. We are success-oriented not obedience-oriented. Bridges again: "God wants us to walk in obedience—not victory. Obedience is oriented toward God; victory is oriented toward self" - Bridges, KL 97.

2. "We understand 'living by faith'—Galatians 2:20—to require no effort from us." Bridges talks about hearing his pastor preach along the lines of 'we have a personal responsibility for our walk of holiness,' agreeing with the message, and then sensing the Holy Spirit say to him: "And you can put away the sinful habits that plague you if you will accept personal responsibility for them" - K.L. 107.

3. "We don't take some sins seriously. We have mentally categorized sins into that which is unacceptable and that which may be tolerated a bit" - KL 110.

Mea culpa. I am guilty on all these counts. Lord have mercy!

PRAYER: Dear God, may my focus today be on obedience. Help me to take responsibility for my actions, and to view sin, all sin, with abhorrence. Amen.

MORE: "Clear the Stage" by Jimmy Needham

"Shine the light on every corner of your life
Until the pride and lust and lies are in the open
Then read the Word and put to test the things you've heard
Until your heart and soul are stirred and rocked and broken" - Jimmy Needham

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