Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Presumptuous sins

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 19:1-14

TO CHEW ON: "Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins;
Let them not have dominion over me." Psalm 19:13

"Presumptuous sins"? What is this category of sin?

[Presume, the verb from which the adjective presumptuous derives, means to take for granted, assume to be true, to take upon oneself without warrant or permission, dare, venture, to act or proceed over-confidently.

The Hebrew word zed here translated "presumptuous" means arrogant, proud, insolent, presumptuous]

Barnes' Notes on the Bible gives one explanation of "presumptuous sins" in Psalm 19:
"...the reference is particularly to sins which proceed from self-confidence; from reliance on one's own strength. The word does not mean open sins, or flagrant sins so much as those which spring from self-reliance or pride. The prayer is substantially that he might have proper distrust of himself and might not be left by an improper reliance on his own power to the commission of sin" (emphasis added).
When might we be guilty of presumptuous sins?

Perhaps when we act like the man in Jesus' story who congratulated himself for his full barns and depended on them for the future, never acknowledging God (Luke 12:16-21)?

In our time it is easy to live life this way. We have our paychecks or our pensions and the government will take care of us if we lose them. We have our doctors and hospitals so going to God when we get sick is hardly our first thought. We have our books, the internet and TV so where do we need's God's input when we don't know what to do?

The fact that David prays such sins will not have dominion him over tells us he knows and fears they easily could become his habitual response.

I have a feeling I am more prone to presumptuous sins than I care to admit, and need a new sensitivity to see where I am depending on myself and not Him.

PRAYER: Dear God, please alert me to presumptuous habits and behaviours in my life. Help me to label them sin and to turn from pride and self-reliance to reliance on You. Amen.

MORE: "Give Me Jesus" - Fernando Ortega

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Monday, September 29, 2014

In a time of trouble

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Daniel 12:1-13

TO CHEW ON:"...And there shall be a time of trouble,
Such as never was since there was a nation..." Daniel 12:1

"Times of trouble" run through the Bible. They relate often to the Israelite nation and come as the consequence of abandoning Yahweh for idols. Such trouble in the form of the nation being displaced and distressed was Moses' warning way back in Deuteronomy as a consequence of turning from the worship of God to idols (Deuteronomy 4:30-31).

Jesus referred often to trouble-filled days.
  • He told about the trouble that comes to all of us in the course of life and how the foundation we choose will determine whether our life-house will withstand the storms of circumstances or be battered apart by them (Matthew 7:24-28).
  • In His story about the sower and the seed, tribulation and trouble destroyed the faith of the believer who was only shallowly rooted in the God's word (Matthew 13:20-21).
  • He also talked about end-time tribulation, referring specifically to Daniel's prophecy (Matthew 24:15). He described this trouble as a time of emergency, terror, flight, and life-snuffing ferocity (Matthew 24:15-22).
  • Jesus described these end-time troubles as "birth pains" - Matthew 24:8 NLT. We know how a mother's contractions accelerate as the birth of the baby nears, until the little one is finally delivered. That's how Jesus describes the  troubles on earth as they crescendo until "the end" - Matthew 24:14.

It's easy to feel we're in the middle of those birth pains. As I write, Earth is staggering under numerous political, humanitarian, and health crises. There is war in the Middle East as ISIS terrorists overrun Syria and Iraq, while thousands flee. Rocket fights between Hamas and Israel keep erupting. In African whole classrooms of girls are still being held captive by terrorist groups.  Tensions between Russia and Ukraine mount daily. Thousands in West Africa are dying from the ebola virus. There is unrest in Hong Kong as China restricts their democracy.

Let's take to heart Jesus' words of advice for such trouble-filled times:
  • Don't be deceived - Matthew 24:4
  • "Be ready..." Matthew 24:44.
  • "Endure to the end" - Matthew 24:13.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I don't like to contemplate trouble. But when I view it through the lens of Your word, I see that it shouldn't surprise or confuse me. Help me to live alert and prepared through trouble-filled times. Amen.

MORE: Today is the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels

Michael is the archangel who Daniel describes in our reading as "The great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people." Find out more about the archangel Michael here.

The liturgy for the Feast of st. Michael and All Angels begins with this collect:

"Everlasting God, you have ordained and constituted in a wonderful order the ministries of angels and mortals: Mercifully grant that, as your holy angels always serve and worship you in heaven, so by your appointment they may help and defend us here on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."
Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Complaining about the food

"And thou shalt smite on the rocks..." 
Lithograph by Marc Chagall

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 78:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "He also brought streams out of the rock, and caused waters to run down like rivers. But they sinned even more against Him by rebelling against the Most High in the wilderness" - Psalm 78:16,17

I identify with Carolyn Arends when she writes in Theology in Aisle Seven:

"I was making my way through Exodus, feeling a little jealous of my spiritual ancestors. It seemed they never had to wonder if God was there. They had only to follow pillars of cloud and fire, gathering up the manna served fresh daily from God's kitchen .... I wondered why the present-day actions of the immutable God sometimes seem so muted in contrast to the God of Moses. I wouldn't mind a pillar of cloud or fire when I need direction, or some manna on my front lawn when I pray for provision" - Carolyn Arends, Theology in Aisle Seven, Kindle Location 507.

But Asaph, the writer of today's psalm, reminds us that despite that luminous GPS, six-day-a-week meal service, and all the other tangible evidences of God's presence, the Israelites still struggled with bad attitudes of discontent, grumbling, and rebellion. Why?

Perhaps verse 18 holds a key to their problem: "They tested God in their heart..."

[Testnasah—means to put to the test, try, prove, tempt. It's the thing that God does to us through life, not we to Him. As the Word Wealth writer of my Bible's notes concludes: "In this reference, the wilderness generation insulted and grieved the Lord by tempting and limiting Him as if to test His patience or His power" - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 747.]

Note the place those discontented complaints and rebellions originated: "their heart." It was an inner thing first before an outer action. Really as simple as choosing to see life's glass half empty instead of half full.

And so you and I too have a choice to make. Do we focus on what's wrong with life, the things we wish were different, what we would like more of, and so in effect test God, telling Him He's not doing a good enough job in our circumstances? Or do we, in our hearts, focus on gratitude, thankfulness, what's right with life? For it's as easy for us to test God as it was for the Israelites—as easy as complaining about the food!

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to live with gratitude every day, choosing to see life in a positive, not negative light, choosing not to test You in my heart. Amen.

MORE: Ingratitude—the catalyst of all my sins?

"From all our beginnings, we keep reliving the Garden story.

Satan, he wanted more. More power, more glory. Ultimately, in his essence Satan is an ingrate. And he sinks his venom into the heart of Eden. Satan's sin becomes the first sin of all humanity: the sin of ingratitude. Adam and Eve are, simply, painfully, ungrateful for what God gave.

Isn't that the catalyst of all my sins?"

- Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts, p. 15.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Saturday, September 27, 2014

The pastors and the people

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Philippians 2:18-30

TO CHEW ON: "Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness, and hold such men in esteem." Philippians 2:29

How do you view your pastor and other members of your church's ministry team? If you're a pastor, how do you view your congregation? Are you "buddy-buddy"? Or is there a bit of a gulf between the congregation and the leadership? This gulf could be there for a number of legitimate reasons:

- Pastors are also often our counselors. As such they know things about various ones of us they're not free to divulge. Their role demands discretion.

- If they are obedient to sharing God's word with us, it may not always be what we want to hear and, like the Old Testament prophets, our pastors may experience friendship fallout from the unpopularity of their message.

- The very position of leader needs some distance and objectivity. Leaders need to be fair and not seen to be favoring one group or individual over another.

In our reading today, Paul talks to the Philippians about their relationship with him and the members of his team, and vice versa. Some of the interactions he has experienced and hopes for are:

On the part of the pastor toward the congregation:
  • They genuinely care for the state of the people, as Timothy does - Philippians 2:20.
  • They serve Jesus' concerns and interests, not their own - Philippians 2:21,22.
  • They are willing to travel as both Timothy and Epaphroditus are - Philippians 2:23,25.
  • There is a genuine love of the team members for the congregation - Philippians 2:26.
  • They are willing to extend themselves for the gospel and the church, e.g. Epaphroditus - Philippians 2:30.

On the part of the congregation toward the pastors:
  • Paul hopes for openness between congregation and workers so that he can "know your state." He hopes to be encouraged by them - Philippians 2:19.
  • The Philippian church has been concerned about practical things like Epaphriditus's health - Philippians 2:26.
  • Paul asks them to offer joyous hospitality to visiting team members and to hold them in esteem - Philippians 2:29.

What can we learn and apply from the relationship of Paul, Timothy and Epaphroditus with the church members at Philippi?

If we're pastors or part of a ministry team, we can ask ourselves, do we genuinely love and care about our congregation? Are we willing to do what it takes of travel and other self-denying acts for their benefit? Or do we whine about their immaturity and other faults when we're with fellow ministers at, say, the local ministerial meeting?

As members of the congregation, are we hospitable toward our pastors? Are we aware that they are vulnerable to health problems like the rest of us? Do we hold them in esteem? Or are we standoffish toward them, with a type of "class" mentality?  Do we respect and honor them when they're not around, or gossip about and criticize them behind their backs?

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to relate to my pastor and the ministry team at church in a way that pleases You, encourages then, and helps build up the body of Christ. Amen.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

When your heart breaks for the world—PRAY

Woman reading a newspaper
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 9:27-38

"Then He said to His disciples, 'The harvest truly is plentiful, but the labourers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into His harvest.' " Matthew 9:37,38

Gary Wilkerson tells the following story in the book David Wilkerson: The Cross, the Switchblade, and the Man Who Believed.

In 1957 David Simmons was pastoring the Brooklyn Presbyterian Church. But the glory days of the beautiful old structure seemed in the past. The neighborhood had become the headquarters for the feared Mau Mau gang and weekly church attendance was below 100.

One morning Simmons saw the police right outside his building, loading two bleeding men onto stretchers after a shootout. The neighborhood violence and bloodshed sickened him and he began coming to the church early in the morning to pray. " ' My prayer,' he says, 'was that God would thrust worthy laborers into the harvest field' " David Wilkerson, Kindle Location 1030.

Meanwhile in a small town in Pennsylvania, young David Wilkerson was restless and dissatisfied with pastoring his predictable, self-absorbed church. He began spending his afternoons in prayer, asking God to show him the more he hankered for. One day when he took a break from praying, he glanced at a Time Magazine that told the story of the Michael Farmer trial. Michael Farmer was a defenseless white kid with polio who had been senselessly murdered by a bunch of teens on a New York street. 

Wilkerson felt anguish: "Anguish over the senseless murder of a defenseless boy. Anguish over the seething hurt and deprivation that had boiled over in the boys who had committed it. And, finally, anguish over their fate, the waste of every life involved" - David Wilkerson, KL 1246.

That day was a turning point in Wilkerson's life. He ended up moving to New York, becoming an evangelist to New York's drug addicts and gang members, and founding Teen Challenge. In other words, he became the answer to a praying pastor's prayers.

I find it interesting that in our reading today, Jesus didn't say to the disciples, "You go and be laborers in God's harvest" but " '…pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers.' "

Sometimes we're not the people for the job on the ground. But we're always the people who need to respond to the burdens of this world, its weary scattered sheep that move our hearts to compassion, with prayer.

Dear God, I need Your tender compassionate heart that weeps over the world's heartbreaks and finds its most effective release in prayer. Amen. 

MORE: Photos that move to tears

A photo gallery from Boston.com illustrates the current plight of Syrian Kurdish refugees flooding into Turkey.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Day of rest

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Exodus 16:17-36

TO CHEW ON: "And the Lord said to Moses .... 'See! For the Lord has given you the Sabbath; therefore He gives you on the sixth day bread for two days. Let every man remain in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.' So the people rested on the seventh day." Exodus 16:28-30

When God told the people to set aside one day in seven as a rest day He wasn't just making a suggestion. He meant it. Our story today shows that.

God supplied manna, the mysterious sweet wafer-like substance that covered the ground each morning, as food and a test of obedience (yesterday's devo). One rule was to gather the manna each morning and not save any of it overnight. Another was to gather double the usual amount on the morning of the sixth day.

An interesting part of today's story is the rulers coming to Moses on that sixth day morning  to accuse people of doing what they were supposed to. It's as if they hadn't heard that part of Moses' command, or thought that the rule of no-overnight-storage trumped the double-on-the-sixth day one.

This time the people-gatherers were right. For on the morning of the seventh day—surprise! No manna. And the food they had gathered the day before smelled fine and was maggot-free.

And so one day in seven became a rest day for the Hebrews. It is the reason we, in our society with its roots in Judeo-Christian thought, now treat Sundays differently than other weekdays—although more and more we don't. Where I live, stores, restaurants and even some banks are open for business on Sunday. And the temptation is to take advantage of these opportunities to squeeze a little more business into the week.

But a day of rest is one of God's founding principles of life. We keep it, not because we're under the law, but because the One who designed us knows that's what we need to function best. He Himself modeled it when He rested after six days of creation. How can we think we won't do ourselves harm by ignoring this principle in our lives?

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to take seriously Your principle of Sabbath — not only as a day of rest but as a day to focus on You. Amen.

MORE: Another reason for sabbath besides rest

Isaiah 58:13-14:
"If you turn away your foot from [traveling unduly on] the Sabbath, from doing your own pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a [spiritual] delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable, and honor Him and it, not going your own way or seeking or finding your own pleasure or speaking with your own [idle] words,
Then will you delight yourself in the Lord, and I will make you to ride on the high places of the earth, and I will feed you with the heritage [promised for you] of Jacob your father; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it" (Amplified).

Luke 4:16 (talking about Jesus):
"So He came to Nazareth, [that Nazareth] where He had been brought up, and He entered the synagogue, as was His custom on the Sabbath day. And He stood up to read" (Amplified).
Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

But it's just a little thing

Art from Iceberg

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Exodus 16:1-16

TO CHEW ON: "Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Behold I will rain bread from heaven for you. And the people shall go out and gather a certain quota every day, that I may test them whether they will walk in My law or not.'" Exodus 16:4

The Israelites had just experienced the great high of crossing over the Red Sea and watching the Egyptians perish. But from that high they soon plunged to a low when they needed water and the water they eventually found was bitter. Their reaction: they grumbled and complained against Moses.

Would we blame them? Yet Moses' response to their grumbling shows that this was no frivolous thing: "Your complaints are not against us but against the Lord" (Exodus 16:8).

A little while later, remembering their Egyptian diet and comparing it to what they now ate now, "...the whole congregation complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness" (Exodus 16:2). God sent manna to satisfy their hunger. It was food that had an interesting side purpose: "And the people shall go out and gather a certain quota every day, that I may test them whether they will walk in my law or not." The "quota" was enough for each day and double that amount on the day before Sabbath so Sabbath was a day off. How they followed those instructions was God's test.

These are such little things—grumbling and complaining, not following instructions. Haven't we all been guilty of doing something similar?

Jerry Bridges in his book The Pursuit of Holiness says,

"We do not take some sin seriously. We have mentally categorized sins into that which is acceptable and that which may be tolerated a bit .... Andrew Bonar said, 'It is not the importance of the thing, but the majesty of the Lawgiver that is to be the standard of obedience .... Some, indeed, might reckon such minute rules as these trifling. But the principle involved in obedience or disobedience was none other than the same principle which was tried in Eden at the foot of the forbidden tree. It is really this: Is the Lord to be obeyed in all things whatsoever He commands? Is He a holy Lawgiver? Are His creatures bound to give implicit assent to His will?'" - Jerry Bridges, The Pursuit of Holiness, Kindle Location 110 - Bonar quote from Andrew Bonar, A Commentary on Leviticus, 1846, reprint 1972, p. 218 (emphasis added).

And so when God convicts about some little thing let's not try to wriggle our way out of dealing with it, giving the excuse that it's too insignificant to be concerned about. Rather, let's do the needed thing—make it right and change our ways because of the worth of our holy, majestic Lawgiver.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for these examples of how you test us in the little things. Help me to live with a sensitive conscience before You today, quick to change my ways where You apply pressure. Amen.

MORE: "The great disposition of sin underneath"

"When I get into the presence of God, I do not realize that I am a sinner in an indefinite sense; I realize the concentration of sin in a particular feature of my life.... The conviction is concentrated on—I am this, or that, or the other. This is always the sign that a man or woman is in the presence of God. There is never any vague sense of sin, but the concentration of sin in some personal particular. God begins by convicting us of one thing fixed on in the mind that is prompted by His Spirit; if we will yield to His conviction on that point, He will lead us down to the great disposition of sin underneath. That is the way God always deals with us when we are consciously in His presence" - Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, July 3 reading (emphasis added).

I believe Chambers has put his finger one of the reasons little things aren't really little at all. It is because they are symptoms of our real condition. They are the one tenth of the iceberg jutting above the surface, hiding the nine tenths of that "great disposition of sin" underneath."

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Unity—the reputation we want

Church unity - cross
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Philippians 1:12-30

TO CHEW ON: "Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel." Philippians 1:27

Whenever a prominent Christian makes news for conduct, it reflects on the whole church. As Christians we don't live only to ourselves and this is never more evident than when one of our famous ones stumbles.

"Conduct is a word that usually describes one's life as a citizen," writes Wayne Grudem in his commentary on this passage. "The city of Philippi prized its Roman citizenship, but Paul reminds his readers that the most important conduct is to behave in a manner befitting citizens of the kingdom of God" - Wayne Grudem, Study notes on Romans, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1661.

Paul goes on to tell the Philippians what he'd like to be hearing about them: "… so that… I may hear of your affairs that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel" (emphasis added). In plain words, he wants them to have a reputation for UNITY.

Paul is surely following his leader Jesus in this. Hear Jesus pray in John: "…'that they all may be one as You Father are in Me and I in You, that they also may be one in Us that the world may believe that You sent Me' " - John 17:21.

So let's remember, we don't live only for ourselves, Our conduct reflects on the whole body of Christ. And there's no better "reflection" than to mirror the unity of the Godhead.  Let's work for that within our own congregations and throughout the many communities that make up Christendom. How? Some ways to foster unity that come to mind:

  • Focus on the beliefs we hold in common, versus those on which we disagree.
  • Get to know Christians from other churches in the community. One way to do that is to attend interdenominational events. For example, our community has a joint Good Friday service that involves all evangelical churches that care to participate.
  • View members of other churches as brothers and sisters in the same big family rather than rival families.

Dear God, may my conduct be a credit to Your kingdom and a force for unity in it. Amen.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Nurture your song-life

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 98:1-9

TO CHEW ON: "Oh, sing to the Lord a new song!
For He has done marvelous things" - Psalm 98:1a

Are you a singer? By that I mean, do you find yourself voicing or humming tunes? Do songs play in your mind and overflow from your mouth?

Songs perform many functions in our society. They tell stories, express love, grief, longing, and outrage. They entertain us and with them we entertain ourselves and each other. Unfortunately we often equate singer with star and feel that if we don't sing well we have no business inflicting our sour notes on others.

But the psalmist never mentions accuracy of pitch or quality of tone when he tells us to sing. One gets the sense that instead of technical skill, it's the spiritual life behind the song that matters. It's a life so vigorous it can't help but find expression in "a new song" and a "joyful shout." It spontaneously erupts in songs and praises, taking advantage of every available music-maker; the harp, the trumpet, and the horn for the Psalm writer (the piano, guitar, drum, synthesizer, violin, cello, bass etc. for us)

The second part of our focus verse—"For He has done marvelous things"—gives us the reason for such songs and a clue about how to nurture a robust song-life. It begins when we move our attention from ourselves to God. For He has done and is doing "marvelous things" all around us in creation, in history, and in our own lives.

Let's prepare a path for song as we meditate on God's many "marvelous things." Then let's open our mouths and lend our vocal cords to sing the praise, worship, and thanks that flows from our meditation.

PRAYER: Dear God, may thoughts about You and Your "marvellous things" birth songs in my heart today. When I don't feel like singing, help me to open my mouth in faith that my feelings will follow as I sing anyway. Amen.

MORE: Holy Cross Day
Today the church celebrates Holy Cross Day or Feast of the Cross It is a feast that celebrates the cross as the instrument of salvation. The day's liturgy begins with this Collect:

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Saturday, September 13, 2014

Our own Egyptian Hallel

"Miracle at the Red Sea" - Artist unknown
"Miracle at the Red Sea" from Artwork from the Bible and Its Story - 2

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 114:1-8

TO CHEW ON: "When Israel went out of Egypt,
The house of Jacob from a people of strange language,
Judah became His sanctuary,
And Israel His dominion." Psalm 114:2

Psalm 114 is one of the Egyptian Hallel psalms*. It celebrates Israel leaving Egypt—an event that put God's stamp of ownership on them: "Judah became His sanctuary,
And Israel His dominion."

After stating this the psalmist recalls specific incidents that we could say symbolize facets of the relationship between Israel and Yahweh:

God delivered them: "The sea saw it and fled; / Jordan turned back." Twice God turned back water for Israel—once at the Red Sea, taking them forever out of the Egyptians' clutches, and again when they crossed the Jordan River into Canaan (Exodus 14:21; Joshua 3:13-16).

God communicated with them. He told them His will and what pleased and displeased Him when He dictated the law to Moses on Sinai. "The mountains skipped like rams, / The little hills like lambs" refers to the mighty earthquake that rocked the Mount Sinai when God's glory cloud settled there (Exodus 19:18).

God supplied their needs: "Who turned the rock into a pool of water, / The flint into a fountain of waters." Twice during their wilderness wanderings God supplied water from rocks (Exodus 17:6; Numbers 20:11).

There is a wonderful parallel for us in this psalm.
  • For when we leave our Egypt of slavery to sin, we too become "His sanctuary" (1 Corinthians 6:19), under "His dominion" (John 20:27,28).
  • He communicates to us through the Bible (Joshua 1:8), a revelation that may lead to earth-shaking changes in attitudes and lifestyle for us (Hebrews 4:12).
  • We can also trust Him to supply our needs (Matthew 6:31-34).

PRAYER: Dear God, may it truly be said of me, Violet (insert your name here) has become His sanctuary. She is His dominion. Amen. 

*Egyptian Hallel Psalms:
"Hallel means praise. It is the name given to the group of Psalms 113-118, which are preeminently psalms of praise. It is called "The Egyptian Hallel," because it was chanted in the temple whilst the Passover lambs were being slain. It was chanted also on other festival occasions, as at Pentecost, the feast of Tabernacles, and the feast of Dedication. The Levites, standing before the altar, chanted it verse by verse, the people responding by repeating the verses or by intoned hallelujahs. It was also chanted in private families at the feast of Passover. This was probably the hymn which our Saviour and his disciples sung at the conclusion of the Passover supper kept by them in the upper room at Jerusalem (Matt. 26:30; Mark 14:26)" - Easton's Bible Dictionary (accessed through Related Resources to Psalm 114 on biblegateway.com)

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Thursday, September 11, 2014


Egyptian army - Artist unknown
Egyptian army - Artist unknown

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Exodus 13:17-14:9

TO CHEW ON: "Now the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 'Speak to the children of Israel that they turn and camp before Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, opposite Baal Sephon; you shall camp before it by the sea.' " Exodus 14:1,2

God's instructions to Moses in the context of what's about to happen sound like a setup. He directs Moses to lead the Israelites into a trap.

When Pharaoh changes his mind about letting the Israelites go, their impending recapture will seem easy. For the mighty multitude is boxed in by mountains and the sea—the only way out would be past Egyptian horses and chariots, or ... a miracle?

Let's remember this story when we feel trapped by circumstances—when there's nothing we can do but pray. For as God had plans to exalt His name and His honor through this event (" '…and I will gain honor over Pharaoh and over all his army, that the Egyptians may know that I am the Lord' " Exodus 14:4) He may have similar plans for us in our boxed in place.

And we will be able to sing with David:

"Blessed be the Lord,
Who has not given us as prey to their teeth.
Our soul has escaped as a bird from the snare of the fowlers;
The snare is broken, and we have escaped.
Our help is in the name of the Lord
Who made heaven and earth" - Psalm 124:6-8

PRAYER:  Dear God, when there is no human way out, help me to still have hope in You. Amen.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Celebrate and pass on your spiritual story

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Exodus 13:1-16

TO CHEW ON: "And you shall tell your son in that day, saying, 'This is done because of what the Lord did for me when I came up from Egypt.' " Exodus 13:8

The Israelites who experienced the first Passover night may have thought they would never forget that amazing, frightening, wonderful night. But even the most vivid experiences have a way of fading over time to the people who experience them—let alone those who weren't alive at the time and didn't live them firsthand. God knew that and gave the Israelites instructions on how to keep the story of the Passover night fresh. They were to:

They were to celebrate Passover on its anniversary every year (Exodus 13:5).

Refrain from certain food
Leavened food (yeast) had no part in the celebration (Exodus 13:6,7).

Tell the story
They were to tell their children their stories of this day as an explanation of what they were doing (Exodus 13:8).

They were to sacrifice the firstborn males of the flock and redeem the firstborn sons as per God's instructions as a memorial of what had happened in Egypt on that night (Exodus 13:12-15).

Share symbols
They were to wear things that reminded them of that night: "…a sign to you on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes." Through generations Jews followed these instructions literally. My Bible commentary says, "The later Jewish practice of wearing phylacteries while praying is based on these verses" James Carroll Tollett, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 93.

We can take a page from Israel's book as we live or own ex-Passover-night lives. No, none of us went through the actual Passover night, but if we have accepted Jesus, we have that landmark day of leaving sin's slavery for God's freedom to commemorate.
  • If we know the date we could celebrate our spiritual birthday.
  • We have a special meal—the Lord's Supper. "Participate regularly in the Lord's Supper. Passover points forward to our ultimate deliverance through Jesus our Messiah" - Leslyn Musch, "Truth-In-Action through Exodus," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 130.
  • We can tell the story of our coming to Jesus to our children and grandchildren.
  • We may have symbols we connect with our spiritual history—a golden cross, or prayer shawl perhaps—that remind us of this event. We may also hang significant Bible verses or symbols on our walls (Deuteronomy 6:9).

However we do it, let's remember and pass on our story with God, as the Israelites did.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your amazing plan that threads through history. Thank You for capturing my life in its stitches. Help me to remember my history with You and to pass it on to my children and grandchildren. Amen.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Saturday, September 06, 2014

The power of story

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Exodus 12:29-51

TO CHEW ON: "And it shall be, when your children say to you, 'What do you mean by this service?' that you shall say, 'It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when He struck the Egyptians and delivered our households.'" Exodus 12:26-27

In our home it was Mom who told the stories and we would beg — Tell us about the time you dyed the wedding gloves. Tell us about being a nurse in Winnipeg. Tell us about when you and Daddy met.

These stories gave us kids a sense of who we were and where we had come from. In a small way they located us in history and gave us a context for some of our own tendencies.

Moses encouraged—no commanded— the Israelites to tell their children the story of the death angel passing over their homes. They were to retell it every time they ate the Passover meal. In this way God's working to preserve them would be engrained on their psyches individually and as a nation.

When times were good, the story would remind them of how God had brought them out of something very bad. When times were bad, it would remind them to call on God with a faith bolstered by how He had come through for them in the past. Of course since Jesus' death the Passover meal and story takes on additional meaning for believers who celebrate it.

Luci Shaw in her book Breath for the Bones says,

"Story has the power to grasp bits of the past and carry them into the imaginative present, rescuing us from the pitfalls of abstraction. It is not insignificant that much of the Bible ... is narrative in form and that the characters and plots revealed on the sacred pages are not so different from those that surround and involve us today" Breath for the Bones, Kindle Location 966.

We need to carry on that tradition of telling stories to our children. We should tell them the embarrassing, humorous, triumphant, and love stories of our lives. We must tell them the stories of our spiritual journeys. Above all, they should hear from us the Bible stories which are, after all, the stories of our spiritual great-great-great-great.... grandparents.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the rich stories of the Bible that help colour the mundanities of life with spiritual meaning and significance. Help me to faithfully pass on this history to my descendants. Amen.

MORE: The power of story
"Story isn't imposed on our lives; it invites us into its life. As we enter and imaginatively participate, we find ourselves in a more spacious, freer, and more coherent world. We didn't know all this was going on! We had never noticed all this significance... Story brings us into more reality, not less, expands horizons, sharpens both sight and insight. Story is the primary means we have for learning what the world is, and what it means to be a human being in it. No wonder that from the time we acquire the rudiments of language, we demand stories" - Eugene Peterson (from Leap Over a Wall), quoted by Luci Shaw in Breath for the Bones, Kindle Location 967.
Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Friday, September 05, 2014


"Blood of the Passover"
by Ted Larson

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Exodus 12:1-14

TO CHEW ON: "Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt." Exodus 12:13

If you ever do house renovations or watch them on TV, you will know that all walls are not created equal. People who look at a fixer-upper with an eye to knocking down walls must do at least one thing before they get busy with the sledge hammer—check to see whether or not the wall they're planning to remove is load-bearing. If it is (i.e. supports parts of the house's basic structure) they know they can't remove it without compromising the soundness of the whole house.

Blood is that kind of load-bearing wall in Christianity. In today's reading we see the beginning of its importance in the Passover. It plays a key role in this ritual which God instituted through Moses just before the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt after 400 years of slavery.

The instruction about how it was to be used was particular. The blood of each household's sacrificed animal was to be painted on the sides and top of their entryway. God promised it would act as a barrier to "the plague" and "the destroyer."  When the death angel saw the blood, he would pass over that doorway, as he was not allowed to enter that household to do his deadly task (Exodus 12:13,23).

The blood "wall" doesn't only provide a protection, but it does much more. Some of the things it supports, as seen through the Bible:

  • Atonement - Exodus 30:10; Leviticus 17:11
  • Liberation - Zechariah 9:11
  • Pardon - Hebrews 9:7
  • Cleansing - Hebrews 9:22.
Centuries later Christ came and offered Himself as our Passover lamb. He shed His blood for each one of us.

We must never let the criticism that Christianity is too bloody cause us to look for ways we can remove that supporting "blood wall" from our faith.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the rich images resident in the Passover story and especially the blood. Thank You for being my Passover lamb. Amen.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Thursday, September 04, 2014

The power of FAVOR

treasure chest
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Exodus 11:1-10

"And the Lord gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians. Moreover, the man Moses was very great in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh's servants and in the sight of the people." Exodus 11:3

One of the ways God uses to accomplish His purposes on earth is to give His human servants favor.

[What is favor? The dictionary defines it as: something helpful, advantageous or considerate done or granted freely as a gesture of goodwill; an attitude of friendliness; being looked upon with liking or approval; special treatment; kind permission; something that helps or furthers an undertaking.]

God predicted to Moses at the burning bush that He would give the Israelites favor with the Egyptians (Exodus 3:21). Our focus verse is the writer's observation that this prediction came about. And we see it playing out in the next chapter as the Israelites "plundered" the Egyptians, receiving from them whatever they asked of gold, silver, and clothes (Exodus 12:35,36).

This is not the only place in the Bible where we see people blessed with favor.
  • Joseph found favor, first with Potiphar, then the prison keeper, and later with Pharaoh himself (Genesis 39:4; 21-23; 41:39,42).
  • Esther was favored by all who saw her and King Xerxes, who chose her to be his queen. He later granted her favor by enacting a law that allowed the Jews to defend themselves against their enemies (Esther 2:15, 17; 8:5).
  • The boy Jesus had favor (Luke 2:52).
  • So did the early Christians (Acts 2:47).

I believe we can and should ask for favor to carry out the assignments God gives us. Barbara Billet in the introduction to the scripture prayer for favor on her book Praying with Fire says:

"The favor of God will open doors that men say are impossible to open. It will change regulations and give you preferential treatment to get you where God wants you to go. … Favor … will cause you to be noticed and cause people to be drawn to you like a magnet" Praying With Fire p. 88, emphasis added.

PRAYER: Dear God, please open doors of favor so that I and my activities will further Your kingdom today. Amen.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Pessimism-colored glasses

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ecclesiastes 2:14-26

The wise man's eyes are in his head,
But the fool walks in darkness.
Yet I myself perceived
That the same event happens to them all." Ecclesiastes 2:14

"And then I took a hard look at what's smart and what's stupid … it's better to be smart than stupid, just as light is better than darkness. Even so, though the smart ones see where they're going and the stupid ones grope in the dark, they're all the same in the end. One fate for all—and that's it." Ecclesiastes 2:12-14 MSG

The words of Solomon's in this passage show us that the lens through which we view life is as important as the ability to see at all. He has chosen to filter what he sees through pessimism. Thus:
  • The fact that his wisdom gives him insights and understandings about life that the unseeing person doesn't have goes unappreciated (Ecclesiastes 2:12-16).
  • The work he enjoys becomes a bitter thing because he has to leave the fruit of it to someone undeserving - Ecclesiastes 2:17-23.
  • Even the supposedly merit-based inequalities—the wisdom, knowledge, and joy God gives to the man "who is good in His sight" over the "gathering and collecting" of the "sinner" is, to him, "vanity and grasping for the wind" (Ecclesiastes 2:24-26).

We too can sink into such depressive thinking if we let ourselves. Even when life is sweet, we can harbor thoughts like, "It will soon be evening and this will end," or
"Something bad will probably happen tomorrow," or "Despite this good incident, it's generally all downhill from here."

There is one advantage to viewing life with such negativity: it is the realistic view without God. Solomon seems to be setting himself and his readers up for what I consider the climax of the book in this answer to the disappointing human condition:

"Remember your Creator before the silver cord is loosed;
Or the golden bowl is broken
Or the pitcher shattered at the fountain
Or the wheel broken at the well" - Ecclesiastes 12:6.

When we do that—live with our Creator and His promises for the present and future in mind—life filtered through optimism becomes the realistic view.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for changing everything when You sent Jesus to earth to die and rise again so that a future with You is possible. Amen.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

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Monday, September 01, 2014

Living for what lasts

house fire
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ecclesiastes 2:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them.
I didn't withhold my heart from any pleasure,
For my heart rejoiced in all my labor;
And this was my reward from all my labor, …
And indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind.
There was no profit under the sun." Ecclesiastes 2:10,11

In case we're tempted to look for satisfaction, fulfillment, and a sense of significance in humor, alcohol, creative work, gardening, building and managing an estate, or music, we needn't bother. Solomon has done the experiment for us. His conclusion: "… all was vanity and grasping for the wind."

Jesus' words come to mind as we ponder what does truly last and satisfy? Jesus agrees with Solomon: earthly treasure won't do it, but laying up treasure in heaven leads to a lasting legacy - Matthew 6:19-21.

Some additional thoughts on what this means (emphases added):
And the world is passing away, and the lust of it, but he who does the will of God abides forever - 1 John 2:17.

But the word of the Lord endures forever. Now this is the word by which the gospel was preached to you - 1 Peter 1:25.

And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love - 1 Corinthians 13:13.

Wherever we are at in our quest to live meaningful lives, let's let these scripture perspectives probe our motivations and actions, showing us where we're looking in the wrong places and putting our hopes in the wrong things.

PRAYER: Dear God, I want to live a life that ends with no regrets; that achieves things that outlast me. Help me to see where I'm trusting in the wrong things to achieve this. Amen.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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