Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Cry to the Lord!

Locust  (Image from Pixabay)
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Joel 1:1-20

“Consecrate a fast,
Call a sacred assembly;
Gather the elders
And all the inhabitants of the land
Into the house of the LORD your God,
And cry out to the LORD.” Joel 1:14

In the next days we’ll be reading the entire book of Joel. So a little background is in order.

Joel was a prophet to Judah. The introduction to the book in my study Bible dates his ministry during the reign of Joash when, under the high priest Jehoiada, the worship of God had been restored (2 Kings 11:1-21; 2 Chronicles 23:16).

The catalyst event to writing the prophecy was a locust plague so bad there was nothing left. Fig trees were ruined, offering grains cut off, wine (grapes) dried up, oil (olives) failed, vine, pomegranate, apple all withered - Joel 1:7-12.

Joel interpreted this as the judgment of God. He did not pick that idea out of the blue, for Moses had warned in one of his Deuteronomy sermons of just such a curse as a consequence of disobedience - Deuteronomy 28:15, 42.

And so Joel summoned the priests, elders, and people to radical repentance: “… lament, Wail… Come, lie all night in sackcloth, consecrate a fast, Call a sacred assembly; Gather the elders…. And cry out to the LORD” - Joel 1:13,14.

Might we do something similar when the bottom falls out of life for us, personally, for our family, our city, our country? We probably won’t experience a literal locust plague but some modern events are just as devastating: fires (who can forget the horror of last summer’s  wildfire in Fort McMurray), hurricanes, earthquakes, ice storms, vehicle accidents, cancer diagnoses, the death of a loved one…

Or we may be grieved by the moral locust plague that is destroying our society’s foundations. It's an attack:
  • On the family (new definitions of marriage, fluid sexual identity, pornography). 
  • On life (abortion, legal euthanasia, homelessness). 
  • On law and order (rampant rebellion, disorder, and violence under the guise of “free speech,” drug permissiveness and addiction, a lax judiciary which is often more lenient toward the perpetrator than the victim),
  • On thought and speech (as political correctness which claims to understand the motivation behind actions and to silence speech that would challenge society’s changing mores).
I’m not saying that when tragedy strikes we’re necessarily to blame or that we should take that responsibility on ourselves. It may not be our fault.  But let’s let our understandable panic, desperation, confusion, lack of solutions, even despair draw us to God and prayer with the fervor of Joel in his summons to the locust victims of his day.

Charlie Hall’s song “Holy Visitation” (sung here by Rita Springer) is a modern invitation to such a passionate encounter with God over these things.

PRAYER: “O LORD, to You I cry out"...for my country and this generation.”Amen. (Joel 1:19)

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.

Monday, February 27, 2017


Jesus heals the epileptic boy by Harold Copping

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 17:14-27

TO CHEW ON: " ' However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.' " Matthew 17:21

How grieved the disciples must have been when Jesus called them a " 'faithless and perverse generation,' " though He did soften His scold a bit when He gave them an excuse for not being successful with the exorcism: "' However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.' "

This passage gives us some hints about what it takes to have real spiritual power:
Belief, which can be mustard-seed-small, but even in its smallness is genuine and persistent.



Of these three, fasting is the most mysterious to us. It is a spiritual practice we see a lot of in the Bible though.

  • Moses fasted for the 40 days he was with God on Mt. Sinai. It's as if that was a given—such concentrated time in the presence of the LORD Himself was all the food and drink he needed - Exodus 34:28.
  • Fasting was how people showed their respect for and grief over the death of Saul and Jonathan. Similarly David fasted over the death of General Abner - 2 Samuel 1:12; 3:35; 1 Chronicles 10:12.
  • King David fasted when his and Bathsheba's first baby was deathly ill (though his fast didn't save the baby's life) - 2 Samuel 12:16.
  • The Israelites fasted in repentance as they returned to God after a season of idolatry - 1 Samuel 7:6. They did this again in Nehemiah's time - Nehemiah 9:1.
  • Ahab put on sackcloth and fasted after hearing Elijah's prophecy of calamity about to come on him and his descendants. As a result of him humbling himself like this, God sent Elijah back to tell him these curses would not come on him during his (Ahab's) lifetime - 1 Kings 21:27-29.
  • Ezra fasted for the guilty people - Ezra 10:6.
  • Esther, her personal servants, and all the Jews in Sushan fasted and prayed for favour before she went in to request an audience with the king - Esther 4:15,16.
  • Saul fasted after he encountered Jesus on the Damascus Road - Acts 9:9.
  • Cornelius, a Gentile, was in a time of fasting and prayer when an angel appeared to him with instructions to fetch Peter. As a result, Cornelius and his household were saved and filled with the Holy Spirit - Acts 10:30.
  • The early church leaders fasted and prayed when seeking direction for their leaders - Acts 13:2,3; 14:23.
  • We read of Jesus fasting only once for the forty days of his temptation in the wilderness - Luke 4:1,2.  But it seems He assumed fasting would be part of a person's spiritual practice, for He said to His disciples: " 'But you when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face…' " - Matthew 6:17 (emphasis added). And here He explained His power over the tormenting spirit by implying that He had prepared for this encounter beforehand by fasting.

The experience of Bible characters paints a compelling case for the practice of fasting, not to get our way but to demonstrate our sincerity before God and to position ourselves intentionally in the powerful realm of His will and purposes.

PRAYER: Dear God, You know how hard I find fasting. Help me to grow in this spiritual discipline. 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.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Shining transformation

The Transfiguration - Artist unknown
The Transfiguration - Artist unknown
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Matthew 17:1-13

“And He was transfigured before them, His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.” Matthew 17:2

During His time on earth Jesus occasionally gave His disciples glimpses of heavenly reality. His transfiguration was one of those times.

It started as another simple mountain getaway for Jesus, Peter, James, and John. The Luke account tells us this incident began unspectacularly enough with Jesus praying. But then--wow! “As He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered and His robe became white and glistening” Luke 9:29. And Old Testament characters appeared and talked with Him.

“The appearance of Moses and Elijah would have confirmed Jesus’ Messianic identity to the inner circle of disciples. The entire scene was reminiscent of Mount Sinai: the cloud, the light, and the presence of God’s voice - Exodus 19:16-19” - NIV First Century Study Bible.

Indeed! And in that Sinai period, we find more details that resonate here.
- Remember the leadership retreat we read about several day ago, where God showed up in glory - Exodus 24:10,17.
- Then later, Moses’ face shone when he came down from communing with God on the mountain - Exodus 34:30-35.

During Jesus’ lifetime we have this display of glory here at His transfiguration and again at His resurrection - Matthew 28:3.

I love how Paul pulls these threads together to make an application for our lives as Christians. In 2 Corinthians 3, referring to the glory on display at the giving of the law (which he calls “the ministry of death”) Paul argues that the ministry of the Spirit is much more glorious - 2 Corinthians 3:7,8. He ends his treatise on Christ’s glory and how it exceeds the glory of the law with an inspiring declaration:

But we all with unveiled face, beholding in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” - 2 Corinthians 3:18 (emphasis added).

May we cooperate with the Spirit to effect such heavenly transformation in us!

Dear Jesus, thank You for these glimpses of Your glory in the Bible, May Your indwelling Spirit transform me so that I reflect Your shining presence. 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.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Live (and die) with abundance

Clouds against the sky and distant earth below
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Peter 1:1-21

TO CHEW ON: "… for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." 2 Peter 1:11

The Bible is full of promises of abundance:

[Abundance: 1) a plentiful or overflowing supply; great number or quantity. 2) Fullness. 3) Wealth, affluence - Funk & Wagnalls Standard College Dictionary.]

  • Jesus came to give us abundant life - John 10:10.
  • God gives us abundant grace - 2 Corinthians 9:8.
  • God works in and through us with abundant power - Ephesians 3:20.
  • He will supply our needs from His riches - Philippians 4:19.
  • We have an abundant entrance into His kingdom - 2 Peter 1:11—our focus verse.

But notice, in our verse, the little hinge words "for so." They tell us that this abundant entrance has some conditions. This promise follows Peter's instructions to his readers of what they are to do—and do with some energy, "giving all diligence" - 2 Peter 1:5.

They are to add these qualities or attitudes to their lives:
virtue (value, moral excellence and goodness)
brotherly kindness

"… if these things are yours and abound" (notice another relative of abundance here), Peter promises his readers will be fruitful, far-sighted (not "short-sighted"), "making their call and election sure" (we might say their lifestyle ties the bow on the fact that God has chosen / elected them for salvation), and walking sure-footed (they will "never stumble") into their eternal home ("the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.")

I love how Peter challenges his readers—of long ago and us today—to not just live as close to the line of the old life as possible, but to live for abundance, giving themselves with energy to pleasing God so they not only live well but also die well. Such teaching is never out of date.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your promise of abundance in many categories. Help me to diligently add faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love to my life so that I too will have an abundant entrance into my eternal home. Amen.


The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.

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Friday, February 24, 2017

The last laugh

Lucifer cast out of heaven
by Gustave Doré

Lucifer cast out of heaven - Gustave Doré
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 2:1-12

TO CHEW ON: "He who sits in the heavens shall laugh;
The Lord shall hold them in derision." Psalm 2:4

Here God appears contemptuous, laughing at the nations who unite to throw off His constraints. What other times in the Bible does God laugh in such a way? What actions and attitudes evoke His contempt? 

The worship of idols:  
  •  Moses tells the Israelites that God will spurn them if/ when they forsake Him to follow other gods - Deuteronomy 32:19.

Plots against the righteous:
  • God laughs at the wicked person who plots against the righteous one - Psalm 37:13.
  • In another place he psalm-writer Asaph, writing as someone puzzled by the sufferings of the righteous at the hands of ungodly people, depicts God as waking up to defend the righteous - Psalm 73:20.

God-defiant nations:
  • David asks God to vindicate Himself before all the God-scorning nations - Psalm 59:8. 
  • Isaiah tells of Hezekiah receiving a threatening letter from the Assyrian king Sennarcherib. He spreads that letter before God and prays for help. Shortly after, Isaiah gets a message from God for Hezekiah concerning Sennacherib and addressing him that says, in part: "The virgin daughter of Zion has despised you, laughed you to scorn. The daughter of Jerusalem has shaken her head behind your back" - Isaiah 37:22.

  • Wisdom laughs at the calamity of the ones who disdain her counsel - Proverbs 1:26.
  • God scorns the scornful but gives grace to the humble - Proverbs 3:34.

If there is any thread that weaves through all these instances it is how our unrealistic human arrogance evokes God's scorn, derision, contempt and laughter.

Sadly, the attitude that challenges God and His power is more rampant today than ever. Let's be aware of it and careful not to get infected, for God will always have the last laugh.

PRAYER: Dear God, I want to live in the reality that acknowledges You and Your sovereignty over people and over me. When, in the face of circumstances, others challenge You—Your existence and Your power— help me to remember that the story hasn't ended yet. Amen.

MORE: Handel's Messiah Alert

Handel dipped into Psalm 2 often when writing the Messiah.

The recitative "Unto which of the angels said He at any time (Psalm 2:7) prefaces the chorus "Let all the angels."

"Let us break their bonds asunder" (Psalm 2:3)

"He that dwelleth in heaven" (Psalm 2:4) and "Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron" (Psalm 2:9)  end with the Hallelujah Chorus.


The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.

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Thursday, February 23, 2017

A daily choice

Sapphire - Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Exodus 24:1-18

TO CHEW ON: "Then Moses went up, also Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel. And there was under His feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone, and it was like the very heavens in its clarity.” Exodus 24:9,10

Yesterday we saw that God’s Kingdom is not only talk but also action. It comes in power—signs, wonders, and miracles - 1 Corinthians 4:20.

In Exodus 24 we have an example of one such supernatural phenomenon. Moses, Aaron, his sons Nadab and Abihu, and the 70 elders Moses had appointed to help him, went up Mount Sinai for a leadership retreat.

What happened there no doubt blew their minds. They saw God in a setting so beautiful it practically defied describing, though Moses tried: “And there was under His feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone, and it was like the very heavens in its clarity” - Exodus 24:10. That day they ate and drank together with their heavenly Host. In recounting this, Moses seemed incredulous that they had survived - Exodus 24:11.

We would think that such an experience would change these men forever—that they would be staunchly loyal to Yahweh and would never give Moses another moment of trouble. But that’s not what happened.

At the institution of Tabernacle worship, Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu were careless about God’s instructions, “offered profane fire,” and died as a result - Leviticus 10:1,2.

The elders were swayed, along with the rest of the congregation, by the discouraging report of the ten spies who insisted they could never take Canaan (Numbers 13:27-14:30). They may well have been among the 250 leaders who joined Korah, Dathan, and Abiram’s rebellion and met their demise then - Numbers 16:1,2,35.

All that to say, the sight of God’s gory, the witnessing of signs and wonders is not a guarantee either that people will stay loyal to God.

Contrast their falling away with Joshua, one of the faith-filled spies who became Israel’s leader after Moses died. He stayed the course. At the end of his life, he left Israel with a challenge that we today can still rise to: Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” - Joshua 24:15 (emphasis added).

Though he spoke to them on a particular day of decision, “this day” is always our day of decision. May we choose God each day of our lives!

Dear Father, help my faith in You to stay strong whether I “see” You or whether I don’t. 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.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The argument of power

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 4:1-21

TO CHEW ON: “For the kingdom of God is not in word but in power.” 1 Corinthians 4:20

Does it seem to you that some folks are impervious to the gospel? No argument, no matter how logical or compelling, convinces them of the existence of God and His evaluation of and remedy for mankind.

If I’m understanding Paul correctly here, he is saying there is a way to conquer even such refusal to believe. It’s not with words, though, but with the power of God.

The Bible speaks often about the power of God. The references below are a few places. They give us an idea of the areas and ways God’s power has shown up in the past and may again.

1. Israel’s Chronicles historian told how historical figures, here David and a “man of God,” understood the rise and fall of nations to be due to God’s help or withdrawal of help - 1 Chronicles 29:12; 2 Chronicles 25:8.

2. The Spirit of the Lord gave the prophets the courage and power to rebuke sin - Micah 3:8.

3. Jesus’ life was characterized by the power of the Spirit - Luke 3:22; 4:14,15. The gospels are full of accounts of His teachings and miracles that repeatedly overcame unbelief.

4. On the day of Pentecost the Spirit descended on the disciples with physical sounds, sights, and manifestations - Acts 2:2-4.

5. That spiritual power was on display in the lives of the disciples, in their witnessing power, favour, miracles, and eventually, opposition - Acts 4:33; 6:7-15.

6. Paul prayed in his letter to the Ephesians that the power of God’s Spirit would strengthen his readers in the inner person - Ephesians 3:16.

7. Paul encouraged Timothy to use his spiritual gift to conquer fear and live in power, love, and a sound mind - 2 Timothy 1:17.

Does God still show up today in supernatural power, miracles, signs, and wonders? I believe He does. One example is in the dreams and visions of Jesus that many Muslims who come to faith tell about.

I am praying for the kingdom to come in supernatural power to some folks I know, who remain unmoved by words.  

PRAYER: Dear Holy Spirit, may Your power flow in and through us as a means to convince a skeptical world of the kingdom of God and win them into 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.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

"Carless in the care of God"

Field crocuses - © V. Nesdoly
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Matthew 6:16-34

“'Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own trouble. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.'” Matthew 6:34

I don’t know about you, but I’m certainly familiar with “worry” that activity defined as: tormenting oneself with or suffering from disturbing thoughts; tormenting with cares, anxieties, etc.

Our passage lists common worry subjects: what to eat, drink, wear. As someone who lives in affluent Canada, I don’t worry much about those things. When our basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter are met, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs illustrates where our worries typically go next—to  security and safety, then belonging and love, then esteem, and finally self-actualization and achieving our full potential.

Whatever level our worries are focused on, Jesus tells us here to STOP worrying. I love how the Message rendering of these Matthew 6 verses directs our focus off our worries and onto Someone else.  I’ve bolded the phrases and words that show us where to look instead.

25-26 “If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds….

30-33 “If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

34 “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes" - Matthew 6:25-26; 33-34 MSG.

PRAYER: Dear Father, help me to focus on You, Your reality and goodness shown every day in Your provision and care on every level. I want to live carefree in Your care. 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.

Monday, February 20, 2017


The Prayer in Secret - Alexandre Bida
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Matthew 6:1-15

‘Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogue and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.’” Matthew 6:2

Hypocrite (hypokrites) is an interesting word. My study Bible describes how it comes from the Greek word hypokrinomai—the dialogue of actors who wore masks that amplified their voices. A hypokrites was one who acted in a play or read a script.

The dictionary definition of hypocrite is:
1] A person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles etc. that he or she does not actually possess; 2] A person who feigns some desirable or publicly approved attitude, whose private life, opinions or statements belie his or her public statements.

A short survey of “hypocrisy” in the Bible shows us some of its faces.
Hypocrisy can be:

  • Words that don’t agree with intentions, especially when they relate to others, like our neighbours - Isaiah 55:21 also Psalm 28:3; Isaiah 62:4; Jeremiah 9:8.

  • Flattery -  Psalm 78:36; Matthew 22:16.

  • Actions or words that set a trap - Jeremiah 9:8; Proverbs 7:15; Mark 12:15.

  • Actions or words that shirk responsibility - e.g. Pilate, when he washed his hands of Jesus making like he was helpless to do anything but give in to the wishes of the mob was a hypocrite - Matthew 27:24.

  • Religious words or actions that are insincere- Jeremiah 12;2; 22:20.

  • Religious words or actions performed to fool God- Jeremiah 3:10.

  • Religious words or actions performed to manipulate God - Isaiah 58:3.

  • Religious words or actions to further one’s own ends - Zechariah 7:5, our passage Matthew 6:1-15;  James 2:1-4.

I love the picturesque language Jesus used to describe hypocrisy (which He pointed out often in the Pharisees and scribes):
- He said hypocrites were like whitewashed tombs, beautiful on the outside but inside full of uncleanness and dead bones (Matthew 23:28).
- He said they were like cups and dishes, clean on the outside but full of greed and wickedness inside - Luke 11:39.
- He said the hypocrisy of the Pharisees permeated everything they did, like yeast permeates bread - Luke 12:1.

What a mess! Who'd want to have anything to do with a hypocrite or hypocrisy? Yet when I’m honest with myself, I have to admit I’ve been a hypocrite in both my dealings with others and God.

To eliminate hypocrisy, a good place to start is to be self-aware and recognize hypocrisy where it first appears—in our thoughts. Proverbs says of the miser, who invites you to eat and drink but is inwardly critical: “As he thinks in his heart, so is he” - Proverbs 23:7.

Then we need to acknowledge it as sin - 1 John 1:10.

Finally, we need to make a conscious effort to purge hypocrisy from our lives
as we  love everyone—God and our fellow humans—sincerely and with pure motives. “Let love be without hypocrisy” - Romans 12:9.

PRAYER: Dear Father, help me to be aware of hypocrisy in my life, to acknowledge it as sin and to learn to love sincerely. 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.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The love gene

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Matthew 5:38-48

TO CHEW ON: ‘But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.'”  Matthew 5:44,45

The list of do’s and don’ts in our passage today reminds us a lot of yesterday’s list from Leviticus 19. There is even the same motivation: love (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 5:44).

However, Jesus goes further than the command to love one’s neighbor (hard enough) to say that disciples—we—should love even our enemies.

How can He expect this of us?

He showed us how by His example

  • By what He said: John 3:16; Matthew 5:44
  • Through His life:
 * He had compassion on the crowds, whatever their beliefs (Matthew 9:36; 14:14).

* He cried over Jerusalem whose citizens were rejecting Him (Matthew 9:36).

* He healed the ear of one of the soldiers who came to arrest Him and prayed for forgiveness of those who mocked Him while on the cross (Luke 22:41; 23:34).

  • In His death: 
* It’s how His followers (here Paul) understood His death: “ For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”  Romans 5:6-8.

The Holy Spirit gives us this heart transplant. 
It is only through the Holy Spirit that we become carriers of this family love gene.

* “'But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth'” - Acts 1:8

*“Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Romans 5:5.

*“But the fruit of the Spirit is love…” Galatians 5:22

*“Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, 1 Peter 1:22.

Perhaps the extent to which we do (or don’t) love our neighbors and our enemies says something about how much of our lives the Holy Spirit has access to.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, the command to display this family trait of love, even when it feels entirely unnatural, is a wake-up call to me to allow Your Spirit greater control of my life. Please help me in 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.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Practical holiness

"Gleaners" - A way to take
care of the poor. Artist unknown

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Leviticus 19:1-19

TO CHEW ON: "And the Lord spoke to Moses saying, 'Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel and say to them: "You shall be holy for I the Lord your God am holy."'" Leviticus 19:1-2

Holy (holiness) [qadosh  - to be set apart, dedicated to sacred purposes, sacred, clean, morally or ceremonially pure] is a preoccupation of Leviticus. In chapter 19 the writer (Moses) commands Israel to be holy and follows with a list of practical dos and don'ts that flesh out holiness (set-apartness) in their setting. This list includes:

- Honor parents (Leviticus 19:3).
- Observe the sabbath (Leviticus 19:3).
- Offer sacrifices willingly and by the rules (Leviticus 19:5-6).
- Build into your farming practices a way to take care of the poor (Leviticus 19:9-10).
- Promptly pay what you owe (Leviticus 19:13).
- Judge righteously (Leviticus 19:15).
- Deal openly with neighbour disagreements (Leviticus 19:17).
- Love your neighbour as yourself (Leviticus 19:18).
- Keep the bloodlines of your cattle and the seedlines of your plants pure (Leviticus 19:19).
- Keep clothing fibers pure (Leviticus 19:19).

- Make or worship substitute gods (idols) (Leviticus 19:4).
- Treat sacrifices casually (Leviticus 19:7-8).
- Steal (Leviticus 19:11).
- Lie (Leviticus 19:11).
- Profane God's name by swearing (Leviticus 19:12).
- Cheat or rob your neighbour (Leviticus 19:13).
- Take advantage of the disabled (Leviticus 19:14).
- Show favouritism to anyone (Leviticus 19:15).
- Spread gossip or hearsay (Leviticus 19:16).
- Hold secret grudges or brood on ways you can get back at your neighbor or countryman (Leviticus 19:17-18).

What observable everyday behaviors. Though Christ's sacrifice has fulfilled the Mosaic law so that we no longer carry out the Old Testament ceremonial dos and don'ts on this list, I would submit that at least five items on the "Do list and every item on the "Don't" list  still apply to us in our setting today (not as a way to gain salvation, but as a way to live in harmony with God and people).

A sidebar article in my Bible about holiness sums it up well:

"When God commands us to be holy even as He is holy, He is simply calling us to let Him do through us what He does in and of Himself (1 Peter 1:15-16). God is absolutely "abandoned" to the purpose of manifesting the beauty of His character. This is not petty arrogance or egocentrism on God's part for the essence of God is that He always selflessly gives...It is the clear call to make the ultimate choice of abandoning ourselves to that one purpose: to let God be God through us — engulfed in the flames of holiness, yet wondrously released from all other competing affections." - Stphen Fry, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 155-156.

PRAYER: Holy God, please tutor me in the ways of holy living in my circumstances. Help me to make holy choices in the multitude of decisions that I will face today. Amen.

MORE: "Holy" by Nichole Nordeman

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, February 17, 2017

"Faithful" affliction?

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Psalm 119:75

TO CHEW ON: “I know, O LORD, that Your judgments are right,
And that in faithfulness You have afflicted me.” Psalm 119:75

I was talking recently to a friend whose husband had a stroke seven or eight months ago. She said something like, God has seemed closer and more real through this time than ever before.

A few days before our conversation, her husband—who is now in a wheelchair and can no longer speak—had had an unexpected seizure. My friend said about that: I have unusual peace. I’m not running around agitated and fretting like I did right after the stroke because God has been faithful through this whole time and I know He’ll take us through this as well.

My friend and her situation come to mind this morning as I read the psalmist’s reaction to being “afflicted.”

[Afflicted - anah - means afflict, oppress, humble, be afflicted, bowed down.] That definition encompasses a lot. It could mean being humbled / oppressed / made to bow in a variety of ways from physical illness, to business failure, to social humiliation, and more.

The psalmist regarded his affliction as a positive thing in the three times he mentioned it:

1. It became a magnet that drew him back to God
Before I was afflicted I went astray
But now I keep Your word” - Psalm 119:67.

2. It drove him to study God and His communication:
“It is good for me that I have been afflicted
That I may learn Your statutes” - Psalm 119:71.

3. His affliction was / is testing and strengthening his faith in God’s goodness:
“I know, O LORD, that Your judgments are right,
And that in faithfulness You have afflicted me” - Psalm 119:75.  

[Faithfulness - emuwnah means firmness, fidelity, steadfastness, steadiness]

I understand this as God allowing these afflictions to come the psalmist's way, our way with intention—good intention.

[Fidelity means loyalty, strict observance of promises, adherence to detail.
Steadfast means fixed in direction, firm in purpose, unwavering.]

I know my first reaction to affliction of any kind is to pray: “Help! Get me out of this!” But maybe that’s not always the best prayer. Maybe a better one would be:

PRAYER: Dear Father God, please use this affliction to crowd me to You, to help me learn about You and Your ways, and to prove Your faithfulness to me and others. 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.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Statute songs

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 119:49-64

TO CHEW ON: "Your statutes have been my songs
In the house of my pilgrimage." Psalm 119:54

Why do we sing?

Some of us sing almost unconsciously, in a habitual sort of way. Sometimes we hum or sing along with the catchy tunes on the radio or our listening device; we know the words and the melodies and rhythms make us feel good. Sometimes we sing the songs of our childhood to entertain grandchildren, and the songs of our youth to remember the past. And we sing in church.

I would submit that the last singing—in church—may be the most unemotional, mechanical kind of singing we do. It’s what’s done there so whether we enter into the message and emotion of the song or not, we sing.

Here the psalmist talks about singing God's statutes. Were these the Mosaic laws set to music? Did he sing them to help him memorize and review the myriad commandments contained in the code? Perhaps. But they seem meant also to bolster his faith and remind him that God is right there beside him in his pilgrimage life. We get the sense that he turns to these songs when life gets puzzling and discouraging, singing them to remind himself of what and who is his focus.

Or perhaps he didn't literally put God's commandments to music but he is using music here as a metaphor for how God's laws put joy into him in the same way a song would.

Eugene Peterson says about joy:
"Joy is not a requirement of Christian discipleship, it is a consequence. It is not what we have to acquire in order to experience life in Christ; it is what comes to us when we are walking in the way of faith and obedience. ... Joy is a product of abundance; it is the overflow of vitality. It is life working together harmoniously...

Peterson goes on to say that when we feel joyless, we may try to rouse joy artificially with entertainment. But though a comedian or movie may amuse us for a time, the joy they give is never permanent. However, he says, there is a way to live that taps into genuine joy.

"We can decide to live in response to the abundance of God and not under the dictatorship of our own poor needs. We can decide to live in the environment of a living God and not our own dying selves. We can decide to centre ourselves in the God who generously gives and not in our own egos which greedily grab." A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, p. 96-97 (emphasis added).
I think that's what the psalm writer is doing here: living in response to God's lavishness, in an environment of an alive God, centering himself in God with music the reminder and overflow of such a life.

I ask myself, how can I do that today? How can you? Singing to remind ourselves of God's goodness and to express our gratitude—outside of church, and in—is a good place to start.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to focus on Your abundance, to centre myself in You, to live in Your environment to the extent that songs of faith, hope and joy will well up inside. 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.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Oh shiny!

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Psalm 119:33-48

TO CHEW ON: “Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things,
And revive me in Your way.” Psalm 119:37

Are you attracted by beautiful things? By the tempting challenges that promise to further your career? By the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that might just set you up for the foreseeable? Oh shiny!

The Bible has a lot to say, indirectly and directly, about what we see and respond to.

  • Way back in Eden it was the sight of that tempting fruit that first got Eve in trouble (Genesis 3:6).
  • Lot too was attracted by the sight of that well-watered Jordanian plain. It drew him to move close to corrupt Sodom (Genesis 3:10,12).
  • Achan’s eyes got him in trouble when they dwelt on the beautiful Babylonian garment, the silver and the gold. His covetous look led to taking, hiding, and a whole lot of trouble for him, his clan, and Israel (Joshua 7:21 - read the whole story in Joshua 7:10-26).
  • Rich and wise King Solomon made several observations about setting one’s eyes on and directing one’s life by the attractive. By his own admission he lived that way (Ecclesiastes 2:4-8). And though he claimed to have kept his wisdom (Ecclesiastes 2:9), in the end all he went after turned out to be futile (Ecclesiastes 2:11). His advice: Go ahead and let your heart follow your eyes, but there will come a day of reckoning for this (Ecclesiastes 11:9).
  • Even Jesus faced the temptation of the attractive (Matthew 4:8). He was not taken in. And on that mountaintop of temptation, Satan’s proffered exchange exposed what’s at stake here: “‘All these things I will give you if You will fall down and worship me” - Matthew 4:8 (emphasis added).

Perhaps that last is key to unveiling what’s behind such “Oh Shiny!” temptations for us too.  Their appeal and our response to them reveals to us and the world what our heart is worshiping. So the prayer of the psalmist becomes as relevant today as ever.

PRAYER: “Incline my heart to Your testimonies
And not to covetousness.
Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things.
And revive me in Your way” Amen.

MORE: Extracurricular
Another passage that we might consider when facing the “shiny” opportunities and challenges that come our way is Paul’s advice to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:4,

“No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.”

We might ask—is this shiny possession / opportunity / deal, consistent with my role in the Kingdom of God? Or will it prove a distraction?

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.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Love—it begins between the ears

Elderly couple on Valentine's Day
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 2:31b-3:13

TO CHEW ON: "Love … believes all things, hopes all things …" 1 Corinthians 13:7

Today is Valentine's Day when we demonstrate our love with all kinds of loving actions like sending cards, gifting chocolates, and taking our loved one out for dinner. It's a day when 1 Corinthians 13—the Love Chapter—is the perfect reading. But have you noticed how many of the attributes of love listed in it are rooted in thoughts and not actions at all.

Let's make a list. (I've referred to the Amplified along with the NKJV):

Love refuses to think thoughts of:
  • envy, jealousy, vainglory or self-exaltation (1 Corinthians 13:4).
  • violated rights, self-promotion, resentment, the evil done to it (1 Corinthians 13:5).

Love encourages thoughts of:
  • patience, kindness (1 Corinthians 13:4).
  • truth (1 Corinthians 13:6).
  • perseverance—bearing up under anything and everything, the best about the loved one, hope (1 Corinthians 13:7).

Whatever kind of love we celebrate today—the love of parent to child, friend to friend, or lovers—let's remember that how it begins and whether it stays strong are dependent on the thoughts we feed it. If your love for someone is anemic, take a look at your thoughts about that person. And love-friendly thoughts not only nourish love but also give integrity to all those actions of love we perform today—and every day.

PRAYER: Dear God, please make me sensitive to thoughts that destroy love—like envy, jealousy, and resentment. Help me to make a habit of thinking the best of every person. 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.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Works that last; works that burn

fire burning behind a wall
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 3:1-23

TO CHEW ON: "If anyone's work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire." 1 Corinthians 3:14,15

The older I get, the more I ponder the meaning of these verses as they relate to my own life. Will my life's work last or will it burn?

Here are some things the Bible calls enduring or lasting:
  • Riches and honour whose source is God - Proverbs 8:18.
  • Spiritual food that "endures to everlasting life" - John 6:27. The whole chapter of John 6 is Jesus declaring and explaining his role as the Bread of Life that lasts.
  • Spiritual works that endure (1 Corinthians 3:14). The works Paul talks about here relate to building the church and Paul uses the metaphor of Jesus as the foundation of this building and each one of us as builders.
  • Faith, hope and love - 1 Corinthians 13:13.
  • Unseen eternal things - 2 Corinthians 4:18.
  • The kingdom of God, which cannot be shaken - Hebrews 12:27-29.

Here are some of the things the Bible names as frail and destructible:
  • Our lives - Psalm 49:12; 78:39; 103:14.
  • Our righteousnesses—the good things we do to try to earn salvation - Isaiah 64:6.
  • Our pleasures - Luke 12:19,20.
  • Human knowledge - 1 Corinthians 13:8.
  • The glory of man - 1 Peter 1:24.
  • Material things—the earth - Psalm 102:25,26.
  • Spiritual works that don't pass the fire test (1 Corinthians 3:15). Though these works will burn, Paul makes a special point of saying that the person who built the works will be spared, barely, and with no reward.

These two lists leave a lot of room for self-searching and discernment, as you and I compare how we spend our lives with what will last, and what won't.

Dear God, please help me to discern what is a worthwhile use of my limited time on earth. Help me to bring this perspective to all the activities of my life. 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.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Think long

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Matthew 5:21-37

‘If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast t from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than that your whole body be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish than for your whole body to be cast into hell.’” Matthew 5:29,30

While I don’t think Jesus was seriously suggesting self-immolation here, His radical instructions do make us take notice. What His comparisons say to me are: if something you see or do is causing you to sin, that organ, reaction, or habit demands serious action.


Because the consequence of giving in to sinful patterns can reach into eternity.

This is an apt warning in our day when we make so many snap decisions without much thought to how they will impact the next hour, not to speak of forever. Our online life alone encourages quick Yes’s or No’s as with the almost imperceptible movement of a finger we “Click,” “Like,” “Share,” “Send.”

I like a “rule” I heard about on Christine Caine’s “Propel” DVD teaching series—the 10-10-10 rule: When making a decision, ask: How will I feel about that / how will it affect my life in 10 minutes, 10 months, 10 years?

Jesus would extend that even further. He might ask us: “How will your decisions today affect your eternity?"

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, please help me to consider the eternal consequences of each day’s decisions and actions. 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.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Jerusalem’s story - part 3

U-Turns allowed (Image: Pixabay)
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Ezekiel 16:44-63

TO CHEW ON: “And I will establish My covenant with you. Then you shall know that I am the LORD, that you may remember and be ashamed, and never open your mouth any more because of your shame, when I provide you an atonement for all you have done, says the LORD GOD.’” Ezekiel 16:62,63

Jerusalem continued to deteriorate in God’s eyes. She had spurned Him as her husband and gone after idolatrous lovers. Her sins were worse than those of her sister cities (and their daughters—their suburbs and  surrounding villages), big sister Samaria and little sister Sodom.

God named specific sins: pride, gluttony, idleness, callousness to the poor, committing “abominations” [abomination: toebah = a disgusting thing, in a ritual sense of unclean food, idols, mixed marriages, in an ethical sense of wickedness etc.]

The Bible commenter Matthew Henry draws our attention to the height from which Jerusalem has fallen:
“Jerusalem had the temple, and the ark, and the priesthood, and kings of the house of David; and therefore the wickedness of that holy city, that was so dignified, so near, so dear to God, was more provoking to him than the wickedness of Sodom and Samaria, that had not Jerusalem’s privileges and means of grace.” - Matthew Henry Commentary, accessed through BibleGateway.com.

God saw only one solution for Jerusalem. It came from Him and was given not because Jerusalem deserved His mercy but because He doesn’t go back on His word—His covenant (Ezekiel 16:60). 

The atonement He will provide  (I believe a prophecy of Jesus’ atoning death on the cross) will pay for all they have done (Ezekiel 16:63). 

His grace will soften even Jerusalem’s rebellious heart (“Then you will remember your ways and be ashamed…”), a picture Ezekiel paints so beautifully in other places like Ezekiel 11:19,20:
“Then I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them, and take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My judgments and do them; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God.”

Though this passage is a prophecy concerning a city in the Middle East and an ethnic people, it also shows us a side of God that relates to us. Though we may violate our covenant with Him, backslide, and commit the most awful sins, He is willing to accept us back (Isaiah 1:18). All it takes is our own repentance (“…remember your ways and be ashamed…” - Ezekiel 16:61, also Luke 13:3, Acts 3:19; 8:22). For us too the atonement He made is sufficient (1 Peter 3:18).

PRAYER: Dear father, help me to detect signs and symptoms of rebellion within me before they fruit into backsliding. Help me to be quick to repent. 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.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Jerusalem's story - part 2

seductive eyes
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ezekiel 16:23-43

TO CHEW ON: "You are an adulterous wife who takes strangers instead of her husband." Ezekiel 16:32

Yesterday we saw how God rescued Jerusalem from her hopeless beginnings as an unwanted newborn. He nourished her until she was grown, then took her as His wife. He dressed her in extravagant garments, adorned her with expensive jewelry, and pampered her with the finest food. She was His queen (Ezekiel 16:1-14).

Today we read her heartbreaking response. Confident in her beauty and secure in her position, she began misusing her husband's benefits to cheat on Him. Our reading is a list of how she did that.

  • She flung herself at whoever would have her.
  • She used her royal garments to decorate "high places"—shrines where she worshiped idols.
  • She recast the precious metal of her jewelry into idol images.
  • She used the cosmetics and food her Husband supplied as idol offerings.
  • She offered the children of their union to idols.
  • She wasn't a normal prostitute who took payment for her services. Instead she was so intent on getting new lovers, she paid whoever would come to her.

Yesterday we likened ourselves to Jerusalem, seeing how we are like that cast-out helpless newborn who God rescued, redeemed, and married.  But we would never act like today's unfaithful wife, would we?

How close we come. For don't we:
  • Misuse God's benefits to us, employing them to gratify our desires and establish our own little empires. To impress? To be entertained?
  • Push our children toward the idols we serve, idols of money, fame, beauty, success, sensuous gratification, leisure, sports, etc.?

And notice how innocently it all begins: by trusting in our own abilities and achievements, and misusing our blessings ("But you trusted in your own beauty, played the harlot because of your fame…" Ezekiel 16:15) forgetting from whom they come and for what purpose they were given.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to recognize within myself the tendencies toward unfaithfulness to You. May it never be said of me, "You are an adulterous wife who takes strangers instead of her husband." 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.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Jerusalem's story - part 1

Jesus weeps over Jerusalem - James Tissot
Jesus weeps over Jerusalem - James Tissot
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ezekiel 16:1-22

TO CHEW ON: "'Your fame went out among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through My splendour which I had bestowed on you,' says the Lord God." Ezekiel 16:14

In allegory form Ezekiel tells the story of Jerusalem. Born in the land of Canaan of mixed parentage (Amorite and Hittite), she was neglected at birth. No one cut her umbilical cord or washed her skin with salt to keep bacteria from growing. She wasn't swaddled in cloths or nurtured—things parents do for a wanted baby. Instead "'you were thrown out into the open field when you yourself were loathed on the day you were born'" - Ezekiel 16:4.

Then God turned things around. "'And when I passed by you and saw you struggling in your own blood, I said to you in your blood, "Live!" Yes, I said to you in your blood, "Live!"'" - Ezekiel 16:6. Wow!

God nurtured her until she was mature and beautiful—also innocent and naive. For on seeing her developing beauty, He claimed her as His own, before anyone else could,  and clothed her. Notice the picture of the covering her with His wing (Ezekiel 16:8). We've seen that before—in the story of Boaz and Ruth (Ruth 2:12; 3:9).

Again He washed her and anointed her with oil. He dressed her in the most expensive garments and she was adorned with dazzling jewelry. He gave her the best food. Her reputation for beauty was unmatched. She was His queen.

In addition to this allegory being the story of Jerusalem, I see in it the story of what God does for us.

Spiritually we're as helpless and neglected as baby Jerusalem. But God passes by and speaks "Live!" over us too. He nurtures us by human and divine means using our families, friends, the church, His word and prayer.

The decision to give Him our lives could be likened to accepting His proposal of marriage. Then He clothes us with the beautiful dress of righteousness and hides us under His protecting wing.

As we live with Him, feeding on the riches of His word and living by it, He makes us even more beautiful. How could Jerusalem—how could we—ever remove ourselves from such a delightful place? Yet, as we will see tomorrow, Jerusalem did.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for pronouncing "Live" over my life. Help me to appreciate my position 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.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

What we already know

Worn Bible with Spurgeon quote

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Deuteronomy 30:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "But the word is very near you in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it." Deuteronomy 30:14

There is within us humans a thirst for novelty. We get bored with the old ways of handling life and want to try something new—a new diet, a new way of organizing life, a new way of staying fit. There's nothing wrong with this thirst for newness unless it threatens to draw us away from the true and tested. Perhaps this tendency accounted for Israel's habit of straying from God in trying out new religions.

Here, in one of his final addresses to Israel before they enter Canaan, Moses warns the people against making such novel but idolatrous choices.  The commands I'm giving you today, he says to Israel (my paraphrase), are not hard to understand, not something you need to search for, not a secret of heaven (Deuteronomy 30:11-13). Rather, they are "… very near you, in your mouth, and in your mind and in your heart" - Deuteronomy 30:14 AMP.

Those of us who have been Christ-followers for a long time do well to take to heart Moses' warning to the Israelites  for ourselves. If we, over a lifetime of being disciples, have read God's word, hidden it in our hearts by memorizing it and meditating on it, and tried to live by it, God's instructions are also near us. We don't need to search out the latest book, subscribe to the hottest new speaker's podcasts, or keep up with the theological blogs to discover how to live.

Let's follow Moses' advice to Israel here, and do/obey/live according to what we already know.

PRAYER: Dear God, it's so easy to look for shortcuts or jump on the bandwagon of the latest spiritual craze. Help me to trust and obey Your familiar word. 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 AMP are taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission." (www.Lockman.org)

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Open eyes

Photo: V. Nesdoly
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Psalm 119:17-32

“Open my eyes that I may see
Wondrous things from Your law.”

What a great prayer to pray regularly when we begin our times with the Lord!

It brings to mind incidents when Bible characters had their physical eyes opened to spiritual realities:
  • Balaam, on his way to “curse” Israel for Balak had his eyes opened to the angel that was blocking his donkey’s path - Numbers 22:31.
  • Elisha’s servant had his eyes opened to the surrounding “horses and chariots of fire”—the Lord’s army—after Elisha prayed - 2 Kings 6:17.

It brings to mind the question, why are some eyes spiritually closed, some open?

  • Disobedience is one reason for spiritual blindness:
For the Lord has poured out on you
The spirit of deep sleep,
And has closed your eyes” - Isaiah 29:10.

  • So is failure to acknowledge God’s existence and glorify and thank Him: “ For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse,  because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened” Romans 1:20,21.

  • But 'Blessed are the pure in heart, / For they shall see God’” - Matthew 5:8.

The beautiful thing is, spiritual sight is available and possible.
  •  It came to the man born blind whose eyes Jesus healed with mud and Siloam water, so he could exclaim: “‘One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see’” - John 9:25. Jesus later made sure that He also addressed the man's spiritual sight issue - John 9:35-38.
  • And it came to Saul/Paul on the Damascus Road. I love the parallel of physical and spiritual sight in his story. For it was after Ananias prayed for him that “scales” fell from his light-blinded eyes so that he regained his physical sight (Acts 9:17,18), while at the same time embarking on a new life path that God showed him - Acts 9:16.

Let’s make the psalmist’s prayer our own as we seek spiritual sight and insight for our lives from the Bible.

PRAYER: Dear Father, “Open my eyes that I may see wondrous things from Your law.” 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.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Is God's Word part of your life's fabric?

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Psalm 119:1-16

TO CHEW ON: "Blessed are those who keep His testimonies,
Who seek Him with the whole heart.” Psalm 119:2

Psalm 119 is a psalm that focuses on the delights of the Word of God. As I read the first two sections, my attention is captured by all the verbs. Interacting with God’s Word is not passive for the psalmist. It includes much that’s intentional:

“Walk” - Psalm 119:1,3.
“Keep” - Psalm 119:2,4,5,8.
“Seek Him” - Psalm 119:2,10.
“Praise”  - Psalm 119:7.
“Learn” - Psalm 119:7.
“Take heed” - Psalm 119:9.
“Hide” - Psalm 119:11.
“Declare” - Psalm 119:13.
“Rejoice” - Psalm 119:14.
“Meditate” - Psalm 119:15.
“Delight in” - Psalm 119:16.
“Not forget” (remember) - Psalm 119:16.

I ask myself, do I, do we interact as actively and intentionally with the Bible? What are some everyday things we could do to engage with the Bible?

  • Regularly read the Bible and pray, and in this way "seek God." "Learn" by studying the Bible and when we have questions, consult Bible study helps.

  • Memorize passages and verses and in this way "hide it" to "not forget" it and have it readily available to "meditate" on.

  • Sing, write (e.g. in a journal), and speak responses back to God and in this way "praise," "rejoice," "declare," and "delight in" God, during our quiet times and as we go about our daily activities.

  • Obey - change our behavior as we "keep" in mind what the Bible says,  "heed it," and "walk" in its ways by incorporating its principles into our lives.

It’s a lifelong occupation and adventure!

PRAYER: Dear Father, thank You for Your Word. Help me to weave it into the very fabric of my life. 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.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

The "salty" Christian

Salt pouring out of a salt shaker
Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Matthew 5:13-20

TO CHEW ON: “‘You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.’” Matthew 5:13

Jesus’ use of salt as a metaphor for those who believe in Him is clever. For salt (NaCl - sodium chloride) is surprisingly versatile.

We may think of it primarily for how it’s used as a seasoning in food. That seems to be the comparison Jesus is making here because He refers to how it might lose its flavor. In food, just a little salt is all that’s needed to enhance other flavors and bring about a balance pleasing to the palate.

Salt can be used as a preservative of food and other things. We have probably tapped into its germ-killing qualities when we gargle with salt water to treat a sore throat.

However, salt has many more uses. The Maldon Salt Company website claims that as a society we use salt in more than 14,000 different ways. Their graph shows that its greatest use is in industrial chemicals (where it’s used to make plastic, paper, rubber, fertilzer, bleach, detergent, dyes and more), followed by water conditioning, highway de-icing, food, and agriculture. (During a recent bout of cold weather we experienced the usefulness of salt, especially that which was “trampled underfoot.”)

Some additional facts about salt:
  • Salt can remove some stains.
  • Salt removes traces of water from purified aviation fuel.
  • Every cell in the body contains salt.
  • Sodium is key in the operation of all signals within, as well as to and from the brain.

All that to say when Jesus compared believers to salt, He was implying a lot! Here are some parallels I’d suggest:
  • Just as a little salt accomplishes much, so though we as Christians may be few in number, our presence can have a seasoning and purifying effect on any society we inhabit.
  • Salt is used for many purposes and processes. Similarly Christians (bearers of the salt) can be found in a multitude of places in many careers doing many jobs.
  • Just as salt is found in every body  cell and needed for brain function, so the saltiness of the gospel in us unites us as Christians and helps us work together as the body of Christ.
  • Salt can be an agent of safety and we can be that too. As a pastor in my church prayed recently, “Help us Christians be like the salt on the icy sidewalk, keeping people from slipping and falling.”

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, please help me to be a salty Christian. 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.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

The "spiritual" Christian

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 2:1-16

TO CHEW ON: “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.” 1 Corinthians 1:12.

My Bible’s study notes suggest three categories when it comes to how people understand and respond to the gospel (1 Corinthians 2:14-3:4):
1. The Natural Man (1 Corinthians 2:14) is unregenerate and devoid of the Spirit, has no appreciation for the gospel.
2. The Spiritual Man (1 Corinthians 2:15,16)  is regenerate and possessing spiritual maturity as seen in freedom from sectarian strife (1 Corinthians 3:3,4).
3. The Carnal Man
(1 Corinthians 3:1)  is regenerate but living much like an unregenerate, is a believer with childish ways as seen in a jealous and sectarian spirit” - Donald Pickerill, study notes on 1 Corinthians,  New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1582.

I want to be the "spiritual man" (woman) don’t you? Paul names some characteristics of this spiritual person in our reading.

  • The spiritual man/woman does not live by the wisdom of this age (1 Corinthians 1:6).
In our day, as in Paul’s, we can imagine a list of values inherent in such wisdom would include worldly beauty, wealth, and power. Those are not our highest values.
  • The spiritual person is privy to a “mystery” (1 Corinthians 2:7).
“'Mystery' in the NT does not mean mysterious or difficult to understand but denotes a truth hidden in God’s mind until He chooses to disclose it … Believers live by a secret, the essence of which is Christ and His glorious purposes for the world” - Pickerill, Op. Cit. (emphasis added). 
  • Spiritual people get spiritual wisdom, discover and understand this “mystery” through the Holy Spirit - 1 Corinthians 2:10-13.
  • Spiritual people “judge” or evaluate “all things” through this spiritual lens - 1 Corinthians 2:15.

When I put myself into the mindset of the spiritual man/woman, so much of what I see in Jesus’ life makes sense. It’s His stance when He withstands Satan’s temptation (Matthew 4:1-11). His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5,6,7) illustrates the values, motivations, and actions of the spiritual person. Later writers like Paul catch its essence in passages like 1 Corinthians 13.

And the beauty of it is that living in this spiritual man / woman way does not have to be a stressful, effortful thing. For if we believe the gospel and have invited Jesus into our lives, we are connected to Him and this spiritual wisdom flows in an organic way; His life flows into us as sap flows from the vine to the branch - John 15:1-8,26.

Dear Father, help me to be a "spiritual" woman by Paul's definition here, living by Your values, sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s life in me, able to discern and live with good judgment. 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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