Thursday, November 30, 2017

The dark and glorious conclusion

film graphic
Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: John 12:12-26

TO CHEW ON: “Now there were certain Greeks among those who came up to worship at the feast. Then they came to Philip …and asked him, saying, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ … But Jesus answered them, saying, ‘The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified.’” John 12:20, 21, 23.

Jesus had just swept into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey accompanied by the delirious cheers of the crowd. Their Messiah had arrived at last! But when some Greek proselytes approached Philip asking to see Jesus, Jesus answered Philip with a cryptic and mysterious statement about being glorified. Then He added to the puzzlement by talking about His death. How does His answer relate to the Greeks who have come to see Him? And how is death glorification?

The IVP New Testament Commentary Series comments on John 12.

“…now we come to the beginning of the end. Instead of seeing Jesus doing signs, we see signs occurring through what others do to him."
- Mary anointed Jesus’ feet (John 12:1-8)
- Jesus made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem to the applause of the crowd (John 12:12-15).
- Gentiles came to Him. “… which signals that the long expected hour has arrived. Jesus announces the coming of his hour and speaks of his death.
- The Father endorsed Him - John 12:27-28. 
- IVP New Testament Commentary Series, accessed through

So perhaps Jesus’ answer to Philip speaks, as this commentary suggests, to the larger issue of what the visit of these Gentiles portends.  The nations are being drawn to Him. It’s prophecy being fulfilled so that His story can continue (see Psalm 2:8; Isaiah 2:2,3).

Jesus, speaking of His death, began by saying:‘The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified.’ How can death be glorification?

IVP Commentary again:

“…death is at the heart of the Son's revelation of the Father, for God is love and love is the laying down of one's life (cf. 1 John 4:8;  3:16). So in the cross the heart of God is revealed most clearly” - Ibid.

Today, the last day of November, we're on the verge of Advent.  During the next 24 days we prepare to celebrate the early part of Jesus’ life—the cute, happy, cuddly part. But that wasn’t all there was to it.

Now is a good time to pause and think about the whole story, including its hard end.

It’s an end that is stitched into Jesus’ story from its beginning when Simeon said to Mary: “‘Behold this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also)'” Luke 2:34,35. 

It’s an end Jesus Himself was well aware of, for we hear Him say, just beyond the scope of today’s reading:‘Now my soul is troubled and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour’” - John 12:27.

That purpose again? To come as a baby, live the Father before us, fulfill the plan God had set in motion from the beginning of revelation (Genesis 3:15), conclude its earthly chapter by loving you and me to the extent of laying down His life in our stead, and then defeating death in resurrection.

PRAYER: Dear Father, thank You for sending Jesus, who became that sacrificial grain of wheat for me. Jesus, I want to follow You, serve You, and be with You now and forever (John 12:26). Amen.

MORE: Feast of St. Andrew
Today the church celebrates the Feast of St. Andrew, apostle. The day's liturgy begins with this collect prayer:

Almighty God, who gave such grace to your apostle Andrew that he readily obeyed the call of your Son Jesus Christ, and brought his brother with him: Give us, who are called by your Holy Word, grace to follow him without delay, and to bring those near to us into his gracious presence; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for 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.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Poured-out life

Jesus heals Peter's mother-in-law - Artist unknown
Jesus heals Peter's mother-in-law.
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 8:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "… that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: 'He Himself took our infirmities And bore our sicknesses.' " Matthew 8:17

Jesus is busy and popular. We see him, at the beginning of today's reading (having just come down from a mountain teaching session followed by a huge crowd), talking with and then healing a man with leprosy. He walks to Capernaum and on entering the city gets waylaid by a Gentile centurion. At Peter's house one of his hostesses is sick so Jesus heals her. Then in the evening Peter's property becomes an impromptu healing and deliverance clinic for the town.

Now I realize that the Matthew narrative makes it sound like these things happened one after the other in close succession. There may well have been more time between the incidents than it seems. But even if these events occurred over days to a week, Jesus had a full schedule, which He carried out with not a whiff of a bad attitude.

There is no eye-shift of impatience when the man with leprosy stops Him. Rather, " ' I am willing (to heal). Be cleansed.' "

There is not a watch-glance of schedule-keeping when the centurion stops him. Rather, there is close listening, honest admiration of the man's faith, a mini-lecture to take advantage of the teachable moment, and the promise of an answered prayer.

At Peter's house, after a full day, He  heals before supper and then ministers healing and release from demonic bondage till long after dark.

No wonder Matthew recognizes Him as the fulfillment of Isaiah 53:4. It doesn't happen through His looking on but because of His intimate involvement with and service of humanity—of us.

I watch Jesus here and get convicted as I imagine what my reactions to the things He encountered would have been:
- I would have been irritated by all those interruptions.
- I would have been overwhelmed by all the needs.
- I would have been self-protective, insisting, for example, that we take a break after supper instead of getting back to work.

Later in the New Testament, we see the disciples living with the same bold, people- and ministry-centred focus that they had seen in Jesus. Where did they get this spirit? From being with Jesus (Acts 4:19)

Maybe if I, if all of us, hung around Jesus more, allowed His Spirit to take over ours, we too would be known for the assured yet compassionate, identifying-with-human-needs, poured-out life that characterized Him.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I am full of awe at the way You handled life and its demands. I need the ability to see beyond my list of urgencies to what's eternally important, and the courage to pour my life into those things. 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, November 27, 2017

A remedy for spiritual complacency

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Isaiah 64:1-12

“And there is no one who calls on Your name
Who stirs himself up to take hold of You;
For You have hidden Your face from us
And have consumed us because of our iniquities” - Isaiah 64:7

Isaiah’s concept of God was rooted in the fearful, awe-inspiring moments when God gave him a glimpse of Himself and eternal things. The account of this is in Isaiah 6, where he saw God on His throne. The train of His robe filled the temple. Angels, their faces veiled from God’s holy presence with wings, shouted across to each other “Holy, holy holy is the LORD God of hosts / The whole earth is full of His glory!” Then an earthquake shook the place and it filled with smoke.

Isaiah became exquisitely aware of his own pollution. He felt dirty, sinful, alarmed at his unworthiness, conscious of his foul mouth. Read the account in Isaiah 6:1-8.

In our reading this same Isaiah (now years later) rues the complacency of his fellow citizens: “… there is no one who calls on Your name, / Who stirs himself up to take hold of You.” God feels absent and the people live as if God can’t see them and may as well not exist.

But Isaiah knows better. Just because God doesn’t show Himself at their bidding doesn’t change anything about Him. And so his prayer is full of apologies and repentance on behalf of himself and the people: “But we are all like an unclean thing … We are the clay and You our potter … Do not be furious, O Lord, / Nor remember iniquity forever” - Isaiah 64:6,8,9.

This reminds me of something I read recently. David Kitz, in his book Psalms Alive tells (in the chapter on Psalm 32:6-7) the story of how he and his brother avoided a stalking cougar on their Saskatchewan farm because of the barking of their dog. He makes this application:
“In a peculiar way, an unexpected encounter with the living God can be a lot like an encounter with a cougar. Suddenly, we realize our every move has been studied and watched; we are not alone. And that other being out there, watching us, is much bigger and more powerful than we are. Are you really prepared to meet Him around the next curve in the road, or just over the next hill?” - Psalms Alive p. 72.

I don’t know about you, but I can become as spiritually complacent as Isaiah’s countrymen. As a result I fail to see and acknowledge God in my day-to-day. I want to resist that. You too?  Let’s “stir ourselves up to take hold of” Him. One way to do this is to become aware of what He is really like.

Dear Father, please forgive my frequent indifference and blasé attitude toward You. Please give me a glimpse of who You really are so that my relationship with You is rooted in fact, not some fantasy concocted by myself or those around me as to what You are like. Amen.

MORE: Francis Chan - Francis' Personal Testimony - Newday 2017

I recently watched a video in which Francis Chan tells some of his life story to a group of high school students in England. In it, he describes how Isaiah 6 impacted him: “Here’s what changed my life; when I understood reverence for God.”

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, November 26, 2017

Recognizing Jesus

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 25:31-46

TO CHEW ON: " ' And the King will answer and say to them, "Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me." ' " Matthew 25:40

One of the popular motifs of the Christmas dramas we used to put on in Sunday School was the poor, beggarly misfit becoming a type of the Christ child. It turned out that the person who noticed and served this unfortunate one amid the hustle and decorations, the shopping and food preparations, was the one who had the true Christmas spirit.

Recognizing Christ in unusual places and people is the theme of our reading today. Seeing and caring for His needs in those around us—the hungry and thirsty, the lonely stranger, the forsaken prisoner, the person who needs warm clothes ("naked") and sick—brings not only the King's commendation but the label of "righteous" and escape from eternal punishment (Matthew 25:34, 45-46).

Jesus talks in other places of coming in disguise:

  • In Mark 9:41 the person who serves Christ's disciples with as little as a cup of cold water gets a reward.
  • " 'Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me receives not Me but Him who sent Me' " says Jesus in Mark 9:37.
  • At another time, Jesus answered a question about how to inherit eternal life with the parable we call the Good Samaritan. In it, the person (Samaritan) who helps his needy neighbour (a beat-up Jew) is the one who loves his neighbour as himself, fulfilling one of the conditions for inheriting eternal life (Luke 10:28-37).

I look at these examples and ask myself—do I recognize Jesus when He comes to me disguised as a child, or a needy stranger, or a sister in trouble? Or am I more like those "goats" in our reading, who will someday appear before the King with 'Duh… Lord, when did I see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison?'

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, please take the scales off my eyes. Help me to recognize You however  and wherever You appear. 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, November 25, 2017


mud bath
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 99:1- 100:5

TO CHEW ON: "You answered them, O Lord our God;
You were to them God-Who-Forgives,
Though you took vengeance on their deeds." - Psalm 99:8

Imagine you're a kid and have been caught in a rainstorm walking home on a country road. Soon the ground underfoot is soft and squishy. Clay clings to the soles of your feet, encrusts your pant cuffs, and you have grungy spatters all up your legs. Then a car motors by, splashing mud all over you. Finally you reach home, but there your mom bars your entrance. She has just washed the floor and vacuumed the white carpet. "You can't come in like you are!" she says.

That person covered head to foot in grime at the door of a clean house is a crude picture of us before a holy God. It brings to mind Isaiah standing at the entrance of the temple. Inside the angels are praising: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord." And Isaiah becomes keenly aware of his filthiness: "Woe is me for I am undone. Because I am a man of unclean lips" - Isaiah 6:1-5.

In this psalm the focus on God's holiness (Psalm 99:3,5,9) brings up thoughts of mankind's unworthiness in the writer. But then he remembers that God spoke to Moses, Aaron, and Samuel despite their imperfections. He was to them the God-Who-Forgives, though He didn't overlook their sins ("... You took vengeance on their deeds").

[Forgive: 1) to grant pardon for or remission of something and cease to demand the penalty for; 2) to grant freedom from penalty; 3) to cease to blame or feel resentment against; 4) To remit as a debt; 5) To show forgiveness, grant pardon; absolve.]

That's what God still does for us. No matter how dirty we are when we come to Him, or how much we mess up, He continues to be the God-Who-Forgives. Of course He doesn't overlook our sin-besmirched selves. He has made a wonderful way of dealing with our filthiness.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for being a God who forgives. May the love of Your holy presence be a hedge about me, keeping me from conscious and wilfull sin. Amen.

MORE: God cleans us up!
God not only forgives our sin but He cleans us up!

"Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols" - Ezekiel 36:25.

" much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" - Hebrews 9:14.

"But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin" - 1 John 1:7.

"... and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth. To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood" - Revelation 1:5.

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.
Bible Drive-Thru

Friday, November 24, 2017

Salvation songs

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Zephaniah 3:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
'Do not fear;
Zion, let not your hands be weak
The Lord your God is in your midst,
The Mighty One, will save;
He will rejoice over you with gladness,
He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.' " Zephaniah 3:16,17

As we begin today's reading the litany of rebellion, disobedience, stubborn injustice, insolence, and sacrilege continues, along with God's reaction of cutting off, devastating, destroying, and punishing (Zephaniah 3:1-7).

Then, in verse 8, the prophet makes an about-face. He goes from reporting misdeeds and predicting doom to promising salvation. (There it is, the third component of our prophetic message: 1] Judgment; 2] Repentance; 3] Salvation).

Notice all the things that are righted:
  • There is a return to justice among nations (Zephaniah 3:8).
  • Their speech is cleaned up, now putting them in sync with God (Zephaniah 3:9). (One can't help but think of the Day of Pentecost when tongues and languages were indwelt by the Holy Spirit.)
  • God's people come back from exile, their ignominy changed to praise and fame (Zephaniah 3:10, 19,20).
  • Shame for sins committed is washed away (Zephaniah 3:11).
  • Meekness, humility and trust replace pride and haughtiness (Zephaniah 3:11,12).
  • Honesty and integrity of life characterize the remnant of God's people (Zephaniah 3:13).

Though Zephaniah's words were prophetic of events that overtook his country, and prophetic of end-time events still to come, I can't help but see parallels in his message for our life before and after salvation.
  • God changes us from rebellious, haughty God-haters, known for our insolence, treachery, pride, blasphemous speech etc. to meek humble folks of "a pure language" who "trust in the name of the Lord."
  • He washes away our shame and regrets.
  • He lives with us as the Holy Spirit, our constant guide.
  • He quiets our fears and soothes our restlessness with songs. I imagine all kinds of music here—praise, worship, and victorious battle songs for life, then songs of peace and reassurance the lullabies for sleep.

Leslyn Musch's words sum up Zephaniah 3:16-17 so well:

"Rejoice in the Lord! Did you know that God sings, shouts for joy, and dances over you because He loves you so much? Take time to think about that; let the Holy Spirit imbed this truth in your spirit. Allow this understanding to bring new joy, fresh freedom, and tender love for God into your devotional life" - Leslyn Musch, Truth-In-Action through Zephaniah, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1239.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for this picture of life-changing salvation. Help me to hear Your songs over me today. Amen. 

MORE: No Longer Slaves
The picture of God singing over us from Zephaniah 3:17 is expanded on beautifully in the song "No Longer Slaves" (Jonathan and Melissa Helser - Bethel Music). It has become one of my favorite modern worship songs.


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, November 23, 2017

What to do BEFORE it is too late

clock showing almost midnight
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Zephaniah 2:1-15

TO CHEW ON:"Before the decree is issued,
Or the day passes like chaff,
Before the Lord's fierce anger comes upon you
Before the day of the Lord's anger comes upon you!
Seek the Lord all you meek of the earth,
Who have upheld His justice.
Seek righteousness, seek humility,
It may be that you will be hidden
In the day of the Lord's anger." Zephaniah 2:2,3

In the beginning of Zephaniah 2 we have the call to repent, Part II of a prophet's typical message.

Repent means 1] To feel remorse or regret over something you have done or failed to do; 2] To change your mind about a past action; 3] To feel such sorrow for your sins as to reform - Funk & Wagnall's Dictionary.

Though the word "repent" isn't used, the plea to "Seek the Lord" implies the hearer should turn attention from other things they are presently seeking, to seek God.

All the "Before"s in verse 2 insert a sense of urgency. This is not something to leave to whenever—a more convenient time. Do it now, "Before the decree is issued…the day passes like chaff… the day of the Lord's anger (fierce anger) comes upon you."

The attitude needed for this search is meekness. [Meek = a patient, mild, gentle, compliant disposition.] No more bristling at God, talking back to Him, insisting on one's own way.

The return is to God, to justice, to righteousness, to humility so that "it may be that you will be hidden / in the day of the Lord's anger."

As we view our own lives in the light of a still-awaited "Day of the Lord" so many of these things apply to us:
  • Like the people of Judah, we don't know when that Day will come. We still have time to turn "Before the decree is issued…"
  • Like them we too need meekness to admit we were/are wrong. If we've accepted Jesus as Saviour we have taken the first step for sure. But repentance can also involve a multitude of turnings as our lives are regularly checked by Scripture.
  • Our turning to God, to justice, to righteousness, to humility is without glamor and fanfare. There isn't self-exaltation here. The only way such qualities will trend on Twitter is as they disturb society's status quo… which may make them harder and less attractive. But God's judgments, such as those on unrepentant nations, spelled out in the remainder of the chapter, are enough to tip the balance in repentance's favor.

Dear God, please help me to take seriously this warning about the Day of the Lord. Show me where I need to make changes to prepare for it by repenting and seeking the right things. 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, November 22, 2017

Day of distress, disaster, desolation, darkness

funnel cloud, wind
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Zephaniah 1:1-18

TO  CHEW ON: "The great day of the Lord is near …
That day is a day of wrath,
A day of trouble and distress,
A day of devastation and desolation
A day of darkness and gloominess
A day of clouds and thick darkness." Zephaniah 1:14,15

In the next three days we'll be reading the entire book of Zephaniah. It's written by Zephaniah, a princely prophet (a descendant of King Hezekiah) who was a contemporary of the prophets Jeremiah and Nahum. He prophesied during the reign of King Josiah.

King Josiah was the king of Judah who purged the land of idols and idolatrous priests and practices. During the cleaning of the temple, the priests of God found the Book of the Law. That led to the people again celebrating feasts like Passover.

The feeling in the land was one of relief. The threat of the Assyrians was diminishing. Josiah's reforms led to a sense of complacency: All was again right between God and man in the Kingdom of Judah.
"Into this complacent atmosphere the devastating message (of Zephaniah) comes like a searing blast" writes Mary LaVonne Phillips in my Bible's introduction to Zephaniah (New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1231).
Why the doomful message when things were apparently going so well?

"In retrospect the reform was one of externals since the hearts of the people had not been changed" - Ibid.
Like many prophetic messages, Zephaniah's has three parts:
1. A pronouncement of judgment.
2. An appeal for repentance.
3. A promise of salvation.

It's easy to see that the part of the message we're reading today is the pronouncement of judgment. And lest we think predictions of "the day," or "the day of the Lord" or "judgment" are just in the Old Testament, consider these words:

Jesus: " 'He who rejects Me … the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day' " - John 12:48.

Paul: "But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God" - Romans 2:5.

Jude: "And the angels … He has reserved in everlasting chains and darkness for the judgment of the great day" - Jude 1:6.

John: "For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand" - Revelation 6:17.

It's a message of coming judgment that is out-of-fashion for us moderns—even Bible-believing Christians. Hearing about judgment makes us squirmy and uneasy in the climate of the present evangelical world that emphasizes the love, grace, and mercy of God. But there it is in the Bible—an uncomfortable truth that we all must face.

There is a day of distress, devastation, desolation and darkness ahead. But thank God that is only the first part of the message!

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to view You realistically as not only the source of infinite, boundless love, but as Someone whose standards of purity and holiness demand a day of reckoning. 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, November 20, 2017

How pregnant is Earth?

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:12

TO CHEW ON: “For when they say, ‘Peace and safety!’ then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape.” 1 Thessalonians 5:3

Since I’ve had kids this verse always amuses me a little. For on which pregnant woman do the pains of labor come by total surprise? In fact, when I was pregnant, from about 7+ months along, I became hyper-vigilant about every twinge I felt in my body (Is this labor?).

Of course the likelihood of labor starting on any particular day rises with the pregnancy’s progression. I became ever more conscious, as that baby grew within me, as I got heavier and more ungainly, as that baby moved and kicked and turned around, that a day of labor was coming, sooner rather than later.

Extending the pregnancy metaphor, we can identify some signs of earth’s progressing pregnancy, moving toward the day of Jesus’ return. Here are several:
  • Nation rising against nation - Matthew 24:7.
  • Many false prophets - Matthew 24:24.
  • Moral rottenness - 2 Timothy 3:1-5.
  • Famines - Matthew 24:7.
  • Epidemics - Matthew 24:7.
  • Earthquakes - Matthew 24:7.
  • Fearful natural phenomena - Luke 21:25,26.

Is Earth feeling twinges of labor pains? I believe it is.

That last sentence of our focus verse: “And they shall not escape” also fits well with the picture of pregnancy. For once you get pregnant, you know that the day of labor and delivery is inevitable.

 In the same way, a pregnant woman’s body works toward delivery, I believe Earth’s history is working toward Christ’s return. It is inevitable. Let’s not be found napping or caught by surprise!

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, help me to live vigilant and aware of how natural phenomena and societal changes point toward Your inevitable and, I believe, soon return. 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, November 19, 2017

A life to aspire to

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: 1 Thessalonians 3:6-4:12

TO CHEW ON: “… aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands…” 1 Thessalonians 4:11

Who, these days, does that—“aspire(s) to lead a quiet life” or, as the Amplified puts it: “Make it your ambition … to live quietly…”? It’s far more common to want to be noticed, to get attention with lots of “LIKES” on social media, for example, or to achieve the goal of all goals and go viral.

Yet to me, perhaps to you too, there is something attractive and alluring about these instructions on how to live:

  • “lead a quiet life”
- “Lead a quiet life” brings to mind verses like “In quietness and confidence shall be your strength” - Isaiah 30:15.

- Peter’s instructions on how to be a beautiful-from-the-inside woman include: “… a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God” - 1 Peter 3:4.

- However, many Bible references to quietness also harbor within them an aspect of tension—the tension of waiting for something to happen: “It is good that one should hope and wait quietly / For the salvation of the LORD” - Lamentations 3:26.
“Truly my soul silently waits for God; / From Him comes my salvation” Psalm 62:1.

  • “mind your own business”
This advice is, at some level telling the people not to gossip and be busybodies. This must have been a problem in Thessalonica because Paul addressed it in 2 Thessalonians 3:11,12. I wonder how Paul would have viewed Facebook!

  • “work with your own hands”
From crocheting a shawl to building a house I’m sure most of us have experienced the satisfaction of a project we’ve completed with our own hands. Physical work is something the Bible endorses from cover to cover (Genesis 2:15; 1 Timothy 5:8).

These three bits of good-life advice are not only to make the readers’ lives better, but to serve as an example of a good and godly life to pre-believers - 1 Thessalonians 4:12.

In this time when we can be barraged with communication, information and noise from morning to night, doesn’t this lifestyle sound like a refreshing option?

PRAYER: Dear Father, at the root of this lifestyle of quietness, self-control, and work is confidence in You and Your ability to work things out in my life without my interference. Please help me to trust you so implicitly that quietness becomes my default setting. 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, November 18, 2017

What kind of a steward are you?

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Matthew 25:14-30

TO CHEW ON: ‘For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them.’” Matthew 25:14

We might be excused if, at the beginning of this story, we thought the owner had given his possessions to his servants. However, when we read the whole thing, we realize that the relationship with those possessions (here “talents”—a unit of money), was not one of ownership at all but management. Another word for that is “stewardship.”

[Stewardship: The position and duties of a steward—a person who acts as the surrogate of another or others, especially by managing property, financial affairs, an estate etc. - from]

Stewardship comes up in other places in the Bible as well. Biblical stewardship is:
  • Tailored to the individual.
In our story, the owner gave his servants different amounts of money to manage dependent on each one’s ability - Matthew 25:15.

  • Not ownership.
The stewarding aspect of our story’s handout comes out more clearly in the Luke version of this same parable - Luke 19:13.
  • Judged by faithfulness.
It’s the main characteristic of a steward: "Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful" - 1 Corinthians 4:2.

  • A sacred trust that impacts all of life.
Paul instructed Timothy on what it meant to be a steward in practical living: "O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge"  - 1 Timothy 6:20.

  • What God expects us to do with our spiritual gifts.
"As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God" 1 Peter 4:10.

  • Important because our salvation came at a high price.
    "For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s" - 1 Corinthians 6:20.
  • Important because we have a divine Master - Ephesians 6:7.
"...with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free" Ephesians 6:7,8.

So we might ask, what has God asked us to steward?

The answer will be slightly different for each one of us but will include things like the Gospel—the good news that we sinful humans can be reconciled to God through the death and resurrection of Jesus—our spiritual gifts, our material possessions, our network of family, friends, and colleagues, modern technology with its potential for fast and widespread communication, and the list could go on.

We have much to steward. Are we aware of our positions as stewards? Are we looking forward to the day we hear His “Well done, good and faithful servant?” Or will we be caught unaware at our Master’s return, embarrassed, ashamed, and casting about for excuses of why we haven't been good stewards?

PRAYER: Dear Father, help me to be aware of all You have entrusted to me, and to steward it well. May I keep the hope of Your “Well done,” always in mind. 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, November 16, 2017

When mothers arise

"Deborah" by Gustave Dore

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Judges 4:21-5:11

TO CHEW ON: "In the days of Shamgar, son of Anath,
In the days of Jael,
The highways were deserted,
And the travelers walked along the byways,
Village life ceased, it ceased in Israel
Until I Deborah arose,
Arose a mother in Israel." Judges 5:6-7

A mother arising—I love that picture. I can identify with it, especially as it relates to mothers arising in defence of their children.

  • Sarah was such a mother when she asked Abraham to expel Hagar and Ishmael from their home to guarantee that Isaac would be Abraham's sole heir (Genesis 21:9-13).
  • Jochebed, Moses' mother, arose, albeit ever so secretly, to protect her infant son from Pharaoh's butchers (Exodus 2:1-3).
  • Hannah's arising in the form of pleading prayers caused God to open her womb and she became the mother of prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 1:9-17).
  • Bathsheba's arising took the form of a meeting with elderly King David to remind him of his promise to anoint Solomon as his successor, even as Solomon's brother Adonijah was organizing his own coronation (1 Kings 1:15-17).

But Deborahs's arising was on another level altogether. Her mother-heart embraced all the citizens of the nation as her children. The forsaken villages and deserted highways—emptied as people hid in fortifications for fear of Jabin and Sisera—outraged her. She, together with Barak and their army of 10,000 eventually routed Sisera and his iron chariots. He alone fled on foot to Jael's tent where she dealt the final blow (Judges 4:21).

As mothers we have tremendous influence. The proverb "The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world" is no idle saying. And that influence isn't only through the impact of our kids. It comes in other ways too. Have you noticed, for example, how many women have arisen, often out of personal tragedy, to form organizations that bring good things out of bad:

Candace (Candy) Lightner started Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) after a drunk hit-and-run driver killed her 13-year-old daughter.

Betty Fox formed the Terry Fox Foundation (an organization that raises money for cancer research) after cancer took the life of her son Terry.

Wilma Derksen was instrumental in bringing Child Find to Manitoba and started Victim's Voice, an organization that supports victims of crime, after her 13-year-old daughter Candace was abducted and murdered. (She tells her story in Have You Seen Candace?)

As mothers let's harness the powerful nurturing force within us by rising up first within our families, and then by following God's leading into other ventures in our communities and nations.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the example of Deborah's mother-heart for her nation. Help me to take my place with all the godly mothers who have arisen to make an impact in their homes, their communities, their nations, and the world. Amen.

MORE: Wilma's story

In the 2011 100 Huntley Street video "Wilma Derksen—A Victim's Voice," Wilma and Cliff Derksen talk with Magdalene John about the impact of Candace's death, how God helped her through this time of unthinkable tragedy, and the good things that have come out of it.

The man accused and sentenced for Candace's murder in 2011 has since been retried and in October of 2017 declared not guilty. Read the Derksen's reaction to this development in "It's over for us" - (National Post).


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, November 15, 2017

Deborah - anointed leader

"Deborah" by Ferdinand Max Bredt

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Judges 4:1-16

TO CHEW ON: "And Barak said to her, 'If you will go with me, then I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go!' Judges 4:8

We read here of a rare time when a woman led Israel. Deborah was the nation's judge. Her wisdom attracted the children of Israel to come to her for counsel and justice (Judges 4:5).

She was also a visionary who called for Barak to deploy troops and go to battle against Jabin.

Barak was willing to go. But he wanted Deborah to go with him. Was this a lack of faith or wise realism? Even my Bible's notes differ on what his reluctance to go without Deborah meant. The footnotes to Judges attribute this to a lack of faith. But I like the interpretation expressed in the sidebar article "A Woman Essential to Victory":

"Barak, a great man of faith (Hebrews 11:32) is a classic study in the wisdom of a man's acknowledgment of the potential power of a woman's contribution to a goal. Because of Deborah's godly and skillful leadership traits, Barak (as commander of Israel's armies) would not go into this battle without her, even when told that he would not get full honour for the victory (Judges 4:9). His priority was the welfare of the nation, and he knew that their combined efforts would ensure success as each brought their distinctive, God-given strengths to the challenge" - Jane Hansen, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 319.

Doesn't Barak's reaction help us recognize our own desire to be led by people—men or women—in whose lives God's presence and power is evident? Such anointed leaders are God's gifts to us as individuals and the church.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the godly men and women who are the leaders in my life and my church. Help me to follow their lead and respect them as Your gift to me. May I be experience Your anointing as I lead in my small way. Amen.

MORE: Deborah in art

Canadian artist Donna Smallenberg uses art to depict inspiring Bible women and spiritual themes. Her painting of Deborah and the explanation of the painting give us even more appreciation for this Bible character. 

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, November 14, 2017

Avoiding spiritual osteoporosis

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Matthew 24:45-25:13

TO CHEW ON: ‘Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing.’” Matthew 24:25

This passage has been a rhema word to me this morning. Let me explain.

Over the past few weeks I’ve toyed with the thought of ceasing to write these devotions. My idea has been to use the several hours of morning writing time for other projects. In fact, I’ve tried that out for a few weeks (frequently re-posting devotions here).

Yes, I’ve still had a short Bible reading and prayer time before the other writing. But the clock moves quickly and the start time for “work” comes all too soon. So these personal devotion times have felt unsatisfying.

Further, as I thought of no longer having a place to document what I’m learning (yes, I can record things in a my writing journal, but it’s not the same), I felt like I was about to demolish an important part of the structure of my daily life. (Reminds me of the verse “The wise woman builds her house, / But the foolish pulls it down with her hands” Proverbs 14:1.)

My decision to quit has been bugging me. In fact, before going to this Matthew passage this morning, I spilled some thoughts in my journal. As I did that, two verses came to mind:

"When I kept silent, my bones grew old
Through my groaning all the day long.

For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me;
My vitality was turned into the drought of summer" Psalm 32:3,4.

"Then I said, “I will not make mention of Him,
Nor speak anymore in His name.”
But His word was in my heart like a burning fire
Shut up in my bones;
I was weary of holding it back,
And I could not" Jeremiah 20:9. 

I noticed both had to do with deteriorating bones and wrote to myself: “I’m sensing a possible bone condition. Interesting thing about bones. They need exercise to stay strong. Perhaps God is saying to me—‘Violet, you can do this, stop writing these daily devos and posting them. But there will be consequences to you, just like if you stopped your daily physical walk. Do you want to get spiritual osteoporosis?  For your bones will weaken if you don’t feed and exercise them. This daily devo writing is a  good way to feed and exercise those bones and keep them from growing old.’”

And then I opened my Bible to work on the next devo and read Matthew 24:45. It’s not lost on me that the name I’ve chosen for this blog has to do with food.

When one reaches a certain age, one is expected to retire, at least in my culture. But God has made it clear to me this morning that the time to retire from writing these isn’t quite yet. I need to keep faithfully “so doing”—giving out this Other food in “due season.”

What about you? What is God telling you to be faithfully found “so doing”?

PRAYER: Dear Father, You are faithful in giving me the direction I need at the moment I need it. Help me to listen to Your voice above all others. so that I will be found doing the things You’ve tasked me with when You return, or call me home to 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.

Monday, November 13, 2017

A promise we can count on

lightning (Image from
Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Matthew 4:23-44

TO CHEW ON: ‘Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.’” Matthew 4:35.

In our reading today, Jesus’ message seems mixed. On one hand, He says watch for these things (in Matthew 24:14-16, 29-30) for they are signs that the Son of Man is coming soon. On the other, don’t try to figure out the timing.

I like His example of the fig tree as a way to tell his coming is near:

'Now learn this parable from the fig tree. When its branch has already b'ecome tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near'” - Matthew 24:32.

My Bible’s study notes take the mystique out of the comparison:
“As the budding tree signifies the coming of summer, the signs described by Jesus will give warning of His coming” - J. Lyle Story, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1335. 
So we look at Jesus’ list of specifics and watch for them as we watch for signs of seasonal change in the trees. When we see them playing out, we know His coming is getting nearer, just like we know summer’s around the corner when trees bud in spring and the world turns green.

Over and over, though Jesus reminds His listeners (and us readers) that we won’t be able to tell the exact time, and not to be caught by surprise.  

His coming:
  • Will be as sudden as zigzags of lightning - Matthew 24:27.
  • As to its timing, will be a surprise to even the angels - Matthew 24:36.
  • Will come in the middle of life as usual - Matthew 24:38.
  • Will separate the prepared and unprepared in the middle of what they’re doing - Matthew 24:40,41.
  • Is to be on our list of things to watch for and expect - Matthew 24:42.
  • Will be as unwelcome a surprise to some as a thief breaking into their house - Matthew 24:44.

What if it were today? Am I ready and expectant? Are you?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, this reading reminds me that I need to take the promise that You would return, seriously. Help me to live daily in this hope with this expectation. 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, November 12, 2017

The beginning of the end?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 24:1-22

" ' All these are the beginning of sorrows.' " Matthew 24:8

If you had never read today's passage and someone handed you its contents on a scrap of paper, would your impression would be (choose one):
a] This sounds entirely unfamiliar.
b] This sounds a lot like current conditions in the world.
c] This sounds like something that could never happen.

If you're like me, you chose b, because this sounds like the writings of someone in the room with me as I watch the nightly news or scan the latest headlines on the computer.

In early parts of this passage (Matthew 24:5-7) Jesus gives us a list of spookily familiar events that herald the near coming of His return to earth / the End:*
- The appearance of false and deceptive Christs.
- Wars and rumours of wars.
- Famines, pestilences and earthquakes.

But, Jesus says, these things are just the beginning of "sorrows." Some translations call them "birth pains" (NIV, NLT, NASB, ESV)—an interesting comparison suggesting earth-shaking events will become more frequent and intense as they near a climax. Could this be the time we're living in right now? If so, what do we have to look forward to? Jesus' answer:

" 'Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you and you will be hated by all nations for My name's sake' " - Matthew 24:9.

Who is the "you" Jesus refers to here? It was to His band of disciples He delivered this private message (Matthew 24:3). So we can, I think, conclude that His disciples of all eras are on notice. That's us. Jesus warns and advises (Matthew 24:10-14):

- We can expect offenses, betrayals, hatred, and death.
- We must be on guard against false prophets.
- We need to be aware of the potential for spiritual lawlessness and coldness.
- Our endurance will be challenged.
- While the above is happening there will also be a great spread of the Gospel to peoples of every nation.

Let's live alert in these perilous days!

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to remain watchful, to be unfazed if I am hated, and persecuted for being a Christ-follower, and to stay the course as I do my little bit in spreading the Gospel. Amen.

* "In His private teaching to the disciples on the Mount of Olives, Jesus responded to three questions, concerning 1] the destruction of the temple, 2] His Second Coming, 3] the End. These topics are interwoven and sometimes it is difficult to determine which event is being described. This difficulty is partially resolved with the realization that most prophecy is capable of both a near and remote fulfillment. Jesus uses the tragic events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D.70 as a picture of conditions preceding His own return" - J. Lyle Story, Study notes on Matthew 24:1-51, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1334.

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, November 10, 2017

Peace—future and now

Mural - Vernon, BC

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Micah 4:1-5:1

TO CHEW ON: "Now it shall come to pass in the latter days....
They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
And their spears into pruning hooks;
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
Neither shall they learn war anymore." Micah 4:1, 4

Peace. It's another prophecy for end times.

It's not clear—and Bible scholars don't agree on—whether Micah's prophecy signifies the peace after a war where the combatants have gone back to fighting with literal swords and shields or whether the meaning of "...beat their swords into plowshares / And their spear into pruning hooks" is symbolic. The scene of weapons, whatever they are, turned into farming tools and people peaceful and secure on their own property is wonderful in any case.

However, this is a prophecy that will be fulfilled not only someday on earth as nations live side by side in peace. For peace is a key ingredient in the Kingdom of God. It can rule us right now as we cultivate:

Peaceful reaction:
Jesus' instructions to people when they were mistreated was to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39-42), and to love one's enemies (Matthew 5:44-48).

Peaceful interaction:
Luke's description of the early church shows us a wonderful ideal of harmony between Christians: "Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul..." Acts 4:32.

Inner peace:
  • We have peace with God (Romans 5:1) because we were made right (reconciled) with Him through Jesus' death (Colossians 1:20).
  • This peace is available for everyone and anyone, whatever their race or nationality (Acts 10:35-36).
  • When we receive Jesus, His Spirit comes to live in us and teach us in all His ways, including the ways of peace (John 14:26-27).
  • One fruit of the Spirit is peace (Galatians 5:220.
Have we taken advantage of that peace? We can live at peace with God, our fellow Christians, even our enemies!

PRAYER: Dear God, I love the picture of weapons being turned into tools of nurture and fruitfulness. Please help me to be an eager pupil in the ways of peace. Amen.

MORE: Remembrance Day

Tomorrow is Remembrance Day in Canada.  We remember in ceremonies at cenotaphs (or watching on TV) with prayers, readings, laying wreaths, and observing a minute of silence.  In this way we honor the people, dead and alive, who fought against tyranny and oppression in World Wars I, II, the Korean War, and those who are currently active in the Middle East and international peace-keeping missions.

The Remembrance Day mural is a photograph of one of Vernon B.C.'s historical street murals painted by Michelle Loughery & team.

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, November 09, 2017

No answer!

prayer - no answer
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Micah 3:1-12

TO CHEW ON: "Then they will cry to the Lord
But He will not hear them;
He will even hide His face from them at that time,
Because they have been evil in their deeds....
So the seers shall be ashamed
And the diviners abashed
Indeed they shall all cover their lips
for there is no answer from God." Micah 3:4,7

What a desperate feeling—to pray and not be heard, to expect and wait for an answer and none comes. Micah's denouncement on his contemporary prophets reminds me of Israel's first king. Saul found himself in this very predicament. After the prophet Samuel died and he faced the Philistine army, he cried out to God in desperation himself but "...the Lord did not answer him..."  2 Samuel 28:6. He felt driven to seek an answer from a witch and discovered his sealed fate (read the whole story in 2 Samuel 28:1-25).

The Bible gives some clues as to why we might pray and not get an answer:
  • We have been disobedient - Deuteronomy 1:42-45.
  • We are holding onto sin - Psalm 66:18.
  • We have ignored God's rebuke and been indifferent to Him - Proverbs 1:23-28.
  • Have have been callous toward the poor - Proverbs 21:13.
  • We have despised God's laws - Proverbs 28:9.
  • We have blood on our hands - Isaiah 1:15.
  • We are living in sin - Isaiah 59:2 and Micah 3:4.
  • We have stubbornly refused to listen to God's words in the past - Zechariah 7:11-13.
  • We waver and are double-minded, asking with a doubting attitude - James 1:6-8.
  • We ask with self-indulgent motives - James 4:3.

If we have been praying but the heavens seem like brass, perhaps we should examine our hearts in the light of the above to see if any of them describe us.

PRAYER: Dear God, please shine the light of Your word on my heart. Show me where my attitudes and actions have blocked the answer to my prayers. Amen.

MORE: Unanswered prayer quotes

"When He grants our prayers,
it is because He loves us.
When He does not, it is also
because He loves us." - O. Hallesby

"If the request is wrong, God says, 'No.'
If the timing is wrong, God says, 'Slow.'
If you are wrong, God says, 'Grow.'
But if the request is right, the timing is right
and you are right, God says, 'Go!'" - Anonymous

"God has not always answered my prayers.
If He had, I would have married the wrong man—several times!" - Ruth Bell Graham

All quotes from Prayer Points, compiled by Randall D. Roth, pp. 196, 197.

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, November 08, 2017

God's heart for the poor

homeless shopping cart
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Micah 2:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "You who are named the house of Jacob,
Is the Spirit of the Lord restricted?
Are these His doings?
Do not my words do good
To him who walks uprightly?" - Micah 2:7

From Micah's scoldings we begin to understand the extent of Judah's sin. Not only were the people guilty of idolatry but also injustice.

Micah paints the picture of someone lying awake at night, conniving how he can add to his property and in the morning enacting that plan (Micah 2:1,2). Instead of protecting society's most vulnerable, the powerful act like returning warriors as they ruthlessly strip their trusting neighbours of life's essentials and evict women (probably widows) and their children from their homes (Micah 2:8,9).

If there's one thing God hates, it's injustice to the poor, the alien, and the helpless. His passion for the vulnerable comes out again and again in the Bible, no less here in Micah's condemning words: "Arise and depart for this is not your rest." In plain English: "Those who had removed others from a restful life would be removed themselves because they had defiled God's land with their sinfulness" - Willard S. Elijahson's commentary on Micah, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1206.

At this time of year, when we tend to focus on ourselves and the upcoming Advent season and Christmas celebration, let's not neglect to remember the poor. How might we do that?
  • Put money in the Salvation Army kettles when they make their appearance in December. Or volunteer to man a kettle for a few hours (it's probably not too soon to contact them now and arrange to be a volunteer in December).
  • Take part in church and community initiatives that help the poor (collecting toys and food for special Christmas hampers, contributing to Christmas funds like our local Christmas Bureau).
  • Donate to the local foodbank (grocery items or money).
  • Welcome the poor when they come to church and perhaps invite them for a meal to get to know them.
  • Pray for wisdom when panhandlers and beggars approach on the street asking for money. Consider buying them a meal instead of giving cash.
  • Volunteer to help out with Christmas dinner events served to the poor and homeless (locally Union Gospel Mission serves an annual Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners).
  • Give money in your loved one's name to World Vision or other organizations that offer proxy gifts to impoverished peoples in the world, instead of lavishing on each other gifts we really don't need.  (Browse the World Vision Gift Catalogue)

PRAYER: Dear God, please give me Your heart for the poor and unfortunate. Help me to be obedient when I sense You stirring me to love in practical ways. 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, November 07, 2017

Do we have "high places"?

High places - Micah 1:3
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Micah 1:1-16

TO CHEW ON: "For behold the Lord is coming out of His place;
He will come down
And tread on the high places of the earth." - Micah 1:3

"Prophecies of Christ make Micah's book glow with hope and encouragement," says Willard Elijahson in my Bible's introduction to Micah (New Spirit-Filled Bible, p. 1202). It's a great book to read as we look forward to the season of Advent that begins in a few weeks' time.

Micah, the man, prophesied alongside Isaiah. Historians date his writings between 704-696 B.C. during the reigns of kings Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. His message is directed to inhabitants of Samaria and Jerusalem.

He begins his message by announcing the coming of the Lord. We get the picture of someone coming from elsewhere: "...the Lord is coming out of His place; He will come down..." - Micah 1:3.

The place God chooses to visit is noteworthy—the "high places of the earth." Though we might read this as elevated land masses (mountain peaks perhaps, which would give a good view of all the surrounding area) the people of that time would probably have understood high places to mean elevated pagan altars. God was coming to check out their disloyalty—the places they compromised, flirted with, and gave in to idols. Awkward! Embarrassing! Incriminating!

The picture of God coming down to check out the high places of Judah prompts me to ask, what if I applied this image to my society, my life? What would God find?

Dennis McCallum in his book Unlocking the Mysteries of Satan explains how, at the fall, Satan took charge of the world system or kosmos. He says:

"Perhaps the definitive passage on kosmos is 1 John 2:15-17.
'Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.'
Accordingly the kosmos is primarily a system of values. The lust of the flesh refers to living for ungodly pleasure. The lust of the eyes refers to owning beautiful things or gaining control over beautiful people. The boastful pride of life refers to the way humans try to establish identity and importance by competing with each other for attention, power, and admiration" (Kindle Location, 871).

McCallum goes on to suggest that the church and we as individual Christians have gone easy on many of these attitudinal sins:

"Many Christians think of 'worldly' things as gross sins like wanton sex, for example .... Many of the same Christians, however, would never recognize the world-system when looking at the Harvard University green or the Sears Tower. A glossy magazine advertisement showing a family luxuriating in a hot tub in Tahiti or a shiny new SUV would not ring the kosmos bell in their minds" - KL 887.

Are we in these ways building our own high places? As I imagine God coming to me, I ask, what high places is He finding in my life? Is He finding some in yours?

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to see my attitudes from Your point of view. Show me where I have bought into the world system and perspective. Amen.

MORE: Throwing down 'high place' attitudes
"Instead of arguing with Satan, Christians must learn to share the Word of God with him, like Jesus did. To match up with someone this smart, we need the help of someone even smarter, and God is infinitely smarter than Satan" - McCallum, K.L. 767.
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, November 06, 2017

Woe to hypocrites!

Pharisees by James Tissot
Pharisees by James Tissot
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 23:13-39

TO CHEW ON: " 'But woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.' " Matthew 23:13

In one of His most impassioned speeches, Jesus denounces seven examples of Pharisaic hypocrisy:

1. They were legalistic. The Pharisees' strict legalism kept them and everyone else out of the kingdom (Matthew 23:13).

2. They were unjust. The Pharisees' long prayers, meant to impress others with their righteousness, were contrary to the way they treated the poorest people, like widows - Matthew 23:14.

3. They were evangelists of evil - Matthew 23:15. One thinks of a missionary or evangelist as one doing a good thing. But these missionaries were converting others to become fanatics of a tarnished religion.

4. They were blind guides
- Matthew 23:16-22. If anyone should be able to see, it's a guide! Yet Jesus showed how blind these men were by poking holes in the reasoning by which they came to rules about which oaths were binding and which weren't. The IVP Commentary explains the custom:
"An oath involved invoking a deity as a witness to the veracity of one's claim. On the popular level people had begun using many surrogate phrases for God's name hoping to avoid judgment if they broke the oath. Pharisees endeavoured to distinguish which oath phrases were actually binding" - IVP Commentary, accessed via
Jesus' attack was not just against these oath standards, though, but also against the Pharisees' inconsistent standards of holiness and the profanity of using God's name in such frivolous ways.

5. Their standards were inconsistent and out of proportion - Matthew 23:23-24. The Pharisees emphasized tithing the tiniest of spices while ignoring big issues like practicing justice, mercy, and faith.

6. Their lives were superficial - Matthew 23:25-28. Their fine exteriors masked a polluted inner condition.

7. They were self-deceived - Matthew 23:29-36. They claimed that if they'd lived in the time of the prophets, they would never have treated God's servants the way their countrymen did. Jesus' response: " 'Serpents, brood of vipers!' " You will prove how deceived you are by the way you kill, crucify and scourge the prophets, wise men, and scribes that come to your generation (my paraphrase).

Before we look with too much disdain on this lot, we do well to examine our own lives for similar hypocritical behavior:

  • Have we developed legalistic standards of our own that are barriers to people entering God's kingdom?
  • Do we give lip service to a holiness we don't practice?
  • Do we have self-made, inconsistent-with-God's-word standards that, for example, rail against body sins like smoking and overeating, but are indulgent toward TV and movies that pollute the mind?
  • Do our priorities line up with Scripture's? Do our lives reflect the things that matter to God? Or do we break fellowship over sidebar matters like which version of the Bible to read and the order of prophesied end-time events?
  • Are our lives authentic—the same in private as public? Or do we practice secret sin?
  • Are we realistic about who we are? Or does our lifestyle contradict what comes out of our mouths?

Dear Jesus, Your denunciation of the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees shows me that my nature is not all that different. Please help me to detect hypocrisy in my life and to deal with 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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