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Showing posts from June, 2009

Worry Walks Alone

Somewhere along the way I picked up a little card that still hangs on the bulletin board above my desk. It says: "Worry slanders every promise in the Word of God." Naturally it came to mind this morning as I read my verse for the day.

"Then Jesus said to his disciples: 'Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes" —Luke 12:22, 23. (And these verses come attached to yesterday's verse on being careful about greed.)

Another image comes to mind. As I watched the news yesterday, several people cheated of their life savings by Bernie Madoff, were being interviewed. One woman in particular stood out. She said that, thanks to Madoff, she no longer has the means to feed herself or to buy medicine. Basically she is now destitute.

Is she worried? Who wouldn't be?

Matthew includes the teaching of these verses in the famous Sermon on the Mount, just…

When Enough is Truly Enough

I struggle with "stuff." A part of me says that all of this "stuff" is God's blessing on my life. It is, otherwise I wouldn't have it. Another voice reminds me that in all of this blessing there is a fatal flaw. God didn't put the flaw there; it is a warp in my own character. Wanting more is fraught with danger.

Sometimes more really is better, but the more I have, the more I struggle against wanting more. This urge goes beyond material things—though they are the most obvious. The drive for more covers whatever I want more of, be it material, physical, emotional, yes, even spiritual.

I'd better qualify this latter statement. It can't be wrong to want to possess more of God, or to know His Word better, or to love and serve Him at a higher level. However, that's true until the acquiring of all things spiritual, as well as all the other things, becomes my exclusive goal.

Jesus said: "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed (em…

Play Dough and Paper Dolls

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I spent a lot of time yesterday cutting out paper dolls. No, I haven't lost my mind, or slipped into my second childhood. And they weren't just ordinary paper dolls—they were Civil War period replicas—appropriate considering that this week, Canada, the United States, and Venezuela, all celebrate their respective Independence Days.

This morning I mixed up a double batch of play dough.

All this in preparation for my Sunday School class this morning. It takes time and effort to get creative and make Sunday School interesting for kids. Sometimes I have to remind myself why I do it.

For one thing, I came to know the Lord through the faithful ministry of Sunday School teachers. Sunday School teachers are the unsung heroes in God's Kingdom. They plant seeds in the most fertile ground of all—the open and relatively uncomplicated minds and hearts of little children.

God planted in me the desire to serve Him when I was nine years old. I wonder why? Those Sunday School teachers exemplifi…

You'll Know Them By the Struggle

Just as we take the long way around a puddle in our path, we shrink back from looking too closely at some bits of truth.

We don't want to be harsh, or judgmental. We look at our own lives and admit that we struggle and don't always succeed in being all that God meant us to be. How can we point a finger when doing so means there are several pointing right back at us?

All truth needs to be walked through, not walked around.

"The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks" —Luke 6:45.

Just prior to this verse comes another, reminding us that a good tree doesn't produce bad fruit.

The lesson? If the man acts consistently like a pagan, that's what he is—a pagan. Harsh? Yes. But truth is like that. A Christ-follower will struggle, but therein lies the key: He struggles. He may not always succeed in being Christ-like,…

Forgiveness—The Eternal Cycle

"Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you" —Luke 6:38.

I'm a context fanatic. So after I read the verse for today I looked back at the verses that surround it in Luke 37-42.

It's all about forgiveness. It's all about remembering how much God had forgiven me, and how far I still am from being what He wants me to be. It's all about being like Jesus and forgiving others. It's being reminded that when I refuse to forgive the noose of judgment slips over my own head and rests on my own neck. I am as worthy of condemnation as the one I refuse to forgive.

The context reminds me that if I expect to help others to overcome in their Christian lives, I must first deal with those things that prevent me from overcoming. If I can't forgive, how can I lead others to experience forgiveness, or to forgive those who have, in som…

When I Am An Old Cat

What follows is a deviation from the usual fare of this blog, but it fit so well with what I just read on my friend, Vi Nesdoly's blog (http://vnesdoly.blogspot.com/2009/06/aging-warning.html). Like the cats, some of us do "loosen up" with age. I'm sorry I don't know who the author of this is, but whoever it is knows cats.

WHEN I AM AN OLD CAT

When I am an old cat I shall wear a diamond collar,
and leave my footprints
on white couches;
I shall drink cream with a touch of brandy
and spit out my vitamins;
I shall sit on the laps of dog people
just to irritate them;
I shall nap on top of the neighbor's petunias
and perch on the top of birdbaths
and grow charmingly chubby.

But for now I must tolerate the dog
and use my litter box
and not sharpen my claws on the sofa,
so no one can doubt the truth
that cats are superior to dogs.

But every once in a while I wonder
if I should be naughty now and then
and nip a few toes,
so my humans won't be too shocked when suddenly
I beco…

Priority Prayers

There are certain themes that dominate prayer request lists. The material and the physical are usually at the top. Funny how we pray more for the temporal than the spiritual.

The four men who defied all the odds to get their paralyzed friend to Jesus' feet appeared to be hoping for physical healing. I wonder what they thought: "When Jesus saw their faith, he said, 'Friend, your sins are forgiven.'" —Luke 5:20.

Excuse us, Lord, but in case you haven't noticed, this guy can't walk!

What did the Lord see in this "faith"? Did He say what He did simply to provoke the Pharisees, who had front row seats despite their unbelief? Perhaps both are true. In any case, He used His critics' shock at His presumption to teach at least two valuable lessons.

1. He had the authority to forgive sins because He was God—an authority He proved by healing the paralyzed man.

2. He also demonstrated that spiritual healing was His first priority. Jesus never "imposed&q…

All-Inclusive

There are more than a few skeptics out there who accuse Christians of being exclusive.

Bankrupt of soul, running on empty?

Chained by the past and condemned to repeat it in the future?

Fumbling in the darkness, not seeing a path before you?

Heavyhearted, depressed, sad, burdened by things you are not even sure you can put a name to?

No one at hand to take your hand?

Help is at hand. Jesus said: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom to the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" —Luke 4:18, 19.

No exceptions here. Except, of course, if you don't want to admit you need Him. The first step an addict takes to recovery is an admission of his problem. Just say it: "My name is _______________, and I am a sinner in need of God's grace." The good news has your name on it. Forgiveness is only exclusive if…

The World Beside Me

This past Saturday I went to a "Matthew Party." As the name suggests, the host or hostess invites friends, family, colleagues who aren't believers to some event or activity for the purpose of opening the door of opportunity to speak for Christ.

It's easy to cast a wishful eye beyond our frontiers, to indulge in the romanticism of faraway, exotic, places to witness for Christ. After all, Jesus said: "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation" —Mark 16:15. Who am I to argue—I'm thousands of miles away from my own country, doing that very thing.

The truth is, the world sits right beside us, lives next door, and shops at the same markets that we do. It might not be so romantic or exotic. But there it is—close and convenient.

No one came to Christ on Saturday. This was just the first little wedge in the door. But if we never knock at the door, we'll never know if that friend, neighbour, colleague is "at home" to the Lord.

Help Me Up Onto the Altar

Every instinct cries out against it. It's not normal or natural—not to this body of flesh. I resist. Surely the stupidest sheep doesn't choose to go to the slaughter?

I said that I wanted to be like Jesus. I know that is God's highest, and best, plan for my life. But not this. "Whoever wants to be first must be slave to all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" —Mark 10:44, 45.

No matter how much I rationalize, there is no escape. I have to put myself on the altar: Every ambition, every desire, every possession, every relationship, every piece of who and what I am. To be like Jesus means there is no expectation of a last minute rescue, no army of ten thousand angels to whisk me off the altar at the last minute. It's all the way.

It's more than willingness. That would only take me to foot of the altar. It's movement, It's climbing up. It's exposing my breast to the knife if tha…

"IM"

"'If you can?' said Jesus. ''Everything is possible for him who believes'" —Mark 9:23.

What a difference an "im" makes.

The writer to the Hebrews said: "…without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him" (Hebrews 11:6) With absolute certainty, pleasing God won't happen without faith.

So, if "impossible" is the absolute certainty of something, then it is logical to assume that "possible" should be the absolute certainly of something as well, right?

Nope.

A terrified, worried, father comes to the Lord with his demon-possessed son. Could this teacher and healer help him? He's not sure and will settle for anything at all. And at the point of the father's doubt, Jesus challenges the man.

At first glance we might think that Jesus is saying that more faith and less doubt will guarantee the absolute certainty of …

After the Here-And-Now

If you can't touch it, you don't have to believe in it.

If the truth is not in your face, slapping your cheeks, wearing a "pay attention to me" grimace, then it must be a figment of someone's imagination.

Ignore it and it will go away—you hope.

After all, the important thing is who has the most toys, isn't it?

The here-and-now, like a petulant child, demands your attention. Your insecurities whisper sweet nothings in your ears, begging you to get more, get ahead, get moving with the current of the world. You listen; they are, after all, your insecurities.

And then Jesus comes along and asks a huge question: "What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul" —Mark 8:36.

Every time something breaks, has to be replaced, crumbles, disappears, you are reminded that nothing is permanent except that very intangible that you work so hard to ignore.

But after the here-and-now, that intangible is what is left. Investing in it might not be a…

Final Words

Saying goodbye always seems to prompt important messages.

As heaven prepared to receive its Lord once again, Jesus delivered a message of highest priority to His followers.

"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" —Matthew 28:19, 20.

"Go"
Just cross the room, as Bill Hybels would say. None of us have to go far to find someone who doesn't know and love Jesus. Plant a seed for the Saviour.

"Make disciples"
Discipleship needs an object, a goal, a guru, a rabbi, a master, a God. We go with a message that leads us to a source. To make disciples we need to know well our message and the One who gave it to us. What God has done in our own lives is a powerful entry point.

"Baptizing"
The first step of obedience comes in the form of a public confession o…

Voluntary Slavery

Sounds like an oxymoron, right? Voluntary slavery?

We think of slavery as something forced upon a resistant human being. The innocent victim is walking along minding his own business when a gang jumps out of the bushes and grabs him, carrying him off to some plantation or sweat shop where he is forced to work for nothing and confined against his will.

In the physical world of slavery, the children of slaves are born into that state. The same is true when it comes to Paul's description. We are born as slaves to sin, thanks to our first parents, Adam and Eve. In that we have no choice. In the physical world of slavery, there are only two ways out (other than death): escape and keep running for the rest of one's life, or have one's freedom purchased.

Jesus Christ paid the price of our ransom. Unlike the slave markets of the physical world, at this point the slave has a choice: stay with his current owner, or go with the man standing there with the price of emancipation in his s…

In the Darkness, His Love Reaches Out

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There are times when my mind can't, or won't, wrap itself around a piece of truth. This morning the clouds of "down" refuse to let the light come through.



What little I can grasp convinces me that I don't know the full extent to the implications of this morning's verse; that I don't fully appreciate, nor does my mind calculate, what real love means.

Jesus said: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind'. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbour as yourself'" —Matthew 22:37-39.

The tears course down my cheeks as I reach out to understand. My "want to" depends completely on His willingness to embrace me and show me what real love is.

Impossibilities

Jesus said: "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away" —Matthew 24:35.

For anyone who has been around Christian circles long enough, the idea that one day this old earth will be remade is nothing unusual. Creation groans for its complete restoration. We look forward to the absence of everything evil in that new world over which Christ alone will reign supreme.

But personally, I don't think too often about heaven being remade. Revelation speaks about that event when John notes: "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…" (Revelation 21:1). At first glance I figure that this new heaven will be the one where Satan no longer has access to come before God and accuse the brethren as he did in Job's case. But, that's another theme.

The point here is that both this present heaven and earth will disappear, but what God has said will never change. Unlike heaven and earth, it will nev…

I Wonder If Jesus Ever Got Homesick

He was always surrounded, but stood alone; understanding, but seldom understood. People had expectations of Christ. Surely, He would throw out the Romans and return Palestine to its rightful owners. Without doubt, He would do miracles and all that was evil in the world: hunger, sickness, war, would go away forever. Palestine stayed in Roman hands, and evil continued.

He led, but His followers sometimes wandered off on other trails, pursuing rabbits instead of righteousness. He taught eternal truths to men with temporal minds. Like oil and water, they sometimes didn't mix.

Christ's mission was often misunderstood, even by those closest to Him. In the end, the vast crowds that had followed Him eagerly, dissipated. These "friends" were replaced by crowds who wanted Him dead. Sometimes the familiar faces in one were the same faces that appeared in the other.

Did Jesus ever wish He could just go home? Hebrews tells us that Jesus was tempted in every way that we can be tempt…

Equality

I confess. It's hard to keep down the anger, resentment, frustration, and disappointment I feel when I am marginalized, relegated to the back of the line because I'm a woman, I'm single, I'm …

So I had a chuckle this morning when I read today's verse.

First, the context. Jesus is telling one of His wonderful stories. A landowner is hiring workers. Throughout the day more laborers arrived to help out. All those who have been hired have agreed to work for a specific, and equal, sum of money. Right before quitting time, the owner hires a few more workers. At the end of the day, the workers gather to receive their pay. The ones who began at the crack of dawn come sweating and exhausted. The late arrivals haven't had a chance to work up any sweat at all. But they all get the same amount in their pay packets. There are complaints.

The owner reminds all concerned that each one agreed to work for a certain sum. He, as owner, has a right to make whatever offer he chooses.…

If I Don't, Who Will?

I avoid conflict. All those neat, little quizzes back up my claim.

Unfortunately, God never meant me to leave unresolved issues hanging between me and another Christian. To help me overcome my reticence, the Lord provided a formula for reconciliation, three simple steps to follow.

1. Even when the other person is at fault, I am the one who needs to go personally to seek resolution (Matthew 18:15).

2. If my brother, or sister, is not willing to listen, then I need to try again but this time with the help of one or two others who will be witnesses to the problem and the impasse that exists between us (Matthew 18:16).

3. If this second step doesn't bring about resolution, then I need to ask the church to intercede on our behalf (Matthew 18:17). If this step fails, it is assumed that the person involved is not a believer at all and is to be treated as such.

Even heaven can't release me from the chains of unresolved conflict if I don't do my part: "I tell you the truth, whate…

Nothing in My Hands

A friend of mine recently traveled to Florida for the births of two new grandchildren. Her step-daughter was due at the end of April, and her son's wife was expected to deliver at the end of May.

In the meanwhile I was busy preparing for a series of studies on The Lord's Prayer. The two events melded as I thought about the phrase: "Our Father …"

Those two babies came into the world with absolutely nothing, buck naked and totally dependent. Those are the conditions necessary for entering the Kingdom of God. We come with nothing and are totally dependent on the goodness and mercy of our Father in heaven.

This was the message that Jesus delivered when He took the child into His arms and said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" —Matthew 18:2, 3.

We can add nothing to our salvation except trust. It is only as we stand before Him with nothing to offer that we can receive everything we …

The Ultimate Gain for the Ultimate Loss

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This morning I sat in my usual spot by the window in the living room of my wonderful apartment. Beyond the glass, the flowers in my balcony garden are blooming—including a beautiful while flower that just opened since yesterday. The birds are happily feeding at the bird feeder. The sun is shining and all is replete in my world.

Missionaries are supposed to be suffering for the sake of the Gospel. Any suffering I do is slight. I am doing what I enjoy in a relatively safe and pleasant environment. As the psalmist writes: "The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance" (Psalm 16:6). I am grateful.

I read this morning's verses, and wonder. Jesus said: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it" —Matthew 16:24, 25, NIV, emphasis mine.

MY cross?

By definition, a cross is an onerou…

The Weight of a Word

He who opens his mouth is sure to put his foot in it.

We laugh, perhaps a little sheepishly. Who hasn't spoken without thinking (or after thinking) and said something that he later wished he could take back.

It seems that what comes out of our mouths is no laughing matter to God.

Jesus said: "But I tell you that men will have to give an account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken" —Matthew 12:36.

What grabs my attention here is the context surrounding His words. He had just finished calling the Pharisees a "brood of vipers" (12:34) for the evil that they continually spoke. I can understand that evil words will be judged. That makes perfectly good sense. But what I take note of is that the Lord didn't say only our evil words would be judged, He made a point of saying that our careless words would be judged.

My online dictionary describes "careless" as: not giving sufficient attention or thought to avoiding harm or errors. Som…

Part Two — Elijah, Move On

God had provided rest and refreshment for Elijah. He was ready to hear God's voice once again, and the Lord sent him into the mountains for a private consultation (1 Kings 19:11).

Elijah had felt totally alone. God, having provided for his physical and emotional needs, was now about to provide for Elijah someone who could help him carry the burden of ministry.

How reminiscent of what follows yesterday's key verse from Matthew 11. First of all, Jesus comes alongside and says: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" (11:28). Then He promises to partner with us to carry the burden He assigns to us. He says: "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" —Matthew 11:29, 30.

A "yoke" is a wooden crosspiece that unites two animals so that they can better pull together. In our spiritual yoking with Christ, i…

Part One — Elijah, Rest

He ran for his life. Exhausted to the point of collapse, overwhelmed by anxiety, depressed beyond hope, Elijah took off. His only desire was to die.

God was waiting for him under a broom tree (1 Kings 19). No sharp rebukes for his lack of faith, no punishment for abandoning his post; God simply supplied sleep, food, and blessed silence, to his weary foot soldier.

This morning's verse reminded me of Elijah's situation. Jesus said: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" —Matthew 11:28.

Our Lord understands our need for those times to "come apart" before we "fall apart." He waits for us wherever our "broom tree" happens to be and provides not only refreshing, but restoration.

It's unfortunate that we often have to fall to such a low point in our lives before we are forced by our own weakness to call on God's strength. The good news? At that lowest point, God waits.

It's Worth the Price

We stand in front of the store display, weighing the pros and cons of buying what we see before us. Do we, or don't we? Is it, or isn't it, necessary? Can we afford to have it? Can we afford not to have it?

Jesus never promised that following Him would be easy. We should have guessed that from the fact that providing our salvation cost Him everything. The gift of salvation is free. As Titus writes: "…he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy" (Titus 3:5). Paul says: "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23).

Matthew records a warning from the Lord about the cost of following Him. Though the gift is free, the living out of the new life we gain from it might cost us relationships, earthly rewards, and quite possibly our lives. (Matthew 34-39).

But to be accepted by the Father is worth any price. Listen to these solemn words: "Whoever acknowled…

Wrong Paths in the Right Direction

Jesus has some harsh words for those who operate in His name but who, instead of steering those seeking Him, actually keep people away. What a terrible thing to follow someone who claims to be a spiritual leader, only to discover that he's not going in the right direction.

Jesus said: "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven" —Matthew 7:21.

Apparently these people are even able to perform miracles in God's name, but have never belonged to Him in the first place. Jesus describes them as "false prophets…in sheep's clothing" who are "ferocious wolves" —Matthew 7:15. They look good but their acts will show them to be what they really are. The miracles would look good to a seeker, but Jesus suggests that we look beyond the performance to the man who does the performing.

This warning is tucked in between two of the strongest evangelistic illustratio…

Hide and Seek—God's Version

“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” —Colossians 3:2, 3

A “hidden” life?

You wouldn’t think “hidden” would be a hard word to understand, but I looked it up anyway. The obvious meaning came to the fore: concealed from view. But I liked this definition the best: “[ intrans. ] ( hide behind) use (someone or something) to protect oneself from criticism or punishment…” because it fits in the context of these verses from Colossians.

Because the old me “died” when I accepted Christ as my Saviour, when God looks at me, He sees His Son. He doesn’t see all the sins I’ve committed, He sees His Son’s sacrifice to remove every one of them—past, present, and yes, even future.

Written in my study Bible is a note reminding me that what Paul says earlier in Chapter Two is connected to these beginning verses of Chapter Three. The gist? Rules can’t control my desires, but because Christ is now my life, I’m not so much looking …