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Showing posts from September, 2016

Spot Cleaner

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If memory serves, Michael Jackson tried to change the colour of his skin. That was probably the most extreme example during this present era of the measures to which people go in the constant search to feel better about themselves. The other example that comes to mind is the woman who underwent endless surgeries to make herself look like Barbie of the famous (or infamous) Barbie and Ken doll collection.

On a smaller scale we "nip and tuck," cream and cover, make-up and dress-up, tone-up and touch-up, every flaw we think we see that keeps us from being whatever someone else has decided is handsome, beautiful, acceptable, marketable, relevant, or worthy of being taken seriously. 

Then along comes someone like Jeremiah to expose, literally, the ugliness that really counts and the impossibility of covering that ugliness up at any price or by any means.

The prophets spent a lot of time describing the consequences attached to the continual rebellion and disobedience of God's …

How Do You Smell?

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Years ago, while I was still living in Caracas, I had to take Lou Lou to the vet. When they returned her to me after treatment, she was filthy. The smell coming off of her was one "only a mother could love." Over the next three days, whenever Lou Lou came anywhere near her, Abby hissed at her! Lou Lou no longer "conformed" to what Abby recognized as her companion—she was basically just a stinky stranger!

As I was thinking about Romans 12:2, I remembered that incident. Let's begin at Romans 12:1.

"Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—which is your spiritual worship. Do no conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing, and perfect will."

Whenever there is a "therefore" in Scripture, we need to look back so that we unde…

In God We Trust

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It's long since gone the way of all things, but the plaque hung on a wall in my parents' home for many years. My mother was a worrier and I had bought it for her as a reminder, particularly while I was overseas, that God was looking after business and she didn't have to fret.

"...in quietness and trust is your strength" (Isaiah 30:15) writes the prophet.

In its context, the verse is part of a broader message. It is, in fact, a call to return to the Lord. Israel struggled continually with putting her confidence in places and in people other than her God. She often trusted foreign kings and their armies to rescue her from other kings and their armies. Idol worship was always an issue—Israel took on the belief systems of her pagan neighbours, sometimes not replacing Yahweh, but adding other gods "in addition to...." Israel became like her pagan neighbours rather than being distinct from them as God had commanded her. Eventually this spiritual adultery bec…

Knowing the Boundaries

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This year's journey through the Scriptures has landed me in the minor prophets. And as much as some like to downplay the message of the Old Testament to today's world, I take the warnings seriously.

The parallels between the apostasy of God's people in the Old Testament and the modern church are too striking to ignore. And if those parallels are similar so will be the judgment that will come on us, as it once came on them.

The warning has been preserved for us down through the centuries, and though there are so-called evangelicals today who poo-poo the importance, and even the veracity, of the Old Testament, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to look around and see just how far we have fallen from Biblical truth, from the teachings of Jesus, from being a people of God for the glory of God.

History is cyclical. Our experience is something we share with generations past. The trappings might be different, but the evils are not. And those who do not learn from history we …

Holding Us Fast

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Many cats are not "cuddlers." Of all the feline friends I've had, the current one, Lou Lou, is the cuddler.  She loves to be held.

Don't we all.

Yesterday afternoon I watched the movie, RISEN. I don't know whether it was the story line, or the fine acting, or that I was being particularly sensitive, but there were scenes where the actor playing the part of Jesus touched or embraced other characters. Those scenes moved me to tears and I wished for that kind of embrace. I thought again how blessed the real people in the real story had been to have felt that loving arm of Jesus holding them close.

As the character portraying Jesus disappeared into heaven he reminded his followers that he would be with them always. Even though not physically present to give them "cuddles" he would be there by his Spirit to meet every need (Matthew 28:18-20) as they went about the mission he had sent them to do.

In Psalm 139 we are reminded again of that same promise long b…

Soul Health

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This week I've been watching the "firsts" of the new season of programming on television. Last night I watched Chicago Med. One useful piece of information popped up as the characters were playing their parts. In one conversation one senior psychiatrist asked a new psychiatry resident if she knew what the origin of the word "psychiatry" was. When she admitted she didn't know, he told her that the word originally meant "healing of the soul."

He was right: "ORIGIN mid 19th cent.: from Greek psukhē ‘soul, mind’ + iatreia ‘healing’ (from iatros ‘healer’)."

My immediate thought was that it was a pity that God's business has been stolen from Him by those who can offer only temporary relief at best. I could only wish there were more Christian psychiatrists who were able to blend their skills with the Word the God and bring people toward true healing of the soul.

I appreciate the value of counseling, and know from personal experience that s…

Ask For The Manager!

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Nobody enjoys the presence of a complainer, but most people complain.

And we usually tend to complain to the wrong person. We give the clerk a hard time when it isn't the clerk who makes the policy or decides when, and by how much, to change the prices. We tear a strip off a local politician about some decision the government made—a government whose party he might not even be a member of.

David did a fair bit of complaining. The psalms are a testimony to that.

David spent a fair bit of time on the run from his enemies. When we come to Psalm 142 we find the king-designate in a cave hiding from King Saul. While we have a record of his complaint, it's a good thing he didn't complain out loud about his feelings to his followers—they had a tendency to "go above and beyond" for David and would gladly have done whatever was necessary to remove Saul, his prodigy, and his followers from the earth.

Those we complain to are usually not that capable—happily.

But while David…

Unchanging

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I love the Fall. It was something I missed while living overseas. Our seasons there were only two—dry or rainy.

There is something about the crispness of the air in the Fall that is so invigorating. The colours are beginning to change and markets are full of local goodness from abundant harvests. People are canning and freezing, storing up the tastes of summer to enjoy during the long days of winter.

The seasons are also a permanent testimony to the steady, stable, faithful presence of God in a world that is not steady, stable or faithful. They are a testimony to "right side up" in an "upside down" world.

Early in history, God made this promise: "As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease" (Genesis 8:22).

Frost will touch the flowers. Leaves will fall. Snow will fly. Ice will melt. Buds will appear. Harvests will be planted and gathered. Frost will touch the flowers...

That's t…

Thirst-quencher

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The psalmist cries: "As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. Where can I go and meet with God?" (Psalm 42:1, 2).

"Where can I go and meet with God?" is the cry of every seeker who is thirsty for what only an encounter with God can satisfy. And it is often "different strokes for different folks."

The Samaritan woman who met Jesus at the well, did not get her thirst satisfied through traditional means. She wasn't welcome among the "righteous" folk. Nicodemus drank from the water of life in the middle of the night during a secret meeting with Jesus. Zacchaeus got his in the tree. The ex-demoniac tasted in a cemetery. God meets us where we are when our thirst is so urgent that nothing other than His life-giving water will do.

A designated place is not critical. An attractive program is not essential. Glad-handing people are not vital.

There is a thirst. There is a thi…

Niggles to Giggles

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Sometimes it is only a niggly feeling of disquiet. Sometimes it is an overwhelming sense of disaster. Most of the time it is something in between those two things. Fear stalks us every day. It's the smell of overheated wiring that might led to a fire. They say that most of the things we fear never happen. But then they sometimes DO happen. We try to be brave and "put on a happy face" but inside the niggle becomes a gnaw and the gnaw becomes a full-blown chomp.

David knew the feeling. Psalm 56 describes his thoughts when the Philistines grabbed him in Gath. "...they are always plotting to harm me. They conspire, they lurk, they watch my steps, eager to take my life" (vss. 5, 6).

For most of us a physical enemy is not a factor in life. But then there are illnesses, loneliness, financial concerns, family tensions, and a host of other things that press down and the niggle begins. And if we don't catch the niggle, the gnaw is harder to deal with, and the chomp …

Morning Is Coming

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When we buried my father in September 1991, a light rain was falling. One of the ladies standing by the graveside remarked: "Heaven is crying with you, Lynda."

At the time, and three months later when my mother passed away, we thought we'd never get past the weeping stage. In a sense we never have, though with time, the tears are less frequent and intense than they were twenty-five years ago. They are different.

Today they are softened by a certainty that had a hard time making its presence felt back then in the midst of the sharp edges of loss.

Psalm 30:5 says: "...weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning."

In 1893, James Black wrote the words to When the Roll is Called Up Yonder. I will never forget the less the complimentary comments of one of my Seminary professors who criticized the song because the eschatology didn't match his. But nevertheless, it came to mind as I was thinking of the verse from Psalm 30. The end of weeping…

Jump!

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Voices bombard us, each insisting on us following their lead. They make promises. Health, wealth, well-being, success, enjoyment, belonging, significance, healing of the psyche, healing of the soul are included in the long list of "Follow me and see what good will come into your life!"

But then there is that still, sometimes small voice, heard in spite of the din of the world: "...follow me..." (John 12:26).

Following Jesus was about to get extremely difficult. This particular "follow me" was spoken on the eve of the last supper that Jesus would enjoy with His disciples. His arrest, trial and death would severely test the loyalty, the faith, of His followers. He didn't even give them the consolation of a reference to His resurrection.

"'The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The ma…

A Little Less Imperfect

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The first few verses of Paul's famous love chapter, I Corinthians 13, is often quoted at weddings. The bride and groom are starry-eyed, certain that every quality mentioned will be their daily experience for the next fifty or sixty years.

Then the toothpaste tube ends up with the cap off and love is suddenly "easily angered" (vs. 4). The kids come and sleepless nights become a dreary, weary habit rather than a rarity and being "patient" is tough (vs. 4). You get the picture.

And outside of marriage there is even less excuse to not envy, to not boast, to not be proud, to not be self-seeking, to keep no record of wrongs.

It's hard to protect when you feel unprotected, difficult to trust when trust has been betrayed. Hope is easily lost, and sometimes we just feel far too tired to persevere.

Love does seem to fail, even though Paul insists it shouldn't.

But though verse 12 has always been a part of 1 Corinthians 13, I never connected it to the bright-eyed…

God, A Warm Embrace in a Cold World

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Ahhhhh, what a wonderful thing it is to feel the heat of a warm stove on a cold day! A blankie. A cup of hot chocolate. The embrace of a friend. Sometimes even trouble has to find a corner to hide in.

That's the essence of Psalm 71—a man with troubles, but a man who has wrapped himself in the embrace of God and, no matter how serious the trouble, he is comforted.

The "punch line" (or one of many) is the first verse: "In you, O Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame."

Not a chance. The one who places himself, or herself, within the safety of the "rock" (vs. 3) will never have reason to regret the decision.

It's not that things have always been easy. To: "Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter...", the psalmist adds, "...you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. You will increase my honor and comfort me once again" (vss 20, 21).

The writer can't h…

Show Me In The Morning

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So many of the psalms are cries for help.  That, in itself, should tell us something.

God doesn't mind cries for help. And David was usually not shy about admitting his needs. God knows we can't.... Feel free to fill in the blanks with whatever it is that you can't do, or be, or feel.

I'm not sure if David composed Psalm 143 as a bedtime prayer. I imagine it that way because of verse 8: "Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love." As he pours out his grief to God, not knowing what the next day may entail, he admits his need for mercy, for relief, for forgiveness, for protection, for encouragement, for a touch from the Lord Himself (vss. 1-6).

His desperation requires an immediate answer:

"Answer me quickly, O Lord; my spirit faints with longing. Do not hide your face from me or I will be like those who go down to the pit. Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you."

This is no sense of calculatio…

My Chains Came Off

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There are few things as scary as being arrested in a third-world country. I know because I've been there. So when I read Psalm 107:10-16, I can relate. Here's what the psalmist says:

"Some sat in darkness and the deepest gloom, prisoners suffering in iron chains, for they had rebelled against the words of God and despised the counsel of the Most High. So he subjected them to bitter labor; they stumbled, and there was no one to help. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. He brought them out of darkness and the deepest gloom and broke away their chains" (107:10-14).

I was never chained, but I remember the "darkness and deepest gloom." But the psalmist's words remind me of something far more frightening than ending up in a Colombian prison. They speak of the prison where lives every unrepentant person. This is the state of the soul who doesn't know Jesus Christ as only sufficient and personal Saviour. Thi…

Consequences, Not Condemnation

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I don't know why I think I can get away with it! But I suppose I am no different than most people in thinking that somehow God will overlook my "little" failures and follies.

But offending God has its consequences, and eventually our failures and follies will come back to haunt all of us. And in case we don't think that our "little" ones are all that bad and God will overlook them, James 2:10 reminds us that to break one commandment is to break them all. And God will not let us off the hook.

This was the warning issued by Moses in Numbers 32. Two and a half tribes of the twelve that had set out for the Promised Land had decided to settle east of the Jordan River. This was fine. But there was a condition. When it came time for God's people to cross over the river to take possession of what God had promised, the two and a half tribes were to enter the land with their brothers and help them conquer the Canaanites who lived there. Then and only then, would…

Consequences, Not Condemnation

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I don't know why I think I can get away with it! But I suppose I am no different than most people in thinking that somehow God will overlook my "little" failures and follies.

But offending God has its consequences, and eventually our failures and follies will come back to haunt all of us. And in case we don't think that our "little" ones are all that bad and God will overlook them, James 2:10 reminds us that to break one commandment is to break them all. And God will not let us off the hook.

This was the warning issued by Moses in Numbers 32. Two and a half tribes of the twelve that had set out for the Promised Land had decided to settle east of the Jordan River. This was fine. But there was a condition. When it came time for God's people to cross over the river to take possession of what God had promised, the two and a half tribes were to enter the land with their brothers and help them conquer the Canaanites who lived there. Then and only then, would…

Sleeping Soundly

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I've slept in some unusual places over the years. For several nights, while we were doing children's ministry in a remote town in the Colombian mountains, I slept in the storage room where the our farmer host kept his coffee. Sacks and sacks, piled floor to ceiling with my little cot in the middle. It was a caffeine-addict's paradise! I did wonder what would happen if we had an earthquake during the night—it would have made an interesting epitaph.

It isn't true every morning, but I often wake up and give thanks to the Lord for a good night's sleep and for His protection while I slept. I seldom have trouble sleeping (except during those dreaded years of perimenopause that every woman hates) and I am grateful for that gift.

The psalmist, David, slept in some unusual places too. Unlike me, he had every reason to think that he could awaken at any moment with a sword at his throat and his enemies gloating over his soon demise. It's a wonder he slept at all during t…

When the Enemy Threatens

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No one can accuse David of being politically correct. He was often surrounded by enemies and didn't hesitate to call down God's judgment on them for their unjust actions. Psalm 109 is one testimony to that. Bottom line: may what they curse David with be brought back upon their own heads.

But at the end of the psalm David turns his focus back to God—a good move. It's never a wise thing to focus on the problem and relegate the problem-solver to second place.

"But you, O Sovereign Lord, deal well with me for your name's sake; out of the goodness of your love, deliver me" (109:21).

God is sovereign—even over those who seek to do David harm.

God's reputation is of highest importance—and that influences how He acts on David's behalf.

God is good and loving—even when things seem to be going badly.

So David runs to the Lord: "Help me, O Lord my God; save me in accordance with your love" (109:26). The photo says it all: what was the cat think…