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Showing posts from 2017

As I'd Like It

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Perhaps it was because yesterday was such an extremely windy day here in southern Ontario, that these lines from As You Like It repeated themselves over and over in my head all day:

Blow, blow, thou winter wind, Thou art not so unkind as man's ingratitude...

I confess I don't remember even studying Shakespeare's play in which these words appear, but the lines are engraved in my brain nonetheless.

I wonder if Jesus ever felt what William tried hard to express?

He lived among an ungrateful people. Their ingratitude was, at least in part, why He had come to dwell among men in the first place. As the sinless Lamb of God, sin repelled Him. But it also drew Him toward sinners so that He could deal with that sin and restore fellowship between His Father and all of us who had rejected His loving favour to follow other gods.

But those to whom Jesus came rejected Him as well.

Despite that He tells His disciples in Luke 6: "...Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bl…

I'm Inadequate—Thank the Lord!

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It's been busy. Jesus is in high demand—both by His friends and by His enemies. The disciples have just returned from an extensive missions trip and have reported all that took place while they were on the road.

"The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, 'Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest'" (Mark 6:30, 31).

We all know how that worked out!

Even though they found themselves a lonely spot, the crowds pursued Jesus and the lonely place wasn't lonely anymore. But Jesus, being Who He was, didn't feel resentment or dismay or indulge in a pity party. Mark says, "...he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things" (vs. 34).

The day passed. The disciples came to Jesus to point out where the big hand and the l…

The Joy of Jesus

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My desk is piled high with books—and I ordered a few more. The quest? It's all in the name of research for an upcoming project. I even found, on one of my Bible apps, a week-long study on the subject I am researching. Last night that took me to Philippians 1:3-11. Here it is:

"I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best a…

Because You Say So

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Last night Marilyn and I were watching the baseball game. A commercial appeared, one that included a snippet of a song that contained that oldie, but goodie, that says when someone says "jump," the correct response is to ask, "How high?" I turned to Marilyn and told her that in the past I have sometimes gotten myself into trouble when someone told me to "jump" (to do something just because he or she said so). My response has often not been, "How high?" but "Why?"

So this morning as I was reading Luke 5, I remembered our conversation of the night before. In the first eleven verses of the chapter, the story is told of Jesus borrowing a fisherman's boat so that He could more comfortably teach the crowd of people who had gathered to hear Him. At the end of His discourse the Scriptures tell us: "When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, 'Put out into the deep water and let down the nets for a catch'" (5:4).

Tha…

The Least is the Most

I can’t say that John the Baptist was exactly the most welcoming of preachers. He was your “fire-and-brimstone” kind of guy.

Imagine him standing by the shores of the Jordan, fiery, penetrating glance scanning the crowd that gathered. Many were curious. Who wouldn’t be? This crazy-looking self-proclaimed prophet appears from the desert regions dressed in camel hair. Weird enough, but then they find out about his diet…well, that would have sent a few people running!

Apparently there were enough among the people who came to hear him that responded to his message to attract the notice of the authorities, both political and religious. The message? “…a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” writes Luke in his Gospel (3:3). There were tax collectors and pious Jews, soldiers and the common folk, who came to hear what he had to say—and John had plenty to share! When asked, he informed each segment of his immediate society exactly what was required of them (Luke 3:10-14).

But he was…

At Ease In The Land Of Giants

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Over the last several months I’ve been a participant in a missions coaching course. Now, as we get to the nitty-gritty and think about what the possibilities and opportunities might be for our church to be more effective in reaching those who have yet to hear the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the task looks daunting—at least as far as the big picture, the need around the world, is concerned. The specific interest rising to the surface in our discussion seems to be to reach those people who are the most difficult (even dangerous) of all to reach, and those who live in countries to which we have limited, or no, access.

Throwing in the towel and concentrating on something easier seems to be an option here. Who are we to think we can make much of a difference under such challenging circumstances? Then Numbers 13 came up on the schedule for this morning’s Scripture reading.

Ever have that moment when the Lord taps you on the shoulder to remind you of something important? Here it …

On Complaints and Concerns

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Now the people complained…” (Numbers 11:1).

There is always something we can find to complain about, isn’t there? The classic complaint is usually about too much winter. Then, when summer comes, it’s too hot! For the Hebrews the issue was hardship. Perhaps packing and unpacking their tents was getting on their nerves. For that, (and it was something I hadn’t paid any attention to before) “…fire from the Lord burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp.

Not having learned the lesson, the next complaint was about the food (11:4). Now that has a familiar ring! They were getting bored with the manna that the Lord provided for them. They wanted something to chew, not something that dissolved to mush in their mouths.

Even Moses seems to have gotten caught up in the vicious circle of “why, me?” Why hardship? Why can’t life be easier? Why can’t I eat what I really want instead of what I have? For Moses the complaint became: “Why do I have to get stuck with these complaine…

Cloud Watching

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I’ve always jokingly said that I was in such a hurry to get started with life that I was born a month prematurely and have been running ever since!

Like just about everything, being fast isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But then again, it can get a person into trouble. In fact, going too slowly can do the same thing.

Perhaps that is why this passage from Numbers 9 caught my attention. At the end of the chapter the writer is describing the cloud that covered the Tent of Meeting, or the tabernacle, that was the centerpiece of the Hebrew camp. During the day it was a cloud, at night it was a pillar of fire—the same cloud and fire that had been with the Israelites since they had left Egypt. Moses writes: “Whenever the cloud lifted from above the Tent, the Israelites set out; whenever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped. At the Lord’s command the Israelites set out, and at his command they encamped” (9:17, 18).

The passage goes on to say that sometimes the cloud settled for only a few h…

Lessons from the Litter Box

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Everyone wants to be great—even if it is just a little bit!

That’s what makes it so hard to be the one who always ends up cleaning the litter box. It just doesn’t jive with greatness.

I don’t think there were litter boxes in Jesus’ day, but if there had been He’d be the one cleaning them out.

Talk of the kingdom had put delusions of grandeur in the heads of some of Jesus’ disciples—and their relatives. On one occasion, the mother of James and John came to Jesus to ask Him to put her sons in positions of greatness when He established His kingdom (Matthew 20:21).

Jesus’ reply would not have been understood until later. He said “You don’t know what you are asking…Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” (20:22).

They were thinking Bordeaux, and He was meaning suffering, when they replied, “We can” (20:22).

This conversation, fueled by the furor of the others when they realized that someone else had thought to make the request before they did, led to a teaching opportunity.

Jesus replied: “

Jesus Loves the Little Children

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The Gospel and the young.

However you define the “children” Jesus refers to in Matthew 18:1-14, the result is the same—don’t cause the young to stumble in their faith, or else!

Jesus was responding to a question put to Him by His disciples: “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (18:1) Considering some of the other discussions they had among themselves I suspect they wanted Jesus to affirm that they, for the sacrifice of following Him, qualified for the position.

Instead Jesus takes a young child and uses the simplicity and fervour of a child’s faith as an illustration of who will be the greatest in the kingdom. That provides a launch pad for this:

But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (18:6). Yikes!

This leads to an even more graphic description of what is necessary to protect the budding faith of the young. In verses 8 and 9, …

Little Really Can Be a Lot

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In 1924, Kittie Sheffield wrote the words to a song that I became familiar with through the Gaithers. It’s called “Little is Much When God is in it.”

In the harvest field now ripened
    There’s a work for all to do;
    Hark! the voice of God is calling,
    To the harvest calling you.

Refrain:
        Little is much when God is in it!
        Labor not for wealth or fame;
        There’s a crown, and you can win it,
        If you go in Jesus’ name.

    In the mad rush of the broad way,
    In the hurry and the strife,
    Tell of Jesus’ love and mercy,
    Give to them the Word of Life.

    Does the place you’re called to labor
    Seem so small and little known?
    It is great if God is in it,
    And He’ll not forget His own.

    Are you laid aside from service,
    Body worn from toil and care?
    You can still be in the battle,
    In the sacred place of prayer.

    When the conflict here is ended
    And our race on earth is run,
    He will say, if we are faithful,
    “Welcome home, My child—wel…

No Sacrifice Too Great

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We usually work very hard at making the Gospel as simple and as easy to understand, and accept, as possible.

But Jesus often did the opposite. He was well-known for speaking in parables, stories that, on the surface sounded like simple stories, but which underneath had profound meanings. For those who really listened only out of curiosity they were just nice stories. But for those who were spiritually hungry they were meant to lead to further investigation. Jesus knew that those who were really seeking would ask the important questions such as, “what do you mean when you say….?”

In Matthew 13 the Lord tells a series of these stories. Here are two of them.

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it” (vss. 44-4…

Whose Load?

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At any given time, someone needs this invitation from Scripture:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

It’s not that the Lord is telling us to happily assign ourselves to the “couch of potato” because what follows after this initial invitation belies that. We have to keep going. We can’t renounce the world and all the events and circumstances and people that seem so often to add brick and timber to our already heavy loads. But we need to learn not to assume responsibility for what is not ours.

What do I do about this? How am I going to get that done? Where does this need to go? When can I fit this in? How will I accomplish that? What will I do if…?

The burden we are asked to carry is often not the one we are presently trying to carry. He tells us “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” (vss. 29, 30).

His yoke. His b…

The Cross: God's Work Done God's Way

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Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission, is quoted as saying: “God's work done in God's way will never lack God's supply.”

Even oversupply, if truth be told.

Moses finally returned from his many sojourns on the holy mountain of Sinai. Instructions were complete and he set to work to build the Tabernacle as God has told him. But where to find the materials to build such a structure?

Word was sent out to the camp that anyone willing to contribute any of the many materials required should do so. “Then the whole Israelite community withdrew from Moses’ presence, and everyone who was willing and whose heart moved him came and brought an offering to the Lord for the work on the Tent of Meeting, and for the sacred garments. All who were willing, men and women alike…” (Exodus 35:20-22). The people added their particular skills to crafting what was necessary. It is interesting that no one was commanded or “guilted” into giving or making.

The result was that so much came int…

Seeking the Presence

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If you were promised that every desire of your heart would be granted but God would not be with you, would you move ahead toward the fulfillment of your desires?

That was the proposition laid out before Moses in Exodus 33. After the incident of the Golden Calf, the Lord tells Moses this: “Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt, and go up to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying, I will give it to your descendants.’ I will send an angel before you and drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way…’If I were to go with you even for a moment, I might destroy you’” (33:1-5).

Hey, the presence of an angel is a pretty good deal, isn’t it?

The Hebrews had lived with the dream of a return to Canaan for centuries and here it was within their grasp even if the God …

Sweet Scent

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Every year I haunted the garden centres in Caracas looking for one special flower. It appeared only sporadically. The florists called it “nardo,” which would be translated “nard” or “spikenard” in English. The buds had a slight pinkish tone but the flowers, once opened, were pure white. I would take the bunch home, put it in a vase and wait.

It never took long for the scent to invade every nook and cranny of the apartment. It is the most beautiful, and powerful, scent I have ever had the opportunity to enjoy.

Spikenard originates in the Himalayas, and from it was made the rare and highly prized perfumes of the East. It is part of the Honeysuckle family of which my Venezuelan nard is a branch. When I was growing up we had a Honeysuckle bush outside our back door. The scent in the Spring when the tree was flowering was delicious.

It was the spikenard of the East that is described in Mark 14:3 and John 12:3 as being poured out on Jesus. This event was included in our pastor’s sermon last S…

Covered: That's A Promise

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In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears” (Psalm 18:6).

There is a lot of that going around these days—a lot of calling out to the Lord. If you read the rest of the psalm you discover how the Almighty answered David as he cried out to the Lord. It’s impressive reading. But the words of this particular verse from the psalms came to mind as I was reading Exodus 23 earlier this morning.

These have been challenging days, days of huge concern, sorrow, confusion, doubt, and even a little fear. And each has been met, in some way, by some form of reassurance that the call for help from the Lord will not, and has not, gone unanswered. This morning was no different.

Israel is still at the foot of Mount Sinai. Moses is still furiously taking notes as God tells him what is required of the nation-in-the-making. Then the Lord says: “See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and t…

On Eagles' Wings

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Genesis 19 is so rich, but my heart was drawn to verse 4 and held there by recent events.

It’s been a week full of the unexpected. A more-or-less routine surgery, that was in itself successful, turned into a disaster. Not my surgery, but that of a very dear friend. On Monday night the doctors gave her very little chance of survival. Many people went to prayer on her behalf. By yesterday both the surgeon and the ICU doctor were “cautiously optimistic.” We are a long way from out of the woods yet, but we know that we are in the presence of a miracle. That’s why Genesis 19:4 caught my attention this morning.

You yourselves have seen what I did in Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.”

Moses and the Hebrews have come to Mount Sinai. Here Moses will climb the mountain and receive the commandments that the Israelites are to follow as a nation and as individuals. There is an impressive protocol to follow as they prepare for this momentous event. But before t…

Our Daily Bread

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This morning I took meat out of the freezer for this evening’s supper. I made soup and dessert. I filled the bird feeder. I don’t usually overthink these tasks. But I did this morning.

I had read Exodus 16 earlier in the day. That story finds the Hebrews  out in the Desert of Sin. Apparently they had run out of food and begun to complain to Moses and Aaron. “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt!” they muttered, but loudly, “There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death” (16:3).

Really? You sat around all day stuffing yourselves with prime rib? What happened to being slaves under vindictive taskmasters? What happened to making bricks without even the raw materials to work with?

But let’s move past the “spin” being put on what had been a bad situation now conveniently forgotten.

For the next forty years, while one generation gave way to another, God would provide daily food f…

This is Our God!

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Some deny Him. Others ignore Him. A few despise Him. Many diminish Him. Even those who believe sometimes doubt Him. But think again! Moses’ wonderful song after the incident at the Red Sea says it all. This is our God!

Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord:
“I will sing to the Lord,
   
for he is highly exalted.
Both horse and driver
   
he has hurled into the sea.
2 “The Lord is my strength and my defense;
   
he has become my salvation.

He is my God, and I will praise him,
   
my father’s God, and I will exalt him.

3 The Lord is a warrior;
  
the Lord is his name.

4 Pharaoh’s chariots and his army
   
he has hurled into the sea.

the best of Pharaoh’s officers
   
are drowned in the Red Sea.

5 The deep waters have covered them;
   
they sank to the depths like a stone.

6 Your right hand, Lord,
   
was majestic in power.

Your right hand, Lord,
   
shattered the enemy.
7 “In the greatness of your majesty
   
you threw down those who opposed you.

You unleashed yo…

On Being Still

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The Lord put them in an untenable position. In part it was to show them His power and cause them to fear Him and to trust in Him (Exodus 14:31), but twice in Exodus 14 Moses records: “The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord” (vs. 18).

Instead of sending His people directly onto a path of relative safety, God places them with mountains on either side and the Red Sea in front of them. There is no place to go. The Egyptians are behind them. From any human standpoint they are trapped. Moses was told by the Lord that this episode was divinely planned (14:1-4), but when the Egyptians approached the Hebrews were terrified (vss. 10-12). It was then that Moses reassured them (it appears he hadn’t told them what the plan was) that all would be well.

Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (vss. 13, 14).

Psalm 46:10 tells us, “Be st…

The Key

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I have a collection of old rusty keys. I also have some nice, shiny ones. They come in handy. They connect to Calvary.
And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” —Genesis 3:15.
The story begins in Genesis with the first couple and the first sin—at least as far as the historical record is concerned. God’s plan to deal with what He knew was inevitable began long before time began, as is suggested in Revelation 13:8 when John refers to the “…the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.”
It's a pity. No sin, no need for a Saviour, or a cross.
James Kennedy remarks in Cross Purposes, Discovering the Great Love of God for You, that we seldom if ever hear the word sin used today—not even from many of our pulpits. Many people go so far as to deny that such a thing as sin exists. We have invented more “politically correct” terms to describe it—and excuse it. Kennedy once used the foll…

Night Watch

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Tucked away at the end of Exodus 12 is a verse that hit me today as it hasn’t before.

A little background first.

This chapter describes the last plague—the plague to end all of them—the death of the firstborn of animals and humans. The ritual needed to prepare for this disaster—and to prevent it from impacting the Hebrews—is described in detail. There is the selection of the lamb, its preparation, the instructions to the people to be indoors when the angel of death passes over, the need to paint the doorposts with blood so that “…when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt” (vs. 13)

As promised, the angel of death passed over Egypt at midnight. The Lord watched over his people, keeping His promise, “When  the Lord goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you do…

The Good, the Bad, and the Sometimes Ugly

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But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth” (Exodus 9:16).

This was part of a message that Moses was to deliver to Pharaoh. It caught my attention. With all the current horror, or glee, with which we greet those who come into authority over us, there is an overriding truth we need to remember. The Scripture is clear as to Who does the final choosing of those who, for better or worse, are handed the mandate of command over our affairs.

Daniel prays this prayer: “Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. He reveals deep and hidden things, he knows what lies in darkness and light dwells with him” (Daniel 2:20-22).

Jesus reminded Pilate that his power was limited: “Jesus answered, ‘You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from …