Saturday, October 31, 2009

Prince Of Peace

Focus verses: Matthew 10:34-39

Jesus has been called the Prince of Peace. But in this passage, He tells the disciples that peace is not His object here. He has been called to bring salvation to those of this world who will listen to His teaching and accept His gift.

To this day, there is dissension between the followers of Christ and the society of the world. Those who don't know Jesus and His Word have a totally different standard of behavior.

Even now, there are efforts to silence the followers of Christ. We have petty government officials who believe that you cannot display a nativity scene on public property during the Christmas season. In some schools, teachers will not let students write or speak about anything to do with Christianity.

The children of Arizona are being allowed to decorate ornaments for the White House Christmas Tree this year because the blue spruce is coming from Arizona. But the Forest Service banned the inclusion of any references to Jesus or the religious roots of this commemoration.

This ban was lifted when the Alliance Defense Fund wrote a letter objecting to this restriction. The explanation of the ban is a bit murky and suspect in my opinion. If, however, you read the entire article in this link, you will find that this isn't and hasn't been the only effort to silence the voice of Christians.

The words of Micah are applicable to this day. The Christian is under attack from many directions. But the words of Jesus to His apostles are applicable for us. We are to be wise to the ways of the world without subscribing to them.

Like walking a tightrope, it will require balance and training. The Word of God will be our balancing pole, and our daily discipline in the Word is our practice.

Father, God,

Give us the wisdom and courage to speak when we see the Word of God being oppressed and muzzled. Put Your words in our mouths as we practice our obedience to You. Let our words be light to this darkened world.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Spiritual Warfare

Focus verses: Mark 5:1-20

In our modern and "enlightened" age, we tend not to think in terms of spirits. Anything which has to do with aberrant behavior must be some form of psychosis or chemical unbalance that we can treat with counseling or medication.

But if the Bible is true, it is all true. That includes this story about the Gerasene. The man was not psychotic or chemically unbalanced. He was demon-possessed.

There are such things as demons. There is spiritual warfare. We need to be aware that we have a spiritual enemy who seeks our eternal destruction.

If we believe in God, we must believe that the devil exists. We see him in conversation with Eve in Genesis 3. We are told of his fall in Isaiah 14. There are multiple references to Satan in the New Testament. And the entire Book of Job is a chronicle of spiritual warfare.

It is part of Satan's first lie in the Garden of Eden, that mankind can know all things, find answers comprehensible to the finite mind for all questions, discover cures to all diseases and maladies. When we buy into this arrogance of the intellect, we fall directly into the enemy's hands.

Not everything is part of our physical, tangible world. There is a spiritual plane of which we know far too little. But all we need to know of it is contained in the Bible. We'll not find it in psychology texts. Nor will we find beneficial information in new age books of spirituality.

Our hope and our confidence comes from the fact that God is Lord of the spiritual realm, just as He is Creator and Lord of this world. When we serve Him, when we rely solely on Him, He will preserve us from the wiles of the enemy.

Father, God,

Stop our ears from hearing the enticements of the enemy. Shield our eyes from the lust to which he would tempt us - whatever form it may take. Fill our eyes and ears and hearts with Your Holy Spirit so that there is no room for anything else.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Teaching In Parables

Focus verses: Matthew 13:1-23

Jesus frequently taught in parables. He uses the parables as concrete illustrations of intangible principles. Those who hear the parable and can make the connection between the tangible and the intangible are the ones to whom He is actually speaking.

That sounds exclusive or elitist, like He was speaking in code simply for self-aggrandizement. That is not really the case.

God wants our hearts softened towards Him and towards the people around us. When Jesus quotes the passage from Isaiah, he is quoting from the Septuagint version (please read the footnote in this link). These are the scriptures many of Jesus' hearers would have known.

From the beginning of His teaching ministry, Jesus quoted the Old Testament scriptures that the Jews of that day would have been familiar with. He did this, not because He needed the bolstering of that authority, but because it was the authority His hearers knew. They needed that assurance that His teaching came from the correct source.

When He taught in parables, some people "got it" the first time around. Others had to think about it before they could come to the proper conclusion. Others simply dismissed it as a cute story.

Hmmm... How many times do we come away from church, remembering the preacher's illustration as simply a cute story, forgetting the principle contained therein?

Father, God,

Help us to tune our ears to Your words. Open our eyes to see Your instructions clearly. Soften our hearts toward You that we might turn and repent and be healed.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Unforgivable Sin

Focus verses: Luke 12:1-12

I have heard people argue about unforgivable sin. We have books written about "forgiving the unforgivable." Those books talk about betrayal, infidelity, violence, murder and the like.

But none of those things are unforgivable in the eyes of God. Look at the life of King David. He took a woman in adultery. He conspired to have her husband killed in battle. Yet God still called him a man after God's own heart. His human failings were just that. And when he took his guilt to God, he said:
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are proved right when you speak
and justified when you judge." (Psalm 51:4)

He sinned against Uriah. He sinned against Bathsheba. But God's laws were broken and that was uppermost in his mind. If God can forgive David, what can He not forgive us when we confess to Him and repent?

Jesus, in this passage, talks about blaspheming against the Holy Spirit. So just what is blasphemy? It is blaming the Holy Spirit for the sins of man. It is failing to understand the work of the Holy Spirit and giving credit for His works to other circumstances or efforts.

Who is this Holy Spirit? He is the third person of the Trinity - the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. He is the Paraclete, the one who is sent to walk beside us, to dwell within us, to instruct us in the proper path. He is our eternal connection in this temporal world.

Are we sensitive to His promptings? Do we hear His quiet voice in the turmoil of our lives? Do we listen for His instruction? I hope so. Only with His help can we live the Christian life to which we've committed.

Father, God,

Stir our hearts to hear the promptings of Your Holy Spirit. Make us sensitive to His nudges. Hone our ears to His voice, Your voice.
In Jesus' most precious name.

You who draw near,
You who walk beside,
Come to comfort,
Comet to strengthen,
Come to shine the Light of the
Word on the Darkness of my heart.
Help me to align with you, Oh, Holy Spirit.
Help me to bring my thoughts
Captive to the will of Christ,
Captive to the Word of God,
Captive to obedience,
Instantaneous and unquestioning,
To Your promptings.
Help me to study to show my self approved,
Unashamed to sit in the Council of your saints.
Help me to see the will of the Father in everyday situations.
Help me to respond in love to the Lord.
Help me to respond with Love to all His hurting creation.
Keep me dead-on, sighted with tunnel vision,
Single-minded on the goal of
Total obedience as a channel of His love.
Copyright Judith Robl 1997

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Focus verses: Luke 7:24-35

In our readings a few days ago, Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah about Himself. That should have been the first clue for the people that He was the prophesied Messiah.

Here again, he refers to the Old Testament prophets, when he said John is the one about whom it is written:
"See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come," says the LORD Almighty. (Malachi 3:1)
Jesus is speaking plainly about His own identity. One of Jesus' most powerful assets is that even in human form He knew who He was. He was identified as part of the God-head. While He limited Himself to time and space like any man, He was still a part of God.

How do you identify yourself? Can you tell who you are without referring to your parents, spouse, or children? Do you label yourself by your occupation or co-workers? How do you define yourself in your own mind?

These are important questions. Most of the time we identify ourselves by our relationships to other people and our occupations.

In order to draw closer to God, we need to be identifying ourselves with relationship to Him. If you have ever heard the still, quiet, powerful voice of God, what name did He call you by?

Just exactly who are you in that context?

Father, God,

Thank You for loving us enough to send Your Son, Jesus, to be the propitiation for all our sins. Forgive us our many transgressions, and teach us how to be your obedient, compliant children.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Matthew 7:24-27

If you have been following along with the full daily reading, we have just read the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, the Lord's teaching on the Lord's prayer, and several other familiar teaching points.

But, as my grandmother used to say, actions speak louder than words. We can know all these things about how a Christian should behave. If we don't do them, we cannot claim to be a follower of Christ.

We build our lives on a series of small actions and decisions which we make daily. Do we spend time in the Word of God - or do we turn on the tube? Do we speak well of people - or do we look for things to criticize? Do we look for ways to serve - or do we look for someone to serve us?

Why do we do what we do? Are we looking for the praise of mankind? Or are we simply doing what is right because it is right?

When my children were little, they sometimes balked at instruction. The question most frequently heard was "why." I could give them reasons til the cows came home, but it eventually boiled down to "because I'm the mom and I said so, that's why."

That should be our reason for everything we do. "Because God said so, that's why." Our obedience needs to be from awe and respect and love - not terror. Because God loves us we should respond to Him in kind. He doesn't want us to panic in terror of Him. He wants our fellowship and affection.

We show our love for God in our obedience to His Word. How loudly are we speaking today?

Father, God,

Thank You for loving us so much that You sent Jesus to teach us and exemplify what our lives should be. Help us to be ever faithful to Your words in loving obedience, actively serving in Your kingdom.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Delegation of Authority

Focus verses: John 5:30-47 and Mark 3:13-19

There is a foundational principle in today's reading. All authority comes from God. Jesus spoke of God's authority as being superior to His own while he was incarnate on earth.

He did nothing on earth that He did not see the Father doing in the heavenlies. All He did was to please the Father.

Jesus knew that His time on earth was limited and that peoples' vision was limited to the earthly. Therefore, He appointed the apostles - the twelve - to go and do as He told them. He gave them authority to preach and power over demons. He could not have done that had the Father not delegated that authority to Him.

The lesson for us in these verses is that we have only the authority that God delegates to us. If we are to know what He allows us to do, we need to be reading His word all the time. We need to spend time in His presence. We need to become a temple of the Holy Spirit, so that He can whisper in our ears all day long.

That immediate communion with the God-head that the Holy Spirit provides is key to our living a Christ-like life.

Father, God,

Keep us aware of our position in Your kingdom. Imbue us with Your Holy Spirit, that we may be in constant communion with You, whether kneeling in sanctuary or scrubbing toilets. We would, like Brother Lawrence, practice the presence of God. Help us stay close to You.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Calling Disciples

Focus verses: Luke 5:1-11

Matthew, Mark and Luke are called the synoptic gospels because they record many of the same events in the life of Jesus. But as law enforcement knows, eyewitnesses often see different things at the same event. Therefore there are details in some of the gospels that are missing in others.

This story is one of those. Luke records the great catch of fish. Matthew and Mark simply say Jesus was beside the sea of Galilee.

The story of this great catch of fish carries two symbols for me. First is the symbol of harvest - a great gathering in. By inference, it symbolizes the kingdom of God gathering in all His faithful and bringing more into the kingdom.

What has always fascinated me is that Jesus gives the fishermen great success in their profession -- and calls them away from it. Look at this carefully.

According to the story they had fished all night with no success. By rights there should have been no fish in the area at all. But they let down the nets at Jesus' command. And they brought in such a haul that it nearly sank two boats.

He took them from the physically demanding profession of fishermen to an even more demanding profession of disciple. They will now need their great strength and endurance for travel and preaching rather than hauling in nets and braving the winds of the sea.

When God sets you to a task, He is responsible for the success of that endeavor. We are responsible for our obedience, instantaneous and unquestioning. But it is God who gives the increase - the harvest - the success. And it is to Him that all the glory of the endeavor belongs.

As disciples, we should be ever learning - and ever aware that the success of our endeavors is due to His presence in our lives, not to our efforts. We are on shaky ground if we begin to believe our own press.

Father, God,

Help us always to remember that You are the source of all power and greatness. Keep us mindful of our position as merely the instruments through which you work. Instill us with gratitude for that privilege.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Friday, October 23, 2009

And We Begin

Focus verses: John 3:1-21

The last half of the first chapter of John tells of the calling of some of the disciples. Chapter two recounts the first miracle at Cana and His driving the moneychangers out of the temple.

Chapter three begins where He teaches Nicodemus, the Pharisee, about being born again - that is born of the spirit. And it is in this teaching that we find the verse that new Christians often memorize early in their walk with the Lord.

John 3:16 is a powerful verse. And it is all inclusive. "Whoever" means anyone at any time in any place. You can substitute any person's name in place of "whoever" and "the world" as you read this verse, and it is absolutely true. Try it with your name in place of "whoever" and "the world."
For God so loved me that he gave his one and only Son, that if I believe in him I shall not perish but have eternal life.
Wow! That's powerful. But when you add John 3:17 to it, it becomes even more powerful. It tells you why Jesus was born. His purpose was our salvation. His birth, death and resurrection were designed for our benefit, our eternal good.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn me, but to save me through him.
And the plan is the same whether there are multitudes of people - or only one. If you had been the only person on earth, Jesus would have done it all just for you.

You see, God loves each of us as if there were only one of us. And there is. He created each of us as individuals - no two exactly alike, even identical twins. You are the only you He created. You are His "only child."

Father, God,

We thank You for Your provision for our salvation. We are grateful that Christ was sent to us to redeem us back to fellowship with You. Grant that we may walk ever closer and closer to Your heart.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Prepare The Way

Focus verses: Luke 3:7-14

The mission of John sounds much like some of the old "fire and brimstone" preachers I heard about when I was very young. It seemed like they were determined to "scare the devil" out of the people. That style of preaching is not heard so much any more, but it is no less valid.

We have been fed the pap that God is all love. He is. But He is also a righteous God and will not stand for unrighteousness in His presence.

John's "brood of vipers" comment is directed to the crowds in this passage, but in Matthew, it is directed to the Pharisees and Saducees. In our day, these would be the church-goers and those who are elders or deacons or generally active in the works of the church.

Our salvation is not dependent upon our position in the church. It depends on our relationship to Christ. The only way we can stand in the presence of a Holy God is cloaked in the righteousness of His Son, cleansed by His blood, dependent upon Him for every breath.

Our good works - or fruit of repentance as John puts it - is not our salvation. It is evidence of our commitment to Christ. If you belong to Christ, your life will show it. If you spend all your time outdoors, you skin will show the evidence of exposure to sun and wind. If you spend time in God's presence, your life will reflect Him.

Prepare the way. Examine yourself for fault and sin. Ask the Lord to show you your hidden self. We all have corners in our lives that are forgotten and cobwebby. Seek His light in your life and He will show you those hidden corners and help you to clean them up.

We're preparing the way of the Lord - at least in our own lives.

Father, God,

Shine the light of Your love into the dark corners of our hearts. Help us to see what we need to dust off and use again, as well as what we need to get rid of entirely. Grant that we may be prepared in heart and mind for doing Your bidding at all times.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Wise Men

Focus verses: Matthew 2:1-12

After the birth of Jesus, the Magi came from the east to worship him. They were probably Zoroastrians who had been in touch with the Jews during the dispersion.

Zoroastrianism and Judaism had in common the idea of a single god who was the source of all good or truth. And further there was an enemy of the truth which caused a battle on the earth between good and evil.

When Jesus says he is "the way, the truth and the life," it is a phrase that will touch the philosophy of the Zoroastrians.

I firmly believe that since the fall in the Garden of Eden, every man has been born with a "god-shaped" hole in his soul. He searches til he finds that which fills it. The Zoroastrians were on just such a quest.

They probably knew of the promised Messiah because of the dispersion of the Jews into Persia (politically now Iran). And because they were seeking God, He was able to warn them in a dream not to return to Herod.

Those who are seeking earnestly will find that which they desire. The promise in Matthew is not just for the already chosen, but for the seekers. A seeker can be one who doesn't know God at all, or someone who just wants to know Him better, or someone who seeks a closer dedication to Him.

Short of eternity, none of us has arrived at the ultimate knowledge of God. But, oh, how we yearn to know Him better.

Father, God,

Thank You for Your promise to seekers. It gives us the hope that we can become closer to You, more dedicated to You, more obedient to You. Whet this hunger in our spirits until we are wholly devoted to You.
In Jesus most precious name.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Recognizing The Blessing

Focus verses: Luke2:25-35

What made Simeon recognize that the perfectly ordinary infant boy was the promised Messiah?

First, he was righteous and devout. That means he was in right standing with God. His relationship with God was excellent. He was devoted to the Lord, meaning that his most intimate thoughts and all his actions centered on God - not man.

Second, he was moved by the spirit. We're talking about the Holy Spirit here. Before Christ's death and resurrection, the Spirit of God moved upon people from time to time. They did not have the indwelling Paraclete that Jesus sent to His followers.

But evidently Simeon was familiar with the promptings of the Holy Spirit. He was "tuned in" to those leadings. And when he saw the Child, he recognized Him as the promised Salvation.

We can be righteous and devout as Simeon was. It requires that we stay in tune with God and His Holy Spirit. Reading His word on a daily basis is a good starting point. Thinking on His words and repeating them to ourselves deepens our understanding of His ways.

When we center our lives on Him, we have the hope of eternal joy through His Son, Jesus Christ. Without Christ, we are all lost. With Him we have eternal life.

Father, God,

Keep us ever close to You. Strengthen us in Your word that we may be totally focused upon You and Your will in our lives. Help us to recognize the blessing and miracles as You bestow them.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Family Trees

Focus verses: Matthew 1:1-17

Sometimes scripture seems obsessed with genealogies. In Genesis, chapter ten and chapter eleven are mainly what I used to call "the begats" They trace the lineage of who fathered whom. But I never saw a purpose in it.

But here Matthew traces the lineage of Joseph back to Abraham. Legally Joseph was Jesus' father on earth. However, Joseph was only his adopted father. There is no blood lineage between them.

I believe this family tree is here to establish that Jesus is a son of David legally. Therefore He is eligible to be the Messiah.

If we look in the book of Luke, we find a different lineage. It is confusing that it traces in the opposite direction of Matthew's genealogy. And it doesn't list the same people. Heli is assumed to be the father of Mary and therefore Joesph's father-in-law. And this lineage doesn't stop with Abraham, but goes all the way back to Adam and lists him as the son of God.

So the list in Matthew establishes Jesus' legal claim to being the Messiah. But the list in Luke takes it back to creation - where we see Him first - as the active Word establishing the universe.

Put to the test, God dots all the i's and crosses all the t's. No detail is too small for His attention. And no issue is too big for His solution.

Father, God,

Thank You for being who You are. Your gift of Jesus to redeem the world amazes and awes us. Teach us to take care of the smallest detail so that the big picture is never lost due to a needless distraction. We are so grateful to be Your children.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Introduction To The Gospels

Focus verses: John 1:1-18

The Book of John begins with Genesis - in the beginning - and establishes the presence of the Son of God in that moment when time began.

Much of what we know of Jesus is corralled in these eighteen verses of scripture.

He is one with God. (v. 1,2)

He is the Creator. (v. 3)

He is life and truth. (v. 4)

He is our salvation. (v.12)

It is mind-boggling to think that the Creator of the Universe would humble Himself and take on the limitations of our flesh in order to identify with us and become the propitiation for our sins. But that is exactly what He did.

Jesus is the Messiah. He is not the Messiah the Jews were expecting. He did not come with a rod and scepter. He is not a valiant general. He is mild and humble. That is not to say that He cannot exemplify righteous wrath and give us a glimpse of the wrath of God. Witness His turning the money changers out of the temple.

Looking at this beginning, I can hardly wait to get into the New Testament readings. This is the nugget of gold in the mountain.

Father, God,

Let us never forget Your benevolence toward us. Keep us ever mindful of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. And grant that we may understand the unity of the triune Godhead.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Jewish People In The Silent Space

Focus verses: I Maccabees 1:1-2:70

The apochryphal book of Maccabees is set in the middle of the silent period between the Old and New Testaments. It seems to be a completely historical document. It was probably excluded from the canon of scripture because it was not "divinely inspired."

But there is sufficient historical evidence from other writings to confirm the accuracy of First Maccabees and Second Maccabees. There is also Third Maccabees and Fourth Maccabees which seem to be less historically focused and more nearly morality tales to strengthen the Jews during this period. Neither Third Maccabees nor Fourth Maccabees follows the family of Judas Maccabeus as do First and Second Maccabees.

The reading for today gives a glimpse of what was happening in the life of the Jewish nation during this period.

Father, God,

Help us to get through the spaces when it seems that You are silent. Teach us to rely on Your written word and not to become dependent upon supernatural signs and wonders. Keep us faithful to Your laws.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Friday, October 16, 2009


Focus verses: Susanna

During the period of silence, there were many writing about the Jews. But these writings were not necessarily scripture as such. Some are historical - some are fiction - and some are morality tales.

The story of Susanna is both a morality tale - and perhaps a historical tidbit because the older versions of the Bible (before the canon was settled) placed this at the beginning of the Book of Daniel. It was commonly assumed that the Daniel here is also the Daniel of the book.

The moral of this story is that witnesses can be in collusion. Careful examination is required before exacting a death penalty. The woman is vindicated despite the testimony of two elders. Further examination of their testimony - delving into the details - reveals the nature of their lies.

Upon her conviction, Susanna appeals to God for vindication. She knows He is the source of all truth. And it is the Spirit of God that stirs Daniel to intervene.

Whether this story is divinely inspired or not, it testifies to the truth of God and the ultimate triumph of righteousness.

Father, God,

Help us to discern Your words from those of well-meaning but uninspired writers. Quicken the Holy Spirit dwelling within Your children to show us truth from error.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Period Of Silence

Focus verses: Malachi 3:1-12

I was amazed to discover the reading for October 15 in The Daily Bible in Chronological Order was a paraphrase and reprise of the silent period between the Old and New Testaments. There is no scripture per se in this day's reading.

Therefore, I went to the final book of the Old Testament, Malachi.

I love these opening verses. The are the basis of one of my favorite passages in Handel's Messiah Oratorio. "Who can endure the day of His coming and who can stand when He appears. He is like a refiner's fire and a fuller's soap."

Whatever implications scholars see here, I see a foreshadowing of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ. The messenger prepares the way and the Lord appears out of nowhere.

And it is the blood of Christ that allows us to stand in His righteousness before the Father. So He has purified us with His blood.

The curtain is drawn, and we experience a four hundred year silence between this promise and the coming of the Messiah. For the nation of Israel, it was a dark night of silence and exile.

Father, God,

When the darkness comes and the night seems long, remind us of Your promises and Your faithful watch over our lives. Teach us to trust in the dark that day will dawn again.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Genealogies And Censuses

Focus verses: I Chronicles 9:1-34

Several chapters in the book of I Chronicles seem to be endless lists of names and relationships. In this section we are given the names of the people who resettled in and around Jerusalem after the exile.

In that nation, people had possessions and value by the way the land was divided when the children of Israel crossed the Jordan into it. Records of who begat whom were important because it established a man's right to live where he was living and to possess the land he lived on.

The resettlement is simply a continuation of those records.

It seems a contradiction. God says His name is I AM. Why would He be interested in historical records and genealogies?

Time after time, He says "remember." When the people crossed the Jordan, they set up a memorial. It was a signpost to give them opportunity to teach their children and their children's children about the power and provision of the Lord.

My grandmother used to tell me "those who won't learn from history are condemned to repeat it." She was obviously paraphrasing or misquoting George Santayana. She also said she was never punished twice for the same misdemeanor, but it was amazing the number of new things she could find to get into trouble.

We need to learn from and remember history. But we cannot live in it. We have today which is all we are responsible for at this moment. Today is where we find God. Today is all we can do anything about. Yesterday is unchangeable. Tomorrow might not come.

So we remember who we are, children of God. We remember the past simply not to repeat yesterday's errors. We look well to this day, striving to make it the best we can to honor God. We let God provide for the tomorrows. He already knows what is coming. We can only speculate - and we often speculate wrongly.

Father, God,

Help us to learn from yesterday so that we do not muddle today. Keep us ever mindful of the tasks at hand and faithful to execute them to Your glory.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Prayer Of Jabez

Focus verses: I Chronicles 4:1-23

Many of you will remember Bruce Wilkinson's little book, The Prayer of Jabez, from nine or ten years ago. This is the passage from which it is taken.

Amid a long chronicle of who ruled where and who succeeded whom, we have Jabez. Lists and records are very important in the life of a nation. We remember who was president when. We think of Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders. We remember WWII and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. We shudder to remember the assassination of JFK in Dallas. The list goes on.

But what is it that make Jabez so special that we interrupt the flow of history to record his prayer?

Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. Just what does that mean? Honorable means deserving of respect or upright. But the original word kabad can also mean to bear up under adversity. The name "Jabez" means sorrow in the original. Perhaps he had sorrow as well as causing his mother sorrow during his birth.

Sometimes sorrow is used by the Lord to strengthen His people. While sorrow is not a condition to be desired, sometimes the greatest spiritual growth occurs in our times of sorrow. Then we have only Him to turn to in our grief for no one else can comfort us.

Perhaps we should learn to turn to Him every day - before the sorrow comes. That way when it does come, we will be going to a familiar place - our Father's arms.

Father, God,

Help us to draw closer to You on a daily basis so that when life hands us sorrow, we have the assurance of Your everlasting arms for comfort.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Monday, October 12, 2009

New Beginnings

Focus verses: Nehemiah 12:27-43

The rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem marks the beginning of a new era in the life of the children of Israel. They have been in exile in a foreign land and have returned to their homeland. True, they are still under the rule of a foreign king, but he has allowed them the temple and temple worship.

The completion of the wall is cause for great celebration. Choirs and musicians paraded around the wall in opposite directions, ending at the temple.

The people brought the tithes into the storehouse to fill it. And the book of Moses was read again.

The book of Moses was their law - their bible.

We don't have to wait for a public celebration to read the Book of God's Laws. We have access to the Bible at all times. Many of us have several different translations of the Bible available to us. There is the "original" King James, the New International Version, the New American Standard Bible, the Amplified, and the list goes on. They range from The Message, which is more nearly paraphrase than translation, to Young's Literal Translation, which reads a little awkwardly because it is word for word.

We have these riches and this cause for joy at our fingertips. A morning begun with reading the Book of God is a cause for celebration. God's mercies are new every morning.

He wants us to begin each day with Him as a clean slate, trusting Him for this day and not worrying about tomorrow or fretting over yesterday.

Father, God,

Help us to see each day as a new beginning with You. Let us leave our confessed sins in Your hands. Remind us that we are not promised tomorrow. Keep us on the faithful path, just for today.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


Focus verses: Nehemiah 8:13-18

A few days after the completion of the wall, Ezra read the book of Moses to the people. From first light til midday, he read. And the people were moved to tears.

There was much weeping, but they were told to feast, not fast. The very next observance was to be the Feast of Tabernacles. While the people were in exile, the feasts and fasts decreed by God in the book of Leviticus had been largely uncelebrated. So now that they were resettled in Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside, they began with the Feast of Tabernacles - which was the harvest feast, Sukkot.

Our God wants us to remember. We need to remember our shortcomings - and the fact that the blood of Jesus has washed away our sins. We need to remember God's faithfulness to us, even when we've been unfaithful to Him. We need to remember Who He Is and who we are.

These special times of remembering help us to teach our children who God is and what He has done for us. We remember times of joy and times when God has helped us through major difficulties.

How do we remember and celebrate God?

Father, God,

Keep us ever mindful of You and the many blessings You have bestowed upon us. Help us to remember and to teach all those who would hear.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Census And Records

Focus verses: Nehemiah 11:1-2

Today's reading, which includes all of Nehemiah 7 and well as Nehemiah 11, is full of enumerations. God has, from time to time in the scriptures, had those who were scribing for him write down what seem to be interminable lists.

But those lists are important. They tell the history of the peoples. They document who was in whose lineage. While God doesn't judge you on who or what your parents were, He wants you to remember whence you came. You came from Him through your ancestors.

When the walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt, there were too few people living in the city to maintain it. So they asked the people of all the surrounding cities to send one in every ten to live in Jerusalem. (Hmm, one tenth - sounds like a tithe to me.)

The family records were especially important for those in the priestly line. Without proof of their lineage, they could not perform the duties of the priest in the temple.

God keeps records. He records the names of all who have believed on the Lord, Jesus Christ. Those names are written in the book of life. I am assuming your name is there, or you wouldn't be reading this blog.

Wouldn't today be a good day to invite someone to believe?

Father, God,

Help us to remain open and sensitive to every opportunity to share the Good News. Let us be winsome in helping to draw all people unto You.
In Jesus most precious name.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Division Of Labor

Focus verses: Nehemiah 3:1-32

Rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem took great courage, fortitude and determination. The enemies of the Israelites tried to discourage them with ridicule and taunts. When that didn't work, they plotted a direct attack. The work was divided into those who built and those who guarded. But every man wore his weapon - working or guarding.

When we are under attack, we need to have a dual role - growing and guarding. We need to grow closer to God, but we also need to be aware of the enemy and his attacks to be able to fend them off.

During the rebuilding, various clans took different parts of the wall to build between the gates. Each family worked on its own section. They didn't hop from place to place, each trying to build on all the sections of the wall.

So we, as members of Christ's body, the church, must each do our own job. We have a function that was designed by God and assigned by God. We cannot be all things to all people in all times. We must rather find our gift and use it for God's glory in the service of His kingdom.

But as we use our gifts for God's kingdom, we must be vigilant and ready to engage the enemy.

Father, God,

Help us to maintain the correct balance between vigilance and paranoia. Let us be aware of the enemy and his wiles, but never fearful. Our confidence is in You. Show us our place on the wall and grant us favor as we build.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Hard Times And Opportunists

Focus verses: Nehemiah 5:1-13

The problem of the haves and have-nots developed years ago. When people fall on hard times, it seems that someone is always ready to take advantage of their plight and profit from their misfortune.

God has rules about such things. Back in Leviticus, as they were coming out of Egypt, God set down some standards for the treatment of the less fortunate. Sadly, our society seems to have forgotten these principles.

We no longer seem to care about the poor in a personal manner. We let the government do it. But that is not the point. A nameless, faceless bureaucracy doesn't really care about the individual. It simply moves like an independent organism according to a set of impersonal rules that do not factor in the variables in any person's life.

And because of that bureaucracy, we seem to have spawned an attitude among some of the poor that they are entitled to everything they can get without turning a tap for it. In God's law, the poor were to work for their provisions.

Ruth gleaned in the field of Boaz behind the harvesters. She worked as diligently as the harvesters and was rewarded with the fruit of her labors.

When hard times come, we have opportunities. If we are among the poor, we have the opportunity to work. If we are among the wealthy, we have the opportunity to give and to share the gleanings. We have the opportunity to lend without interest.

This was the original plan of the Lord for dealing with such circumstances. Let us remember and return.

Father, God,

We pray for those in straitened circumstances. Grant them favor that they may work their way out of that condition. We pray for those in abundance. Give them the grace to follow Your instructions in dealing with the poor. And help us to translate these principles into our government.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Restoration Costs

Focus verses: Ezra 9:1-10:17

It is never a good idea to do what you have expressly been told by God not to do. But we all do it from time to time. The Israelites in exile took wives from the neighboring peoples. God had expressly commanded that they not do this from the time they first entered the promised land.

Like willful children, they did it anyway - not all of them, but some did. Returning to Jerusalem, they are returning to the laws of Moses as well. They needed to purify themselves to worship the Lord again in the temple. So they decided to send the foreign wives and their children away.

We are not told where these women and children went. Could they go back to their own families? What would have been their status in their own countries? I can't imagine that these women and children would have had easy lives after being sent away.

Did you ever notice that when man tries to make things right he sometimes messes up something else? God had told them not to do it. They did it anyway. Then when they try to fix their disobedience, they cause trouble for someone else.

The community of Israel spent two months looking at individual cases. We're not told how many, if any, were allowed to keep their foreign wives, but there is that possible inference in the text. Otherwise why judge individual cases.

How much simpler it would have been, had they just obeyed God in the first place. How much mess they made when they decided that they knew better than God.

Are we ever guilty of thinking we know better than God? Do we do things in disobedience that require fixing later - things that cost someone else?

Father, God,

Help us to remain ever obedient to You commands, no matter the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Remind us that we see only fragments while You see the whole picture.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Journey Of Faith

Focus verses: Ezra 8:14-36

This is the second trek of Israelites back to Jerusalem. The temple has already been rebuilt, but this expedition is to help repopulate the city. The king of Persia, Artaxerxes, may have political and security reasons for wanting the people of Israel between him and Egypt. But it is known that he had a respect for the Israelites and their God.

Ezra made preparation for this journey with fasting and prayer. The people assembled for the trip - and camped at the starting point for three days. It doesn't say specifically, but I would imagine that those three days were spent mainly in fasting and prayer.

Despite the favor that the king has granted them in his letter, the people recognized their need for God and His protection on their journey. Ezra made a point of not asking for military escort from the king. He put his faith in God.

They carried an immense treasure for the temple. Ezra told the men carrying the treasure that both it and they were consecrated to the Lord. It was an awesome burden and privilege. Please note that the articles were weighed at the beginning of the journey and again when they reached the temple.

All this is interesting history. But what does it have to do with us today?

Every undertaking is a journey of some sort. It doesn't matter how favorable the possibilities are if we haven't bathed this course of action with fasting and prayer.

We carry the treasure of the Good News of redemption. We will also be asked to account for how we carried that news to the hurting world around us.

We need to be sure that we begin with prayer so that we end well.

Father, God,

Help us to learn from Your people in scripture. Breathe life into these words and help us to take them to heart that we might implement Your principles in our own lives.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Monday, October 5, 2009

When Wat This Written

Focus verses: Malachi 2:1-17

The second chapter of the book of Malachi is a snapshot of our world today. It talks about three important things: the teaching of the priests, the sanctity of marriage, and fidelity to God's standards.

Let us start with the priests - or the religious teachers. In Malachi's prophecy, God chastises them for profaning the altar, from turning from God's teachings, and causing many to stumble. Unfortunately, we have many religious leaders who do the same today. We have the Fred Phelpses practicing their own brand of hate-filled religion in the name of the Lord. We have teachers who teach God's love - but not His righteousness, power, or judgment. We have others who use the Lord's house and attendance there to further their political or business ambitions.

We are profaning the altar of the Lord and leading others astray.

Then there is the state of marriage and the family.

Sometimes tragic situations come from marriages when the two parties do not worship the same God. God is not Allah, nor Buddah, nor any of the other names people give their dieties. Intermarriage in this passage is talking about marriage between two people who believe in different gods. And it talks about breaking faith with the wife of your youth. You see, God instituted marriage. When a person breaks faith with the marriage, he is also breaking faith with God.

I think, however, that this last verse in the chapter may be the most pertinent. We weary the Lord when we call evil good, and good evil. But we have done just that. Beginning with the Humanist Manifesto, we have tried to displace God in our world and our lives. Our educators are trained with those values, and our schoolrooms are filled with those ideas. We have tried to make man the measure of all things. It is false and wrong. And just like the original sin in the Garden of Eden, it springs from an arrogance of the intellect.

Lord, deliver us from such arrogance!

Father, God,

You chastise us with these words. Help us to look carefully at our lives and motives and judge them by these standards. Give us the wisdom and grace to correct our failings insofar as is within our capabilities, and to rely upon You to make up for our shortcomings.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


Focus verses: Esther: 9:18-32

The Jewish feast of Purim recognizes the role of Esther in preserving the Jewish nation in exile. But purim is a word meaning"lots" - as in casting lots. Essentially throwing the dice.

When one gambles on a throw of the dice, it can become deadly. Haman gambled on his position as an elevated noble. He lost.

He lost because he did not possess "a superiority of mind or character or of ideals or morals." His ambitions arose from pride and arrogance. He presumed on the generosity of the king. His goal was wealth and self-aggrandizement. This is a setup designed to find one hoist with his own petard.

When your ambitions are totally selfish, they are almost always destined for destruction. You see, the world will work against you. It has no illusions about your worth. God knows your worth. He bought you at the price of the blood of Jesus Christ. He will not aid you in demeaning yourself.

Our lives have significance only as they can be of service to the body of Christ. We are most important when we are acting merely as an instrument of God's love.

Esther knew that her life was forfeit if the king did not extend his scepter to her. But she committed to a course of action designed to save her people, whether it cost her life or not. Greater love has no man or woman.

So how about us. Do we love God? If we love Him and have "cast our lot" with Him, we have a clear directive - straight from the mouth of Jesus the Lord. Let us be about feeding the sheep.

Father, God,

You set examples before us - what to do and what not to do. Grant us the wisdom to move our lives in the direction You indicate. Help us to feed Your sheep.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Such A Time As This

Focus verses: Esther: 4:1-17

The story of Esther is the salvation of a nation mixed with political intrigue, personal fidelity, and the whims of a questionable king. Good grief! We could be talking about almost any country at almost any time in it's history.

But Esther (Hadassah) is a special person. She is obedient and faithful. She is a model for all Christians. We should all be so obedient to God as she was to Mordecai.

Did you ever notice that great opportunity generally comes wrapped in enormous risk? And some times we can't see the opportunity because the risk seems too great. But here it is. Esther is asked to go to the king to plead for her people. Now the king doesn't even know that she is a Jew. And going to the king without being summoned means death, unless he extends his scepter.

Esther does three wise things.

She first examines the cost. It could cost her life.

Second, she prepares herself. She asks Mordecai for three days and nights of fasting and prayer for her and the cause. She and her servants do the same.

Third, she commits to the project. Commitment is a rare thing. We tend to want to have escape hatches and return routes should our intentions not go as planned. But commitment is like jumping off a diving board. Only in the comics can you jump off the board and then scramble back.

No one is in his present position by accident.
God has placed you here for a purpose. Sometimes that purpose is clear. Other times, we just have to take it on faith and wait for directions. But you have been placed where you are "for such a time as this."

Your job may not include risking death to speak to the king. But it may be risking ridicule to speak to the public. Your job may not involve the fate of a nation. But it might be to encourage someone in despair. You may wear work boots and denims or a suit instead of a queen's crown. But your job is no less important than Esther's.

When I was a young mother (we'll not discuss how many years ago), I was sitting in church with wriggling children and a fussy baby. But I noticed an elderly lady in her regular pew that morning. And God nudged me to tell her that He had seen her faithfulness and would reward it. For most of the service I argued with myself about going up to this lady, whom I knew only peripherally, and speaking to her about such an intimate thing. How presumptuous she would think me. But in the end I did it.

She turned to me with tears in her eyes. "You are the only person who has spoken to me this day. And it's my eighty-fifth birthday." Her gratitude was tangible. God knew her birthday. There were other people in church that morning He could have nudged. But he gave me the privilege.

We are all here for such a time as this.

Father, God,

Open our ears to hear Your whispers and our hearts to obey Your nudges. Make us quick to respond to You and sensitive to the needs of Your people.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Rejoice Greatly

Focus verses: Zechariah 9:9-17

Zechariah's visions foreshadow the coming of the Messiah. These verses echo Jesus' entry into Jerusalem on what we now call Palm Sunday. He comes meekly, riding on the colt of a donkey. He comes in righteousness, bringing salvation.

That salvation, however, comes at the price of His human life. It is the blood of Christ that makes atonement for all our sins and covers our transgressions with the robe of His righteousness, His right standing with God the Father.

In this vision, the King (Jesus) will proclaim peace to the nations and His rule will extend from sea to sea, to the ends of the earth.

That is, indeed, a reason to rejoice.

But look again, there is still a battle between the sons of Zion and the sons of Greece. In my mind, it becomes a battle between the sons of faith and the sons of philosophy. Zion is the children of Israel. Greece is the philosophical world that seeks to rationalize everything.

It comes back to the Garden of Eden and the difference between being taught of God and seeking to be equal to God. I'm delighted to see that in Zechariah's vision, Zion defeats Greece with the appearance of the Lord, sounding the trumpet and marching in the storm. The Lord, appearing in all His majesty, will silence the tongues of the philosophers with His truth.

We can rejoice greatly in the truth that God is Sovereign over all.

Father, God,

As we draw closer to You, let us never forget Your awesome majesty. Your power causes us to tremble in Your presence. Reassure us that You are our strength and salvation.
In Jesus' most precious name.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Bringing In The Sheaves

Focus verses: Psalm 126

This psalm talks of the joy of the exiles' return to Jerusalem and prays for a restoration of fortune on top of their return home.

Harvest is a time of joy. When the crop comes in it means money in the pocket. But harvest in Israel means more than that.

Harvesting grapes for wine meant the grapes were crushed for their juice. Then the juice was set aside to ferment before being put into a new wineskin.

Harvesting grain meant that the stem was cut and the heads were winnowed to separate the grain from the chaff. Winnowing in that time meant that the heads were pounded, then tossed into the air from a wide flat basket. The grain came back down into the basket, but the chaff blew away on the breeze.

Harvesting the olives meant that the trees were beaten with sticks to shake the branches and make the olives drop. Then the olives were put into a press, much like a mill stone, where stones pressed the olive oil out of the fruit.

God's harvest is His people. And they are also crushed and set aside, cut off and winnowed, beaten and pressed. The victory is that God is always there. And we are to rejoice even when we are being harvested.

It's easy enough to praise the Lord when the sun is shining, the birds are singing, and we are feasting. Can we praise him during the vicious storm, when everything has taken cover, and we are cold an hungry? He is always bringing in His sheaves.

Father, God,

Help us to remember that life is not all sunshine and roses, but that You are God of all in the tempest and storm. Grant us the assurance that whatever befalls us, You are there with Your everlasting arms to surround and support us.
In Jesus' most precious name.