Saturday, December 13, 2014

December 13 – Giving and receiving grace

Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. (Luke 6:37 HCSB)

“Don’t judge me!” is a phrase thrown around by people who don’t like their faults being pointed out.  They assume that this command of Jesus means that we can never make an assessment of what is wrong in our lives or in others.  That’s not what Jesus is saying here, because in John 7:24, Jesus does teach us all to, “judge according to righteous judgment.”  

The kind of judging that is meant here is better described as slandering, degrading or backstabbing.  When anger at injustice arises in us, our natural inclination is get back at the ones who did this, hurt them, tear them down never let them do it again. But Jesus is showing us a glimpse into the spiritual world.  When we judge and condemn, we give permission to the devil to do the exact same things to us.  Our mistakes (or perceived mistakes) become open targets for the devil to humiliate and degrade us. 

When we reign in our riled up emotions and refuse to judge (degrade) or condemn anyone, we allow the Holy Spirit to speak and He gives us wisdom to react calmly to what’s unfair.  We can use our heads instead of our feelings and be merciful, forgiving and gracious.  That doesn’t mean that we condone any evil that was done, or that we won’t fight against that evil or injustice, it just means that we will have a level head about how to go about it in an effective way.  We can destroy the power of the demons that were at work, while still loving our enemy with a pure heart.

We protect ourselves from the devil when we discipline our emotions and actions. When we blurt out judgments and condemn others, it’s only a matter of time that others will do the same to us.  But even more importantly when we forgive, we are forgiven.  We are sinners and need to give each other grace – we’re all in the same boat.  Another verse in Matthew 6 says that if we don’t forgive, we will not be forgiven.  

These commandments and promises of Jesus are not just about how we can avoid the devil’s traps here on earth, but also about the final judgment that we all will face at the end of our lives. A great day is coming when all mankind will be judged fairly, and many will be condemned because of their own choices to ignore God’s commands.  

Jesus spoke these words to the crowds that were all clamoring for healing, but He knew they would still be broken and incomplete without a transformation of their hearts and minds.  His teachings are painful for our pride, but they are the key to entering into the Kingdom of God.  These promises of escaping judgment and condemnation, and finding forgiveness is what we all need.  Let’s make sure we don’t miss any opportunity to do what is right. 

December 12 – The Shadow of the Almighty

He Himself will deliver you from the hunter’s net, from the destructive plague.  He will cover you with His feathers; you will take refuge under His wings.  His faithfulness will be a protective shield.  (Psalm 91:3-4 HCSB)

Did you know that you are being hunted down every day?  The Bible says that the devil is on the prowl, looking for anyone he can devour (1 Peter 5:8).  Maybe you haven’t put two and two together yet, but when bad news, losses or failures have hit you by surprise, there was usually an intelligent force at work causing these things to happen just at that time, and with that level of intensity.  When we’re not under the protection of the Most High, as the beginning of this chapter states, these many blessings aren’t available to us.  We become sitting ducks for the enemy’s traps and snares.

Taking refuge under God’s wings is an active and bold choice to live by faith and not by sight.  It’s not the cozy warm feeling that you get when reading the plaques or embroidered throw pillows emblazoned with this chapter that decorate many homes.  It’s common for Christians to quote this passage and do the bare minimum in the way they live, pray or interact with God, and then they assume that He has to protect them.  We are at war against demonic forces and we have a great God and protector.  There is nothing passive about this teaching.  We ought to do everything possible to make sure that we are hidden under those powerful wings.

Yet a fight against demons begins in our minds.  Decide that no negative thought that you will be harmed or destroyed has any right to stay bouncing around in your head.  You need to live each moment making courageous decisions based on the fact that you are protected, not on the fear that you are in danger – even if that means choosing to praise God in the middle of your storm.  What if you have a big meeting with your boss coming up, or with a very difficult client?  What if you have to attend a family gathering where people normally backstab and accuse each other?  Don’t be fearful of any of that, boldly go forward, knowing that you are under the shadow of the Almighty.  Act in that assurance.  Sure, Satan is already trying to set his traps and tangle you up in his nets, but you have God’s promise: He will deliver you.

The Bible talks about various times when the devil tried to snare Jesus during His life here, but the Holy Spirit graciously kept Him out of every trap.  One time the religious leaders in the synagogue were furious and wanted to stone Jesus to death, but He slipped through the crowd unseen and walked off.  How could that happen?  He was safe under the shadow of His Father.  Read through the book of Acts and find many more incidents of the disciples being able to walk right out of prisons, shipwrecks, murderous crowds and unfair trials.  Though they all did sacrifice their lives in the end, everything was done according to God’s will, and not the will of the devil.  Let these verses give you great comfort and strength today.  You are hidden and safe if  you choose to live and act by a courageous faith.  

December 11 – When godly grief is at work

For godly grief produces a repentance not to be regretted and leading to salvation, but worldly grief produces death.  For consider how much diligence this very thing—this grieving as God wills—has produced in you: what a desire to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what deep longing, what zeal, what justice! In every way you showed yourselves to be pure in this matter.  (2 Corinthians 7:10-11 HCSB)

If we had it our way, we’d laugh and party our way through life, and have an even bigger party to celebrate after we die.  Nobody likes sadness or grief, but God says that all of us need godly grief in order to find salvation.  Repentance is only real when there is grief, a deep sorrow for the way you have lived your life, for the fact that you are a sinner who is worthy of condemnation.  It’s an honesty with yourself and with God that is both brutal and beautiful.  It kills the old you and clears the way for God to create a new life within you.  

The worldly grief that produces death is so common that few even recognize how futile it is.  We feel pity for those who grieve over lost loved ones, lost jobs, lost pets and broken relationships.  All of those are normal responses to loss, but there are some people prolong their grieving unnecessarily, idolizing the things that they lost.  If God is the source of your life and the answer to all your needs, grieving over worldly things has no purpose.  We never see Jesus visiting tombs of dead relatives. He only appears at Lazarus’ tomb to raise him from the dead.  When He called men to follow Him, some asked to wait until they could bury their fathers.  Jesus matter-of-factly told them to “let the dead bury their own dead” (Matthew 8, Luke 9).  

The grief of this world distorts your perspective of what is real.  Moving on to greater blessings and leaving the past behind is crucial to living by faith.  We are able to look forward to so much more than what we lost.  Those who have passed on to eternity now know the truth about the spiritual world and have no use for our tears.  Being mired in self-pity and emotionalism destroys faith and feeds our flesh, which is why worldly grief leads to death.   

But look at what grief according to God looks like: what a desire to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what deep longing, what zeal, what justice!  They showed themselves to be pure when the sincerely repented, turn around and began to obey God like never before.  When you grieve for the evil that you see in your own life, you will have a holy indignation and a zeal for what is right.  When you grieve for the way this world is self destructing, you can fight against principalities and makes a huge impact on lives around you. Justice can be done when godly grief is at work.  

Ecclesiastes 7:4 says, “The heart of the wise is in a house of mourning,
but the heart of fools is in a house of pleasure.”  God isn’t saying that we can never have fun or enjoy life, He is showing us that through godly sorrow, real life can begin.

December 10 – Satisfying your appetite

But my people did not obey me; Israel did not submit to me. I gave them over to their stubborn desires; they did what seemed right to them.  If only my people would obey me!  If only Israel would keep my commands!  Then I would quickly subdue their enemies, and attack their adversaries.  (May those who hate the Lord cower in fear before him! May they be permanently humiliated!) I would feed Israel the best wheat, and would satisfy your appetite with honey from the rocky cliffs.  (Psalm 81:11-16 NET)

There are times when God’s people go through trials to test their faith because God wants to strengthen them.  Though they’ve done nothing wrong, persecutions and attacks of the devil happen so they can overcome and see greater victories.  But there are other times when people of God are “handed over to Satan.”  That sounds harsh, but it’s a reality that can be read about in 1 Corinthians 5:5, and 1 Timothy 1:20.  In the passage above, God says that He had to hand Israel over to their stubborn desires and in the end they were taken captive by their enemies and humiliated until they learned to repent. 

Take a look at your life right now.  Are the trials you are going through the result of a faithful warrior for God who is experiencing the devil’s counter-attack?  If that’s the case, the promise of this passage, and of all of God’s promises, is yours.  God will satisfy your appetite with the finest bread and honey from the rocky cliffs, which means even in the midst of a harsh wilderness experience, He will provide delightful sustenance and sweetness. 

But if the harshness you are going through now is because you’ve stubbornly refused to listen to God and have chosen your own desires, maybe He’s handed you over to know the reality of serving the devil instead of Him.  You may be reaping the bitter fruit of your own selfishness.  There are many professing Christians who have been wandering in self-imposed wildernesses for years, because they want God to fit into their mold rather than submit to His ways.  Their enemies overcome them, sickness, depression, financial ruin, broken homes and relationships, immoral tendencies and unethical habits pile on one after another, but they insist that they are true believers because their shelves are packed with Christian literature.  

Not every hardship is a result of sin or rebellion against God, but it’s important to know what God sees when He looks at you.  Are you His faithful warrior under enemy attack, or are you rebellious Israel who needs to learn a lesson?  What His promises do make clear, is that the moment we obey and keep His commands, He quickly subdues our enemies.  When we fight the devil and make him cower before God, we bring honor both to God’s name and to ourselves.  Seek God’s wisdom now, search your own heart and find out where you stand before Him.  Today this promise is available to anyone who chooses to obey Him.  If you do, get ready for your enemies to be defeated and to enjoy some sweet sustenance in the wilderness.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

December 9 – Be among the few

And we are witnesses of these events, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.  (Acts 5:32 NET)

It’s clear as day.  The Holy Spirit is given to those who obey Him.  Those who don’t obey God, are unable to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit.  Of course the Holy Spirit is around all of us, calling and prompting everyone to turn to God and follow Him.  The Holy Spirit is in every prison and every brothel right now, for anyone who is willing to listen.  If people say, “I have the Holy Spirit,” in one way they do, because He works everywhere, constantly.  But not everyone has the baptism in His Spirit, because that is only for those who obey.

The whole purpose of having the infilling or baptism in the Spirit is so that we can be overflowing and empowered by Him.  How can that be possible if we choose to ignore or outright defy what He leads us to do and think?  If we dislike the correction of the Holy Spirit and want to modify the teachings of the Bible to fit our comfortable way of life, then there is no way that the Holy Spirit can infill us if we consistently shut Him out of our lives.

The general attitude of most Christians today is that God is lenient.  Jesus did not mince words when He taught that some who call Him Lord, would be cast into utter darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  The existence of evil in this world is very real, and the battle against it is a violent one.  Those who feel that fighting the devil is distasteful, that it crimps their style, they are already well ensconced in the devil’s camp.  They may be singing, Lord, Lord, with their worship band, but unless they are living in obedience to what the Holy Spirit commands , they are not His.

If Jesus came today and took over as pastor of any given mega-church, the place would empty out quickly.  Church members would feel offended, file complaints, and then search for another congregation where they wouldn’t have to feel convicted.  He was full of love, and He spoke the truth.  Jesus knew that only a few will enter through the narrow gate, and only a few will find the narrow path and follow it.  Only a few hearts are good soil that can create a bountiful harvest, while the rest are hardened or riddled with weeds and thorns.  He wasn’t interested in the glory of big crowds, He cared about the few who were really ready to live and die for Him.

The promise of the Holy Spirit is for everyone, but not everyone has the courage and the humility to obey.  Now’s your chance to make that decision to be a first-century Christian and witness many more amazing events just as they did.  Be among the few who obey.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

December 8 – The leap of faith

Now may the God of peace who by the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead the great shepherd of the sheep, our Lord Jesus, equip you with every good thing to do his will, working in us what is pleasing before him through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20-21 NET)

The fact that God was able to raise Jesus back from the dead, was because He had a sinless death.  His blood was pure and uncontaminated by evil.  Death and disease are products of sin, so Jesus’ sinless death could not keep him in the grave.  He was raised up, and because He didn’t die for His own sins but for ours, we can now be raised up to live as children of God forever – if we choose to live by the terms of salvation.  Repent. Die to our old life.  Live in obedience to Jesus as our Lord.  This wonderful news can never stop being taught!

God’s promise is to equip us with every good thing to do His will, and His will for each of us is to pick up our cross daily and follow Him.  If our cross today is to determine a miracle despite all the odds, to deny the negative thoughts in our minds and to fast and pray, then God will equip us with the ability to do that and see the miracle through.  If our cross for the day is to deny our selfish tendencies and to reach out to that difficult person and pray for them, God will equip us to have the right words and spirit to touch their hearts so that their faith can be strengthened.  And if our cross is to give up old habits and attitudes that have blocked God, then He will make us more than able to do so… but we have to believe in His promise and go for it before we feel Him equipping us.

Wherever life takes us, God has tasks and challenges that He wants us to take on with boldness and assurance that He will make us able.  As parents we have always urged our children to do what they’ve never tried before, encouraging them to believe that they can learn a skill or understand a lesson that may seem too tough for them at the outset.  God is far better than we are, because He not only teaches, he enables us and equips us to do whatever we need.  Sometimes obeying God feels like we are jumping out of a plane at 5000 feet with nothing and no one to break our fall.  But as we take that leap of faith, we find that His parachute is strapped to us, and that we are strapped to Him!  And yet without that leap, we’ll never know the power and extent of His love and protection for us.  We’ll never have that amazing lesson of faith that He wants us to learn.

Next time God is bringing you to face a challenge, remember that He will equip you just at the moment that you need to see His will manifest in your life.  Take the leap and trust that you will become pleasing to Him through Jesus Christ, the great shepherd of the sheep.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

December 7 – Intricately linked to heaven

Set your minds on what is above, not on what is on the earth.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with the Messiah in God.  When the Messiah, who is your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.  (Colossians 3:2-4 HCSB)

When our minds are set on earth, they run through thoughts such as these:  

Layoff rumors are everywhere and my blood pressure’s going crazy… I need all the office gossip I can get.
I can’t afford it, but if I stop buying my kids what they want, they’ll think I’m mean.
How did the pastor know I was complaining about the sermon?  Now I’ll have to stay away from church for a couple weeks, it’s so embarrassing.
Got too much homework, sorry church, no time for you.
I deserve a break - just one drink won’t hurt anyone.
These celebrities are so awesome, I wish I could hang out with them.
I hate my boss.  I hate my boss.  I hate my boss…

If you think these thoughts only go through the minds of total unbelievers, think again.  Good and faithful church members have thoughts like these and worse, because their minds are set on this world and not on things above.  If you could see all the thoughts that run through your mind posted up on a screen, you’d be amazed at how fleshly and negative many of them are.  As we’ve taught in our various courses, our brains have a negative bias.  That’s why God urges us to set our minds on the Kingdom of God, on things above.  It takes effort, but when we do, our life makes sense through the eyes of God.

The key here is that we need to be dead, and then we are hidden in the Messiah in God.  That means the spiritual death of our old life, our sinful desires and our selfish control over the way we want to live.  Without death to our flesh, there is no new birth, and no salvation.  Jesus died sacrificially for us to become hidden in Him, clothed in His purity, and made into a holy nation.  But first we have to die.  

When we become a new creation, we long for the new kingdom where we have become citizens. We want to think about things above, because that is where we belong.  This world is pitifully inadequate and doesn’t satisfy us anymore.  It’s like a foreigner in another country who longs for his homeland, reading about it, calling home and finding ways to reconnect with the place that’s not just the home of his birth, but the home that is intricately linked to his heart.  

Is your mind and heart intricately linked to the Kingdom of Heaven?  Do you long to look into the things above and seek out ways to know more about your real home?  If so, then you are truly God’s and you are hidden in the Messiah.  Satan can’t find you and destroy you when your mind is set on things above.  All of those thoughts listed above are easily overturned by thoughts of faith, because they make no sense in the beautiful new Kingdom where you now hold citizenship.