Sunday, July 27, 2014

July 28 – A watchful Father

O Lord, you examine me and know. You know when I sit down and when I get up; even from far away you understand my motives. You carefully observe me when I travel or when I lie down to rest; you are aware of everything I do. Certainly my tongue does not frame a word without you, O Lord, being thoroughly aware of it.  (Psalm 139:1-4   NET)

We used this passage back on July 24th, but it is so powerful that I think it deserves another go around.

The Old Testament rarely refers to God as Father.  That title became widespread only when the Lord Jesus came to earth and exclusively referred to Him in that manner.  Before Jesus’ time on earth, God was not commonly seen as a Father.  But David’s description of God in this psalm describes Him as the perfect Father.  His constant care and watchfulness, and His interest in even the smallest details of our lives reveal a special relationship that is far more personal than judge or king.

Wouldn’t it be perfectly reasonable for God, who is perfect and holy, who knows all about our lives: when we sit down and when we get up, our motives from far away, aware of everything that we do, to just throw His hands up and walk away in frustration with the messes we keep getting ourselves into?  Yet God is not only perfect in all of His actions and thoughts, He is perfect in mercy and compassion by caring for the weak and imperfect. (That’s us!) And that is a real Father.  Real fathers don’t give up on their children because they’ve mismanaged their money, gone bankrupt, got wrapped up in addictions, or because they went through a divorce.  True fathers never give up on their children because they belong to them, and they will always hope that their lives will change and that they will live to their full potential.

This is such an important concept, but one that needs balance.  No matter what we’ve done wrong, or how our lives are right now, God is intimately aware of every single detail, and has a burning desire for us to be blessed, spiritually and physically.  He is ready to forgive and erase the past and look to the future.  He believes in our potential to a degree far beyond what anyone could match, and is ready to do anything to help us develop it.  But… we need to be careful not to take advantage of this merciful, kind, forgiving side of God.  Like any father, God needs to be loved, but He also needs to be “feared” — to be respected and treated with honor.  Since He can understand our motives from far away, He knows when we are sincere, whether we’re trying to fool each other and whether we’re just trying to get what we want out of Him.

Let’s stop treating God like a common man, and start acting like He is the mighty, life-altering, merciful, kind God that He is.  When we treat Him as if He has the weaknesses of a man who cannot forgive or see our true nature, not only do we insult Him, we lose out on His amazing power to transform our lives.

July 27 – The joy of your Master

His master answered, “Well done, good and faithful slave! You have been faithful in a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.”   (Matthew 25:21 NET)

This is part of a parable Jesus taught about three servants who each were given a number of “talents” or amounts of money to invest by their master.  One invested and multiplied his talents greatly.  Another invested as well, and increased what he had.  But the last one was so fearful of losing the one talent he had been given, that he just buried it in the ground and waited for the day his master would return so he could give it back untouched.  Needless to say, the master was very pleased with the first two, but the last one made him furious.  The last servant was considered lazy and ungrateful for the opportunity he had to multiply the little he had been given.

Jesus taught this to give us a picture of what God is looking for in each of us.  Everyone is born into the world with both blessings and limitations.  No one is alike, each of us grows up in different circumstances.  But one thing we all do share is the opportunity to make use of the blessings that we have.  It’s risky to invest your life in God, to kill off old ways of thinking and feeling and to submit your ways to His Word, but that’s the investment that exponentially multiplies positive changes and blessings in very real and practical ways.  Everyone has that chance: rich, poor, educated, American, Chinese, African, Russian – everyone. 

Like I’ve said before, faith is the great leveler – the great equalizer of people.  While we may feel pity for those suffering in underdeveloped countries, I have personally witnessed people in poverty taking great risks to believe in God against all odds, and coming out far more blessed than many Americans who only rely on the resources they were born with.  It’s hard to listen to overfed people with two cars and five Bibles collecting dust complaining about the economy, while far less privileged people are outdoing them just by sheer guts and faith!

Jesus teaches us here that God wants us to risk it all – all our lives, all our faith - and invest in giving our all to Him.  For if we prove trustworthy to God with the little, insignificant lives that we have now, He will see us worthy of trust to handle bigger and bigger blessings.  But those who are lazy to invest their lives in God or are too afraid to lose the little that they have, will have to deal with God’s anger sooner or later.  Remember that promise weeks ago, “for whoever keeps his life will lose it…”?

This parable can be used to encourage us in so many ways.  In how we spend our money with tithes and offerings, in how we invest our thoughts in reading His Word, in how we invest our time in coming to His house, and in serving and caring for others.  The more we risk for Him and His glory, the more He will trust us with greater and greater things.  And we can be sure that each time we take those risks, we can hear Him speaking the sweetest words ever, “Enter into the joy of your Master!”  

Saturday, July 26, 2014

July 26 – Undoing the work of the devil

The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.  (1 John 3:8  ESV)

Jesus came to this world to save us from our sins, to die on the cross in our place.  But today’s promise reveals something else — He also came to destroy the work of the devil, which begins with sin and extends to many other areas of life.  

The word “destroy” in the original Greek can be used in various ways, but one of its meanings is to “undo.”  In the gospel of John this verb is used to mean undoing a sandal strap, and at Lazarus’ resurrection, to undo or unwrap the grave clothes.  The imagery of actually undoing the work of the devil, dismantling all he has done in our lives, all the wounds and trauma, the disappointments, the bad habits and bad character traits, is such an exciting thought.  The things that appear to be impossible, that have haunted us continuously for so many years, even our entire lives — can be undone once and for all when we grab ahold of the power and authority that Jesus offers us through His death on the cross.  He came to undo the work of the devil.  He taught the twelve to do the same, as well as the group of seventy, and now as His disciples today, we are being called to do the same. 

An interesting third possible meaning of the Greek word for destroy is “abolish.”  In that sense, we have the power to completely eradicate all the devil’s work with no trace left.  But this can only happen when we have the audacity to believe in big things.  The Lord Jesus promised that we would do what He has done, and even greater things, but if we don’t believe in ourselves as God’s true children, this great promise will never come true in our lives, and the world will miss out on seeing the extraordinary.

For over one year now I have repeated this passage to myself at least three or four times a week, and I challenge you to start doing the same.  If the devil can be determined to see people suffer, why can’t we be even more determined to undo his work in our lives and in the lives of others?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

July 25 – We are not ashamed

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel from faith to faith, just as it is written, “The righteous by faith will live.”   (Romans 1:16,17  NET)

Most people stick to a rule of etiquette that says: Don’t talk about religion or politics with people you are unfamiliar with.  It can lead to uncomfortable exchanges, and to people getting offended when our views clash with theirs.  These are two areas of life where people can have very strong views — even if their view is that they don’t like to be reminded of God.

And yet, God commands us not to be ashamed of the gospel, because it is the most important issue in life.  Nothing else matters more than a person’s salvation, and so God never wants us to be ashamed of our faith.  We shouldn’t drive people crazy by constantly talking about God and faith, but on the other hand, neither should we pass up an opportunity to reach out to someone who’s suffering, even if they are a stranger.  When the subject comes up, we can’t be ashamed of making it clear that we go to church on Sunday mornings, that we read and believe in the Bible, that we fight demons and sin, and that we expect to go to heaven when we die.  The gospel means good news, and stands for the new way of understanding and approaching God that Jesus brought into the world — something that very few people understand in a proper way, and something we need to be prepared to explain in an easy to understand and practical way.  Now salvation and holiness do not depend on a list of dos and don’ts, but on our faith in what God’s Son did for us and our willingness to give up our way of living for His.

Though salvation was first offered to the Jews, it is now offered to ANYONE… regardless of nationality, race, or language, regardless, or what we have done, good or bad.  Now our ability to please God and to be saved is accomplished from start to finish by faith.  When we have faith in what the Lord Jesus did not the cross, God see Jesus’ righteousness and purity whenever He looks at us, and our lives start to be filled with life… real life.

July 24 – He encircles us with His love

O Lord, you examine me and know. You know when I sit down and when I get up; even from far away you understand my motives.  You carefully observe me when I travel or when I lie down to rest; you are aware of everything I do.  Certainly my tongue does not frame a word without you, O Lord, being thoroughly aware of it.  You squeeze me in from behind and in front; you place your hand on me.  Your knowledge is beyond my comprehension; it is so far beyond me, I am unable to fathom it.  (Psalm 139:1-6  NET)

This entire psalm is full of beautiful promises of how close, loving, and intimately aware God is of our lives.  It’s for all those who claim that God has too many more important things to do than to bother with their insignificant problems.  Not only does He know every tiny thought and every word we utter, but His immensity and wisdom is far beyond our capability to understand Him.  His love is big and He IS big!

God is not only able to know all of our thoughts and motives, He deeply cares about them and carefully observes everything we do.  That goes for every human being on the planet, from the beginning until the end of time.  We can never use the excuse that God can’t expect us to do what’s right in a given situation, because He didn’t foresee this sort of predicament  would exist 2000 years ago when He wrote the “Manual.”  But as hard as it is to obey in circumstances that seem impossible, He already knows everything about us, and knew it long before we even existed.  He made no mistake when He wrote the Bible.  His principles never become invalid just because we can’t figure out how they’ll work. 

When Mark, our youngest, was born in South Africa, a wonderful assistant in our church worked in our home and took care of him as a baby when Evelyn had to be away for meetings.  As is the custom there, Fikile would snugly wrap him in a towel or blanket and tie him tightly to her back as she went about her business cooking or cleaning.  Her gentle movements and the warmth of being bundled up against her would quickly lull him to sleep.  He felt safe and secure, and many nights we’d return home to find him knocked out, with his little arms spread wide against her back.  It was easy to unwrap him and lay him straight into his crib with no disturbance.

God promises to “squeeze me in from behind and in front,” just like I picture our son, without a care in the world, warm and safe.  This is how we need to visualize God as our loving Father.  He goes ahead of us to guard us from danger, and He protects us from behind.  He encircles us better than any human parent could care for their child.  Other versions of this verse say He hems us in, or hedges us in.  If God’s Word is true, and we choose to allow Him to be our Father, then we have absolutely nothing in this world to fear.  Whenever the devil tries to convince us that God has left us or doesn’t care, we have these promises to fight back with.  

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

July 23 – Running interference on the devil

I assure you: Whatever you bind on earth is already bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is already loosed in heaven.  (Matthew 18:18  HCSB)

Those of you who are members of our church are very familiar with the way we often say, “That’s tied up!”  Whenever we can identify some news or problem that is not from God, we teach ourselves to respond immediately by coming against the spiritual forces behind that problem.  For some, it’s just a catchphrase, but for those who are truly spiritual, they understand that our own determination to tie up the devil’s work has very real implications.  

Most Christians have very little, if any, understanding of just how much demons influence our whole world and the impact that our faith has when it comes to binding up demons.  If they did, they would be in a constant state of victorious spiritual battle, and this world would be a different place.  

Jesus is speaking a very basic truth to His disciples: God joins in our battle when we first determine that evil is bound up.  And when we determine that His Spirit of healing, life and enlightenment is loosed, God agrees and releases that power from His throne in heaven.  Though God hates watching evil destroying His beloved creation, He has set in motion a spiritual reality. We are the ones expected us to initiate the attacks against the devil, and not wait for Him.  But once weak, simple people have the faith to bind up evil, God will have already bound it up from His throne in heaven and we will see the results before us.  The beginnings of the battle are ours, but the victory is His.  

If you often feel frustrated and wonder why God isn’t doing more in your life, or why the world is in the state that it is, remember that you have the answer right in front of you.  God has graciously given us the authority to use His name and to bind up and loose whatever we ask for, and He will see that it is accomplished.  Of course there is one requirement that isn’t mentioned specifically in this verse, but is implied through the context of all of Jesus’ teachings, and that is submission to God and His Word.  Jesus is not offering a magic charm to indulge our whims, but a powerful weapon to fight for what is right for the glory of God.  

If saying, “that’s tied up!” is not yet in your vocabulary, start using it, and mean it.  You have power to run interference on everything the devil wants to do against you and your family.  Who wouldn’t want to see that happen?

July 22 – A towering rock of safety

O God, listen to my cry!  Hear my prayer!  From the ends of the earth, I cry to you for help when my heart is overwhelmed.  Lead me to the towering rock of safety, for you are my safe refuge, a fortress where my enemies cannot reach me.  Let me live forever in your sanctuary, safe beneath the shelter of your wings.   (Psalm 61:1-4   NLT)

During a tense 13-day period in 1961 Americans prepared for nuclear war by buying all the canned goods they could find, stockpiling water, and working on makeshift bomb shelters in their back yards.  For a year before the Cuban Missile Crisis, President Kennedy had encouraged people living in the US to build their own bomb shelters in case of nuclear fallout from war with the Soviet Union.  And when Soviet missiles were discovered in Cuba, 90 miles off the coast of Florida, nuclear war became a real possibility.  Fortunately that war never happened, and even if it had, most of those homemade shelters would have been completely inadequate.

In the past kings built castles with high walls and moats to protect themselves from enemies.  In the time of Jesus, shepherds herded sheep into enclosures made of stone or briars, and would lay down in the door opening as a human shield to prevent lions and wolves from attacking their sheep.  Today advanced security systems are available for homes and cars, we have bulletproofing and burglar bars, identity theft protection and insurance for every imaginable disaster.  But are we really any safer from our true enemy?

The real terror that attacks us is spiritual.  Our fears of failure, loss and humiliation are a great playground for the devil’s colorful imagination.  Attacks that start with our minds and toy with our emotions can easily transform into real physical attacks on our families and possessions.  Allowing vivid thoughts to dance around in our heads of how powerless we are and how urgently we have to “fix things” by our own flesh, just feeds those demons and gives them full permission to wreak as much havoc as they want.  No amount of insurance or bullet proofing will do you any good here. 

God’s promise is to be that strong tower where we rise above all the problems of this world.  He is a fortress where nothing can reach us, nothing can harm us.  Like a mother bird who hides her young under her wing, God lovingly protects us and asks us to trust Him.  But where is this strong tower that we need to run to?  His sanctuary.  In one way that signifies His house, the church where you receive God’s Words of life for you to live out.  But also it means that holy place within yourself that you set aside only for God, where His Spirit is always welcome to speak, correct and inspire you.  

Don’t forget that no matter where you are – on the job, on the road, in the middle of a group of hostile people – you have a sanctuary to run to in your own heart and mind.  Run to Him, hear His Spirit speak, and gain the comfort you need for whatever issue you are going through.  He promises to be that tower to lift you high above your enemies and all the accusations that they bring, and then to guide you to know how to attack the devil back and win.  Just as the devil’s thoughts can transform into real physical attacks and losses, the thoughts and wisdom of God always transform into real physical protection and blessings that are untouched by evil.