Saturday, February 28, 2015

February 28 – God’s basics

Mankind, He has told you what is good and what it is the Lord requires of you: to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God.  (Micah 6:8 HCSB)

Acting justly basically means living in fairness, which is not as easy as it sounds.  If we treated God fairly, we’d be far more devoted to Him and willing to surrender to His desires and commands.  He surrendered His all for us, and keeps loving us even when we don’t deserve it.  It’s only just and fair that we live a life of submission to Him.  In Matthew 25, He teaches that it’s impossible to love Him if we don’t show compassion, mercy and love to others: “For as much as you have done it to the least of these, you have done it unto Me.” (vs. 40)  Those who think that acting justly means donating to the poor or writing large checks in church while ignoring the needs of those around them at the same time are missing what God requires. 

Faithfulness has become a rare commodity. “Why do I feel so bad after your sermons, pastor?” I’ve been asked.  “Why do I leave those other churches feeling so happy, isn’t that what church should be?”  Nope.  Encouragement, rebuke, conviction, teaching, challenge, inspiration, compassion… God’s Word has all of these combined.  And whoever is faithful to God embraces them all – the joy of being uplifted and strengthened, and the joy of being corrected and convicted of painful changes, knowing that they lead to greater blessings. But whoever want the pleasure of marriage or of parenting a child without life-long faithfulness, just tears those relationships apart, and usually beyond repair.  When we love faithfulness to God and to others, we weather the ups and downs, the mountaintops and the rebukes.  We never give up, and find even more of God as we grow. 

Walking humbly with your God is the safest place to be in the world.  You could be lost in an unfamiliar city among total strangers, but be peaceful and secure because you are bonded together with Him.  Sometimes walking humbly feels like blindly walking into an uncharted wilderness.  But you faithfully obey what you know He asks of you, even though you can’t see beyond the nearest bend in the road.  He is your master, and you are His bondservant.  You’re never abandoned or forgotten, and your needs are provided for because you live in loving, humble obedience. 

These are His three requirements.  Most of the time it’s the small but determined choices to live them out that make the biggest impact in heaven.  Sacrificing has its time and place, but grandiose gestures of devotion are meaningless if we can’t even live these basic requirements of justice, faithfulness and walking in humility before Him.  Right before this passage in verse 7, Micah asks: “Would the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams or with ten thousand streams of oil? Should I give my firstborn for my transgression, the child of my body for my own sin?”  We can’t buy a relationship with God, we can only join in one as we accept His terms. Take a good inward look to see if you’ve been sincerely striving to live out what He asks. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

February 25 – Power that offends

He replied to them, “Go and report to John the things you have seen and heard: The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, those with skin diseases are healed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are told the good news.  And anyone who is not offended because of Me is blessed. (Luke 7:22-23 HCSB)

John the Baptist knew from the moment that he had baptized Jesus in the Jordan River, that He was the Christ, the Messiah.  He bowed before Him and said that he wasn’t even worthy to tie His sandals much less baptize Him.  He was there when the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove and God the Father announced from heaven, “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased.”  It was so clear, but then things didn’t seem to happen the way most people expected the King of Kings’ arrival on earth would unfold.  Jesus wasn’t facing down the Roman Empire, He was busy confronting a more powerful and more evil kingdom that has existed since time immemorial, and few understood how He was about to change the world.

Not long after Jesus begins his ministry, John the Baptist is arrested and about to be killed by King Herod because of his radical preaching.  From his prison cell, John sends his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the One who is to come, or should we look for someone else?”  Behind bars with no sign of Jesus amassing an army to destroy Herod’s plans, he had to hear from Jesus’ mouth directly as doubts began to creep in – are you the One?

Jesus’ response is the same one that He continues to give us 2000 years later.  Look at what I have done.  My power speaks for itself.  Jesus was in effect saying, yes I am God, because I have authority to save, forgive, heal and raise from the dead. Later in the Bible, Jesus refers to His church (all true Christians) as His body, which means we should be demonstrating this same authority and acting just as Jesus acted.  Proof that we are His, is that we have the same fruit.  When people question whether you have a genuine faith, you don’t need to go into a complicated theological argument, all you need is to show the proof of what God has done in you and with you.  The power of God through you, speaks for itself, just like it spoke for Jesus.

And then the last statement catches many off guard.  “Anyone who is not offended because of Me is blessed.”  Plenty of people avoid reading certain passages in the Bible, because they just aren’t as comforting as they’d like.  They dislike messages that don’t correspond with their way of life.  Some avoid the passages about sin and repentance, or working out their salvation with fear and trembling.  Others who enjoy being self-righteous dislike the passages about mercy or generosity towards their neighbor.  Though they say they love Jesus, His Word offends them.  They’d rather modify His Word to fit their style than mold themselves into His commands.  Many are and will be offended by Jesus, and in turn many will be offended by those who truly belong to Jesus.  But those who are blessed embrace Him as their Lord one hundred percent.  They shape their thoughts, feelings and choices based on His Word so that the power of God comes alive in and through them.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

February 22 – A message without words

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky proclaims the work of His hands. Day after day they pour out speech; night after night they communicate knowledge. There is no speech; there are no words; their voice is not heard. Their message has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world. (Psalm 19:1-4 HCSB)

We live on one very small planet spinning around our sun in a small solar system, in a small galaxy.  Our galaxy has billions of stars, and the universe has billions of galaxies that astronomers have been able to detect so far. Gases and minerals that are essential for our earth to sustain life, emanated from exploding supernovas and helped to form our perfect atmosphere. Last year the Hubble telescope took a long exposure photograph pointed in the direction of a dark and insignificant section of the universe and found thousands of galaxies in that small range – orange elliptical galaxies, spiral galaxies, small blue galaxies in the process of forming. God is still creating galaxies as we go about our daily lives. 

God is speaking to us through the skies and stars, through nature and the amazing complexity of all He created. The Bible says that there is no speech, no words and no voice, but God is sending His message to the ends of the world that He is real and that He is our creator and Lord. He has taken great pains to create our beautiful world, and to lovingly provide everything we need to live in harmony with Him and with each other.  

When sin and evil entered the world, Satan was cast onto the earth along with a third of the angels in heaven who rebelled against God. They became the demons that torment mankind until today. That’s why God created a plan of salvation so that peace and harmony could be restored, so that we could live in the joy and freedom that He always wanted for us from the beginning of time. So the God who created this vast, infinite, perfect universe, chose to come to our tiny earth to die for a bunch of selfish, rebellious people – just because He loved us so much. And because He did that, all He asks is that we return to the state of communion with Him so that He can rescue us from sickness, evil and death and give us power and authority over the devil and his demons.  

Who in their right mind would refuse grace like that?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

February 20 – When sacrifice is wrong + disobeying orders is godly

Jonathan said to the attendant who carried his weapons, “Come on, let’s cross over to the garrison of these uncircumcised men. Perhaps the Lord will help us. Nothing can keep the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.  (1 Samuel 14:6 HCSB)

This is one of those passages that just makes you want to stand up and cheer. It’s the underdog who risks it all and beats off a mighty army, all in the power of the Lord. King Saul had been anointed king over Israel when his heart had been pure and humble. But when he became selfish and sloppy in his obedience to God, the Spirit of God left him and instead chose young David to become king. Yet King Saul’s son Jonathan, had the same pure heart as his best friend David, and had a burning desire to see God’s name glorified.  

In chapter 13, Saul had given 1000 soldiers to Jonathan, who won a big battle against the Philistines. Interestingly, Saul boasts about the victory and takes the credit for himself. He calls Jonathan to join him to prepare for another battle, but meanwhile the Philistine army amasses more horsemen and soldiers, and King Saul’s men begin to desert in terror. In desperation, Saul disobeys God’s orders and offers a sacrifice to God before Samuel the prophet arrives. Samuel sternly warns him how God is displeased and that another will take his place as king. 

So lesson one: prayer and sacrifice offered out of wrong motives and self-centered ambition is seen as rebellion to God. He was using sacrifice to manipulate God into letting him win, not as an act of honor or submission to his Lord.

In chapter 14 the Philistines position themselves on a high hill across from the much smaller Israelite army. Where is Saul? Waiting around under a pomegranate tree with the high priest. Jonathan lived to defend God’s name and His people, and when he saw that his father the king wasn’t listening to God, he took action. He and his attendant snuck away in secret and decided to fight the Philistines alone, just the two of them. “Perhaps the Lord will help us,” was his mindset. If God saves us, great, but if not, let’s die for Him. This action pleased God so much, that He gave them great strength and courage to kill 20 men, and then sent confusion into the camp of the Philistines so that they killed each other off, leaving the Israelite army as the victors.  

Lesson two: when no one around you is listening to God, honor God anyway and He will honor you. Jonathan seemed to disobey Saul’s orders to stay and wait. But Jonathan had a higher calling, to obey the Spirit of God, and God proved that He was with Him in the end. Read the chapters 13-15 for the full story.

God will deliver even if it’s by your small act of faith, as insignificant as you may feel you are. If you have a burning desire to honor God and stand up for His name, He will honor you as well and come rushing in with His heavenly armies to give you victory. The truth is that with God, you are never in the minority.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

February 18 – Don’t sweat the details

The hidden things belong to the Lord our God, but the revealed things belong to us and our children forever, so that we may follow all the words of this law. (Deuteronomy 29:29 HCSB)

There are times that God tells us specifically what to do for our own good and protection from evil. But because we don’t understand the full picture, we delay obeying, or obey half-heartedly, or just refuse completely.  We think we deserve an explanation to every question or doubt about His commands. But God has given us enough to know and do, so that His perfectly timed blessings can freely flow. Some things of God remain hidden for a reason, but like impatient children, we don’t want to focus on what we do know, we’d rather obsess about what we don’t know.  

The revealed things belong to us. The thousands of promises in His word are all ours, and even if we cling to just a few of them, that would be enough to see the miraculous. When we bother our minds about all the small details of exactly how He will answer our prayer, and why it’s taking so long, and who among our acquaintances is messing everything up, and that God doesn’t seem to understand just how urgent our needs are, we reduce God to a common store clerk who can’t get our order right. We call Him Lord and treat Him with great disrespect when we refuse to just trust and obey, even without all the details explained. As a good parent, God gives us just enough to know and do, and then expects us to get busy doing it. Later the hows and whys make sense, and the blessings unfold.

“So that we may follow the words of this law,” doesn’t sound like much of a promise, but that’s because we view laws and principles as burdens that restrict us. With God, nothing could be further from the truth. His ways are deep and spiritual. They set us free to bear greater fruit and gifts of His Spirit. If the privilege of knowing His principles elevates us to a higher level, then obediently practicing His laws is the spark that creates a living and powerful faith. What an honor to be a part of this process of miracles, and this is a gift not only for us, but for our children. 

In one of his famous children’s books, C.S. Lewis tells the tale of two children who make a long journey to find freedom. They discover that Aslan, who is Jesus in the form of a lion, has allowed many of their struggles to happen so that He could direct them to safety when they had no idea of the danger that was around them. One child asks why certain things happened to his friend, and Aslan replies, "I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no one any story but his own.”

God speaks through an inspiration at church, a word from the Bible, the testimony of a friend, or just a strong impression in the middle of your day when you sincerely want to hear His voice.  He is revealing His direction to you. Do what He says, don’t wait, and don’t dishonor His guidance with doubts and fear. If you think He hasn’t spoken to you at all, just take a look at all the ten months of promises on this blog. Then check if you’ve implemented what He needs from you yet. He has plenty to reveal, if we have the ears to hear and the willingness to follow.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

February 16 – Benefits without the cost?

Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates.  Outside are the dogs, the sorcerers, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying.  (Revelation 21:14-15 HCSB)

It’s so simple. All sinners are welcomed into the Kingdom of God with open arms, as long as they wash their robes – repent and turn from their sins. No one has to pay for their sins any longer, because that price has already been paid by the painful death of God the Son. The minimum God requires is to wash our filthy robes of sin, and live in obedience to His ways and His Spirit.  

God wants us as His children, and paid the ultimate price. Yet most people don’t really want to treat Him like their Father. They’d rather have all the benefits of heaven at no personal cost, other than “being good” according to their standards. Free us from the penalty of sin, but don’t make us sacrifice sin. Some church leaders encourage Christians to just accept Jesus’ sacrifice as a gift, and be thankful. Keep up the profanity, keep up the addictions, enjoy the raunchy conversations and act on those desires now and then, as long as you’ve “accepted Jesus as your Savior.” But entry in to heaven comes at a high cost to us too, the cost of killing our flesh. Unfortunately there will be plenty of people who flat out refuse, and will be left outside the gates and destined for hell:  

The sorcerers, who God equates to those with a rebellious heart, in 1 Samuel 15:23.  (Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft…) That means a lot of sorcery is going on among “nice” people right now. Whoever consults psychics or mediums, who tries to communicate with dead relatives, who dabbles in the horoscope or tarot cards, all fall under this category because they are invoking evil spirits.   

There are the sexually immoral, who feel no guilt doing exactly what Jesus said in Matthew 5, that even looking at someone lustfully is the same as committing physical adultery before God. Dabblers in porn, erotic novels and films, they are all far from God and outside His gates. 

The murderers, who Jesus also says are not just those who kill the body, but who harbor thoughts of hatred or grudges, who call people fools and look down on others with contempt. In God’s eyes they have murdered one of His creation. 

The idolaters, who adore their children, their marriages, their personal wealth or possessions, their independence or their social standing, above God. They’ll sacrifice more for these treasures than they ever would for the God they give lip service to. They’re idol worshippers.  

And then everyone who practices lying, who deceives to get ahead, and who even deceive themselves into believing they’re just fine, when they’re lost. 

This is too serious to ignore. 21st century Christians in general are far too casual about this unprecedented gift of salvation, and are tossing it aside to keep indulging their own flesh. What a beautiful Kingdom we could all belong to right now if we choose wisely. Let’s be sure every day that our robes have been washed and that we’ll be given the right to eat from the tree of life. 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

February 15 – At times you won't feel it, but it's there

As the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you. Remain in My love.  If you keep My commands you will remain in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commands and remain in His love. (John 15:9-19 HCSB)

Have you ever imagined the relationship that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have with each other?  It’s hard to picture one God, in three persons.  I suppose the closest analogy would be our individual lives being made up of body, soul and spirit – three aspects of us comprising one whole being.  But even that doesn’t come close to the immensity and complexity of who God is.  He is One God, but each person of the trinity is a person unto Himself.  We can’t easily wrap our minds around it, but we have to know by faith that it is, just as the Bible says.  

So in this beautiful unity of the three persons of God, picture what kind of love there exists between the Father and the Son.  It must be perfect, infinitely abundant, joyful, deep, unbreakable – pretty much every strong and good adjective you can attach to it would be true.  And then we are told that just as the Father has loved Jesus, so Jesus has love for us.  As complex and pure and powerful and tenderhearted as the Father’s love for Jesus is, we can count on that kind of love being sent out towards us every moment of every day. 

We usually don’t feel in awe of His love.  We may acknowledge that He loves us, but many of the choices we make are actually based on a deep-seated feeling that He isn’t listening. or that He doesn’t really care.  We’ll rush into a decision out of desperation, or we’ll try to force our point on someone because we’re afraid that if we don’t convince them, no one will.  We may say something dishonest on our job, ignoring twinges of guilt while reasoning that the cost of telling the truth seems much worse than the secret guilt of telling a lie.  All of these foolish choices begin at a root level, and that root is the doubt that God really does love us.  He loves us so much that He’ll come through in tough times. 

The times of trusting in Him, handing over the controls and allowing Him to do what He wants, are the times when His love manifests in full power, rescuing us, standing up for us, fighting for us, and enveloping us with His presence.  But letting Him lead usually entails shutting up the complaining noises in our heads that want us to take matters into our own hands, to take back the reins of our lives.  The times when we need His help the most, are the times we need to let go of our anxieties and trust Him the most. Yet how often do we block Him and make a mess of things instead?  If we only believed how amazing His love was, we would never want to step out of His will.      

Jesus tells us, “If you keep My commands you will remain in My love,” just as He does with the Father.  At times you won’t feel His love, but it’s there.  Obey Him, even when you don’t feel Him, and He’ll come through. You’ll see His love manifest in it’s beautiful, deep, joyful and tenderhearted way.  That’s His promise.  Just trust.