Saturday, August 30, 2014
Now all discipline seems painful at the time, not joyful. But later it produces the fruit of peace and righteousness for those trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your listless hands and your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but be healed. (Hebrews 12:11-13 NET)
As parents we all know how necessary it is to discipline our children – and how difficult it is too. There is a stretch of years when it seems like all we do is say “No.” We force them to eat right and forbid them to eat too much junk food, we tell them to go bed when they don’t want to, threaten to withhold privileges if they don’t clean up their rooms, and then pull their warm sleepy bodies out of bed to dress them for school on cold winter mornings. It’s not easy being the one who has to discipline, but it’s all a part of a parent’s responsibilities. They may cry, complain, and look at you with pitiful expressions, but without discipline your children will never develop the strength and maturity to live full and productive lives. You may know some parents who never discipline their kids, and the results are disastrous. Children suffer terribly for lack of loving discipline.
But to God, we are all children — a bit self-absorbed, very emotional and always asking, “Why?” It’s sad that we can demand respect from our children when we discipline them, and then turn around and treat God with suspicion and lack of trust when He disciplines us. How often do we think that God doesn’t love us anymore, or that He is unfair? Our problems would be resolved so much faster and easier, if we used His weapons, tools and promises with gratitude, without the drama and complaints.
Some parental discipline comes in the form of punishment to correct bad behavior. But most discipline is just to help our children develop healthy habits that will bless them. Not all of our struggles are because we have been “bad” children. It’s a fact that we always need to mature, no matter how long we’ve served God.
Those who do well with discipline, just like with our kids, are those who obey quickly and make every effort to change out of love and respect for their Father. God’s promise is that our listless hands, our weak knees, our lame joints may be healed. Submit to God’s loving correction, and become stronger. God can’t bear to see His children handicapped, so He puts us in situations that stretch us and force us to exercise faith and obedience to Him. We may feel alone like a child sent to school on his first day, but God is a better parent that any of us. He watches over us 24/7, ready to teach us, give us His power, and rescue us. God heals, so let’s be quick to listen and obey to find our healing.
The work is demanding and extensive, and we are spread out on the wall, far removed from one another. Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, gather there with us. Our God will fight for us. (Nehemiah 4:19,20 NET)
After 70 years in exile, the Israelites finally found favor with the king of Persia to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple that had been mercilessly destroyed by the Babylonians. These Israelites were a humbled people. They learned the hard way that God’s presence was not something to be treated lightly. What they longed for more than anything was to rebuild the House of God. If they could worship and sacrifice to Him again, they knew that everything else would come together.
But the time of persecution was not yet over. Though they were free to return home and rebuild, the surrounding nations that had settled in the abandoned land of Israel were now jealous that they were taking back their homeland. They ridiculed the small band of Jews that had straggled in from Persia. The Jews had to trust that God was with them despite their enemies’ threats and contempt. The men that set to work on reconstructing the walls had a double job. They had to stand watch with weapons strapped to their sides in case their enemies staged an ambush. It was stressful, and at times they almost despaired that rebuilding would be impossible, but God was faithful to keep their enemies at bay, and the temple was rebuilt to His glory.
This story mirrors our own lives spiritually speaking. Many come to church like those Jews who were hungry and thirsty to find refuge in God’s House. But they have enemies that want to discourage, ridicule and ultimately destroy them. Our enemies are the negative thoughts in our heads that we’ll never be free, the old sins and temptations of addictions, the unkind words of family and friends, the fears that we are too weak, that we have no right to claim freedom when we’ve made so many mistakes in the past. The devil and his demons know just how to push the right emotional buttons to make us feel unable to rebuild, and the temptation to give up and go back to the way things were, can feel so compelling. But just like Nehemiah and his men, we have to gather together, to be in one accord and one faith, and God’s promise is that He will fight for us!
Friday deliverance services in church combine perfectly with Wednesday and Sunday services to seek the presence of God, two actions that we continually need to encourage if we want to enjoy a life of success. Is the life you’re trying to build up always getting knocked down? Are your life plans always getting ambushed by problems? Jesus said, “Watch and pray.” Stand guard against attacks, and seek God’s presence at the same time. Fight ruthlessly against Satan, and surrender thoroughly to God. God is sounding the trumpet to gather with others in the same faith and in the same fight. Don’t ignore His call, you can’t fight this fight alone, let Him fight for you!
Friday, August 29, 2014
I will break Assyria in my land, I will trample them underfoot on my hills. Their yoke will be removed from my people, the burden will be lifted from their shoulders. This is the plan I have devised for the whole earth; my hand is ready to strike all the nations.” (Isaiah 14:25,26 NET)
If you have suffered under the yoke or burden of the devil, God’s will is for you to be set free. This type of suffering is not God’s will for your life. Following God does involve a yoke and a burden, but they are beneficial to us; they help to keep us on the right path. God’s yoke is easy, and His burden is light (Matthew 11:30). Living by faith, denying the flesh, living in obedience to Him, living by reason and not feelings, are all hard and can be called yokes, but they are completely different from the burdens the devil places on us. The large majority of people in this world are suffering under the yoke and burden of “Assyria” or the devil, but unless they identify their problems as conflicting with God’s will and originating from Satan, they will continue to suffer without any hope of relief.
God is speaking to His people who are suffering under the yoke and burden of evil. Though they believe in Him and know Him to be God, somehow evil has made its way into their lives and they are suffering. A yoke creates pictures in our minds of people who feel forced into doing what they do not want to do, who feel that their strength and energy is being sucked out of them, depleted by demonic forces and situations that they feel tied down to.
God is speaking to His people who feel burdened, who feel a heaviness on their shoulders. Though they sleep, they do not feel rested. Though they work, have families, own houses, have health, nothing makes them happy. Life is a burden. They don’t look forward to the future; the future seems to be a burden to be endured. Some have suicidal thoughts because the fatigue that comes from carrying around this burden 24/7, 365 days a year, is too much. It is painful simply to think of continuing one more day.
For others, the yoke or burden may not be unbearable or drive them to thoughts of suicide and depression, but if they are honest, they will admit that they are being severely held back in life. These people could be doing much more, could be much better testimonies of the power and greatness of God, but instead their lives are mediocre and plain. They are good people, they are not involved in any great sins, but they are clearly not sold out for God either.
Whatever our yokes and burdens, “the plan that God has devised” is to strike with His hand and break the yokes and throw off the burdens of His people. In fact, the next verse in this chapter uses God’s title of “Lord of Hosts”, or “the Lord who commands armies.” In others words, when it comes to yokes and burdens from the devil, God becomes a god of war, the Commander of His army of angels. When we join God in this fight, this revolt against yokes and burdens, we are guaranteed to win!
Thursday, August 28, 2014
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live even if he dies, and the one who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26 NET)
This was the topic of our study Wednesday night as we have been going through the seven “I Ams” of Jesus in the book of John. Though Jesus was referring to His own resurrection coming up, He was also talking about something more. Though He was referring to the resurrection of all believers who will spend eternity in heaven, He was still talking about something more. He wasn’t speaking only of resurrections that were going to happen, He was talking about who He was. He said, I AM the resurrection. I AM the life!
When we live in Him and believe in Him, the life and resurrection power that is part of who He is, also become a part of who we are. What was once dead in us, can be brought to life against all odds, because the Resurrection and the Life, dwells inside of us. For those who have spiritual eyes and ears, this is mind-blowing. This knowledge could transform you right now as you read this, if you have an open heart to receive what God is telling you through this passage.
Think about areas of your life that you have accepted as dead and gone, areas that could have been great blessings, but have turned dry. What relationships have become bitter, perhaps because of your own mistakes, or because circumstances overwhelmed you? What standard of living have you given in to because you see no way of rising above it? What if you’ve tried your hardest to extract yourself from a painful situation and nothing worked, and have assumed that God wanted you to suffer the shame of that failure in silence? Perhaps your image of God has been distorted and does not line up with what Jesus is saying here. If He dwells in you, resurrection power dwells in you. What is dead can and should come to life.
There’s an old thought that if God wanted to resurrect aspects of your life, He would have done it already. You’re right – and He did it already, 2000 years ago. He died and rose again to purchase your authority over all evil, and over all oppression. But resurrection will only be seen when your faith causes you to live in the reality of Jesus’ promises. You have a choice to be complacent and to accept the dead and fruitless areas of your life as unchangeable. Or you have the choice to let your faith rise to that audacious level of believing that the dead will come back to life. If He is the resurrection and the life, and if you live and believe in Him, then that power lives inside of you. You are the one who needs to tap into that power by determining that His Word will come true in your life. That pleases God more than any song of praise you could sing. Living out His promises draws you closer and closer to Him. But the question that Jesus asks here still remains. Do you believe?
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
The godly cry out and the Lord hears; he saves them from all their troubles. (Psalm 34:17 NET)
When I am asked why God doesn’t rescue godly people, I know I’m being asked a loaded question. Behind this question are hidden fears that God doesn’t care, or that His promises are meaningless, or that His promises are meant for others, and not for us. This short and powerful promise of rescue is from a God who really does care, is meant to be taken literally, and is meant for all who are both godly, and who cry out.
In the book of Genesis, Joseph rescued his family from a terrible famine, and brought them to Egypt where their needs were provided for. But God’s people didn’t go back home after the famine. They remained in Egypt for many generations and dabbled in idol worship there, even though they knew they were to be separate for God. They eventually became slaves, brutally oppressed and mistreated in a foreign land. Over 400 years passed before God heard their cries, but when He did, he immediately sent Moses to rescue them. Was God uncaring for 400 years, or were His promises empty? The problem was, that though He had chosen them, they had chosen not to be godly and not to cry out. It took them 400 years to turn back to Him.
There is a difference between routine, mediocre prayers, and prayers of faith. The cries of the godly are powerful cries of revolt against evil. The cries of true believers always bring about results. True believers aren’t perfect – they’re just those who steer clear of the world’s principles and solutions, and who seek God above all. They place a high priority on remaining uncontaminated. They refuse to tolerate the things of the devil.
If you find that your prayer life has devolved into an ordinary recitation of, “God bless this, and God help me with that,” but has no life, no revolt and no conviction, it’s time to awaken that dormant faith that God has given you as His gift. If you find that you are enjoying flirting with the things of the world and are being drawn into it’s mindset, then it’s time for a radical cleansing of a contaminated heart. We all need to be rescued from trouble; none of us can afford to waste time like the Hebrew slaves. The promise that God will rescue you from your troubles is meant for now, today. Choose to become a godly one who cries out to Him, and you’ll see this promise come true in amazing ways.
Tuesday, August 26, 2014
When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she kept saying, “If only I touch his clothes, I will be healed.” At once the bleeding stopped, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Jesus knew at once that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” (Mark 5:27-30 NET)
We normally assume that anyone who reaches out to touch Jesus will be healed, but that was not the case in Capernaum on this particular day. There was a multitude around Jesus and many must have touched Him, but the touch of one sick woman was clearly in a category all its own because Jesus immediately turned around and ask who had touched Him. Her touch was so potent that Jesus instantly knew that power had left His body (Luke) but since she had touched Him from behind, He hadn’t seen her. Only when she stepped forward and told Him the whole story did He know who it was that had been healed.
There are so many things to learn from this woman’s example. First of all, it was “illegal” for her to approach and touch a prophet or man of God since her hemorrhage made her ceremonially unclean according to the Law of Moses. Whoever she touched would become unclean for a day, which meant that God would see them as unclean and their prayers would go unanswered (so the logic went). So it took a lot of courage for her to enter the middle of a crowd and push her way toward Jesus; if anyone recognized her or discovered that she was bleeding, she would have been severely criticized and driven away, maybe even physically harmed. Besides that, she must have felt weak because of her loss of blood. But in spite of all these real obstacles, she decided to push her way through the fear and uncertainty and weakness because what she wanted was worth any sacrifice or pain that she would have to endure. This type of attitude always impresses God, drawing us close to Him.
Secondly, this woman determined beforehand what was going to happen when she touched Jesus’ cloak. She kept repeating the phrase, “If I only touch his clothes, I will be healed.” This is real faith! There was no doubt in her words, no room for argument or “what ifs.” She decided that if she was able to get close enough to touch Him, there was no way she would not be healed. And so, when she did actually touch Him, even before He knew she was there, while His back was turned, power left His body and she knew that she was healed. Her audacious step of faith created a vacuum that God’s power immediately filled, and the spirit of infirmity that had troubled her body, finances, and spirit for twelve long years was finally defeated. Having the courage to determine what is going to happen by faith is also an attitude that God cannot ignore.
An interesting note is that Mark did not use the normal word for healing in the recounting of this story. Rather he chose a work that doubles for “heal” and “save.” This woman was not only asking for the healing of her hemorrhage, she was asking for Jesus to “save” her. After twelve long, hard years of illness, of neighbors turning their backs, of spending money on fruitless doctors’ visits, she must have felt beaten up physically and spiritually, and so she not only needed healing, she needed salvation too. What an amazing walk home she must have had… a new person inside and out!
Today’s promise is: If we only touch Jesus, we will be healed. But we can’t touch Him in an ordinary, casual way. We need to reach out to Him with courage and determination, with the full assurance that we will not go home the same.
Monday, August 25, 2014
Nathanael asked him, “How do you know me?” Jesus replied, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel!” Jesus said to him, “Because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” He continued, “I tell all of you the solemn truth - you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:48-51 NET)
Whatever Jesus was referring to with His comment to Nathanael, it was so powerful that it immediately convinced him that He was the Messiah. He must have been meditating on the coming of the Son of God, or asking God for a sign when Phillip called him, because as soon as Jesus said that He had seen him under the fig tree, all of Nathanael’s previous skepticism vanished. A few minutes before he had questioned whether anything good could come from Nazareth, but immediately after Jesus spoke, all those doubts were erased.
Anyone who has accepted Jesus as his or her Savior has gone through a similar experience to Nathanael. Something convinced us of our need for God. For some it was seeing a demon manifest, or hearing a phrase in a pastor’s message. For others it was a word from a stranger handing out flyers, or the testimony of a dear friend. Others were struck by a sense of their own sinfulness, and their need of Jesus’ forgiveness. For C.S. Lewis, it was a late night conversation with a friend. When he got into the sidecar of his brother’s motorcycle several days later on a trip to the local zoo, he did not believe that Jesus was the Son of God, but by the time they had arrived, he did. For Evelyn, it was a prayer she made when she was twelve on a walk home from school, after her Sunday School teacher had spoken about Jesus in a way she had never heard before. Whatever our own personal story of conversion, we have all been blind, but through an amazing work of the Holy Spirit our eyes were opened to the truth.
Though conversion has to be one of the most significant miracles in our lives, Jesus’ words to Nathaniel were: You will see greater things than these. Our conversion is only the beginning, the first step in what should be a series of changes that transform us into powerful examples of God’s greatness. Though today’s passage is the only mention of Nathanael in Bible, besides the various listings of the twelve disciples, church history tells us that he went on to accomplish great things for the kingdom of God. In the same way, we need to be determined to make a difference in this world, building on the foundation of our conversion.