Tuesday, September 2, 2014
And pointing toward his disciples he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:49-50 NET)
It’s hard to imagine anyone being indifferent to Jesus. People either worshipped Him, or wanted to kill Him. But the Bible tells us in John 7:5, that His own brothers didn’t believe in Him. They saw His miracles as some sort of gimmick that He could use to become popular and make a living. The Son of God was in their own family, and they were dismissive of Him.
So in this passage, Jesus was busy teaching the crowds, and is told that His mother and brothers are waiting outside, asking to speak to Him. Think about it. The God who created the universe was there in the flesh, revealing the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven to multitudes of followers, but His brothers demanded to interrupt Him, because family matters were more urgent.
Jesus didn’t go. He looked at the crowds there who valued who He was and what He had to say, and proclaimed that they were His family. His flesh and blood stood outside and thought too highly of themselves to value what He was doing. They should have been among the crowds, listening and receiving all He said as revelations direct from the God the Father. And because they were disregarding God Himself, they had to be put in their place in front of everyone there.
What does this mean for us? We who do the will of God, who are eager to hear the words of Jesus and to put them into practice, are promised to become His own family. Not just followers or servants, although we are, but He will treat us with the same love and intimacy as brothers and sisters, sons and daughters. We can embrace Him, dine with Him, converse with Him and share in His goodness. We are elevated to the highest position of royalty in the Kingdom of God.
Another lesson is that our own attachments to family and friends on this earth should mirror Jesus. We can be misunderstood and even ridiculed for our faith by loved ones. Don’t feel alone in this, Jesus already went through that and showed us how we are to respond. Though we are to love our families and carry out our responsibilities as spouses and parents, our loyalties are first to God and to His people. We are all a part of a new family, a greater Kingdom and a greater cause, and to trust that as we care for God’s family, He will care for our own.
Interestingly, Jesus’ brothers finally did believe in Him, and were part of establishing the Early Church. Scholars believe that the author of the book of James is the brother of Jesus, and the first bishop of the Jerusalem church. Mary His mother was among the first disciples in the Upper Room to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. Jesus may have seemed harsh, but God worked to bring them into His true family. Let’s follow His example and seek to be a part of His family above all else.
Monday, September 1, 2014
The way of the righteous is smooth; O Upright One, make the path of the righteous level. (Isaiah 26:7 NASB)
It’s interesting how often the Bible refers to God guiding our steps, our feet and our paths. God proclaims that every valley will be exalted and every hill made plain, to prepare for the coming of the Lord Jesus in a prophecy from Isaiah 40. God promises that our ways will be made smooth and level, because His will is not for us to stumble in the darkness, but to move forward, to be active, to do His will, and be productive.
So if being righteous makes our paths smoother, why don’t more people choose to live in submission to God? That should be the logical choice, but to those who are fleshly, the path of serving God appears very difficult and very unattractive. Jesus refers to it as the narrow path that few can find. It’s the path of sacrifice and denial of the flesh. What the world wants are shortcuts, to follow the crowd, and to indulge their own pleasures.
But the wise limit their decisions to please God first. The wide range of choices that the worldly might make, don’t even appear on the radar of a godly person. They sacrifice anything that goes against God’s principles. But the righteous find an exclusive road. They place themselves on a smooth, uncongested and protected highway that is safe, pleasant, and never takes them the wrong way. God’s ways require sacrifice, but end up yielding great and joyful benefits.
Think about the choices you are going to make today. There will be temptations to please your flesh today just like on any other day. But if you consistently choose to limit your thoughts, attitudes and actions to honor God first, you will be amazed at how much wiser you become and how much smoother your day will run. God’s favor will be on you, and your ears will be sensitized to hear His words and guidance. A lifetime of limiting yourself to God’s ways will be a lifetime of favor, wisdom, abundance and protection.
“You lead me in the path of life; I experience absolute joy in your presence; you always give me sheer delight.” (Psalm 16:11)
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.