Wednesday, November 26, 2014
If you love Me, you will keep My commands. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever. (John 14:15-16 HCSB)
I posted a video on Facebook recently about excuses Christians make when it comes to giving into sin or fleshly urges, and got an interesting comment. “It’s not easy being a perfect Christian!” Of course it’s not - but what’s implied by this comment? First, that God is legalistic and only accepts perfection, second living a life that is acceptable to God is too difficult, and thirdly, we should take it easy on ourselves when it comes to sin. We’re only human, after all…
I’ve heard many people tell me that they love God, and say so with great emotion. But what many people love is their own invention of God, not the God who has revealed Himself in the Bible and came to earth to live among us. Loving God with great surges of elation or tears or desires to rescue the poor can all happen when a love for God exists, but none of that factors into Jesus’ description of what loving God really means. If you love Me, you will keep My commandments, He says. If you love me, you’ll obey me. Later on in the chapter, Jesus repeats these words, but in a different order. “The one who has My commands and keeps them is the one who loves Me.” You cannot say you love God, and treat His commands as optional or trivial.
Of course we will fail at executing every command perfectly, all the time, every day for the rest of our lives. We will always need His forgiveness, but those who keep His commands, are those who strive to the best of their abilities to obey no matter the personal cost, every day for the rest of their lives. Those are the standards that they hold themselves to.
And because they desire to obey so eagerly and are willing to sacrifice their pride and selfishness and control over their own lives, they place themselves in the unique position of being able to receive the most amazing gift – the Holy Spirit. Jesus calls Him the Counselor. Instead of stumbling through life, trying to avoid sin and obey God by the strength of our weak flesh, God provides His Spirit to enable and empower us to do far more than we ever could on our own. He counsels us when we are all alone and don’t know what to do or who to turn to. He shows us hidden treasures that fleshly eyes would never be able to see. He gives us His authority to confront the devil, and living a life far from sin becomes so much easier and joyful. Instead of a burden, it is a daily refreshment.
This gift of the baptism in the Holy Spirit is not for those who don’t first keep His commands. If anyone tells you otherwise, they’re trying to persuade you to believe in an invention of God. And that is a sad and difficult life of shadowy faith that disappoints. You are promised a Counselor forever, just trust and obey.
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
Long ago God spoke to the fathers by the prophets at different times and in different ways. In these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son. God has appointed Him heir of all things and made the universe through Him. (Hebrews 1:1-2 HCSB)
God is speaking to us now through the words of the Lord Jesus, His teachings, examples and life. He continues speaking to us through the guidance of the Holy Spirit to everyone who is willing to quiet their fleshly thoughts and hear Him. Everything that the Spirit says is what Jesus says to us, and all that Jesus says is according to the will of the Father. (John 5, 8 and 12 all talk about this.)
People ask why God no longer gives dreams or sends angels to audibly speak to us as He did in the past, and these verses explain that. Now that Jesus has already come to dwell on the earth and returned to heaven, we have His written word, His Holy Spirit and His authority to have understanding, wisdom and power to overcome. Abraham, Moses and Joshua among many others, had no Bible to read for guidance. God had to speak directly to them, or send angels to communicate His will. Often they had to go for years with no word at all from God, just trusting in the few revelations that they heard, and the stories of how God had blessed others before them. We, on the other hand, are far more blessed to have God’s word written in almost every language on the globe, to have Bible apps on our phones and as many copies of as many versions and translations as we can afford on our bookshelves.
The question we need to ask ourselves is, do we value those words as deeply as the men and women of God in the past, who only had rare encounters with God? They didn’t know who Jesus was or about the power He would bring to this world, but whatever God said, they treated as gold.
Psalm 19:10 says that God’s words are more desirable than fine gold. The promise in this passage, is that Jesus is speaking to us right now, Jesus who made the universe together with God the Father and the God the Holy Spirit. The one who laid the foundations of the earth, who commanded the fish of the sea and the birds of the air to come into existence, who knows everything to the tiniest detail of our life on this small planet, is talking to us now in our mundane ordinary lives. He knows, He cares and He has all the power to set us free and lead us on the right path.
If you read the Bible but doubt its words for your own life, or keep trying to find a spiritual guru to foretell your future, you are treating fine gold as trash. The words of God are to be revered and lived by, no matter how difficult it may seem to believe in them. Acting on them with the confidence that they are true, is what faith is and is the only way to please God. Throw away your horoscopes and pop-psychology books and start to value the oldest, wisest and most powerful words that have always been there for you.
Friday, November 21, 2014
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light. (1 Peter 2:9 HCSB)
You, little old you with all your faults, with the sad background, with the unremarkable life and an unremarkable job, are seen in a totally different light in God’s eyes. You are chosen by Him. You are royalty, and part of His holy nation. And if you are chosen, then you can expect that unremarkable life to become extraordinarily used by Him.
If you remember the story of the Hebrew slaves who were finally released from the oppression of Egypt and taken to the promised land, you have a picture of how God sees you who are truly devoted to Him. They had rejected God as a people, for around 400 years. They had grown in numbers and turned from favored immigrants in Egypt, to slaves. But out of God’s mercy, when they cried out to Him and remembered that He was their God and not the idols of Egypt, He sent Moses to set them free by His power. He took them to Mt. Sinai and made a covenant with them. They were to be His special, loved and highly esteemed chosen people, a holy nation set apart for Him. All they needed to do was to obey the simple commands that He gave them. They had turned from filthy rejects and into the most honored and powerful people on the earth.
The problem was that many of them had a hard time shaking off their slave mentality. They were royalty and greatly valued, but they whined and complained and quickly doubted God whenever problems arose. Yet He lovingly forgave them and graciously provided for them throughout their journey through the wilderness. There was manna and quail to eat, water that gushed out of rocks, a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day to guide them. He gave them every reason to trust in Him, and yet at the border of the promised land, they complained again and refused to take possession of their promise.
If you feel like this promise is an exaggeration, too good to be true and a little prideful for you to really take seriously, you are sadly still in a slave mentality. God has given each of us so much to prove His love, and yet we laugh at the thought that we could ever be so honored to be an example to the world, a chosen race. It is not prideful to believe in God’s Word, it’s humility. Have the audacity to know your authority over problems and to know how eager God is to come to your rescue when you are in need. When your life is a role model for others, you will fulfill God’s will in your life. Why does He want you to be a chosen race and a royal priesthood? To proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness and into His glorious light. If you won’t, who will?
Saturday, November 15, 2014
Let the saints be joyful in glory; let them sing aloud on their beds. Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two-edged sword in their hand, to execute vengeance on the nations, and punishments on the peoples; To bind their kings with chains, and their nobles with fetters of iron; to execute on them the written judgment—this honor have all His saints. (Psalm 149:6-9 NKJV)
What a strange image this conjures up, people of faith singing loudly… in bed? Praising God and then swinging a two-edged sword to execute vengeance on nations and punish people? What an odd combination of ideas, and yet when you really know God, it makes perfect sense. God’s promise is that we who are saved and belong to Him (His saints) are given this honor. We have authority to bring vengeance and punishment, not against fleshly nations and peoples, but against the demonic powers and kingdoms that unjustly rule in this world.
Jesus says that the devil is the prince of this world, and has set up a rogue kingdom to impose his dominion over any who live in sin. But Jesus’ death on the cross, destroyed that power. We can now live in freedom if we do three things. Become born of God (saints), be joyful and praise Him always (even in our beds), and be warriors who fight with the double-edged sword of the Word of God (read Hebrews 4:12 to find out more). We have the honor to be joyful and full of praise, and at the same time to be instruments in God’s hands to destroy the dominion the devil has in our own lives and in the lives of others.
There are demonic principalities that try their best to rule over you, even though you have given your life to God. They know that if they can fool you into believing that they are stronger than you, they’ll be unhindered. In Ephesians 6, God commands us to put on His armor and go into battle. That’s our job. We fight, but the victory is always His. You have power to rebuke, to stand firm, to cast out demons and to determine miracles based on His promises. All the while, we are to have joy and songs of praise on our lips.
Praising God in the middle of problems is as powerful as rebuking the devil. In fact, the two of them combined is an unbeatable force. It goes against our nature to be joyful during struggles, and it’s a weapon that few actually use. Begin praising God in advance before the miracles happen. Praise God for the waiting period because you know He’s perfecting your faith. Praise Him for the people who irritate you because He wants to use you to impact their lives in a positive way. Praise Him the first thing you do when you wake up, and lying in your bed before you fall asleep. Praise Him for the authority He has given you over all evil and that your victory is sure. Fight, praise, and enjoy this honor that He has given us all.
Your conduct must be free from the love of money and you must be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you and I will never abandon you.” So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper, and I will not be afraid. What can people do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6 NET)
Anyone familiar with the teachings of the Bible know that the love of money is an evil thing. 1 Timothy 6 says that money is the root of all kinds of evil, and Jesus said in both Matthew and Luke, that we cannot serve both God and money, because we will love one and hate the other. Personal possessions and the security and prestige of wealth hold a great deal of power, and only godly people have the ability to deal with them all wisely without jeopardizing their relationship with God.
One myth that many Christians preach and practice, is that since Paul tells the church to “be content with what you have,” that it’s a sin to strive to prosper in your business or job. But that is not what he’s saying. The Holy Spirit, who inspired Paul to write this, is talking here about the state of our hearts and where our trust lies. A person can be poor and on welfare, and yet desire money to such a degree that he becomes greedy and hardened towards God. His absence of money doesn’t make him more spiritual. Another person can be working hard to grow his company, staying up late and sacrificing free time to see his dream of a bigger business become a reality, yet all the while have his heart firmly set on God. He’s not anxious or greedy, and is truly content with the knowledge that with God as his Lord and provider, all will work together for his good because God is first in all his plans.
Don’t confuse contentment with passivity. God’s people have always been great examples to the world when they were bold and courageous, to fight wars as in David’s time, or to face down violent kings as in Esther’s day, or to preach the gospel in a hostile empire, as the disciples of the Early Church did so fervently. Complacency and laziness aren’t listed among the fruit of the Spirit. Contentment is about active determination and confidence, and a refusal to be afraid. Fears may try to creep in, but faith commands those fears to leave because God has promised that He is our helper.
If being content were a passive thing, then God wouldn’t tell us to say confidently, “What can people do to me?” When you give tithes, offerings and sacrifices to God, use that opportunity to learn this beautiful character quality of being content. Defy the spirit of fear and prove your trust in God. Walk away from the altar with contentment and peace, knowing that as your helper, He will provide abundantly more than what you ask or think.
From there I will give back her vineyards to her, and turn the “Valley of Trouble” into an “Opportunity for Hope.” There she will sing as she did when she was young, when she came up from the land of Egypt. (Hosea 2:15 NET)
The “her” that God is speaking of is about His people who He will restore back to Himself. They will find joy again like they did when they were first set free as slaves.
Maybe you are going through what feels like a valley of trouble, a time of testing, attack or persecution. Today God wants you to know that your valley of trouble will be turned into an opportunity for hope. This valley is temporary, and the sooner you begin to trust Him without allowing fear and panic to contaminate your faith, the sooner you will see that valley turn into hope, and all the darkness you are going through now will be forgotten.
There are people who have gone through terrible trauma and felt they could never be normal or recover from their past. But God is in the business of transformation. Many of them now live very happy, fulfilled lives because they had the audacity to believe that God would wipe their slate clean completely. I work with many of them daily, and laugh with them as they tell their stories of past addictions and curses as if they were speaking about different people and not themselves – and in fact, that’s exactly the way it is. When God transforms you and you become born of His Spirit, the qualities of that old person with the urges and fears and emotional baggage, fade away. Of course as you mature in the Spirit, even more of you changes and improves day by day.
This is what you have to look forward to! You don’t have to go through therapy the rest of your life, you don’t have to carry that guilt either. You don’t even have to feel like that old person any more, because being born of God is becoming a new creature. You keep the same great qualities of humor, personal taste, and intelligence, and they become even better and more enjoyable with God. But all the junk is thrown away.
Your valley of trouble may be because you are not yet born of God, so you need to seek it with a passion and make any sacrifice necessary to find it. Maybe you’re already born of God, and your valley is just a testing period where God is waiting for your reaction of faith and trust while your emotions are being attacked. Either way, you have an opportunity of hope that will arise from that same valley, as long as you rest in that knowledge and obey His Word.
Begin to live in a spirit of thankfulness and expectation of your opportunity of hope that is on its way. Begin singing praises to God even now, before seeing answers to your prayers. It may feel awkward and even a little crazy, but don’t worry. Real faith is always a little crazy to this world anyway
Monday, November 10, 2014
“Shouldnʼt this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be released from this imprisonment?” (Luke 13:10-16 NET)
There are seven specific examples in the Bible of people who were set free from demons by Jesus — seven example where we either know the name of the person, or some details about their life and problems. Jesus cast out many more, but we have no specifics about their lives. This example in Luke 13 is one of the seven, and an interesting one, because it is one of two that occurred in a synagogue on the Sabbath. What does that mean for us today? It would be the modern day equivalent of casting out a demon from someone in the Sunday morning church service — an unthinkable thing for the large majority of Christians. And yet it happened with Jesus, and it happens today too. If we refuse to consider this we are turning our backs on Jesus’ example, and on a class of people in the Church that are in dire need of God’s help and power.
Jesus called this woman a daughter of Abraham, which may have been a reference to her Jewish ancestry, but it is more likely that He used this term in the correct manner, and was referring to her faith and sincerity. Though she believed in God, something in her life had allowed the devil to enter and stay, and make her suffer for 18 long years. Instead of criticizing and condemning her, Jesus as always had compassion on her and set her free.
It is not biblical to say, “I gave my life to Jesus, so the devil can’t touch me anymore.” Throughout the Bible, war is a big part of any believer’s life. In the Old Testament war included physical battles between armies as well as the inner battle of each person, whereas the New concentrates on our inner, spiritual battles. We are encouraged to be good soldiers, told to put on the armor of God, encouraged to fight the good fight of faith, to resist Satan firm in our faith, told to be on the alert because our adversary the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, and told about the weapons of our warfare… No one, beginner or veteran in the faith, can relax when it comes to doing battle with Satan and demons. If Jesus was tempted and attacked by the devil and demons throughout His life, how can we expect to escape the same treatment?
When Christians forget the Spirit’s command to fight the good fight of faith, and relax in faith thinking that Jesus’ defeat of Satan is enough, they turn into Christians on the edge — on the edge of God’s blessings, barely holding on to their faith, frustrated and doubtful. Instead of being “more than conquerors through Him who loved us” they become Christians that are not even free. Though Jesus died and rose again, defeating the devil and demons for all time, they either neglect to take a hold of God’s authority because they are uninformed, or they ignore it because it doesn’t agree with their doctrinal beliefs. Their way turns them into easy targets of the devil.
Don’t remain on the edge of God’s blessings, make sure you’re at the center.