Saturday, October 25, 2014

October 24 – For all of us

The one who loves his life will lose it, and the one who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  (John 12:25 HCSB)

This is one of Jesus’ teachings that appears in all four gospels, and even rephrased twice in the book of Matthew.  This statement is crucial.  It teaches the foundation of what our lives as Christians should be – a sacrifice to Him.

Obviously we all love our lives.  We love to have control over as much of our lives as possible.  Even people with suicidal tendencies long for control to such a degree that they think they know better than God, and want to take measures into their own hands to end their lives.  So when Jesus teaches that the one who hates his life in this world keeps it for eternal life, He is definitely not referring to a self-destructive mindset.  He is speaking about surrender, not suicide.

The vast majority of people who warm church seats pray and sing and love hanging onto their lives.  How many Christians are eager to reach out to those in need, and how many are angered at the evil and injustice of this world to such a point that they cry out to God and search for ways to be used by Him to right these wrongs?  How many would be happy to give up their jobs and homes to serve others and further God’s Kingdom if He asked?  Not many.  They may claim to be angered by evil and injustice, but that’s only visible when they’re yelling at the radio on their drive to work, listening to the daily news.  Not that God asks everyone to give up all of their possessions to give to the poor all the time, but He does ask us all to “hate our lives in this world,” for His sake.  

This attitude of the willingness to surrender is not just for a select few, for the pastors and missionaries who travel to far-flung corners of the earth. This is for those who want to find eternal life.  This is for all of us. 

What do you know God is asking of you that you keep saying no to?  What do you do for God that inwardly causes you to gripe and groan?  What worries do you have that keeps you from surrendering your life to Him heart and soul?  Do you fear that if you die to your flesh, you’ll be a prisoner to a religious life?  Do you think that if God asks something of you that you’ll never have joy again?  Die to those thoughts.  Hate this pitiful scrap of life that you are trying so hard to control here on earth, and lose it all for Him.  He will give you far more than you ever imagined, but holding onto what you have will never allow you to even taste the abundance of life that He has for you.  

Remember His promise, I have come to give you life, and life to the full.  His life is worth trading our own for by far. 

October 23 – Trust and seeing the bigger picture

“The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord, their refuge in a time of distress.  The Lord helps and delivers them; He will deliver them from the wicked and will save them because they take refuge in Him.” (Psalm 37:39-40 HCSB)

What is the biggest quality that will separate the sheep from the goats when God judges the world?  What will God search for in each of us when we stand before Him?  Trust.  Trust even when everything seems unfair, trust when our answers haven’t yet materialized, trust when our emotions want us to doubt and fear the worst.  Each time we go through moments of distress, we are going through a test of our true faith.  Is it just words, or is it real?  

God promises that He will be our refuge, but we are the ones who have to take refuge in Him by quieting our fears and choosing trust over emotion.  His refuge won’t chase us down and come over us while we are floundering in panic and proclaiming that everything is lost.  When we run to Him and hide in the safety of his protection, believing all the while that He will deliver us, then we experience that safety and our hearts can be calm and at peace even when a storm swirls around outside. 

These two verses wrap up this beautiful chapter of King David, packed with promise after promise.  The theme that overarches it all is to stop worrying about injustice. Stop complaining that evil people get away with all the evil that they do, because when all is said and done, God always deal with them in His perfect justice and makes all things right.  Stay faithful to Him, and you will see with your own eyes the faithful love of God come true before you.  Doubt and blame God for all that is wrong, and you delay your blessings.  

God knows how hard it is to be as small and limited as we are.  Our vision is so short, our understanding so clouded.  He knows that we don’t see the bigger picture of how great His power is and how much authority and protection we already have once we trust in Him.  But He asks us just to live in that faith and trust that what He tells us is true.  

I have often preached that waiting on God is nothing like the passive defeatist attitude that many Christians have when it comes to overcoming their problems.  The Bible’s description of waiting on God is active, and full of determination.  You only wait for someone you are certain is coming through for you.  When you truly trust in someone, you act as though their promise was as good as done.  A child trusts when his father promises that if he gets all his homework done and cleans his room, he’ll get a special present.  That little boy gets it all done as fast as he can, then waits by the front door for his dad to pull into the driveway.  We need to trust in our Father by acting in that same spirit of expectation.  Honor Him with a simple, childlike trust today.  Take refuge in Him and see how much He comes through for you.  

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

October 22 – They could not be found

I have seen ruthless evil men growing in influence, like a green tree grows in its native soil. But then one passes by, and suddenly they have disappeared! I looked for them, but they could not be found. Take note of the one who has integrity! Observe the godly! For the one who promotes peace has a future.  (Psalm 37:35-37   NET)

How many of us have caught ourselves envying ruthless, evil people who care nothing about God, and yet are enjoying success and influence?  We all have at one time or another.  It’s natural for these thoughts to come.  But those of us who are smart and spiritual catch ourselves and remember the words of David when he said that ruthless and evil men would suddenly disappear and not be found.  

Even David, a man of great success, power and wealth noticed evil people around him growing in power, as if they were plants in their native habitat and all creation were cooperating with them.  At times we wonder how people who refuse to pray, read the Bible, give offerings, attend church or live holy lives can have so much.  But one thing we do know, their time is short.  They have no future.  At any time the devil can take away all they have.  They are not safe. 

Even King David who was a man of great accomplishments and power notice that there were ruthless and spiritually bankrupt people around him (most probably kings of other nations) who were growing in influence.  Though they seemed to be thriving like a plant in its native habitat, as if all creation were cooperating with them, he didn’t let these thoughts take over his heart and make him bitter.  He trusted in God and knew that his future was secure only as long as he maintained a strong faith in the Almighty.

David encourages us to take note of those with integrity and godliness.  Very soon they will see God’s answers and will outshine the ungodly, but only if they keep their eyes on Him.  If they give in to envy of the ungodly and forget about God’s promises, they will become a block to God’s blessings in their lives.

October 21 – The land that has always been ours

“The righteous will inherit the land and dwell in it permanently.”  (Psalm 37:29 HCSB)

The history of the Israelites is marked with many wanderings in the desert in search of their promised land.  Abraham had to travel over one hundred and fifty miles to be led by God to the land of Canaan.  Later Jacob had to run back to Abraham’s family home to hide from his angry brother Esau, and only years later took the long arduous trek back to Canaan to make peace.  Joseph was captured and hauled away as a slave to Egypt and his brothers and father had to travel there to find food to sustain them during a famine.  Years later, Israel was exiled and taken as slaves to Babylon because they had rejected God and treated Him with disdain.  The land had always been theirs since the time of Abraham, but too many times sin, selfishness and a lack of trust in God removed them from that beloved place.

In the same manner, there is a promised land for us all – a life of victory and abundance of joy that was purchased for us on the cross by the Lord Jesus.  Eventually we who are true believers will all enter into the Kingdom of Heaven when our lives on this earth are over.  But that is not what this verse is about.  God is promising us our inheritance today, and inheritance of all His promises coming true in our lives, where we will dwell permanently and not have that land stolen from us or invaded by enemies.  The requirement in this promise, is that we be righteous.

If you feel like you often find yourself just about to reach your promised land and then it seems to be snatched away time after time, see if you are living a life that God would consider to be righteous.  Clean your heart, remove any stumbling blocks or opportunities for the devil to rob you again.  This promise is for you to be settled and safe in the land that He already promised you.  Don’t be like the people of Israel in their beautiful land flowing with milk and honey, who lazily forgot the One who was their protector and provider, and ended up losing it all.  But even if you have already committed those mistakes, you can begin right now to honor God above all with your life.  Repent and change, and see how soon that land will be restored to you.  It has always been meant for us, but it’s up to us to decide that we will live in a manner worthy of such a wonderful inheritance.  

October 20 – Want to be safe?

Turn away from evil and do what is good, and dwell there forever. For the Lord loves justice and will not abandon His faithful ones. They are kept safe forever, but the children of the wicked will be destroyed.  (Psalm 37:27,28  HCSB)

God is not a stern judge who enjoys punishing people whenever they do any little thing wrong.  Though Jesus perfectly kept the Law when He lived on earth, a law that condemned adultery, lying, theft, and murder, He forgave people who had broken it.  He forgave the woman that was caught in adultery, and even forced her accusers who who wanted to stone her, to think about their own sins.  He also forgave Zacchaeus, a huge liar and thief, and He forgave a murderer when He took Barabbas’ place on the cross.  The Lord Jesus never broke the Law of God given to Moses, but when it came to its application to other people He chose mercy over judgment.  He opted to concentrate on people’s character rather than their outward actions.

Jesus told the adulteress that she was free to go after her accusers had one by one walked away, but told her to “go and sin no more.”  During the dinner that Zacchaeus put on for Jesus, he stood up and declared that he would not longer live the life of a thief, and promised to pay back every penny he had stolen.  Clearly, Jesus was ready to forgive any sin or weakness, but came to teach people a better way, the way of turning away from evil and doing good.  Hundreds of years after Psalm 37 had been written, Jesus came and lived it out as an example to all.

The more we turn away from evil and do good, the closer God will be to us.  He promises not to abandon those who live good lives.  We can say that we love God all we want, but that love will always be imperfect as long as we do not HATE sin and the devil.  How can we love a holy God when we don’t hate unholiness?  Impossible.  

For our own good we need to choose to turn away from evil whenever it appears; the sooner we get away from it the better.  God promises not to abandon His faithful ones, but when we choose not to turn away from evil, we ourselves push Him away and tie His hands that are so eager to help us.

October 19 – The best legacy for our children

He is always generous, always lending, and his children are a blessing.  (Psalm 37:26 HCSB)

Everyone likes to imagine themselves as being generous, but our flesh doesn’t like parting with what we believe is rightfully ours.  We only give when we are certain of some sort of payback.  People will shell over hundreds of dollars for great seats at a football game and a nice tailgate party to enjoy with friends, because they consider the variety of benefits to be well worth it.  But to be asked to help someone in need who has no possibility of repaying, is another story.  Giving a few bucks in church is about the best a lot of people can do, but then go home to complain about how they really needed that money.

Being generous in spirit is not just about what is given, but the attitude of the heart as we give.  It’s about the nature of our character that wants to give.  The best test of that kind of nature is how we react when it comes to unexpected situations when we can choose to either give, or to hold back.  Generosity is a noble virtue in theory, but not too popular in practice.  This very short verse links generosity to a legacy for our children.  They are blessed, and they become a blessing – to us, and to all who come into contact with them.  When we give to others, we are giving to God, as Jesus taught in the parable of the sheep and goats.  Whenever we give to God, it always comes back to us multiplied. 

When the enjoyment of giving becomes a part of you, and even if you have no children, the product of what you do and who you are, becomes a blessing.  You instill a generous spirit in others who pass it on and in time, your entire community and circle of friends and family will become changed. 

Generous hearts are found in people who trust that there will always be enough for their needs.  They live by faith because they believe in a safe future before they see it happen.  They can give without fear.  They are also people who in time, become financially blessed because their giving spirit creates an automatic response of provision from God.  They are able to even lend and not worry about making ends meet, which is one of the promises in Deuteronomy 15:5, “…you will lend to many nations but not borrow.”

When the world teaches that generosity is weakness, God reveals that generosity is courage and faith that impacts our homes and communities.  Don’t wait to have everything perfect in your life before you begin to give.  Develop a generous spirit now so that God can begin to bless you back today.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

October 18 – Never abandoned

I have been young and now I am old, yet I have not seen the righteous abandoned or his children begging for bread.  (Psalm 37:25  HCSB)

King David had seen many things in his life.  He began as a simple, unknown shepherd boy, the last of eight brothers, and rose to become one of the greatest leaders of Israel, and their greatest king.  Throughout his life he was overlooked, laughed at, betrayed, cheated, lied to, disrespected, attacked, ambushed, accused of being proud and treated as a traitor, but he also had amazing victories, stayed strong in his faith, served as an example for his people and died with his salvation intact.

Clearly David (and the Holy Spirit) is not telling us to expect a problem-free life.  Without a doubt there were times that David was tempted to feel abandoned, when his prayers were not being answered, and when it seemed like circumstances and his enemies were stronger than he was.  But every time, in the end, David could say that God came through for him, that he was not abandoned, that his children did not need to beg for food.

Victory and blessings do not always mean a trouble-free life.  Troubles are one of our greatest teachers.  We learn the most when we’re going through rough times.  We draw closest to God when we are in trouble and feel inadequate.  So when God promises never to abandon us He is not saying that He’ll block all problems from entering our lives.  What He is promising is that we will have problems, but as we persevere and refuse to give in to doubt and fear, we will see His power and answers.

As long as we stay close to God by having faith and trusting that “all things work for the good”, we will never be abandoned.  David was not abandoned, and he states that he had never seen the righteous abandoned, even at the end of a long, full life.  Why should we listen to the opposite?  Shouldn’t we trust the Word of God and the testimony of a man of God that experienced all sorts of trials and came out on top?  Put the devil in his place when he comes with whispers of how God might not take care of you this time.