Tuesday, September 16, 2014

September 16 – Honor in Insults

If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory, who is the Spirit of God, rests on you.  (1 Peter 4:14   NET)

Here is one more promise of God that seems completely backwards to our natural mind.  Who would imagine that being insulted and hated would be a good thing, even something to desire?  The things of God go against our flesh.  Understand that we are part of a fallen world that has distorted the truth — so once we start to live in a way that is right, it feels wrong because we’ve become so accustomed to living crookedly.  We have to trust in God and develop spiritual instincts because we can no longer trust our human instincts.  God tells us in Isaiah 55:8, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways My ways, says the Lord.”

Though obedience to God usually means denying our flesh, there are always huge blessings on the other side that please our spirits, our emotions and even our physical lives.  But we have to go against our flesh first to find them.  God is teaching us here how to find joy and blessings despite the hatred and insults that others hurl at us.  We are to know without a doubt, that His Spirit is resting on us whenever we are misunderstood or mistreated because of our faith.  We are closer to Him in times of persecution, more than even in times when we feel at peace.  His glory is over us and we can expect His blessings and answers to our prayers to become evident because we are suffering for the sake of His name.

Our response to these insults and mistreatment, is to rejoice, and to tune in to the Holy Spirit who is resting on us right then.  We are being given more authority to fight against evil, and He will give us clarity to see how to respond to our problems in a supernatural way.  When Peter and the other apostles were arrested and thrown in prison for preaching about Jesus, they remained just as confident and joyful as ever.  The Spirit of God opened the prison doors during the night, and they escaped.  But instead of hiding in fear, they obeyed the guidance of the Holy Spirit who told them to go right back and preach in the temple that morning.  Their boldness in faith threw their enemies into confusion (Acts 5). 

If you don’t know yet how to deal with feelings of anger, hurt, or offense, you haven’t yet experienced the joy of being empowered by the Holy Spirit that is resting on you at that moment.  Don’t forget that many who once ridiculed the apostles later were saved, and many who react unkindly towards you today could easily change in the future.  Consider it an honor to suffer insults for your Lord, and make your flesh take a back seat to give God’s Spirit room to work miracles in you and even in the hearts of your persecutors.   One thing you may want to consider, however, is if you have never faced rejection or any insult for your faith at all, are you really following Christ as you should?  

Monday, September 15, 2014

September 15 – God’s yoke + burden

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry.  (Matthew 11:28-30  NET)

What an interesting promise.  Jesus calls the weary and burdened, promising them rest, and then asks them to place His yoke on their necks and shoulder His burden!  Isn’t that a contradiction?  How can people experience rest when someone places a new load on their shoulders, fastens a new yoke around their necks?  You would think that rest meant no yoke and no burden, but in God’s world things are reversed.  God’s yoke is easy and His load is not hard.  In fact all weariness and burdens in life come when we try to avoid God’s yoke and burden.  The more we try to experience freedom and happiness by ourselves, without God, the more oppressed and unhappy we become.

A perfect example of this is discipline in the home.  All children are hungry for discipline and boundaries.  When there is no discipline in the home, no clear rules and strict, loving enforcement of those rules, children feel insecure and unloved.  Somehow their small, underdeveloped brains reason that if their parents really loved and cared for them, they would lay down the law and punish them for breaking it.  It seems contradictory because children complain about rules and discipline, but the results prove otherwise.  Children thrive when they are given “yokes” and “loads” by loving, strict parents; that is when they feel truly loved and cared for.

Not only do non-Christians and unbelievers get this wrong, many churchgoers and self-professing strong Christians also get this wrong.  The world teaches that complete freedom from any and all restrictions makes us free, that restrictions block happiness, that satisfying pleasures brings true joy and satisfaction — but it’s all a lie.  True freedom, strength and happiness come from surrendering our wills to God.  True blessings and wisdom beyond our years come when we fear God and are careful to follow His commands.  When we shoulder God’s load and yoke, all of a sudden, problems that have constantly haunted us all through our lives are no longer a problem.  On the other side of God’s yoke and burden is a life of happiness and strength that we’ve never experienced.

If you are weary and burdened, ask yourself how serious you have been with God.  Sure, we all experience problems and hardships in life, but when we’re walking with God, trusting in Him and using our faith, every problem turns into something that is easy to bear and easy to carry.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

September 14 – Plugging into the source

For all the gods of the nations are worthless, but the Lord made the heavens. Majestic splendor emanates from him, he is the source of strength and joy.  (2 Chronicles 16:26-27 NET)

When the Bible mentions idols and gods, we tend to picture ignorant, primitive civilizations bowing down to crude statues. But among church-going believers, there are many who invent their own gods.  When a believer does not want to submit to spiritual authority, but prefers to hop from church to church, and from one TV evangelist to another, they are in fact trying to custom-make their own god who will tell them what they want to hear.  When they don’t want to be held accountable for their spiritual lives and development, or be given guidance when they fall into sin, they have made a god in their own image.

We are all tempted to want an easy path, a god that doesn’t require much of us, and an appearance of spirituality that needs no sacrifice.  Christians who have become lax in faith but then return to God, are always ashamed of how far they’d drifted from Him, and of the fantasy-god that their minds so quickly created.  Unfortunately there are many who have drifted and never returned.  No wonder the Bible says that our hearts are more deceitful that anything else and incurable (Jeremiah 17:9).

In contrast, the Almighty God is our source of all strength, and all joy.  Picture being loved and empowered by the One who created the entire universe and all there is in it, with splendor and might radiating from Him, offering you authority over all evil, and a position as heir in His Kingdom – forever.  No pitiful patchwork god that our little minds create can compare to Him.  Why would anyone want to choose a false god that is worthless, over the true God who is full of power?

When we don’t submit to Him, and when we don’t die to our flesh, we cut ourselves off from strength and joy.  He is that source, and that is His promise to us.  For the depressed, the weak, and the fearful, the source of deep and lasting joy begins with God.  For those who are facing problems that intimidate them, that are beyond human effort, the source of supernatural strength to overcome is available in God.  This is not just a nice poetic saying, God is teaching us something practical to put to use right now.  

First, rid yourselves of all false gods that may have subtly crept into your hearts.  They are worthless and an abomination to God.  But once you have made the true God your Lord, count on majestic splendor shining over you, and strength and joy that surpass human understanding to be resources that you can tap into and use whenever you need.  Don’t accept anything less – this is a truth that He has spoken.  This is your promise.

September 13 – Rescued hostages

He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son He loves. We have redemption, the forgiveness of sins, in Him. (Colossians 1:13,14   HCSB)

Lately we’ve seen heart-wrenching stories on the news of hostages that were kept in captivity for many months and then brutally beheaded for the whole world to see.  Though we all wished that these men could be rescued and brought to safety, the reality is that governments, leaders and armies are not always equipped or prepared to confront the evil in this world.  Good governments and leaders try to have a positive influence on the world, and to save the oppressed, but their efforts are not always successful or appreciated.  No government, no matter how good, can solve all our problems.

But how different God is!  He has already rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us into the kingdom of His Son.  We were doomed, condemned to a life of addictions, lies, unfaithfulness, anxiety, depression, poverty, emptiness, anger, weakness and sin.  We used to be slaves to our flesh and to the ways of the world.  We followed the crowd (even though it was lost), and ran after things that never brought us the happiness we were seeking.  God mercifully rescued us from a life of exploitation and slavery, from a prison from which there was no escape.  When there was no hope whatsoever for us, He intervened, plucked us out of the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of light.

The Greek word “redemption” (we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins, in Him) points to a slave being redeemed through the payment of a ransom.  Though we did not even know we were in need of being saved, and were incapable of paying the price, Jesus intervened and rescued us.  It would be a terrible insult for us to ignore the amazing, heroic work of God to set us free and give us a new life.  The old way of living is so obsolete.  Give it up, and grab onto this new life!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

September 12 – Figs from thistles

You will recognize them by their fruit. Grapes are not gathered from thorns or figs from thistles, are they? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree is not able to bear bad fruit, nor a bad tree to bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will recognize them by their fruit.  (Matthew 7:16-20   NET)

An orange farmer in Florida expects every tree in his orchard to produce a certain number of oranges of a particular quality.  His business depends on it.  If any trees under produce, or produce no fruit at all, he would cut them down and replace them with trees that would produce like all the rest.  We wouldn’t call him cruel for doing that because he has every right to expect fruit from his trees.  He wouldn’t expect oranges from the palm tree in his front yard, or from his rose bushes.  But his orange trees have to produce oranges.

Jesus’ argument is just as obvious as the one about oranges; it’s a very simple truth that no one would argue with.  Even a child would understand these concepts.  And yet, when we apply these ideas to salvation and faith, to knowing God, to doubt and fear, and demons, people get very confused.  For some reason, people are not as logical when it comes to their behavior and habits, to the question of whether or not they are saved.  Some people claim to know God and to be absolutely sure of their salvation while they are involved in terrible sins and have habits that no child of God would ever allow.

Fruit is the yardstick of our walk with God.  It reveals whether or not we are free from demons, and when we are baptized with the Holy Spirit.  Like the farmer, we should expect to see fruit when we surrender our lives to God, when we use our faith, when we seek God’s presence. It’s not enough to attend church, pray, sing songs, smile at our friends, and pretend to be good Christians.  If God is truly living inside us we will see fruit like we have never seen before, fruit that cannot be faked or manufactured by our flesh.  When Jesus said that figs are not gathered from thistles He was referring to a plant that no only cannot produce figs, but cannot produce any kind of fruit.  God’s peace and joy has never been felt by people living for their flesh, by people who put themselves first and push God to the side.  That fruit is reserved for people who have gone all the way with God.  It is exclusive to that class of people.  Anyone else is completely incapable of experiencing those emotions.

This is not complicated, but we frequently make it so.  Be honest with yourself… brutally honest.  Only the truth will set you free.  If you discover that your relationship with God is weak or non-existent after an honest evaluation, you have just done yourself an enormous favor, and if you go one step further and humble yourself before God and decide to change, God’s power will flow into your life and help you to change.  This is the most important decision of our lives; please don’t neglect it.

September 11 – Godly complaints

After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.”   (Genesis 15:1   NKJV)

This is one of the most powerful passages in the Bible, and one that has great significance for us all.  In fact, there is good reason to believe that these words were spoken by the Lord Jesus Himself, since He is known as “the Word.”  Most, or all Bible scholars believe that Jesus made several appearances in the Old Testament, what they call “pre-incarnate” appearances, meaning that they happened before Jesus came to earth in the flesh. And so, this promise is significant because Jesus Himself came and spoke to Abram, and because He used a powerful phrase that would later become the personal name of God, the name that God gave Moses on Mount Sinai… I am who I am.  When Jesus said “I AM” your shield, your exceedingly great reward, He was making a powerful statement of His intrinsic nature, something that would never change.  He was declaring that He would always protect and provide for Abram, but instead of eliciting a series of Praise Gods and Hallelujahs, He got a complaint.  Confusing for some, but a great lesson for us all.

Abram complained because God had promised on several occasions to make his descendants great, as numerous as the dust of the earth.  But up to that point he remained childless, and so Jesus’ promise of protection and wealth was not enough for him, and he reminded God of that.

Instead of a rebuke, Abram was blessed in an extraordinary way for his complaint.  It pleased God to such degree that He reiterated His promise to him, and made a covenant with him that very night.  He told Abram to sacrifice five animals: a three year-old heifer, and three year-old female goat, and three year-old ram, a turtledove and a pigeon.  They were cut in half and the pieces were placed opposite each other, and then in the middle of the night God appeared as a smoking firepot and a flaming torch and passed between the pieces.  This was an ancient tradition of making a solemn vow: whoever walked between the halves of the dead animals was declaring that the same should be done to him if he failed to keep the agreement that the two parties had made. And so, God made this solemn vow to keep His word to Abram in response to his complaint.

The moral of this story is that God wants His children to fight for what has been promised.  We cannot expect God’s promises to automatically come true simply because He made them to us.  God expects us to believe in them even in the darkest moments of our lives, to wrestle with Him like Jacob, to complain like Abram, insisting that they come true for us.  We can’t just speak about our faith, we have to act it our in a concrete, bold manner.  If we don’t, our faith is dead, because genuine faith refuses to stop until it has received what was promised.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

September 10 – Being a blessing

I will make a covenant of peace with them and eliminate harmful beasts from the land so that they may live securely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods.  I will make them and the places around My hill a blessing. And I will cause showers to come down in their season; they will be showers of blessing. Also the tree of the field will yield its fruit and the earth will yield its increase, and they will be secure on their land. Then they will know that I am the Lord, when I have broken the bars of their yoke and have delivered them from the hand of those who enslaved them. (Ezekiel 34:25-27 NASB)

This is one of many prophecies about the coming of Jesus, the Messiah, who would set God’s people free.  All of us who live in the time after Jesus’ sacrifice can now benefit from this amazing promise.  Read this with spiritual eyes, and see that the harmful beasts are demons who want to devour our lives.  The problems that prowl around us and threaten to destroy us, are now eliminated when we determine that this promise is ours.

Living securely in the wilderness means that we don’t have to run away from evil any more, since Jesus has given us authority over demons.  Now evil has to run away from us.  Even when we are in an area that once felt unsafe, we can be in complete peace, because we have made a covenant of peace with Him.

Showers will come, blessings that will nourish and strengthen us, and make us more fruitful.  Rains will come from season to season, and all these things will happen when we are gathered around His hill – His hill being wherever His presence is.  Gathering with others of the same faith in church, drinking from His Word, being attentive to what He wants and what He has to teach us, is what it means to be on His holy hill.  Not only will we be blessed, but we will be a blessing to others who are far from God and be drawn to Him because of us.

The earth, the plants and the sky will all work together in harmony to create fruit and safety for the people of God.  This corresponds to another passage, “Beware that your hearts are not deceived, and that you do not turn away and serve other gods and worship them.  Or the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you, and He will shut up the heavens so that there will be no rain and the ground will not yield its fruit; and you will perish quickly from the good land which the Lord is giving you.”  (Deut. 11:16-17)  As good as God’s blessings are, we can’t afford to turn away from Him and idolize any other thing or person.  We curse ourselves when we degrade God by treating what is holy dismissively.

God wants the world to know and see that He is God through us.  It glorifies Him to break off our yokes of oppression off of us.  Since our greatest desire should be to honor and lift Him up, let’s make it our life’s work to live on His hill so that these blessings can rain down, and become evident to everyone around us.