Saturday, January 31, 2015

February 1 – Get out of the way

The Spirit is the One who gives life. The flesh doesn’t help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. (John 6:63 HCSB)

I can remember moments of reading the Bible when it felt as if a huge curtain was being pulled aside before my eyes.  All of a sudden things made sense, God’s voice was clear and practical so that I knew just what to do, but it was also deep and unexplainably transforming.  I’d feel a huge shift inside of me just because of that revelation, it was a joy and a conviction that I hadn’t fabricated on my own.  Someone was pulling me closer to Him right then.  It was the Holy Spirit.  

This happened even before I was baptized in the Holy Spirit.  In those days I didn’t even know about the baptism the way I understand it now.  All I knew was I wanted to know God deeply, and it was all that would occupy my mind.  Those “aha” moments of hearing the Holy Spirit speak started happening more often, because I allowed those revelations to change me every time.  I treated His word with an excitement and reverence.  No one had to create a church program or fast or special event for me to have a hunger for God.  As I kept yearning and seeking, it was just a matter of time before I was transformed and received His baptism.  

The Holy Spirit speaks to us all to create new life in us on a daily basis.  But how we respond to His voice determines everything.  We could dismiss what He says as undoable, or even agree with His urging at the moment and then casually toss it into the recycling bin of our brain a moment later.  The more we put Him off, the less we hear Him.  He keeps speaking but we dull our ears.  We allow exactly what this verse says, “The flesh doesn’t help at all.” 

The words of God are spirit.  The Bible is alive, living and active - a double edged sword (Hebrews 4:12).  There is no book you own that has life and spirit like the word of God.  And yet, it cannot be understood by your flesh.  Your spirit needs to reach out to God’s Spirit, to the spirit in His words.  This is what gives you life.

Just as I have loved those moments of hearing and receiving directly from Him, I know that I’ve also wasted time trying to listen to Him in my flesh.  I’d feel frustrated and bored, and preferred to turn my attention to more enjoyable things.  

Now that we have a fast of Daniel to enjoy and share together, don’t think that just because you’re avoiding secular media you deserve a pat on the back for your great “sacrifice.”  This isn’t about you or your flesh or how impressed you are with your holiness.  It’s about setting your eyes on Him, and hungering after His Spirit.  In a few weeks time you could be so transformed that you’ll never want to go back to the way you are right now.  Get your flesh out of the way, it doesn’t help at all.

January 31 – When we go it alone

But since My servant Caleb has a different spirit and has followed Me completely, I will bring him into the land where he has gone, and his descendants will inherit it. (Numbers 14:24 HCSB)

Caleb was one of the two spies who had scouted out the Promised Land, and came back full of faith and determination to take possession of it.  He believed that God was with them, and why not?  God had delivered them from Pharaoh, opened the Red Sea, fed them miraculously in the desert, and had split boulders so that water could gush out for millions of Israelites.  Caleb saw the obvious.  God had done miracle after miracle and led them to the most beautiful and abundant land just as He had promised.  Of course God could take care of them.  He was God, and this was their land.  Caleb saw it all through God’s eyes and was raring to do what God commanded and go forward.

But not the rest of the people.  They were so convinced that the inhabitants were too strong and their cities too fortified, that they even raged against Moses for leading them there.  They wanted to kill Moses, Caleb and Joshua on the spot.  They preferred slavery in Egypt to having the Promised Land.  And because of that, God banned them from entering it.  But not Caleb and his companion Joshua, the only good spies in the bunch.  God was pleased with them and allowed them into the land, and gave them an inheritance there for generations to come.

God is still looking for different spirits in us all.  People we think are on the same team as us, will turn their backs on our vision and on what God is leading us to do.  At those times God expects us to go it alone, even with the anger and ridicule of those who we once considered friends.  Human nature loves huddling into groups who agree with us and validate our opinions.  But God wants us to live beyond survival instincts.  He wants us to live by His promises and trust in His nature, even when we feel rejected.  Even if millions stand against us, we are to have a different spirit.  

In verse 18, God speaks about the curses of sin and rebellion.  These curses continue to the third and fourth generations, not because God has hatred for these unborn generations, but because that is the nature of evil when it enters a family.  It latches on to a household and plagues fathers to sons, to grandsons and on and on.  Now that we have authority in Jesus’ name, those curses can be broken with a radical faith in Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.  Without that faith, the curses just keep on repeating.

But the converse is also true.  God blesses those with a different spirit, like Caleb, and then blesses his descendants after him.  Our choices today establish an inherited blessing over our household that will carry on through our children and grandchildren.  Yes, each one has to seek God individually, and each has to deal with the consequences of his or her own choices.  But even so, a blessing of God’s favor will be with them, just because of us.  Isn’t that worth standing alone against the crowd for the sake of our faith? 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

January 29 – Does God even know you?

If anyone thinks he knows anything, he does not yet know it as he ought to know it.  But if anyone loves God, he is known by Him.  (1 Corinthians 8:2-3 HCSB)

A spiritual teacher who thinks he has it all figured out is either about to fall into the sin of pride, or is already deep into it.  Jesus’ greatest critics were the ones who were the most knowledgeable of the scriptures and the ones who were supposed to be leading the Israelites to God.  They were also the ones who Jesus criticized the harshest, even calling them teachers who make disciples that become twice the sons of hell as they are (Matthew 23:15).  Jesus was so forgiving and kind to the sinners, thieves and prostitutes, but He was ruthless with the arrogance of the religious leaders.

This should be a warning for every pastor, every church assistant, prayer counselor, seminary student, and every Christian who attempts to lead others to the knowledge of God.  You'll never know enough, and you never have it all figured out... never.  You will always need the attitude of humble submission to learn more and more, as you put your faith into practice daily, and allow His word to speak through every circumstance.  Faith is not head knowledge.  Faith comes from living in a loving relationship with your Father, making mistakes, getting up and trying again, listening, talking, repenting, celebrating, honoring, obeying, offering and giving of yourself because you love Him above all things.  When you truly learn from God, it hits you on the deepest level of your being and permeates everything else. If you love Him, you live out what He teaches you.

When you think of the excitement you have when you get to spend time with loved ones - that is how the Spirit of God wants you to treat Him.  When a romantic relationship begins, you both think of each other constantly and can’t wait to spend hours together, talking and sharing and just soaking up each other’s presence.  No one has to teach you how to do it, it just happens.  This is the love we need to develop with God.  You may not have the right feelings at the moment, but that isn’t how spiritual love begins.  It starts with choosing to love Him and treating Him with that same eagerness to be in His presence.  The feelings that come later are far greater than pleasant human emotions.  They are the supernatural joy and peace of the Spirit — the supernatural love that teaches you how to love the unlovable, to love yourself, to love the lost with purity and strength, and to really feel and know God’s love for you.   

An intelligent knowledge of the Bible’s stories and teachings is vital, but that knowledge is meant to be the springboard for the Spirit of God to start dwelling in you.  Unfortunately, many are gluttons of Bible knowledge, but are not known by God.  If they died today, Jesus would tell them, “depart from me, I never knew you.” But His promise is that if anyone loves Him, they’ll be known by Him.  He’ll see them with the eyes of a Father and will lavish them with His abundant life. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

January 27 – All of creation

Or do you despise the riches of His kindness, restraint, and patience, not recognizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?  (Romans 2:4 HCSB)

When I worked at our church in the Los Angeles area, we used to film students at one of the California State University campuses to interview them about their thoughts on God and the supernatural.  A very small percentage actually believed in the God of the Bible, but most of them just called themselves “spiritual.”  When we asked if they’d ever seen a miracle, many would answer yes.  The fact that the sun rose that morning, that they were alive, that they had families and food and shelter and the chance to study were common examples of “miracles” they gave.  That wasn’t what we meant by seeing miracles, but it brought up another point.  If these weren’t just random occurrences, but given out of the kindness of God, wouldn’t that mean that there needed to be a response to God on their part?

In the chapter before this one, Paul explains, “His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse.”  Just looking at the immensity of the universe, the perfect intricacy in our planet’s ability to sustain such abundant and beautiful life, and how unique every creature is should be enough to humble ourselves before God and see that He real, almighty, loving and good.  Those who choose to argue that God doesn’t exist, that life is the result of chaos that arbitrarily turned into order, are people who are determined not to see Him and ignore the emptiness they feel that longs for His presence.  No one has an excuse to claim that they never knew He was real.  

When someone says they’re just fine without God, it’s easy to assume that they really mean what they say.  They may seem convincing, but the truth is that all human beings were created to intimately know their Creator.  Our minds and emotions have the capacity to deceive ourselves into believing all kinds of lies.  Just like Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable…”  It’s a master of self-deception, and the most dangerous lie of all is that it doesn’t need a Savior.  This is how people are despising the riches of His kindness every day all over the world.  

Every solitary breath of air you breathe is a gift that you don’t deserve.  Your children are not yours, your health, your skills, your body and mind are not yours, but all gifts of kindness.  The times you have ignored Him and acted against what you knew He wanted from you were sins and worthy of punishment, but He shows restraint and patience because He loves you.  Respond to all He has given you by repenting and allowing Him to transform you into a new creation. All of nature is proclaiming God’s love for you – even the tiniest raindrop.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

January 25 – He’s on our side

He says, “Stop your striving and recognize that I am God! I will be exalted over the nations! I will be exalted over the earth!”  (Psalm 46:10 NET)

There’s an old hymn based on the King James version of this verse, “Be Still and Know That I am God,” written in the 1800’s.  We sang it in church as I was growing up, and it seemed to be a passive song to accept whatever life throws at me as the will of God.  But this chapter is all about God as our warrior, that He will intervene in the most adverse situations, that He is mighty and terrifying against the devil.  Verse 9 says, “He brings an end to wars throughout the earth; he shatters the bow and breaks the spear; he burns the shields with fire.”  He defeats enemies, He’s on our side. 

Psalm 46 is one of the more warlike chapters of the Bible.  It describes the shaking of the earth, the crumbling of mountains that crash into the depths of the sea, the armies of God overthrowing nations and bringing devastation to the earth, all with the comfort and joy of knowing that He fights for us.  And then near the end of the chapter comes this command – stop striving and recognize that He is God.  

There is nothing strong about running ourselves ragged, trying to sort out all our problems day after day.  We’ve been taught that being busy, looking busy and being on top of our game is our moral obligation.  But God says in effect, “Let me do the fighting for you – I’m a lot stronger than you are, I can see demons and enemies, where you can’t, I have unlimited power and you don’t, I love to fight for my children who I love – I only ask that you treat me as your Lord and Father.”  

When we tie ourselves up in knots by tackling problems in our own strength, we are denying that God is our Lord and Father.  We block God from working when we decide that we have to take care of it all, even though we pray.  We can make the most foolish and time-wasting prayers when we rush around in our self-important state of busyness, asking God to bless our to-do list and make everything work out right.  When we don’t even stop to listen to Him, we basically tell Him that His mighty armies can just take a step back and find something else to do because we’ve got it under control.  We can be so ridiculous, it’s embarrassing.  If we spent all that energy just seeking Him first, we’d be light years ahead in our endeavors, and far more peaceful as well. 

We gain time when we give time to God, to meditate, to listen to what He’s trying to tell us.  We have to bring ourselves down from our high horses and know that if we don’t serve and obey our Lord, He can’t fight for us. We can’t obey Him if we don’t know what He’s saying or where He’s guiding us.  We need to be still, meditate on His word, stop striving, and recognize that He is God.  When we allow Him to work, He uses our lives to become known and exalted throughout all the nations of the world.  And when He is exalted, we are lifted up as well.

January 24 – Run to find Him

For those who live according to the flesh have their outlook shaped by the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit have their outlook shaped by the things of the Spirit. (Romans 8:5 NET)

For all the millions of dollars that the self-help industry has generated, what is it that people most want?  To break out of negative mental habits and become happy and productive.  Conventional wisdom says that better jobs, better marriages, better kids, better finances, better everything starts with the right perspective and the ability to stick to it.  But what trips up most people?  No one knows what the “right perspective” is, since absolute right and wrong is considered narrow minded.  And those who think they’ve got it figured out rarely stick to it anyway.  

This is not just a picture of non-believers, it’s become the norm among Christians.  How many sit in church services with a horrible sense of guilt and shame?  Some have hidden addictions, immoral desires, secret affairs, sins and weaknesses that condemn them every day.  And it’s not like they want to indulge their flesh with no concern for God.  So many deeply wish they could rid themselves of their shame, but when it comes time to resist, they have no strength.  

When you rely on the strength of your flesh, your mindset will always be skewed, your emotions will always be tampered with by evil, and you will always fall right back into what you hate.  Christians who exert great effort into running from sin and running from temptation are only partially getting it right.  Instead of running away, it’s time to run to something powerful and real.  It’s time to run to the Spirit of God, run to the one who can totally change your outlook, your vision, and your entire being.  

Think about the many chances every day holds to run to God, to hear from Him, to commune with His Spirit and to obey His urgings, but you’d rather fill your head with music written by people possessed with the spirit of this world.  Why?  Because the spirit of anger or loneliness or selfishness in those songs bonds with the spirits inside of you – and you like how that feels.  Or maybe you’d rather browse through random messages on Facebook and take whatever senseless quiz appears just to escape your frustrated life.  You want peace, assurance and joy, but you fill your time with things that drive you further from any of it.  When temptations come, no wonder you have no strength to resist.  You live by your flesh, but want supernatural strength. 

God’s promise is that if you live for the Holy Spirit, your whole outlook will change, and the Holy Spirit will empower you from on high (Luke 24:29). The exhausting struggle with sin will no longer be an issue, because you will be made a new creature.  It’s all in the choices you make day after day.  Run to Him.  The Fast of Daniel is coming.  Get alone with God and His word.  Run with all your strength to find Him, know Him and hear Him and watch how everything will change.  

Thursday, January 22, 2015

January 23 – Crazy trust

You will not fight in this battle. Take your positions, stand, and watch the Lord deliver you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Don’t be afraid and don’t panic! Tomorrow march out toward them; the Lord is with you!  (2 Chronicles 20:17 HCSB)

King Jehoshaphat faced a terrifying dilemma.  The armies of three different nations had marched in to attack Judah.  The Bible says that it was “a vast number from beyond the Dead Sea.”  Jehoshaphat, however, was wise.  Instead of rushing into military strategy meetings with his commanders, he stopped everything and called the entire country to make a fast.  Men, women and children from all the cities came to Jerusalem to gather for prayer along with their king.  He lifted up his voice to God and made a prayer that was thoughtful and intelligent.  He called on the justice of God to defend them when they had done nothing wrong, and in fact had shown mercy to these kingdoms in the past.  Then God’s Spirit spoke through the prophet Jehaziel and told them that the battle was not theirs, but God’s.

But even though the battle was God’s, His people were still required to act with great courage and determination.  They were to position themselves and face the enemy.  All the details of how the battle would turn out were not revealed.  Imagine yourself in a situation like this, where a terrible threat was before you.  God says He will fight for you, but you still have to go onto the battlefield of whatever problem it is, and look your enemy in the eye.  We’d much rather stay home and let God do all the fighting from a distance, and then let us know when it’s safe to come out of our houses – but that’s not how God fights for us.  He wants us in the thick of battle while allowing Him to fight in, through and around us.  Without obedience and courage, there can be no victory.

King Jehoshaphat’s trust in God was crazy – good crazy. He marched his much smaller army towards the valley where the vast armies were waiting, but insisted that his greatest warriors should not take the lead.  Instead, he set musicians and singers on the front line to praise and worship God loudly as they marched.  His determination was that if God was going to be their victory, then His name should be proclaimed above all things.  Military strategies were not going to save them.  They were tempted to panic, but they chose not to act in fear and believe in God’s promise.

When they reached the valley, they saw the dead bodies of those vast armies.  While waiting for war with Judah, one army turned against another one and wiped it out.  Then the third army turned against the remaining one, and they both killed each other.  The Bible says that the Lord set an ambush and turned each enemy against the other.  This is the promise of God for you today, if you feel like scary problems are closing in on you from all directions.  Don’t be afraid, and don’t panic.  Instead be crazy enough to act on the faith that God will defeat these enemies for you.  Don’t hide from them, but face them with a complete trust that God will fight for you, and you can be sure that He will.   The God of Jehoshaphat is still our God today.