Tuesday, December 31, 2013

December 31: God will elevate you

If you indeed obey the Lord your God and are careful to observe all his commandments I am giving you today, the Lord your God will elevate you above all the nations of the earth. All these blessings will come to you in abundance if you obey the Lord your God: You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the field. Your children will be blessed, as well as the produce of your soil, the offspring of your livestock… You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out.  (Deuteronomy 28:1-6 — New English Translation)

This 28th chapter of Deuteronomy has two parts — the first half lists the blessings for those who follow God, and the last half lists the curses for those who ignore Him and live whatever way they want. Though the Israelites had taken possession of the Promised Land, that was not enough, they had to hold on to it and continue to experience God’s blessings. The fact that they were living in that blessed land would not prevent curses from coming upon them, if they were disobedient. The choice was theirs.

The historical books of the Old Testament tell us about how this passage came true when God's people obeyed Him. As you read the books of Joshua through Esther, the people of Israel were blessed, protected, and victorious when they loved and obeyed God. The principle in these verses is eternal — God always acts in this way. He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. But ignoring God and disobeying Him always leads to disaster.

We do not live under the Old Testament Law today — we live by the Law of the Spirit — and yet this principle still holds true. If we get cold in our faith and lose our passion for following and pleasing the Lord Jesus Christ, even though we go to church and read the Bible and are “good” people, we are inviting disaster into our lives. Not only can we lose God’s blessings and protection, we can lose our salvation. If Lucifer who was constantly in the presence of God and saw the greatness and surpassing beauty of heaven could be blinded from the truth of God through arrogance and pride, how much more could we.

As we end this year and start a new one, remember that obedience to God is one of a handful of attitudes that will help to guarantee success and blessings… both physical and spiritual. Boldness to believe what God has promised — that He will elevate you above all the nations of the earth — and to claim it for yourself would be another. May this year be the best year of your life so far.

Monday, December 30, 2013

December 30: Need wisdom? Ask for it.

My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect effect, so that you will be perfect and complete, not deficient in anything. But if anyone is deficient in wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without reprimand, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed around by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord, since he is a double-minded individual, unstable in all his ways.  (James 1:2-8 — New English Translation)

Your faith is going to be tested, and this scripture says you should be happy about it! The trials you go through will force your faith to get stronger. Just like the training an athlete goes through to make his body strong, your spirit and your character will become strong and vigorous as you overcome tests and trials. And as you develop perseverance and strength, you will be able to face anything and come out on top! In other words, God is training us like soldiers in His army.

If you lack wisdom about some problem, or decision in your life, ask God for it. He will give it to you — that's what He promises! But when you ask, believe that He has given it to you, then go on with confidence and make the decision or meet the problem. Don't pray for God to give you wisdom and then get up off your knees with a worried look. God knows all things, has all wisdom, and He is glad to give you the discernment and wisdom you need.

These verses say that a man who doubts will receive nothing from God. He is double-minded the scripture points out. One moment he believes, the next be doesn't. He tries to trust in God, but doubts at the same time. He asks God for help, but then reasons that most probably nothing will happen. Doubt and double-mindedness is absolute poison for Christians. You cannot tolerate it in your life or mind. You must reject it and replace it with faith.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

December 29: Reality… Proof…

Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen. For our ancestors won God’s approval by it… And what more can I say? Time is too short for me to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the raging of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, gained strength after being weak, became mighty in battle, and put foreign armies to flight.  (Hebrews 11:1-2+32-34 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Hebrews 11 is known as the Chapter of Faith, and it wouldn’t be a bad idea for you to read the entire thing. Today’s passage includes 5 of the strongest phrases in this chapter, but the entire chapter includes powerful examples of how heroes of faith, both men and women, used their faith to overcome. 

Faith is a hard thing to describe. The more we talk about it the more complicated it becomes. Basically faith is a decision to act on God’s promises, a decision that what He promised will come true because He cannot lie. It’s risky, and flies in the face of most of what we see, hear and feel. Faith is not a feeling — it’s a decision to act on God’s Word. 

It’s like a lightning bolt — here one second, gone the next. If we think too much about faith, the moment to use it has already passed. 

The first sentence of this passage says it all — faith is reality, faith is proof. Strange, huh? We normally think of reality and proof as something we can touch and see physically, and yet, much of what we daily consider reality and proof end up being lies. Faith deals with spiritual realities, spiritual proofs that God places in our hearts, like the woman who came up behind Jesus and touched the hem of His robe believing that she would be healed. Her healing was a reality to her even before she touched Him, though she had been sick for twelve years and had spent all her money on doctors that could not heal her. Many would have told her that the chronic nature of her sickness and the money she had wasted were her reality, but something she heard had awakened faith in her to believe that those 12 years could be wiped away in a second, and they were.

It’s no good explaining faith. Faith has to be lived out. Faith comes from hearing the Word of God. Let’s stop thinking about it, and do it. There’s no better time to use your faith than as we start a new year.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

December 28: No provision for the flesh

…we know the time, that it is already the hour for us to awake from sleep, for our salvation is now nearer than when we became believers. The night has advanced toward dawn; the day is near. So then we must lay aside the works of darkness, and put on the weapons of light. Let us live decently as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in discord and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to arouse its desires.  (Romans 13:11-14 — New English Translation)

We would normally assume that Christians are awake and ready for anything, attacks of the devil, the end of the world, anything. But here Paul urges us to wake up from our sleep because the end is nearer than it has ever been. This book was written in approximately 60AD, and if it was urgent for people to wake up then, imagine today… 2000 years later.

Surprisingly, Paul urges Christians to get rid of carousing, drunkenness, sexual immorality, sensuality, discord, and jealousy. These are things that we normally do not expect from people who’ve given their lives to Jesus, but clearly this word was necessary in the time of Paul, and it is definitely necessary today. When we are strong, and filled with the Holy Spirit we will not do these things, though we will always be tempted. But if we are weak, if we are asleep, these things and other sins will creep into our lives even when we’ve “given our lives to Jesus”. We always have to be on our guard — we always have to be challenging ourselves to do more for God — we can never relax and stay in our comfort zones. Like demons never rest, we should never rest.

When we see a person, one of the first things we notice is their clothing — we can tell certain things about someone simply by what they choose to wear, and we’re even tempted to judge them by the way they’re dressed. This passage tells us to clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus, so that people will notice His character and behavior in us, and so that we will remain strong in the faith. An important piece of advice for doing this, Paul tells us, is to make no provision for the flesh to arouse its desires — in other words — complete abstinence from the flesh is our best weapon against it. Don’t taste it. Don’t participate in it. As soon as we do we arouse its desires and then we are in real trouble.

Let’s all make sure we are not asleep because our salvation is nearer than it has ever been. As Paul says in another place, “continue working out your salvation with awe and reverence.” (Philippians 2:12 — NET)

Friday, December 27, 2013

December 27: Entirely blameless

Now may the God of peace himself make you completely holy and may your spirit and soul and body be kept entirely blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is trustworthy, and he will in fact do this. (1 Thessalonians 5:23,24 — New English Translation)

The apostle Paul, who helped to found the church in Thessalonica, prays for its members to be completely holy — spirit, soul, and body. All aspects of a Christian’s life should demonstrate that he or she belongs to God, that their lives have been set apart for Him. Paul prays for these people to be blameless at the Lord Jesus’ coming — this does not mean that they are sinless, but rather that they are forgiven of their sins, and consequently, will make it to heaven.

This is the only verse in the Bible that states the three parts of a person so clearly. Like God is three persons but one god, we are three parts but one person. Our spirit is that part of us that connects with God (faith and supernatural vision). Our soul is our mind, emotions and personality. Our body is the physical part of us. All three have different needs: our spirit feeds on the Word of God, on His presence, on prayer, and faith; our soul feeds on knowledge, entertainment, friendships, and family; the body needs food, sleep, and air to survive. 

So many times people take care of their body and soul, and ignore their spirit — it’s easy for some to go for long periods without ever reading the Bible, seeking God’s presence, praying, or attending a church service. Some have never done any of these things. Without realizing it they are cutting off a third of their life, the most important third. No wonder they have chronic boredom, emptiness, fear, and confusion — though some would not admit to these feelings because they’re too busy smoothing over their unhappiness with shopping, careers, entertainment, alcohol, prescription drugs, and so forth.

Paul ends this passage with a bold statement of God’s trustworthiness. He guarantees that God will find us blameless on the day of His return as long as we allow our holiness to affect all areas of our lives. Remember that you are made up of three very important parts, and our faith in God needs to spread to all three.

I’m determined to be blameless on that day, how about you?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

December 26: Ransomed!

And if you address as Father the one who impartially judges according to each one’s work, live out the time of your temporary residence here in reverence. You know that from your empty way of life inherited from your ancestors you were ransomed — not by perishable things like silver or gold, but by precious blood like that of an unblemished and spotless lamb, namely Christ. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was manifested in these last times for your sake.  (1 Peter 1:17-20 — New English Translation)

God is our Father and we are His children, but that doesn’t mean that we can live any way we want and get away with it. He is also an impartial judge that will reward each of us according to the way we lived our lives. We are saved by faith, not by works, but on the other hand genuine faith acts on what it believes. Though it is true that we will not get to heaven based on our good works, saving faith does have works. Like the book of James says: “faith without works is useless.” 

Because God is an impartial judge and we are temporary residents on earth, our reaction should be one of reverence. For many people this life comes to an end before they are ready; death comes too soon for them. Because of this we need to be ready to meet God on a daily basis, cultivating the fear of God and the fear of losing our salvation. This is not a satanic fear that brings confusion and panic, but a godly fear, a knowledge that we are surrounded by temptations and demons and that any lapse in our relationship with God could spell destruction. We can never forget that God is both a merciful Savior and a holy Judge.

Ransomed conveys the idea of a payment, usually money, in exchange for a slave or prisoner of war. But in our case the Lord Jesus Christ ransomed us from the empty way of life that we inherited from our ancestors. He paid for our freedom and healing, for the forgiveness that we could not have achieved without paying with our lives. If we place our faith in God and follow Him, He reaches down and snatches us from our old, empty way of life and gives us the real thing.

Talk of the cross, forgiveness, healing, victory over the devil, and heaven is all a bunch of hot air unless we live our lives in reverent fear of God, and because this is such a rare thing in this world, it takes work to develop and maintain it.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

December 25: Good news, freedom, sight…

Then Jesus, in the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and news about him spread throughout the surrounding countryside. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by all. Now Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and the regaining of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  (Luke 4:14-19 — New English Translation)

At the very beginning of His ministry Jesus announced what He had come to do. He did not come into the world to be treated like an earthly king, to live in a palace, or to gain anything for Himself — He came to help the troubled and oppressed. That is why, on His first return to Nazareth after starting His ministry, He opened a scroll of Isaiah and read a prophecy about the Messiah out loud, and then made the bold declaration that He was the fulfillment of that prophecy.

For some it is easy to look at the description of the group of people that Jesus came to help and think that they are not included… they are not poor, captives, blind or oppressed. But this would be a huge mistake. We all, in some way, have those problems and need the Lord Jesus and His work on the cross to save us. No one can say they are not blind to anything, or that we are never captives to any negative thought or fear, or that we are never poor in any way, or that we are never oppressed. We fight these attitudes and feelings every day, and only with Jesus’ help can we ever hope to be free and strong.

When Jesus mentions the year of the Lord’s favor at the end of this passage, he is alluding to the Year of Jubilee — every fiftieth year in Israel, when all debt was cancelled, slaves were freed, and ancestral lands were returned to their original families. Jubilee signified a new start for people, which is precisely what Jesus came to do, physically and spiritually. The difference now is that we don’t have to wait fifty years to start over, we can do it anytime we want — all we need is to have faith and to believe in what Jesus promised.

Don’t put up with poverty, captivity, blindness or oppression — the Lord Jesus came into the world to set us free from these things, and paid a high price to make it a reality. Grab a hold of this and fight for your life to change.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

December 24: My mother + brothers

Now Jesus’ mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not get near him because of the crowd. So he was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.” But he replied to them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” (Luke 8:19-21 — New English Translation)

Mary was a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus. Only after His birth did Joseph and Mary become husband and wife, and have other children. These children were half-brothers and half-sisters of Jesus; they had the same mother, but a different father. Today’s passage speaks about a time when Jesus was busy teaching, healing, and helping people. When Mary and His half-brothers came to see Him, everyone must have expected Jesus to stop what He was doing and give His family special treatment. But He didn’t. Instead He said that anyone who hears and does the word of God is His mother and brothers.

This should be a huge encouragement to you. You are just as important to Jesus as His fleshly mother, if you hear and practice His word. He loves you just as much. People often think Jesus would have done anything for His mother, but this passage shows how wrong they are — when we have the courage and faith to follow Him we become His intimate friends and family. We are related to Him spiritually.

If this is true, we need to change the way we think about ourselves, and about how He views us. Don't just read these verses and say: “That’s an amazing statement of Jesus”. Let what He said open up a whole new life for you; a life where you are not tied up and limited. Didn't He emphatically declare that our relationship with Him is the closest relationship possible? If so, then let these words fill you with confidence and excitement. Let His statement open a door to a new and powerful life with the Lord Jesus, and to a new way of praying.

Monday, December 23, 2013

December 23: He became a resident

Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory — the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father. John testified about him and shouted out, “This one was the one about whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is greater than I am, because he existed before me.’” For we have all received from his fullness one gracious gift after another. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came about through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. The only one, himself God, who is in closest fellowship with the Father, has made God known. (John 1:14-18 — New English Translation)

The first phrase of this passage may seem normal to you because you have heard it so many times, but it would have been shocking to the first century reader, and is foreign to all non-Christian thought. The Word — Jesus, the person of God behind creation —became one of His own creatures. The One who created all things allowed Himself to become a part of the world He created. The idea that God would become one of His own creations, live a life like any one else, and die for His creation would be a mind-blowing concept if we hadn’t heard it a million times. Nevertheless, we should not allow ourselves to become dulled to the great humility and love of the Lord Jesus.

He took up residence on earth and was filled with glory, just like the tabernacle (portable Temple) of the Old Testament. God Himself walked the dusty roads of Judea and Galilee in a human body, and brought God’s Word and power to the people. But one of His greatest missions on earth is to turn us into temples of God through the Holy Spirit, and to shine with His glory.

God no longer wants to take up residence in one human body. Now He wants to take up residence in all of us through faith and His Spirit. — Open up your heart and invite Him in. 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

December 22: God’s no fool

Do not be deceived. God will not be made a fool. For a person will reap what he sows, because the person who sows to his own flesh will reap corruption from the flesh, but the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So we must not grow weary in doing good, for in due time we will reap, if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:7-9 — New English Translation)

This is a universal rule without exception. We will reap what we sow—our attitudes and actions determine what our lives will be on earth and in eternity. We should not deceive ourselves by expecting anything else, and we should not think that we can fake God out and get something that we have not worked for.

There may be situations where this seems not to be working, but this is only temporary. An evil man may seem to prosper and enjoy life, and a good man may seem to suffer and live without God’s blessings, but this is not the permanent state of the two men. If we sow to please our flesh we will reap judgment and eternal destruction. But if we sow to please God above all else we will reap blessings and eternal life. Like a farmer knows this to be true about seeds and his fields, we can know this to be true about our life and God.

Corruption in this passage stands for crops in the field that are spoiled—too rotten to harvest. If we don’t believe in God, our life is a total waste—but even if we do believe in Him, unless we live in a way that is pleasing to Him, our life appears to God like fruit rotting in a field—good for nothing.

The last sentence of today’s passage is so important. If we give up, we can’t expect anything from God. One thing we have to make sure we do in life is to resist becoming weary and giving up. We have to hold on to God, keep our faith strong, and be determined that we’re going to reap a harvest. Discouragement is a favorite tool of the devil that he will use on all of us at various times in our lives, but we can’t be fooled by his lies and tricks. God sees what we are doing, nothing misses His notice, and He will be faithful to us.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

December 21: A new heaven + earth

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and earth had ceased to exist, and the sea existed no more. And I saw the holy city—the new Jerusalem—descending out of heaven from God, made ready like a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying: “Look! The residence of God is among human beings. He will live among them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will not exist any more—or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the former things have ceased to exist.”  (Revelation 21:1-4 — New English Translation)

This is part of a vision that the apostle John saw concerning the future. He saw the new heaven and the new earth prepared for the people of God. The Holy City, the new Jerusalem, prepared as a bride, is a symbolic picture of the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. Now the time has come when God's people will receive their full inheritance—now what they have hoped for becomes reality. God will dwell with them and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or crying or pain.

This is just a small part of what God has prepared for us. Don't let anything block you from receiving it. Satan, his demons, and the world want you to be lost, but God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit want you to be saved. If we decide to fully cooperate with them, doing what They tell us to do, then we will have an abundant life now and forever. God created us to live forever, and Jesus has now made this possible through His death and resurrection.

This passage should fill us with hope and encouragement. In various Bible passages this hope—the sure expectation of heaven—is referred to as the helmet of salvation. The great future that God promises us is like a helmet that protects our minds and thoughts from despair and discouragement. Our inheritance and treasure are in heaven.

Friday, December 20, 2013

December 20: Take a hard look at yourself

So the Lord spoke through the prophet Haggai as follows: “Is it right for you to live in richly paneled houses while my temple is in ruins? Here then is what the Lord who rules over all says: ‘Think carefully about what you are doing. You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but are never filled. You drink, but are still thirsty. You put on clothes, but are not warm. Those who earn wages end up with holes in their money bags.’ Moreover, the Lord who rules over all says: ‘Pay close attention to these things also. Go up to the hill country and bring back timber to build the temple. Then I will be pleased and honored,’ says the Lord.  (Haggai 1:3-8 — New English Translation)

Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem, the central place of worship, was completely destroyed by the Babylonians approximately six centuries before the birth of Jesus, and many of the people were taken as captives to Babylon. When the Persians defeated the Babylonians, the Hebrew people were allowed to return to Jerusalem and the surrounding areas. They began to rebuild the Temple that had lain in ruins for more than seventy years, but around the time of Haggai the prophet, the work of rebuilding was not going well. The people were busy with their own houses, improving them, making them beautiful—and had forgotten about God's house. The temple was still in ruins, and clearly, God and His house were not important to them.

What happened as a result? They were cursed. God did not curse them, but their lazy attitude toward Him allowed the devil to come in and do it. No matter what they did—sow seed in their fields, eat, drink, put on clothes, earn money—they would not see the results they expected, feel satisfied, or benefit from their hard work. Their purses, wallets, and bank accounts had holes in them, their stomachs were never satisfied no matter how much they ate, they were always left with the feeling that they were working hard but getting nowhere. The solution that God offered was for them to start putting Him and His house in first place: “Go up to the hill country and bring back timber to build the temple. Then I will be pleased and honored.” This would remove the curse, and cause them to be blessed again.

Is this happening today? Are churches in your city lying in ruins? Do people feel the way that the people in the time of Haggai felt… dissatisfied, empty, wondering why they work so hard? The answer is, yes.

We will never experience life as it is meant to be until we put God and His house in the rightful place. When we are not concerned about the millions of spiritually lost people in the world, then God’s house lies in ruins. When we do not find pleasure in giving offerings, tithes, and even sacrifices to God, but have no problem spending what we have on ourselves, we are treating Him in the exact same way as the Hebrews in the time of Haggai. When we do not help the church to grow, and simply ignore the suffering people around us — co-workers, bosses, neighbors, friends, family members, strangers, our own children — our church lies in ruins, because God wants His house to be full.

The lesson for us is plain: comfort cannot be our main goal in life; real life consists of sacrificing our lives and money to help the lost people of the world.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

December 19: As for me

As for me, I will call out to God, and the Lord will deliver me. During the evening, morning, and noontime I will lament and moan, and he will hear me. He will rescue me and protect me from those who attack me, even though they greatly outnumber me… Throw your burden upon the Lord, and he will sustain you. He will never allow the godly to be upended. But you, O God, will bring them down to the deep Pit. Violent and deceitful people will not live even half a normal lifespan. But as for me, I trust in you.  (Psalm 55:16-23 — New English Translation)

This psalm deals with the subject of life and death, deliverance from enemies and hell (the Pit), and the constant power and presence of God. Not only is David speaking about his own experiences, he is prophesying about what the Lord Jesus will go through a thousand years later. David’s suffering and his need for God to rescue him makes this psalm one that we can easy apply to our own lives.

It’s interesting how he says, “As for me, I will call out to God, and the Lord will deliver me.” We can decide to believe, but we can’t force others to believe or to have faith in God. We have to decide what we are going to do, that we’re going to call out to Him, and that He will deliver us. This confidence has to be a part of our lives. Few things are sadder than a Christian that isn’t confident about calling out to God in his time of need and being answered. Doubt doesn’t mix with faith, and so our lives have to be characterized by faith in a mighty God.

But even though we have faith and are bold, there are times that we lament and moan. At those times we are being honest with God, crying out to Him, explaining our situation, and yet, in the same phrase David can say that God will hear him. Sure we moan, but we never abandon our foundation of faith in God. No matter how outnumbered we are, we know that God is bigger than our problems, and so we refuse to be afraid.

In the end, God wants us to trust in Him. No marriage can survive without trust, no country’s currency can maintain its value without trust, and we cannot survive the storms of life without trust in God. Don’t worry about violent, deceitful people—just trust in God.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

December 18: All things work for our good

We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Understanding this passage will transform our lives and the way we respond to problems. God says: all things work together for the good of those who love Him. ALL things… That’s pretty hard to swallow. 

All sorts of bad things happen every day around the world and it’s hard for us to imagine anything good coming from many of them. We all experience good and bad days, victories and disappointments. We live in a world where there is evil, sickness, lies and death, because we share the world with the devil and demons. This is their home too. They used to live in heaven when they were obedience and submissive to God, but when they rebelled there was a war, they lost, and were cast down to earth. But in spite of this, God promises that all things, good and bad, will work for our good.

If we understand and apply this it will be nothing less than revolutionary. What power that is, to know that no matter what happens it will all turn out for the very best in the end. We don’t have to fear tomorrow, or problems when they come. We don’t have to fear the threats of our enemies, or the attacks of the devil because God has made us this promise.

This doesn’t happen to everyone though. Some people are destroyed by their problems, and don’t see their problems turning around for their own good. Many people are enslaved by the devil and end up living horrible lives. This promise is only valid for those who “love God; those who are called according to His purpose.” Though God calls everyone — Jesus died on the cross for the entire world, not for a select few — only those who accept His calling and agree to live their lives with His purposes in mind will see this amazing verse come true in their lives. And even among those who have accepted His calling, there are some who allow doubt and fear to sneak in, and end up not experiencing the full life that God purposed for them.

How can problems be good for us? All the most important things we’ve learned about God were most probably learned in hard times. Problems drive us to depend on God, to have a thicker skin, to be less emotional and attached to this world. Pain, hardship and sacrifice always remind us that we need God more than anyone or anything in this world, and because of that they make us strong and are for our own good.

From now on, decide to make this verse one of the primary verses of your life. When problems come, calm down and determine that God is going to use them to make your life much, much better. From now on, trust that He has a plan for your life.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

December 17: Unrelenting prayer

He then told them a parable on the need for them to pray always and not become discouraged: “There was a judge in a certain town who didn’t fear God or respect man. And a widow in that town kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he was unwilling, but later he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or respect man, yet because this widow keeps pestering me, I will give her justice, so she doesn’t wear me out by her persistent coming.’” Then the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. Will not God grant justice to His elect who cry out to Him day and night? Will He delay to help them? I tell you that He will swiftly grant them justice. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He find that faith on earth?”  (Luke 18:1-8 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Discouragement is a huge problem in life — like the demon in The Screwtape Letters says, “It is so hard for these creatures to persevere.” This is one of our biggest stumbling blocks. Our lives would be so much better, we would be so much more spiritual, and we would see so many more answers to prayer if we refused to get discouraged and were unwavering in our prayers.

The judge in this parable is very similar to situations in life that we face, he had no respect for God or people and yet was in a position of great power. In contrast, the widow was in a position of weakness — widows had no voice in business or in the courts in those times. He seemed all-powerful and she seemed powerless, but Jesus points out that her power lied in her persistence. 

Real prayer has to be stubborn and bold. It has to insist on God’s promises coming true. Real prayer does not stop until it receives the answer it is looking for. If we’re tempted to get discouraged or to give up, we have to remember that God is not an evil, uncaring judge, but a Father that loves us and finds pleasure in answering our prayers. He will answer swiftly, according to the Lord Jesus, even though it may seem a long time for us, His answer comes at the right time.

Jesus ends this passage with a warning that we would do well to pay close attention to: “when the Son of Man comes will He find that faith on earth?” The tendency is for the world to drift farther and farther away from God, and Jesus honestly wondered how many would have this type of persistent, bold, unrelenting, effective faith in the future. It’s definitely not the norm. If we have it, it’s because we are going out of our way to encourage it.

Monday, December 16, 2013

December 16: Boasting

But as for me, I will never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The world has been crucified to me through the cross, and I to the world.  (Galatians 6:14 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

The cross makes us into God's children and friends, instead of His enemies. It takes away our sins, and breaks the curses on our lives. By the cross we escape hell and eternal destruction, and look forward to heaven and eternal life. It robs the devil of his power over us, and fills our lives with hope and blessings. The cross proves, plainer than anything else, that God loves us. It transforms our marriages and families, and makes it possible for our prayers to be answered by God. It assures us that no matter how serious our need or problem — God always has a solution and will supply our need.

Medicine, science, education, philosophy, psychiatry, spiritism, wealth, religion — nothing else can do what Jesus does. Only through Him can we hope to enjoy a full life. This is why we cannot boast in anything else. He is the only One who will never fail us. When this world comes to an end, and it will one day soon, God's children will be the only survivors — the world and all its power and possessions will be burned up. Jesus will take His rightful place as Ruler of the Universe, and only those who have bowed before His cross will live in His new and perfect world.

Don’t let anything or anyone keep you from boasting in the cross of Christ — it is the one way to God and the only way to heaven. Men may laugh at and ridicule the cross, but in the end they will know that it is the one thing in this world with true power.

Stop boasting about your own accomplishments, and start boasting about all that Jesus and the cross have done for you.

December 15: Jesus in Gethsemane

He went out and made His way as usual to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed Him. When He reached the place, He told them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” Then He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and began to pray, “Father, if You are willing, take this cup away from Me — nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done.” Then an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him. Being in anguish, He prayed more fervently, and His sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground. When He got up from prayer and came to the disciples, He found them sleeping, exhausted from their grief. “Why are you sleeping?” He asked them. “Get up and pray, so that you won’t enter into temptation.”  (Luke 22:39-46 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

To understand Jesus’ prayer to His Father, remember that He came into the world as a physical man who felt hunger, thirst and weariness just like all of us. He was tempted by Satan and sin just as we are, though He never gave in to sin. He lived by faith and by the power of the Holy Spirit to show us that we can live in that same power available to us all.

This was the night of his betrayal and arrest, the night before facing the horrors of the cross. As excruciating as the physical pain would be, the true anguish of His soul was the knowledge that he was about to bear all the world's sin, and become a curse.  The Anointed One would willingly allow Himself to become a filthy, vile curse, so that God His Father would be forced to reject Him and turn His face away.  He would do this out of love for us, to carry our punishment so we won’t have to.  This anguish caused Jesus to ask His Father for another way other than the cross. Yet He still submitted Himself to the Father's will. An angel was sent to strengthen Him, and He arose from prayer ready to suffer so that we might be saved.

In the midst of His suffering, facing the abandonment of His Father, He called His closest disciples to stay with Him and pray, but even they let Him down.  They had no concept of the agony their master was going through and how much He needed their faith to boost His own. This is a concept hard to grasp, that God Himself could be so human and so much in need of the prayers of others.  Yet even though He was totally abandoned by all, He remained determined to obey His Father and become that ultimate sacrifice to destroy the power of all sin and evil in this world.  

Jesus knew every human emotion, every struggle that we go through as flesh and blood.  He never sinned, which means that even though we struggle and experience attacks on our emotions, we have a God in Heaven who knows exactly what we are going through, and who does not condemn us for our struggles.  Even more, He shows us that we always have a way to escape sin if we determine to obey Him no matter what our feelings try to dictate.  Had Jesus not obeyed His Father, the unthinkable would have happened: He would have defiled Himself by sinning, and Satan would have defeated God.  There would have been no perfect sacrifice, no victory against the devil and no hope for salvation. Praise God that Jesus obeyed!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

December 14: Imitators of God

No foul language is to come from your mouth, but only what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear. And don’t grieve God’s Holy Spirit. You were sealed by Him for the day of redemption. All bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander must be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ. Therefore, be imitators of God, as dearly loved children. And walk in love, as the Messiah also loved us and gave Himself for us, a sacrificial and fragrant offering to God.  (Ephesians 4:29-5:2 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

God’s standards of speech are extremely high: no foul language, only what is good for building others up. This doesn’t mean that we can never rebuke someone, or get angry or indignant about something, but every word that passes our lips should have the intention of helping, challenging and bringing encouragement. This is totally different than the world… this is also a test for whether or not God is truly living inside of us. If foul language is a common thing for a person that claims to be filled with the Holy Spirit, he needs to sit down and take a real hard look at his life. He is deceiving himself.

It’s dangerous to ignore, reject, or push the Holy Spirit away. At times it’s as if we forget that God is always present. If we remembered this more often, we would probably be much more selective in what we say, do, watch and think. Notice that this warning is even for those who have been “sealed” with the Holy Spirit. We can never — no matter how advanced or spiritual — relax in our thoughts, behavior, or words. They are a reflection of what is happening in the core of our being, and if we insist on being lazy and rebellious in our faith, there will be a time that God will leave us. 

If Jesus has saved us, He now has authority over our lives. He is our King, and our job is to follow His example. It’s as if we had been kidnapped by the devil and demons and Jesus paid the ransom for us — we now owe Him everything. We are His property. We are free and blessed, but we cannot use that freedom to live any way that we want. He demands that we live by certain standards. He insists that we take on His nature and Spirit. 

For most people this may all sound like a big pain in the neck, but those of us who know God, know that this is real, satisfying, victorious life. This is the only way to live.

Friday, December 13, 2013

December 13: The battle is not yours…

Then in the midst of the assembly, the Lord’s Spirit came upon Jachaziel son of Zechariah…… He said: “Pay attention, all you people of Judah, residents of Jerusalem, and King Jehoshaphat! This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Don’t be afraid and don’t panic because of this huge army! For the battle is not yours, but God’s’”…… Early the next morning they marched out to the Desert of Tekoa. When they were ready to march, Jehoshaphat ……appointed musicians to play before the Lord and praise his majestic splendor…… When they began to shout and praise, the Lord suddenly attacked the Ammonites, Moabites, and men from Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated. The Ammonites and Moabites attacked the men from Mount Seir and annihilated them. When they had finished off the men of Seir, they attacked and destroyed one another. When the men of Judah arrived at the observation post overlooking the desert and looked at the huge army, they saw dead bodies on the ground; there were no survivors.  (2 Chronicles 20:14-24 — New English Bible)

Amazing! When Jehoshaphat and the people of Judah humbled themselves before God and asked for His help, their enemies were destroyed without anyone lifting a shield or sword. Three armies turned on each other and destroyed themselves even before Jehoshaphat arrived.

First of all, they listened to God’s prophet and believed his word. This is always the first step in conquering something big: believe in God’s promise — determine that it will come true in your life. In the world we live in so many things are undependable and shaky, but not the Word of God; He does not lie; His Word will not return to Him void. When we believe the Word of God, and act on it, we can be sure of an answer.

When Jehoshaphat placed priests at the front of the army, loudly worshiping God as they marched to war, he would have been considered a fool in terms of military tactics. No one did that.  It would be wise to try and sneak up on the enemy and surprise them, but he was not operating on earthly wisdom. He was already out numbered, and so he concentrated on getting help from God. This doesn’t mean that praise and worship is the “go to” solution to a big problem, but it does mean that trust in God determines the outcome of any battle or problem.

As soon as they started to march and worship God, their enemies started to self destruct. At the very same moment. We need to trust that God is doing the same in our lives. When we pray with faith, the person or situation we are praying about immediately feels the effect of our prayers. We may see the effect immediately, other times we have to wait, but our prayers have an immediate effect. — Right now I want you to determine the defeat of a problem in your life, and start acting like your answer is already a reality.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

December 12: When you don’t know what to do

Later the Moabites and Ammonites, along with some of the Meunites, attacked Jehoshaphat. Messengers arrived and reported to Jehoshaphat, “A huge army is attacking you from the other side of the Dead Sea……” Jehoshaphat was afraid, so he decided to seek the Lord’s advice. He decreed that all Judah should observe a fast. The people of Judah assembled to ask for the Lord’s help; they came from all the cities of Judah to ask for the Lord’s help. Jehoshaphat stood before the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem at the Lord’s temple, in front of the new courtyard. He prayed: “O Lord God of our ancestors, you are the God who lives in heaven and rules over all the kingdoms of the nations. You possess strength and power; no one can stand against you…… For we are powerless against this huge army that attacks us! We don’t know what we should do; we look to you for help.”  (2 Chronicles 20:1-12 — New English Translation)

Joshua led the people of God to conquer and take possession of the Promised Land. After his death came the time of the judges, men and one woman who were raised up by God from time to time to lead the Israelites, in most or all cases, when their enemies were threatening them. Then came the time of the kings, Saul, David and Solomon who reigned over Israel. After Solomon, Israel split in two and was known as the northern and southern kingdoms: Israel in the north consisted of ten tribes and all of its kings were bad, Judah in the south consisted of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, had kings from the royal line of David, and some of its kings were good. After several hundred years the northern kingdom was destroyed by its enemies and only the southern kingdom remained.

Jehoshaphat was the third king of Judah, the southern kingdom, and the first king since David to remain faithful to God, “walking in the ways of his father David”. He made some mistakes, but for the most part he was a great king.

Here we see his response to an attack by enemy armies that were far superior to his own. Three nations were attacking him, and he consisted of only two tribes. He felt afraid, as is normal when we are faced with big problems, but turned to God for help. He declared a nation-wide fast in an attempt to get God’s attention, and called people to the temple in Jerusalem to cry out to God. His prayer focused on the greatness and power of God, and contained a confession that he did not know what to do and that his eyes were on God — he did this publically, in front of all the people gathered at the temple. In a portion of the passage that I have not included in today’s reading (but you can read for yourselves) he reminds God that He had promised to save His people whenever they cried out to Him from His temple.

It was not easy for the king to confess his weakness in front of his people. As king he would have liked to appear strong and invincible, to act like he had a strategy to outwit his enemies. But whenever we are too proud to confess our weaknesses, to ask for God’s help, or for others’ help, we block God from doing the miracle that we need. Demons make us proud, make us pretend. They hate honesty and humility. And so when Jehoshaphat made this public prayer for God’s help, confessing that he did not know what to do, that he was looking to God for help… he forced God to reach down and rescue him.

Tomorrow we will talk about what happened after his prayer. It was unexpected. What God did was shocking. God made it abundantly clear to everyone that Jehoshaphat was His chosen king and that He was with Judah. — This is what we need in our lives. The next time an impossible problem appears, immediately cry out to God, confess your weakness and your dependence on Him, and then act in faith.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

December 11: The unmerciful servant

“After he went out, that same slave found one of his fellow slaves who owed him one hundred silver coins. So he grabbed him by the throat and started to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ Then his fellow slave threw himself down and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will repay you.’ But he refused. Instead, he went out and threw him in prison until he repaid the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were very upset and went and told their lord everything that had taken place. Then his lord called the first slave and said to him, ‘Evil slave! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me! Should you not have shown mercy to your fellow slave, just as I showed it to you?’ And in anger his lord turned him over to the prison guards to torture him until he repaid all he owed. So also my heavenly Father will do to you, if each of you does not forgive your brother from your heart.”  (Matthew 18:28-35 — New English Translation)

The last half of this parable explains about how the slave who had been forgiven a sum of sixty million day’s wages would not forgive a fellow slave the sum of one hundred day’s wages.  What was he thinking? What he had begged the king to do for him, he would not do for the second slave, and so the king revoked his forgiveness and made the slave pay him back in full… turning him over to the guards to “torture” him.

In light of this, our excuses of forgiveness being hard, or painful, or unfair, become irrelevant. It doesn’t matter how much people have hurt us, God commands us to forgive… and so we have to. It is a small thing for us to forgive others, no matter what they’ve done, if that forgiveness ensures our own salvation and forgiveness.

If this is hard for you, you just need to accept God’s advice and act on it. Stop trying to figure it out, and stop waiting for the proper feelings. Just go ahead and forgive. Jesus doesn’t mention feelings in this passage because true forgiveness is about action, not feelings. We have to forgive, and remind ourselves that we have forgiven, and continue to rebuke any bad thoughts that crop up, and eventually our feelings will line up with our decision to forgive. At times it can be a long process before our feelings cooperate.

Forgiveness is a way of worshipping God. You can sing a million praise and worship songs, and say “Hallelujah” ten thousand times, but if there is unforgiveness in your heart, all those things are meaningless, irritating noises to God. If we hold on to unforgiveness we are lost and on our way to hell because Jesus’ death on the cross no longer has the power to forgive our sins. His sacrifice has the power to save, but we negate His sacrifice when we stubbornly, rebelliously insist on doing things our way.

Scientific studies have shown that contempt for others, a component in unforgiveness, makes people ninety-three percent more prone to infectious disease. This is simply a sign of what is happening spiritually. — If we show mercy, we will be shown mercy. If we are unmerciful, we will be shown no mercy. It’s up to us.

December 10: The merciful king

Then Peter came to him and said, “Lord, how many times must I forgive my brother who sins against me? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, I tell you, but seventy-seven times! “For this reason, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his slaves. As a he began settling his accounts, a man who owed ten thousand talents was brought to him. Because he was not able to repay it, the lord ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, children, and whatever he possessed, and repayment to be made. Then the slave threw himself to the ground before him, saying, ‘Be patient with me, and I will repay you everything.ΚΌ The lord had compassion on that slave and released him, and forgave him the debt.” (Matthew 18:21-27 — New English Translation)

Forgiveness is a foundational teaching of Jesus, and if we are going to follow Him, we have to forgive… period. This is not an option for Christians. When Peter came to Jesus asking how many times he should forgive a person, he must have thought he was being extremely generous and spiritual by suggesting seven, but Jesus told him that he should be prepared to forgive seventy-seven times — this could also be translated seventy times seven — the point being that there can be no limit to our forgiveness. Not only did Jesus teach this, He lived it out when He forgave the people that had whipped and crucified Him. He made it a point to forgive those lying, proud, evil people before His last breath, setting an example for us all.

Forgiveness is a sign of God’s presence in us, just like unforgiveness is a sign of the presence of demons.

In the time of Jesus ten thousand talents was an enormous sum of money. A denarius was one day’s wage for a laborer. A talent was worth six thousand denarii. Ten thousand talents would be sixty million day’s wages! …a staggering amount of money that could never be repayed. The situation of the slave in Jesus’ parable was hopeless. He would never climb out of the hole that he had dug for himself, and when he falls at the king’s feet and asks for mercy, it is shocking that the king would forgive him such an enormous debt.

But of course, the slave with the debt is you and me, and the king is God. Our sin is the enormous, unpayable debt, and God is ready to forgive us when we fall at His feet and cry out for mercy. No matter what we have done, no matter how dirty our lives are, there is no hole so deep that God’s mercy and power cannot reach us. There’s just one catch, God’s forgiveness hinges on our willingness to forgive others.

Forgiveness does not mean that we condone what people have done to us. It simply means we’re not going to allow it to eat us up, to burden us, to make us bitter and angry. Forgiveness is more about us than it is the other person. Forgiving frees us to think and concentrate on God and our future.

If you’ve had trouble believing that God could forgive your past, this passage is a direct challenge to your worldly way of thinking. God’s forgiveness is extreme, and our acceptance of it must also be extreme. Accept His forgiveness, enjoy the freedom, and get busy living the life He wants you to live.

We’ll talk about the last part of this parable tomorrow…

Monday, December 9, 2013

December 9: Boast in the Lord

Brothers, consider your calling: Not many are wise from a human perspective, not many powerful, not many of noble birth. Instead, God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God has chosen what is insignificant and despised in the world — what is viewed as nothing — to bring to nothing what is viewed as something, so that no one can boast in His presence. But it is from Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who became God-given wisdom for us — our righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, in order that, as it is written: The one who boasts must boast in the Lord.  (1 Corinthians 1:26-31 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

The good news of Jesus Christ only appeals to humble people and to those who realize their need of a Savior. People who are filled with pride cannot accept a message about a Savior who was crucified to save them. They will not admit that they are lost and cannot save themselves. They want to believe that they are good and have no sin. So in these verses we are reminded that few people who are great in the eyes of the world have accepted the Lord Jesus.

Why is this? Why aren’t there many rich people, intellectuals, scholars, etc., who are Christians? There are some of course, but they are definitely in the minority. The reason is that every person has the tendency toward pride and a perverse desire to be independent of God. When a man has money, education, power, fame, abilities, etc. — he is in great danger of pride. Most people cannot resist the temptation!

But God's plan was to deliberately chose a way of salvation that would take away all human pride — the root of all sin and all rebellion against God. Man has always fought to be independent of God; he has always been determined to go his own way. But to be saved and forgiven by God, and to be reconciled to Him — only faith in the Lord Jesus, crucified and raised from the dead, will accomplish this.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

December 8: The rewards are great

“I assure you,” Jesus said, “there is no one who has left house, brothers or sisters, mother or father, children, or fields because of Me and the gospel, who will not receive 100 times more, now at this time — houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions — and eternal life in the age to come. (Mark 10:29,30 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Some people think that following Jesus Christ is nothing but sadness and misery. They see the Christian life as giving up everything in this world and having nothing.
Heaven may be waiting, but meanwhile life until then is terrible. But Jesus teaches the opposite in the today’s passage. Yes, He admits that the Christian life involves sacrifice, but He promises that there will be an abundant reward for all sacrifices made.

Jesus was speaking to Peter and other disciples when He said this. They had left their jobs and businesses when Jesus called them. In their new work with Him they were separated from family members, but He tells them that no matter what they have given up for Him — relatives, family, property, money, etc. — they will receive a hundred times more in this life, and in the world to come eternal life. He adds that along with this would come persecution from those who oppose Jesus, which is simply a part of following Him. Jesus promises us a much more abundant life than we had at first. Instead of depriving us, Jesus wants to abundantly bless us.

This promise of God belongs to you. Being a Christian — a real Christian — is not easy, but it is a blessed life. The rewards are tremendous. Jesus will ask you to make sacrifices for Him, but each sacrifice will have its reward. Friends who turn away from you because of Jesus will be replaced by better friends. Financial sacrifices you make to serve Him, will come back to you multiplied. If you are willing to sacrifice for Him, you will receive your reward now and forever.

December 7: 2 sinners… only 1 is forgiven

Turning to the woman, He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she, with her tears, has washed My feet and wiped them with her hair. You gave Me no kiss, but she hasn’t stopped kissing My feet since I came in. You didn’t anoint My head with olive oil, but she has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. Therefore I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; that’s why she loved much. But the one who is forgiven little, loves little.” Then He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Those who were at the table with Him began to say among themselves, “Who is this man who even forgives sins?” And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”  (Luke 7:44-50 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Many people apologize for not being “religious”. In reality, being religious is a block to any true relationship with God. Religious people crucified the Lord Jesus. Like we started explaining yesterday, this passage reveals how differently two people can treat Jesus. The religious Pharisee treated Him with suspicion, unfriendliness, coldness, and prejudice while the "sinful" woman treated Him with honor and love. Though she did not say a word, she communicated humility and repentance by her actions, pouring perfume on Jesus’ feet in an extravagant act of giving. At any other time and with any other person this would have been too much… but she understood that the feet that she was washing and anointing were God’s.

In reality, both the Pharisee and the prostitute were sinners — their sins were different in nature, and the Pharisee made the dangerous assumption that the woman’s sins were much worse than his in the eyes of God. But the truth is that God does not care about the nature of our sin, how long we’ve sinned, or how much we’ve sinned — He cares about our honesty and humility in the present. Though the woman appeared to be the bigger sinner, Jesus gave her the one thing in life that she desperately needed: a brand new start. Jesus was kind and forgiving to the sinful woman, and rebuked the religious leader. 

An aspect of this story that we should not ignore is the offerings of these two people. The Pharisee held a dinner for Jesus and yet did not give Him a kiss, wash His feet, or anoint His head with oil. His attitude was one of suspicion and doubt. The sinful woman, on the other hand, did not give Jesus an offering, she gave a sacrifice. She went to a house that she knew would condemn her, cried over His feet, dried them with her hair, and kissed them over and over in a powerful demonstration of repentance and brokenness. Then she poured out the perfume which signified a great financial loss to her. In everything she did she showed an extreme form of love, trust and worship… and the Lord Jesus, God of the universe, felt honored by this flawed woman.

We need to run from all religious tendencies, from being impressed with our own spirituality — it makes us blind and stupid. We need to approach God like this woman, in a humble, worshipful, sacrificial manner. The Bible doesn’t tell us what happened to her after this, but we can be sure she was transformed from this day on.

Friday, December 6, 2013

December 6: Hard core repentance

Then one of the Pharisees invited Him to eat with him. He entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. And a woman in the town who was a sinner found out that Jesus was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house. She brought an alabaster jar of fragrant oil and stood behind Him at His feet, weeping, and began to wash His feet with her tears. She wiped His feet with the hair of her head, kissing them and anointing them with the fragrant oil. When the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, “This man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what kind of woman this is who is touching Him — she’s a sinner.”  (Luke 7:36-39 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Each of the gospels has an account of a woman anointing Jesus with a jar of fragrant oil. The account in three of the gospels appears to be the same anointing, but this one in Luke is unique. The woman’s name is kept secret, and she is referred to as a sinner, which in the Bible normally indicates that she was a prostitute. It may seem strange that this woman would be allowed to enter the house of the Pharisee where this meal was being held, but the custom in the ancient Middle East at that time was to allow the public to watch and listen to a meal like this. This was common most particularly when the guest of honor was a spiritual leader, like Jesus.

The powerful message of this passage is that there were two types of people at this meal: a sinner and a “follower” of God. The sinner does not utter one word, but her actions speak volumes. Her tears reveal the brokenness of her heart and her great desire to change. When she used what many women would consider the most glorious part of their body, her hair, to dry the most dirty part of His body, His feet, and even kissed His feet over and over again, she revealed an extreme attitude of worship and humility. She honored Jesus as God, while the Pharisee decided that Jesus could not be a prophet because He was allowing a sinner to touch Him.

Her actions were some of the purest, most worshipful in all the Bible, whereas the Pharisee’s attitude was one of the most blind, ignorant, and unspiritual in the Bible. We see a message here that is repeated again and again throughout the Bible: sinners with pure hearts are accepted by God, and believers with impure hearts are rejected by Him. 

We can all learn from the humble, worshiping spirit of the woman in today’s passage.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

December 5: The answer to feeling cursed

This is what the Lord says: The man who trusts in mankind, who makes human flesh his strength and turns his heart from the Lord is cursed. He will be like a juniper in the Arabah; he cannot see when good comes but dwells in the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land where no one lives. The man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence indeed is the Lord, is blessed. He will be like a tree planted by water: it sends its roots out toward a stream, it doesn’t fear when heat comes, and its foliage remains green. It will not worry in a year of drought or cease producing fruit.  (Jeremiah 17:5-8 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

The Arabah is a section of the Jordan Rift Valley that runs north and south from the lower end of the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea, and further south to the Red Sea. At the Dead Sea the Arabah becomes the lowest point on earth, at 1350 feet below sea level. As it’s name communicates, the Dead Sea has no fish or plant life because of its extremely high salt content. Its saline level is over 30 percent, whereas the saltiest oceans in the world are between 3 and 6 percent. Water from the Jordan River and other smaller streams flow into the Dead Sea, but since it is landlocked, no water flows out. The high temperatures in the Arabah cause the water of the sea to evaporate leaving even more salt behind. So when this passage speak about a juniper tree in the Arabah, this is what it’s speaking about.

Here we see God contrasting the person who trusts in man and the person who trusts in God. One is cursed, the other is blessed. One can be compared to a parched land where no one lives, the other to a tree planted by a stream that is always green and is always producing fruit. The better option is obvious, and yet it’s not easy. It takes real work to trust in God and to derive your confidence from Him.

The dictionary describes trust this way: firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.

Do you want a fruitful, blessed life? Then you have to have a firm belief in God’s reliability, truth, ability, and strength. This is not automatic, and it’s certainly not a feeling. Trust is a decision. I’ve been trusting God faithfully for 27 years now and I still have to work at it. My father has trusted in God for 60-plus years and still has to work at it. It takes work, but it is well worth it. When we trust in Him we have the boldness and confidence to confront any problem, even death, with the conviction that we are in God’s hands and our ultimate victory is guaranteed.

Don’t be a juniper in the Arabah.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

December 4: Is God amazed at your unbelief?

He went away from there and came to His hometown, and His disciples followed Him. When the Sabbath came, He began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard Him were astonished. “Where did this man get these things?” they said. “What is this wisdom given to Him, and how are these miracles performed by His hands? Isn’t this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And aren’t His sisters here with us?” So they were offended by Him. Then Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown, among his relatives, and in his household.” So He was not able to do any miracles there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. And He was amazed at their unbelief.  (Mark 6:1-6 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Jesus had traveled and preached throughout Galilee (the most northern of the 3 Israeli provinces). Wherever He went He healed the sick, drove out demons, and did great miracles; there was joy in all the towns and cities after one of His visits. But when Jesus came to His home town, He could not do any miracles, and healed only a few sick people. What was wrong? Jesus' power was the same, but the people were different — they had no faith.

In fact, everyone has faith; faith is a gift of God. But each one of us chooses either to use it, or to ignore it. Faith increases when we hear the Word of God and when we exercise it.

The people in Nazareth had faith, but what killed their faith? They “knew” Jesus, or thought they knew Him. They had watched Him grow up from a little boy, knew His parents, His brothers and sisters… and because they had a certain amount of familiarity with Him they wrongly assumed He could not perform great miracles, that He could not be God… “He’s Jesus that went to 2nd grade with my son.” But like we mentioned in yesterday’s devotional, Abraham did not understand how God's promise of a son and His command to sacrifice that son could both be true — and yet he obeyed without trying to figure it out and ended up seeing that God had a wonderful plan in mind all along. Faith demands that we temporarily suspend our belief in the five sense and rely on it alone. God asks us to believe, not to understand everything.

We are not so different from the people of Nazareth. God may be convicting you to pray for a miracle that you have already prayed for many times before, and your mind keeps repeating: “I know prayer isn’t going to resolve this problem — I’ve already prayed a thousand times and nothing changed.” But like the people of Nazareth, you may not know as much as you think you know. Our God is a god of miracles, whether or not we can figure out how they’re going to work. Maybe we haven’t prayed strong enough, or in the right way, or maybe we just need to persist in our prayer. What we cannot do is go through life relying on our own flawed knowledge, canceling out our faith at every turn.

Make sure God is not amazed at your unbelief.