Wednesday, July 31, 2013

July 31: God’s mercy

But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children's children.    (Psalm 103:17 — New King James Version)

Mercy is not earned, it’s a gift. When we work forty hours and are paid by the company we work for, our paycheck is not mercy. It’s money we earned. Mercy is when God has the right to punish, or allow us to suffer the consequences of our actions, but instead forgives and shows compassion. Mercy can also be understood to mean “loyal love” — a love that doesn’t give up on us because we are His children, because we call on His name in a world that mostly uses His name as a curse word.

In this passage, the emphasis is not so much on God’s mercy, but on how there is no end to it. The Holy Spirit is not even content to say that it has no end, He says it’s “from everlasting to everlasting”. In other words, there is no way on earth that God’s mercy can be depleted or exhausted. It will continue for much longer than any of us could ever imagine.

This doesn’t mean that we have a blank check to live whatever way we want since God’s mercy is endless, because this verse goes on to explain that this amazing mercy is only granted to one group of people on earth: “those who fear Him”. This fear is not the normal fear of the world, it’s a healthy fear — a vital ingredient to spirituality, something we see in every hero of faith in the Bible. The fear of the Lord is an attitude of respect for God, treating Him as a superior being whose help and love we do not want to lose. This fear does not make us cower before God, but rather bow down and obey. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge according to Proverbs 1; without it we are fools.

The last phrase of this passage takes the already powerful concept of God’s mercy to another level when it says that the righteousness of those who fear Him will be passed on to our “children’s children”. When we make the sacrifice to follow God in reverent fear, choosing  His will over our own, the next two generations will be blessed. Our righteousness, our choice to do what is right in God’s eyes, will be inherited by our children. Just like a generational curse is passed down from one generation to another, our faith and righteousness will be passed down.

What an amazing concept! None of this is easy though. It’s a hard thing to fear God and to live a righteous life, and it’s hard to raise our children to follow Him, especially when they go through rebellious stages. But this promise of God is real and we should stand on it.

1 Peter 2:10 says that we “once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.” — Remind yourself of these things throughout the coming days. These ideas have the power to renew and strengthen our inner selves.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

July 30: Forget none of His benefits

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget none of His benefits; who pardons all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases; who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion. Who satisfies your years with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle.     (Psalm l03:1-5 — New American Standard Bible)

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that God is only interested in “perfect” people. No one is ever too far gone for God, no pit is too deep, no sin is too bad. God’s specialty is changing the lives of people that others have given up on. Nothing is impossible for Him. Not only is there no limit to His power, He is a loving Father that cares for the people He created. When religious leaders complained that Jesus chose to associate with prostitutes, thieves, and lepers over them, He replied that He had not come for the healthy, but for the sick.

This passage begins with an interesting exchange: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget none of His benefits.”  King David’s mind knew who God was and what He’d done, but his heart and emotions were at times sidetracked and contaminated with forgetfulness, fear and worry. His mind had to remind his heart of the fundamentals of his faith. And today we have the same problem, if not worse. Too many times we assume that our feelings are a reflection of the facts, of the reality of what’s happening around us, when in truth they are a roller coaster of emotions that are too easily affected by circumstances, the past, what we see, and what we hear. It’s so easy to forget who God is and what He’s done, and like King David’s reasoning gave a shot in the arm to his emotions, we need to constantly do the same. 

Like several other places in the Bible, this passage compares a man/woman of faith to an eagle, for very good reason. They fly higher than any other bird (10,000 feet), their wingspan is the largest at over six feet, enabling them to use air currents to lift them to high altitudes, they live in nests that are built on mountain cliffs or on the top branches of the tallest trees, and their eyesight is four times that of human beings, making it possible for them to see their prey at a distance of over one mile. 

Every one of these characteristics could be compared to a man/woman of faith. We are not content to live a normal life like everyone else, and insist on a quality life because we are children of God, we don’t depend on our own strength, but stretch out the wings of faith and allow God’s Spirit to lift us up, we desire to live in God’s presence and have no desire to be wrapped up in the worries and concerns of the world, and are able to see through the traps and lies of the devil, and through hardships to the victories we will achieve through faith.

This chapter of the Bible is one that should be read and reread throughout our lives.

Monday, July 29, 2013

July 29: True worshipers

But an hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. Yes, the Father wants such people to worship Him. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.    (John 4:23,24 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

This passage is part of a conversation that Jesus had with a Samaritan woman at a well when He and His disciples were passing through Samaria. (At that time the nation was divided into Judea, Samaria, and Galilee.) This woman was shocked that Jesus, a Jew, dared to speak to her, a Samaritan, and even asked her for a drink of water. 

In those times Jews and Samaritans despised each other, and Jews would refer to Samaritans as dogs. Samaria was made up of Jews that had intermarried with people from other nations in violation of Jewish Law, and so they were considered spiritually inferior and unclean. For the most part they had given up worshiping idols and at the time worshiped the God of Israel. And yet, they were not welcome in Jerusalem’s Temple and were forced to build their own temple to God on Mount Gerizim.

This is why Jesus speaks about true worshipers, and worshiping in spirit and in truth. Samaritans had been accused of being false worshipers because they were worshiping God in the wrong place. But He explains that His presence in the world was ushering in a new age where worship would not be centered around a building or place, but around spirit and truth. In fact, God allowed the Jerusalem Temple to be destroyed some 40 years after Jesus returned to heaven as a sign of this new age.

Today our bodies are the temple of God, and the worship that God desires is one that involves the mind. Our mind is linked to the spirit, just like our heart is linked to the flesh. Reason that’s based on God’s Word leads to spirituality, whereas emotion based on what we see and hear and feel leads to worldliness. And so, worship in the spirit is not based on goose-bumps and chills, or on feelings, but rather on God’s promises. Whether or not we feel God’s presence, we know from His Word that He’ll never forsake us, and so we have faith to trust and believe in salvation and a better life.

Worshiping in spirit and truth involves reason and the Word of God. Emotions may be a part of it, but worship cannot be based on feelings. It is based on His eternal promises and faith in what we do not yet see. And though songs and prayer do count as worship, the highest form of worship is for each one of us to bear fruit that will prove to this dark, unbelieving world that God is alive and at work today.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

July 28: Do not lose heart

Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.    (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 — New King James Version)

This is the second time the phrase “we do not lose heart” is used in this chapter — a prerequisite attitude for anyone with faith in the Lord Jesus. When we believe in Him we cannot allow ourselves to lose heart, to give in to negative feelings, or be defeated by negative circumstances. When we know God, we know His will for our lives and there is no reason to lose heart or be hopeless about the future. We stand on the promises of God, not circumstances.

The ideas in this passage have always been a great encouragement to me. It  contrasts three pairs of opposites: affliction and glory; the seen and the unseen; the temporary and the eternal. Life is a constant war between these three pairs of attitudes. If we concentrate on our afflictions, only what we see, and the temporary, we block God and our faith shrivels away. But if we concentrate on the glory to come, the unseen world of God and His power, and the eternal blessing to come, nothing in this world… nothing will have the power to destroy us.

We know that the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write these words, and yet, who better than Paul to write them? When he speaks about affliction he knows what he’s talking about; he experienced some of the worst hardships anyone can experience. So when he challenges us not to lose heart, he knows from experience that it is possible to obey that command and to stand firm in the faith.

It’s a real temptation to feel overwhelmed at certain times in our lives. Yet God’s phrase for our troubles in this passage is: light affliction which is but for a moment. All our problems and troubles are lumped into one category in God’s mind: light and momentary. On the other hand, the devil wants us to look at them as heavy and permanent. If we choose to go with God’s mindset — trusting in what He says — we’ll be amazed at the power, inspiration, and endurance that flows from God into our spirit, making us true warriors. Paul is not encouraging positive thinking, but something far greater. As Hebrews 11:1 says: “Faith is the evidence of things not seen.”

Do not lose heart.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

July 27: From dungeon to throne

Then Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find anyone like this, a man who has God’s spirit in him?” So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one as intelligent and wise as you are. You will be over my house, and all my people will obey your commands. Only with regard to the throne will I be greater than you.” Pharaoh also said to Joseph, “See, I am placing you over all the land of Egypt.” Pharaoh removed his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand, clothed him with fine linen garments, and placed a gold chain around his neck. He had Joseph ride in his second chariot, and servants called out before him, “Abrek!” So he placed him over all the land of Egypt. Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I am Pharaoh, but no one will be able to raise his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt without your permission.”    (Genesis 41:38-44 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Joseph, the great-grandson of Abraham, was a man of faith. Throughout his life he obeyed God and his earthly father. But when he was seventeen his jealous half-brothers sold him into slavery. This was a huge blow for Joseph. He had done nothing wrong and yet here he was a slave in a foreign land, and then, after years of faithful work, he was accused of attempting to rape his master’s wife and was thrown in prison. This was the perfect recipe for bitterness and anger at God. And yet, for those thirteen years Joseph served God and his masters with nothing but faithfulness and zeal. Everywhere he went, Potiphar’s house or prison, people noticed that God's hand was on him and on everything he did. He refused to be weak, bitter, or to have doubts about his situation because he was sure that God had something great prepared for him.

Then, when the time was right, God took Joseph from dungeon inmate to ruler over Egypt. In one day he went from the bottom to the top. God knew He could trust Joseph. Over the years he had proven himself, and the hardships had only made him stronger.

Do you want God to do something big in your life? If so, you have to be willing to pay the price. If God had not allowed Joseph to go through all those hardships, the power and influence of ruling over Egypt would have destroyed him. And if we are given everything we want too soon, it could destroy us. We can and should expect to overcome throughout our lives — like Joseph who kept rising to the top — and yet big changes demand big battles and big sacrifices. If you are willing to stay the course and doggedly hold on to your dream, anything is possible with God.

Friday, July 26, 2013

July 26: Who's the greatest?

Then they began to argue among themselves about who would be the greatest among them. Jesus told them, "In this world the kings and great men lord it over their people, yet they are called 'friends of the people.' But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant. Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who sits at the table, of course. But not here! For I am among you as one who serves.”    (Luke 22:24-27 — New Living Translation)

Jesus’ team of twelve men discussed the subject of their rank on several occasions. They seemed to think that Jesus was going to be an earthly king, and were concerned about their positions in that kingdom, and argued over who would occupy the most powerful posts. Yet each time Jesus caught them speaking this way He turned the tables on them by saying that their attitudes were of worldly kingdoms and earthly rulers, and that His kingdom was different. The greatest in God's world are those who serve others. Jesus gave Himself as an example; He was always serving them — at that moment He was serving them the Passover meal, and while they were arguing about who was the greatest He was preparing to be arrested and crucified for the world’s sins and mistakes.

Pride and selfish ambition are toxic to the Church. Wanting to do your very best for God is a good thing. Wanting good things for your family, and wanting the Church to grow are good things. But wanting to be better or have a higher position than those around you is not. Thinking that you’re better, and that you deserve better things than those around you is not right. We must all keep learning this lesson of the Lord Jesus throughout our lives — not just once, but over and over again. We should have the desire to help as many people as we can, lead them to God, and help them to be bold in their faith. The greatest in God's kingdom is the one who serves others. 

This is difficult for us to understand because it’s the exact opposite of what goes on in the world. Only those who have God’s nature, who’ve been born of God, can agree with and apply this important teaching of Jesus. In another place Jesus said, “and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else” (Mark l0:44).

Thursday, July 25, 2013

July 25: Wrestling with God

Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that He could not defeat him, He struck Jacob’s hip socket as they wrestled and dislocated his hip. Then He said to Jacob, “Let Me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob said, “I will not let You go unless You bless me.”  “What is your name?” the man asked. “Jacob,” he replied. “Your name will no longer be Jacob,” He said. “It will be Israel because you have struggled with God and with men and have prevailed.    (Genesis 32:24-28 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Jacob’s entire life up to this point had been a struggle. He struggled with his twin brother in the womb, and grasped his brother’s ankle as he was being born. Later on he struggled with his brother over his birthright, and still later with his father-in-law, Laban. Now, right before he meets his brother Esau after a twenty-plus year absence, Jacob has the struggle of his life… with God. The man who came in to this world grasping his brother’s heel, now grasps onto the bodily form of the angel of God, and is forever changed, for the better.

Jacob was in real danger. His brother, who had threatened to kill him years before, was coming to meet him with 400 men. Jacob was traveling out in the open with his entire family and all his worldly possessions. He felt the need for God's help and protection because the next day could mean the complete destruction of all he had. No one would come to his aid. He was desperate, yet determined. God had to help him, and so he did the unthinkable and wrestled with God all night long and would not release Him until he received His blessing.

What was God’s response? Did God strike him with lightning for his audacity? Did the ground open up and swallow him for saying “no” to God? Was he punished for insisting on a blessing? No, he received exactly what he asked for, and more. God did an amazing thing, He changed his name, which was God’s way of saying, “You are forever changed because of what you just did”. His name was changed from Jacob, which meant “cheater” or “deceiver”, to Israel, which means either “prince of God” or “one who struggles with God and overcomes”.

Jacob’s attitude is so foreign to most Christians today, and even pastors. In general we are taught to be spiritual wimps, to accept whatever happens as God’s will no matter what it is. But Jacob fought with God and insisted on being blessed. Most people today would give up if they found themselves in the same situation. Most people pray a little, go to church a little, and then declare that their situation is impossible. But I ask you, is that what you want out of life? Do you have the guts to wrestle with God and refuse to let go unless He blesses you? If so, God is ready to bless you just like he blessed Jacob — and if not, you’ll have to be content with the life you already have.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

July 24: The 1st commandment with a promise

Children, obey your parents as you would the Lord, because this is right. Honor your father and mother, which is the first commandment with a promise, so that it may go well with you and that you may have a long life in the land. Fathers, don’t stir up anger in your children, but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.    (Ephesians 6:1-4 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

True to form, the Word of God strikes a perfect balance in this passage: Children are asked to obey their parents, and parents are asked to treat their children in a way that will make them want to obey. When the Bible asks children to obey, it applies to parents that do not believe in or follow God, but does not apply to parents who ask their children to do what is immoral or to disregard their faith in God — in that rare case they would have to obey their heavenly Father and disobey their earthly parents. On the other hand, parents are told not to be unreasonably harsh or uncaring to their children.

Parents need to remember that their faith in God, and all that that entails, will be the single most powerful influence in their children's lives. The more parents demonstrate genuine faith in God — faith that is acted out — the more likely that faith will be reflected in their children. Most parents treat their children’s education as a major part of their development, and spend effort and time to ensure they get the very best. It determines many aspects of their career and a future. But what about their education in faith and God?

These days lots of people talk about and fight against child abuse, but there is a form of child abuse that most people do not even recognize as abuse. When parents fail to teach their children about God, when they lack commitment to Jesus, when they give them no spiritual nourishment — this is the worst type of neglect and abuse. They are scarring their children for life.

“Honor your father and your mother” is the only command of the Ten Commandments followed by a promise: that it may go well with them and that they may have a long life. It’s important for both children and parents to realize that respect and obedience are well worth the effort and discipline they require. But if respecting our earthly parents causes God’s promises to kick in, imagine what respect for God will do for us.

When parents go to the trouble of teaching their children to respect them, they are also teaching them to respect other authority figures they will come across in their lifetime, and to respect the ultimate authority, God.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

July 23: He is at work

For this reason the Jews persecuted Jesus, and sought to kill Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, “ My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.” Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.    (John 5:16-18 — New King James Version)

Originally the ten commandments were given by God on Mount Sinai for the benefit of mankind and to draw us close to Him. But over time the Jewish religious leaders added volume after volume of man-made traditions to God’s Word until, in the time of Jesus, healing on the Sabbath was banned. This was so far from what God had originally intended that it must have seemed bizarre to the Lord Jesus. And yet, thousands of years later this spirit is still very much alive; religious people continue to twist and add to God’s Word.

Jesus ignored these man-made rules and did what He knew would please the Father. Though he knew the Jews would accuse Him of breaking the Law and slander His name, He went ahead and healed people on the Sabbath. He had not come into the world to please people.

The simplicity of Jesus’ reply to the Jews was so striking: “My Father has been working until now…” In other words, His Father in heaven is always at work, so why should He be any different? The Jews had completely missed the entire point of the Sabbath. It was a day to do more for God, not less.

Isn’t it comforting to know that we have a Savior and a God who take no vacations or days off! Every day and every hour of the day and night They are listening to your prayers, and alert to your needs. They are ready to heal and help whenever you cry out to Them in faith. Isn't it empowering to know that our Savior is God's very own Son, with all the power and authority of God at His disposal. He died for us, rose from the dead for us, and now lives to insure that we develop a strong relationship with Him and that we are protected from all that the devil would like to do to us.

Monday, July 22, 2013

July 22: In remembrance of Me

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: On the night when He was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and said, “This is My body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way, after supper He also took the cup and said, “This cup is the new covenant established by My blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy way will be guilty of sin against the body and blood of the Lord. So a man should examine himself; in this way he should eat the bread and drink from the cup.    (1 Corinthians 11:23-28 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

One of the last things that Jesus did before His death was to initiate the Lord’s Supper — an indication of how important it is. We are commanded to have it often in remembrance of Him because it helps us to focus on the most important things in life — it looks back to Jesus’ death on the cross, and forward to His second coming.

If the Lord's Supper causes us to feel sad for Jesus we are making a big mistake. We should not feel sad for Him, instead we should celebrate His victory over the devil and death. Not only did He die, He rose again and is now in heaven at the right hand of the Father, and His name is now the name above every name. When we eat the bread and drink the cup we are proclaiming His death, and our complete trust in Him.

Whenever you have the chance to have the Lord’s Supper, do your very best to be there. This is a time to honor Jesus for what He’s done for us, and to perform necessary maintenance of our souls. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

July 21: The narrow gate

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.    (Matthew 7:13-14 — New American Standard Bible)

This is a tough passage. We’d like to think that everyone will be saved, that God in His love will forgive anyone for anything. And it’s true that anyone can be forgiven for anything, but we have to ask for it; we have to be willing to put our past behind, change direction, and surrender to God’s way of doing things. “Everyone’s going to heaven” is a lie of the devil designed to make people complacent, trusting that everything will somehow work out in the end. The truth is that heaven is for those who fight to get there.

In his book, Mere Christianity, CS Lewis says: “We must not suppose that even if we succeeded in making everyone nice we should have saved their souls. A world of nice people, content in their own niceness, looking no further, turned away from God, would be just as desperately in need of salvation as a miserable world — and might even be more difficult to save.”  Being nice, good, giving to charity, and refraining from lies and adultery are not enough. God asks us to enter through the narrow gate, to refuse to go with the flow of the society around us, to push ourselves to do what He wants.

The shocking message of this verse is that many will be lost and only a few saved — the opposite of what most people assume. God in His wisdom knows that most people, in and outside of the church, will be lost. Most people don’t want to make the sacrifice of entering through the narrow gate — it requires too much effort, they have to give up too much, their friends aren’t going that way, their family doesn’t understand. Sadly, most people will choose to reject heaven.

The problem is a chronic shortcoming of the human race: pride. People don’t want to be told what to do, not even by God. They want to be their own bosses. People don't want to admit they’re wrong or that they need God. They like to think they can handle things by themselves, and that they can do as they please. Loving and serving God, and acknowledging their need of a Savior sounds like slavery to them. Most people will not humble themselves to the point of being saved. Salvation is there — it’s available as a free gift — but only for those who approach the Lord Jesus in humility.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

July 20: Be ready

Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps lit. Be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master will find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself to serve, and have them recline at the table, and will come up and wait on them. Whether he comes in the second watch, or even in the third, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have allowed his house to be broken into. You too, be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect.    (Luke 12:35-40 — New American Standard Bible)

This parable about a master that has gone on a trip and the slaves he has left in charge of his house represents Jesus and each one of us. He is coming back again, and we don’t know exactly when He will come, but He tells us that we have to be ready. Jesus uses two pictures of readiness in this passage: being dressed and having our lamps lit. These two things would make it possible for the master’s servants to immediately take care of him when he arrived.

There is a blessing for those who watch for Jesus’ return, who make faithfulness and obedience a priority in their lives. On the day that Jesus returns they will be ready, and will be saved. God wants everyone to be saved, but the choice is not His. We have free will and each one of us must choose Him for ourselves. In a shocking reversal of the servant picture, Jesus declares that faithful servants will be asked to sit at the table and be served by Him on the day of His return! Their faithfulness and endurance will finally be rewarded.

This passage speaks of an unusually late hour of return for the master — the second watch or even the third watch. If the Jewish method of time keeping was used in this story, the hour would be sometime between 10pm and 6am. In other words, as human beings we are frequently tempted to think that God is late in answering our prayers or coming to our aid, but whenever He is “late” it is because He is building endurance or character in us. Constant readiness is necessary for our salvation, and throughout our life on earth.

Jesus changes the illustration slightly at the end of the passage, comparing our readiness to protecting a house against robbery. If we knew the time that a thief planned to break into our house we would be ready. But since no one knows when a thief will strike, we have to be ready all the time. This repeated message is no accident. God is not careless with His words. He repeats Himself because this is a message that we are liable to hear, agree with, and promptly forget, and so He makes a point of emphasizing this fact.

Make sure you’re ready.

Friday, July 19, 2013

July 19: My strength, rock, and deliverer

I love You, Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my mountain where I seek refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I was saved from my enemies.    (Psalm 18:1-3 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Here David, the king of Israel, expresses his thoughts about God at a time when he has been victorious over all his enemies. Similar to the situation of Israel today, he ruled at a time when Israel was surrounded by enemy nations. When he became king, Israel had just suffered a terrible defeat; King Saul had been killed in battle and the nation was in shock. And yet, through trust in and obedience to God, he became the greatest king that Israel ever had. The Bible even calls him "a man after God's own heart.” After forty years as king, the nation of Israel was the dominant power in that region of the world, and his son, Solomon, was able to live in peace and prosperity because of the great victories his father had won.

The words of this psalm are not empty words that someone thought up, they come from someone who knew, who had experience, who had proved their authenticity over and over again. David calls God his strength, rock, fortress, deliverer, mountain, shield, horn, and stronghold. Many times David had tested this on the front lines of battle, when attacked by people who wanted him dead and his people destroyed. Over and over again he faced overwhelming odds and superior forces, but God was always his Rock, and he always came out on top.

God wants you to know Him like David did. He wants to be your strength and shield — your deliverer and fortress. David’s secret was that he dedicated his life to God — God's enemies were his enemies; God's interests were his interests. Only when you adopt this attitude will you be guaranteed to experience God’s help in amazing ways. Your enemies may not be people; your battle may be against sickness, financial failure, fear, depression, anger, a bad marriage, the past, or rebellious children. Whoever or whatever your enemies are, God wants you to be victorious so that you can praise Him just like David. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

July 18: God has a plan

But when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat, and fastened on his hand. So when the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he has escaped the sea, yet justice does not allow to live.” But he shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. However, they were expecting that he would swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But after they had looked for a long time and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god.    (Acts 28:3-6 — New King James Version)

Paul had just been shipwrecked together with close to 300 men on his way to Rome to testify before Caesar. They swam ashore at the tip of Italy, on the island of Malta, and were warming themselves around fires when Paul was bitten by a venomous snake. Under normal circumstances he would have died — but God had other plans for him — and when the locals saw that he survived the snake bite, they concluded that he must be a god.

When we belong to God and are locked into His plans for our lives, nothing has the power to stop us. The devil would love to rob us of our plans, end our lives early, or destroy what is dear to us — he comes to steal, kill, and destroy — but when we belong to God, He will not allow it. Though the devil has power, he cannot decide when our lives will come to and end.

God had plans to use Paul in Rome in front of Caesar. How does God want to use you? Is that a question you ask yourself, or are you simply living your life the way you want? As a child of God, you have to give up your plans and be willing to fulfill God’s plan for your life. This may sound boring and unattractive, but it is anything but. God’s plan is what we were created for, and nothing in this world is more exciting and fulfilling than seeing His plan come together through us.

From now on, stop being afraid of the future. God has a plan for you. The devil will attack, but stay firm and calm, and know that His plan cannot be disrupted. Whatever God’s plan for you is, determine that you will not rest until you discover it.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

July 17: The confidence of a child

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.    (Hebrews 4:14-16 — New American Standard Bible)

In the Old Testament the high priest of Israel would enter the temple, go through the curtain which separated the two rooms of the temple — the holy place and the most holy place — and enter into the actual presence of God. But Jesus as High Priest has not entered a room in a building, He has entered heaven to the very presence of God, and is now seated at God’s right hand. And so this passages encourages us to “hold fast” to our confession of Jesus as our God and Savior. He has done what no one else has ever done, He has the power to transform us and give us a future, so we should make sure we never give up on Him, no matter what.

The writer of Hebrews then reminds us that this special High Priest is not only God, He was also a man and felt everything that we feel. He is a priest that can sympathize with anything we are going through. He knows what it is to be tempted, because he was, only He never gave in to it. He knows what it’s like to be hated, lied about, laughed at — what it’s like to be tired, discouraged, to cry, to feel agony. And so Jesus is uniquely qualified to understand and help us. We don’t have to be afraid to speak to Him or to confess our sins and weakness to Him. He doesn’t like our sin, but He knows what it’s like to be tempted.

One of the greatest things in life it to be heard and understood by others, and the Lord Jesus the supreme sympathizer.

At Mount Sinai the people of God were commanded: “Do not go up to the mountain or touch its base”, a huge contrast to the command in this passage to confidently draw near to the throne of God. Because of what Jesus did on the cross, people of faith are ordered to enter God’s presence. We are not asked to approach Him in a timid, insecure manner (like most Christians do). We are asked to enter with confidence, to speak plainly, to be fearless, and courageous. If we truly believe that God is our Father, and if we truly believe in the promises He has given us, logic demands that we insist on their fulfillment in our lives. God cannot lie, and so His promises have to come true, and if they aren’t He wants us to speak plainly to Him and demand their fulfillment.

Real children have confidence and boldness with their fathers. I can’t go up to any man and demand his help, but I can approach my father. If we are God’s children, we have to behave like it.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

July 16: God is kind and stern

Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off.    (Romans 11:22 — New King James Version)

Most people only like to think and talk about the love of God. The favorite scripture of many is, “God is love”. While it’s correct to emphasize the love of God — He loves every person on the face of the earth and wants them to have eternal life — there is much more to God's character than love. He is also a holy God that hates evil and rewards good. Throughout the Bible there are examples of God punishing evil people and rewarding those who do what’s right. One verse we should all remember says: “A man reaps what he sows”. The choices we make determine our future: heaven or hell.

Many reject this truth and are of the opinion that everyone will go to heaven. But today’s passage says we should consider both the kindness and severity of God. Those who refuse to believe in and follow the Lord Jesus show by their refusal that they do not love God. Therefore, they will not spend eternity with God, but will be eternally separated from Him. But those who humbly open their hearts to Jesus regardless of nation, race, or class will live forever in God's presence.

This passage emphasizes the seriousness of life. On the Last Day God will separate people into only two groups. 0ne group will be lost, the other will be saved. But everyone will be rewarded according to what they’ve done, and God’s judgment will be perfect and fair. Because of this, each one of us needs to seek God now; Jesus is the only Savior. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

July 15: The armor of God #2

Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s word. Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request, and stay alert in this with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints.    (Ephesians 6:17-18 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Roman helmets were intricately designed, protecting a soldier’s head and making him look taller and more imposing. In battle no warrior would ever have gone without one. It’s no coincidence that salvation as a piece of armor is linked to the head. Knowing that we are saved, that our lives are in God’s hands, and that our future is guaranteed makes us bold and confident. What most people in the world fear — death — we do not fear, and so the devil is deprived of one of his main weapons.

Roman swords were short and designed for close combat, and when used by a trained soldier, were deadly. This is the only offensive weapon in Paul’s description of our spiritual armor. The Word of God as a weapon means that God’s teaching and promises make us deadly in our fight against the fear and lies of the devil and his demons. It gives us perspective, the power to defeat temptation as Jesus did during His 40 days in the desert, it is an instruction manual for life, and it offers countless other benefits. The Bible is not a magical book; it only works when we believe, practice what it says, and allow God’s Spirit to speak through it.

One of Satan’s most dangerous, modern-day techniques is to keep us so busy with the news, internet, phone calls, texting, Facebook, our jobs and everything else that we don’t have time for His Word. When we fall for this trick, we are like Roman soldiers of the past marching into war without their swords — we will become casualties.

After describing the six pieces of armor, Paul urges us to prayer at all times, in different ways, and to stay alert through prayer. This is a perfect ending to the pieces of armor. Through prayer we can change any situation, conquer any problem, and bring God Himself into our lives as our Helper, Defender, and Provider. The Old and New Testaments are full of miraculous answers to people who prayed.

Start using these pieces of armor. The more we use them the more effective we will be.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

July 14: The armor of God #1

Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.   (Ephesians 6:14-16 — New American Standard Bible)

Paul spent years of his life in Roman prisons or under Roman house arrest and had plenty of time to reflect on a soldier’s armor. As he goes through the armor of God he presents it roughly in the order that a soldier would put the various pieces on. There are six pieces of spiritual armor — truth, righteousness, the gospel, faith, salvation, and the Word — that keep our mind and thoughts focused on what is pure and true, since the devil works primarily with lies, doubt, fear, and confusion. His weapons are words — negative words and lies — and so our defense must also be words — words and thoughts that bring life and strength.

In ancient times soldiers girded themselves with a belt that held the rest of the armor in place, and from which hung strips of leather to protect their lower body. Truth is crucial. How can we hope to withstand the father of lies himself when we are not holding firm to the truth ourselves. Truth as a piece of armor means that we have to be truthful and honest at all times. It also means that we hold on to basic foundational truths of the Bible so that whenever we are attacked with doubt or lies, we can easily identify them as such.

A Roman breastplate went completely around the body so that a warrior’s back was also protected. It was made of hard leather or metal. Righteousness as a piece of armor does not stand for the righteousness that comes from faith in Jesus’ death on the cross, which we all possess, but the practical, daily choices to do the right thing and to run from evil and temptation. This is like a bulletproof vest that protects us from the destructive power of sin.

Roman soldiers wore tough, leather shoes with metal studs on their soles. No soldier would ever go into battle in his bare feet, and we cannot engage in war with the devil unless we keep in mind the great truths and power of the gospel message. We are forgiven and have been given authority. Jesus has restored the dominion that Adam lost in the garden. We have peace with God, and therefore are at war with the devil. When we keep these things in mind we are prepared for anything.

When Paul mentions the shield he says, “in addition to all”, which seems to mean that faith is a piece of armor that we need to pay particular attention to. Roman shields typically measured two and a half by four feet and would offer protection for most of a soldier’s body. Faith as a piece of armor means that the fiery attacks of the devil and his demons — no matter how strong, vicious, or often — are knocked away without causing us any harm. Faith shields us so that his lies and fear have no effect. When we are sure of what we do not see simply because God’s Word has made us promises (Hebrews 11:1), the devil is no longer a threat.

Tomorrow we’ll speak about the remaining pieces of armor.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

July 13: Our real struggle

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.    (Ephesians 6:10-13 — New American Standard Bible)

This passage is one of the most famous, richly rewarding, and practical in all of the New Testament. It states a simple but deep truth that many people do not understand: our struggle in life is not against people and situations, but against negative spiritual forces — the devil and his demons. 

The large majority of people would react to this statement with something like this: “Naw! That’s so old fashioned. Demons! Are you kidding? We’re living in modern times, there’s no such thing as demons.”  This is a modern world, but where have our modern ways gotten us? We have more addictions and depression than ever before in human history, we have high divorce rates, and in spite of huge advances in medicine, we still have many incurable diseases. Recent projections say that by 2016 over half of all births in England will be out of wedlock… How modern and advanced we are!

Most people would admit that at some point they’ve come face to face with evil, that something dark and evil came over them or entered into a situation they were dealing with — and some feel this dark power every single day. Others would not admit to a sense of darkness, but have lives that lack any real happiness or success. They may have money, but they’re a failure at relationships. Others can’t control their anger no matter what they try. Some people experience strings of bad luck, a continual series of negative events or accidents that are too common to be considered normal. Because of this we have two options: explain away the evil we experience as “life”, or acknowledge the actual existence of negative spiritual forces and fight against them.

In this passage Paul encourages us to: “be strong in the Lord”… “put on the full armor of God”… “stand firm against the schemes of the devil”. When we acknowledge the existence of evil spirits we can then take the next step and fight against them and win. But if we don’t acknowledge them, and pretend they don’t exist, there’s no way to fight against them.

Christians have dropped the ball in a big way when it comes to this subject. Few know how to fight against evil, or have the boldness and courage to resist Satan and demons in Jesus’ name. It’s a subject that many consider too messy and complicated to deal with, except, when we ignore it that’s when our lives get real messy and complicated.

Decide that you are strong in the Lord and that you will fight against Satan and his demons from now on.

Friday, July 12, 2013

July 12: He saves the crushed in spirit

The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears, and delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is near the brokenhearted; He saves those crushed in spirit. Many adversities come to the one who is righteous, but the Lord delivers him from them all. He protects all his bones; not one of them is broken.    (Psalm 34:17-20 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

This is who God is; this is how He has acted all through history. It doesn’t matter if we’re living in the 21st or the 1st century, or if we lived in 1000BC, like King David who wrote this psalm. He always hears when the righteous cry out, and always delivers them from all their troubles. When people humbly cry out to Him, when pride and rebelliousness are pushed to the side and a broken spirit and an obedient heart remain —God draws near to deliver and save.

Trouble is a part of life. Hardship, pain, setbacks, and disappointment are always present, or on their way. This world is under Satan's evil influence — the Bible even calls him the prince of this world. Except all who belong to God are promised the victory. Through the power of the Lord Jesus we overcome Satan, demons, trauma, and disaster. But our victory is not automatic, it comes when we go out on a ledge and live by faith. Fear, doubt, and worry give the devil permission to oppress us, whereas faith drives the devil away and authorizes God to step in and save us.

The author of this Psalm wrote from his own experience of many years. David had begun serving and trusting in God as a boy. As a young shepherd he had killed lions and bears that attacked his father’s sheep. In his early teens he killed a warrior-giant who was insulting and threatening God and His people, and eventually became the greatest king of Israel. But all through his life he faced danger and trouble, conflict and war, betrayal and suffering — and without fail God always gave him victory and deliverance. That’s why he can speak with such confidence and praise God so glowingly in this psalm.

I want you to determine that very soon you will have the ability to do the same thing — to speak glowingly and confidently about God, not because you read some stories about Him, but because you experienced Him firsthand.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

July 11: Rescued from the lion’s mouth

At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them. But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was rescued out of the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.   (2 Timothy 4:16-18 — New American Standard Bible)

Paul was tried before Emperor Nero two different times — the most evil, murderous ruler of that age. No one stood by Paul or gave him support in his first trial. Those who could have spoken in his favor deserted him. But God stood at his side, and gave him strength not just to answer the charges against him, but to deliver a strong message about the Lord Jesus to all the people in Caesar's court. The Emperor of Rome, his officials, and everyone else in that room heard the Good News of Jesus Christ. Though he was in danger of being martyred for his faith, Paul was concerned about saving his accuser’s souls.

As God's people, we often face struggles and hardship alone. When we are not alone, we frequently have to take the lead and be the strong one of our group. A life of faith often demands that we walk alone — at times God arranges for us to be alone so that we rely on Him completely, and at other times no one else close to us has the faith that we have. But whatever the case, as Paul asked God not to count it against them, we cannot blame others or become bitter when people desert us. This is a part of the life we’ve chosen — a life of raw, undiluted faith. 

Paul was rescued from the lion’s mouth… This may be a metaphor for his legal troubles or his spiritual battle, but could just as easily stand for actual lions. It is generally accepted that Nero set Rome on fire to make room for his construction projects, and then turned around and blamed Christians for the fire. And so, during his rule Christians were routinely crucified, burned at the stake, and fed to wild animals. Even so, Paul’s message is a strong one. He is sure that God will rescue him from every evil, and that He will bring him safely to His heavenly kingdom.

If Paul could have this confidence in the face of such danger and hatred, shouldn’t we? We belong to God, and whether we live or die, our lives are in His hands. We should not live in fear or worry.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

July 10: Jesus came to save sinners

This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” — and I am the worst of them. But I received mercy for this reason, so that in me, the worst of them, Christ Jesus might demonstrate His extraordinary patience as an example to those who would believe in Him for eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.   (1 Timothy 15-16 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

One of Satan’s most effective tools is guilt and condemnation. If he can keep you feeling condemned and unworthy and worthless, then you are his. If you constantly think about what a big sinner you are, and replay the regrets of your past, it will be impossible for you to live for God. Satan's very name means "accuser", and he does his work enthusiastically. His worst nightmare is for you or anyone else to understand that Jesus has provided forgiveness of sins. And if you do discover this fact, he works at making you think that you are too undeserving of that forgiveness.

This passage states that there is a great truth that deserves full acceptance by all: Jesus came into the world to save sinners. We are sinners, even though we’ve given our lives to God, and even though we’ve been baptized in the Holy Spirit. We don’t live in sin, we don’t wake up in the morning determined to get away with as much sin as we can — but we do sin, and need to continually repent of wrong and be sensitive to our conscience and God’s voice.

Paul states that he considered himself the worst of sinners. He must be referring to how he had persecuted, and helped kill Christians before his conversion. Paul is not exaggerating here, or attempting to appear excessively humble, rather I think he is referring to the fact that the most repulsive group of people on the face of the earth, in God’s view, are hypocrites and religious fanatics, and Paul had been the biggest, most dedicated hypocrite. But he says that God has made him an example of His unlimited patience and willingness to forgive men. And so, the Holy Spirit’s message for us today is that we should refuse to wallow in condemnation any longer. Accept the “too good to be true” forgiveness of the Lord Jesus, and get busy serving Him with gratefulness and love. And more, tell others about the amazing Savior you’ve found.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

July 9: The old has passed away

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come. Everything is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: That is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed the message of reconciliation to us. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, certain that God is appealing through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God.” He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.   (2 Corinthians 5:17-21 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

If you are living by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, you have been reconciled to God (there is peace between you and Him). In the past you were lost and separated from God, but now, through faith, you’ve been brought back. Nothing separates you; you’re a son or daughter, and God is your Father. You’re a new creation in Him. The sins of the past have been forgiven, the death grip of sin has been broken, the Holy Spirit is at work in you, and you are being set free from all that held you back and separated you from the amazing presence of God. You are a new person in Jesus. You’re not perfect, but you are in the process of being reshaped into the person God always meant for you to be.

If all this is true, the message of reconciliation (peace with God) has now been entrusted to you. You are God’s ambassador to people who are still far from Him. Look for ways to communicate this message of peace to your family, relatives, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. Allow Jesus to make you into a powerful witness for Him, and remember, every witness first has to see something firsthand. 

God has already reconciled the world to Himself through the sacrifice of Jesus — now He is waiting for people to respond and accept what was done on the cross. The great message of reconciliation (peace with God) is that God placed on the Lord Jesus, who had no sin, all of our sin so that we would be innocent and pure in His sight. Someone else — Jesus, the Son of God — paid our debt, endured our punishment, suffered for our sins, so that we could  receive a full pardon.

If we are reconciled or reunited with God, the opposite also has to be true, we are alienated from the devil.