Saturday, August 31, 2013

August 31: Lord of compassion

The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and rich in faithful love. He will not always accuse us or be angry forever. He has not dealt with us as our sins deserve or repaid us according to our offenses.    (Psalm 103:8-10 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

This passage should be a tremendous encouragement. It’s a brief description of how God interacts with us. He’s a God of compassion that wants to bless us, a God that is rich in love. Obviously, Satan would love for us to believe the total opposite, that God is our enemy, that He demands perfection, that He’s rigid and judgmental. But if you take the time to read about Jesus’ life in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, His compassion and love for all sorts of people will be one thing that jumps out at you. He forgave and helped tax collectors (thieves), prostitutes, Gentiles (unbelievers), even Pharisees (hypocrites) when they let Him… anyone who came to Him asking for help. In fact, throughout the Bible you can see that God frequently worked with sinners, failures, rejects, and unbelievers and turned them into the great heroes of faith that we read about today.

In general, people are ignorant about God’s true nature and their lives reflect that ignorance. So many have a hard time rising above it. Many view God as cruel and unforgiving — looking for an excuse to punish and place heavy burdens on people. Others think of God as distant and unapproachable — unconcerned with people or their problems. “He’s too busy with whatever He’s doing to help us,” they say. Other people view God as an elderly, doting grandfather. “Everyone ends up in heaven eventually. There’s no need to be overly careful about the way we live, no one’s going to be punished,” they believe. But the truth is that God is both Almighty and Holy, and will certainly judge men for their sins. And yet, as the passage states, He doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve! Though He demands respect and obedience, He’s also forgiving and understanding when we are not perfect but have tried our best and acted in faith. The greatest desire of God’s heart is to be close to and bless us.

When we surrender to Him and consider His will more important than our own, this passage will become a personal reality. 

Friday, August 30, 2013

August 30: Waiting is action

To You, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in You I trust, do not let me be ashamed; do not let my enemies exult over me. Indeed, none of those who wait for You will be ashamed.    (Psalm 25:1-3 — New American Standard Bible)

This Psalm is an appeal for protection, guidance and forgiveness. Though David was a great king, had conquered many enemies, seen miracles, and accomplished amazing things, he was still acutely aware of his need for God’s help. His wealth and fame could not buy what he was looking for; he wanted eternal salvation, to see his prayers answered, and to show the world that his God was the only true god. This is a lesson for all of us. No matter what happens in life, no matter how rich or poor we are, whether we are healthy or sick, we need to cry out to Him for help.

An interesting detail is that David begins and ends this psalm with the same words — do not let me be ashamed. Shame is something that God’s enemies, Satan and his demons, should feel, but not God’s children. Though we go through hard times and struggles, and at times are tempted to feel ashamed, we should stubbornly insist that God save us from shame, and rain it down on His enemies. Whatever the devil used against us in the past, should now become the area where God does His greatest work in us — in this way, that previous problem boomerangs on the devil and puts him to shame.

This passage ends with “none of those who wait for You will be ashamed”. Waiting on the Lord does not involve a lazy, disengaged attitude. Waiting on Him means having an unwavering hope that He will come through with His promises. No one waits for a friend they don’t expect to show up — we only wait for people that we consider faithful and worthy of our trust. In fact, this phrase implies that “waiting on Him” guarantees that a person will avoid shame, in other words, his prayers will be answered.

Waiting on God is not sitting on a sofa waiting for God to do something, it is knowing that you know that He will come through for you, and stepping out in faith. Waiting on the Lord is action. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

August 29: Remember me

Then one of the criminals hanging there began to yell insults at Him: “Aren’t You the Messiah? Save Yourself and us!” But the other answered, rebuking him: “Don’t you even fear God, since you are undergoing the same punishment? We are punished justly, because we’re getting back what we deserve for the things we did, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom!” And He said to him, “I assure you: Today you will be with Me in paradise.”    (Luke 23:39-43 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Here are two men, both are criminals, both are being executed for their crimes, but each has a different heart. Both see Jesus and hear His words on the cross, both see His patient suffering, both hear the mocking of the mob and the religious rulers — but the similarity ends there. One hurls insults at Jesus just like everyone else, whereas the other criminal rebukes him for his disrespect, and defends Jesus. From what he had seen and heard, he had come to some amazing conclusions about Jesus. He knew that He was innocent of any wrong, that He was destined to be a king, and that He could give Him salvation if He wished.

Look at the incredible mercy and forgiveness of the Lord Jesus for this man — clearly the other thief could have been saved if he had only allowed faith to enter his heart. This proves that people can find salvation even on their deathbeds, and that people who have been violent and sinful for many years of their lives can be saved within the last hours, days, weeks, or months of their lives. But this should not encourage anyone to put off this crucial decision because we never know when our last day will be.

Jesus promised that this man would be with Him in paradise that very day. Paradise is where the saved go when they die to await the second coming of Christ and the resurrection of their bodies. It’s a place of happiness where they are in the presence of Jesus, Abraham, and all the other men and women of faith who have lived throughout time. It is something we need to continually hope for, and when life on earth gets frustrating and tedious, the knowledge of this place should inspire and push us forward. Many sermons and books are written about love and faith, and few speak about hope. But hope is one of the vital attitudes we need to keep alive inside of us. The hope of heaven is what strengthened martyrs of the past to stay faithful in the face of death, and the hope of heaven is what will keep the fear of God alive inside of us, and the motivation to keep on going in spite of the obstacles and disappointments we face.

If you’re already saved, hold on to it tightly; if you’re not, imitate the wise thief and grab a hold of your salvation right away.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

August 28: Are you mismatched?

Do not be mismatched with unbelievers. For what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness? Or what fellowship does light have with darkness? What agreement does Christ have with Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? And what agreement does God’s sanctuary have with idols? For we are the sanctuary of the living God, as God said: I will dwell among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be My people. Therefore, come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord; do not touch any unclean thing, and I will welcome you. I will be a Father to you, and you will be sons and daughters to Me, says the Lord Almighty.    (2 Corinthians 6:14-18 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Because some members of the church in Corinth were ignoring Paul and developing a dangerous attachment with false teachers, he felt the need to remind them of how certain things in life cannot be mixed. In no way was he encouraging the Corinthians to isolate themselves from unbelievers — we live in this world and cannot avoid people of other beliefs — but he was encouraging them to hold true to their own beliefs and refuse to allow others’ values and behavior to rub off on them. If anyone ignores this advice, one or the other, or both, will end up with values and behavior that have been diluted.

Belial is a Hebrew name for Satan and only appears once in the New Testament — this passage. It means: evil, wicked, and destroyer. How could the Lord Jesus Christ have anything to do with Belial? Jesus is the total opposite of all that Belial stands for. But the same goes for anyone who has a strong faith in God… how can they want to marry people who hate God, or be good friends with people who spend the whole night in a bar, or enjoy hanging around with negative, depressed people. If we put up with these things it only shows how weak our commitment to God is.

God encourages us to come out from among them and be separate… don’t touch any unclean thing… be sons and daughters to Me. The number one thing in our lives should be our relationship with God — everything else should come second. Our relationship with Him should be so important that we are ready to sacrifice anything to keep it pure and strong. When we are around people who do not believe like we do, we shouldn’t act like they have the plague — because we were just like them not so long ago — but should be examples, and should refuse to compromise on our faith or beliefs, yet do it in a manner that is appealing to people that do not yet have the faith that we have.

Let’s belong to God, but at the same time let’s not be a turn-off to the lost and needy.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

August 27: Demons + the kingdom of God

But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.    (Matthew 12:28 — New American Standard Version)

Jesus did three main things on earth: He preached and taught God’s word; He healed the sick and performed miracles; and He cast out demons. The first two had been done by others before Him, though He brought greater revelations and did larger miracles, but casting out demons had not been done before. There were some Jewish exorcists that dabbled in casting out demons, but nothing so genuine and powerful as what Jesus did. Neither had anyone spoken about Satan and demons as much as Jesus, He opened people’s eyes to the real root of their problems, and when He cast demons out of people those who saw it were amazed at His authority and power. They had never seen anyone speak and act so forcefully.

There’s a verse that expresses this perfectly: “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” (1 John 3:8) This is why Jesus came into the world, and this is part of why we are here too — to destroy the works of the devil. If we aren’t, then the opposite of today’s passage would apply, we are not in the kingdom of God. Most problems in people's lives and many problems in the Church itself can be traced back to the presence of evil spirits. If we do not drive out demons like Jesus did, we are allowing the devil to continue his dirty work in the lives of people all around us; and if we are not concerned about stopping the work of demons, it is very likely that we are not completely free. When demons are cast out in Jesus' name — the kingdom of God has come. 

Two of the greatest things we can do as a Church is destroy the works of the devil and accept God’s will as our own. But these are not really two different things. God’s will is for the devil to be shamed and defeated, because the devil’s desires are the opposite of God’s. When we fight the devil and cast out demons we are doing God’s will. When we don’t, we are not doing His will.

Let’s all identify where and how demons are working, and stop them!

Monday, August 26, 2013

August 26: Free + filled

When an unclean spirit comes out of a man, it roams through waterless places looking for rest, and not finding rest, it then says, “I’ll go back to my house where I came from.” And returning, it finds the house swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and settle down there. As a result, that man’s last condition is worse than the first.    (Luke 11:24-26 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

The Lord Jesus taught that evil spirits exist and that they can inhabit people; this was not a teaching meant only for the first century, it’s a timeless concept. He cast demons out as a normal part of His work, taught His disciples to do the same, and has commanded us to do it also. If we are wise we will accept His teaching and change our own ideas and philosophies to agree with His.

Evil spirits feel a need to live inside of people, and when they’re cast out they wander through waterless places. They feed off of pain, depression, anger, hatred, grudges, pride, selfishness, addictions, and everything else that is negative and bad. When we refuse to allow them to live inside of us, and cast them out, they are deprived of that “food” and are thrown into a type of spiritual desert. They immediately start searching for a place of rest — another human body — otherwise they feel starved and deprived.

Whenever demons are cast out they will try to return to the same person. They must consider that the investment they have made over the years is too much to give up on. Besides, demons hate to obey. Whenever we cast them out and tell them never to come back, they will try to do the opposite because it’s in their nature to rebel.

One of the most important points in this passage is that it’s not enough for our lives to be clean and put in order — if our lives are clean, but empty, demons will come back. This means that no deliverance is finished until we are filled with God’s Spirit. That’s the only guarantee that we will remain free. When God’s Spirit occupies our “house” no one else can move in, but if our “house” is vacant, demons will force their way in. This means that being filled with the Holy Spirit is not an option, but a necessity. As long as we are not baptized with the Holy Spirit, we run the risk of being contaminated again, and ending up even worse than before.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

August 25: Prayer that works

The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit.    (James 5:16-18 — New American Standard Bible)

Real prayer is powerful and effective. God will respond to you and do what you ask Him to do; your prayers won’t hit the ceiling and fall back down, but will rise up to God and be answered from heaven. Real prayer moves God's hands and causes things to happen that would not otherwise happened.

Of the seven billion plus people in the world, how many pray? If 75% of the world prays, or even 50%, where are the results? People are suffering, there is war, hospitals are full, people are getting divorced, homeless people are living under bridges, and there are more addictions today than ever before. Is prayer to blame? No, because like anything else in life there’s a right and a wrong way to do it. Many people pray to the wrong god, or pray without faith, or make empty repetitive prayers, or pray to a god that they feel is not interested in doing anything for them. If we don’t pray in the proper way, or pray to the right person, how can we expect results?

This passage states that the prayer from a righteous man (or woman) can accomplish much — that righteousness is a key to prayer. But righteousness is just a fancy word for doing what is right, obeying God, living the way He wants us to live. Righteousness is not being perfect, because Elijah wasn’t. If you read about what He did after the rain came you’ll see that he ran from Jezebel, got depressed and just wanted to die (1 Kings 19). He wasn’t perfect, but he was righteous! …just like you and me.

One of the most important lessons of this passage is that Elijah had a nature like ours. In other words, Elijah was no different than you or me. He was a human being just like us, but chose to live by faith and to believe in great things. What we learn from this passage is that the problem of prayer does not concern the object of our request — the size of our request… Elijah asked for the rain to stop for three and a half years — but the earnestness of our prayer, the boldness of our faith in God.

We can’t be content with mumbling ritualistic, dry prayers. Get busy using your faith to ask for great things with the determination that God has to treat your prayers like He did Elijah’s. Make sure you’re a righteous person, that you listen to Him when He talks, and that you are growing in faith and obedience every day. When you’re doing this, and you make an effective prayer — bold and strong, not based on feelings but on God and His promises —you will see answers on a par with Elijah’s.

Let’s stop blaming God for unanswered prayers; let’s look inside ourselves and decide to change whatever we have to change to see amazing things.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

August 24: True strength

The king is not saved by a mighty army; a warrior is not delivered by great strength. A horse is a false hope for victory; nor does it deliver anyone by its great strength. Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope for His lovingkindness, to deliver their soul from death and to keep them alive in famine.    (Psalm 33:16-19 — New American Standard Bible)

This life does not consist of what we see with our physical eyes. So much more is going on. The invisible spiritual world around us is more permanent and real than anything we can touch or see, but because we cannot see or touch it many make the mistake of deciding it doesn’t exist. God does exists, and though we can’t see Him, His creation is clear proof of that. Another aspect of the unseen world is Satan and demons, their effect on this world is all too real, and can be seen on the front page of newspapers and in the daily news on TV or on the internet.

Because of this, no victory comes through physical strength alone, through the size of our army, or our physical weapons. Real victory comes from God. The fear of God and hope in His lovingkindness are some of the most powerful weapons we have. One of the most important lessons in life is to learn to trust that God will do what we cannot. It’s a lesson that many fail to learn. Trying to handle life alone drives many to anti-depressants, or to alcohol, anger, or to losing their marriages and family because all their focus is on their jobs. They work tirelessly to avoid financial failure, and then fall victim to failed marriages and families. But when we fear God we will defeat any enemy — big, small, seen, or unseen — and will conquer problems and situations that are vastly superior to our strength and knowledge.

If you fear God (meaning respect and obedience) His eyes are on you! He will save you from death and protect you from famine. He will be in control of your life. Isn’t it interesting that God asks us to fear Him, so that we will not have to fear anything else? The choice is ours. Forget God and be afraid of everything, or fear God and have no fear of anything. I think the choice is pretty clear. Now we just need to do it.

Friday, August 23, 2013

August 23: A present possession

For God sent Him, and He speaks God’s words, since He gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hands. The one who believes in the Son has eternal life, but the one who refuses to believe in the Son will not see life; instead, the wrath of God remains on him.    (John 3:34-36 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

There is one God who exists as three distinct persons — God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit — and we see all three in this passage. Though they are three separate beings they work in complete unity. We never hear about them disagreeing, becoming jealous of each other, or arguing. They have different functions, and work at different times, but they work as a seamless, uninterrupted unit. They are three, and at the same time one. In this passage, the Father sent the Son, the Son spoke the words of the Father, and gave the Spirit. This should give us the faith to overcome any bad marriage, any crisis with our children, or any problems on our job or in our neighborhood. If the God that lives out such mind-boggling unity lives inside of us, He will give us the power to enjoy the same unity in our relationships.

Jesus emphasizes the fact that He was given the Spirit without measure, that all things were placed in His hands, and that belief in Him brings eternal life. He is not boasting or diminishing the other two persons of the trinity, He is simply stating facts. He is speaking to people who’re not sure if they believe in Him or not, and when He speaks about what is possible through faith in Him, He’s not trying to manipulate people into believing, but simply making it possible for them to make an informed decision. If they chose not to believe in Him, they would know what they would be missing for the rest of their lives. Three of the most important things in life are in the hands of Jesus; if we want those three things we have to surrender to Him and make Him Lord of our lives.

When Jesus speaks about eternal life He uses the present tense, stating that whoever believes has eternal life as a present possession. But the opposite is also true, God’s anger is on those who refuse to believe as a present reality. Though our lives are not yet finished, we’re still imperfect and in the process of learning to trust more fully in God, if we choose to believe in Him we can take hold of eternal life right now. It’s not a hope, it’s a fact. Of course we have to continue to be faithful, we can’t relax in our faith, but as we do God views us as already saved. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

August 22: Get involved

But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.    (1 Corinthians 12:7-11 — New American Standard Bible)

Being a man or woman of faith in Corinth was an uphill battle when Paul wrote these words, much like it is in any large city today. Idolatry, sexual immorality, unbelief, greed, and poverty were a daily reality, and being faithful to God meant having the courage to be radically different. One means of helping these new Christians to stay strong was to get them plugged into a strong church. It’s possible, but extremely hard to stay faithful to God all by yourself. We need others to encourage, challenge, and support us. When we stumble, we need a friend to help us back to our feet.

This is so different than many people’s view of church today. They appear on Sunday morning for an hour and then put their faith and good behavior on the shelf until next Sunday. They commit to attending church every Sunday but are not at all interested doing anything more than that. When they’re in church on Sunday morning, they’re there to receive, to fulfill an obligation, that’s all. They have no desire to save souls, or to invite the lost and suffering to church to find God and the answer to their problems. They don’t want to be a part of helping someone grow in their faith, or to be challenged to grow in faith themselves. They’re being “fed” in the Sunday meeting and that’s enough for them.

Wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, distinguishing of spirits, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues are manifestations of the Holy Spirit that are supposed to be present in a church. The pastor should manifest several of these gifts so that the people coming to his meetings can be helped and changed — and the Spirit determines which ones are needed and makes them available — but these manifestations should not be limited to the pastor and his wife. Members of the church should also manifest these gifts. A real church is like a body — every part, big or small, has a specific function, and some have more than one, but each part contributes something big or small to the functioning of the body as a whole. Not only does this mean that each member feels useful and necessary, it also means that the church is prepared for any circumstance it might encounter because its members have varying gifts.

If we want more we have to give more. “Give and you shall receive” was a promise that Jesus repeated over and over again. We need to allow God to use us to rescue the lost, and to help those in need. We need to be humble to receive help, and then turn around and help others. The church is much more than a Sunday morning service, it’s a way of life.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

August 21: Expecting the wrong thing

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came to the tomb, bringing the spices they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb. They went in but did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men stood by them in dazzling clothes. So the women were terrified and bowed down to the ground. “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?” asked the men. “He is not here, but He has been resurrected! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, saying, ‘The Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men, be crucified, and rise on the third day’?” And they remembered His words.    (Luke 24:1-8 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Jesus had been crucified on Friday and His body placed in a tomb a short while before sundown. Since the Jewish Sabbath began at sundown His disciples had not been able to properly prepare His body for burial — no one could do any work from what we call Friday evening until Saturday evening. But when some women went to the tomb early Sunday morning to wrap Jesus’ dead body in spices, they were shocked to find the tomb open and empty. Then two angels appeared and asked, “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?”… and told them to remember what Jesus had told them about His death and resurrection. Only then did they remember His words.

The Lord Jesus had told them what would happen — He would be betrayed, crucified, and would rise on the third day — but as events played out they forgot His words, were overwhelmed with fear, ran away, hid, and gave up hope. When the women ran back from the tomb that Sunday and told the eleven (Judas had ended his own life), even then their words seemed like nonsense to them and they refused to believe. Peter and John only believed after they had run to the tomb to see for themselves.

But what the angels said to the women could just as easily be said to us — “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?” Much of the time we expect the worst because we forget God’s promises. He said nothing is impossible for him who believes, but we give in to the feeling that nothing about our situation can ever change. Instead of expecting the miracle we’ve asked for, we expect to hear bad news… we’re looking for the living among the dead!

Our old, human nature has to die. As long as it stays alive we’re going to have the same problem as those eleven men and three or four women. It makes no sense to keep forgetting what God has promised when problems are staring us in the face. — Let’s stop panicking and giving in to confusion. Let’s have the unique clarity that only faith in God’s Word provides.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

August 20: Doubly cursed

As He entered a village, ten leprous men who stood at a distance met Him; and they raised their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When He saw them, He said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they were going, they were cleansed. Now one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice, and he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine—where are they? Was no one found who returned to give glory to God, except this foreigner?” And He said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has made you well.”    (Luke 17:12-19 — New American Standard Bible)

Two aspects of this story need to be clarified: leprosy and Samaritans. When Jesus was on earth Israel was divided into three provinces — Judea, Samaria, and Galilee. Judea was to the south and Galilee was to the north, and Samaria occupied the land in between. Babylonian settlers had been brought to Samaria by an Assyrian king hundreds of years before Jesus and these foreigners had intermarried with the Israelites of that area, and so Samaritans were considered half-breeds and betrayers of the faith by the Jews, who had "no dealings with the Samaritans" (John 4:9). Out of contempt, the Jewish religious leaders even referred to Jesus as "a Samaritan" (John 8:48). And yet, like we see in this passage, Samaritans were some of the first to embrace Jesus’ teachings.

Leprosy was a disease of the skin that bleached a person’s hair, caused their skin to become dry and scaly, disfigured their faces and limbs, and caused them to be literally devoured from within. Most viewed it as punishment from God. These people could not live inside a walled city, though they sometimes lived in small villages without walls, but they had to live separate lives and could have no physical contact with non-lepers. They could not greet anyone, because in that part of the world a greeting involved an embrace. Whenever someone approached on a road or path they would call out “Unclean! Unclean!”, a warning for people to stay away.

Jesus constantly reached out to people in need, and lepers were no different. The Bible records Jesus healing lepers a number of times, and here He heals ten at once! According to the Jewish law, whenever a leper thought he was healed, he had to allow a priest to examine him and verify that he was indeed healed. So when Jesus told the ten to go and show themselves to the priests, He was declaring their healing. They could have laughed, or demanded that He show them proof right away, but instead all ten headed off in the direction of the nearest priest, and along the way were healed. Faith always demands action, and real faith steps out in belief before anything is seen.

Jesus was amazed that the Samaritan was the only one to return and thank Him. In fact, we see that he did not just thank Him, his actions seem to indicate that he was accepting Jesus as his Lord — and was saved that day. Not only was he a Samaritan, he was a leper — he was doubly cursed. Most people must have looked at him and thought there was no possible way for a man like him to be saved or for God to have mercy on him. He must have been constantly judged and despised. People must have assumed that he had done something extremely evil to be “punished” with that disease. But of the ten, he was the most humble, the most spiritual, the most thankful, and the one who was not only healed, but saved. 

God doesn’t concentrate on our exterior, He sees who we really are… and no one is too far gone, too ugly, or too wounded for God. He loves to take the most rejected person, the most hopeless, or the most hard-hearted and lift him/her up. This story can teach us a lesson if we’re humble enough to learn from a leper: our healing, our answer to prayer is less important than finding God.

Monday, August 19, 2013

August 19: Radiant with joy

I sought the Lord, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to Him are radiant with joy; their faces will never be ashamed. This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him from all his troubles. The Angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and rescues them.    (Psalm 34:4-7 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

(My father, Forrest, wrote this first paragraph just after my mother had been moved from the ICU at Beth Israel Hospital in Lower Manhattan back in the late 1980s after a brain hemorrhage.)

As I write these comments, I can testify that this scripture is true. David the king wrote these words and found them to be true about 3,000 years ago. I have found them to be true today, and through the experiences of the last three weeks. I sought the Lord and He answered me; He delivered me from fear and put courage in my heart. In a time of great trouble, He put songs in my heart and radiance upon my face. I have seen God's deliverance — “The valley of the shadow of death” is behind us now — and we are looking forward to His complete deliverance. Yes, God's angels encamp around us to protect and deliver us in times of trouble.

“He answered me” is a classic statement of praise throughout the Book of Psalms. David could boast about how God had responded to his cries for help, a type of worship which is much more meaningful than simple songs and hallelujahs. King David went through many times like this, and became such a great leader because every time we are delivered after crying out to, and trusting in God, we learn more than if we had studied the Bible for years. Real understanding of God’s Word comes through practice, and real praise comes through living out our faith. 

People who look to God as David did are transformed. “They are radiant with joy, their faces will never be ashamed” — this sounds very similar to what happened to Moses on Mount Sinai when he came back down the mountain with a face glowing with the glory of God’s presence. When we look to Him, we cannot help but be filled with joy; we cannot help but refuse to be ashamed. So many people today have no joy, or a very fragile joy, and this is simply an indication of how far they are from God, and how they fail to look to Him in times of trouble.

If the Lord is encamping around us, we have nothing to fear and every reason to be filled with joy. — We need to practice this!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

August 18: Groaning in this tent

For we know that if our temporary, earthly dwelling is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal dwelling in the heavens, not made with hands. Indeed, we groan in this body, desiring to put on our dwelling from heaven, since, when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. Indeed, we groan while we are in this tent, burdened as we are, because we do not want to be unclothed but clothed, so that mortality may be swallowed up by life. And the One who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave us the Spirit as a down payment.    (2 Corinthians 5:1-5 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Few of us would enjoy living in a tent for any length of time. It might be okay for a couple days during a camping trip, but living in a tent on a permanent basis is not something any of us would choose. But that’s exactly what this passage says we are doing, living in a tent. This life is temporary — our future life in heaven will be a permanent building made with His own hands. This is an extremely important concept for anyone who believes in God. We cannot value this life, its possessions, and its pleasures more than we value faith in God and our salvation. We should be so focused on our future with God that we groan, longing to be freed from this life to enjoy our future with Him. This passage goes so far as to compare this life to being naked… being unclothed. We long for this life to be swallowed by the real life of heaven. 

People prepare for the future. They invest in houses and savings, and get ready for retirement. But not very many people are preparing for heaven. "Am I ready to meet the Lord Jesus?" is a much more important question than, "Do I have a good retirement plan?" People put money into Social Security, 401K’s, and other retirement plans, but few people store up treasures in heaven. 

I want to be ready when Jesus comes back. How about you? I want to put Him first and help others to do the same. I don't care about retiring in Florida or Arizona; I want to spend eternity in heaven.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

August 17: No hesitation!

So, friends, we can now — without hesitation — walk right up to God, into "the Holy Place." Jesus has cleared the way by the blood of his sacrifice, acting as our priest before God. The "curtain" into God's presence is his body. So let's do it — full of belief, confident that we're presentable inside and out. Let's keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word. Let's see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.    (Hebrews 10:19-23 — The Message)

This passage is rooted in the Old Testament and the temple in Jerusalem. The temple was divided into several parts: there was the courtyard where anyone could enter, and there was the temple building itself that was divided into two rooms — the Holy Place where only the priests could enter, and the Most Holy Place where the presence of God dwelled. The high priest entered the Most Holy Place only one time each year to pray for his, and the people’s, sins. Separating the Most Holy Place from the Holy Place was a heavy, beautiful curtain.

The passage above speaks about the amazing consequences of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross. When we believe in Jesus and what He did on Calvary, we do not hesitate to enter the Most Holy Place, to walk right into the very presence of God, ask for what we need, and enjoy the privilege of being His children. The curtain that separated people from God in the past, and even today, is the body of Jesus. At the instant that Jesus died on the cross, the curtain in the temple in Jerusalem was torn from top to bottom, a sign that the path to God was now open to all who believe in Him. But the boldness to enter the Holy Place does not belong to everyone, only to those who believe in Jesus’ death for them and who decide to respond by also dying for Him — dying to their will and adopting His will.

How many of us walk right up to God without hesitation? Are we bold and confident in our faith? Are we taking advantage of the high price that Jesus paid on the cross for our freedom? Do we understand that the devil and his demons were completely defeated 2000 years ago? If not, we need to wake up and start living like true believers in the Lord Jesus.

Take to heart the last phrase of the above passage. In the first century church, like today, there were people who stopped going to church. When we come together as a group we encourage each other, we keep each other sharp, we keep each other prepared for the approaching big Day. — See you in church tomorrow!

Friday, August 16, 2013

August 16: Persuasive words vs. power

When I came to you, brothers, announcing the testimony of God to you, I did not come with brilliance of speech or wisdom. For I didn’t think it was a good idea to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I came to you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with persuasive words of wisdom but with a powerful demonstration by the Spirit, so that your faith might not be based on men’s wisdom but on God’s power.
(1 Corinthians 2:1-5 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

The city of Corinth in the time of Paul was an important business hub between Italy and Asia. Because of this it became a wealthy city with all the latest luxury items, but was even better known for its moral decay. It was so immoral that a Greek word was coined whose meaning was “to act like a Corinthian”, a synonym for sexual immorality. Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty was the most worshipped god of the city. 

Now we know why Paul states that he did not come to the Corinthians with brilliant speeches or wisdom. The city was filled to the brim with all the most exciting and beautiful things of the time, and none of that had brought the city or its people any real answers. In stark contrast to what the city offered, Paul decided to know nothing more than Jesus Christ crucified — at first glance a distasteful image of death and suffering. Yet this was the one thing with the power to transform that lost city full of confused people. Paul was determined not to try and entice people with emotion and persuasive words, but with the plain truth and power.

“I came to you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling” doesn’t sound like someone filled with the Holy Spirit, but what he must have meant is that he did not rely on his own knowledge and confidence. He had many things to be proud and boastful of: he had an enviable education, had both Roman and Jewish citizenship, had accomplished a great deal for God, had been whipped and beaten for his faith, and the Lord Jesus had personally appeared to him on the road to Damascus when he was converted. But Paul refused to rely on those things, on himself, and decided to allow God’s power to flow through him to the Corinthians. Paul was convinced of a profound fact: emotion and excitement do not bring permanent change, but God’s revelation does.

Isn’t “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” an amazing message? It speaks volumes about God’s love for us, the authority we now have, and the future we can look forward to… and yet for those who are not deep thinkers, who give a hurried glance at this message, it appears ridiculous. Let’s not seek emotion and persuasive words, but the true, raw power of God that has the power to keep us strong and safe when we’re surrounded by a world of Corinthians.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

August 15: Loving the praise of men

Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.    (John 12:42,43 — New King James Version)

The many miracles of Jesus, combined with the recent miracle of Lazarus rising from the dead and walking out of his own tomb when Jesus called his name caused many ordinary people to believe, and even many of the “rulers”, or religious leaders. Lazarus was a well-know, respected, wealthy man, and many religious leaders were present at his funeral when Jesus arrived and brought him back to life. This show of Jesus’ power was so great that the unbelieving Pharisees decided they would have to kill Jesus and Lazarus to stop the exodus of people from their synagogues. 

Jesus had restored the sight of a man born blind, He had healed a man that had been paralyzed for thirty-eight years, and He had healed a woman with a twelve-year hemorrhage, but raising Lazarus from the dead after four days in the tomb was the last straw. Even Jesus’ enemies began to admit that God was at work in Him. 

And yet, the rulers that finally gave in an believed were afraid to make their belief public; the Pharisees had made it clear that anyone who believed in Jesus would be banned from the synagogue. This meant that some people would refuse to associate with them, some would not buy from or sell to them, and they risked being rejected by many members of the synagogue and Jewish faith, maybe even their family.

This passage says they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. They were afraid to lose the approval of men, but were not afraid to lose God’s! They believed, but how can this weak type of belief help anyone? As you read this you might even be tempted to make excuses for them, or try to understand their difficult position, and if you are, you would be wrong. We can’t make excuses for being disloyal to the Lord Jesus, and we can’t act as if the world’s approval is everything. It’s not. If we are criticized by the entire world but praised by God, we can count ourselves very blessed. At another time Jesus said, “Whoever disowns me before men, I will disown before my Father in heaven.”

What about us? Are we ashamed of our faith in Jesus? Do we take advantage of opportunities to tell others about Him? …not in a religious or irritating way, but wisely. We cannot give in to the temptation to be ashamed of Jesus. He is the One who undid our curses, forgave our sins, offers us eternal life, and heals our diseases. Anyone who is ashamed of Him has been blinded by the devil. Prostitutes, drug dealers and nightclub owners are not ashamed of what they do, how can we be ashamed of the One who offers the answer to all of life’s problems? 

Ask God for the courage to stand up for Him and to love His praise more than the world’s. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

August 14: Hidden from the “wise”

At that time Jesus said, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight. All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him."    (Matthew 11:25-27 — New American Standard Bible)

There are two kinds of wisdom and intelligence. The wisdom of the world often fills people with pride; they can become impressed with how much they know, how wise they are, and how much they are able to accomplish. It’s difficult for them to listen to others, or to admit that there are things they do not know. Jesus is referring to these people when He says that God has hidden things from the wise and intelligent. Proud people will not go to God, and God cannot teach proud people. Proud people commonly deny that there is a God; and even if they do admit that He exists, they do not feel the need for His help. They will never admit to feeling powerless or being sinners, and repentance is a meaningless word to them.

But there is another wisdom which is from God. He gives this wisdom and intelligence to the humble. This is what Jesus meant when He said God had revealed things “to infants". After all, when we stand before God, can we ever be anything more than infants? What do we know compared to Him? What are we compared to the absolutely pure and sinless Jesus? What have we accomplished in comparison to His immense creation? And this is the entire point of this passage: there is hope for us only when we admit our sins, our dependence on Him, and our lack of true wisdom. God will reveal Himself to us when we seek Him with humble hearts. 

The big mistake that the “wise and intelligent” make is that they think they can understand and do anything if they put their minds to it, whereas the truly wise and intelligent understand that they can achieve great things through effort and hard work, but the most important things in life have to be revealed to us by the Son. Are you seeking God and His wisdom, and ready to apply it to your life? If so, your future is guaranteed, and not only will He direct and exalt you, He will save you.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

August 13: Living among the tombs #4

The eyewitnesses described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and told about the pigs. Then they began to beg Him to leave their region. As He was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed kept begging Him to be with Him. But He would not let him; instead, He told him, “Go back home to your own people, and report to them how much the Lord has done for you and how He has had mercy on you.” So he went out and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and they were all amazed.   (Mark 5:16-20 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

For most people in the world the idea of demon-possession is absurd — it’s a narrow-minded, fanatical, outdated way of dealing with conditions that are complicated, but clearly explained and treated with medicine and psychology. But in truth the idea of demon-possession is an exciting, cutting-edge manner of dealing with certain problems — an approach that quickly gets to the root of the problem and completely eliminates it. The widespread thought that demon-possession is absurd is a message that Satan and his demons promote because they are terrified of what would happen if more people knew the truth and used their authority to enforce it. If Jesus used this method to free this man that no one in the region of the Gerasenes could help — over a period of many years — why would this method not work today? Either this story is a big lie, or demon-possession is a reality that we need to pay attention to.

This recently healed madman begged… begged to go with Jesus, when the supposedly sane people of the city begged Jesus to leave. Though this man had lost years of his life to insanity, he was now smarter, more in control of his senses, more sane, more spiritual than the whole town. But in a surprising response of Jesus, he was told that he couldn’t get in the boat with Him, but should go back to his people and tell them what God had done for him. Within one day, this man went from being possessed by a legion of demons to being so free that he was sent by Jesus to help others. His healing must have been very impressive because all the people of Decapolis were amazed.

Isn’t this what our lives should be? We should not be content to have normal, mediocre lives. Whether we start out as bad as this man or not, we need to fight to see such a change in our lives and family that those who know us will be amazed. This is how God can go from being a god that no one can see, to a god that everyone can see. God is invisible, but He becomes visible in our lives when we allow God to do something genuinely great.

Monday, August 12, 2013

August 12: Living among the tombs #3

Now a large herd of pigs was there, feeding on the hillside. The demons begged Him, “Send us to the pigs, so we may enter them.” And He gave them permission. Then the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs, and the herd of about 2,000 rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned there. The men who tended them ran off and reported it in the town and the countryside, and people went to see what had happened. They came to Jesus and saw the man who had been demon-possessed by the legion, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid.    (Mark 5:11-15 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

(Today’s passage is a continuation of the last two days)

This is not an easy passage to understand. Why would Jesus give permission for the demons to go into the pigs? He didn’t order them into the pigs, but He did give them permission. Why did the demons ask to enter the pigs? Nowhere else in the Bible do we see an example of this. On one hand, we know that death and destruction of people, animals, or property was not something that pleased Jesus, He always tried to bring peace, healing, and strength to people. He could not have been happy to see 2000 animals die. But we have to remember that His primary goal was to free the horribly possessed man, not the pigs.

In tomorrow’s passage you will see that the people of the city asked Jesus to leave when they heard what had happened to the pigs. It didn’t matter that the young man was free and in his right mind, they had lost money and that was more important to them. The entire situation forced the town to choose: Jesus or pigs. And yet, it wasn’t as simple as losing animals. The people of that area on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee were Jews — and forbidden by God to own pigs or eat pork — so the real choice that that town had was: God or the world, obedience or rebellion. Jesus was there to offer them a chance to repair their relationship with God, and they turned their backs.

Instead of concentrating on the poor pigs that died in the sea that day, we should be feeling sorry for the people of an entire city that rejected God and were spiritually lost. Never again do we hear about Jesus visiting that region.

But something similar happens today in every one of our lives. Whenever we make a bold step of faith, decide to let go of something negative, or start getting closer to God, we will be attacked. Setting that man free was a real victory for Jesus, and so demons created a distraction that enraged the entire town and caused them to hate Jesus. Before and after any big victory in our lives, we can expect to be attacked. The bolder our step of faith, the bigger the devil’s attack will be. What we have to do is stand firm, refuse to loosen our grip on God, and determine that we will make it through victorious.

I’m sure that freed man saved many more than 2000 people over the remaining years of his life. That’s the real story. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

August 11: Living among the tombs #2

When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and knelt down before Him. And he cried out with a loud voice, “What do You have to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg You before God, don’t torment me!” For He had told him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” “What is your name?” He asked him. “My name is Legion,” he answered Him, “because we are many.” And he kept begging Him not to send them out of the region.    (Mark 5:6-10 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

(Today’s passage is a continuation from yesterday)
Isn’t it strange how Christians and churches today ignore the whole concept of evil spirits and possession? Very few talk about it or actually make prayers against evil spirits, even though it was a daily routine for Jesus and His disciples. In fact, what would people do with the man living among the tombs today? They’d medicate him and have him committed to a mental institution. Any talk of evil spirits and prayer would be met with laughter, rolling of the eyes, and ridicule. Yet that was Jesus’ answer 2000 years ago. Was he ridiculous? Should we laugh at Him?

We have to ask ourselves why this passage, and others like it, are included in the Bible. One reason would have to be that God wanted us to be aware of the existence of evil spirits, and how to cast them out. This man lived in a cemetery, cut himself with sharp stones, and had a legion of demons — an extreme case — but in the Bible and today we know that demons also work in more subtle ways like fear, depression, suicidal thoughts, unemployment, marriage problems, repeated failure, “bad luck”, addictions, and so forth. Because of this, each one of us needs to assess whether or not we are completely free from demonic influences. Many times people are totally unaware that they are possessed. They assume that what they’re going through is life, nothing else; and because they don’t know the real source of their problems, they can’t fight them.

Jesus’ name and power bring total freedom from evil spirits. But the devil plays lots of “games” with people. Many who serve him (the devil) pretend to “help” people. People involved in the occult and Wicca, or who are fortune-tellers, tarot-card readers, mediums, and psychics are all using the power of Satan to do what they do. They may say beautiful things about the spirits of nature, or about how they’ve always had a gift for seeing the future or sensing psychic activity, but they are dangerous and will open doors to evil spirits if we go to them or believe what they say. Do be deceived by these things. Focus on the Lord Jesus and His Word — that’s where the power is.

Though the man from the Gerasenes had a legion (a unit of 3,000 to 6,000 men in the ancient Roman army) of evil spirits, they begged Jesus not to send them out of the region. This means that they are no match for Jesus, and since we believe in Him, they are no match for us.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

August 10: Living among the tombs

Then they came to the other side of the sea, to the region of the Gerasenes. As soon as He got out of the boat, a man with an unclean spirit came out of the tombs and met Him. He lived in the tombs. No one was able to restrain him anymore — even with chains — because he often had been bound with shackles and chains, but had snapped off the chains and smashed the shackles. No one was strong enough to subdue him. And always, night and day, he was crying out among the tombs and in the mountains and cutting himself with stones.    (Mark 5:1-5 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Jesus had just calmed a raging sea, and now He is confronted with a raging man, that He later calms and sets free. Three times Mark mentions that this man lived among the tombs — caves where the bodies of the dead were placed. This was considered an unclean place for the Jews, and even today, who would choose to live in a cemetery? And yet this was simply an outward sign of what these spirits were intent on doing to this man. 

The New Testament frequently mentions demon-possessed people, but this man was the worst of all that are mentioned. His life leaves no doubt about the real aim of Satan; he wants death, anger, depression, separation, and destruction. In most people the devil tries to work undercover and blame anyone or anything for his work, even God. But with this man of the Gerasenes, he no longer tried to disguise himself and was blatantly out in the open.

Insanity, insomnia, self-harm, rage, super-human strength, and extreme misery were all clear proof that Satan was at work in this man. But it’s important to note that in spite of being terribly possessed, this man was still able to approach Jesus for help. Though his situation seemed more than impossible, he had the strength to fight against it and walk up to the one Person that could help him — and we can do the same.

No matter how bad off you are, there is always hope. But we need to remember that life on earth is first and foremost a spiritual struggle. Our enemies are not the people around us, or situations, but negative spiritual forces. Demons and the devil are our enemy, and at the root of any problem we will find them in one form or another. Not every problem is a demon, but many are, and if we refuse to copy Jesus’ example and fight them, there will be problems that we cannot overcome.

Let’s use this tool that Jesus introduced to us.