Sunday, September 29, 2013

September 29: The changed mafia boss

He entered Jericho and was passing through. There was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but he was not able because of the crowd, since he was a short man. So running ahead, he climbed up a sycamore tree to see Jesus, since He was about to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down because today I must stay at your house.” So he quickly came down and welcomed Him joyfully. All who saw it began to complain, “He’s gone to lodge with a sinful man!” But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, I’ll give half of my possessions to the poor, Lord! And if I have extorted anything from anyone, I’ll pay back four times as much!” “Today salvation has come to this house,” Jesus told him, “because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost.”  (Luke 19:1-10 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Tax collectors were Jews that chose to work for the Roman occupiers of Israel and were well known for getting rich by cruelly overcharging people on their taxes. Those who chose this line of work knew beforehand that they would be banned from entering the Temple in Jerusalem and disowned by their families, and chose to do it anyway. They were the type of people that valued money over God, salvation, and family. They would even hire people to go to the market and do their shopping for them because it was dangerous for them to be seen in public. Not only was Zacchaeus this type of man, he was a chief tax collector and had become rich from it. Today we might refer to his type as a mafia boss.

Do you want to know what repentance looks like? Look at Zacchaeus; it’s one of the most power forces in life. Though he was traitorous, sinful, hated, and godless, and the crowd marveled at how Jesus could even enter the house of such a man, repentance turned his life around in less than a day. When he stood up and announced publicly that he would give away half of his possessions to the poor, and repay anyone he had cheated four times the amount, that was true repentance. Not just words, not promises, but action. At that instant he proved to the Lord Jesus that money was no longer his treasured possession, now it was God. He was prepared to lose all his money, but was not prepared to lose Jesus that day. Imagine the peace and joy that Zacchaeus felt, and imagine what a refreshing night of sleep he must have had.

The meaning of repentance is the same for everyone, but what we have to repent of is different. Some people are like Zacchaeus; they have to give back money they have stolen. Others have to forgive people that have wronged them. Many have to break bad habits with God's help. Those who are doing what makes God unhappy need to turn their backs on those things. Like a cancerous tumor that has to be cut out of a patient’s body before it kills him, sin has to be cut out of our souls before it causes us to be lost forever. Repentance does not call you simply to feel sorry for what you’ve done, it drives you to remove the offending attitude or behavior and start doing the opposite. Repentance understands that what God has for us is worth more than all the world. 

Don't let any sin or weakness block you one more day from Jesus and salvation. It isn't worth it! What Jesus has for us is of infinite value. Zacchaeus was wise enough to recognize this.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

September 28: Engaged to Jesus

For I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy, because I have promised you in marriage to one husband — to present a pure virgin to Christ. But I fear that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your minds may be seduced from a complete and pure devotion to Christ.  (2 Corinthians 11:2,3 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

If you are a Christian, you are like a young woman engaged to be married. Your future husband is the Lord Jesus, and when He comes again the great marriage banquet will take place. Several Bible passages speak of this. We are to think of ourselves as pure and holy virgins that belong only to Jesus. Just as a young woman who is engaged to a fine young man keeps herself for him alone, we should keep ourselves for Jesus alone.

Paul expresses a fear that the Corinthian church will allow themselves to be deceived, and has a godly jealousy for this church that he worked so hard for. Though we are saved and seem to have a strong faith, this passages teaches us that it is possible to be deceived and fall away. Like Eve was deceived by the serpent, by the attractiveness of the fruit, the lure of being like God, and the lie that God was being unfair, we are also being attacked in very much the same way. If we do not “watch and pray” like Jesus said to His disciples in the garden, we are taking huge risks.

How can a person guarantee that he will remain strong in faith? Just like our physical bodies show signs of hunger — our stomach growls, we feel weak, we start to notice the smell of certain foods, we get a headache — our spirit also shows signs of hunger. The problem is that most people are completely in the dark concerning any signs of spiritual weakness and malnourishment. In general, humans are pros at noticing physical hunger and amateurs and noticing spiritual hunger. Things like fear, depression, anxiety, giving in to temptation, a lack of desire for God and church, addictions, anger, pride, selfishness, and similar things are signs that we are spiritually malnourished and are in need of serious help. Whenever we see these attitudes raising their heads, we need to completely destroy them.

Make sure you are a pure virgin saving yourself for the Lord Jesus Christ. Be diligent in eradicating anything that would interfere with your purity and devotion, or that would cause you to be attracted by anything or anyone else.

Friday, September 27, 2013

September 27: Who touched Me?

A woman suffering from bleeding for 12 years had endured much under many doctors. She had spent everything she had and was not helped at all. On the contrary, she became worse. Having heard about Jesus, she came behind Him in the crowd and touched His robe. For she said, “If I can just touch His robes, I’ll be made well!” Instantly her flow of blood ceased, and she sensed in her body that she was cured of her affliction. At once Jesus realized in Himself that power had gone out from Him. He turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched My robes?” His disciples said to Him, “You see the crowd pressing against You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?’” So He was looking around to see who had done this. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came with fear and trembling, fell down before Him, and told Him the whole truth. “Daughter,” He said to her, “your faith has made you well. Go in peace and be free from your affliction.”  (Mark 5:24-34 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

According to the Law of Moses this woman had been unclean for 12 years because of her bleeding. Anyone she touched would be unclean for 1 day, and so she must have lived her life trying to stay out of everybody’s way. She must have felt that her life had been put on pause — even doctors offered no help. But when Jesus came to town it’s as if she said, “Enough! I’ve heard stories of people being healed when they touched Jesus’ robes, so that’s what I’m going to do, even though I have to break the Law of Moses to do it.” And so she pushed through a large crowd of people to get to Jesus, making hundreds of people “unclean” along the way, and touched what Luke and Matthew explain were the tassels on His robes.

Did Jesus give her a tongue lashing for breaking the Law? No, He called her “daughter” — the only time that was done in the Bible. Her revolt for her chronic disease, her determination to be healed, and her trust in Him, that He would accept a woman like her, pleased Jesus. He saw sincerity in her and considered her a part of His family.

When she came from behind Jesus and touched His robes she was instantly healed. “At once” Jesus realized that power had left His body, turned around and started asking who had touched Him. It was a ridiculous question for His disciples — lots of people were touching Him, He was the center of attention in the middle of a large crowd. The difference was, she touched Him believing that when she did she would be healed, and even before Jesus could say “be healed” or turn around and see who it was, she was healed. Her healing was automatic. She had fulfilled all the requirements for healing and so the power of God simply flowed out of Jesus’ body and into hers. The Law of Moses considered her unclean, but her faith trumped the Law and made her acceptable in God’s sight. This is like no other healing in the Bible that we know of. This woman who had been looked down on for 12 long years, who must have been judged to be a sinner suffering the punishment of God, was one of only 2 people in that large crowd whose story is told and who was changed by the power of God.

She touched Jesus in a way that no one else did. My question is, did God decide who would be healed that day or did she? 

September 22: Don’t be deceived!

I am amazed that you are so quickly turning away from Him who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are troubling you and want to change the good news about the Messiah. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel other than what we have preached to you, a curse be on him! As we have said before, I now say again: If anyone preaches to you a gospel contrary to what you received, a curse be on him. (Galatians 1:6-9 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

The book of Galatians is one of the earliest New Testament books to be written — close to fifteen years after Jesus’ death and resurrection — and was written because the church was already under attack from false teachings, as Paul describes it, “a different gospel”. You would have thought that so soon after Jesus’ life on earth that people would have been wiser and more spiritual; there were still many people walking around who had seen and known Jesus firsthand. But human nature, when it has not been transformed by God’s Spirit, has a nasty habit of drifting away from the truth.

In response Paul wrote the book of Galatians, the most passionate and straightforward description of the gospel that we can find in the Bible. We are saved through faith in the Lord Jesus, period, was Paul’s repeated message. We cannot earn salvation with good works or rituals. False teachers had tried to convince the Galatians that they were still bound to the Old Testament Jewish law, most specifically circumcision, and that no one could be saved without those outward acts and rituals. Paul states in no uncertain terms that this “new” gospel is no gospel at all, and that anyone teaching a different gospel — man or angel — would be cursed.

Attitudes that please God are always balanced. Good works and rituals cannot save us, but that does not mean that we should swing to the opposite extreme of doing whatever we want because faith alone will save. The extreme of works alone is wrong, but so is faith based on words alone. When we have faith in the Lord Jesus and allow the Holy Spirit to guide and teach us, works are a natural result — but those works could never save us. No one could ever do enough works to wipe away the sins and shortcomings of their life.

We are saved by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ — a faith that is lived out every single day.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

September 26: Revealed in flaming fire

For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed.  (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10 — New American Standard Bible)

Jesus the Son of God was persecuted while He was on the earth. Even though He was perfect and without sin, many people hated Him. If we truly serve Jesus, we will also experience trouble and persecution. But this passage says that God is just, and that the day is coming when the enemies of God's people will be punished. Jesus Christ is coming again, but His second coming will be with a great display of power. He will come to punish those who have not honored and obeyed God. At the same time He will rescue His people and reward them.

Those who care nothing for God and who do not want to be close to Him or to Jesus, will receive what they want. They will be banished forever from God's presence and from His blessings of life and happiness. This is not because God does not want them to be saved, nor is it because their salvation has not been prepared — Jesus died for all men and God wants everybody to be saved. Every person who goes to hell will go there because of wrong choices he has made. The most terrible sin people can commit is to reject the Savior who gave His life for them!

But at the time of Jesus' glorious coming, His people will enter into His presence to live forever. There will be no more persecution of God's people. They will no longer be the rejected and despised people of the earth. Instead they will rule and reign with Jesus Christ. Be sure that you are one of His holy people who will rejoice at His coming.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

September 25: He hears us!

I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. Now this is the confidence we have before Him: Whenever we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears whatever we ask, we know that we have what we have asked Him for.  (1 John 5:13-15 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

These passage is about “knowing” — knowing you have eternal life, knowing God hears your prayers, knowing that you have what you have asked for. If you ask anything according to His will, God will grant that request. Some people get confused about what “the will of God” is, but it’s not that difficult. In most cases knowing the will of God is easy — especially when we know a little about the Bible and what it promises us.

For example, we know it is God's will for the unemployed to get a job, for the sick to get well, for the depressed to have joy and happiness, for the weak to be strong, for those in debt to pay off their bills, and for the lonely to get married. God is our Father and we are His children, and like any good father, He likes to give good things to His children. If you’re able to receive something that is really good for you, God is pleased. It’s not that difficult to know the will of God. That’s why we have the Bible, and why He describes Himself as Father, Shepherd, Healer, Savior, and Deliverer. Each of these titles communicate something about His will for our lives.

Now it’s up to you to approach Him in a confident, bold manner. Ask for what you need, for what your family needs, for what the church needs, and have unlimited confidence in a God who hears, cares and answers! If you continue to ask with faith and persistence — not once, but as many times as it takes — you will receive God's answer. Thousands, maybe even millions, of God's people have received answers to prayer, and you will also. God is doing great miracles all over the world right now because Christians are praying!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

September 24: Sharing in the divine nature

His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. By these He has given us very great and precious promises, so that through them you may share in the divine nature, escaping the corruption that is in the world because of evil desires.  (2 Peter 1:3,4 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

This is an amazing passage. First of all Peter explains an idea that many of us have trouble understanding: as Christians we already have everything we need for a life of success and victory. When we look around at our present life this verse might seem like a joke because it frequently feels like we have far less than “everything required”. But that’s when faith needs to step in, shut down our feelings, and decide in a determined, stubborn way that we will see great things in the near future. Peter, the apostle of faith, who walked on the water, who lived with Jesus for several years and saw innumerable miracles of Jesus, and performed others himself, wrote these words by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. They are true. If you’re tempted to doubt this passage based on your life experiences, your experiences are faulty, not God’s Word… not Peter.

God made us many great and precious promises, but the true goal of those promises and Jesus’ life on earth was to enable us to share in His divine nature. God wants us to be like Him. In chapter eight of The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis, as the demon Screwtape tries to explain God to his nephew and junior tempter, he says: “He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself — creatures, whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own…” And that could not be truer. It must be a sickening thought for demons, but it’s a glorious reality for us. God’s power makes us godly, enables us to participate in His divine nature, turns us into replicas of Himself, and fills us to overflowing with the same Spirit that lived in the Lord Jesus Christ.

When we cooperate with the Holy Spirit we escape the filth, the corruption, the evil desires of this world, and are empowered to live for God in the midst of all the darkness and evil swirling around us. The first verse of the book of 2 Peter begins like this: “Simeon Peter, a slave and an apostle of Jesus Christ: To those who have obtained a faith of equal privilege with ours through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.” Instead of being a slave to sin and this world, Peter is a slave of the Lord Jesus — a willing slave, a happy, joyful one. Being a slave of God is not slavery at all, it is freedom. Slavery to sin and the world bring oppression and suffering, but slavery to God is the total opposite.

Decide right now that you have been called to share in God’s divine nature, based not on your goodness and merit, but on His compassion and mercy. Grab a hold of this concept and make it a reality in your life. If this seems too good to be true, do it all the more, that impression is merely a sign of how much the devil and demons are trying to block you from this great blessing.

Monday, September 23, 2013

September 23: No more thirst

Jesus, worn out from His journey, sat down at the well. It was about six in the evening. A woman of Samaria came to draw water. “Give Me a drink,” Jesus said to her, for His disciples had gone into town to buy food. “How is it that You, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” she asked Him. For Jews do not associate with Samaritans. Jesus answered, “If you knew the gift of God, and who is saying to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would ask Him, and He would give you living water.” “Sir,” said the woman, “You don’t even have a bucket, and the well is deep. So where do You get this ‘living water’? You aren’t greater than our father Jacob, are You? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and livestock.” Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks from this water will get thirsty again. But whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will never get thirsty again — ever! In fact, the water I will give him will become a well of water springing up within him for eternal life.”  (John 4:4-14 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

The Jews of Jesus time hated the Samaritans because they were considered “impure” Jews, intermarriage with people from other lands had “polluted” their faith and ancestry. Most Jews would not travel directly through Samaria, but would make a big detour around it just to avoid going through their land. But Jesus refused to act that way, He walked straight through Samaria and even stopped to speak with this woman, and ask her for a cup of water. He had no bias toward her. Jesus was concerned not with perfect ancestry or behavior, but with saving a lost soul. And just like she had physical water to offer Him, He had a water that would quench her thirst forever, that would become a well of water inside of her. 

Most people's experience of Christianity and faith is far less than it’s supposed to be. They go to church some, pray a little, read the Bible and still they have not experienced what Jesus talks about here. This woman's life was transformed beginning that day, and the same power is available for us close to 2000 years later.

Ask God for this experience in your life. What you need is miraculous and wonderful, not common place and ordinary. Some people know what Jesus is talking about here because they have experienced it in their lives. They have drunk of the living water which has become in them a spring of sweet fresh water welling up to bless them and others. Don't be satisfied with anything less!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

September 21: The good soil

He said in a parable, “A sower went out to sow his seed. As he was sowing, some fell along the path... Other seed fell on the rock... Other seed fell among thorns... Still other seed fell on good ground…” As He said this, He called out, “Anyone who has ears to hear should listen!”
“This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. The seed along the path are those who have heard and then the Devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. And the seed on the rock are those who, when they hear, welcome the word with joy. Having no root, these believe for a while and depart in a time of testing. As for the seed that fell among thorns, these are the ones who, when they have heard, go on their way and are choked with worries, riches, and pleasures of life, and produce no mature fruit. But the seed in the good ground — these are the ones who, having heard the word with an honest and good heart, hold on to it and by enduring, bear fruit.” (Luke 8:4-15 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Jesus frequently used parables — examples from daily life — to explain deep spiritual truths. Only those who took the time to meditate on their meaning would see the truths hidden in the details, others would simply see them as common stories, dismiss them, and walk away with nothing.

This is possibly the most well known parable of Jesus and deals with a serious subject: hearing the Word of God. After telling the parable Jesus called out, “Anyone who has ears to hear should listen!” In the seven letters to the churches in Revelation 2 and 3 Jesus again repeats the exact same words at the end of every letter, “Anyone who has an ear should listen...” In other words, God speaks but its up to each one of us to decide whether or not we are going to listen. If we choose not to, how far do we seriously expect to get in life? And if we do listen, our steps will be guided by the Almighty Himself. The problem is, only those of us who have genuinely died to ourselves are able to say “no” to the voice of our hearts and “yes” to the Word of God.

Each of us fits into one of the four types of soil — the path, the rocky soil, the thorns, and the good soil. All four hear the Word of God, but not all four benefit. The seed falls in all four types of hearts, but only one produces a crop. Any one of the three bad soils can turn itself into the good soil as long as that person is ready to go beyond simply hearing God’s Word. 

If the three bad soils were typical problems in the time of Jesus, they are even more so today. Hardheartedness, being superficial, worry, an obsession with riches, and an addiction to pleasure are the trademarks of today’s society. But God is looking for good-soil-people, and when He finds them He is going to cause them to bear fruit.

Decide right now that you will either become the good soil, or that you will continue to be the good soil.

Friday, September 20, 2013

September 20: He helps all who fall

The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and great in faithful love. The Lord is good to everyone; His compassion rests on all He has made. All You have made will thank You, Lord; the godly will praise You. They will speak of the glory of Your kingdom and will declare Your might, informing all people of Your mighty acts and of the glorious splendor of Your kingdom. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom; Your rule is for all generations. The Lord is faithful in all His words and gracious in all His actions. The Lord helps all who fall; He raises up all who are oppressed. All eyes look to You, and You give them their food at the proper time. You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing. (Psalm 145:8-16 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

This psalm is an acrostic poem, meaning that the first word of each verse begins with the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, in consecutive order. Not only did King David have to be inventive as he wrote this psalm, he created a thing of beauty. It wasn’t enough for him to simply write down some nice thoughts about God, he was determined to create a beautiful work of art. Sadly we cannot fully appreciate this psalm by reading it in ancient Hebrew, and yet it is still an amazing passage to read. Challenging, edifying, and determined that God never fails His people, it is a message that this modern world is in sore need of. You might want to read the entire thing and ask yourself how you can do the same, how you can create a beautiful work of art to glorify your God and King.

The psalm begins with the words “I exalt You”. Saying this is a way of praising God, but the specific meaning of this word is “to hold high” or “to hold in high regard”. David could easily have focused on how he should be exalted — as the king and a mighty warrior — but instead looked to God as the exalted One. This must have been his secret to staying faithful to God in the face of so many temptations, and as we know, Satan fell because he exalted himself above God. Three words… but so powerful when we speak them with conviction.

This passage leaves no doubt about God’s power and care for His people — but takes this idea to the extreme: all generations… all His words… all His actions… all who fall… all who are oppressed… all eyes… every living thing. The same man who wrote psalms that cried out to God in times of need and moaned in agony, here praises God to the highest degree. In a world where we are continually confronted by evil people, disappointments, demonic attacks, satanic scheming, and where life is tough, David is determined to affirm that God is good, and that there is no end to His power, His concern, and His willingness to come to the aid of His people. This is one more secret to David’s dogged faithfulness to the very last day of his life, he was determined that God was faithful even when circumstances were screaming the opposite, and was convinced that “all things work together for the good of those who love God” — and because he believed that, it happened.

Now it’s our turn to have the same dogged determination.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

September 19: “No” to ungodliness!

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.  (Titus 2:11-14 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Twice this passage mentions the word “appear” in relation to Jesus. The first time He appeared as a man bringing salvation to a lost world, and to be an example of how we are to live in a dark world inhabited by Satan and his demons. No one spoke more clearly about the Father or about the devil, and no one had ever demonstrated faith on the level that He did. The second appearance has not yet occurred — He will come in glory to reign over those who have chosen to live by faith in Him. His first appearance makes it possible for His second appearance to be something we look forward to, rather than dread. If we belong to Him, we should long for that amazing, glorious, powerful day.

Jesus’ first appearance should trigger two responses in those of us who belong to Him. First, we should deny all ungodliness and worldly desires, and live for Him in a sensible, righteous, godly way. Our response to Jesus’ powerful life and defeat of Satan through His death and resurrection should create an immediate response in us. We should want the same power, forgiveness, purity, and peace that He had. Second, we should expectantly look for Jesus’ return. This is a sign of people who truly believe. If we never long for Jesus’ second coming, never wish that it would hurry up and come, are not inspired to keep on going when we feel like giving up because of that hope, then we should probably question the validity of our faith. Hope is one of the big three: “now these three remain, faith hope and love.”

The cross redeems us from every lawless act, and purifies us so that we can be His possession. How does that happen? Redeem means “to purchase.” His death on the cross paid the price of our sins and shortcomings, and freed us from that old life of slavery to sin. Sin is no longer our master, like it once was. Now God wants to use us for good, and to make us zealous for good. Many of us threw ourselves headlong into every kind of sin and perversion in the past — now we need to be just as radical and extreme for God.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

September 18: Not one promise has failed

“I am now going the way of all the earth, and you know with all your heart and all your soul that none of the good promises the Lord your God made to you has failed. Everything was fulfilled for you; not one promise has failed. Since every good thing the Lord your God promised you has come about, so He will bring on you every bad thing until He has annihilated you from this good land the Lord your God has given you. If you break the covenant of the Lord your God, which He commanded you, and go and worship other gods, and bow down to them, the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and you will quickly disappear from this good land He has given you.  (Joshua 23:14-16 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Joshua spoke these words to the nation of Israel after they had entered and possessed the land God promised them. Joshua had served God all his life and had been the leader of Israel for many years. He was near the end of his life, and told his people that God had fulfilled every promise He had given them — “You know with all your heart and all your soul that none of the good promises the Lord your God made to you has failed.” God had done everything He told them He would. Because Israel was seeking God and faithful to Him at this period of time, He had given them victory after victory, and blessing after blessing.

But Joshua also warns them about getting weak in their faith — if they turn away from God they will be cursed and lost. This is one of the fundamental truths of the Bible. If you seek God, and are sincere and obedient, you will be blessed, period. But if you turn away from God — the Giver of Life — all types of suffering and death await. Obviously there are, and have been, people who hate God and seem to have everything. In fact every time Forbes’ list of the richest people in the world comes out the people at the top as not known for their belief in God, but their seeming wealth is only temporary. Problems or tragedy could come along at any moment and wipe them out… they could have money but no love or peace.. not to speak of their eternal salvation.

If the promises of God are not coming true in your life at this moment, it’s a sign that something’s wrong. You may have drifted away from Him, or never known Him; other things might have become more important than God; you may be living for yourself, only concerned about what feels good and what’s comfortable; or maybe you’re caught in the same rut that everyone else in your family has lived in for generations. Your life can change, but God's promises only belong to those who choose to be children of God, to die to themselves, to go against the culture around them.

If you start doing this right now, long before your life on earth is over you will be able to join Joshua in saying: “Every good thing the Lord my God promised me has come about.”

September 17: The teachings of demons

Now the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will depart from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons, through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared. They forbid marriage and demand abstinence from foods that God created to be received with gratitude by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing should be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, since it is sanctified by the word of God and by prayer.  (1 Timothy 4:1-5 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

In the time of Paul and Timothy some pastors taught that the path to true spirituality was through avoiding certain foods and staying single. In the second and third centuries this train of thought actually developed into a serious problem in the church called Gnosticism. But Paul writes to Timothy in no uncertain terms calling these pastors hypocritical liars with damaged consciences, and calling their ideas the teaching of demons. Whoever followed these pastors would fall away from their faith, and either get weak in their faith, or lose it altogether.

But the same thing is happening today, though not necessarily with food and marriage. The overemphasis on praise and worship in churches, with professional musicians and huge bands, and great sounding music becomes more of a show that true worship. The music stirs up emotions that many mistake for God’s presence, and yet when they arrive at home all those good feelings are gone. This does not happen with the genuine presence of God.

Another modern-day doctrine of demons is pastors telling their members what they want to hear. They make sure their messages do not offend or challenge anyone — they want people to come back and so they steer clear of making anyone feel uncomfortable. But Jesus’ messages were not like that. He spoke the truth that would set people free no matter what people thought about it. He knew what people needed… and wasn’t about to give them what they wanted instead. When we seek out non-challenging spiritual leaders we are falling into the same trap.

One more demonically inspired teaching in modern-day churches is the absence of any real teaching on demons and how to cast them out. Obviously demons love this, they don’t want churches talking about their existence, they want to be left alone to do their destructive work. The problem is that these churches are not following the example of the Lord Jesus Christ, and are totally unprepared to help certain types of people. Unlike people with demons in the time of Jesus, the people in these churches will not be freed from oppression and their suffering will continue. 

We cannot allow demonic teachings to make us depart from the faith, and one way to make sure this does not happen is by protecting our consciences. This is the part of us that distinguishes between right and wrong, that sets off an alarm whenever we’re doing something it considers wrong. The hypocritical pastors in today’s passage had ignored theirs so often that it had become damaged and no longer worked. — This can never happen to us. We need a healthy, properly functioning conscience that keep us on the right path — and by faith that’s going to happen to each one of you that’s reading this today.

Monday, September 16, 2013

September 16: You have been washed

Don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be deceived: No sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, or anyone practicing homosexuality, no thieves, greedy people, drunkards, verbally abusive people, or swindlers will inherit God’s kingdom. And some of you used to be like this. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.  (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

This may be a hard verse for some people, but we cannot hide or shy away from the truth. It’s interesting that homosexuality is lumped together with greed and verbal abuse. Many would not put these three behaviors in the same group, but God does, treating them equally. Though this entire list of sins should be cut out of our lives simply because God says they’re bad, on the other hand we should not condemn homosexuality and then just overlook greed or verbal abuse. Sin is sin, and everything on this list is deadly to our faith. And yet, when we are trying to help anyone overcome any one of these sins, we should be humble and watch that we do not fall into the sin of judging or condemnation.

Sadly, some people deceive themselves into thinking that God does not insist that they live a good, clean life. They promote a cheap gospel where God accepts and saves everyone regardless of how they choose to live their lives. But here Paul clearly states that the people listed in these verses will not inherit the kingdom of God. If we want God and His blessing we have to live by His rules.

Even so, no person is a “hopeless case” for the Lord Jesus. It doesn't matter what people have done — drugs, alcohol, sexual perversions, satanic worship — no sin and no crime is beyond His power to heal and free. Paul uses three words to describe what God had already done for the Corinthians, and today, when we choose to believe in Him and obey His word, these three things have already happened to us: Washed, which means spiritually cleansed by God — Sanctified, which means separated for God — and Justified, which means declared innocent and pure through Jesus’ work on the cross.

Let’s get busy cutting out the bad and focusing on the good.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

September 15: The rich fool

Then He told them a parable: “A rich man’s land was very productive. He thought to himself, ‘What should I do, since I don’t have anywhere to store my crops? I will do this,’ he said. ‘I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones and store all my grain and my goods there. Then I’ll say to myself, “You have many goods stored up for many years. Take it easy; eat, drink, and enjoy yourself.”’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is demanded of you. And the things you have prepared — whose will they be?’ That’s how it is with the one who stores up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.  (Luke 12:16-21 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

This prosperous farmer thought about no one but himself. He didn't think about God — when his bumper crop came in he didn't even thank God. He had no thought of sharing some of his wealth with people in need. Even though God's people had always given the tithe of their harvests to God, he didn't do that. He was planning to keep everything for himself, take it easy, and enjoy life. He was selfish and godless in everything he did. And just when he thought he had everything, death came knocking on his door and all his possessions were left for others to enjoy.

Jesus' advice is that we be rich toward God. There was nothing wrong with the farmer’s bumper crop or even with his being rich. Many of God's servants have been prosperous. The man's mistake was not putting God first. He should have given his tithe, and even more, to God and His work. He should have realized that his great harvest had come from God, and should have given Him thanks.

This man, that God calls a “fool”, is exactly like most people in the world today. When death comes, they will be totally unprepared. Whatever wealth they have will be lost — and worst of all — they will be lost. But we cannot allow this to happen to us! We need to work hard and ask for God to prosperity, but we can never forget that all good things come from God, and that the most important thing in life is for us to be rich toward Him.

Make sure you are.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

September 14: Made alive

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ, by grace you have been saved.  (Ephesians 2:1-5 — New American Standard Bible)

People are walking around, living their lives, fighting for their dreams, mired in a stagnant way of life, oblivious to the fact that they’re dead… spiritually dead. When we live the way we want, and deliberately disobey what we know is God’s desire for us, we may not realize it but we’re following “the prince of the power of the air” — Satan. He is the prince of this world, and unless we deliberately say “no” to him and “yes” to God, we already belong to him. This passage, and many others like it, teach that we are all lost and dead until the moment that we turn to God and decide to live for Him. If we do nothing, we’re dead; if we choose God, we will live.

A powerful truth that reveals the insight and greatness of God is that He loved us even when we were still dead in our transgressions. Many people don’t understand this aspect of God, and feel they have to fix up their lives before they can come to Him. They feel like they’re responsible for messing up their lives and should have to fix them before they can expect any help from God. “God only helps those who help themselves,” they say. But He knows we can’t do it alone, because our fight is not against the world only, but against Satan and his demons. What He needs from us is faith, and the humility to confess that we’ve made a mess of things and need His help — then He’ll come in and give us life… real life.

We are saved by what the Bible calls “grace”. In other words, we can’t be saved by simply doing a lot of good things, though our actions are important. No amount of good works could ever pay God back for all the bad we’ve done. What God is looking for is faith in Him, that we have a relationship with Him, and allow Him to make this amazing transformation in our lives. In one way this is all God’s work, in another way, not one step can be taken by God without our willingness. This doesn’t mean that our faith is only words — not at all, it has to be practical — but it does mean that the transformation of our lives and our salvation are more God’s work than our own. We do our part, but He does the heavy lifting.

“God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love… even when we were dead… made us alive together with Christ.”

Friday, September 13, 2013

September I3: Repentance - a powerful force

Then the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land. Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Get up! Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach the message that I tell you.” So Jonah got up and went to Nineveh according to the Lord’s command.
Now Nineveh was an extremely large city, a three-day walk. Jonah set out on the first day of his walk in the city and proclaimed, “In 40 days Nineveh will be demolished!” The men of Nineveh believed in God. They proclaimed a fast and dressed in sackcloth — from the greatest of them to the least. When word reached the king of Nineveh, he got up from his throne, took off his royal robe, put on sackcloth, and sat in ashes. Then he issued a decree in Nineveh:
By order of the king and his nobles: No man or beast, herd or flock, is to taste anything at all. They must not eat or drink water. Furthermore, both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth, and everyone must call out earnestly to God. Each must turn from his evil ways and from the violence he is doing. Who knows? God may turn and relent; He may turn from His burning anger so that we will not perish.
Then God saw their actions — that they had turned from their evil ways — so God relented from the disaster He had threatened to do to them. And He did not do it.  (Jonah 3:1-10 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Many have dismissed the book of Jonah as Biblical fiction on the basis that a man could not be swallowed by a giant fish and spend three days and three nights in its belly — “that’s the stuff of fairytales”, they say. But to hold this opinion would be a very serious mistake. There is no indication whatsoever that this is a parable, or that any events in this book are anything less than a part of the history of the Jewish people. In fact, Jesus compared Jonah’s experience to His own coming death and resurrection in Matthew 12:40, “as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights” — an irrefutable endorsement of Jonah’s story and its importance in the Bible.

Though Jonah was a prophet of God, his view of God was limited. At first he refused to go to Nineveh because he didn’t want the people there to hear his message of repentance, and then when he did go, he got angry when the people repented and God changed His mind. Jonah wanted the city’s inhabitants to be destroyed. He failed to understand that God does not only want to save the good, but the bad also… something that we can also forget if we’re not careful.

Nineveh was an ancient city that had existed for close to 2000 years before Jesus’ birth, and had frequently been the enemy of God and His people. They were not a God-fearing people, and were chosen for destruction because of their extreme immorality and violence. And yet God sent Jonah to announce that they would be destroyed in 40 days (a Biblical period of time that signals renewal or change). He didn’t destroy them right away; He gave them a warning, and by that we can see that God never wanted them to be destroyed at all. Though they were Assyrians, and were not God’s chosen people, God wanted to show them mercy.

The response of the people and the king is shocking. People and animals were ordered to stop eating and drinking, to wear sackcloth (even the animals) as a sign of humility and sorrow for what they had done, and to turn from their wicked ways. Their actions were so sincere that God changed His mind, forgave them, and decided not to destroy their city after all… and people say the God of the Old Testament is cruel and uncaring. God is a god of mercy, and is ready and willing to forgive whenever there is true repentance.

Have you ever been that extreme in your repentance?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

September 12: Hope of the oppressed

Hallelujah! My soul, praise the Lord. I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing to my God as long as I live. Do not trust in nobles, in man, who cannot save. When his breath leaves him, he returns to the ground; on that day his plans die. Happy is the one whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea and everything in them. He remains faithful forever, executing justice for the exploited and giving food to the hungry. The Lord frees prisoners. The Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord raises up those who are oppressed. The Lord loves the righteous. The Lord protects foreigners and helps the fatherless and the widow, but He frustrates the ways of the wicked. The Lord reigns forever; Zion, your God reigns for all generations. Hallelujah!  (Psalm 146 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

This is the first of five psalms that round out the Book of Psalms, and all five begin and end with the word “Hallelujah!” They form a grand finale of praise as this one hundred and fifty chapter book comes to a close. All five speak about God’s greatness, and His mercy towards His people.

David begins by telling his soul to praise the Lord. He doesn’t wait for it to come naturally to his soul, he tells himself to praise God… to decide that the future is going to be great. True praise is not something we can leave to our feelings and emotions — they’re far too changeable. True praise comes from faith in God’s promises. And just like David ordered his soul to praise God, and made a strong vow to praise God for the rest of his life, we need to do the same. We can’t wait to feel like doing it, and the fact that we don’t “feel it” does not mean our praise is insincere. When we let go of our overdependence on emotions and determine things by faith, we will experience the greatest miracles of our lives, and will find true happiness.

God proves His greatness by always being ready to help the needy. The exploited, the hungry, the prisoner, the blind, the oppressed, the foreigner, the fatherless, and the widow can all expect justice, food, freedom, healing, victory, protection and help. On the other hand, God promises to frustrate the ways of the wicked. God’s different treatment of the righteous and the wicked is striking. 

“Happy is the one whose help is the God of Jacob” communicates a sense of deep and lasting pleasure, an unmistakable joy. This is the proper description of a person who looks to God for help. God and church are not oppressive obligations that bore people to death, they’re meant to bring levels of victory, peace, and joy that are otherwise unattainable. And because our God made heaven and earth, the One we look to for help is more than capable of answering any prayer we make. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

September 11: Dead vs. living faith

Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead… You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe — and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?... For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.   (James 2:17-26 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Many people these days claim to have faith in God but see very little effect of that “faith” in their lives. Though Jesus said that “All things are possible to him who believes", all things are not possible for these people’s “faith”. It doesn’t change them or anything around them. What’s the problem? Do these people even know God? Are they His children?

This passage addresses this very problem. Evidently, just like today, the church during the time that the book of James was written was having the same problem. The problem was that these people claimed to be Christians but made no effort to follow Jesus or obey His Word. How can this type of faith please God? This faith is dead, as the passage states, and will do nothing for a person’s life. Faith has to be proven. Our actions, words, behavior, courage, and obedience have to prove to God and to the world that we are His. We don’t have to be perfect, but we have to be making a visible effort. Faith, by definition, is action; whenever there is inaction, faith is dead.

“Works” doesn’t mean empty talk, insincere church attendance and prayers, or an intellectual acknowledgement of doctrines and beliefs that don’t translate into real life. Faith is not philosophical ideas, empty words, and hypocritical behavior, it has to be a replay of the way Jesus lived His life on earth, or at least a good attempt at that ideal.

“You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe — and tremble!” What a powerful phrase! If our faith is only an acknowledgement of God’s existence, we are no better than demons. They know He’s alive; they know He is God, but that doesn’t save them. God wants us to sacrifice for our faith, to be sure that His promises will come true and act as if they were already a fact, and to die to ourselves and allow God’s nature to become our own. Anything less is dead faith.

A word of caution: we’re surrounded by dead faith. Our challenge is to fight so that our surroundings do not contaminate us, but rather that our genuine faith affects them.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

September 10: God’s voice in these last days

God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.   (Hebrew 1:1-3 — New King James Version)

As the author of Hebrews begins this book he wants to lay the groundwork for the reader’s understanding of who Jesus really is. He doesn’t want us to mistake Him for a prophet or a man, or even an inferior form of God the Father. For thousands of years before Jesus, various men and women were used by God to communicate His will to the world: Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Joseph, Moses, David, Daniel, Rahab, Ruth, Deborah, Gideon, Job and many, many more. But even then, God’s focus was on Jesus’ future visit to earth. These men and women did great things and taught the world about the greatness of God, but Jesus was the climax, the real thing, the main event.

Who is God? Is the Father truly God, and Jesus and the Holy Spirit only inferior versions of Him? This passage makes it very clear that Jesus is “the brightness of His glory” and the “express image of His person”. He does not reflect God’s glory, like the moon with the sun. He is brightness and glory. He is the image of God, not a cheap or inferior version. All three — Father, Son, and Spirit — are equally God. One is not greater than the other, they just have different functions.

If the Lord Jesus lives inside of you, if you’ve accepted Him, and invited Him into your heart and mind… then almighty God in all His greatness and power is alive inside of you. He upholds all things by His power; He sits at the right hand of the Father, on a throne in heaven. This same Jesus knows our every move and thought and wants to share our lives with us. These truths should make us want to do much more for God in this world; if we have such power through Him, we need to us it.

We are living in the afterglow of the greatest events in all of history, when Jesus finally appeared after a series of men and women of faith had prepared the way for Him. Their power, messages, and miracles were growing until finally Jesus appeared to reveal God in a new and powerful way. We can’t be content to stay the same, not when we know who Jesus is and what He’s promised to us. Once Jesus explained that people should not put new wine into old wine skins because the wineskins would burst and the wine ruined. New wine — with it’s fermentation and gasses — needs new, elastic wine skins. Obviously He was not giving us a lesson in wine-making, He was speaking about the new vision and spirit that He had brought into the world, and was challenging us to throw away religion, old habits, old mindsets, and the old way of living, and to accept His new, radical ways.

Monday, September 9, 2013

September 9: Under no obligation

So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “ Abba! Father. The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.   (Romans 8:12-17 — New American Standard Bible)

This passage states that we are under no obligation to the flesh… but most people express the exact opposite. They feel that they cannot stop doing certain things, that their flesh is too strong. Feelings and habits prove to be too much for most people to handle. The reason is that many do not realize that our flesh is linked to our heart, whereas our spirit is linked to our mind. Unspiritual people live by their feelings and emotions, and spiritual people use reason. When we view our feelings and emotions as our weak side, as something that needs to be questioned rather than the core of who we are, we are then able to understand that we really are under no obligation to the flesh. We don’t have to give in to feelings.

It’s interesting that the Bible repeatedly says the same thing about our flesh: it has to die. There is no reforming it, repairing it, changing it. It has to die. Two different buyers cannot buy the same house, nor can two different lessees rented out the same apartment, and neither can our flesh and our spirit be in control of our life. One has to die for the other to live.

There are two options for us in this life: either we are slaves to fear, or we are children of God that cry out “Abba Father”. Though people who say no to God and to faith believe that they are free, in truth they are slaves to fear. They’re afraid of death, afraid of the future, afraid of growing old… and on and on. But when we humble ourselves to God and His Spirit, we have the boldness and authority to speak to the Father in an intimate way — the way only a real son or daughter could. We have the boldness to believe that we are heirs of God, and to His promises.

Die to your flesh if you haven’t already. Then seek God’s Spirit and accept your rightful place as an heir of the Father.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

September 8: Stop crying

Just then, a man named Jairus came. He was a leader of the synagogue. He fell down at Jesus’ feet and pleaded with Him to come to his house, because he had an only daughter about 12 years old, and she was at death’s door…… 
While He was still speaking, someone came from the synagogue leader’s house, saying, “Your daughter is dead. Don’t bother the Teacher anymore.” When Jesus heard it, He answered him, “Don’t be afraid. Only believe, and she will be made well.” After He came to the house, He let no one enter with Him except Peter, John, James, and the child’s father and mother. Everyone was crying and mourning for her. But He said, “Stop crying, for she is not dead but asleep.” They started laughing at Him, because they knew she was dead. So He took her by the hand and called out, “Child, get up!” Her spirit returned, and she got up at once. Then He gave orders that she be given something to eat. Her parents were astounded.  (Luke 8:41-42+49-56 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

This incredible story of healing is told by a doctor, Luke, who was a companion of Paul, but was not personally there when this miracle happened. Before writing the book of Luke he carefully investigated the life and events of Jesus’ life in order to write down an orderly sequence of His life. As the only Gentile author of a New Testament book and a medical doctor, he could easily have doubted this account of a 12 year old girl being raised from the dead, or suggested some medical explanation for what happened that day, but instead he writes about this event with complete conviction that the girl actually died, and that Jesus, as God, brought her back to life.

I love this story because it reveals so many small details about faith that other miracles of Jesus do not include. When Jairus got the news that his daughter was dead, Jesus overheard what was said and immediately countered with a word of faith — the opposite of what Jairus would have been tempted to feel at that moment. Jesus refused to give in to the bad news, told him she would be made well, and told him all he needed was faith and to reject fear. He didn’t give him a hug and tell him everything would be okay, and His eyes did not fill with tears at the thought of what Jairus must have been feeling at that moment. Faith always looks to the future; faith always decides how things are going to turn out; faith is rough and refuses to waste time on emotions. What could be considered insensitivity on Jesus’ part was actually great love. He loved Jairus enough to challenge him to think big and receive his daughter back from the dead — the other option would have been to bury her.

Other details that relate to our faith today are the fact that Jesus only allowed Peter, James and John into the house of the dead girl. He had twelve disciples, but only wanted the strongest three with Him at that moment. This shows how important it is to surround yourself with strong people in hard times. If Jesus needed to do that, just imagine you and me.

When He entered the house it was filled with crying people, and Jesus said some shocking things: stop crying, she’s not dead just asleep. How dare He tell people in a house where a twelve year old had just died not to cry, and how could He say she was just asleep? But that’s faith. He was determined that raising her from the dead would be just as easy as waking a sleeping person. Of course she was dead, but Jesus was making bold declarations of faith, and today, our faith will never function as it should unless we do the same. Negative thinking and fear always attract more of the same, and bold statements of faith always precede a miracle.

Think of a miracle that you need right now… apply these lessons to yourself… and watch God do the miracle.