Saturday, November 30, 2013

November 30: Be a 25%er

This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:5-7 — New American Standard Bible)

If we belong to God, His character in us should be clear for anyone to see. And yet, it is a sad fact that most of the people who attend church regularly, and call themselves Christians, have lives that are full of darkness and sin… most. In the parable of the sower, Jesus estimated this number to be 75%… What are we to conclude? (There’s a difference between judging and discernment.) What can we say about people who live this way? This passage plainly states that these people LIE and do not practice the truth! If we say we know God, we have to walk in the Light; we have to live lives of purity and righteousness — lives that we could easily envision the Lord Jesus living. If you would be ashamed to do what you do if Jesus, or your pastor, were standing next to you, you are living in darkness and need to make radical changes right away.

We walk in the Light when we put Jesus first, when we are pure in heart, and when we do we will experience the mind-boggling blessing of having fellowship with God, and with others in the faith… just imagine you having fellowship with God Himself. We will have the conviction that our sins have been washed away and that we are now blameless before Him. When we walk in the Light, confusion will come, but it will be a momentary attack that always gives way to clear-minded thinking and faith; and the power of Jesus will be evident in our lives. When we are in the Light our prayers will be effective and answered… not always immediately, and not always in the way we thought they would be, but always for our good. When we are living in the Light it is impossible for other people not to see the difference, which means that we will be powerful witnesses for the Lord Jesus. God is invisible, and it is God’s will that we make Him visible to the world through our character, goodness, and power.

Don't deceive yourself into thinking that you can be blessed by God when you are refusing to walk in the Light. It is impossible. Many people are “blessed” by the devil, are allowed to conquer and enjoy certain things for a time — though it is impossible for people to truly conquer or enjoy anything when they are in the darkness — but God’s blessings require that we walk in His Light. Each one of us must make this important choice. Are we going to be real, genuine Christians, or are we going to be deceived and defeated? 

Don't be satisfied with anything less than the Light of God. Decide now that you are going to experience the reality, truth, and joy of real Christianity.

Friday, November 29, 2013

November 29: Don’t be afraid

And I say to you, My friends, don’t fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more. But I will show you the One to fear: Fear Him who has authority to throw people into hell after death. Yes, I say to you, this is the One to fear! Aren’t five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. Indeed, the hairs of your head are all counted. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Luke 12:4-7 — New American Standard Bible)

This passage begins with an expectation of severe persecution, even to the point of death. For early Christians this was a real possibility, and even today, in fifty-plus countries of the world, this type of persecution is an all too real possibility. But even if we are not thrown in prison for our faith, or killed, we all face persecution of some kind when we have a genuine faith that’s put into practice. People will laugh at us, will exclude us, will treat us as small-minded and old fashioned… we will even be hated and despised. But Jesus teaches us an important lesson here: we must not fear what people can do to our physical bodies or earthly life, but rather fear for our eternal salvation — the true treasure.

We should never fall into the trap of thinking that our behavior is unimportant. We need to fear God, the One who sees how we live and will judge us. Jesus does not guarantee that all of us will be saved from actual life threatening persecution, but does encourage us to concentrate on making sure we are saved for eternity.

On the other hand, God knows the most minute details of what happens on earth, and to us. The two pennies that He mentions (“assaria” in Greek) were the smallest copper coins in circulation at the time, worth about one-sixteenth of a basic day’s wage. Jesus says that the sparrows bought with that small amount of money would not be forgotten by God. Now… if God keeps track of such small things, how much more will He keep track of us! If He knows the number of hairs on our heads, there is nothing, absolutely nothing that escapes His knowledge and consciousness. Whenever you have the thought that God has forgotten you, it is a lie. That’s what Jesus is saying here.

These words should encourage us to resist any kind of fear. We should not fear persecution, problems, the future, the past, heaven, hell… nothing. When we live in fear we are forgetting about God and allowing the world and the devil to dictate how we live. Is this easy? …living without fear? Absolutely not, but how hard is a life racked with fear? Fighting fear and living by faith is hard, but giving in to fear and despair is much, much harder, and brings no reward.

Meditate on this verse. Decide that you are not going to give in to the fear of persecution anymore. In all your decisions and thoughts, all your reactions, decide that you are going to fear God and nothing, and no one else. This will get God’s attention.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

November 28: You will not be put to shame

The message is near you, in your mouth and in your heart. This is the message of faith that we proclaim: If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. One believes with the heart, resulting in righteousness, and one confesses with the mouth, resulting in salvation. Now the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes on Him will not be put to shame,” for there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, since the same Lord of all is rich to all who call on Him. “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  (Romans 10:8-13 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

When this passage speaks about the heart, it is referring not to our emotions, but to our souls, our inner core. True belief cannot be based on emotions — they are too unstable and fleshly. Belief involves obedience and action, and therefore the mind and soul of a person.

When we say that Jesus is Lord, we are saying that He is fully God, and when we believe that he was raised from the dead, we are saying that he was fully man. These are two fundamental truths of the Bible — the two natures of the Lord Jesus. Because He was fully God His death has the power to save the entire world, and because He was a man He was able to die — God cannot die. When these two truths are understood they demand action; we cannot truly believe this an do nothing about it. If we respond in belief to this amazing sacrifice of Jesus, we will be saved, and if we don’t, we are insulting Him, and will be lost. 

“Everyone who believes on Him will not be put to shame”… is a truth to stand on! In my life this scripture has been so important. The situations of life and the devil are continually threatening to put us to shame, or to make us afraid that we will end up in shame, and the only proper response is to cry out to God in prayer and remind Him of His promises. Believers in the Lord Jesus cannot be put to shame. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

November 27: Lukewarm Christians

“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this: ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock.  (Revelation 3:14-20 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

This is not one of the most popular scriptures in the Bible, but it explains many things. There is no doubt that a lot of the weakness we see in the church and in Christians today is the result of the same sin that Jesus saw in the Laodiceans. They were trying to live in between Jesus and the world — neither completely for Him, nor completely against Him. There were neither hot nor cold, but the strange thing is that they thought they were doing really well — they were proud of themselves. Jesus says that they were disgusting to Him and that he would vomit them out of His mouth.

We need to decide to put Jesus first. Don’t ever believe the lie that you are “in need of nothing” or that you are “rich”. Laodicea was a wealthy city, and was known for its banks, textile industry, and medical school, and yet Jesus viewed them as poor, naked, and blind. Like them, we can so easily deceive ourselves into thinking that we are okay, that life is good, when we are actually lost and far from God. But however we have failed in the past, Jesus stands at the door of our hearts knocking, wanting to come in and transform our lives. The one condition He has is that He absolutely refuses to take any place in our lives other than first. 

Don't be deceived like the Laodiceans were. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

November 26: Should I go to war?

When the Philistines heard that David had been anointed king over all Israel, they all went in search of David; when David heard of this, he went out to face them. Now the Philistines had come and raided in the Valley of Rephaim, so David inquired of God, “Should I go to war against the Philistines? Will You hand them over to me?” The Lord replied, “Go, and I will hand them over to you.” So the Israelites went up to Baal-perazim, and David defeated the Philistines there. Then David said, “Like a bursting flood, God has used me to burst out against my enemies.” Therefore, they named that place the Lord Bursts Out.  (1 Chronicles 14:8-12 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Whenever the devil hears that something good has happened, he comes in search of us. He doesn’t want us to improve or to get close to God, and whenever we are doing well we attract his attention. This should not make us afraid of getting close to the Lord Jesus — like I’ve heard some people say — but should encourage us to do even more. At times problems are a good sign… a sign that we’re on the right track… or that the answer to our prayer is right around the corner… or that our faith is strong. If we decide to slow down or pull back because of attacks, what are we doing? We’re doing exactly what demons want us to do.

So many times we ask God the same question that King David posed: “Should I go to war against my problem? Will You hand it over to me?” God wants to hand our problems over to us even more than we want it, and so His answer is always the same: “Go… I will!” Certain question do not need to be asked because they are already clearly answered in the Bible, either through direct promises, or by examples of people in the past. Clearly David’s question did not upset God — he was seeking direction — and he was ready to fight. What does upset God are those people who are not even considering the question: “Should I go to war against my problem?” They’ve already made room for it, and accepted it as a part of their lives.

Can you look back on your life and label a certain time or place “the Lord Bursts Out”? Like David, you should be able to. And if you can’t, you need to decide that in the very near future you will be able to. A bursting flood is one of the most frightening and dangerous phenomenon in the world — people, buildings, cities, and man-made barriers are no match for a bursting flood. But here we see that whenever men and women go to war against their enemies they have the same devastating power of a bursting flood, not because they are so strong, but because the power of God uses them. In other words, they are guaranteed of victory.

If you are not presently going to war against a problem, you are in grave danger. Jesus was constantly at war — and still is today. We should be no different.

Monday, November 25, 2013

November 25: Surprisingly bold prayers

Suppose one of you has a friend and goes to him at midnight and says to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I don’t have anything to offer him.” Then he will answer from inside and say, “Don’t bother me! The door is already locked, and my children and I have gone to bed. I can’t get up to give you anything.” I tell you, even though he won’t get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his friend’s persistence, he will get up and give him as much as he needs. (Luke 11:5-8 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Jesus teaches a pretty shocking concept for many people in this parable about prayer. Most would never dare to insist with God like the neighbor insisted with his friend… to bother Him until He got up and gave them everything they wanted. But another parable of Jesus, the persistent widow, teaches the same concept, as do several other passages about prayer. People familiar with Greek say that “persistence” in this passage refers to shameless boldness rather than tenacity, and so Jesus’ message to us is that He is looking for people with an extreme boldness in prayer. Portuguese has an expression “cara de pau”, which translated word-for-word means “face of wood”, which expresses this attitude perfectly.

If we know something is the will of God, we should refuse to get discouraged, doubt that He cares, or lose faith in His answer. We may not understand why there is a delay in the answer to our prayers, but our job is to keep on asking, seeking, and knocking. He promises that this attitude will bring the answer.

It takes faith to pray like this. Everyone would pray if answers fell into their laps the minute they made a prayer — then, even evil people would start praying. But the truth is that real answers to prayer require character and this shameless boldness, rooted in the unchangeable, infallible promises of God’s Word. True children of God develop the confidence and assurance to pray this way. When we encounter what we would call delays — God probably sees them differently — we persist with our bold prayers and receive answers from God our Father.

A prayer that lacks boldness, reveals a lack of faith, and vice-versa. Let’s start making prayers of shameless boldness.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

November 24: Giving everything

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure, buried in a field, that a man found and reburied. Then in his joy he goes and sells everything he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. When he found one priceless pearl, he went and sold everything he had, and bought it.  (Matthew 13:44-46 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Here are two short parables about the kingdom of heaven. When a person knows God — has a genuine relationship with Him — he belongs to the kingdom of heaven. Citizens of this kingdom acknowledge Jesus as their king, enjoy the blessings of God in this life, and will live in heaven for eternity. Accepting the Lord Jesus as our Savior, and escaping the hopelessness and despair of this world through faith is what the kingdom of heaven is all about.

It is the most valuable thing in all the world. It is worth any sacrifice, any effort, any price. Becoming God's son or daughter, and being sure of our eternal salvation is like finding the hidden treasure or the pearl of great price. Notice that the price for the field and for the pearl are the same… everything. For rich and poor, the price is the same. Educated, uneducated, young, and old… it’s the same. Anyone can pay it, as long as they choose to.

If this is the most important thing in the world, we have to make sure we find it, and that we never let go of it once we do. Everything else is trash by comparison. We cannot let anyone or anything block us from the kingdom. Without a doubt family, friends, co-workers, circumstances, temptations, and demons will try to rob us of this blessing, and we will have to stand firm and fight until it is ours, no matter how long that takes.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

November 23: His child & heir

He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.  (John 1:10-13 — New American Standard Bible)

Jesus came into the world, a world He had created, and it did not know Him. He came as a Jew, but the Jews who were supposed to be waiting for Him did not receive Him. And yet, there were some who did receive and acknowledge Him as the promised Messiah and Savior. To those people He gave the right and privilege of becoming children of God.

God's ways and servants have never been popular in this world. If you follow the world, you will never find God or be His child. But if you honestly and sincerely open your heart and mind to Him, you will come to know Jesus as God’s Son, the Savior of the world. Can you imagine what it would be like to be born into a rich family, or to be a king's child? But that is nothing compared to the blessings that await you as a person who has been "born of God". Don't settle for anything less than being a child and heir of God!

But remember, it will not be easy to belong to God in this world. Every day you will need the help of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Every day and in many ways, Satan will try to weaken your faith and resolve to live as a child of God. And so you must always be conscious of the fact that you are on the winning side! No matter how many people were against Jesus — He was in the right! And no matter how many people are against you — you are in the right! Be strong and courageous and thank God for the privilege of being His child and heir!

Friday, November 22, 2013

November 22: Therefore all died

For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. (2 Corinthians 5:14,15 — New American Standard Bible)

Death is not a pleasant thought for most people. Thoughts of our own death, or the death of our loved ones are not things that people normally dwell on. We see death in movies, and hear about it on the news, but we don’t come face to face with thoughts of our own mortality unless we receive bad news from a doctor, are shipped off to a warzone, or have a family funeral. And yet, death is a central theme of Christianity. It was the reason that Jesus came to the world, His whole reason for being born as a man — “one died for all, therefore all died”.

We cannot please God or serve Him like He wants us to unless we think about death. Central to our faith is the fear of being lost for eternity, valuing salvation, and doing all we can to ensure this salvation. We cannot be genuine Christians without continually preparing for our last day on earth.

On the other hand, death is nothing for us. The only death that we experience is the death of our flesh, our own will. When we no longer live for ourselves, and live for the Lord Jesus, only at that point can we consider ourselves saved. This is a sign that we have accepted Jesus’ death for us, and that we are in the process of dying for Him… dying to ourselves. Like Romans 12 says: “…present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship…”

Death is not a word to be avoided. When my mother died close to 20 years ago, I remember being sad for myself but extremely happy for her because I knew that she was with God, where she had always wanted to be. If you are afraid of physical death, or are trying to find a way to avoid dying to your flesh, your connection with God is in serious jeopardy.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

November 21: Don’t forget

Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”  (Luke 24:44-49 — New American Standard Bible)

This is the third time Jesus appeared to His disciples after His resurrection, and He used it to remind them that everything that had happened over the last week — His arrest, imprisonment, trial, whipping, crucifixion, and resurrection — had all been according to plan, and had been prophesied about many, many years beforehand. He reminded them that He had told them all these things ahead of time, and then went on to teach them that they were to be witnesses of these facts, and that they would need the Holy Spirit’s help to do it properly.

As human beings it’s easy for us to get side tracked by things swirling around us. Jesus had explained all these things to them before His death, but they had forgotten, or had allowed the pain and confusion of the moment to take over. I’m sure they all started remembering what He had said as soon as He began to explain things from God’s point of view, but the problem was that they had allowed doubt and emotion to blind and “dumb them down” for a number of days. After this experience they were wiser and stronger, and after receiving the baptism in the Holy Spirit, they grew even more. But this will always be a weak-link in our lives as long as we’re here on earth: being sidetracked by emotion.

What has God revealed to you about who He is and what He wants to do in your life? What do you have a strong conviction about? How does Jesus treat people in the Bible? What does He promise to do for us? — We cannot compromise or negotiate on these things. We have to hold on to them like they were bags of gold or diamonds. To defeat us, the devil doesn’t have to make us give up on God. All he has to do is make us forget what God has revealed to us… to “dumb us down” with fear, doubts and overblown emotion.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

November 20: Better than words

Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany where Lazarus was, the one Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for Him there; Martha was serving them, and Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him. Then Mary took a pound of fragrant oil — pure and expensive nard — anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped His feet with her hair. So the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. Then one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot (who was about to betray Him), said, “Why wasn’t this fragrant oil sold for 300 denarii and given to the poor?” He didn’t say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief. He was in charge of the money-bag and would steal part of what was put in it. Jesus answered, “Leave her alone; she has kept it for the day of My burial. For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me.”  (John 12:1-8 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Think about this… Mary and Martha's brother had died and was buried for three days (John 11), when Jesus came and raised him from the dead. Now they were at a celebration dinner in honor of Jesus, and Lazarus was there, alive and healthy. Other passages reveal that Mary anointed not only Jesus’ feet, but also His head, with perfume that Judas said could have fetched 300 denarii in the market. That would equal approximately one year’s wages since a denarii was a laborer’s daily wage.

The custom of the time was to anoint the heads of guests that came to your house. Anointing Jesus’ head with expensive perfume was an act of honor on Mary’s part, but then turning to anoint His feet and wiping them with her hair took this honor to a whole new level. Her actions must have, in part, been to thank Jesus for raising her brother from the dead, but they must also have been an expression of how He was her Lord and she was His follower. 

Though Judas complained about Mary’s sacrifice, nothing we have is too much for Jesus. He gave everything for us, and nothing we give can ever repay Him for all he’s done — but on the other hand, this does not mean we should not at times give to God. Jesus did not stop her from doing this. He didn’t say that it was a waste. The problem is that most people are willing to spend large sums of money on houses, cars, clothing, restaurants, vacations, education, etc., but feel angered by any suggestion that they give back to God. The great danger is that they side with Judas and not Mary in this story. She ended up saved, Judas ended up lost. Another verse says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Don’t love money, or family, or spouse, or life more than Jesus. He needs to be first, even in our giving and spending.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

November 19: A life-giving spirit

So it is with the resurrection of the dead: Sown in corruption, raised in incorruption; sown in dishonor, raised in glory; sown in weakness, raised in power; sown a natural body, raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: The first man Adam became a living being ; the last Adam became a life-giving Spirit.  However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth and made of dust; the second man is from heaven. Like the man made of dust, so are those who are made of dust; like the heavenly man, so are those who are heavenly. And just as we have borne the image of the man made of dust, we will also bear the image of the heavenly man. (1 Corinthians 15:42~49 — Holman Christian Standard Version)

When a child of God dies, his soul goes to be with Jesus in paradise. The body of course goes to the grave. But when Jesus comes again, there will be a resurrection of bodies. Jesus will come with those who died and are living with Him in paradise. They will then be clothed with new resurrection bodies, so in heaven we will be both soul and body.

But there’s much more that God is showing us in this passage, than about life in paradise.  He wants us to understand that when we truly “die” to our corrupt and evil desires and choose to live for Him, we begin to live in a new realm, a spiritual realm, right here on this earth.  Paul teaches about the first Adam, the one formed by God from dust in the Garden who handed over the dominion God gave him to Satan. But the second Adam is Jesus, who took back that dominion out of the hands of Satan when He died and rose again. Jesus’ sacrifice undid the tragedy that Adam and Eve began at the beginning of time. Jesus is our life-giving Spirit — He snatches us away from death and gives us life, if we just accept His sacrifice for ourselves and serve Him as our Lord.  

Few who label themselves Christian live a victorious life, because few understand that power over all evil is ours now on this earth, not just in heaven after our bodies die. Jesus said many times, “Behold, the Kingdom of God is at hand!” That means we can  access the power of the Kingdom of Heaven right now if we become His true servants, empty ourselves of our selfish desires and agree to follow Him no matter where He leads us.  Healing, miracles, authority over demons, the infilling of His Holy Spirit, wisdom, strength, unexplainable joy and peace… This is meant for now, and is just a taste of what life will be like when we gain our heavenly bodies and see Jesus face to face.  Heaven will be an amazing experience that we can barely imagine.  But Jesus’ defeat of Satan on the cross is His gift to us who have to struggle through this dark world, so that we can immediately be forgiven and be given life and power on a spiritual level, in another realm.  

Now that you know you can have it, do whatever it takes to find it.

Monday, November 18, 2013

November 18: Give Him no rest

You who remind the Lord, take no rest for yourselves; and give Him no rest until He establishes and makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth.  (Isaiah 62:6,7 — New American Standard Bible)

This verse is for the many people we’ve counseled who insist that God can’t possibly want to answer their prayers because they already prayed and nothing happened.  What a distorted picture of God we have, if we give up on Him after half-hearted attempts to seek His answer!  

In this passage, God is teaching us some basic prayer skills:  

We are to view prayer as an active, aggressive, even stubborn demonstration of our faith.  Prayer is not for the faint of heart, the passive, or the emotionally driven. 

He really does want to grant us our request!  But He knows that persistence and perseverance are an integral part of generating the faith we need for miracles to happen.  The process of fighting and yearning, praying and praying again with determination and assurance, is what builds in us a stronger relationship with Him.  The fight is not for His sake, it’s for ours.  We have to embrace it. 

The motive for our prayers should be that He “establishes and makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth.” His great desire is to see His people established, and praised, which in turn will bring honor to Him — not just the city of Jerusalem, but we who belong to His Kingdom need to be a light, an example of power, peace and victory so that others can clearly see that God is real and cares for His own.  If our lives are dull, how can He be revealed to others?

Whoever longs to be established, to be an example of victory and peace to bring others hope, the key is here.  Give yourself, and give God no rest.  Remind Him, insist with Him, pray over and over — badger Him!!  Do you truly believe to the point that you will never give up?  He will gladly grant your request, but through the process, you’ll find a miracle, know more about Him, and become solid in your faith, ready for any new challenge. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

November 17: The body and blood of the Lord

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take and eat; this is my body." Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father's kingdom."  (Matthew 26:26-29 - Holman Christian Standard Bible)

In a few hours Jesus would be arrested, unjustly tried, and executed like a criminal; these were some of His last moments with His disciples. They had just finished the Jewish Passover meal — one of the most special times of the year — when Jesus took some bread and wine and created a new tradition… the Lord’s Supper. When He said “this is My body” and “this is My blood” the disciples did not understand the significance of those words. They had just celebrated the Israelites’ deliverance from slavery which made way for them to take possession of the Promised Land, but had no idea that they were sitting at the table with the real Passover Lamb that would change the world forever. 

The Lord’s Supper is one of the most important traditions of the church, and a means of ensuring our spiritual health. Jesus told us to periodically celebrate it because it is a reminder of the central belief of our faith — Jesus’ death for our sins, curses, and sicknesses — and because it is a time to reflect on the state of our spiritual life. If we do not use this time to be totally honest about our faith and obedience to God, it is reduced to a meaningless ceremony.

In Ephesians 6, the passage about the armor of God, the Gospel is mentioned as a piece of armor — “and your feet sandaled with readiness for the gospel of peace.” When we understand the ramifications of what Jesus did on the cross, we are confident of our salvation, have authority to fight the devil, have peace with God, and have hope for the future. Many know the story — the facts — and may even wear a cross around their neck, but do not see any real difference in their lives because of this knowledge. We cannot be content with this.

The Lord’s Supper is a profound, life-changing ceremony that keeps us focused on what is most important in life. Look forward to it, and be serious any time you participate in it.

November 16: Don’t misuse freedom

For you were called to be free, brothers; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love. For the entire law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself. But if you bite and devour one another, watch out, or you will be consumed by one another. I say then, walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. (Galatians 5:13-16 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

We have been freed from sin, from the devil's power, from having to be perfect keepers of the Law, from condemnation, and from the fear of death. We are forgiven and accepted by God — an amazing gift we have to keep reminding ourselves of — through our faith in the Lord Jesus, not because we obey His commands without fault. But we cannot use the freedom we have as an excuse to do wrong. We cannot pollute God’s generous forgiveness by thinking things like: “I know this is wrong, but I want to do it anyway — I’ll ask God to forgive me later.” This is an abuse of His mercy and of the freedom we have been given.

Our words and actions reveal who we really are at our core. A verse in the Bible says, "Speak evil of no one", and goes on to say that gossip and bad-mouthing will cause us to be lost for eternity. We need to think carefully about what comes out of our mouths, and make sure that our words build people up. If you have something against someone, either let it go, or if you feel the need, go to them privately and talk about it in a humble, non-emotional manner. So much trouble is manufactured and actual souls lost when we “bite and devour one another”. Even when something is true, don't speak about it unless you can figure out a way to use it to encourage, correct, and help the other person.

Our responsibility as Christians is to “serve one another in love”. We can only do this after we have put ourselves and our selfish interests to one side. It means focusing on helping others, understanding things from their point of view, stepping out of our tired, old mindset and thinking in a fresh new way — by doing this we are actually asking God’s nature to flow through us. Whether people are Christian or atheist, good or bad — our duty is to love them, treat them with respect, and try to help them. This was a permanent habit that marked Jesus’ life — this was the way He lived — and we should copy Him and resist the prideful thought that we have come up with a better way to live. Jealousy, selfishness, and self-serving ambition should be banned substances in our lives. They have the power to destroy us, and anyone close enough to be influenced by our lives.

Love your neighbor as yourself!

Friday, November 15, 2013

November 15: Because of this reply…

A woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit came and fell at His feet. Now the woman was Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth, and she kept asking Him to drive the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Allow the children to be satisfied first, because it isn’t right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” But she replied to Him, “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then He told her, “Because of this reply, you may go. The demon has gone out of your daughter.” When she went back to her home, she found her child lying on the bed, and the demon was gone. (Mark 7:24-30 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Tyre and Sidon were cities along the Mediterranean Sea, north of Galilee in what is now Lebanon and Syria. This was the farthest that Jesus went outside of Israel. There must have been Jews who lived in this region, but this woman was clearly not a Jew. She was Greek — a Gentile, what we would assume was an idol worshipper, someone that did not have true faith in God. And yet, as the Bible does again and again, we see that appearances are deceiving. She had faith that enabled her to walk away that day with exactly what she had asked for. Her faith was intelligent. She had every reason to get upset at the way Jesus spoke to her, to get discouraged, and to go home depressed and hopeless, deciding that there was no cure for her daughter. But instead, determined, unmoving faith changed her life, her daughter, and caused her story to become a part of the Gospel.

God still acts this way today. All along Jesus wanted to heal this woman’s daughter, but He decided to test her. He referred to her and her daughter as dogs, said that others deserved to be taken care of before her. Jesus basically said “no” to her several times, but somehow she was determined not to go home empty handed. Somehow she looked past all that and remembered that God was merciful, and came back with an irresistible argument. But today it’s no different. God is the same and puts us in similar situations, hoping for us to react with faith, stubbornness, and courage.

So many times we find ourselves in situations that seem to tell us that God doesn’t care, that God has forgotten about us, that God doesn’t want us to have what other people have, or that God’s promises are not for us. In these moments we need to return to the basics: God is good, the devil is bad… God is on my side and loves me, the devil hates my guts and wants me destroyed. It is a fact that God is going to let us go through times where everything looks bleak and desperate, but it is exactly those moments that faith means the most, and when God’s power will perform the greatest feats.

Let’s be spiritually mature like that Syrophoenician woman!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

November 14: The worthy walk

Therefore I, the prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, accepting one another in love, diligently keeping the unity of the Spirit with the peace that binds us. There is one body and one Spirit — just as you were called to one hope at your calling — one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1-6 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

At this point in the book of Ephesians Paul changes his focus. For the first three chapters he has been speaking about what the church believes about the Lord Jesus Christ, but from this point on he explains how the church needs to live. This is so crucial. If we are not careful we can find ourselves going to church, gaining knowledge about Him and His Word, singing songs, and participating in worship, but not really living out our faith on a daily basis. But what good is knowledge of God when we don’t practice it? Knowledge cannot save us — only faith can, and faith demands action. A question we should never stop asking ourselves, is this: How can I apply God’s Word to my life today?

One of the most important phrases in today’s passage is: “I urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received”. Notice that we are not asked to run or stand still, but to a walk. Our lives need to be steadily moving forward. We can’t allow ourselves to stand still and stagnate, but neither can we be in such a hurry that we do a bad job of following Him. Our lives should match up with the greatness of God’s calling. He’s called us to receive total forgiveness and a new nature, to be filled with His Spirit and to put Him first in everything. Anything less is not worthy of His calling.

Unity is also a major theme in today’s passage. Did you notice the seven “ones”? They form the basis of the church’s unity: one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all. These things are non-negotiable. They are the building blocks of our faith, the mortar that holds us together. Regardless of language, skin color, or nationality, we are the people of God as long as we have these seven things in common.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

November 13: Choose life

“See, today I have set before you life and prosperity, death and adversity. For I am commanding you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commands, statutes, and ordinances, so that you may live and multiply, and the Lord your God may bless you in the land you are entering to possess.  But if your heart turns away and you do not listen and you are led astray to bow down to other gods and worship them, I tell you today that you will certainly perish and will not live long in the land you are entering to possess across the Jordan.  I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, love the Lord your God, obey Him, and remain faithful to Him. For He is your life, and He will prolong your life in the land the Lord swore to give to your fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” (Deuteronomy 30:15-20 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

When the people of Israel first heard these powerful words, they were entering the land of Canaan — the Promised Land. God tells them plainly that they can either be blessed or be cursed.  It was completely up to them — the ball was in their court. This scripture is just as true now as it was when it was first spoken 3,500 years ago. Each of us make choices that determine what our life will be both now and through eternity.

This is an eternal principle. God sets before us life and death, prosperity and destruction. This world and the future world belong to God, even though Satan is still the “prince of this world,” he has limited power. Only those who love God and serve Him can experience true life and true prosperity.  That doesn’t only mean eternity in heaven, but it begins right here and now in this fallen world.  We can experience such power over evil that despite the problems raging around us, we can have an abundant life that transcends Satan’s limitations.  

God’s chosen people were about to cross over into a land flowing with milk and honey, as long as their hearts remained true to God.  Yet history shows that every time they turned away from God to their own selfishness and indulgences, that beautiful land became barren, and even their enemies would wield cruel power over them.  The controls had been firmly placed in their hands by God, but all too often they foolishly chose death and destruction when they didn’t have to.

The controls are still in our hands as we journey through this life.  Jesus Christ invites everyone to come to Him in faith, and live out that faith in action. He demands that you put Him first and that you deny yourself to follow Him. So which do you choose — life, prosperity, blessings; or death, want, and curses?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

November 12: Mourning into dancing

I cried out to you, O Lord. I begged the Lord for mercy, saying, “What will you gain if I die, if I sink into the grave? Can my dust praise you? Can it tell of your faithfulness? Hear me, Lord, and have mercy on me. Help me, O Lord.” You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy, that I might sing praises to you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever. (Psalm 30:8-12 — New Living Translation)

King David asked for this psalm to be read at the dedication of the Temple his son would build, a building he would never see. He felt that it would be an appropriate message for such a majestic building, and an interesting note is that throughout the psalm David makes it clear that God had rescued him from trouble, death, and pride. This is what makes God such a great god, and this was also what made David a great man of God, he was humble and unafraid to admit his weaknesses, and to make it clear that God was the reason for his success.

Have you ever noticed how we can pray for something for weeks, months, or even years and not receive and answer, and then in a moment of desperation cry out once and receive the answer we’ve been waiting so long for? People cry out to God throughout the Bible, and one thing that always follows this extreme type of prayer is God’s answer. It’s the type of prayer we make when we are fed up, when we’ve had enough, or when we are facing death or ruin.

Another interesting note about David’s prayer is that he reasoned with God… he didn’t talk about doctrine, or about his own goodness — instead he explained why he needed his prayer to be answered, he wrestled with God. “What will You gain if I die?” he asked. From all I see in the Bible, and what I’ve experienced in my life, God loves for us to present intelligent arguments to Him and insist that He do what He’s promised in His Word.

This type of extreme, no-holds-barred praying turns mourning into dancing… in turns clothes of mourning into clothes of joy. If you are unhappy with your life, if troubles keep growing, it is time for you to cry out to God and ask Him to rescue you.

Monday, November 11, 2013

November 11: Who is greatest?

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Then He called a child to Him and had him stand among them. “I assure you,” He said, “unless you are converted and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child — this one is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one child like this in My name welcomes Me. “But whoever causes the downfall of one of these little ones who believe in Me — it would be better for him if a heavy millstone were hung around his neck and he were drowned in the depths of the sea. (Matthew 18:1-6 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Jesus’ disciples asked who was the greatest in the kingdom. Though they were sincere men (except for Judas), they still had political and worldly ambitions. Jesus wanted to correct this and help them get rid of the wrong kind of pride and ambition. He took a small child and had him stand in the middle of the disciples. Then He said that they should all change and be like little children if they want to enter the kingdom of God. Humility, faith, dependence upon their father or mother, sincerity, lack of worry or concern for the future, absence of personal ambition — all these and more are characteristics of children. In one way it is very important for us to be mature and act like adults, but we must also be like children.

Are you childlike? If so you will trust that your Father in heaven will supply your needs. Serve Him and don't worry about position or reputation. Don't worry about what other people worry about. We are God's children and He will protect and care for us. Don't allow fear or worry or jealousy of others to live in your heart. Concentrate on being great in His eyes — make your real purpose in life to please Him. Be childlike as Jesus taught, and be careful to help other children — large and small!

November 10: Way, Truth, Life

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you know Me, you will also know My Father. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him.”  (John 14:6-7 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

This passage is one of the seven “I Ams” of Jesus in the gospel of John — seven times that Jesus says “I Am” and then follows it with a descriptive term or phrase. This comes to life when we remember that God described Himself to Moses on Mount Sinai as “I am who I am” — a name that seemed to be intentionally mysterious — and then a thousand years later the same name is used of Jesus and is described in seven different ways. (The number seven in the Bible always symbolizes perfection or completeness.)

When Jesus refers to Himself as the way, the truth, and the life He is making a bold statement of His divine nature. He is the way because His death on the cross provides the only way to God. Unless our sins are forgiven and we are made clean, we cannot approach God. He is the truth because He came to earth and spoke about the Father and revealed God’s will for us. He is the life because only through Him can we live a life of power in this world. In His name we cast out demons, and in His name we pray to the Father.

The world searches for these three things — the way, the truth, and the life — hoping to find meaning and happiness in governments, success, fame, family, health and pleasure. But no lasting happiness can be found apart from the Lord Jesus Christ. Sorry if this sounds proud or exclusive, but this is what He said.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

November 9: Don’t owe anyone anything

Pay your obligations to everyone: taxes to those you owe taxes, tolls to those you owe tolls, respect to those you owe respect, and honor to those you owe honor. Do not owe anyone anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments: Do not commit adultery; do not murder; do not steal; do not covet; and whatever other commandment — all are summed up by this: Love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Love, therefore, is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 13:7-10 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

We should not owe anyone anything… the only debt we should never finish paying is the debt of love. But to help us understand what this means, Paul explains... It means paying obligations and taxes, showing respect and honor, paying off anything else that might be owed, and refusing to commit adultery or murder, and to refrain from stealing and coveting. Love cannot be a word we use, or an attitude we apply to one area of our lives and not another. Love entails doing all the above mentioned things, and more. Interestingly, the Holy Spirit speaks about love but also mentions at least eight ways that we can manifest this love. Like we have said before, genuine love is not talk, but action. Just like Jesus proved His love for us by dying on the cross, we have to prove our love for Him by dying to self and living for Him.

God says we should love our neighbor as we love ourselves. What a big responsibility this is! On the other hand, how can we say that we love God, and then turn around and hate or ignore a person that He created and loves? Whenever we deal with other people, no matter who they are, they are souls in need of salvation and this must be our primary focus. When we show love, we fulfill the law of God. 

Let’s remember that true love involves hate. I cannot truly love God and not hate the devil. If I love God and other people, I will also hate sin and the demons that want to drive wedges between us and Him. It’s not enough for us to love and worship God (which most Christians do), we also have to fight the devil and demons.

Friday, November 8, 2013

November 8: Being worthy of Him

The person who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; the person who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And whoever doesn’t take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. Anyone finding his life will lose it, and anyone losing his life because of Me will find it.  (Matthew 10:37-39 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

This passage teaches a very basic principle of being a Christian and following God. Unlike what many people think, following God is not a casual thing that you do every once in a while when you feel like it. Following God means putting Him before everything and everyone. Like the passage says, if we don’t put him before family, we’re not worthy of Him. He has to come before our money, our time, our family and friends, our pleasures, our career and everything else. He doesn’t want to spoil our lives and take away all pleasure, in fact He wants to improve our lives. When we put Him first we become better husbands and fathers, better wives and mothers, better sons and daughters… whatever we are we become better at it.

Taking up our cross and following Him mean that we should be committed to the point that we are willing to die for God. The cross was the manner in which the Lord Jesus died, and it is a reminder of how Satan and his demons are defeated, and how we are forgiven for our sins, but it is also a reminder of how we also need to die for Him. We don’t have to be executed on a cross — though some of the disciples were — but we have to die to our flesh, and give up the pleasure of going along with temptation, and living like everyone else. The cross means that we have to be willing to be made fun of by co-workers, family, or friends because we don’t live the way they do. The cross means that we die to worry and fear, and choose to live by faith.

The last sentence of today’s passage is so beautiful. If we find our lives (hold on to them) we will lose them, and only if we lose our lives (die to our own will) we will find them. It’s the wonderful paradox of life. If we carry our cross daily and die to ourselves, we will then, and only then, discover true happiness and strength. If we try to hold on to everything in this life and do things our own way, we will lose everything. 

We know how the large majority of people have chosen to live, our challenge is to be different.

November 7: The Lord is faithful

But the Lord is faithful; He will strengthen and guard you from the evil one. (2 Thessalonians 3:3 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

“The Lord is faithful” is a declaration that appears again and again throughout the Bible. It is one of the most important truths about God that we can ever learn, and a statement that the devil and demons work hard at discrediting. When the serpent tempted Eve in the Garden, he got her to listen to him by implying that God was unfaithful… and though more than four thousand years have come and gone, he continues to uses the same tactic. The God-is-unfaithful lie seems to be an easy one for people to accept and latch on to. The devil works extra hard at reinterpreting our past, and the world around us to reinforce this lie, and so we have to continually be on guard against it. No matter what things look like at the moment, we need to hold on to the truth that the Lord is faithful.

When this passage mentions “evil one”, it is simply another term for Satan. Note that God does not promise to remove him from our lives, or from the world — obviously, that will be true in heaven. Instead God promises to strengthen and guard us from the evil one. One of the most important truths about the devil that we can ever learn is this: Satan and demons are a permanent, evil part of this world that we have to continually resist. They will never simply disappear one day, or finally decide to give up on us completely. There will be times of intense attack, and times of lighter attack, but they will be a constant danger for the rest of our lives on earth, and God’s response to this is to offer us His strength and protection.

Instead of complaining about the attacks and temptations of the devil, we need to concentrate on developing God’s strength and accepting His protection. Ephesians 6:10-17 speaks about the armor of God by which we can “stand against the tactics of the devil”. This is not a passive, automatic armor that suddenly appears when we accept Jesus into our hearts. It’s an armor that we must decide to put on, that involves God’s help and protection, but that also requires our own effort. 

One more thing: the armor that is spoken about in Ephesians, and in various other passages of the Bible, is God’s own armor. It is not earthy, human armor, it is God’s armor. Like king Saul tried to dress David the shepherd boy in his armor to fight Goliath — a great honor — God dresses us in His armor! What an honor this is. How powerful we become when we decide to put it on. Instead of complaining about the problems of this world, we need to concentrate on clothing ourselves in the armor of God because when we do the attacks of the evil one become so small an insignificant.

“The Lord is faithful!”

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

November 6: Is anything too hard for God?

The Lord said, “I will certainly come back to you in about a year’s time, and your wife Sarah will have a son!” Now Sarah was listening at the entrance of the tent behind him.  Abraham and Sarah were old and getting on in years.  Sarah had passed the age of childbearing.  So she laughed to herself: “After I have become shriveled up and my lord is old, will I have delight?”  But the Lord asked Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Can I really have a baby when I’m old?’ Is anything impossible for the Lord? At the appointed time I will come back to you, and in about a year she will have a son.”  (Genesis 18:10-14 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Sarah and Abraham had been waiting for a promise to come true.  When she was already 65, God promised her husband that he would become the father of a great nation, but what about her?  Maybe her husband would become a father, but was the promise meant for her as well?  She was his only wife, but uncertainty had crept into her heart as year after year went by, and no child was conceived. A disastrous attempt to “fix” her imagined problem brought about the birth of Ishmael by her slave girl — a son to Abraham, but not the son of God’s promise.

And now, 25 years later, angels appear at their tent bringing the joyful assertion that the promise of a child still holds — not just for Abraham, for Sarah too.  It’s clear by her reaction that her hope in that promise had shriveled up over time, just as she imagined herself to be.  She laughed. She looked at herself, at the passing of time, perhaps at the shame of her clumsy solution to provide a son, and she could only see inadequacy and failure.  Yet Sarah’s spirit lifted when she heard their words.  She dared to believe, “will I have delight?”

When God promises, He promises.  Good news from the mouth of God never changes or turns sour.  It can be counted on, and will come to pass.  But when our small minds decide that His promises are taking too long and then take matters into our own hands, we complicate our lives and reveal how little we trust.  God never viewed Abraham and Sarah as “old and shriveled,” and 25 years of waiting was nothing compared to the decades of joy they would have after their son Isaac was finally born.  In their eyes, life was coming to and end.  In God’s eyes, everything was just beginning!  

Despite her inadequacies, Sarah chose to believe and took ahold of the angels’ words that day.  One year later, her promised child was born.  Don’t look at your inadequacies today, look at the promises God has made for you.  Remember the words that He speaks to you every time you come to church, and every time you read His Word.  They may not materialize instantaneously, but they are promises meant to stake your life on.  

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

November 5: I am not afraid

Lord, how my foes increase! There are many who attack me. Many say about me, “There is no help for him in God.” But You, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, and the One who lifts up my head. I cry aloud to the Lord, and He answers me from His holy mountain. I lie down and sleep; I wake again because the Lord sustains me. I am not afraid of the thousands of people who have taken their stand against me on every side.  (Psalm 3:1-6 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

This psalm is one of only a few that are linked to actual events in a person’s life. This is a psalm of David when his son Absalom had risen up against him, taken his kingdom away, and run him off. When David says that many are attacking him he could be referring to friends and advisors that turned against him and joined his son. In the end Absalom was killed in battle — which did not please David — and David’s kingdom was restored to him, and his declarations of God’s protection and honor came true. How powerful it is when we declare something by faith in God before it happens… we make it a reality.

David teaches us so many things in this short passage. First of all, when people are saying there’s no hope for us, when we have so many enemies, and so many attacks, our response has to be that God is our shield and that He will lift us up — it’s matter of when, not if. Like in Ephesians 6 when it speaks about the armor of God and the belt of truth, we have to remind ourselves of the basic truth that God has, and will always rescue His children from their enemies, especially when everyone is predicting doom. He doesn’t always stop enemies from attacking, but He always gives us the victory when we trust in Him. This is spiritual logic, not worldly logic, and it works.

Another thing we are taught in this short passage is that we have to cry out to God in times of distress, and then be so sure that He is answering our prayer that we are able to sleep and be fear-free. This kind of prayer is the real-deal. Not all prayers are equal in God’s eyes; many are a waste of His time, while others move Him to the core and obligate Him to act. Some prayers have not even come close to reaching God’s throne, while others are like a fragrant, pleasing incense swirling around His throne. 

David’s prayer was a great prayer because it was answered, and your prayers can be too. Under no circumstances should you be content to feel the same fear and doubt after your prayer as you did before it. We are praying to a mighty, all-compassionate God, and so our prayers have to come true.

Monday, November 4, 2013

November 4: Clear as crystal

And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever.  (Revelation 22:1-5 — New American Standard Bible)

This passage describes heaven, a place that every single person can gain entry to as long as they are ready to pay the price: the surrender of our will to God. Anyone can be saved regardless of how good or bad their past is. One critical detail is that there are no second chances; our decision to follow Him must be made this side of death. Once our life comes to an end, prayers and repentance no longer have any effect, we will be judged by our life on earth — even though some, like the thief on the cross, will find God in the very last moments of their lives.

There is a crystal clear river in heaven, filled with the water of life, and flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. This reminds us of Jesus’ promise that streams of living water will flow from within us. This could be a symbol of the Holy Spirit, or the Word of God, but either way it brings life and is pure and clear as crystal. This will be true of everything in heaven — everything has life and is pure, and our lives right now should be the same. How can we expect to enter heaven when we are not pure and full of life? We should be doing all we can to ensure this purity and life, and to make sure that the streams of living water are flowing from within us now — a sign that we will one day see the large river.

The tree of life and its twelve different fruits, healing, the absence of curses, the throne of God and of the Lamb, God’s face, His name on our foreheads, the light of God that makes lamps and the sun unnecessary — these are what is waiting for us when we get to heaven. They will be exquisite, mind-blowing experiences like nothing we have ever seen. In contrast, the devil tempts us with the things of this world that, if we are not careful, appear to outshine the things of heaven. Determine that you will not be deceived by him or this world. Meditate on heaven and the amazing things you will experience there as insurance against the lies and filthy promises of Satan.

Jesus went to prepare a place for you in heaven. Make sure your place is filled, and bring as many as you can with you.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

November 3: Alert, firm, manly, strong

Be alert, stand firm in the faith, act like a man, be strong. Your every action must be done with love.  (1 Corinthians 16:13,14 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Whenever the Bible encourages us to “be alert” in the New Testament it is usually in anticipation of some future event. What we do today prepares us for tomorrow’s victory or sets us up for tomorrow’s defeat. Whenever we fall into sin or end up doing something seriously wrong, nine times out of ten we’ve been heading in that direction for a while. The sin or wrong didn’t all of a sudden come over us, we’ve been compromising and being lazy for some time already before we make that mistake. Here Paul encourages the Corinthians, who lived in a very similar environment to us today, to watch out. Not to be afraid, but to be wise and know that temptations and difficult times were on their way.

We’d all like to think that this week will be free from problems and temptations, but we would be deluding ourselves if we thought that way. Faith doesn’t tell us that. Real faith in God knows that problems are coming and prepares for them in the certainty of victory.

“Stand firm” is probably a more needed encouragement for us today than it was for them back then. Corinth had a lot of false teaching, but today we are surrounded by every sort of false teaching and thought — in church, outside of church, in the media, in entertainment… everywhere. Stand firm means to be convinced of what you believe in and refuse to budge. In Ephesians six when the armor of God is spoken about, truth is one of those pieces. If we know that God is faithful, no matter what is going on around us, though our eyes are telling us that God has failed, we have to stand firm and trust that everything is going to work out in the end. That’s what standing firm means, holding on to the truth no matter what.

It’s interesting to note that the Holy Spirit tells us to “have” these four strong qualities — be alert, stand firm in the faith, act like a man (or woman), be strong. He doesn’t tell us to pray to have these qualities; He tells us to “be” these things. And this is another secret to faith: it’s not enough to pray for something we want, we have to start doing it. When we do God makes it a reality.

Paul’s command to do everything with love serves as a balance to these four strong exhortations. Without love for God and for those around us — even for lost strangers — the other qualities can make us fanatical. We have to be extreme, but God always wants us to be balanced. 

Saturday, November 2, 2013

November 2: I no longer live

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.  (Galatians 2:19,20 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

This is what real belief in God entails. It’s extreme, and it’s very different from many people’s idea of following God. Paul could say he had been crucified with Christ and that he no longer lived, but Christ lived in him. If we could only have the same attitude, our lives would be great.

The old us has to stop living. If a person is unwilling to do this, he or she is not ready to be a Christian. We use the word “Christian” in a very loose way many times. Often what is meant is simply that a person has an intellectual belief in the facts of Jesus' life. But that is not what a Christian is — the first sentence of today’s passage explains what being a Christian truly means. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

November 1: Follow Me!

After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at the tax office, and He said to him, “Follow Me!” So, leaving everything behind, he got up and began to follow Him. Then Levi hosted a grand banquet for Him at his house. Now there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others who were guests with them. But the Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to His disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus replied to them, “The healthy don’t need a doctor, but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”  (Luke 5:27-32 — Holman Christian Standard Bible)

What Jesus said to Levi (Matthew) He says to all of us — “Follow me!" The correct response is what Levi did — “Leaving everything behind he got up and began to follow Him”. Clearly Levi was called to be one of the 12, became a pastor, and dedicated his life to God’s work. Not everyone is called to be a pastor and to work on the altar. And yet, Jesus calls every single person to “follow Him”. Leaving everything behind may not involve what it did for Levi, but we all have to leave everything. That doesn’t mean that we divorce our wives/husbands, abandon our children, quit our jobs, and attend every meeting in church 7-days a week. But it would definitely involve giving up what we know displeases Him… any thought, actions, dreams, and attitudes.

This is very radical, and even scary at first. But the truth is, deciding not following Jesus is the scariest decision we could ever make. Deciding that we know what’s best, or that this world and our friends and family are the best guide for how to live our lives… that’s scary! Sure the Lord Jesus will ask us to give up certain things that will cause us pain, but in the end, He is going to give us much, much more than we ever give up for Him. We will get the best of this deal by far. But it is a life of denying the flesh and living by the Spirit. By doing this, we make ourselves the enemy of the world, and even of some of our friends and family because they’re still on the wrong side. 

Jesus was criticized for eating and spending time with sinners. The religious leaders of His time were offended. But in response Jesus declares His mission and purpose. He did not come into the world to start a religious club, or to spend His time with those who were satisfied with their lives. Jesus came to save the lost and dying, to heal the sick, to help those who were tired of their miserable lives, to give freedom to people bound by demons, and to release people from fear and failure. If we belong to Him, we will have the same attitude.