Monday, March 31, 2014

March 31: How long, O God?

How long, Lord, will you continue to ignore me? How long will you pay no attention to me? How long must I worry, and suffer in broad daylight? How long will my enemy gloat over me? Look at me! Answer me, O Lord my God! Revive me, or else I will die! Then my enemy will say, “I have defeated him!” Then my foes will rejoice because I am upended. But I trust in your faithfulness. May I rejoice because of your deliverance! I will sing praises to the Lord when he vindicates me.  (Psalm 13  NET)

Here is a prayer of faith from a man who is insisting and demanding that God act on his behalf. He knows that God has promised all through Scripture to help His people and to rescue them from their enemies. He is also confident that he is a child of God and that he has a right to ask for deliverance. For a servant of Almighty God to be in his situation is not in agreement with the principles God Himself has taught. So he comes boldly and with confidence to his Father in heaven to wrestle and struggle in faith until God blesses him. Even though he expresses impatience at the delay in his receiving what he needs from God; his faith is strong and he rejoices in God's deliverance.

Have you ever talked to God this way? Or would you be afraid to speak so boldly to Him? Remember this Psalm was written by David who was “a man after God's own heart.” His life was filled with great miracles and acts of God. He loved God with all his heart, and he knew there was no possibility of his living even one day without God’s blessing and help.

If you are not getting the answers you need from God, don’t accept your situation. If your request is good for you and for God’s kingdom—don’t give up. Ask, insist—even demand—that God act and fulfill His promises for you. The Lord Jesus and God the Father are pleased when people pray this way. It shows genuine faith in God's promises, that we are really serious and determined to be blessed by Him. And when we pray like this, God sees that our hope is in Him and in Him alone.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

March 30: An appropriate celebration

Now his older son was in the field. As he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the slaves and asked what was happening. The slave replied, “Your brother has returned, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he got his son back safe and sound.” But the older son became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and appealed to him, but he answered his father, “Look! These many years I have worked like a slave for you, and I never disobeyed your commands. Yet you never gave me even a goat so that I could celebrate with my friends! But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your assets with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!” Then the father said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and everything that belongs to me is yours. “It was appropriate to celebrate and be glad, for your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost and is found.”  (Luke 15:25-32  NET)

This is the final part of the passage from the last two days… In the beginning of Luke 15 the Jewish religious leaders criticized Jesus for spending time with and eating together with people they regarded as sinners… tax collectors, prostitutes, the sick, the troubled. The older son in this story represents these people, and those of us today who have the same attitude. If Jesus had refused to help the lost and had spent all His time with the religious leaders, they would have been happy. They didn't care about the sick, the demon possessed, and the disillusioned, just like this older son did not care about his younger brother. He was angry and jealous when his father threw a party to welcome him home.

Jesus said that if we cannot love the people around us whom we can see, then we cannot love God whom we cannot see. These religious people were actually caught in the ridiculous position of being more evil than the “sinners” they despised—their sin was a lack of love and compassion for the suffering, which they did not even identify as a sin. This is a story about God and His mercy toward sinners—even when we’ve disgraced ourselves and treated God like trash, He is ready to help us when we repent and turn to Him.

If our love for God is genuine we will long to see the lost receiving the same mercy and forgiveness that we once received. If we don’t, if we are overly condemning and critical of others—like the older son in today’s passage—we prove that our love for God is empty words.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

March 29: A rebellious son is forgiven

But when he came to his senses he said, “How many of my father’s hired workers have food enough to spare, but here I am dying from hunger! I will get up and go to my father and say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired workers.’” So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way from home his father saw him, and his heart went out to him; he ran and hugged his son and kissed him.  (Luke 15:17-20  NET)

The troubles this young man went through were not a waste; he came to his senses and realized what he needed to do. He admitted he had been wrong, and that he had sinned against his father and against God. So many do not have the humility to admit they are wrong and continue getting deeper and deeper into trouble and misery. Often Satan pushes them to eventually commit suicide, or to lose their lives in risky, foolish living. But the prodigal son was different; he repented and decided to go return to his father and confess his sin even when it was embarrassing and humiliating.

The young man must have felt that there was a good possibility that his father would reject him, and so he planned to ask if he could be a simple hired worker. But his father saw him when he was still a long way off and ran to meet him. God is the father in this story, and we who have sinned and gone away from God, are the son. The lesson for us is that God is a loving Father; His arms are always open to us. He does not treat us that way we deserve to be treated, but instead treats us with love and compassion. When we turn from our rebellious ways, we find that He is waiting for us—to bless and help us.

Don’t let the devil tell you that there’s no hope for you! It doesn't matter what you have done, or how serious your problems are—Jesus Christ is ready to forgive our sins and be the solution to our problems.

Friday, March 28, 2014

March 28: A rebellious young man

Then Jesus said, “A man had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that will belong to me.’ So he divided his assets between them. After a few days, the younger son gathered together all he had and left on a journey to a distant country, and there he squandered his wealth with a wild lifestyle. Then after he had spent everything, a severe famine took place in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and worked for one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs…” (Luke 15:11-15  NET)

According to Jewish traditions of the time, the younger son would receive half of what his older brother received, and though the inheritance was theirs, it was not legally theirs until their father had died. For the younger son to ask for his part of the inheritance while his father was alive was rebellious and rude, and revealed a love of the world, rather than God and family. When the father went ahead and gave the boy what he wanted, this is analogous to God allowing us to go ahead and make mistakes when we insist on doing things our way.

This story is about each one of us, about how we foolishly left our Father's house and chose to live a life that brought ruin and misery. The younger son in the story represents us at one time or another, and the father that was treated so unfairly is God, whom we rebelled against. We didn't want to follow God's ways, we thought He was too controlling, and were sure we didn't need Him. But after going our own way and doing what we pleased, we began to experience a life of misery and disgrace. The things we were sure would make us happy… did not. The friends we counted on deserted us, and Satan and demons began to have their way with us because we were unprotected.

In the story of the young man, he wasted all his inheritance and then found himself in a foreign land in the middle of a severe famine. The only job he could find was feeding pigs, which was one of the worst things a Jew could do because they were considered spiritually unclean. This shows what the devil wants to do to all of us; he wants to rob, deceive, enslave, and finally kill us both physically and spiritually.

Tomorrow we will finish this passage, but today’s lesson is that we need to avoid going against God and insisting on our own way—even when we’re convinced that it’s going to work. We need to trust in God, in His plan, and resist the tempting lies of the devil. God has the best possible life waiting for us, but only when we “trust and obey”… like the old hymn says.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

March 27: Faith in the darkest trial

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the rest of the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly a great earthquake occurred, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. Immediately all the doors flew open, and the bonds of all the prisoners came loose. When the jailer woke up and saw the doors of the prison standing open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, because he assumed the prisoners had escaped. But Paul called out loudly, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here!” Calling for lights, the jailer rushed in and fell down trembling at the feet of Paul and Silas. Then he brought them outside and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, you and your household.”  (Acts 16:25-31  NET)

The accusations leveled against Paul and Silas that led to their beating and imprisonment were false—they were accused of criticizing Roman customs and laws. But like many prophets before them, and the Lord Jesus Himself, they knew that these attacks were the result of the spiritual battle raging around them. Most or all of the people who attack men and women of faith are blinded to the truth by their anger and hatred. 

The word translated “listening”—when the prisoners were listening to Paul and Silas sing—means “to listen with pleasure” in the original Greek, as if listening to beautiful music. Though their backs were bleeding, they were in stocks (wooden structures that had holes for a prisoner’s hands and feet and would cause great discomfort), they had been unjustly arrested without trial, and seemed to have been forgotten by God, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God. Their faith was shining in that dingy, damp cell, and the other prisoners must have been shocked by the noise. They were accustomed to hearing prisoners curse, threaten, cry, and fall into hatred and depression, but they had never heard anything like what Paul and Silas were doing. What they heard must have brought hope, and even given them a hunger for the faith that these two men had. In times of the darkest trials, our faith has the potential to shine the brightest.

God’s answer was quick and obvious—an earthquake that shook the foundations of the prison and freed all the prisoners, eventually leading to the jailer and his family being saved. Their trust in God, in spite of all the negatives around them, forced God to fight their battle for them. So many times we lose the blessing and victory that God is storing up for us because we give in to despair and negativity. Our physical eyes rarely see everything that’s going on, and so, unless we use the eyes of faith and trust in what we do not yet see, we are liable to be deceived. Paul and Silas were not—their vision was spot on.

How many people around us will we save when we start to have this attitude in the worst moments of life? We could save hundreds, thousands, even tens of thousands if we adopted the attitude of faith and trust of these two men.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

March 26: Did you receive the Holy Spirit?

While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul went through the inland regions and came to Ephesus. He found some disciples there and said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” So Paul said, “Into what then were you baptized?” “Into John’s baptism,” they replied. Paul said, “John baptized with a baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, and when Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they began to speak in tongues and to prophesy.  (Acts 19:1-6  NET)

Many people today are like these people in Ephesus, they know little or nothing about the Holy Spirit and have not received Him as a Helper and Teacher, as God intended. As a test of where these people were in spiritually, Paul asked, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” When they answered that they had not even heard of the Holy Spirit, Paul knew that something was fundamentally wrong. On the day the Church began (Pentecost), people were told to repent, be baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins, and that they would then receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:37,38). As Paul discovered, these people had heard of the preaching and baptism of John the Baptist, but were completely ignorant of the teaching of Jesus that came afterwards. Today, we know something is fundamentally wrong when people who claim to be Christians have little or no experience of God’s Spirit.

Water baptism is connected to the Holy Spirit, it is a preparatory act for the baptism in the Holy Spirit, not an isolated act. When Paul rebaptized these people in Jesus’ name, and laid his hands on them, they were baptized in the Holy Spirit, indicating that they had been doing their best with the limited knowledge that had had. It is important for all of us to realize that the Holy Spirit is absolutely necessary for every Christian—without Him we are like a puzzle with a missing part, or a car without gasoline. We should not neglect the gift of God’s Spirit.

Another interesting aspect of this passage is Paul’s interest in leading these newly acquired friends to the Spirit. When we have God’s Spirit we look for opportunities to share Him with others, sharing all that we know.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

March 25: Being strengthened with all power

For this reason we also, from the day we heard about you, have not ceased praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may live worthily of the Lord and please him in all respects—bearing fruit in every good deed, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might for the display of all patience and steadfastness, joyfully giving thanks to the Father who has qualified you to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light. He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:9-14 NET)

This is a Holy Spirit inspired prayer made by Paul for the Christians in Colossae, but it’s an example of what we need to ask and believe for ourselves today.  This prayer reveals a list of what God is ready, willing and eager to do for anyone who belongs to Him.   

First, it’s to fill us with the knowledge of His will, and give us spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then, to help live a life that is worthy of Him. On top of that, to bear good fruit in every way. And for that to happen, He wants to fill us with His power so that we can be steadfast and patient. We’ve been snatched out of the kingdom of darkness, and are safely put into Christ's Kingdom when we die to ourselves and live for Him. 

The fact that Paul needed to pray for all of this for his church shows us that even though many things are the will of God, it takes men and women of faith to pray those things into existence.  Crying out to God for your needs to be met is necessary for forces to move in the spiritual world.  God needs to see a zeal for His promises for them to become a reality in our lives.  Why not begin to pray this prayer for yourself at least once a day. Change the pronouns and make it your own prayer, declaring that God is accomplishing these same things in your life today.

Monday, March 24, 2014

March 24: I will not be upended

I will praise the Lord who guides me; yes, during the night I reflect and learn. I constantly trust in the Lord; because he is at my right hand, I will not be upended. So my heart rejoices and I am happy; my life is safe. You will not abandon me to Sheol; you will not allow your faithful follower to see the Pit. You lead me in the path of life; I experience absolute joy in your presence; you always give me sheer delight.  (Psalm 16:7-11  NET)

This is a prophecy of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and was written hundreds of years before He came into the world. This prophecy is actually used in the New Testament as proof that Jesus is Savior and Lord—that death had no power over Him. This passage explains that God did not allow Jesus's body to decay or to stay in the grave, but raised Him back to life and filled Him with joy in His presence. God made Jesus victorious over death and Satan.

Although the primary application of these verses is Jesus, they also apply to every person of faith. When we constantly trust in the Lord and have faith that He is at our right hand, we will not be upended or shaken. Our lives will be built on the rock and nothing will be able to conquer us. Not even physical death will harm us because we know that at the moment of our death we will be with God in Paradise. Jesus was victorious over death, the devil, and the powers of evil, and because we have faith in Jesus, His victory becomes our victory.

The same confidence that we see in this psalm can and should be ours. What a wonderful life it is to belong to God, to have His constant protection and care, and to live in anticipation of the glories of heaven!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

March 23: Keeping the word of God

As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it. There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day. For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. I know that his command leads to eternal life, so whatever I say is what the Father has told me to say.  (John 12:47-50  NET)

You have heard the words of Jesus; your family and friends have also heard the words of Jesus in one way or another—all of us have. These words have the power to save, but they also have the power to condemn. We may think that we can do things our own way, and we can for a while, but sooner or later we will have to reckon with the words of Jesus that we have heard. If we obey them, we will walk in the light, a light that will continue to increase as time goes by and we continue to be faithful. But if we do not keep His words, we walk in the darkness, and that darkness will, in the end, completely overwhelm and destroy us.

Jesus’ words should not be taken lightly. He descended from heaven to reveal Himself to us, and to speak what the Father told Him to say. Nothing our Lord said was frivolous or careless, every single word that He spoke was intentional and carefully thought out. If we ignore His words, we do so at our own peril, and whether we know it or not, we are paying attention to the devil’s words.

Since the words of Jesus will be the standard of judgment on the day when we all stand before God, we must honestly look at ourselves and at His words…

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

“If you love me, you will obey what I command.”

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father in heaven.”

Let’s rededicate ourselves to faithfully and radically obeying His words.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

March 22: The world hates you

If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you do not belong to the world, but I chose you out of the world, for this reason the world hates you. Remember what I told you, “A slave is not greater than his master.” If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they obeyed my word, they will obey yours too. But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know the one who sent me.  (John 15:18-21  NET)

We all want to be loved and accepted, it’s a part of human nature. No one enjoys being hated or rejected. But when we follow God and live according to His guidelines, we have to expect to be hated… by the world, by old friends, by family members, co-workers, neighbors, etc. This is a fact of life that we cannot change—not even faith can change it. It’s an unchangeable principle of this world; the world belongs to the darkness and hates the light. Jesus was hated so much that people put him to death, just like ten of the original disciples, and Paul. If they experienced hatred to such a high degree, we should expect the very same thing—unless we decide to hide our faith in God.

The only way the world will love us is if we water down our faith and start to love and value what it tells us is important. The world will permit us to love God as long as He is not first, as long as He is pushed into a corner and made to feel out of place. This is why so many churches today concentrate on a one hour service on Sunday morning and then allow their people to live the way they want to the rest of the week. They “teach” that as long as you punch your card on Sunday morning, you are a good Christian and are on your way to heaven. These people do not read the passage above, and if they do, they quickly forget about its strong words and smother those thoughts with images of a loving and forgiving God.

I want to be hated. I want to prove that I’m a true child of God. I don’t want to please everyone because that is impossible. No one can ever please everyone. That being the case I choose to turn my back on the world and love God. I will fight to save people in the world, and some will love me for it, but I’m not going to worry about those who hate the light inside of me.

Friday, March 21, 2014

March 21: Sifted like wheat

“Simon, Simon, pay attention! Satan has demanded to have you all, to sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. When you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” But Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death!” Jesus replied, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow today until you have denied three times that you know me.”  (Luke 22:31-34  NET)

Jesus said this just a few hours before His arrest and crucifixion. It would be a time of terrible testing for the disciples. Simon Peter was to be especially tempted by Satan, but Peter wouldn’t accept Jesus' warning. He was sure that he was strong enough for anything, even saying he would die or go to prison with Jesus. But he was wrong and Jesus knew he was. 

Had Peter listened to Jesus and humbled himself, he could have better prepared himself for what was coming. A Bible verse says, "Let him who thinks he stands be careful lest he fall." Jesus told Peter that he would deny Him three times before dawn, and Peter should have been wise enough to know that Jesus always spoke the truth. A few hours later, Peter found himself in a panic, publicly swearing that he never knew Jesus.  At the sound of the rooster, his heart and his pride were broken and he wept bitterly in shame.

The Bible compares Satan to a lion prowling about looking for someone to devour. He is also compared to a false prophet who masquerades as an angel of light. We can’t afford to make the mistake Peter made—thinking that we are strong enough to handle anything without relying humbly on God. If we don’t cling to Jesus, we can fail just as Peter did. Remember that Jesus prays for us just as He did for Peter.  He doesn’t condemn us when we slip and fall.  Instead He reaches out to us, lifts us up again, and strengthens us so that we can also strengthen each other.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

March 20: Tabitha is raised

Now in Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which in translation means Dorcas). She was continually doing good deeds and acts of charity. At that time she became sick and died. When they had washed her body, they placed it in an upstairs room. Because Lydda was near Joppa, when the disciples heard that Peter was there, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Come to us without delay.” So Peter got up and went with them, and when he arrived they brought him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him, crying and showing him the tunics and other clothing Dorcas used to make while she was with them. But Peter sent them all outside, knelt down, and prayed. Turning to the body, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her get up. Then he called the saints and widows and presented her alive. This became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. So Peter stayed many days in Joppa with a man named Simon, a tanner.  (Acts 9:36-42  NET)

The events in this passage are normal Christianity—this is the way it’s supposed to be. We should expect people to be healed, the demon-possessed to be freed, and the dead to be raised. The name of Jesus has unlimited power, is meant to be used to help the suffering, and to unmask the devil—but we have to decide to use it, to allow it to flow through us. 

Throughout the Bible, Old and New Testaments, miracles have been a normal aspect of the lives of those who truly believe in Him. Raising the dead, healing the sick, destroying huge enemy armies… has always been a natural way for God to reward, protect and fight for His people. For those of us who believe, miracles should be one of the most natural things. They should be expected. This is one way to differentiate our lives from those of unbelievers and evil people.

Most people who live in this physical world are bound by nature, and the "laws of nature". It’s a limited life and existence, where the abilities and talents of people are the only resource. But those of us who have given our lives to the Lord Jesus continue to live in the physical world but are not limited to the laws of nature. We are citizens in the Kingdom of God where anything is possible.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

March 19: Rescued from a powerful enemy

He reached down from above and took hold of me; he pulled me from the surging water. He rescued me from my strong enemy, from those who hate me, for they were too strong for me. They confronted me in my day of calamity, but the Lord helped me. He brought me out into a wide open place; he delivered me because he was pleased with me. (Psalm 18:16-19 NET)

This Psalm was written by David and could refer to the many crises in his life recorded in I and II Samuel in the Old Testament.  Time and again, he experienced literal life and death situations, but there was no doubt that God was the one who delivered David because of his faith and faithfulness to Him.

People mistakenly think that these miraculous acts of God in the Bible are there just to be admired. But they are promises of what God will do for anyone who chooses to go out on a limb and believe as radically as those people of faith did.  If God pulled David out of surging waters and rescued him from strong enemies, we are to take hold of that as a promise for us today, and determine that God will do the same in our situation.  

If you feel that you are being threatened by those who hate you, or spiritual forces that hate you, then take comfort in this passage.  God WILL bring you out into a wide open space if you trust in Him.  He WILL deliver you, no matter how hateful and strong your enemies appear to be.  The end of verse 19 says, “because he was pleased with me.”  In Hebrews 11 it says that faith is the key to pleasing God.  Those who live believing in what they don’t yet see, immediately please God, no matter how weak they might have been just 10 minutes before faith kicked in.  Faith is the key that turns the ignition for God’s power and pleasure.  How can He not rescue a child who believes?  

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

March 18: The Holy Spirit’s work

Nevertheless, I am telling you the truth. It is for your benefit that I go away, because if I don’t go away the Counselor will not come to you. If I go, I will send Him to you. When He comes, He will convict the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment:  About sin, because they do not believe in Me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will no longer see Me; and about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged. (John 16:7-11 HCSV)

Jesus was preparing His apostles for His death, resurrection, and eventual ascension into heaven. But in His place, He was going to send the Holy Spirit to dwell in them and to work in the world. Jesus knew the power and effectiveness of the Holy Spirit (or Counselor) and says, "It is for your good that I am going away… if I go, I will send him to you."

When the Holy Spirit came, part of His work was to empower those who belonged to Him, and part was to deal with the world. To Christians the Spirit comes to make us stronger, wiser, to become like Jesus, and be more powerful witnesses. But the Holy Spirit also convicts people of sin, so that they can humble themselves and repent, and be delivered from the influence of demons. That means that as we reach out to our loved ones who are far from God, the work isn’t just done by our own efforts.  Though we are rejected and misunderstood or mistreated by our family and friends, the Holy Spirit is busy with His work of convicting souls to draw them to salvation.  In the end He is the one who reaches down into the hidden corners of their hearts to save them—we are just instruments that He can use.  

Those who think that their lives would have been better had they lived in Jerusalem during the time of Jesus, don’t understand the power that is now available to us all today.  What Jesus as a human being could offer 2000 years ago was limited, but now the Spirit of God who has no limits, wants to live inside of us and work with us to reveal God’s Kingdom to this world.  Don’t stifle what He wants to do in you today.  If each of us gave Him total freedom to work in us, our lives and this world would be totally transformed!

Monday, March 17, 2014

March 17: No one takes it away from me!

This is why the Father loves me—because I lay down my life, so that I may take it back again. No one takes it away from me, but I lay it down of my own free will. I have the authority to lay it down, and I have the authority to take it back again. This commandment I received from my Father.  (John 10:17,!8  NET)

All of us are sinners in the eyes of God and the people we interact with in life, and the Bible says that the wages of sin are death—eternal death. But the Father sent His Son into the world to die in our place. Innocent of any sin, even though He lived for approximately 33 years in the same world we live in, Jesus could be punished for ours; He could pay our debt of sin. And so, in the cross we see the justice and love of God: sin had to be punished—a just god could not treat evil and sin in a nonchalant manner. Therefore God allowed His One and Only Son to bear the penalty for our sins—He came up with an amazing plan to save us, and proved that he had loved us from the very beginning of time.

When Jesus was arrested, tried, and condemned to die by wicked men, it was all in God's plan. Jesus had known that He would need to do this; He did not die because He was weak, because His plans failed, or because the devil and evil men were too strong for Him. Today’s passage recounts Him saying, “I lay down my life, so that I may take it back again. No one takes it away from me, but I lay it down of my own free will. I have the authority to lay it down, and I have the authority to take it back again.” Isn't this an amazing truth! You and I have been in God's plans before the worlds were created. The Father and the Son went to the greatest extreme—a shameful, horrible death on the cross—to prove Their love for us and that They want us to live with Them forever in the new heavens and new earth.

The cross of Jesus lifts us up to heaven. We see our worth in the eyes of God the Father and Jesus His Son. Now all our dreams can come true: to live forever, to be at peace with God, and to receive God's help here and now.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

March 16: A faith that makes us righteous

Against hope Abraham believed in hope with the result that he became the father of many nations according to the pronouncement, “so will your descendants be.” Without being weak in faith, he considered his own body as dead (because he was about one hundred years old) and the deadness of Sarah’s womb. He did not waver in unbelief about the promise of God but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God. He was fully convinced that what God promised he was also able to do. So indeed it was credited to Abraham as righteousness. But the statement it was credited to him was not written only for Abraham’s sake, but also for our sake, to whom it will be credited, those who believe in the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was given over because of our transgressions and was raised for the sake of our justification.  (Romans 4:18-25 — NET)

True Christians are children of Abraham because his faith was credited by God as righteousness. His faith made him righteous in God’s sight. God had promised him and his wife a son—he was 75 years old and she was 65 when they were given this promise—and yet they believed God. Though there we a few times that they doubted—like us—they continued to believe for 25 years. Finally Isaac was born when Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90, and scripture says they had not doubted or wavered in faith because they knew God had power to do what He had promised. This is faith… remember, they weren’t perfect, except for a few times of doubt they persisted in their faith in spite of astronomical odds against them. Not only did Abraham and Sarah not give up for many, many years, they believed in something totally unthinkable—and because of this they honored God by treating Him as faithful and almighty.

Today our faith will also be seen by God as righteousness when we believe in Him in spite of the circumstances. This means that even though we are not perfectly righteous or good, God will count us righteous when we are fully convinced that He will do what He has promised… period! 

In the modern world we live in we have learned to be skeptical of authority figures, to doubt people’s promises, to roll our eyes at people who “naively” believe that the impossible can come true, and become impatient when something doesn’t happen in the time frame we think is appropriate. We think we are modern and educated, and can’t imagine living in a time where there were no cars, no supermarkets, no cellphones, or proper plumbing. It’s so easy to think that we have it all together in this modern age… but Abraham and Sarah’s faith was light years ahead of most of us, and the power that they experienced was something that few people today can even conceive of.

The most important thing in life is having a faith that God credits as righteousness, a faith that refuses to give up even when things seem to be getting worse, because we’re convinced that the One who made the promise is faithful. May we all value this more than the trappings of modern life.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

March 15: A new command

“I give you a new commandment—to love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples—if you have love for one another. (John 13:34,35  NET)

Jesus was about to go to the cross when He spoke these words, which makes sense because it was love that drove Him to His sacrifice. Like John 3:16 says, “For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” The Father’s love drove Him to give up His Son, and Jesus’ love drove Him to the cross for us.

The love that Jesus had was not, and is not, an emotional, heart-based love. His love was the type that made Him go to the cross and sacrifice Himself for us even though His flesh did not want to go through the scourging, the nails, the humiliation, and the sin He would have to carry. True love is not a feeling, it is a commitment. True love loves when people are unlovable, because it’s the right thing to do. When God loves us, He does so not because we are beautiful and deserving, but because He sees what we can become with some help.

This very same love characterizes a true child of God—he will sacrifice to help the lost, he will do what his flesh does not want to do because he knows it’s the right thing to do. One way the world can see Jesus in us is by the love that we have for each other. Love is not proud or selfish, and it doesn’t keep a record of other people’s wrongs.

This love that we are commanded to have does not depend on a person's character or behavior. We’re commanded to love even those who consider themselves our enemies, and God gives us the power to do this when we ask Him. Love is to be a mark of a true disciples of the Lord Jesus. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

March 14: The day of the Holy Spirit

Now when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like a violent wind blowing came from heaven and filled the entire house where they were sitting. And tongues spreading out like fire appeared to them and came to rest on each one of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven residing in Jerusalem. When this sound occurred, a crowd gathered and was in confusion, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Completely baffled, they said, “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that each one of us hears them in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and the province of Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—we hear them speaking in our own languages about the great deeds God has done!”  (Acts 2:1-11  NET)

Before His ascension into heaven Jesus told the apostles to wait in Jerusalem for the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and this is the Bible's account of that promise’s fulfillment. The Holy Spirit descended from heaven with the sound of a mighty wind, something that looked like fire appeared over their heads, and they began to speak of the wonders of God in languages they had never learned. This all happened on a Jewish feast day, Pentecost, when Jerusalem was packed with Jews from all over the world. That day became the birthday of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. And just like this happened to 120 people around 2000 years ago, it should also happen to us. We shouldn’t expect the same wind and fire, but we should expect the same power and life-changing experience.

Three great preparatory events happened before that great day of the Holy Spirit—the death of Jesus, His resurrection, and His ascension into heaven.

Today we no longer have to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit; He is here. The same Spirit of power and holiness is ready to live in you and make your life a channel through which God can bless other people. It is God's plan that all of His children be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

March 13: Extraordinary miracles…

God was performing extraordinary miracles by Paul’s hands, so that when even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his body were brought to the sick, their diseases left them and the evil spirits went out of them.  (Acts 19:11,12  NET)

As Paul preached in the pagan city of Ephesus God confirmed and publicized his message with extraordinary miracles. People were healed without even needing to be touched by him. Articles of clothing that had touched Paul were taken to the sick and demon-possessed, and they were healed and set free—truly amazing.

Why are things like this recorded in the Bible? Are these things included in the Bible for the sake of history only, so that we know what went on in the early church? Surely not! The main reason must be to encourage and spur us on to expect more from God. Our God today is the same God that did these things in an evil, unbelieving city in the hope that it would make them it’s people believe, and this is exactly what we need today many cities spread all over the world. A demonstration of God’s power and love is the only thing that can throw the devil down from his throne. We can't do it with words only—the word of God and miracles must go hand-in-hand.

Miracles only happen where people have faith. Yes, God does miracles to confirm His word and help people to believe, but He doesn't do them where no one believes, or where people are negative and proud. Because of this, we need to do all we can to create an atmosphere of faith, where people are hungry for the wonders of God. When needy people come to God with open hearts, He does great things.

The first century Christians prayed, "Lord… enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus…" and it happened!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

March 12: Vindicate me O Lord!

Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have integrity, and I trust in the Lord without wavering. Examine me, O Lord, and test me! Evaluate my inner thoughts and motives! For I am ever aware of your faithfulness, and your loyalty continually motivates me. I do not associate with deceitful men, or consort with those who are dishonest.  I hate the mob of evil men, and do not associate with the wicked.  I maintain a pure lifestyle, so I can appear before your altar, O Lord, to give you thanks, and to tell about all your amazing deeds. (Psalm 26:1 -7 NET)

We have all found ourselves saying at times, “God, this is unfair, I don’t deserve this!”  A prayer like that can become bitter and self-righteous, blaming God as if He were choosing to treat us unjustly.  But God is never unjust, yet evil does attack those who are righteous before God.  In those cases, this kind of bold prayer is exactly what we need.  

But how do we know that we have the right to be so audacious and demanding of God?  The psalmist lists a few things in this prayer.  He openly tells God that he has integrity.  He has led a blameless life.  That doesn’t mean that he never sins, because all humanity is fallen and sinful, but that he lives as pure a life before God as he possibly can. A man of integrity hates sin and does whatever he can to reject it.  Is that a claim you could honestly make?

He also says that he has trusted in God without wavering, and even challenges God to test him and examine him inwardly if he is somehow being untruthful about his claims. He isn’t afraid to have his faults pointed out, but as far as he knows, he has trusted to the best of his ability.  Though he is a sinner, he can boldly stand before God and say that he has never doubted his Lord.  

Then he states a fact that is crucial to pleasing God: he doesn’t associate with evil people, with deceivers, or false people.  Obviously, claiming to love God while enjoying the company of those who reject Him and His ways, is unfaithfulness to God. It is evil for a servant of God to tolerate evil, just like a wife who enjoys the company of immoral men becomes evil herself. How about you, do you still make the excuse that you hang around those who have nothing to do with God, just because they are family or old friends? You cannot please God when you commune with the darkness. 

When blamelessness, trust, and staying far from those who enjoy evil characterizes our lives, God is pleased with us.  We have the right to demand His arm of rescue in times when the devil swoops in to attack.  The fight against evil is aggressive and bold, but it needs to have a foundation of purity, trust and faithfulness to God in both the good and bad times.  When we have this foundation, our prayers against evil cannot be ignored.  But when our foundation is shaky, even our own conscience knows that our authority against the devil is even more shaky. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

March 11: Strength + loyal love

Men are nothing but a mere breath; human beings are unreliable. When they are weighed in the scales, all of them together are lighter than air. Do not trust in what you can gain by oppression! Do not put false confidence in what you can gain by robbery! If wealth increases, do not become attached to it! God has declared one principle; two principles I have heard: God is strong, and you, O Lord, demonstrate loyal love. For you repay men for what they do. (Psalm 62:9-12  NET)

These verses are about trust and confidence, about the foundation of our lives. Two things are pointed out to be unworthy of our confidence, and one thing that is secure and dependable. Men are unworthy of our ultimate trust. Compared to God they are like a breath, lighter than air. God uses men and women, and you will find some that are trustworthy and good. But we must always be careful because by nature men and women are weak.

Money is not worthy of our trust either. If we get money and possessions dishonestly, they will be a curse to us. Sooner or later we will loose all that we have gained.
And even if we have gained money honestly, through hard work and effort, we cannot make it the foundation of our lives. It will corrupt and deceive us if we put our heart on it. At any time it can be taken away from us. The Bible states that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.

God is the One we must trust in. He is eternal and almighty. His Son Jesus Christ went to the cross for us, and has promised to be with us always. Eternal life is in Him as well as an abundant life now on earth. Two characteristics of God make Him trustworthy—He is strong and He demonstrates loyal love. 

Each one of us has to choose what he or she will trust in. If you choose people or money, you know what’s in store for you. If you choose God, He will even give you the wisdom and discernment to work with people and use money in the proper way. The choice is yours.

Monday, March 10, 2014

March 10: God’s predetermined plan

“Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man clearly attested to you by God with powerful deeds, wonders, and miraculous signs that God performed among you through him, just as you yourselves know—this man, who was handed over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you executed by nailing him to a cross at the hands of Gentiles. But God raised him up, having released him from the pains of death, because it was not possible for him to be held in its power…… This Jesus God raised up, and we are all witnesses of it. So then, exalted to the right hand of God, and having received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father, he has poured out what you both see and hear. For David did not ascend into heaven, but he himself says, ‘The Lord said to my lord, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’” Therefore let all the house of Israel know beyond a doubt that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ.” (Acts 2:22-36  NET)

What a beautiful passage! This is a small taste of Peter’s preaching on the day the Church began for real—the Day of Pentecost. The 120 people in the Upper Room received the Holy Spirit and went out into the street and started announcing the good news about Jesus through the gift of tongues, in various languages. Because of the Feast of Pentecost Jews from many different nations were in Jerusalem, and each of them heard the message about Jesus in their own language. 

Peter’s reasoning is that Jesus’ powerful deeds and miracles, including His resurrection from the dead, proved that He was God… the Christ, the Messiah. This was a very powerful statement for the Jews because they were all waiting for the Messiah to appear and restore Israel. Many Old Testament passages had prophesied about His coming, and because they were once again being oppressed by a foreign power, many must have felt that this was the perfect time for Him to appear. The problem is that most of the Jews did not understand that the Christ would bring long-lasting spiritual freedom, not short-term political freedom.

It’s amazing to think about the greatness and planning of God. By “the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God” Jesus was handed over to the people who crucified Him. His death was no victory for the devil, it had been planned by God and prophesied about for hundreds of years. And even when He was killed, it was “not possible for him to be held” by the power of death, and so He arose on the third day. God’s knowledge and power overpowered Satan and death, and even ushered in the age of the Holy Spirit.

Don’t think that God does not do the same for us today. When everything looks bleak, when the devil seems to have won, God’s predetermined plan, foreknowledge, and power will kick in and turn the tables on Satan and his demons. As long as we believe in the Lord Jesus, we will always win, not matter how things may look at the present moment. But like the kingdom that the Lord Jesus created, physical things are important, but the real treasures we should all be fighting for are the long-lasting spiritual ones. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

March 9: Being one

I am not praying only on their behalf, but also on behalf of those who believe in me through their testimony, that they will all be one, just as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. I pray that they will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me. The glory you gave to me I have given to them, that they may be one just as we are one—I in them and you in me—that they may be completely one, so that the world will know that you sent me, and you have loved them just as you have loved me.  (John 17:20-23  NET)

Here Jesus prays for the unity of the believers of His time, and those that would believe in the future—which includes us. Unity, or being one, is an extremely crucial aspect of the kingdom of God; without it, the Church would fall apart. Father, Son, and Spirit are one, and all who have given their lives to God should also be one with Him and with each other, regardless of race, language, nationality, or background. Our faith in God, and our hunger to save souls should bind us together more than anything else in life. When the church is one with God, His power will flow through us and it will be impossible for us not to make a difference in the world.

Though unity is extremely important, there was no unity between Jesus and the Pharisees and Sadducees. The oneness that Jesus is speaking about is not the popular ecumenical movement that teaches that unity is more important that basic biblical doctrine. We cannot emphasize unity when it forces us to water down our beliefs and compromise on our faith. There are good churches in the world and there are bad ones, and we need to have the discernment to know the difference. We can have unity with strong, sincere Christians, but weak ones need our prayers and help, and even a healthy rebuke every once in a while.

How can we expect to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit when we are not at one with other Christians in our church, and with God? Being one in the Church is not an easy thing, it requires flexibility, forgiveness, overlooking small irritations, and humility. No group of people is perfect; wherever people are there are problems. But in the process of striving for unity we are being perfected.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

March 8: Careless words

Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. Brood of vipers! How can you speak good things when you are evil? For the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart. A good man produces good things from his storeroom of good, and an evil man produces evil things from his storeroom of evil. I tell you that on the day of judgment people will have to account for every careless word they speak. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.  (Matthew 12:33-37 — HCSB)

Jesus had just been accused of casting out demons by the power of Satan because the religious leaders of His time were jealous of the crowds that followed Him wherever He went. Imagine that… the audacity to accuse the Lord Jesus of being a servant of Satan. Whether they understood the full extent of what they were saying or not, they were very careless with their words, and were responsible for turning people away from Jesus. Even though they were leaders of the Jewish religion, their evil words revealed the state of their hearts… in this case “heart” does not mean emotions, but their true inner selves.

If we are Christians, we must be very careful with our words… about the accusations we make, the advice we give, the people we criticize… We could be the “religious leaders” in this passage at this very moment if we are in the habit of planting seeds of doubt because of our own selfish and jealous feelings. With a good heart and good words, we save people, encourage them, tell them the Good News of Jesus, build them up, and heal them. But if we have bad hearts and bad words we will do the opposite, causing people to be spiritually lost. 

Good words however, do not come from newspapers, books, the internet, and movies produced by people who do not know God. Rather they come from God, the Holy Spirit, and the Lord Jesus Christ. The Word of God, the teaching of Jesus, the Holy Scriptures will clean your heart, fill your mind with good things, and enable your mouth to be "a fountain of life."

Every one of us needs to work on this.

Friday, March 7, 2014

March 7: Ask whatever you want…

If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you want, and it will be done for you. My Father is honored by this, that you bear much fruit and show that you are my disciples.  (John 15:7,8  NET)

Most people do not see this verse come true in their lives because they forget the first part of this passage. Jesus said “if you remain in Me and my words remain in you,” then, and only then, “ask whatever you want, and it will be done for you.” To remain in Jesus, to love Him as our Lord and Savior, to put Him first above everyone else, to follow Him each day, to make an effort to honor Him by our words and by our life—this is what God expects of us. He also expects us to make the words of the Lord Jesus the fire within our hearts, the food of our souls, the light to guide our way, the spiritual sword in our hands, and the rock on which our lives are built. When we truly remain in Jesus, and His words remain in us, we will experience power in prayer like never before. Answers to our prayers and requests will be as easy and natural as a father answering the cries of his children.

It’s not easy to live in this world and at the same time keep our thoughts on the words of the Lord Jesus; it’s a real battle. We have to examine every thought and feeling, every word we hear and every situation we find ourselves in. Every minute of the day, if not every second, we are bombarded by messages that are the opposite of what God tells us, and unless we are actively involved in fighting back these thoughts, they will overrun us. The only way to win is to concentrate on Jesus’ words, and step out in faith believing that they will come true for us.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

March 6: Walking on the water

As the night was ending, Jesus came to them walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the water they were terrified and said, “It’s a ghost!” and cried out with fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them: “Have courage! It is I. Do not be afraid.” Peter said to him, “Lord, if it is you, order me to come to you on the water.” So he said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat, walked on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the strong wind he became afraid. And starting to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt.”  (Matthew 14:25-31  NET)

An interesting side note to this passage is the fact that Jesus and His disciples had been busy the day before—healing, teaching, and feeding a multitude—and then were up all night traveling to the other side of the lake. In other versions of the Bible it says that this scene happened during the fourth watch, which would have been between 3 and 6 in the morning. This goes to show how driven and willing to sacrifice Jesus and His disciples were; Jesus wanted to save souls and knew that time was of the essence, and so He pushed Himself late into the night. 

Many people pulled all-nighters of drinking and dancing in the past when they did not know God, but now that they’ve found Him, the idea of spending the whole night in a prayer vigil (an all night service) seeking the Holy Spirit and God’s blessing sounds utterly ridiculous. If this is the case with you, how is that fair? How can we be content to give the devil more than we give to God. How can we be courageous for the devil but not for God. We should be ready to give God much more than we ever gave to the devil.

The incident of Jesus walking on the water and inviting Peter to do the same is an analogy for life. Isn’t this what we should be doing on a daily basis? God calls us to believe that He will enable us to do what could never normally be done. When we focus on Him, and trust in His Word, we will be able to walk on the water, but when we take our eyes off of Him, look at the winds and the waves, at how impossible it is to do what we are doing, we will sink. No matter how strong you are, you cannot overcome when you focus on the negative, on your problems. This destroys the strongest among us. Yes, the winds and the waves are there, but if we want to overcome, we have to focus on Jesus and His promises. This is not foolishness, it is faith.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

March 5: A refuge in times of trouble

The Lord also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. And those who know Your name will put their trust in You; for You, Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You. Sing praises to the Lord, who dwells in Zion! Declare His deeds among the people. When He avenges blood, He remembers them; He does not forget the cry of the humble.  (Psalm 9:9-12  NET)

King David was a warrior who spent much of his time outdoors planning and fighting battles, and throughout his writings he uses images from nature to describe God’s care and protection. In this passage he speaks about God being a refuge: an inaccessibly high and secure place. David had experienced this for himself many, many times. He had fought impossible odds, and found himself in situations that most people would not have be able to escape from. From experience he knew that he needed much more than a mountain fortress or cave to keep him safe, he needed God Himself. But as he states here, this is a characteristic of God Himself; He knew that just like God took care of him when he was oppressed, God would take care of us too.

Many people have heard about God, have attended church now and again, and have prayed when they were in trouble, but this does not mean that they “know” God’s name. When a person “knows” God’s name, he is convinced about His faithfulness and proves that his trust is in Him by his actions and the choices he makes. When we “know” God we have a deep conviction about how he has never, and will never forsake those who seek Him.

If you have been tempted to doubt God, or to blame Him for the troubles in your life… stop the despair, hopelessness, and fear right away! Don’t surrender to the demonic thoughts swirling around in your head—don’t give in to the devil. Today’s passage, and other similar passages, should be what you choose to fill your mind with, because only thoughts like this will fill us with hope and courage. Millions of people could have written today’s passage as a testimony to what happened in their lives, and what God has done for others, He wants to do for you.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

March 4: Take courage…

I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In the world you have trouble and suffering, but take courage—I have conquered the world.”  (John 16:33  NET)

To understand the full meaning of what Jesus is saying here you will have to read chapters 13 to 16. But the main points He made in the previous chapters concerned His resurrection from the dead and triumph over evil, His sending of the Holy Spirit as a Comforter and Helper, and how they were to use the name of Jesus when they prayed. Because of all this, today’s passage tells the disciples that they should be at peace. Though trouble and suffering were all around, they were to sense the peace of Jesus Christ within. Courage should be their response, no matter their feelings or the situation, because Jesus had already conquered the world. He had faced and experienced the worst that the world and the devil could offer, and had still overcome.

The peace that really counts is the peace that exists between us and God. When we have a clear conscience, when we are clearly heading in God’s direction regardless of the mistakes we make along the way, we have the peace and confidence to cry out to God for justice and help. Whenever that peace is damaged by sin and disobedience, whenever we are not heading in God’s direction, but living for ourselves or for the world, there is no peace between us and God. Our prayers are weak; we have no certainty of God’s answers; we experience trouble and suffering on the inside.

Remember that the flipside of peace is war, just like the flipside of love is hate. Peace can only exist when we are ready to go to war to defend it at any moment, and love can only exist when we hate whatever tries to interfere with that love. If we try to be peacemakers all the time, even with the devil and sin, whatever peace we achieve will be ungodly and weak. That is not true peace at all.

Do you have the wonderful peace that the Lord Jesus speaks about in this passage? His peace will make you strong and empower you to conquer all enemies and situations.

Monday, March 3, 2014

March 3: A doubter believes

Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he replied, “Unless I see the wounds from the nails in his hands, and put my finger into the wounds from the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe it!”  Eight days later the disciples were again together in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and examine my hands. Extend your hand and put it into my side. Do not continue in your unbelief, but believe.” Thomas replied to him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are the people who have not seen and yet have believed.”  (John 20:24-29  NET)

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead was too much for Thomas to believe, he needed to actually see Jesus for himself. Mercifully, Jesus appeared to all the apostles one week after His resurrection and first appearance. He knew what Thomas had said and invited him to do exactly what he had said he would need to do. No doubt Thomas fell on his face before Jesus to acknowledge Him as his Lord and God; what had seemed impossible to him was now a reality that he could not doubt. At that point, all eleven of the apostles were actual physical witnesses of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.

Our faith in Jesus has a solid foundation. The apostles, and many others, saw Jesus after His resurrection. They announced the resurrection and endured intense persecution for the rest of their lives because of it; their willingness to be martyred for their faith speaks volumes about the truthfulness of their testimony. But in today’s passage a special blessing is pronounced upon those who have not seen and yet believe. That blessing is for you, for us; though we have never physically seen Jesus, we believe. Yes, our faith rests on the solid foundation of the historical witness and evidence of the apostles, and the early Church, and on Old Testament prophecies about the resurrection of Jesus, but most of all it rests upon our own experience of the living Jesus in our lives.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

March 2: Persistence in good vs. self-seeking

He will reward each one according to his works: eternal life to those who by perseverance in good works seek glory and honor and immortality, but wrath and anger to those who live in selfish ambition and do not obey the truth but follow unrighteousness. There will be affliction and distress on everyone who does evil, on the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, for the Jew first and also the Greek. For there is no partiality with God.  (Romans 2:6-11  NET)

Though eternal life and salvation are gifts of God and can never truly be earned or deserved, following God does not come without effort. Following God demands perseverance, and seeking the good things in life above everything else. Though we can never merit salvation, and can only receive it by faith in Jesus’ work on the cross, true faith and belief go far beyond empty declarations and church attendance; true belief in God triggers a radical change in our lives that places Him at the center.

The big difference between people is what they seek. When we seek our own will, do as we please, try to satisfy all our own desires, and make ourselves the center of everything—we bring the wrath of God down on our heads, and walk down a path that leads to every kind of evil, and to destruction. But when we seek God and His will, try to follow Him by means of His Son Jesus, endeavor to forget about ourselves and help others—this is good and leads to immortality and glory.

Life and death are standing in front of us; every person chooses his or her destiny. God wants all of us to be saved and to have eternal life, but He will not force us to accept and follow Him. You must make that choice for yourself not just once, but every day of your life. If you choose to do evil, are self-seeking, and rebellious toward the truth, you will experience the wrath of God. But if you trust Jesus as your Savior, and devote your life to doing good, there will be glory, honor, and immortality for you.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

March 1: God or money

“No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” The Pharisees (who loved money) heard all this and ridiculed him. But Jesus said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in men’s eyes, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly prized among men is utterly detestable in God’s sight.”  (Luke 16:13-15 NET)

This passage was written in the days when slavery was widespread. If a man was a slave, his master had complete control over him—his time, his work, his life—everything. It would be impossible to belong to two masters. Jesus uses this comparison to tell us that we cannot serve, we cannot be a slave, to both God and money. The false god that competes with the true God most often is money. Men and women will do anything for money, but they will not do anything for God. Money is not evil in itself; it only becomes evil when it is our master instead of our servant. Money is evil when it takes the place in our hearts that should be reserved for God alone.

Notice that the Pharisees, who were guilty of this sin, sneered at Jesus. They would not accept this warning from Him, and were sure they did not have this problem; they found some way to justify themselves and what they were doing. They were the recognized religious leaders of the day, who taught people about God and were supposed to be examples. The people may have been deceived by them, but not God—He knew their inner secrets. With their mouths they were saying "We love God', however in their hearts money was their real love. 

So the big question is: Which god will we worship and serve? —the eternal almighty God who can provide for us now and forever—or the false god Money who corrupts and destroys all who love him! We need to honestly evaluate ourselves and what is of supreme importance to us. How do you use the money you receive? Do you enjoy giving to help others and the cause of the Lord Jesus Christ? 

Giving is the test of how we think about money.

February 28: Known + recognized by demons

Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists attempted to pronounce the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I command you by the Jesus that Paul preaches!” Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. The evil spirit answered them, “I know Jesus, and I recognize Paul — but who are you?” Then the man who had the evil spirit leaped on them, overpowered them all, and prevailed against them, so that they ran out of that house naked and wounded. This became known to everyone who lived in Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. Then fear fell on all of them, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. And many who had become believers came confessing and disclosing their practices, while many of those who had practiced magic collected their books and burned them in front of everyone. So they calculated their value and found it to be 50,000 pieces of silver. In this way the Lord’s message flourished and prevailed. (Acts 19:13-20  HCSB)

This is the only instance that the term “exorcist” is mentioned in the Bible. Whenever Jesus or His disciples dealt with demons this term was never used, the Bible simply states that they “cast out” or “drove out” demons. This is because what Jesus did was based on spiritual authority, whereas exorcism relies on ceremony and ritual—one works, the other does not.

Not only did the sons of Sceva make the mistake of thinking that demons could be cast out by rituals, they ordered the demons to leave in the name of “Jesus that Paul preaches”… not in the name of Jesus that they believed in. The results were devastating, not because Jesus’ name had no power, but because they did not believe in Jesus themselves. 

Do demons know or recognize you? They knew Jesus and recognized Paul in this instance, but did not know the seven brothers. Most people would probably say that it’s just fine for them to go unrecognized by demons; they mistakenly think that not being on demons’ radar is a good thing, that life will go easier, that they will have less problems. But in fact, the opposite is true. Demons respect nothing but power, and we have to confront them face to face like Jesus and the disciples did, get their attention and prove that we are stronger than them, anything less and we are asking for trouble. We need to be known and recognized by demons, it’s a sign that our faith is on fire, that we have a presence in the spiritual world. We have no example of demons attacking and overpowering Jesus or any of His disciples because they used their authority—the demons were no match for them.

“You must not bring any abhorrent thing into your house, or you will be set apart for destruction like it,” (Deut.7:26) is an important verse to keep in mind. Just like these people got rid of valuable books on magic, not by selling them but by burning them, we should also have the same spirit. Anything that belongs to the occult, psychic phenomenon, Wicca, the horoscope, etc., or any images that have to do with worship, witchcraft, or other gods should be destroyed regardless of their value. Certain things serve as open doors for evil to come into our lives, and if we want to be free we have to be very clear about where our loyalty and faith lie.

This does not mean that we necessarily have to laser off tattoos, burn old photographs, and get rid of everything that pertains to our lives before Jesus. If something can be used as part of our testimony to prove where we came from and how much God has done for us, we should probably hang on to it. In this instance, we are not tempted to worship or follow these things, we are only holding on to them to make our testimonies more genuine.