Sunday, August 31, 2014

August 31 – How to find our healing

Now all discipline seems painful at the time, not joyful. But later it produces the fruit of peace and righteousness for those trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your listless hands and your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but be healed.  (Hebrews 12:11-13 NET)

As parents we all know how necessary it is to discipline our children – and how difficult it is too.  There is a stretch of years when it seems like all we do is say “No.”  We force them to eat right and forbid them to eat too much junk food, we tell them to go bed when they don’t want to, threaten to withhold privileges if they don’t clean up their rooms, and then pull their warm sleepy bodies out of bed to dress them for school on cold winter mornings.  It’s not easy being the one who has to discipline, but it’s all a part of a parent’s responsibilities.  They may cry, complain, and look at you with pitiful expressions, but without discipline your children will never develop the strength and maturity to live full and productive lives.  You may know some parents who never discipline their kids, and the results are disastrous. Children suffer terribly for lack of loving discipline.  

But to God, we are all children — a bit self-absorbed, very emotional and always asking, “Why?” It’s sad that we can demand respect from our children when we discipline them, and then turn around and treat God with suspicion and lack of trust when He disciplines us.  How often do we think that God doesn’t love us anymore, or that He is unfair?  Our problems would be resolved so much faster and easier, if we used His weapons, tools and promises with gratitude, without the drama and complaints.

Some parental discipline comes in the form of punishment to correct bad behavior.  But most discipline is just to help our children develop healthy habits that will bless them.  Not all of our struggles are because we have been “bad” children.  It’s a fact that we always need to mature, no matter how long we’ve served God. 

Those who do well with discipline, just like with our kids, are those who obey quickly and make every effort to change out of love and respect for their Father.  God’s promise is that our listless hands, our weak knees, our lame joints may be healed.  Submit to God’s loving correction, and become stronger.  God can’t bear to see His children handicapped, so He puts us in situations that stretch us and force us to exercise faith and obedience to Him.  We may feel alone like a child sent to school on his first day, but God is a better parent that any of us. He watches over us 24/7, ready to teach us, give us His power, and rescue us.  God heals, so let’s be quick to listen and obey to find our healing. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

August 30 – Building + fighting

The work is demanding and extensive, and we are spread out on the wall, far removed from one another. Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, gather there with us. Our God will fight for us.  (Nehemiah 4:19,20   NET)

After 70 years in exile, the Israelites finally found favor with the king of Persia to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple that had been mercilessly destroyed by the Babylonians.  These Israelites were a humbled people.  They learned the hard way that God’s presence was not something to be treated lightly.  What they longed for more than anything was to rebuild the House of God.  If they could worship and sacrifice to Him again, they knew that everything else would come together.

But the time of persecution was not yet over.  Though they were free to return home and rebuild, the surrounding nations that had settled in the abandoned land of Israel were now jealous that they were taking back their homeland.  They ridiculed the small band of Jews that had straggled in from Persia.  The Jews had to trust that God was with them despite their enemies’ threats and contempt. The men that set to work on reconstructing the walls had a double job.  They had to stand watch with weapons strapped to their sides in case their enemies staged an ambush.  It was stressful, and at times they almost despaired that rebuilding would be impossible, but God was faithful to keep their enemies at bay, and the temple was rebuilt to His glory.

This story mirrors our own lives spiritually speaking.  Many come to church like those Jews who were hungry and thirsty to find refuge in God’s House.  But they have enemies that want to discourage, ridicule and ultimately destroy them.  Our enemies are the negative thoughts in our heads that we’ll never be free, the old sins and temptations of addictions, the unkind words of family and friends, the fears that we are too weak, that we have no right to claim freedom when we’ve made so many mistakes in the past.  The devil and his demons know just how to push the right emotional buttons to make us feel unable to rebuild, and the temptation to give up and go back to the way things were, can feel so compelling.  But just like Nehemiah and his men, we have to gather together, to be in one accord and one faith, and God’s promise is that He will fight for us!

Friday deliverance services in church combine perfectly with Wednesday and Sunday services to seek the presence of God, two actions that we continually need to encourage if we want to enjoy a life of success.  Is the life you’re trying to build up always getting knocked down?  Are your life plans always getting ambushed by problems?  Jesus said, “Watch and pray.”  Stand guard against attacks, and seek God’s presence at the same time.  Fight ruthlessly against Satan, and surrender thoroughly to God.  God is sounding the trumpet to gather with others in the same faith and in the same fight.  Don’t ignore His call, you can’t fight this fight alone, let Him fight for you! 

Friday, August 29, 2014

August 29 – Joining God in the fight

I will break Assyria in my land, I will trample them underfoot on my hills. Their yoke will be removed from my people, the burden will be lifted from their shoulders. This is the plan I have devised for the whole earth; my hand is ready to strike all the nations.”   (Isaiah 14:25,26  NET)

If you have suffered under the yoke or burden of the devil, God’s will is for you to be set free.  This type of suffering is not God’s will for your life.  Following God does involve a yoke and a burden, but they are beneficial to us; they help to keep us on the right path.  God’s yoke is easy, and His burden is light (Matthew 11:30).  Living by faith, denying the flesh, living in obedience to Him, living by reason and not feelings, are all hard and can be called yokes, but they are completely different from the burdens the devil places on us.  The large majority of people in this world are suffering under the yoke and burden of “Assyria” or the devil, but unless they identify their problems as conflicting with God’s will and originating from Satan, they will continue to suffer without any hope of relief.

God is speaking to His people who are suffering under the yoke and burden of evil.  Though they believe in Him and know Him to be God, somehow evil has made its way into their lives and they are suffering.  A yoke creates pictures in our minds of people who feel forced into doing what they do not want to do, who feel that their strength and energy is being sucked out of them, depleted by demonic forces and situations that they feel tied down to.

God is speaking to His people who feel burdened, who feel a heaviness on their shoulders.  Though they sleep, they do not feel rested.  Though they work, have families, own houses, have health, nothing makes them happy.  Life is a burden.  They don’t look forward to the future; the future seems to be a burden to be endured.  Some have suicidal thoughts because the fatigue that comes from carrying around this burden 24/7, 365 days a year, is too much.  It is painful simply to think of continuing one more day.

For others, the yoke or burden may not be unbearable or drive them to thoughts of suicide and depression, but if they are honest, they will admit that they are being severely held back in life.  These people could be doing much more, could be much better testimonies of the power and greatness of God, but instead their lives are mediocre and plain.  They are good people, they are not involved in any great sins, but they are clearly not sold out for God either.

Whatever our yokes and burdens, “the plan that God has devised” is to strike with His hand and break the yokes and throw off the burdens of His people.  In fact, the next verse in this chapter uses God’s title of “Lord of Hosts”, or “the Lord who commands armies.”  In others words, when it comes to yokes and burdens from the devil, God becomes a god of war, the Commander of His army of angels.  When we join God in this fight, this revolt against yokes and burdens, we are guaranteed to win!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

August 28 – The power of the One who lives in you

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live even if he dies, and the one who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”  (John 11:25-26   NET)

This was the topic of our study Wednesday night as we have been going through the seven “I Ams” of Jesus in the book of John.  Though Jesus was referring to His own resurrection coming up, He was also talking about something more.  Though He was referring to the resurrection of all believers who will spend eternity in heaven, He was still talking about something more.  He wasn’t speaking only of resurrections that were going to happen, He was talking about who He was.  He said, I AM the resurrection. I AM the life!

When we live in Him and believe in Him, the life and resurrection power that is part of who He is, also become a part of who we are.  What was once dead in us, can be brought to life against all odds, because the Resurrection and the Life, dwells inside of us.  For those who have spiritual eyes and ears, this is mind-blowing.  This knowledge could transform you right now as you read this, if you have an open heart to receive what God is telling you through this passage.

Think about areas of your life that you have accepted as dead and gone, areas that could have been great blessings, but have turned dry.  What relationships have become bitter, perhaps because of your own mistakes, or because circumstances overwhelmed you?  What standard of living have you given in to because you see no way of rising above it?  What if you’ve tried your hardest to extract yourself from a painful situation and nothing worked, and have assumed that God wanted you to suffer the shame of that failure in silence?  Perhaps your image of God has been distorted and does not line up with what Jesus is saying here.  If He dwells in you, resurrection power dwells in you.  What is dead can and should come to life. 

There’s an old thought that if God wanted to resurrect aspects of your life, He would have done it already.  You’re right – and He did it already, 2000 years ago. He died and rose again to purchase your authority over all evil, and over all oppression.  But resurrection will only be seen when your faith causes you to live in the reality of Jesus’ promises.  You have a choice to be complacent and to accept the dead and fruitless areas of your life as unchangeable.  Or you have the choice to let your faith rise to that audacious level of believing that the dead will come back to life.  If He is the resurrection and the life, and if you live and believe in Him, then that power lives inside of you.  You are the one who needs to tap into that power by determining that His Word will come true in your life.  That pleases God more than any song of praise you could sing.  Living out His promises draws you closer and closer to Him.  But the question that Jesus asks here still remains. Do you believe?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

August 27 – Rescued from trouble

The godly cry out and the Lord hears; 
he saves them from all their troubles. (Psalm 34:17 NET)

When I am asked why God doesn’t rescue godly people, I know I’m being asked a loaded question.  Behind this question are hidden fears that God doesn’t care, or that His promises are meaningless, or that His promises are meant for others, and not for us.  This short and powerful promise of rescue is from a God who really does care, is meant to be taken literally, and is meant for all who are both godly, and who cry out.  

In the book of Genesis, Joseph rescued his family from a terrible famine, and brought them to Egypt where their needs were provided for.  But God’s people didn’t go back home after the famine.  They remained in Egypt for many generations and dabbled in idol worship there, even though they knew they were to be separate for God. They eventually became slaves, brutally oppressed and mistreated in a foreign land.  Over 400 years passed before God heard their cries, but when He did, he immediately sent Moses to rescue them.  Was God uncaring for 400 years, or were His promises empty?  The problem was, that though He had chosen them, they had chosen not to be godly and not to cry out.  It took them 400 years to turn back to Him.   

There is a difference between routine, mediocre prayers, and prayers of faith.  The cries of the godly are powerful cries of revolt against evil.  The cries of true believers always bring about results.  True believers aren’t perfect – they’re just those who steer clear of the world’s principles and solutions, and who seek God above all.  They place a high priority on remaining uncontaminated.  They refuse to tolerate the things of the devil.  

If you find that your prayer life has devolved into an ordinary recitation of, “God bless this, and God help me with that,” but has no life, no revolt and no conviction, it’s time to awaken that dormant faith that God has given you as His gift.   If you find that you are enjoying flirting with the things of the world and are being drawn into it’s mindset, then it’s time for a radical cleansing of a contaminated heart.  We all need to be rescued from trouble; none of us can afford to waste time like the Hebrew slaves. The promise that God will rescue you from your troubles is meant for now, today.  Choose to become a godly one who cries out to Him, and you’ll see this promise come true in amazing ways.  

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

August 26 – The touch that heals

When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she kept saying, “If only I touch his clothes, I will be healed.” At once the bleeding stopped, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Jesus knew at once that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?”   (Mark 5:27-30  NET)

We normally assume that anyone who reaches out to touch Jesus will be healed, but that was not the case in Capernaum on this particular day.  There was a multitude around Jesus and many must have touched Him, but the touch of one sick woman was clearly in a category all its own because Jesus immediately turned around and ask who had touched Him.  Her touch was so potent that Jesus instantly knew that power had left His body (Luke) but since she had touched Him from behind, He hadn’t seen her. Only when she stepped forward and told Him the whole story did He know who it was that had been healed.

There are so many things to learn from this woman’s example.  First of all, it was “illegal” for her to approach and touch a prophet or man of God since her hemorrhage made her ceremonially unclean according to the Law of Moses.  Whoever she touched would become unclean for a day, which meant that God would see them as unclean and their prayers would go unanswered (so the logic went).  So it took a lot of courage for her to enter the middle of a crowd and push her way toward Jesus; if anyone recognized her or discovered that she was bleeding, she would have been severely criticized and driven away, maybe even physically harmed.  Besides that, she must have felt weak because of her loss of blood.  But in spite of all these real obstacles, she decided to push her way through the fear and uncertainty and weakness because what she wanted was worth any sacrifice or pain that she would have to endure.  This type of attitude always impresses God, drawing us close to Him.

Secondly, this woman determined beforehand what was going to happen when she touched Jesus’ cloak.  She kept repeating the phrase, “If I only touch his clothes, I will be healed.”  This is real faith!  There was no doubt in her words, no room for argument or “what ifs.”  She decided that if she was able to get close enough to touch Him, there was no way she would not be healed.  And so, when she did actually touch Him, even before He knew she was there, while His back was turned, power left His body and she knew that she was healed.  Her audacious step of faith created a vacuum that God’s power immediately filled, and the spirit of infirmity that had troubled her body, finances, and spirit for twelve long years was finally defeated.  Having the courage to determine what is going to happen by faith is also an attitude that God cannot ignore.

An interesting note is that Mark did not use the normal word for healing in the recounting of this story.  Rather he chose a work that doubles for “heal” and “save.”  This woman was not only asking for the healing of her hemorrhage, she was asking for Jesus to “save” her.  After twelve long, hard years of illness, of neighbors turning their backs, of spending money on fruitless doctors’ visits, she must have felt beaten up physically and spiritually, and so she not only needed healing, she needed salvation too.  What an amazing walk home she must have had… a new person inside and out!

Today’s promise is: If we only touch Jesus, we will be healed.  But we can’t touch Him in an ordinary, casual way.  We need to reach out to Him with courage and determination, with the full assurance that we will not go home the same.

Monday, August 25, 2014

August 25 – You will see greater things

Nathanael asked him, “How do you know me?” Jesus replied, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel!” Jesus said to him, “Because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” He continued, “I tell all of you the solemn truth - you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”  (John 1:48-51  NET)

Whatever Jesus was referring to with His comment to Nathanael, it was so powerful that it immediately convinced him that He was the Messiah.  He must have been meditating on the coming of the Son of God, or asking God for a sign when Phillip called him, because as soon as Jesus said that He had seen him under the fig tree, all of Nathanael’s previous skepticism vanished.  A few minutes before he had questioned whether anything good could come from Nazareth, but immediately after Jesus spoke, all those doubts were erased.

Anyone who has accepted Jesus as his or her Savior has gone through a similar experience to Nathanael.  Something convinced us of our need for God.  For some it was seeing a demon manifest, or hearing a phrase in a pastor’s message.  For others it was a word from a stranger handing out flyers, or the testimony of a dear friend.  Others were struck by a sense of their own sinfulness, and their need of Jesus’ forgiveness.  For C.S. Lewis, it was a late night conversation with a friend.  When he got into the sidecar of his brother’s motorcycle several days later on a trip to the local zoo, he did not believe that Jesus was the Son of God, but by the time they had arrived, he did.  For Evelyn, it was a prayer she made when she was twelve on a walk home from school, after her Sunday School teacher had spoken about Jesus in a way she had never heard before.  Whatever our own personal story of conversion, we have all been blind, but through an amazing work of the Holy Spirit our eyes were opened to the truth.

Though conversion has to be one of the most significant miracles in our lives, Jesus’ words to Nathaniel were: You will see greater things than these.  Our conversion is only the beginning, the first step in what should be a series of changes that transform us into powerful examples of God’s greatness.  Though today’s passage is the only mention of Nathanael in Bible, besides the various listings of the twelve disciples, church history tells us that he went on to accomplish great things for the kingdom of God. In the same way, we need to be determined to make a difference in this world, building on the foundation of our conversion.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

August 24 – God’s chosen people

This letter is from Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ. I am writing to God’s chosen people who are living as foreigners in the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. God the Father knew you and chose you long ago, and his Spirit has made you holy. As a result, you have obeyed him and have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ. May God give you more and more grace and peace.  (1 Peter 1:1,2  NLT)

The Old Testament repeatedly spoke of God’s “chosen people”.  They were to be a special people chosen out of all the other peoples of the earth to be a beacon of holiness and power, a people that manifested the glory of God, a testimony that would cause other nations to be drawn to God, and a people whose morals and ethics would convict the world of its sin.  But even in the Old Testament, the chosen people were not limited to the physical descendants of Jacob, anyone that submitted to circumcision and to the Law of God could also become an Israel.  That’s why we see Naaman, a Syrian army general, being healed by Elisha even though he was a non-Jew, and Ruth and Rahab becoming important figures in the story of the children of Israel — the first was a Moabite, a the second was a resident of Jericho as it was about to be destroyed. 

But here, Peter uses “chosen people” in the New Testament sense, meaning all who trust in the Lord Jesus as their Savior and live by faith.  Just like the Jews scattered throughout the cities of what is now modern-day Turkey, we are also called to live like foreigners in this world, surrounded by people we refuse to imitate, living lives that appear strange and different, at times even being persecuted for our beliefs.  We are God’s people.  We don’t belong to the world, and we cannot be bound by its urges and desires.  God has called us to live like foreigners in this world.

Long ago God knew us and chose us — before we knew Him, before we were even born.  The way we are living right now (if we life by faith) is something that He determined would happen many years ago, but could not do until we responded to Him in faith and humility, turning from the flesh, and choosing to sacrifice our lives for Him.  Just as being a part of the nation of Israel in the past demanded obedience to God’s Law, and rejection of God by His people brought on suffering, spiritual decay, and oppression by their enemy neighbors, being a child of God today also demands that we respond in faith and obedience.  Jesus said that many are called but few are chosen, and we show that we are chosen when we respond to Him in faith and obedience, and continue in that faith and obedience for the rest of our lives.

Out of the 7,000,000,000 plus people in the world, God sees you and me as His chosen ones, as a special people — not because we are the most beautiful and intelligent — but because we have humbled ourselves before Him and are continually striving to have His nature. 

August 23 – The key to rising above

But I say, live by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh.  For the flesh has desires that are opposed to the Spirit, and the Spirit has desires that are opposed to the flesh, for these are in opposition to each other, so that you cannot do what you want.  (Galatians 5:16-17 NET)

What a relief!  We now have a way to keep ourselves from falling into sinful habits — that is, living by the Spirit.  This is not just for those who have been baptized in the Holy Spirit, but for anyone who wants to draw closer to God and to eventually be baptized in His Spirit.  We can choose at any moment, in any circumstance, to either act on the fears or pride or anxiety of our flesh, or seek to line ourselves up with the desires and thoughts of the Spirit, and act on them.

The tough part is that living by the Spirit means squelching feelings that rise up against the truths of God.  But this is the key to rising above our problems, and letting God resolve the things that we can’t.  

The addict, the habitual liar, the abuser, the person who has a sin that they just can’t shake off, can find freedom from their flesh quickly by choosing to live by the Spirit.  12-step programs can only take a person so far by focusing on their self-control to deny their addictions.  But God is offering something much greater.  His own Spirit will enable us to escape the onslaught of temptations that the devil brings.  When we daily seek His wisdom, make deliberate choices to think His thoughts, and act as He would want, our flesh becomes weaker and weaker.  

This is how merciful and loving God is.  He knows we are weak, and He knows how ruthless our enemy’s tactics are.  So He calls us to live by His Spirit, not to merely obey Him by our own strength, but to allow His strength to become a part of us.  It begins with denying our flesh, but once we’re in that mode of the Spirit, the struggle against sin, worry, fear, addictions and everything else becomes dim and less powerful than before.

The more often we dwell with God, the closer we get to being baptized in His Spirit, when He fills us and flows into us.  Read on through the rest of this chapter and learn more about the fruit of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit to better acquaint yourselves with how you can begin to live in the Spirit.  Realize that there is no middle-of-the-road.  If we are not living in the Spirit, we are unwittingly allowing the flesh to turn us against God’s Spirit. It’s the default mode of our sinful nature, that if we aren’t purposefully seeking Him, we are sliding into the devil’s territory.  

It doesn’t feel like the easier way at first, because the denial of our flesh always hurts, and the flesh knows how to throw a tantrum. But once we kill our flesh and choose the Spirit, life becomes smoother, kinder and far more joyful.  We always wonder why we hadn’t chosen the Spirit sooner, so what’s stopping us now?

Friday, August 22, 2014

August 22 – A promise too good to be true?

If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands, I will send you rain in its season, and the ground will yield its crops and the trees their fruit. Your threshing will continue until grape harvest and the grape harvest will continue until planting, and you will eat all the food you want and live in safety in your land.  (Leviticus 26:3-5 NET)

Doesn’t that sound wonderful?  Rain that nourishes all that we plant will cause our plans and projects to yield great returns.  As we are working on bringing in the returns from one project, the returns from another will be ready to enjoy, and we will have all our needs met in abundance and safety. It almost seems too good to be true!

This feels like an unreachable dream for so many, and we all know people who believe in God who struggle daily to get by on the little they earn.  How could this be a real promise and not just some fantasy?  Was it only meant for those Israelites at that particular time in history, since plenty of sincere Christians today aren’t seeing it happen at all?

First of all, we need to agree on one thing.  The Word of God is true.  Period.  Secondly, the people of God today are those who live out a practical faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord.  God’s promises to His people in the past are the same to His people now.   And thirdly, our definition of a “true believer” may not be the same as God’s definition. 

The beginning of this beautiful promise states, “If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands…”  Let’s examine ourselves and see if we are careful to obey God in all we do.  Who hears God urge them to sacrifice fleshly habits but then insists on doing them anyway?  Who allows fears and anxious emotions to run rampant without rebuking them in faith?  Who tolerates evil in their families or even in their own hearts and makes the excuse that they are “only human?”  Who opts for sleeping in/something fun/family functions/headaches/bad hair days or other mundane distractions, over coming to God’s house to hear His Word?  Who hates the thought of giving offerings and tithes, but does it anyway so no one will suspect their bad attitudes? 

We may like to paint a pretty picture of how much we love God, but it’s in the deep motives and choices we make in our hearts.  Nothing is hidden from His sight, and Satan knows full well whenever we give him room to settle into our lives. 

Why be a superficial Christian and settle for scraping by, if God is offering such an abundant life?  Begin by examining yourself.  Ask your pastor for counsel if you need to get an outside perspective on what you might be getting wrong.  This promise is for you, and maybe the only thing you’re getting wrong is that you aren’t fighting in faith and determination that it truly is for you.  The God of Moses’ time didn’t promise this only for the ancient Hebrews.  Jesus says to us now, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10 NASB)

August 21 – As I have planned

The Lord of hosts has sworn: “As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand.”   (Isaiah 14:24   ESV)

Why would God feel the need to swear, to make an oath?  He cannot lie.  Whatever comes out of His mouth is trustworthy and true.  A verse in Romans three says that even if everyone else is a liar, God is true.  So why did God feel driven to swear?  He did this for us.  
Nowadays people only make oaths in court, when they are called to be a witness, placing their hand on a Bible and swearing that what they are about to say is the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  If they are caught in a lie after making that oath, they can be jailed for perjury.  In the time of Isaiah it must have been similar.  Oaths were solemn promises that could not be broken, and making an oath was a way of proving to others that what you were about to say was the truth, very similar to signatures today.  If a person signs a contract, a check, or a credit card receipt, they will be held accountable for those charges, or for whatever obligations they have agreed to in the contract.  It is not a minor thing to sign a contract and then change your mind and decide not to honor it.  And so, when Almighty God spoke these words almost three thousand years ago, He had all this in mind.  He swore in order to get our attention and to demonstrate the seriousness of the words He was about to speak.

We can interpret the phrase, As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand, as a guarantee that what God has promised in His Word will come true.  We cannot waffle when it comes to His promises — either the Bible is the actual voice of God and is true in every respect, or it is a big, fat lie.  We cannot read a promise and decide that God wants to do one part and not the other, or that He wants to fulfill that promise in other people’s lives but not ours.  The things that God has planned and purposed (His promises) are not there to make us feel good, they are there because God is ready to move heaven and earth to make them come true, however big or small. 

Another way to interpret this phrase is to view it as God’s example for us.  As children of God we are extensions of Him — we are His voice in this world, His hands, His feet.  As His children we are called to imitate Him, and to walk in His footsteps. And so, this verse is a glimpse into the way God’s mind works.  He makes plans, decides on a purpose, and then they become reality.  This has nothing to do with positive thinking or pop-psychology. This is entirely about determining through faith that the will of God is going to be accomplished in our lives.  When we plan something, using our faith in God, we have to rise to another plane of thought and reality.  Faith cannot function when we have the world’s mindset.  Faith demands that we raise our concept of reality, that we look with spiritual eyes and see things that cannot be seen by the average person in this world.  Faith sees our plans as sure things, as already being accomplished.

The one thing that can throw a monkey wrench into all of this is for us to shy away from making plans and purposes.  Faith requires boldness and audacity.  Faith requires belief in a strong God that will keep His word.  My prayer is that you will start planning.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

August 20 – How to tangibly bless God

The one who welcomes you welcomes Me, and the one who welcomes Me welcomes Him who sent Me.  Anyone who welcomes a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward. And anyone who welcomes a righteous person because he’s righteous will receive a righteous person’s reward.  And whoever gives just a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is a disciple—I assure you: He will never lose his reward.  (Matthew 10:40-42 HCSB)

This is just one of various times when Jesus taught that how we treat others is how we also treat God.  We have opportunities every day to tangibly bless God, care for Him and show our love to Him as if He were right in front of us through the way we treat others. Jesus says that as we do this, we not only do we welcome Him, but we also welcome God the Father.  

The word “welcoming” can easily be mistaken to mean bringing someone into your home.  Jesus is not just referring to hospitality, although that is one way to bless a servant of God.  It’s when we welcome the wisdom, spirit, encouragement, or even the rebuke of a man or woman of true faith that we are promised to receive the same blessings as that prophet or righteous one.  Recognizing the presence of God in another by showing kindness and respect honors Jesus, which honors the Father, and in the end, rewards us with blessings of the same caliber as they deserve.

We can argue that we should have noble motives to always do what is right regardless of whether we receive blessings, and ideally that’s true.  But throughout both the Old and New Testaments, God calls us to seek the rewards that come from obedience.  No matter how mature and spiritual we may think we are, God still sees us as children, as very simple-minded sheep who need constant guidance and rewards to do what is right.  If God sees us that way, we should accept the fact that we may not be as smart and noble as we’d like to imagine!

In the final verse, Jesus is referring to His twelve disciples, and calls them “little ones.”  They were the men who would later establish the first century church, be persecuted and tortured, sacrifice their lives for the Gospel, and turn the world upside down for Jesus.  But at that time they didn’t yet have the baptism of the Holy Spirit and were still making a lot of foolish mistakes.  Yet Jesus knew that His little ones were going to become great heroes of faith.

Let’s see each other in the best light as possible, to see the presence of God in those who are truly in faith, and to welcome them as if we are welcoming God.  Even giving a cold cup of water to a man or woman of faith (not just pastors, anyone of faith) is an opportunity for you to be blessed.  And for those of you who truly love and serve God with all your hearts, allow other people to be blessed as they bless you!  Let your light to shine so that others can see God in you, welcome you, and receive a reward from God because they responded to His light.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

August 19 – Do not be afraid!

Aren’t five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten before God. In fact, even the hairs on your head are all numbered. Do not be afraid; you are more valuable than many sparrows.  (Luke 12:6,7  NET)

The coin referred to in this verse is the small Roman copper coin called the assarion.  It was a half hour’s wage of a common worker (a sixteenth of a denarius).  If five sparrows could be bought with two assarion, this meant that no living animal was cheaper than a sparrow in the marketplace.  In the same way, no one in their right mind would ever think of keeping count of the hairs on his/her head.  Each one is of so little value, and counting them would take so long that it wouldn’t be worth the time. Jesus is making the point that the most insignificant things are noticed and even valued by God.  If God cares about hairs on our heads and sparrows, how much more does He care about us, the pinnacle of His creation? 

In Isaiah 49 the same theme is echoed: Can a woman forget her baby who nurses at her breast?  Can she withhold compassion from the child she has borne?  Even if mothers were to forget, I could never forget you! 

How do you feel when someone complements you, or expresses how important you are to them?  When your boss gives you a raise because of your excellent work, all of a sudden all pressure and hard work are worth it.  When a husband looks into his wife’s eyes, and tells her with sincerity how beautiful she is and that there is no other woman in the world for him, the joy and confidence she feels is indescribable. (Husbands, did you get that?)  But today’s promise is far, far greater than these things.  The Creator, God Almighty, is telling us that we are more important to Him than anything else, and that His great love for us drives Him to watch over the smallest details of our lives.

God wants us to fear losing our salvation, to be afraid of drifting away from Him, not to be afraid of our problems or of what other people can do to us.  In a world where fear is at epidemic levels, and hundreds of thousands medicate themselves in a futile attempt to calm their fears, we are called to trust completely in our Savior, and in His great compassion and care for us.  Jesus is encouraging us to live in a constant state of confidence and joy in the fact that Almighty God loves us and is looking out for us.  When we do, we will not be afraid!

August 18 – God’s view of things

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t be impressed his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. God does not view things the way men do. People look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”  (1 Samuel 16:7  NET)

Why does God bless some people and not others?  Is it fair for God to use some people to a greater degree than others?  The way some people speak, you would think that God was racist or prejudiced, purposely blessing some people over others because of what they look like or where they are from.  But God is not a man to be influenced by emotion and prejudice.  He sees everything; what we cannot see because of the limitations of our flesh, He can see, and because of this His plans and ways are far superior to ours... even mysterious.  Though His actions may seem wrong, backwards, or uninformed at first, time will show that He had a much greater degree of wisdom and understanding than we could ever imagine having.

Today’s promise says that God does not view things the way men do, and that is such good news!  He does not look at outward appearances, but at the heart.  This is great for some people, and a bummer for others.  For those whose hearts are pure and who want to please God, even though they trip and stumble at times, and though their sincere efforts turn out very wrong every once in a while, God sees their heart, their motives, and gives them credit even though they don’t yet look that great on the outside.  One repeated teaching of the Bible, Old and New Testaments, is that we should strive for inner beauty, for circumcision of the heart, not outward shows of holiness.  And so for those who are not pure of heart and who live for themselves all the while pretending to serve God, this verse us bad news.  He knows exactly who they are.  Nothing is hidden from His view.

The context of today’s passage is this: God had just rejected Saul as king and had sent the prophet Samuel to Jesse’s house to anoint one of his sons as king.  Jesse had eight sons and as soon as the firstborn walked in Samuel’s first thought was “That is the next king!”  But God quickly spoke the words of today’s promise to him, reminding him that he was only looking at a handsome face and a strong body, and that he needed to look deeper, and wait for His guidance.

It turned out that David, the youngest of the eight, had not even been called back to the house to be presented to Samuel.  He had been left out in the field tending his father’s sheep, while the remaining seven brothers had all been presented to the prophet.  They were all handsome and strong, all looked like potential kings, but God rejected them because of their hearts, their spirituality and mindsets.  Only when David walked in did God command Samuel to get up and anoint him as king.

We all need to take good care of our bodies — eat well, exercise, take care of our appearance — and develop our talents at our jobs, businesses, and homes.  But the most important area of our lives is our innerselves.  What we do is not as important as who we are.  What we do is not as important as why we do it, what our motives are.  Though it may seem that God is unfair at times — I know I’ve had that thought many times — the truth is that we do not have all the facts.  If we want God to do more, we need to make sure our hearts and minds are pure, and we have the right motives.  If we want to see more from God, we have to give more.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

August 17 – Who’s the cold-hearted one?

I will be like the dew to Israel; he will blossom like a lily, he will send down his roots like a cedar of Lebanon.  His young shoots will grow; his splendor will be like an olive tree, his fragrance like a cedar of Lebanon. People will reside again in his shade; they will plant and harvest grain in abundance. They will blossom like a vine, and his fame will be like the wine from Lebanon.  (Hosea 14:5-7  NET)

At the time that Hosea had made these prophecies, Israel had become wealthy and politically savvy in bartering and trading with foreign nations, but their faithfulness to God was corrupted by their prosperity.  They strayed far from God, worshipped false gods, indulged in the immorality of Baal worshippers, and had rejected the One who had protected them for centuries.  

Throughout Hosea, God rebukes His people and warns them of the terrible consequences they would face if they did not repent.  They were embracing evil, and devastating evil was about to come upon them.  Not long after Hosea’s prophecies, the nations of Israel and Judah fell to the invading Assyrians and Babylonians and the temple of God was left in ruins.  God’s people were slaughtered, scattered as slaves, and treated as worthless plunder, all because they didn’t see any need to repent.

But God already had a plan to rescue them, even though He knew that they would remain hard-hearted.  He knew that repentance would come, but it would only occur to them after suffering pain and shame.  Some critics complain that God is harsh and cold-hearted, but the truth was that His own people had turned cold-hearted.  They brought about their own destruction because of their selfishness.  Even so, God was ready to bring them back to Himself once they did what they should have done all along – repent.

In the midst of Israel’s stubborn rebellion, God is speaking of the day when He will be like a refreshing dew to His people, how they will not only be strong and magnificent, but that all those who gather in the shade of His people will be abundantly blessed as well.  He’s loving and eager to bless them, He’s compassionate and caring - the same God we worship today.

What does that mean for you and I?  Ignoring repentance may be sustained for a while, but the longer it’s ignored the more authority we give the devil over our lives.  Before we know it, destruction is in us, and all around us, because we brought it upon ourselves.  But the answer is to repent – even when we fear that it’s too late.  God is dreaming of the moment when you will finally turn to Him, in all your filth and foolishness He’s ready to transform you into something strong and beautiful, to refresh you and even use you to bless others.  Don’t wait to clean yourself up first. Drop everything you’re doing at this moment and turn to Him now.  If your repentance is real, you’ll be amazed at how quickly He will restore you, and how different your life will turn out because of it. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

August 16 – Abiding in God’s shadow

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in Him I will trust.”   (Psalm 91:1,2   NKJV)

As the most famous chapter on God’s protection begins it doesn’t state that this blessing is reserved for the perfect or the good, as we might expect.  So often we feel unworthy of God’s help because we do not measured up, because we are not as good as others, or because at some point in the past we made some very bad choices.  When we are the most needy of God’s protection, we can be the most condemning of ourselves, killing any chance of climbing out of the hole we are in.

In a very interesting way, the Holy Spirit begins this chapter by pointing out that it is those who dwell in the secret place of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, that receive His protection and help in times of trouble.  God knows better than any of us that we will never be perfect.  Though one or two of us might measure up in our own eyes, no one measures up in God’s.  But that’s not what God is looking at.  He wants people who run to Him in times of trouble, who abide in the shadow of His wings, who see Him as a secret place where they can hide and be safe from the storms of life.

Later in the chapter it speaks about the arrow that flies by day, the pestilence that walks in the darkness, and the destruction that lays waste at noon day — no matter what time of day or night, trouble can appear and threaten to take away everything we have.  Even at 12-noon when the sun is at its brightest, demons have the audacity to come out of their hiding places and attempt to destroy us, and the only real protection in those times is God… His shadow, His secret place.

But what does it mean to dwell or abide in God?  Clearly it doesn’t mean going to a certain place or meeting a certain person.  The church many times feels like being in the shadow of the Almighty, like the secret place of the Most High.  In reality, dwelling in God means turning away from evil, worry, fear, bad friends, inappropriate conversations, uncontrolled anger, and any other attitude or action that goes against God’s  commands.  99% of the time, abiding in His shadow means ignoring our feelings and standing on the promises of God.  This is a hard thing to do, one of the hardest in this world, because so few people are doing it.  Many talk about trusting in God, but for the large majority its just a cute saying that soothes their consciences, not something they live by.  But this is our challenge. 

God’s protection is yours, His full protection, as long as you dwell in Him and run to be under His shadow.  Do this… do a better job of this, and I guarantee you will see amazing results.

Friday, August 15, 2014

August 15 – An unheard of compassion

He will not break a bruised reed, and He will not put out a smoldering wick; He will faithfully bring justice.  He will not grow weak or be discouraged until He has established justice on earth. The islands will wait for His instruction.  (Isaiah 42:3-4 NET)

God is speaking through the prophet Isaiah about the coming Messiah.  He would be a man of compassion.  He would also be relentless in His task to bring justice to all the earth.  The islands that wait for His instructions, represent the foreigners, the Gentiles who will also be included in His salvation. This, of course, is our Lord Jesus who would be born in Bethlehem hundreds of years after this was written.

The gods of all the nations around Israel at that time, and even leading up to the birth of Jesus, were generally demanding, ruthless and unpredictable.  They were (and are) demonic spirits masquerading as “gods” to keep their followers in bondage, because any spirit that is not the Spirit of the One True God, is a spirit of evil.  Even though these gods could grant favors and even perform supernatural signs and wonders, they were always selfish.  The kings and rulers of these nations behaved much as their gods did, as money-hungry, power-grabbing tyrants.  

The idea that God Himself would come to earth as the Messiah to establish justice for the worthless and rejected, was unheard of.  He cared even about the one who was barely alive.  The smoldering wick represented the life that seemed completely hopeless, about to be snuffed out.  A common weed that grew in the wilderness would be noticed and cared for, even though it was bruised and wounded.  This God and King was to be a Savior whose eyes of compassion were on every creature great and small, ready to give aid to the needy and new life to everyone who accepted it.

No matter how successful a person may feel about himself, there are always aspects of weakness in everyone.  Often the most confident looking people have deep hidden failures and frustrations that they would never dare reveal. We are all bruised reeds, and we are all smoldering wicks without the new birth that comes from the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  We all need justice established in our lives, because the devil has made sure to find ways to steal, kill or destroy whatever he can from the time we enter this world.  

Jesus promises to be caring and compassionate, to fight for our freedom, to make sure justice is done. God’s justice is very practical, and spiritual, higher that the worldly idea of politics or crime fighting.  Relationships that have been stolen from us, our health, peace of mind, opportunities, approval, and sense of self-worth that the devil has torn to shreds, are to all be restored to an even greater degree than that was taken.  And our tormenters, the devil and his demons, will face the wrath of God’s punishment.  But we who live for Jesus as our Lord, become new creations, where everything is changed and healed.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

August 14 – An unlikely candidate

Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this household, because he too is a son of Abraham! For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.  (Luke 19:9   NET)

Jesus spoke these words to one of the most unlikely people.  In fact, when Jesus invited Himself to this man’s house, the crowd complained, asking how He could sit down and eat a meal with such a sinful, corrupt man.  But throughout the Bible, God picks some of the most unpredictable people to do His greatest work.  He chose Moses, a stutterer, to go and speak to the leader of the world at the time.  He chose David, an inexperienced boy of around fourteen, to fight a trained and seasoned warrior-giant, a man that no one else in the army of Israel had the courage to fight.  He chose an eighty-nine year old woman, whose body was as good as dead, to give birth to a boy that would become the heir to God’s promises to Abraham.  And this is only three examples… there are so many more scattered throughout the Bible.

Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector, which means he was a traitor to his people, had turned his back on God and the Temple, and was a thief.  Most people would have turned up their noses at him, and refused to be his friend, but Jesus saw that he had climbed a tree to catch a glimpse of Him, and so He stopped to invite Himself for lunch at his house.  Immediately we see why Jesus picked him out of the crowd, because he quickly accepted the invitation and invited a lot of other needy people to the join them (his tax collecting colleagues).  Then, in the middle of the meal Zacchaeus stood up in front of everyone and declared that he would immediately give half of his possessions to the poor, and that he would pay back anyone he had defrauded, four times the amount they had lost.  According to the Law of Moses he only needed to give back what he had taken with 20% added to it, but Zacchaeus went much further than that.

This was a litmus test moment.  From that moment on Zacchaeus’ life must have taken a radical turn for the better.  Jesus saw such a transformation in his inner being as he stood up and made that public declaration, that He made a bold declaration Himself, that he and his family were saved.  Even before his family showed any signs of wanting to change, Jesus knew that they would. What their father and husband had just done was so earthshaking that it was guaranteed to effect his entire home.

By speaking that one sentence Zacchaeus had made a 180 degree change in his life.  A man who had once loved money and done anything to get it, and who had become rich, was ready to lose it all in exchange for salvation.  During Jesus’ dinner conversation he must have realized that he was a poor man and needed to become rich, spiritually rich.  And because he gave up his greatest love and was replacing it with God, Jesus knew that he was saved, and would eventually save his entire family.

This is what happens when we experience the new birth.  Whatever used to be number one in our lives is demoted to some other place, and God is put in first place.  Radical changes like this are hard, but they bring amazing results.  No one I’ve met who has truly been born of God has ever regretted giving up their old life and treasures in exchange for salvation and becoming a child of God.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

August 13 – Get rid of the old

So then, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; what is old has passed away - look, what is new has come!   (2 Corinthians 5:17  NET)

The message that Jesus came to proclaim to the world was that it is now possible to be born a second time and become a new creation.  This was not possible in the Old Testament, even though we have examples of men and women of faith who lived before the Lord Jesus came to the world, that did great things and who lived holy lives even though they were surrounded by unholy people, and lived in pagan societies.  Though they serve as examples for us, and manifested courage, determination, and faith to a very high degree, they had not been born a second time.  They were spiritual, but we cannot say that they were born of the Spirit because that only became possible with the life and death of the Lord Jesus.  How blessed we are to live in this age, in a time when we can all be born of God and receive the baptism of the Spirit.

Only after Jesus had made His sacrifice on the cross and defeated sin and the devil, was it possible for people to be born of God.  But we cannot become new creations unless we are willing to die to our old lives, just like Jesus did.  Though many people call themselves Christians, and say they are born again and filled with the Spirit, these things cannot happen unless we die to our own will and to the flesh.  The idea that a person can go to church, confess his sins, sing hymns to God, greet his friends with a smile, and then go home or to his job and be the same old person that he has always been, is a lie straight from the pit of hell.  God demands that we take on His nature and become brand new creatures.  He cannot, and will not, be content with our old lives that easily fall into sin and crave the things of the flesh.  God forgives our sins and loves the sinner, but despises sin itself.  So if we are complacent about sin, thinking that He will always be there to forgive us no matter what we do, and if we expect His total forgiveness even though we are not even trying to live new lives, we are being deceived by the devil.

We are not saved by our works.  Salvation is a free gift for all who place their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. But, a sign of salvation and of being close to God is good works.  If we are baptized in the Spirit we will have the fruit of the Spirit, and if we have experienced the new birth, we will have our Father’s nature — His mind, His desires — because every true child resembles his parents.

If you cannot say that you are a new creation, and if people around you cannot confirm this about you — your family, friends, neighbors and coworkers — then there is something seriously wrong with your life and with the way you are serving God.  Being new creatures is the most natural thing for people that surrender their lives to God.  It takes work, but it is something that we desire, something we cannot be content without, something we are ready to sacrifice for.

If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation… and if anyone is the same old creation, he is NOT in Christ.  If you find that you are not in Him, run to Him now.  Repent of your sin and pride, and grab a hold of the Lord Jesus with all your strength.  It’s the most important thing in life.

August 12 – Who’s up for an experiment?

Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men, knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord. You serve the Lord Christ.  (Colossians 3:23-24 HCSB)

Today as you are busy about your usual routine, stop and think about your attitude and motives.  God is telling us to be enthusiastic, whatever you do.  Whatever, basically means everything.  Many Christians know this verse and wish that their children or spouses or coworkers would put this into practice, but how many of us convince ourselves that God couldn’t possibly expect us  to be enthusiastic in the situation we are in right now.

“Yeah, but I have a boss that is so unfair.”  “Yeah, but my mom is so annoying,”  “Yeah, but this job is so oppressive.”  Every “yeah, but…” is just one more way for the devil to steal away the reward God wants to give you.   

The key is in knowing that whatever we do is to be done for the Lord and not for men.  If you have an unkind boss who is difficult to work with, put your best into the job anyway with a smile and a determination in faith to resolve all problems and issues that crop up, and do it not because your boss deserves it, but as an offering to God.  If you, as a student who still lives at home, has to deal with parents who don’t understand you, be the most thoughtful and obedient son or daughter you can be – not to win brownie points with them, but with a pure heart of offering your life to God.  

God wants us to raise our eyes above all the pettiness of this crooked world and see that there is a world of perfect peace and justice that we can be a part of.  When we work for Him, we allow Him to rescue us from injustice or misunderstandings or any kind of oppression.  But when we operate in our flesh, we have a huge battle against the negative thoughts that flood our minds when we see the sinful behavior of others around us.  And who knows, maybe even you are a frustrating and difficult person to be around too!

This may sound hard to do, but it actually lessens your load.  As you practice doing all you do as an offering to God, you no longer have to agonize over the bad attitudes of everyone around you, because your attitudes have become pure.  God takes care of the rest.  The promise is that you will receive a reward of an inheritance from the Lord.  An inheritance is only given to rightful heirs of a kingdom or estate.  God will look at you as a true heir who He can reward with His own riches and blessings.  You become royalty in His eyes, and have access to power and opportunities that faithless people can’t touch.  

God loves to reward His children, and asks us to seek His rewards by obeying Him.  Let’s all do an experiment throughout this week by choosing (not an emotional exercise, but a mental one) to be enthusiastic about all we do as an offering to our Lord Jesus Christ who we love, and just watch how very different our lives become. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

August 11 – Are we ready?

I testify to everyone who hears the prophetic words of this book: If anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book. And if anyone takes away from the words of this prophetic book, God will take away his share of the tree of life and the holy city, written in this book.  He who testifies about these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.”  Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!  (Revelation 22:18-20 HCSB)

This is the risen Jesus speaking through the apostle John, about 60 years after Jesus had returned back into heaven.  He is now on the throne at the right hand of the Father, glorified and exalted above all powers.  His promise to us here, is, “Yes, I am coming quickly!”  Time in God’s eyes is not the same as for us.  Many other verses in the Bible urge us to be ready at any moment for His return, because He is coming like a thief in the night.  Many will be unprepared for Him.  Eternity will be before them, and it will be too late. Our task is to live in total surrender to Him now, so we won’t be among those who say, “Wait! I’m not ready!”

But I wanted to include these verses that precede this promise.  They are the strongest warnings about how we are to treat the Word of God.  We are not to add to, or subtract from God’s Word.  Everything that we are to base our lives on should be in line with the entire teachings of God’s Word.  We are not to pick and choose the comfortable sections and ignore the challenging ones like we would pick over produce at the supermarket.  We have an obligation to know who God is and what He wants from us by knowing the entirety of His Word.  

Sadly many Christians make it a practice to exclude the commands of God that don’t mesh with their lifestyle.  Tithing, sacrificing their old lives, striving to obey, pursuing holiness, faithful commitment to the gathering of believers, submitting themselves to the authorities God has placed over them, and many other inconveniences are simply ignored.  But for us to be welcomed blameless into God’s Kingdom, it is of utmost importance that we treat His whole Word, both Old and New Testaments, as holy and vital for daily life.  

There are various religions, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholics and others, who have actually inserted extra writings and books into the Bible that are not God’s Word at all.  The proponents of these religions will have to deal with the implications of God’s warning sooner or later.  But this warning is not just for organized religions who physically insert pages into the Bible.  This is for anyone who refuses to acknowledge the entirety of the Word of God.  For those who choose to ignore God’s teachings, or reinterpret them to agree with their fleshly desires will have these plagues to face.  Salvation can be removed from them because they traded what was true and holy for their own foolish version of “wisdom.”

Jesus is coming soon, it’s a promise!  Let’s be vigilant to know Him and serve Him to the best of our abilities.  No one wants to be caught off guard on the day that will change all that exists. Let’s all be able to say, Amen! Come Lord Jesus!    

Sunday, August 10, 2014

August 10 – The rewards of seeking refuge

May the Lord reward you for what you have done, and may you receive a full reward from the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge.   (Ruth 2:12 HCSB)

This was a blessing spoken over Ruth, a destitute widow born into a pagan home and brought to Israel by her mother-in-law who had also lost her husband and sons in a foreign land.  In the social ranks of Israel, you could say that Ruth was at the very bottom of the totem pole.  A gentile, widowed, childless, and dependent on a woman who had also suffered terrible losses.  They both appeared cursed by God.  But Ruth was an extraordinary woman.  Instead of focusing on her horrible misfortune (as her mother-in-law tended to do), she was grateful for her amazing good fortune to be allowed to live in the land of God’s chosen people.

Ruth knew she deserved nothing, but she had the greatest respect for the God of Israel.  She didn’t waste time moaning out of pity, or waiting for others to give her charity.  When her husband died, she could have returned to her parents’ house, but she wanted to find and know this God of Israel.  She worked diligently, served her mother-in-law with great respect, and consistently behaved with good character and integrity.  God noticed, and made sure that His people noticed as well.  As usual, God turned everything around because of her pure heart. Ruth married a wealthy and godly man named Boaz, a leader in the line of Judah, and she entered into the ancestry of King David, and Jesus Himself.  The verse above records the words of her future husband Boaz when he first spoke to her.

It’s so common for us to waste vast amounts of time on petty complaints and self-pity.  We may not speak these complaints outwardly, but we mull over them in our minds, allowing them to ferment and poison our emotions so that real faith has no room to take root.  Ruth had every reason to wallow in self-pity, but instead she only thought of the blessing of being in the land that worshipped the true God, and she did all she could to immerse herself into that world.  Each of us has the same opportunity to immerse ourselves into God, into His Word, into His ways.  We have His principles laid out before us, and if we delight in practicing them, we are promised to be rewarded.

God was speaking this blessing through Boaz, so pleased that this young widow from a far-away land chose to seek refuge under the wings of the God of Israel.  When we consistently run to God and seek his protection, and do all we can to obey and honor Him, He is truly pleased.  That simple decision gives us favor with both God and with others.   Rewards, blessings and honor beyond our expectations are given to us in return.  And if you want, the story of Ruth can become your story as well.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

August 9 – Being unshakeable

For who is going to harm you if you are devoted to what is good? But in fact, if you happen to suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. But do not be terrified of them or be shaken. (2 Peter 3:13-14 NET)

Have you ever found yourself in a position where you were being accused unfairly?  Have you felt anger and frustration at the fact that evil was appearing to win while goodness and truth seemed to be tossed to the side?  Well, this is nothing new.  The Christians in the first century went through much worse hardships for their faith that we ever have.  Peter is teaching a truth here that we all need to hold onto and believe in the darkest and heaviest moments of our lives: who is going to harm us if we are devoted to what is good?  

God promises that if we are devoted to Him, to His truth, to His ways and to His honor and glory, than nothing can harm us.  Our blessings and our favor with God can never be destroyed because He sees all that is going on, both in public and in secret.  We may suffer being misunderstood or falsely accused, and even though to all appearances we may look as though we are defeated, we are in fact the most blessed of all people, and we need to hold onto that promise with all we’ve got.  If we are being persecuted for what is right, God will see to it that the truth will be made known.  

Peter knew exactly what he was talking about.  He had been imprisoned for his faith, but had seen an angel unlock the doors of his prison and lead him straight past the jailors who didn’t even see him walk by.  The angel led him right out of the city gates to be able to safely escape to the local church where the members had been fervently praying for him.  He had suffered injustice, but he ended up being blessed and honored by God.  This is our God today!  He is telling us not to fear anything or anyone who comes against us unfairly.  The promise is not just for those who “do good,” but is for those who are devoted to what is good - devoted to living in God’s ways and principles.  

Your safety against the evil and injustice of this world doesn’t just come from a good lawyer or a family that will stand up for you.  Our only security comes from the Spirit of God, and that can only happen when we are first and foremost devoted to Him.  If you treat God as your sovereign Lord and Master, than you can take this promise literally in every situation.  Don’t be terrified, and don’t be shaken.  You have a mighty God fighting for you and who promises to bless and protect you from all harm.