Wednesday, December 31, 2014

December 31 – Letting Him guide you home

They cried out to the Lord in their distress; he delivered them from their troubles. He calmed the storm, and the waves grew silent.  The sailors rejoiced because the waves grew quiet, and he led them to the harbor they desired.  (Psalm 107:28-30 NET)

A sailor has to patiently endure his long journey at sea until he reaches land.  No matter how skilled he is, the anxiety to finally find safe harbor is present every moment of his voyage.  But when storms throw him off course, threatening his life and the safety of his boat, distress and panic can be overwhelming.  Many of us have felt that same sense of distress.

Jesus once traveled on a ship that was manned by skilled fishermen who found themselves caught in a violent storm.  The Bible says that they despaired for their lives and were certain that they would die.  With waves battering their ship and wind tossing them around, they looked for Jesus and were astounded to find Him asleep.  When He stood and commanded the winds and waves to be still, they were amazed that He had power even over the forces of nature.  This is our God, our Savior.  He has power over the storms that threaten us all.  

This promise is even more beautiful than the miracle of Jesus calming the storm.  Not only will God deliver us from storms of life that terrify us, He will guide us to the safe haven of our desire.  He’ll take us to a place where we can be protected and secure – a home.  

If you feel like you’re in the middle of some sort of storm in your life, that you fear the worst and that only God’s intervention can rescue you, believe in this promise now.  Don’t dwell on how violent the threats are around you or how long and persistent the storm has been.  Don’t be impressed with the devil’s illusion that he is more powerful than God.  Set your mind on the truth of God’s word, that if you cry out to Him, He will calm the storms and deliver you from your troubles.  That place of peace and safety that you long for will be yours as He guides you to it.  And as He is guiding you, don’t resist.  Perhaps a habit of resisting His guidance is why so many storms have overtaken you.  Allow Him to be in control, and this time your obedience will bring you peacefully home.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

December 30 – Dry your tears

The Lord says to her, “Stop crying! Do not shed any more tears!  For your heartfelt repentance will be rewarded.  Your children will return from the land of the enemy.  I, the Lord, affirm it!”  (Jeremiah 31:16 NET)

One thing I often do that can seem very insensitive, is to tell people who I counsel to stop crying.  The reason isn’t because their crying bothers me or that they need to just suck it up and act tough, it’s because God promises to reward them if they turn to Him.  “For your heartfelt repentance will be rewarded,” He says.  God promises to do more than comfort you, He promises to take away the reason for the tears and restore those things that the devil has stolen from you.

It’s a common thought that we all need a good cry now and then to feel better.  But year after year of tears, of mourning the loss of a stable family, happy children, innocence and dreams that were wiped away – none of those tears get to the root of the problem.  They only prolong the pain.  One goal of the devil is to destroy our faith and keep us in a perpetual state of hopelessness and depression.  Our tears give pleasure and sustenance to the devil.  He feeds off of our misery and even make us proud of the fact that we have been his victims for so long, so we’ll keep feeding him more bitter tears.  If we can carry our Bible around, underlined and dog-eared, quoting scripture and full of self-pity, we can be the devil’s poster-child for a defeated Christian to block the salvation of many.  

Refusing to shed tears is an act of faith, of determination that God’s promises will come true and are coming true for you.  You may look around you and still see your child in trouble, your job situation unchanging, and your future unsure.  But by faith, you can determine what your future will be – one that reflects the power and promises of God.  You may not know exactly how it will happen, but to live in that state of expectancy and assurance is what pure, unadulterated faith is.  

Don’t wait for your circumstances to change before you start to rejoice and praise God for what He is doing.  Don’t act as if being miserable or grumpy is your God-given right.  You have the power of faith that can move mountains, and if God already plans to restore you, begin to do what He needs to make that happen.  Repent of your fleshly attitudes, or any other sinful behavior that is in your way.  Even if your own children are being held captive in Satan’s territory, they will be brought back to you.  Faith doesn’t depend on perfect circumstances or cooperating emotions.  It just believes against all appearances and all odds.  Dry your tears, don’t give any more pleasure to the devil.  Know that God is affirming to you today that your repentance will be rewarded.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

December 27 – Not an exaggeration

If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.  (John 15:7 NKJV)

As kids we’ve all imagined what it would be like to be granted a wish, find a genie in a bottle, a fairy godmother, an elf or leprechaun with magic powers.  With the innocence of childhood to believe in anything, along with that na├»ve greediness to want everything, we’d picture mountains of candy, worlds of talking toys, and endless summer vacations.  As we’ve gotten older and common sense has kicked in, we know that’s just the stuff of fairy tales.  Real life, for most, is just hard work and hoping for the best.

But here Jesus is promising something that seems too good to be true.  He’s promising that whatever we desire will be done, clear and simple.  If that were so, Christians around the world would be living the most amazing and outstanding lives.  Whatever they desired, they would get.  But we look at our neighbors who might be doing okay, some a little better than the average family, and others less so, and we conclude that Jesus must have been exaggerating.  Worst of all, we look at our own lives with the hidden struggles and urgent needs.  We pray, and then wonder where our answers are.  We silently concede that Jesus really must have been exaggerating. 

But the word of God trumps all else.  God does not exaggerate.  He says, if you abide in Me, and My words abide in you.  That means allowing His nature, Spirit to come alive inside of us.  His Word has to be alive in our heads, convicting and guiding us every day, comforting us and being the first thing we run to when we have a need.  Only a living being can abide somewhere, but many who call themselves Christians treat Jesus and His word as a philosophy that they merely agree with.  Their days are filled with busy work, obligations and responsibilities that keep their minds occupied with “reality.”  They don’t really abide in Him and His word rarely enters their conscious thoughts.  In turn they don’t get what they desire, because their desires are so full of the flesh.  When God graciously grants them a blessing, they’ll even take the credit for themselves.

Just as Jesus asks us to work out our salvation daily, this state of abiding in Him has to be a daily practice when we reign in our impulses and calm our thoughts to make sure that we are abiding, dwelling, living in Him, and His word in us.  Even the most spiritual person has to work at this, and sometimes he’ll miss opportunities from God – not because he’s sinning, but because he has forgotten to simply abide.  I would love to see our desires come true, wouldn’t you?  Jesus is showing us that He desires to grant us what we want.  It’s time that we put abiding in Him as our top priority every single day.

Friday, December 26, 2014

December 26 – Does He delight in you?

He rescued me from my powerful enemy and from those who hated me, for they were too strong for me.  They confronted me in the day of my distress, but the Lord was my support.  He brought me out to a spacious place; He rescued me because He delighted in me.  (Psalm 18:17-19 HCSB)

Can you say that God delights in you?  What would make God feel so strongly about you of all people?  Psalm 147:11 says, “The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him, in those who hope in His mercy.”  Those who fear Him have a deep respect for Him and live in obedience to His word, and those who hope in His mercy, trust that He will show them lovingkindness.  

It should go without saying that in contrast, God can’t delight in you when you live by knee-jerk reactions and selfish excuses for why you can’t obey Him.  Instead, fear His awesome power so that you carefully obey Him and live each moment in submission to Him, and trust in His great mercy so that when problems arise, you can determine your miracle before you see it.  This choice causes God to look on you with great delight, with a desire to rescue you from powerful enemies.  

God doesn’t promise that enemies won’t try to attack, or that we will never be hated by others.  I have heard Christians judge others for not being spiritual enough because they stir up the anger of others.  Jesus stirred up anger and He had plenty of enemies.  Of course we need to make sure that these negative reactions are because of our love for God, and not because we brought them on by our fleshly behavior.  But being attacked by family, friends, coworkers, or total strangers when we live in obedience to God’s word, can’t throw us into fear because of their hostility or rejection.  With negative accusations swirling around us, He promises to be our support.  He’ll lift us out of that oppression and set us in a spacious place where there is peace and freedom.

It goes against all our instincts to remain calm under fire, whether it’s a physical threat or emotional.  Our minds race to figure out what’s going on and how to stop the attack.  Those who aren’t spiritual even try to appease their enemies out of pure fear, and that’s when the distinction is made between a true and false believer.  Do you fear your enemies more? Then you’ll try to please them by buying some peace.  Do you fear God more?  Then you’ll stand your ground and obey Him in obedience and trust.  It’s in these moments of crisis that your true faith becomes evident.  Though you may wrestle with temptations of doubt, your final decision to remain in faith, to hope in His mercy and to never deny Him becomes the catalyst for your rescue in your day of distress.  

Be aware as well, that not all enemy attacks come through people who are against you.  Satan is the true enemy, and though he does use weak people, he can also attack through circumstances and what may appear to be just plain bad luck.   No matter what the attack or from what source, you are promised support, rescue and a spacious place to enjoy the presence of God.  Be sure that you that God delights in you.  Choose Him over all others, even in your day of distress.

December 25 – A ritual, or prayer of defiance?

Therefore, you should pray like this:  Our Father in heaven, Your name be honored as holy.  Your kingdom come.  Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  (Matthew 6:9-10 HCSB)

This is the most well known prayer in the Bible, recited by millions in and out of churches around the world.  Jesus gave it to us as a model for sincere, effective prayers, but unfortunately it has turned into a robotic ritual for most believers, for many, a way to earn brownie points with God if they repeat it often enough…

But there is something powerful in verse 10.  Jesus wants us to expect that what is done in heaven should be done on earth.  God’s will in heaven is being accomplished in its fullness.  There is no pain, no suffering, there is abundance of light, joy, faithfulness and honest obedience to the Lord.  Heaven is perfection, and Jesus wants us to pray for that to manifest here on this fallen and sinful planet.  Why would He ask us to pray for this if we aren’t to determine that it’s possible?

Of course we know that evil is in the world and that Satan and his demons will only be thrown into the lake of fire when the final judgment comes.  But Jesus wants our lives to begin reflecting the Kingdom of Heaven right here in our own lives, in our own homes.  We can’t save every single soul and ensure that everyone serves God with every fiber of their being – we have a hard enough time daily carrying our cross and working out our own salvation “with fear and trembling” as it is!  (See Philippians 2:12)  But we can allow the will of God in heaven to materialize in and around us in such a way that others can see the reality of God in us.

If heaven is incompatible with addictions, depression, defeatist attitudes, loneliness and misery, then we can’t cave in to the thought that these things are inescapable. Demons are at work to keep us enslaved to their way of life and to convince us to be tolerant and patient.  Meanwhile Jesus wants us to look to heaven as our standard.  He wants us to live in a piece of heaven right now in this life, and He wants us to pray for it, to fight for it, and to accept nothing less.  He obviously doesn’t want us to imagine that it will magically happen because we are good or because we are believers, because He commands us to pray for it to happen.  Our fight and determination to overcome is part of faith and our key to opening the way to the Kingdom of God.

“Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” is a prayer of defiance against the devil’s dominion over this world.  It is a prayer of taking back what is rightfully ours, by the shed blood of the Lord Jesus.  While most make this prayer in the faint hope that perhaps God might deem us worthy of a few scraps from heaven, Jesus’ meaning was of a completely different nature.  Learning from all that He taught His disciples on healing the sick and casting out demons, on rebuking false religion and challenging a radical faith that believes without seeing, Jesus had no interest in teaching rituals with no substance.  Understand that today, Jesus has given you the authority to take back the freedom that God created you to have – right here on earth, as it is in heaven. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

December 23 – A victim of demons

Then shouldn’t this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be released from this imprisonment on the Sabbath day? (Luke 13:16 NET)

Within this question of Jesus, is a statement – a promise.  He had just come across a woman who had such an extreme curvature of the spine that the Bible says she was bent over double.  She had come to worship in the synagogue, so we know she was a devout believer in God.  Jesus had compassion on her, knowing that she had been suffering from this condition for 18 years.  The Bible says that her disability was caused by a spirit.  A demon was working inside of her body to create her sickness.

Most average Christians will concede that demons do exist, since the Bible talks about them.  Some believe that demons no longer work in people’s lives as they did in Bible times, since we now live in a technologically advanced world, which is laughable, since spiritual beings are far more crafty and powerful than our measly inventions and scientific advances.  They are spirits, eternal beings that Jesus said would only be cast into the lake of fire after the final judgment.  They are just as prevalent as ever, and have even evolved and advanced along with us.  Other Christians however, (and I used to be one) believe that if a demon were to work in a person’s life, it would only be because that person was inherently evil and had willfully invited that demon to enter them.  

But Jesus found this poor woman coming to worship God on the Sabbath, in the synagogue.  Jesus refers to her as a “daughter of Abraham,” in other words, a true woman of faith.  So how could a woman like this have a demon in her body?  She wasn’t known to be evil or defiled, otherwise she would never have been allowed into the synagogue at all.  The only evidence of the demon’s presence, was her spinal deformity.  Jesus recognized that she was a victim of a demonic attack. A victim whom Jesus loved and had compassion on, and immediately he commanded her to be set free.  The demon was cast out, she stood up and began praising God for her healing.

In this simple story, God reveals to us these five things.  1. That demonic spirits will viciously attack anyone, even “good” people who have always believed in God.  2. That what may appear to be ordinary sicknesses or problems, can very well be caused by demons.  3. That Jesus sees these demonic attacks as a form of slavery and imprisonment, and totally against the will of God.  4. That He came to give us power over these spirits, to cast them out to be set free.  5. That people with religious spirits (like the Pharisees who criticized Jesus for healing on the Sabbath) will always feel threatened and angered by this authority.

I have seen this over and over again in the 28 years of my ministry.  Good-hearted believers in God are often victims of demons that cause incredible physical or emotional pain through a wide variety of problems.  They can be easily set free by receiving prayers of deliverance, coupled with building up their own faith and learning to develop a living faith that both honors God and fights the devil.  The sicknesses and problems leave along with the demons that are cast out.  But as simple as this is, the devil is crafty enough to block it from happening.  As he used religiosity in Jesus’ day, he uses is it now.  Be wise and humble and receive this promise for you today.  Whatever evil has been attacking you, learn to fight it, and use the authority that Jesus has granted us to cast it out in His name.    

Saturday, December 20, 2014

December 17 – There’s no fooling God

The good person out of the good treasury of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasury produces evil, for his mouth speaks from what fills his heart. (Luke 6:45 NET)

You’ve heard that famous quote from Abe Lincoln, “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.”  There’s another truth that needs to be added to that.  You can never fool God.  Ever.  

In this chapter, Jesus teaches about knowing a tree by the fruit it bears.  It’s what is hidden deep inside a person that reveals itself eventually, through words, behavior and reactions.  A false Christian can parade around as holy and faithful, but in time their hidden attitudes of the flesh will surface and be seen.  On the other hand, there can exist among us new believers who are still rough around the edges.  They don’t look the part yet, but the purity of their love for God shines through.  The wise can spot their sincere hearts, while the unwise are still caught up in judging by traditional appearances.  Jesus wants us to be wise and have spiritual eyes to see the good fruit in others, and be aware of the kind of fruit we bear ourselves.  That fruit strengthens and refreshes us and sustains our relationship with God.

It’s funny that false Christians even bother to go through the exhausting act of pretending to be a “good tree.”  All of that effort to impress others is worthless if in the end they’re swallowed up into hell.  How much consolation is it to know that they fooled everyone while they were alive?  Let’s be true to what we claim to believe.  Either be honest about your mistakes and sins and seek out help or deliverance, or just state the plain truth that you are faithless and don’t want to change.  In Jesus’ letter to the Laodicean church in Revelations 3, it was their false Christianity that caused Him to feel such disgust that He said He would vomit them out of His mouth.

Good behavior can be premeditated and faked, but godly reactions to unexpected problems are the litmus test to show what kind of fruit is being borne inside of us.  From the treasury of our hearts comes the quick response to injustice, to the needs of others, to the attacks of the devil, and to the dry spells in our lives when it seems like God is taking too long to answer us.  Our daily reactions towards difficult people and circumstances are the fruit that prove what kind of treasury is inside of us – good or evil.  We are promised good fruit to enjoy and benefit from, as long as the treasury in our hearts is good.  Examine yourselves and make the changes you need right now if you see that you still bear the bad fruit of an unclean heart.  There’s no fooling God, might as well use that energy to purify what you have inside. 

December 16 – Hidden treasures

I will give you hidden treasures, riches stashed away in secret places, so you may recognize that I am the Lord, the one who calls you by name, the God of Israel.  (Isaiah 45:3 HCSB)

This was a prophecy given for the future King Cyrus who would only be born 150 years later.  Isaiah was speaking directly from the mouth of God about an event that would happen when Israel would finally be allowed to return to their homeland from exile.  God would use this Persian king to be kind and grant Israel their freedom.  The Bible never explains Cyrus’ faith in God once he appears in history, but he becomes an instrument in God’s hands to reestablish Israel and rebuild the temple.  He becomes a blessing to God’s people, and is so blessed that he sees first-hand who the true God really is.  

But as the Bible says, “Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” which means that we can learn about God’s character towards us today in this prophecy as well.  

God gives hidden treasures so that He can be recognized as the true God.  King Cyrus’s kind heart towards Israel caused God to be kind-hearted towards him.  When we show a love and zeal for God and for His people, God wants to reveal to us His treasures so that through us, others can see His power.  

This verse shows us that there are riches stashed away in secret places, that God can see, but we cannot.  Only those who are in tune with God, and have the faith to obey Him are able to have those hidden things revealed.  I have heard many testimonies of faithful believers who lived in extreme obedience to God, even when it hurt their pride or pushed them beyond their comfort zone.  They tithed when it was very difficult, they sacrificed when it hurt, and they distanced themselves from negative influences of family and friends to remain alone for long stretches of time – by faith.  But in that obedience, God opened up those secret places and revealed his riches of whatever they needed.  Riches of healthy friendships of faith, riches of job opportunities, of health and renewed strength, riches of transformed families, and even physical riches and provisions that would never have been found without God’s supernatural intervention.  

There are Christians who go all the way with God, and God goes all the way with them.  And the there are Christians who like to hold onto their “little quirks,” as they call them – addictions that they don’t think are all that bad, foul language that they’ve given themselves a pass on since they’ve “cut back a lot,” the enjoyment of filthy jokes and basically an attraction to dark attitudes and people.  The ones who go all the way, are the ones who have eyes to see the hidden treasures of God.  But how can you see what is hidden if your heart is still enamored with darkness?  There’s no way.

Coming across hidden treasures is not a fairy tale dream, God has so much He wants to give to us.  He needs faithfulness, long-term obedience, and a zeal for His Kingdom and His people.

Friday, December 19, 2014

December 15 – How Jesus reacts to sickness

Then a man with a serious skin disease came to Him and, on his knees, begged Him: “If You are willing, You can make me clean.”  Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out His hand and touched him. “I am willing,” He told him. “Be made clean.”  Immediately the disease left him, and he was healed.  (Mark 1:40-42 HCSB)

When I offer to pray for people to be healed, a common response is, “But is it God’s will for me?”  That was the question Evelyn and I asked when we were faced with her degenerating eye disease many years ago.  We loved the thought of healing, but were confused about what God’s will was for us.   That confusion will block anyone from praying and believing with all their heart, and in turn, blocks their healing from happening.

This story depicts the instant reaction of Jesus when a sick man came to him.  First of all, Jesus was moved with compassion.  He is not the coldhearted judge that glares down from His throne in heaven, as many people picture Him.  He saw the suffering of that man and loved him.  From the beginning of the world, Jesus witnessed the injustice of how the first sin opened the way for disease and death to plague humanity, and now He was speaking to one more victim of that curse.  Jesus didn’t ask what sins the man had committed, He just reached out His hand, touched him, and proclaimed him clean.  “I am willing,” were Jesus words then, and they continue to be His words today.

Many of us are like that man, we believe that Jesus could heal, but we’re unsure if He wants to heal us in particular.  Jesus response, together with so many other promises of healing in the Bible (James 5:15, Isaiah 53:5, Matthew 10:8 for example), should put this doubt to rest.  God has compassion on you.  He sees more than any of us just how much the devil is behind the many problems we go through, including sickness and pain.  If by His stripes we are healed, as Isaiah says, then our healing has been already made possible for us.  What we need is to believe.

To believe means to trust in God’s character, to know Him intimately.  You know what kind of things your loved ones are capable of.  You know when someone would never lie to you or would give you the shirt off their backs if you needed anything.  But people are fallible and not trustworthy compared to God.  If you can trust in sinners who love you, you need to begin trusting in the Mighty God who loves you with a sacrificial love, who will never fail you.  Believe now that Jesus is willing, that He has compassion on you, and that your healing is for His honor and glory, not for your own.  If you are struggling to overcome your doubts, speak to your pastor today.

December 14 – Sleep to those He loves

Unless the Lord builds a house, its builders labor over it in vain; unless the Lord watches over a city, the watchman stays alert in vain.  In vain you get up early and stay up late, working hard to have enough food—yes, He gives sleep to the one He loves. (Psalm 127:1-2 HCSB)

Workaholics are everywhere.  Perhaps you don’t consider yourself one, but find yourself being pushed to exhaustion to get things done, to bring in the paycheck, to pay the bills and to keep everyone happy around you.  You may be trying to build a life with extreme effort, and find in the end that all those late nights and early mornings were all in vain.  

Unless the Lord builds, and unless the Lord watches – these are the conditions to this promise.  How do we know that the Lord is with us when we embark on the plans for our lives?  It’s easy: are we putting Him first in everything we do?  Do we live for Him above all else?

If God is calling a father to give up extra time at work to spend with his troubled teen-aged son, but that father rejects the call and continues placing his work before all else, that work will be in vain, and it will all come crashing down in a matter of time.  If God calls a student to be committed to coming to church on Sundays and one other day of the week, even when he has homework, but the student decides that his grades are more important, his all-night cram sessions will be of no use to his life.  He may pass the grade, but in the end give permission to the devil to steal something of value from him.  Or if a wife who is trying to build a godly home, but refuses to show respect and love to her unbelieving husband, all her eager attempts will be in vain.  God is not the one building your house, career or life, when you are calling all the shots.

But when He is, that means that you have surrendered the driver’s seat to Him, and even when He directs you to go in the opposite direction from where you thought, you obey with total trust.  Then you will see the results of your prayers and the foundations of what God is building in you, become firm.  

There are many who will be burning the midnight oil tonight for no good reason.   When we commit our ways to God and are careful to obey His every word, we can rest and even be blessed while we sleep. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

December 13 – Giving and receiving grace

Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. (Luke 6:37 HCSB)

“Don’t judge me!” is a phrase thrown around by people who don’t like their faults being pointed out.  They assume that this command of Jesus means that we can never make an assessment of what is wrong in our lives or in others.  That’s not what Jesus is saying here, because in John 7:24, Jesus does teach us all to, “judge according to righteous judgment.”  

The kind of judging that is meant here is better described as slandering, degrading or backstabbing.  When anger at injustice arises in us, our natural inclination is get back at the ones who did this, hurt them, tear them down never let them do it again. But Jesus is showing us a glimpse into the spiritual world.  When we judge and condemn, we give permission to the devil to do the exact same things to us.  Our mistakes (or perceived mistakes) become open targets for the devil to humiliate and degrade us. 

When we reign in our riled up emotions and refuse to judge (degrade) or condemn anyone, we allow the Holy Spirit to speak and He gives us wisdom to react calmly to what’s unfair.  We can use our heads instead of our feelings and be merciful, forgiving and gracious.  That doesn’t mean that we condone any evil that was done, or that we won’t fight against that evil or injustice, it just means that we will have a level head about how to go about it in an effective way.  We can destroy the power of the demons that were at work, while still loving our enemy with a pure heart.

We protect ourselves from the devil when we discipline our emotions and actions. When we blurt out judgments and condemn others, it’s only a matter of time that others will do the same to us.  But even more importantly when we forgive, we are forgiven.  We are sinners and need to give each other grace – we’re all in the same boat.  Another verse in Matthew 6 says that if we don’t forgive, we will not be forgiven.  

These commandments and promises of Jesus are not just about how we can avoid the devil’s traps here on earth, but also about the final judgment that we all will face at the end of our lives. A great day is coming when all mankind will be judged fairly, and many will be condemned because of their own choices to ignore God’s commands.  

Jesus spoke these words to the crowds that were all clamoring for healing, but He knew they would still be broken and incomplete without a transformation of their hearts and minds.  His teachings are painful for our pride, but they are the key to entering into the Kingdom of God.  These promises of escaping judgment and condemnation, and finding forgiveness is what we all need.  Let’s make sure we don’t miss any opportunity to do what is right. 

December 12 – The Shadow of the Almighty

He Himself will deliver you from the hunter’s net, from the destructive plague.  He will cover you with His feathers; you will take refuge under His wings.  His faithfulness will be a protective shield.  (Psalm 91:3-4 HCSB)

Did you know that you are being hunted down every day?  The Bible says that the devil is on the prowl, looking for anyone he can devour (1 Peter 5:8).  Maybe you haven’t put two and two together yet, but when bad news, losses or failures have hit you by surprise, there was usually an intelligent force at work causing these things to happen just at that time, and with that level of intensity.  When we’re not under the protection of the Most High, as the beginning of this chapter states, these many blessings aren’t available to us.  We become sitting ducks for the enemy’s traps and snares.

Taking refuge under God’s wings is an active and bold choice to live by faith and not by sight.  It’s not the cozy warm feeling that you get when reading the plaques or embroidered throw pillows emblazoned with this chapter that decorate many homes.  It’s common for Christians to quote this passage and do the bare minimum in the way they live, pray or interact with God, and then they assume that He has to protect them.  We are at war against demonic forces and we have a great God and protector.  There is nothing passive about this teaching.  We ought to do everything possible to make sure that we are hidden under those powerful wings.

Yet a fight against demons begins in our minds.  Decide that no negative thought that you will be harmed or destroyed has any right to stay bouncing around in your head.  You need to live each moment making courageous decisions based on the fact that you are protected, not on the fear that you are in danger – even if that means choosing to praise God in the middle of your storm.  What if you have a big meeting with your boss coming up, or with a very difficult client?  What if you have to attend a family gathering where people normally backstab and accuse each other?  Don’t be fearful of any of that, boldly go forward, knowing that you are under the shadow of the Almighty.  Act in that assurance.  Sure, Satan is already trying to set his traps and tangle you up in his nets, but you have God’s promise: He will deliver you.

The Bible talks about various times when the devil tried to snare Jesus during His life here, but the Holy Spirit graciously kept Him out of every trap.  One time the religious leaders in the synagogue were furious and wanted to stone Jesus to death, but He slipped through the crowd unseen and walked off.  How could that happen?  He was safe under the shadow of His Father.  Read through the book of Acts and find many more incidents of the disciples being able to walk right out of prisons, shipwrecks, murderous crowds and unfair trials.  Though they all did sacrifice their lives in the end, everything was done according to God’s will, and not the will of the devil.  Let these verses give you great comfort and strength today.  You are hidden and safe if  you choose to live and act by a courageous faith.  

December 11 – When godly grief is at work

For godly grief produces a repentance not to be regretted and leading to salvation, but worldly grief produces death.  For consider how much diligence this very thing—this grieving as God wills—has produced in you: what a desire to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what deep longing, what zeal, what justice! In every way you showed yourselves to be pure in this matter.  (2 Corinthians 7:10-11 HCSB)

If we had it our way, we’d laugh and party our way through life, and have an even bigger party to celebrate after we die.  Nobody likes sadness or grief, but God says that all of us need godly grief in order to find salvation.  Repentance is only real when there is grief, a deep sorrow for the way you have lived your life, for the fact that you are a sinner who is worthy of condemnation.  It’s an honesty with yourself and with God that is both brutal and beautiful.  It kills the old you and clears the way for God to create a new life within you.  

The worldly grief that produces death is so common that few even recognize how futile it is.  We feel pity for those who grieve over lost loved ones, lost jobs, lost pets and broken relationships.  All of those are normal responses to loss, but there are some people prolong their grieving unnecessarily, idolizing the things that they lost.  If God is the source of your life and the answer to all your needs, grieving over worldly things has no purpose.  We never see Jesus visiting tombs of dead relatives. He only appears at Lazarus’ tomb to raise him from the dead.  When He called men to follow Him, some asked to wait until they could bury their fathers.  Jesus matter-of-factly told them to “let the dead bury their own dead” (Matthew 8, Luke 9).  

The grief of this world distorts your perspective of what is real.  Moving on to greater blessings and leaving the past behind is crucial to living by faith.  We are able to look forward to so much more than what we lost.  Those who have passed on to eternity now know the truth about the spiritual world and have no use for our tears.  Being mired in self-pity and emotionalism destroys faith and feeds our flesh, which is why worldly grief leads to death.   

But look at what grief according to God looks like: what a desire to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what deep longing, what zeal, what justice!  They showed themselves to be pure when the sincerely repented, turn around and began to obey God like never before.  When you grieve for the evil that you see in your own life, you will have a holy indignation and a zeal for what is right.  When you grieve for the way this world is self destructing, you can fight against principalities and makes a huge impact on lives around you. Justice can be done when godly grief is at work.  

Ecclesiastes 7:4 says, “The heart of the wise is in a house of mourning,
but the heart of fools is in a house of pleasure.”  God isn’t saying that we can never have fun or enjoy life, He is showing us that through godly sorrow, real life can begin.

December 10 – Satisfying your appetite

But my people did not obey me; Israel did not submit to me. I gave them over to their stubborn desires; they did what seemed right to them.  If only my people would obey me!  If only Israel would keep my commands!  Then I would quickly subdue their enemies, and attack their adversaries.  (May those who hate the Lord cower in fear before him! May they be permanently humiliated!) I would feed Israel the best wheat, and would satisfy your appetite with honey from the rocky cliffs.  (Psalm 81:11-16 NET)

There are times when God’s people go through trials to test their faith because God wants to strengthen them.  Though they’ve done nothing wrong, persecutions and attacks of the devil happen so they can overcome and see greater victories.  But there are other times when people of God are “handed over to Satan.”  That sounds harsh, but it’s a reality that can be read about in 1 Corinthians 5:5, and 1 Timothy 1:20.  In the passage above, God says that He had to hand Israel over to their stubborn desires and in the end they were taken captive by their enemies and humiliated until they learned to repent. 

Take a look at your life right now.  Are the trials you are going through the result of a faithful warrior for God who is experiencing the devil’s counter-attack?  If that’s the case, the promise of this passage, and of all of God’s promises, is yours.  God will satisfy your appetite with the finest bread and honey from the rocky cliffs, which means even in the midst of a harsh wilderness experience, He will provide delightful sustenance and sweetness. 

But if the harshness you are going through now is because you’ve stubbornly refused to listen to God and have chosen your own desires, maybe He’s handed you over to know the reality of serving the devil instead of Him.  You may be reaping the bitter fruit of your own selfishness.  There are many professing Christians who have been wandering in self-imposed wildernesses for years, because they want God to fit into their mold rather than submit to His ways.  Their enemies overcome them, sickness, depression, financial ruin, broken homes and relationships, immoral tendencies and unethical habits pile on one after another, but they insist that they are true believers because their shelves are packed with Christian literature.  

Not every hardship is a result of sin or rebellion against God, but it’s important to know what God sees when He looks at you.  Are you His faithful warrior under enemy attack, or are you rebellious Israel who needs to learn a lesson?  What His promises do make clear, is that the moment we obey and keep His commands, He quickly subdues our enemies.  When we fight the devil and make him cower before God, we bring honor both to God’s name and to ourselves.  Seek God’s wisdom now, search your own heart and find out where you stand before Him.  Today this promise is available to anyone who chooses to obey Him.  If you do, get ready for your enemies to be defeated and to enjoy some sweet sustenance in the wilderness.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

December 9 – Be among the few

And we are witnesses of these events, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.  (Acts 5:32 NET)

It’s clear as day.  The Holy Spirit is given to those who obey Him.  Those who don’t obey God, are unable to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit.  Of course the Holy Spirit is around all of us, calling and prompting everyone to turn to God and follow Him.  The Holy Spirit is in every prison and every brothel right now, for anyone who is willing to listen.  If people say, “I have the Holy Spirit,” in one way they do, because He works everywhere, constantly.  But not everyone has the baptism in His Spirit, because that is only for those who obey.

The whole purpose of having the infilling or baptism in the Spirit is so that we can be overflowing and empowered by Him.  How can that be possible if we choose to ignore or outright defy what He leads us to do and think?  If we dislike the correction of the Holy Spirit and want to modify the teachings of the Bible to fit our comfortable way of life, then there is no way that the Holy Spirit can infill us if we consistently shut Him out of our lives.

The general attitude of most Christians today is that God is lenient.  Jesus did not mince words when He taught that some who call Him Lord, would be cast into utter darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  The existence of evil in this world is very real, and the battle against it is a violent one.  Those who feel that fighting the devil is distasteful, that it crimps their style, they are already well ensconced in the devil’s camp.  They may be singing, Lord, Lord, with their worship band, but unless they are living in obedience to what the Holy Spirit commands , they are not His.

If Jesus came today and took over as pastor of any given mega-church, the place would empty out quickly.  Church members would feel offended, file complaints, and then search for another congregation where they wouldn’t have to feel convicted.  He was full of love, and He spoke the truth.  Jesus knew that only a few will enter through the narrow gate, and only a few will find the narrow path and follow it.  Only a few hearts are good soil that can create a bountiful harvest, while the rest are hardened or riddled with weeds and thorns.  He wasn’t interested in the glory of big crowds, He cared about the few who were really ready to live and die for Him.

The promise of the Holy Spirit is for everyone, but not everyone has the courage and the humility to obey.  Now’s your chance to make that decision to be a first-century Christian and witness many more amazing events just as they did.  Be among the few who obey.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

December 8 – The leap of faith

Now may the God of peace who by the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead the great shepherd of the sheep, our Lord Jesus, equip you with every good thing to do his will, working in us what is pleasing before him through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20-21 NET)

The fact that God was able to raise Jesus back from the dead, was because He had a sinless death.  His blood was pure and uncontaminated by evil.  Death and disease are products of sin, so Jesus’ sinless death could not keep him in the grave.  He was raised up, and because He didn’t die for His own sins but for ours, we can now be raised up to live as children of God forever – if we choose to live by the terms of salvation.  Repent. Die to our old life.  Live in obedience to Jesus as our Lord.  This wonderful news can never stop being taught!

God’s promise is to equip us with every good thing to do His will, and His will for each of us is to pick up our cross daily and follow Him.  If our cross today is to determine a miracle despite all the odds, to deny the negative thoughts in our minds and to fast and pray, then God will equip us with the ability to do that and see the miracle through.  If our cross for the day is to deny our selfish tendencies and to reach out to that difficult person and pray for them, God will equip us to have the right words and spirit to touch their hearts so that their faith can be strengthened.  And if our cross is to give up old habits and attitudes that have blocked God, then He will make us more than able to do so… but we have to believe in His promise and go for it before we feel Him equipping us.

Wherever life takes us, God has tasks and challenges that He wants us to take on with boldness and assurance that He will make us able.  As parents we have always urged our children to do what they’ve never tried before, encouraging them to believe that they can learn a skill or understand a lesson that may seem too tough for them at the outset.  God is far better than we are, because He not only teaches, he enables us and equips us to do whatever we need.  Sometimes obeying God feels like we are jumping out of a plane at 5000 feet with nothing and no one to break our fall.  But as we take that leap of faith, we find that His parachute is strapped to us, and that we are strapped to Him!  And yet without that leap, we’ll never know the power and extent of His love and protection for us.  We’ll never have that amazing lesson of faith that He wants us to learn.

Next time God is bringing you to face a challenge, remember that He will equip you just at the moment that you need to see His will manifest in your life.  Take the leap and trust that you will become pleasing to Him through Jesus Christ, the great shepherd of the sheep.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

December 7 – Intricately linked to heaven

Set your minds on what is above, not on what is on the earth.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with the Messiah in God.  When the Messiah, who is your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.  (Colossians 3:2-4 HCSB)

When our minds are set on earth, they run through thoughts such as these:  

Layoff rumors are everywhere and my blood pressure’s going crazy… I need all the office gossip I can get.
I can’t afford it, but if I stop buying my kids what they want, they’ll think I’m mean.
How did the pastor know I was complaining about the sermon?  Now I’ll have to stay away from church for a couple weeks, it’s so embarrassing.
Got too much homework, sorry church, no time for you.
I deserve a break - just one drink won’t hurt anyone.
These celebrities are so awesome, I wish I could hang out with them.
I hate my boss.  I hate my boss.  I hate my boss…

If you think these thoughts only go through the minds of total unbelievers, think again.  Good and faithful church members have thoughts like these and worse, because their minds are set on this world and not on things above.  If you could see all the thoughts that run through your mind posted up on a screen, you’d be amazed at how fleshly and negative many of them are.  As we’ve taught in our various courses, our brains have a negative bias.  That’s why God urges us to set our minds on the Kingdom of God, on things above.  It takes effort, but when we do, our life makes sense through the eyes of God.

The key here is that we need to be dead, and then we are hidden in the Messiah in God.  That means the spiritual death of our old life, our sinful desires and our selfish control over the way we want to live.  Without death to our flesh, there is no new birth, and no salvation.  Jesus died sacrificially for us to become hidden in Him, clothed in His purity, and made into a holy nation.  But first we have to die.  

When we become a new creation, we long for the new kingdom where we have become citizens. We want to think about things above, because that is where we belong.  This world is pitifully inadequate and doesn’t satisfy us anymore.  It’s like a foreigner in another country who longs for his homeland, reading about it, calling home and finding ways to reconnect with the place that’s not just the home of his birth, but the home that is intricately linked to his heart.  

Is your mind and heart intricately linked to the Kingdom of Heaven?  Do you long to look into the things above and seek out ways to know more about your real home?  If so, then you are truly God’s and you are hidden in the Messiah.  Satan can’t find you and destroy you when your mind is set on things above.  All of those thoughts listed above are easily overturned by thoughts of faith, because they make no sense in the beautiful new Kingdom where you now hold citizenship.   

December 6 – Sacrifice, not a burden

Then He told them, “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.  Therefore, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27 HCSB)

One Saturday, Jesus and His disciples were walking through some grainfields, picking off heads of grain to eat as they went.  The religious leaders saw them and complained that they were “working” on the Sabbath. God really had commanded that His people should keep the Sabbath holy – the Sabbath being the seventh day of the week, when God had rested from creating the world.  No work was to be done, but rest for the whole family and the livestock as well, so that the day could be dedicated to worshipping God, reflecting on His word, and allowing their bodies and minds to be refreshed.  

Centuries after God had given those commandments through Moses, various rabbis began to write their own commentaries on exactly what it meant to observe God’s laws.  From among these rabbis, the Pharisee movement arose during the time of exile in Babylon and Persia.  The Pharisees demanded that all of Israel return to a strict adherence to the laws of God.  Yet it wasn’t just the laws of God they were calling people to follow, it was their own nit-picky interpretations of the law.  They decided exactly how many steps a person was allowed to walk on a Sabbath.  Exactly how tithes should be given, down to the tiniest herb in their garden.  If people disobeyed, they were considered unclean and unholy, and were shamed by the Pharisees. By the time Jesus came into the world, God’s people were overburdened with rules and regulations.  

Jesus obeyed His Father in heaven, honored the Sabbath, preached in the synagogues and observed the feasts, but it wasn’t enough for them.  Jesus shocked and appalled the Pharisees.  He went to the houses of tax collectors and sinners, and spoke with prostitutes.  He healed people on the Sabbath and even told them to pick up their mats and walk – a clear breach of Pharisee rules.  He let His disciples pick grain to eat on the Sabbath, when everyone knew that harvesting wheat was a sin on such a holy day.  But God the Son was there when the Ten Commandments and all the other laws were given.  He knew that the spirit and purpose of each law was meant to bless man, not to burden him.  The Sabbath law, for example, was to give rest and a time to refocus a man’s life on his Creator.  How could picking a grain of wheat while walking side by side with the Creator be a sin? 

Jesus warned His disciples against the “yeast of the Pharisees,” which is a warning for us too.  Don’t allow yourself to get caught up in religious burdens and nit-picking arguments.  Know that the commandments of God are meant to bless you and not to burden you.  That doesn’t mean that obeying God’s word is always easy, in fact it’s a sacrifice of our flesh, but it’s not an oppressive burden because it brings joy and freedom.  The Pharisees were right in calling God’s people to adhere to His commandments, and we would be wise to do the same.  But the devil is crafty in creating his own commandments that he tries to intertwine with God’s.  The best way to know what is from God and what is an imitation, is to know God’s word well, and through that, God will reveal Himself within you.   Jesus is Lord of all the laws, commandments and principles of God, and He will guide you to find life as you obey them in Spirit and truth.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

December 5 – I’m not that kind of person

But to the cowards, unbelievers, detestable persons, murderers, the sexually immoral, and those who practice magic spells, idol worshipers, and all those who lie, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur. That is the second death.  (Revelation 21:8  HCSB)

This may seem to be a negative promise, but it’s also one of the most important promises for you to know in the entire Bible, which makes it very positive and uplifting if we abide by it. If this list is of people who are lost and destined be thrown into the lake of fire — along with Satan, demons, the beast, the false prophet and Hades —then those who refuse to live this kind of life, who have true faith in God, are guaranteed to be welcomed into heaven and live with God forever. 

What should make us all stop and think is the list that we have here. As expected, people “who practice magic spells” are on the list, together with murderers, detestable people and idol worshipers. Most Christians are pretty comfortable and confident of the fact that they are not Satanists, witches, murderers or idol worshipers. The problem is that the Holy Spirit also lists cowards, unbelievers, the sexually immoral and liars right along with the others. I’m sure some people’s reaction would be, “How can He lump murderers together with liars? Murder is so much more serious that telling a little white lie every so often.” But for God, all of the behavior listed here is serious enough to destroy our communion with Him, whether or not we see it that way.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that churches are full of cowards, unbelievers, the sexually immoral, idol worshipers and liars. How many people are afraid to have a real, first-century type of faith in God?  Many are afraid to be tithers, to pray for healing, to insist on a miracle. I used to be one of them, and I have to constantly watch myself to avoid slipping into that same cowardice.

How many “good” Christians put their job, career and family before God? When the Spirit mentions idol worshippers he includes these things as well as people who bow down to images of wood and stone. And how many “good” Christians are unbelieving-believers, professing a faith in God that they do not practice after walking out of their weekly church service? Whenever problems arise, they never think of shutting their office door and getting on their knees to ask for God’s help and a miracle. That sort of thing is completely foreign to them. Many don’t really believe that God would have time for them if they did ask Him for help. So aren’t they unbelievers even though they belong to a church?

Don’t step into the devil’s trap of: “Those kinds of people are lost. I would never do that.” In 2 Corinthians 13:5, Paul says: “Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith.” — Living by real faith and pleasing God is possible, but not easy. It demands effort and humility. We have to constantly work on being sensitive to the Spirit’s voice.

Take some time out of your busy schedule, go through this list and make sure you are not among those who are lost… or drifting in that direction. Our salvation is worth the effort.

December 4 – Obtaining favor from God

Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at my doorposts.  For he who finds me finds life and obtains favor from the Lord.  But he who sins against me injures himself; all those who hate me love death.  (Proverbs 8:34-36 NASB)

Wisdom speaks through this whole chapter and the next, calling anyone who would listen, to follow, and seek her out.  Interesting how wisdom says that those who watch daily at her gates and wait at her doorposts are blessed with life and favor from God.  Wisdom is not something you are randomly born with, or given to the lucky few in this world.  It’s available to anyone, regardless of who they are or what they have done.  But, they have to actively find it.

Finding wisdom means going to where she resides, at her gates and doorways.  Where would those places be?  Where God’s word is taught, for one.  Going to church should be the most obvious place where wisdom is to be found, but unfortunately not every church prioritizes the teaching of God’s word. Seek out wisdom in a church where God’s word is held as the authority for all teaching, where teaching His truth is predominant, and where the leaders of the church actually live what they preach.  Seek wisdom also by reading of His word.  Allow God’s Spirit to speak directly to your spirit, and then practice what He says.  This is the way that His truth becomes internalized and starts to become a part of who you are.  Wisdom is different than knowledge – it’s something that you experience and live, not just know. 

Whoever wants to find God’s favor, will love every minute seeking out His wisdom.  They won’t need to be told to avoid worldly friends and fleshly activities, because it will be seen as a waste of valuable time that could be better spent seeking Him.  When people have to be constantly warned to stay away from unhealthy life choices, it’s because wisdom is of little importance, and God is of little importance to them.

When young Solomon was anointed as king over Israel, he gave a massive sacrifice to God in awe and respect of the serious responsibility of ruling God’s people.  God was pleased with his sacrifice, and told him to ask anything he wanted.  The young king was humble and requested that he be given wisdom to rule fairly and justly.  God was even more pleased with Solomon’s response, that He granted him wisdom along with exceeding wealth and strength for his kingdom.  The seeking of wisdom brought Solomon amazing favor with God.  Years later he wrote, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” (Proverbs 9:10) which was evident in the way he treated God as a young man.  

Wisdom is not a commodity that we can demand as if we were equals with God, but as humble servants in total dependence on Him.  Seek for her, go to where you can find her, practice what you learn, and just as with Solomon, life and God’s favor will shine on you. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

December 3 – The power of your own spirit

The spirit of a man can endure his sickness, but as for a broken spirit who can bear it?  (Proverbs 18:14 NASB)

We teach a lot about the Holy Spirit, but have you ever thought about the importance of your own spirit?  Before anyone can be saved, their own spirit has to seek God with urgency and determination.  Salvation is only for those who are courageous enough to die to their flesh, and live in that state of submission all their lives.  To be baptized in the Holy Spirit, our own spirit has to yearn for Him, strive to bear His fruit and be relentless until He infills and empowers us.  But it all begins with our own free will – our own spirit.  Salvation, healing, miracles and baptism in the Spirit don’t just happen randomly to good people.  They are all fought for on our own volition, by faith.  

When people tell me that they don’t have enough faith, that they’re weak willed, I know they’re being deceived at that moment.  They imagine that they are weaker than they are.  God would never dangle a promise over your head, and then disqualify you because you don’t have the right kind of personality to see it fulfilled.  Everyone has a drive within them for something in life, from a passion for their children’s well-being, to a frustration to undo the injustice they’ve gone through, or a drive to out-shop their insecurities with as many trinkets as they can buy.   We all have a driving force in us, the problem is that some waste it on useless efforts to control people and situations that only God can handle.  

God breathed life into each of us when we were created.  When our spirit is in tune with God’s Spirit, we can endure anything the devil throws at us, and overcome in the end.  When we know we are in the right and our adversaries’ accusations are false, our spirit can defy those accusations without a doubt because we are standing on His truth.  It’s not just up to God to pull us through, our own spirits need to be unshaken in our faith in Him.  When we stand firm against the attacks of the devil, he may make a lot of noise and appear strong for a while, but our spirit is confident in God’s promises, and sooner or later the attacks collapse in defeat.  

But when we are unsure of ourselves, uncertain if God accepts our prayers or if we have a hidden sin that accuses us, our spirits are unstable.  Our prayers are hesitant and we feel no confirmation that God is pleased with us.  A broken spirit is unbearable, because it can no longer reach out to God with the faith it needs.  God needs us to have clean and pure consciences, and then to truly believe that He will accomplish His word.  This ensures a strong spirit that can link itself to God’s Spirit.  

If you feel that there is something that needs to be repented of, if you need to ask forgiveness from someone or complete an unfulfilled commitment, make sure to do that today so that there will be nothing to hold back your spirit from going full force.  If you know your heart is clean but you struggle to really believe in God’s promises, begin to rebuke the lying spirits who are trying to keep you discouraged and unable to rise up in the strength that God gave you.  God’s looking for your spirit to join His.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

December 2 – Don’t let time get the best of you

I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed the sacred stone and made a vow to me. Now leave this land immediately and return to your native land. (Genesis 31:13  NET)

This short verse reveals how God never forgets the vows we make to Him, or His promises to us. It had been at least 20 long years since Jacob had run away from home. At that time he was a liar and a cheat, always trying to take possession of things by his own trickiness and strength, never through faith and trust in God. But one night, alone in the desert, all that changed. He saw a vision from God, and immediately got up the next morning and poured out the one precious possession he had, a flask of oil, on the stone he had rested his head on that night. As he did he made a vow to follow and obey God and asked God to take care of him on his journey and bring him back home in safety.

Twenty years later God refers to that night and remembers the anointed stone and the vow that had been spoken. No one else had been there to witness that vow, but God remembered, and was about to fulfill the last part of His promise by taking Jacob back home to his father’s house in safety. Jacob had left with nothing — no money, no reputation, no faith in God, no family — and was returning with an abundance of everything he had previously lacked, after years of being faithful and obedient to God.

Don’t get tired of following God or of keeping your promises to Him. He hasn’t forgotten what you promised Him, or what He has promised you! It doesn’t matter what things look like. As long as we continue to be faithful to Him, God will make sure His promises come true in our lives. Don’t get tired, don’t forget, don’t let time get the best of you, don’t let disappointments brainwash you. The God that remembered and took care of Jacob is our God too. Great things are awaiting you, just keep the faith!

December 1 – In God’s estimation

And behold, some are last who will be first and some are first who will be last.  (Luke 13:30 NASB)

The ways of God are deep.  They look at the desires of the heart that motivate our actions.   Jesus was teaching here about entering the Kingdom of Heaven, and was asked if only a few will be saved.  He affirmed that many assume they’re making it in because they had eaten in His presence, and had allowed Him to speak to them at some time in their life.  But He makes it clear that they will be locked out, and when they cry out to God, He will respond that He never knew them.  Scary, isn’t it?

But the comforting thing is that we all have our chance right now to make sure we safely enter into His Kingdom by making Him Lord and Master over our lives.  No one will be locked out who has sincerely surrendered their life to Him, who has died to their sins, and who has chosen a life of daily sacrifice.  When we’ve entered into His Kingdom, we have to continue living in obedience to our King so that our perseverance will see us through until the end of our lives.  That’s when we’ll leave behind this shadowy world, and when Jesus will welcome us with open arms into heaven to begin real life.  

Jesus knows that many who look important, holy, and of high stature in the Christian world, could very easily be among those who are locked out of heaven.  This is not the only time Jesus refers to this. He teaches about how many will be confused when they don’t enter heaven, saying, “Lord, Lord!  Didn’t we cast out demons in your name?”  But they will be sent into everlasting punishment.  (Matthew 25:31-46)

There are many false teachers of the gospel today, just like in the time of the Early Church.  Don’t be fooled by slick marketing and a large following.  A true man of God will teach the reality of the Bible without diluting it for the sake of popular demand.  He will teach plainly about both the wonderful blessings of following Jesus, as well as the serious consequences of living in the flesh.  He will live what he teaches in humility and with the heart of a servant, not a master. 

Unfortunately many who we see broadcasting their great works can easily be among those that appear to be first, but in reality are last… or lost.  But many who are humble and sincere before God, who may not look like they are the greatest in the eyes of others, could easily be surpassing the rest, to end up first in God’s estimation.  

God judges with eternal criteria, not by the superficial things that we see with our human eyes.  Others may misjudge us or misinterpret our motives or actions, but God sees everything, and will reward each of us according to who we are and the choices we have made.  Don’t be discouraged if you are not recognized now.  God sees you, and you can decide to be the first by living in repentance and servanthood today.