Saturday, January 31, 2015

January 31 – When we go it alone

But since My servant Caleb has a different spirit and has followed Me completely, I will bring him into the land where he has gone, and his descendants will inherit it. (Numbers 14:24 HCSB)

Caleb was one of the two spies who had scouted out the Promised Land, and came back full of faith and determination to take possession of it.  He believed that God was with them, and why not?  God had delivered them from Pharaoh, opened the Red Sea, fed them miraculously in the desert, and had split boulders so that water could gush out for millions of Israelites.  Caleb saw the obvious.  God had done miracle after miracle and led them to the most beautiful and abundant land just as He had promised.  Of course God could take care of them.  He was God, and this was their land.  Caleb saw it all through God’s eyes and was raring to do what God commanded and go forward.

But not the rest of the people.  They were so convinced that the inhabitants were too strong and their cities too fortified, that they even raged against Moses for leading them there.  They wanted to kill Moses, Caleb and Joshua on the spot.  They preferred slavery in Egypt to having the Promised Land.  And because of that, God banned them from entering it.  But not Caleb and his companion Joshua, the only good spies in the bunch.  God was pleased with them and allowed them into the land, and gave them an inheritance there for generations to come.

God is still looking for different spirits in us all.  People we think are on the same team as us, will turn their backs on our vision and on what God is leading us to do.  At those times God expects us to go it alone, even with the anger and ridicule of those who we once considered friends.  Human nature loves huddling into groups who agree with us and validate our opinions.  But God wants us to live beyond survival instincts.  He wants us to live by His promises and trust in His nature, even when we feel rejected.  Even if millions stand against us, we are to have a different spirit.  

In verse 18, God speaks about the curses of sin and rebellion.  These curses continue to the third and fourth generations, not because God has hatred for these unborn generations, but because that is the nature of evil when it enters a family.  It latches on to a household and plagues fathers to sons, to grandsons and on and on.  Now that we have authority in Jesus’ name, those curses can be broken with a radical faith in Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.  Without that faith, the curses just keep on repeating.

But the converse is also true.  God blesses those with a different spirit, like Caleb, and then blesses his descendants after him.  Our choices today establish an inherited blessing over our household that will carry on through our children and grandchildren.  Yes, each one has to seek God individually, and each has to deal with the consequences of his or her own choices.  But even so, a blessing of God’s favor will be with them, just because of us.  Isn’t that worth standing alone against the crowd for the sake of our faith? 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

January 29 – Does God even know you?

If anyone thinks he knows anything, he does not yet know it as he ought to know it.  But if anyone loves God, he is known by Him.  (1 Corinthians 8:2-3 HCSB)

A spiritual teacher who thinks he has it all figured out is either about to fall into the sin of pride, or is already deep into it.  Jesus’ greatest critics were the ones who were the most knowledgeable of the scriptures and the ones who were supposed to be leading the Israelites to God.  They were also the ones who Jesus criticized the harshest, even calling them teachers who make disciples that become twice the sons of hell as they are (Matthew 23:15).  Jesus was so forgiving and kind to the sinners, thieves and prostitutes, but He was ruthless with the arrogance of the religious leaders.

This should be a warning for every pastor, every church assistant, prayer counselor, seminary student, and every Christian who attempts to lead others to the knowledge of God.  You'll never know enough, and you never have it all figured out... never.  You will always need the attitude of humble submission to learn more and more, as you put your faith into practice daily, and allow His word to speak through every circumstance.  Faith is not head knowledge.  Faith comes from living in a loving relationship with your Father, making mistakes, getting up and trying again, listening, talking, repenting, celebrating, honoring, obeying, offering and giving of yourself because you love Him above all things.  When you truly learn from God, it hits you on the deepest level of your being and permeates everything else. If you love Him, you live out what He teaches you.

When you think of the excitement you have when you get to spend time with loved ones - that is how the Spirit of God wants you to treat Him.  When a romantic relationship begins, you both think of each other constantly and can’t wait to spend hours together, talking and sharing and just soaking up each other’s presence.  No one has to teach you how to do it, it just happens.  This is the love we need to develop with God.  You may not have the right feelings at the moment, but that isn’t how spiritual love begins.  It starts with choosing to love Him and treating Him with that same eagerness to be in His presence.  The feelings that come later are far greater than pleasant human emotions.  They are the supernatural joy and peace of the Spirit — the supernatural love that teaches you how to love the unlovable, to love yourself, to love the lost with purity and strength, and to really feel and know God’s love for you.   

An intelligent knowledge of the Bible’s stories and teachings is vital, but that knowledge is meant to be the springboard for the Spirit of God to start dwelling in you.  Unfortunately, many are gluttons of Bible knowledge, but are not known by God.  If they died today, Jesus would tell them, “depart from me, I never knew you.” But His promise is that if anyone loves Him, they’ll be known by Him.  He’ll see them with the eyes of a Father and will lavish them with His abundant life. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

January 27 – All of creation

Or do you despise the riches of His kindness, restraint, and patience, not recognizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?  (Romans 2:4 HCSB)

When I worked at our church in the Los Angeles area, we used to film students at one of the California State University campuses to interview them about their thoughts on God and the supernatural.  A very small percentage actually believed in the God of the Bible, but most of them just called themselves “spiritual.”  When we asked if they’d ever seen a miracle, many would answer yes.  The fact that the sun rose that morning, that they were alive, that they had families and food and shelter and the chance to study were common examples of “miracles” they gave.  That wasn’t what we meant by seeing miracles, but it brought up another point.  If these weren’t just random occurrences, but given out of the kindness of God, wouldn’t that mean that there needed to be a response to God on their part?

In the chapter before this one, Paul explains, “His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse.”  Just looking at the immensity of the universe, the perfect intricacy in our planet’s ability to sustain such abundant and beautiful life, and how unique every creature is should be enough to humble ourselves before God and see that He real, almighty, loving and good.  Those who choose to argue that God doesn’t exist, that life is the result of chaos that arbitrarily turned into order, are people who are determined not to see Him and ignore the emptiness they feel that longs for His presence.  No one has an excuse to claim that they never knew He was real.  

When someone says they’re just fine without God, it’s easy to assume that they really mean what they say.  They may seem convincing, but the truth is that all human beings were created to intimately know their Creator.  Our minds and emotions have the capacity to deceive ourselves into believing all kinds of lies.  Just like Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable…”  It’s a master of self-deception, and the most dangerous lie of all is that it doesn’t need a Savior.  This is how people are despising the riches of His kindness every day all over the world.  

Every solitary breath of air you breathe is a gift that you don’t deserve.  Your children are not yours, your health, your skills, your body and mind are not yours, but all gifts of kindness.  The times you have ignored Him and acted against what you knew He wanted from you were sins and worthy of punishment, but He shows restraint and patience because He loves you.  Respond to all He has given you by repenting and allowing Him to transform you into a new creation. All of nature is proclaiming God’s love for you – even the tiniest raindrop.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

January 25 – He’s on our side

He says, “Stop your striving and recognize that I am God! I will be exalted over the nations! I will be exalted over the earth!”  (Psalm 46:10 NET)

There’s an old hymn based on the King James version of this verse, “Be Still and Know That I am God,” written in the 1800’s.  We sang it in church as I was growing up, and it seemed to be a passive song to accept whatever life throws at me as the will of God.  But this chapter is all about God as our warrior, that He will intervene in the most adverse situations, that He is mighty and terrifying against the devil.  Verse 9 says, “He brings an end to wars throughout the earth; he shatters the bow and breaks the spear; he burns the shields with fire.”  He defeats enemies, He’s on our side. 

Psalm 46 is one of the more warlike chapters of the Bible.  It describes the shaking of the earth, the crumbling of mountains that crash into the depths of the sea, the armies of God overthrowing nations and bringing devastation to the earth, all with the comfort and joy of knowing that He fights for us.  And then near the end of the chapter comes this command – stop striving and recognize that He is God.  

There is nothing strong about running ourselves ragged, trying to sort out all our problems day after day.  We’ve been taught that being busy, looking busy and being on top of our game is our moral obligation.  But God says in effect, “Let me do the fighting for you – I’m a lot stronger than you are, I can see demons and enemies, where you can’t, I have unlimited power and you don’t, I love to fight for my children who I love – I only ask that you treat me as your Lord and Father.”  

When we tie ourselves up in knots by tackling problems in our own strength, we are denying that God is our Lord and Father.  We block God from working when we decide that we have to take care of it all, even though we pray.  We can make the most foolish and time-wasting prayers when we rush around in our self-important state of busyness, asking God to bless our to-do list and make everything work out right.  When we don’t even stop to listen to Him, we basically tell Him that His mighty armies can just take a step back and find something else to do because we’ve got it under control.  We can be so ridiculous, it’s embarrassing.  If we spent all that energy just seeking Him first, we’d be light years ahead in our endeavors, and far more peaceful as well. 

We gain time when we give time to God, to meditate, to listen to what He’s trying to tell us.  We have to bring ourselves down from our high horses and know that if we don’t serve and obey our Lord, He can’t fight for us. We can’t obey Him if we don’t know what He’s saying or where He’s guiding us.  We need to be still, meditate on His word, stop striving, and recognize that He is God.  When we allow Him to work, He uses our lives to become known and exalted throughout all the nations of the world.  And when He is exalted, we are lifted up as well.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

January 24 – Run to find Him

For those who live according to the flesh have their outlook shaped by the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit have their outlook shaped by the things of the Spirit. (Romans 8:5 NET)

For all the millions of dollars that the self-help industry has generated, what is it that people most want?  To break out of negative mental habits and become happy and productive.  Conventional wisdom says that better jobs, better marriages, better kids, better finances, better everything starts with the right perspective and the ability to stick to it.  But what trips up most people?  No one knows what the “right perspective” is, since absolute right and wrong is considered narrow minded.  And those who think they’ve got it figured out rarely stick to it anyway.  

This is not just a picture of non-believers, it’s become the norm among Christians.  How many sit in church services with a horrible sense of guilt and shame?  Some have hidden addictions, immoral desires, secret affairs, sins and weaknesses that condemn them every day.  And it’s not like they want to indulge their flesh with no concern for God.  So many deeply wish they could rid themselves of their shame, but when it comes time to resist, they have no strength.  

When you rely on the strength of your flesh, your mindset will always be skewed, your emotions will always be tampered with by evil, and you will always fall right back into what you hate.  Christians who exert great effort into running from sin and running from temptation are only partially getting it right.  Instead of running away, it’s time to run to something powerful and real.  It’s time to run to the Spirit of God, run to the one who can totally change your outlook, your vision, and your entire being.  

Think about the many chances every day holds to run to God, to hear from Him, to commune with His Spirit and to obey His urgings, but you’d rather fill your head with music written by people possessed with the spirit of this world.  Why?  Because the spirit of anger or loneliness or selfishness in those songs bonds with the spirits inside of you – and you like how that feels.  Or maybe you’d rather browse through random messages on Facebook and take whatever senseless quiz appears just to escape your frustrated life.  You want peace, assurance and joy, but you fill your time with things that drive you further from any of it.  When temptations come, no wonder you have no strength to resist.  You live by your flesh, but want supernatural strength. 

God’s promise is that if you live for the Holy Spirit, your whole outlook will change, and the Holy Spirit will empower you from on high (Luke 24:29). The exhausting struggle with sin will no longer be an issue, because you will be made a new creature.  It’s all in the choices you make day after day.  Run to Him.  The Fast of Daniel is coming.  Get alone with God and His word.  Run with all your strength to find Him, know Him and hear Him and watch how everything will change.  

Friday, January 23, 2015

January 23 – Crazy trust

You will not fight in this battle. Take your positions, stand, and watch the Lord deliver you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Don’t be afraid and don’t panic! Tomorrow march out toward them; the Lord is with you!  (2 Chronicles 20:17 HCSB)

King Jehoshaphat faced a terrifying dilemma.  The armies of three different nations had marched in to attack Judah.  The Bible says that it was “a vast number from beyond the Dead Sea.”  Jehoshaphat, however, was wise.  Instead of rushing into military strategy meetings with his commanders, he stopped everything and called the entire country to make a fast.  Men, women and children from all the cities came to Jerusalem to gather for prayer along with their king.  He lifted up his voice to God and made a prayer that was thoughtful and intelligent.  He called on the justice of God to defend them when they had done nothing wrong, and in fact had shown mercy to these kingdoms in the past.  Then God’s Spirit spoke through the prophet Jehaziel and told them that the battle was not theirs, but God’s.

But even though the battle was God’s, His people were still required to act with great courage and determination.  They were to position themselves and face the enemy.  All the details of how the battle would turn out were not revealed.  Imagine yourself in a situation like this, where a terrible threat was before you.  God says He will fight for you, but you still have to go onto the battlefield of whatever problem it is, and look your enemy in the eye.  We’d much rather stay home and let God do all the fighting from a distance, and then let us know when it’s safe to come out of our houses – but that’s not how God fights for us.  He wants us in the thick of battle while allowing Him to fight in, through and around us.  Without obedience and courage, there can be no victory.

King Jehoshaphat’s trust in God was crazy – good crazy. He marched his much smaller army towards the valley where the vast armies were waiting, but insisted that his greatest warriors should not take the lead.  Instead, he set musicians and singers on the front line to praise and worship God loudly as they marched.  His determination was that if God was going to be their victory, then His name should be proclaimed above all things.  Military strategies were not going to save them.  They were tempted to panic, but they chose not to act in fear and believe in God’s promise.

When they reached the valley, they saw the dead bodies of those vast armies.  While waiting for war with Judah, one army turned against another one and wiped it out.  Then the third army turned against the remaining one, and they both killed each other.  The Bible says that the Lord set an ambush and turned each enemy against the other.  This is the promise of God for you today, if you feel like scary problems are closing in on you from all directions.  Don’t be afraid, and don’t panic.  Instead be crazy enough to act on the faith that God will defeat these enemies for you.  Don’t hide from them, but face them with a complete trust that God will fight for you, and you can be sure that He will.   The God of Jehoshaphat is still our God today. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

January 21 – 2 extremes in 1 statement

“I assure you,” Jesus said, “there is no one who has left house, brothers or sisters, mother or father, children, or fields because of Me and the gospel, who will not receive 100 times more, now at this time—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and eternal life in the age to come. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”  (Mark 10:29-31 HCSB)

If Jesus had been sent to earth during our lifetime, just this message in Mark 10 alone would have labeled Him as a cult leader by most respectable Christian leaders today.  Encouraging people to sacrifice all they have materially, including children and parents, is considered irresponsible and unchristian.  

But here is Jesus praising painful sacrifice, and ending it with an unbelievable promise – you will have 100 times more, and not just in heaven, but right here on earth.  Two extremes in one quick statement.  Not quite enough time to wrap your head around the huge implications of both.  

When people take offence at giving offerings and tithes, the thought of surrendering livelihoods and family is just too much.  This is often the point where people who say they love our church start to drift away.  Jesus never demands the sacrifice of every one of these things from every single believer, but He does demand a heart that is willing to sacrifice anything at any time He may require it. 

The big misunderstanding that usually occurs with this passage, is the fear that pleasing God means becoming poor and homeless and lonely.  Throughout church history, monks and nuns denied themselves, taking vows of chastity and poverty, flogged themselves and slept on freezing stone floors in dismal monasteries to attain greater holiness.  This is just one example of harmful religious fanaticism.  Whenever God requires a sacrifice of us, there is always a purpose.  It’s never to buy our blessing or make ourselves worthy of holiness, but to further the Kingdom of God, and in the process, purge our hearts of any traces of greed or selfishness.

The promise of Jesus never says that it’s His will for us to live in suffering and need for the rest of our lives.  He wants us to just let go of our fears and controlling spirits.  When we have a lot and are happy to give as His Spirit leads us, we honor God.  When we give to His work and to others around us in need, our giving hearts shine for Him, and He’ll give us more than what we’re able to give out.  100 times more, and not just in heaven but right here – that’s the promise.  

If Jesus ended with the statement that many who are first will be last, and the last first, it shows how many who seem to be prosperous and ahead of the game, will end up being last in God’s eyes, because they never learn to sacrifice.  But those who choose to let go of position and the respect of others, their wealth and their possessions for Him, God Himself will give them the honor of being the first.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

January 20 – Letting God lead

So David did as God commanded him, and they drove back the army of the Philistines from Gibeon as far as Gezer.  Then the fame of David went out into all lands, and the Lord brought the fear of him upon all nations.  (1 Chronicles 14:16-17 NKJV)

Young King David was constantly seeking God’s directions and guidance.  He refused to go to war without consulting God first.  If God told him to attack, he’d do so with courage.  When God would tell him to hold back and wait for His signal, David trusted and obeyed.  When he lived in that faith, he won every battle.  He lived in the conviction that he could do nothing without the leadership of the Commander of the armies of heaven.  

It’s so simple, and what God expects from all His children.  Nothing should be ventured without hearing from Him first.  Our problem is that we drown out the voice of God with our busy lives to such a degree that when we do ask Him to speak, we’re completely deaf.  If we’re honest, we usually don’t like His voice because He prods us to do what’s uncomfortable or scary.  Many Christians even feel anger when God urges them to give more of themselves, to hold back from controlling behavior and simply trust, or to be open hearted to people who don’t deserve it.  They feel offended that God would ask them to give up their fleshly instincts, and insist that it couldn’t possibly be God speaking.  If you react with contempt towards the prompting of God and His word, what right do you have to moan that God feels so far away?  

King David had the humility to ask God what to do when vicious enemies surrounded him before moving an inch.  How easy was that for a skilled warrior who knew that strategies and timing were of the essence when it came to warfare? David’s faith was more than just words.  He was willing to risk the lives of his army, and even his nation, to do only what God commanded.  He became the greatest king and hero of the nation of Israel of all time, not just by his skill or courage, but in his humility to let God lead.

How about us?  God speaks to us through His word and through His servants, but we squirm when it rubs us the wrong way. If you’ve been thinking that God doesn’t speak to you, just write down all the uncomfortable messages in church you’ve been trying to ignore lately.  If they’re based on the Bible, then that’s probably been His voice.  Think about how many days have slipped by without purposefully talking to Him or listening without distractions.  He does speak and He will speak, the question is, do you have the courage and humility to obey?

God caused fear and respect to come on the hearts of all the kings around David.  When you attune your ears to God, obey Him and even do what makes you squirm, God Himself will cause your adversaries to have respect for you and give you honor.

Friday, January 16, 2015

January 16 – Having plenty, supernaturally

The one who works his land will have plenty of food, but whoever chases fantasies will have his fill of poverty.  (Proverbs 28:19 HCSB)

Good honest hard work is considered godly and worthy of reward.  That doesn’t mean that the person who puts in an 8-hour work day and doesn’t steal the company post-it-notes will automatically be blessed by God.  You can still work and chase fantasies at the same time, and in the end have your fill of poverty.

 It’s interesting that the Bible says, “works his land.”  The place where God has placed you for the time being is your “land,” not just the office or workplace that you tolerate for the sake of a paycheck.  It has been given to you as a gift for you to develop godly work skills and even if your job is as uninteresting as flipping burgers, every day is an opportunity to exercise the fruit of the Spirit.  Your boss may not have a clue that your mind is set on spiritual things, but God sees and will prosper all you do no matter what temperament or mindset he has.    

Think of how many times you have complained about a job for good reason, but then allowed the negatives to defeat you spiritually.  You may have shown up on time every day, but procrastinated on your projects, engaged in office gossip, become obsessed with the opinions of coworkers instead of focusing on the tasks at hand, or even caved in to unethical work practices.  You were in effect, chasing fantasies and not truly working your land.

Weak and ineffective Christians compartmentalize their work life as separate from their spiritual life, thinking that God has to be pleased with them because they wake up early and show up at a place they’d rather not be.  They have no clue that God is ready to work a miracle of change right where they are, if they put Him first in everything they do, think and say right there at work.  If God has a better place for them, He’ll lead them there.  But until then, He wants more than anything to reveal His love and goodness in the middle of a very worldly atmosphere.  Those who value their relationship to God fight against their flesh to honor Him wherever they are, and they are the ones who have plenty, naturally – supernaturally.

There are those who chase after fantasies like the lottery, casinos, betting on sports events and putting all their hopes on lucky streaks.  Not only is this illogical and a proven waste of money, but it separates us from God.  We displease Him when we turn to quick fixes, fuelled by the spirit of greed (all gambling has that demon behind it) and we give free reign for the devil to take away all we have.  

When the doors of our spiritual lives are open to God, we are constantly asking Him what He needs from us and how we can please Him more.  Then the physical blessings that He promises us just flow.  Take a good look at the choices you’ve been making.  Get rid of the fantasies, and start working your land with a heart after His.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

January 14 – Learn to imitate

Do what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:9 HCSB)

A friend told me that Philippians 4 had always been his favorite chapter, except for this verse.  “How arrogant of Paul to tell people to follow him.  Who does he think he is?” he would ask.  

But all scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit, even those verses that puzzle us. Paul’s command carries a promise with it as well.  There are at least two other passages where Paul says, “imitate me” (1 Corinthians 4:16, and 11:1).  The entire Bible is emphatic that no one but God should be glorified, so Paul was obviously not demanding honor and glory.  But Jesus did say that we are to be lights and salt in this world, a city on a hill for all to see so that our lives can point others to God.  There is much to be said about godly men and women who we look to as role models and examples for us to pattern our lives after.

When I’m around spiritual men who’ve lived through struggles and overcame them by faith, I learn a lot through their testimonies, and even more by just observing their lives.  God’s Word is our foundation, but there are specific circumstances where we need a role model who is full of the Holy Spirit and all of His fruit to show us how to navigate through our lives.  Their decisions and reactions to daily challenges are priceless opportunities to glean wisdom for ourselves.  If they are godly, everything they do will be in sync with God’s Word.  And even when they make mistakes, the manner in which they humbly own up to them, ask forgiveness and get back on track are great teaching tools for us to use as well.  

One image that’s indelibly etched into my memory is from years ago watching Bishop Macedo got off the phone with bad news.  He immediately smiled, laughed and gave me a slap on the back.  “The devil is angry with us! That’s great David!  That means that we’ll overcome in Jesus’ name!”  It was a confusing sight. I was a brand new pastor, and I was trying to process why he was acting so excited about bad news.  I knew the Bible verses about rejoicing in trials, but watching him that day brought the Word of God to life.  It became practical and real through that unforgettable example.  Bishop Macedo has flaws like me, but as I watch and learn from a man who imitates Jesus, my faith has become deeper and more effective as years go by.  By the way, that problem on the phone did get resolved miraculously.

But this doesn’t just go for church leaders – this should be something that we all should strive for.  It’s only right that every child of God become an example to lead others to find the Kingdom of God.  And the best way to do that is to have the humility to imitate others, even though no role model will ever be perfect.  God will show you who to imitate so He can reveal more of Himself to you.  And the God of peace with be with you.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

January 13 – Repeated over 100 times in the Bible...

When Jesus heard it, He answered him, “Don't be afraid. Only believe, and she will be made well.”  (Luke 8:50 HCSB)

Don’t be afraid.  This one phrase is repeated all through the Bible.  From the time of Abraham through the gospels, it appears in different forms, over one hundred times, spoken by God directly or through angels who He sent to His servants in times of great distress.  And here, Jesus says it again.  As impossible as it feels when certain doom is staring you in the face, God calls us to refuse our fears and choose faith instead.  

One problem most of us have is that we want God to take away the feeling of fear first, and then we’ll be able to believe.  But God commands us to banish our fear, to take control over our emotions.  In the preceding verses, Jairus, a distraught father, hears news that his sick daughter has just died, and this is the answer Jesus gives him.  I have known many people to react with a sense of insult and anger when I’d encouraged them with these words.  We’d like to believe that we are humble children of God, but I’m sure that many would argue back at Jesus, thinking that He was being insensitive and rude.  But that is where the rubber meets the road – that’s where the chance for a miracle either fizzles out, or ignites into a full blaze. 

In the original writings of the New Testament, the words faith, trust and belief all come from the same Greek root word..   The word “believe” in the Bible signifies a conviction that is so strong, it has to be lived out and acted upon.  Putting your belief to the test is true belief, not the weak meaning we attach to the word in English.  “I believe in the theory of relativity,” just means you agree that a lot of scientists say it’s true.  Most of us have no idea what that theory even means, much less change our way of life because of it.  But when Jesus commands us to not be afraid and just believe, He is asking for a radical action of trust, a change of course, a willingness to take great risk because of that belief.   

Fortunately Jairus had the humility to push his emotions to the side and obey.  His belief wasn’t just a mental agreement, it became action.  He chose to bind up fear and walk back home by Jesus’ side in the faith that his little girl would be fine – even though she was dead.  We know the rest of the story, that Jesus called her name and she rose from her bed as if she had just been asleep.  If we say we believe in God and His word, we need to act on it, even if it feels scary or ridiculous, otherwise we really don’t believe at all.  

Weak, uncommitted believers are everywhere.  Don’t be contaminated by them.  This false belief is no different from the kind of belief that demons have in God.  “You believe that God is one; you do well. The demons also believe—and they shudder.” (James 2:19)  We can choose a demonic belief that nods and agrees and does nothing, or true belief that risks everything and works.  The promise God offers, is that the dead can be raised and the impossible become a reality. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

January 12 – Honoring the lifeblood

For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have appointed it to you to make atonement on the altar for your lives, since it is the lifeblood that makes atonement.  (Leviticus 17:14 HCSB)

God is giving a command to the Israelites and even to foreigners who visit them to never eat blood, and if they do, He will turn against them and cut them off from His people.  This is how precious and holy the lifeblood of an animal is.  In Acts, Peter is given a vision that all things are now clean to eat, and that the Gentiles who were once considered unclean can become fellow sons and daughters of God if they live for Jesus.  But even so, the early church leaders call all believers to make sure that they abstain from eating blood.  Kosher laws were no longer an obligation to follow, but honoring the lifeblood of an animal was still to be observed, just like in the time of Moses.  (Acts 15:20)

The promise that God gives to Moses was a foreshadowing of the perfect sacrifice that would come in the form of Jesus, over a thousand years later.  God tells them that blood is only to make atonement (to remove sin and make people one with God).  The blood of animals, lambs, bulls, goats and others, were offered daily in the tabernacle and later the temple.  It was the central and most crucial act of worship to God.  It was a very visual and tactile reminder that sin separates us from God, and that an innocent life has to be sacrificed so that it’s lifeblood could cry out for our forgiveness. 

It may sound gruesome, but if we could see the filth and depravity of our own souls, we would understand how gruesome our own state of existence is.  The rebellious attitudes and selfishness of every human being who has ever been born, creates a huge gaping chasm between God and us.  We are hopelessly lost without a savior.  Jesus’ pure and perfect blood that was shed for every sin of the world, past present and future, is the highest and greatest act of love this world has ever known.  Receiving God’s forgiveness because of His lifeblood is our only hope of being rescued from the punishment we deserve.  But His blood needs to be honored and received with humility and reverence.  It can only cleanse us if we kill our sinful natures first and refuse to live in sin any more.  That’s what repentance and salvation is all about.

Jesus shocked his disciples one day when He said, “I assure you: Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life in yourselves.  (John 6:52)  Many of Jesus’ followers turned around and abandoned Him right then and there.  The thought of drinking blood was so horrifying, that they couldn’t stand to hear one more word.  Jesus looked at His twelve disciples and asked if they were going to leave Him too.  It is shocking that the holy Son of God would sacrifice His blood for us.  It heals, forgives and makes us children of God.  Honor His sacrifice every day by killing your selfish desires and living by His Spirit.  

Saturday, January 10, 2015

January 10 – Cheerful and bountiful giving

But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.  So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.  (2 Corinthians 9:6-7 NKJV)

There’s a false idea going around that once a churchgoer gives his tithes, “it’s all good” between him and God.  But money in an offering plate or bag is really not what God is looking for.  He’s looking for four things: giving bountifully, giving purposefully, giving without a grudging attitude, and above all giving cheerfully.  This promise has everything to do with the state of a giver’s heart.  No one has the right to proclaim that God is obligated to bless them, just because they write out a well-calculated check.  True giving is an act of our whole being, body, mind, heart and spirit.  

When God’s people worshipped Him in the past, offerings and sacrifices were always present.  That teaches us that what we give is a form of worship, it’s when we speak to God by denying ourselves a portion of our physical wealth as a symbol of love and devotion to Him.  Giving tithes and offerings should be the most joyful time of our worship to Him in church.  Along with that is the giving of our time and efforts to reach out to others, to pray for the sick, to show kindness against the will of our flesh and even to wake up early and seek His face.  They should all be viewed as an honor and a joy to give to the one who sustains our lives every moment of every day.  Cheerful and bountiful giving is the only rational form of giving there is.  It should be a natural and purposeful response to all He has given us.

In church we regularly teach the principles of tithing, offerings and sacrifices.  The devil despises the idea of God being honored by His people.  He also hates the fact that if we give bountifully and cheerfully, we’re guaranteed to receive bountifully from God.  One way he can circumvent our blessings, is to get us to feel a sense of dread or compulsion when it’s time to give, to resent the pastor for his teachings.  Another common trick is to create a false pride in those who give their ten percent down to the penny, but who have all kinds of sin hidden in their hearts.  The devil isn’t stupid, he knows all the ways to blind us and then blame God or the church when our finances go down the drain. 

Prepare yourself in advance before your next visit to church. Don’t worry about what the pastor might think or about the people you imagine are watching you (most people really don’t care what others are doing during offering time).  Prayerfully think about what you want to give - if it’s time for giving a tithe, or if you want to give beyond that as well.  Make sure your giving is a form of cheerful and humble worship to the God who created and saved you, not out of obligation or guilt.  Why waste your earnings on an empty donation when there are so many amazing blessings that God has promised you because of your giving?  If you realize that you’ve been giving in an empty or prideful way, change today and watch just how God keeps His word every time.

Friday, January 9, 2015

January 9 – No reason to panic

You men, how long will you try to turn my honor into shame?  How long will you love what is worthless and search for what is deceptive? Realize that the Lord shows the godly special favor; the Lord responds when I cry out to him.  (Psalm 4:2-3 NET)

This is a promise to those who live in submission to God, and a warning to those who try to shame them.  And even more than that, this is an example of how we should react when others try to disgrace us unfairly.  In the two chapters before this psalm, David is talking to God about the many enemies he has who surround and threaten him.  They weren’t just the unkind bosses or gossipy neighbors who create strife for us, he had literal enemies who were out for his blood.  For many years, David was on the run from his own king whom he loved, because a demon in King Saul filled him with jealous rage.  Yet even in life and death situations, David didn’t share the same hatred for the man who wanted to kill him.

His question to his enemy was, how long are you going to keep trying to destroy me?  Don’t you know that I have special favor from God?  When people or situations try to shame us and tear down our faith, this should be our response.  We should see those threats as empty and worthless.  We should view the devil’s attempts as pitiful because there is no way he can stand up against the protection of the Almighty.  

Anther aspect of David’s response, is that he is absolutely sure that he is godly and that the Lord will answer his prayers.  It is impossible for God not to do so.  If we are at peace in the knowledge that we are living godly lives, in a constant state of repentance and humility before Him, in obedience and love for Him, we can have the assurance that God will come to our rescue.  When it doesn’t happen immediately, we have no reason to panic, because God cares for His own.

God’s character is so pure and holy, that if He broke any of His promises, He would cease to be who He is.  He isn’t only a just God, He is the God of justice.  He isn’t just a loving God, He is love.  Who He is can never change.  The Bible says that there isn’t even a shadow of changing with God.  When decide to live based on that truth, the assurance of the Holy Spirit can flood into us and prove to us how faithful He is.  Living based on His truths and promises is what makes us godly, and what keeps us safe under His protection.  We can laugh at the threats of the devil through people, situations, the voices of doubt in our own minds – we can see them for what they are.  And then we can watch and see how God comes to our rescue in a big way.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

January 6 – Unbelievable love

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in the Son and through him to reconcile all things to himself by making peace through the blood of his cross—through him, whether things on earth or things in heaven.  (Colossians 1:19-20 NET)

God, the creator of the universe, who never began and will never end, all knowing and all powerful, looked down on our tiny sin-filled planet and loved us with the love of a caring father.  He decided to leave the glory of heaven to shrink down to our puny limited life form and live with us, and eventually allowed Himself to be murdered by us in the most torturous and disgraceful way.  All so that we could be reconciled to Him.  There was no other way to rescue our pitiful human race but for someone to offer a perfect blood sacrifice for us.  And so God sent His own Son.  

When we think of the absurdity of what God did, of the unbelievable love that He showed us by that act of total sacrifice, we should fall on our faces before Him in gratitude and worship, every day of our lives.  We can now be reconciled to Him, to actually be accepted into heaven and welcomed not as filthy beggars, but as children – heirs.  It’s just not fair that God would give us so much when all we have to offer him are sin-stained souls and selfish desires.  God loved us even when we were still stuck in sin (Romans 5:8).  

When He becomes our Lord, we no longer choose the paths we take or the kinds of morals we want to live by.  His word becomes the final word in all our decisions, with no ifs, ands, or buts.  It’s the least we can do for someone who is offering us heaven, and an intimate relationship with Him.  Reconciling means we can now be His friends.  The friend of the most powerful being in the universe, the one who gives us every breath we take.  He opens His arms to welcome us into His throne room to begin to live in victory and power to overcome evil.  He gives us authority to trample the devil, to bind up principalities, and to become a blessing and a light to everyone around us.  This is what reconciliation is meant to be.

One question each of us need to ask, is if Jesus has now reconciled us to Himself, are we using that power and authority?  Are we trampling evil, or has it been holding us hostage?  

Jesus gave His last drop of blood so that we could be united to Him.  If we aren’t surrendering to Him and accepting the power He is offering us, we are disrespecting His sacrifice on the cross.  Let’s learn how to take full advantage of all He purchased for us so that His honor and glory can be seen throughout the earth.

Monday, January 5, 2015

January 5 – Don’t assume you know better

For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.  (1 Corinthians 1:25 NET)

Respect for authority and leadership is at an all time low.  Some blame leaders for not deserving respect and others blame this generation of self-appointed critics giving their two cents’ worth all over the internet.  Either way, the concept of honor and allegiance seems outdated in today’s world.  But no matter how many scandals break out on the news, there is an eternal world that is more real and has never changed, and will never change.  Thank goodness.  In fact, it’s the only world that should make any difference in our lives.   

The person who understands what true reality is, focuses his thoughts and decisions on the spiritual world.  Getting riled up about what a politician says or the opinion of a TV personality is an example of the foolishness of human wisdom.  Not that caring about politics or education is worthless, it’s just that there is no answer on this earth that can rival the wisdom of God.  

Even a theologian who studies Greek and Hebrew, the deep meanings of ancient texts and all the great commentaries on the scriptures, can be totally lost in the picayune details of biblical studies and never live the life that is taught there.  The topic may be about God, yet he can be tangled up in the pride and foolishness of human wisdom.  It shouldn’t be a surprise that many pastors, church leaders and bible scholars will not make it to heaven. (See Matthew 7) 

How often have you consulted your pastor for advice on a matter, and then disliked what he said because it seemed too impractical for you?  I’ve had many come to me in tears and begging for counsel, just to leave with a polite thank you.  I’d find out later that they never even attempted to do what God said in His word.  They decided that their wisdom was superior, and that God’s was foolish.  Then they complained that nothing was getting better.  Their minds were too contaminated by their own wisdom to see how they were only hurting themselves. 

It’s been rare, but those who are humble enough to recognize that God is Lord and practice what He says - even when it feels undoable - find treasures of blessings that they never expected.  Forgiving enemies seems like foolishness, but it’s wisdom that opens our way into God’s Kingdom. Giving and sacrificing is reacted against vehemently by the world, but it’s all a part of living as one who has been saved.  

God knows that living by faith is a challenge to our flesh, and only those who consciously decide to obey His words over the screaming noise of this world, can be His children.  Retrain your mind to value the words of God above popular opinions, and live by them.  Don’t assume you know better than God, because even His foolishness is superior to your wisdom by far.

Friday, January 2, 2015

January 2 – Don’t you see it?

Look, I am about to do something new.  Now it begins to happen! Do you not recognize it?  Yes, I will make a road in the desert and paths in the wilderness.  (Isaiah 43:19 NET)

It’s the beginning of a new year – time has flown and maybe you’re looking back at last year, at unfulfilled plans and regrets that you hadn’t been more faithful to God.  But now is not the time to wallow in guilt or self-pity.  God is telling us, look!  I’m going to do something new, don’t you see it?  Don’t you recognize it?   

If there is sin that needs to be repented of, do it now.  Be baptized as the New Year begins.  If there is someone you need to ask forgiveness of, if you need to mend broken relationships or recommit to God, begin the process now.  You don’t want to miss the new and amazing things that God is going to do for you.  Waste no more time on regrets, because the changes that God is preparing for you are too wonderful for you to focus on anything else. 

God wants to give you a smooth and clear path out of the wilderness where you may have been wandering.  He’s not punishing you for your wandering, He’s delivering you from it — as long as you turn to Him and allow Him to lead you.  But He knows very well that you can easily ignore all of His love and care for you.  He’s asking you now if you recognize what He is doing, because no matter how powerful and beautiful His miracles are, each of us has the free will and the sinful nature to just shut Him out and keep wandering in circles in the desert.  It’s a travesty, but that’s the story of most people’s lives.  But it doesn’t have to be.

The promise is before us.  It’s so worth shaking off the heaviness of guilt and regrets of the past and going for what God has planned for us now.  Paul’s goal during the early church should be our daily decision for all of this new year.  “Forgetting the things that are behind and reaching out for the things that are ahead, with this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 3:13-14)