Saturday, February 28, 2015

February 28 – God’s basics

Mankind, He has told you what is good and what it is the Lord requires of you: to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God.  (Micah 6:8 HCSB)

Acting justly basically means living in fairness, which is not as easy as it sounds.  If we treated God fairly, we’d be far more devoted to Him and willing to surrender to His desires and commands.  He surrendered His all for us, and keeps loving us even when we don’t deserve it.  It’s only just and fair that we live a life of submission to Him.  In Matthew 25, He teaches that it’s impossible to love Him if we don’t show compassion, mercy and love to others: “For as much as you have done it to the least of these, you have done it unto Me.” (vs. 40)  Those who think that acting justly means donating to the poor or writing large checks in church while ignoring the needs of those around them at the same time are missing what God requires. 

Faithfulness has become a rare commodity. “Why do I feel so bad after your sermons, pastor?” I’ve been asked.  “Why do I leave those other churches feeling so happy, isn’t that what church should be?”  Nope.  Encouragement, rebuke, conviction, teaching, challenge, inspiration, compassion… God’s Word has all of these combined.  And whoever is faithful to God embraces them all – the joy of being uplifted and strengthened, and the joy of being corrected and convicted of painful changes, knowing that they lead to greater blessings. But whoever want the pleasure of marriage or of parenting a child without life-long faithfulness, just tears those relationships apart, and usually beyond repair.  When we love faithfulness to God and to others, we weather the ups and downs, the mountaintops and the rebukes.  We never give up, and find even more of God as we grow. 

Walking humbly with your God is the safest place to be in the world.  You could be lost in an unfamiliar city among total strangers, but be peaceful and secure because you are bonded together with Him.  Sometimes walking humbly feels like blindly walking into an uncharted wilderness.  But you faithfully obey what you know He asks of you, even though you can’t see beyond the nearest bend in the road.  He is your master, and you are His bondservant.  You’re never abandoned or forgotten, and your needs are provided for because you live in loving, humble obedience. 

These are His three requirements.  Most of the time it’s the small but determined choices to live them out that make the biggest impact in heaven.  Sacrificing has its time and place, but grandiose gestures of devotion are meaningless if we can’t even live these basic requirements of justice, faithfulness and walking in humility before Him.  Right before this passage in verse 7, Micah asks: “Would the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams or with ten thousand streams of oil? Should I give my firstborn for my transgression, the child of my body for my own sin?”  We can’t buy a relationship with God, we can only join in one as we accept His terms. Take a good inward look to see if you’ve been sincerely striving to live out what He asks. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

February 25 – Power that offends

He replied to them, “Go and report to John the things you have seen and heard: The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, those with skin diseases are healed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are told the good news.  And anyone who is not offended because of Me is blessed. (Luke 7:22-23 HCSB)

John the Baptist knew from the moment that he had baptized Jesus in the Jordan River, that He was the Christ, the Messiah.  He bowed before Him and said that he wasn’t even worthy to tie His sandals much less baptize Him.  He was there when the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove and God the Father announced from heaven, “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased.”  It was so clear, but then things didn’t seem to happen the way most people expected the King of Kings’ arrival on earth would unfold.  Jesus wasn’t facing down the Roman Empire, He was busy confronting a more powerful and more evil kingdom that has existed since time immemorial, and few understood how He was about to change the world.

Not long after Jesus begins his ministry, John the Baptist is arrested and about to be killed by King Herod because of his radical preaching.  From his prison cell, John sends his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the One who is to come, or should we look for someone else?”  Behind bars with no sign of Jesus amassing an army to destroy Herod’s plans, he had to hear from Jesus’ mouth directly as doubts began to creep in – are you the One?

Jesus’ response is the same one that He continues to give us 2000 years later.  Look at what I have done.  My power speaks for itself.  Jesus was in effect saying, yes I am God, because I have authority to save, forgive, heal and raise from the dead. Later in the Bible, Jesus refers to His church (all true Christians) as His body, which means we should be demonstrating this same authority and acting just as Jesus acted.  Proof that we are His, is that we have the same fruit.  When people question whether you have a genuine faith, you don’t need to go into a complicated theological argument, all you need is to show the proof of what God has done in you and with you.  The power of God through you, speaks for itself, just like it spoke for Jesus.

And then the last statement catches many off guard.  “Anyone who is not offended because of Me is blessed.”  Plenty of people avoid reading certain passages in the Bible, because they just aren’t as comforting as they’d like.  They dislike messages that don’t correspond with their way of life.  Some avoid the passages about sin and repentance, or working out their salvation with fear and trembling.  Others who enjoy being self-righteous dislike the passages about mercy or generosity towards their neighbor.  Though they say they love Jesus, His Word offends them.  They’d rather modify His Word to fit their style than mold themselves into His commands.  Many are and will be offended by Jesus, and in turn many will be offended by those who truly belong to Jesus.  But those who are blessed embrace Him as their Lord one hundred percent.  They shape their thoughts, feelings and choices based on His Word so that the power of God comes alive in and through them.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

February 22 – A message without words

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky proclaims the work of His hands. Day after day they pour out speech; night after night they communicate knowledge. There is no speech; there are no words; their voice is not heard. Their message has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world. (Psalm 19:1-4 HCSB)

We live on one very small planet spinning around our sun in a small solar system, in a small galaxy.  Our galaxy has billions of stars, and the universe has billions of galaxies that astronomers have been able to detect so far. Gases and minerals that are essential for our earth to sustain life, emanated from exploding supernovas and helped to form our perfect atmosphere. Last year the Hubble telescope took a long exposure photograph pointed in the direction of a dark and insignificant section of the universe and found thousands of galaxies in that small range – orange elliptical galaxies, spiral galaxies, small blue galaxies in the process of forming. God is still creating galaxies as we go about our daily lives. 

God is speaking to us through the skies and stars, through nature and the amazing complexity of all He created. The Bible says that there is no speech, no words and no voice, but God is sending His message to the ends of the world that He is real and that He is our creator and Lord. He has taken great pains to create our beautiful world, and to lovingly provide everything we need to live in harmony with Him and with each other.  

When sin and evil entered the world, Satan was cast onto the earth along with a third of the angels in heaven who rebelled against God. They became the demons that torment mankind until today. That’s why God created a plan of salvation so that peace and harmony could be restored, so that we could live in the joy and freedom that He always wanted for us from the beginning of time. So the God who created this vast, infinite, perfect universe, chose to come to our tiny earth to die for a bunch of selfish, rebellious people – just because He loved us so much. And because He did that, all He asks is that we return to the state of communion with Him so that He can rescue us from sickness, evil and death and give us power and authority over the devil and his demons.  

Who in their right mind would refuse grace like that?

Friday, February 20, 2015

February 20 – When sacrifice is wrong + disobeying orders is godly

Jonathan said to the attendant who carried his weapons, “Come on, let’s cross over to the garrison of these uncircumcised men. Perhaps the Lord will help us. Nothing can keep the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.  (1 Samuel 14:6 HCSB)

This is one of those passages that just makes you want to stand up and cheer. It’s the underdog who risks it all and beats off a mighty army, all in the power of the Lord. King Saul had been anointed king over Israel when his heart had been pure and humble. But when he became selfish and sloppy in his obedience to God, the Spirit of God left him and instead chose young David to become king. Yet King Saul’s son Jonathan, had the same pure heart as his best friend David, and had a burning desire to see God’s name glorified.  

In chapter 13, Saul had given 1000 soldiers to Jonathan, who won a big battle against the Philistines. Interestingly, Saul boasts about the victory and takes the credit for himself. He calls Jonathan to join him to prepare for another battle, but meanwhile the Philistine army amasses more horsemen and soldiers, and King Saul’s men begin to desert in terror. In desperation, Saul disobeys God’s orders and offers a sacrifice to God before Samuel the prophet arrives. Samuel sternly warns him how God is displeased and that another will take his place as king. 

So lesson one: prayer and sacrifice offered out of wrong motives and self-centered ambition is seen as rebellion to God. He was using sacrifice to manipulate God into letting him win, not as an act of honor or submission to his Lord.

In chapter 14 the Philistines position themselves on a high hill across from the much smaller Israelite army. Where is Saul? Waiting around under a pomegranate tree with the high priest. Jonathan lived to defend God’s name and His people, and when he saw that his father the king wasn’t listening to God, he took action. He and his attendant snuck away in secret and decided to fight the Philistines alone, just the two of them. “Perhaps the Lord will help us,” was his mindset. If God saves us, great, but if not, let’s die for Him. This action pleased God so much, that He gave them great strength and courage to kill 20 men, and then sent confusion into the camp of the Philistines so that they killed each other off, leaving the Israelite army as the victors.  

Lesson two: when no one around you is listening to God, honor God anyway and He will honor you. Jonathan seemed to disobey Saul’s orders to stay and wait. But Jonathan had a higher calling, to obey the Spirit of God, and God proved that He was with Him in the end. Read the chapters 13-15 for the full story.

God will deliver even if it’s by your small act of faith, as insignificant as you may feel you are. If you have a burning desire to honor God and stand up for His name, He will honor you as well and come rushing in with His heavenly armies to give you victory. The truth is that with God, you are never in the minority.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

February 18 – Don’t sweat the details

The hidden things belong to the Lord our God, but the revealed things belong to us and our children forever, so that we may follow all the words of this law. (Deuteronomy 29:29 HCSB)

There are times that God tells us specifically what to do for our own good and protection from evil. But because we don’t understand the full picture, we delay obeying, or obey half-heartedly, or just refuse completely.  We think we deserve an explanation to every question or doubt about His commands. But God has given us enough to know and do, so that His perfectly timed blessings can freely flow. Some things of God remain hidden for a reason, but like impatient children, we don’t want to focus on what we do know, we’d rather obsess about what we don’t know.  

The revealed things belong to us. The thousands of promises in His word are all ours, and even if we cling to just a few of them, that would be enough to see the miraculous. When we bother our minds about all the small details of exactly how He will answer our prayer, and why it’s taking so long, and who among our acquaintances is messing everything up, and that God doesn’t seem to understand just how urgent our needs are, we reduce God to a common store clerk who can’t get our order right. We call Him Lord and treat Him with great disrespect when we refuse to just trust and obey, even without all the details explained. As a good parent, God gives us just enough to know and do, and then expects us to get busy doing it. Later the hows and whys make sense, and the blessings unfold.

“So that we may follow the words of this law,” doesn’t sound like much of a promise, but that’s because we view laws and principles as burdens that restrict us. With God, nothing could be further from the truth. His ways are deep and spiritual. They set us free to bear greater fruit and gifts of His Spirit. If the privilege of knowing His principles elevates us to a higher level, then obediently practicing His laws is the spark that creates a living and powerful faith. What an honor to be a part of this process of miracles, and this is a gift not only for us, but for our children. 

In one of his famous children’s books, C.S. Lewis tells the tale of two children who make a long journey to find freedom. They discover that Aslan, who is Jesus in the form of a lion, has allowed many of their struggles to happen so that He could direct them to safety when they had no idea of the danger that was around them. One child asks why certain things happened to his friend, and Aslan replies, "I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no one any story but his own.”

God speaks through an inspiration at church, a word from the Bible, the testimony of a friend, or just a strong impression in the middle of your day when you sincerely want to hear His voice.  He is revealing His direction to you. Do what He says, don’t wait, and don’t dishonor His guidance with doubts and fear. If you think He hasn’t spoken to you at all, just take a look at all the ten months of promises on this blog. Then check if you’ve implemented what He needs from you yet. He has plenty to reveal, if we have the ears to hear and the willingness to follow.

Monday, February 16, 2015

February 16 – Benefits without the cost?

Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates.  Outside are the dogs, the sorcerers, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying.  (Revelation 21:14-15 HCSB)

It’s so simple. All sinners are welcomed into the Kingdom of God with open arms, as long as they wash their robes – repent and turn from their sins. No one has to pay for their sins any longer, because that price has already been paid by the painful death of God the Son. The minimum God requires is to wash our filthy robes of sin, and live in obedience to His ways and His Spirit.  

God wants us as His children, and paid the ultimate price. Yet most people don’t really want to treat Him like their Father. They’d rather have all the benefits of heaven at no personal cost, other than “being good” according to their standards. Free us from the penalty of sin, but don’t make us sacrifice sin. Some church leaders encourage Christians to just accept Jesus’ sacrifice as a gift, and be thankful. Keep up the profanity, keep up the addictions, enjoy the raunchy conversations and act on those desires now and then, as long as you’ve “accepted Jesus as your Savior.” But entry in to heaven comes at a high cost to us too, the cost of killing our flesh. Unfortunately there will be plenty of people who flat out refuse, and will be left outside the gates and destined for hell:  

The sorcerers, who God equates to those with a rebellious heart, in 1 Samuel 15:23.  (Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft…) That means a lot of sorcery is going on among “nice” people right now. Whoever consults psychics or mediums, who tries to communicate with dead relatives, who dabbles in the horoscope or tarot cards, all fall under this category because they are invoking evil spirits.   

There are the sexually immoral, who feel no guilt doing exactly what Jesus said in Matthew 5, that even looking at someone lustfully is the same as committing physical adultery before God. Dabblers in porn, erotic novels and films, they are all far from God and outside His gates. 

The murderers, who Jesus also says are not just those who kill the body, but who harbor thoughts of hatred or grudges, who call people fools and look down on others with contempt. In God’s eyes they have murdered one of His creation. 

The idolaters, who adore their children, their marriages, their personal wealth or possessions, their independence or their social standing, above God. They’ll sacrifice more for these treasures than they ever would for the God they give lip service to. They’re idol worshippers.  

And then everyone who practices lying, who deceives to get ahead, and who even deceive themselves into believing they’re just fine, when they’re lost. 

This is too serious to ignore. 21st century Christians in general are far too casual about this unprecedented gift of salvation, and are tossing it aside to keep indulging their own flesh. What a beautiful Kingdom we could all belong to right now if we choose wisely. Let’s be sure every day that our robes have been washed and that we’ll be given the right to eat from the tree of life. 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

February 15 – At times you won't feel it, but it's there

As the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you. Remain in My love.  If you keep My commands you will remain in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commands and remain in His love. (John 15:9-19 HCSB)

Have you ever imagined the relationship that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have with each other?  It’s hard to picture one God, in three persons.  I suppose the closest analogy would be our individual lives being made up of body, soul and spirit – three aspects of us comprising one whole being.  But even that doesn’t come close to the immensity and complexity of who God is.  He is One God, but each person of the trinity is a person unto Himself.  We can’t easily wrap our minds around it, but we have to know by faith that it is, just as the Bible says.  

So in this beautiful unity of the three persons of God, picture what kind of love there exists between the Father and the Son.  It must be perfect, infinitely abundant, joyful, deep, unbreakable – pretty much every strong and good adjective you can attach to it would be true.  And then we are told that just as the Father has loved Jesus, so Jesus has love for us.  As complex and pure and powerful and tenderhearted as the Father’s love for Jesus is, we can count on that kind of love being sent out towards us every moment of every day. 

We usually don’t feel in awe of His love.  We may acknowledge that He loves us, but many of the choices we make are actually based on a deep-seated feeling that He isn’t listening. or that He doesn’t really care.  We’ll rush into a decision out of desperation, or we’ll try to force our point on someone because we’re afraid that if we don’t convince them, no one will.  We may say something dishonest on our job, ignoring twinges of guilt while reasoning that the cost of telling the truth seems much worse than the secret guilt of telling a lie.  All of these foolish choices begin at a root level, and that root is the doubt that God really does love us.  He loves us so much that He’ll come through in tough times. 

The times of trusting in Him, handing over the controls and allowing Him to do what He wants, are the times when His love manifests in full power, rescuing us, standing up for us, fighting for us, and enveloping us with His presence.  But letting Him lead usually entails shutting up the complaining noises in our heads that want us to take matters into our own hands, to take back the reins of our lives.  The times when we need His help the most, are the times we need to let go of our anxieties and trust Him the most. Yet how often do we block Him and make a mess of things instead?  If we only believed how amazing His love was, we would never want to step out of His will.      

Jesus tells us, “If you keep My commands you will remain in My love,” just as He does with the Father.  At times you won’t feel His love, but it’s there.  Obey Him, even when you don’t feel Him, and He’ll come through. You’ll see His love manifest in it’s beautiful, deep, joyful and tenderhearted way.  That’s His promise.  Just trust.  

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

February 11 – A beautiful death

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His godly ones. O Lord, surely I am Your servant, I am Your servant, the son of Your handmaid, You have loosed my bonds.  (Psalm 116:15 HCSB)

This promise seems to contradict the rest of the chapter. The psalmist is praising God time and again for having saved him from death. Why would God see the death of His godly ones as precious, when He just took so much pain to rescue one of them from the jaws of death?  

The answer is all over the Bible, especially in the New Testament when Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal.” (John 12:24-25) This is the death that is so precious to God – the death of our selfish desires, our flesh, our insistence on being in control, the death of our past and all that we once were. When Jesus says go or stop, persevere or change directions, wait or fight, we obey because our flesh is as dead as a grain of wheat in the ground, but our spirit becomes alive in Christ.  

If you were baptized in water, you were reenacting your death. It was a symbol of your burial, and also a symbol of your resurrection as you came out of the water to become a new creation. But there are lots of people who have gone through the ritual of baptism, and their old selves are still alive and kicking. Nothing died, even though they took some nice pictures and shed a few emotional tears at the time. But real death is permanent. The old self not only stays in the grave, he decays. This may sound macabre, but it’s a deep truth that is precious, beautiful and holy.

Then the psalmist says that though he is a servant, and a son of a servant, unworthy of love or honor, his bonds (or chains as it says in the Orthodox Jewish Bible) are now loosed. When we die, when we chose the life of a servant, chains that once bound us are no longer there. We become truly free. So the promise is: die and become precious and of great worth, be a servant and simultaneously be set free.  

These paradoxes confound those who are fearful of letting God be their Lord. They just can’t bring themselves to surrender to the point of death, and they don’t want to hear about it. They’d prefer to imagine a God who just blesses them because they’re good, a God that would never demand so much of them. They become angry at the thought that entry into the Kingdom of Heaven would come at such a high price. They may give lip service to the Bible, but when it really comes down to it, they don’t believe His promises of loosed chains, abundance, joy, peace, wisdom and power to overcome, and so they don’t believe that He is worth dying for.  

If you say you believe, don’t just go halfway. Believe it all. Go the distance and die today to your selfish control and selfish desires. Then see how beautiful your new life becomes in His Kingdom, and how powerfully His Spirit works in you when He finally is given Lordship over your life. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

February 10 – Spiritual warfare 101

“Don’t be afraid, Daniel,” he said to me, “for from the first day that you purposed to understand and to humble yourself before your God, your prayers were heard. I have come because of your prayers.”  (Daniel 10:12 HCSB)

The spiritual world is unseen, but is very real.  A lot goes on behind the scenes when we pray - or don’t pray.  When we act in faith or fizzle out in discouragement, powerful battles are won, lost or prolonged in direct relation to our spiritual choices.  Daniel had been a captive of the Babylonians and then the Persians for decades.  His heart and soul longed to return to Jerusalem and to see the Temple of Solomon rebuilt.  The Bible says that he prayed daily for his people as he faced Jerusalem.  His dedication and love for God’s people and God’s ways was so strong that God used him as a powerful prophet and a shining example of God’s faithfulness during that difficult time in history.

In this passage, Daniel hears from a messenger of God that his prayers had been heard from the very first day that he “purposed to understand and to humble yourself before God.” The answer from God’s throne had instantly been yes, even though Daniel had not yet seen any answer materialize on earth.  The angel continues to explain about the spiritual battles that were going on with the demonic principality of Persia.  In fact, not long after this vision, King Cyrus of Persia has favor on the Israelite captives and allows them to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple, just as Daniel had prayed for so long.  

We have to constantly remind ourselves that what goes on in the spiritual world is more real and more permanent than what we see with our eyes.  There are battles that God is urging you to engage in, to fight against demonic forces for the sake of your families, your dreams, and for your own salvation that cannot be abandoned just because you don’t yet see the changes you’re hoping for.  Faith is the evidence of things not seen, as Hebrews 12 tells us.  Daniel did not relent in his prayers for God’s people.  He didn’t know that his faith was sending out warrior angels to fight on his behalf, until God revealed it to him.  

God has included this in His word to us to show us what happens when we persevere in our prayers and in our faith.  Faith has to be acted upon, and even when it seems tedious and our motivation levels are low, our determined choice to cling to His promises is what makes all the difference.  Promise after promise in the Bible agrees with and supports all the others.  Every promise undergirds the universal truth that God is faithful and just, merciful and loving, and will answer those who are just like Daniel – the ones who purpose to understand His word, and humble themselves before God.  

Don’t give up your fight.  Don’t relent.  Spiritual battles are being fought that you cannot see, but directly affect the physical world.  God has already said yes to your requests. With the new covenant of Jesus’ sacrifice we now have the authority to rebuke and bind up demonic powers by our faith.  Make that a daily part of your prayers with God.  Give Him praise, thanksgiving and offer your requests, and then fight alongside God’s army to win your battles, and His.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

February 8 – There's no such thing as too late

“Rejoice, childless one, who did not give birth; burst into song and shout, you who have not been in labor!  For the children of the forsaken one will be more than the children of the married woman,” says the Lord.  (Isaiah 54:1 HCSB)

For the guys who read this and assume it’s just a promise for women, it actually was God’s promise to all of His people, so keep reading…

There’s an aspect of God’s power that not many people know about in this promise.  A childless woman in those days, was viewed as cursed and rejected by God, a shame to her family and community.  She is a metaphor for those who’ve made serious mistakes and let the devil curse them for years.  They can easily feel shame and regret for all their wasted time before finding God’s forgiveness.  The devil knows that once we’re safe in God’s Kingdom he can’t destroy us, but he’ll try to twist our thoughts to believe that our repentance came too late in the game.  “Sure, you’ll make it into heaven when you die,” the devil will tell us, “but until then you’re still a loser.  Who’s going to want to marry you now?  Why would anyone hire you after all you’ve done?”  He can snuff out the joy of our salvation, and even make the hope of heaven turn sour.  Once those feelings settle in, it’s pretty easy for him to choke out what faith is left.

Why would God tell this forsaken woman that she’ll have more children than the married one who naturally has children?  Because when God restores what Satan has cursed, He restores supernaturally.  He goes above and beyond what the world can offer, if we have the faith to take it.  This is His promise to those who turn to him.  It will be so amazing, they won’t be able to hold back the rejoicing and singing because of what He will do.  The devil can say it’s too late, but it’s never too late for total restoration that comes straight from heaven.  

A man who has a series of broken relationships in his wake, fathering children without knowing how to be a father, can believe in this promise right now.  God won’t rewind time, but He can heal any pain that was caused, and establish such a great bond between this dad and his kids, as if they had always lived in a loving and godly home.  A woman who’s struggled with sickness for years and was never able to marry and have a family, can believe in this promise as well.  She can expect God to restore joy and love into her life as well as physical healing.  She can have such a sense of worth, love and family, as a supernatural gift of God.  There will be many other women around her with families who are ungrateful and troubled by their relationships, while she will be strong, free and loved.  

People who've suffered years of loss can rejoice, sing and shout for how God snatched back that loss from the hands of the devil, and how he lifted them up as an example of His goodness.  God is outside of time, so as long as we are in this world, there is no such thing as too late.  This, as well as most promises, doesn't just happen without the effort of faith and determination on the part of God’s people.  Make this your prayer and seek out ways to be a part of God’s answer for you. 

Friday, February 6, 2015

February 6 – Stop being useless + unfruitful

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with goodness, goodness with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with godliness, godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.  For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they will keep you from being useless or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:5-8 HCSB)

When we talk about bearing fruit we usually think of the list in Galatians 5.  But in this passage other attributes of someone who pleases God are listed.  Verse 9 even says, “The person who lacks these things is blind and shortsighted and has forgotten the cleansing from his past sins.”  Blind, shortsighted and forgetting God’s forgiveness are not words that describe a true believer.  That means that this list above is of utmost importance as a gauge to know if you are useful to God, or useless — fruitful for Him, or unfruitful.

Goodness, love and self-control overlap the list of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5, but others listed here are not always given much consideration.  Knowledge is not just head-knowledge and theology, but a deep understanding of who God is and how He works.  When doubts attack at an emotional level – where they're most effective – it’s an unshakable knowledge that God is our shield and defender which keeps us stable and able to rebuke doubts.  For those who feel like they have no time to learn about God, to read His word or spend time communing with Him, then spiritual, fruitful knowledge will never happen.

We know that patience is a fruit of the Spirit, but endurance takes on another dimension.  That’s the motivation of a marathon runner who keeps up the pace in expectation and excitement.  The finish line may be miles away, but his driving goal is to make it, and in good time.  When the answers to our prayers seem to be taking ages to materialize, an immature Christian easily gives up in despair.  But the endurance to see the vision God has given you through till the end, is God’s power manifesting in you. 

And then there’s brotherly love, what people assume they have when they smile and act friendly in church, but which is actually very hard to find.  If you love someone as a brother or sister, you’ll care about their struggles, and even if you don’t exactly know how to help them, you’ll guide them towards faith, and to fight in the Spirit against whatever evil is attacking them.  It also includes tough love, calling up someone who has slipped away from faith and encouraging them to start believing again.  It reaches out to others in deep spiritual battles, and in simple acts of kindness.  It believes the best in your fellow believers and fights for them instead of tearing them down.  

And lastly godliness, which just means having the character and behavior of God.  That means a hatred for sin and evil, a love for His people and a desire to imitate Jesus in everything.  Whoever is lackadaisical in their attitude towards sin is someone who doesn’t value godliness, or God for that matter.  

God promises that we will be useful and fruitful in this life, as we make every effort to grow in all of these things — building one upon the other.  No matter how much effort this requires, it’s nothing compared to the sacrifice that Jesus made for us, and the daily love and care that He provides even though we are so undeserving. 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

February 4 – A truth to hold onto

For the Lord God is a sun and shield; The Lord gives grace and glory; No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.  (Psalm 84:11 NASB)

Imagine travelling through the wilderness thousands of years ago, without the aide of modern equipment.  The darkness and cold of night, the wild animals and dangerous terrain would be cause to fear for your life.  But as the sun would rise in the morning, the warmth and light changed everything.  Fears would be banished and hope would be renewed with the constant presence of the sun as your companion.

And just as God refers to Himself as our sun, He is also our shield to protect us from harm.  He gives us the light of day to see our enemies, and then blocks them for us as well.  His light never goes out, and even in the night, He continues to be our sun. The Bible even describes the new Jerusalem as needing no sun because God Himself will illuminate everything, everywhere (Revelation 21:23).  This is His character – He is light and warmth, protection and strength.  He gives us grace (good things that we don’t deserve) and glory (honor from Him).  And the part that most people just can’t believe, is that He won’t hold back anything good from those who walk uprightly.  That means ANYTHING good!  He loves to bless those who follow Him in purity of heart and hold fast to His ways.  

That sounds simple enough, it’s just that final stipulation that stumps most people, “those who walk uprightly…”  Even a well-seasoned Christian who has been a great example of faith has to re-examine his life daily to see if he is truly walking uprightly with God.  Maybe obvious sins like stealing or adultery aren’t an issue, but subtle things can slip in.  A complaining attitude, a hidden grudge, a critical spirit, a feeling of superiority, a lack of faithfulness in small things, a reluctance to fulfill commitments.  Everyone is hit with temptations like these and everyone falls for them from time to time.  These are the sins people often excuse with the famous line, “I’m only human…”  But the longer these sins linger, the more they poison a person’s relationship with God.   Their prayers go unanswered and things just seem to go wrong for no apparent reason.  The light, the protection, the grace and the glory are wearing thin, and after some time a Christian can feel like God is withholding everything good that he needs.

Run a systems check on your heart, your attitudes and your motives.  Pray and ask God to reveal anything that you need to repent of and correct.  Everyone with a close bond with God knows how important it is to do this on a regular basis, and learn to identify the negative symptoms that alert them to a problem.  From the moment you repent and choose to change, you are instantly in the right place to enjoy this promise.  And what if you’ve been walking uprightly but have not yet seen the good things that you’ve been seeking?  …Begin thanking Him in the certainty that they are coming!  God can’t change His character and can never go back on His promises. Hold onto that truth.  He won’t withhold anything good.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

February 3 – Seeing God in high definition

Long ago God spoke to the fathers by the prophets at different times and in different ways.  In these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son. God has appointed Him heir of all things and made the universe through Him.  (Hebrews 1:1-2 HCSB)

The way God revealed Himself through Moses and the prophets, was like seeing the spiritual world through a certain lens.  God gave the Ten Commandments and the more detailed moral and ceremonial laws to help the people to stay in communion with Him, and they were able to see some fundamental aspects of His character.  Early on in Old Testament times, there were no written scriptures, and God had to speak either directly, or through angels so that His people could know His word.

But then Jesus came, and the Holy Spirit was sent ten days after Jesus ascended back into heaven, and a newer, clearer lens was placed before us so we could see even more of God.  Jesus’ teachings and the revelations of the Holy Spirit written down by the apostles, suddenly brought the teachings of the past into sharper focus.  Jesus’ death and resurrection taught us more of who God is, and Jesus taught in depth about who Satan is and how he works to destroy us.   Jesus’ revelations of our spiritual battle against Satan, injected new life into the old stories, laws and prophecies from before.  They all fit together, they all make sense as the unified and perfect word of God.  Just like Jesus said, He didn’t come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17).  He made it deeper, wider, truer.

We are so blessed to live in this day and age after Jesus, when we have His clearer more high definition lens to see God now, and also to look into the past and see how God has been faithful and consistent for millennia, right up until this very day.  The Bible says that prophets and kings longed to see the things that we see.  We now know the Messiah, a mystery that people of God had prayed about for generations.  We have the powerful name of Jesus, we have the written word of the Bible, and we have the opportunity to be baptized in the Holy Spirit.  

What we have is better by far than the Old Testament prophets who would receive an occasional word from an angel during years of silence.  Instead, we can have the presence of God dwelling inside of us, just as He dwelt in the Holy of Holies upon the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant.  The baptism in the Holy Spirit is our immersion into that blazing light that had encompassed Moses on the top of Mt. Sinai and caused his face to shine.  This is the power of the Creator of the Universe, Father, Son and Holy Spirit that is ours to live in and through. And despite all of that which is ours to take, God still tells us that we only “see through a glass darkly.” Eternity is coming where we will see Him face to face – in the highest definition there is.  The supernatural world is not something to treat casually.  It’s all around us and soon it will be all there is.  Let’s live each moment knowing that what we don’t yet see is what really matters. 

Monday, February 2, 2015

February 2 – Of course He will

Let them boast in this alone: That they truly know me, and understand that I am the Lord of justice and of righteousness whose love is steadfast; and that I love to be this way.  (Jeremiah 9:24 TLB)

This is the only thing that God allows us to be proud of – that we truly know Him.  There are plenty of verses in the Bible about how our wisdom is foolishness to God, and that boasting in our accomplishments and grand plans are just as foolish.  But knowing God should be what show the world with pride.  This doesn’t translate into acting religiously superior and looking down on those who don’t know as much as we do, which in fact would prove that we didn’t know God at all.  Knowing Him demands a humble heart, among many other things.  

Think about how you identify yourself the most.  What do you want others to know when you walk into a room?  That you’re smart, well-educated, funny, successful or a good person?  That you’re tough, cynical or bored with life?  You could claim to be a believer in Christ and still be projecting any of these things because of what you value most about yourself.  But God says that our pride and joy should be to point others to God.  If we have financial success or bright ideas, happy families or great personalities – they all pale in comparison to the fact that we are saved.  We know the one who loved us so much that He gave us His life, and anything good that we have should be used to honor that.  

For a worldly-minded person, all of that seems a bit degrading.  Being able to look impressive is the only sense of security some people have.  But to forget selfish pride is so freeing.  We can work with people who are undervalued in society, of humble means, and feel love and compassion for them because we know that there is nothing that we have that wasn’t given to us from the God who we have the privilege to know as our Father.  We can also work among people who the world considers powerful and important and be completely at ease because we know that every one of us is on the same level – we all need a Savior.  Under their important sounding résumés are people who have nothing to boast about if they don’t know Him.   We can offer them compassion, because what impresses them doesn’t impress us.   

But the promise that is often overlooked in this verse is that, “I am the Lord of justice and righteousness, whose love is steadfast; and that I love to be this way.”  He loves to be this way – He enjoys seeing justice happen, and He loves being the Lord of justice.  He loves having a steadfast, unchanging, unwavering love.  When we pray and know that He loves to be all these things, faith can be stable and certain.  The feeling of desperation that so often accompanies our prayers will be gone.  We don’t need to promote ourselves or ensure that everyone knows us and treats us right.  Our boast is in Him, and of course He’ll take care of all the rest.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

February 1 – Get out of the way

The Spirit is the One who gives life. The flesh doesn’t help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. (John 6:63 HCSB)

I can remember moments of reading the Bible when it felt as if a huge curtain was being pulled aside before my eyes.  All of a sudden things made sense, God’s voice was clear and practical so that I knew just what to do, but it was also deep and unexplainably transforming.  I’d feel a huge shift inside of me just because of that revelation, it was a joy and a conviction that I hadn’t fabricated on my own.  Someone was pulling me closer to Him right then.  It was the Holy Spirit.  

This happened even before I was baptized in the Holy Spirit.  In those days I didn’t even know about the baptism the way I understand it now.  All I knew was I wanted to know God deeply, and it was all that would occupy my mind.  Those “aha” moments of hearing the Holy Spirit speak started happening more often, because I allowed those revelations to change me every time.  I treated His word with an excitement and reverence.  No one had to create a church program or fast or special event for me to have a hunger for God.  As I kept yearning and seeking, it was just a matter of time before I was transformed and received His baptism.  

The Holy Spirit speaks to us all to create new life in us on a daily basis.  But how we respond to His voice determines everything.  We could dismiss what He says as undoable, or even agree with His urging at the moment and then casually toss it into the recycling bin of our brain a moment later.  The more we put Him off, the less we hear Him.  He keeps speaking but we dull our ears.  We allow exactly what this verse says, “The flesh doesn’t help at all.” 

The words of God are spirit.  The Bible is alive, living and active - a double edged sword (Hebrews 4:12).  There is no book you own that has life and spirit like the word of God.  And yet, it cannot be understood by your flesh.  Your spirit needs to reach out to God’s Spirit, to the spirit in His words.  This is what gives you life.

Just as I have loved those moments of hearing and receiving directly from Him, I know that I’ve also wasted time trying to listen to Him in my flesh.  I’d feel frustrated and bored, and preferred to turn my attention to more enjoyable things.  

Now that we have a fast of Daniel to enjoy and share together, don’t think that just because you’re avoiding secular media you deserve a pat on the back for your great “sacrifice.”  This isn’t about you or your flesh or how impressed you are with your holiness.  It’s about setting your eyes on Him, and hungering after His Spirit.  In a few weeks time you could be so transformed that you’ll never want to go back to the way you are right now.  Get your flesh out of the way, it doesn’t help at all.