Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The smell of life or death

Sunday afternoons in a large church in the south of Sao Paulo, unbelievable miracles occur on a regular basis. It’s the addiction deliverance meeting, and every week people are called forward who want to quit their addictions and place whatever drugs they have on them in baskets on the altar: cocaine, heroine, crack, marijuana, crack pipes, bottles of alcohol, cigarettes and whatever else has enslaved them. A couple badly addicted people are always chosen out of the group and called up on the altar to tell the group what their addiction is and how it has destroyed their lives… then Bishop Roger picks out the drug that they are addicted to from the baskets and has them smell it. Some start to shake with desire to smoke or snort the drug. For all of them, the smell is attractive, and they are willing to trade all the money in their wallet, their phones, even their shirts and shoes for that drug. After a strong prayer is made for each one, they are asked to smell the same drug they smelled a few minutes ago and the large majority start gagging with nausea. They can no longer stand the smell of the drug, they feel repulsed by the smell to the point of wanting to vomit. The urge that had controlled them for years isn’t just controlled, it’s totally gone and replaced with a hatred for that drug.  

To those who are dying, the smell of destruction, addictions, immorality and greed among many other evils, is deliciously desirable. Those who cling to the spirits of this world, are automatically drawn to the same spirits in others. But place those same people in the presence of true Christians and they’ll want to bolt out the door. God says that we have a sweet aroma to those who are searching for God, but for those who love their sinful lifestyle, we smell like death. 

Don’t be surprised when people who don’t even know you reject you. It’s the fragrance of true life that they don’t want. Funny how even churchgoers can react the same way as total unbelievers when they come across us. Handing out flyers in the YMCA in Texas created the most bizarre responses from church ladies who were highly offended that we would assume they struggled with negativity. Why the offense at a simple piece of paper?  Because the spirit of what we were doing was like the smell of death to their hard hearts.  

On the same token, those who are true believers are never comfortable in the company of those who aren’t, only if it’s to help them find the truth. But our close friends and confidants share in the same aroma of sincere and active faith, a hatred for evil and no tolerance for hypocrisy. People may accuse you of being too extreme, but it’s the nature of the Spirit of God inside of you. How can light have fellowship with darkness? We’re on display for God’s purposes, to spread His fragrance to draw whoever is humble towards the Spirit within us. 

But thanks be to God, who always puts us on display in Christ and through us spreads the aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For to God we are the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To some we are an aroma of death leading to death, but to others, an aroma of life leading to life. And who is competent for this? For we are not like the many who market God’s message for profit. On the contrary, we speak with sincerity in Christ, as from God and before God.  (2 Corinthians 2:14-17 HCSB)

Monday, March 30, 2015

Internalizing love

The human mind is wired to hunger for love.  Research done on infants years ago who were fed and clothed but deprived of loving touch showed that they suffered dramatically, both physically and emotionally, proving that love is a basic, primal need.  The Bible tells us that God is love.  It’s not that He merely loves us - He is love. It’s so crucial, it’s the first of the fruit of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5.  The true church is described as a community characterized by brotherly love.  God knows that every member of the church is sinful and flawed, even more reason why we need the supernatural gift of God’s love to fulfill His calling.

But though God’s love is abundantly evident in nature, in the beauty of good relationships, happy families, and the kindness of friends, so many people are wandering through life feeling terribly empty and unloved.  God’s love is here, but not everyone internalizes it.  It’s almost as if they had an invisible force around them that repelled it.  God’s love is so vast and pure, powerful and profound, that if we experienced it in it’s totality it would overwhelm us.  Wouldn’t it be great if that pure love could be a part of our every day experience?

The Holy Spirit through John tells us that keeping God’s word perfects His love in us.  That may sound vague, but it’s very simple.  Just walk just as Jesus walked.  Wherever He went, He had compassion on those in need, and had the wisdom to stand up to those who were hypocrites and oppressors.  He also had no fear of storms, literal or figurative, because He trusted in His heavenly Father.  He wasn’t obsessed with money and possessions, because He knew that if He did the will of His Father, He would be provided for.  He knew that He had authority over sickness and demons, and He used that authority every single day.  He didn’t allow evil to block Him from doing what was right.  He was willing to sacrifice, because He first loved us.

Living in that Spirit and striving to follow His standards causes love to be perfected in you.   Living in trust and obedience, eliminates so much unnecessary stress and strain.  Unneeded worries are deleted, your useless attempts to solve everything your own strength can be abandoned because they’re illogical.  The extra energy you have can be spent rebuking evil and acting in defiance of what the devil wants.  Defying the devil can appear heroic, or go unnoticed by others depending on what he is tempting you to do. Defiance can mean humbling yourself and asking forgiveness, breaking off an unhealthy relationship, or just denying your ego to show kindness.  But whatever it is, you are acting your faith and that’s when the results of your prayers bring so much joy, proving just how loved and precious you are to Him.  You’re able to internalize His love as it flows through you and perfects itself inside of you.  

But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.  (1 John 2:6 HCSB)

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Terrible as an army with banners

Every true Christian from every nation across the earth has been joined together to form the spiritual body of Christ. That is the true universal church of God’s Kingdom – people sold out for God who live in sincere obedience to Him form this powerful entity called the Church. They may come from various denominations and have various forms of worship, but God’s eyes see each one shine like beams of light in the darkness. He knows His true Church and He strengthens them by His Spirit.

C.S. Lewis’s, head demon character in “The Screwtape Letters,” describes how fearful the true Church is to the kingdom of hell: 

“Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans.”

There’s no doubt about it, none of us realize how terrifyingly powerful the body of Christ is – the body that we all form. What we see when we look at ourselves is a bunch of ordinary people trying to live for God, but still struggling with doubts and fears, still slipping into the routine of an average church-goer, and oblivious to the authority we have over the spiritual powers of hell.  Why is that?  

Maybe one reason is that we don’t see the clear distinctions between evil and good. We aren’t alert to the subtle whisperings of the devil in false believers, or the presence of evil disguised as good. And so we embrace friendships and relationships that water down our faith and neutralize our authority over the devil. We can foolishly think that because our old high school friend was so nice, and our dear cousin is so fun to be with, we value our bond with them more than we do the body of Christ. But there is no bond of higher value on this earth than with those who are bonded to Jesus in spirit and in truth. We may all act and speak and live differently from each other, but we all need each other as we drink from the same Spirit.

Every individual Christian has the power to face down the devil and his demons, but if we all took up our armor and fought as one body with the authority that Jesus granted us, this world would be a different place.  “…and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)

For as the body is one and has many parts, and all the parts of that body, though many, are one body—so also is Christ.  For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.  (1 Corinthians 12:12-13 HCSB)

Friday, March 27, 2015

Transferred, not tweaked (March 27)

Have you ever taken a vacation where it seemed like the world slowed down, where the beauty of nature and the clean fresh air transformed you into a much better version of yourself? Returning back to the regular grind is a letdown as you try to hang onto the remnants of that glow. That’s a tiny glimpse, a sampling of what God does when we are saved. Jesus rescues us from darkness and transfers us, transports us to another existence, another world where power, joy, peace and wisdom are all around us. Huge problems can come, but we are nowhere close to that darkness anymore. Our weapons of warfare are supernatural and always effective, if used correctly. That’s the new birth.  It doesn't end like a vacation, but as we remain in His Kingdom, it just grows stronger for eternity.  

Now take a look at yourself, your beliefs, your emotional state, your perspective on the problems around you.  Plenty of self-labeled Christians are in the darkness but just tweaked their behavior, vocabulary and weekend activities thinking that’s all it takes to become born of God. They might be tweaked, but they're not transferred. They're not reborn into the Kingdom of “the Son He loves” — experiencing a new life inside while at the same time living in the same sinful world.

One big lie of the devil is that being saved is a bore, a heavy burden — no power, no miracles and no real freedom. Jesus said the way was hard and the road narrow, that there would be sacrifices and submission. We would have to serve a Master and die to ourselves. All of that is true and necessary to enter the Kingdom of God, but the unsurpassing joy of being in the Kingdom is worth every sacrifice. Jesus never promised a burden-free life, but He did promise rest for our souls when we take on His yoke.  

It may not feel like it, but it really is good news to discover that you aren't yet born of God.  That means that the tiresome mediocre Christianity you've been living is not the final product. There’s something far greater that you can look forward to, and you can begin to live in it now if you are willing to go all the way. Rebirth first requires death. Dwelling in the Kingdom of God and serving Him is what we were all created for. 

“For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.”  (Ephesians 2:10 HCSB)

He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son He loves. We have redemption, the forgiveness of sins, in Him. (Colossians 1:13-14 HCSB)

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Imagining God’s Mind (March 26)

If you’re like most Christians, you probably are tempted to think that God is too busy and too holy to be bothered by an ordinary person as yourself.  But that isn’t true at all.

God’s thoughts about you are vast, and full of ideas to create something new and amazing with your life. While you may have accepted the drudgery of an ordinary life, God sees huge opportunities for you, opportunities that He can create on the spot. Why not seek out His thoughts? Find out what He’s thinking about you, what He wants from you? Most people don’t really want to know, because His thoughts don’t suit their tastes. They shut out His direct guidance — so obvious in His Word — and start seeking out spiritual gurus or prophets to tell them whatever sounds exciting and comfortable. But the thoughts of God are supernatural and aren’t understood by natural means, they have to be received by faith, no matter how crazy, scary or undoable they may seem at the moment. 

How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!  How vast is the sum of them!  If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand.  When I awake, I am still with You.  (Psalm 139:17-18 NASB)

Without God’s thoughts, we see everything through a dull and cynical lens. We convince ourselves that smiling people are fake, and that people who are too busy to answer our questions are mean, that strong words of conviction are offensive, and loving words of encouragement are debatable. Even answered prayers can bring fleeting moments of gratitude with more reasons to complain following soon after. We confess defeat with our mouths and say, “I knew it!” when bad things happen. When we doubt God’s love for us, we open up all the windows and doors of our soul to negativity of every sort. For your spiritual health it’s crucial to believe in God’s loving care for you at all times, even when you don’t feel it.  Especially when you don’t feel it. 

1 Corinthians 2 says we’re supposed to have the mind of Christ. Imagine having God’s mind – a mind with thousands of creative and life-giving thoughts every day!  Who wouldn’t want that? 

Challenge yourself to dwell on this thought all this week: God in His abundant love is thinking of you right now, all the time.  And His thoughts are supernatural, powerful and life-giving.  He is filled with love for you at this very moment. If you’re stuck in a problem or uncertain of what direction to take, ask Him and tune into God’s way of thinking and He will provide you with the inspiration and ideas that you need. His thoughts for little, insignificant you, are precious, vast, and outnumber the sand. Live in that truth and you’ll start to see answers that you never knew were there.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Straining out gnats + swallowing camels (March 25)

But as for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi,’ because you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers.  Do not call anyone on earth your father, because you have one Father, who is in heaven.  And do not be called masters either, because you have one Master, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant.  Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.  (Matthew 23:8-12 HCSB)

Jesus was warning His disciples not to get bigheaded, as spiritual leaders. They didn’t realize it yet, but Jesus knew that they would be the founders of the Early Church. He was emphatic that they saw themselves as servants and not masters. The Pharisees, on the other hand, made Jesus sick. They were proud religious leaders, suspicious of anything that wasn’t exactly their way, even calling Jesus the prince of demons. They felt threatened by Jesus’ radical ideas. Jesus’ teachings were in perfect alignment with all of scripture, but they were so obsessed with holding onto power and position, they couldn’t see God the Son standing right in front of them.  

There are self-labeled Christians so lax and disinterested in obeying God’s Word that they’re no longer saved. But there are others who are just as obsessed and suspicious as the religious leaders of the past, who will divide, accuse and exclude instead of encourage or build up. Jesus was harsh with them as He said in verse 24,  “Blind guides! You strain out a gnat, yet gulp down a camel!”  

Be very careful of religious attitudes of superiority and exclusion. Even if a fellow believer has sinned, they are to be helped back on the right path with love. But Jesus had tough love for those who chose to assume the worst of others and burden them with judgments. Yet even though He was harsh, He welcomed any Pharisee who sincerely sought to know Him.  

As Jesus has so graciously forgiven each of us who don’t deserve even a scrap from His table, we should be tenderhearted towards each other. When we pick at the little comments that others make, the snatches of conversations we may overhear, the behavior we don’t quite understand, we are straining out gnats and swallowing camels. We forget that we also say and do things that others can easily misinterpret. We need grace just as much as our brothers and sisters in faith need it. When we forget about demanding our way, humbling ourselves, serving and believing the best in each other, God’s promise to exalt us becomes reality. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The remedy for a little faith (March 24)

And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.  But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”  (Matthew 17:20-21 NASB)

“I think I just don’t have enough faith…” many will tell me in defeat when I challenge them to believe in a big God. People often decide that having a big faith is a monumental task that requires an almost monk-like holiness worthy of answered prayers. That’s not what Jesus is saying in this verse as He answered His disciples’ questions as to why they couldn’t cast out a demon from a little boy.  Jesus tells them that some demons only leave due to prayer and fasting. But Jesus wasn’t teaching the practice of religious rites, He was teaching a lifestyle of devotion to God.

A lifestyle of devotion is not earning holiness points with God, but living daily with a determination that God’s glory has to be shown in your life so that others can see and know that He is real and alive. For that to happen, you’d automatically be in constant prayer. You would want to hear from Him, share with Him, ask for direction, act on His guidance and relish moments alone in His presence. 1 Thessalonians 5 tells us to pray without ceasing and to rejoice always. That would be boring and tedious if it were just a religious practice, but when you are in love with your Lord, you can’t stand to be out of His presence because He is real to you. Fasting is normally considered abstaining from food that we offer as a different form of prayer, but abstaining from fleshly desires in general is a fast that we all should be living out daily.  

Jesus was plain as day: you can even command a mountain to move – you have the authority!  The two problems that many have when it comes to seeing miracles is that either they are not living in ceaseless prayer and the denying of their flesh (which is the mark of a true Christian – you need to question your salvation if this isn’t happening). And secondly, you need to have such a bold trust in God that you’ll actually command a mountain to move. Funny how many lopsided Christians I know. Either they’re whole-hog “name it and claim it” believers who insist on big miracles, but live fleshly undisciplined lives, or I see good, moral and holy Christians who beg God to remove their problems, but won’t face them down and command them to drown in the sea. Both extremes live in defeat.

Our challenge is not to be the happy medium between the two, but to be both extremes at the same time. Radical Christianity is loving Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and then rising up in faith to fight for His Kingdom. You have the authority and the ability to be this kind of hero. You and I can move our mountains. We only have a littleness of faith when we don’t try. 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Championing the defenseless (March 21)

Don't rob a poor man because he is poor, and don't crush the oppressed at the gate, for the Lord will take up their case and will plunder those who plunder them.  (Proverbs 22:22-23 HCSB)

The expression “don't kick a man when he’s down” was invented because human nature has a cruel streak that enjoys the oppression of others. We see it in politics and in the corporate world. It’s like wolves that strike the weakest of the herd. It could be vengeance or a lust for power, but attacking someone who is already at a disadvantage is unethical even by worldly standards. In the spiritual world, it’s a very dangerous thing to do.  God promises to fight on the side of the victims. And not only that, He promises to strip away all that their oppressors have taken and give them the bitter taste of their own medicine. God is a God of love, but also of justice.

Deuteronomy 10 says, “He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner, giving him food and clothing.” God loves to defend the defenseless, to fight for them — which means that if you're attacking one of God’s children, you now have God against you. And if God’s against you, you have nowhere to hide. It’s better to repent and salvage what you can out of the mess you're in than to watch as all you love, and have, get taken away from you.

For those who find themselves being treated unfairly, accused without even a chance to explain, be encouraged by this promise. Claim this promise and remember that God is above the judge and lawyers on your case, God is above your accusers, above you and above your situation. The worst thing you could do is to attack back out of your flesh, with harsh words, arguments or manipulation. That makes you just as unfair and unpleasing to God as those who had attacked you in the first place. Though it feels as if you’re doing nothing, allow God to work.  Be wise; nullify any anger or resentment with love and forgiveness. That doesn't mean you condone the injustice, in means that you have the wisdom to fight against evil in harmony with the Spirit of God.  

When we pray with a fiery faith against the demons behind our injustice, while also loving the people who are hurting us, just like Jesus taught, we release God’s power to rescue us from that situation. It’s not our business to see to it that those we dislike get their comeuppance – their lives and futures are God’s business. When we stop worrying about what our enemies are up to and focus on loving and pleasing God, we're exercising the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and God’s lovingkindness will come through beyond what we could ever imagine.

Friday, March 20, 2015

The messy business of faith (March 20)

Where there are no oxen, the feeding trough is empty, but an abundant harvest comes through the strength of an ox. (Proverbs 14:4 HCSB)

If you want your stables to be clean and spotless, get rid of your oxen. But if you want a big harvest, then be ready to deal with the mess, the maintenance, the labor, the time and care that owning an ox requires. Big harvests are worth the effort.

Christians can have a very misguided image of the process of receiving blessings. This proverb teaches that it’s as messy and tiresome as bringing in a physical harvest — God made it that way. Sometimes the process requires some serious repenting, repairing damaged relationships, making personal sacrifices, consistently wrestling in prayer, risking reputations and friendships to do what’s right, and battling against demonic thoughts that God’s answer will never come. And sometimes in the middle of our struggle, we realize that we're not getting it right and have to readjust our efforts and refocus our faith.  

Some people don't like the idea of having to fight against demons at all. They want an EZ Tag to zip through problems without much effort, just a few whispered prayers and some good deeds to earn their blessings. Even those of us who do understand that we're in a spiritual battle, still hope for clean, simple victories, but it’s during the fight that we learn the most. Those times when we try, then feel like giving up, but try again anyway, are the moments when we're seeking God more than ever. When we think we're really doing well spiritually and then a problem knocks us down, we realize that we weren't as strong as we'd hoped, but that’s when a new light shines in our spirits and reveals what we need to change to be truly strong. Without stumbling and making messes, we'd never mature, we'd never learn.  

Traditional depictions of Moses, Abraham, Elijah and the disciples in stained glass windows, sculptures and paintings make them appear so holy and otherworldly. But the truth is they were all men, just like us. They wanted their harvest, and they knew they needed the “strength of their oxen.” They needed to plunge themselves into risky and messy situations and be ready to change course whenever God commanded, but allow the power of God to flow through them unhampered.  Had they preferred a nice tidy life, they'd see no harvest.  Thankfully they weren't concerned about themselves but about the business of serving God.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

March 18 – Joy in a crucible

You rejoice in this, though now for a short time you have had to struggle in various trials so that the genuineness of your faith—more valuable than gold, which perishes though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.  (1 Peter 1:6-7 HCSB)

Serving and following Jesus as Lord will always involve trials and struggles – that’s a given. But Christians who emphasize trials and downplay rejoicing are distorting God’s word, just as much as those who over emphasize peace love and happiness without sacrifice. Trials and joy are both part and parcel of being born of God’s Spirit. But they aren’t doled out in equal amounts. God reveals to us in this verse written by Peter, that trials are for a short time. They rarely feel like a short time when we’re in the middle of them, but that’s because we don’t see that even in the middle of trials, joy is there if we seek it.  

James tells us in his first chapter to consider it all joy when we face trials of many kinds.  To someone with no clue about the Holy Spirit, that statement sounds ludicrous and even offensive.  But those who have the new birth get it.  It makes perfect sense to rejoice in trials – it’s a challenge, it’s a fight against their flesh, but it’s totally doable.  How can that command be offensive if you know that the fire you’re about to go through can’t possibly destroy you but will purify you like gold instead?  

The joy of the Holy Spirit is supernatural and can create an expectation of great things to come when nothing is yet visible to the eye. And when it takes a while for answers to come, that joy is still there as long as it’s actively sought with determination. And then when prayers do get answered, that joy explodes and lifts us up to see the face of God even clearer. A Christian who is dour and critical, somber and unable to laugh at his or her own mistakes is far from the presence of the Holy Spirit and needs a good spiritual jolt to bring them back to God. Sometimes that jolt needs to be a rebuke, and other times a show of kindness to remind them that they are loved by a great God. But either way, a belief system that produces negativity and a harsh spirit is not from God.  

When the Spirit of God is in us, He can use even the most mundane things to fill us with a supernatural joy that sustains us when we’re being melted down like gold in a crucible.  And when the fire subsides, how much stronger that joy becomes. 

Monday, March 9, 2015

March 9 – Bringing us out of the fog

I will instruct you and show you the way to go; with My eye on you, I will give counsel.  (Psalm 32:8 HCSB)

Isn't that what we all wish would happen every day? Wake up in the morning with the light of God shining on us, with His hand outstretched ready to lead us perfectly in the paths where we should go. No decision is unclear, no plan is uncertain because we have God Himself showing us every step. It sounds like a fantasy, but it really is true. He does exactly that and we all can sense His prodding if we take the time to listen. If ' honest we’d admit that we don't really want to be led every day because what we know He wants is usually what we don't want to do.

For those who use GPS, you can get a faint picture of how God must feel, speaking and calling out, pointing the way we should go as we mindlessly wander into territory that we prefer much more. We ignore the directions, and even turn down the volume to avoid the irritation of knowing that we're heading the wrong way. But somewhere along the line we get really lost, really stuck, and really scared. And then the crying out happens, “Where are you God? Why are you so far away?” Well… maybe it’s because we tuned Him out that makes it feel like He’s far. In actuality, He’s right there and ready to recalculate our lost and sorry state to get us back on track and close to Him. 

When you find that you've drifted and disengaged from His voice, it can feel like a fog has come over you. You may try to pray and feel nothing, try to read the Bible and feel confused. At that moment it’s easy to assume that He really has left you or is angry with you because you had disobeyed. But it’s just the fog of all the worldly and selfish attitudes that you welcomed into your heart and mind for who knows how long. Cling to the promise that His eye is on you and He is speaking. Only you can rebuke that fog and re-attune your spiritual ears to start hearing Him again. That will never happen if you give up trying. 

Challenge yourself to listen as closely as possible throughout your day. No matter how unpleasant His directions may seem to be, just follow them and discover the joys and pleasures that come from obedience. It’s not worth the agony of getting stuck and lost.  King David wrote this hundreds of years before Jesus taught that the Holy Spirit is our counselor who “will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you.” (John 14:26)  No one has the excuse to say that God is distant or doesn't care about the details of our lives.  Listen carefully, do what you know He asks, obey even when it feels uncomfortable and you will find that perfect and safe path by His side. 

Friday, March 6, 2015

March 6 – Setbacks + ambushes

“Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the great and awe-inspiring Lord, and fight for your countrymen, your sons and daughters, your wives and homes.”  (Nehemiah 4:14 HCSB)

After 70 long years of exile, God’s softened the king of Persia’s heart to allow the Jews to finally return home and rebuild Jerusalem. The king appointed Nehemiah, his lowly cupbearer, to become governor of Judah and sent him with timber and a letter decreeing his approval of what the Jews were going to do. But the surrounding nations were enraged at the Jews and were determined to block Jerusalem and the temple from ever being rebuilt. It was a dangerous mission as Nehemiah and his small band of men struggled to rebuild the rubble of their beloved city with tools in one hand and a sword in the other.  

It could be easy to wonder why God let this happen — was returning to Jerusalem a mistake?  Did God really want them to go back? They had prayed so long for this moment, so why were these enemy nations trying to pick them off like flies every time they worked on rebuilding their walls? Hadn’t they suffered enough in exile? A million doubts and thoughts could have raced through their minds as they tried to scrape together the broken pieces of Jerusalem. A million raging emotions from joy to horror to grief or even apathy could have taken over them at that vulnerable time. But God gave Nehemiah His Spirit of victory. “Remember the great and awe-inspiring Lord,” he exhorted them. He reminded them who it was they were fighting for, “your countrymen, your sons and daughters, your wives and homes.”  

It sounds like a line straight out of a movie, but it rings true for us today. We have enemies who try to pick us off like flies, just like Nehemiah’s. Though we determine to overcome in an area of our life, an obstacle or setback throws us for a loop before we know it. Why live by faith, sacrificing our own wills to submit to God if we keep getting hit? But those with faith stand back up with the tools to build their dream in one hand and a sword in the other to fend off the attackers. We fight and struggle in faith knowing that our victory affects the lives of everyone around us. The weakening of demonic principalities as we fight for God’s promises will even affect our country. It was a fight when the Israelites first entered the promised land with Moses, and it was going to be another fight once again. But it was God’s way in God’s time with God’s people.  

You may be leaving a dry period behind in your relationship with God, knowing that you have a fight ahead to rebuild. The devil is still lurking in the shadows, looking for chances to shoot you down. Don’t worry, you’re not the first one to go through this. God will give you the same victory if you adopt Nehemiah’s attitude. He is awesome and great. This fight is about more than just you. Don’t waver, and you will see God answer in a big way. In 52 days the walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt, God frustrated their attackers, and the exiles returned to repopulate the city and the country. Don’t doubt that God is still with you when you encounter setbacks. Just remember who your God is, and who it is you fight for! 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

March 4 – Slandering good?

For if your brother is hurt by what you eat, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy that one Christ died for by what you eat. Therefore, do not let your good be slandered, for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever serves Christ in this way is acceptable to God and approved by men.  (Romans 14:15-18 HCSB)

The backstory to this teaching comes from when the first century Christians were no longer obligated to follow the strict kosher dietary laws that had been a part of the Old Testament. God had revealed to Peter and Paul that everything was now clean, and even Gentiles could be welcomed into the Kingdom of God purely by faith in Jesus without the old ritualistic laws. A new confusion arose though, as much of the meat for sale in the markets was not kosher and had been offered to the local gods and idols according to the superstitions of the various peoples within the Roman Empire. Was it okay to eat meat that had been dedicated to an evil god? Some of the new believers felt that it was sinful of them to do so and refused to eat it, while others had the faith that since idols were worthless and they belonged to Jesus, they didn’t need to fear any evil from eating perfectly good meat.  

The truth was that those who had the faith to go ahead and eat it were not sinning at all, with one exception: if they tried to force the other Christians to eat against their will, they displeased God. They were making their brothers and sisters in faith participate in an activity that hurt their conscience. It wasn’t the eating or abstaining from food that was a sin, but the wounding of their fellow believers. Those who felt guilty about eating that meat were being destroyed by their brothers, as the passage says.  Maybe they made fun of those who were hesitant to eat that meat, ribbing them for being weak in faith or superstitious. And on the other hand, maybe those who abstained from food offered to idols looked down on those who ate it as being unspiritual and contaminated by the world. They sinned just as much as the first group.  

God is showing us here that legalistic details of who did what, who said what and who ate what are not as important as how we treat each other. If you offend your brother or sister by demanding that they copy you, no matter how much you believe in what you do, this passage says that the good you do will be “slandered.” The Kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, it’s not legalism. It’s righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. When God’s people are truly living in His Kingdom, righteousness, peace and joy should emanate from them.  There is no need to force anyone to do something, even if you’re convinced it’s right. God is the one who deals with the inner workings of a person’s soul and conscience, so trust that God will speak to them in His way and His time, and treat them well.  God’s promise is that this makes us acceptable to Him, and approved by men. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

March 3 – The big request of an honorable man

Jabez called out to the God of Israel: “If only You would bless me, extend my border, let Your hand be with me, and keep me from harm, so that I will not cause any pain.” And God granted his request. (1 Chronicles 4:10 HCSB)

In the middle of a long list of the descendants of Judah, comes a quick break to tell us this interesting detail about Jabez. The Bible never mentions anything for no reason, so it’s significant that this prayer of Jabez is singled out. Not only that, but the result of that prayer is stated plainly: “And God granted his request.”

Jabez’s prayer is short and sweet, but he’s asking quite a lot. He asks to be blessed, for his borders or properties to expand, for the hand and favor of God to be on him, to be protected from harm, and to see that he causes no one any harm as well. For that request to be fully granted, it would require God’s intervention every single day of his life, protecting him from known and unknown problems, and opening known and unknown doors of opportunity for him. The question is, why would God so readily grant such a big request to this otherwise unexceptional man?  

In verse 9, it says that Jabez was “more honorable than his brothers.” Just as his simple prayer asked a lot, this statement says a lot. To be honorable is to be faithful to God no matter the circumstances, living in fear of God before seeking the favor of men. An honorable person does what is right, even when no one is watching or no one gives him any credit for what he does. For Jabez to have that reputation before God means that he had a solid faith in the promises of God’s commands. He stuck out like a sore thumb from among his brothers. You can pretend to be honorable for a time, but only those with true faith in a living God can withstand all the pressure to cave into fleshly behavior. That spirit was evident in the first century believers who stubbornly held onto their faith, considering it an honor to die for Christ. That’s the perseverance that is listed as a fruit of the Holy Spirit. 

This promise, just like all the other promises in the Bible, isn’t a magic formula to get rich quick and live a long happy life. There’s no doubt that God is happy to answer this request to any of us, because it reflects so many other promises throughout His word. But are we living honorably before God? Do our choices reflect a desire to impress and gain the praise of influential people, or are they purely to obey Him? Sometimes pleasing Him means displeasing others – do we believe so much that we take that risk? God knows our motives. He also sees the audacity of our faith to dare to ask for such a huge request like Jabez. Those who honor Him and dare to believe in a big God are the ones who can see this promise come true.