Monthly Archives: August 2013

Today’s Scripture – August 31, 2013

Ezekiel 37:1-3 (NIV):  The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.  He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry.  He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “O Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

God’s people give up too easily!  God designed His people to be a mighty force, carrying salvation across the earth, changing the whole planet from the kingdom of the world to the kingdom of God.  He has give us power and authority to demolish strongholds, arguments, and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of Him; to take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).  He has provided us with the power of the Holy Spirit, and with the presence of the whole Trinity in our lives to guide, direct, and empower us to do all that He has called us to do.  And yet, all around the world, including in America, God sees the Church sitting on the sidelines, crying over our powerlessness to change anything, and praying to be taken out of the game!  It is not only confusing to see those who have been chosen and empowered to change the world moaning, and complaining, and whining, it is wrong to the point of blasphemy!  We are, in effect, complaining that God has given us a job to do that is impossible, even with His help!

We as the Church need to catch of fresh vision of what God has called us to be and to do, and we need to be revived and begin to move forward anew under God’s direction and in His power and authority.  The church in America today is much like the Church in Sardis:  we have a reputation of being alive, but we are dead (Revelation 3:1).  We are much like the dry bones that God showed to Ezekiel – no life, and seemingly no hope of getting life.  We Christians are saying that our country has moved beyond the point of recovery, that the forces opposing us are too strong – all that’s left is to hang on until Jesus comes back!  When did God ever tell His Church to merely hang on?  When did He ever advocate retreat or retrenchment?  Those actions and attitudes will never accomplish the mission He has given the Church!

The only option to allow God’s people in America to succeed is to be revived again – to let God put His life back into our dry bones, to once again breathe His life-giving, power-giving Spirit into our lives again.  To stand us on our feet again as a mighty army, equipped with divine power to smash gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron (Psalm 107:16), so that we can set free the multiplied millions in our nation held captive by sin’s shackles.  To begin again to do the work of the church in our homes, our neighborhoods, our communities.  To change the kingdoms of this world into the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, who will reign for ever and ever.  (cf. Revelation 11:15)

In the end, if America does fall, it will not be because the enemies of the kingdom were too strong, too united, or too clever, or because God was too powerless.  It will be because God’s people refused to trust Him, obey Him, and be the people of God, the Church.

Father, this is strong medicine, but it is exactly true and right.  Lord, we have fallen so far that sometimes it does seem that our nation has already slipped beyond hope, that our bones are so dry and lifeless that we have no hope of recovery.  But, Lord, this very call means that all hope is not gone – it is NOT too late for us.  Oh, Lord, revive us again!  Lift us, Your people, up on our feet to do Your work in our sin-sick and evil-torn nation.  Fill us with Your Spirit and Your power so that we can tear down the strongholds of evil in our nation, so that we can see our nation turn the corner back to You.  Forgive us, Lord, for betraying You by carrying Your name and then being powerless, hopeless, and prayerless, for giving up and digging in instead of marching forward in Your strength.  Raise us up, Father, from the dust and ashes.  Make us Your Church.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 30, 2013

Matthew 6:1-4 (NIV):  “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.  But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

There are two extremes in motives of those who give to others in need:  because God has called them to give and it is the right thing to do, or because the giver wants to receive something out of his act of charity.  Of course there are shades and gradations between these two into which most people fall, but these are the two endpoints.

If we give because we want to receive accolades from others, that is easily done.  We can either give conspicuously to the needy, the equivalent of blowing trumpets before we give so that people will see what we are doing; or we can merely tell others about a gift we have made.  In either of those cases, people will take note of our gift and our generous spirit, and will think well of us, maybe even praise us to our face, or to others:  “What a nice guy!”  But that will be the only reward that we will receive for our generosity.  We will receive no praise from God, no credit for good acts accomplished.  The praise from other people will serve as payment in full.

If, on the other hand, we give our gifts to those in need discreetly, out of the public eye, or even in secret so that even the receiver never knows that it was us who blessed them; if we never breathe a word of it to another living soul, but give purely because it is the right thing to do, and because the love of God compels us to share our blessing with one in need, we will receive no public accolades.  Other people will never praise us, think more highly of us, or use us as an inspirational example for others to follow.  But GOD will know that it is us who has given, and He will return the blessing of our gifts back into our own lives many times over.

We must understand that it is not a sin to give gifts in a public way.  It is purely a matter of motivation – WHY we are giving, and the kind of blessing that we want in return for our generosity.  But if we want the kind of blessing that only God can give, blessings not of fame or of human praise, but blessings of richness of spirit, fullness of life, and of God’s participation in meeting our own needs, then we need to give in secret.  Then God, who sees what is done in secret, will reward us.

Father, of course I would rather have Your blessing than 1000 people thinking I’m a great guy.  Help me to always give in ways that shun the limelight and that merely seeks Your approval.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 29, 2013

2 Corinthians 3:18 (NIV):  And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

Each person will ultimately be transformed into that which holds first place in their heart and mind.  We can see it all the time in our kids and teenagers.  When some famous person catches their eye (and then starts to take over their thought life, and eventually their heart), they start to want to dress like them; they start to talk like them; sing their songs incessantly (if they are a singer), trying to sound just like them; practice their sports moves (if they are a sports star), so that they can play just like them.  The transformation can be sweeping, touching every area of a person’s life – attitudes, actions, language, and even thought patterns.

Those, however, who keep their focus on Jesus and on God, with all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength, will be transformed by the very same process, aided by the power of the Holy Spirit, into the very image of Jesus.  When the whole mind is focused on God and on Jesus, reading, studying and meditating on the words of Scripture, that person’s way of thinking begins to reflect the very mind of God.  When the whole soul and spirit is focused on God and on Jesus, spending time in prayer and focused on God’s presence, that person’s will and emotions take on God’s priorities, and they begin to passionately love what God loves, to hate what He hates, and to want to do what God wants done.  When their physical bodies are focused on God and on Jesus, committed to actively doing what He has called them to do, being actively involved in the work of the kingdom, their actions will become an accurate reflection of God’s own heart.

This simple principle, that a person will quickly become like the thing that has captured our hearts and minds, is woven into the very fabric of the universe.  Whether your focus is on an idol made of wood or stone (cf. Psalm 135:15-18), on another human being, or on God, we will become like that which we focus on.  Today there are many people who want to live lives that are holy and Christlike, but they put the majority of their attention on things that will shape them in an entirely different direction.  The modern focus on celebrities, television shows, movies, romance novels, pornography, and tabloids causes people to become molded into the ungodly people featured in those things.  The only way to become more Christlike is to focus our whole beings on God and on Jesus, so that, with the molding, shaping, and purifying influence of the Holy Spirit, the very soul of the person is reshaped into God’s image and likeness, and we begin to reflect HIS glory to a sin-darkened world.

Father, it makes sense that we will become just like whatever we allow to capture our hearts and minds.  Help us, Lord, to turn our backs on the things of this world that are so enticing to us, but which will only succeed in casting us into the broken mold of worldly things.  Help us instead to focus all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength on You, so that Your Spirit can remake us and remold us into Your image.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 28, 2013

2 Corinthians 4:3-4 (NIV):  And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.  The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

As Paul wrote in his first letter to Corinth, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”  (1 Corinthians 2:14 NIV)  Many Christians are perplexed when they present the gospel, including many arguments that seem, to them, to be undeniable, only to see that their clever presentation and their well-reasoned arguments have no effect on their target.  It makes them start to doubt the reasonableness of their faith, especially when the other person starts to present their own rational-sounding reasons for NOT believing.

But the things of the Spirit can only be spiritually discerned.  Only those who have open eyes can see beyond the surface, past the “rational” arguments for the faith, and into the very heart of God.  There are many people around whose eyes are already open, and who are actively searching for the truth.  They are the low-hanging fruit in the harvest; the ones who will leap at the opportunity to come into the kingdom.  Always look for these  they are all around, and it is a huge tragedy for the kingdom of God when, after God has opened their eyes to their need for salvation, and has placed a hunger in their hearts for spiritual life, no Christian is willing to speak God’s words of life and hope to them, and to harvest them.  Often they end up in cults, whose members are trained to speak to their searching hearts, and who are much better at using available opportunities that God’s own people.  (I say this to our shame!)

So how can we successfully present the gospel to those who are perishing?  To those whose minds have been blinded by the god of this age?  Passionate, patient and persistent prayer and unconditional love are the right tools for the job.  Many Christians vastly underestimate the power of prayer on the heart and soul of a nonbeliever.  Remember:  God does not want anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.  (2 Peter 3:9)  Those who passionately pray for those they love who have been blinded by the enemy, those who demonstrate God’s own unconditional love to them, will find themselves partnering with God in opening blind eyes and softening hardened hearts, so that the seeds of the gospel will find fertile ground in which to take root.  And no one is too hardened or too far gone for God to work this miracle in their heart!  Remember that Jesus healed a man who had been BORN blind – who had never once seen light!

But we must keep praying and keep loving all the way until the moment when that person opens their heart to receive eternal life.  Never give up – as long as there is life there is hope.  And don’t pray “soft” prayers, or occasional prayers which are always ineffective.  Pray as if that person’s very soul, their eternal destiny is at stake, because it is!

The correct diagnosis is the first step to finding a solution.  Understanding that people who resist the gospel, or those who set themselves actively against it, do so because they have been blinded by satan, opens the opportunity to effectively strike at the heart of the problem.  Prayer for open eyes and a soft, responsive heart, and God’s own unconditional love, patiently and persistently applied, are the two tools that can being God’s light into the darkest of souls.

Father, thank You for these powerful tools.  Open our own eyes to see the opportunities for harvest that we are so prone to overlook, and give us great boldness in speaking Your word into those hearts that are white for the harvest.  For the rest, help us to love them so powerfully that we do stay persistent in aiming Your love and our persistent prayers right at their blinded hearts, so that your light can shine in them, too.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 27, 2013

Psalm 24:1-2 (NIV):  The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.

This is an area where worldview plays a massive role.  Those whose worldview is based on completely on naturalism and evolution will not easily accept God’s ownership of them or the right to call the shots in their lives.  If they believe that people came about by purely natural processes without any divine intervention, then what right does God have to exercise Lordship over them?  Their rejection of God (often of His very existence) and of His authority is consistent with their worldview.  But until their worldview changes, their hearts will not be open to the full meaning of the gospel.  (Worldview is not the only reason why people reject the gospel, but there are definitely some worldviews that, by their nature, are closed to what the Bible presents as the truth.)

On the other end of the scale, those who understand and accept that God created the universe from nothing; not using natural process, but by the words of His mouth; not over vast times, but each step instantly created over the course of a mere six days; the ones who understand this truth have little or no problem believing in God’s sovereign ownership of every created thing, including themselves.  They don’t always submit to God’s will, but belief in His ownership and rule over all that is is consistent with their worldview.

There is no one who is free from the bias imposed on their perceptions and thought processes by a worldview.  These are two extremes, but there are many shades in between.  What we believe about how the universe began, where life came from, the reality of the spiritual aspects of creation, and even of God’s own existence, colors the way that we perceive everything, the way that we think about the big questions of life, and even the way that we do science and interpret scientific “facts.”

As I said, there is no one without the bias of a worldview, and some worldviews are much more open to the truth of the gospel than others.  Worldviews cannot be argued into change, or changed merely by presenting “convincing proofs.”  (Even the way that “proofs” are examined and accepted is colored by worldviews.)  Instead, they can usually only be modified by much prayer and patient love applied liberally.  As a person with a worldview that is biased against the gospel is prayed for, as they experience large amounts of unconditional love from Christians around them, their foundations can begin to shift, and small openings are created in which the seeds of the gospel can begin to take root and grow up to eternal life.

Father, this explains why some people seem to be so resistant to the gospel.  But, far from having to just give up on them, there is much that we can do.  Help us to love and pray for those in our lives with contrary worldviews so powerfully that their hearts begin to open up to the possibility of an eternity with You.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 26, 2013

2 Corinthians 4:7-9 (NIV):  But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.  We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.

As Paul points out very clearly, God chooses to put His power, His strength, in jars of clay, simple human bodies, to show conclusively that the power, the might, the poise, and even the miracles that are seen in them, come not from those being mistreated and persecuted, but from God’s Spirit working in and through them.

If you found a simple clay jar, sealed and whole, and threw it to the ground to break it open, what would you think if it didn’t break – didn’t show the slightest crack?  You might inspect it to make sure what it was really made of – plain, baked clay.  After a few more unsuccessful attempts at smashing against various hard objects, any of which should be able to damage it, but without it showing a single mark, you might begin to suspect that the secret to its resilience was something extraordinarily strong INSIDE it – something that absorbed the shocks and enabled it to rebound.  And you would want to know what that something was!

That is very much what happened with the early Christian martyrs.  The powers that be tried to smash and crush them, from the first disciples all the way down through the ages, sometimes by designing especially cruel tortures.  These were simple people, simple unadorned clay jars; surely they would not be too hard to break!  But they found that their most heinous methods produced no breakage, could draw forth no denials of Christ, no betrayals of Christian brothers or sisters, but only more love, deeper faith, and prayers of forgiveness for their tormentors.  Some redoubled their efforts, only to see the same response – the clay would not break!

At some point, some of those engaging in the torture began to understand that the secret was not in the clay, but in what was contained inside; that the secret was not in the caliber of the person who loved and served God, but in the Spirit which He gave to fill every area of their lives.

The truest testimony of who God is and of what He can do comes through the lives of the martyrs, those in every age who suffer pain, mistreatment, and humiliation at the hands of their enemies, and who overcome, not in their own strength, but by His Spirit.  Through those who love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them (Matthew 5:44).  Those who return blessings for curses, proving conclusively to all who see that they are God’s children.

Father, I pray first for those all around the world who are experiencing persecution today for the sake of Jesus.  Please strengthen them through and through with Your Holy Spirit, that they will be empowered to endure whatever the enemy throws at them with no cracks, even though they, like us, are made of fragile clay.  Give them such a powerful testimony of Your grace and strength in times of suffering that all who mistreat them cannot fail to notice, and that even their patient suffering will produce a harvest of souls for eternity.

Father, I also pray for us who are not currently suffering persecution.  It may be that we will be persecuted before long, and far too many of us do not live our lives filled with Your all-surpassing power.  Fill us, Lord, BEFORE we need it, so that when persecution comes, we will be strengthened through and through, so that even our suffering glorifies You, and brings forth abundant, eternal fruit.  For Your Name’s sake, Amen!

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Today’s Scripture – August 24, 2013

Hebrews 11:30 (NIV):  By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the people had marched around them for seven days.

Faith is action based upon God’s promise.  Today many people confound faith with mere belief.  But if one’s belief does not prompt action based on what God has said, it is not true faith, but merely belief in a principle.

If the Israelites believed with all of their hearts that God could cause the walls of Jericho to fall, but would not march around it for seven days in accordance with His word, their mere belief would not have brought the walls down, no matter how strongly they “believed” that it was possible.  It was only when their beliefs inspired obedient action (faith) that the desired and promised actions occurred, “and the walls came a-tumbling down.”

If Noah had believed with all of his heart that God was going to bring a world-ending flood on the earth, and that He was going to save him and his whole family out of it, but would not build the ark, his mere belief in God’s desire and ability to save him would have had no effect, no matter how strongly he “believed” it.  The flood waters would have washed him and his family away with all the rest.  It was only when his belief inspired the obedient action (faith) of building the ark that God was able to save those eight from the disaster.

If Abraham had believed with all of his heart that God was going to enable Sarah to conceive a son, but was unwilling to go in to her as God instructed him, his mere belief in God’s ability to enable conception would not have resulted in the promised pregnancy, no matter how strongly he “believed” that it was possible.  It was only when his belief inspired obedient action (faith) that God enabled the pregnancy that both of them longed for.

God can do anything, and He will fulfill every promise that He has made to His people, IF we will meet the prerequisites of the promise.  Mere believe that God CAN do something, or that He has promised to do something will not result in His making it so.  It is only when our belief inspires obedient action (faith) that we will see what God has promised become real.

Father, I can see so clearly how we often miss the step of obedient action that moves our belief into the arena of faith, and why we seem to experience so few of Your promised blessings these days.  Help us to connect the dots, to cross the line into true faith, so that we can live in constant fulfillment of Your promises today.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 23, 2013

Matthew 9:9-13 (NIV):  As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.
     While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples.  When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”
     On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

The fact is, Jesus frequently hung out with people of a type that scandalized “good church people” like the Pharisees.  When Matthew the tax collector (a HUGE sinner in the eyes of many at the time) began to follow Jesus, leaving behind all of the sin in his life, he wanted to celebrate and to introduce his friends to this new Friend who was changing his life.  And, because of who he had been, his friends mainly consisted of other tax collectors and other “sinners.”  Jesus could have told Matthew, “You know, now that you belong to Me, you have to stop hanging out with your old friends.  They’ll just pull you back into your old lifestyle of sin,” and refused to allow the party.  But the fact is, the party wasn’t for the purpose of “hanging out;” it was so that Matthew could introduce these old sinful friends of his to the One who had given him a new life.

Jesus as people who go to a hospital don’t do it to celebrate their sickness, but in the hope of getting well, so this gathering was not the rowdy, bawdy assembly often depicted in movies.  These people, like the people of Sychar at the Samaritan woman’s urging (John 4:228-30), had come to see the Messiah in the hope of finding healing for the sickness of their souls.  They had come because of the words and the transfigured countenance of Matthew, and they wanted for themselves this new life that he had found.

The Pharisees couldn’t see this.  They couldn’t see past their own scruples.  They were like a person who is unable to see the cures that are worked in people’s lives in a hospital, and who won’t go into one because “it’s full of sick people.”  Of course it is!  That’s where they find healing for their bodies so that they can come forth whole and healthy again.  Of course Matthew’s house was full of sinners!  That’s because that’s where Jesus was!  It was where they all hoped to find healing for their souls so that they could come forth spiritually whole and healthy again.

No one came to the Pharisees to be cured for sickness of soul.  That’s not who they were; that’s not what they did.  The Pharisees were a religious “club” for those who considered themselves righteous, healthy.  They wouldn’t have anything to do with sinners for fear of contamination. But Jesus never worried about contamination.  He never became dirty, because He had the power to make clean.  He could touch a leper without any fear of contamination – the leper simply became clean in an instant (cf. Matthew 8:1-3).

It is vital for God’s people to understand that we have been given the same authority, and have been tasked with this same mission as Jesus.  When we receive Jesus as our Savior and Lord, the whole Trinity comes to live in our heart.  We receive power to be a witness to the soul-changing, soul-cleansing power that changed our own lives, as well as receiving the power to lead people into the same cleansing relationship with Jesus that we now have.  Far from refusing to associate with sinners for fear of contamination, it is actually a big part of our job description to hang out with them ON PURPOSE.  Not just to hang out, but to actively and intentionally share our new life with them, and to help them to receive that same new life for themselves.  And if we will do that intentionally, we never have to worry about being re-contaminated by sin; we will be able to help them to become clean instead.

Father, this is an amazing promise that I have personally seen in operation.  Thank You for this power and authority.  Thank You for giving us Your life to carry with us in our hearts, so that we can bring spiritual life and health and holiness to everyone who wants it – to those who need it the most.  Help us to never pull back from those You have sent us to.  Help us to never keep to ourselves for fear of contamination.  Instead, help us to follow Your lead into the darkest of places, so that we can flood them with Your light.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 21, 2013

Matthew 5:43-48 (NIV):  “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Conventional wisdom, even in the Church, urges us to love our neighbor, but says that it is okay (or at least not condemnable) to withhold love from those who have actively set themselves against us (as long as we don’t actively HATE them).  Even in the Church this non-loving attitude extends out into the religious arena, the political arena, and the social arena.  Every day God witnesses hateful words being exchanged between Christians who disagree in these areas.  Every day He sees a lack of love, even among His own people, for those who hold different theologies or different opinions.  Every day He watches disagreements and arguments flare among those who have been tasked with the job of showing His love to the rest of the world.  (If we can’t even demonstrate love to each other who are supposed to be on the same side, how can we possibly show love to our enemies?!)

Love is also much more than most people think.  The love that God requires of His people is not merely feelings – feelings are useless to those in need.  It is not merely good intentions – good intentions never warmed a cold body or filled an empty stomach.  Love is positive action.  Jesus gave a wonderful example in these verses:  God causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends life-giving rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  In other words, He demonstrates love daily by positive action that benefits people, ALL people, whether they deserve it or not, whether they will be grateful or not.  He even gives life-producing sun and rain to provide food and water to atheists who, far from thanking Him, will not even acknowledge that He exists!  And He gives, not for any benefit of His own, or to receive acknowledgement or thanks, but simply out of love.  And that is the model that His people are to follow as well.  If someone is really in need, true love does not evaluate the kind or degree of help needed based on relationship with the one in need – it simply helps as much as possible.  True love doesn’t even wait to be asked, but intentionally looks for opportunities to show self-sacrificing love to those who are truly in need.

God’s standard for His people in this area is simple:  we are to be perfect in showing this kind of love, just as God perfectly shows it.  Some may think that this is unreasonable, far too high a standard for mere mortals.  But God does not set this standard for “mere mortals,” normal human beings.  When a person comes to God for forgiveness and cleansing, He comes to live in our hearts, and makes us much more than normal.  He pours out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit that He has given us (Romans 5:5), and he makes it eminently possible for His people to show this kind of active love every day, to every person.  If we try to work up this kind of love, we will fail, because it is not natural, but completely supernatural.  (And if we have to try to work up this kind of love, it betrays a problem in our relationship with God – a vital disconnect between our heart and His!)  But if we will cling to Him as a branch clings to the vine, if we will live in complete obedience to His command, if we will live in Him 24/7, then He will actually produce this love in our hearts, and will continue to pour His love through us all the days of our lives.

Father, thank You for Your love for us.  Thank You for Your love that operates in us and through us, so that we can love others perfectly, just as You do, just as You commanded us to.  Forgive us for not allowing Your love free reign in our hearts, for trying to love this way with our own, tainted, purely human love.  Fill us to overflowing with Your love, now and always.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 20, 2013

Matthew 5:38-42 (NIV):  “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’  But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.  And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.  If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.  Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”


The “lex talionis”, the “law of retaliation” (“an eye for an eye,” etc.) was not originally meant as a standard for righteous revenge, but as a limit – a method of stopping the escalation of retaliation in its tracks.  Sin-twisted human nature is such that it instinctively ups the ante.  If someone mistreats a person emotionally, it is very easy for them to mistreat back physically if they have the chance.  A slap in the face is magnified in return to beating the other person up.  A beating is retaliated against by deadly force, which is returned with interest onto the heads of family members, and on it goes.  We can see this same dynamic at work today, all over the world.  Some who use this kind of escalation see it as protecting honor, or as “not letting them get away with” whatever harm the other person has caused, but once the words are swept out of the way, it is simply sin-twisted human nature focusing by instinct on oneself.

As I said, God put the lex talionis in place to limit this retaliation.  If a tooth is knocked out, a tooth can be knocked out in return – ONLY ONE; and then the whole matter must stop.  If a hand is lost, a hand can be taken in return – ONLY ONE; and then the whole matter must stop.  By the way, this is not righteousness to take revenge in this limited manner; it is a temporary concession to the sinful self-centeredness of the hearts of mankind.  It was purely designed to keep God’s people from dividing and destroying themselves by revenge.  To limit yourself to only this kind of revenge merely keeps you above the level of the animal – nothing more.

But with the advent of the kingdom of God, whole new possibilities opened up.  Out of hearts that are reshaped and remade by the Holy Spirit, it is possible for God’s people to actually love their enemies, and to never start any retaliation at all.  A slap in the face, instead of being retaliated against by an equal slap, can just be absorbed, and love returned in its place.  This is the truly righteous response – not an equal pushback, but a completely unequal one in the opposite direction; not equal harm, but abundantly unequal good!  If someone wants to sue you and take your shirt, there is no retaliation by looking to take something of his in return, but a wholehearted attitude of generosity that gives more than is asked.  (And not out of a motive of trying to shame the other person, but out of a heart of love.)  If someone (a Roman soldier was in Jesus’ mind in this illustration) uses their official capacity to force you to carry his equipment for a mile, there is no looking for an opportunity to get back at them and even the score, but a generous giving of even more than they demand.

These actions, returning good for evil, not seeking revenge, but instead pouring out love and care for those how mistreat you, stop the spread of hate, revenge, and evil in its tracks.  They push back the darkness, replacing it with the love and light of the kingdom of God.  But such a counter-intuitive response cannot be forced from a sin-darkened heart.  This is not some ideal to be strived for by people who want to be “nicer” or more righteous.  It is the NATURAL response of a reshaped heart – the instinctive response of a human nature that has been remade and reshaped by the power of the Holy Spirit.  People who live in continual and powerful relationship with God will instinctively respond in these ways, in ways that pull the fangs of evil and that replace darkness with light, with no thought, and with no hesitation; it just flows from them naturally.

To those who are worried that these responses will make them a target, or that their honor will be sacrificed, I say:  Perhaps.  But if a person belongs to God, those things are not to be their concerns.  It is not our own honor that we should be concerned with, but God’s.  It is not the preservation of our money or our “stuff” that is to be our focus, but the spread of God’s kingdom.  And if we give ourselves entirely into God’s hands, all of these most important things will be accomplished through our loving response to any evil that is done to us.


Father, I can see that the real challenge is not to respond properly to evil that is done to us, but to stay in such close connection with You that the right response naturally flows from within us.  Lord, help us to do just that.  Help us to cling to You, to hold closely to You, to stay in such intimate contact with You that Your heart beats in our own spirits, and that our every action is a clear and accurate reflection of Your loving actions toward us, of Your giving Yourself for us even while we were still sinners.  Amen.

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