Monthly Archives: September 2013

Today’s Scripture – September 30, 2013

Matthew 6:13 (NIV):  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

Some people have developed a dualistic theology, a kind of “Stars Wars” way of looking at the way the universe runs.  They see everything as being in the hands of two equal and opposite powers, one good, and one evil.  They believe that these two forces stay roughly in balance, with one occasionally advancing, only to be pushed back by the other, maintaining a kind of spiritual equilibrium.  They apply this model to God and satan, making them the two ends of the spectrum, with neither of them able to gain a decisive advantage over the other.  (Or, worse, when they see the evil that exists in the world seeming to advance and grow, they decide that perhaps evil is the stronger of the two, and that it will eventually gain the upper hand!)

The fact is, as God revealed to the writer of the book of Job, satan is a created being, not some kind of primal evil force.  God is, and always has been, the Creator, the Almighty.  Satan, for all of his bluster, and for all of the authority that people want to imagine him having, can only do what God allows him to do. The only reason that God allows him to continue to exist at all (Read Revelation 20:7-10 to see how God will deal with him in the end) is to act as a refiner for His people, testing us and giving us resistance to fight against, so that we learn to depend wholly on God’s strength; to build our complete dependence on Him.  Without the enemy we, as God’s people, would quickly grow spiritually fat and lazy, and would lose our sense of need for God’s presence.

The prayer Jesus taught us is a prayer of complete dependence on God.  Even in the matter of temptation and testing, it acknowledges that the enemy, the evil one, is real.  It accepts as a given that we humans, in our own strength, are unable to defeat him or stand against his temptations.  But it also freely testifies that God is in complete control, even of satan, and that He can, and will, give daily victory over the enemy to those who ask.

Father, this is wonderful stuff.  I know too many Christians who believe that we are powerless against the enemy, doomed to fall to his schemes day after day as long as we live.  Forgive us for forgetting that You are the creator of all things, and that our temptations, the testings that You allow, are designed to make us strong in You.  Thank You for the every-day victory that You make possible.  Help us to never forget.  Help us always ask for YOU to deliver us from the evil one.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – September 29, 2013

1 Corinthians 3:1-4 (NIV):  Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly–mere infants in Christ.  I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.  You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men?  For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere men?

There are many “titles” that Christians use to describe themselves.  Some are quite biblical:  a sinner saved by grace; a servant of the Lord; a child of God.  Others, however, have a sound of humility, but are actually used as an excuse for immaturity and an unholy life.  One of these is “only human.”  This term is supposed to excuse us when we behave in unChristlike ways.  “Well, I’m only human!”  But those who use this term in this way don’t realize that it is the equivalent of Paul’s phrase “mere men,” which is another way of saying “spiritual infants” or “worldly people.”

Paul criticized the Corinthian believers for still being mere infants in Christ several months, even a couple of years after they had received Christ.  This infancy was demonstrated by the divisions that they had shown among themselves, by their lack of Christlikeness, and by their jealousy and quarreling.  Paul was scolding them for their lack of growth, their lack of maturity.  Had they been mature, it would have been clearly shown by their unity, their powerful fellowship, their love, and their mutual support.

Just like a newborn baby, God expects His people to grow.  He expects us to eat heartily of His word, to drink deeply of His presence through time spent with Him in prayer.  He expects us to mature quickly into powerful kingdom people.  But all too often we are still infants months and even years later – those whose new life doesn’t actually shrivel up and die out in that time.  The culprit is almost always a lack of taking adequate nourishment.  If we won’t make time to read the Bible, pray, and worship, we will have nothing to grow on, and will exhibit failure to thrive.

But those who exhibit a powerful hunger and thirst for knowledge of God; those who long to spend time with Him in prayer, reading, listening, and dialogueing; those who attend worship services, full of joy at being able to worship with others of God’s people; those are the ones who will thrive and grow, and become powerful spiritual adults in a surprisingly short time.

Father, I know many who exhibit this failure to thrive that You are talking about.  I’m afraid that a lot of us have come to accept this state of a long-lasting spiritual infancy, as well as a high “mortality rate” among new believers, as normal.  I can see how vital it is for all of us who know You well to come alongside each new believer to encourage and strengthen them, to mentor them, and to share with them what You are teaching us each day.  Then we will see a new “normal” of baby Christians thriving and growing strong, taking their place in the ranks of the leaders in the kingdom in a much shorter time than we usually expect now.  Thank You for helping me to see this picture more clearly.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – September 27, 2013

Matthew 6:12, 14-15 (NIV):  “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors…For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

There are a lot of people who desire God’s forgiveness, and want that forgiveness to be powerful, effective, and complete.  We want God to forgive us so completely that He no longer even remembers that we have sinned.  We want Him to forgive us, and then treat us with absolute love, trust, and care, as if we have always been deserving of all of that.  And, when we truly repent, completely turning away from our sins, and seek God’s forgiveness by faith in the blood of Jesus, He does all of that for us.

There is, however, one huge thing that will completely block off God’s forgiveness: unforgiveness of someone else.  Jesus was very intentional in His wording of this part of His model prayer.  A person who follows His lead is asking for God to forgive them in the same way, to the same degree, that they have extended forgiveness to others.  And, as Jesus made clear in many of His parables, that is God’s standard anyway.

If we withhold forgiveness from anyone, God will withhold His forgiveness from us.  If we say that we forgive, but hold a grudge against the other person, we will find that God will continue to hold our sin over our own head.  If we claim to forgive the other person, but then let hurt feelings keep the other person at arm’s length from ourselves, we will find that God has grown distant from us, too.

The ONLY way to really experience God’s forgiveness, and the eternal life that goes with it, is for us, His people, to truly forgive those who have sinned against us, and forgive them not just in words, but from the heart.  And yes, God DOES know what they did to us!  Only complete forgiveness of others will open the door to complete forgiveness from God.

Father, I understand how this requirement is based on Your unconditional love, not only for those of us who follow You now, but for ALL people everywhere, people whom You desperately want to become Your followers.  But they will never believe in or trust in Your forgiveness of them if they don’t even get to experience OUR forgiveness!  Help us, Lord, to forgive as You forgive, so that we can be forgiven fully as we fully forgive.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – September 26, 2013

Acts 20:22-24 (NIV):  “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there.  I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.  However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me–the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.”

Paul understood very clearly the task given to him by God:  to testify to the gospel of His grace; Paul’s version of “Go and make disciples of all nations.”  And he clearly understood that that was his job, not just when the road was smooth, but even when he was faced with prison and hardships.  Even when the future was scary and uncertain.

You can easily see how this worked out in his life.  From the moment he received his sight and his salvation, testifying to the reality of Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection was the one thing that drove him forward, even to the point of having to be lowered over the city wall in a basket to avoid being killed by those who didn’t want that word to be spread.  Everywhere he went, he was constantly, actively on the lookout for anyone he could tell about Jesus, searching for anyone who might be receptive, then telling his story clearly and boldly, holding the door to the kingdom open to all of his listeners.  Even when he was beaten and imprisoned, he simply shared his story with those who guarded him, those who shared jail space with him.  It never slowed him down or caused him to hesitate; he kept moving boldly forward.

Oh, that God’s people had the same passion to share the gospel today!  Most Christians never even think about telling their salvation story in the course of a normal day, let alone actively looking for those with whom they can share the story of Jesus.  Some might be willing to share if someone asks them a direct, straightforward question about the gospel, but even then they worry about offending someone or turning them off.  How unlike the first disciples of Jesus, who hungered to share the new life that they had found in Him!  If the Christians of today hesitate to share the gospel simply out of fear of possibly giving offense, what will they do when sharing Jesus with someone might result in beatings, or imprisonment, or even death!?

God’s command to His people is clear and non-negotiable:  Go and make disciples of all nations.  It is Jesus’ final command to ALL of His people, wherever and whenever they live.  It doesn’t matter whether it is convenient or not, or even whether it is safe or not.  The eternal destiny of every man, woman, and child on the planet hangs in the balance, and God’s people, the ones who truly know Him, are the only ones who can help tip those scales heavenward.

Father, you are absolutely right, and could not have made Your command any clearer.  Inspire us anew. Lord, with Your Holy Spirit and with power.  Help us to be bold and obedient, in season and out of season.  Help us to bear much fruit for Your kingdom today and every day.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – September 25, 2013

Psalm 100:3 (NIV):  Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

All people on earth belong to God.  He created all of us, and we are His by right of creation.  For that reason, God cares for the people of the world – giving us food and water; providing the day for work and the night for rest; sending the rain to grow crops and replenish the earth, and the snow in winter so that the ground, too, gets rest.  He places people in families to provide love, nurture, and mutual support.  All of these things He does for people all over the world because we are His.

However, He also disciplines the people of the world, of individual nations, and even those in individual areas for the same reason:  they are His.  When we refuse to acknowledge and worship God as He has clearly and faithfully revealed Himself; when we willfully disobey His commands, and even the dictates of our own consciences, God will withhold the rain and snow.  He will pull His hand of protection away from a nation, from a state, a city, so that the sin-brokenness of the world will begin to invade and to gnaw away at the blessings that He has given.  He will take His power away from us, so that we begin to experience battles internally and externally that result either in very costly victories or in strong defeats.  He does these things both as punishments for the sins of a people, as well as a way to get the attention of His people in that nation or area, so that they will begin the process of repenting and seeking His face anew.

It is not a question of someone getting to decide whether or not they will belong to God; whether or not they will obey Him and follow His commands; whether or not they will believe in Him.  God owns ALL people by right of creation.  The only choice people get to make is whether they will live under God’s Lordship voluntarily, submitting themselves to His authority, and enjoying life in His presence for all eternity, or whether they will rebel against God, making themselves into their own god and lord, living in defiance of the only true God and His commandments, and ultimately choosing a life separated from Him for all eternity.

Through the gift of Jesus, God has made it possible for us to choose to submit ourselves to Him and His authority over our lives.  And to those that do choose to recognize His right as our owner and Lord, He gives the right to become much more than His servants – we get to become His children.

Father, You created the heavens and the earth, the sea, the dry land, and all that inhabit them.  We are Yours, ALL of us, by Your divine right of creation.  Thank You for making the way through Jesus for us to break loose from our sin and rebellion, and instead to surrender ourselves entirely to You; the power to willingly place ourselves under Your authority.  And thank You for the multiplied blessings that You give us when we do.  I have lived in rebellion, and I have lived in full submission to You.  And now that I have experienced the blessed life of complete submission, I will never go back!  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – September 24, 2013

Psalm 127:1-2 (NIV):  Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.  In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat– for he grants sleep to those he loves.

There is too much of man in modern Christianity; too much of the handprint of people on its buildings, its structures, its very character.  The way of man is to set a goal, and then strive to accomplish it, designing systems, building mechanisms, planning and conducting events.  And if those man-made goals are accomplished, if the systems seem to operate, if the events are well attended, the people feel that, not only were they successful, but that God Himself has blessed their efforts.

But that is all a far cry from the way God does things.  To God, the church is not property and buildings.  It is not programs and activities.  It is not a system for elevating the mind and heart of mankind.  The Church to God is the people of God, the body of Christ, the kingdom of God that HE has built and empowered to reach and transform the people of the world into the people of God; a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God (1 Peter 2:9-10).

In the beginning the Church had 120 people living as one, praying as one, waiting as one.  Then, on the day of Pentecost, God’s Spirit-filled people began to praise Him aloud, with all that was within them, and people came from all over the city to listen.  An inspired message delivered through Peter resulted in 3000 new members of the kingdom of God.  No program, no “event,” no advertizing campaign.  It was all the result of a group of people so tuned in to God through their praying together and their expectation that God would fulfill through them all that He had promised, that He was able to work through them unhindered by any plans or structures that they had erected.  A few weeks later, God did it again.  The opportunity, from a human standpoint, was random:  a man who was crippled, a beggar near the temple gate.  But God had planned all of this.  Peter and John stopped near the man at God’s command, and spoke His words of restoration right on cue.  The man’s body was made whole, God’s message of salvation was preached, and thousands more were made part of His people.

Nothing that humans have ever planned can come close to the results that God has achieved.  No program has ever changed the lives of thousands on the spot.  No telemarketing plan has ever brought thousands of diverse people together and, in the twinkling of an eye, molded them together into a unified body.

Oh, how God longs to do the same thing today!  How He desires with all of His heart to reach out through His people and transform the lives of hundreds, of thousands of people at a single stroke.  But far too many of God’s people are far too focused on building the house ourselves.  Far too many of us are far too busy planning outreaches, or building structures, or buying programs, to spend the time in focused prayer, so that God can transform us, fill us with His spirit, and give us His all-powerful words to speak.  Far too many of us are far too busy trying to build their church through our own efforts to be used by God to build the Kingdom.  And the results are sadly predictable:  small growth, if there is growth at all; shallow commitments that do not actually transform lives; frustration; conflict; and a growing irrelevance of a self-focused, self-built church to the community around it; a community that is not looking for programs, but for Truth; not looking for activities, but for Life; not looking for a building, but for the Way into God’s kingdom.  “If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14 NIV)  Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain.

Father, You are absolutely right.  Too much of the Church today is the house that man built.  Forgive us for shouldering You aside in our push to implement our own “great plans.”  Forgive our ignoring our need to pray in our haste to work out our programs.  Forgive us taking our eyes off of Your guiding hand while we plan our outreaches and our building programs.  Help us, Lord, to really see the error of our ways, to fully repent and turn back to You with all of our hearts, and to let You build Your house through us.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – September 23, 2013

Galatians 5:15-18 (NIV):  So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.  For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.

The natural state of man is to constantly experience an internal battle between the appetites of the flesh and the dictates of one’s conscience.  And it is a battle that, predictably, gets old and wearisome before long.  Unfortunately, for the vast majority, the conscience becomes the eventual loser.  Over years of small compromises and seemingly minor sins, the voice of the conscience becomes muffled and indistinct, and is frequently ignored, or entirely overridden by the siren song of sin and disobedience.

But when a person surrenders to Christ, the presence of the Holy Spirit rearms the arsenal of the conscience, empowers the will and, for those who desire it, gives a complete victory over sin.  But only those who live by the Spirit, in the light of the Holy Spirit’s guidance and empowerment, have the ability to consistently NOT gratify the desires of the sinful nature, but to defeat them instead.  Only those who are led by the Spirit, with hearts melted and reshaped by His fire coursing through their souls, have the ability to live their lives in ways pleasing to God.  They are motivated not by a list of external rules, but by God’s law etched on the tablets of their hearts, moving them from within to complete obedience.  (cf. Ezekiel 11:19-20, 36:25-27)  Only those who are led by the Spirit every moment of every day are empowered to live not under the law, but under grace; to be completely empowered to withstand and overthrow the mastery of sin that once held them in its grasp.  (cf. Romans 6:14-18)

This ability to live above sin, in the victory of real righteousness and holiness, is available to every child of God for the asking.  Those who truly hunger and thirst after righteousness shall be filled to overflowing (Matthew 5:6).  Those who sincerely ask for the fullness of the Holy Spirit in their hearts will receive Him fully (Luke 11:13).

Father, thank You for these excellent promises, and for the clear assurance that You are absolutely able to do everything that You promise.  Lord, Help us all to live our lives in the Spirit, far above the mire of sin, so that our righteousness continually brings glory to You.  Amen.

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