Monthly Archives: October 2013

Today’s Scripture – October 31, 2013

Ephesians 6:10-13 (NIV):  Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

It is so easy for us as God’s people to allow ourselves to be pulled off mission.  In this world, where so many, motivated by satan, set themselves up against the true biblical faith, it is very easy to mistake those earthly enemies as the real enemy; to mistake the physical battle for the real battle.

The real enemy is invisible to the human eye.  To some, that makes him unreal.  But he is very real, and is willing to fight against God’s plan and God’s people at any time, in any place.  He whispers into the minds of people who are open to him (that is, to those who haven’t surrendered their lives to God), and sets them against God’s people, feeling the whole time that it is the most reasonable, rational action to take.  And when one of God’s people is assailed by a flesh-and-blood attacker, it can be difficult to keep in mind that this person confronting them is unwittingly being used by the real enemy as a smoke screen.

The truth is, any one of God’s people, saved, cleansed, and filled with His Holy Spirit, is more than a match for the real enemy.  Just as the enemy forces fled before Jesus’ very presence, just as they were made to depart at a word from Paul, so the true enemy knows that any of God’s people are powerful enough to defeat him completely.  And so he hesitates to take us on directly.

So it is vital for God’s people to remember who the real enemy is, and that, in God’s power, he is already defeated.  We must stay girded up in God’s armor, so that we can continually stand against his schemes.  We must never allow ourselves to become distracted by the events happening in the kingdoms of the world, so that we leave off fighting the real enemy, and instead waste valuable time and energy fighting against his straw men.  We must always remember that the weapons God has given us are powerful, even to the extent of breaking down spiritual strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:4), so that those held captive to do the will of the enemy can be set free – the real job of kingdom people.  We need to constantly keep this mission in mind, and be about this work for which God has equipped and empowered us.  And then, AFTER we have done all that God has called us to do, AFTER we have overcome, then we will be able to stand in God’s presence and power forever.

Father, these are all wonderful promises.  Help us all to ponder them until they become so rooted in our hearts that we instinctively move in them.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 29, 2013

Genesis 1:1-3 (NIV):  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

Sometimes people look at the beginning of something and are dismayed, unable to see the shape of the finished product when the work is in its initial stages.  Every huge, tall building that is built today begins by digging a deep hole in the ground.  It doesn’t look very tall or impressive at that stage, but the blueprints, the vision of the finished product, leads the engineer to begin with something that doesn’t look anything like the final, glorious product.

When human life begins, it starts as a dot smaller than a period at the end of a sentence.  But in that single fertilized cell, all of the person that will be is present, awaiting future development.  To some, this early stage seems so much less than the finished product, that they have no problem dehumanizing it and sweeping it away.  But, just as in the skyscraper’s construction, when you destroy the beginning, you are actually destroying the end as well.  By aborting an embryo or a fetus, you are not destroying a “potential person,” but the actual person that is in the process of development.

When God first created the heavens and the earth, they didn’t look like much.  In fact, they looked like nothing at all, since there was no light!  There was the vast expanse of space, empty except for a lone, water-covered orb, spinning in the inky blackness of a starless void.  Anyone looking at that initial stage, that first creation, could easily have written it off as a failure.  Lots of empty space, with one, lone, watery, lifeless globe spinning in it.  But all of that was merely the first dab of paint on an empty canvas.  It was all empty and formless, that is true.  But over it all God’s Spirit hovered, full of the creative power to bring His entire vision into glorious fulfillment.  From the first burst of blinding light, things began to move toward the complete realization of His plan.  In six short days, the scene had changed completely.  The heavens were ablaze with countless stars.  The world had become a brilliant blue-green sphere, teeming with plant and animal life.  And the first two human beings, the parents of all who would fill the earth thereafter, were gazing in wonder at their new home.  Everything was perfect – exactly as God had planned it.  From such humble beginnings, God had created a masterpiece.

Believe it or not, it is the same way with people.  Often, when people come to God, they come as something not very impressive by divine standards.  Some come smelling strongly of cigarette smoke and alcohol.  Some come tattooed and pierced.  Some come with all of the scars, internal and external, of a life badly lived.  All come laden with sins, and with mental and emotional baggage that has made their whole lives, in the end, a barren wilderness.  Even those that come with worldly wealth and position, but black with sin inside, actually bring nothing to the table that is of benefit to God in shaping them into what He wants them to become.  Some might look at the darkness of these lives and determine that they are a pretty poor place to start in building anything of divine use.  In a sense, when these people come, they are like that pit that is dug in order to build a skyscraper; like a black, starless expanse of space.  There seems to be nothing to build on, no potential.  But God’s Spirit is hovering over the scene.  With a flash of divine light, God illuminates the darkened heart and mind.  With a burst of His divine power, He tears down the old, rotten structures of the life, and makes the person into a completely new creation – a creation full of life and light.  (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17)  Over the next days, weeks, months, even years, God grows the newly formed person into a fully formed member of the kingdom of God; mature, powerful, and ready to reproduce themselves in other lives.  A person who is just like Jesus, the blueprint that God uses for everyone who comes to Him.  (cf. Romans 8:29)

Of course it is difficult for most people (even the one who is being transformed) to see the finished product in the initial stages of growth.  And sometimes those involved in the process grow discouraged and give up, aborting the process before it is completed.  And the newly formed soul can die before it has a chance to become what God intended it to be.  But if all concerned will keep Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2) firmly in view through the whole process, then they will be able to remain steadfast, continuing to move forward through every discouragement, through every single backward step, and they will be able to see the finished product shining through in a much shorter time than they would have believed possible.

Father, as one of your new creations, I say a hearty “Amen!” to all of this.  When I came to You, I was pretty worthless, even in my own eyes.  But in a flash, You changed me from top to bottom, from inside out, in ways that were quickly evident to everyone.  And from that foundation, You built me up over the following days, weeks, months, and years, continuing to teach me, to mold me, to shape me into the very image of Your Son.  None of this was my doing – my job was to stay close, live in obedience, submit myself to Your work, and never give up.  All that I am today is because of You and Your creating, remaking, reshaping power.  And I will praise You forever for all You have done in me.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 28, 2013

Matthew 8:23-27 (NIV):  Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him.  Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping.  The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”
     He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.
     The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”

So many people read this story and reach precisely the wrong conclusion.  Many sermons have been preached about how, when life turns to a storm around us, that all we have to do is to cry out to the Lord, and He will calm the storm, just like Jesus did for the disciples.  It is a reassuring message to be sure, but all too often when people call out to God, the storms do  not calm down.  After all of the sermons they have heard on the subject, what are they supposed to take away from that?

Jesus was and is Lord of all, even the weather.  And He can, indeed, calm storms when necessary.  But the real key to understanding the truth behind this episode lies in verse 26:  “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?”  The point was not that Jesus could calm the storm.  The point was that the disciples were silly to be afraid of the storm because they were with Jesus.  As Mark tells us (Mark 4:38), Jesus was sleeping peacefully in the back of the boat while the storm raged around Him.  He was not afraid, because He knew that He was in His Father’s hands.  He knew that He wasn’t going to die outside of God’s allowing it.  He was safe in God’s hands until the appointed hour.  And even then, after He did die, He would be instantly safe in God’s hands forever.  And so Jesus never sweated the storms – He just rested in them, safe in God’s hands.

The disciples had already seen enough of Jesus’ miracles, heard enough of His teachings, to know that He was the Messiah.  And because of that, they should have been able to see that, as long as Jesus was with them in the boat, they were going to be fine.  The correct action on their part would have been to stay close to Jesus and ride out whatever storms arose without fear or panic.  But their eyes were slow to see; their minds were slow to understand; and so their hearts were slow to believe.

Their faith still failed them in the next major storm to blow through their lives.  When the first winds hit, when Jesus was arrested, they panicked and scattered.  Peter even denied knowing Jesus three times out of fear that the storm would drown him.  And their fear and hiding intensified, and lasted all the way until Jesus blew the storm clouds away, when he appeared to them after His resurrection.

To be fair, after Pentecost, after the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit, they did become storm-proof.  After Herod arrested Peter, on the night before his scheduled execution we don’t find Peter crying out to the Lord to save Him from the storm.  Instead (Acts 12:6), we find him chained between two guards, sticking close to Jesus, and sleeping peacefully while the storm raged.  He was not afraid, because he knew that he was in his Father’s hands.  He knew that he wasn’t going to die outside of God’s allowing it.  He was safe in God’s hands until the appointed hour.  And even then, after he did die, he would be instantly safe in God’s hands forever.  And so Peter wasn’t sweating the storm – He was just resting in the midst of it, safe in God’s hands.

Father, forgive our lack of faith that takes our eyes off of You and fixes them instead on the storm.  Help us, even when the storm rages, to rest in You, safe in Your hands always.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 27, 2013

Psalm 80:4-7 (NIV):  O Lord God Almighty, how long will your anger smolder against the prayers of your people?  You have fed them with the bread of tears; you have made them drink tears by the bowlful.  You have made us a source of contention to our neighbors, and our enemies mock us.  Restore us, O God Almighty; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved.

Many today in the Church, especially in America and Europe, are wondering what has gone wrong.  Many church buildings sit empty on Sunday mornings; others are nearly empty – a mere shadow of the former great crowds that moved the people to enlarge their buildings not that long ago.  The people have tried new programs, new emphases, new strategies.  They have put on name tags and winning smiles at the door.  They have altered their doctrinal stands to be more appealing to a larger portion of the community.  They have changed their music style, their preaching style, even the way the pastor dresses.  But their numbers still dwindle, and the people are left wondering what has gone wrong.

The key element that is missing in most of these congregations is God.  Far too many churches today focus on the people in the pew (or the people they wish were in the pew), and they have totally lost track of God’s purpose in bringing them together in the first place:  to worship God, to focus on Him, to serve Him, to obey Him.  Not to grow their church, but to grow God’s kingdom.  Not to be the biggest, most popular congregation, but to be the most Christlike congregation.  Not to have the biggest youth group, but to have the biggest impact for the gospel in their community.  Until the priorities are straight, God can’t bless any congregation with His presence or His power.

What is needed now in most congregations is not a new program, but a new, crystal clear focus on God and what He has called us to do.  Not a new style of worship music, but a new focus on worshiping God in spirit and in truth.  Not a loosening of doctrines, but complete obedience to all that God has commanded.  Not a new advertizing campaign, or a better web presence, but God’s presence.  And that will only come when we, as God’s people, truly repent of what we have made of ourselves.  It will only come when the people of a congregation stop wanting more people, and start truly wanting more of God.  It will only come when we realize that God is not actually present in our services because the services have been built for the people, instead of to actually worship God.

The prayer God is longing to hear from most of His people right now is this one:  Restore us, O God Almighty; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved.  Only when we turn away from what we have made of ourselves, only when we turn to God in complete surrender, will He revisit us, restore us, and remake us into the Church.

Father, what can I say but forgive us.  Do restore us, Lord.  Do make Your face to shine upon us once again, so that we may be saved.  So that we may become what You want us to be.  Help us, even today, to keep our focus on You – completely on You, so that we really can worship You in spirit and in truth.  Help us, Lord.  Revisit us, Lord, in all of Your power.  Restore us, Lord, to be Your people.  Remake us, Lord, into Your very image, Your people, Your Church.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 26, 2013

Deuteronomy 6:6-9 (NIV):  These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.  Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

A primary duty for God’s people has always been to pass His word, His commandments down to the next generation.  Someone has said that Christianity is always a single generation away from extinction. That is true of Christianity as well as anything else.  Mathematics, for example, is one generation away from extinction – if no one teaches the children how to do math, the skill would have no way to reach subsequent generations; the chain will be broken.

But knowledge of God is far more important than math, since it serves people not only in this world, but determines their eternal destiny.  That is why God instructed His people early on to continually keep His commandments before themselves, to memorize them, and to impress them on their children so that they would be in their hearts, too.  They were to talk to their children about God, His deeds on behalf of His people as well as His commandments for them, all the time, so that the torch would be solidly passed to the next generation.  He even commanded them to write His words on their homes and buildings, so that they would serve as constant reminders of who God is, and what He has done.

Unfortunately, even back then, God’s people got lax, and they failed to pass the faith on.  As recorded in Judges 2:10-11, “After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel.  Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals.”  The people of God failed to pass the faith to the next generation, and so they doomed their future generations to more than 300 years of living outside of God’s favor.

To be sure, God is always working to ensure that Christianity never fails.  From a human standpoint, the faith is always a single generation away from extinction.  But from the beginning, God has always ensured that there is preserved at least a spark, from which the true faith in Him will expand and burn brightly again.  He has always preserved a remnant, from the days of righteous Noah, all the way down to the remnant that He is preserving in places where persecution and genocide seem poised to extinguish His light for good.

And so, especially when times seem perilous for the true faith, it is vital that we, as God’s people, act diligently to internalize His word in ourselves, and then to impress that same word so powerfully on our children that the salvation of the next generation and the powerful continuity of the faith, are ensured.  The enemy understands this very well, too.  These days we see many attacks on the faith leveled at precisely this point, to the extent that some today virulently claim that passing on biblical Christianity to the next generation is tantamount to child abuse!  We just need to understand that this is the enemy talking, attempting to cause God’s people to disobey His clear commands, and so endanger the eternal salvation of our children, as well as the future of the faith.

Father, our children are precious to us, so their eternal destiny should always be an area of vital concern to all of us.  Help us to be faithful to You and Your word, as well as to our children, by not merely entrusting their whole knowledge of You to an hour a week in Sunday School, but to obey Your clear command to teach them about You and Your commands ourselves, and to do it constantly.  Help us to faithfully bring up the next generation in Your nurture and admonition, so that the chain is never broken.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 25, 2013

Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV):  Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

It is the nature of broken mankind to make ourselves the measure of all things; to reserve for ourselves the ability to decide what is right and wrong, true and false; to believe that our every thought is rational, and that those things that we can experience with our senses are what is most real.  But the real truth is far different.

The fact is, the current human brain is not the grand result of millions of years of evolution, the pinnacle of reasoning power, better now than it has ever been.  Instead, the current human brain is the result of thousands of years of degradation from what was originally designed by God to be the actual pinnacle of His creation.  Thousands of years of sin’s damaging effects, thousands of years of genetic degradation, thousands of years of separation from God, trying to make our own way, our own decisions, has left mankind with brains that are less able to see what is really true than ever before.  Lately, for many, this trend has been escalating dramatically because of drug and alcohol abuse, which actually rewires the brain, short-circuiting many important connections, and giving the sensation of thinking clearly when the reality is that great amounts of information are being misprocessed, while even more is overlooked entirely.  Add to this the worldview modification that has been effectively orchestrated through agenda-driven television shows, movies, and public education programs, and you end up with a huge majority of people who believe that they are seeing things with blinding clarity, when all the time they are missing much of the truth that is right under their noses.

This situation might seem hopeless, but the solution is simple, and clearly revealed in God’s word.  If we will trust in God with all of our hearts instead of relying on our own understanding (which, even in the best of people today, is still colored by vast amounts of secularized thinking), then He can open our eyes to see the real truth.  If we will immerse ourselves in God’s word, never letting it depart from our mouths, and meditating on it night and day (cf. Joshua 1:8), it will help to reorient our minds, and will actually start to sweep away the cobwebs of a secularized and humanized worldview that masquerades as the truth, but that leads only to death and destruction.  If we will trust God in all things, turn away from our preoccupation with the kingdoms of this world to focus instead on the kingdom of heaven; if we will trust in God for salvation through the blood of Jesus so that He can bring us out of darkness into the light, so that He can make us into a totally new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17); if we will offer ourselves entirely to God as a living sacrifice, so that He can transform us entirely by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2); then He can open our eyes, our hearts, and our minds, so that we can see the truth as it really is.  Then, and only then, can we know the truth, because we will know the Truth.  And in that Truth we will truly be set free (John 8:32).

Father, thank You for turning me around all those years ago.  I truly was one who believed that I saw so clearly, yet when You turned my life around, when I surrendered to Your love and grace in Jesus, the scales fell away from my eyes and I could truly see for the first time.  What a shock it was to see so clearly that so much of what I had previously believed was true was actually false – warped, twisted, and deadly!  But I praise You that all that You have shown me is SO much more amazing, so much more valid than anything I ever knew before.  Thank You for continuing to guide me in Your truth, the truth that really did, and really does, set me free.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 24, 2013

2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (NIV):  To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

When given the choice to do things God’s way or the human way, far too many decide to take the human way:  the way of human strategy, human strength, human ingenuity.  They decide to sidestep (or completely ignore) that ways God has set forth in His word to do the work of the kingdom.

Many of us who read the Bible consistently notice that God rarely does things in the way that we would do them if we were in charge.  The important thing to remember when those things come to our attention is that God’s ways are not lower than ours, but are infinitely higher, better, and more effective (cf. Isaiah 55:8-9).  For example, when Gideon came to fight God’s battle against Midian with 32,000 men, God told him that he had TOO MANY men to fight effectively for Him.  With that many, the temptation to use human strategies to fight would have been overwhelming, and they would accomplish massively less than they could doing things God’s way.  So God narrowed those men down to 10,000, and then narrowed those 10,000 down to 300, less than 1% of the original number (Judges 7;1-25).  And with those 300 doing things God’s way (they really had no choice; there were too few to do it the human way!) they routed and totally defeated the huge and well-trained army of Midian.

Paul was a strong man, and strong-willed, too.  With him there was always going to be the temptation to take the bit between his teeth and begin to run ahead of God in his own strength.  So God gave him the so-called “thorn in his flesh” to inject enough weakness in him that he always knew that he wasn’t strong enough to do anything on his own.  It rankled him greatly (strong people hate any area of weakness in their lives), and he prayed three times to be delivered from it.  That was when God explained to him that He needed Paul to be weak, so that he would not try to rely on his own strength, and so grow conceited over his victories.  Just like there was no way Gideon could claim that his huge army had brought him success, but had to give God the glory for the victory, God wanted Paul to always be completely aware that any victory he had was not due to his own strength, or the power of his personality, or his mastery of the Bible, or his rhetorical skills.  He would have to acknowledge that every single victory came about because it was God who was working through him, filling his weakness with His strength.

Many people today look at themselves and see only their weakness, their lack of knowledge, their lack of skill, and they figure that they can’t be used by God in any great way for the kingdom.  But they need to realize that they are perfect candidates for God to use to accomplish great things, because they are people who will be totally dependent upon God and His power to accomplish all that He has called them to do.  And in their weakness, God can be strong to do amazing things!

Father, thank You for Your strength that works so powerfully through the weakness of Your people.  Thank You for allowing us to participate in all of the miraculous things You still do in our world.  Amen.

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