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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Today’s Scripture – October 22, 2013

Micah 6:6-8 (NIV):  With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?  Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?  He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

People have never been able to work themselves into God’s good graces by sacrifices and spiritual acts of devotion.  Many, either to make up for some wrong God has called to their attention, or to try to move Him in their favor, make extravagant promises, do acts of penance, or work long hours in the church or in a ministry.  But even though some of these things are not bad in themselves, they cannot make up for a single sin, and they don’t move God’s heart at all to act in a person’s behalf.  (Especially since God knows that the only reason the person is doing these things is not out of genuine love or devotion, but in a bid to try to manipulate Him.)

Paul had it exactly right:  “If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:3 NIV)  The people of Judah, horrified at the captivity of their brothers and sisters in the northern kingdom, and troubled that God was foretelling the same destiny for them, were all about trying to make it up to God by calling solemn fast days, bringing abundant sacrifices, making solemn pledges.  But God had seen all of that before, clear back to the days of the judges.  And all of it had only signaled a surface repentance, an attempt to placate Him until His anger had cooled down.

What God required for His people then is the same thing He requires of us now:  repentance that results in a completely different direction, a completely different lifelong orientation of our lives toward Him and His way of doing things:

  • ·        Act justly – Fair trading in every area of life.  From refusing to deal sharply, or have fine print in our business dealings, to ensuring that all with whom we are associated hold to the same principles.  This also includes coming to the aid of those who are powerless and mistreated, not to try and get them special treatment, but doing all that we can to help them get treated justly.
  • ·        Love mercy – Another aspect of justice, with even farther-reaching implications.  This includes showing mercy to the poor and downtrodden, especially those who are a part of the Church:  feeding those who are hungry, giving water to those who thirst, inviting the homeless in, clothing those who lack adequate clothing, and visiting those who are sick or in prison.  (cf. Matthew 25:31-46)  It also includes pulling out all the stops for those who are still trapped in their sins and lost; working tirelessly to bring them out of the darkness and into the light.  After all, what good does it do to make someone’s trip more comfortable if their destination is still hell?
  • ·        Walk humbly with our God – This means that each person who wants to experience God’s grace and His presence must live by His rules:  obeying His commands, avoiding sin and compromise at all costs, and seeking to know and to do His will.

It doesn’t matter what else a person does, if we do not clearly show forth these signs of spiritual life, all of the sacrifices we can make in the world won’t move God a single inch.  But, to those who live lives of justice, mercy, and genuine holiness, God will give His presence and His power to enable us to do all of these things, and even greater things than these!

Father, what great promises!  Help us all to truly turn from our own paths, to the life that You have not only commanded us to live, but the life that only You can empower us to live.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 21, 2013

Psalm 101:1-3a (NIV):  I will sing of your love and justice; to you, O Lord, I will sing praise.  I will be careful to lead a blameless life– when will you come to me? I will walk in my house with blameless heart.  I will set before my eyes no vile thing.

Many today consider a blameless life to be far beyond the reach of the ordinary person.  Perhaps “a real saint” (and many Christians seem to know at least one of these), maybe THEY could pull it off, but it’s a goal too high for an ordinary person like them.

But people who think this way have already defeated themselves before the battle has even begun!  They ignore the fact that even in the days before the Holy Spirit was sent to indwell God’s people there were many who led truly blameless.  As just a few examples, look at Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, who were “upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly.”  (Luke 1:6 NIV)  There was not a trace of a legalistic patina covering a sinful heart in them; they were legitimately blameless before God.  And look at Simeon, a man who was waiting intently for the coming of the Messiah, and who was “righteous and devout.” (Luke 2:25 NIV)  That is GOD’s evaluation of his life.  And, of course, there was Anna, the widow who “never left the temple, but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.” (Luke 2:37 NIV)  Even Joseph, the husband of Mary, is noted as “a righteous man.”  (Matthew 1:19 NIV)

Were all of these individuals, living at the same time, strange or unique?  Were they freaks whose example cannot be reasonably imitated by “normal people” today?  Hardly!  These were normal, ordinary people.  What set them apart was not some genetic “quirk,” but their extraordinary devotion to God; their extraordinary determination to “lead a blameless life;” to resist every temptation so that they could live consciously in God’s presence.  It was an immovable, unshakable, totally unsinkable determination in their own hearts, an unbendable act of the will to follow God and His commands 100% that made their lives blameless.  They were so focused on God and on being pleasing in His sight that the enemy could find no foothold in their lives; sin could find no resting place; temptation had no shadowy crevice in which it could fester.

It seems that many today who claim that they are unable to follow God wholeheartedly, who claim that living a blameless life is beyond the ability of the average person, really lack the single-hearted will to be righteous.  They seem to hope that such deep righteousness will be magically imposed upon them with no effort on their part; that God will somehow mystically remove the temptations of the world from them so that they can be holy with no effort on their part at all!  But without a solid commitment to walk before God every day in holiness and righteousness, without a willful focus on putting God and His agenda first in our lives every day, ahead of work, ahead of hobbies, ahead of favorite TV shows, ahead of friends, even ahead of spouses and children (cf. Luke 14:26), God has nothing He can work with.

Today, despite the prevalence of so many distractions and entertainments and temptations delivered right into houses via television and the internet, there should be multiplied millions more saints living blameless lives than there were in the days before Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension.  That is because God has sent the Holy Spirit to live in the hearts of all of those who receive Jesus as Lord and Savior, giving them infinitely more power to be blameless that Zechariah, Elizabeth, Simeon, Anna, or Joseph ever dreamed of having.  The reason that God’s people don’t experience that powerful blamelessness, righteousness, and holiness is not in their lack of ability, but their lack of will.

Father, forgive us for not passionately wanting to live our lives for You alone.  Forgive us for having our passion for You be so much less than our passion for the things of this world that sap our spiritual life and take our focus off of pleasing You.  Forgive us for living so far below our potential in You, in Your Holy Spirit.  Forgive us, Lord, and help us to turn around, to completely repent of all of this, and to receive fresh life from You, so that we can completely live for You from now on.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 17, 2013

Matthew 26:23-25 (NIV):  Jesus replied, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me.  The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”
Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?”
Jesus answered, “Yes, it is you.”

Jesus knew from the beginning that Judas was going to be the one who would ultimately betray Him.  He knew from the moment He met him that the hand He was shaking would one day hold 30 pieces of silver, the price of His life.  He understood that the mouth and eyes that were smiling so warmly at that first meeting would one day try to smile with the same warmth, but would only pull off a cold mockery of a smile, stretched tight over a heart turned to ice by betrayal.

Any of that knowledge would have been enough for a normal person to hold Judas at arm’s length, to keep him outside the inner circle, to write him off from the very start.  But Jesus drew him all the way into the inner circle, giving him the same access that all of the other eleven had.  He even put Judas in charge of the money bag, knowing full well that he would help himself to its contents.  (cf. John 12:6)

On the night of the Last Supper, Judas was at the table right along with the rest of the inner circle as Jesus laid out the events that had already been set into motion.  Some people believe that Judas should be able to get into heaven, since he only did what had to be done for Jesus’ sacrifice to take place, or because they believe that he must have betrayed Jesus out of some noble motive.  But God did not call or command Judas to betray His Son – He just knew that he would betray Him, and thus had Jesus bring him on board.  It was Judas’ depraved choice to turn his back on the one who had come to offer him the kingdom of God, the one who showed him mighty miracles, and who never did anything to him but good.  With that one decision to act in concert with the enemy, Judas sold himself into eternal suffering that began almost immediately upon his kissing Jesus to identify Him to those who had come to arrest Him.  His suffering became so overwhelming that he hanged himself to try to find relief, only to find himself immediately in the place Jesus had warned them all away from – the place where his agony and shame and grief were only intensified, and where it will continue to gnaw at him for all eternity.

At the supper, when the others were indicating their loyalty to Jesus, Judas did too, believing that, with his mask firmly in place, Jesus would never know what was in his heart.  “Surely, Teacher, you can’t possibly mean me!”  But Jesus knew what was in the very heart of every man.  (cf. John 2:25)  He had always known that this moment would come.  In a flash, He saw the heart of Judas sitting like a cold rock in his chest, and he knew that the deed was done, the die was cast, the game was on, and there would be no turning back for any of them.

“Yes, it is you,” He said, so quickly and quietly that the other disciples, lost in their own thoughts, didn’t quite hear.  But the smile disappeared from Judas’ face as if he had been slapped.  His eyes got suddenly colder, and he quickly got up and left the upper room to seal Jesus’ fate.  And his own.

Father, You know our every thought, all the way to the depths of our hearts.  There is no way we can hide anything from You, because You are with each of us always.  Even when we breathe a sigh of relief after we have done a wrong, convinced that we have gotten away with it, we haven’t gotten away with anything.  You have seen it all, whether it was a physical act, or a wrong thought that we have cherished in our heart.  Help us, Lord, to always live in such a way that we never have to be afraid to be found out, never have to be ashamed when we realize that Your eyes were always on us.  Help us to never betray You by aligning ourselves with the enemy, but to live as Your beloved children, now and forever.  Amen.

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