Monthly Archives: November 2013

Today’s Scripture – November 26, 2013

Isaiah 5:1-4 (NIV):  I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside.  He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit.  Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard.  What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad?

When God brought Israel into the Promised Land, He gave them everything they needed to be successful not only in taking the land, but in retaining it as well.  The most powerful benefit that He gave them was His own presence.  He was with them, guiding, directing, and empowering them.  And, as long as they followed His commandments, they received all of the blessings of His presence and power.

Before long, however, they turned away from God’s ways, and began to compromise with the people around them, taking on their culture, remaking themselves into the image of the worldlings around them.  When they began to slide away from God, he had to remove His power from them, and to put a distance between them and His presence.  That was to force them to recognize that they were sinning, and move them back to Him.  But they only became more hard-hearted, and moved farther from God and further into the unholy culture around them, until the only visible difference between them and the people of the world was that they occasionally went to the tabernacle or the temple.  God’s people, who had access to every blessing in His vast arsenal, unaccountably produced bad fruit, fruit that left them vulnerable to destruction and exile.

Today God’s people, the Christians, often find themselves in the same situation.  When someone comes to God by trusting in Jesus, He gives us everything that we need to be successful, not only in conquering our community, our nation for the gospel, but for retaining it as well.  The most powerful benefit He gives us is His presence through the indwelling Holy Spirit.  He is with us to guide, direct, and empower us.  And, as long as we follow God’s commandments, we will receive all of the blessings of His presence and power.

But, just like Israel, we must be careful NOT to turn away from God to become enmeshed in the ways of the world – its philosophies and pastimes that dishonor God and His holiness.  We must resist the temptation to become like the world, to set as our role models those who don’t exemplify God’s own priorities.

Whenever someone turns away from God’s path to follow the ways of this world, the first thing that they will experience is a loss of the sense of God’s presence and the loss of His power in their lives.  This is designed to get their attention and to draw them back to God so that they can be restored, and so that His plans and agenda will be able to continue to unfold through them.  But all too often, they continue to pursue the pleasures and attractions of this world rather than the agenda of God’s kingdom, until the only visible difference between them and the people of the world is that they go to church.

God’s agenda is to rescue the world from darkness and death; to save the people of this world through the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus, and to recreate the whole world as the kingdom of God.  But for God’s people to be able to work this agenda, we must keep ourselves from being drawn into the things of this world.  If we will stay focused on God, obey His commands wholeheartedly, and devote ourselves entirely to Him and to fulfilling His agenda, then He will fill us to overflowing with His presence and His power, and will make of us a flourishing and fruitful vineyard that will bear good fruit for all eternity.

Father, thank You for warning us away from things that will lose us Your presence and power, and for welcoming us into those things that You so richly provide that will make us successful in the glorious work of Your kingdom.  Keep speaking to our hearts, so that we can follow You with everything that is in us.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – November 25, 2013

Matthew 13:33 (NIV):  He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

Jesus always picked His parables and figures of speech very carefully, so that the words, the pictures, the concepts clearly communicated the point He was trying to get across.  They were not just slapped together, but carefully planned, much like sermon illustrations today.

This parable is particularly well built, even though it is one of His shorter ones.  In talking about the kingdom of God immediately before this, Jesus had used the figure of a mustard seed – a small beginning from which a great plant grows.  Now He talks about how that growth occurs.  Jesus knew that His time was growing short.  His job was primarily to give His life to pay the price for the sins of all humanity.  But before that moment came, He was establishing the foundation of the kingdom of God as a here-and-now reality.  At the end of His ministry, practically everyone knew who He was, but He only had about 120 committed followers (cf. Acts 1:15).  Not a very impressive beginning.  This truly was the mustard seed start that He knew would grow into a great, earth-filling Church.

But how could a mere 120 people spread the gospel to the whole world?  The very idea seemed impossible.  But Jesus’ illustration of the yeast is entirely appropriate.  Even though few, if any, knew back then how yeast worked, Jesus did.  A small amount of yeast can leaven a huge amount of dough merely by consistently, constantly multiplying itself.  If there was only a single yeast cell, at the end of the first multiplication there would be two.  Then each of those cells multiplies itself again, and there are four, and so on.  At the end of only 20 multiplications, there would be over 1 million yeast cells (specifically 1,048,576)!  Of course this assumes that each cell is truly yeast (which multiplies like that by its very nature), and that ALL cells are involved in the process.  It doesn’t work well if most of the cells just hang around to be “fed” and leaving the multiplying to the special yeast cells that are “called” to the work of multiplying.  But if the cells are all truly yeast cells, and are truly committed to the job of multiplying, in a very short length of time, they will leaven the whole batch.

It’s exactly the same way with the kingdom.  A small number of Christians can bring huge numbers of people into the kingdom merely by consistently, constantly multiplying themselves.  Of course this assumes that each of those people are truly Christians (which multiply themselves by their very nature), and that ALL Christians are involved in the process.  It doesn’t work well if most of the Christians hang around to be “fed”, leaving the multiplying to the pastors and leaders who are “called” to do evangelism.  But if the people are all truly Christians, and are truly committed to the job of growing the kingdom of God by consistently multiplying themselves, in a very short length of time, all working together, they can change the whole character of a community, a state, a whole nation!

Father, that really is a great analogy!  Help us, ALL of Your people, to be faithful in the work You have called us to do.  Help us to faithfully multiply ourselves everywhere, starting right here, right now.  Amen!

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Today’s Scripture – November 21, 2013

Psalm 5:1-3 (NIV):  Give ear to my words, O Lord, consider my sighing.  Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray.  In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.

Many people today don’t really pray.  They throw a few requests up toward heaven, but they don’t really connect to God at the start, they speak their requests, and then they move on.  For that reason, a lot of people today consider prayer to be a duty, a discipline, and one of dubious effectiveness at that.

But David, when he prayed, really prayed!  And his prayers were answered.  David learned to pray while watching his sheep.  Out there in the fields, far from other companionship, he would just talk to God.  He would thank God for His provision, for the beauty of the world, for the grass that He caused to grow that provided food for the sheep, which in turn provided food, clothing and shelter for him and his family.  Later, when he was running from Saul, his prayers were more intense.  But, as we can read in is Psalms, he continued to enter God’s gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise.  He always approached God, not as some grand concept, but as the One who loved him, and who continually demonstrated His love to him in concrete ways.

David kept his heart in tune with God.  After his sin with Bath-Sheba, David understood that he had been cut off from God by his sin.  That was a dark time, and one that left damage to his soul, and to the souls of his children that were never healed.  But before that time, and after his repentance and restoration, David kept his heart in tune with God by living a life in harmony with God’s laws, and by his constant devotion to Him.  So when David came to God, there was no barrier between them, no “spiritual gymnastics” that he had to go through in order to really connect with God.

Then, in the light of their relationship, David brought His requests to God.  Sometimes they were mundane and even trivial:  food for the day; a successful lambing season; the ability to find the exact stick or rock for something that he was building.  Sometimes his requests were urgent:  deliverance from Saul and his troops that were just on the other side of the mountain; food and shelter for him and his men in the wilderness; the ability to rescue his wives and children from the Amalekites.  But in all of them, whether large or small, trivial or vital, he brought them solemnly into God’s presence, laid them at the foot of His throne, and then, secure in the fact that they had connected, he waited in expectation to see the answers.

Not many prayers of David are recorded in the historical narratives in the Bible.  But the Psalms are loaded with them.  And they all share the common characteristics of praise, confidence in the relationship based on a heart in tune with God, experience of a vital, real-time connection between David and God, simple sharing of real needs, assurance that the requests had not only been made, but received, and expectation of the answer.

Father, these elements are easy to see when I look for them.  Help me always to pray to You in the same, intimate way.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – November 19, 2013

Romans 8:31-32 (NIV):  What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

So many Christians today are discouraged by the news that they hear:  wars and rumors of wars, famines and earthquakes, hurricanes and tornadoes, persecution of Christians all around the globe, and they become discouraged and afraid.  They feel a tide of anti-Christian sentiment in their own nation and their fear grows.  They wonder if God has lost track of what is going on in the world – if He has suddenly deserted them.

But God’s promise to never leave or forsake us, to be tangibly with us to the very end of the age has not lapsed.  He has not forgotten it nor turned away from it or from us.  It has been engraved on the palm of His hands with iron nails (cf. Isaiah 49:16).

The fact is, God has already given His very life for us, the life and blood of His only begotten Son.  He has sacrificed Him for our sins, to wash us clean so that we can walk with Him, live in His presence, hear His voice, and receive the living presence of His Holy Spirit.  After making that depth of sacrifice for us, how could we think that He could ever forget us, ever forsake us, ever leave us to the world?

God has loved us to that degree already, so we can be confident that He will provide for us ALL that we need; that He will be powerfully present with us every moment; that He really will never leave us or forsake us.  As He has been with His people through the ages, so now He will be with us every moment of every day.

Father, thank You for Your presence, Your guidance, every moment.  I rest in the assurance of Your provision, Your promise to graciously provide EVEYTHING I need each day; the daily bread for both body and soul.  Thank You SO much!  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – November 18, 2013

Romans 5:6-8 (NIV):  You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

It is a truth that is easy to lose track of:  Jesus died for the ungodly and sinners.  Those same people, the sinners and tax collectors with whom He hung out a lot of the time.  THEY are the ones He died for – they are the lost ones that He came to seek and to save.

It’s not that God doesn’t WANT to save the self-righteous, the Pharisees of every generation who, whether they are truly righteous or not, see themselves as “just as good as anybody, and better than most.”  God wants EVERYBODY to come to repentance (cf. 2 Peter 3:9).  But those who are confident of their own righteousness will not accept the sacrifice made on their behalf.  They will insist on standing before God on their own merits, and will fall miserably.

The ones for whom Jesus’ substitutionary death is effective are the spiritually bankrupt, the “poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3) who know that they are lost, that they don’t have a prayer before God.  In Jesus’ day, these were the one who flocked to Jesus, those who had been written off by the “righteous” as hopeless cases; the ungodly, for whom no one would dare to die.  No one but THE One.  He died for those ungodly.  To demonstrate God’s love for all mankind, He died for those sinners.

Today, when we see someone who is NOT among the “godly,” someone who is an out-and-out sinner, a conspicuously ungodly person, we need to remember that it was precisely for that person that Jesus died.  It was out of God’s love, out of His passionate desire to save people exactly like him or her, that Jesus suffered, and bled, and died.

Father, I remember very clearly who I was when You saved me.  I was most definitely NOT a righteous man.  I was poor, and sinful, and totally lost.  But You gave Your Son for me, to take on Himself the punishment I deserved.  You reached down and touched my heart with powerful conviction of my lostness.  And when I surrendered to you, You saved me and changed my life forever.  Thank You for dying for poor, sinful me, and for not leaving me poor and sinful!  Help me to reach out to others today who are just as poor and sinful as I was, so that they, too, can experience Your life-changing love.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – November 16, 2013

Psalm 146:5-9 (NIV):  Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them– the Lord, who remains faithful forever.  He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous.  The Lord watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

So many people come to God with requests for “stuff,” or for favors, for ease of life, or freedom from worry and cares.  But with that focus on self, they are actually passing up the huge riches that He offers through relationship with Him.  It is almost like someone passing up gold nuggets laying all over the ground because their eyes are focused on the smooth pebbles laying nearby.

Our God is the Lord who upholds the cause of the oppressed.  Whenever and wherever His people are mistreated, He takes note.  He will bring the trouble caused to those He loves down on the heads of their oppressors.  And this includes far more than human oppressors.  He can throw all of the spiritual forces of darkness that oppress His people into disarray too!

Our God gives food to the hungry, just as He did the Israelites in the wilderness when He provided not only manna, but quail too numerous to count.  But in addition to physical sustenance, He also gives spiritual food that the unsaved know nothing about, (John 4:31-34) giving them spiritual power and vigor that will stand up to any challenge.

Our God sets prisoners free.  Some He sets free from physical bondage, but He sets all who come to Him free from the bonds and the power of sin, so that they can walk with Him in righteousness all of their days.

Our God gives sight to the blind.  Some He sets free from physical blindness, but He opens the spiritual eyes of all who come to Him, so that they can see the world as it truly is, and can understand His will and His ways.

Our God lifts up those who are bowed down, freeing them from the heavy yoke of sin and the brokenness to which it leads, and giving them instead the easy yoke of Jesus; the yoke of peace, and of joy in serving Him wholeheartedly.

Our God watches over the alien, those who are in this world but are not of this world because they are citizens of the kingdom of heaven, and ambassadors on a mission to expand that kingdom.  He is always with them fulfilling Jesus’ promise to be with all of God’s people to the very end of the age.  (Matthew 28:20)

Our God sustains the fatherless and the widow, holding all who call on Him close, and becoming to them father and husband.  He give them more love than they could ever imagine, and helps them to grow straight, strong, and healthy, until they reach the whole measure of the fullness of  Christ.  (Ephesians 4:13)

Our God frustrates the ways of the wicked.  They will never be able to waylay those who trust in Him to direct their steps.  And they will never be able to destroy God’s people, removing them entirely from the earth, no matter how hard they try, because God will ALWAYS preserve a righteous remnant for Himself, no matter what.

God is every faithful to His people, and will keep every promise He has made to us, from now on and forever.

Father, thank you for these wonderful promises, and the way You keep them, the way that You guide and direct me every day.  Help me to never push my own wants forward so that I overlook all that You have promised to do in my life.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – November 13, 2013

Luke 15:1-7 (NIV):  Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him.  But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Then Jesus told them this parable:  “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?  And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’  I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

Jesus hung out with sinners, the “lost sheep,” way more than the “good people” of his day were comfortable with.  And He did it on purpose.  The Pharisees understood that it was sometimes necessary to have contact with the “unholy masses” during the course of a day.  That was the main reason that they thoroughly washed before eating, and before any sacred duty:  to wash the contamination from their bodies, symbolic of washing it away from their souls.

These Pharisees and teachers of the law could not understand why Jesus would associate with such “contaminants” on purpose.  Didn’t He understand that being that close to such sinners could allow their spiritual uncleanness to rub off on Him, fouling His own spirit?  Didn’t He know that one bad apple would spoil a whole barrelful?

But Jesus knew the way things were far better than them!  He understood that soap is never contaminated by making something clean.  That point was clearly demonstrated by Him when He touched (!) a leper.  He didn’t catch the disease; instead the leper was instantly made clean.  (Matthew 8:1-4)  Jesus cast out demons without ever being affected by them.  He even touched the dead (Luke 7:11-15) without being defiled, but giving life instead.

But Jesus was with those sinners, not just because He could be; He was with them on purpose, because He had a mission.  He had come “to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10), and these were the lost.  He did not come and hang out with the holy people and hope that the lost would seek Him out.  He came to seek them out, even though it meant leaving the temples and synagogues where the righteous gathered, leaving the righteous sheep on their own, and going into the wilds, the streets and houses where those lived who would never darken the door of a church.  Even thought it meant eating in the houses of tax collectors (Luke 5:27-32; 19:1-10), He did whatever He had to do to go to the people who needed Him the most:  not just the tax collectors, but the prostitutes, the scoundrels, the immoral, the sin-sick and the body-wasted.  And they received Him gladly, not just for the miracles that they received, but because of the words of life that He brought to them.

Some have said that if Jesus were on the earth today, He wouldn’t spend His time in churches and hanging out with the saints.  Instead, he would still be found among the sinners and castoffs, those who needed Him the most and knew that they deserved Him the least; still seeking and saving what was lost.  And that is true as far as it goes.  The fact is, Jesus is here on earth today, living in the hearts of His people, and longing to work through them to go to those same lost and sinful people.  To touch them with His cleansing and healing power.  To bring life back into their dead souls.  To give them real life today, and eternal life forever.  But for Him to do all of that, we, like Him, must be willing to leave the comfort of our churches and homes, and the familiarity of our Christian friends and associates, and go where He longs to be, to do what He died to accomplish – seeking and saving what was lost.

Father, how easy it is to forget that Jesus’ mission was not to the righteous, but to the sinners.  I know fully that You did not come to me when I had my act together, but when I was so lost in sin that I could not even look up.  I was a lost sheep, and You truly went out into the wilderness to seek me and save me.  And now You wish to continue to do that work of seeking and saving through me!  What an amazing honor!  Help me, Lord, to be willing to move out of my comfort zone into the world that is so dark, and that needs You so badly.  Help me to serve You by shining the light of Your love and Your truth into the dark lives all around me, so that I can be an active participant in YOUR mission.  Amen.

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