Monthly Archives: January 2014

Today’s Scripture – January 30, 2014

John 5:30 (NIV):  By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.

Jesus was the perfect example of submission to God.  His agenda was not tainted by the slightest trace of self-interest.  As He said in John 5:19, He could only do what He saw His Father doing.  He did not make decisions about His daily agenda until He had heard from the Father directly.  (That was one of the key drivers for His frequent early morning prayers!)  And once He had heard where the Father was directing Him to go, once He knew what the Father was calling Him to do, He immediately set Himself in the Father’s way, so that He was always where He needed to be, right when God needed Him to be there.

Some believe that this submission to the Father proves that Jesus was not God.  But it doesn’t.  Jesus, in addition to being the Lamb of God who was sent to die for the sins of the world, also came to initiate the kingdom of God on earth, and to live the kingdom life conspicuously before everyone so that they could see what it was supposed to look like.  Jesus consciously humbled Himself when He took on human form (cf. Philippians 2:5-11), so that He became the prototype of what every one of His followers was to become.

The way that Jesus lived, in complete submission to God’s will, seeking His direction and following His lead in every detail – not just “on call,” but consciously seeking God’s whole will throughout the day – that is the way that all of God’s people are called to live.  In that path lies the fullness of God’s presence, as well as the fullness of His power.  Only in that way of living will Jesus’ followers be able to do “even greater things” than Jesus did.  (John 14:12)  It is the way that leads to life, and that will guide our lives all the way into eternity.

Father, forgive us for living contrary to Jesus’ example.  For setting our own agendas, making our own plans, and then expecting You to bless us.  Help us to really internalize the example of complete submission to You and Your will that Jesus illustrated so well, and then to live out that model every day in our own lives.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – January 29, 2014

Genesis 16:1-2 (NIV):  Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her.” Abram agreed to what Sarai said.

Sarai knew what the problem was:  she was barren.  She knew what the cause of the problem was:  God had kept her from having children.  Her next step was to leap from there straight to a solution:  Abram should sleep with Hagar, and the resulting child would be legally counted as Sarai’s.  So, all on her own, and in her own strength, she figured out a way to make God’s promise of abundant descendants for Abram come true.

But Sarai missed an important step:  she never considered the fact that God had kept her barren up to that point for a reason.  It wasn’t that God was remiss, or that He was unaware of her barrenness when He made the promise to Abram.  It wasn’t that He was powerless to engineer what He had promised.  Her barrenness was actually all a part of God’s plan.

Sarai had been barren for all of those years by His specific design.  God let her get all the way through menopause, and well beyond it, so that when she did conceive, there would be absolutely no question in anyone’s mind that it was God’s power that had accomplished it; that it was a mighty miracle that confirmed the promise that He had made to Abram, despite how impossible keeping that promise might look from a purely human perspective.  Despite the passage of time (it was over 24 years from God’s first promise to Abram until Sarai – then Sarah – became pregnant; a long time when you are waiting for a miracle!), God had not lost track of His promise, nor did He lack the power to pull it off.  He was working the whole time, planning and orchestrating circumstances, and ensuring that everything happened at the exact time and place that would move His plan forward.

God knows that we are inherently impatient.  When we receive a promise, we become excited and want it to come to fulfillment right away.  All of God’s promises will be fulfilled to the letter.  But the fulfillment must always await His divinely appointed time.  God won’t be hurried, and He can’t be successfully worked around.  His promises are not made in isolation; every one of them is made and fulfilled as part of His much larger plan to bring salvation to the ends of the earth.  So we need to be patient in waiting for God’s promised blessings.  We need to be still and let Him work everything out at exactly the right time.

Father, thank You for Your promises to us – amazing promises that fill us with awe and draw our hearts after You in expectation.  But as we wait, Lord, help us to wait in joyful expectation, not in impatience.  Help us to enjoy the journey to Your fulfillment, instead of being so fixated on the destination that we miss the wonders and miracles that You bless us with along the way.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – January 28, 2014

Matthew 6:24-26 (NIV):  “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.  Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”

People today are so focused on material things.  We are surrounded by advertisements and television shows that present a continual parade of the new, the improved, the stylish.  There is such a thirst for new possessions and new experiences, that most people end up in debt trying to satisfy that thirst; working today to pay off yesterday’s stuff, while buying new stuff today that will have to be worked off tomorrow.

What a difference between that picture and the picture painted by Jesus.  He says that God’s people should be more focused on the spiritual dimension than on the physical; more intent on redeeming souls than whatever the latest “big thing” is; more passionate about building our relationship with God than on the latest game or movie or television show.

It is this quest, this hunger and thirst for stuff and experiences instead of for righteousness, for more of God’s presence, for souls being brought to eternal life, that is behind most of the stresses and worries in this life.  Many people have closets full to overflowing with clothes, but are stressed because they “can’t find anything to wear.”  They have television with hundreds of channels, but are frustrated because “there’s nothing worth watching.”  They have pantries, and refrigerators, and freezers full of food, but complain that there’s nothing that they feel like eating.

God will not provide all of the luxuries or choices that a person many want.  But He has promised to provide all that we really need.  In the wilderness, He provided the people with manna every day for over 40 years.  It was tasty and nutritious, providing everything that the people needed to not only live, but to thrive.  But after a while, the people rebelled against this simple, life-sustaining fare.  They wanted more variety (like they had in Egypt when they were slaves!).  Their thirst for variety and novelty took their focus off of what God actually did consistently provide, and made them sneer at what He gave them.  (They actually called it “miserable food”! [Numbers 21:5])  They despised God’s gift of grace and demanded that He cater instead to their desires.

We, as God’s people today, could easily live much simpler lives – lives intentionally lived with fewer choices and simpler options.  Lives in which we gratefully receive what God provides each day (“our daily bread” [Matthew 6:11).  Lives in which what God provides is enough to satisfy our physical needs.  If we would do that instead of focusing on the latest, newest, most stylish stuff, we would always have enough, and more than enough to satisfy our true NEEDS.  And, leaving behind the pursuit of all that our society tries to get us to want, we would also have enough time and energy left over to build our relationship with God, and to grow the kingdom.

Father, it is easy to see how quickly and easily we can be snared by the companies that show us why we always need more and more stuff.  It is also easy to see that none of that stuff actually satisfies our deepest needs.  Lord, help us to be content with what comes from Your hand, with the many blessings that You provide.  Help us to keep our priorities in line with Your priorities so that we can be wholly Your, and wholly devoted to Your work.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – January 27, 2014

Jeremiah 3:21-22; 4:1-2 (NIV):  A cry is heard on the barren heights, the weeping and pleading of the people of Israel, because they have perverted their ways and have forgotten the Lord their God.  “Return, faithless people; I will cure you of backsliding.” “Yes, we will come to you, for you are the Lord our God.  If you will return, O Israel, return to me,” declares the Lord. “If you put your detestable idols out of my sight and no longer go astray, and if in a truthful, just and righteous way you swear, ‘As surely as the Lord lives,’ then the nations will be blessed by him and in him they will glory.”

God continually held out His hands to His rebellious people over many hundreds of years.  Sometimes they responded with repentance and renewed fervor for Him and His ways.  But a lot of the time, they just rebelled further, leaving God no choice but to punish their sins and their rebellion.  Even in the early days of Jeremiah, when judgment was hanging perilously over their heads, God held out His hands to them, offering restoration and forgiveness if only they would turn away from their wickedness, and from the idols that consumed their time and attention.

Sadly, the people refused God’s final overtures of grace & went further into their rebellion.  So they left Him no choice but to cast them out of their pleasant land into the furnace of Babylon.  There many of them would die.  But from that great number, He would be able to purify a remnant that would return to serve Him, through whom He would bring His plan for mankind’s salvation to fruition.

It brings God no pleasure to have to disciple His people.  He would much rather pour His blessing out on us, fill us to overflowing with good things, and give us victory over all of our enemies.  But when we rebel against His ways, scorning His directions, giving our hearts to our stuff and our pursuits of pleasure, not responding to His repeated calls to return to Him, He has no choice but to bring His discipline upon us.

It is far better for us, whether an individual or a nation, to respond quickly to His calls for repentance, before our distractions harden into rebellion.  Then we can be restored quickly.  New paths won’t have to be made; we simply need to regain our sure footing and move forward in God’s ways once again.  Severe consequences can be avoided, and we can quickly move forward as God’s witnesses, fulfilling His calling as we live in His presence and power.

Father, I pray for our nation right now.  It seems that so many have forgotten You, have turned to their own ways, and are living caught up in their lust for stuff, in their worship of human heroes and stars.  For so many, You are forgotten or, at best, put on a back shelf somewhere.  Lord, I know that if we continue to flout our independence and our autonomy instead of bowing at Your feet, we will not long endure as a great nation.  Father, restore us; revive us; move our hearts to grief over our sins, and to true repentance.  Use all of Your power to turn us away from the path of ruin that every great nation and empire has gone down, right up to the present time.  Help us to move away from our own agendas and toward You once again.

Lord, I realize that even many of those who go by Your name have fallen into the trap of materialism, worldliness, and busyness, to the point that You and Your agenda have become and mere add-on to their hectic lives instead of the very core of them.  Father, revive us and restore us.  Purge our hearts of everything except a whole-life love for You, and a self-giving love for those around us.  Refill the lamp of our lives with the free flowing oil of Your Holy Spirit, and light us with Your fire, so that the beacon of Your love and Your power blazes through each of us, calling our people back to You, and showing them the way.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – January 24, 2014

Genesis 12:1-3 (NIV):  The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.  “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

When God called Abram, he was a 75 year old man who had just about gotten as far as he believed he could go.  He had a comfortable home with flocks, and herds, and servants.  He had a wife, but no children, and no hope of children, because his wife had been sterile for all of the years that they had been married, and she was now 65 and nearing menopause.  At that point, the best he could hope for was to enjoy whatever years were left of his life, be comfortable, and then die knowing that he was the end of his line.

But when God called Abram, He offered him six blessings if he would be obedient and go to the land to which God was calling him:

  • God would make him into a great nation.  This was a promise that Abram had to take purely on faith, because there seemed to be no earthly way for this to happen.  He was a man who had hit a dead end as far as his future went.  But Abram trusted God, and believed the promise anyway.  And God was able to go even further than the promise:  in the end God made him the father of MANY nations.
  • God would bless Abram.  This promise may seem nebulous, but at the root of it was the fact that God would be with him wherever he went, supplying all of his needs, and helping him to prosper in every way.
  • God would make his name (reputation, character) great.  Up to that time, Abram had lived a normal, middle-class kind of life.  If he had just continued down that road, very few people would have known anything about him, and history would include no record of him.  But when he yielded himself to God’s direction and control, that all changed.  He became a man whose character was notable, and whom history has remembered as the patriarch of the Jewish people AND Christians.  (Even Muslims claim Abram as their father.)
  • Abram himself would be a blessing.  And this was not just for future generations, but for his present.  Because he lived in His presence, God worked through him.  God helped him to rescue people, to mediate conflicts, and even to pray for the healing of others.
  • God would bless those who blessed Abram, and curse those who cursed him.  Because he was God’s man, God took his welfare personally, and was actively involved in his life, guiding, directing, and protecting him, as well as helping his influence grow exponentially.
  • All peoples on earth would ultimately be blessed through Abram.  Again, this was a promise that he had to take on faith during the whole rest of his life, because there was no human way that he could see this happening.  And for a long, long time, none of his descendants could see it either.  In fact, it was not until after Jesus’ death and resurrection that this promise began to come into clear focus.

All of these promises that God made to Abram were passed on to his succeeding generations.  But they are all still promises that are valid to God’s people, the followers of Jesus, today.  As legitimate children of Abram, children of the promise (cf. Galatians 4:28), all of the promises made to Abram find their ultimate fulfillment in us.

  • God promises to make us into a great nation, a holy nation made up of people who belong specifically to God (1 Peter 2:9).  He accomplishes this as we reach out and continually bring new believers into the kingdom of God.
  • God promises to bless us with His presence and His power, supplying our needs and helping us to prosper in every dimension.
  • God promises to make our name (reputation/character) great, as He transforms us into the likeness of Jesus, His Son.
  • God promises to make us a blessing, because He is in us, working through us to bring light, life, and healing into every life we touch.
  • God promises to bless those who bless us, and curse those who curse us.  Because we are His people, the apple of His eye, He will have our back in every situation.  He will be actively involved in our lives, guiding, directing, and protecting us.
  • God promises to bless all peoples on earth through us.  As we share the gospel, making disciples of all nations in accordance with Jesus’ commandment (Matthew 28:19-20), we will become the conduit through which all of God’s blessings impact the people of the whole world.

Father, what amazing promises!  They were amazing when you made them to Abram, and they are just as amazing when we see that they are still present and actively working in us.  Help us to live in these promises, so that we can live them out every day.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – January 18, 2014

Genesis 4:6-7 (NIV):  Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?  If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”

When Cain’s offering was rejected, while his brother, Abel’s, was accepted, anger began to boil in his heart.  The core issue was very simple:  Abel had offered his sacrifice according to God’s instructions, and with a submissive heart that sought communion with God above all else.  Cain, on the other hand, wanted to be accepted on his own terms.  He brought a sacrifice based on what HE had decided to give instead of basing it on God’s instructions.  So naturally, his offering was refused.  It was principally a matter of the heart:  Abel’s heart was soft, submissive, and obedient; Cain’s was hard, rebellious, and striving for mastery, even of God.

When God saw the hatred begin to boil in Cain’s heart, hatred of Him for refusing the sacrifice, and irrational hatred against Abel because his sacrifice was accepted, He intervened.  He laid out a clear choice to Cain:  the way of life, or the way of death.  The way of life was to lay down his anger and his hatred, surrendering his will and his agenda to God, and offering the sacrifice of obedience and submission.  The way of death was to surrender to his anger, to submit his heart to the sin of hatred, and to let it lead him to actions that would ultimately separate him from all that he held dear; to put him and his descendants on a trajectory away from fellowship with God.

The key was, Cain was in a place where he could choose whichever path he wanted.  He was not powerless or helpless in the face of this anger, or of the temptation to let it fester into hatred.  Sin was indeed crouching at the door wanting to master him.  But he was a human being, not an animal.  And, as a human being, he retained the divine prerogative of choosing his response to the situation.  If he had let his heart be soft toward God, God would have given him all of the power that he needed to master the sin that was trying to trip him up.  But instead, he chose to harden his heart against God and His words.  And, as a consequence, anger turned to hatred, and hatred gave birth to murder.  And from there, the whole trajectory of humanity was changed.

People today still retain that divine prerogative:  the ability to choose how we will respond to the situations that arise and to the temptations that crop up.  If we choose to let our hearts be soft toward God and His words, He will give us all the power that we need to master the sins crouching at our door, enabling us to master the evil that is striving to master us.  But if we choose to harden our hearts against God and His words, then sin will master us, and the whole trajectory of our lives will be put on the path leading to death.

Father, help us to choose right.  Help us to keep soft hearts before You, to desire Your love and Your acceptance more than anything else.  Help us to never believe that we must give in to sin; that we have no choice.  Instead, help us to keep our hearts always turned toward You, so that we can receive Your power to be completely victorious in every situation.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – January 17, 2014

Genesis 6:5-8 (NIV):  The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.  The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.  So the Lord said, “I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth–men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air–for I am grieved that I have made them.”  But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.

For many centuries, God continually called to mankind to try to draw their hearts back to Himself after the rebellion and sin of Adam and Eve.  But all through that time their wickedness and rebellion only grew stronger, and the hearts of the people only grew harder.  They were so focused on the fulfillment of their own desires, the working out of their own agendas, that they had no room in their hearts for the God who had created them and who loved them.

Finally, it reached the point where there was no hope left.  The hearts of the people had grown so hard, they had established so many things in their lives and in their societal structures that directed their minds and hearts away from God and His ways, that He knew that they would never turn back to Him.  It was only then, after the point of no return had been passed, that God determined to wipe them out and start fresh.

And He actually had someone that He could begin again with!  Out of all of those sin-darkened hearts, one man shone like a bright start in a black night:  Noah.  Noah had walked with God from his youth, going against the tide, not caring about the scorn that others showed when he wouldn’t join them in their sin and dissipation.  As the hearts of the people moved further and further away from God, Noah’s heart remained steadfast and true.

It grieved God deeply to have to destroy mankind, the pinnacle of His creation.  He had poured so much of Himself into them.  He loved them with His whole heart, and was working a plan to redeem them, to restore all that was broken in them.  But if there was going to be any hope for their redemption, for the redemption of the whole of creation, there had to be a fresh start, a new beginning.  So God selected Noah, the seed from which a fresh beginning for all humanity would spring.  And through Noah’s radical obedience, that fresh beginning was made.

Father, thank You for Your passionate love for us – love that doesn’t give up until no hope is left. Love that, even then, looks for a way to keep You plan moving forward.  Thank You for Your righteousness and Your holiness that will never simply sweep away the righteous with the wicked, but will preserve them from Your judgment, even if there is only one!  Amen.

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