Monday, November 30, 2009
There is something pitiful about the scene that plays out in these chapters. We see it in 17:20 - "He reached the camp as the army was going out to its battle positions, shouting the war cry." Why? In this case "battle positions" is an oxymoron, like military intelligence or jumbo shrimp. There is no intention of doing battle with the enemies of God. They are simply going through the motions they feel obligated to perform. War cry? Whatever they were screaming, they didn't really believe it or they would do something about it. This army of God did nothing when the very God they were representing is insulted. To them, that would have been like the ultimate "Ya Momma" comment, and yet they did nothing. For forty days! At some point, you'd think someone would just be ready to do something to get things over with.
It's a situation not unlike the church today. The servants of God line up every Sunday, just like they always have because they feel obligated to do so. Maybe it's not a war cry, but they all have the same mantra about how great God is, how powerful the gospel is, how Jesus is on their side, nothing is impossible with God . . . we've all been there and heard it. Sadly, this is often just as futile as the army of Israel lined up against the Philistines. We know they have a giant. Every day he taunts us and our God. Every day we evaluate our abilities and his. He has the training, the armor, the strength, the sound bites. There's just no way we can defeat him. He's too big, too fast, too strong, too smart. We're defeated in every area.
Or are we? Once in awhile, someone comes along who is willing to risk it all. A voice that screams, "This is not right! Do you believe what you're saying about the God you serve! If so, then do something about it! If you won't, then I will!" And often, that voice comes from the most unlikely of places.
David is the wake up cry in the army of Israel. There was another with the position. Saul was the king. This was his job. He was equipped - he was a full head taller than all the Israelites. He was their champion, but he was a coward. Every day he would survey his abilities, think about the battles he had fought, sharpen his sword, heft his spear, and polish his armor. Every day he would come to the same conclusion - "I simply don't have what it takes." He was focused on what he could do.
In contrast, David focused on the God he served. He was not concerned about abilities, odds, or appearances. He knew God. He had seen God deliver him before. He knew that God would not stand by and let His name be defiled. All God wanted was someone strong and courageous because he knew God was with him.
David was the man. Did he seem like it? When Saul was looking for a champion, did anyone think of David or send for him? Did he aspire to be the king or the chief warrior of the army? Was David scheming for an opportunity, hanging in the shadows, looking for the best time to usurp Saul?
David was content in the place God had him. He wasn't training for military service. He simply showed up and did the best job he could where God had placed him. A shepherd's life did not seem to correlate with the training of a warrior, but this was no ordinary warrior. His strength was not exhibited by the size of his biceps. His strength was not his own, it was drawn from God. The same God that he spent each day with. Each day, David was found on the hillsides, watching his father's sheep, playing the harp and singing songs praising God. When trouble came, he faced it, confident that God would rescue and deliver him. As he grew to know God, his confidence in God grew. Whatever task presented itself, it was no greater than the ones God had already seen him through. Philistine, lion, bear, it didn't matter. Alone, David was overmatched, but with God . . .
How does one become heroic like David? How do you move to the front of the battle, become the instrument God uses to honor His name and defend His people? By being consistent in the everyday and mundane. Seek to grow in your knowledge of God. Learn to allow His grace to transform your heart. Trust God and see how He provides. Discover how to put your faith in Jesus and depend on Him. Then, when the day comes, your faith will be strong.
God doesn't seek those who are prominent in the eyes of the world, who are wise or strong. God seeks those whose faith has been nurtured and strengthened through the everyday tasks they have encountered. He wants those who are serving Him on the backside of the sheep fields, who are ready to respond when the opportunity comes. They will have already faced many "giants" in the solitude of their own hearts; lions and bears in their own right. Then when the time comes, it's just another rock, just another foe, but the same God guiding the stone.
"Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the trong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things - and the things that are not - to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God - that is, our righteousness, holiness, and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord." 1 Corintians 1:26-31
Sunday, November 29, 2009
Life with God is far from passive. Our lives are often numbed with a passion-killing desire to simply be safe. Following God is risky. It can be hard. But nothing is so rewarding. Nothing gives such life.
The book of Joshua is the account of God giving the land of Israel to the Hebrew people. Nothing could have been more appealing to them. They had spent 400 years as slaves in Egypt. God had led them out and to the very edge of this promised land, only to watch as their leaders talked of the risk, the lack of safety involved in the expedition. As a result, they have spent the last 40 years wandering homeless in the desert while the Promised Land beckoned.
Joshua is the new leader of Israel. He has taken over for Moses. God tells Joshua that the time for debate is over. Now is the time for action. He and the people are to get ready for action.
We often find ourselves in the same situation. The Jordan River runs in front of us; the first barrier between the life we have and the life God wants to give us. Sadly, many will go no further, content to settle in the land of the safe and known. But what of those whose hearts pound with anticipation for the life God gives. How do they respond?
Two characteristics are prominent. Four times God repeats, “Be strong and courageous.” The life God gives is rewarding, but it is also dangerous. The Promised Land was enticing, but it’s inhabitants weren’t rushing to the river bank with the keys to the cities. The land had to be taken one city at a time in the face of overwhelming odds, fortified cities, and imposing forces. And yet, there was more than enough reason for strength and courage.
Strength and courage came not because the people had “guts.” They could charge to the battle because God was with them. In fact, they were not going to win the land, they were simply taking possession of it. God was going to give it to them; He would win the battles, conquer the inhabitants, and give the land. He was the reason for victory, not their personal military might or power. They were a homeless band of vagabonds. God was the power, but they were there to take possession of the gift as He provided it. No one can stand against God. Whatever He sets forth to do, He will accomplish. With God on their side, nothing was impossible, no one could stand before them.
But how could they be sure that God was on their side? How could they find direction?
God was very clear to them. Obey the law (the Scriptures). Don’t forget it or forsake it. Stay committed to it and obey everything that is found there. Become a student of it and seek to master its teachings. Most of all, keep it fresh as your daily guide. Each day come to it to find God’s guidance for life. Keep your heart soft and open as you come to it. Recognize your sin and folly and repent. Obey what is revealed. And as you follow it? You will be prosperous and successful.
The same is true for us today. God is calling you to a life that is greater and more prosperous than the one you are living. That doesn’t mean more wealth, position, fame, or power. It means that God will be glorified in your life as you make Him the focus. Jesus put it this way, "Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." (Matt. 6:33) These "things" are clothes, food and drink. If you make God the focus of your life, He will provide all that you need and more.
Saturday, November 28, 2009
God's purpose has always been to bring salvation through Jesus. As soon as Adam and Eve sinned, God unfolded His plan to one day crush Satan, defeat sin, and conquer death. The problem is nobody is looking for rescue when they don't know they are in trouble. All of mankind has an incredible capacity for self-deception. We listen to Satan's lies and believe we've got it all together, We tell ourselves, "Sure, I make a mistake once in a while, but at least I'm not like __________________, they're really bad." Inside, we all have these ideas of right and wrong. Our "right" list includes all the things we tend to do well or don't struggle with. Our "wrong" list includes all the things that "they" do, which are obviously the most detestable to God. We convince ourselves that we're doing fine, but someone else may need to be saved.
Before God can save us, He has to demonstrate our desperate condition.
The Israelites were in the same condition. Surely they were good and right. After all, they were God's chosen people. He had selected them from among all the people of the earth. He had led them out of captivity under the "wicked" Egyptians. Every day, God personally led them by a pillar of smoke and a pillar of fire. When the Egyptians pursued them, God miraculously delivered them by parting the Red Sea. They had obviously been saved from their greatest need, what more could there be?
That's where the law enters. In the absence of a concrete standard, where everyone is able to define "right" for themselves, no one is ever "wrong." When we are presented with a fixed standard, however, the evaluation changes. God gives the law to reveal his expectations for us; His standards for living.
As we look at the Ten Commandments, our hearts should be laid bare. They are written to expose our sin, shortcomings, and folly. Instead, we often play the same old game. We make excuses or rationalize away the instances where we break God's laws. To vindicate ourselves, we point out the one law that we've kept, such as the infamous "I've never killed anyone." The law was never given to be a means of vindicating ourselves or steps to salvation. They were given to expose our sin and demonstrate our inability to save ourselves.
The point is not to show how many we've kept (if indeed we've kept any). The point is to recognize our inability to keep or meet any of them. In case there is any confusion, Jesus makes the matter more clear by showing us that God judges not just the external actions, but the internal attitudes and motivations that drive them. For example, you may not have taken someone's life, but if you've hated your brother, you've embraced the attitude that leads to murder when fully developed (Matt. 5:21-22).
The law reveals that we are utterly bankrupt before God. We are lost and in need of a Savior. The law was given to reveal our need for Jesus. In Galatians, Paul says, "The law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith." (Gal. 3:24) We can never live up to the standards of the law. God demands perfection and we cannot attain it. The law demonstrates that no one can fulfill it . . . except Jesus.
God came as a man, Jesus , to fulfill all the requirements of the law. Then, having shown Himself perfect and sinless, God placed on Him all of our sin (Is. 53:6). There on the cross, He who knew no sin was made sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus died as our substitute. He fulfilled the law for us. He took the penalty for our sin. Now He offers us the ability to exchange our sin for His righteousness, our death for his life.
This exchange is made by faith. The Bible says that "If you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." (Rom. 10:9) Recognizing that you are a sinner, but that Jesus has paid for your sin, you acknowledge Him as the Master, the director, the Lord of your life. As a result, God exchanges your sin for His righteousness. No longer are you a rebel lawbreaker. Now you are a beloved child.
The Bible is all about rescue. We have wrecked the world and our lives. Like an addict who wants to stop but can't, we see the damage we bring on ourselves and those around us. We want to break free but find ourselves captive. We are slaves, bound not by external bonds but by our own nature and desires. Our greatest need is to be rescued from ourselves. The Bible is about God's work to do just that. It's remarkable that God chooses to rescue us. What's even more amazing is that He chooses to use us in the process of rescuing others.
Moses was an unlikely candidate to be a rescuer, much less a rescuer employed by God. He's a murderer on the run. As a young man, God had placed him in Pharaoh's household. While there, he had seen a Hebrew (one of his people, an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham) being mistreated. He chose to rescue the Israelite on his own - by killing the Egyptian. As a result, he fled into the desert and found himself tending sheep, the perils of Egypt behind him and hopefully forgotten.
But God intervenes and interrupts the comfortable, predictable life Moses had planned. Speaking through a burning bush, God sends Moses back to Egypt to be His representative to deliver the Israelites from slavery and oppression. In spite of this miraculous communication, Moses demonstrates the same ability to ignore God that we exercise. He argues. He questions. He clarifies. He makes excuses. Finally, he simply whines and pleads.
The arguments remain the same today. Who am I to do that? What if they don't listen? What if I don't know what to say? Can you send someone else?
God's answers remain the same. It doesn't matter who you are; it's about who God is. You are not responsible for convincing them; God is at work to demonstrate Himself to them. The words are not your responsibility, the abilities are not yours to choose. You have been crafted by God for the mission He gives you. You are not alone, He is with you. He instructs where you are to go, He helps you speak, He teaches you what to say. You only have one responsibility - Go. Obey. Respond.
God says today, "I have indeed seen the misery of my people . . . I have heard them crying out . . . and I am concerned about their suffering. I have come down to rescue them. . . "
He sees our struggle as we are bound in our sin. He came down to resuce us. God stepped down and became a man, Jesus. Jesus said "He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." Through His death on our behalf, as our substitute, we are set free from our sin. Our faith in Him breaks the power of sin and frees us from Satan's grip.
Now that we have been set free, we are sent to bring others out of captivity. We are not alone - Jesus is with us. It is not our responsibility to convince them - God is already working through the Holy Spirit to draw them. We do not have to figure it all out ahead of time - Go, He will help you and teach you.
It can be terrifying, this stepping out in to the unknown, going and trusting God. But the results? "When they heard that the LORD was concerned about them and had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshiped."
That's the point of it all - that God's children will turn once again to Him and worship. He has come to rescue them. He has come in response to their cries. One question remains. Will you tell them that He has come?
The fear found in the unknown yields to joyful laughter when God delivers the impossible. All the agonizing hours, days, and years are all worth it when Abraham and Sarah look at their son, Isaac. Joy must have leapt from their hearts with every grunt, wiggle, and sigh.
When the promise is fulfilled, we thank God and get back to life as usual. With the relief of "I'm glad that's over," we proceed to enjoy the blessings of life. We grow comfortable in this new stage of life, grateful for all God has provided.
Then comes the test.
The great question of life becomes: Do you love the things God gives more than God? Do you love the blessings more than the blessor? If God took away this thing that He has given, would you . . . could you . . . still love Him?
Abraham receives the most gut-wrenching command found in the Bible. He is told to take his most precious possession, his son Isaac, and offer him as a sacrifice to God.
In an astonishing act of faith and trust in God, Abraham arises the next morning, prepares for the journey, and leaves for the place God has told him. Surely there were unanswered questions and doubts, but there was a steady assurance that God is in control. As they leave thier possessions in the care of their servants, Abraham tells them, "We will worship and then we will come back to you." He didn't know how, but he did know that God's promised blessing flowed through Isaac.
As they take the long journey up the mountain, Abraham's toil is accentuated by the weight of his heavy heart. As they labor, Isaac asks an insightful question, "We've got everything but the lamb. Where's the lamb?" Abraham answers with faith, "God will provide." It's a lesson that Isaac's birth taught him. God will provide. When the situation is impossible, God will provide. When things don't make sense, God will provide. When we come to the end of ourselves, God will provide.
They reach the end of the journey and Isaac finds himself bound on the altar. As he looks through tearful eyes, he meets Abraham's gaze, tears freely flowing down both faces. Abraham reaches out and his fingers tighten on the handle of the knife. The matter is settled in his heart. He will obey. Regardless what the cost. If necessary, God will raise the boy from death (Heb. 11:19). Either way, he must obey God. As he lifts the knife, a voice shocks his rattled mind. "Do not lay a hand on the boy. Do not do anyhing to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son." When Abraham looks up, a ram is caught in a bush. A suitable sacrifice has been provided in the place of the son. God has provided.
Maybe this story seems harsh to you. God asking a man to sacrifice his child? This story mirrors one that is repeated later. A son struggles up a hill, carrying a load of wood to the place where he will be placed upon it and give his life as a sacrifice. The father looks on as the son is placed on the wood, only this time, there is no cry to stop the execution.
The Father is God, who watches as His only Son, whom He loves, Jesus, gives Himself as a sacrifice. Jesus died in our place, as our substitute, absorbing the wrath of god that was directed at our sin. Jesus didn't deserve to die, but He gave Himself willingly. He died in our place because a sacrifice was needed. Either our lives were required as payment for our sins or a substitute had to be found. In our time of need, when we had nothing to offer . . . God provided a sacrifice. Again.
It's the realm of our greatest fears. It's the battlefield of God's greatest victories.
As Genesis unfolds, we see a downward spiral of sin and destruction. Creation seems hopeless. Although there are a few glimmers of people who love God and seek to follow Him, mankind continually demonstrates a downward spiral of sin and depravity. One of these bright spots is a man of faith - Abram. In Genesis 12:1-3, God makes Abram an incredible promise. Leave all you've ever known and as you're going, I will show you your destination. I will show you where to go, make you a great nation, bless you, make your name great, and everyone on earth will be blessed through you. Notice all the "I will's" - God is the one responsible for making all of this happen. Abram is simply to obey. He makes the appropriate response and leaves as God told him. And then . . . none of it happens.
What do you do when God promises something and seems to forget?
Abram has launched out into the realm of the unknown and impossible. It's here that we often feel helpless. We find ourselves in God's domain, the realm that requires faith; where He says, "I will . . . and you cannot."
If He doesn't immediately respond, we think He is silent or has forgotten. Our response is often to fix it ourselves. We try and only succeed in making things worse (see Gen. 16). Instead, we have to learn quiet trust in God and . . . wait. We have to learn to trust and depend on Him. We have to be willing to allow Him to work at his pace and on His timetable.
God appears to Abram and gives him guidance in this strange place; the in-between what is and what is to come. He accents the need to depend on Him - Do not be afraid. I will protect you. I am your reward.
Abram's response is the same as ours. He mentions the one thing that is noticeably lacking. God says that He will make Abram a great nation. Abram asks the obvious question, "Don't I at least need a son to become a great nation?" God's answer is to restate His promise; the childless man will have offspring as numerous as the stars on a clear, country night.
His reaction to the restatement of God's promise is incredible - he believes God. Even though it is impossible. Even though it seemed God had forgotten, Abram took God at His word. He believed Him. He had faith - belief, assurance, even in the face of contradictory evidence or even a lack of any evidence at all. It means trusting that God is in control and that He is directing everything according to His plan, no matter how it seems to you.
God assures him in a way that seems really weird to us today. He has Abram cut a heifer, a goat, and a ram in half. He puts them, along with two birds, opposite of one another. In his time, this was symbolic of making a covenant. The parties involved would cut animals in half and walk between them. This act was symbolic of them saying, "May this happen to me if I fail to do what was promised." However, Abram never walks through because he has no part to play in fulfilling the promise. God appears as a smoking firepot and torch and passes through alone because this promise will be fulfilled by Him alone.
In spite of the assurance, Abram is still left to wait. At the age of 99, 24 years after he is first given the promise, God says, "The time is right. Your wife will have a son." The timing seemed all wrong to Abram (whose name God changes to Abraham, meaning "father of many nations") and Sarai (whose name is changed to Sarah, meaning "princess"), but in the realm of the impossible, things operate on God's timetable, not ours.
God was not about to let this promise fail. He was creating a nation of His very own people, the nation of Israel. Remember Eve's offspring, the hope of all the nations and all people? Remember Jesus, the One who would make all things right again and rescue us from ourselves and our sin? Jesus was destined to be born of Abraham's descendants. And if you think a 100-year old, childless woman giving birth to a baby was impossible . . . you ain't seen nothin' yet.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
It opens with perfection. God gave Adam his every desire. The only thing he was lacking, companionship, has been provided. They live in a beautiful garden, abounding in food, astounding in beauty; God's perfect design is laid out before them. They walk and talk with God and experience the pleasure of fulfilling all they were destined for.
It ends with Adam and Eve homeless vagabonds, driven from the garden, seperated from God, accusing one another, and destined for a life of toil and trouble. The consequences are not theirs alone; all of God's creation suffers the results of their choice. Everything is broken, twisted, and damaged. A fading shadow of its former glory.
What happened to cause this change? It was all the result of a simple, seemingly innocent choice. They were not satisfied with knowing God personally, receiving His provision, and carrying out His perfect plan. They wanted his job. They don't want to be His beloved creation, they want to be the Creator.
Just as Satan had fallen because of his desire to take God's place, he led them to follow the same path. Since then, he's succeeded in leading every one of us down the same path. God gave one rule for life - don't eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. He didn't leave the consequences unclear - if you do, you will die. This one command came in an environment of perfect freedom and abundant provision. There was only one condition.
But Satan twists the truth. He always has and always will. He takes a kernel of truth - God said don't eat. He twists it with a lie - you won't die. Then he adds a tantalizing temptation - you will be like God.
Before this, Adam and Eve had never known want. The tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, but so were all the other trees and fruit. But this one held another promise, it could make them wise, like God, knowing good and evil. So Eve took the fruit and bit into it. Adam didn't stop her. He was there. He never offered any resistance. He forfeited his place as her guide and protector.
Even as the juice ran down her chin she realized. She had known only good - God, His Creation, His plan. Now, for the first time she knew evil - not as the result of the "magic" of the fruit, but because her willful disregard for God's command ushered evil into the world for the first time. Sin, disobedience to God, had entered for the first time. Evil, never before known in the garden, was now known because of her act.
With sin came death and the curse. God had promised that death would follow. As Eve's teeth broke the skin of the fruit, she died. Not physically, that would come later. She died spiritually. She found herself seperated from God, running, hiding from Him. Ultimately, this would lead to being seperated forever from Him in Hell.
Not only was she separated from God, but she and Adam were separated from one another, blaming, accusing, and pointing fingers at one another. She listened as God told what would come - pain, difficulty, sweat, toil, unfulfilled longings, and even physical death. She watched as the first death took place and an animal gave his life to provide them with clothing to hide their shame. She would later watch as the sin she inaugurated was borne out in her son as Cain killed his brother Abel.
It is the same situation we find ourselves in thousands of years later. Eve took the first bite, but she was not alone in her guilt. In fact, Adam was held responsible for the act since he was given the command and responsibility to lead. He followed her and every man, woman, and child has done the same since. Maybe it didn't involve forbidden fruit, but it did involve ignoring God and taking control of our own lives, willfully disregarding Him. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). Those sins earn us death - both physical and spiritual. All the pain, all the suffering, all the trouble, all the disease, all the tragedy . . . it can all be traced back to this point, this decision, this choice. The point where we decided we knew better; we should be in control. The point where we broke it all.
It's a sad chapter, but even in the middle of this hopelessness, God gives hope. Even as creation begins its sad descent into what we see today, God is at work to make it right. Eve, who brought it all crumbling down, will also give birth to the One who will make it all right again. Verse 15 says that the serpent will strike the heel of her offspring, but her offspring will crush the serpent's head. Her offspring will one day be Jesus Christ - the Son of God who came to set all things right. On the cross, Satan struck his heel and though the strike brought death, Jesus would rise from the dead, victorious over sin, death, Hell, and the grave. Jesus came to fix what we have broken, to save what has been lost, to restore what has fallen.
You see, God is still in control after all.
Monday, November 23, 2009
Day 1: Genesis 1-2
God is a great God. it is amazing to read of His creative power - bringing everything to be from nothing . . . just speaking it into existence.
I'm also amazed at the creativity involved. The Bible almost understates it - let the waters teem . . . birds fly. Stop and think about the variety of things in the sea. Think of the beauty of the birds God created. Think about all the intricate systems on the earth - all perfectly balanced and orchestrated to keep it functioning perfectly.
All of this is created for one purpose - that God could craft His masterpiece. The reason for creation is to house the most unique of all of God's creations - man. God shaped the first man, Adam, from the dirt of the earth. God fashioned him perfectly, then bent over and breathed life into him. He imparted to Adam His image. He gave him a soul, a mind, and the ability to choose. He created him with the ability to connect and commune with God. We were designed, not to exist like some creature in a zoo with a perfectly crafted habitat, but to know our Creator, be known by Him, and have a relationship with Him.
We were created to relate with God but we were also given a second purpose - to relate to one another. As God looked at Creation, there was only one thing that was not good. God said it was not good for man to be alone. He created woman, Eve, to fill that void. They were made to relate to one another and with their God.
God's purpose for our lives is laid out in these chapters. As Jesus would later put it, we are to " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Matthew 22:37-40)
You were created to love God. Is it possible that we learn to love God as we struggle to love others? Is it possible that as we wrestle with the failures and shortcomings of others, God reveals those same problems in our lives? In these moments, we get a glimpse of what it is like for God to love us. He keeps responding with patience and understanding, although we continually shun His advances, stubbornly refuse His guidance, and overlook His gracious provision for our lives. He continues to love us even when we are not worthy of love.
"Father, thank You for Your great love for us. Thank You that You love us even when we don't deserve it and do everything except love You in return. Help us to love others in the same way that You love us. Forgive us of the pride that causes us to think of ourselves as better than others. We confess that we cannot love others on our own. We are forever bent toward selfishness and self-centeredness. Thank You that the same power that spoke the world into creation is at work in us to help us to love and live as You desire. Give us opportunities to love others so that You will be glorified through our actions."
Listed below is the reading list and some tips for getting started on the "40 DTTB":
40 Days Through the Bible
1 - Genesis 1-2
2 - Genesis 3
3 - Genesis 15; 17:15-27
4 - Genesis 21:1-7; 22
5 - Exodus 3-4
6 - Exodus 20
7 - Joshua 1
8 - 1 Samuel 16-17
9 - 1 Kings 3; 8:1-9:9
10 - 1 Kings 18
11 - 2 Kings 25
12 - Daniel 2-3
13 - Ezra 3
14 - Isaiah 9, 53, 61
15 - Luke 1-2
16 - John 1:1-18
17 - Matthew 4:14-44
18 - Matthew 5-6
19 - John 3
20 - John 5
21 - John 11
22 - John 15
23 - John 17
24 - Matthew 26-27
25 - John 20
26 - Luke 24
27 - Acts 2
28 - Acts 9
29 - Acts 16
30 - Acts 26
31 - Romans 3
32 - Romans 7-8
33 - 1 Corinthians 13
34 - 1 Corinthians 15
35 - Galatians 5
36 - Ephesians 6
37 - Philippians 1:18-2:18
38 - Colossians 3:1-17
39 - James 140 - Revelation 21-22
HERE'S SOME TIPS FOR GETTING STARTED:
PRAY - Begin your time with God by praying. Ask Him to speak through the word. Ask Him to send the Holy Spirit to make it understandable and help you apply it to your life. (John 14:26)
THINK - We believe that these words come from God and are directed to our lives. If that is true, shouldn't we try to focus and understand them? They should be of the utmost importance to our life - far more than the newspaper, tv, or a blog!
What is God teaching you through this passage? Specifically, what do you see in three areas:
1) What does it teach you about God? - The Bible is God revealing to us who He is and what He expects. Our ideas about God are always imperfect or incorrect. How does your idea of God need to change in light of what you've read?
2) What does it teach you about yourself? - Not only do we have wrong ideas about God, but we have wrong ideas about ourselves. The Bible reveals who we really are. it is like a mirror that reflects an accurate image of who we are and shows things we need to change. Allow the Bible to draw out your motivations, show your incorrect actions, and direct your thinking.
3) Where do you need to repent? - Once we see who God really is and who we really are, we begin to see how far short of His standard we fall. He wants us to be perfect as He is perfect (Matthew 5:48). What is the logical response? Too often, it is to try harder. That is the wrong answer. The correct response is always repentance. This means agreeing with God's assessment of our actions, motivations, attitudes, etc. and asking for His forgiveness. We then ask for the Holy Spirit to help us in living life as God desires
REMEMBER - A difficulty for me and a lot of others is that I read and God reveals Himself, but then I forget what He said. If God has spoken, we need to remember what He said! I've found it helpful to get a notebook and pen and write down what He said to me. This doesn't have to be an exhaustive commentary on the subject, artistic, or worthy of publishing. it just simply needs to be a statement of what God has said to you, written in your words. It may be as simple as writing a key verse down, re-writing it in your own words, and then writing a sentence of how you intend to put it into pratice.
OBEY - This is all a meaningless effort if we never put into practice the things that God says. James puts it this way:
"Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says." Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it - he will be blessed in what he does." (James 1:22-25).
My prayer is that God will use this journey to reveal who He is and to make us more like Him.
Please post any thoughts, comments, questions, or insights you have along the way! We'll start with Genesis 1-2!
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Question 6: How will we worship someday?
Before the face of God. "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. THey will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God." (21:3) We will no longer be separated from God by the veil in the temple. We will no longer be separated from God by death. Indeed, our dwelling will be with him. Not only will we be in heaven where God dwells. The difference is like the people of Washington D.C. saying they live where President Obama lives, and Malia and Sasha saying they live with him. And we will live with God.
Without pain, regret, or grief. "[God] will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." (21:4) The old order will pass away. Never again will we lose anything that we couldn't bear to lose in the first place. Someday everything we love (and should have been loving all along) will be eternal, will never be lost, will never disappear. And God himself will be the one to wipe our tears from the old things and from our old ways.
In and through God and Jesus and in their light. "I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp." (21:22,23) The temple represented the presence of God (and at times showed the visible presence of God), but it will no longer be necessary because we will be in the true presence. No longer will Jesus be our perfect High Priest from a distance, we will worship through him in person. And all of this will be done in their perfect light. And there will be no fear in this light. "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God." (John 3:19-21)
Saturday, November 21, 2009
Every human being is a worshipper. This is premise of Romans 1, where all of mankind "exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen." So, if you've been following the devotionals this week, one of the reasons we worship Jesus is that he saved us from just such a state. All of us were there. All of us worshipped something created: money, human intelligence and advancement, science, sports teams, etc. Some of them may look more spiritual than others, but if we are not worshipping the Creator, we are worshipping created things and exchanging the truth for a lie.
This is why, when we get to the book of Revelation, one of the dominant characteristics of Jesus is that of judge. Continually we hear in the worship of heaven the cry of "true and just are your judgments".
As the judgments of Revelation progress, we find that those who are worshippers of created things "refused to repent and glorify [God]" (16:9,11). Not only that, "they cursed God" (16:21). Instead they give their power and authority to another, and give him their power to rule. Indeed, what ever we worship we give that power and authority to, it has the throne of our hearts and the power to rule in our lives.
You see, sin is not just sin because it's wrong or contrary to God's character. Sin is sin because we take God off the throne of our hearts and lives and place self in that place. We choose to obey our desires rather than God's desires. We choose to purue our way instead of God's way. We choose to pursue the created things that will please self rather than what will please God. So when we are worshipping created things rather than the Creator, it is because ultimately we are worshipping self rather than God.
Everyone everywhere will always be worshipping. Either we will be worshipping God (love and obedience), or worshipping self through created things (sin). And Jesus someday will come under the name Faithful and True and put things right. With justice he judges and makes war (19:13).
Friday, November 20, 2009
Those who had been redeemed from the earth, those who had the name of Jesus and the Father written on their foreheads, will someday sing before the throne. These are the ones purchased from among men and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb. (Revelation 14)
If you have been redeemed, if you have been purchased from among men, how should we worship? Revelation 14 has a couple images of worship from the purchased and redeemed.
They sang a new song before the throne (14:3) Of course, we sing. And this was the obvious one in the passage. But singing is not a requirement for worship. Worship is not just singing, and singing is not always worship. It is our hearts that worship, and if we cannot contain that worship and it boils out of us in song, then our singing is worship. And new songs are good! We can sing old songs too, but new songs will be sung in heaven as God reveals new and beautiful things about himself. In the same way, as we grow and see new and beautiful things about God here on earth, we should sing new songs!
They follow the Lamb wherever he goes (14:4) Jesus is our leader, so we follow him. Jesus is our perfect picture of worship, so we model him. Jesus is our protector and savior and provider, so like sheep we trail close behind him.
Jesus lived a life of worship. He was constantly glorifying the Father. He lived a life of perfect obedience to and love for the Father. And in the same way, we worship best when we live a life of obedience to and love for God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). So worship is first knowing who God is and loving that. Worship is knowing what wants and doing that.
So while singing might be the first thing we think of when we hear the word "worship", it is only a very small part. As Paul succinctly put it, "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31). All of life can be worship when seek to know God better and love him, obey him, and do every part of our lives for his glory.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
A: The overcomers. (12:11) There is a lot of drama behind that title. One does not overcome unless there is an obstacle or barrier. And in our case, that barrier was massive. That barrier was in fact ourselves.
Or more specifically, the barrier was our sin. And Satan, "the accuser of our brothers", loved to bring it all up. It says he was constantly reading our dirty laundry list in the presence of God.
In fact, all of this kind of reminds me of a courtroom drama. God is judge and he will and must judge justly. And unless there is payment and punishment for our sin, we must pay the full penalty. So Satan, the most conniving prosecution attorney of all time, actually has an argument when he "accuses [the brothers] before our God day and night".
But when Christ steps in and takes our place, our punishment, the declaration of our salvation is so decisive that Satan is thrown from the courtroom. His accusations will no longer even be heard!
So this is who we worship with, those who were justly condemned, graciously saved, and now stand as brothers redeemed and justified by the blood of the Lamb.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
The Lamb that was slain (5:6, 9) With his blood he purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. The Lamb of God redeemed them with his own blood. The lamb, the symbol of innocent sacrifice from the Old Testament, made payment for the sin debt owed by the great multitude. It would be accurate to say that we are all blood-bought, redeemed for God, purchased from out of our sinfulness and rebellion.
This "multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language" has been made to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God. In the Old Testament, only one tribe out of the twelve was given the responsibility and privilege of being priests serving in the presence of God. Yet, after being purchased by the Lamb, every person serves in the presence of the Lord. There is no longer any separation between God and His people.
In a beautiful picture of unity in diversity with all racial, tribal, and social barriers erased, this multitude will cry out in a loud voice:
"Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb." (7:10)
And we live in anticipation of this great promise:
"For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." (7:17)
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
"The one who was, and is, and is to come" (1:4). He is the eternal one. The only one who existed before all else, before time, space, and all matter. He is the Alpha, the beginning and sovereign over all that has a beginning. He is the Omega, the end of all things that will end and the completion of those things completed. He is the First and the Last (1:17).
"The faithful witness" (1:5). He is the one who is faithful to the truth. He stands before the throne of God and pleads the case of his children. Jesus is our witness before the righteous judge.
"The firstborn from the dead" (1:5). The firstborn lives as proof and promise that all those who are children of God will live forever even as he lives. He promises that "he who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death" (2:11) Our lives are bound up with Christ, and if he defeated death, his life is our hope and confidence that we will as well. He proclaims, "I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades." (1:18)
The one seated on the throne in heaven (4:2). He is holy (4:8). He is perfect, pure and set apart. There is no sin, darkness or shadow in Him. He is worthy to receive glory and honor and power because of his nature. He is worthy of these because of who he is. But he is also worthy of these because of what he has done. For he has created all things (4:11). But it is not only his will that creates all that is, but his will also sustains all that is. It is in him that we live and move and have our being.
We must worship the eternal, faithful, living, ruling, holy Creator.
Monday, November 16, 2009
Question 1: "Why should we worship?"
"To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen." Jude 24-25
A: We are not the ultimate beings in the universe. We are not the pinnacle of existence. There is one who is "before all ages, now and forevermore". There is one who is eternal. There is one worthy of the world's glory, majesty, power and authority.
A: We are not self-sufficient. We are in need of saving. We are in need of a Savior. We are in need of one who can keep us from falling. There is one who can save us from our faults and present us before God faultless!!!
A: We are not worthy of worship ourselves. There is an objective being who possesses all glory, majesty, power and authority. We can call other things glorious. We can call other things majestic. But when it comes to recognizing the objective reality of the ultimate source of glory, majesty, power and authority, we have two choices. We can discover, know and worship the glorious one, majestic one, powerful one, and authoritative one of the universe in truth and reality, or we can ascribe all glory and majesty to lesser things and act as blind men and liars.
Ultimately our worship does not make something glorious or majestic. Rather, our worship alligns our affections and praise with what is already the ultimate reality of our universe. Our worship is knowing and declaring there is one Glorious, Majestic, Powerful, and Authority.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
We write this to make our joy complete. – 1 John 1:4
God takes joy seriously. Read that again because we often miss that important truth. We understand that God takes sin seriously. There’s probably a whole list of things that you think of God taking seriously, but joy probably isn’t on there. Jesus was serious about joy and John learned that emphasis from Him (see John 15:10-12).
We take joy seriously. Billions of dollars are spent each year on things that we think will bring us joy. I’m sure you have a list of ideas (in your head at least). You’ve probably been going through that list, experimenting and trying each thing. They may bring a passing pleasure, but they don’t produce true, deep, enduring joy. John writes to tell us how to have joy that comes from God and remains.
True joy comes from community with the Father and his family – our brothers and sisters. It involves receiving God’s love and sharing it with others. The love of God creates a deeper and richer community of love than blood or affinity ever could.
To know this joy, we must obey the commands of God:
And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. – 1 John 3:23
Joy comes down to this – Love God. Love others. We love God through Jesus, who gave Himself for us. We love others as we live like Jesus, giving ourselves for them. When we do, we know true joy and experience community with God and His family.
Saturday, November 14, 2009
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. – 2 Peter 3:18
Peter lived with Jesus for three years. Nobody knew Jesus better. Now he’s approaching the end of his life and challenging everyone to grow in the knowledge of Jesus and His grace.
Most of us know about Jesus and think we’ve arrived. But that isn’t the case. The truth is, it’s through our knowledge of Jesus that God gives us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3-4).
The key is Jesus. He is the perfect example of what a life pleasing to God looks like. Peter gives us a list – a life of ever increasing faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love (2 Peter 1:5-9). A life like that is productive and pleasing to God.
But Jesus is more than a model to try to emulate. Sometimes we act like the kid eating ice cream while reading Muscle and Fitness. We think, “It would be cool to be buff like that. Oh well, lick, lick, lick.” Jesus did more than come to offer an unattainable standard. He came to give us the ability to live it.
Grace is God giving us something that we don’t deserve. It is through God’s grace that our sins are forgiven. But God also gives us the ability to live like He desires through the Holy Spirit. When we see Jesus and how He lived, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and think, “I can never do that.” That’s why we can’t settle for just knowing about Jesus. We also have to become like Him.
Nothing you did could forgive your sins or make up for them. Grace did that. You cannot make yourself good, self-controlled, or godly either. Grace has to do that. You have to approach these areas of your life the same way you approached your salvation. You can’t do it, but God can do it for you.
As we’ve read the Gospels, very few of these characteristics stick out to me as ones that Peter’s particularly good at. However, grace changed him. He kept his focus on Jesus, plead with God to give him grace to live that way and his life began to change.
It didn’t happen over night and he wasn’t perfect, but Peter died a very different man than the one at the beginning of the story. We can too – if we grow in the knowledge and grace of Jesus.
Friday, November 13, 2009
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. – 1 Peter 5:6-7
What has you anxious and worried?
One of the best antidotes for worry is prayer. In fact, worry teaches us to pray. When you worry, you think about a scenario and walk through all the various possibilities, each one more frightening and troubling than the next.
Instead of worrying about them, why not pray about them? In many ways, prayer is the same as worry, with one notable exception. In worry, we allow our fear and doubt to guide us. In prayer, the Holy Spirit guides us. Instead of seeing every possible problem and difficulty, He opens our eyes to possibilities where God is working, shows us how God wants us to deal with a situation, or gives us peace when the trial continues.
The reason we don’t pray is because we are proud. We think we can handle it and don’t need any help. It takes humility to ask for help. Humility means that we realize we can’t do it but God can. We don’t have what it takes, but He does, so we ask Him to help.
Humble yourself and cast all the worries and anxieties of life on God’s lap. He loves you and longs to help.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. – John 14:12-14
If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. – John 15:7-8
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other. – John 15:16-17
Jesus makes some pretty strong promises regarding God’s provision for us. Essentially, Jesus promises anything that we need to accomplish what God wants. God is not a genie in a lamp, a blank check, or the winning Lotto numbers. However, He does choose us, call us to His work, and promise whatever is needed to accomplish His work.
So how do we know if our request is “acceptable”?
A great question to ask is, “Is this something Jesus would have been doing? (see John 14:12-14) What was the purpose of Jesus’ life? He lived to love God and love others. Is this your goal for asking?
Another question is “Will this help me to love others?” Jesus ties loving Him, remaining in Him, being His friend, and experiencing His joy with obeying His command. He repeatedly says that His command is to love others (see John 14:34-35, 15:12, 17). Are you loving others? Will this request help you to do that?
A third question is this, “Will this help me to bear fruit and glorify God?” If this prayer is granted, will it cause people to recognize how great God is? Will people realize that this could happen in your life only because of God (and not because of your efforts, skills, or gifts)?
The truth of many of these issues is really hard to discover. Often, God reveals the truth to us as we ask. God often uses prayer to uncover the motivation of my heart. I ask for something and try to cover the questions listed above. As I do, God begins to reveal the truth behind my request. For example, I will pray for the church to grow, wisdom to make right decisions, and the ability to preach sermons that move people to faith in God. Are these prayers wrong? No and they fit the criteria above. However, many times when I pray this, the true motivation of my request is revealed – I want this to happen so that people will think I am a great pastor, man of God, leader, etc. When that happens, I have to repent and return to God.
Don’t let indecision or doubt keep you from praying. Instead, ask God. He wants to use your prayers to glorify Himself, help you experience joy, and make you more like Jesus.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. – James 5:16-18
The most neglected weapon we have in our arsenal is the least used. When we look at the incredible statements that the New Testament makes about prayer, it is unbelievable that our lives are so prayer-less.
You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. – James 4:2
The major cause of fighting in our lives is the fact that we don’t get what we want. James says that the main reason we don’t get what we want is not “their” fault, but ours. We didn’t ask God for it.
Some will say, “I did ask God and I didn’t get it!” To counter this argument, James offers one clarification. If we do ask for something that is simply a selfish request to feed our own desires or to make us look good, we shouldn’t expect to receive what we’ve asked for. Prayer doesn’t mean that God is a genie in a lamp. He isn’t a shortcut to worldly wealth, comfort, and success. In fact, embracing those things makes us God’s enemy (James 4:4). We’ll pursue this question more tomorrow (Re-read John 14:12-14 to get a head start).
Today, I want to ask you the question, “Are you praying?” It’s very clear that at times, God doesn’t answer if we haven’t asked. He also may not answer if it’s my desire and not His, but I’m willing to let Him sort that out. Too many people are simply not asking God. It doesn’t require being a “super-saint”. God answers ordinary men who take the time to pray.
Are you asking God? If you aren’t asking, He isn’t answering.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Don't be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. – James 1:16-17
We’ve allowed Satan to sell us the lie that he is the author of everything that’s good (or at least fun). The reality is that God is the source of every good and perfect gift. In fact, Satan has taken the things God invented, twisted them, repackaged them and tried to get us to “buy” them. The problem is, the twist Satan adds causes them to bring death, not life.
Here’s what I mean:
God invented sex. In it’s best and most perfect form, it is found as God designed it – between a husband and wife in the unconditional love of marriage. Satan has repackaged it in innumerable ways, wrapped it in shinier packaging and convinced us that it is better his way. The result is tragic. Trust is broken; guilt and shame enter. Hearts are devastated. It only gets worse - sexually transmitted disease, prostitution, sex slavery, child pornography, sexual addiction, homosexuality, divorce, adultery, rape, abortion, and the list goes on. Think about how this list would change if we simply followed God’s directions for His invention for our joy.
God invented alcohol. Psalm 104: 1, 14-15 says, “Praise the Lord, O my soul. . . He makes . . . wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart.” However, God also says that it is to be used in moderation and not to the point of drunkenness. Satan tells us that if a little is good, a lot is better. As a result, we see the consequences – bad decisions, addiction, broken homes, physical abuse, verbal abuse, destroyed lives, lost jobs, etc.
God invented money. Work. Music. If it’s good, God invented it. The question is, are you buying the perfect version or the poisoned version?
God offers life, but it comes in surrendering to His way. My prayer for you is that you (and I) will choose life.
Monday, November 9, 2009
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. – John 10:10
When did God become the enemy of everything that is good instead of the author of it?
In our minds, it is so easy to reverse the two roles seen in this verse. We so easily buy the lie that God is holding out on us; that He’s trying to take away our fun, success, joy, fulfillment, etc. In short, He’s trying to rob us of life. At the same time, we believe that Satan is really offering the true way to life and happiness.
Yesterday we read the truth about Satan:
You belong to your father, the devil . . . He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. – John 8:44
The truth is the God is the author of everything good in our lives. When we live as He guides us, we “take hold of the life that is truly life.” (1 Timothy 6:19) On the other hand, Satan is trying to take from you everything that is good, right, and worthy. He comes to loot and pillage our lives. When we buy his lie, we simply leave the front door open and give him free access.
Don’t buy the lie that God is holding out on you. Turn to Him for life.
Friday, November 6, 2009
It hasn't worked out because, well, it's hard on my ego. I sit down with the boys to play - usually on Sunday afternoons. Our session usually consists of them yelling at me for not doing the proper thing quickly enough. My oldest tends to get frustrated and ask "Do you want me to do it for you?" I usually reply, "Look, I'm busy working to pay for the electricity to run this thing. I don't get to sit around and play it all the time." For good measure, I usually run to the front door and yell, "Get off my lawn!" at all the neighborhood kids.
Here's the point - many of us are in the same trap with the Bible. We sit around and look at others who seem to have all the answers. They look at life and see things that we don't. Their perspective on issues is different than ours. They have the right answers at their fingertips while we fumble around and never seem to get it.
There's a reason. They have been taking God's Word and using it. Repeatedly, day after day, they have been taking what God says and applying it to their life. Sometimes they get it right. Sometimes . . . not so much. Through it all, they keep working at it. And over time, by constant use, they've trained themselves to use it. That's the point of Hebrews 5:14:
But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
Maybe you've gotten frustrated at times with the New Testament Challenge. You don't seem to understand as much as you want or you can't figure out how to "make it work." Be patient. Persevere. Through constant use, you'll start to get it.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Do whatever he tells you. - John 2:5
I want this to be the motto of my life. Whatever Jesus says, I want to be quick to respond and obey. Whatever he asks of me, I want to do it right away.
Instead, I find myself questioning His directions - "Why water? They don't need water. They need wine."
Or complaining - "Do you really need the whole stone jar full of water? Don't you know how heavy that is? I don't know that we can carry it alone. Not to mention, do we need that much?"
Or delaying - "Give me just a minute. I'm not sure I can do it right now, but I'll get it soon. Are you sure this is the best time? One day, when I'm . . . "
I'm an expert at avoiding obeying God by rationalizing and excusing His commands away. Instead, I want to obey whatever He asks immediately.
Do you know how that starts? Not by waiting until we feel "obedient." It starts by taking the next thing God asks and doing it immediately.
What has God asked you to do as we've read through the New Testament? Have you seen a verse or has He impressed something on your heart? Don't delay. Go and obey.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
I was extremely bummed when I looked down and realized that they were wearing out. Not in the "Hey, look these jeans look totally worn out. Aren't they cool? I'll pay extra to own a pair of worn out jeans like these!" sense. More like the "I don't think these will be functional much longer" sense. Bummer. I guess I'll have to make my annual trip to the store or hope someone drops off a bag of old clothes on my doorstep.
The picture of God in Hebrews 1:10-12 always blows me away. It shows God standing over the universe that He's created. It will eventually wear out, just like everything else. Sure, we can patch it and try to preserve it, but eventually, it's going to fail. When it does, the problem will be little more than exchanging a worn out garment for a new one in God's eyes. That's pretty big. I'm guessing our "big" problems are not that overwhelming to one who rolls up a worn out universe like an old piece of clothing.
More than that, while fashions change and fabrics deteriorate, God remains the same. He never changes. He never gets tired. He never wears out. He is the same today as He was when He dusted off this universe and rolled it into existence. When all else fades away, He's still there. Now that's someone worthy of worship.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Could it be that you aren't really focused on the mission God has prepared for you?
God wants you to be active and engaged in helping people encounter and follow Jesus. That includes your daily life.
Philemon verse 6 says it this way:
I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.
If you want to revitalize your spiritual life, the quickest way is to become active in sharing your faith. Before you go stake out a street corner, buy a bullhorn or a sandwich board and start making a list of faith enhancing statements like "turn or burn", let me give you an easy first step.
Take out a 3X5 card. Ask God to give you the names of three people that you interact with who don't know Jesus. Begin praying for those people every day. Ask God to save them and to give you the opportunity to be a part of it. Start to watch for opportunities and see what God does in their life and your faith.
Monday, November 2, 2009
There is a lot packed into that passage and I won't even pretend to cover all that is there. Just a couple things I thought were cool:
- The entire Trinity is involved in our salvation. 1) God saved us 2) through the washing and renewal by the Holy Spirit 3) poured out generously through Jesus Christ. While Jesus often is the main one talked about when it comes to salvation, for by no other name are men saved, it was certainly a "team effort".
- "He saved us" is repeated twice. The reason? "Because of his mercy" and "so that we might become heirs". That is, children in position to receive an inheritance. Elsewhere we read that we are in fact "co-heirs with Christ" (Rom. 8:17). It is simply astounding how great a gift that is, and how little and seldom we consider it.
- "Not because of righteous things we have done" I know we may be verging on redundancy, but it bears repeating because it is easy to slip back into a moralistic mindset. Our salvation does not hinge on our performance and it never did. All the commands you have read during this entire New Testament Challenge a written under the assumption that the readers are believers and that they are motivated by love for Jesus and honor for our Lord. By all means, obey and strive for perfection. But let it be out of love, not fear. Let it be for joy, not to avoid guilt.
Sunday, November 1, 2009
No, instead this list mentions many of our daily struggles. Pride. Unforgiveness. Lack of self-control. There is no mention in this list of the "big sins" that most "good people" like to point to when saying "Well, I've never _______".
It is important to note that Paul is not telling us to have nothing to do with those who occasionally boast but then are repentant and trying to change. No, he is speaking here of those who unrepentantly live their lives in this list, consistently and without shame.
I find the first and last items on the list interesting because in many ways thy are the same thing. Paul begins with "lovers of themselves" and ends with "lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God". Certainly, loving self almost always results in a love of whatever will be most immediately pleasing to self. Even when self-lovers put off what is most immediately pleasing, it is in order to gain something more pleasing in the long term. And every other thing on this list grows out of this mindset. We are unforgiving because we feel it will be more pleasing to keep a sense of power over those who have wronged us. We are boastful because it pleases our ego. Every item on this list is a temptation because, at some level, it is pleasing to the flesh.
And we contrast all of this with "lovers of God". All of this stands against love for God. Love for God desires to obey him. Love for God repents when we do not obey. And here's the key. Loving God and obeying him is actually more satisfying than loving self and pleasure. God knows that. He designed us to be most satisfied in loving him and obeying him. It is not always immediately pleasurable like loving self, but in the long-term (and often the short term) it is always more satisfying.
What sins have a hold on you because it promises to be more pleasurable? In what ways are you dampening your satisfaction in God and life by a lack of self-control? Community groups can be a great source of accountability and encouragement for these things. After all, that the community we aim for.