Thursday, December 31, 2009

Day 39: James 1


"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 wil be blessed in what he does."

Religion has the power to give life or take it. Pure religion, as James calls it, gives life, freedom, and blessing. However, religion today is often seen in its suffocating form. A system of rules and regulations that must be painstakingly kept in order to earn approval or recognition. It forces us into a position where we cannot live - one where it is up to us to do the work and keep the rules by our own power.

James points us to a far different form of religion. He points us to a way of life in which God has done all that was needed through Jesus. Jesus upheld the law, declared His work finished, and sent the Spirit to enable us to live as He did. This religion gives life.

How then can we live in this way? James shows us that the key is found in the Bible, where God reveals Himself. The first step is to accept the gift of new life that God offers through the Word. Before anything else takes place, God uses the Bible to show who He is and to peel back the wrong notions that we hold about Him and ourselves. Suddenly, we see that all of our actions are worthless when viewed in comparison to Him. He reveals the wickedness and sinfulness of our hearts (vs 13-15). At the same time, He reveals His greatness and goodness (vs. 16-18). This drives us to the point of forsaking our efforts and receiving the gift of His grace.

The Word then guides us in life by continuing to correct our wrong assumptions and ideas. Primarily, it confronts our need to be the center of all that happens. Our lives are lived with "It's all about me" as our motto. We are quick to spout our opinions, stand up for our rights, and angrily protest when others don't listen and respond. Instead, James said that we are to take the position of the one listening as God reveals to us His perspective on our lives. God is the true center of all that occurs and when we view our lives and circumstances from that perspective, everything changes. We are then to take the step of humbly accepting God's view of our lives as He reveals it through His Word. When we humbly bow before God, He unleashes His power in our lives; He saves us.

Finally, we must remember why the Word is revealed in the first place. It is given to us to change us, not to simply inform us. We often treat it like an encylopedia, full of new knowledge, but not really related to our lives. Instead, James shows that the Word IS our life. Our lives are transformed when we not only look into the Word and see what it shows us about ourselves, but when we take steps to DO what it says. James gives us the picture of someone looking into a mirror. When we look at the Bible, it reflects an accurate picture of our lives, not a distorted one that we have clung to. With this gift in hand, we then seek to change based on what we see. But changing does not depend on our ability to make it happen. Instead, we are empowered by the Spirit to make the necessary changes.

Our life with God becomes a process of intently gazing into the mirror of God's Word, so that we can gain an accurate picture of both our life and God. We then seek to make the changes demanded by what we see through the power that He supplies. It involves confessing our inability and clinging to God's power and promise. The Word not only corrects us, but it brings God's power to bear on our lives. It can save us. It is the power of God at work in our lives.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Day 38: Colossians 3:1-17


Once we have begun to follow Jesus, our lives should change. We know it. The problem is that we often struggle with how to do it. Paul gives us some practical instruction on how to change. It begins with a change in mind and follows with changes in action.

The first thing that has to change is our mind. Salvation comes when we repent and turn to God (Acts 3:19). Repent means to "change your mind." This is difficult because we have been taught how to think throughout our lives. These instructions may have been intentional (such as at school), secondary (such as at home, observing our parents or friends), or they may have been subconscious (through the variety of inputs we deal with daily - tv, music, movies, marketing). It is difficult to make the switch and begin to see all of our lives the way that God sees them. Our old lives and their value systems are gone. Now we must leave them and begin to seek the new life with God. Our hearts have to be focused on Him.

Changing our hearts and minds will result in changing our actions. Paul compares this process to changing clothes. When you spend time in the summer working in the yard, you come inside dirty, sweaty, and "aromatic". You take a shower to get cleaned up and then put on new, clean clothes. It would be crazy to put your old, filthy clothes on. Paul says that we should view our lives the same way. We come to Jesus and He forgives us and cleans us up. Then, the Holy Spirit guides us in putting away the actions of our old lives (or taking off the old clothes) and empowers us to live in a new way (put on clean clothes - Jesus).

The problem is that many Christians teach that the only parts of the process are getting cleaned up and taking off the old clothes. They neglect putting on a new life like the one Jesus lived. Instead of just "stopping everything", you need to replace an old habit with a new one that God desires. Instead of being greedy, start giving to other). Instead of complaining and being bitter, talk about the things that you are thankful for and forgive those who hurt you.

One of the key aspects of changing from your old life to your new life is moving from being self-centered to being others-centered. The most helpful thing you can do to make this change is to get involved in a community of people who love Jesus and are committed to following Him. The church is like a gym for those training to be like Jesus. We help one another focus on the right things - things above, not things below. We can encourage one another when we get discouraged. We also find that we are given the opportunity to practice and develop these new habits. Being around others gives us the opportunity to forgive, give, help, and love. It also enables us to become the recipients of those very same things. We experience the love, help, and forgiveness of others.

Change is hard, but it is not impossible. God has given you the ability to change through the forgiveness of Jesus, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the help of the church.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Day 37: Philippians 1:18-2:18


Our attitude should be the same as Jesus. As we evaluate decisions and choices, we are often torn between two positions - the things that we desire and the things that will benefit others. Usually, we are driven to stand firm for our opinion and perspective. At the same time, there are others who are advocating their position. How then do we decide? What is the basis for our choice?

Paul shows us that Jesus' attitude should become our guide. His sole desire is to please the Father and complete the work that He has been given. He is willing to face whatever hardship it entails, sacrifice whatever comfort He might have gained, and give Himself to the work of God. The question is not about "what do I want" or "what do they want." The question must remain, "What does God want?" Only by focusing on the Father's plan can we find unity in direction. We must acknowledge that there is One with greater understanding who has a plan. We must commit ourselves to obeying that plan, whatever the personal costs might be. This requires a characteristic that is not in high demand today - humility.

Humility involves recognizing that there are others around us with their own needs and interests. It is the willful choice to set aside our own desires to enable those of someone else to take priority. Rather than demanding our rights, our way, our needs, or our agenda, we are willing to put them on the back burner and make others a priority.

How can we live in this way? It is so foreign to our natures. The only way is to remain focused on Jesus and the example He set. Without His humbly offering His life in obedience to the Father's plan, we would be hopelessly lost in our sins. It is only as He set aside His rights (and He is the only One who truly had a claim of superiority over another) that we were able to experience the blessing of God. He was willing to put aside His desires to follow God's plan, wherever it would lead.

We have now experienced the benefit of His love. We have been saved and liberated from bondage to our self-centered nature. Now, we can choose to follow God. Paul challenges us to demonstrate our salvation by the life that we live. Just as God was working through Jesus, now He is working through us. He is working to give us the will and desire to obey. Not only that, but He enables us to do what is necessary to act. As we follow the desire He gives and exercise the ability that He gives, His purposes are carried out, bringing blessing to us and those around us.

This is what took place in the life of Jesus, He did not allow His rights, desires, claims or comfort interfere with God's plan. As a result, we were blessed. As a result, Jesus too was blessed.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Day 36: Ephesians 6


"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power."

As Christians, we live by faith in God. We have seen that it is only by His power that we are rescued from our sinful natures. Only the Holy Spirit can give us the power to change. However, our struggles are not the result of our sin alone. We live in a world filled with sinners and controlled by Satan. Just as we draw on God's power to stand against our own nature, we also must lean on Him stand in the middle of a world of sin.

The world we live in is opposed to God. As His children and followers, we are going to face difficulty because of this. We can understand opposition from others or experiencing the result of their sin. What we often struggle to understand is that there is more than just the visible elements of the world that are opposed to us. There is a spiritual realm in this world that we do not see and struggle to understand.

We are not the only beings that God created. He also created a host of angels. Of these angels, one led a rebellion against God. This angel, Lucifer (also known as the devil or Satan), was cast out of heaven along with all who followed him. These fallen angels are known as demons. Revelation 12 depicts this heavenly war and the results.

The Bible reveals to us that the devil and all his followers are still aligned against God and continue to wage war against Him today. As His children and followers, they battle against us as well. Paul tells us that our battle is not against flesh and blood - we are not fighting against other people. Instead, we struggle against Satan and his demons. They are powerful forces of evil that are aligned against us. Since they cannot control our eternities, they fight to make things as difficult and inflict as much pain as possible.

God is not unaware of this struggle, nor is He unprepared for it. Again, we live by faith, depending on His grace and provision for us. Just as a soldier is prepared for battle, God has prepared us for the battle that we are engaged in. In 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, Paul says "For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds." He has equipped us to stand and fight in His power.

In Ephesians 6:10-18, Paul describes the things God has provided for the fight. He says we have been given truth to stand against Satan's primary means of attack, lying and deceit. In addition, we are given righteousness and salvation through Christ that eliminates any claim of Satan on us. Our feet are prepared for action by the gospel and we are engaged in a struggle for the souls of men. As a defense, we are protected by faith, which protects against Satan's accusations and attacks. Finally, we are given the word of God, our sword. The word provides for both offense and defense. Satan attacks us by false accusation and twisting the truth. Our defense against this is understanding the truth and accepting it by faith. We engage in this battle by means of prayer, recalling the promises of God and confessing our trust in them. We pray for ourselves and for those around us. In this way, we trust in God and stand against everything that opposes Him.

God has prepared us for all that we will face. We must trust Him and stand.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Day 35: Galatians 5


"The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love." (Gal. 5:6)

Christians often get into debates about how we should live, what we should do, or what is the "best" approach. Like the Galatians, we get so concerned about ourselves and what is taking place within the church or group where we belong, that we forget about the larger call of God on our lives. We develop a self-focused approach to the Christian life and self-focused is always God-opposed. The essence of the Chrisitan life is living for others.

Paul makes a very clear statement here in Galatians. What we do externally, those "religious" activities that we become so focused on, do not matter. What does matter? One thing - faith in God. Trusting Him to come through on what He has promised. Not working harder to improve ourselves - the self-help that we commonly revert to is opposed to the gospel. Faith compels us to lay down our efforts to achieve righteousness and trust in God. God will provide the righteousness we seek through the Spirit. Paul says the only thing that matters is to lay down our efforts and trust God's promises.

He also makes very clear what it looks like to live a life of faith in God. Faith is trusting God to come through on the promises He made. When we trust Him to provide all that we need, we can stop our frantic efforts to provide those things for ourselves. When we take our eyes off ourselves, we are free to love others. Love is laying down our lives for the good of others. It involves trusting God to provide those things that we are consciously ceasing to work for.

We all work very hard to make sure that our needs are met, our rights are protected, our position is secured, and our desires fulfilled. Then, when that is accomplished, we use what is left to help others experience those same things. As long as I have all I want, then I will help someone in need. As believers, we work very hard to make sure we "get ours," then we are available to help others "get theirs." The only problem is, we are never able to get everything we want, so we have little to offer others.

Our efforts cannot gain what we want. Paul understood this, so he calls us to forget about working for "ours." Instead, we place all that we need and desire in God's hands. We trust Him to provide for us. Then, we are free to give ourselves to helping others with the things that they need. This is called love. Jesus understood and taught this as well. He said, "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). We lay down our lives when we stop working for our own good and start working for the good of others.

How does this look? One example is found in a marriage. It looks like the husband who gives up his efforts to protect all of his hobbies, time, and stuff. Instead, he trusts God to provide for his needs and seeks to use his time and efforts to provide the things his wife and kids need. At the same time, the wife is sacrificing her needs to work to meet her husband's. The result is a family where everyone's needs are met. The rub is this - what if my spouse doesn't reciprocate my effort? That's where this becomes an act of faith. Someone has to go first and trust God.

Why would we do this? Paul says that the results are clear. Verses 19-21 describe the self-focused live. When we focus on ourselves and work to gain what we desire, these are the results. As you read this list, notice how often the activity is driven by a selfish focus. We have sex with whoever we want because it makes us happy - who cares who else is hurt. We hate others because things didn't go our way and explode in rage to express it. We splinter into groups, partnering those who agree with our perspective so that we get what we want, regardless of what is best for the whole. This lifestyle does not look very appealing when the veil is removed and we get a clear look at the results. And yet that is how we so often live, wondering why we are struggling.

Paul says the answer is to lay down our lives. Crucify the life that is focused on itself on the cross. Choose to put it to death by faith. In its place, live a life of faith, focused on others. What are the results? When we are freed from providing for ourselves, we experience the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control that the Spirit offers. We are patient because its ok that things aren't going our way at the moment, God will provide. We have peace because we don't have to fight for ourselves, God is on our side. The results of this life are clearly more appealing.

The Spirit has given us life. Let's continue to live by the Spirit.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Day 34: 1 Corinthians 15


Jesus is not rotting in a tomb somewhere. He died, but rose from the grave and is alive, seated with God the Father in Heaven. He is awaiting the proper time to return and set all things right once more. Many have come with great teachings and amazing claims, but none has authenticated those things by conquering death. Jesus Christ stands alone in that regard.

The Resurrection of Jesus is a central focus of Christianity. Paul says here that without it, everything crumbles and Christianity is a waste of time. With it however, everything changes - our lives are changed, our purpose is changed, our future is changed. Everything hinges on the Resurrection of Jesus. In fact, Paul says that the essentials of the Gospel are that Jesus died for our sins, that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day.

The Resurrection is not just a claim. Jesus clearly demonstrated it by His activities following the crucifixion. We are not left with an empty tomb and a lot of conjecture as to how it became empty. Instead, Jesus told us ahead of time what would happen. Then, He appeared to hundreds of people after He arose to attest to His life and prove that what He had said had taken place. At the time of Paul's writing, many of the witnesses' to this fact could be interviewed and questioned. Now, with evidence that Jesus claimed to be God and demonstrated it by fulfilling the Scriptures, rising from death, and ascending to Heaven, things are different.

Paul says that our lives change when we believe the gospel. We are saved. Our lives are changed. Our past is forgiven. We are given life in the present, but we are also promised life in the future. No longer are we required to fix our problems, overcome our troubles, or make things happen. Instead, God gives us His grace and His grace is sufficient for whatever we encounter in life (2 Cor. 12:9).

Paul's life dramatically changed when he understood it. He said, "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them - yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me." The grace of God is always effective, changing the hardest of hearts and overcoming the greatest of obstacles. The Resurrection demonstrates that. Death and the grave are the greatest obstacles we face and Jesus has already secured victory over these enemies. He has assured us that we can give ourselves fully to the Lord, knowing that He will be all that we need and can overcome whatever we may face. We are to throw ourselves fully into following Him, but it is His grace that makes the difference. The Resurrection promises us that we can give ourselves fully to the Lord and know that He will give us life in return.

The Resurrection gives us hope for more than today, however. It also points us to a future when all things will be made right. All the destruction that our sin has wrought will be undone. Everything will be made perfect and right, just as God intended. Our weak and failing bodies will be transformed. The earth will be made new. Victory will be achieved. The Resurrection offers this promise. The promise that its not futile or a waste of time, but that God is in control and He will restore it all once again.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Day 33: 1 Corinthians 13


There is a wide debate in our world about how to be great and successful. Some would say it is your drive to the top. If you work hard, dream big, and take risks, you can work your way to the top. You may have a book written about yourself. People will want to interview you. You will be the focus of a lot of attention and praise. You will be successful. Others will say that the way to succeed is found in giving to others. Sacrifice your comfort, possessions, even your life and you will be great. People may even write books about you, interview you, and praise you. We tend to seek meaning in pridefully working our way to the top or pridefully working our way to the bottom. The same motivation that drives someone to become a world-class executive can be the same motivation that drives someone to become a world-reknowed martyr.

Paul warns that we overlook one thing. Whatever we seek to do, the motivation behind why we do it is far more important than the deeds themselves. There are people who have worked their way to the top and it will all amount to nothing, because their motives were not pure. Others have debased themselves to serve the needs of others, but still will amount to nothing because they had the wrong motivation.

No matter what we do, the only way that we will gain anything or amount to anything is if we are motivated by love. But love does not come naturally. As Paul describes love in verses 4-7, none of those characteristics come naturally to us. We are naturally lovers of ourselves, but not others. All of these things are beyond us. They highlight our shortcomings and push us to find completion somewhere else. We do not naturally love. We need help.

1 John 3:16 tells us "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers." True love is shown by sacrificing ourselves, but not so that we will be known, recognized, or "feel good". Instead, we give ourselves solely for the good of the other person. Jesus gave all that He had to lift us up, not Himself. In the same way, we are to lay down our lives for the benefit of others. We are to give up our "rights" to meet the needs of our spouse. We sacrifice our comforts to give to others in need, to lift them up. This is contrary to every self-centered desire that is so natural to us.

We cannot do this on our own. It requires God. 1 John goes on to say that "love comes from God . . . because God is love" (vs. 7-8). He has enabled us to love through the gift of His Son, forgiving and removing our sins, and through the Spirit, enabling us to experience His love and overcome our sinful nature. God is the source and means of love.

God is love and demonstrated His love to us through Jesus. Now, we are freed and enabled to return that love by loving others through His Spirit.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Day 32: Romans 7-8


Struggle seems to define our life. We all know the type of people that we want to be, but we can't seem to become that person. We have faults, experience failures, and remain frustrated with our inability to do the things we desire.

This struggle is not ours alone. It is not because we are "lesser" Christians who haven't figured it out yet. Paul himself confesses that he faces the same struggle. He knows what he wants to do, but can't do it. The things he doesn't want to do are the things that he does. Why? Because we all have an Achilles' heel; a character flaw that sets us up for failure. It is inherent in our bodies and thwarts our efforts to do what is right and please God. It is our sinful nature and it constantly wages war against us. When we see the things we want to do, this nature rises up and causes us to fail.

We need to be released, freed, rescued from this pitiful state. But who will do it? Paul says that Jesus has done it. He died so that we could be released from bondage to our sinful nature. He died so that we would no longer be condemned for our failures. He died so that we could receive God's Spirit and with that Spirit live a new life.

Rules and laws can't accomplish this. When we see something that we cannot do, our sinful nature is awakened by the limits. Any approach that depends on keeping guidelines and meeting regulations will fail. Our nature will never be conquered in this way.

Instead, our sinful nature has to die. God condemned our sinful nature on the cross. In its place, we were given the Spirit. Now, instead of depending on the keeping of rules, we rely on the Spirit of God and what Jesus has accomplished. Jesus died to take our condemnation. We are no longer condemned, we are now forgiven and free. We are not controlled by our sinful nature, now God lives within us to guide us. We are no longer seperated from God, now we belong to Him and nothing can change that. No one can accuse us, seperate us, or condemn us. Instead of opposing us, God is now on our side and if God is for us, who can be against us? He has given us the life we could not achieve on our own.

We are now free to live in God's love, experience His grace, and receive His forgiveness. We are no longer bound to sin. We've been released.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Day 31: Romans 3


Faith is the one thing that distinguishes those seperated from God and those who are His children. Everyone has been united in their guilt before God. God gave us the law to show how far short we fall from what He expects. The law outlines what a "righteous" life looks like. As we look at the list, it names and illustrates the various ways that our sin is displayed. It eliminates our ability to lay claim to favor with God due to our heritage, words, or deeds.

Paul is very clear in this matter. We are all united in our wickedness. To demonstrate this, he ties together various Old Testament quotes (vs. 10-18) that show how we have failed in our character, conversation and conduct. In this way, we all stand accountable to God. The law demonstrates our guilt, our wickedness, our helplessness, our need to be rescued from ourselves.

While the law has united us in guilt, it allows God to offer another way to attain the righteousness that He desires. Since we cannot achieve that through the law, He opens another way apart from the law. Instead of obedience to the law, now we are made righteous through our faith in the One who kept the law and then died in our place. Jesus died to take the punishment we deserved for breaking the law.

Righteousness comes from God. It is not something we are capable of attaining, so He provided a way that He could give it to us. It comes to us through faith. We are to simply believe that we are all united in our guilt as sinners. Because of this, we deserve God's judgement. But God has provided a way to escape His wrath by freely giving to us grace. Grace is an undeserved gift; something that we cannot earn and can never claim to deserve. Grace is a gift of God made possible by the death of Jesus.

If God simply overlooked our sin, He would be unjust. This would require Him to act against His nature and therefore, would require Him to sin. Instead of overlooking our sin, He punished it thoroughly, but not by punishing us as we deserved. Rather than punishing us, Jesus stepped in and took our punishment for us. There on the cross, Jesus became our sacrifice. His life was offered in our place, to pay for our sins. Now God remains just because the debt of our sin was paid for. At the same time, He is the one who justifies us through faith in Jesus. He upholds His justice and still provides a way for our salvation.

The law does its perfect work in uniting us under sin. Jesus does His perfect work in liberating us from sin. Now, we are able to stand righteous before God, not because we have earned it or deserve it. Rather, it is through the grace provided through Jesus.

We are justified by faith, not by observing the law.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Day 30: Acts 26


The Gospel has a profound impact on people. Hopefully, you have experienced that impact in your life and God has transformed you. If so, then you understand that it is not something that can be pent up within you. It is something that urgently demands to be made known. The most common question becomes, "How? What do I say?" In this passage, Paul demonstrates the power of the Gospel and the best way to portray it.

Paul has been specifically called by God to do exactly that. The result is that he has been imprisoned due to the false accusations of the Jews. His defense has brought him before King Agrippa. Paul seizes the opportunity afforded him to present the truth of Jesus before the King and the Governor Festus.

The most powerful presentation of the truth of the Gospel is your own life. Paul understood this and that is the story that he tells these men. He is clear about what his life was like before he encountered Jesus. For Paul, it was one of futility; trying to earn God's approval through zealously trying to fulfill God's laws. As a result, he found himself opposing Jesus and anyone who sought to follow him. This occurred because the truth of Jesus does not make sense to those who are seperated from him by their sin. In fact, the Bible tells us that those who are seperated from God have their eyes blinded, they cannot see the truth; their minds are darkened so that they cannot understand it. That was where Paul found himself. Paul describes the frustration of trying to serve God enough to earn His favor but failing. He explains the guilt that resulted from trying to chart his own course. Your circumstances are different, but you can clearly remember what life is like without Jesus.

However, there comes a time when Jesus Christ is clearly presented to you. God tears away the veil that covers our eyes, removes the fog in our minds, and allows us to understand clearly who we are, who Jesus is, and what He has done on our behalf. This becomes a life-altering event when we believe these things and accept them by faith. What seems like insanity to some becomes a truth that we can no longer avoid. Something within us will not be satisfied until we proclaim it as true and accept it as the guide for our life. When we finally relent and turn from ourselves to God, our lives are forever changed.

Paul points to this in his life. When Jesus confronted him on the road to Damascus, his life was forever changed. Now, life makes more sense. The missing pieces seem to fit. God has arranged his life and now it is complete. Paul understood that He had sinned against God by determining his own path and trusting in his own efforts and righteousness. When he understood that Jesus came to present the only way to God, Paul saw just how wicked he truly was. The seriousness of his condition is revealed through Jesus' suffering for him on the cross. This drives Paul to his knees and forever changes the course of his life.

There has to be a time when we forsake everything to follow God. Usually, we don't understand all that entails, but we understand that we cannot fight against Him any longer. We see that we have been stuggling to get away from Him, but we have to turn to him. Now, He controls our life and calls the shots.

When God is our guide, our lives look very different. For Paul, it meant forsaking everything that he had ever known. His life had been dedicated to following the teachings of the Pharisees. They vehemently opposed Jesus. Now Paul has completely switched teams and is now opposing the Pharisees on behalf of Jesus.

As we seek to follow God, He will show us things that must change in our lives. This is not always easy and is seldom comfortable. It is always necessary, however. As we change and follow God, the results are evident in our lives. Many times, these very changes are the things that give us credibility to speak about Jesus. They become the evidence of God's truth at work in our lives. This is a continual process, not a one-time event. The rest of our lives will involve seeing where we are wrong, repenting, and turning back to God. Life becomes a continual process of changing to become like Jesus.

The result? Some will think we are insane (like Festus). That's ok, God has not removed the veil from their eyes yet. Others will be moved but still not ready to bow their knee and surrender (like Agrippa). That's ok, too. Keep following Jesus, remain available, and pray for them. Pray that God will open their eyes to the truth, give them faith to believe, and that you will have another opportunity to speak to them for God.

God has saved you. You are now on display as a trophy of His grace and He wants to use you to convey that message to the world. You may not feel worthy or equipped, but trust in God, this is His work. You don't have to have all the answers; you have your story.

Tell your story. Testify.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Day 29: Acts 16


The gospel is God's work. It began in His heart before the world was formed. He worked tirelessly to bring it to fruition - calling Abraham, creating the Jewish people, liberating them from slavery in Egypt, giving the Law, giving them the Promised Land, and finally giving them a Savior, Jesus. He secured the Gospel through Jesus coming as a man, fulfilling the Law, dying as a substitute for the sins of men, and then rising from death to conquer sin, death, and the grave. After Jesus ascended back to heaven, God entrusted the gospel to men; now, those who Jesus personally trained are empowered to preach the gospel. God does the impossible and allows them to preach to a variety of language groups so that each one can hear the message in their own language. The result is thousands of new, Jewish believers. But God's plan was not limited to the Jewish people. The promise had always been that they would bring a blessing for all the nations. With that in mind, God selects Paul to take the gospel to the Gentiles (non-Jews).

God initiated this mission to the nations and now He is the One who carries it out. He has chosen to involve us in the work and calls us to be His partners, but He is the One who does the work. Paul responds to God's call with obedience, but God is clearly in charge. Paul's plan was to return to the churches that He started previously and then venture out to new territory in Asia. But God has other plans. He prevents Paul from entering Asia and redirects him to Europe. We don't know exactly what prevented Paul from entering Asia, only that God kept him from it. It was important enough that Paul know where to go that God gives him a vision of the need in Europe. A man in Macedonia, begs Paul to come and preach the gospel, so he does. He forsakes his plan to follow where God leads.

When Paul reaches Macedonia, he sees God at work in the lives of people. God had called him to Macedonia because He had gone ahead of Paul and prepared the way. There were people that God was already working with, preparing them to receive the message. God did the work of preparing them. Paul just delivered the message.

Sometimes it was easy to deliver the message. Lydia was a presentable, wealthy, businesswoman. God opened her heart to receive the message and she did. This encounter was reasonably safe and easy. However, that was not going to be the case every time. After they liberate a slave girl from the evil spirit persecuting her, Paul and Silas find themselves in prison. This is hardly the outcome we might expect from following God.

Why would a person following God's plan have to endure a beating from the authorities before they are locked up? Because God had another plan in place; he had a jailer to reach and that was more important than Paul's comfort or feelings. In spite of the difficulty, God's grace is sufficient for Paul. Even in a severe trial, God strengthens, supports, and encourages Paul. Because Paul is willing to be God's hands and feet, in spite of difficulty, God transforms the life of an entire family.

God is at work all around us. He calls us to be involved in that work. We have received His grace, but we are not to hoard it for our own pleasure. Instead, it is given to us so that we will give it away. The challenge for us is, are we willing to forsake our plan to follow God's, wherever it might lead and whatever it might cost?

Will you become God's partner?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Day 28: Acts 9


Many people feel that they are beyond the reach of God. They feel that there is no way that He could love them, desire to know them, or change them. Often, they have done things that have brought guilt and shame and they feel that these things keep them from God, even if no one else knows about them. In some cases, we may know . . . and even agree with them.

This person and their situation do not agree with the God who is revealed in the Scriptures. God does not want to hold our sins against us. He does not have a limit to His forgiveness. There is nothing that we have done that is "worse" than anything others have done. Instead, God's standard of perfection places us on the same level playing field. We are all sinners and that sin seperates us from Him. It doesn't matter if the act is a white lie or murder, He sees it as sin and it seperates us from His holiness and perfection. We cannot buy into the lie that we, or anyone else, are too far removed from God for Him to change us by His grace.

Saul, later known as Paul, is the perfect example of this. He personally states, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners - of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life" (1 Tim. 1:15-16). Paul saw himself as the greatest of all sinners because he openly opposed the church and persecuted those who believed in God. However, in His unlimited grace, God chose to make Paul the poster child of His desire and ability to change even the hardest of hearts and forgive even the most heinous of sins.

There was never a more unlikely prospect to turn to God. Saul was travelling to find Christians and put them in jail. He was persecuting them and had even overseen some of them being murdered (Acts 7:58). But God was not through with Saul and on a dry, dusty road, Saul met Him. Jesus revealed Himself to Saul in a way that was unmistakable. In this case, God takes the gloves off and leaves no room for debate. Jesus appears in His brilliance from Heaven and blinds Saul. He shows that He is not just some false teacher, but that He is indeed God and that Saul is opposing God Himself. From this point on, Saul is to stop his opposition, humble himself, turn to God, and become God's primary spokesperson to the Gentiles. Saul begins His journey a proud, powerful, independent, up-and-comer in the religioius world. He arrives at Damascus humbled, broken, blind, and dependent.

This is a picture of our lives as well. We embark on life, setting our own course, calling our own shots, making our own decisions. We are often blissfully unaware that those choices place us in direct opposition with God. We are no less an enemy of God than Saul was. This is the Biblical depiction of those who chose to follow someone other than God, including themselves (Matt. 12:30, Luke 11:23, 1 Peter 5:5-7). While we are not better than Saul, we are no worse either. Everyone has offended God, chosen their own path, and become His enemy. And yet, while they were still sinners, before they had turned towards Him, while they had nothing to offer, Jesus gave His life for them (Rom. 5:8). Jesus died for Saul. He died for you. He died for me. He died for each person that you encounter.

It is God's desire that everyone come to this realization (1 Tim. 2:3). He wants everyone to understand that they are His enemy because of their sin, but that He has made the provision for their forgiveness through Jesus' death in their place. His desire is that every person would realize this and turn to Him in faith. It is possible for everyone. You are not beyond the grace of God and neither is anyone else whose path you cross. All can know God and experience Him transforming their life.

That is the promise that Saul's life holds for us. Nobody is too far gone; God can change anyone. The change in Saul's life is remarkable. He is soon known as Paul and is more instrumental in spreading the Christian faith than anyone who has ever lived. God can change anyone. He can take you from wherever you are, pull you out of the mess you've made, change the direction of your life, and use you to change the world. This should motivate us to receive the grace of God in our life. It should also propel us to share that grace with others.

God is a God who transforms lives. Will you allow Him to transform yours? Will you allow Him to use you to transform others?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Day 27: Acts 2


"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Acts 1:8

Jesus promised the coming of the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, to dwell in the lives of the believers. The Spirit brought amazing change in their lives. He would be God, living and acting in their hearts. No longer would their relationship with God be limited due to location, time, or physical limitations. Now they have unlimited access to God. Jesus knew that this would be necessary for the lives they would live and the ministry that He would give them. They could not live out God's mission for them without the Spirit, so Jesus told them to wait for His coming before they ventured out.

God's mission for them was to take the Gospel - the message that Jesus died as a substitute for our sins, was buried, and raised to conquer sin, death, and hell on our behalf - to all of the earth. Obviously, if this mission depended solely on their abilities, it was doomed to failure. They had been unable to get anything right until now and were surely destined to mess it up again. When the religious authorities came for Jesus, they ran in fear; now they were asked to stand against the same authorities that had killed Jesus. In addition, they would face obstacles at every turn. Without God, they would never succeed.

God had prophecied about the coming of the Spirit in Joel. Jesus had promised His coming multiple times in the Gospels. Now He has ascended to Heaven and the disciples are gathered, praying and seeking the Holy Spirit's coming. On the day of Pentecost, God sends the Spirit. Immediately, we see His presence equipping and enabling the disciples to carry out God's mission for them.

One obstacle before them was the language barrier. In Genesis 11, the people of the earth had united in an attmept to make themselves like God. As a result, He had confused their language and scattered them over the earth. Now, these different languages provide an obstacle for His message of redemption. So the coming of the Spirit enables His followers to proclaim the message of Jesus in the languages of all the people gathered in Jerusalem. This enabled them to hear and respond to God. From there, they were able to go to their homes and preach the Gospel in their language.

In addition, this provided confirmation of God's work and message by fulfilling the prophecy of Joel and the promise of Jesus. The coming of the Holy Spirit is proof of God's presence in their lives. This is especially important when the message goes from the Jews to the Gentiles and serves as confirmation that they can receive the Gospel as well.

We also see that the Spirit convicts of sin and grants faith to those who hear the message. Salvation is God's work, from start to finish; it does not depend on man's power or ingenuity. He is the One who has made provision for our sin. He is also the one who reveals our sin to us and gives us faith to turn to Him. Jesus said that the Spirit would come to ". . . convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned" (John 16:8-11). This is the work we see Him doing here as the people hear of their sin, Jesus' provision for it, repent and turn to Him.

The same things hold true for us today. We are called to continue the work that God gave the disciples - to carry the message of Jesus to the world. Just like them, we are incapable of doing it alone; but just like them, we aren't left alone to do it. The Spirit has come to help us. While we may not face the language barrier, He provides the words we are to speak, draws others to Him, and convicts them of their sin. We are His agents to spread the message; He does the work of convicting of sin, drawing people to Him, and granting repentance.

Just like the disciples, God has given us the Spirit. He provides the power we need for life.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Day 26: Luke 24


Jesus has always been the answer, but we struggle to understand the answer. We shouldn't be surprised, since the disciples were with Jesus, heard Him teach everyday, and still didn't understand all that He taught. In fact, we tend to think that they had it better than we do. They could talk with Him personally, ask questions, even reach out and touch Him. It's not hard to understand how they felt when He was gone. It seemed that He had left so much unfulfilled. Now it appears to be too late.

Just as the disciples came to understand, Jesus is still the answer. He is not bound to our understanding or planning. He wants us to understand, takes great pains to teach us, and works with us in the process.

Our source for understanding and knowing God are the Scriptures. The answer is found there. The Old Testament Scriptures formed the basis for all of Jesus' teachings with the disciples. We see Him using them continuously throughout His ministry. Now, when He encounters some of His disciples bewildered and confused about what is taking place, He directs them to a familiar place - the Scriptures. He begins at the beginning and shows them how all of the Scriptures talk about and point to Him. Later, He appears to another group of the disciples and again, directs them back to the Scriptures. The problem is not that the answers are not available, its that we don't understand them or choose to ignore them.

Jesus answered the problem of our inability to understand. It says here that He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. No longer is there a veil that clouds our understanding. Jesus has fulfilled the Scriptures and made it possible for us to understand. He took some of these same disciples and revealed His words to them to complete the Scriptures. They composed the New Testament, which further reveal God to us.

In addition, Jesus points to yet another answer that is to come. He says that even as He leaves, He will send a Helper to assist us in our journey to know and love God. The third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, will come. One of His jobs will be to teach us all things, lead us into truth and remind us of the things that Jesus has said (John 14:25-26, 16:5-16). In fact, the work of the Spirit will be so effective, that Jesus says it is good that He goes to the Father, so that the Spirit can come. Now, Jesus is not limited in His work by being present in one body. When the Spirit comes, He will reside in each person that has chosen to follow God. Now we each have personal access to God through the Scriptures and the Spirit.

Now, we have access to the answers.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Day 25: John 20


"If Christ has not been raised [from the dead], your faith is futile; you are still in your sins." (1 Cor. 15:17)

Everything in Christianity hinges on the resurrection of Jesus. Paul understood that when he wrote these words. Anybody could claim to be God; he may even be able to do a few tricks or deceive a few people to convince them that he is God. He could anger the right people and then proclaim that they would kill him and his death would bring eternal life for his followers. In fact, there have been many people throughout history that have done just that. The problem is that their story ends at their grave.

The proof that Jesus is more than an misunderstood teacher, a raving lunatic, or an egotistical deceiver lies in the resurrection. Jesus repeatedly declared that He would rise three days after his death. They may not have understood it, but even his enemies remembered that He had said it (see Matt. 27:62-66). Jesus would rise from death and it is the great sign that He is indeed God come to save us.

Even then, the Jewish religious leaders understood how important this was. They posted guards to protect the tomb and did everything within their power to prevent Jesus from coming out. The other Gospels tell us that God simply overcame all of their efforts (Matt. 28, Mark 16, Luke 24). At the same time, the Jewish leaders set up people to lie to cover up for what had happened. They paid the Roman guards to lie and say that Jesus' disciples stole the body (Matt. 28:11-15). This and other stories are still circulated today in an attempt to disprove the resurrection.

Jesus did not simply disappear. Instead, He spent 40 days appearing to His followers to prove what had happened. The Resurrection is one of the best-attested miracles that Jesus performed. Paul tells us in 1 Cor. 15, that Jesus appeared to Peter, to the twelve disciples, to James (his brother, who could make a positive ID), to him, and to five hundred of his followers. Paul says that most of these people are still alive, go ask them. Jesus appeared to the disciples and ate fish, allowed them to see the marks of his injuries, and continued to teach them. This was not something that happened in the dark and was kept a secret. In fact, one of the most compelling arguments for the resurrection is that all Jesus' opposition had to do to prove it was false was to show the body. If they had simply brought out the body of Jesus, the argument is over. There are no followers and there is no Christianity. But they didn't. Because they couldn't.

What does the Resurrection mean? It means everything. To take Paul's earlier statement and argue it from the other perspective, Christ has been raised, so our faith is effective and our sins are forgiven. As a result of it, Jesus' often cowardly followers are willing to die for His message. Who would die for a lie? Their lives are transformed.

The Resurrection is the capstone for Jesus' argument that He is God. He has demonstrated God's power through the miracles that He worked; even those who oppose Him have to admit that no mere man can do the things that He does. Now He has risen from a brutal death to prove that He is God. Now many find themselves in the place of Thomas, they hear and want to believe, but just can't. So Jesus proves Himself to them in practical experience. John says he wrote this book to prove that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. The point is that you would believe. It is all futile unless we believe that it is true.

For those who believe, Jesus gives life. For those who are truly seeking Him, Jesus reveals Himself. Do you need to express faith in Him today and receive His forgiveness? Do you need to honestly express areas where you are still seeking and questioning? Jesus will reveal Himself to those with honest questions and doubts. Keep seeking Him through the Bible and He will make it clear to you.

Jesus' desire is that you will believe in Him. And when you believe in Him, you will have life in Him.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Day 24: Matthew 26-27


Christianity is unique from all the other religions of the world in this respect. They all portray God as far removed from us and give us systems to reach for him and hopefully satisfy him. Christianity alone shows God stoop to reach us, knowing that we could never reach Him. It alone shows that He was willing to die in our place, taking the punishment for our sins.

In an effort to discredit Christianity, many try to argue that Jesus never claimed to be God. They say that He was merely a teacher who was taken to be martyred and became a legend. These chapters show that is not the case. Twice, Jesus professes that He is God (26:63-64, 27:11) and the results of His execution are so remarkable, that many believe. Jesus is not merely a man, He is God; God come with a purpose, to rescue us from ourselves.

We also see that Jesus was not merely swept along by events over which He had no control. Even though He lost His life, Jesus was in complete control of all that took place. He went willingly, knowing that this was part of the Father's plan to save humanity. He willingly submitted to the Father's desire (26:39) and laid down His life. He was aware of all these events before they ever took place. They had been planned before the world was even founded. He knew Judas would betray Him. He knew the money Judas received would eventually be used to buy a potter's field. He knew the night that this was to take place. He knew that Peter would betray Him and that He would be buried in a borrowed tomb. Jesus was no victim. He was a willing sacrifice. In fact, He could have stopped it at any point (26:52-54), but then what would have happened to us? We would have been forever lost, without hope of salvation.

All of the Bible points to this moment. The moment that would atone for our sins. The event that would open the possibility for us to be reunited with God. The moment when God was crushed, beaten, mocked, and died for the wrongs that we committed; when our sins killed Him.

If God went to these lengths for us, doesn't it deserve our attention? If He would pay such a heavy price, shouldn't we stop and surrender to Him? Instead, the cross becomes a trinket, the crucifiction becomes old hat, and our lives continue as they were. We overlook the moment when God was sacrificed for us. Isn't it time that we stopped running; that we turned to God. Shouldn't we echo the prayer of Jesus, "Not as I will, but as you will"? Doesn't this demand the response of the Roman soldier, "Surely he was the Son of God!"?

The sacrifice has been made; now we must accept it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Day 23: John 17


Jesus fulfilled His part of the plan. He has given us all that we need to know about God. He revealed God to us and has shown us how to obey Him. Now the baton is passed. Now God has involved us in the Divine plan. No longer is God depending on Jesus to reveal Him; now He has commissioned us to reveal God to those who do not know Him. In doing so, we bring glory to the Godhead - Father, Son, and Spirit.

The Trinity, the Godhead, is one God with a unified essence who exists in three equal persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They have been active for all of eternity in the salvation of the world. The Father is the originator, the Son is the revealer, and the Spirit is the completer. In other words, the Father acts, through the Son, by the Spirit. Now, God dwells in us through faith and we are God's body in the world.

Jesus is no longer present to continue the work, but He has left the Holy Spirit to enable us to be a part of that work. We do not accomplish God's work on our own, He does His work through us. Just as the Father, Son, and Spirit have been working for all of eternity in perfect community, Jesus has left behind a community of His followers to carry out the task. It is not something that we were designed to do alone. From the very beginning, Jesus stressed the importance of community, of others, of having partners. He didn't select a disciple, He selected twelve. Even among the disciples, He did not select one to be closest, but three, Peter, James, and John. When sending them out to minister, they were sent in pairs. As God said in the beginning, it is not good for man to be alone.

That is why He has created the church. The church is a gathering on earth of those who believe in Jesus and are called to know God and make Him known. God has made us partakers in the Divine nature by giving the Spirit to dwell within us as we turn to God in faith. He unites us individually to God, but also works to restore the perfect God had created among mankind. As we dwell in that perfect community, we see God manifest Himself in several ways.

The Spirit is sent to protect us from the world and the evil one who is directing it. We will face danger in the world, just as Jesus did, but not alone. We are part of a family, a community, a united and unified body of God here on earth. We may fall, but we have others to help us get back up (Eccl. 4:10). Although the entire world will be aligned against us, we have a place of refuge, safety, and support.

This community, the church, also becomes the greatest means of communicating God's glory. It is not our progams, the glitz, glamour, or anything else we can manufacture. Instead, it is something supernatural that we cannot experience on our own, our love for one another. God desires that we dwell in unity just as the Godhead does. Just as they are three in one, so we are to be many but one. God calls us His body - a unified whole represented by many parts. When one suffers, we all suffer. When one rejoices, we all rejoice. When one mourns, we all mourn. As we are brought to unity by the Holy Spirit, we demonstrate the love of God to the world. The world is a void for this type of loving, self-sacrificing, others-centered, unity. And sadly, so is the church. God calls us to return to a lifestyle of loving community to demonstrate His reality, presence, and activity in the world.

As we love one another, the world will see and know God's love.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Day 22: John 15


What is the point of life? Many are asking that question. What am I here for? Jesus tells us that life is knowing God as He reveals Himself in Jesus and bringing Him glory through our lives (John 17:3-4). As we learn more about Him, we respond in obedience to what He has revealed to us. These changes are evident in our lives and produce tangible, visible results. These may be changed attitudes, altered actions, or opportunities to share these things with others. The Bible often refers to this as fruit.

Jesus explains this in depth here. He gives us a picture to understand what God is doing in the life of a believer. The point is that our lives bear fruit as God works through us. God's desire is that we bear fruit and that the amount of fruit will increase. This demonstrates to others that we belong to Him and it brings us joy. In fact, the result of this process is that our joy will be complete.

Jesus shows us that the Father is working to cultivate our lives so that they will bear more fruit. A gardner would lift an unfruitful branch of the vine out of the dirt and mud ("lifts up" is another translation for "cuts off" in verse 2), clean it up, and make it healthy. God does the same thing with us. Through Jesus, our lives are made clean. We are forgiven and made whole. Our past is behind us and our lives begin to bear fruit and demonstrate God's work in them.

Once a branch begins to bear fruit, it is not allowed to grow uncontrolled, on its own. A gardner does not allow a grape vine to grow uncontrolled, rather, he trims away unnecessary things on the branches of the vine to allow it to channel its energy to bearing fruit, the real purpose for its existence. These unnecessary things often seem necessary to the uneducated person. Usually, they are in the form of leaves. An untrained person would think that the leaves make the vine look healthy, however, they also keep it from bearing fruit. The energies of the vine are directed to growing leaves, not making grapes. We have many things that we think are necessary to our lives. These things distract us from bearing fruit and need to be pruned away.

The gardner is in charge of doing the trimming, pruning, and preparing. What is the part of the branch? To remain connected to the vine. For us, this means staying connected to Jesus. He is the vine. We can only bear fruit as He enables us and works in us. How can we know that we are remaining in Jesus? Through His word, the Bible. Jesus came and revealed to us all that we need to know about God. He inspired men to record the things He revealed in the Bible. It is the only sure and certain guide to knowing God that we have. As we study the Bible, the Holy Spirit reveals God's thoughts to us and enables us to follow them. We cannot "grow" or "bear fruit" on our own, but fruit-bearing comes naturally as we remain connected to the vine. It is the response of a branch that is connectd to the vine. Fruit is the natural result of a believer who remains in Jesus.

We remain in Jesus by obeying His commands. What are they? Where's the checklist? He sums them all up by giving the command here to love each other the way that He has loved us. This means sacrifice our life, our rights, the things that we feel entitled to, for the sake of others. As we think of this, it seems that we will hurt or miss out on something that we could have had. Jesus is clear, however, that while we may miss some things, this is part of the pruning to enable us to bear fruit. In fact, the result of obeying His command to love others is that we experience His love for us and our joy is made complete. None of the things that we so often cling to are the point of our lives. The point is to know God and experience His love This brings fruitful lives and complete joy.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Day 21: John 11


When Jesus enters our life, we find Him continually working to change our perspective about ourselves, our lives, and Him. We find that we make a big deal about ourselves, but very little about Him. As we walk with Him, we learn that life is about making much about God and little about ourselves. Our lives become like that of John the Baptist, who said, "He must become greater; I must become less" (John 3:30).

We see that change taking place in this story. Jesus is teaching the disciples, Mary and Martha, even Lazarus, that they are not the point of the story, God is. They are not the ones in control, God is. They do not determine what occurs and what is impossible, God does. These things are important for us, because we struggle, just like they did.

They struggled with developing their ideas and plans for what needs to happen in life and expecting God to show up and carry out their plans. We see very clearly in this story, that God does not work that way. Jesus intentionally chooses to carry out His agenda and avoid the one they present to Him. The plan that they have seems to make the most sense to us. It is the limited perspective that we all, as God's created ones, default to. But it is not the perspective of the Creator. He sees farther and understands more. He does not face the same limitations that we do. While we see obstacles that we cannot get around, He understands that nothing is impossible for Him. This is what He wants to teach us as well. Nothing is impossible with God and we can trust Him to do what is best.

In this case, Jesus receives word that a close friend is dying. The obvious plan of everyone involved is, "Go tell Jesus and He can come and heal Lazarus before he dies." That makes sense, God come before the worst happens and fix it. Keep us from confronting the impossible. Take the easy route, the one that makes sense to us. Don't make us venture into the realm where we have to trust you for something that we can't understand. Don't make us exercise faith.

Jesus' response is to force them into the unknown. He intentionally drags His feet and allows Lazarus to die. It seems cruel to us. Why let them all suffer? But that's our limited perspective. From God's view, He knows that He wants to do something greater than simply heal a sick man. He wants to reveal God's glory and Lazarus, Mary, Martha, and the disciples will all see God at work as they never have before.

They thought that the plans they had were the only way it could work. In their mind, the impossible was represented by the death of Lazarus. They have grown in their faith to the point that they had no problem believing that Jesus could heal Lazarus' sickness. They had experienced Jesus doing this with many throughout the years. But for them, death was the ultimate obstacle. The perpective they had on God was larger and different than it had been. But God wanted to increase their understanding and experience. He wanted their faith to expand. But to do that, they had to face the dark, the unknown, they had to move into an area they had not experienced before.

So Lazarus died.

But death was not destined to rule the day. Jesus finally arrives and challenges their perspective. They are not to believe in Him as a healer, but as a life-giver. Even as He prepares to do the impossible, their limited trust is seen. "Don't roll away the stone, he's dead. He's been dead. By now, he'll stink. Jesus, what are you doing?" Much like us today, arguing with God when He begins to work in a way that we didn't forsee or agree with. But again, Jesus wants their understanding of Him to increase, so He continues with His plan.

With three simple words, everything changes. The dead man comes back to life. He walks out of the tomb. And everyone's perspective changes. God has walked with them through the darkness and taught them that He is bigger than they ever believed and prepared them for a new life with that perspective.

How is God working to change your perspective of Him?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Day 20: John 5


Do you want to get well? This is a key question, because our lives look quite a bit like the pool at Bethesda. If we could peel back the outward, physical shell and look at the spiritual nature of things, we would see a scene very much like this. While many are strong physically, their spiritual state is that they are lying around, helpless. This is no way to live. Broken. Hurting. Shamed. Alone. Disconnected. Not when God has so much more in store for us.

When Jesus sees us, the appropriate question is "Do you want to get well?" There are some who do not. They are content to lie there. They have no ambition to change. Others long to see abundant life; they want to live, not just experience some shell of living. They want to get well.

Just as the key to healing for the paralytic was Jesus, the key for finding the life we seek lies in Jesus. It has been the focus of the work of the Godhead to secure our souls. The Father has planned it for all of eternity. He is working today to make it happen in lives all around us. The Son is also working. He came to secure life for us, by giving His in our place. He is standing in our place even now, interceding for us. He has ascended to Heaven and sent the Holy Spirit. Today the Spirit is working to draw people to God, to convict them of their sin, to show them that they fall short of God's righteousness, and to convince them of the coming judgement. God is working to save our souls.

How is this salvation secured? How are we made well? Just as the paralytic on the mat was healed by hearing and believing Jesus' command to get up and walk, we are healed by hearing and believing His word. Jesus has finished the work. He has died as a sacrifice for our sin. He has secured forgiveness and healing for us.

All that remains is for us to believe. "I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word an believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life" (vs. 24). Jesus heals our brokenness and gives us strength to walk. We are to hear and obey. Just as the man responded by carrying his mat, we are to follow as He gives us direction.

He offers life. Do you want to get well?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Day 19: John 3


The story of Jesus is an amazing one. The Gospel, the Good News about Jesus, is so simple that a child can understand it and yet, it is so profound, that religious leaders are mystified by it.

Such is the case for Nicodemus. He is a Pharisee, a teacher of the law, a religious leader, and a very successful one. This was a man who took God seriously, far more seriously than us. He had dedicated his entire life to studying the Scriptures, following them precisely, and teaching others. Yet, when he encounters Jesus, he is stumped. It is obvious that Jesus is no ordinary man. The works that He does testify that He is more than just another man. But surely He cannot be God. Would God come like this? Where is the pomp and circumstance? Where are the trappings of royalty and power? Why is He not demanding the worship of those He encounters? He seems so human and yet so different.

Jesus explains to Nicodemus that He is very close to the kingdom of God, but he requires a spiritual birth. We have all been physically born and this inaugurates or physical lives. From our birth we are conditioned to take control of our lives, to make our own way. However, "our own way" alienates and offends God; it seperates us from Him. Now Jesus is saying that to be reunited with God, we must undergo a new birth by the Spirit. It requires the Spirit of God giving us understanding about Jesus and what He has done. This is entirely a work of God, we cannot control it or predict when, where, or how it will take place. This new understanding leads to one point, do we believe in Jesus? Not just as a historical figure, but do we believe that Jesus has given His life in our place, to take our condemnation and win for us life with God?

Verses 16-18 are some of the most beautiful in the Bible. Here, God shows us that because of His great love for us, He gave His most precious possession, His Son. Jesus did not come to judge and condemn, but through His life, the basis for condemnation comes. Jesus does not condemn us, instead, the choice is ours. We believe in Him and are free from condemnation. If we do not believe, that is itself condemnation for us. God draws us to the point, but the choice is ours.

To illustrate, Jesus points back to a story in the Old Testament (Numbers 21:4-9). The Israelites are wandering in the wilderness, somewhere between God miraculously rescuing them from Egypt and the point when they are prepared to enter and receive the Promised Land that God gives them. During this time, God provides for all of their needs - they are miraculously fed, their clothes do not wear out, God personally guides them - and yet it is not good enough. They grumble and complain about what God is doing; in fact, they wish to return to slavery in Egypt rather than follow God anymore. God's patience wears out and He send serpents throughout the camp. They bite many people and they die. The people see their sin and ask Moses to pray and ask for God's forgiveness. In reply, God tells Moses to make a bronze serpent and put it on a pole. If the people who have been bitten will look at the pole, they will be healed. Jesus tells Nicodemus that He will one day be lifted up on a pole just like the serpent. For everyone who believes and looks to Him for forgiveness and healing, he will find exactly what he seeks.

We are all like the people of Israel. God gives more than we could ever ask for or imagine, and yet we complain. We turn against Him and seek our own way. We offend him, cut him out, and seek to put ourselves in the position of God. As a result, we are given a sentence of death. Just like the serpent's poison, sin enters our lives and kills off everything. It takes our life, injures those we love, and sentences us to death. God's solution is the same. Look to the Son who was lifted up on the cross in our place. When we look to Him and believe, we are healed. Our lives become one of looking to the Son to find life.

Do you believe?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Day 18: Matthew 5-6


I generally paint with a broad brush. The lawnmower picks up most of the leaves and the one's it doesn't it chops into really little pieces that are hard to see from the road. Good enough. Rarely do I get to the point of worrying about the little things.

That's how most people handle their spiritual lives as well. I'm amazed at how quickly I can convince myself that I'm a good guy. That is the most common response I hear when asking someone about their spiritual life. One problem with that is that I have no frame of reference for that comment. They seem nice enough . . . but when they shut the door and close the garage, who knows? After all, how many times have you heard an interview on the news with the neighbor of a murderer and they say, "He seemed like such a nice person."

The other problem is that we grade on a sliding scale and God doesn't. What God expects is perfection (5:48) and perfection as He defines it, not me. There's defiinitely a different definition when my wife tells my boys to "clean their rooms." Clean means one thing for her and something totally different for them. It's the same way with us, God defines perfection differently than we do. We define perfection as pretty good, as in "I got more than half of it right." God defines perfection as being, well, perfect. Not only that, but He takes the things we think we've gotten right and makes them even tougher to meet.

That's what Jesus is doing in these chapters. He's taking the traditional religious interpretation and defining it as God sees it. For example, the traditional religious interpretation of murder is "don't take someone's life." Jesus defines it as much more than that. Rather than just the outward expression of murder, He talks about the internal attitudes and motivations. God expects that you will not become angry with your brother. That is a whole different ballgame.

The point of Jesus' teaching is to expose our sin and shame. He wants to do more than just make us feel guilty or further weighted down by God's expectations. The people that Jesus is addressing were worn-out, tired, poor, and marginalized. Most of the religious community simply pointed out how much they were not worthy of God and tried to keep them seperate. Jesus' did not intend to increase that feeling. Instead, He wants to get them to the point where they give up all hope in themselves and see Him as their only hope.

When perfection (as God defines it) is our standard (and it is), it pushes us to the point that we realize we are hopeless. We look at the area of our life that we really want to change and see how hopeless we are to alter our behavior. This leaves us with only one hope - God. God has provided us with hope in Jesus. We can't meet God's righteous expectation for our lives, but Jesus has already done that for us. He fulfilled the law completely (5:17). In His life, we see life as God desires, with no failures, no faults, no sin whatsoever. He is perfect.

While He is perfect, God placed on Him all of our imperfections. Every sin we committed was placed on Jesus. Every wrong thought, attitude, action, or omission was placed on Him. God said the penalty for those things was death, so Jesus died for them. He took our place on the cross. We deserved to die, not Him. We earned the punishment that was coming, not Him. But He stepped in and took our place. He became the sacrifice for our sins.

The one thing that remains for us is to confess how hopeless we are without Jesus. We confess that we cannot live the life God desires. We also express our belief that Jesus died for us, in our place, to pay the debt we owed and could never pay. This belief is called faith and it brings the gift of God's grace, His unmerited favor. That favor grants us a place in His family, forgiveness of our sins, and the power to live a new life. Alone, we cannot change. We are bound to our habits and sins, but with God's presence in us, we are freed from our bondage to sin and enabled to live a new life.

The bad news comes first, you have to be perfect and you're not even close. Then God shares the remedy, Jesus died in your place to fulfill all of my requirements for your life. This is the good news, that "by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy" (Heb. 10:14).

With Jesus, we are perfect.

Day 17: Luke 4:14-44


Seldom does anyone have an issue with authority when they agree with what they are told. The rub comes when we don't agree with what the authority tells us. Then a decision must be made, do I do what the authority tells me or do I usurp them and make myself the authority.

That is the question that Jesus presents to us. Who will be the authority in life? Will we listen to Him and obey Him or will we reject His teaching and make our own decisions. This is the essence of sin. We remove God from authority and place ourselves in His position.

Jesus initiated His ministry and throughout, the people are amazed by the authority and power with which He taught. However, they still chose to ignore His authority when they did not agree with it. We may look at them and think condescendingly about their attitudes and approach, but we have to realize that we do the same things today.

Jesus arrives in His home of Nazareth and goes to the center of teaching on the day of worship. He is surrounded by people who had known him for the past 30 years. They had seen him laboring alongside Joseph, His earthly father. He had grown up playing with their kids. At some point, He had left home and during this time, amazing reports began coming in about things He had said and done. This is the environment He faces as He takes the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, opens it and begins to read (Isaiah 61:1-2). After reading this portion of Scripture that predicts the coming Messiah (Saviour), Jesus makes a claim that He is the one predicted.

The people are amazed by His teaching, but begin to ask "How can this be? We've known Him. He grew up in the house of Joseph." The question is one of authority. How can someone who was raised among us be any better than us? What makes Him any different? They do not have the faith necessary to believe what Jesus claims.

In response to this, Jesus' teaching becomes more pointed. Instead of "God is on your side. I am the demonstration of that," Jesus begins to rebuke their lack of faith. He does so by pointing to two examples where God bypassed His "chosen people" the Jews and worked through "unclean people," the Gentiles. Neither the widow nor Naaman were Jews; they were Gentiles. The Jews saw the Gentiles on the level of dogs and other animals - certainly God would never stoop to involve Himself with them. Now Jesus is saying that the Jews are not recipients of God's grace due to their pride, but that the Gentiles will receive His grace because they will humble accept it by faith.

This is not well received and they face the question, "Who is the authority?" Is Jesus the authority? Do the words of God carry the day, even when they are not what we want to hear? The Jews in Nazareth made their decision very clearly. They walked Jesus to the edge of the cliff, ready to push Him off, when God miraculously enabled Him to escape.

Today, there is no escape needed. God comes to us and presents Himself by the power of the Spirit through the Scriptures. In Nazareth, Jesus spoke on the authority of the Scriptures, empowered by the Spirit. We encounter Jesus, just as the people in Nazareth. Just like them, as we read the Scriptures, we will find things that we don't like. There will be things that will be painful. There will be moments that we see things we don't like about ourselves. The question will be, who is the authority - us or Jesus?

There will be no attempt to kill Jesus if we reject Him as the authority. That would be unnecessary. We already killed him. We were present, driving the nails through his hands and feet, just as much as the Roman soldiers. It was our sins that led Him to the cross. Our sins brought His death. He was there, in our place, paying the debt we owed. Once and for all, Jesus demonstrated His authority because He died and was buried, but after three days, He rose to life. Jesus defeated forever the enemies of sin, death, and the grave. He has proven once and for all His authority and opened the way to God. The question is not, will we kill Him, we already have. The question is, will we follow Him?

Jesus presents Himself to you today. You have a choice, to make Him the authority for your life or take that place yourself. Jesus is willing to let you decide and you will live with the decision. Just like the people of Nazareth, if you choose to be your own authority, you will find yourself standing in the crowd on the cliff wondering, "Where did Jesus go?" He won't strive with us forever, at some point He will allow us to have what we have chosen.

Jesus is the authority, but the choice remains yours.

Day 16: John 1:1-18


God has come to us. This sets Christianity apart from every other world religion. They teach that we gaze into the heavens and try to get to god. We reach out for him and possibly get his attention or earn our way there. Christianity alone teaches that God bends down to reach for man. He knew that we could never reach or know Him on our own, so He came to us.

Jesus is God. He is not a secondary person in heaven. When it all began, Jesus had already been present. He was not created, He has eternally existed with the Father and the Spirit. He was the active agent in Creation and know He will be the active agent in redeeming Creation from the Fall.

He has been the object of the attention of godly men for thousands of years. God told Adam and Eve that He was coming. Abraham was promised His arrival to bless all the nations. King David spoke of His coming, as did the prophets. All of Israel was waiting and anticipating the One that God would send to set them free. And when He came, no one noticed. They did not recognize Him. They rejected Him. He didn't come the way that they were expecting. They wanted to see the skies split and God charge through in all His brilliance. Instead, He came as a baby and grew into a man. He looked just like one of us . . . but He was so much more.

To those who did know Him and receive Him, He provided more than they could have ever hoped for. He provided freedom from the law and ushered in grace. He came bringing grace and truth. These were the two hallmarks of His life. Those who had always been cast aside and excluded found grace in Jesus. Those the religious elite viewed as worthless became the companions of God. Those who had made a mess of their lives were warmly welcomed. Women and children, who had nothing to offer in that culture, were cherished. The poor, the weak, the sick, the frail, the sinful, the outcast, the prostitutes, the demon possessed, the fatherless, the widow . . . they all received grace, forgiveness, acceptance, and community.

Everyone who encountered Him encountered truth. He did not play along with the whims and desires of others, He brought the truth of God. The religious leaders sought to play games, but Jesus would have none of it. Instead of theory and conjecture, Jesus declared the truth of God with power. No falsehood could remain. No one could hide behind their excuses or rationalizing. Jesus saw their hearts, their motives, their desires. Those that were wrong, he corrected. Those that were righteous, he fulfilled.

Jesus was more than we ever hoped for but came in a way we would never have expected. He still comes to people today. To those that receive Him, He is like the light of morning dawning on one lost in the wilderness. He is the light. He is the life. He has come to make God known to us. He has come to make us children of God.

God has come . . . for you.

Day 15: Luke 1-2


You would think that the moment that changed all of history would be more . . . well, glamorous. You'd expect it to take place at the center of all that was happening in the world, on a grand stage, with everything in lights. Surely, there would be a big proclamation, something that would grab everyone's attention. Instead, this world changing event took place in relative quiet, almost a footnote to everything that was going on. In fact, if you weren't one of the few looking for it or the others who got a special notice from God, you wouldn't have even known that it took place.

God had done the impossible. He had come as a man. His created children have run from Him. He has chosen to pursue them; He loves them too much to allow them to run forever. To pursue them, He has become one of them.

The entire Old Testament has been pointing to the day that the Savior would come. Everything is pointing to a Savior who will come and redeem us from slavery to sin. In the last book of the Old Testament, Malachi, God has given His last words for 400 years. In effect, He is saying, "You have everything you need to know. Now watch and wait for it to take place." The last prophecies He gives about the coming Savior are in Malachi 3:1 and 4:5-6. The say that there will be a messenger who will come first, in the spirit of Elijah (one of the Old Testament prophets who was taken up in a chariot of fire to be with the Lord - 2 Kings 2). He will prepare the way, then suddenly, the Lord will come to the temple.

There is an abruptness to the things that take place. God is saying nothing, then suddenly, He's at work. He is and always has been in control of all that is happening. To send the prophet that was to prepare the way, God chooses a barren woman. He opens her womb and gives her a child, John, who will go in the spirit and power of Elijah to prepare the way (1:17).

Then, as if that wasn't enough, God chooses a virgin to bear the Savior. She becomes pregnant with the Son of God through the power of the Spirit. Instead of honor and praise, she will be the object of shame and ridicule. Jesus doesn't appear to be the Son of God. He appears to be a bastard, the product of sin and the object of shame.

All of this is taking place in the backwoods of everyday life. The average person would know nothing about it. The Jews were unaware that the object of all their hopes and dreams was coming. it was all so average, so humble, so unworthy of God.

It seems as if God can't keep totally silent though. When something incredible happens, you've got to tell someone, right? So God lets a few people in on the secret. He goes to the humble, marginalized ones. We would have chosen the kings, the governors, the important people. God chose the ones who had nothing to offer. He goes to shepherds, an old man, and a forgotten woman. Each of them was able to see the object of all their hopes and dreams . . . a baby.

A baby. There could hardly been a less-likely appearance of God on the earth. Such a fragile, helpless beginning for a Savior. In a backwater town, in a dingy stable, wrapped in rags, lay the hope of the world. The one who would redeem God's people and restore His world. The power of God present in the most unlikely form.

He still works that way today. God delights in the impossible. He loves to move in the unnoticed and overlooked. He loves to come to the humble and forgotten. Most of all, He delights to work in the impossible. The thing in your life that "can't be of God" may be the very avenue where He chooses to reveal His power. After all, that's how Jesus came.

For nothing is impossible with God.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

14: Isaiah 9, 53, 61

Good News.

A piece of good news is a refreshing break in the otherwise depressing monotony of our fallen world. Think about the news you are bombarded with every day - shootings, fires, disasters, wars, robberies, assaults, perversions. These are just a few samples of the exhibits of the depravity of man. Our world is broken and there is seldom any good news to come from it.

When there is some bit of good news, the world seems to stop and everything focuses on it. It captures our attention because it is unusual. The wall falls. The child is rescued from the well. The little girl long missing is found unharmed. The miners come out alive. Good news is jarring in its uniqueness.

Jesus has this same effect. His story is good news to those who hear it. It is the hope of salvation for those who have given up hope. He brings rescue to those who are about to go under for the last time. He is a light cutting through the darkness that engulfs us.

This is what we read in Isaiah. Jesus is the one to bring the light of hope to the darkness where we dwell. All around us we see hopelessness - the brokeness of man inflicting pain on the world around us. We are lost in the dark, long past hope of rescue. Then, off in the distance, a light pierces the darkness. Hope of salvation. Jesus.

He has come, not simply to rescue us, but to undo all that we have broken. To set right all the wrongs of men. To bring peace, justice, and righteousness . . . forever. He has come to break the power of sin and death that engulfs our lives and our world. He has come to restore God's desire for His Creation.

How will this occur? As He steps into the gulf between God and man. He will satisfy the holy wrath of God against our sins by being crushed in our place. God came to men and we rejected Him. In spite of the rejection, He took our sins on Himself. He bore the wrath of God for us; died the death that we deserved, so that we would not have to face it. He was crushed, completely broken. He suffered greatly. He was wounded, pierced, slaughered on our behalf. The result? We can now have peace with God. The opportunity is there to have our debt erased, our record cleared, our pardon secured and our wounds healed. Broken hearts are healed. Captives are set free. Mourning is turned to dancing. Joy takes the place of despair. All because of God's sacrifice on our behalf.

Jesus has come. He died for us. He took our sin, shame, and punishment. That is Good News.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Day 13: Ezra 3


God is faithful. The Israelites were told that they would be overthrown by a foreign nation if they did not follow the laws of God. This occurred and they were taken to captivity in Babylon. God promised that this captivity would last 70 years and that they would return to Jerusalem and the foreign nation that had judged them would be overthrown. This occurred when Cyrus the Persian overthrew Babylon. In Ezra, we see that God is at work to provide a way for the people to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple (and later the walls - see Nehemiah). Chapter three shows us the rebuilding of the Temple and the altars, so that the worship of God can begin again.

We can related because at some point, we have all sat and looked and sifted through the wreckage and debris of our devastated lives. We are haunted by the thoughts of what might have been, what we wish we had done, and where we went wrong. It can be an overwhelming experience. Many of us have to hit rock bottom before we look to God . . . and the view from the bottom is daunting.

Thankfully, God is a God of second chances. He gives us the opportunity to begin again. He doesn't tell us to climb out of the hole we've dug for ourselves before He will help us. Rather, He is eager to support us when we turn to Him. The Psalms say that He hears our cry for help, lifts us out of the mire of our lives, and sets our feet on a firm place to stand (see Ps. 40:1-4). The question for us is, when will we get sick of wallowing in the mud and muck that we've created and call for help?

Two things in the passage stand out as obstacles to crying for God's help and turning to Him - fear and regret.

Admittedly, it is a daunting thing to wrestle with turning from all that you have known and turning to God. It can seem so abstract, strange, and unfamiliar. What will my friends think? What about my family? What impact will it have on my life? Fear of the unknown can paralyze us and keep us from acting. The Israelites who returned to Israel knew this fear. Verse 3 says, "Despite their fear of the peoples around them, they built the altar on its foundation and sacrificed burnt offerings on it to the LORD. . . " Were they afraid of what might be the outcome? Yes. They were even more concerned about turning their backs once more on the God who had worked to restore their lives to them. They ultimately decided that whatever resulted from following God was better than the devastation wrought by ignoring Him. They overcame their fear by looking forward to what was to come.

Regret is the other emotion that stands out here. When the foundations of the temple were laid, they did not compare to the former glory of the Temple. Also, the glorious presence of God was absent. Many of the people who stood there remembered what it was like before and were filled with sadness and regret. It is not unlike someone who finally responds to God as an adult. They look back on the wasted years, the sadness they've indured, the pain that has been inflicted and they are filled with regret. Sometimes this can force them to simply sit and weep and mourn, but that is not what God desires. God does not dwell on what is behind us, but wants us to put that aside and press onward to what lies ahead (Philippians 3:13-14).

We are to look back with godly sorrow over our misdeeds - that is called conviction. However, we do not remain there. Instead, we freely receive the forgiveness and fresh start that Jesus offers us. Will it be a struggle to rebuild parts of the Temple and the wall? Absolutely, and it may take effort to rebuild our lives as well. However, we know that Jesus is with us every step of the way. When we stumble, He is there to pick us up and get us back on our feet. He is there to guide us and give us strength.

Will there be regret? Sure. Will our lives ever reach the former glory know by Adam? Not yet. But keep pressing on. Today is not the end. God isn't finished yet. He is still working to rebuild all that we have broken. One day, not only will the former glory be restored, it will be surpassed. One day, Jesus will return for us. One day, He will create a new heaven, a new earth, a new Jerusalem. On that day, we will be present and there will be no regrets. On that day, God will be present with us and He will wipe away every tear. That day will bring the end of all mourning and sorrow, because on that day, all of our hopes and dreams will be fulfilled forever (Rev. 21:1-5).

Don't stop. Don't turn back. God isn't finished rebuilding yet.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Day 12: Daniel 2-3


This is what we really have in mind when we think of following God. We've got the "trump card" that will enable us to come out on top, no matter what. We want to be able to play the God card and receive deliverance from all our troubles. . . and if He is glorified along the way, even better! As we look closer, I'm not sure this is what we really want after all. I mean, the final scene is great, but when you look at the whole story . . . I might rather take a pass.

The key issue is this: God delivers us from trouble. That is what we want and what we need. Our sins and the sins of those around us get us into difficulty, trial, and trouble. In this case, we see both. It was both the sins of the individual Israelites and the corporate sins of the nation of Israel that led God to judge them by the hand of a foreign nation. That led to the overthrow of Israel and caused these young men to be led into captivity. While in exile in Babylon, it was not their sin but the sin of King Nebuchadnezzar that brought them trouble. No matter who we are or where we reside, our lives will encounter trouble as the result of our sin or the sins of those around us.

The problem is this: God doesn't deliver us from trouble, He delivers us through it. We want deliverance from trouble - meaning that I never have to walk through the difficulty. We want God to keep us from all hurt and harm. However, throughout Scripture, we see that God is a God who delivers us through trouble. Our lives are preserved and He is glorified, but we have to journey through the difficulty. Once we reach the other side, we find that it is a place of prosperity (Ps. 66:8-12). We have a better understanding of who God is, we are better equipped to trust Him, our character is refined, and our lives prosper as a result. However, to get there we have to endure the trial. We have to face the difficulty ahead with no hope but God.

As we read these words, the challenge does not seem so great. Ok, here comes some difficulty, so I have to remain focused on Jesus and He'll see me through. In the abstract, it all seems so simple. But then, we face the situation in real life and everything changes.

The reality is, we are not promised deliverance in the sense we read it here. In fact, these stories are ones that sound great because God chose to grant them deliverance and spare their lives. They were not guaranteed that ahead of time. Death was a real possibility. Throughout history, God has often granted deliverance to His children by allowing them to come home to Him instead of retaining their lives on earth. The ones who lived through their trials are not better than those who did not, they were simply given a different course, because that was God's choice for them (see Heb. 11:32-40, Acts 7:54-60 for two examples).

In this case, Daniel was facing death. His only hope was to turn to God. Perhaps God would grant him the ability to do the impossible. Everyone agreed that what had to be done could not be done. However, Daniel realized that God could do it if He chose. The problem for Daniel was that God did not have to do the impossible and if he didn't, Daniel would die. That cold, hard reality should never escape us. But God did the impossible. The result? Everyone worships the God of heaven. He has demonstrated that He is far greater than the king, the "wise men," and even Daniel. He alone is God.

Nebuchadnezzar had not learned his lesson and builds an idol to himself. In his mind, he was the greatest power in the world and deserved the worship of all people. This was not the reality and the three young Hebrews knew it. To worship him would be an offense to the One True God. So they refused. But this did not take place in a climate of religious tolerance like we live in. This took place in a time when the king's words were law. Their actions could bring only one outcome - death.

The king threatens this exact thing and the response is beautiful. "The God we serve is able to save us . . . but even if he does not . . . we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up." (3:17-18)

At this point, we want the skies to part and God to slay the king or something like that. But He doesn't. God's children find that their hands are bound and they are sentenced to die. As they approach the fire, it is so hot that some of the strongest warriors in the king's command drop dead. When they fall, the Hebrew men fall into the fire. What were they thinking? Did they think God had chosen to not rescue them? Were they still looking for His deliverance? What do we think as the circumstances worsen?

They find themselves in the furnace. The furnace that has already killed several soldiers. They look around and see that none of them are burned. In fact, the fire has no effect at all, except one. The ropes that bound them are gone. God has used the fire to remove the thing that held them back. As they look around to see what has happened, they see the greatest thing of all. There, in the middle of the fire, when all hope is lost, Jesus is standing with them.

We never know the outcome of the trials we face. Our faith does not guarantee that the diagnosis will be proven wrong, the problems will disappear, or that no trouble will ever touch us. One thing our faith does guarantee is that Jesus will be there with us in the middle of the worst of it all. Jesus, who faced every trial and difficulty we will ever face. Jesus, who died in our place and faced death, the most feared of all penalties, on our behalf. Jesus, who still bears the marks of His deliverance and ours on His hands and side. Jesus is right there with us.

Jesus is with you and He is God's deliverance.