Friday, January 29, 2010

ON THEIR FEET AND READY

“Saul was afraid of David, because the Lord was with him” (1Samuel 18:12).


Satan envies and fears most those who have been with God in prayer and are determined to stand up and fight in faith. Satan fears even a small army of those who are girded up in faith for a fight. He cowers before those who are up on their feet and ready to resist. And because he fears you, his design is to neutralize your fighting spirit.


The devil does this by trying to flood your mind with defeating, distracting, hellish thoughts that breed mistrust and questions about God’s power. He’ll scream into your mind and spirit, “It’s no use fighting any more. You are too weak from your personal struggles. You’re never going to be an overcomer. The powers of hell are just too big to overcome. So, you might as well relax. You don’t need to be so intense about the battle anymore.”


This is all a distraction! Satan’s entire strategy is to get you to take your eyes off the victory of the Cross. He wants to turn your focus onto your weaknesses, your sins, your shortcomings—and that’s why he turns up the heat of your present problems and sufferings. He wants to make you believe you aren’t strong enough to go on. But your strength is not the point: Jesus’ strength is!


The fact is, we’re all going to be in a fight until we either die or Jesus comes back. We may be given seasons of calm, times of reprieve. But as long as we are on this earth, we are engaged in spiritual warfare. And there is simply no end to these battles. That’s why Paul says Jesus has given us weapons that are mighty to the pulling down of strongholds. We have been equipped with weapons that Satan cannot withstand: prayer, fasting and faith.


The time has come for us to get our focus unstuck from our current afflictions. We must take our eyes off our trials and fix them on the Captain of this war. Jesus holds the key to all victory and he has promised us: “I have supplied you with every weapon needed for battle. And I am ready and willing to give you strength in times of weakness.”

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A PLEASING WALK

The Apostle Paul taught the Colossian church: “Walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10).


What is required for a pleasing walk? Paul tells us: “Put on therefore, as the chosen of God, holy and beloved, a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, whoever has a complaint against another; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you” (Colossians 3:12-13, my paraphrase).


Paul is telling us in so many words: “Here is my word to you in these critical times. In light of the hard times you know are coming, you are to measure your walk with the Lord.”


In other words, we are to ask ourselves: “Am I becoming more like Christ? Am I growing more patient, or more quick-tempered? Kinder and gentler, or meaner and more argumentative? More tender and forgiving, or more bitter, holding onto grudges? Do I ‘bear with others’? Do I put up with the weaknesses and faults of those near to me, or do I always have to be right?”


Paul is suggesting that, in light of such a coming day, it doesn’t matter what works you accomplish or what charitable deeds you do. No matter how kind you are to strangers, no matter how many souls you bring to Christ, this question remains: Are you becoming more loving, patient, forgiving, forbearing?


Examining your walk with Christ means looking not so much at what you are doing, as at what you are becoming. Such a walk cannot be achieved by human effort alone. It won’t happen by self-determination, merely saying, “I am going to become that kind of believer.” Rather, it happens by the work of the Holy Spirit, through faith in his Word.

First, we read these words and believe them to be God’s call to us, to examine ourselves. So we ask the Spirit to show us who we truly are, and measure ourselves by his Word. Then we ask the Holy Spirit to help us change.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

CHASING AWAY THE VULTURES

In Genesis 15, God made a glorious agreement with Abraham. He instructed the patriarch to take a female heifer and a female goat and cut them in two. Then Abraham was to take a turtledove and a pigeon and lay them on the ground, head to head. Abraham did as he was instructed, and as these creatures lay bleeding, vultures began to descend on the carcasses. Suddenly, Abraham felt a terrible darkness surrounding him. What was this darkness? It was Satan in a panic.


How do you think Satan reacts when he sees all the promises of God becoming yours, as you give your life to Jesus? The devil goes into a jealous rage. Then when he sees your firm resolve to go all the way with the Lord, there is only one way for him to react: all of hell goes into a panic!


What did Abraham do when the vultures came? Scripture says he chased them away. Likewise, the Lord has shown us a way to deal with menacing vultures. We don’t have to be afraid of the devil’s attacks, because we have been given mighty weapons of warfare.


Whenever any voice of doubt or questioning of God comes into my mind, I have to line it up against what I know about my loving Lord. I can’t accept any thoughts as true if they are based on simply what I am feeling in the moment. They have to be measured against Jesus’ promises to me about himself and about the victory he has won for me.


Simply put, if thoughts come to me that are accusing—if they cause doubt and fear, or are condemning, or bring a sense of rejection—I know they are not of God. We all have to be prepared for such horrible thoughts to come. Even the Lord Jesus was subject to these kinds of thoughts from the enemy during his wilderness temptation.


When vultures come at you, bringing thoughts of unworthiness and insecurity, chase them away with God’s Word. The sacrifice that the Lord has led you to make is pleasing to him, and he will honor it.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

“HE BEING DEAD YET SPEAKETH”

As we read Hebrews 11, we find a single common denominator to the lives of the people mentioned. Each had a particular characteristic that denotes the kind of faith God loves. What was this element? Their faith was born of deep intimacy with the Lord.


The fact is, it’s impossible to have a faith that pleases God without sharing intimacy with him. What do I mean by intimacy? I’m speaking of a closeness to the Lord that comes from yearning after him. This kind of intimacy is a close personal bond, a communion. It comes when we desire the Lord more than anything else in this life.


“By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and by it he being dead yet speaketh” (Hebrews 11:4). I want to note several significant things about this verse. First, God himself testifieth of Abel’s gifts, or offerings. Second, Abel had to build an altar to the Lord, where he brought his sacrifices. And he offered not only unspotted lambs for the sacrifice, but the fat of those lambs as well. “And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof” (Genesis 4:4).


What does the fat signify here? The book of Leviticus say of the fat, “It is the food of the offering made by fire for a sweet savour: all the fat is the Lord’s” (Leviticus 3:16). The fat was the part of the sacrifice that caused a sweet aroma to rise. This part of the animal caught flame quickly and was consumed, bringing about the sweet smell. The fat here serves as a type of prayer or fellowship that’s acceptable to God. It represents our ministry to the Lord in the secret closet of prayer. And the Lord himself states that such intimate worship rises to him like a sweet-smelling savor.


The Bible’s first mention of this kind of worship is by Abel. That is why Abel is listed in Hebrews 11’s Hall of Faith. He’s a type of servant who was in fellowship with the Lord, offering him the best of all he had. As Hebrews declares, Abel’s example lives on today as a testimony of true, living faith: “He being dead yet speaketh” (Hebrews 11:4).

Monday, January 25, 2010

INCREASE OUR FAITH

Mark 4 relates a story of Jesus and his disciples in a boat, being tossed about on a stormy sea. As we pick up the scene, Christ has just calmed the waves with a single command. Now he turns to his disciples and asks, “How is it that ye have no faith?” (Mark 4:40).


You may think this sounds harsh. It was only human to fear in such a storm. But Jesus wasn’t chiding them for that reason. Rather, he was telling them, “After all this time with me, you still don’t know who I am. How could you possibly walk with me for this long, and not know me intimately?”


Indeed, the disciples were astonished by the amazing miracle Jesus had performed. “They feared exceedingly, and said to one another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (4:41).


Can you imagine it? Jesus’ own disciples didn’t know him. He had personally called each of these men to follow him and they had ministered alongside him, to multitudes of people. They’d performed miracles of healing, and fed masses of hungry people. But they were still strangers to who their Master really was.


Tragically, the same is true today. Multitudes of Christians have ridden in the boat with Jesus, ministered alongside him, and reached multitudes in his name. But they really don’t know their Master. They haven’t spent intimate time shut in with him. They’ve never sat quietly in his presence, opening their hearts to him, waiting and listening to comprehend what he wants to say to them.


We see another scene regarding the disciples’ faith in Luke 17. The disciples came to Jesus, requesting, “Increase our faith” (Luke 17:5). Many Christians today ask the same question: “How can I obtain faith?” But they don’t seek the Lord himself for their answer.


If you want increased faith, you have to do the same thing Jesus told his disciples to do in this passage. How did he answer their request for faith? “Gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken” (17:8). Jesus was saying, in essence, “Put on your garment of patience. Then come to my table and sup with me. I want you to feed me there. You happily labor for me all day long. Now I want you to commune with me. Sit down with me, open your heart, and learn of me.”

Friday, January 22, 2010

HE PLEASED GOD

Enoch enjoyed close fellowship with the Lord. In fact, his communion with God was so intimate, the Lord translated him to glory long before his life on earth might have ended. “By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God” (Hebrews 11:5).


Why did the Lord choose to translate Enoch? The opening word of this verse tells us very plainly that it was because of his faith. Moreover, the closing phrase tells us Enoch’s faith pleased God. The Greek root word for please here means fully united, wholly agreeable, in total oneness. In short, Enoch had the closest possible communion with the Lord that any human being could enjoy. And this intimate fellowship was pleasing to God.


The Bible tells us Enoch began walking with the Lord after he begot his son, Methuselah. Enoch was sixty-five at the time. He then spent the next 300 years fellowshipping with God intimately. Hebrews makes it clear that Enoch was so in touch with the Father, so close to him in hourly communion, God chose to bring him home to himself. The Lord said to Enoch, in essence, “I can’t take you any further in the flesh. To increase my intimacy with you, I have to bring you to my side.” So he whisked Enoch away to glory.


According to Hebrews 11:5, it was Enoch’s intimacy that pleased God. To our knowledge, this man never performed a miracle, never developed a profound theology, never did any great works worthy of mention in Scripture. Instead we read this simple description of this faithful man’s life: “Enoch walked with God.”


Enoch had intimate communion with the Father. And his life is yet another testimony of what it means to truly walk in faith.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

FRIEND OF GOD

Consider the way God himself described his relationship with Abraham: “Abraham my friend” (Isaiah 41:8). Likewise the New Testament tells us, “Abraham believed God…and he was called the Friend of God” (James 2:23).


What an incredible commendation, to be called the friend of God. Most Christians have sung the well-known hymn, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” These biblical passages bring home that truth with power. To have the Creator of the universe call a man his friend seems beyond human comprehension. Yet it happened with Abraham. It’s a sign of this man’s great intimacy with God.


The Hebrew word that Isaiah uses for friend here signifies affection and closeness. And in the Greek, James’ word for friend means a dear, close associate. Both imply a deep, shared intimacy.


The closer we grow to Christ, the greater our desire becomes to live wholly in his presence. Moreover, we begin to see more clearly that Jesus is our only true foundation.


The Bible tells us Abraham “looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10). To Abraham, nothing in this life was permanent. Scripture says the world was “a strange place” to him. It was no place to put down roots. The heavenly country Abraham yearned for isn’t a literal place. Rather, it is being home with the Father. You see, the Hebrew word for this phrase, “heavenly country,” is Pater. It comes from a root word meaning Father. So, the heavenly country Abraham sought was, literally, a place with the Father.


Yet Abraham was no mystic. He was not an ascetic who put on holy airs and lived in a spiritual haze. This man lived an earthly life, heavily involved in the world’s affairs. After all, he was the owner of thousands of head of livestock. And he had enough servants to form a small militia. Abraham had to be a busy man, directing his servants and buying and selling his cattle, sheep and goats.


Yet somehow, despite his many business affairs and responsibilities, Abraham found time for intimacy with the Lord.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

THE POWER OF STAYING GREEN

I was led to read and study Revelation 9, the chapter on the locusts. As I read verse 4, about God’s command to the locusts not to destroy anything green, a thought leaped out at me.


I realized that here was the key to remaining safe in any time of terror: “stay green.” David wrote, “I am like a green olive tree in the house of my God…for ever and ever” (Psalm 52:8).


The “green” that David refers to here signifies spiritual health. It means to flourish, grow, be fruitful. David is telling us, “My health comes from trusting God. I flourish because I turn to him. My trust in him produces spiritual life in me.”

Here is a glorious truth about the power of staying green. “Thus saith the Lord; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord. For he shall be like the heath in the desert, and shall not see when good cometh; but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land and not inhabited” (Jeremiah 17:5-6).


The Lord is warning, “Don’t trust in man. If you put your faith in human power rather than in me, you’ll be cursed.”

Yet, if we put our trust in the Lord, here is what our faith will produce: “Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is. For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit” (17:7-8).


As we trust wholly in the Father, we put down roots in his river of health. And his divine strength—luscious, green, spiritual health—flows in us and through us. While everything around us is decaying, we’ll flourish as green trees, healthy and strong. And when the hour of trial comes, we won’t languish or wilt. Instead, our faith will be growing.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

GOD‘S FIRE STILL BURNS

Sadly, much of Christ’s Body today resembles a modern-day Valley of Dry Bones. It is a wilderness filled with the bleached skeletons of fallen Christians. Ministers and other devoted believers have flamed out because of a besetting sin. And now they are filled with shame, hiding out in caves of their own making. Like Jeremiah, they have convinced themselves, “I will not make mention of [the Lord], nor speak any more in his name” (Jeremiah 20:9).


God is still asking the same question he asked Ezekiel: “Can these dead bones live again?” The answer to this question is an absolute, “Yes!” How? It happens by the renewing of our faith in God’s Word.


The Word of the Lord is itself a consuming fire. Indeed, it’s the only true light we have during our dark nights of despair. It’s our only defense against the enemy’s lies, when he whispers, “It’s all over. You’ve lost the fire. And you’re never going to get it back.”


The only thing that will bring us out of our darkness is faith. And faith comes by hearing God’s Word. We simply have to cling to the Word that has been implanted in us. The Lord has promised, “I will not let you go down; therefore, you have no reason to despair. There’s no cause for quitting. Rest in my Word.”


You may think, “But this dark night is worse than anything I’ve ever known. I’ve heard a thousand sermons on God’s Word, but none of it seems of any value to me now.” Don’t fret; God’s fire still burns in you, even if you can’t see it. And you’re to pour onto that fire the fuel of faith. You do this by trusting the Lord. When you do, you’ll see all your doubts and lusts consumed.


God’s Spirit is breathing life again into every set of dry bones. He’s reminding them of the Word he implanted in them. And those who once lay dead are being revived. They’re crying as Jeremiah did, “God’s fire has been shut up in me for too long. I simply can’t hold it any longer. I can feel the Lord’s power raising me up. He’s putting life in me. And I’m going to speak the Word he gave me. I’m going to proclaim his mercy and healing power.”

Monday, January 18, 2010

MY LIFE IS PRESERVED

The Bible tells us Jacob received an incredible revelation through a face-to-face encounter with God: “Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved” (Genesis 32:30). What was the circumstance surrounding this revelation? It was the lowest, scariest point in Jacob’s life. At the time, Jacob was caught between two powerful forces: his angry father-in-law, Laban, and his hostile, embittered brother, Esau.


Jacob had labored over twenty years for Laban, who’d cheated him time after time. Finally, Jacob had had enough, so without telling Laban, he took his family and fled.


Laban gave chase from the east, with a small army, ready to kill Jacob. Yet, only when God warned Laban in a dream not to harm Jacob did this man let his son-in law go. No sooner was Laban out of the picture, however, than Esau came from the west. He too led a small army of some 400 men, ready to kill his brother for stealing his birthright.


Jacob faced total calamity, convinced he was about to lose everything. Things looked utterly hopeless; yet in that dark hour, Jacob had an encounter with God as never before. He wrestled with an angel that scholars believe was the Lord himself.


Now think also about Job. In Job’s darkest hour, God appeared to him in a whirlwind. And the Lord gave this man one of the greatest revelations of himself ever witnessed by any human being.


God took Job up into the cosmos, then down into the depths of the sea. He led him into the very secrets of creation. And Job saw things that no person had ever seen. He was shown the utter glory and majesty of God. Job emerged from that experience praising God, saying, “I now know you can do anything, Lord. I repent for questioning your judgment. I see that everything is under your control and directed by your grace. You’ve had a plan all along, but now I’ve actually seen you with my eyes” (see Job 42:2-5).


Something marvelous happens when we simply trust. A peace comes over us, enabling us to say, “It doesn’t matter what comes out of this ordeal. My God has everything under control. I have nothing to fear.”

Friday, January 15, 2010

HE HOLDS ALL THE KEYS

Throughout Scripture, the greatest revelations of God’s goodness came to people in their times of trouble, calamity, isolation and hardship. We find an example of this in the life of John. For three years, this disciple was “in Jesus’ bosom.” It was a time of utter rest, peace and joy, with no troubles or trials. In all that time, John received very little revelation. He knew Jesus only as the Son of man. So, when did he receive his revelation of Christ in all his glory?


It happened only after John was dragged from Ephesus in chains. He was exiled to the Isle of Patmos, where he was sentenced to hard labor. He was isolated, with no fellowship, no family or friends to comfort him. It was a time of utter despair, the lowest point in his life.


That’s when John received the revelation of his Lord that would become the final element of Scripture: the Book of Revelation. In the midst of that dark hour, the light of the Holy Ghost came to him and John saw Jesus as he’d never seen him before. He literally saw Christ as the Son of God.


John did not receive this revelation while he was with the other apostles, or even during Jesus’ days on earth. Yet now, in his darkest hour, John saw Christ in all his glory, declaring, “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death” (Revelation 1:18). This incredible revelation put John on his face. But Jesus lifted him up and showed him the set of keys he held in his hand. And he reassured John, “Fear not” (1:17).


I believe this revelation comes to every praying, hurting servant in his or her time of need. The Holy Spirit says, “Jesus holds all the keys to life and death. So everyone’s departure rests in his hands.” This revelation is meant to bring peace to our hearts. Like John, we are to envision Jesus standing before us, holding the keys to life and death, assuring us, “Don’t be afraid. I hold all the keys.” What is our response to be? Like Job, we’re to say in faith, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).

Thursday, January 14, 2010

PEOPLE GRACE

God often uses angels to minister to people. But mostly, he uses his own caring people to dispense his grace. This is one reason we’re made partakers of his grace: to become channels of it. We are meant to dispense it to others. I call this “people grace.”


“Unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ” (Ephesians 4:7). Because of the comfort we’re given through God’s grace, it is impossible for any of us to continue grieving our whole lifetime. At some point, we are being healed by the Lord and we begin to build up a reservoir of God’s grace.


I believe this is what Paul meant when he wrote, “I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me…that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:7-8). “Ye all are partakers of my grace” (Philippians 1:7). The apostle is making a profound statement. He’s saying, “When I go to God’s throne to obtain grace, it is for your sake. I want to be a merciful shepherd to you, not a judgmental one. I want to be able to dispense grace to you in your time of need.” God’s grace made Paul a compassionate shepherd, able to weep with those who grieved.


Peter writes, “As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10). What does it mean to be a good steward, or dispenser, of God’s manifold grace? Am I such a person? Or do I spend my time praying only for my own pain, grief and struggles?


Beloved, our present sufferings are producing something precious in our lives. They are forming in us a cry for the gift of mercy and grace, to offer to others who are hurting. Our sufferings make us want to be grace givers.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

CRUMBS

The woman with the vexed daughter persisted in seeking Jesus. Finally, the disciples urged their master, “Lord, send her away, get rid of her. She won’t stop bothering us.” Note Jesus’ response to the woman’s pleas: “He answered her not a word” (Matthew 15:23). Evidently, Christ ignored the whole situation. Why would he do this? Jesus knew this woman’s story would be told to every future generation, and he wanted to reveal a truth to all who would read it. So, he tested the woman’s faith by saying, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (15:24). Christ was saying, “I came for the salvation of the Jews. Why should I waste their gospel on a Gentile?”


Now this statement would have sent most of us on our way, but the woman didn’t budge. I ask you, how often do you give up on prayer? How many times have you grown weary and reasoned, “I’ve sought the Lord. I prayed and asked. I just don’t get any results”?


Consider how this woman responded. She didn’t reply with a complaint, or an accusing finger, saying, “Why are you denying me, Jesus?” No, Scripture says just the opposite: “Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me” (15:25).


What follows next is hard to read. Once again, Jesus rebuffed the woman. Only this time his reply was even harsher. He told her, “It is not meet [right] to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs” (15:26). Once again, he was testing her.


Now the mother answered him, “Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table” (15:27). What an incredible reply. This determined woman was not going to relent in her pursuit of Jesus. And the Lord commended her for it. Jesus said to her, “O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour” (15:28).


Beloved, we are not to settle for crumbs. We have been promised all the grace and mercy we need for our crises. And that includes every crisis involving our families, saved or unsaved. We’ve been invited to come boldly to Christ’s throne, with confidence.