Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Training in Godliness! - August 31st, 2011

If you instruct the brethren in these things, you will be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed. 
But reject profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise yourself toward godliness. For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.  
This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance. For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe. These things command and teach.
1 Timothy 4:6-11

History and Context:
On Monday, we talked about verses 12-14, these are the verses which lead up to that. To refresh on the history and context of Timothy go here. Timothy was Paul's disciple and Paul wrote him with leadership principles.

The Text:
Paul often uses an analogy of physical exercise and competition in order to explain spiritual principles. This was because the physical competition was a very real thing to his audience. Paul was speaking to the area which hosted the original Olympic games, it was a large part of their culture and society. For us exercise often means a 15-20 min jog in the morning, but for them they probably thought immediately of the preparation for those games. In fact the Greek word used in this passage, Gymnazo, means "to train with one's full effort, with complete physical or emotional force." Paul told Timothy to train himself in Godliness with his full effort, with everything he had in him. He was supposed to train in Godliness as an Olympic runner trains for the race. 
What is Godliness then? When we think of Godliness we think of acting like God. We think of purity and righteousness, but according to the Greek it is more about how we think and feel than how we act. The Greek definition is "the inner response to the things of God, which expresses itself in reverence of God and for the things He holds sacred." In other words, Paul told Timothy to put full effort into training his response to, and his reverence of, God.

The Challenge:
Of course today's challenge for us is the same that Paul presented to Timothy; "exercise yourself towards Godliness". You can't train your response to the things of God unless you place yourself in opportunities to experience the things of God. Take time to revere God today; take time in worship, recognizing how great He is. Get into His presence and ask Him to speak to you. Create opportunties for God to act towards you and you can then exercise your response to Him.

The Prayer:
Lord, speak to me today, bring me into your presence, help me to exercise Godliness today. Your are a great God and I am in awe of you! In Jesus' name, Amen!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Aliens of this world - August 30th, 2011

Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands— that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ...
...Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
Ephesians 2:11-13, 19-22

History and Context:
For a short history on the book of Ephesians go to Sunday's post. Ephesus was one of the major trade centers in the New Testament world, for that reason there were many nations travelling through this city. This was why so much of the New Testament concerned Ephesus.

The Text:
Because Ephesus was one of the main trade routes, the people of Ephesus knew what it was like to be strangers and foreigners. For this reason Paul uses this analogy to describe salvation. The covenant promise at first only belonged to Israel and the Gentiles (non-Jews) were aliens and foreigners to the covenant. But through Christ we have been made fellow citizens in the kingdom of God. All saints, all Christians, are citizens of the same kingdom. This kingdom is being built on the foundation laid by the apostles and prophets and we are continuing to work together to build this kingdom.

The Challenge:
The implied message is that now that we are fellow citizens to the kingdom of God, we are now aliens and strangers to this world's kingdom. The kingdoms are opposites and we cannot be citizens of both. Jesus said that we are not of this world and we shouldn't act like we are. Understand that you are an alien to this world's system, you are a citizen of the kingdom of God. This is why, if you follow God's way for your life, people will often not understand. Because you are in a different culture, you do things differently. Keep doing it differently no matter what the world says. Follow the way that your kingdom does it not the way that the world's kingdom does it.

The Prayer:
Lord, thank you for making me a citizen of your kingdom! Help me, Lord, to act according to your culture and not the culture of this world. Help me to not be influenced by the culture that surrounds me, but help me to influence it and bring them to your kingdom. In Jesus' name, Amen!

Monday, August 29, 2011

How do you keep people from looking down on you? - August 29th, 2011

Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership.
1 Timothy 4:12-14

History and Context:
1 Timothy belongs to what scholars have labeled as the Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus). They are named the Pastoral Epistles because they deal directly with issues of leadership in the church. Timothy was probably a convert from Paul's first missionary journey, when he travelled to Lystra. After that Timothy begun travelling with Paul and taking various assignments. In other letters we can see that it was often Timothy that would carry Paul's letters to the various churches. At the time in which Paul wrote 1 and 2 Timothy, Timothy was in Ephesus and had been sent there in order to lead the church and to train and build leaders for the church. 1 Timothy is written as general instructions towards the Timothy as a leader.

The Text:
One common theme throughtout the Bible is that God does not look at physical age as a requirement for His work. David and Jeremiah were prime examples of this in the old testament, and Timothy is a great example in the new testament. Jesus even goes as far as to say that we need to learn from the little children. But here Paul is sharing with Timothy what is important in God's eyes. To God youth does not matter, it has no bearing on your ability to be used by God, but what does matter is maturity. Paul says here that the way you keep people from looking down on your youth (or enter anything else that people may look down on) is to be an example. Be an example in what you say, what you do, how you love, your spiritual life, your trust in God, and the purity of your heart. It doesn't matter how much people may want to look down on you, if you are an example in these things they won't be able to.

The Challenge:
This is the theme verse for TnT Youth Ministries, but it actually applies to all of us no matter what our age. We all have some quality that has potential to cause people to look down on us. If you're not too young maybe you're too old, or maybe you don't have enough education, or experience. Maybe your parents or your kids messed up and people have put it on you. There are a multitude of things that it could be, but Paul gives us the solution here. The solution is not to preach at them or argue with them it is simply to improve your character and morality to the point that they can no longer help but to give you a chance. If you are one that finds yourself being looked down on, examine these six areas of your life and find out which ones you are lacking in. Then improve.

The Prayer:
Lord, I want to be used by you. Help me Lord to see where my example has been lacking and to improve in that area. Help me to lead others through these six areas of my life. Thank you Lord! In Jesus' name, Amen!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Not that any man should boast... - August 28th, 2011

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
Ephesians 2:4-10

History and Context:
Ephesians is one of four of Paul's letters which scholars believe were written from his time in prison in Rome. The other three are Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. It is very different in style than his other letters because it does not have the traditional greetings and it does not seem to deal with specific issues of that particular church. In fact the style is more like a general sermon than a letter and it very well could've been sent to various churches in the area of what is now western Turkey. The Ephesian church was clearly made up of mostly Gentiles who seemed to look down on the Jewish Christians. Paul stresses in his letter that we are all one in Christ and noone should look down on the other.

The Text:
There is a lot to be said in this passage. It talks about how sin made us dead but Christ brought us life. Biblical death is generally portrayed as seperation from God. God is the true source of life and therefore seperation from Him is death. For this reason sin brings death as it seperates us from Him, but Christ conquered and took away that seperation if we only accept the free "gift of God". The point of this passage is to show that we have done nothing to earn our salvation, therefore we have no grounds to boast. We should not think we are better than anyone because we are all in the same boat, needing God's grace and mercy in order to be with Him. Some of us have found it and others have not, that is the only difference. But even though we were not saved by our works, Paul reminds us that God's plan is that we do good works. He says that we were created for good works, and that God had prepared them before hand so that we could walk in them. We still have the choice whether we walk in them or not, but they are there prepared waiting for us to choose to step into them.

The Challenge:
Understand that you have not done anything to earn your salvation. God's grace is there for you, but it is also there for those around you. Once you have this understanding start seeking God for what works He prepared for you already. Do these good works not as an attempt to earn your salvation, but simply because you love God and trust Him that His way is the best way for your life.

The Prayer:
Lord, thank you for this free gift! Thank you for your grace and your mercy! Help me to see the plans that you have already laid out for me. Help me to walk in them. Thank you Lord, In Jesus' name, Amen!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Love People Today! - August 27th, 2011

 By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? 
My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.
1 John 3:16-18

History and Context: 
1 John does not name an author, but it has been labeled as John's. This is because the style is extremely similar to the unique style of the Gospel written by the Apostle John. The date of this letter is probably at the close of the first century when the Christian faith was around 50 to 60 years old. At this time John was probably the last of the original apostles and the church was struggling to not be influenced by surrounding ideas and philosophies. Most notable was gnosticism: the belief that the physical and spiritual were completely separate, and that all things physical were evil and all things spiritual were good. This belief led to much immorality as they believed that what was done in the physical didn't matter and could not effect the spiritual, but it also ultimately led to the denial that Jesus came in human flesh and therefore the denial of Jesus' death as a spirit cannot die. These uprooted the very core of the Christian faith and John ultimately wrote this letter to counter that philosophy.

The Text:
John writes here about the difference between words and actions. One of the greatest themes throughout the letter is love, specifically that we should love each other. Here John shows us practically what it means to love one another. First of all, he gives us the example of Christ. Christ showed s what love is by giving up His life for us. John tells us that we should be willing to follow Christ's example and give up our lives for each other. If someone is in need than we love them by giving them what they need. It does not help to simply say "God bless you" when they are hungry and we have not given them something to eat. This message is also portrayed in James 2:15-16
"If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?"

The Challenge:
Love someone today! But don't love them simply with your words, because that is not truly love. Love them with your actions. It might, and probably will, cost you something. For Jesus it cost Him His life! So find someone today who is in need and help them in love, not asking for something in return, not even necessarily to preach the Gospel, but simply to love them.

The Prayer:
Lord, lead me to someone who needs your love today! In Jesus' name, Amen!

Friday, August 26, 2011

You want to be great? Become a slave! - August 26th, 2011

But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
Matthew 20:25-28

History and Context:
The book of Matthew does not actually name an author, but Christian tradition from as far back as we have has claimed Matthew's authorship. The author was clearly a Jewish Christian writing to a main audience of Jewish Christians. For this reason Matthew is careful to clearly lay out how Jesus fulfilled the prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures. He quotes the Scriptures much more than any of the other Gospel writers. Much of Matthew is very similar to Mark and therefore scholars believe that Matthew drew on the book of Mark for material. The believed date of writing was somewhere around 80 AD but it could be anywhere from 50 to 100 AD.

The Text:
Just a few verses before this teaching, the mother of James and John, Jesus' disciples, came to Jesus with a special request. She wanted allowance that James and John could sit at the right and left of Jesus in heaven. The other disciples all began to look down at James and John for asking one of these things and Jesus calls their attention to a teachable moment. He gives them a bad example of leadership, the Gentiles. The Gentiles way of leadership was to "lord it over them" and to "exercise authority", they would be proud of their status as leader and look down on those under them. Jesus said that this is not the way of the Kingdom of God. Often the way of God's kingdom does not make sense in the world's eyes. Jesus said that we have to humble ourselves and become servants and slaves in order to be great. He then ends by reminding them that He, the Son of Man, already did that very thing.

The Challenge:
Are you in leadership? Learn to serve those under you. Are you not in leadership? Learn to serve those around you. Wherever you are God is calling you to serve. In God's kingdom no one is too great or too dignified to do the lowly jobs of service. All of us should follow Jesus example rather than the world's example. The ministry has often been treated like a business. You start out earning your dues by cleaning and vacuuming and whatever other chores may be around, then after you have been there a while, you start to move up the ranks. Then finally you get to a point of leadership and can force all the newbies to do all those lowly jobs of service. This is not how the kingdom of God works. The kingdom of God shows that the leaders need to be the greatest servants of them all. In Bible school there was a teacher named Brother Smith. Whenever it rained you found him waiting at the door with an umbrella running out to everyone and meeting them at their cars so that they wouldn't have to walk in the rain. Then as his class all rushed to their seats Brother Smith was mopping up the rain and mud that got tracked into the hallway. Only after he was finished mopping would he come in and begin his class. That is Biblical leadership!

The Prayer:
Lord, give me a heart to serve! Help me to see the needs of those around me and reach out to them. Help me to see them in your eyes and learn to act out in love and service. Help me to lead by this example. Thank you Lord! In Jesus' name, Amen!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

What is your promised land? - August 25th, 2011

    Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”
Joshua 1:7-8

History and Context:
At the end of Deuteronomy Joshua succeeds Moses as appointed leader of Israel. The book of Joshua covers Joshua's life as he leads Israel into the conquest of the promised land. This book shows the Lord as a warrior a conquerer, and many people have a difficult time with that. But the point of the book is to show how the Lord went with His servant and His people and strengthened them to take the land that was promised to them. Joshua was born in Egypt and became Moses' servant early on. He was one of two spies who trusted God enough to enter the promised land at the time originally planned (Numbers 14:6). Although the authorship of the book of Joshua has traditionally been attributed to Joshua himself, the Israelites didn't actually have writing until around the time of King David. This means that the stories were preserved orally until scribes were able to write them down.

The Text:
This is the Lord's first speech to Joshua after Joshua was placed as Moses' successor and leader of Israel. Throughout the message, the Lord repeats the phrase "be strong and courageous" multiple times. He is encouraging Joshua that He will always be with him and that He will give him every piece of land that he walks on. The Lord is promising to give Joshua great things, but Joshua still has to go out and fight for them. He still has to choose to be courageous, to not doubt, and to fight for what the Lord had already promised him. He also must lead the people of Israel to do the same. Joshua could have chose, as the people of Israel had done before, to not go into the promised land. He could've decided that it was too difficult and that he preferred to stay in the wilderness, but the Lord admonished him to be "strong and courageous" and Joshua chose to trust the Lord.

The Challenge:
The stories in the old testament are historical, but they are also analogies that fit our lives with God today. We all have some sort of "promised land". We all have something that God has promised us that we can have, as long as we fight for it. When the Israelites chose not to fight for the promised land they were stuck in the wilderness. God provided for them miraculously through manna, water from a rock, and quail, but they were still in the wilderness. Then it became Joshua's turn to decide. It was still a fight and it still required courage, but he chose to take what the Lord promised him.

What is your promised land? Have you been content with living in the wilderness? Have you shied away from fighting for the promises that God has given you? Or maybe you are simply waiting on God to make it happen without any action from you. Often when we are waiting on God, God is waiting on us! Start fighting for your promised land today!

The Prayer:
Lord, I trust you and your promises for my life. I want to stop waiting in the wilderness and start living in the promised land. Lead me into those promises and give me the strength to fight. Thank you Lord! In Jesus' name, Amen!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Pray for Laborers! - August 24th, 2011

Then He said to them, “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.
Luke 10:2

History and Context:
For history and context of the book of Luke see here. This is simply a continuation of the passage we discussed yesterday.

The Text:
In this text Jesus is sending out the seventy to preach the coming of the kingdom of God. He begins by telling them that the harvest is great but the laborers are few. In other words, Jesus is saying there is a lot of work to do but not enough people willing to do the work. If people were just willing to put in the work people would reap a lot of great things (specifically people coming into the kingdom). He then told them that instead of praying for the salvation of the unsaved they should pray for laborers, workers to go in and reap the harvest. After He told them to pray for laborers He sent them out as laborers.

The Challenge:
Think of who you know that is unsaved. Write down their names and start praying that God would send laborers in their paths. Pray that God would soften their hearts and that He would send people into their lives to speak the Word into them. Once you've prayed take time to listen in case God is sending you. It very well may be that God is sending you as the laborer in that person's life. Let Him lead and direct you in that area.

The Prayer:
Lord, I pray that you will send laborers across the path of ________. Send people who will speak your Gospel into their lives. Also help me to speak into their lives. Give me opportunities and help me to act on those opportunities. Thank you Lord! In Jesus' name, Amen!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Total sacrifice equals true life! - August 23rd, 2011

Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost?
Luke 9:23-25

History and Context:
A thorough but brief description of the history and context of the book of Luke can be found here. Basically, Luke is the most thorough and historical of the four Gospels. It was written by Luke who was an educated physician and historian and he meticulously brought together the facts from the other available sources as well as accounts from eyewitnesses and created a historical account of the life of Jesus.

The Text:
On July 7th, 2011 we discussed a similar passage in Matthew 16:24-26. One thing to reiterate from that post is that the cross, for the people of Jesus' time, was a very serious thing. For us it has become a symbol representing Christ. A religous symbol that reminds us of Jesus and portrays us as his 'fans'. For the disciples who originally heard this challenge, it was a symbol of the most humiliating and horrifying death known to man. It was not a light thing for Jesus to tell them to "take up their cross", and many of them ended up having to do it literally.

Jesus called His disciples to total sacrifice. He told them that they had to give up their lives in order to truly find life. It is a difficult, yet rewarding, journey.

The Challenge:
Are you a truly committed follower of Jesus Christ? Are you ready and willing to give up any aspect of your life in your pursuit of Him? Are you willing to make sacrifices, take risks, and step out in faith when He requests? Are you a Christian just to make it to heaven, or do you truly want to live the life that God has laid out for you? I challenge you to honestly ask yourselves these questions today. If there is something you would not be willing to give up for HIm than that thing has become an idol. If there is someone that you could never leave if He asked you to, than that person has become an idol. Jesus asked for everything, and if we hold anything back than we are missing out on the true, amazing life that He wants to share with us. But in the end, it's you that has to choose.

The Prayer:
Lord, I choose the life that you have offered. I choose to give everything up to you and to follow you no matter what the cost may be. Lead me and guide me into the life that you have laid out for me! Thank you Lord! In Jesus' name, Amen!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Love the sinner, hate the sin! - August 22nd, 2011

Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?” This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear. So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?”   
She said, “No one, Lord.”
And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”
John 8:7-11

History and Context:
The book of John is the fourth Gospel and it is believed to be the last written. John was one of the inner three of Jesus' disciples and referred to himself as "the disciple whom Jesus loved". John seemed to have written his Gospel for those who had already known the story of Jesus. He focuses on the meaning of the events rather than the events themselves. There is also a strong focus on the words and teachings of Jesus, specifically on Jesus' claims about Himself. These claims are best known as the seven "I am" statements. John probably wrote this Gospel in Ephesus somewhere around 70 AD.

The Text:
Here is a famous story and example of love and forgiveness. The pharisees bring a woman to Jesus whom they claim they caught in the act of adultery. They want to follow the law and stone her to death and they are testing Jesus to see what He says. At first Jesus ignores them but then eventually He tells them that the stoning should be begun by the one who has not sinned. Jesus is reminding them that they have all sinned and all seen mercy. Each person was convicted of their sin and left until it was just Jesus and the woman. Jesus then said "neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more." This statement is the best example in the Bible of how we should approach sinners.

The Challenge:
Today there are two popular extremes in how Christians approach sinners. The first extreme is like the pharisees. Let's stone them! We see this example with the picketers talking bout how God hates homosexuals, but it is also seen in many churches. It is a judgmental attitude of 'if you don't follow the rules you can't come in here'. Then we wonder why our church never attracts sinners. The second extreme is where the church says, 'it's okay, do whatever you want, God's mercy will cover it." This is also not right. Even though Jesus did not condemn the woman, He told her clearly that she needed to stop sinning. We don't know whether she listened to Him or not but that is not the point. The point is the attitude that Jesus showed towards the sinner. He loved the sinner and hated the sin. He accepted the sinner with no compromise to morality. As always He is our perfect example and we should strive to follow that example.

The Prayer:
Lord, help me to see people and sin like you do. Help me to love the people with your lve but hate the sin in the same way as you hate sin. Help me to show acceptance to the people around me without compromising my morals and without accepting their sins. Give me your eyes and your ears and most of all your heart. In Jesus' name, Amen!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

I WILL rejoice! - August 21st, 2011

This is the day the LORD has made;
We will rejoice and be glad in it.
Psalm 118:24

History and Context:
The book of psalms is a collection of 150 songs used by the Israelites for praise and worship. They are in the writings and wisdom section and cover a large variety of themes from appeals for God's forgiveness or His destruction of enemies, to tahnksgiving, to celebration of God's teachings, etc. 73 of the 150 psalms have been attributed to King David. The other 77 have various authors, many of them being unknown. Psalm 118 is one that has no author attributed to it. It was a victory hymn which was sung in procession by king, priests, and people in rememberance of the victory won with the help of God.

The Text:
Psalm 118 begins with a repeating phrase; "His mercy endures forever." The psalmist paints a picture of being surrounded by enemies and having no hope but to call on the Lord. He says "I called on the LORD in distress" and the Lord answered him. The Lord rescued him in his time of need and for this reason the psalmist prays for him. This builds up to the point of verse 24 in which the Psalmist recognizes the Lord as the creator of the day. This means that the way in which the day went was becase of the Lord and he has chosen to rejoice and be glad.

The Challenge:
This verse has been made into a popular children's song, and since has been made into various other praise songs. The important thing to realize in it is that there is an act of will involved. The psalmist writes "we WILL rejoice...". This means rejoicing is a choice. It something we can choose to do every morning, we don't have to wait to see if the day went well or not. This particular psalmist was praising God after he saw that it went well but we know right at the beginning of the day that it is one that the Lord has made. He made every day! So why not begin the day with a choice to rejoice? It'll make your day a whole lot better from the start!

The Prayer:
Lord, I make a choice today to rejoice in you and in your day! Thank you for creating this new day for me to live and to follow you. I rejoice in it and I decided to be glad throughout this day no matter what comes my way. In Jesus' name, Amen!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Hosea and his prostitute - August 20th, 2011

Then the LORD said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by a lover and is committing adultery, just like the love of the LORD for the children of Israel, who look to other gods and love the raisin cakes of the pagans.”
 So I bought her for myself for fifteen shekels of silver, and one and one-half homers of barley. And I said to her, “You shall stay with me many days; you shall not play the harlot, nor shall you have a man—so, too, will I be toward you.”   
For the children of Israel shall abide many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred pillar, without ephod or teraphim. Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the LORD their God and David their king. They shall fear the LORD and His goodness in the latter days.
Hosea 3:1-5

History and Context:
Hosea is the first of the minor prophets, labeled 'minor' simply because of their shorter length not becaue of importance. Hosea prophesied at the same time as Isaiah in the 8th century BC. As Isaiah prophesied to the southern kingdom of Judah, Hosea prophesied to the northern kingdom of Israel. The king of Israel, when Hosea began prophesying, was Jeroboam II, the last powerful king of Israel. In 2 Kings 14:23 - 17:41 we see the history of the period of Hosea's ministry. In just over 20 years there were six different kings, and each king took the kingdom of Israel further and further into idolatry. Hosea prophesied love, judgement, and hope.

The Text:
In Hosea there is a large parallel between the covenant relationship of a husband and wife and the covenant relationship between God and the people of Israel. At the beginning of the book God tells Hosea to marry a "wife of harlotry", specifically a woman named Gomer. This woman is to represent Israel in throughout the book. Already in chapter two this woman has gone back to being a prostitute, violating the covenant of marriage. Here in chapter three God tells Hosea to go out and find her and buy her back. Again this is a representation of God with the kingdom of Israel. The kingdom of Israel committed spiritual adultery by seeking after idols and false gods, but no matter how often they do this He seeks them out and bus them back. We see this throughout the Old Testament and of course it is fully fulfilled in Jesus Christ and His ultimate sacrifice.

The Challenge:
Today's devotion is simply to help you better understand God's love and mercy. God has sought you out in the midst of your sin and bought you back with Christ's blood. As Paul said, "While we were still sinners Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8) How amazing is that! He didn't wait for us to come to Him, He came to us! Now He uses us to come to others. Today be amazed at God's love for you and at His mercy, and don't take it for granted. Love Him back, simply by drawing close to Him, by helping others draw close to Him.

The Prayer:
Lord, I love you! I am only able to love you because of your amazing love for me. You came and sought me out and for that I am grateful. Help me to show my gratitude in my daily life. Help me to seek out those others who you love and to bring them to you. In Jesus' name, Amen!

Friday, August 19, 2011

What kind of tree are you? - August 19th, 2011

“For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.
Luke 6:43-45

History and Context:
Of the four Gospels, Luke gives us the most thorough accoutn of the life of Jesus. Luke was a doctor, an educated man, who was careful to study out all writings and testimonies (most likely using Mark as a main source) and compiled an accurate account of the life of Jesus. He addressed his letter to Theophilus, a roman, although it is still debated whether this was a real name or simply a representative of the church as a whole. Theophilus simply means "friend of God" so many historians believe that Luke was using the name to address all of "God's friends". As Matthew seemed to emphasize the royalty of Christ and Mark seemed to emphasize His power, Luke seems to emphasize the love and compassion of Christ. Although there are some historical points of Luke's Gospel which are still debated, archaeology has generally proved him to be an accurate historian.

The Text:
Jesus loved to teach in stories and analogies. He loved to take things that the people knew and worked with in their everyday life and use it to teach profound secrets about the Kingdom of God. Here He uses a now popular analogy of a tree and it's fruit. He says that it is clear that if the fruit of a tree is bad then the problem is not just the fruit, but the tree itself. In the same way, He said, if the words of a man are bad than the problem is not just the words but the heart. He makes a direct parallel between His two statements; "For every tree is known by it's fruit." and "For out of the abundance of a man's heart his mouth speaks." If a man is always speaking optimistically and looking towards the good, then we can see that he is a man of faith, but if a man is speaking pessimistically and looking towards the bad than he is a man of fear. If a man is speaking insults and tearing people down with his words, then he is a man of hate, but if a man is speaking encouragement and building people up he is a man of love.

The Challenge:
Of course there are people who can learn to train themselves to speak in a certain way and deceive people of where their heart is, but what Jesus is talking about is there natural reaction. No matter how hard we may try not to, we always have those times in which we speak with out thinking. Most the time it is in a situation in which something doesn't go our way, or something bad happens. How do you respond in those times. Even beyond that though, no matter how hard someone tries to deceive people, if you pay close enough attention there heart will show. So the challenge here is not to worry about others but yourself. Listen to the words that come out of your mouth. Do you like what you hear? If not then there needs to be a change from the inside out. what Jesus has shown us is that it is a heart issue. Heart issues don't change overnight, but they take a process. Start seeking God to help you change your heart at the core. If your heart changes then your words will follow.

The Prayer:
Lord, I have noticed that my words have shown a lot of ______ lately. Help me to change my heart on the inside so that these words can also change. Thank you Lord! In Jesus' name, Amen!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Take Every Thought Captive! - August 18th, 2011

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled.
2 Corinthians 10:3-6

History and Context:
We already talked about the history of 2 Corinthians on August 13th. There is a long history between Paul and the church in Corinth. In fact the letter we named 2 Corinthians was actually at least the fourth letter which Paul wrote to this church.

The Text:
Paul seems to be referencing some of their past arguments in this text. He is begging them to understand that our battle is not in the flesh but it is against strongholds and arguments which come against our knowledge of God. This is where the real battlfield is; in the mind, in our thoughts. We must learn to fight the battle in the mind in order to win the battle in the flesh. It is our mind and our thoughts that tend to direct our actions and beliefs. We must continually cast down thoughts that come against our knowledge of God for these thoughts will take us away from God and from our walk in Him.

The Challenge:
Today, as you go through your day, pay attention to what thoughts come into your mind. Before you immediately accept them think about them. Are they God's thoughts? Are they thoughts of faith, or fear? Are they thoughts of love, or hate? If they are not God's thoughts, if they do not line up with the Word of God, then throw them out and direct mind to think the opposite. If you find yourself worrying about finances, remind yourself that "my God shall supply all my needs" (Phil. 4:19). If it is a sickness that is worrying you then remind yourself that "by His stripes you were healed" (1 Peter 2:24). Whatever it is that doesn't line up with the Word, make it a point to throw that thought out and replace it with what the Word says. You will find yourself much more victorious.

The Prayer:
Lord, help me to win this battle in my mind. Help me to take every thought that is not of you captive and replace it with your Word. Let me think as you think. In Jesus' name, Amen!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Look for the good not the bad! - August 17th, 2011

Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.
1 Thessalonians 5:21-22

History and Context:
The letters to the church in Thessalonica are believed to be the oldest writings in the new testament. In Acts 17:1-9 we seee the account of Paul's visit to Thessalonica. Problems arose and the church sent him away for his safety. Not long after Paul sent Timothy from Corinth back to Thessalonica in order to see how the church was going. Timothy returned with good news and Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians is his response to the good news. It is full of rejoicing over the church and is also confirming some of his teaching and answers some questions.

The Text:
Here the text is quite simple. This comes from Paul's closing remarks in which he gives a list of short instructions. "Pray without ceasing", "In everything give thanks", and "test all things". He says to test everything and cling to the good. He then says to abstain, or stay away from, evil. Latch onto good things and ideas but leave the bad ones alone.

The Challenge:
Christians have often misunderstood this. For some reason people want to test things and cling to the bad. They see the bad and they throw everything out and just start telling everyone about the bad stuff that they found. There are entire websites devoted to showing everyone all the "bad" things which big name preachers have said over the years. This is not what Paul was saying. Paul said to test things in order to find good. Yes we should abstain from the evil but our goal is to find the good. Start looking for the good in people, sermons, books, etc. It creates division to focus on the parts that we disagree on, it creates unity to recognize that many of those issues aren't essential and leave them alone.

The Prayer:
Lord, help me to seek out good and to simply leave the bad. Help me to bring unity among the churches instead of division. Lead me in your Spirit Lord. Thank you! In Jesus' name, Amen!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

These Signs Will Follow... - August 16th, 2011

And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen.
Mark 16:17-20

History and Context:
The Gospel of Mark was written between 60 and 70 AD by John Mark, a companion of Peter and of Paul. Tradition has him writing the Gospel when he is in Rome with Peter, putting down the apostle Peter's version of the story. John Mark is shown in Acts as a companion of Paul and Barnabas; he is also mentioned in Colossians as being a real comfort to Paul in prison and in 1 Peter as being like a son to Peter. The Gospel seems to be a starting point for both Matthew and for Luke as much of the material is similar, but Mark focuses less on the teachings of Jesus and more on the actions. It shows Christ in action.

The Text:
This comes directly after Jesus' commission for His disciples to "preach the Gospel to every creature". He says that they will perform these signs in His name. To do something in the name of somebody is to do something in the authority of that person. In Matthew's account of the same commision we see Jesus saying that "all authority in heaven and in earth" has been given to Him (Matthew 28:18). It is in this authority that we have been sent out to preach the Gospel, make disciples, and also to perform these signs. In verse 20 we see that the purpose of the signs was to confirm the Word that was being preached. The disciples went out, preached the Word, and God confirmed it with signs and wonders.

The Challenge:
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever! (Hebrews 13:8) If this is how He worked through His disciples then, it is how He wants to work through us now. So the question is, why isn't it happening? There may be numerous answers to this question when we do a full Bible study, but already, in this passage, we have one prerequisite which is often not being followed today. We must first go out and preach! The point of the signs and wonders is to confirm the Word that is being preached. This means if we don't preach the Word, signs and wonders won't come. So the challenge is to get out and preach the Word. Seek out opportunities. Then seek out opportunities for God to confirm it with signs and wonders. If someone is sick, be bold and pray for them. Pray for miracles in the finances of your friends and families. Seek out the spiritual gifts in your life and ministry. God is faithful to confirm His Word when we are faithful to preach it!

The Prayer:
Lord, I am going out today looking for opportunities to preach your Word. Lead me and direct me to the right people and the right situation. Confirm your Word by doing miracles in the lives of those I am preaching to. In Jesus' name, Amen!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Do you want to hear from heaven? - August 15th, 2011

Then the LORD appeared to Solomon by night, and said to him: “I have heard your prayer, and have chosen this place for Myself as a house of sacrifice. When I shut up heaven and there is no rain, or command the locusts to devour the land, or send pestilence among My people,...

 ...if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

 Now My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to prayer made in this place. For now I have chosen and sanctified this house, that My name may be there forever; and My eyes and My heart will be there perpetually.
2 Chronicles 7:12-16

History and Context:
1 and 2 Chronicles, like the Samuels and the Kings, were originally one book. The Chronicles, for the most part, are simply a sparser repeat of historical events more thoroughly covered in Samuel and Kings. However, there seems to be a different focus from the Chronicler. The author is unknown though many believe it to be Ezra. The author is definitely from that time period in which the Israelites are returning from Exile in Persia in order to rebuild their temple and the city of Jerusalem. In Samuel and Kings the writers were a bit more concerned in providing the actual historical account of the kings of Israel and Judah whereas in Chronicles, the focus is not on the history but on the meaning of the history. He had two focuses which the author of Samuel and Kings did not have; first he focused on the building of the temple and what true worship is, and second he focused on the true kingship, namely the line of David.

The Text:
This particular passage comes directly after Solomon's temple has been built. Solomon prays and worships the Lord and petitions the Lord to live in the temple and honor the prayers to this temple, this passage is God's response. God says that He will honor it, that no matter what happens to the people of Israel, if they will turn back to Him in humility, He will hear their prayers and restore them. This is an amazing promise which we see fulfilled so often throughout the old testament. There were so many times in which the Israelites went away from God and ended up in captivity, but once they returned to God, God restored them as a people and as a country. In fact, at the time of the writing of the chronicles, they were in a state of finally returning to God and seeking His face, and God restored their land.

The Challenge:
We are under a new covenant, but the principles are the same. God's people are no longer defined by a country or nationality but simply by confession and faith. But God has never changed. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8)! Now our relationship with God is simply more personal, and this promise can be applied in our personal life. When you find yourself in a time of hardship, often it is because you have taken yourself out from God's covering. It is in these times that you must humble yourself, pray and seek His face, and God's promise is that you will hear from heaven! If you are in a place in which you need to hear from heaven here is the formula. It is simple but not always easy. We must lay aside our pride and our desire to want to do it on our own, we must admit that we were wrong to go away from God, and we must seek Him and His will in our lives.

The Prayer:
Lord, I want to hear from heaven! I want to hear from you! Show me your face! Show me your glory! Show me who you are and what you desire for my life. Forgive me for trying to do it on my own. Forgive me for my pride in thinking that I can do it on my own. I know that I can only do it with you and I trust you to work in my life. In Jesus' name, Amen!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Do you have something to give? - August 14th, 2011

How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification...

For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.
1 Corinthians 14:26, 31-33

History and Context:
Though for us this is the first letter to Corinthians, it seems that Paul actually wrote one before this. He refers a few times throughout the text to his former letter. When studying his letters it seems that Paul had a long history with the church of Corinth. He visited them a few different times and he wrote them at least four seperate letters. One of the letters, that we do not have, is called the 'letter of tears' by scholars because he speaks of writing it in 'great anguish' after a visit that was hard for both him and the church. Paul probably wrote this letter while he was spending time in Ephesus.

The Text:
Paul, as usual, is addressing a specific issue with this particular church. The church in Corinth had a great understanding of the gifts of the spirit, but they also had chaos. In verse 26 Paul mentions that whenever they come together everyone has something to share and that is good. But it seems that they would be fighting over who's gift was more important and who got to go first. At times, it seems, they would even start prophesying simultaneously. For this reason, Paul reminds them in verse 31 that they should take turns prophesying so that people can actually learn and be encouraged. He says that God is not an "author of confusion but of peace". God wants order in our services, but He also wants everyone to be involved like it was in the church in Corinth.

The Challenge:
When's the last time that you went to your church on a Sunday morning with something to share? When's the last time that you were even ready to be used by God on Sunday morning? There has become a popular attitude that we go to church in order to receive from God, but that should not be our main reason. We should be going to church in order to be used by God. We should be receiving from God in our daily prayer times and Bible study, so that when we go to church we are ready to hear from God and share with others. Of course, if everyone did this you receiving from God on Sunday would also become inevitable, but our first goal should be in order to give. The pastor is there to bring structure and order to the service, because God is not an "author of confusion", but everyone should be ready.

The Prayer:
Lord, the next time I go to church, help me to have an attitude of giving. Help me to be in tune with your spirit and be able to hear from you what you want me to give to those in my local church. Thank you Lord for not bringing confusion but peace. Thank you Lord for leading me and using me to touch others lives. In Jesus' name, Amen!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

You are a new creation! - August 13th, 2011

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.   
Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
2 Corinthians 5:17-21

History and Context:
Corinth was a city on the main trade route between Asia and western Europe, and Paul had spent two years there establishing the church. Paul wrote the first letter to the Corinthians in order to address division and immorality in the church. After that letter he had an opportunity to visit the church. Apparently the visit was a difficult one for both Paul and the members of the church and afterwards Paul talks about writing a letter in "much anguish" (ch 2). Though this letter is only the second letter to the Corinthians which we have, it seems that Paul wrote at least four seperate letters and that this is the fourth. This is his follow up after the difficult visit and the letter of 'tears'.

The Text:
Paul is talking here about what happens when we accept Jesus as Lord. He says when we enter into Christ, we become a "new creation". Everything in our lives becomes new, it is like Jesus said, we are "born again" (John 3:3). He talks about how we have been reconciled or reunited with God through Christ. In other words we were born originally to be with Him, but something seperated us. It is through Christ that we return to our original place with God. But not only that, it is through Christ that we enter into a "ministry of reconciliation". In other words, we are not allowed to simply be content with our own place with God being restored, we should look towards helping others restore theirs as well. We have become Christ's ambassadors, his representatives. By taking on the name of Christian we have taken on the responsibility of being his ambassadors. Normally, this would be a much greater burden than any human could bear, but Paul ends the passage by letting us know that through Christ we have been made the Righteousness of God. We have been made completely, 100% righteous. This is why we are able to be Christ's ambassadors.

The Challenge:
This is a perfect follow up from yesterday. Yesterday we talked about how we make the decision to become a Christian, today we have discussed what it means to be a Christian. Through that decision God has reconciled you with Him. Even though it was done perfectly, at times we don't act like it. The challenge is to remember that you are reconciled with God and to begin to act like it. Spend time with Him, learn how He thinks, learn what His plan for your life is and do it. Help others be reconciled with God. It shouldn't be goodenough for us that we are returned to our rightful place with God, but we need to be ambassadors of Christ and help others return to God when the opportunity arises. Remember you are righteous!

The Prayer:
Thank you Lord for reconciling me with you, for returning me to a relationship with you. Help me to build that relationship and help me to be your ambassador. Thank you Lord! In Jesus' name, Amen!

Friday, August 12, 2011

How can one be saved? - August 12th, 2011

But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”(that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For “whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.”
Romans 10:9-13

History and Context:
As I have quoted from Romans many times before I have also addressed the history and context many times before. For a refresher on the history of the Epistle to the Romans you can view The Power of Grace.

The Text:
This passage of scripture shows how simple salvation is. We like to make things complicated because it doesn't make sense that something so profound would be so simple, but Paul lays it out clearly here. All you have to do is confess that Jesus is Lord and believe that He was raised from the dead. That is it! He then goes on to remind us that it doesn't matter what race, color, or creed; "WHOEVER calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved". In God's eyes there are only two things that matter 1)Do you believe? and 2)Are you willing to confess Jesus as Lord. That is all.

The Challenge:
First of all, if any of you have never confessed Jesus as Lord, the challenge is to do so. As mentioned above, Paul has shown us how easy it is. Below there is a prayer that you can pray if you want help through it, but it is also great if you pray your own words. But after you do find someone to confess it to. Someone who can help you understand the life that God has for you.

Secondly, as I am aware that most of my readers have alread accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior, here is your challenge. "How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?" (Romans 10:14) Now that you are reminded of how simple it is to come to Christ, be the preacher. As mentioned above, one of the requirements is that they have to believe. How are they going to believe if no one tells them? God has called you to tell them.

The Prayer:
To confess Jesus as Lord:
Jesus, I believe that you died for me and that you rose from the dead. I confess you as Lord in my life and ask that you lead me into the path that you have for me. In Jesus' name, Amen.

For those who have already confessed:
Lord, send me to the people who are waiting to hear about you. Help me to take the opportunities that you give me in order to share your Gospel. Give me the right words to speak in every situation. In  Jesus' name, Amen.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Lord, Help Me! - August 11th, 2011

Therefore the LORD will wait, that He may be gracious to you;
And therefore He will be exalted, that He may have mercy on you.
For the LORD is a God of justice;
Blessed are all those who wait for Him
For the people shall dwell in Zion at Jerusalem;
You shall weep no more.
He will be very gracious to you at the sound of your cry;
When He hears it, He will answer you
And though the Lord gives you
The bread of adversity and the water of affliction,
Yet your teachers will not be moved into a corner anymore,
But your eyes shall see your teachers.
Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying,

This is the way, walk in it,”
Whenever you turn to the right hand
Or whenever you turn to the left.
Isaiah 30:18-21

History and Context:
For a short history on the book of Isaiah you can refer to my post from June 8th, 2011  Fear of Man. This particular chapter begins by rebuking the king of Judah, Hezekiah, for seeking help from the Egyptians instead of seeking help from God. The Lord begins by saying "Woe to the rebellious children" (Is. 30:1) and continues to rebuke them for creating their own plans and strategies, without acknowledging or seeking God. The prophecies predict that the strength of Pharaoh will in the end be their shame and will fail them (Is. 30:3,6). This is later shown as true as the Assyrians respond by invading the land of Judah. At first Hezekiah submits to them in despair but is later encouraged to resist Assyria and he finally takes it before the Lord who answers and rescues them. (Isaiah 37)

The Text:
When reading this chapter, this passage (especially verse 18) stuck out to me. In verse 18 Isaiah says about the Lord, "Therefore the LORD will wait, that He may be gracious to you". It really hit me that the Lord was waiting for the opportunity to be gracious to the kingdom of Judah. The first 17 verses talk about how Judah has rejected the Lord and how they will have to repent of their lack of trust in Him and return to Him in order to be saved, but then it says "the Lord will wait". I can picture Him in heaven sitting on the edge of His throne just waiting for the first cry of His people. "When are they finally going to ask me? When are they finally going to invite me in their situation?" It hurts Him to see us hurting, but He desires that we choose Him. He doesn't want to force Himself on us. In James He laid out the plan "draw near to God and He will draw near to us" (4:6). He is up there just waiting for that first step, that first cry, that first prayer "Lord, help me!"

The Challenge:
The challenge of course is to call upon Him. To invite Him into your situation, whatever that may be. This is always the challenge and it is hard to understand why it is so much of a challenge. Why is it that we always attempt to trust in the Egypts of the world rather than God. Why is it that we trust in doctors to heal us but we can't trust God who has said "I am the Lord, who heals you"? (Ex 15:26) Why is it that we can always trust in our jobs to give us a paycheck but we can't trust in the Lord when it says in the Word that "The Lord will provide"? (Gen 22:14) We trust in the government, the health system, our paychecks, our family, our friends, our church, etc. but we can't seem to trust in God. He is waiting on the edge of His seat for someone to finally cry out to Him and say "Lord, help me!"

The Prayer:
Lord, help me! Help me in my family, in my finances, in my church, and in my friendships. Help me in the very situation that I am in now. I trust in you and not in these other things. I know that you can and will use people around me to provide for me but I understand that it is ultimately you who provides and not those other things. I trust you Lord. You are my provider, you are my healer. You are everything that I need. I thank you Lord! In Jesus' name, Amen!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Are you following His plan or yours? - August 10th, 2011

There are many plans in a man’s heart,
Nevertheless the LORD’s counsel—that will stand.
Proverbs 19:21

History and Context:
As I shared on Friday, Proverbs was written as a list of one line nuggets of wisdom by King Solomon. Solomon was the son of David and the king of Israel. God asked him what the one thing was that he would want and he asked God for wisdom. God made him the wisest man who ever lived. Even with all his wisdom, he did not always follow God's counsel and reaped the consequences for it. After Solomon's death the kingdom became divided.

The Text:
We are good at making plans. We can plan out each day, maybe our week or even a whole month or year. Planning ahead is great and important, but we must be careful not to plan out God. It is His counsel that will be here forever. It is His plans that will create a lasting difference. When we go by our own plans, thos plans can change every day, but God's plan remains constant and steady. We need to learn to go by His plan.

The Challenge:
Seek God for His plan in your life. Don't rely on your own understanding or your own plan. Rely on God! His plan is the perfect plan for our lives. He knows us better than we know ourselves and He knows what is right for us and for those around us. Take some time today and seek Him for His plan for your life.

The Prayer:
Lord, I'm tired of simply following my own plan. I'm tired of trying and trying and nothing happening. Lord' show me your plan. Show me what you want me to do. Show me how you want me to do it. Thank you Lord! In Jesus' name, Amen!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Where Do You Abide? - August 9th, 2011

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.
John 15:4-8

History and Context:
John is by far the most poetic if the Gospel writers. He focused on the teachings of Jesus more than the actions. The Gospel of John is particularly famous for the seven "I am" statements of Christ. These seven statements each depict an aspect of who Christ is in relationship to the church and to the world. Jesus declares that He is; 1) The Bread of Life (John 6:35), 2) The Light of the World (John 8:12), 3) The Gate (John 10:9), 4) The Good Sheperd (John 10:11), 5) The Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25-26), 6) The Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6), and finally 7) The Vine (John 15:5). Each one of these statements depict an important aspect of who Jesus is. As noted yesterday, John depicts in his Gospel an understanding of how much Jesus loved him, by referring to himself as "the disciple whom Jesus loved".

The Text:
In this text, and in this whole chapter, Jesus repeats one word over and over again; abide. Abide means to live or to dwell. It denotes a constant period of time. He says that we are to abide in Him. This means that we should be living our lives in Him. Not just referring to Him once or twice a day. He uses the analogy of a vine and branches. The branches never leave the vine. If they ever did they would die because the vine is their source of life. Not only that but they would be gathered up with the debris and thrown into the fire. Jesus is our source of life and we need to be constantly connected to Him. We need to be connected to Him in our daily life, in whatever we do. Once we leave Him, we immediately begin losing our life.

The Challenge:
This is why there are so many 'dead' Christians out there. They are trying to live off of two hours of life once a week. They go to church and think that is the only time that they need to be connected to the vine. But then they spend six days spiritually dieing until they finally get back to church for another shot of life. Even the pastors will wait until Friday or Saturday to begin seeking after the life so they can prepare their sermon for Sunday. Imagine how different our church services would be if we were constantly connected to our source of life. If we were strengthening our life and walk with God 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I challenge you today to bring Jesus into your whole day. Bring Jesus into your school, your work, or wherever it is that you are today. Just be conscious of who He is and that He is present. Talk to Him when you get a chance. Listen to what He wants to say to you. I guarantee that if you do this, it will revolutionize your Christian walk.

The Prayer:
Lord, help me to abide in you. It is so easy to get caught up in my everyday life that I forget to aknowledge you. Help me to constantly think on you, to hear what you have to say and to bring my issues and problems to you. Help me to meditate on your Word throughout my day. Thank you Lord! In Jesus' name, Amen!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Have You Experienced God? - August 8th, 2011

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life— the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us— that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.
1 John 1:1-4

History and Context:
John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, wrote this letter while in Ephesus. John was the only one of the apostles who died a natural death, rather than being martyred. He lived to be around 94 years old before he died right around 100 AD. He was one of the 'inner three' during Jesus' ministry and experienced the most intense and powerful moments of Jesus' life and ministry. John wrote the Gospel of John, three letters and the book of Revelation. In his own Gospel we can see that John had a true understanding of how Jesus felt about him as he refers to himself as "the disciple whom Jesus loved".

The Text:
This is the introduction to John's first letter. John is beginning by sharing that he is not just preaching book knowledge. He is not just preaching what he has heard somewhere else. He is preaching what he himself has experienced. What he has seen, heard, and even touched with his own hands. He is reminding them that he personally walked with Jesus and experienced who Jesus was, heard His teachings, and saw Him die, resurrected, and ascended into heaven. He personally had fellowship with Jesus Christ.

The Challenge:
Before you can share something with conviction, you must personally experience it. This is why science classes do experiments, and math classes have you work problems, because until you have done it yourself, and seen how it works, you can not truly know it. It is the same in our Christian walk. If you are not continually experiencing the presence of God then you have no authority to preach about God to others. If you have not studied the Word yourself then you are not in a place where you can share the Word with conviction. The challenge today is to take time to truly experience who God is, see His glory, hear His voice, and feel His presence. Experience, both first and second hand, how He changes lives. This will strengthen your message when you do have the opportunity to share the Gospel.

The Prayer:
Lord, I do want to see you. I do want to hear you and to feel your presence. Let me experience you. Let me experience your glory. I love you Lord! In Jesus' name, Amen!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Live Victoriously! - August 7th, 2011

And He said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”
Luke 10:18-20

History and Context:
Luke was a Doctor, an educated man. He is one of the few Biblical authors who was not a Jew or an apostle. He wrote both the book of Luke and the book of Acts. Luke meticulously researched the events surrounding Christ, talked to all the apostles who were with them and studied the manuscripts that were already written to put together this account of the life of Christ. Luke addresses the book to Theophilus but, as this name simple means "friend of God", many think it is a generic title rather than a specific person.

The Text:
This is the story in which Jesus sends out the seventy to minister to cities before Him and to proclaim that "the kingdom of God is near". When they return to Jesus they are extremely excited because they realized that they could command the demons and they would listen. This is Jesus' response. First He confirms that He did give them authority over the enemy, but He reminds them that the most important thing is that their names are written in heaven. In other words their salvation is more important then their ministry. Afterwards Jesus goes to the Father in prayer and thanks Him that He has revealed this knowledge to the disciples. Showing that the knowledge of the disciple's athority was important for them to understand.

The Challenge:
Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever! (Hebrews 13:8) If He gave His disciples authority 2000 years ago, then He has given His disciples authority today. You have authority over all the power of the enemy! He only has as much power over you as you allow Him to have. Stop living defeated and start living victorious! If you have accepted Christ, then your name has been written in the book of life and you are a child of the Most High. It's time for the church to step up and live in their authority.

The Prayer:
Lord, thank you for writing my name in heaven! Thank you for giving me authority over all the power of the enemy! Help me to recognize that authority and to live in it. Help me to live victoriously. Thank you Lord! In Jesus' name, Amen.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

His Plan is a Good One! - August 6th, 2011

For thus says the LORD: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, says the LORD, and I will bring you back from your captivity; I will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you, says the LORD, and I will bring you to the place from which I cause you to be carried away captive.
Jeremiah 29:10-14

History and Context:
On Thursday I wrote a little bit about the history and context of Jeremiah. As I wrote there, Jeremiah was constantly prophesying destruction, but he also constantly prophesied hope. This is another example of that.

The Text:
Verse eleven is a very popular scripture for people to quote. It reminds us that God has good plans for our future. It is also good though to read the scripture in context. Understand who Jeremiah was talking to and what the entire prophecy is. God, through Jeremiah, is still saying that the people of Judah will go into captivity in Babylon. In other words, they still have to suffer the consequences of their years of sin. Then God reminds them that He has good plans for them, but they still must do something in order to return to these plans. They must call upon God and seek Him with all their heart! If they never do this, they will never see the plans of hope and future that God has for them. But once they call upon Him, God promises to bring them out of captivity and to gather them back together as a people. This is what we read happening in Ezra and Nehemiah.

The Challenge:
Call upon the Lord! If you are in trouble, just call upon Him. Seek Him! Many of our problems wouldn't even be here if we would simply seek Him continually. But then after you seek Him don't be suprised if you still have to go through a tough time. God's mercy is great, but there are still consequences for our sin  and sometimes we have to deal with that for a while. But know that God is with you and has a plan to bring you out of that captivity. A plan to "prosper you and not to harm you". Just continue to call upon Him!

The Prayer:
Lord, I thank you that you do have a plan to prosper me! Forgive me for trying to follow my own plan. I call upon you to come and bring my life on track with your plan. Thank you Lord! In Jesus' name, Amen!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Want Peace in Your Relationships? - August 5th, 2011

When a man’s ways please the LORD,
He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.

Proverbs 16:7

History and Context:
King Solomon, son of King David, the wisest man who ever lived, wrote a set of proverbs in order to share his wisdom. Many of his proverbs have become common sayings in today's society and people don't even realize that they are from the Bible. Proverbs are one line nuggets of wisdom, therefore there is not really any context to consider as this line stands by itself.

The Text:
The statement is self explanatory. If we live the way God wants us to live than we will even have peace with our enemies. There are some enemies who are against us because they are against God and these enemies will not always be at peace with us, but the general principle stated here has been proven throughout the Bible and also in more recent times. Joseph proved this when he was sold into slavery, and then thrown in jail. Both times he won favor with his 'masters' and was given charge over the entire area. Eventually he won favor with pharaoh himself. This was all because his ways pleased the Lord. Paul had a similar story in which he and Silas were thrown in prison and they won favor with the guards. There is another man whom I have met named Dan Bauman and he explains in his book, Imprisoned in Iran, how he had a similar experience in which he came to peace with his captors. So it is true, if we make our ways to please God, then God will use us to bring our relationships to peace.

The Challenge:
If you are having difficulty in your relationships, seek God's plan for your life. Above I shared extreme examples, all involving prison, but this can be true in our everyday life. Jesus told us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. If we follow the way that the Lord has set out for us, then many of our enemies will find peace with us. In some cases they will even become friends. But this principle is not only true for our enemies. In the text there is the word 'even' meaning it is also true for our family and friends. If you are struggling with a father, mother, child, sister, brother, spouse, etc. then seek God's ways. If you have a good friends and you had a huge fight, then seek God's ways. Whatever the relationship, it can be brought to peace simply by seeking God's ways.

The Prayer:
Lord, I want to seek your way and your plan in my relationships. Bring peace into my relationships today. Help me to know and follow your ways. In Jesus' name, Amen!