Sunday, December 28, 2014

Knowing Our Enemy

The Bible constantly describes a war that we are in. Paul tells Timothy to "fight the good fight of faith", and later claims that he has fought that fight. Jesus tells us to be on guard from the wiles of the enemy and in Ephesians Paul tells of the armor of God which will allow us to withstand the enemies attacks. Though this war has ultimately already been won through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we have been commended to keep fighting it in our own lives.

Like every war there are enemies and it is important for us to recognize and understand who our enemies are. The Bible mentions three enemies:

1) Satan and demons - Ephesians 6:12; James 4:7
Satan is called many things in the Bible and is the most obvious enemy of the three. Even so there are many Christians who like to deny his existence. On the other hand there are people who attribute too much to Satan, they say things like "the devil made me do it". We need to understand that on one hand Satan is very real and very crafty but on the other hand he can not make us do anything. Satan only has as much power in our lives as we allow him to have. However he will be sure to take advantage of every opening we give him. This is why Paul told us to not "give place to the devil" (Ephesians 4:27). We need to be sure to close all opportunities for the enemy to enter our lives through oppression and "take captive every thought" (2 Corinthians 10:5) that he attempts to throw at our mind.

2) The World - 1 John 4:3,4; 1 John 2:15-17
The Bible also talks about the spirit of the world, which is also referred to as the spirit of Antichrist. This spirit is influenced and directed by Satan but it is a separate enemy. We can see this spirit in the media that we watch and the music we listen to. It is evident in the materialism of our culture and the entertainment driven selfishness that we see around us. The spirit of the world will work with Satan to provide a stronghold in your mind that he can take hold of. This is why Paul told the Romans to not be conformed to the world. It to be transformed busy renewing our minds (Romans 12:2). The spirit of the world will attempt to convince us to think alike which will in turn direct our actions and our beliefs. It will then give a place for Satan to come in and oppress us even further. We must be on guard for this spirit in everything that we do.

3) Our flesh - Romans 8:5-8; 1 Peter 2:11
Our third enemy is the most prevalent in our lives and yet sometimes the most ignored. This is the enemy we must fight against the most because in many ways it has attempted to become a part of us. Our flesh, or our carnal nature, is not the same as our body but works in our body and uses the desires of the body. It manifests itself in selfishness, pride, envy, lust, and gluttony. Paul lists the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21 but he then lists the fruits of the Spirit which is how we are to combat the flesh. We are to make daily decisions to walk in the fruits of the Spirit rather than the works of the flesh. The more we make these decisions the easier the decision will become.

It is important that we recognize each of these enemies because if we are ignorant of one we could easily open the door to all three. However we must also recognize that we have the power to overcome all three. The Bible tells us that Jesus has already overcome Satan and the world and gave us power to overcome our flesh.

As born again believers our spirit has already been renewed, we are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17) but our souls and our bodies have not been renewed. That is our job. As we renew our mind and put to death the desires of the flesh we see our lives transformed (Romans 12:1-2) and give control back to our true selves, our spirit. We also protect ourselves from the attack of the world and of evil spirits as they will have no foothold in our lives.

Friday, December 26, 2014

For unto us a Child is born...

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.
Isaiah 9:6-7
We just celebrated Christmas! I hope yours was an amazing day and I hope you had the opportunity to get together with family and with people you love, but I hope even more that you had time to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas. When I say reflect I mean more than just said a prayer before Christmas dinner or read the story of Jesus' birth before opening presents. I mean I hope that you truly took time to remind yourself what it all meant more than 2000 years ago in that manger in Bethlehem. Isaiah 9:6 is one of the most popular verses to quote in the Christmas season and it is a good one. But how often do we really listen and understand to this verse?

This verse lists several names that Jesus is to be called: "Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace". Do you know Him by these names? Is He truly wonderful to you? Have you experienced His counsel? Do you know Him as mighty, Father, the bringer of peace? I could write a blog post on each of these names but I won't, at least not yet. However think about it. Have you truly experienced Him as all these things to you? 

The other thing that this verse mentions twice is "the government". Sometimes I think we forget that Jesus came on this earth not only to die and raise from the dead, but also to establish a kingdom. Everything that He did was reestablishing His kingdom in which He has called us to be kings and priests. Here we have a promise that the increase of his government and peace will never end! Sometimes we talk as if the church is in decline in these days however that is not true. There may be places where it is in decline, but worldwide the church is growing faster than ever. Isaiah promised that once this Child was born the increase of His government would never end. Be encouraged that His kingdom will continue to grow and you have a choice: jump in and be a part or watch from the outside. As for me and my house... We will be a part in the increase of His kingdom!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

We Walk by Faith

"So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and present with the Lord."
2 Corinthians 5:6-8

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 separate letters and that this is the fourth. This is his follow up after the difficult visit and the letter of 'tears'.

The Text:
I was raised in a "faith church" so verse seven was a verse often quoted while I was growing up. "We walk by faith, not by sight." Usually this was quoted in reference to a situation where money seemed too short or where we were feeling sick but were standing in faith for our healing. We walk by faith that we are healed despite the fact that we can see the signs and symptoms of sickness. Although these are legitimate times where faith is needed and where we have to ignore what are senses are telling us, it is interesting to see what this verse is actually talking about. When we read this chapter we see that Paul is reminding the Corinthians of their 'heavenly' home. He is reminding them that if our earthly bodies, or "tents", are destroyed then we have a home with Christ in heaven already prepared. Then, as we see in the above passage, he says that as long as we are at home in our bodies we are absent from the Lord, but we walk by faith knowing that when we become absent from our body we will be home with Christ. In other words this scripture is not referring to having faith for our temporary earthly state of being but is referring to having an eternal mindset, recognizing that this earth is a temporary stopping place.

The Challenge:
Walk in faith with your eternal mindset. Recognize that what happens to your earthly body is insignificant compared to the home that Christ has prepared for you in heaven. Learn to make your daily decisions and choices based on this heavenly mindset.

The Prayer:
Lord, we pray remind us daily of our home in heaven with you. Help us to keep an eternal mindset and make choices which will affect eternity. In Jesus' name, Amen!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Is Your Gift Making Room for You?

A man's gift makes room for him and brings him before great men.
Proverbs 18:16 

History and Context:
Proverbs are one-line nuggets of wisdom that are written to stand on their own. So the majority of them can be taken out by themselves without worry of context. They are meant to express general wisdom principles and not to be guarantees or promises. King Solomon the son of King David wrote the majority of the proverbs in order to share his wisdom. God gave Solomon the opportunity to ask for any one thing and Solomon asked for wisdom to lead his people. In response the Bible says that Solomon's wisdom was unmatched by anyone. Many of his proverbs have become common sayings in today's society and people don't even realize that they are from the Bible.

The Text:
In reading this proverb one must remember the context that this is a general principle of wisdom and not necessarily a promise. There are many very talented people who do not find themselves "before great men". Of course in that we could get into the discussion of what constitutes a "great" man but that's for another day. I do believe that there should be some subtext understood when looking at this proverb. Just because someone has a natural talent or gift doesn't automatically mean that it will make room for them. I believe that the gift must first be developed. Romans 12:6 says "Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them..." In other words we have to use our gifts before they begin to make room for us. There are many very talented people out there who simply do not use their talents and are letting them go to waste. Secondly I believe that in order for this proverb to come to past people must be willing to put in hard work and sacrifice. If you look at any successful athlete, singer, actor, musician, etc. you find a person that put in hard work and sacrificed things many people took for granted in order to get where they are today.

The Challenge:
What gift or talent has God given you? Are you developing it and using it or are you letting it go to waste? If you make the effort to develop and use your gifts I believe they will make room for you. God will bring you into a position where you can use it for His glory. Find ways to use those gifts and grow in them.

The Prayer:
Lord, let my gifts make room for me and bring me to a place of influence for your glory. In Jesus' name, Amen!

Is Jesus Enough? - Re-Post

26 Jesus answered them and said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. 27 Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.”
28 Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?”
29 Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.”
30 Therefore they said to Him, “What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You? What work will You do? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
32 Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
34 Then they said to Him, “Lord, give us this bread always.”
35 And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.
John 6:26-35

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:
Earlier in the chapter we see the famous story in which Jesus fed the five thousand men along with the women and children. After doing that Jesus and his disciples go to the other side of the lake and the people begin looking for Him. When they find Him this conversation happens. The people were looking for more signs. they wanted to be fed again, or to see healings, but Jesus told them that they needed to stop looking after the outward signs but to start looking after Him. Here we have one of the famous "I am" statements in which Jesus reveals an aspect of who He is. Here He says "I am the bread of life." Not only does he say that but He says that anyone who will come to Him will never be hungry or thirsty. Imagine going downtown to the homeless and telling them that they don't have to be hungry ever again. This is what Jesus did, but essentially He was saying "Am I enough for you?" He was confronting them with a question. They wanted signs but He said what they really need to be seeking after is Jesus Himself.

The Challenge:
So I'm going to ask the same question to you as Jesus did to this group of people. Is Jesus enough? If Jesus wouldn't ever perform a miracle in your life again, would it still be enough for you to continue following Him? What if you lost your job, your family, your friends left you, and your house was foreclosed? Would Jesus still be enough? If you're in ministry, what if no one ever listened to you, and no one ever responded? Would Jesus be enough? What are you truly seeking after, miracles or Jesus?

The Prayer:
Lord, you are enough for me! I love your blessings and everything that you have done for me, but even if all of them were taken away, I would still follow you. You are enough!

Friday, December 19, 2014

A Road Through the Wilderness

"Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; Shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert."
Isaiah 43:19

History and Context:
Isaiah is the prophet most quoted by Jesus and by the New Testament authors. There are many Messianic prophecies throughout Isaiah, but the real purpose of the book was to admonish the kings of Judah to rely on the protection of God. Isaiah's ministry focused on the reign of two different kings, Ahaz and Hezekiah. Ahaz did not listen to Isaiah and relied on the protection of Assyria rather than God's protection. Hezekiah also didn't listen at first but as things went bad he turned to God for protection and God rescued the kingdom of Judah. Isaiah continually refers to God as "The Holy One of Israel".

The Text:
Here Isaiah prophesies that God is going to spring forth with something new. We love to quote this verse as an encouragement to build hope when we feel like we have been doing the same old thing for too long. At the beginning of this year God gave me this verse as a word for 2014. As usual I took it as something exciting, which it is, but I didn't pay close attention to the verse. The second part states that God will "make a road in the wilderness". In other words in order to get to the exciting new thing we have to go through the wilderness. But the good news is God is going to make a way through. He then promises that as we take the road that He builds, He will make rivers in the desert.

The Challenge:
Maybe you, like me, were looking for something new to spring forth this year and haven't seen it. Maybe you felt like 2014 was a wilderness and you are just ready for 2015 to start. Don't be discouraged! God is making that road that you are walking on and He promises that He will pour out rivers into your desert. Just push through! It will happen!

The Prayer:
Lord, help me to see your road, your way, through this wilderness. Help me to keep my eyes focused on you and endure through to the new thing that you have prepared!

Monday, December 15, 2014

What can flesh do to me?

 "Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You. In God (I will praise His word), In God I have put my trust; I will not fear. What can flesh do to me."
Psalm 56:3-4

History and Context:
In the pretext we can see that this Psalm was written by David when he was captured by the Philistines in Gath. The record of David in first and second Samuel does not record David actually being taken captive by the Philistines but there could be a situation that was simply left out of these books or it could be referring to the time that David decided to hid with the Philistines in Gath when he was on the run from Saul (1 Samuel 27). Hiding with the Philistines eventually led to one of the most distressing moments in David's life in which his family and the families of all his men were captured and the town that they were living in was ransacked and burned (1 Samuel 30). At this point his entire army turned against him and even spoke of stoning him. The Bible says that "David strengthened himself in the Lord his God." (1 Samuel 30:6)

The Text:
David is in a place of distress that he knew all too well. Men were against him and in human eyes there seemed to be no hope. But David, writer of most of the psalms, had learned how to encourage and strengthen himself in God regardless of whether people were for him or against him. He also was driven by a humility, a knowledge that he didn't deserve God to intervene. We can see this in verse one where David begins with "Be merciful to me..." David calling on God's mercy, His undeserved favor, showed that David understood that he was not entitled to God rescuing him, but he knew God would do it anyway in response to hi call. In this verse he shows an understanding of God's power and sovereignty and he also shows an understanding of the big picture. He knew that man couldn't really do anything to him when looking at the picture of eternity.

The Challenge:
Seek an eternal mindset. Recognize that what happens to our physical lives here on earth is miniscule in comparison to the eternal life that we have received through Jesus Christ. In the midst of your fear access this knowledge as a reminder and cry out with David "In God I have put my trust; I will not fear. What can flesh do to me"!

The Prayer:
Lord, give me an eternal mindset today. Help me to see life as you see it. Help me to put my full trust in you, Amen!

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Definition of Success

Many people define success by material possessions or money. They measure whether someone is successful by their job, salary, or how expensive their house, car, clothes are. Others will combat this idea by saying it is about happiness. They say that whether you are rich or poor doesn't matter as long as you are happy. I think these are both wrong definitions of success.

In the book It Starts At Home by Kurt Bruner and Steve Stroope a new definition of success is presented. Using the simple example of a hammer they show that success is defined as fulfilling the purpose for which something is made. We wouldn't judge a hammer's success by how well it can screw in a screw. A hammer's success is judged only by how well it hammers. If it can hammer in a nail than it is a successful hammer regardless of what else it can or can't do. This is because a hammer was created for the purpose of hammering in nails. That's why it was made.

I believe the definition of success for humans is the same. It doesn't matter how much stuff you have, or how respected you are, or even how happy you are. What matters is are you filling the purpose for which you were made? We were all created and we all were given a purpose before we were ever born. We must simply find out what that purpose is and fulfill that. If we do than we are successful. If we don't we are not successful. This is regardless of whatever else is done in our lives.

What is your purpose? Are you fulfilling it?