Posted in Isaiah, James, Philippians, Psalms

Willing and Obedient

“So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” Philippians 2:12-13

What God has worked in us, we now need to work out in our everyday lives. By grace He is in us to create both the desire and the ability to do His will. When we cooperate with His grace by being willing and obedient, grace flows freely in and through us. Isaiah 1:19 says, “If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land.” I don’t know about you but I want God’s best. The key is to be willing and obedient.

Sometimes we are willing, but not obedient. We love God, we worship God, we say “yes” to God when someone’s preaching, but we don’t do what He says to do. We won’t forgive, we won’t throw the porn away, we won’t cut off the destructive relationship, we won’t give money He’s asked us to give, we won’t check our speech, we won’t lay down our judgments on others, etc. Being willing but not obedient leads to self deception which is why James said, “Prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” (James 1:22) Worship must be more than a song or a prayer to touch God’s heart; it has to include costly obedience.

Others are obedient, but not willing. This person says, “I do the right things but have no joy or love in doing them any more.” If this applies, you need to return to your first love and ask God for a new grace to make you willing. Just going through the motions leaves you and I very vulnerable to sin and the schemes of the enemy. After David sinned horribly he prayed to God, “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” (Psalm 51:12) Notice he didn’t just ask for forgiveness, but prayed for a change of attitude so that it wouldn’t happen again.

Check your life right now. Are you willing, or do you spend most of your time complaining to God? Are you obedient, or has your life become one compromise after another? God wants His very best for you. If something is off ask Him now to pour out more grace, so you can make it right.

Posted in Mark, Philippians

A Habitat for Growth

“The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows – how, he himself does not know.” Mark 4:26-27

The seed of the kingdom of God is the Word of God. (Mark 4:14) When the Word of God is in us a change begins to happen from the inside out. Its miracle working power to change us only needs to be in the right habitat for it to complete its wonderful, transforming work. What does that habitat look like?

First, it is a habitat of grace. After the Word is planted, “he goes to bed at night…” We must rest in God instead of continually watching ourselves for growth. Could you imagine that seed surviving if every night the man went out and dug it up to see how it was doing? We need to rest in God and trust that the One who began a good work in us will also finish it. (Philippians 1:6) 

Second, it is a habitat focused on God, not man. Jesus said that some seeds dry up when “persecution arises because of the Word.” (Mark 4:17) When our focus is on people we try to live up to their expectations and time demands. When we’re seeking to follow the Word, God’s agenda and man’s agenda will come into conflict and then a choice needs to be made. Will we please God or man? 

Finally, it’s a habitat that is thorn free. Jesus gave three main thorns that will have to be continually weeded out of the garden of our hearts or the Word of God won’t grow to maturity in us. (Mark 4:19)

  1.  “The worries of the world…”  Worrying is the opposite of trusting God. If you find yourself anxious, stop, ask God to take control of whatever situation you’re anxious about and let go of it.
  2. “The deceitfulness of riches…”  Money and what money can buy promise happiness and safety but once you get them you find yourself empty and anxious after just a little while. Who’s in charge? Is it God or is it money? Choose this day which one you will serve.
  3. “The desires for other things…” Anything can choke out the word if it becomes the central focus instead of Jesus. Hold everything you have and want loosely while holding on to Jesus tightly, and you’ll find you can enjoy life to the fullest.
Posted in Acts, Isaiah, Mark, Matthew, Philippians, Proverbs, Romans, Titus

Getting Back on the Wall

“No longer will they call you Deserted, or name you Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah (My delight is in her)…for the Lord will take delight in you.” Isaiah 62:4

Yesterday we gave several ways those God genuinely sets on the wall (in a place of authority to pray) fall off of it. Today we look at how to get back on it. “A righteous man falls seven times, and rises again.” (Proverbs 24:16)

  1. Accept your calling. Romans 11:29 tells us that God’s “gifts and call are irrevocable.” Just because you don’t like the place God has given you, or feel like you’ve failed at it, doesn’t mean you get a new call. Our lives won’t work until we embrace God’s plan and flow with it. “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” (Acts 26:14)
  2. Forgive as you stand praying. “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive your transgressions.” (Mark 11:25) If we insist on justice, eventually God will have to give us the justice we want for others. (See Matthew 7:1-4) We don’t need someone to be sorry for us to forgive them. If we do, forgiveness will always be difficult. Here’s why – let’s say someone does say they’re sorry for the way they’ve treated you. How will you know if they’re really sorry? And even if they appear to be sorry, are they sorry enough? If they’re sorry enough, will that for sure mean they’ll never do it again? All we need to forgive is to remember that the greatest injustice didn’t happen to me; it happened to Jesus. The truly innocent Lamb of God died in my place – that’s injustice. Part of my worship is to lay my injustices at the foot of the cross and freely forgive those who hurt me. This is part of what it means to know Jesus “in the fellowship of His suffering.” (Philippians 3:10)
  3. Embrace your identity. The strength to stay on the wall is not in seeing your prayers answered; it’s in the fact that God’s delight is in you. We are favored sons and daughters not because of our works, but because of His great mercy toward us in Christ. (Titus 3:5-6) We don’t gain favor by praying; we pray from His favor. Our great reward is not in what He does for us, but in our relationship with Him. Until we grasp this reality it will always be hard to stay on the wall.
Posted in 1Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians

Grace

“For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” Philippians 2:13

The Christian life is not difficult, it’s impossible. No one can produce what God desires in us other than God Himself. Religion of man may do a great deal of work and have impressive spiritual disciplines, but for all of its efforts, it cannot please God.

True Christianity is about grace through faith in Christ that produces both desire and power within a believer to do the will of God. It leaves no boast in the mouth of the believer except: “I am what I am by the grace of God.” (1Corinthians 15:10) In the way of grace, the believer stops “trying” to do good and learns to yield to the goodness of God inside of them.

The verse before the text quoted above reads: “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling…” (Philippians 2:12b) The recognition that God Himself is in us means that our “work” is learning how to yield to, and release, His wonderful grace within us. If we reflect more on what this means, there will be a greater sense of awe (fear and trembling) in our ordinary lives. Think of it: the uncreated God of eternity; the God who created the entire universe – lives in me. Wow!

We don’t read our Bibles, pray, worship, go to church, or do good works to gain intimacy with God. Intimacy is His gift to us through the cross. Our part is to accept this gift daily, and to learn how to “do” all spiritual things from the place of freely given grace instead of by a performance mentality of works.

Rejoice in the grace given to you by personalizing the following verse: “In love He predestined us (me) to be adopted as His children (child), in accordance with His pleasure and will – to the praise of His glorious grace which He has freely given us (me) in the One (Christ) He loves.” (Ephesians 1:4b-6)

Posted in John, Philippians, Psalms

Wanting what God Wants

“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” John 15:7

Jesus gives us here the secret to authority in prayer. When we truly abide in Him by His Spirit, and allow His word to abide in us, our desires are transformed in such a way that what we want will be what God wants. Then we only need to ask with faith, so that heaven’s will can be done on earth. The difficulty of course is that no one perfectly abides in Him, nor does His word perfectly abide in anyone, so we are confined to a process of transformation. As we walk with Him there is more and more authority in our prayer life because we become more and more filled with His desires.

This truth also gives light to another remarkable promise: “Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be full.” (John 16:24) Some have thought this to be a simple matter of tagging the name of Jesus on to your prayer and you will get whatever you ask for. After praying in this way, you will find that this isn’t how it works and may conclude that Jesus exaggerated in His promise because you “… prayed in Jesus name according to this promise and it didn’t work!” Praying in His name means more than a postscript to a request we make of God. It means to be in union with Him, it is in fact a matter of the vine (Jesus) giving life to the prayer that comes out of the branches (us). As we live in His name, we will find increasing confidence to pray in His name.

The Old Testament scripture that underlies this truth is found in Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” When we delight in God by allowing His Spirit to dwell in us and His Word to be our daily food, He gives us His desires and puts them in our hearts, so that what we want is what He wants. True freedom is not just having the power to do what is right; it is having the desire to do what is right. As we become one with God through Jesus our life becomes easier and easier because our own carnal desires are put down and His desires become stronger in us. As Paul said: “It is God at work in you, both to will (desire) and to work for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13)

Posted in John, Mark, Philippians

Embracing the Cross

“If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s shall save it.” Mark 8:34-35

Sometimes people refer to their difficulties as, “their cross to bear”, and assume that they’re bearing it just by going through the trouble. But the cross, to be a cross like our Lord’s, is something you must take up and bear of your own free will. Jesus said about His life, “No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative.” (John 10:18)

You and I don’t choose the trouble that comes to us in various forms, but we do choose how we will deal with it. When we grumble, complain, blame, and get frustrated, angry, or depressed it’s evidence that we are still very much on the throne of our lives.  God’s inviting us to embrace suffering like Jesus did, knowing that this identification will lead to knowing Him more intimately, and result in a deeper faith in us. (See Philippians 3:10)

Francois de Fenelon, one of the great spiritual leaders of the 17th century, gave this wisdom to a struggling disciple:

“I am sorry to hear of your troubles, but I am sure you realize that you must carry the cross with Christ in this life. Soon enough there will come a time when you will no longer suffer. You will reign with God and He will wipe away your tears with His own hand. In His presence, pain and sighing will forever flee away.

So while you have the opportunity to experience difficult trials, do not lose the slightest opportunity to embrace the cross. Learn to suffer in humility and in peace. Your deep self-love makes the cross too heavy to bear. Learn to suffer with simplicity and a heart full of love. If you do you will not only be happy in spite of the cross, but because of it. Love is pleased to suffer for the Well-Beloved. The cross which conforms you into His image is a consoling bond of love between you and Him.” (100 Days in the Secret Place; page 21)

Posted in James, Matthew, Philippians

Patience with People

“Be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door.” James 5:7-9

Did you know that God is a patient Farmer? He sends His Word as seed and then patiently waits for it to do its work in and through us. We are the ones who are impatient and it gets us into all kinds of trouble. Oftentimes we value results over process, so we judge ourselves and others too quickly. What may be right on course in God’s eyes, isn’t far enough along for us, so we begin striving in a way that hinders our growth.

Do you ever take time to celebrate what God has already done in you? We may not be where we want to be, but we’re not where we once were either! This should be a cause for rejoicing and also a reason for patience. “I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6) When we see what’s happening in us as primarily God’s grace, not our works, we can enjoy the process more. And it’s only when we see ourselves as being in process, not as a final product, that we can extend the same grace to others.

Complaining about other people, especially other Christians, can easily become a habit, and it’s destructive. When we judge others, we don’t realize that the measure we’re using gets used on us by God. (Matthew 7:1-4) If you feel like you’re being forced to walk on eggshells in your walk with God, it’s probably because you’re making those around you walk on eggshells. Listen to the words of Jesus, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.” (Matthew 5:7) This does not just mean mercy in the life to come, but mercy right now.

Make mercy toward others your new habit. Life is hard enough already, let’s soften it for everyone around us, including ourselves, and enjoy more of God’s grace each and every day.

Posted in Matthew, Philippians, Psalms

Gentle Warriors

“He trains my hands for battle, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You have also given me the shield of Your salvation, and Your right hand upholds me; and Your gentleness makes me great.” Psalm 18:34-35

To become great in heaven’s eyes requires us to receive God’s gentleness before anything else. His mercy toward us in forgiveness, and His gentle dealings to draw us to Himself win our hearts so that we will do anything for Him. We live in a harsh world and frequently treat ourselves with great harshness. The devil’s work  is often easy as he only has to put the hammer in our hands, and we will beat ourselves up with shame and regret. On top of this our form of religion can also be harsh, demanding, and judgmental, but none of this is from Jesus.

“Come to Me, you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)  Jesus invites us to come and find how tender His love is and how great His ability is to remove our heavy burdens. Have you experienced His gentleness? Paul says that our gentleness toward others should be a result of us living in God’s presence. He writes in Philippians: “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” (Philippians 4:5)

God wants us to develop a gentle spirit toward people, but a warrior’s spirit toward the spiritual darkness around us. Jesus was tender toward the weak and broken, and tough toward the Pharisees and demons. David was a worshiper who danced before God but also a warrior who cut off Goliath’s head. The same God who gently deals with David also trains his hands for war; He wants to do the same in us.

The church is called to be a healthy family and an obedient army. Knowing the love of God makes us healthy, and knowing the fear of God produces in us a spirit of instant obedience. Those whom God uses in the days to come will be growing in both revelations and will be known by both the church and the world as His gentle warriors.

Posted in 1Corinthians, John, Matthew, Philippians

Assurance of Victory

“No temptation (test) has overtaken you but such as is common to man, and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted (tested) beyond what you are able but with the temptation (test) will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” 1Corinthians 10:13

 You and I can win every day, but to do so, we must begin by agreeing with God’s definition of what victory as a Christian looks like.

 First what it doesn’t look like.  Winning does not mean having no troubles, struggles, or issues to deal with.  Jesus said the wind and the waves will crash against every life (Matthew 7:24-27) and promised His disciples that they would have troubles in this world. (John 16:33)  He even warned us ahead of time to not be offended by this. (John 16:1-2)

 So what is victory, and how can I walk every day with assurance?  Instead of delivering us from life’s troubles, God promises to walk with us through them.  The same Greek word, “peirasmos,” is translated as temptation and test.  Which is right?  The same set of circumstances can easily be described as both a temptation and a test – Satan tempts to bring us down; God allows tests to purify and strengthen us.  God won’t always prevent a temptation, but in His faithfulness He will limit them, so that we can walk through our troubles with Him.  Tests invite us to draw near, so we will know the way He has provided for our escape even though “escape” may mean strength to endure through instead of a deliverance from.

 In school we need to pass tests to advance to the next grade and I think it’s the same in the kingdom.  God’s beloved children don’t get an identity of failure when they give into temptation but will just keep retaking the same test until we pass it.  We decide how long the process lasts. (Three weeks could end up being 40 years!)  He ultimately wants to build in each of us an assurance of victory that is able to say: “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)

Posted in 2Peter, Luke, Matthew, Philippians

Living Ready for His Return

“Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the prudent, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the prudent answered, ‘No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealer and buy some for yourselves.’” Matthew 25:5-9

The great work of this life is to live ready for Christ’s return. He has delayed His return because He doesn’t want anyone to perish (2Peter 3:9) and is even now calling sinners to repent and turn to God. But what about the danger to those who have begun their journey but are now distracted by other things? How do we ensure we don’t end up like the foolish virgins Jesus describes in Matthew 25? There are three things we can do daily, so that we’re living ready for His return.

  1. We must stay awake. Jesus said that before Noah’s flood and the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah, people were “eating, they were drinking, they were marrying…they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building.” (Luke 17:27-28) The problem was that these legitimate things were all they were doing – they had lost track of a living faith in God. The busyness of this world easily lulls us to sleep and pretty soon we are relying on past experience instead of present relationship.
  2. We must trim our wicks. Yesterday’s sins, regrets, and successes have to be trimmed away to walk with God today. Listen to Paul’s encouragement: “One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14) 
  3. We must have fresh oil. The foolish virgins think they can get oil from other people – it’s not possible. You can’t get your relationship with God from your grandma, parents, or pastor, however godly they may be. Go to the dealer Himself. He has fresh oil for every single day. The cost is only the time and effort it takes to seek Him for it. Jesus has already paid the price, so we can always be filled with the Holy Spirit. Your Father loves you, Jesus died for you, so all you need to do is ask each day.