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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Becoming A Traitor

"Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor"
(Luke 6:16).

Have you ever noticed that we live in a society that gravitates toward the frightful?  Think about, horror films are still made.  Why?  Because people keep going to see them.  Video games that instill fear continue to be produced, stocked, sold, and new orders put in for more.  And, that traffic that you can't understand where it began, is many times passersby who absolutely must slow down and see the results of some undoubtedly untimely circumstance.

What's scarier than anything Hollywood, Nintendo, or the interstate closest to you can produce or host, is when we, perhaps as Christians, live in such a way as though what we have in Christ really doesn't matter.  A dangerous road we travel when we being to take our eyes off of Jesus, slip into "cruise control," veer off from time to time to indulge the pleasure of the moment, and check the map from time to time to see if we're still headed somewhat in the right direction.  Scary.

Judas became a traitor because that is who he was, or at least it is who he chose to be.  He remained with Jesus and the other eleven disciples, sat under the academics of Jesus, participated in the activities of Jesus, but never really engaged in the application of Jesus into his heart and everyday life.  He buckled under the weight of his own pride and pleasure.  He was right there, and yet was so far away.  Why?  Because, it was of his own refusal to surrender fully and to abide in the presence of God.

Choosing, regardless of what "season" you find yourself in, to abide in the presence of Christ, will continue to be the to success in your personal spiritual growth.  Be diligent with the academics - study, be in the Word, learn what it means to really be a disciple of Jesus.  Stay committed to the activity - be an active part of what God is doing, as an overflow from what He's showing you.  And, be diligent to apply it - live it out.  As you draw closer to Him, and He to you, you will find yourself being blessed day after day by the power of His presence and the faithfulness of grace, mercy, and love.  As you abide in Him, becoming a traitor will not be scary.  It will become non-existent.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Going Deep!

"When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, 'Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch'" (Luke 5:4).


Jesus had been sitting in the boat with Simon in shallow waters. Even there, Simon saw Jesus do amazing things, speaking to such a large and spontaneous crowd. And then He challenged Simon to go out into the deep for a catch. He called Him out into the "mystery" of the unknown, a place that seemed so vast where uncertainty was the only thing that was certain.

It's not so hard to hold back and tread water where you know you can closely touch, but God called you to put out into the deep, to trust Him in the mystery of the unknown. When He calls, your uncertainty is irrelevant because you can be certain that He is faithful and you can trust Him. Therefore, you cannot allow fear and intimidation of deep places to keep you trapped in shallow water!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Developed in the Desert

"Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness" (Luke 4:1).

Sometimes I really find Christians a humorous lot!  Yes, I place myself in the midst of that generalization.  I think of some of the things that we think, say, and do, all in the "name of" or for the "glory of."  We believe gluttony is wrong, so we don't do that.  Of course, we are of no shortage for church dinners where we eat more than our fair share.  But it's not gluttony.  It's "fellowship."  And, we believe gossip is a sin and would never get caught up into something so destructively evil.  But, we don't mind sharing everyone's business with everyone else.  But, it's not gossip.  We call it "sharing the truth in love."  Or, better yet, "prayer requests!"  And of course, one of our most popular one, is how we love to "rebuke the devil" over everything in our lives that is not in line with our preference, comfort, or desires.  The truth that we have to allow God to speak into the depths of our shallow understanding is that it's not always the devil.

Jesus proves in Luke 4:1 that everyone faces a desert season in their lives.  Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness - a place that was desolate, deserted, and solitary.  It was dry and it was lonely.  Jesus wasn't being punished, for He was the One who was without sin and knew no sin.  Yet, He was being led into a season of testing.  His response in the midst of this testing would be the supreme example to the world.

It wasn't the devil that initiated this season of struggle.  It was the Holy Spirit.  God had a plan, but the humanity of Jesus needed to be tested so the plan of God could be promoted.  It was during this season that He faced the poster child or evil, Satan, for forty days, though we are only given record of three temptations.  Each time, Jesus responds by quoting the Truth of God's Word, and when it was all said and done, the evil one left, and the angels ministered to Him.  The Spirit had shown Him the way there, supplied Him with all He needed, and sustained  Him.

You face testing in your life.  It's a given.  It is for a lifetime.  Testing is not just for punishment.  It is also for promotion.  If God's desire for your life is to take you beyond where you are, then you must be prepared for testing.  Don't fight it.  Embrace it.  Depend upon Him through the process, and He will lead you into the place of victory that is only possible by being led to and through the desert.  The desert is not meant to demote you.  It's to develop you!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Even in the Desert Places

"...during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness" (Luke 3:2).

It was in the wilderness that John received the revealed word from the mouth of God.  It was in the desolate place, the desert season.  It was in a period of aloneness and aparent isolation that he heard this revelation from God.

We should never discount, detour from, or be discouraged by the wilderness times in our lives.  It is there that we are brought to the end of ourselves.  It is there that we have a greater opportunity for dependence, openness, and revelation.  It is there that we are prepared to receive all that God wants to show and do in our lives.

No, it doesn't make the desert seasons and the wilderness periods more enjoyable, but it reminds us of two great things.  One, the desert doesn't disqualify us from being able to hear from God or to be used of God.  And two, sometimes it takes the desert for us to be able to be alone enough to hear what He wants to speak!  So, how do you approach and appreciate  the wilderness moments that are inevitable in life?  Thank God for them!  Open your eyes and heart to the opportunity to root deep in the waters of His presence.  God hasn't called you to live in loneliness, but to "aloneness" with Him, embraced by the peace, the power, and the preparation of His presence!  Only there can you get past the distractions of a busy life, a busy mind, and a busy past, and truly hear the voice of the Lord for the answers and directions that you are desperate to receive.

Don't underestimate the grace of God in the desert!  Just listen...He's speaking!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Excited?

"The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told"
(Luke 2:20).

The shepherds had been told some incredible, even unbelievable things by these heavenly beings that had startled them, completely taking them by surprise!  Imagine hearing a choir singing like angels, and really being angels!  And, they were told of this promised Messiah that had been born that very night, and where He was.  The angels were excited.  They had something to shout about, to sing about, to declare at the tops of their lungs!  The excitement was contagious!

The shepherds went beyond their natural and limited comprehension, exercising a faith and a hope in what they had heard.  They saw for themselves not only the awesomeness of God, but the God of all awesomeness!  This led to their own rejoicing, praising, and declaring.  They were excited that they had encountered the God of all creation who had entered their world.  What love they had never before encountered.  He was here.  They, too, had something to shout about!

This is how it should be!  Are you aware of the love that Jesus has for you?  Do you live in the knowledge of what He has done for you, entering into your world, saving you unto His?  Do you realize that you do have something to shout about, to be excited about, to jump up and down about?  You have a hope in Jesus!  You have a peace that passes all understanding in HIM!  You have a freedom that is only found in Him!  He gave His life so that you could LIVE!  He rose from the dead so that you would know that in Him all things ARE possible!  Excited yet?

Of course, though all of these truths are without question, you must choose whether or no to live in the reality of such incredible blessings.  It's too hard?  You can't?  You've tried?  Well, it's time to get excited again, because the Apostle Paul declared it with gusto, "His strength is made perfect in my weakness.  When I am weak, then I am strong."  You can do all things through Christ!  Be excited!  Tell somebody what Jesus has done in your life!  Your world will never be the same! 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Expect to Encounter God

"When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear" 
(Luke 1:12).

Zechariah had been chose to offer incense before the Lord.  It was his appointed time.  It was an honor and an opportunity not to be taken lightly.  There was something gravely exciting about approaching the holiness of God in this way.  As he was behind the curtain, he encountered the supernatural presence of heaven in a way he had never known.  He was startled.

It is startling how easy it can be to have a good heart, but low expectations, surrendering more to the ceremonial traditions of religion.  In various parts of our world there is no shortage of churches, people who call themselves "Christians," or other institutions of religion.  What there is a shortage of is a people who live in great expectation of who God is and what He desires to do in their lives.

There are so many people who live lives of low spiritual expectancy.  They "believe" in God, but don't necessarily believe that He's going to do anything in their lives.  When Zechariah went behind that curtain, though he should always have had a fear of the Lord, should not have been startled that the presence of the Lord was there.  He should have expected something out of the ordinary, something so much greater than he could possibly accomplish on his own.  We, too, should approach God with great expectation.  He's able.  He's more than able.

Don't hope for an experience.  Choose to live, abide in the everyday expectation that your God is alive, that He's aware, alert, and that He is always around you.  Know that He is active in your life.  The question for you, is whether or not you will activate the faith you profess to have, and apply that expectation.  Take Him at His Word.  Believe that when you approach Him, He is there.  Be confident that when you are crying out to Him, He hears you, and He will answer you.

Be reminded of the humble, yet passionately expectant words that David prayed to the Lord: "I pray to You, because I know you will answer, O God" (Psalm 17:6).

Monday, September 19, 2011

Love Reaches Beyond Familiar

"Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers and sisters, even though they are strangers to you"
(3 John 1:5).

One of the worst feelings when you are in a group of people is feeling as though you don't belong.  You don't get the inside jokes, are not being engaged in the conversations, and you begin to feel like a Dallas Cowboys fan in a room full of Pittsburgh Steelers (believe me, I know!).

Of course, it's no secret that is our nature to gravitate to that which is most familiar to us.  We instinctively move closer to those we recognize, talk more with those we have more in common with, and spend time with those we most enjoy being around.  The danger, especially when it involves Christian community, is that we are magnates to what is common and comfortable in what is familiar and we shy away from what, and who, we don't know.  Thus, we give the impression that we don't care, aren't interested, and those who don't fit in our circles, well...they just don't belong.

At some point, as John points out in this short letter, it should not matter who we know and who we don't know.  As believers, we should be faithful at opening ourselves up to each other, encouraging, supporting, and going the extra mile for each other.  It should be based on the measure of how well we know them, but upon the relationship we share with Christ and in Christ.

Yes, we tell our children to "never talk to strangers."  However, in the family and community that we have and are in Christ, love reaches beyond familiar.  There are no strangers, only opportunities to discover and uncover the gift of relationship that God has placed before us.

Be challenged to look beyond the familiar, to get to know those around you, especially those who have identified themselves as lovers and followers of Jesus.  Purpose in your heart to do what you know you can do to break down the walls that divide us.  Love reaches beyond the familiar.  Do you?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Never Going Back that Way Again

"Watch out that you don't lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully" (2 John 1:8).

Progress can be a tricky thing within the caverns of our minds.  We tend to look at the distance and the challenges that are a head.  This can sometimes be both daunting and discouraging.  But, it's the flip side of that journey that doesn't get the attention that is so richly deserves: the distance on the journey already traveled.  There are so many that never take that first step to embark on the challenge of a new dream, a new habit, breaking an old destructive cycle, or a a renewed mindset in life.  The challenge with this perspective is that while we celebrate the journey we have traveled, that we are closer to where we are heading than we were before we started, is that we purpose in our hearts to never return to that place we were so desperate to overcome.

In this very short letter, John is speaking to a woman who has become a pillar of faith, yet is seemingly surrounded by those who are deceivers and seek to mislead.  John encourages her with the truth that she has come too far to back now; and that there is still more that God would desire to bless her with both now and in eternity.

The same is true for you.  No matter where you have been, you have the choice to move beyond.  This is true in both matters of faith and in every day living.  It takes great pains and commitment to establish disciplines in life.  Do not allow old habits or resurrected desires to take you back to a place that had kept you away from God's best for your life.  You must choose to stay focused on Him, stay on your guard, and continue in the disciplines that He is and longs to develop in you.  Choose to get off of the roller coaster of life's purposeless and destructive cycles; always moving up and down, in loops, upside down and right side up, but always getting off in the same place you got on.  Purpose to move forward.  Ask Jesus for the strength, the direction, and the grace to walk in the path that He has already made way just for you!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Praying the Will of God

"This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us" (1 John 5:14).

Parenting is such a joy full and overflowing with teachable moments!  And no, I'm not just referring to the children.  There are so many things that I learn as a parent, and that I learn about God through me being a parent.  Case and point: we are constantly trying to teach our children to be polite and to ask for things nicely, rather than coming across in a way that is demanding, unrealistically expectant, and rude.  We teach them to be patient, kind, gentle and polite as they are asking of things from siblings, mom and dad, or anyone.  Not too long ago, one of my children began to cry out in great emotion.  I asked this precious child of mine what was wrong.  The response was this: "I asked very politely for this toy and they said, 'no,' and I still want it.  You said all I had to do was ask politely!"

In that moment, God began to reveal to me how we, at times, approach prayer.  We want, we pray, and if we ask nice enough, or "humble" enough, then we should get what we've asked for.  What a challenge and a blessing John gives here in this verse.  We are not to pray and ask for things at random, or to merely fulfill our own desires.  But rather, we are to continue to desire to always be in the center of God's will.  The word "will" is a word that means inclination, desire, pleasure, determination, and purpose.  When we pray according to our will, our inclinations, and determined to fulfill our desires and pleasures, but trying to do it nicely, we are praying according to coercion, not exaltation.

But, when we pray according to what brings Him pleasure; when we are purposing to be intimately connected to what His heart is inclined to, He hears us and is more attentive to us.  His heart's desire is for His will to be lived out in our lives.  "Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven."

Here's the challenge.  How do you pray the will of God if you are not in in the will of God?  Choose to live so close to Him that you are living congruently in His will.  Purpose day by day and moment by moment to submit to Him in all things through your obedience.  As you commit to this being the seal upon your life, it will forever change how you pray, and the results when you pray.

Monday, September 12, 2011

LOVE: He Showed Me How

"We love because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19).

"It's just so hard to love some people."  Have you ever heard that said?  Have you ever thought that before, or maybe even allowed it to escape guard of your own lips?  How do you love difficult people: people who are rude, cruel, unloving, unresponding?  What about people who always seem to be out to get you, have done you wrong, have hurt you more than you can even bear to imagine without giving into oceanic amounts of tears, anger, or rage?  And, what about this:  How do you love when love has diminished into a feeling that you are no longer able to detect in your heart?  In short, Jesus showed us how.  He loved us first.

John, in this passage, is not referring to our ability to love God, but rather the example that He has shown in Jesus to love others.  Our ability is in the example.  We can love others, regardless of who they are or what they have done with a love that is by choice, of the will, and unconditional.  It is the love that He love us with and gave us the example in how to love others.

John was the disciple that stayed at the cross and saw what they had done to Jesus.  He had beheld the results of great mutilation, humiliation, and crucifixion.  He saw the indescribable contrast of love and evil.  It was evil that took Jesus to the cross, but it was love that held Him there.  There on that cross, Jesus loved them still.  Now, John reminds us all that we can love others in that same manner, because it is the same way He has loved and continues to love us.  He loves us past our faults, our struggles, our sins, our betrayals, and in spite of our own "un-lovliness."

Think about His love for you, and how patient He is with you, how kind He is towards you, and how forgiving He is to you and in spite of you.  Pretty amazing and overwhelming, isn't it?  Does the love that He has shown you spill over into your own choice to love?  Never can you, in all sincerity, declare, "but I can't love like that."  Truth is: you can.  He did it.  He has shown you, so that you won't be intimidated or convinced otherwise.  And, because you can, you should.  Think of the people in your life.  No, not just the people you love to love, or that seem easier to love.  Think of the people you are in conflict with, the ones that have hurt you, the ones that you'd rather just avoid altogether.  Choose today to allow the love of an awesome God that has invaded the life of someone so undeserving (you), to spill over into the lives of those.  He showed you how.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Choice Matters

"No one who lives in Him keeps on sinning.  No one who continues to sin has wither seen Him or known Him"  (1 John 3:6).

I will never forget the summer of 1996.  It was a balmy July and August in the humidity of Fort Jackson, South Carolina.  I was in basic training in the US Army, a recent high school graduate, and a professing believer in Jesus Christ.  However, deep inside of me I had always had an insecurity that in itself was motivated by desiring to being accepted and belonging.  Instead of being who I knew God made me to be, I always assessed my value based on the acceptance of others.  In high school, I never really found myself belonging to any particular group, feeling in someways "not good enough" for any of them.  Of course this was fueled in large part by insecurities in my life based on growing up in a broken and dysfunctional setting.

But, here I was on this new leg of the journey of my life.  I decided within the first few days that I was going to blend in.  I wasn't going to stand out.  I wanted to be liked, accepted, and to belong.  So, for the first half of my time there, I did just that.  I blended in with my conversations, my actions, and my attitudes, though knowing I was beginning to walk a path that wasn't really meeting my deepest expectations.  There was one evening as we had some "free time" that I walked around our institutional-like sleeping quarters, that I noticed one fellow recruit reading a Bible.  I remarked to him that I, too, was a Christian.  His response completely took the air right out of my lungs.  "Oh," he replied.  "I couldn't tell."  That was all he said.  That was all I needed to hear.  The path that I would choose would matter.  It mattered to me, to God, and to others that would observe me.

"No one who continues to sin has either seen Him or known Him." What a strong statement that is sure to challenge the faith and commitment of anyone who says they believe in Jesus.  Though we may still fall short, we cannot willfully choose to walk down paths that Christ has already setup, in plain sight, easy to read "Do Not Enter" signs.  We cannot share a truly intimate relationship with Him when we are living in ways that trade intimacy for enmity.

Take a moment and really consider every element of your day-to-day life.  Are you doing, thinking or saying things that are interrupting your pursuit for intimacy with Jesus?  It's either intimacy or enmity with Him.  It's either intimacy with Jesus, or intimacy with yourself - your own thoughts, plans, passions, or pursuits, which will undoubtedly and inevitably lead to great enmity with Him, and others around you.  If your choice is for greater intimacy with Jesus, choose to walk in the course that will lead you there.  Choose to live in total obedience and complete surrender to Him.  Because, the choice...it really does matter!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Love Divided

"Do not love the world or anything in the world.  If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them"
(1 John 2:15).

It is one thing to have a Godly passion for the people of the world, and we very much should and are called by God to do so.  However, it is clearly another thing to desire the passions of the world.  We cannot love the Father while still trying to live out a love for worldly desires.  Love, in all sincerity and integrity, cannot be split or divided.  Love for God can not be shared with that which is in conflict with the character of God.  To love Him is to love out that love for Him.  Love is not just a response, but it is an initiated choice that we have, made possible by the initiated choice of Jesus Christ to first love us.  It is a choice of sacrifice and surrender, clearly defining the affections of one's heart.

Who does your heart belong for?  If your heart belongs to Jesus, because you have surrendered it fully to Him, then you must be purposeful and strategic in what you expose your heart to.  The Bible calls you to "guard your heart" and to do it "...above all else."  Pray that God "searches your heart," and as He reveals areas in your life that contradict who He is and His best for you, ask Him to "create with in you a clean heart."  Your loyalties and love cannot be shared by God, with God, or by that which contradicts God.  His love for you is so great that it overwhelms any false fulfillment that you could ever find elsewhere!  How great is the Father's love!!  How undivided ours must be!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Walking the Fence

"If we claim to have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth"
(1 John 1:6).

In 1996, I was 18 years old, fresh out of high school, basic training, and technical school.  I had just arrived at the location in the Washington, DC area where I would spend the next few years serving my country in the US Army.  Those first few weeks were a roller coaster ride for me in just about every way imaginable.  I was living on my own, no longer a trainee, and spiritually, I was responsible for making choices that would prove to mark the path I would choose to journey.  For those first few weeks, I decided to walk the fence.  I enjoyed the new found quick acceptance from the guys in the barracks and was finding enjoyment in all that seemed to come with it.  However, God brought me to a place one weekend, after I had spent Saturday night in the club and Sunday morning in the church, that I needed to choose.  I could not continue to walk the fence and expect Him to be an active part in my life.  I had to choose.  I chose Him.

It is undeniable that actions speak louder than words, but actions must also speak at least as loud as words.  To have fellowship with Jesus, to be a partner with Him, we have to be willing to trust Him enough to walk in His path.  We cannot partner with Him and still choose to walk in our own ways, preferences, understanding, or for seeking our own pleasure.  If we're still walking  in darkness, then there's a greater distance between where we are and who He is.

Not only does your moral behavior need to fall in line with your partnering with Jesus, but also your trust and following through on that trust.  If you trust Him, then worry, anxiety, vain imagination, and insecurities can not be allowed to hold a place in your life.  Don't walk the fence with the darkness that seeks to crowd you out of the best God has for your life.  Choose to walk in the light of His presence.  The evidence of choosing to walk in that light will be shown in all aspects of your life: your marriage, your job, with your children, and in the secret places that are then reflected in your character.  Choose to walk in His light only, in His blessing only, and for Him only each day!  Your life will be blessed, victorious, and at peace when walking the fence is no longer an option.