Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Day 365: Revelation 19, 20, 21 and 22

I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End (Revelation 22:13).

John’s Revelation ends the same way it began. I am the Alpha and Omega, says the Lord God (1:8). For the Christian, oppressed under Rome’s thumb, this is yet again a message of hope and an invitation to endure – but not just to endure – to endure with faith and hope.

This beast of yours, this Roman Empire... I was here before this great empire was even a thought, and I will be here long after it turns to dust... even after its dust ceases to be, I will be here.

Some of our problems that cropped up this year lasted a few weeks and were resolved. Some may still be dogging us, and if we were honest we might admit that sometimes we wonder if they’re going to get the best of us. The truth is: God was present and faithful before those problems came along, and God will be present and faithful long after they are gone.

What’s the name of the beast raging against you today?

When troubles seem overwhelming, hold on. God is on your side. That’s what Revelation is all about. Tell them, God may not have started this fight, but he sure can finish it!

Happy New Year!

God knows the troubles that have cropped up in your life this year. Some are already resolved, but some feel like they’re going to dog you the rest of your life. Your heavenly Father has been with you all this year. Affirm that he’ll be with you next year too. And together, there’s no enemy you can’t handle!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Day 364: Revelation 15, 16, 17 and 18

Fallen is Babylon the Great! (Revelation 18:2).

The writer of Revelation delivers the same message with four different groupings of symbols. That message is, according to Marie Strong: “God is victorious over all the forces (and faces) of evil and the church will endure. The Alpha and Omega is coming to judge (Revelation 1:7-8 and 22:12-13) . . . we live with the hope that our suffering in the battle between good and evil will be answered by the one who ‘will wipe every tear from [our] eyes’ (21:4). We will then belong with the one who makes all things new!” [17].

In Chapter 18, we see the promised destruction of Rome. Rome has been around for a long time, and it seems like it will dominate the world for many years to come. But finally: the answer to our prayers. That which seemed like a long time coming, now comes quickly.

Our battles seem to go on forever. Satan shows no mercy and has no qualms about attacking us at our weakest point, or in waiting until we are exhausted or discouraged to give his plans a better chance of success. But there is coming a day when our Babylon the great – that force pitting itself against God’s people today – will go up in smoke. God wants Believers to know the outcome of the story – the end of the book. God wins! And so do those who remain faithful!

What’s fighting against you? Keep resisting.

Celebrate the assurance that even when it seems our battles go on forever, you’re on the winning side and, more importantly, God is on your side!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Day 363: Revelation 11, 12, 13 and 14

The inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and will celebrate by sending each other gifts (Revelation 11:10).

Our selection for today begins with the apparent deaths of the two witnesses (11:3) – or olive trees or lampstands (v. 4), or prophets (v. 10. We first read about the two olive trees in Zechariah where they symbolize Zerubbabel and Joshua. Zerubbabel governed (a descendant of King David) the exiles who had returned from Babylon and Joshua was the High Priest, symbolic of joint godly leadership in both the political and the spiritual realms.

What I find particularly telling about this passage is the reaction of the inhabitants of the earth (symbolic of the unbelieving population of Rome – or Rome itself). After their deaths, these scoffers will party and send one another gifts in celebration that these two prophets are seemingly dead. But after three and a half days – Antiochus IV (Epiphanes) wreaked havoc on Jerusalem for three and a half years; three and a half days and 42 months are both symbolic of significant persecution – things would start looking up. If the inhabitants of the earth symbolize Rome, then the prophets (olive trees, lampstands, prophets, etc.) symbolize the church.

Though the church’s defeat looked like a sure thing – enough that its enemies were already congratulating themselves with a victory celebration, after three and a half days the breath of life from God entered them (11:11).

Give thanks that even when evil prematurely throws a party thinking you’re down and out, with God’s help, you’re still here.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Day 362: Revelation 7, 8, 9 and 10

Who are they, and where did they come from? (Revelation 7:13).

This question is asked by one of the elders regarding the great multitude that no one could count (v. 9). The writer wants his readers to be aware that the path ahead is difficult, and for many will result in martyrdom. The writer also wants his readers to know that they are not walking this path alone.

Remember Elijah and his despair following the victory over Baal’s prophets? He’d just experienced an incredible display of God’s power, but one that reinvigorated Jezebel’s murderous hatred for him. He was on the run, beyond burnout, and needed encouragement. He railed against God: I have been very zealous for [you] . . . I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too (1 Kings 19:10). In other words, why have you left me all alone? But God informed Elijah there were 7,000 others who remained faithful. Elijah was by no means alone.

Likewise, God’s faithful under siege from Rome need some assurance too. It’s tough enough to ask someone to suffer martyrdom, but it’s even more difficult if that person thinks he (or she) is the only one making the supreme sacrifice. The writer here encourages Believers: Stay strong. There are more faithful than you can count, and they come from all nations, tribes, peoples and languages. You are not alone.

The next time someone whispers in your ear, Everyone else is doing it…

Pray for strength to be faithful in tough times, even if it seems you’re all alone. Consider that you have brothers and sisters who are also holding true.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Day 361: Revelation 4, 5 and 6

There before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it (Revelation 4:2).

No doubt about it; under Roman Emperor Domitian Christianity was under attack. And one of the first things John is shown in his heavenly vision is a throne. This is a throne higher and mightier than the throne of Rome – this is the throne of heaven. And at a time when Christians might have been wondering, Is God still on the throne? Revelation leaves no doubt.

One of my favorite scenes is when the angel proclaims: Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll? (5:2). For a time no one answers, and John weeps. Then one of the elders speaks: The Lion of the tribe of Judah . . . He is able (v. 5). And John turns expecting to see a lion, but instead: Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne (v. 6).

Not only is there a throne, encircled with a rainbow, (reminiscent of Noah’s story of God’s preservation in Genesis 6-9); the throne is not empty – in chapter 4 a majestic, heavenly figure is sitting on it. In chapter 5 the one sitting on the throne is none other than Jesus Christ the Lamb of God. John illustrates that God has come through for his people in the past and will again. To John, all of this is evidence that God and not Rome is in control.

Have you ever felt like the throne is empty? It’s not. What does it mean to your faith to know that God reigns?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Day 360: Revelation 1, 2 and 3

Be faithful, even to the point of death (Revelation 2:10).

Revelation is a message to first century Christians facing dire persecution. Things are bad and are going to get worse before they get better. Nowhere does God tell those who are his that they will avoid suffering. Rather, they are warned that suffering is unavoidable, and may even lead to death.

But in Luke, Jesus tells the crowds, Do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. (12:4) And in Revelation: I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades (1:18).

In other words, death isn’t final. Sure, the enemy is a thief who comes only to steal and kill and destroy (John 10:10), but even if things go that wrong, there’s still hope. Christ reminds us that he and not Satan holds the keys to death and hell. And if Jesus was dead, but is now alive forever and ever, then may we find assurance that even in death, death doesn’t get the final word. Death is the worst the devil can do to us, but not even death can separate us from our Savior.

Though being a Christian may not put your life at risk (count your blessings), your faith is still under attack, sometimes in such subtle ways that you may not even recognize it.

Will you be faithful this week?

Thank God for those who suffer for their faith. Pray for them to stay strong. Ask God’s help to remain faithful no matter what the enemy throws at you.

Day 359c: Jude

Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear – hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh (Jude 22,23).

Although his audience is not identified, these friends are dear to Jude, the half-brother of Jesus. He exhorts them to contend for the faith (v. 3) and not fall prey to those who deny Christ and persuade others to deny him too.

Jude says these apostates have infiltrated the church and use God’s grace as an excuse for immorality. Not content with satisfying their own lust, they draw others into their web of sexual depravity. He compares them to three earlier apostates. Cain was jealous of Abel’s acceptance by the Lord; Balaam enticed the Israelites into sexual immorality; and Korah urged others to join him in his rebellion against Moses. Likewise these traitors against God will be destroyed as are all God’s enemies.

But Jude differentiates between instigators and those who are led astray because their faith is weak. These they are urged to rescue if they can (vv. 22,23).

He closes with one of the most beautiful doxologies in the New Testament: To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and great joy – to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen (vv. 24,25).

How can you protect yourself from ungodly influences?

Day 359b: 3 John

They deserve any support we can give them. In providing meals and a bed, we become their companions in spreading the Truth (The Message, 3 John 8).

John writes his friend Gaius, thanking him for the hospitality shown traveling Christians and evangelists. Apparently that was not the norm for some churches. He references Diotrephes, who has not only turned away Christian travelers, but has intimidated other church members into doing the same (vv. 9,10).

Years ago, my wife Janelle and I traveled the United States singing in churches and leading worship for camp meetings and revivals. We relied on the kindness of strangers as those churches supported our ministry financially and provided us food and lodging when we were in town. I remember a poor old blind woman in Maine who gave us the very best she had to offer, as if she was receiving Christ himself. Though she’s passed on now, we still thank God every time the Holy Spirit brings her to our memory, which is often.

Jesus memorialized forever the woman who poured perfume on his head shortly before his crucifixion (Matthew 26:6-13). He also taught: If anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward (Matthew 10:42). If we love Christ, how can we not show hospitality to those who minister in his name?

Give thanks for those who have stepped out in faith to serve the Lord Jesus Christ. Ask God how you can honor them, receive them with hospitality, and be a blessing to them in Christ’s name.

Day 359a: 2 John

Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world (2 John 7).

In John’s later years, the church was in the very early stages of defining the Incarnation – what it meant for God to put on human flesh. One group that spurned the growing consensus of the church and specifically the teachings of John was the Docetics. Docetism insisted that Jesus was pure spirit and only appeared to be flesh. Even after the Docetics were gone, their teachings were adopted by the Gnostics, another heretical group.

By emphasizing Christ as spirit and not flesh, they elevated the importance of spirit and diminished the importance of the body; not only his but ours as well. By extension this implies that what we do physically has no impact on who we are spiritually. Carried to its extreme, this allows for vile indulgence of carnal desires.

For a more subtle effect, consider this in light of the teachings from 1 John. If Jesus did not come in the flesh, but instead was only spirit, how does that influence the teachings about love for God and love for others? John writes that if we love Christ we must 1) obey his teachings; 2) love our brothers and sisters; and 3) love them with our actions, not just our words (from 1 John).

Christ put on flesh. So must our claims of loving Christ and loving others.

Thank you, God, for the Incarnation, in which your Son Jesus humbled himself, taking the form of a servant. Help us follow his lead.

How will your love put on flesh this week?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Day 358: 1 John 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5

Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did (1 John 2:6).

John teaches that anyone who claims to know Christ but does not obey his teachings does not really know him at all (2:4). Those who love Christ walk in his light, but anyone who hates his brother or sister, is walking around in darkness (2:9). And anyone who allows his brother to go without while he enjoys plenty does not have the love of God in him (3:17).

John 3:16 reads: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. Its corresponding verse in 1 John 3:16 says this: This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. Jesus not only told us he loved us, he backed up his words by dying in our place.

It’s easy to say, I love you, but John says love is a matter of actions, not words: Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth (3:18). As did Christ, we must be willing to back up our words with our actions, and if need be our lives.

Can Christ see through your actions and through your obedience that you love him? Can those close to you see your love in your actions or just in your words?

May your love for God be not just a matter of words, but let your very life proclaim that his only Son is your Savior. How can Christ’s love in your heart overflow to those around you every day?

Monday, December 23, 2013

Day 357: 2 Peter 1, 2 and 3

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life (2 Peter 1:3).

First Peter was written secretly from Rome to those displaced by Neronian persecution, warning them to never respond to evil with evil, but to let their faith be refined by suffering. Time has passed since that writing. It would seem that Peter has been discovered, or maybe he just thinks he can’t remain hidden much longer. His life is in danger, and he writes to his friends one last time.

Second Peter is another of his letters to the same refugees informing them among other things that he is living on borrowed time. There are some things he needs to tell them while he still can.

Keep growing in faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, affection and love (from 1:5-7). We have two choices: we can work to grow up in Christ or we can stall and become worthless. Growing up takes effort, but God has graciously given us everything we need.

Christ’s return is sure (1:16), but false prophets have leveraged his delay to infect his followers with doubt (2:1). They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised?” (3:4). No matter what our detractors may say, we can be sure we have not been forgotten.

Christ’s delay is measured to allow unbelievers time to repent and believers time to mature (3:8-11). God wants no one to perish, but all to come to repentance.

How does Peter’s second secret letter speak to you?

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Day 356: 1 Peter 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5

It is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God (1 Peter 2:19).

Peter is writing to Roman Christians scattered throughout Asia Minor. They are refugees, chased from their homes through no fault of their own. Nero blamed them for the great fire which had recently destroyed much of the city and they are in hiding. This gives a new understanding to Peter’s words: These [trials] have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed (1:7). Their faith was being refined by fire… literally.

It is from Rome he writes to these saints: Live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear (1:17). Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult (3:9). But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed (3:14). Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you (4:12). If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name (4:16).

In closing, Peter includes greetings from the church in Rome, but rather than reveal his location, he adopts code language almost apocalyptic in nature: She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings (5:13).

Have you ever been falsely accused?

Thank God, that even in suffering he is at work in your life. Be reminded that you are not the first to suffer unjustly; commit to never repay evil for evil; and praise him that you bear the name “Christian.”

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Day 355: James 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5

Each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed (James 1:14).

In the 1996 Disney film The Hunchback of Notre Dame, loosely based on Victor Hugo’s 1831 French novel, Archdeacon Frollo alternates between battling and embracing his feelings of lust for the gypsy girl Esmeralda. The antagonist displays, if not virtue, the virtuosity in excusing himself from blame, deftly pushing all responsibility instead onto the girl.

Written by Stephen Schwartz and Alan Menken, the song Hellfire captures Frollo’s internal torment. Like fire / hellfire / This fire in my skin/This burning / desire / Is turning my to sin / It’s not my fault / I’m not to blame / It is the gypsy girl / The witch who sent this flame [17].

It’s all her fault! Don’t look at me! If we could be believed, it’s never our fault when we fall into sin. Someone else is always to blame. If only she didn’t dress like that. If only the money wasn’t sitting right there in plain sight. If only the Internet didn’t bring this stuff right into the privacy of my own living room.

This is not to say others are not to blame for their own choices, which sometimes play a part in leading us astray, or that we bear no responsibility when we wrongly influence someone else to sinful ends, but we won’t fool God by claiming, “The devil made me do it” [18]. Each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Or as Jerry Bridges writes in The Pursuit of Holiness: “We sin because we choose to sin” [19].

Whose fault is it when you sin?

Friday, December 20, 2013

Day 354: Hebrews 10, 11, 12 and 13

When this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God (Hebrews 10:12).

Our passage yesterday delineated one of the differences between the sacrifices offered under the Mosaic Law and the perfect sacrifice of Jesus. The High Priest carried bull and goat blood with him as his entrance requirement into the Most Holy Place. Jesus needed no such animal blood; he entered the presence of God by virtue of his own shed blood. Whereas Old Testament sacrifices were symbolic, his sacrifice was the real thing – what the symbols pointed to.

Today’s reading points out another difference. We know animal sacrifices had to be repeated over and over again, because they were insufficient to remove the guilt of sin. Certain sacrifices were offered every single day. Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins (v. 11). Though a priest’s work was never done, notice Jesus’ next move after offering his perfect sacrifice: He sat down at the right hand of God. He could rest because his work was done. The plan of salvation was complete. His sacrifice never need be offered again.

The work begun in a manger was completed on a cross. This should make more meaningful for us Jesus’ declaration: It is finished (John 19:30).

Give thanks that Jesus accomplished what a thousand years of Mosaic sacrifices couldn’t.

Day 353: Hebrews 7, 8 and 9

He entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood (Hebrews 9:12).

There was a big difference between the repeated sacrifices of the Old Testament and the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus. Mosaic sacrifices were not only temporary, but insufficient to remedy humanity’s sin problem. Nothing in and of themselves, they were symbolic of something better to be offered by the coming Christ.

Under the Law, the high priest entered the Most Holy Place only once a year, and carried with him the blood of a bull sacrificed for his own sins, and the blood of a goat for the sins of the people (Leviticus 16:11-15). That blood was his authority for being there. Without it he would die (16:2). Without Christ’s blood, we would die. Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness (Hebrews 9:22).

When he died for our sins, the inner room Jesus our High Priest entered was not some symbolic representation, but the very presence of God the Father. It was not by authority of blood collected from a sacrificial lamb, but by the authority inherent in his own blood. He didn’t need anyone or anything to make him presentable to God; he was perfect in and of himself. …so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him (v. 28). In the words of William Cowper’s immortal hymn:
There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel's veins.

Reflect on how Christ died in your place, shedding his blood to wash away your sin.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Day 352: Hebrews 4, 5 and 6

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

Growing up, I watched the Wizard of Oz [14] on TV every year. One scene we all remember is when Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion first meet the Wizard. He appears as a floating, disembodied head surrounded by smoke and flames. The four grovel before him begging for help.

Isn’t that often the attitude we bring in approaching God? At the risk of being labeled sacrilegious, I have to admit it reminds me of the scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail [15] when God gives King Arthur his quest:

God: Arthur, Arthur, King of the Britons. Oh, don’t grovel! If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s people groveling.

Arthur: Sorry…

God: And don’t apologize! Every time I try to talk to someone it’s “Sorry this,” and “Forgive me that,” and “I’m not worthy.” What are you doing now?

Arthur: I’m averting my eyes, O Lord.

God: Well don’t.

According to Psalm 100, God invites us into his presence with thanksgiving and praise. The writer of Hebrews says to come with confidence, and that we don’t need to wait until we’re worthy (until we don’t need help anymore), but that we will receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

What do you need from God today?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Day 351: Hebrews 1, 2 and 3

It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered (Hebrews 2:10).

The age old question asks, If God is all powerful and all loving, why does he allow suffering in the world? The problem is any answer we come up with is insufficient in the face of actual suffering. Knowing why we suffer could never take away our suffering.

The writer of Hebrews tells us that God the Father used the suffering of his Son Jesus to make him perfect. This is not to say the Father caused the suffering, but that he used the suffering in a positive way. If the role of suffering in Jesus’ life was to make him perfect, could it play the same role in ours?

There’s no use fantasizing of a world without suffering, because there’s plenty to go around in the world we have. In the future? Maybe… but for now it’s a fact of life, a given.

When we suffer, we have basically two choices. We can either rail against the heavens, blaming God for our pain, or we can fall into his comforting arms, surrender our will to his, and allow him to do his perfecting work in our lives. It’s going to be painful either way. The question is: Will we suffer for a purpose, or will we suffer for nothing? If God the Father perfected his Son through suffering, he can do the same for us.

Everyone suffers, but we don’t have to suffer for nothing.

How has God used suffering to perfect you?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Day 350 (part 2): Philemon

Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever – no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother (Philemon 15,16).

Onesimus, whose name ironically means profitable, is a runaway slave belonging to Philemon [13]. Absconding to Rome, he has been converted under Paul’s ministry. Now, for whatever reason, Paul must send him back – a risky proposition.

William Barclay reminds us what it was like to be a slave in the Roman Empire. 60,000,000 slaves made rebellion a fearsome potentiality at any time. Runaways were dealt with swiftly and harshly. Their foreheads might be branded with an F signifying them as fugitivus. If the owner decided he was incorrigible, the slave would likely be crucified as a lesson to others.

Paul, in his first letter to Timothy, tells believing slaves to treat their believing masters with more respect for they are not only their masters, but also their brothers in Christ (6:1,2). He tells Philemon that even though Onesimus was anything but profitable to him in the past, now as a believer his value to both of them is greatly increased.

Fifty years later Ignatius, led in chains from Antioch to be martyred in Rome, writes a letter to the church in Ephesus and their bishop Onesimus. Did Onesimus the slave become Onesimus the bishop? We don’t know, but it makes for compelling conjecture.

Who do you need to treat better this week?

Day 350 (part 1): Titus 1, 2 and 3

The grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age (Titus 2:11,12).

Paul, in his letter to Titus (ministering in Crete), has much to say to us about our Christian witness. Older men are encouraged to live in such a way as to be worthy of respect, to model agape love, and steadfastness. Older women are told to be reverent and to teach young women to respect their husbands, love their children and be industrious in their duties at home. Young men are taught to behave in a mature fashion. Slaves are taught to honor their masters, and to be trustworthy.

These moderate, respectful and respectable behaviors are not ends in themselves, but for a purpose – to make attractive their witness for Christ. Paul goes on to say we don’t have to accomplish these behaviors in our own strength. The same grace that saved us is at work in us to help us grow in obedience and self-control. In fact, the phrase self-control is mentioned four times just in this chapter.

How many times have we seen those claiming to represent Christ behaving anything but respectfully, respectably and self-controlled? And how often has the cause of Christ been damaged as a result? People are watching, and our witness makes a difference.

How will you walk in wholeness that the Christian life might be made attractive to your friends this week?

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Day 349: 2 Timothy 1, 2, 3 and 4

God did not give us a spirit that makes us afraid but a spirit of power and love and self-control (NCV, 2 Timothy 1:7).

Galatians 5:22,23 lists the fruit of the Spirit, which includes self-control [12]. The term self-control may be misleading, since it is hardly self that does the controlling. In fact, self being in control is a lie. The self is controlled either by the infilling and empowering of the Holy Spirit, or it is controlled by whatever spirit happens to be strongest in us on any given occasion.

In 2 Timothy, Paul writes to his protégé, telling Timothy he must never let fear deter him from sharing the gospel. It’s easy to make decisions out of fear: fear of what might happen to us if we pursue a certain path, or fear of what people around us will think. In those cases we are playing to the wrong audience. It doesn’t matter what people think; the only opinion that really counts is God’s.

A battle rages for control of self. The spirit of fear opposes the spirit of power, love and self-control and wants to run the show. But self-control means fear doesn’t get to tell us what to do anymore. In other contexts self-control means anger doesn’t get to tell us what to do, or lust doesn’t get to tell us what to do. Those things no longer control self; now the Spirit is in control.

Either the Spirit calls the shots, or fear does. What does it mean to you to say, “Fear doesn’t get to tell me what to do anymore”?

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Day 348: 1 Timothy 4, 5 and 6

Everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving (1Timothy 4:4).

Certain religious groups have determined that unless Scripture explicitly approves something, then it must be forbidden. The most common example of this involves the use of musical instruments in worship. Because there is no explicit example of instrumental music in New Testament churches, they deny its use as well. They’re okay for home but not for church. Other groups, and probably the majority of present day Christians take the opposite approach. Since there is no explicit prohibition to using instruments in worship, they see no harm enjoying them in church.

Paul is not writing about musical instruments in this passage, but about those who have prohibited marriage and certain foods. Paul says, Wait a minute! The glass is half full, not half empty. Everything God created is good. Enjoy it, and be thankful to God for the happiness it brings.

But Satan can pervert anything. Enjoying tasty food is good; gluttony is bad. Sexual desire is good within the bonds of marriage, but translated into lust and exploitation, it hurts everyone it touches. Making a living and providing for one’s family is appropriate; transforming a God-given gift to provide into a miserly appetite to possess more and more while others go without; that’s just selfish.

God has made these things clean, so don’t call them unholy! (NCV, Acts 10:15).

What are you enjoying for which you need to say, “Thank you”?

Friday, December 13, 2013

Day 347: 1 Timothy 1, 2 and 3

I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet (1Timothy 2:12).

This verse has been cited by many as an excuse to limit the ministerial role of women in the church. This is a misapplication of the biblical testimony as a whole, elevating one contested statement from Paul over and against the clear teaching of Jesus. In his teaching on divorce (Mark 10:2-12), Jesus corrects the rabbinical patriarchal tradition by citing God’s original plan for marriage (Genesis 2:24) as having priority over Moses’ instruction in Deuteronomy 24:1 [7]. A convincing argument can be made that hierarchical divisions between male and female resulted from the fall, and were not God’s original intention.

Regarding the 1 Timothy passage, it is interesting to note that when Paul wrote this he was well aware and readily accepted the fact that women were exercising authority in other churches [8]. One point that may alleviate the confusion on this passage is how the Greek authentein (authority) is translated. It has been translated by some as “domineer,” or “act on his/her own authority” [9]. If this is correct, Paul is speaking against women in authority only if administered in the wrong way [10].

Gilbert Bilezikian reminds us that authentein is found nowhere else in Scripture, so we don’t really know exactly what Paul meant [11]. It is irresponsible to build a theology or polity on one disputed text.

Reflect on the women who have faithfully ministered the gospel to you. Give thanks for them and, if possible, to them.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Day 346: 2 Thessalonians 1, 2 and 3

Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until . . . the man of lawlessness is revealed (2 Thessalonians 2:3).

A counterfeit letter had apparently gone out in Paul’s name claiming Christ had already returned, throwing the Thessalonian Christians into a panic, which is why Paul is now writing. He assures them these rumors are false, and that certain conditions must first be met [4]. About these he has communicated with them previously, but of this we have no record. While they knew exactly what Paul was talking about, we do not.

This man of lawlessness language is similar to the Antichrist motif, although it is language Paul repeats in no other extant materials [5]. If this letter is genuine, and the evidence could go either way, it is reminiscent of Daniel’s abomination that causes desolation (Daniel 9:27) – a reference to Antiochus IV (Epiphanes), the Greek tyrant king who brutalized the Jews and sacrificed swine’s flesh on the Jerusalem altar – referenced by Jesus (Matthew 24:15) regarding the coming Roman desecration of the Temple.

Chapter one, verse four suggests the Thessalonians are being persecuted. This would explain the apocalyptic tone, more reminiscent of John’s Revelation than any other Pauline writings [6]. It should be noted that the main function of Christian apocalyptic is to reassure the persecuted that God is on their side, and that in the end he will be victorious over their enemies.

While many other issues cannot be addressed with certainty, that’s a message we can receive with confidence.

From what or whom do you need rescued?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Day 345: 1 Thessalonians 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5

You are our hope, our joy, and the crown we will take pride in when our Lord Jesus Christ comes (NCV, 1 Thessalonians 2:19).

As the year winds down and Christmas approaches, I’m catching visions of people from my past... people who have made a difference in my life, and some for whom (hopefully) I’ve made a difference in theirs.

I think about Evelyn Musolff, who was my Sunday School teacher when I was eight. I’ll never forget her. Or Larry Best, another Sunday School teacher when I was a pre-teen. I remember him taking me and a friend trout fishing on opening day. Both Evelyn and Larry passed away in just the last few months. I think of Beverly Kerstetter, my piano teacher, who confessed to me years later that every week as I played, she sat next to me praying that God would use my music for his kingdom. And of course there was my mom and dad. From my mom I learned a subtle lesson of how to persevere when things aren’t going my way, and in a more overt way my dad was the greatest spiritual influence in my life.

This Thessalonians passage reminds me that bank accounts, fancy cars, media broadcasts and publishing deals are not how I measure my impact as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. When I stand before God, my reward will be Christ, and the changed lives of those connected to him because I was available and there for them when they needed me.

Thank God for those whose ministries have touched your life. How will you now positively impact others with the good news of Jesus Christ?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Day 344: Colossians 1, 2, 3 and 4

Do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath Day (Colossians 2:16).

Some Christians take others to task for worshiping on the wrong day. Yet Sabbath is designed to refresh, not to impose a burden on us.

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. . . . For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day (Exodus 20:8,11). Did our omnipotent God set aside the Sabbath because he was tired? No! He sets it aside because he knows we get tired. The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27). What a beautiful gift from God to his children.

There are good reasons to rest on the Sabbath. Our bodies aren’t made to keep pushing seven days a week. It also shows we trust God to provide our needs without us punching a time-clock every Sunday.

Remembering to take Sabbath is important, but legalistically taking one and only one specific day off every week misses the point. The Sabbath was an Old Testament symbol of the saving work of Jesus Christ. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ (Colossians 2:17). Hebrews explains: There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works (4:9,10). Our real Sabbath rest is found in the fact that we don’t have to work for our salvation. Christ did all the work; we rest in his grace.

Thank the Father for his gift of Sabbath. Keep it holy by resting your body, and by resting in his grace.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Day 343: Philippians 1, 2, 3 and 4

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5).

From a Roman prison, Paul writes to his friends in Philippi. His concern is not for himself, but for the well being of his spiritual children. He explains how Christ put the needs of others before his own, even to the point of dying for our salvation. Let us consider Christ’s example.

Who . . . did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage (v. 6). Our sinful nature encourages us to exploit any advantage and to use the weaknesses of others against them. We attack from high ground, dominating from a position of strength.

Rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant (v. 7). Jesus did just the opposite. He made himself nothing, emptied himself, accepted the vulnerabilities of humanity (to the extreme of being born a peasant baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger), and made it his mission to serve, not to conquer.

He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross! (v. 8). When those he came to serve turned not to him, but against him, he didn’t change tactics; he was obedient, loving and giving to the end, a servant in death as in life.

Are we willing to minister from a position of weakness rather than leveraging our strength for the win?

This week, in your dealings with others, will you choose to dominate or to serve?

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Day 342: Ephesians 4, 5 and 6

He who loves his wife loves himself (Ephesians 5:28).

These few paragraphs from Paul regarding marriage say that a man should love his wife with a sacrificial love, and that a woman should respect her husband. This is the theme picked up in Emerson Eggerichs’ Love and Respect [3], a book I have found valuable for both counseling and in my own marriage relationship.

Eggerichs identifies the Crazy Cycle, in which a woman who feels unloved withholds respect from her husband and, likewise, a husband who feels disrespect withholds love from his wife.

The flip side of the Crazy Cycle is what Eggerichs calls The Energizing Cycle. In this cycle, feeling loved motivates a wife to respect her husband, and feeling respected motivates a husband to love his wife. And both need to be unconditional. In other words, when I love my wife unconditionally, it results in her respecting me unconditionally. Bottom line: I win! Paul reminds husbands that He who loves his wife loves himself. Knowing this, I would be a fool to not love my wife. Providing her deepest need results in her providing my deepest need.

Proverbs 14:1 reads: The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down. This is the same lesson aimed at wives. Giving unconditional respect motivates unconditional love. End result: She wins!

We have more influence than we might think.

What preconditions are you demanding from your spouse before giving your “unconditional” love or respect?

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Day 341: Ephesians 1, 2 and 3

That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead (Ephesians 1:19,20).

Here in the middle of Advent we turn to a text more commonly taught at Easter. Paul implies our enemy does not want us to know the power available to us, which is the same power displayed when God raised Jesus from the dead. How would it change our outlook on life if we really believed this was true? That God’s resurrection power has been made available to us?

If God’s power is strong enough to bring his dead Son back to life, can it not breathe life into a dying congregation? Can it not provide a family’s needs in a down economy? …bring wayward children back into the arms of their parents? …restore one’s moral or financial integrity? What about broken trust? If God’s power could raise Christ from the dead, can it not resurrect a marriage? What is there that God’s resurrection power cannot do?

Paul closes this portion of his letter with a prayer: Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen (3:20,21). Again we are prodded to arise from our commonness, our fatalism, and realize that we are no ordinary people; we have been infused with the very power of God.

And for what do you need God’s incomparable power this week?

Friday, December 6, 2013

Day 340: Galatians 4, 5 and 6

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (NIV 1984, Galatians 5:22,23).

The fruit of the Spirit is God’s character revealed in the believer’s life. God is love (1 John 4:16), meaning love is God’s essential character – his DNA. If Horatio Caine of CSI: Miami fame (CBS, 2002 – present) was investigating God, he would no doubt look for traces of God’s DNA.

Since we’re his children, we share his genetic markers. God doesn’t want there to be any doubt we are his. Everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another (John 13:35). And related to this: Love . . . isn’t always “me first” (The Message, 1 Corinthians 13:5).  The sinful nature puts me first. The fruit of the Spirit helps us put others first.

Each of these spiritual fruits is a facet of God’s character, in which we, as his children, are invited to walk. But how do we do that? How does God grow his character in our lives? When we lack patience, God will give us opportunities which demand patience. We’re given a choice: We can either respond out of our default setting, exhibiting frustration, or we can call on the Holy Spirit to help us, thereby growing in the spiritual fruit of patience.

Difficult situations are evidence he loves us so much that he’s inviting us to go deeper spiritually, that we might become more like him.

God knows in which spiritual fruit you especially need his help. How will you respond to his opportunities for growth in your life?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Day 339: Galatians 1, 2 and 3

We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you (Galatians 2:5).

It’s difficult for us to imagine Christianity’s struggle to break free from its Jewish roots. In the beginning it looked like a sect of Judaism – people who observed the law, but believed in Jesus as Messiah. That was all well and good until Paul’s fast-paced ministry to the Gentiles, who felt no compulsion to adopt Jewish laws and customs.

Judaizers were Jewish Christians who insisted Greek converts be circumcised and live by Kosher food laws. They would swoop in after Paul moved on to the next town, and tell the fledgling congregation that the missionary left out a few things. They would then impose on these new believers Jewish practices foreign to them.

When Peter traveled from Jerusalem to visit, even he felt pressured to limit his table fellowship with the Greek converts. And because of Peter’s waffling regarding the truth, those traveling with him also backed off. Even Barnabas, a trusted co-worker of Paul’s, was swayed to what the apostle called hypocrisy.

Paul knew he could not give an inch in this fight: If righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing! (2:21). If Paul allowed these Jewish obligations what would the next group want to add? Paul was not just protecting first century converts; he was protecting us too.

How will you protect those who are younger in their faith? Who needs you to hold the line?