Friday, February 26, 2010

Day 7 - The Old and The New

Matthew 13:51-52

Today, I was going through my contacts list on my phone and I was deleting contact information for people that I no longer needed on my phone. Most of the contact information that I was deleting were businesses or professional associates that I no longer contacted because we had moved out of the area. While I was doing that, I began to think of what it would be like if we could just delete the memories that were painful, or delete the things we didn’t think were useful. God didn’t make us that way because it really wouldn’t be healthy for us. The parable for today is the last of the “kingdom” parables that I will be looking at and I think there is a little bit of a parallel with that idea.

After using several parables to teach His disciples about the kingdom of God, Jesus asks them if they understood. When they answered yes, Jesus said, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures and old.” Personally, I love decorating using new items with things that I already have; it is a thrill for me to find things that go together. However, Jesus wasn’t talking about decorating, he was talking about using what they already knew about God and applying that with what Jesus was telling them. For us, that would be like finding application in the Old and New Testament. Jesus didn’t come to abolish everything God had told us in the Old Testament, He was adding to the old and bringing a fresh new look on God’s kingdom. There is nothing invalid about the Old Testament; I will even go as far as to say that any invalidity lies in our interpretation. Jesus wasn’t hitting delete on the Old Testament; he added an insight that we didn’t have.

I think Jesus knew that we humans would struggle with that issue. I have known Christians that only read the New Testament because they feel that Jesus came and changed everything and thus the Old Testament was no longer applicable to us today. On the flip side, I have known Christians that have gotten caught up in the Old Testament and live life by the law (which is known as legalism). Neither approach is healthy for our spiritual walk. In fact, when reading the Old and New together, we can see how God has been drawing us closer to Him throughout time. Jesus’ sacrifice did end some of the things written in the law, but then we can study those parts and see how they were foreshadowing Jesus. Looking at them together is so beautiful.

We then get to share these treasures with those around us as if we were decorating with the old and the new. I will go even further to say that our past is not an invalid part of our lives; whether or not we want to admit this, it affects us today. Our past is a part of our future, whether it was wonderful or painful. My painful childhood is a part of me and always will be – I cannot separate it from me. The beauty is what God has done with it and how He will continue to use it.

Are you applying the Old and the New together? Are you taking what God has done with your past to propel you further in your relationship with Him? Are you sharing the wonderful news about Christ with those around you?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Day 6 - The Fishing Net

Matthew 13:47-50

The theme to this parable will seem similar to the parable about the weeds. I think it is important to consider why Jesus told two different parables that have similar meanings. We should listen to everything God tells us, but when He repeats it, I think He is placing emphasis on a point that is important to hear. With that said, let’s pray that as we read this parable that God will give us a fresh insight and open our hearts to what He wants us to hear.

In this parable, we read about fishermen who throw down their nets and catch some fish. When they bring in the net, they separate the good fish and throw out the bad fish. Jesus tells us that is how it will be in the end times. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous. Something that came to mind is the fact that the fish do not separate themselves. In all honesty, the fish really don’t know what the fishermen consider good and bad; only the fishermen know what they are looking for. I think we need to remember that when we feel judgmental towards people, we really are not the judges; only God can judge the heart and He is the only one who knows what He is looking for. I think as we are growing in our walk with God, we need to focus on what God is changing in our own lives and let God work in someone else’s life. Only He knows what needs to be changed or where another person’s heart is. A good reminder for us is the fact that God knows our hearts better than we know our own hearts.

Jesus gave us a description of some of the things He will be looking for when He will be separating us. Please look up Matthew 25:31-46. This section of scripture is very convicting, and I think Jesus is very clear how we are to be showing His love to others. He wants us to be a reflection of who He is; and when you read about His life here on earth you can see that He loved everyone. I think the important point to pull out of this is that only God can judge our hearts and our focus should be obedience to His call and show His love to those around us. We do not need to add the position of judge to our spiritual resume; especially when we read Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:1-2, “Do not judge, or you will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Oh boy, I am certainly convicted! It is so easy to point our fingers at someone else, isn’t it?

Are you focusing on your relationship with God rather than judging someone else’s walk?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Day 5 - The Hidden Treasure and The Pearl

Matthew 13:44-46

These two parables show us how much we should value the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God doesn’t mean much until we can understand its value; there is nothing in this world that can compare! These parables are very short; if you haven’t taken the time to read them yet, please do.

The first parable is about a man who finds a treasure hidden in a field. Upon finding the treasure, he sold everything he had and bought the field. Let’s look at what this treasure is in 2 Corinthians 4:6-7, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” Our treasure is that God dwells in us and His light shines through us so we can share it with those around us. We are so blessed that our holy and perfect God wants to be with us and work in us. Wow! Our treasure is the knowledge of our salvation through Christ. Do you value this treasure?

The second parable is about the merchant who is searching for valuable pearls. When he finds one that is very valuable, he sells everything he has to get it. I just want to point out that these parables are not necessarily about monetary things, but of showing us the value of God’s kingdom. When we believe the message of God’s love and Christ’s sacrifice, we die to what we know. We give up the lifestyle that was once important to us and strive to live a life that becomes a reflection of God. That is why this treasure is stored up in “jars of clay.” We are human and imperfect, yet God continues to choose to dwell in us and use us. Are you overwhelmed by how amazing that is? God is holy, yet He still wants to be with us! That is worth giving up things like pride and bitterness which really have no value.

How valuable is that knowledge to you? Are you willing to die to your old self so that God can work in you? Are you willing to shed things in your life that do not reflect who God is?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Day 4 - The Yeast

Matthew 13:33

If you have ever cooked with yeast, you know that a little goes a long way. I remember the first time I baked with yeast and being amazed at how the dough grew to over twice the size I started with. It amazed me that I really didn’t need to do much after the yeast was added; I just had to cover it up and let the dough sit. In other parables, Jesus has used the idea of a small seed growing into a large plant; today He uses the idea that a small amount of yeast is enough to make a large amount of dough rise.

He uses yeast to talk about the kingdom of God. In other places in the Bible, yeast is used in a negative way, but Jesus used it to show how a little thing can make big changes. We can look at this in a couple ways. When we believe in God, our small faith can grow into large changes. We could also look at it from the view that as believers a few of us can make big changes in our community. We can spread the good news of Christ and grow the kingdom of God. When you allow God to change your life, it is infectious! God’s changes in you affect all the people around you; as your faith grows, you soon learn that God wants you to share His love with the people around you.

Are you allowing God’s work in your life to affect the people around you? Are you showing God’s love to your friends and community?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Day 3 - The Seed and The Mustard Seed

Mark 4:26-32

Over the next few days, I will be looking at parables that Jesus told us to explain the kingdom of God. I read these parables, and I think there are many ways to interpret them, and perhaps that is what God intended. He may have been giving us several views to His kingdom. Please read the two parables if you haven’t already.

We can look at the kingdom of God as heaven, but I believe that God defines His kingdom differently; Revelation 1:5b-6 tells us, “To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve His God and Father…” We can read in those verses that Jesus was building the kingdom of God with believers. We are part of the kingdom! Knowing that, we can look at these two parables differently.

In the first parable, Jesus likens the kingdom of God to a man scattering seed and letting the plants grow and then reaping the harvest. The interesting thing is that God has us scatter the seed – Jesus gave us the great commission before He left the earth when He said, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” We can scatter the seed, but it is not up to us to make it grow, we need to allow the Holy Spirit to do His work. The person hearing the news chooses to believe or not.

The second parable is about the mustard seed that is the smallest seed that is planted and grows into a large plant. I believe that is a symbolism of how we grow when we choose to believe. As our faith in God grows, it changes our lives and we begin to bear fruit. If you do not know what fruit God wants to see in our lives, please refer to Galatians 5:22-23. If this seems familiar, it is because I wrote about it on Thursday last week. This shows how important it is to listen to the Holy Spirit’s conviction through our study of God’s Word; we are not to remain stagnant in our walk, we are to grow and change and become more like God.

Are you allowing your time in the Word to change you? Are you sharing the hope that Christ gave us with others?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Day 2 - The Weeds

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

This is a parable that is not always fun to read. Jesus used parables to challenge our thinking and to make us ask other questions. This parable points out the results of living a life of unbelief or rejecting God; it is not pretty, rather it is disturbing. As I read through Jesus’ explanation of the parable, it made me shudder – this is not the ending I want for me or anyone for that matter. Please read the parable of the weeds.

This parable gives us a picture of end times. First, we see an explanation of the good seeds, which Jesus explains that he sows. The enemy, which is Satan, comes and sows bad seeds so when the wheat began to sprout, so did the weeds. The owner didn’t want the weeds to be pulled right away by the servants because He was concerned that the wheat would get pulled too. The commentary in my Bible explained that when they first sprout, it can be difficult to tell the difference between the wheat and the weeds; however, during the harvest it will be easy to tell the difference. Our world is like that, we are living in a world full of believers and unbelievers. God will not separate us until the end. The harvesters are angels and they will throw the weeds in the fire, which Jesus explains as the fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

That is not all Jesus tells us! In verse 43, Jesus says, “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” Please look up Daniel 12:3; there is a parallel with Daniel’s vision and with what Jesus said. Please read Romans 4; after reading it we can see that all who believe God are counted in as righteous. Verses 23-24 say, “The words, ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness – for us who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” If we believe that Jesus took our blame and our punishment and was raised back to life, we are counted as one of the righteous.

This parable can be seen as a warning for those who do not believe, yet it is a wonderful promise for those who do believe! Do you believe in the sacrifice Jesus made for all of us?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Day 1 - The Soils

Matthew 13:3-23

Please read the parable for today; Jesus does something special and explains the parable fully to His disciples. If you have attended church for some time, you have probably heard sermons on this parable. I think it can be looked at with a few different angles – we can use it to check our hearts and make sure we are receiving the message, and it also explains why not everyone receives or grows when they hear the Word. Let’s explore this parable.

Jesus first mentions seeds that are sown along a path and the birds come and eat it all; He then explains that it is the person who hears the Word and does not understand it. I think this is a good reminder to explore and ask questions. God put everything in the Bible for a reason; we have something to learn from everything we read in it. If we come across something that we do not understand, we need to be careful not to walk away from it without asking questions. Instead, we need to ask ourselves the question: what is God teaching me? If you are not able to research it on your own, please go to someone that has studied the Bible and ask for help. Also, pray to God; I have often found Him revealing things to me when I have been at a spot where I just didn’t understand.

The next seeds that fell were on a rocky place and grew, but they withered fast because they had no roots. Jesus tells us this is the person who receives His Word with joy, but he does not have roots in his faith, so when difficult times come he falls away from what he has learned. Let’s look at Psalm 1 to see how we can avoid this fate. Verses 2 and 3 tell us, “But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on His law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.” We need to study, pray, and think about God’s Word. We know that God’s Word is living and active (Heb. 4:12), and when we study it to learn and grow, our roots will grow deep in God.

The next seeds fell on thorny grounds and got choked; Jesus explained that this is the person who allows the worries of life and wealth choke out the fruitfulness God wants to grow in us. I must admit that this section is very convicting for me because it is easy to worry about stuff. As my faith in God has grown, my worries have decreased; however, I still worry more than necessary. Jesus is not saying that money is evil; He is saying that money shouldn’t be our focus, God should be our focus. It is only when we trust Him with our concerns that our faith grows and we can bear fruit. Our faith in Him will allow us to see the needs around us rather than our own worries.

The last seeds fell on good soil and produced fruit. Jesus explains that is the person who hears the Word and understands it and produces fruit. You can read about the fruit that God expects in our lives in Galatians 5:22-23. As we walk in God and grow our faith in Him, we begin to produce the fruit that He wants to see in our lives. When we produce fruit, we will change the world around us one person at a time. God wants us to live our lives with a growing and active faith that produces action; He doesn’t want us to remain stagnant.

Are you letting God’s Word fall on good soil in your life? Are you reading His Word and applying it to your life?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Day 33 - Wrap Up

Hebrews 11

I am just wrapping up this almost seven week study on Hebrews 11 today. What a blessing this study has been to me! I am just going to list out a few things I noticed God leading me through during these six and a half weeks.

Week 1 – I learned some faith “basics.” I learned that faith pleases God and it is an important part of our growth in God.

Week 2 – Abraham’s life showed me that faith in God calls us to do things that don’t always make sense at first. We obey God because we trust Him, even when we don’t understand His plan.

Week 3 – I learned that no matter what the world has to offer, when we can give God our undivided heart, we will prevail and endure what comes our way. Our focus needs to stay on Him, even if it sets us apart from the world.

Week 4 – I learned the important role that discipline plays in our faith walk. We are only prepared to do God’s work when we spend time with Him and in His Word.

Week 5 – This was a difficult week for me, because I got to witness more of the
human weakness involved in our faith walks. But God showed me that in our weaknesses He is most definitely strong!

Week 6 – I got to see how God did the impossible for those that followed Him no matter what the cost.

Week 7 – I learned that the Christian walk will not always be defined by the miraculous things that God does to show His might, but it will also include hardships and persecution. I also saw the encouragement that God gives us to know that we are not alone in this walk and the reward is great for those who endure!

Praise God for the love He shows us and how He grows our faith! I hope you enjoyed this journey with me…I learned so much! Since today is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent I am going to spend time looking at the parables of Jesus.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Day 32 - Run the Race

Hebrews 11:39-12:2

I cannot believe I am coming to a close on this wonderful chapter! I know God has blessed me through this study and has shown me some things that were new. He also reminded me of things that I once learned but had forgotten, and He also brought some healing words to me as well. Isn’t our God wonderful?! Today, I am going to finish up Hebrews 11 and go into chapter 12 a little bit; tomorrow, I am going to review all the wonderful things I learned along the way.

We have read about many heroes in this amazing chapter and looked into their lives to see why the author put them in this list. While looking at their lives, we read that they all were human with very human struggles, yet they all had one thing in common: THEY BELIEVED GOD! I know that if my children see anything in me, they will know that I believe God. I want to model a faith walk for them so they in turn can have a faith that has deep roots. The author has an interesting twist for us at the end of the chapter, “…yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” The author is explaining that all these heroes didn’t receive all that had been promised yet because Christ had not come. As believers, we get to share the reward. How exciting!

With a fresh look on the lives of all these heroes set before us, the author continues in chapter 12. I love these verses; they are so inspiring to me! “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of throne of God.” We already know that there are people who have had the same struggles we face today, and they endured and grew in their faith. We can face our temptations and struggles knowing that God will give us the strength and ability to win. We can run the race knowing we are not alone; Jesus has already given us the victory! We have a hope that is bigger than anything the world can offer.

Have you been encouraged and inspired as you read through Hebrews 11 and took the time to read about the heroes of the Old Testament? These were normal people who allowed God to us them in extraordinary ways because they believed God. Keep running the race knowing that God is with you!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Day 31 - Times of Persecution

Hebrews 11:35-38

As humans, when things are not going our way we often think to ourselves, “Why me?” Sometimes when we go through difficult times, it feels like we are the only ones ever to go through what we are going through. I feel like this section of scripture is a reminder to us that the suffering that can come from following Christ is something that has been happening for ages and it is not an isolated incident. In fact, the Bible points out to us that persecution is likely to come. Let’s look at what the Bible has to say about persecution and how our faith can help us through such difficult times.

First look at 2 Timothy 2:12; it says, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Paul did not write this as a discouragement, but as a reminder to keep growing in Christ, so when the persecution does come we are ready. The writer of Psalm 119 speaks of persecution that comes for no cause other than to try to set a trap of sin. Please read Psalm 119:81-88. The author writes of his faith in God’s Word and that is where he will find his ultimate salvation; and he talks of continued obedience to God no matter what his circumstances are. We don’t know what the author was going through, but it seems from this section that he was dealing with persecution on an emotional level and dealing with physical threats. In verse 84, we read, “How long must your servant wait?” Look in Revelation 6:9-11, we see that physical persecution and death may be a part of the Christian walk and the author was not the only person to ask the question, “How long?”

Jesus, who was not immune to persecution, spoke these words of encouragement for us in Matthew 5:10-12, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” We have a hope far greater than what this world has to offer. That hope empowers us to do what Jesus asks of us next in Matthew 5:44, “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” That’s not easy, but it helps us to forgive those who are mistreating us.

Have you been persecuted because of your faith? Pray for those that hurt you because that is what God expects.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Day 30 - Persistence

Hebrews 11:35, I Kings 17:7-24

This story is an interesting story of the faith of a widow who was originally expecting to die with her son. God sent Elijah to her so she could feed him even though she only had enough flour and oil to make one last meal. When Elijah told her to make him a small cake of bread and then she could make one for her and her son, he told her in I Kings 17:14, “The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the LORD give rain on the land.” She believed him and fed him was able to continue feeding him because God continued to supply the flour and oil.

After some time, the widow’s son became ill and died. The widow couldn’t understand why this was happening and questioned Elijah. He asked her to give him her son and he took him upstairs. The widow had faith that Elijah was a man of God and trusted him with her son. She had a hope that God could change her circumstances. Elijah stretched his body on the son and prayed to God three times and the boy came back to life. Elijah had faith that God could bring the widow’s son back to life. I wonder if Elijah did his prayer and lied on the boy three times because that was when God brought him back. I can’t help but think that Elijah would have kept up with it until God was going to raise the widow’s son back to life because he knew that God could do it. Elijah was determined to see God do this miracle.

There are times when God does not answer us right away, He makes us wait. I think of the parable that Jesus tells in Luke 18:1-8 of the persistent widow. Verse one begins with the point that we should always remember, “Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” Jesus was reminding us that even if we don’t hear an answer from God right away, we should continue praying because God hears our prayers. Elijah kept praying for the widow’s son until he finally came back to life.

Have you been persistent in bringing your petitions to God?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Day 29 - The Calm After The Storm

Hebrews 11:34, I Kings 19:1-18

I have been in situations that seemed impossible, and God “quenched the fire” and “shut the mouths of lions.” But, I have also been in situations when God had me leave. Sometimes, because of physical or emotional safety, God has us move away from the situation we are in and we find safety and rest. We are going to read about that today in I Kings 19 as we look at a little piece of Elijah’s story.

I am going to give a brief synopsis of what happened to Elijah prior to our reading for today. Elijah had just shown God’s power over the powerless Baal in a challenge issued by Elijah against the prophets of Baal. When God showed His power, Elijah had the prophets of Baal killed which angered Queen Jezebel. We now come to our part of the story where Jezebel threatens Elijah’s life. Elijah’s response was to “run for his life.” At this point, Elijah felt isolated and alone and he was afraid. I love what God does for him in this moment. God heard Elijah’s prayer when he said in verse 4 “I have had enough, LORD.” Haven’t we all been there? I can think of several times when I cried to God saying I couldn’t take any more of the oppression I was in. God’s response was to feed him and strengthen him and send him to Horeb, which is where God had met Moses and gave him the law. It was in a cave at Mt. Horeb that God came to Elijah while he was resting.

First came a wind, then an earthquake, and then a fire, but the Bible tells us that God was not in any of those natural events. After all that happened, God came in a “gentle whisper,” (verse 13). I find that so beautiful. Elijah was tired and oppressed, and God came in a gentle whisper. As a mother, when my children were babies and they were inconsolable I found speaking to them in a soft voice would calm them down so they could hear me. I think God does that with us, too. Sometimes we are so frantic, that He speaks softly so we need to settle down in order to hear Him. God then sends Elijah encouragement and shows him that there were seven thousand other people in Israel that had chosen not to worship Baal.

When God gives us rest after a period of oppression, we find ourselves ready to move on. When we are in an oppressive situation that God is not changing and instead He has us leave, we can find healing and rest. God comes to us in a gentle whisper and encourages us, but He doesn’t leave us there. As you can see, Elijah was given more jobs to do, but he was ready to do them. The rest we receive from God is better than any vacation or spa, it brings us strength and healing so we can continue to do His work.

I want to stress that doing God’s work isn’t always easy, and sometimes because we are working with humans and dealing with spiritual warfare we will come across oppression. God doesn’t always take us out of that situation; He helps us work through it. But sometimes we face situations that can become dangerous to stay in and He has us leave. God can provide the rest we need; we just need to listen for the gentle whisper that comes after the storm.

Are you in need of God’s rest? Do you trust that God will provide the rest and strength when you need it?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Day 28 - Stuck In A Furnace

Hebrews 11:34, Daniel 3

Here is another favorite story of mine: the fiery furnace. Here were three men that were facing certain death because they would not worship any gods except the one true God, yet they did not falter in their faith. Please read Daniel 3, it is such a powerful story of faith and triumph.

King Nebuchadnezzar made a ninety foot statue and ordered that everyone was to bow down and worship it. Anyone who did not obey the command would be thrown into the fiery furnace. When the command was given, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did not bow down. When the king found out about this, he decided to give them a second chance. However, he also placed a challenge before God when he said in verse 15, “…Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” Oops! I don’t think it is very wise when a human thinks they are more powerful than God; He is sure to show up and show His power.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had a very strong reply in verses 16-18: “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and He will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if He does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” They make a great point; we are not guaranteed that God is going to save from every situation. It may not be in His will to save us. As Hebrews 11 points out, there were several servants of God with strong faith that died because of their faith. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were making sure that the king understood that they did not worship God because He promised to deliver them from every bad situation (they were, in fact, in captivity); they worshiped God because He is the One and Only God. Their faith let them know that God could save them, but it also allowed them to be bold knowing that He may choose not to save them. Because they had such a strong faith, they would rather face death on earth than worship another god.

It is easy to have “fair weather faith,” isn’t it? It is so much easier to follow God when things are smooth and going well. What about when things just don’t make sense? It isn’t so easy to be faithful in our worship to God when things are happening to us that are unwarranted. It isn’t easy when we are in a situation where the outcome appears impossible. We can depend on God and know that we are in His hands even when things turn out differently than we like. The point is, we need to trust and worship God no matter what our circumstances are.

Are you struggling with your faith because of circumstances that seem unfair? Let Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s example encourage you to press on in your faith in God!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Day 27 - In The Lion's Den

Hebrews 11: 33, Daniel 6

I would have to say that the heroes found in the book of Daniel are my favorite Old Testament heroes. Their faith in impossible situations amazes me and inspires me! Daniel was one of the young Jews that were taken into captivity during Nebuchadnezzar’s reign and served for several kings following his reign. Daniel and his friends had set themselves apart and continued to follow God’s law. As a result, Daniel was given high positions during the reigns of various leaders. Our story takes place during King Darius’s reign, who also valued Daniel’s friendship. If you haven’t read Daniel 6 already, please read it now; I promise you will not be bored!

If you have ever served in any type of leadership role whether at work, church, or anywhere else, you have probably also encountered someone who resented you in that role. All leaders (good or bad) will encounter resistance during their leadership and it is not easy. What can be even more difficult is when your leadership is being undermined and you are being unfairly set up. Daniel encountered this when Darius promoted him to lead the kingdom and the administrators and satraps tried to set him up. As a result, Daniel had to spend the night with the lions. Let’s back up a little and see what Daniel had done to get himself there.

We are told in verse10 that Daniel had a pattern that made him an easy target – he prayed to God three times a day. What got him in trouble? Verse 11 tells us, “Then these men went as a group and found Daniel praying and asking God for help.” So, we know that it was against the law to pray, and we see that Daniel’s response was to pray and ask God for help! Daniel knew that no matter what the law said, God was the only one that would be able to save him (spiritually and physically). Darius was broken hearted when he realized that he was going to have to throw Daniel into the lion’s den. So much so, he couldn’t eat or sleep that night. Daniel was not eaten by the lions; in fact we are told that he didn’t even have a single scratch on him! Verse 23 tells us, “…And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.” Wow! Because he trusted God he was saved from the lions.

We have metaphorical lions that we have to face; it could be in the board room facing difficult questions, or it could be a meeting in which you are being falsely accused. Do you believe that God can deliver you from that mess? Please remember that if God has you where He wants you and you are serving Him, no human or anything else is going to mess with God’s plans. God will receive the glory! I also want to remind you that part of the reason he had such a strong faith in God was because of the time He spent with God. He prayed to God three times a day every day; that was the pattern he chose so that he would remember to have his time with God. Spending time in God’s Word and in prayer and listening help build our faith so we can believe and know that He can deliver us from the lions.

Are you spending time with God so you are ready to give your situations to Him?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Day 26 - Facing Your Giants

Hebrews 11:32-33a, I Samuel 17

I Samuel 17 is a long chapter, but read it! It is so rich and is a wonderful narrative; you will not be able to put down your Bible until you finish the story. This is another “Sunday School Story” that you may be very familiar with. If you are not familiar with David and Goliath, get ready for a great story! If you are familiar with the story, read it again; God wants to give you a fresh view on the story. We all face giants in our life and our faith in God will affect how we react to our giants.

At this point in David’s life, he was still a shepherd for his father but he was also going to Saul and playing the harp for him. The Philistines were getting ready to wage war against Israel and had a new and powerful weapon on their side: Goliath. Goliath wasn’t just a big man, he was nine feet tall! I don’t know about you, but I have never seen a nine foot tall person. Honestly, it is hard for me to picture such a large person. He was taunting the Israelite army every day, and the army would listen to his threats and hide. One day, as David was going to the hill the Israelites were occupying, he overheard what Goliath was saying. He was outraged! In I Samuel 17:26 he says, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” David had such a strong faith in God; he couldn’t understand why the entire army of Israel didn’t see that they would have victory.

When David tells Saul that he will fight Goliath, Saul tells him that he is not ready to fight such an experienced man. David replies (vs 37), “The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lin and paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” Can’t you just hear the disdain in David’s voice as he says, “this Philistine.” We then get to hear one more statement of faith when David faces Goliath in verses 45 – 47, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the LORD will hand you over to me, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head…All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s and He will give all of you into our hands.” Wow! What faith!

Goliath had been keeping the Israelites oppressed with fear. Sometimes when we have a giant that we need to face, it seems easier to go into our tents and cower. We can’t imagine having victory over something so big. David showed us that God doesn’t want us to live in oppression, but He wants us to be victorious. God doesn’t want us to look at what we can’t do; however, He wants us to see what He can do. David didn’t defeat Goliath, God defeated Goliath. David knew that the victory was God’s and wanted the army of Israel to see what God could do. Our Giants can be things like going into an area of ministry that we don’t feel equipped for, or going back to school. It could be showing a difficult neighbor God’s love. Whatever it is, God already is victorious.

Are you ready to give your giant over to God?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Day 25 - Faithful In the Small Things

Hebrews 11:32, I Samuel 3:1-21

As we have explored in all the other “heroes of faith,” the story we are about to read is a good reminder that faith is what God sees, not position. To understand some of the significance of the story, I am going to backtrack a little into the priest, Eli’s story. Eli had been serving God in the temple and had sons who were also priests. Eli’s sons were not honest and were taking parts of sacrifices to eat before they had been given to God. When Eli heard these things, he rebuked his sons but did nothing else. A prophet came to Eli and told him that because of this, Eli and his sons were going to die. Now we get to read about Samuel’s call.

Samuel had been given to the Lord by his mother and was raised by Eli to serve in the temple. As you read today’s story in I Samuel, notice how God speaks to the unlikely person. Samuel received a message from God; not Eli. I also wanted to note that verse one says, “In those days the word of the LORD was rare, there were not many visions.” We can make an assumption that the people were not used to hearing from God at this time and had gotten used to the corruption that was happening in the temple with Eli’s sons. If we look back to chapter 2:18, we may be able to see why God chose to speak to Samuel. It says, “But Samuel was ministering before the LORD – a boy wearing a linen ephod.” It was significant that he was wearing a linen ephod, because that meant that he was a priest in training. So we know that he was not yet a priest, which means that he was doing some of the work behind the scenes such as cleaning furniture and sweeping the floors. Yet the Bible tells us that he was “ministering before the LORD.” Even if it seemed small, Samuel had faith that he was doing God’s work.

Samuel received a message from God and later became a great prophet. As I was reading this, his faith really struck me. God spoke to him before he was a priest; he was still in training. God wasn’t looking at his position; He was looking at his faith through his service to God. Go to Matthew 25:14-30, what does the master say to the servants who were faithful with little? “Well done good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Com and share your master’s happiness!” (verse 21). Jesus explains that God is looking for the faithful no matter what the task is. God knew Samuel’s heart and He knew He had a faithful servant.

Sometimes when we do small details, it doesn’t always feel like we are serving God. Don’t let the size of the task keep you from enjoying the service you are giving to God. You are ministering before the Lord! It doesn’t matter if you are helping clean the sanctuary or rocking a precious baby to sleep in the nursery, you are serving God. God knows your heart and He knows your faithfulness.

Are you enjoying ministering before the Lord? Are you serving with a faithful heart? Let’s follow young Samuel’s example and learn to be faithful in the small things.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Day 24 - Faith Brings Strength

Hebrews 11:32, Judges 16:22-31

If you grew up in church, the story of Samson and Delilah is probably a very familiar story. When we read stories that are popular and memorable, it is important that we pray to God for fresh eyes and fresh insight so we don’t get caught up in the familiarity. For the sake of what I want to focus on today, I am not going to ask you to read the entire story of Samson, but I will paraphrase it a bit.

Samson was to be raised as a Nazarite, which meant that there were strict rules for how he should live (Numbers 6:1-21). These rules included not eating or drinking anything that came from a grape, and not making himself unclean by being near a dead body. One of the most interesting aspects to me was how in Numbers the hair was important; it was dedicated to the Lord. Samson had already made himself ceremonially unclean when he exposed himself to a carcass and took honey out of it and ate it. But he still had his hair dedicated to the Lord. When he finally told Delilah the secret about his hair and she shaved it we are told that the Lord left him (Judges 16:20). He had already shown his faith in God by acknowledging that his strength came from Him because of his vow to live as a Nazarite. I now want to focus on Samson’s death.

Samson had been captured by the Philistines because they shaved his hair and then they gouged out his eyes. Judges 16:22 tells us that the hair on his head began to grow again. The Philistines had a great assembly to offer sacrifices to their god for giving Samson into their hands. Samson was made to perform for the assembly and when he was done he asked to be placed at a supporting pillar so he could rest. Samson knew that the only way he could defeat the Philistines was if God gave him the strength. He prayed to God and was able to destroy the temple by pushing over the pillars, killing the Philistines and himself. Samson believed that his strength to do God’s work came from God.

I want to go to Philippians 4:13 which says, “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” I feel that this is a verse that gets pulled out of context often and would like to think about the strength that God gives us. The verse prior says, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation whether well fed or hungry.” Paul is talking of what he faced by following God’s will. We can be in difficult situations when we are doing God’s work, whether it is because the work is hard or we are facing attacks from the enemy. The wonderful thing about doing God’s work is that He gives us the strength we need to complete the task. Even when we have failures, when we turn to God and ask for the strength we can believe He will give it to us. Samson lost his strength due to his poor judgment, but he had faith that God could let him finish his job and give him the strength to do it.
I want to be careful; we don’t need to be purposefully reckless because we believe that God will give us the strength to fix it. Our recklessness will lead to consequences. Samson’s story is not completely happy; he died when he had his final attack against the Philistines. His initial recklessness led him to that point. I am just saying that when we do God’s work, no matter what we are up against, we can have faith to know that God will give us the strength to persevere.

Are you in a spot that requires God’s strength? Do you believe that God will give you the strength you need?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Day 23 - Who Are You

Hebrews 11:32, Judges 11:1-40

This week has been interesting because we have been reading about people who had some trouble with their faith, yet they pulled it together and believed God. That really is encouraging for me because sometimes I feel like in America we can get pulled around and lose our focus and I think sometimes as a result we have issues with our faith. The Israelites had trouble with that during the time of the judges. They would renew their commitment to God and then fall back into the same idol worship that they faced before. Maybe this was why the leaders needed a little faith-training; they didn’t have an example to look up to. Either way, today we get to take a look into Jepthah’s life who believed that only God could say who he was. What I want to focus on is a small portion of Jepthah’s story.

Jepthah did not have an easy start in life; his mother was a prostitute, and his father had more children with his own wife. This led to his brothers running him out of town. Jepthah became a great warrior during that time and had a band of followers. When the Ammonites came to fight the Israelites, the elders of Gilead asked him to come back and promised him that he could be their leader. Jepthah said something that spoke of a great faith in Judges 11:9, “Suppose you take me back to fight the Ammonites and the LORD gives them to me – will I really be your head?” I love how Jepthah acknowledges that God would have to be the one to hand the Ammonites over to him. When Jepthah tries to negotiate with the Ammonites so they would not have to go into battle, he once again shows his faith in God. If you have not read Judges 11:14 – 27, please do - it is worth hearing his testament of faith. Basically, he believed that God gave Israel the territory that was in dispute, and that God would be the one to decide the outcome of the battle. He was not going to allow the Ammonites to stake claim to Israel’s inheritance. I find this interesting coming from a person that was not allowed to claim his own inheritance.

What I can appreciate about Jepthah is that he had a mother that was a prostitute, and his half-brothers didn’t show him God’s love and ran him out of town. Yet, Jepthah saw beyond his family and believed God! Jepthah believed that God found value in him and would use him. He believed that God was Israel’s deliverance from their enemies. He believed that who he was in God’s eyes did not match who his family said he was. There are a lot of us who come from broken families and have difficulty seeing past our childhood hurts. There is hope! Whether you have been abused or even rejected by your family, God is the one who says who you are – not your family, and not your past. Jepthah was even able to see beyond his personal experiences and believe that was not the way God behaved. Even though his brothers would not allow him to claim his inheritance, he knew that God had a better inheritance for Israel. Jepthah believed that God had a better plan!

Do you believe that God has a better plan for you than what others say of you? Do you believe that God says who you are? It is life changing when you believe that you are a child of God and only He knows who you really are!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Day 22 - Faith A Little Late

Hebrews 11:32, Judges 4:1-24

Upon reading the story of Deborah and Barak, I found it very interesting that he was listed in the hall of faith. When I first reviewed the story, I noticed how Deborah prophesized that Barak would not get the glory of getting Sisera, but a woman would. Then in Judges 4:21, we read that a woman (Jael) killed Sisera. So why was Barak listed in the hall of faith?

Barak was told that he would not have the honor of killing Sisera because he insisted that Deborah go with him otherwise he would not go. We don’t know where his heart was, but it seemed by that statement that he needed more than God’s word that God would be with him. But later in the story (verse 14-16), we read that Barak went on his own and defeated Sisera’s troops. That time, he didn’t ask Deborah to go with him when she gave him the command. Somewhere, it seems that Barak may have had a change of heart and began to believe that God would be with him. Perhaps he was beginning to let God help him overcome his unbelief. He still did not get to defeat Sisera himself, Jael killed Sisera, but he got to experience an incredible victory over Sisera’s troops.

I think this story shows how God can see a change of heart and will bring redemption. I think of times that I didn’t obey and later changed my mind. Things probably would have turned out different if I would have trusted God in the first place, but there was still victory when I did end up following in obedience and faith. When we don’t trust God, we will pay a penalty of some sort but we can turn it around and walk in obedience. God may have had an outcome that would have been far greater if we would have believed from the beginning, but He can still give us victory when we step out in faith. Our consequence is never finding out what God really wanted to give us.

Is there an area where you have been disobedient because of a lack of faith? Trust God! You may not have the victory that God wanted you to have, but through Him, you can still taste victory.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Day 21 - God's Power Made Perfect

Hebrews 11:32, Judges 6:7 – 7:25

Today we get to look into Gideon’s story. His story is interesting because as one reads it, it does not seem to be packed with faith. I could spend a long time on his story, but to keep with our theme in Hebrews, we are going to do a quick overview. Gideon asked God for many signs (fleeces) to prove that God was really going to do what He said. It doesn’t seem like something a hero of faith would ask of God, but for me it makes me think of the father in Mark 9:24 who exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” Perhaps Gideon asking for signs was just what he needed to build his faith.

Looking in Judges, we can see why Gideon may have had a struggle to believe that God would be calling him a mighty warrior (Judges 6:12). Look at Gideon’s response in verse 15, “’But Lord,’ Gideon asked, ‘how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.’” You see, Gideon viewed himself as the least of the least. Isn’t that just like God to call the least likely person to do His work? I also want to point out a significant part of Gideon’s question. Every time God is speaking to Gideon we once again see the word LORD in all capital letters. That means the writer acknowledged that it was Yahweh talking to Gideon, but Gideon calls him Lord. The note in my Bible says it is the equivalent to him saying sir. So we could interpret his statement to say, “But sir…” He then asks God for a sign so that he can believe that it is really God that he is talking to. This may make us chuckle, but I can honestly say that I have sometimes questioned if I was going crazy or truly hearing God when He said something that seemed foreign to me. God did not get angry with Gideon’s request; in fact, He seemed as if He understood Gideon’s need for proof.

We read at the end of chapter 6, Gideon asks for signs again. It was probably hard for him to believe that God would really use the least of the least. In chapter 7 we see God walking Gideon through a couple of exercises to pare down his army. God wanted to make sure everyone knew that it was God’s hand that was going to deliver them from the Midianites. Then God does something for Gideon that I find absolutely touching, He gives Gideon a sign to encourage him to complete the task. God knew Gideon’s heart so much that He told him to go into the camp of the Midianites and listen to what the soldiers were saying. It worked! Gideon felt empowered and was ready to complete the job God had given him.

Sometimes we need God to help show us how He could possibly use us. If you are anything like me, you see all the weaknesses and faults that would not allow you to do God’s work. It is when we hold His hand and let Him walk us through the tasks put before us we can build our faith in Him. You see, when we can acknowledge that we can’t do it but God can, we become poised to be used by God. It is through our weaknesses that He can shine. 2 Corinthians 12:9 says, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” So, Gideon may have needed some signs from God, because he didn’t feel like a “mighty warrior,” but he also believed that God’s power could be perfect in his own weaknesses.

Has God given you a job for which you feel inadequate? Get ready for a great adventure because you are about to see God’s power made perfect!