Tuesday, September 18, 2018

IN THE WILDERNESS

Behold, I will do a new thing; 
Now it shall spring forth;
Shall ye not know it? 
I will even make a way in the
Wilderness, and rivers in the desert.
Isaiah 43:19 KJV


Have you ever had a wilderness experience? Possibly you are having one now and you are asking, "God, where are you?" "Don't you care?" "Can't you see I am suffering?"

The answer is that He is with you; He does care; and He knows and understands your suffering. For He said, "Do not fear, for I Am with you; do not be dismayed, for I Am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with My righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10 NIV).

Jesus had the pivotal wilderness experience when the Spirit of God led Him into the wilderness to pray and fast for forty days and forty nights. It was there that He interceded and redeemed mankind from the three, greatest destructive forces against the human spirit: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16). He would "finish" that work on the cross.

The tempter came to Jesus and said, "If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread" (Matthew 4:3 NKJV). The first thing that Satan did was appeal to the lust of the flesh, because Jesus was physically weakened from lack of food. However, there was nothing to prove, because Jesus was and is the living Bread of Life, which came down from heaven (John 6:51)

Jesus responded, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone (that which sustains the flesh) but by every Word (that which sustains the spirit and soul) which proceeds from the mouth of God'" (Matthew 4:4 NKJV). Jesus, the incarnate Word, spoke the Word, and in that moment, His Word defeated the power of the lust of the flesh.

Then the devil took Jesus up to the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: 'He shall give His angels charge over you, and in their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone'" (Matthew 4:5 NKJV). In other words, "The angels won't let you fall." Jesus responded, "It is written again, 'You shall not tempt the Lord your God.'" Jesus defeated the pride of life (an inflated ego) that succumbs to temptation before a fall (Proverbs 16:18).

"Tempt" means to entice, persuade, convince, coax, and woo someone into doing something. That is what Satan successfully did with Eve and what he attempts to do with us. He entices and appeals to carnal desires by convincing us that we deserve and need what we know we should not have.

If we think we are immune to Satan's temptations, how many have been on a diet and someone offered a forbidden dessert? Suddenly, that voice in our head said, This one time won't matter. How many other forbiddens have we given into?

Again, the devil took Jesus to a very high mountain to see all the kingdoms of the world and their glory and said to Him, "All these things I will give You, if You will fall down and worship me." (Matthew 4:9 NKJV)

Jesus said to him, "Away with you, Satan! For it is written, "You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.'" Then the devil left, and angels came and ministered to Him (Matthew 4:10 NKJV). Jesus had defeated the lust of the eyes that entices a person to sin. 

Satan will engage us in a debate and plant seeds of doubt that question God's authority, goodness, intentions, and integrity. He did it with Eve when he said, "For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing god and evil" (Genesis 3:5 NIV) He created doubt in Eve's mind by accusing God of being a withholder of good things and tempted her with the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, which brought about the fall of Adam and Eve and all mankind.

Jesus experienced His lowest physical reserve during those forty days and forty nights. We have all been at our lowest physical, mental, and spiritual reserve, but unlike Jesus, we felt tempted to give in. Thankfully, we have fasting, prayer, and God's Word available to us, which provide strength to the inner man and make a way for God's power to work in and through us. 

Satan was put in his place when Jesus dismissed him with His Word and told him to leave, for Satan has no authority, except what God gives him and what we give him. Our authority was bought and paid for with the shed blood of Jesus Christ. We are expected to emulate our Lord who said, "I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in Me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father (John 14:14 NLT). 

The devil finally left when Jesus said, "Away with you, Satan! For it is written..." We are to speak God's Word in the same manner when Satan comes with his lies, temptations, accusations, and deceptions. 

Why did Jesus fast forty days and forty nights? Throughout scripture, the number forty is connected with judgment, punishment, redemption, and God's reigning authority. 

God caused it to rain forty days and forty nights as judgment on an evil generation (Genesis 7:12). As judgment for rebellion and worshipping idols, the Israelites wandered the desert for forty years (Deuteronomy 8:2-5). Moses fasted bread and water on Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights to intercede for the Israelites who had committed wickedness in God's sight and provoked Him to destroy them (Deuteronomy 9:18). Of the numerous examples cited in God's Word, the most telling are the forty days from Jesus' death to His ascension, which represent the completed redemption of mankind and Christ's eternal reign as King of kings.

Satan came to temp Jesus with the original three deadly sins that caused man's fall. But in the wilderness and at the cross, Jesus defeated Satan's power over death and life, thereby, releasing mankind from bondage to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. Although He provided our escape, we choose whether to succumb to those temptations or to resist them. 

If we find ourselves in the "wilderness," God is calling us to seek Him with our whole heart through prayer and fasting. Of course we are not expected to fast forty days, but fasting a day or more will deny the flesh, so that we can become spiritually minded and sensitive to the Holy Spirit's guidance and instruction. For it is in those wilderness experiences that faith is tested, nurtured, and matured, as we learn to trust and depend on God. 

PRAYER:  Father, Your Son defeated the works of the enemy. He made a way for me in the wilderness, so I could be free from bondage to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. Give me wisdom and discernment to recognize those sins, and help me resist their temptations. In Jesus name, amen.


Monday, August 6, 2018

TRAINED WARRIORS

     Christians were never promised an easy life. In fact, the Word tells us that the testing of our faith produces steadfastness.  "And we are to let steadfastness have its full affect, so that we may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" (James 1:3-4). As a fan of NBC's, American Ninja Warriors (ANW), I have been intrigued with the steadfastness and determination of these athletes.

     For those unfamiliar with the show, most of the men and women who compete hold jobs, but each has a passion to be the best and strongest trained warrior. To achieve that goal, they daily train for hours and months and even years to become physically strong and mentally fit to tackle an extremely difficult obstacle course. Those with the fastest times in completing the course qualify for the national finals in Las Vegas where they battle to win the title of American Ninja Warrior and one million dollars.   
     It is fascinating to watch these highly trained athletes navigate each obstacle. Most, at one point in the course, will stop, take a breath, shake off any nerves or weary muscles, size up the next challenge, and focus on successfully getting through that challenge. Their goal is to complete the course in record time and hit the red buzzer. Some "warriors" fail in their quest, but surprisingly, they don't make excuses. They simply state that they will train even harder and return the following year to tackle the course again. 
     While reflecting on the difficulties of becoming an ANW, I noticed correlating traits that are required and necessary for both trained athletes and committed Christians to successfully complete their course. Both must remove all excuses, set goals, be dedicated and committed, follow rules, move past failure, refuse to be discouraged, and have eyes fixed on the prize. 
     Although we expect these traits in athletics, should we really expect them in Christendom? Unequivocally, "Yes!" God expects Christians to train just as hard in His Word as athletes train in the gym or at home. Therefore, we are to:
   ·  Remove all excuses. "I just don't have the time           to read the Bible. Besides, I don't understand it." Learning and understanding require study "for whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction, so that we may hope through endurance and through the encouragement from the Scriptures" (Romans 15:4).
·  Set goals for studying God's Word. Just like athletes require equipment to train, we need the right reference materials to study God's Word, such as a Bible dictionary and the Matthew Henry Complete Bible Commentary (free online). For "the Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God" (Psalm 14:2).
·  Be dedicated and committed to renewing our minds through God's Word. Whether or not athletes feel like exercising, they are committed and dedicated to their daily mental and physical training. Every day, we must be committed to renewing and training our minds by reading, studying, and praying God's Word—even when we don't "feel" like it. 
·  Follow rules. God's Word gives us guidelines and rules for our own safety and well-being. "Anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor's crown except by competing according to the rules (2 Timothy 2:5 NIV)

·  Move past failure because we can do all things through Him who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13). Failure can bring growth, but true failure is giving in to defeat.

·  Do not be discouraged. This is My command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go" (Joshua 1:9 NLT).

·  Fix our eyes on finishing the course well. The American Ninja Warrior's entire goal is to finish the course and hit the buzzer that announces, "All that time, pain, and hard work paid off!" Christians must press toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called [them] heaven ward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14 NIV)

     Can you imagine any one of us trying to complete the course set before ANW athletes? Unless we were properly prepared and conditioned, most likely we would not complete the first obstacle, let alone make it to the next. That truth applies to the Christian walk. Life throws obstacles and challenges our way. If we are not strong in the Word of God, we are unprepared and unable to handle despair, unbelief, doubt, anxiety, discouragement, weariness, and the most dangerous of all—becoming rebellious. 

     God's Word is alive and active (Hebrews 4:12). It is the most powerful tool we have in building and maintaining faith and trust in God. Without God's Word to lead, guide, strengthen, comfort, and provide truth, we are vulnerable to lies, distortions, and fallacies. His Word is an anchor for our soul and a safe harbor where we find rest in this very uncertain world. No matter our circumstances, we must keep moving forward towards the prize and realize that God is developing and strengthening our faith.

     The most amazing attribute of these athletes is their steely resolve to overcome failure. With conviction and determination they press forward, work harder, and then return to navigate the course once again. The Word compares us to the athlete, "all runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it" (I Corinthians 9:24)For we want to be able to say, "I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith" (2 Timothy 4:7).

PRAYER:

Lord, there are times when I am overwhelmed by the struggles and challenges of life. Help me to be Your warrior of faith, as I turn to Your Word for truth, direction, comfort, strength, and shelter. Help me understand and memorize Your Word, so that I can always hold it high as a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. In Jesus name, amen.
Look to the LORD and His strength; 
Seek His face always.
(I Chronicles 16:11)

Sunday, July 29, 2018

PEOPLE OF VALOR

MOUNT GILEAD

The Book of Judges tells us the fascinating story of Gideon and how his faith, obedience, vigilance, trust, and valor led him to victory. 

Gideon, meaning great warrior, was the fifth judge of Israel, whom God called to judge her for idol worship. After Gideon destroyed the idols, the Angel of the Lord appeared and said, "The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor!" (Judges 6:12)

Gideon did not view himself as a mighty man of valor, yet God knew Gideon before he was born and had called him to be a man of valor (meaning great courage in the face of danger). God also knew each one of us before we were born and placed within us, qualities, strengths, and great potential that we often fail to recognize (Jeremiah 1:5).

The Lord instructed Gideon, "Go in this might of yours, and you shall save Israel from the hand of the Midianites" (Judges 6:14). The statement, in this might of yours, is interesting, because it indicates that despite Gideon's inability to recognize his own strengths, God had made him a man of great and impressive, integrity, power, and strength. 

Gideon argued that his clan was the weakest in Manesseh, and he was the least in his father's house. Haven't we all argued at one time or another that we lacked the qualifications to take on the task that God had called us to do? But the Lord assured Gideon that He would defeat the Midianites, if he obeyed and followed His instructions“You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against Me saying, ‘My own strength has saved Me.’ Now announce to the army, ‘Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead’” (Judges 7:2). 

Interestingly, Gilead means the "hill of testimony." This would be a place of victory and a testimony of God's sovereign protection over the Israelites. However, twenty-two thousand men who had left had not understood that any victory won would not be by their might, nor by their power, but it would be by the Spirit of the living God. 

Ten thousand remained, but the Lord told Gideon that there were still too many. He ordered him to take the men down to the water where He would separate those who lapped water like a dog, from those who put their faces into the water to drink.

Three hundred lapped water from their cupped hands. All the others got down on their knees with their faces in the water to drink. The Lord said to Gideon, “With the three hundred men that lapped, I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands (Judges 7:3-7). Those three hundred men sounded 300 trumpets, and the Lord caused the men throughout the enemy's camp to turn on each other with their swords, so that the Midianites were defeated. God clearly fights our battles when we make that decision to trust and obey Him.

Why did it make a difference whether men lapped like dogs or put their faces into the water? It was a test. Those who threw themselves onto the ground and drank freely were carnal-minded and quick to satisfy their flesh, instead of being selfless and vigilant. The men who cupped their hands and lapped like dogs were on guard for the enemy and vigilant in keeping a careful watch for possible danger. Therefore, God saw those 300 men as true and faithful soldiers for His army.

A Commanding Officer learns about his enemy's location and tactical weaknesses before giving information to his troops and ordering them to engage the enemy. Equally, Christians must take their directions from the Lord God and Commander. Since God already knows the outcome of all things, it is unproductive to weigh ourselves down with worries, fears, doubts, and the affairs of life. Those things will only prevent us from hearing God's voice that leads us to victory.

God knows our strengths and weaknesses, so He allows trials to prove the genuineness of our faith, which is of greater worth than gold (I Peter 1:7). In doing so, He often takes us to the very brink of what we believe is our breaking point. But it is there in the valley of decision where we choose to either run or we find strength and faith in God to defeat the enemy. 

The vigilance shown by the 300 soldiers out of 32,000, was all God needed to win the battle and defeat the enemy. Likewise, God is looking for Christians who will be vigilant in watching, recognizing, and knowing the enemy's tactics. The caveat to this is actively trusting and obeying God's instructions, so that we see victorious defeat of the enemy. 

Satan is a malevolent being who instills fear in the hearts of man and brings death and destruction. He debases everything good and makes it evil. He works through the minds of people to create division within relationships, churches, and governments. He orchestrates wars and brings down governments and churches. He is the author of lust, perversions of every kind, fighting, financial lack, anger, hatred, selfishness, lying, murder, sickness, addictions, and everything that is not of God. He appears as an angle of light to confuse, mislead, and snare.

Jesus said, "He who is not with Me is against Me..." (Matthew 12:30)  Fear caused twenty-two thousand of Gideon's soldiers to focus on the enemy and leave the fighting ranks. Of the 10,000 that remained, only 300 men had hearts that were all in for God to complete the mission ahead of them. Are we all in with God, or when things become too difficult or beyond our human understanding, do we lose faith and retreat?

God's clarion call is for more Gideons to stand up as people of valor and set aside their fears and doubts. As with Gideon, the battle was already won, because God was on his side. All that was required of Gideon was to trust God, obey His instructions, and follow Him in faith. 

Fear is Satan's weapon of choice, so when we are faced with difficulties that are beyond our ability to fix, God tells us, "Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10). That is what He did for Gideon and that is what He will do for all who trust and believe that God is their Deliverer.

PRAYER:
Lord, sometimes I feel like Gideon, who believed he was not up to the task to which he was called. But You created him to be a mighty man of valor with all attributes necessary to secure victory. You, whose name is Faithful, are my constant in life. Teach me how to trust and know that You will never ask me to do anything that You have not already provided all abilities and resources to accomplish the task. Instruct and help me to be Your "Gideon" who will faithfully and fearlessly go wherever You lead and do whatever You ask of me. In Jesus name, amen.