Monday, October 22, 2018

TWO MASTERS



In studying John 12:3-6, I thought it was odd that Jesus would recruit Judas Iscariot to be His treasurer, when He knew that he was a thief. We get a glimpse of Judas' heart when he chastises Mary for using a pound of very costly, pure nard to anoint Jesus' feet. "Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?" Judas said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was in charge of the donations and would help himself to the money. 


Jesus had taught the multitudes and the disciples, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." "No one can serve two masters for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money" (Matthew 6:19-24 NIV)

Jesus was speaking to the root of Judas' carnality and double-mindedness, which was his lust for wealth and possessions. Although he was given opportunities to repent and turn from his sin of greed, he chose the love of money instead of loving and serving Jesus.

Jesus knew the sin in Judas' heart and the choices he would make. Yet He gave him opportunity to accept or reject the truth; therefore, Judas could never say, “[ I ] knew nothing about this.” Does not He who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not He who guards your life know it? Will He not repay everyone according to what they have done?" (Proverbs 24:12) 

We might wonder how Judas, one of Jesus' disciples, could have betrayed Him for thirty pieces of silver after being with Him and listening to His teachings? Sadly, there are "Christians" who are no different than Judas. Outwardly, they profess Jesus, attend church, and say all the right things. Inwardly, their hearts are far from Him. They are adulterers, fornicators, thieves in business, liars, greedy, rebellious, unbelieving, prideful, and refuse to turn from their sins. They believe that as long as they call themselves a Christian all is well with their soul. Unfortunately, they are deceived and live their life apart from God's truth.

The Bible warns us that, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?" (Jeremiah 1:0 NKJV) For that reason, we are cautioned to guard our heart, for everything we do flows from it (Proverbs 4:12). If we are not careful, both heart and mind will betray us. 

King David, whom God had called, "a man after My Own heart," let his guard down and committed adultery with Bathsheba and orchestrated the murder of her husband, Uriah. Despite David's intense love for God, in a moment of idleness and weakness, he succumbed to fleshly desires. 

God sent the Prophet Nathan to expose David's sin and give him a message. Then David repented, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. But because by doing this you have shown utter contempt for the Lord, the son born to you will die” (2 Samuel 12:13-14).

Sin always has its consequences. Christian apologist and defender of the faith, Pastor Ravi Zaccharias says this about sin: "Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay."

The beautiful Psalms of David came after he had repented of his sin, "You have searched me, Lord, and You know me. You know when I sit and when I rise. You perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down. You are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue You, Lord, know it completely" (Psalm 139: 1-4 NIV)

David recognized his weaknesses as a man and called upon the Lord to help him discern when sin was crouching at the door of his heart. "Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (vs. 23-24).

Just as it was in the Garden of Eden when Satan packaged sin as a seductive piece of fruit, his methods have never changed. He seduced David with the alluring and beautiful Bathsheba. The enemy of our soul dresses up sin in ways that entice the double-minded (those who vacillate between two opinions) to mix sin with the things of God.  

Christians who profess Jesus Christ as Lord but knowingly sin are double-minded. They are unstable in all that they do, because they are tossed and blown by the world's false narratives. They do not have God's Word firmly planted within their heart, so they are unable to discern truth from the enemy's lies. Those deceptions affirm their choices and lifestyle, so that they love the world and all it offers, while believing all is well with their soul. 

The desires of the flesh are in opposition to the spiritually minded; therefore, a double minded person is easily drawn into immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and other sins of which we are warned that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21)

Why do some struggle between two apposing worlds? There is an exhausting and deadly tug-of-war between good and evil. Those who embrace both worlds are playing a dangerous game with the dark side of sin. That risk is too great to gamble with one's soul. Either we choose to follow God and His precepts and love Him with all our heart, soul, and strength, or we follow and conform to the things of this world. As Christians, we cannot have both.

The good news is that those who confess their sins, God is faithful and righteous to forgive them and cleans them from all unrighteousness (I John 1:9). For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus (Romans 3:23-24 NIV)

 God created us to fulfill His purposes and carry the light of Christ to the world, but it can only happen through willing, committed, surrendered, and obedient hearts. The question remains, "Are we double-minded or are we single-minded with hearts and minds focused on Christ?"

PRAYER:  LORD, like David, I ask that you search my heart, and reveal any thoughts, actions, or lifestyles that are wicked or displeasing in Your eyes. Help me to recognize the enemy's cleaver packaging of sin that would draw me away from You, for I desire to walk in holiness before You.  In Jesus name, amen.



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)