Saturday, April 24, 2010

To Love A Woman

To Love A Woman
April 26, 2010
Ephesians 5:25 "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her."

When it comes to love, men are left a little lacking, that is, it doesn't come very naturally to us. Men are not, by nature, tender, caring, sensitive individuals. Men are rather obtuse and self-absorbed. We would rather work and provide, than sit and listen. Even the idea of how to love a woman does not mean the same to a man as it does to her. But regardless of how a woman thinks a man should love her, the Bible gives us a clear example of what it should look like. Women, before you nudge any man to read this devotional, make sure you have the correct perspective on how he should love you. This is not necessarily how a woman wants to be loved, but how God intended for a man to love a woman. The Bible says that a man should love a woman by taking the example of love from Jesus Christ. The Bible uses uncomfortable verbiage, "as Christ...gave himself up for [the Church]." Sacrifice can mean many different things, and it is always uncomfortable.

There are two parts to understanding this verse:

This scripture was written AFTER Jesus died and rose again. It is easy from this to make a parallel between Christ dying on the cross and a husband giving up his life for his wife. This needs to be understood in the sense of a husband's willingness to give up what is precious to himself (his own life), in exchange for his wife. Specifically, Christ's sacrifice for the Bride was a sacrifice for her benefit. A man's sacrifice to a woman's benefit, though, is not necessarily shoes, a nice house, or status in the community. The benefit that Christ gave the Church was purposeful; when He gave His life up for her, He created the chance and opportunity to be fed spiritually by now having an intimate and personal relationship with God. The clarity in the parallel becomes a husband willing to sacrifice his own flesh (selfish wants and desires) so his wife may be fed spiritually and continue to develop an intimate, personal walk with God. A husband's love should be purposeful, for his wife's spiritual benefit. It is a husband's act of love, then, to provide an environment in the household where his wife can have the best opportunity for intimacy with God, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. He should care more about her spiritual well-being with the Lord than he cares for himself.

The work that Christ performed on the cross, in giving Himself up for the Church, had another benefit to the bridegroom, besides bringing an intimate relationship with the Father. His selfless act enables us to use the phrase, "He took our infirmities and carried our diseases," referring to physical healing that Christ brings. While a husband cannot perform his own healing miracle for his wife, he can, however, take precedence from Jesus' sacrifice. A man's love for a woman should create an environment where healing can take place. Every woman comes with a degree of hurt, carried by years of abuse from a fallen world. It is to a man's credit to promote and maintain a household for a woman where she can be healed of all that is emotionally draining, the draining that occurs in the day's events. Jesus never added to the Church's pain and suffering, and so a man should never contribute to the emotional stress that a woman, by nature, bears. This is easier said than done, but true nonetheless.

The second aspect in understanding this scripture, of a man loving a woman in the same way that Christ gave Himself up for the church, comes at the beginning and not the end. Let me explain. When Christ came into this world, He already knew your name and loved you before you were born, before you even deserved to be loved. Jesus loved you before you were worthy of being loved. In the same way, a man should love his wife first, not because she is worthy of love or because she loves him back, necessarily. A man's love for a woman should not be based on reciprocity alone or whether she is loveable. I have a mother, a wife, and two daughters and I know that they aren't always loveable. Let's face it, women can be a little difficult to love sometimes, but that is when it is a man's job to love her, especially if he is married to her. Christ didn't love you because you were perfect or because you loved Him first. He loved you first, when you were still unlovable. So a husband should love his wife, even when loving her seems impossible. After all, Christ still loves you.

Though I am a selfish individual who is not the leader of love that Christ is, I know one thing. If a man loves a woman, like Christ loved the church, it will be easy for her to love him in return, regardless of how many shoes he buys her.

1. What is your definition of love from a husband?
2. How can a husband love his wife like Christ loved the church?
3. How can you help other men come to this correct understanding of love?

Add. Scriptures for Study: Is 53:4, Matt 8:17, Rom 5:8, Rom 13:10, 1 Cor 13:4, 2 Cor 12:15, 1 John 4:19

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Desires of Your Heart

The Desires of Your Heart
April 19, 2010
Psalm 37:4 "Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart."

Wow, even just the sound of that verse is so appealing. "Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart." What I wouldn't give to have all the desires of my heart right now. Surely, you could use a few of those desires, too. I think every Christian has quoted this scripture once or twice, using it in a prayer. I know I have. So why, then, are so many of us lacking what we consider the desires of our hearts? Are we not delighting ourselves in the Lord? Surely, the Lord cannot expect us to be perfect, thereby giving us the promise of this scripture, knowing He would never have to honor it. It has to be attainable at some level for everyone; otherwise it is a sick and twisted joke, giving false hope. Since God is not like that, a jokester enjoying the emotional torture of His children, this scripture must apply to every Christian out there. So how, then, do we get those desires of our hearts? How do we read this scripture and believe it to be true?

This scripture cannot be read alone, taken out of context. In order to get the desires of your heart, you must first understand what it means to delight yourself in the Lord. If you read the other scripture verses surrounding this one, the Bible uses words like: trust, righteousness, justice, patience, commit.... There is an attitude of submission to God, His ways, and His sovereignty. Delighting yourself in the Lord has to be understood with this same attitude. Looking throughout the Bible, you'll find the word delight occurring in other verses as well. In fact, it occurs over 100 times. To better grasp what this means, read the other 100 instances of it. King David understood this when he wrote Psalm 37:4. Actually, when David wrote the verse, he was quoting a concept and promise that was understood for hundreds of years before his time on the earth. The desires of the heart were and are the earthly blessings that come from just being God's children, promised to us by the Father.

The Lord gave Moses the first of these promises when He set up the original laws, read aloud before the whole nation of God's Children. It is found in Deuteronomy 26 & 28. Then God even advises on how to get the blessing of the Father back, in case we lose it as a result of disobedience; found in Deuteronomy 30:8-10, "You will again obey the LORD and follow all his commands I am giving you today. 9 Then the LORD your God will make you most prosperous in all the work of your hands and in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your land. The LORD will again delight in you and make you prosperous, just as he delighted in your fathers, 10 if you obey the LORD your God and keep his commands and decrees that are written in this Book of the Law and turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul." Notice God used the words "delight in you."

The Lord is clear about what it takes to delight yourself in Him (more correctly understood, for Him to take delight over your life); it is obedience to Him and His ways. This is the same attitude of David's Psalm 37, being that of submission to God, His ways, and His sovereignty. Examine God's instructions given through Moses, though, "turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul." This is why we are lacking in the desires of our hearts. We have desires for blessings that are born of our heart and soul turned inward, onto ourselves. If we were truly submitted to God and His ways, our hearts would be on Him, correcting the desires of our hearts, submitting to God, His ways, and His sovereignty. Looking back at David's verse, remember the air is one of trust, righteousness, justice, patience, and commitment. This means we must trust the Lord in all that we do, being righteous in His eyes, allowing Him to bring justice to our cause, being patient for Him to deliver the desires of our hearts, and being committed to Him, even if we don't see those desires fulfilled in the manner we demand.

I leave you with this. To delight yourself in the Lord, start by reading two other verses, one written in the Old Testament and then reaffirmed in the New Testament. Read them for yourself: Psalm 40:8 and Romans 7:32. You must be delighted to serve and obey the Lord before you will find delight in His eyes. By the way, no matter what someone tells you, you don't have to believe for or pray for the desires of your heart. Scripture says He WILL GIVE them to you. You do your part, and He'll do His.

1. How can you make sure you have the correct understanding of Psalm 37:4?
2. How can you delight to obey His commands with an attitude of submission to Him, His ways, and His sovereignty?
3. How can you be patient in waiting for the Lord to deliver the desires of your heart when HE deems appropriate?

Add. Scriptures for Study: Deut 26, 28, & 30, Psalm 37, Psalm 40, Roman 7, James 1:4

Weeds and Deception

Weeds and Deception
April 12, 2010
Matthew 13:25 "But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away."

Something ---unintended by God--- happened when Adam and Eve first ate of the forbidden fruit. They came under a curse. Specifically the Bible says, "Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life." The words "painful toil" don't mean that work is part of the curse; it means that our efforts in this world are now cursed and we will have to deal with many obstacles all the days of our lives. For a farmer planting crops, this literally means droughts, floods, weeds, thorns, and pests. But the Lord, when He spoke the words of the curse, was not isolating the curse to the obstacles only pertaining to physical work. The obstacles referenced were an allusion to the spiritual work that will be also be cursed because of sin and Satan's efforts to thwart anything and everything in our lives.

Fast forward from the original sin of Adam and Eve and recall the life of Jesus, which was intended to put an end to the curse. Jesus spoke in parables and used an analogy to the original curse of the ground and painful toil. He said the kingdom of God is like a man who sows a field with good seed. The man, after he had sewn the good seed, went to check on his crops and realized there were weeds among his intended harvest. If you look at the word for weed used in the Bible, it is translated, more correctly, to the word darnel, which is a specific weed that looks just like wheat. In fact, when a darnel seed initially grows, it is virtually indistinguishable when compared to certain wheat or barley. It is a deceptive crop. Only after the darnel starts to grow, is someone able to discern the deception, and at that point it may be too late. In fact, in the parable, Jesus tells us that if this weed is pulled too soon, the farmer may end up destroying his whole harvest.

The most important aspect of Jesus' parable, though, is not just the deceptive weed, but the person who planted it. In the parable, the planter of the deceptive destruction was an enemy. This is easily understood as a reference to Satan, and further along in the story, we end up seeing more than one enemy planting, described as being the sons of Satan. The Bible is very clear that there is an enemy at work in your life and his efforts are not simply focused on the vegetables in your garden. He wants to plant a crop of deception in your life, a life full of weeds that will thwart the intended harvest in your life, both physically and spiritually.

Christian, in a complex world, there is so much room for deception. It can come in many forms, even from seemingly genuine Christians. This potential deception puts your life in jeopardy. It is not enough to go to church and simply listen to what the pastor tells you. You must stay on guard in every area of your life, weighing every action, deed, and thought against what the Scripture says. There will be many Christians who are deceived and I don't want you to become one of them. Staying on guard, in all areas of your life, means a constant vigil of sincerity to your own personal relationship with the Lord, Jesus Christ. There may be a harvest of deception growing in your life at this exact moment, potentially leading you to the grave. It is up to you to identify those weeds, thwarting your harvest of righteousness. If you don't look for them now, it may be too late. Ask the Lord to point out the deception; He surely doesn't want you to have weeds in your garden.

1. In what areas of your life are there potential for weeds?
2. What could that deception look like and how might you identify it?
3. What safeguards can you put in place, protecting you from the planter of deception?

Add. Scriptures for Study: Gen 3:17, Jer 29:8, Matt 13, Matt 24:4, 5, 11, 24, Rom 7:11, 2 Cor 11:3, James 1:22, Rev 20:10

Open Mouth Insert Foot

Open Mouth Insert Foot
April 5, 2010
Proverbs 10:19 "When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise."

Your mother probably said to you several times, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." If she didn't tell you this, she should have. It is good advice and something everyone should live by, regardless of age. I've noticed from watching older Christians that they seem to understand this. There are many gray haired individuals who don't multiply their words, but when they do speak it is valuable. They seem to only speak when necessary and when they utter a word, wisdom usually follows. I know I stop and listen, hopefully heeding what they have to say. They probably have learned this lesson the hard way, getting caught by their words, putting their foot in their mouth many times. There clearly is an inverse correlation between the amount of time a person spends speaking and the amount of his/her wisdom. In other words, if you talk too much, you might be a fool.

While I don't doubt you may think you have something important to say, it probably is only valuable to you and your mirror. This isn't to say that everything out of your mouth is foolish or unwise, but I doubt that every word is weighed out carefully before the Lord. Have you ever spoken before you truly thought about what you were going to say? I know I have. I find that many of the difficulties I have in my life are because I opened my mouth. I'm sure my wife would agree. How much heartache could I have been saved in my life and my marriage, if I had just kept my mouth shut? How much heartache could have been saved in your life if you had just kept your mouth shut? The brother of Jesus comments on a person's words in James 3:2. He says that, "If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check." His comment is about when the person is actually speaking, not when the person is staying silent, suggesting that unless you're perfect, you probably should not speak as often. Since I have never met a perfect person, and not being perfect myself, my advice is simple: keep your mouth shut.

While the phrase, "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all," is not found directly in scripture, it is backed by many different arguments in the Bible. In fact, going through the Bible using James' argument about finding the perfect person, the most righteous man, as touted by God, was Job. Job opened his mouth and got rebuked by both the Holy Spirit and God. They respectively said of Job, "without knowledge he multiplies words," and that he "darkens my counsel with words without knowledge." While I might have maybe two or three valuable things to say, I never want to be rebuked by God for opening my mouth.

Proverbs 10:19 says, "When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise." You and I know what can happen when we open our mouths, but we seldom think about what will happen if we keep it shut. The second part of the verse says, ". . . but he who holds his tongue is wise." Is he a wise man and so he keeps his mouth shut or is he wise because he keeps his mouth shut? I think it is the latter; we are wise when we keep our tongue bridled inside our mouth. It takes lots of practice to keep your mouth shut; a good way to do that is through fasting. Many people consider fasting a time of abstaining from food, but I think fasting should take on many forms, especially abstaining from speaking. Instead of fasting one or two meals a month, try fasting from speaking for 6 hours; it's harder than not eating. (That would also include e-mailing and texting). It will be good practice for making you a little wiser. If anything, it will keep you out of trouble.

1. What have you said lately that should have been kept to yourself?
2. How can you hold your tongue the next time you are tempted to speak out?
3. Challenge: fast from talking, texting, or e-mailing for six hours straight this week (it doesn't count if you're sleeping).

Add. Scriptures for Study: Job 35:16, Job 38:2, Ps 19:14, Ps 64:3, Ps 106:33, Proverbs 6:2, Proverbs 16:21 & 24, Ecc 5:2, Ecc 10:20, Ecc 12:11, James 3:1-3

God's Good Work

God's Good Work
March 29, 2010
Hebrews 13:21 "..equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

No one likes to be worked on, at least not when it is uncomfortable. Sure, you might want someone to take care of you when you're sick or give you a massage when you're stressed, but you never want someone to challenge you out of your comfort zone. It feels better to sit in an easy chair than lift the weight of change, especially, self change. But that is what God likes to do; He likes to work on you so you can work for Him. Yes, it seems like a lot of effort, when it would be easier if He just did the work Himself; for some reason He wants you working alongside of Him. In order to work alongside of Him, you must be equipped to do the work; you must be up to the challenge. And so, God works on you, sometimes a little at a time, sometimes a lot at once.

Scripture says in Philippians 1:6, "being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." This means that God is intent on working on you until the day you die. Every day He wants you to look more like Him and so He works on you. God works on you through the everyday situations of life. He uses the check-out lane at the store, the brash person at work, the unloving spouse, the intolerant child, the overbearing mother, the unsatisfying job.... You name it and God will use it. He wants to refine you into the quality and character of Himself. And He does this for one reason alone, so that you may carry on the good works of Christ.

God even uses the awful situations in life to work on you. Romans 8:28, an all too familiar verse says, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." This scripture is given to us in hard times. God did not give us this verse for when things are easy or when we're having a good day. He gave us this verse to keep us moving forward when we want to quit. When you have all the wind knocked out of you because of what life is bringing down on you, you are to quote this verse, being confident that God IS in control. When life is hard, it is easy to get frustrated, overwhelmed, and weary, wanting to give in, feeling like God does not care about you or is ignoring your hardship. It is quite the contrary. God has given you this verse for when it takes more than faith to feel like God knows what He is doing. It takes a hard trust in the validity of this verse to keep going, when you want to collapse.

Christian, God has a plan, and I wish I only knew what it was for you and me. I would like to quit so many things in this life, but I must press on, knowing that God is not done working in and through me. Though you might want to quit and give up, you must press on, knowing that God is not done working in or through you and this current situation. You cannot give up on your life or what God has brought to you. You must submit every situation in life to Him, no matter how uncomfortable or how challenging it may feel. It is your destiny, I know it for sure. Though it does not feel like your destiny, God will be faithful to complete the good work that He started in you and He IS using what you are going through right now. So, instead of giving up, instead of quitting, quote Romans 8:28, knowing that God is still on His throne. In what you're going through right now, make Hebrews 13:21 your prayer; reword it for yourself, "Lord equip me with everything good for doing your will, and work in me right now, through this situation, what is pleasing to you, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen."

1. In what situation would you like to give up?
2. How can you view that situation as from the Lord?
3. How can you learn from that situation to be more like Christ?

Add. Scriptures for Study: Rom 8:28, 2 Cor 9:8, Eph 1:1, Eph 2:10, Phil 1:6, Phil 2:13, 2 Tim 2:21, 2 Tim 3:17

Bread of Life

Bread of Life
March 22, 2010
Luke 4:4 "Jesus answered, 'it is written: man does not live on bread alone.'"

It takes a great deal of sustenance to feed and maintain your human body. You might be able to make it most days even if you skip a meal here or there, but eventually it will catch up with you. You feel it coming on, when you haven't eaten enough healthy food to give you the right amount of energy. You feel crabby, moody, maybe your brain feels foggy. Your body craves something nutritious to fuel itself, in order to keep it working properly, lest you feel run down. Sure, we'd all like to eat ice cream and donuts every day, but we know it takes a balance of nutritious food to stay operating at peak performance. If you've ever tried to make it a whole day on just a candy bar, you end up wanting something more nourishing. And it takes constant feeding of proper nutrition to keep your body working, not just the one plate of veggies you had a year ago. Even healthy bread won't satisfy you; despite possibly being whole grain, your body needs more than bread alone.

You've heard the phrase many times, "man does not live on bread alone." But what does it really mean? The Israelites were taught the answer the hard way, when God fed them manna from heaven in the desert for forty years. Moses had to explain it to them, even after they lived it for so many years: Deuteronomy 8:2-3
"Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD."

The Israelites thought that all they needed from God was food for their bodies, but they never realized they needed so much more from Him. They needed a personal relationship with God. Then, thousands of years later, Jesus had to explain it again, adding more clarity, because evidentially no one truly understood it. Jesus called himself the bread of life in John 6:33, "For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." Jesus was referring to more than the physical need for sustenance to keep the body alive. Sure, you need actual food, but food is not all that is required. You need a relationship with Christ to balance your proper diet, to stay fueled and focused in this life. Your body needs more than food to survive; it needs a relationship with Jesus to stay alive. If you have Jesus, you have all that you need. If you feel you are lacking in some area of your life, it might be you are neglecting to feed yourself the proper diet of a daily relationship with Jesus Christ.

When life is getting the best of you, it takes proper nutrition to get you going again. It is probable you need more of Jesus in your life. Either you aren't spending the time with Him that you should, or you are not feeding your mind from the Word (the Bible) or soaking up His presence in prayer. While I can't fault you for having a busy life, if you're too busy to spend time with the Lord every day, then you WILL get run down in this life. This world is harsh and the elements will beat down on your body, demanding more of you than you have to give. If you've neglected your time with the Lord, this life will overtake you and eventually cause your body to fail; you need the proper nutrition. You cannot rely on the meal you had yesterday, it takes a daily dose of the Lord to keep you in the best possible shape to tackle the demands placed upon you. Start with researching some of the scriptures in this devotionalbyte; it's a great start. It's important to remember that Jesus is the Bread of Life that will sustain you.

1. What are you feeding yourself, spiritually, to keep yourself healthy?
2. How much time do you spend feeding yourself from God's Word every day?
3. How can you "fuel up" on the proper Godly things every day?

Add. Scriptures for Study: Deut 8:2-3, Pro 6:25-27, Matt 4:4, Luke 4:4, John 6:24-26, John 6:32-36, John 6:48, John 6:51

Saved From What

Saved From What
March 15, 2010
Romans 5:9 "Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him?"

Accepting salvation is the pivotal decision that initially makes a Christian a Christian. When someone comes to Jesus, we say he is "saved." Almost all of us can remember the point of our original salvation, the time when we prayed the prayer of salvation, becoming a Christian. When you ask Jesus into your heart, to be Lord of your life, you are said to be "saved." But what exactly are you saved from? If you do a search on the internet, it is interesting what people's response is to that question. The list of responses goes something like this: saved from eternal damnation, saved from the pit of hell, saved from my sins, saved from separation from God, saved from having to make a sacrifice for my own sins. This list could continue and while all these answers are great talking points, none of them is the actual correct answer to the question.

The answer to the question, "what are we saved from," is a little more simple than people think. It is not a convoluted answer, requiring a PhD to comprehend. We are saved from the wrath of God. That's right; we are saved from God's wrath. While I can paint a picture of God being your friend and full of love, dressed in white, sitting up in Heaven answering prayers, it would be incomplete. The complete picture of God includes His wrath. Yes, Jonathan Edward's message "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," preached in 1741, gets included in the many facets of God. While it is not the only thing to focus on, when understanding God, it is a disservice to everyone if we do not discuss God's wrath. It is not pleasant to think that God is sitting on His throne waiting to pronounce judgment, but that is exactly what is going to happen someday.

Christians have somehow strayed away from talking about this aspect of God, as it is too uncomfortable. We'd rather serve a God who is full of grace, peace, love, understanding, and compassion. We focus on those things in an effort to help people feel accepted in church as they are, but it is not whole and accurate. We would rather sing songs about God being our friend than sing songs of Him being our judge, as the former warms the heart much better. To think that God is standing above us, ready to strike with a lightning bolt, turns people away from church. If we somehow tell people that God loves them just the way they are, then we can fill the seats easier. The fact of the matter remains, a lot of people will be in for a rude awakening when they stand before the Almighty someday. There will be many church-goers who will face the full wrath of God unless they accept salvation from Jesus Christ.

God will sit in judgment of your sins someday and His wrath will be mighty. I have pity for the fool who does not have the protection of Jesus' blood covering him on that day. The only thing that can save us from God's wrath is the covering of Jesus' blood. This is not to frighten you but to motivate you. You and I might have the covering of Jesus' blood that protects us from the wrath of God, but your neighbor might not. Your son or daughter may not have that covering; it is up to you to warn them of God's wrath. Everyone can be protected from God's wrath, but not everyone will. There will even be many people who sat next to you in church who will face God's wrath without Jesus standing up for them, as they did not confess Him as their Savior.

The point of salvation is relatively easy; it is spelled out in Romans 10:9, ""That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."" Rest assured the salvation Roman's 10:9 is referring to is being saved from God's wrath, as the book of Romans discusses God's wrath five times in the chapters leading up to chapter ten. God's wrath is real, and unless you have the covering of Jesus' blood over you, God's full wrath WILL be unleashed upon you for your sins. Don't let someone go another day without telling them how to stay safe from God's wrath. You owe it to them, especially since someone else told you; I just did.

1. How often is God's wrath discussed in your church?
2. How often do you warn others of their impending doom, unless they have the covering of Jesus' blood?
3. How can you incorporate this important facet of God into your conversations with others?

Add. Scriptures for Study: Job 20:28, Ps 7:11, Is 51:22, Jer 10:10, Nahum 1:2, John 3:36, Rom 2:5, Rom 3:5, Rom 10:9, Eph 2:8, 2 Thes 2:13