Monday, July 26, 2010

Shield of Faith

Shield of Faith
July 26, 2010
Psalm 91:4 "He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart."

In the book of Ephesians the writer tells us to clothe ourselves with armor in our efforts to be successful in this life. He instructs us to wear spiritual armor for the purposes of combating the evil, often invisible, forces that come against us from Satan and his henchmen. As part of that armor, we are to acquire the Shield of Faith (Eph 6:16 "In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.) Satan is the evil one and he is trying to kill you. He doesn't want to hurt you, he wants to kill you. He will do whatever it takes to separate you from Christ and to keep you from spending eternity in Heaven with Him. To this end, you are under constant attack, ALL the days of your life, whether you admit it or not.

Satan attacks you like a fowler. A fowler is a professional hunter who only goes after one type of prey, a bird (fowl), with the intent to kill it. You and I are just that bird, as the psalmist gives us this imagery in Psalm 91.
"I will say of the LORD, "He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust." Surely he will save you from the fowler's snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart."

A fowler uses several tactics to catch his prey. The first and easiest is to set a trap. The second, requiring more skill, is to shoot the target with an arrow. An arrow is used because it is silent as it travels through the air, hitting its unsuspecting victim. Satan likes to use this technique on you and me. The Bible says Satan uses flaming arrows. The flame represents the fire of Hell. If Satan is able to hit you with his arrows, he could eventually kill you and take you to Hell.

While this is scary, if we have the Shield of Faith, we can protect ourselves from those fiery arrows. Here is how that faith protects us. Go back to Psalm 91, where it describes Satan as the fowler. The Bible says that God will protect us; "He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart." Faith in the knowledge of Jesus the Christ is the only thing that will save you from going to Hell. Jesus Christ is the one described in the Psalm as covering you with his wings. The fowler hunted Jesus Christ, but the flaming arrows could not harm Him. When we stand firm in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, He will cover us with His wings, the same wings that withstood the fire of Hell when Jesus was crucified on the cross.

The words you need to memorize are "His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart." This is what protects you when you take up the Shield of Faith. We must have faith in the person of Jesus Christ, and it we do, He will keep us from Hell. This must be trusted and believed. Even if our bodies die, His faithfulness will take us to Heaven if we stand firm in the knowledge of Christ and His work on the cross. Faith, then, becomes a perfect circle of protection, a shield. The fiery arrows will still come, you cannot stop that, but they will not take you and you will not go to Hell.

1. How often do you take up your spiritual armor?
2. How can you be on guard from Satan's constant attacks?
3. How can your faith protect you from Satan?

Don't take my word for it; study it for yourself: Ps 91:1-16, Eph 6:10-18, 1 Peter 5:8

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Don't Be a Doormat

Don't Be a Doormat
July 19, 2010
Matthew 5:39 "But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also."

Whoever said Christians are supposed to be doormats? A doormat is something that gets walked all over by other people, never being considered. No one likes to be a doormat. You've undoubtedly experienced others' inconsideration for you and your feelings. It's no fun and if you don't stand up for yourself, the other person might continue to walk all over you--forever. I can't find any scripture that suggests you, as a Christian, should be a doormat, watching as others take and take and take from you. But then I read this annoying scripture that says, "If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." Turn the other cheek? Does scripture really advocate being a doormat? Should you or should you not stand up for your rights and protect yourself from others both physically and emotionally? It depends on how well you understand scripture.

To better grasp the correct understanding of the "turn the other cheek" teaching of Christianity, we need to read the verses around them, in the same chapter of Matthew (5). There is a scripture (Matt. 5:5) that reads, "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth." Being meek does not mean being weak. The true definition of being meek is withstanding insult or injury with patience, perseverance, and without resentment. It is being strong enough to withstand it freely, not being weak enough to not do anything about it. Then, just a few verses later, Scripture talks about turning the other cheek. Turning the other cheek suggests you are strong enough to do so, able to bear it willingly. It is an act of sacrifice, giving something up as opposed to someone taking it from you.

If we keep reading in the same chapter, the lesson develops further when Jesus talks about loving your enemies in verse 44. "But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." This "enemy" is the same person who is considered the "evil person" in that initial, annoying verse, "But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." The evil person is not necessarily a Satan worshiper, but simply any human being not functioning as God intended (even Christians, sometimes). Regardless of who is trying to take advantage of you, though, it is up to you to be strong enough to allow them the opportunity to either repent or be dealt with by God. This is the understanding you must live with, if you are going to be strong enough to be meek.

I can say all this because Jesus brings the lesson full circle in verse 45. God says if you do this, (turn the other cheek and pray for that enemy), you will "be sons [and daughters] of your Father in heaven." God's promise laid out for you, when you decide to correctly turn the other cheek (bearing it freely and without resentment), is found in understanding the phrase ". . . sons of your Father in heaven." Sons have the full rights of the father, which include the father's protection. Sons also have the full rights of the father's inheritance. Remember the verse "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth." When you are a son of God, you gain His inheritance, but God asks you to be meek until that day comes. Turning the other cheek is not being week or becoming a doormat, it is enduring difficult relationships and circumstances in a willing manner, knowing your reward is an inheritance in Heaven with Him.

By the way, God also says, ""It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord." Go ahead and turn the other cheek; God's wrath for their actions will be far greater than anything you can do to them.

1. How can you correctly apply "turn the other cheek" in your life?
2. Who is the "evil person" that maybe you should stop resisting?
3. How can you be strong and still demonstrate meekness?

Don't take my word for it; study it for yourself: Deut 32:35, Ps 82:3, Matt 5, Luke 6:28-30, Rom 12:19, Heb 10:30

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Kindly Repent

Kindly Repent
July 12, 2010
Romans 2:4 "Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance?"

It is never wise to burn a bridge. This is an old saying that needs limited explaining. In short, you might need to use that bridge someday, the one you just crossed; it would be foolish to burn it down or destroy it. And while I have limited use for politics, it is always wise to carefully consider who you turn into an enemy. An enemy is less likely to help you in time of need than a friend. These statements might seem like common sense, but you'd be surprised at how foolish humans can be sometimes. We can see the wisdom in these statements, but every one of us violates the truths behind them in life AND in our relationship with God. We all seem to take Him and His forgiveness for granted, knowing that He will forgive us yet another time, despite the fact we are seldom deserving of it.

There are many of us who know better than to go against common sense in our relationship with God. At least I do. I know better than to sin. Seldom do I sin without knowing it is a sin, but I do it anyway. You are the same way. You know when you're wrong, but you do it anyway. This is a foolish thing, as it ends up taking advantage of God's kindness. There IS forgiveness for all who ask of it, but that doesn't mean we should keep on sinning, especially if we know better. We should be truly repentant of our sins. To be repentant, it requires acknowledgment of our sin, taking responsibility for the action, and then having the intent to stop or change the action moving forward into the future. There is a problem, though, if we never intend to stop that bad habit or set that sin aside. We should be motivated to truly stop sinning and not want to continue down that same path. The motivator is the kindness of God. God's kindness should lead you and I to true repentance for our sinning, bringing us to the point of not wanting to sin any longer. Did you realize that?

Paul wrote the same thing to the church in Rome. For some reason, they weren't realizing they should be repentant because of God's kindness. They didn't get it. I don't know anyone like that today; you and I would NEVER do something like that. Surely we ALL realize how kind God is to forgive us; we repent of our ways immediately because God is so rich in forgiveness and patience. We wouldn't want to take advantage of His kindness. Sarcasm aside, we all make this same mistake the Roman Christians made. When Paul wrote this particular line in his letter to the Romans, he was being sarcastic, asking them a rhetorical question, knowing full well they were aware of God's kindness. Re-read this line with a hint of sarcasm: "Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance?"

Paul resorted to sarcasm because the early Christians didn't seem to care they were taking advantage of God's forgiveness; they were being what we would call hypocrites. But a few lines later, Paul sets the sarcasm down and takes a more direct tone, telling them to get their act together. Listen to what Paul said, " 5But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. 6God "will give to each person according to what he has done."" These words were written to Christians, not the unsaved. Paul didn't write these words on his own accord, he was quoting scripture, found in Psalm 62:12 and Proverbs 24:12. The specific line is "Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?" If you read the verse in both places, they seem positive, God rewarding someone for doing good. But the scripture is meant to be interpreted both ways, rewards for doing good and alternative rewards for doing bad.

So the next time you are in the act of a sin (the thing you know you shouldn't do but do it anyway, yeah, you know that one sin I'm talking about), think about Paul's sarcasm to the Romans and the future reward you will eventually get should you continue to live with this unrepentant sin. Let God's kindness lead you to reprentance now, lest you seek His wrath later.

1. What sin instantly comes to mind as you read this devotional?
2. How can you allow the Lord's kindness lead you to repent of this sin?
3. How can you keep from taking advantage of God's forgiveness?

Don't take my word for it; study it for yourself: Numbers 14:18, Ps 62:12, Ps 103:8, Pr 24:12, Romans 2:3-9, Romans 7:15, Heb 10:26

Monday, July 5, 2010

Secret Sacrifice

Secret Sacrifice
July 5, 2010
Matthew 6:4 ". . . Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."

Sign me up for sacrifice. If only I could say that with sincerity. To sacrifice is to willingly give up something of value in exchange for nothing in return. This is contradictory to human nature. We like to receive; it is gratifying to the self. Seldom have I heard someone say that sacrificing their own wants, needs, or possessions was gratifying, even satisfying. Sacrifice is seldom satisfying, especially if it isn't done willingly. But God asks that we sacrifice, willingly.

God has instructed us to sacrifice; He wants us to do it willingly AND to do it secretly. If I'm not going to get anything in return for my sacrifice, can't I at least gain the respect and honor of those around me for my sacrifice? Nope. God doesn't want anyone to know that you actually had to sacrifice anything. It starts with His instructions given through Jesus in Matthew 6. We are instructed to give our money, to pray, and to fast, all without anyone else knowing about it. In short, we are asked to make a sacrifice in secret. While this doesn't really sound that exciting, Jesus tags the line three different times by saying, "Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." Unfortunately, the Bible never says what that reward will be. God did that on purpose. If God told you what your reward would be for your sacrifice, then it would not be a sacrifice, it would be payment in exchange for goods and services (a market transaction).

But it's not just your money, time, and prayer that God wants you to give. God wants you to be willing to give up everything for Him, to be a living sacrifice. The apostle Paul was a perfect example of this. Paul wrote that he counts everything he had to give up for God (sacrifice), as a gain (Phil 3:8). How in the world can you gain by giving up everything? I'm not sure this is actually true in the physical realm, gaining by giving everything up, but Paul didn't say he gained physical wealth by His sacrifice. Paul said he gained Christ. Paul actually figured out something that you and I seem to be missing. There is something sanctifying in your own personal sacrifice. By sanctifying, I mean, cleansing to the point of holiness. While true sanctification (being made holy) can only happen through faith in Jesus Christ, we are still instructed to live a holy lifestyle. To that end, works of sacrifice, willing sacrifice, teach us how to be more like Christ on this earth, to be holy.

I miss this lesson all too often. I sacrifice so much in life, every single day, but since I don't do it willingly, I feel I am owed payment or a reward on this earth. Since no one acknowledges my sacrifice, I figure out how to reward myself, treat myself (or I simply whine and complain). I just said out loud what you know in your heart to be true of your situation. When you don't sacrifice willingly, you feel you are owed something. That wasn't what Jesus was talking about and that wasn't what Paul figured out. Paul figured out how to rejoice in all that he sacrificed (whether he gave it up willingly or it was taken from him). It made him more Christ-like and he left the possibility of reward up to God's discretion.

In your sacrifice (whether you give it up or it is taken from you) God is not after what you lose; He is after YOU. God's reward for you and what you do on this earth is a secret, just like your sacrifice, but in the least, you'll learn it is a sanctifying experience. People will see you become a little more Christ-like each and every day.

1. What have you sacrificed; what was taken from you?
2. How can you see those things as a gain unto the Lord?
3. How can you allow your sacrifice to teach you to be more Christ-like?

Don't take my word for it; study it for yourself: Matt 6, Rom 12:1, Eph 5:2, Phil 3:8, Heb 13:16, 1 Peter 2:5