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PRAYERS TO PRAISES

NOVEMBER 30    SOMETIMES GOD DOESN'T STOP THE HURTING IN OUR LIVES BECAUSE THE PAIN IS MEANT TO KEEP US FROM STRAYING OFF INTO EVEN MORE HURTFUL AND HARMFUL TERRITORIES. HE LOVES US ENOUGH TO CORRECT US IN SMALL INCREMENTS, BEFORE OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH HIM BECOMES COMPLETELY DISCONNECTED; AND HE LOVES US ENOUGH TO USE OUR HURTS AS BOUNDARIES THAT KEEP US FORM HURTING OURSELVES EVEN MORE. HEBREWS 12: 5.6 READS, "MY CHILD, DON'T MAKE LIGHT OF THE LORD'S DISCIPLINE, AND DON'T GIVE UP WHEN HE CORRECTS YOU. FOR THE LORD DISCIPLINES THOSE HE LOVES, AND HE PUNISHES EACH ONE HE ACCEPTS AS HIS CHILD". IF GOD DIDN'T CARE ABOUT US, HE WOULDN'T TAKE TIME TO GET INVOLVED IN OUR LIVES. HE DOESN'T ENJOY DISCIPLINING US ANY MORE THAN WE DO; HE CERTAINLY DOESN'T LIKE THE PAIN ANY MORE THAN WE DO; YET HE SEES THE NEED TO BURN ALL OF THE IMPURITIES OUT OF OUR LIVES, SO WE COULD HAVE ETERNAL RICHES OF HIS KINGDOM.

IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR US TO INVISION THE SENSE OF "ABUNDANCE" WE ARE BEING PROMISED THROUGH THE BIBLE, SINCE THE ONLY ABUNDANCE WE'VE EVER KNOWN HERE ON EARTH IS THE KIND WE WOULD HAVE TO WORK DILIGENTLY FOR; THE KIND THAT WE WOULD HAVE TO TAKE A CHANCE ON; AND THE KIND THAT WE WOULD HAVE TO SACRIFICE MANY OF OUR OTHER NEEDS FOR. EVERYTHING ALWAYS COMES WITH A PRICE! HOWEVER THIS ONE PRICE HAS ALREADY BEEN TAKEN CARE OF BY JESUS CHRIST. ALL GOD WANTS FROM US IN RETURN IS TO BELIEVE IN THE IDENTITY OF HIS SON, AND ACCEPT THE SACRIFICE HE OFFERED ON THAT CROSS TO SAVE OUR LIVES. THAT'S NOT A BAD TRADE; IT'S RATHER EASY AND SIMPLE. THERE ARE NO HIDDEN AGENDAS, OR FINE PRINTS TO READ. IN FACT GOD'S WORD CAN ALSO BE FOUND IN EXTRA LARGE PRINT TO HELP US SEE AND UNDERSTAND THE FACT THAT HE LOVES US THAT MUCH! THAT'S EXACTLY WHY HE TURNS THE HEAT ON EVERY NOW AND THEN, IN ORDER FOR OUR INNER MAN TO BE PURE ENOUGH TO LEAD THE KIND OF LIFE HE CREATED US TO LIVE: THE FULFILLING KIND. WE SAVOR SATISFACTION TO ITS FULLEST ONLY WHEN OUR LIVES COINCIDE WITH GOD'S PLAN AND PURPOSE FOR US; WHEN EVERY FIBER OF OUR EXISTENCE DISPLAYS GOD'S UNCONDITIONAL LOVE FOR HIS CHILDREN, AND THE HARMONY HE INTENDED FOR HIS CREATION IS VISIBLE THROUGH OUR WORKS AND OUR WORDS.

GOD IS ALWAYS THERE WITH US, PROMPTING POSITIVE CHANGES IN OUR LIVES; TEACHING US PATIENCE; RESCUING US OR OTHERS THROUGH ALL SUFFERINGS, AND WITHOUT ANY EXCEPTION; HE IS SHOWING US THAT HE LOVES US THROUGH THE BOUNDARIES HE DETERMINES FOR US. THE PROBLEM IS NOT WITH GOD; THE REAL PROBLEM IS, "DO WE BELIEVE IN GOD'S LOVE FOR US ENOUGH SO THAT WE CAN TASTE IT EVEN DURING OUR TURMOILS, AND CONTINUE TO COOPERATE WITH HIM, NO QUESTIONS ASKED?"

NOVEMBER 29    THERE ARE TIMES WHEN GOD PLANTS US IN THE MIDDLE OF SOMEONE ELSE'S MESS, SO WE CAN HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY TO DISPLAY OUR CONFIDENCE IN GOD. THOUGH IT MAY SOUND UNFAIR, WE'RE NEVER MORE CHRIST-LIKE THAN WHEN WE ARE SUFFERING FOR OTHERS, IN ORDER THAT GOD MAY RESCUE THEM. WE POSSESS THE STRENGTH, THE ENERGY, AND THE DETERMINATION, JUST AS LONG AS WE DON'T LOSE SIGHT OF GOD'S LOVE FOR US. THE MINUTE WE FAIL TO FOCUS ON HOW DEEPLY AND INTENSELY GOD LOVES US, WE START SINKING LIKE EVERYONE ELSE AROUND US, PULLING DOWN EVERY CHANCE WE MIGHT HAVE FOR WITNESSING, AND MAKING A DIFFERENCE. GOD KNOWS THE POTENTIAL HE ENTRUSTED EACH ONE OF US WITH, AND HE CERTAINLY WOULDN'T CHOOSE US FOR A TASK IF HE DIDN'T HAVE ENOUGH CONFIDENCE IN OUR CAPABILITIES AS CHRISTIANS.

WHETHER WE COMPLY WITH GOD'S COMMANDS OR NOT, HIS PLAN WILL ALWAYS BE CARRIED OUT. THE ONLY DIFFERENCE IS; HE MAY CHOOSE A MORE WILLING INDIVIDUAL TO FILL OUR SPOT, AND WE MISS OUT ON AN OPPORTUNITY TO PARTICIPATE IN YET ANOTHER TRIUMPH OF GOD. VICTORY IS ALWAYS GUARANTEED AS LONG AS GOD LEADS THE BATTLE, AND EVERYONE WINS. EACH PERSON WALKS AWAY WITH GOODS, WHETHER IT BE PHYSICAL OR EMOTIONAL FREEDOM FROM A DEBILITATING SITUATION; BUT THROUGH IT ALL, GOD ALLOWS EVERYONE TO REACH SPIRITUAL HEIGHTS LIKE NEVER BEFORE.

ONE PERFECT EXAMPLE THE BIBLE DISPLAYS IS JOSEPH, AND THE MANY BETRAYALS HE SUFFERED BECAUSE OF OTHERS' INIQUITIES: HIS OWN BROTHERS SOLD HIM AS A SLAVE, AND HE HAD TO SPEND MANY HARSH AND LONELY YEARS IN A FOREIGN LAND, SUFFERING PAIN AND INDIGNITIES AT THE HANDS OF HIS TASKMASTERS. HE SPENT TIME IN PRISON AS A SLAVE; HE WAS BEATEN; HE WAS FRAMED FOR ATTEMPTED RAPE, AND HE WAS LONG FORGOTTEN BY MANY WHOM HE HELD DEAR. EVEYONE HAD ABANDONED JOSEPH, EXCEPT FOR GOD. ONE DAY GOD RAISED JOSEPH UP TO A POSITION OF GREAT AUTHORITY AND POWER IN EGYPT, WHERE HE ENDED UP HAVING AN OPPORTUNITY TO FORGIVE HIS BROTHERS, AND HELP THEM OUT DURING THE GREAT FAMINE.

JOSEPH HAD HELD ON TO ALL OF THE SOLID TEACHINGS HE HAD RECEIVED AS A YOUNG CHILD, AND HE HAD BELIEVED IN GOD'S SOVEREIGNTY WITHOUT ANY DOUBT, WITHOUT ANY BLEMISH, AND HE GOT TO WATCH GOD'S VICTORY OVER HIS CIRCUMSTANCES UNFOLD. HE KNEW THAT HE WAS NEVER MORE IN THE CRADLE OF GOD'S HAND OF PROTECTION, CARE, AND COMPASSION, THAN WHEN HIS LIFE WAS BEING USED TO RESCUE OTHERS! GOD HAD JOSEPH'S BACK AT ALL TIMES, AND HE CONTINUED TO USE JOSEPH'S LIFE UNTIL EVERY ONE OF HIS HURTS AND DISAPPOINTMENTS WERE RIGHTED.

NOVEMBER 28    ONE OF THE BIGGEST SPEED BUMPS TO UNDERSTANDING GOD CAN BE OUR ENCOUNTERS WITH PAIN AND SUFFERING. THE HURTS WE EXPERIENCE MAY STEM FROM ABANDONMENT OR ABUSE, SORROW OR LOSS, FEARS AND FAILURES, SETBACKS AND CONFRONTATIONS, CHRONIC ILLNESSES AND PHYSICAL PAIN. WE ALL HURT FOR A VARIETY OF REASONS. SOMETIMES GOD'S HAND OF COMFORT AND HIS COMPASSION TOWARD US IS SO WONDERFUL THAT WE CAN'T EVEN DESCRIBE IT. HE APPEARS ON THE SCENE OF OUR CALAMITY WITH ASSISTANCE AND PROVISION, AND WE STAND IN AWE OF HIS PRESENCE. AT OTHER TIMES, HE SEEMS DISTANT AND DISINTERESTED, AS IF HE'S MOVED SOMEWHERE ELSE, AND WE HAVE NO WAY OF LOCATING HIM. EVEN THOUGH HE IS STILL THE SAME ALL POWERFUL, ALL LOVING AND ALL COMPASSIONATE GOD; HE DOESN'T CARE TO MOVE A FINGER ON OUR BEHALF. IT IS EXACTLY AT TIMES LIKE THIS THAT OUR FAITH IS BEING TESTED; AND IF WE'RE NOT CAREFUL, WE CAN BECOME FEARFUL AND DISILLUSIONED WITH GOD.

JOB KNEW GOD REAL WELL; YET DUE TO THE SUDDEN AND UNEXPECTED LOSS OF HIS POSSESSIONS, HIS CHILDREN, AND HIS HEALTH, THE BIBLE RECOUNTS HIS WORDS AS SUCH, "I CANNOT FIND GOD ANYWHERE... IN FRONT OR BACK OF ME, TO MY LEFT OR TO MY RIGHT. GOD IS ALWAYS AT WORK, THOUGH I NEVER SEE HIM" (JOB 23: 8,9). JOB'S PAIN AND SUFFERING BECAME A THICK BARRIER THAT OBSTRUCTED HIS DAILY INTIMACY WITH GOD. HE COULDN'T UNDERSTAND WHY GOD WOULD ALLOW SUCH CALAMITY. JOB HAD MANY QUESTIONS SUCH AS, "IS HE MAD AT ME?"; "DO I NOT MATTER TO HIM ANY MORE?"; "HAS HE FORGOTTEN ABOUT ME?"; OR "DOES HE NOT CARE?". EACH ONE OF THOSE QUESTIONS IS VALID; AND WE FIND ITS RELEVENT ANSWER THROUGH JESUS; YET BEFORE WE GO ANY FURTHER, WE MUST ACCEPT ONE THING: GOD DOESN'T OWE ANYONE ANY EXPLANATION. FROM THE MOMENT WE ARE GIVEN HIS BREATH UNTIL THE MOMENT HE CLAIMS IT BACK, WE ARE HIS. WE BELONG TO HIM! HOWEVER, HIS GRACE AND MERCY HAVE TRANSMITTED A FEW ANSWERS THROUGH HIS UNENDING AND UNCONDITIONAL LOVE FOR US.

JOB ANSWERS HIS OWN QUESTION IN THE VERY NEXT VERSE SAYING, "BUT HE KNOWS WHAT I AM DOING, AND WHEN HE TESTS ME, I WILL BE PURE AS GOLD" (JOB 23: 10). TESTING HAS THE POTENTIAL TO BURN OUT IMPURUTIES, SINCE DIFFICULTIES ARE PART OF GOD'S REFINING PROCESS. THEY HAVE TREMENDOUS POWER TO CHANGE US, FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE. WE CAN BECOME WEAKER OR STRONGER, MORE POSITIVE OR MORE NEGATIVE, MORE HOPEFUL OR MORE CYNICAL, DEPENDING ON HOW WE CHOOSE TO RESPOND TO PAIN AND SUFFERING. THE BIBLE HAS THE RIGHT INSTRUCTION FOR SUCH TIMES. PSALM 27: 14 READS, "WAIT FOR THE LORD. BE STRONG. LET YOUR HEART BE STRONG. YES, WAIT FOR THE LORD".

SINCE THE BIBLE TELLS US THAT NONE OF US IS IMMUNE FROM HARDSHIPS AND TURMOILS, WE ARE TO BE PREPARED TO WELCOME THOSE FROM TIME TO TIME. THE BIBLE ALSO GUARANTEES THAT EACH DIFFICULTY IS ONLY FOR A SEASON, AND GOD, WHO HAS ALL OF THE PROVISIONS READY WAY IN ADVANCE, WILL PUT A STOP TO THEM ALL IN DUE TIME. THE PROBLEM IS NOT THE PROCESS; SINCE IT'S OBVIOUS THAT IT'LL ALWAYS PRODUCE GOOD FRUIT AT THE END. THE PROBLEM IS ALL ABOUT THE "DISCOMFORT", THE "INCONVENIENCE", AND THE "HAVING TO WAIT" A WHILE, WILLINGLY AND EXPECTANTLY. HOW WILLING ARE WE THESE DAYS TO SIT STILL AND COMPLETELY RELY ON GOD'S PROVISIONS; ESPECIALLY KNOWING THAT GOD INTENDS FOR OUR SPIRITS TO BE MORE AT REST, SO HE CAN HAVE A HEART-TO HEART WITH US? WHAT IF EACH OBSTACLE IS DESIGNED TO BRING US INTO A CLOSER WALK WITH HIM? AND WHAT IF GOD IS AIMING TO LEAD US INTO A CALMER PATH THROUGH FAITH IN HIM? THE GOOD NEWS IS; GOD USES EVERY CIRCUMSTANCE TO INTRODUCE HIMSELF TO US A LITTLE MORE INTENSELY EACH TIME, AND EACH NEW TESTIMONY OF OURS IS HIS INVITATION FOR THE UNBELIEVERS OR THE SKEPTICS TO RECOGNIZE WHO GOD IS.

NOVEMBER 27    JOB WAS ONE OF GOD'S CHOSEN PEOPLE, WHO REVERENCED GOD GREATLY. HE WAS ONE OF THE MOST RIGTHEOUS MEN WHO EVER LIVED; AND HE FOLLOWED GOD'S COMMANDS RELIGIOUSLY AND CONSISTENTLY. GOD POINTED HIM OUT TO SATAN, WHOSE PRIMARY FUNCTION IS TO ACCUSE THOSE WHO FOLLOW GOD. SATAN WANTS TO FIND ANY FAULT HE POSSIBLY CAN WITH THOSE GOD CONSIDERS HIS ELECT. SATAN IS VERY LEGALISTIC AND USES THE MOST MINUTE ACTION OR CHARACTER TRAIT TO DISCOURAGE GOD'S DEVOTED PEOPLE. HE DESPERATELY TRIES TO DICTATE THROUGH INTELLECT AND FEELINGS IN ORDER TO TURN AS MANY PEOPLE AS POSSIBLE AWAY FROM GOD. HOWEVER HE IS UNABLE TO INFEST THEM PERMANENTLY, BECAUSE THERE IS A ONE-TO-ONE CORRESPONDENCE AVAILABLE BETWEEN THOSE WHO GOD HAS CHOSEN TO BE HIS, AND THOSE WHO WILL CHOOSE GOD TO BE THEIR ONLY GOD.

THE BOOK OF JOB IS A SIMPLE ILLUSTRATION OF ONE OF SATAN'S GREATEST FAILURES THAT TOOK PLACE WAY BEFORE HIS EMINENT LOSS THROUGH CHRIST'S BLOODSHED ON THE CROSS FOR US. SATAN BELIEVED THAT HE COULD GET JOB SO ANGRY AND SO DISILLUSIONED WITH GOD THAT JOB WOULD CURSE GOD, AND TURN COMPLETELY AWAY FROM HIM; HE EVEN USED THE BEFUDDLED WORDS OF JOB'S WIFE, YET NONE OF THE MASTERIES HE COULD COME UP WITH DISCOURAGED JOB'S DETERMINATION TO WORSHIP GOD. AS USUAL, SATAN WAS PROVEN TO BE WRONG BY GOD, BECAUSE OBVIOUSLY GOD KNEW JOB'S STEADFAST CHARACTER BETTER THAT SATAN DID, SINCE SATAN IS ALWAYS LIMITED BY GOD IN EVERYTHING HE DOES. HE CAN CAUSE ONLY AS MUCH SUFFERING, DESTRUCTION, AND DEATH AS GOD WILL ALLOW HIM TO DO. JOB 2: 3 READS, "... MAINTAINS HIS INTEGRITY, THOUGH YOU INCITED ME TO RUIN HIM WITHOUT ANY REASON". THIS VERSE INDICATES THAT GOD HIMSELF WAS BEHIND JOB'S AFFLICTIONS EVERY STEP OF THE WAY, DISPLAYING JOB'S ATTRIBUTES, WITH CONFIDENCE AND PRIDE.

WE MIGHT FEEL THAT IT WAS MEAN AND CRUEL FOR GOD TO DO THIS; YET HOW ELSE WOULD WE EVER KNOW HOW INVOLVED GOD IS IN OUR LIVES, IF WE DON'T ALLOW HIM TO DEVELOP OUR FAITH IN HIM? EACH TIME WE PRAY FOR PATIENCE, GOD ALLOWS CIRCUMSTANCES IN OUR LIVES WITHIN WHICH WE LEARN TO DEVELOP PATIENCE. AS WE PRAY TO HAVE UNCONDITIONAL LOVE FOR ONE ANOTHER, GOD THROWS THE MOST UNLIKABLE INDIVIDUAL UNTO OUR PATH, JUST SO WE CAN LEARN TO DEVELOP THE KIND OF LOVE GOD HAS FOR US. GOD NEVER GIVES US MORE THAN WE CAN HANDLE, AND HE IS ALWAYS ON TIME WITH HIS PROVISIONS AND HIS RESCUE WHEN IT COMES TO HIS BELOVED AND PRICELESS CHOSEN ONES. HE KNOWS US INTIMATELY, THE ENTIRE PACKAGE, WHEREAS SATAN IS ONLY INTERESTED IN KNOWING OUR WEAKNESSES.

NOVEMBER 26    WHEN THE ISRAELITES LEFT EGYPT, THE AMALEKITES WERE THE FIRST NATION, OTHER THAN THE EGYPTIANS, TO COME AND ATTACK THEM. THEY CRUELLY MURDERED THE OLD, THE WEAK, AND THOSE WITH DISABILITIES. THE ISRAELITES COULD DEFEAT THE AMALEKITES ONLY WHEN THE STAFF OF MOSES WAS HELD HIGH. AFTER THAT ENCOUNTER, THE STAFF OF MOSES BECAME AN IDOL THE JEWS STARTED WORSHIPING, UNTIL IT WAS DESTROYED BY KING JOSIAH, WHO WAS DETERMINED TO KEEP THE PEOPLE OF JUDAH FROM FOLLOWING IN THE WAY OF THEIR ERRANT BRETHREN OF THE NORTHERN TEN TRIBES. EVENTUALLY THE AMALEKITES SUCCUMBED TO ATTACKS FROM THE EGYPTIANS WHO FINALLY ENDED UP EXPELLING THEM FROM THE NILE VALLEY, AND THEN TO KING SAUL WHO WAS TO CRUSH WHAT REMAINED OF THEM. THE LAST MENTION OF THEM IS DURING THE JEWISH HOLY DAY OF PURIM, WHERE THE VILLAIN OF THE BIBLICAL STORY OF ESTHER WAS HAMAN, A DESCENDENT OF AMALEK. THE FIRST KING OF ISRAEL, SAUL, HAD FAILED TO BE OBEDIENT WHEN HE WAS TOLD TO WIPE OUT ALL OF THE AMALEKITES, WHICH RESULTED IN HAMAN'S PLAN TO KILL ALL OF THE JEWS. SINCE THE JEWS ARE GOD'S CHOSEN PEOPLE, IT WOULD BE FAIR TO CONSIDER THE AMALEKITES TO BE SATAN'S CHOSEN PEOPLE. IN ORDER TO DETERMINE WHO THE AMALEKITES COULD BE TODAY, WE WOULD HAVE TO RELY ON CERTAIN CHARACTERISTICS OF WHAT SATAN'S CHOSEN PEOPLE WOULD HAVE.

FIRST OF ALL, THEY WOULD PROMOTE AN UNCIVILIZED BEHAVIOR: SINCE GOD, WHO LOVES THE PEOPLE HE CREATED WITH HIS OWN HANDS, HAS ALSO DESIGNED LAWS IN ORDER TO CREATE PEACE AND HARMONY AMONG THEM. GOD, THROUGH JESUS, TAUGHT US TO PRAY FOR ONE ANOTHER, ENCOURAGE AND FORGIVE ONE ANOTHER, TO THE POINT OF EVEN LOVING OUR ENEMIES. A DYSFUNCTIONAL CULTURE DISCRIMINATES AGAINST ANYONE WHO QUESTIONS THE COMMON MOTIVES, ISOLATES ITS PEOPLE FROM FOREIGNERS, AND PROMOTES THE IDEA THAT THE WHOLE WORLD STINKS, EXCEPT FOR THE LITTLE AREA WHERE THAT CULTURE RESIDES. A DYSFUNCTIONAL CULTURE SCORNS PERSONAL ACHIEVEMENTS, AND SPREADS THE IDEA THAT THOSE WHO THINK FOR THEMSELVES ARE A THREAT FOR THE COMMON CAUSE, THEREFORE UNTRUSTWORTHY. A DYSFUNCTIONAL CULTURE ELIMINATES CERTAIN GROUPS OF THE SOCIETY AS UNAVAILABLE DUE TO THEIR AGE, GENDER, OR BACKGROUND DEFECTS. A DYSFUNCTIONAL CULTURE REWRITES HISTORY TO SUIT ITS PURPOSE IN ORDER TO KEEP ITS INHABITANTS MISINFORMED ABOUT THE PAST, DISPENSES ONLY WHAT WOULD BENEFIT ITS FUNDAMENTALISM THROUGH THE USE OF INNOCENCE AND IGNORANCE, AND OFFERS A NON-EXISTING PARADISE FOR THEIR WORKERS, INSTEAD OF THE TRUTH. A DYSFUNCTIONAL CULTURE TELLS ITS INDIVIDUALS TO CHOOSE VIOLENCE AS A FIRST RESORT, AND GLORIFIES THOSE WHO FIGHT AND DIE FOR HONOR.

CHRISTIANITY TODAY CANNOT AFFORD TO OVERLOOK THE IMPORTANCE OF THE BIBLE; SINCE ONE OF THE GREATEST HINDRANCES AMONG THE FAMILY OF GOD IS IGNORANCE OF GOD'S WORD. IF THOSE WHO BELONG TO CHRIST WOULD JUST FEED ON THE SCRIPTURES, MOST OF THE DIVISIONS THAT EXIST AMONG US WOULD BE OBLITERATED BY THE BRIGHTNESS OF THE TRUTH. WE ARE THE MOST LITERATE AND CAPABLE OF ALL PEOPLE, BECAUSE GOD HAS ALLOWED OUR EYES TO SEE WHO HE TRULY IS; YET WE INDULGE OURSELVES IN PERSONAL GAINS AND ACTIVITIES, INSTEAD OF WORKING TOWARD A MUCH NEEDED UNITY THESE DAYS. WE ARE CONSTANTLY WATCHING HONOR KILLINGS ALL OVER THE PLANET, WHEN WE WERE MADE AWARE OF GOD'S HONOR, FOR WHICH IT IS OUR DUTY TO DEVELOP A SINCERE DESIRE AND URGENCY TO PROTECT, ABOVE ALL ELSE, AT ANY COST, WILLINGLY, GLADLY, AND TO OUR MAXIMUM AMOUNT OF EFFORT...

NOVEMBER 25    DOVES WERE BIRDS THE ISRAELITES COULD NOT ONLY EAT, BUT THEY COULD OFFER THEM AS BURNT SACRIFICES TO THEIR GOD. IN GENESIS 15, WHEN GOD CUT HIS COVENANT WITH ABRAHAM, ABRAHAM WAS COMMANDED TO BRING ANIMALS FOR SACRIFICE, ONE OF WHICH WAS DOVE. LEVITICUS 12 SAYS THAT DOVES WERE TO BE OFFERED FOR CERTAIN KINDS OF SIN OFFERINGS. GOD SEEMED TO HAVE A VERY SPECIAL PLACE IN HIS HEART FOR THESE BIRDS. JESUS REGARDED THEM AS SYMBOLIC OF PURITY AND INNOCENCE. ACCORDING TO MATTHEW 10: 16, HE TOLD HIS DISCIPLES THEY SHOULD BE AS "INNOCENT AS DOVES". HOWEVER, THE MOST POWERFUL IMAGE OF DOVES IN SCRIPTURE HAPPENED AFTER JESUS WAS BAPTIZED BY JOHN IN THE JORDAN. MARK 1: 10 READS, "AS JESUS WAS COMING UP OUT OF THE WATER, HE SAW HEAVEN BEING TORN OPEN AND THE SPIRIT DESCENDING ON HIM LIKE A DOVE". GOD MADE THE DOVE THE IMAGE THAT REPRESENTED HIS HOLY SPIRIT.

WHY DID NOAH RELEASE AN UNCLEAN BIRD, THE RAVEN, AND THEN A CLEAN BIRD, THE DOVE, FROM THE ARK TO SEE IF THE WATERS HAD DRIED UP FROM THE EARTH? THE FLOOD HAD BROUGH 

DEATH, BECAUSE THE FLOOD HAD BROUGHT GOD'S JUDGMENT UPON MANKIND. THE RAVEN LOOKED FOR DEATH; BUT THE DOVE LOOKED FOR LIFE. THE DOVE BROUGHT BACK AN OLIVE BRANCH, A SYMBOL OF HOPE FOR THOSE IN THE ARK. YET THE RAVEN, A SYMBOL OF DEATH, NEVER RETURNED TO THE ARK. IT KEPT FLYING BACK AND FORTH UNTIL THE WATER DRIED UP FROM THE EARTH. DEATH IS NEVER WELCOME WITH GOD!

AS CHRISTIANS, WE BELIEVE THE OLD TESTAMENT, IN ITS ENTIRETY, POINTS TO CHRIST. FROM MAN'S FALL FROM GRACE IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN TO THE TIME OF THE GREAT FLOOD, EVIL AND WICKEDNESS GREW RAMPANT, UNTIL, GOD DECIDED TO "WIPE MANKIND FROM THE FACE OF THE EARTH". GOD SPECIFIED THAT NOAH BUILD THE ARK OF CYPRESS, THE STRONGEST AND THE MOST RESISTANT WOOD FOR MAKING A BOAT, THE OBVIOUS CHOICE FOR THE VESSEL OF SALVATION. ACCORDING TO ROMANS 3: 22-25, CHRIST, THE SON OF GOD, BLAMELESS AND WITHOUT SIN, WAS THE PERFECT CHOICE AS THE AUTHOR OF OUR SALVATION, AND CHRIST ALONE POSSESSED THE POWER TO FORGIVE SIN. JUST AS NOAH NEEDED SALVATION FROM THE FLOOD, WE NEED SALVATION FROM DESTRUCTION BY FIRE! THE ARK WAS THE VESSEL BY WHICH NOAH'S FAMILY GOT SAVED PHYSICALLY; CHRIST IS THE ONLY WAY BY WHICH WE BELIEVERS GET SAVED SPIRITUALLY. THE ARK WAS BIG ENOUGH TO CONTAIN ALL THAT GOD HAD COMMANDED NOAH TO BRING INTO THE ARK; CHRIST HAS ROOM FOR ALL, JEWS AND GENTILES. THE ARK HAD TO BE COVERED WITH PITCH BOTH INSIDE AND OUT, IN ORDER TO ENSURE THAT THE CONDEMNING WATERS COULD NOT REACH THE INTERIOR OF THE ARK; IT IS CHRIST'S BLOOD THAT MAKES ATONEMENT FOR OUR LIFE, MEANING IT BECOMES THE COVERING OVER OUR LIVES. THERE WAS ONLY ONE WAY INTO THE ARK, A DOOR BUILT INTO THE SIDE; OUR SALVATION COMES THROUGH JESUS' PIERCED SIDE. THE WINDOW OF HOPE WAS THE MEANS FOR LIGHT AND AIR; JESUS IS OUR WINDOW OF HOPE THROUGH WHOM WE LOOK UP TO GOD, THE ONE WHO SEALED OUR SALVATION BY HIS OWN HAND.

NOVEMBER 24    IN THE FLOOD STORY OF GENESIS, THE TWO BIRDS RELEASED BY NOAH, AFTER THE ARK HAD BECOME GROUNDED ON A MOUNTAIN, ARE THE FOCUS OF SEVERAL VERSES. THE RAVEN WAS SENT OUT FROM THE ARK BY NOAH, WHEN THE WATERS OF THE FLOOD WERE RETREATING FROM THE EARTH, AND ACCORDING TO GENESIS 8: 7, IT "WENT FORTH TO AND FRO, UNTIL THE WATERS WERE DRIED UP FROM OFF THE EARTH". RAVENS, LARGE BLACK BIRDS, INQUISITIVE, CUNNING, AND BOLD IN NATURE, ARE SOLITARY UNTIL THEY FIND A MATE; AFTER WHICH THEY MAY FORM SOCIETIES. THEY WERE DECLARED UNFIT TO EAT. IT IS REPORTED THAT ARABS CALL THE RAVEN ABU AAJIR, THE FATHER OF OMENS. IN GREEK MYTHOLOGY, RAVENS SERVE AS MESSENGERS FOR HELIOS AND APOLLO. TO THE EGYPTIANS, RAVENS REPRESENTED DESTRUCTION AND MALEVOLENCE. "TO HAVE A RAVEN'S KNOWLEDGE" IS AN IRISH PROVERB MEANING TO HAVE A SEER'S POWERS, FOR THEY HAVE BEEN CONNECTED SYMBOLICALLY TO WITCHES, EVIL, AND DEATH. RAVENS ARE KNOWN TO HUNT COOPERATIVELY WITH WOLVES, LIONS, OR COYOTES. THEY ALERT WOLVES TO PREY, WAIT FOR THE KILL, THEN FEED.

LATER IN GENESIS 8 :8-9, NOAH SENT OUT A DOVE, "ALSO HE SENT FORTH A DOVE FROM HIM, TO SEE IF THE WATERS WERE ABATED FROM OFF THE FACE OF THE GROUND; BUT THE DOVE FOUND NO REST FOR THE SOLE OF HER FOOT, AND SHE RETURNED UNTO HIM INTO THE ARK, FOR THE WATERS WERE ON THE FACE OF THE WHOLE EARTH; THEN HE PUT FORTH HIS HAND, AND TOOK HER, AND PULLED HER IN UNTO HIM INTO THE ARK". THESE VERSE, AMONG MANY OTHER SCRIPTURES, ASSOCIATE DOVES WITH "REST". IN THE BIBLE, THE RAVENS MAY REPRESENT SPIRITS OTHER THAN THE HOLY SPIRIT, IN OTHER WORDS, "DELUSIONS", LEADING TO SPIRITUAL BLINDNESS. PROVERBS 30: 17 READS, "THE EYE THAT MOCKETH AT HIS FATHER, AND DESPISETH TO OBEY HIS MOTHER, THE RAVENS OF THE VALLEY SHALL PICK IT OUT, AND THE YOUNG EAGLES SHALL EAT IT". ACCORDING TO ISAIAH 66: 4, GOD CHOOSES THE DELUSIONS OF MEN, "I ALSO WILL CHOOSE THEIR DELUSIONS, AND WILL BRING THEIR FEARS UPON THEM; BECAUSE WHEN I CALLED, NONE DID ANSWER; WHEN I SPAKE, THEY DID NOT HEAR; BUT THEY DID EVIL BEFORE MINE EYES, AND CHOSE THAT IN WHICH I DELIGHTED NOT".

IT IS INTERESTING TO FIND THAT, AFTER THREE-AND-A-HALF YEARS OF FAMINE IN THE DAYS OF ELIJAH, THE PROPHET WAS FED BY THE RAVENS. ELIJAH'S MINISTRY PICTURES GOD'S SPIRIT IN THE CHURCH AGE, AS THERE IS NO FURTHER REVELATION, OR "RAIN". EVEN THOUGH THE HOLY SPIRIT IS ALWAYS PRESENT WITH THE CHURCH, HE OFTEN REMAINS HIDDEN, JUST LIKE ELIJAH HID FROM THE EVIL FORCES PORTRAYED THROUGH KING AHAB AND HIS WICKED WIFE JEZEBEL. THEY BOTH HUNTED AND KILLED THE PROPHETS OF GOD. WHY DID GOD CHOOSE RAVENS TO SUSTAIN ELIJAH? IT MUST HAVE BEEN A FEARSOME SIGHT TO SEE THESE ENORMOUS BLACK BIRDS SWOOPING IN WITH BREAD AND MEAT IN THEIR BEAKS. BUT THEY DID NOT COME BY CHANCE, NOR DID THEY FLY FROM A NEARBY CAVE. GOD SENT THEM; GOD COMMANDED THEM; GOD DIRECTED THEM; AND THUS THEY CAME TO THE PROPHET'S AID! AND THE SAME GOD, WHO COMMANDED THE RAVENS, MADE SURE THAT THE FOOD THEY BROUGHT ELIJAH WAS GOOD FOR HIM! GOD TOOK AN UNCLEAN BIRD AND FED HIS PROPHET, AS LONG AS THREE-AND-A-HALF YEARS. THAT IS A LOT OF MEALS SERVED BY UNCLEAN BIRDS SUCH AS RAVENS, WHO'D RATHER ATTACK A CARCASS THAN FEED THE BODY.

PROVERBS 16: 9 READS, "IN HIS HEART A MAN PLANS HIS COURSE, BUT THE LORD DETERMINES HIS STEPS". MOST OF OUR PLANS DON'T STAND, THEY ARE LIKE THE LEAVES THAT BLOW AWAY IN THE AUTUMN WIND. WE CAN MAKE ALL THE SPEECHES WE WANT, AND ANNOUNCE OUR LONG-RANGE PLANS, OUR TEN-YEAR GOALS, AND OUR PERSONAL OBJECTIVES; BUT WHEN WE'RE FINISHED, GOD ALWAYS GETS THE LAST WORD. WHEN GOD DETERMINES TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT OUR PLANS, WHOSE TIMING AND OURS ARE RARELY THE SAME, AND WHOSE STEPS ARE RARELY REVEALED IN ADVANCE, WE MUST BE PREPARED TO THE SUDDEN CHANGES AND THE UNEXPECTED RESOURCES HE WILL PROVIDE TO PUT US BACK ON THE RIGHT TRACK. WE MUST ALWAYS PRAY KNOWING THAT THE UNEXPLAINED, AND THE IMPOSSIBLE IS ALWAYS POSSIBLE THROUGH GOD'S POWER. WE NEVER TEST THE RESOURCES OF GOD UNTIL WE ATTEMPT THE IMPOSSIBLE; NOT NECESSARILY TO PUT GOD THROUGH A TEST; BUT TO TEST OUR FAITH IN HIM INSTEAD!

NOVEMBER 23    PSALM 103: 2-5 READS, "BLESS THE LORD, O MY SOUL, AND FORGET NONE OF HIS BENEFITS; WHO PARDONS ALL YOUR INIQUITIES, WHO HEALS ALL YOUR DISEASES; WHO REDEEMS YOUR LIFE FROM THE PIT, WHO CROWNS YOU WITH LOVINGKINDNESS AND COMPASSION; WHO SATISFIES YOUR YEARS WITH GOOD THINGS, SO THAT YOUR YOUTH IS RENEWED LIKE THE EAGLE". THROUGH THESE VERSES, KING DAVID IS STIRRING UP HIS OWN HEART, JUST SO HE CAN COMMUNE WITH GOD, THROUGH HIS OWN HEART, AND PREPARING HIMSELF TO THE DUTY OF PRAISE. HE IS REMINDING HIMSELF, AS WELL AS ALL OF US BELIEVERS, OF THE FACT THAT GOD IS THE FOUNTAIN OF ALL GOOD; THAT IT IS TO HIS HOLY NAME THAT WE ARE TO CONSECRATE OUR PRAISE, AND THAT WE COULD NEVER OVERLOOK HIS HOLINESS. IT IS OUR SOUL THAT IS TO BE EMPLOYED IN BLESSING GOD, MEANING ALL THAT IS WITHIN US. NONE OF THE RELIGIOUS PERFORMANCES COULD POSSIBLY REACH GOD WITHOUT HEARTFELT AND SINCERE PRAISES. WE CAN ONLY APPEAL TO GOD THROUGH THE INWARD MAN, BEING FULLY GRATEFUL FOR HIS TENDER MERCIES.

TO BE REFERRED TO THE ANNUAL MOLTING OF THE EAGLE, MEANING THE RENEWING OF ITS PLUMAGE, IS AN EMBLEM OF THE RENOVATION OF OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS BY GRACE. THE EAGLE IS THE MOST MAJESTIC BIRD IN THE SKY, BUT AS IT GOES THROUGH ITS MOLTING PROCESS, IT STRUGGLES WITH A GREAT DEPRESSION. THIS IS A WILDERNESS TIME THAT ALL EAGLES FACE. THEY BEGIN TO LOSE THEIR FEATHERS; THEIR BEAK AND CLAWS BEGIN TO ALTER; AND THEY START WALKING LIKE A TURKEY, AND THEY HAVE NO STRENGTH TO FLY. THEY LOSE THEIR ABILITY TO SEE; AND CALCIUM BUILDS UP ON THEIR BEAKS, SO THEY CAN'T HOLD THEIR HEADS UP. THEY LOSE THEIR DESIRE TO EAT; AND SINCE THEY ONLY EAT FRESH MEAT, THEY HAVE NO STRENGTH TO HUNT.

YET DURING THE FINAL MOLTING PROCESS, THE EAGLES OFTEN BEGIN TO PECK ON EACH OTHER, OCCASIONALLY KILLING ANOTHER MOLTING EAGLE. AT THIS TIME, THEY CHOOSE SOME AREA OF A MOUNTAIN RANGE WHERE THE SUN CAN SHINE DIRECTLY ON THEM, AND THEY LIE ON A ROCK, AND BATHE IN THE SUN. THEY GROW WEAKER AND WEAKER. SUDDENLY, THERE COMES A SOUND FROM THE SKY OVER THE VALLEY, A SCREAMING FROM OTHER EAGLES WHO HAVE ALREADY GONE THROUGH THIS PROCESS: IT IS THE SOUND OF ENCOURAGEMENT. SO MUCH OF THIS REMINDS US OF OUR LIVES AS CHRISTIAN BELIEVERS. FIRST OF ALL, IT TAKES PLACE IN A VALLEY. ANY TIME WE ARE IN THAT VALLEY, GOING THROUGH THE TOUGH TIMES, WE ARE TO REMEMBER GENESIS 26: 19, BECAUSE IT TALKS ABOUT ISAAC BEING BROUGHT INTO A VALLEY, WHERE HE HAD TO DIG; AND WHEN HE DUG, HE FOUND A WELL OF FRESH RUNNING WATER. SECOND RESEMBLANCE IS WHEN THEY LOSE THEIR DESIRE TO EAT. WE TOO LOSE OUR DESIRE TO FEED OURSELVES OF THE FOOD OF GOD'S WORD, WHEN WE NEED IT THE MOST. AND THE OTHER THING IS THE FACT THAT, EVEN THOUGH THE EAGLE HAS VISION LIKE NO OTHER BIRD, THEY LOSE THEIR VISION. WE, AS BELEVERS, CANNOT AFFORD TO LOSE SIGHT OF GOD'S WORD THROUGH WHICH WE FIND HIS DIRECTIONS; AND IF WE DO, DUE TO OUR LACK OF FAITH OR PATIENCE, WE CHANCE LOSING IT ALL. HOW ABOUT WHEN CALCIUM BUILDS UP ON THEIR BEAKS, AND THEY FIND THEMSELVES LOOKING DOWN? HAVEN'T WE ENCOUNTERED SUCH TIMES WHEN OUR SPIRITS ARE WEIGHED DOWN WITH ALL OF THE BURDENS WE CARRY AROUND?

THEN SOMETHING AMAZING TAKES PLACE: THE EAGLE START TO HELP THEMSELVES. THEY SCRATCH AT THEIR OWN CLAWS UNTIL THEY ARE DOWN TO NOTHING, AND SO THEY WILL GROW NEW AGAIN. THEY WILL KNOCK BEAKS UNTIL THE CALCIUM FALLS OFF. THOUGH THIS MAY NOT APPLY TO ALL OF THEM, SOME WILL NOT BE CONTENT TO SIT DOWN AND DIE. ISN'T IT TRUE THAT THE LORD HELPS THOSE WHO HELP THEMSELVES? IF ONLY WE WOULD MAKE THE EFFORT, OUR LORD WOULD RESPOND, AND FILL IN THE BLANKS FOR US. CHRIST ALONE FORGIVES ALL OUR SINS; IT IS HE WHO HEALS ALL OUR INFIRMITIES. WHEN GOD, BY THE GRACE AND COMFORTS OF HIS SPIRIT, RECOVERS US FROM OUR DECAYS, AND FILLS US WITH NEW LIFE AND JOY, WE MAY THEN BE SAID TO RETURN TO THE DAYS OF OUR YOUTH. IF WE SINCERELY UNDERSTAND THE LEVEL OF LOVE GOD HAS FOR US, AND HOW HE YEARNS TO HEAR US SPEAK TO HIM THROUGH HEARTFELT AND SIMPLE WORDS, THEN WE COULNDN'T POSSIBLY STOP THANKING HIM; AND IF WE'RE NOT THANKING HIM FOR ALL OF HIS MERCIES, AND ALL OF HIS BENEFITS, MOST LIKELY, WE'RE FORGETTING THEM. GOD MADE US IN HIS IMAGE, AND HE CONTINUES TO MAKE US, WITHOUT GIVING UP, WITHOUT TIRING, WITHOUT GETTING FRUSTRATED. HE CONTINUES TO COVER OUR FLAWS; HE CONTINUES TO FORGIVE US EVERY DAY; AND HE HAS EVEN MADE THE PLAN OF SALVATION JUST SO WE WOULDN'T HAVE TO PAY A PRICE FOR OUR MISTAKES. HE, HIMSELF, PAID IT ALL SO WE COULD GLADLY, AND THANKFULLY COME TO HIM FOR ETERNAL FELLOWSHIP.

NOVEMBER 22    CHARLES SPURGEON SAID, "THOUGH THE WINNING OF SOULS BE A GREAT THING, THOUGH THE EDIFYING OF BELIEVERS BE AN IMPORTANT MATTER, THOUGH THE REDEMPTION OF BACKSLIDERS CALLS FOR EARNEST ATTENTION, YET NEVER, NEVER, NEVER MAY WE CEASE FROM PRAISING AND MAGNIFYING THE NAME OF THE WELL-BELOVED. THIS IS TO BE OUR OCCUPATION IN HEAVEN: LET US BEGIN THE THE MUSIC HERE, AND MAKE A HEAVEN OF THE CHURCH, EVEN HERE BELOW".

FEELING THANKFUL OUGHT TO BE THE GENERAL, UNIVERSAL SPIRIT OF THE CHRISTIAN, SINCE WE ARE ALWAYS BEING REDEEMED AND SECURE OF OUR SALVATION PURCHASED BY THE PRECIOUS BLOOD OF CHRIST; ALWAYS BEING PRESERVED BY THE POWER OF GOD THROUGH THE HOLY SPIRIT; AND ALWAYS BEING SANCTIFIED TO FIT GOD'S PLAN AND PURPOSE FOR US, ON EARTH AS WELL AS IN HEAVEN ABOVE. GOD KNOWS WHEN WE SING FROM THE HEART; WHEN THE WORDS ARE AN EXPRESSION OF WHAT COMES FROM THE DEPTHS OF OUR BEING; AND HE CAN CERTAINLY TELL WHEN OUR SONGS OF PRAISE ARE HOLLOW AND WORTHLESS. SUCH IS DEMONSTRATED WHEN OUR THANKSGIVING IS NOT BACKED WITH A THANKS-LIVING. GOD RECOGNIZED A CHEERFUL ATTITUDE OF OBEDIENCE TO HIS COMMANDS AND EXPECTATIONS; HE EVALUATES OUR RESPONSE TO HIS MERCY AND GRACE; AND HE LONGS TO FIND COMPLETE SUBMISSION TO HIS SUPREME PRESENCE IN OUR LIVES.

GOD WATCHES US INTERACT WITH ONE ANOTHER, AND HE LOOKS TO FIND THE KIND OF LOVE, APPROVAL, AND APPRECIATION TOWARD ONE ANOTHER THAT CAN ONLY BE POSSIBLE THROUGH THE HOLY SPIRIT; MEANING THE KIND WE COULDN'T POSSIBLY PRODUCE THROUGH OUR EARTHLY BODIES. HE SMILES WHEN WE FORGIVE OUR TRESPASSER JUST LIKE HE DID ON THE CROSS; HE REJOICES WHEN WE EXPLODE WITH BOLDNESS WHEN HIS NAME IS BEING USED IN VAIN; AND HE FEELS THE UTMOST PLEASURE WHEN WE SING WHILE WE ARE DEALING WITH TRIALS. HE BLESSES US WHEN WE CONTINUE TO HOPE AND EXPECT HIS GOODNESS EVEN WHILE WE ARE IN COMPLETE DARKNESS, WITHOUT A GLIMPSE OF LIGHT IN SIGHT. DANIEL COULD IN THE LIONS' DEN; AND PAUL AND SILAS COULD FROM THE DUNGEON IN PHILIPPI. WE ARE TRULY BLESSED WHEN WE SING, UNTIL OUR HEARTS RISE TO GOD, NO MATTER WHAT BEFALLS US, EVEN WHEN WE FACE DEATH THROUGH A DEVASTATING ILLNESS. WHEN GOD PLANTS A VINEYARD, HE FULLY EXPECTS A HARVEST. LET US BECOME MORE MINDFUL ABOUT GIVING HIM THE FRUIT OF OUR LIPS.

NOVEMBER 21    PEOPLE DON'T COMPLAIN BECAUSE THEY HAVE A LOT OF PROBLEMS; THEY HAVE PROBLEMS BECAUSE THEY COMPLAIN. COMPLAINING DOESN'T CHANGE ANYTHING OR MAKE SITUATIONS BETTER; IT SIMPLY AMPLIFIES FRUSTRATION, SPREADS DISCONTENT AND DISCORD, AND ALSO HANDS OUT AN INVITATION FOR THE DEVIL TO WALK INTO OUR PERSONAL MATTERS. PSALM 77: 3 READS, "I COMPLAINED AND MY SPIRIT WAS OVERWHELMED". PHILIPPIANS 2: 13 READS, "DO EVERYTHING WITHOUT COMPLAINING OR ARGUING, SO THAT YOU MAY BECOME BLAMELESS AND PURE, CHILDREN OF GOD WITHOUT FAULT IN A CROOKED AND DEPRAVED GENERATION, IN WHICH YOU SHINE LIKE STARS IN THE UNIVERSE". WE ONLY SHINE WHEN WE ARE THANKFUL; WHEN WE LIVE AND EXPRESS OUR HEARTFELT GRATITUDE FOR WHO GOD IS, AND HOW DEEPLY HE LOVES US, NO MATTER WHAT: NOTHING WE DO OR FAIL TO DO WILL EVER CHANGE GOD'S LOVE FOR US. HE ALREADY DIED FOR US, SO WE CAN UNDERSTAND HOW SERIOUS HE IS ABOUT BRINGING US BACK INTO FELLOWSHIP WITH HIM.

1 THESALLONIANS 5: 18 READS, "GIVE THANKS IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES, FOR THIS IS GOD'S WILL FOR YOU IN CHRIST JESUS". WHEN WE COMPLAIN ABOUT OUR CIRCUMSTANCES, WE'RE ACTUALLY DISAGREEING WITH GOD'S WILL FOR US. WE'RE TELLING HIM, "...I DON'T LIKE WHAT YOU'RE DOING WITH ME RIGHT NOW... AND I REALLY DON'T CARE TO KNOW ABOUT ALL THE VALUABLES YOU'RE TRYING TO INSTILL IN ME DURING THIS DISASTER... I DON'T MIND DISAPPOINTING YOU FOR NOW BECAUSE IT HURTS TOO MUCH TO GO THROUGH IT... I MAY OR MAY NOT MAKE IT TO THAT HOLY PLACE SOME DAY TO BE WITH YOU ETERNALLY... I MAY EVEN GIVE UP ON THAT IDEA IF IT'S GOING TO BE THIS HARD... THANKS, BUT NO THANKS FOR WHAT YOU DID ON THAT CROSS FOR ME... " THAT'S THE URGENT MESSAGE WE BROADCAST INTO THE HEAVENLY PLACES WHERE GOD PATIENTLY WAITS TO HEAR US SAY, "... CAN YOU PLEASE HELP ME... I AM YOURS... THROUGH JESUS CHRIST, I BELONG TO YOU... AND I NEED ALL OF YOUR PROVISIONS, MY DEAR FATHER IN HEAVEN...". GIVING THANKS IS GOD'S WILL FOR OUR LIVES. WE HAVE IT SO GOOD; WE ENJOY IT SO MUCH; YET WE EXPRESS IT SO LITTLE! WE ARE THE RICH OF THIS WORLD, AS LONG AS WE FOCUS ON THE GIVER, AND NOT THE GIFTS WE CONTINUE TO RECEIVE. JAMES 1: 17 READS, "EVERY GOOD AND PERFECT GIFT IS FROM ABOVE...". IF IT'S GOOD, IT'S FROM GOD!

WHEN WE LUST FOR MORE AND MORE OF THE THINGS OF THIS WORLD, OUR FAITH GETS DILUTED, DRAINED, AND DAMMED. IT IS THROUGH OUR NEEDS THAT GOD HAS AN OPPORTUNITY TO STEP INTO OUR CIRCUMSTANCES, TAKE OVER IF WE WOULD LET HIM, AND STRETCH OUR FAITH PERHAPS ANOTHER NOTCH OR TWO, UNTIL HE IS TOTALLY SATISFIED WITH OUR RESPONSE AS A CHILD OF GOD. CIRCUMSTANCES ARE ALSO OUR OPPORTUNITIES TO CONVINCE GOD OF OUR DEVOTION TO HIS COMMANDS AND EXPECTATIONS, REGARDLESS OF WHAT THE WORLD MAY THINK OF US. WE CAME INTO THIS WORLD WITH NOTHING BUT THE ETERNAL SOUL THAT GOD GAVE US; AND WE AIM TO GO OUT WITH THE ETERNAL SOUL THAT GOD GAVE US: EVERYTHING ELSE IN BETWEEN IS PROFIT!

NOVEMBER 20    PSALM 25: 1-9 READS,"TO YOU, O LORD, I LIFT UP MY SOUL; IN YOU I TRUST, O MY GOD. DO NOT LET ME BE PUT TO SHAME, NOR LET MY ENEMIES TRIUMPH OVER ME. NO ONE WHOSE HOPE IS IN YOU WILL EVER BE PUT TO SHAME, BUT THEY WILL BE PUT TO SHAME WHO ARE TREACHEROUS WITHOUT EXCUSE. SHOW ME YOUR WAYS, O LORD, TEACH ME YOUR PATHS; GUIDE ME IN YOUR TRUTH AND TEACH ME, FOR YOU ARE GOD MY SAVIOR, AND MY HOPE IS IN YOU ALL DAY LONG. REMEMBER, O LORD, YOUR GREAT MERCY AND LOVE, FOR THEY ARE FROM OF OLD. REMEMBER NOT THE SINS OF MY YOUTH AND MY REBELLIOUS WAYS; ACCORDING TO YOUR LOVE, FOR ME, FOR YOU ARE GOOD, O LORD. GOOD AND UPRIGHT IS THE LORD; THEREFORE HE ISNTRUCTS SINNERS IN HIS WAYS. HE GUIDES THE HUMBLE IN WHAT IS RIGHT AND TEACHES THEM HIS WAY". WE MAY FAIL TO SEE WHAT A GREAT PART FAITH PALYS IN OUR EVERY DAY LIFE. IT TAKES FAITH TO LEAVE HOME AND TRAVEL SAFELY TO OUR DESTINATION. IT TAKES FAITH TO GET TO WORK AND KNOW THAT OUR JOB IS SECURE. IT TAKES FAITH TO PLACE OUR PAYCHECK IN THE HANDS OF A TELLER AND WXPECT TO BE ABLE TO USE IT WHEN IN NEED. IT TAKES FAITH TO SEND OUR CHILDREN TO SCHOOL AND EXPECT THEM TO MAKE IT HOME EACH EVENING. THE JOURNEY OF FAITH ISN'T SOME KIND OF RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE FOR THE ELITE; IT'S THE GLUE THAT HELPS HOLD PEOPLE'S LIVES TOGETHER.

WE MUST ALWAYS REMEMBER THE FACT THAT FAITH IS ONLY AS GOOD AS ITS OBJECT. IF WE TRUST PEOPLE, WE GET WHAT PEOPLE CAN DO. IF WE TRUST MONEY, WE GET WHAT MONEY CAN DO. IF WE TRUST OURSELVES, WE GET ONLY WHAT WE CAN DO. BUT IF WE TRUST GOD, WE GET WHAT GOD CAN DO! WE ARE SAVED NOT BECAUSE OF WHO WE ARE, BUT BECAUSE OF WHO GOD IS. WE ARE SAVED NOT BECAUSE JESUS WAITED FOR US TO MAKE IT WHERE HE IS, BUT BECAUSE JESUS CAME TO US WHERE WE ARE. HE CAME TO A PLACE FILLED WITH DISTRESS, AND OFFERED HIMSELF ON THE CROSS TO MAKE US HIS OWN. HE SPOKE OF FAITH AS SMALL AS A MUSTARD SEED; SO SMALL WE CAN HARDLY SEE IT. YET IF WE PUT THAT MUCH FAITH IN JESUS' IDENTITY, OUR LIVES WILL BE CHANGED. A LIFE LIVED WITH GOD IS A DARING ADVENTURE THAT GOD, THROUGH HIS SON JESUS CHRIST, INVITES US TO HAVE AND EXPERIENCE. GOD IS THE PATH TO ETERNAL SUCCESS AND LASTING SIGNIFICANCE. FAITH IN JESUS MEANS KNOWING HIM PERSONALLY AND ENTRUSTING OUR ETERNAL LIVES INTO HIS HANDS; IT MEANS TRUSTING HIM IN LIFE'S WILDERNESS TO LEAD US NO MATTER THE SITUATION NOR THE CIRCUMSTANCE.

NOVEMBER 19    THERE IS SOMETHING EXTREMELY REWARDING ABOUT GIVING THANKS TOGETHER TO GOD THAT BREAKS DOWN BARRIERS BETWEEN PEOPLE, AND BRINGS ABOUT A UNITY THAT PSALM 100 DESCRIBES PERFECTLY, "SHOUT FOR JOY TO THE LORD, ALL THE EARTH. SERVE THE LORD WITH GLADNESS; COME BEFORE HIM WITH JOYFUL SONGS. KNOW THAT THE LORD IS GOD. IT IS HE WHO MADE US AND WE ARE HIS; WE ARE HIS PEOPLE, THE SHEEP OF HIS PASTURE. ENTER HIS GATES WITH THANKSGIVING AND HIS COURTS WITH PRAISE; GIVE THANKS TO HIM AND PRAISE HIS NAME. FOR THE LORD IS GOOD AND HIS LOVE ENDURES FOREVER; HIS FAITHFULNESS CONTINUES THROUGH ALL GENERATIONS". THE FIRST VERSE SAYS THAT IT IS ADDRESSED TO "ALL THE EARTH", AND THE LAST VERSE SAYS THAT IT INCLUDES "ALL GENERATIONS": IT APPLIES TO EVERY PERSON IN EVERY ERA, AND IN EVERY STAGE OF LIFE. THINGS MAY CHANGE AT ANY TIME; THEY MAY DRIFT AWAY, OR BURN UP, OR BE STOLEN. THE ONLY THING WE HAVE FOR SURE IS OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE LORD.

THERE IS A REAL DANGER OF DETERMINING OUR THANKSGIVING ON THE BASIS OF HOW MUCH WE HAVE. SUCH WORSHIP WILL NEVER ALLOW US THE PRIVILEGE OF SHOUTING WITH THE FORCE OF A TRUMPET BLAST, FOR OUR SINFUL NATURE WILL ALWAYS WANT FOR MORE, OR BETTER. A SHOUT OF JOY TO THE LORD COMES FROM THE DEPTHS OF OUR BEING, AND HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE TANGIBLE WORLD WE LIVE IN. AS WE REALIZE THAT GOD IS GOOD; AND HE HAS BEEN SO GOOD TO CLAIM US AS HIS BELOVED CHILDREN WHOM HE PROTECTS; HE PROVIDES FOR; AND HE FIGHTS FOR AGAINST THE EVIL FORCES OF THIS FALLEN WORLD, WE CAN'T STOP THANKING HIM. IN FACT, WE THANK HIM TO THE POINT WHERE WE WANT TO SERVE HIM WITH OUR UTMOST DEDICATION, AND WITH GLADNESS: SERVING HIM IS NOT AN OBLIGATION, BUT AN HONOR. WE LOOK FORWARD TO BEING USED FOR HIS KINGDOM, AND FOR WHATEVER HE SEES FIT FOR US TO BE PART OF, ACCORDING TO HIS PLAN AND PURPOSE.

THE BIBLE PROCLAIMS THAT GOD MADE US. HE TOOK EVERY BONE, EVERY JOINT, AND WELDED THEM TOGETHER WITH SINEWS AND MUSCLES, AND COVERED THEM WITH SKIN, AND HE GAVE US ALL OF THE ABILITIES TO FUNCTION WITH. HE MADE EACH AND EVERY ONE OF US THE WAY HE WANTED US TO BE; AND HE DIDN'T STOP THERE: HE IS STILL MAKING US. HE IS NEVER SATISFIED WITH THE UNFINISHED PRODUCT. HE IS NOT SATISFIED WITH OUR TEMPER THAT DISPLAYS OUR SELFISHNESS. HE IS NOT SATISFIED WITH OUR WEAKNESSES THAT CAUSE US TO DRIFT INTO WILDERNESS WITH THE SLIGHTEST SIGHT OF A SEVERE STORM. HE IS NOT SATISFIED WITH OUR INSECURITIES THAT LEAD US INTO ALL SORTS OF TEMTATIONS. HE IS STILL WORKING IN OUR LIVES, AS HE CONTINUES TO MAKE US INTO HIS IMAGE. WE WILL NEVER LOOK LIKE HIM, BUT WE WILL BE MORE LIKE HIM IN EVERY WAY, IF WE ALLOW HIM TO TAKE OVER AND DISCARD ALL OF THE UNDESIRABLE ATTRIBUTES WE HAVE MANAGED TO ACCUMULATE OVER THE YEARS; AND IF WE LET HIM TO MOLD US, AND SHAPE US, AND ADD THE MUCH NEEDED INGREDIENTS TO HELP US BECOME A CHILD OF THE MOST HIGH GOD! THE IMAGE IS JESUS CHRIST; THE PATH IS JESUS CHRIST; THE LIGHT IS JESUS CHRIST; THE DESTINATION IS JESUS CHRIST; THE GATE IS JESUS CHRIST; AND THE REWARD IS ETERNAL LIFE WITHIN GOD'S PERFECTION AND THE UNENDING EXPRESSION OF HIS OVERFLOWING LOVE FOR US.

NOVEMBER 18    WE BETRAY JESUS EVERY TIME WE KNOW HIS WORD AND WHAT IT SAYS, AND WE ATTEST TO FOLLOWING IT, YET WE STILL DON'T DO WHAT IT SAYS. WHEN WE ACCEPT WHAT JESUS DID TO BECOME OUR PATH TO SALVATION, YET DON'T FOLLOW GOD'S COMMANDMENTS, WE ARE BETRAYING HIM. ANYTIME WE DEFIANTLY DISOBEY THE WORD OF GOD AND ITS STATUTES, WE ARE REBELLING AGAINST GOD, AND THAT IS EXACTLY THE SAME AS BETRAYING HIM. GOD LOVES US BECAUSE WE ARE HIS CREATION, MEANING WE ARE PART OF HIM. HE GUARDS US, AND HE GUIDES US, AND FORGIVES OUR INIQUITIES OVER AND OVER AGAIN, BECAUSE HIS GREATEST DESIRE IS TO HAVE US BY HIM ETERNALLY. GOD NEVER RUNS OUT OF PATIENCE. GOD NEVER GIVES UP ON US. HE CONTINUES TO LEAD US TO A CLOSER RELATIONSHIP WITH HIM, REGARDLESS OF ALL THE HARDSHIPS SATAN MAY FABRICATE AS OBSTACLES.

WE HAVE A HARD TIME RELYING ON HIS TRUTH BECAUSE, BASED ON WHAT THIS WORLD HAS TO OFFER, IT ALL SOUNDS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE. IN FACT, WE CAN'T GET RID OF THE WORD "DOUBT", WHICH IS WITHIN THE FABRIC OF OUR BEING, SINCE MOST EVERYTHING HAS BECOME AN EXAGGERATED VERSION OF A SUPERFICIAL WORLD. "THERE'S GOTTA BE A CATCH TO THIS..." IS THE MENTALITY WE HAVE IF AND WHEN WE'RE BEING PRESENTED WITH SOMETHING LUSCIOUSLY APPEALING: WE ALWAYS WANDER WHAT IT'LL END UP COSTING US AT THE END. MANY OF US GREW UP WITNESSING BLUNDERS CAUSED BY IGNORANCE OR CONFUSION, AND A FEW OF US EVEN PAID FOR MISTAKES WE DIDN'T COMMIT. THE WORLD BECAME A PLACE OF DOUBT, DISTRUST, INDECISION, UNCERTAINTIES, SUSPENSE... A PERFECT ENVIRONMENT FOR SATAN TO CUSTOMIZE HIS PLAYGROUND.

THE ONLY ADVANTAGE WE BELIEVERS HAVE IS GOD'S UNCONDITIONAL LOVE AND HIS UNCHANGING WORD THAT CONTINUE TO USHER US TO THE RIGHT SEAT, A SEAT THAT BELONGS TO GOD'S CHOSEN CHILDREN. HE WANTS TO SEE US ON THAT SEAT, WHERE WE ARE WITHIN ALL OF HIS PROVISIONS, WHETHER IT BE PHYSICAL, SPIRITUAL, EMOTIONAL, OR MENTAL. BELONGING TO GOD MEANS WE HAVE NO LIMITS; ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE, AS LONG AS 

OUR DESIRES LINE UP WITH HIS PLAN AND PURPOSE FOR US. MARK 9: 23 READS, "... ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE FOR ONE WHO BELIEVES". THOSE THAT COMPLAIN OF UNBELIEF, MUST LOOK UP TO CHRIST FOR GRACE TO HELP THEM AGAINST IT, AND HIS GRACE WILL BE SUFFICIENT FOR THEM. THAT IS WHY MARK 9 :24 COVERS A VERY COMMON PROBLEM WE FACE OFTEN, "... I DO BELIEVE; HELP ME OVERCOME MY UNBELIEF". SATAN IS UNWILLING TO BE DRIVEN FROM THOSE THAT HAVE BEEN HIS SLAVES; AND WHEN HE CANNOT DECEIVE OR DESTROY HIS VICTIM, HE WILL ACCUSE HIM OF ALL THE TERROR THAT HE CAN. OUR FAITH NEEDS TO BE EXERCISED AT ALL TIMES, SINCE WE'LL NEVER KNOW THROUGH WHICH ANGLE SATAN WILL CHOOSE TO APPROACH US IN ORDER TO KEEP US AWAY FROM GOD'S LIMITLESS BESSINGS.

NOVEMBER 17    GOD WANTS US TO BE LIKE MARY IN OUR WORSHIP, AND LIKE MARTHA IN OUR WORK. DUTY AND DEVOTION ARE BOTH NECESSARY, YET THERE MUST BE A BALANCE WHERE NEITHER ONE WOULD HINDER US FROM EXHIBITING THE OTHER. WHEN JESUS HEARD THAT LAZARUS WAS SICK, HE WAITED TWO MORE DAYS BEFORE HE DECIDED TO GO AND PAY A VISIT. HE SAID TO HIS DISCIPLES, "THIS SICKNESS WILL NOT END IN DEATH... IT IS FOR GOD'S GLORY SO THAT GOD'S SON MAY BE GLORIFIED THROUGH IT" (JOHN 11: 4). HE LATER SAID, "OUR FRIEND LAZARUS HAS FALLEN ASLEEP; BUT I AM GOING THERE TO WAKE HIM UP" (JOHN 11: 11).

BY THE TIME JESUS AND HIS DISCIPLES ARRIVED, MARTHA WAS BESIDE HERSELF. SHE WAS TORMENTED OVER THE FACT THAT JESUS WASN'T RUSHING TO HELP HER BROTHER LAZARUS. HE HAD EATEN AT THEIR TABLE, AND SLEPT UNDER THEIR ROOF. COULD SHE HAVE MISJUDGED JESUS SO BADLY? AS SOON AS SHE HEARD THAT JESUS HAD ARRIVED, MARTHA COULDN'T HELP HERSELF; SHE WAS ON HER WAY RUSHING TO MEET HIM. THE THOUGHT THAT HAD BURNED IN HER HEART WAS ALREADY ON HER LIPS, "LORD, IF YOU HAD BEEN HERE, MY BROTHER WOULD NOT HAVE DIED" (JOHN 11 :22). SHE MAY NOT HAVE SOUNDED ANGRY; BUT SHE CERTAINLY DIDN'T TRY TO HIDE HER DISAPPOINTMENT IN THE ONE SHE HAD BELIEVED WHOLEHEARTEDLY. WE CAN HEAR THE SOUND OF BETRAYAL IN HER TONE OF VOICE. MARTHA RAN BACK TO THE HOUSE AND TOLD MARY ABOUT JESUS' ARRIVAL. MARY RAN OUT TO GREET THE MASTER, THREW HERSELF AT HIS FEET, BEFORE SHE TOLD HIM THE VERY SAME THING, "IF ONLY YOU HAD BEEN HERE, MY BROTHER WOULDN'T HAVE DIED"(JOHN 11: 32). THE ONLY DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO SISTERS WAS THE FACT THAT MARY NEVER FORGOT WHERE SHE BELONGED: AT HIS FEET. SHE HAD ALWAYS SAT BY JESUS' FEET, HANGING ON TO EACH WORD THAT CAME OUT OF HIS MOUTH. MARY WAS CONVINCED THAT JESUS DESERVED REVERENCE AND RESPECT WHETHER HE PERFORMED MIRACLES OR NOT. SHE LOVED HIM FOR HIS IDENTITY, AND NOT FOR THE GOODS HE PROMISED. MARY UNDERSTOOD TRUE WORSHIP; DOUBTLESS WORSHIP; AND SHE CERTAINLY ACCEPTED THE FACT THAT JESUS KNEW BEST, EVEN IF SHE DIDN'T CARE TO FACE THE PAIN AND SUFFERING.

THAT IS THE WAY WE OUGHT TO LOOK UP TO GOD: WE OUGHT TO NEVER FORGET THE FACT THAT HE IS GOD; THAT HE DOESN'T OWE US ANY EXPLANATION; THAT HIS WAYS ARE BETTER THAN OURS WHETHER WE UNDERSTAND THEM OR NOT; THAT WE MUST TRUST HIS JUDGMENT AND RIGHTEOUSNESS REGARDLESS OF OUR OWN ABILITIES TO SORT THINGS OUT; AND THAT WE MUST RECEIVE HIS LOVE FOR US, EVEN WHEN HE ALLOWS FOR THINGS TO DEVELOP IN WAYS WE DON'T APPROVE OF AS FAVORABLE AS THEY SHOULD BE.

GOD IS GOOD NO MATTER WHAT; AND EVERY ONE OF HIS DECISIONS IS FOR OUR BEST INTEREST.

NOVEMBER 16    WHEN GOD BECAME MAN IN THE PERSON OF JESUS, HE CAME TO EARTH AS REGULAR PEOPLE. HE CAME INTO THIS WORLD AS THE HELPLESS CHILD OF AN EVERYDAY COUPLE. EVEN WHEN HE BEGAN HIS PUBLIC MINISTRY, HE DECIDED TO HANG OUT WITH THE COMMONERS. AT LEAST HALF OF THE TWELVE APOSLES WERE ORDINARY GUYS. HAVING FAITH IN CHRIST DOES LEAD TO HEAVEN, HOWEVER JESUS IS VERY INVOLVED WITH OUR EVERY DAY LIFE, SUCH AS THE ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE WE NEED TO POSSESS WHILE BUYING GROCERIES OR DRIVING DOWN THE HIGHWAY; SUCH AS TALKING TO OUR NEIGHBORS OR GETTING ALONG WITH OUR CO-WORKERS; SUCH AS PLANNING OUR FUTURE OR BALANCING OUR CHECKBOOK; SUCH AS LEADING A SPIRITUALLY RICH AND SATISFYING LIFE REGARDLESS OF ALL WORLDY OBSTACLES. HOW COULD WE LOOK AT THE PICTURE JESUS PAINTED OF HIMSELF AS THE GOOD SHEPHERD, OUR LEADER, AND MISS THE COMMON WAYS TO LIVE AN VERY UNCOMMON LIFE.

JESUS TAUGHT US THAT WE DIDN'T NEED TO SEE OUR PICTURE ON THE FRONT PAGE OF THE TABLOIDS TO BE IMPORTANT. BEING AN AVERAGE PERSON WAS ALL WE NEEDED TO BE IN ORDER TO HAVE AN INCREDIBLY ABOVE AVERAGE LIFESTYLE, FILLED WITH SECURITY, COMFORT, AND JOY FILLED CELEBRATIONS. NO ONE LIKES TO LIVE A DULL LIFE; YET THE MORE WE CHASE EARTHLY EXCITEMENTS, THE GREATER PRICE WE END UP HAVING TO PAY FOR THOSE VERY LITTLE INSTANT GRATIFICATIONS WE CALL "HAPPINESS". MOST OF THE TIME, WE CHOOSE TO GO WITH THE FLOW, WITHOUT REALIZING THAT THE FLOW IS GOING AWAY FROM THE GREAT THINGS GOD HAS FOR OUR LIVES. HOW CAN WE NOT RECEIVE CHRIST'S MESSAGE FROM THE COMMONNESS HE DISPLAYED THROUGH HIS DOWN-TO-EARTH APPROACH TO BEING OUR SAVIOR? HE DEPICTED HIMSELF AS A SHEPHERD, AND NOT AS ONE OF THE RICHEST MERCHANTS IN THE ROMAN EMPIRE; NOT AS A POWERFUL POLITICIAN; NOT EVEN AS ONE OF THE RELIGIOUS RULERS OF THE JEWS. HE PAINTED HIMSELF AS A MAN WHO TOOK ON THE OFTEN DIRTY, DANGEROUS, AND UNCOMFORTABLE JOB OF TENDING SHEEP. A SHEPHERD WENT OUT IN THE HOT AND THE COLD WITH HIS SHEEP; HE HAD TO PROTECT THEM FROM PREDATORS; AND HE HAD TO EXERT HIMSELF TO TRAVEL UP AND DOWN VALLEYS AND MOUNTAINSIDES TO LEAD THEM TO GREEN PASTURES.

JESUS MODELED WHAT THE GOOD NEWS WAS ALL ABOUT, AND HOW ATTAINABLE IT WAS FOR ALL OF US, COMMON, EVERY-DAY PEOPLE. JOHN 10: 1-5 READS, "I TELL YOU THE TRUTH, ANYONE WHO SNEAKS OVER THE WALL OF A SHEEPFOLD RATHER THAN GOING THROUGH THE GATE, MUST SURELY BE A THIEF AND A ROBBER; BUT THE ONE WHO ENTERS THROUGH THE GATE IS THE SHEPHERD. THE GATEKEEPER OPENS THE GATE FOR HIM, AND THE SHEEP RECOGNIZE HIS VOICE, AND COME TO HIM. HE CALLS HIS OWN SHEEP BY NAME AND LEADS THEM OUT. AFTER HE HAS GATHERED HIS OWN FLOCK, HE WALKS AHEAD OF THEM, AND THEY FOLLOW HIM BECAUSE THEY KNOW HIS VOICE. THEY WON'T FOLLOW A STRANGER; THEY WILL RUN FROM HIM BECAUSE THEY DON'T KNOW HIS VOICE". THEN JESUS EXPLAINED STARTING WITH VERSE 7 THROUGH VERSE 16, "I AM THE GATE FOR THE SHEEP... THOSE WHO COME IN THROUGH ME WILL BE SAVED... MY PURPOSE IS TO GIVE THEM A RICH AND SATISFYING LIFE... THE GOOD SHEPHERD SACRIFICES HIS LIFE FOR THE SHEEP... I KNOW MY OWN SHEEP, AND THEY KNOW ME... I HAVE OTHER SHEEP, TOO, THAT ARE NOT IN THIS SHEEPFOLD. I MUST BRING THEM ALSO. THEY WILL LISTEN TO MY VOICE, AND THERE WILL BE ONE FLOCK WITH ONE SHEPHERD". THERE ARE TOO MANY PEOPLE WITH RULES, RITUALS, AND REGULATIONS TRYING TO ROB US OF OUR LIBERTY IN CHRIST. 2 TIMOTHY 3: 16 READS, "ALL SCRIPTURE IS BREATHED OUT BY GOD AND PROFITABLE FOR TEACHING, FOR REPROOF, FOR CORRECTION, AND FOR TRAINING IN RIGHTEOUSNESS..." IT IS EASY TO HEAR CHRIST'S VOICE BY LISTENING TO THE LEADERSHIP OF THE HOLY SPIRIT THROUGH THE READING OF GOD'S WORD, THE BIBLE; AND IF WE SLOW DOWN LONG ENOUGH, AND LISTEN CLOSELY ENOUGH TO HEAR THE VERY BREATH OF GOD, BECAUSE THE BIBLE IS "GOD-BREATHED". OTHERWISE, TRYING TO PLEASE GOD THROUGH OUR OWN EFFORTS AND ABILITIES COULD ONLY EXHAUST US, AND TAKE AWAY THE JOY.

NOVEMBER 15    2 SAMUEL 6: 12 READS, "...SO DAVID WENT TO BRING UP THE ARK OF GOD FROM THE HOUSE OF OBED-EDOM TO THE CITY OF DAVID WITH REJOICING. WHEN THOSE WHO WERE CARRYING THE ARK OF THE LORD HAD TAKEN SIX SIX STEPS, HE SACRIFICED A BULL AND A FATTENED CALF. WEARING A LININ EPHOD, DAVID WAS DANCING BEFORE THE LORD WITH ALL HIS MIGHT, WHILE HE AND ALL ISRAEL WERE BRINGING UP THE ARK OF THE LORD WITH SHOUTS AND THE SOUND OF TRUMPETS".

DISROBED OF HIS ROYAL GARMENTS, KING DAVID PUT ON GARMENTS OF A COMMONER, AND HE DANCED IN PUBLIC. EVEN THOUGH HIS WIFE MICHAL SCORNED HIM FOR IT, GOD WAS EXTREMELY PLEASED WITH DAVID'S HEART THAT SPOKE OF REVERENCE, GRATITUDE, AND JOY. WHAT A GLORIOUS PICTURE THIS WOULD BE FOR US BELIEVERS, IF WE COULD CONCENTRATE ON THE AWESOME LOVE GOD HAS FOR US, INSTEAD OF WORRYING ABOUT WHAT OTHERS MAY THINK OF OUR ATTITUDES OF GRATITUDE EXPRESSED WITH BOLDLY AND LIMITLESSLY!

OBVIOUSLY KING DAVID WASN'T NAKED PHYSICALLY, BUT HE WAS NAKED BEFORE THE LORD IN SPIRIT. HE HAD STRIPPED HIMSELF OF SELF-PREOCCUPATION WITH WHAT OTHERS MAY THINK; HE HAD STRIPPED HIMSELF OF WHAT HE TOOK PRIDE IN FOR HAVING ACCOMPLISHED, AND INSTEAD HE TOOK PRIDE IN WHAT GOD HAD DONE FOR HIM AND THROUGH HIM. HIS WIFE MICHAL WAS IRATE WITH DAVID'S AFFECTION TO GOD AND HIS DEVOTION TO HIS RELIGIOUS BELIEFS. SHE WASN'T EMBARRASSED BY HIS DANCE BEFORE THE COMMONERS AS MUCH AS SHE WAS AFRAID OF LOSING HIM TO GOD. HER SCORN TELLS US MORE ABOUT HER CONDITION, BECAUSE DAVID'S CONDITION DIDN'T NEED ANY INTERPRETATION: HE WAS IN LOVE WITH HIS CREATOR. HE DIDN'T COMPROMISE; HE DIDN'T GIVE IN TO HER CRITICISM; HE DIDN'T RETURN ANGER WITH ANGER. MICHAL WAS THE DAUGHTER OF SAUL; YET SHE TURNED DOWN THE CHANCE OF BECOMING THE DAUGHTER OF GOD ALMIGHTY.

THE NEW TESTAMENT OPENS WITH "JESUS, SON OF DAVID", AND CLOSES WITH "JESUS, SON OF DAVID", BOTH WEARING THE TITLE "KING". UNDER "KING"DAVID, DRESSED AS A COMMONER, THE ARK OF GOD ENTERED JERUSALEM; AND GOD'S GRACE ENTERED JERUSALEM ONCE MORE, AS JESUS CHRIST, KING OF KINGS, DRESSED AS A COMMONER, TO GUIDE US BACK INTO A RELATIONSHIP WITH OUR MAKER! GOD HAD ALWAYS WANTED TO DWELL WITH MAN, REGARDLESS OF THEIR REFUSAL, REGARDLESS OF THEIR HARD-HEADEDNESS. AND REGARDLESS OF THEIR SINFUL NATURE. GOD HAD NOT INTENDED TO PUNISH THEM ETERNALLY FOR WHAT SATAN HAD PLOTTED TO DESTROY FROM THE BEGINNING: THAT SOLID AND LOVE-FILLED RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN A FATHER AND HIS CHILDREN WAS TO BE RE-ESTABLISHED NO MATTER WHAT.

NOVEMBER 14    TABERNACLE MEANS TENT, A DWELLING PLACE, WHERE GOD CHOSE TO MEET HIS PEOPLE, THE ISRAELITES, DURING THE FORTY YEARS THEY WANDERED IN THE DESERT UNDER MOSES' LEADERSHIP. GOD'S GLORY SETTLED ON IT ONCE IT WAS COMPLETED, AND IT WAS SET APART FOR HIS USE. THE TABERNACLE WAS PLACED IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ISRAELITE ENCAMPMENT, BECAUSE GOD WANTED HIS PEOPLE TO REALIZE THAT HE WAS IN THEIR MIDST. THE BOOK OF HEBREWS TELLS US THAT THE EARTHLY TABERNACLE WAS A COPY OF THE ONE IN HEAVEN; AND THE EARTHLY TABERNACLE WAS USED BY GOD TO TEACH HEAVENLY TRUTHS. EACH TIME THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL MOVED ON, THEY TOOK DOWN THE TENT, CARRIED IT WITH THEM TO THE NEXT ENCAMPMENT, AND THEN PUT IT UP AGAIN.

REVELATION 7: 15 READS, "THEREFORE THEY ARE BEFORE THE THRONE OF GOD, THEY SERVE HIM DAY AND NIGHT IN HIS TEMPLE. HE WHO SITS ON THE THRONE WILL SPREAD HIS TABERNACLE OVER THEM". THE BOOK OF REVELATION, WRITTEN TO THE CHRISTIANS SUFFERING SEVERE PERSECUTION AT THE HANDS OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE, DISPLAYS A VISION OF THE FUTURE, WHILE DELIVERING STRENGTH AND HOPE FOR THE BELIEVER. HEAVEN IS A STATE OF SERVICE AND A STATE OF REST, WHERE ALL THE REDEEMED OWE THEIR HAPPINESS WHOLLY TO SOVEREIGN MERCY, SO THE WORSHIP OF GOD IS THE ONLY JOY THERE IS.

OUR GOD CARES NOTHING FOR MARBLE, CARVED STONE, AND GOLD. OUR GOD CARES FOR HIS PEOPLE: HE IS A GOD OF INTIMACY WHO CREATED US, REDEEMED US, AND SUSTAINS US. HE ENCLOSES US IN HIS TABERNACLE, TO BE WITH HIM FOREVER, AND HE IS NOT SATISFIED UNTIL EVERY ONE OF US WILLINGLY CHOOSE TO LOVE HIM, WORSHIP HIM, AND SERVE HIM. WHEN JESUS CAME TO US, HE WAS EMANUEL, GOD WITH US! WE ARE TO SING HALLELUIAHS TO HIM; ADORE THE PERFECTION OF HIS PLAN OF SALVATION; AND ADMIRE HIS WONDERFUL TEACHINGS THAT LEAD US INTO A RELATIONSHIP WITH OUR MAKER.

NOVEMBER 13    I THESSALONIANS 5: 17 READS, "PRAY WITHOUT CEASING". THIS VERSE INVOLVES PRAYER AND ALTAR. ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURE, IT IS WELL KNOWN THAT PRAYER OPENS EVERY DOOR, AS LONG AS IT IS OFFERED TO FIT GOD'S WILL FOR US. STARTING A NEW DAY OR A GOOD NIGHT'S SLEEP SHOULDN'T TAKE PLACE IF WE TRULY WANT TO REMAIN PEACEFUL. PRAYER TAKES THE HIGHEST ENERGY THAT WE, AS BELIEVERS, ARE CAPABLE OF GENERATING. JESUS' SWEAT WAS LIKE DROPS OF BLOOD AT THE GARDEN OF GETHSEMANE, MEANING HE ENDURED A TERRIBLE WAR THROUGH HEARTFELT PRAYERS. MOSES' PRAYERS SAVED A NATION FROM DEATH. ELIJAH'S PRAYERS RESULTED WITH GOD GIVING RAIN, AND ALSO SENDING DOWN FIRE. JOSHUA'S PRAYERS CAUSED THE SUN TO STAND STILL, AND HIS ENEMIES TO FALL. SOLOMON'S PRAYERS MADE HIM THE WISEST KING. THE THREE HEBREW MEN'S PRAYERS KEPT THEM ALIVE IN THE FIERY INFERNO WHERE THE SON OF GOD CAME INTO THEIR MIDST. DANIEL'S PRAYERS KEPT THE LIONS' JAWS CLOSED WHILE HE WAS THROWN IN THEIR DEN. THE THIEF'S PRAYER BY THE CROSS OF JESUS BROUGHT IMMEDIATE ANSWER.

PRAYER IS DEEP AND WONDERFULLY MYSTERIOUS TO MOST OF US, SINCE ITS POWER IS HARD TO COMPREHEND, THAT IS OF COURSE, IF IT IS A MEANS OF COMMUNICATION WITH OUR FATHER. WE PULL UP A CHAIR, OR WE KNEEL DOWN, AND LOOK FORWARD TO A HEART-TO-HEART WITH OUR MAKER; THE ONE WHO WAITS PATIENTLY FOR US TO MAKE TIME AND ROOM WITHIN OUR BUSY SCHEDULES. WHEN WE PRAY THE WAY WE OUGHT TO PRAY, REVIVAL WILL SWEEP THE LAND; OUR COUNTRY WILL HAVE GOD-FEARING DECISION MAKERS; WE WOULD'N BE ELIMINATING GOD'S NAME FROM OUR SCHOOLS AND JUDICIAL BUILDINGS. A SHORT PRAYER MAY REACH THE THRONE OF GOD, PROVIDED, WE ARE NOT TOO FAR FROM THE THRONE TO BEGIN WITH. IT COULDN'T POSSIBLY INVITE GOD'S AUTHORITATIVE AND POWERFUL HAND INTO OUR SITUATION; IT COULD EASILY BE MEANT FOR GOD TO SIMPLY GIVE US A SEAL OF APPROVAL OVER SOMETHING WE'RE ABOUT TO TACKLE, WHETHER HE APPROVED IT OR NOT. INABILITY TO WAIT ON THE ONE WHO OWNS IT ALL, AND GIVES IT ALL SO VERY GENEROUSLY, IS COMPLETE HYPOCRISY.

THE ALTAR WHERE A PRAYER IS BEING OFFERED IS CONSIDERED A HOLY PLACE; IT'S A PLACE WHERE A PRIEST MUST OFFER A SACRIFICE. HOWEVER, WE CANNOT START SLAUGHTERING ANIMALS AGAIN, SINCE JESUS HAS BECOME GOD'S ONLY SACRIFICE FOR OUR REDEMPTION. THEREFORE, ANYBODY OFFERING ANY SACRIFICE DIFFERENT FROM THAT WHICH JESUS HAS DONE, COMMITS A GREAT ABOMINATION. AS THE PRIESTS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, WE ARE TO OFFER OUR INNERMOST WORSHIP THROUGH HEARTFELT PRAYERS: ALL ELSE HAS ALREADY BEEN DONE FOR US!

NOVEMBER 12    LEVITICUS 6: 13 READS, "THE FIRE SHALL EVER BE BURNING UPON THE ALTAR; IT SHALL NEVER GO OUT". THIS TEXT CAUSES US TO EXAMINE THE STATE OF OUR FIRE UPON GOD'S ALTAR, AND IT GIVES US A STANDARD BY WHICH OUR FIRE IS BEING JUDGED. THE FIRE BELONGS TO US; YET THE ALTAR IS HIS. GOD HAS DESCRIBED FIRE IN DEUTERONOMY 32: 22 SAYING, "FOR A FIRE IS KINDLED IN MINE ANGER, AND SHALL BURN UNTO THE LOWEST HELL, AND SHALL CONSUME THE EARTH WITH HER INCREASE, AND SET ON FIRE THE FOUNDATIONS OF THE MOUNTAINS". ACCORDING TO GOD'S OWN DEFINITION, THERE CAN BE NO MENTION OF FIRE, UNLESS IT'S THE CONSUMING KIND.

THERE IS A HUGE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A SMOLDERING FIRE AND A ROARING INFERNO! HEBREWS 4: 12- 13 DESCRIBE IT AS SUCH, "THE WORD OF GOD IS LIVING AND ACTIVE, AND SHARPER THAN ANY TWO-EDGED SWORD, AND PIERCING AS FAR AS THE DIVISION OF SOUL AND SPIRIT, OF BOTH JOINTS AND MARROW, AND ABLE TO JUDGE THE THOUGHTS AND INTENTIONS OF THE HEART. AND NO CREATURE IS HIDDEN FROM HIS SIGHT; BUT ALL ARE NAKED AND EXPOSED TO THE EYES OF HIM TO WHOM WE MUST GIVE AN ACCOUNT". GOD, WHO KNEW US BEFORE WE WERE FORMED WITHIN OUR MOTHER'S WOMB, ALSO KNOWS THE DEPTHS OF OUR BEING, OUR INTENTIONS, OUR PLANS, AND OUR PLOTS, WAY BEFORE WE'RE EVEN AWARE OF THEM. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS HIDING FROM GOD! WHEN GOD ASKS US, "WHO ARE YOU?", WE BETTER GIVE HIM THE RIGHT ANSWER; SINCE THE INTENSITY OF OUR FIRE UPON HIS SPIRITUAL ALTAR ANSWERS THAT QUESTION WAY BETTER AND WAY QUICKER THAN WE EVER WILL. WE CANNOT ANSWER THAT QUESTION BY THE FIRE WE ONCE HAD, OR THE FIRE WE RECENTLY HAD AND LOST! SUCH ANSWER ECHOES THROUGH THE FIRE WE NOW HAVE.

THE GOOD NEWS IS THE FACT THAT THIS PARTICULAR TEXT IS BOTH A COMMANDMENT AND AN ENCOURAGEMENT. AS A COMMANDMENT, IT TELLS OF GOD'S REQUIREMENT, AND OUR SOLEMN OBLIGATION IN THE MATTER; AND AS AN ENCOURAGEMENT, IT IMPLIES GOD'S HELP IN THE MATTER, MEANING SINCE IT IS A COMMANDMENT OF GOD, THEN GOD WILL SURELY PROVIDE THE NECESSARY GRACE TO SEE THAT WE ARE ABLE TO FULFILL IT. AFTER ALL, ISN'T GOD THE ONLY SOURCE OF FIRE HE COMMANDS WE HAVE?

NOVEMBER 11    ONE OF THE JOBS OF THE PRIESTS IN THE OLD TESTAMENT WAS TO NEVER LET THE FLAME ON THE ALTAR GO OUT, BECAUSE THE FLAME REPRESENTED THE PRESENCE OF GOD. SINCE THE ALTAR FLAME BURNED DAY IN AND DAY OUT, AND ALL THROUGHOUT THE NIGHT, THE PRIEST WOULD HAVE TO GO TO THE ALTAR AND SCRAPE THE ASHES OFF; LEST THE ASHES WOULD PUT OUT THE FIRE, AND BRING DOWN JUDGMENT FROM GOD. THIS PARTICULAR DETAIL DEPICTS A CERTAIN FACET OF OUR LIVES AS GOD'S BELOVED CHILDREN: MANY OF US NEED TO GO AND GET IN A PROPER WORSHIP POSITION, AND SCRAPE OFF THE STUFF THAT'S CAUSING US TO MISS OUR DELIVERANCE AND CAUSING OUR FIRE TO GO OUT.

THERE ARE ASHES OF PAINFUL RELATIONSHIPS AND EXPERIENCES OF LONG AGO THAT KEEP US AWAY FROM GOD'S FULL COURSE ANOINTING. APOSTLE PAUL DESCRIBED THIS IN HEBREWS 12: 15, "LOOKING DILIGENTLY LEST ANY MAN FAIL OF THE GRACE OF GOD; LEST ANY ROOT OF BITTERNESS SPRINGING UP TROUBLE YOU, AND THEREBY MANY BE DEFILED". THIS SCRIPTURE IS TELLING US THAT THE ROOT OF BITTERNESS WILL NOT ONLY DEFILE US, BUT ALSO THE PEOPLE AROUND US! WHEN WE FEED ON BITTERNESS, WE BECOME BITTER WITHIN OURSELVES, AS WELL AS EVERYONE THAT COMES INTO OUR LIVES.

OUR SPIRITUAL STRENGTH IS DIRECTLY PROPORTIONATE TO HOW MUCH FRESH SPIRITUAL BREAD WE EAT DAILY; AND BITTERNESS TAKES AWAY FROM OUR DAILY APPETITE FOR GOD'S WORD, OUR MANNA, UNTIL WE GROW WEAK AND FEEBLE, AND EVENTUALLY BECOME SICK. NUMBERS 11: 8 READS, "THE PEOPLE GROUND IT IN MILLS, OR BEAT IT IN A MORTAR, AND BAKED IT IN PANS, AND MADE CAKES OF IT: AND THE TASTE OF IT WAS AS THE TASTE OF FRESH OIL". ANYTIME WE SEE "OIL" MENTIONED IN THE BIBLE, IT REPRESENTS "THE ANOINTING OF GOD". THE TRUTH IS: WE NEED TO MAKE UP OUR MINDS THAT, DESPITE YESTERDAY'S BITTER SITUATION, TODAY... WE ARE GOING TO SEEK FRESH ANOINTING; TODAY... WE ARE GOING TO STOP TRIPPING OVER YESTERDAY'S UNFORTUNATE SITUATIONS; TODAY... WE ARE GOING TO STOP LETTING PEOPLE TAKE US TO THAT DARK PLACE OF BITTERNESS; TODAY... WE ARE GOING TO A HIGHER LEVEL IN OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD; ; TODAY... WE ARE GOING TO GET A PROPER POSITION SO WE CAN HEAR FROM GOD; ; TODAY... WE ARE GOING TO PRAY FOR PEOPLE WHO ARE HURTING AND NEED DELIVERANCE; TODAY... WE ARE GOING TO APPLY GOD'S WORD INTO EVERY OPPORTUNITY SO OTHERS WILL GET TO PRAISE GOD!

NOVEMBER 10    ONLY TWO CHAPTERS IN THE BOOK OF GENESIS ARE DEVOTED TO TELLING THE STORY OF ISAAC; EVEN THOUGH HE WAS THE CHILD OF PROMISE THAT ABRAHAM ENDURED IN FAITH FOR AND WAITED PATIENTLY FOR HUNDRED YEARS. HE WAS A MIRACLE BABY, CONCEIVED AFTER SARAH HAD GIVEN UP ON ALL POSSIBILITY OF IT STILL HAPPENING; AND HE WAS THE ONE WHO CARRIED ON THE LINE IN THE PURPOSES OF GOD; AND ON HIS DEATHBED, IT WS ISAAC WHO LAID HIS HANDS UPON JACOB AND SET APART THE FUTURE OF ISRAEL. THE KEY TO HIS SPIRITUAL SUCCESS DIDN'T DEPEND ON THE FACT THAT HE WAS THE SON OF ABRAHAM, AND THE FATHER OF JACOB. THE REAL SUCCESS IS REVEALED IN GENESIS 26: 25, "SO ISAAC BUILT AN ALTAR THERE, AND CALLED UPON THE NAME OF THE LORD, AND HE PITCHED HIS TENT THERE: AND THERE ISAAC'S SERVANTS DUG A WELL".

GOD HAD GREATLY BLESSED ISAAC IN THE LAND OF THE PHILISTINES WHERE HE ENDED UP POSSESSING FLOCKS, HERDS, AND A GREAT NUMBER OF SERVANTS. THE ENVIOUS PHILISTINES TOLD HIM TO MOVE AWAY FROM THEIR LAND BECAUSE HE HAD BECOME MUGHTIER THAN THEM. SO ISAAC BEGAN MOVING FROM PLACE TO PLACE, ENCOUNTERING OPPOSITION AND CONFLICT, UNTIL HE FINALLY CAME TO BEERSHEBA; WHERE GOD SPOKE TO HIM WORDS OF ASSURANCE AND PROMISE. IMMEDIATELY, ISAAC BUILT AND ALTAR RIGHT THERE, BECAUSE HE KNEW ITS IMPORTANCE. ABRAHAM HAD TAKEN HIM, AS A YOUNG BOY, UP THE MOUNT MORIAH, AND HAD LAID HIM ON THE ALTAR, WHEN GOD WAS TETSING ABRAHAM'S DEDICATION. NO ONE COULD POSSIBLY KNOW THE COST OF FULL DEDICATION MORE THAN ISAAC. HE HAD BEEN THE CHOSEN SACRIFICE UNTIL GOD PROVIDED A LAMB TO SPARE ISAAC'S LIFE.

RIGHT AFTRE BUILDING THE ALTAR AND DEDICATING HIS SACRIFICE TO GOD, ISAAC PITCHED HIS TENT. THAT WAS THE PLACE WHERE HE HAD HEARD THE VOICE OF GOD; AND HEARD HIS BLESSINGS. HE HAD DECIDED TO STAY CLOSE TO THE PRESENCE AND THE DIRECTION OF GOD. YET, ISAAC DIDN'T BUILD A HOUSE; HE SIMPLY PITCHED A TENT. HE DIDN'T MAKE THAT PLACE A PERMANENT LOCATION; THAT WOULD BE UP TO GOD TO DECIDE. A TENT SPEAKS OF DETACHMENT, RATHER THAN A SOLID RELATIONSHIP WITH THE AREA. ISAAC'S HOME WOULD BE WHEREVER GOD AND GOD'S WILL WOULD BE FOUND.

ACCORDING TO PSALM 1: 3, THE BIBLE DESCRIBES A PERSON WHO READS AND MEDITATES UPON THE WORD OF GOD AS, "... A TREE PLANTED BY THE RIVERS OF WATER, THAT BRINGS FORTH ITS FRUIT IN ITS SEASON, WHSE LEAF ALSO SHALL NOT WITHER, AND WHATEVER HE DOES SHALL PROSPER". FOR ISAAC, DIGGING OR DYING MEANT LIFE AND DEATH SITUATION. HE HAD TO HAVE WATER TO SURVIVE; AND HE HAD TO HAVE LOTS OF IT. THE VERY SAME IS TRUE FOR US CHRISTIANS CONCERNING GOD'S WORD IN OUR LIVES. WITHOUT THE WORD; WE WOULD DIE SPIRITUALLY! JESUS DESCRIBED IIT IN MATTHEW 4: 4 AS SUCH, "MAN SHALL NOT LIVE BY BREAD ALONE, BUT BY EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS FROM THE MOUTH OF GOD". A WELL SPEAKS OF DEPEENDENCE. WE MUST BE DETACHED FROM THIS WORLD'S PLEASURE AND ITS PRAISE. IT IS A BAD SIGN WHEN THIS WORLD PRAISES US; AND IT'S EVEN WORSE IF WE START DESIRING ITS PRAISE!

NOVEMBER 9    NOAH STEPPED OUT OF THE ARK TO A WHOLE NEW WORLD: THERE WAS DEATH AND DESOLATION EVERYWHERE; A LANDSCAPE DEVASTATED BY FLOOD. IT WAS THE EXACT OPPOSITE OF EDEN, A DESTROYED PLANET, THE AFTERMATH OF JUDGMENT. WE CAN ALMOST HEAR NOAH THINK, "WELL LORD... WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE...?". THE ANSWER IS WRITTEN IN GENESIS 8: 20, "... THEN NOAH BUILT AN ALTAR TO THE LORD AND, TAKING SOME OF ALL CLEAN ANIMALS AND CLEAN BIRDS, HE SACRIFICED BURNT OFFERINGS ON IT". GOD DIDN'T COMMAND HIM TO DO THAT: IT WAS A FREEWILL OFFERING; AND NOAH HAD ONLY THE AMOUNT OF ANIMALS THAT GOD HAD APPOINTED TO KEEP IN THE ARK. THERE WAS NO ABUNDANCE OF THEM; YET NOAH KNEW GOD WOULD NEVER REFUSE A BURNT OFFERING THAT CAME FROM A GRATEFUL HEART. A BURNT OFFERING, TOTALLY CONSUMED IN THE FIRE, WAS PRIMARILY AN ACT OF UNRESTRAINED WORSHIP, A RECOGNITION OF TOTAL DEVOTION, AND TOTAL DEDICATION TO GOD. IN FACT, THE BIBLE MENTIONS THE OFFERINGS OF CAIN AND ABEL; YET THIS IS THE FIRST TIME AN ALTAR IS USED FOR THE PURPOSE OF SACRIFICE.

WHERE DO WE TEND TO GO WHEN THE WORLD WE ONCE KNEW HAS BEEN RIPPED APART, AND WE WERE TO WITNESS THE AFTERMATH OF A TORNADO; ESPECIALLY WHEN WE COME TO GRIPS WITH WHAT LIFE WOULD BE LIKE WITHOUT GOD? IF WE HAD JUST BARELY SURVIVED SUCH DEVASTATION, WOULD WE BE ABLE TO GIVE UP OUR LIVELIHOOD BY OFFERING GOD THE VERY BEST OF ALL WE HAD? NOAH GAVE ONE SEVENTH OF HIS LIVESTOCK TO GOD AS SACRIFICE! THIS WASN'T JUST A TITHE: IT TAKES FAITH TO GIVE TO GOD, RISKING IT ALL. WE COULDN'T POSSIBLY KNOW WHAT IT'S LIKE TO WORSHIP, UNTIL WE APPRECIATE WHAT IT'S LIKE TO BE SAVED; AND THEN OUR WORSHIP WILL BE A WHOLEHEARTED EXPRESSION OF THANKSGIVING.

THERE IS A CHOICE INVOLVED IN OBEYING GOD ENOUGH TO BUILD AN ARK IN THE MIDST OF A DROUGHT; JUST LIKE THERE IS A CHOICE INVOLVED IN WORSHIPING GOD ENOUGH TO BUILD AN ALTAR RIGHT AFTER A STORM

. BOTH EXTREMES ARE FRUITS OF A HEART THAT LIVES TO PLEASE GOD; AND SUCH HEART, FULLY ABLE TO SEE PAST ALL CIRCUMSTANCES, DISCOVERS JOY AND DELIGHT THAT COULD ONLY DESCRIBE "A CHILD OF GOD". SINCE WE ALREADY KNOW THAT GOD SPARED US THROUGH A SACRIFICE OF HIS OWN, JESUS CHRIST, HIS ONLY BEGOTTEN CHILD, IT'S NO LONGER ARK BUILDING TIME; IT'S ALTAR BUILDING TIME! IT'S TIME WE DEDICATE OUR BODIES, OUR TIME, OUR TALENT, AND OUR TREASURE TO HIM WHO LOVED US ENOUGH TO SAVE US FROM THE HORRIFIC FLOODS OF THIS WORLD, AS WELL AS THE DREADFUL ETERNAL FIRE.

NOVEMBER 8    THERE ARE MANY BIBLICAL CHARACTERS THAT SERVE GOD IN DIFFERENT WAYS. THE STORY OF LOT IS ONE OF TRAGEDY AND HEARTACHE. HE HAD A GREAT OPPORTUNITY TO BECOME A MAN OF GOD AS HE WALKED WITH HIS UNCLE ABRAHAM, THE FRIEND OF GOD. LOT HAD FLOCKS, HERDS, AND TENTS, YET HE DID NOT HAVE ALTARS LIKE ABRAHAM DID. WHEREVER ABRAHAM PITCHED A TENT, HE BUILT AN ALTAR: HE WAS KNOWN FOR HIS ALTARS. THAT ALONE SPOKE OF HIS DEVOTION TO GOD.

LOT SIMPLY LIFTED UP HIS EYES TO THE PLAINS OF JORDAN; AND HIS EYES DETERMINED WHAT HIS HEART LOVED. PASTURE FOR HIS FLOCKS AND HERDS WAS SUFFICIENT REASON FOR LOT TO DESIRE THE WELL-WATERED PLAINS OF JORDAN. HE SAW THE ABUNDANCE AND THE ADVANTAGES OF THE LAND. WITH NO ALTAR, HE CHOSE A PATH OF LEAST RESISTANCE, A PATH OF LOOSE RESTRICTION, A PATH OF LUSTFUL REASONING; WHICH LED HIM TO WALK BY SIGHT, AND NOT BY FAITH. LOT HAD LOST SIGHT OF AN ALTAR, AND WOULD SOON LOSE HIS TENT ( GENESIS 19: 3 ).

ALTARS KEEP THINGS IN RIGHT PERSPECTIVE. IF WE HAVE THE DEVOTION DOWN RIGHT, THEN OUR DESIRES WILL BE RIGHT AS WELL. IF WE PLACE GOD IN HIS RIGHTFUL PLACE WITHIN OUR HEARTS, THEN OUR PRIORITIES WILL LINE UP IN THE CORRECT ORDER; THEREFORE WE WILL NEVER HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT DOING RIGHT OR WRONG, BECAUSE GOD'S GUIDANCE WILL KEEP US ON A STRAIGHT PATH. IF LOT'S DESIRES HAD BEEN SPIRITUAL INSTEAD OF APPEALING TO HIS SIGHT AND TO HIS INTELLECT, HE WOULD HAVE CHOSEN TO FOCUS ON A DIRECT COMMUNION WITH HIS MAKER. AS WE READ TOWARD THE END OF THE CHAPTER, WHEN LOT TRIED TO WARN HIS FAMILY MEMBERS, THEY WOULDN'T TAKE HIM SERIOUSLY, BECAUSE HIS LIFESTYLE DIDN'T LINE UP WITH HIS SPEECH. HIS WORDS HAD NO WEIGHT BECAUSE OF HIS WAYS. HIS LIPS HAD NO INFLUENCE BECAUSE OF HIS HEART. WHEN HIS MANNERS CONTRADICTED HIS MESSAGE, HIS WORDS OF CAUTION REMAINED UNHEEDED.

THE VERY SAME APPLIES TO ALL OF US CHRISTIANS TODAY: IF WE LOSE OUR DEDICATION TO OUR SAVIOUR, IT WILL NOT BE LONG BEFORE WE LOSE OUR DETACHMENT FROM THIS FALLEN WORLD: WE WILL SOON HAVE SACRIFICED PURITY FOR PEACE, AND BECOME PART OF THE CHAOS. IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR US TO MAKE GOOD DECISIONS WHEN OUR DESIRES ARE WORLDLY, AND OUR DEVOTION IS WEAK. THAT IS ALSO WHEN THE GREATEST TRAGEDY OCCURS: WE START LOSING OUR TESTIMONIES; PEOPLE AREN'T AT ALL INTERESTED IN WORDS THAT DON'T QUITE ADD UP, WITHOUT THE PROPER EVIDENCE. FOR THE UNSAVED, SEEING IS BELIEVING AND OUR ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS.

NOVEMBER 7    WE WOULD BE IN GRAVE DANGER IF WE WERE TO WRAP OURSELVES IN A FOOLISH OPTIMISM, AND FAILED TO WAR, WITH ALL OF OUR HEART AND WITH ALL OF OUR STRENGTH, AGAINST THE EVIL OF THIS WORLD. IT WOULD BE EQUALLY AS DANGEROUS IF WE WOULD FEAR THE EVIL OF THIS WORLD, THINKING THAT WE DON'T STAND A CHANCE AGAINST IT. EPHESIANS 5: 15-17 EXPLAINS, "BE VERY CAREFUL, THEN, HOW YOU LIVE - NOT AS UNWISE BUT AS WISE, MAKING THE MOST OF EVERY OPPORTUNITY, BECAUSE THE DAYS ARE EVIL. THEREFORE DO NOT BE FOOLISH, BUT UNDERSTAND WHAT THE LORD'S WILL IS". THE PATH TO BLESSING FOR US CHRISTIANS, PERSONALLY AS WELL AS A NATION, IS EXPLAINED IN THE SCRIPTURE AS SUCH; WE MUST HAVE A RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD; WE MUST RECEIVE HIS CORRECTION; AND WE MUST TRUST HIS LOVE AND HIS WISDOM AS WE'RE FACING CERTAIN CONSEQUENCES.

WHETHER YOUNG OR OLD, CORRECTION IS PART OF CHRISTIAN LIFE. JOB 5:17 READS, "BLESSED IS THE MAN WHOM GOD CORRECTS; SO DO NOT DESPISE THE DISCIPLINE OF THE ALMIGHTY". IF GOD LOVES US ENOUGH TO CORRECT US, IT MEANS THAT WE ARE TRULY HIS BELOVED CHILDREN. IF AND WHEN PARENTS LET THEIR KIDS RUN WILD, THEY ARE NOT DOING THEM A FAVOR; IT'S AS IF THEY'RE PLACING A CURSE ON THEM. LIFE IS NOT GOING TO TREAT THEM SPECIAL; THEY NEED TO LEARN DISCIPLINE AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE. DISCIPLINING A CHILD LEADS TO CORRECTING THAT CHILD, MEANING IT OFFERS THAT CHILD THE RIGHT STEPS TO BECOMING A SUCCESSFUL AND A RESPECTABLE ADULT. WHEN KING DAVID FELL INTO SIN, HE NEEDED TO BE STRAIGHTENED OUT; AND GOD SPOKE TO HIM THROUGH THE PROPHET NATHAN. EVEN THOUGH DAVID REPENTED AND WAS RESTORED, HE STILL NEEDED TO SUFFER THE CONSEQUENCES OF HIS SIN. WE MAY NOT HAVE COMMITTED ADULTERY OR MURDER, BUT WE HAVE BACKSLID IN WAYS THAT GOD WOULDN'T APPROVE OF; AND THAT'S EXACTLY WHY WE NEED HIS CORRECTION AND DISCIPLINE.

2 CORINTHIANS 4: 4 READS, "IN WHOM THE GOD OF THIS WORLD HATH BLINDED THE MINDS OF THEM WHICH BELIEVE NOT, LEST THE LIGHT OF THE GLORIOUS GOSPEL OF CHRIST, WHO IS THE IMAGE OF GOD, SHOULD SHINE UNTO THEM". IF WE WILLINGLY TOLERATE EVEN "SMALL" SINS IN OUR LIVES, WE'RE ALREADY ON THE ROAD TO A BACKSLIDDEN CONDITION. IF WE'RE NOT PURSUING AND HUNGRY FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS, WE'RE BACKSLIDING. IF OUR HEART IS NOT THIRSTING FOR THE ONLY LIVING GOD, WE'RE BACKSLIDING. IF WE PUT MATERIAL THINGS BEFORE SPIRITUAL THINGS, WE'RE BACKSLIDING. IF WE'RE NOT INVOLVED IN SERVING CHRIST, WE'RE BACKSLIDING. SIN IS LIKE A RATTLESNAKE: WE CAN'T TEASE OR PLAY WITH IT; BECAUSE IT WILL NEVER BE SATISFIED UNTIL ITS POISON IS INJECTED INTO OUR SOUL!

NOVEMBER 6    PROVERBS 10: 17 READS, "HE IS ON THE PATH OF LIFE WHO HEEDS INSTRUCTION, BUT HE WHO FORSAKES REPROOF GOES ASTRAY". REPROOF IS A VERY POSITIVE USE OF SPEECH, BECAUSE IT IS MOTIVATED BY LOVE, AND DIRECTED BY WISDOM. THOUGH BITTER TO THE TASTE, GODLY REPROOF IS PRECIOUS TO THE SOUL; IT INSTRUCTS US FOR OUR CHARACTER TRAINING. BOTH GOD'S WORD AS WELL AS OUR PERSONAL EXPERIENCE ARE VITAL FOR OUR ETERNAL RESULTS.

THE WORD "INSTRUCTION" OR "DISCIPLINE" CAN ALSO BE TRANSLATED AS "CORRECTION". IF WE REFUSE TO BE CORRECTED, WE ARE LITERALLY CHEATING ON OUR SOUL. RECEIVING INSTRUCTIONS ISN'T QUITE ENOUGH; WE MUST RETAIN THEM. WE CAN'T AFFORD TO LET THEM SLIP CARELESSLY, SINCE WE ARE TO GOVERN OURSELVES BY THEM. IT HAS BEEN WISELY SAID THAT A SUCCESSFUL MAN IS ONE WHO CAN LAY A FIRM FOUNDATION WITH THE BRICKS THAT ARE THROWN AT HIM. EVERY TIME SOMEONE THROWS A BRICK AT US, WE MAY LEARN OR GAIN SOMETHING FROM IT; AND THEN WE CAN BUILD ON IT. THE MAIN IDEA IS THAT THE BEST AND THE WISEST OF US ALL FALLS SHORT, AND HAS MUCH TO IMPROVE. IF THERE IS TRUTH IN REPROOF, WE ARE TO GRASP IT, LET IT BRING HUMILITY, AND USE IT TO MEND WHAT IS AMISS; JUST SO GOD WILL BRING GREAT GOOD OUT OF IT.

IF WE ARE RELUCTANT TO RECEIVE THE REBUKE OF OUR EARTHLY FATHER, WE WILL ALSO BE RELUCTANT TO RECEIVE THE REBUKE OF OUT HEAVENLY FATHER. GODLY INSTRUCTION IS DESIGNED TO CULTIVATE REASON AND PREPARE US FOR ETERNITY. THE GREATEST ERROR OF SINNERS IS UNDERVALUING THEIR OWN SOULS. PREFERING INSTANT GRATIFICATIONS, THEY NEGLECT, ABUSE, AND WRONG THEIR SOULS, IN ORDER TO PLEASE THEIR BODIES. PROVERBS 29: 1 READS, "A MAN WHO HARDENS HIS NECK AFTER MUCH REPROOF WILL SUDDENLY BE BROKEN BEYOND REMEDY". PERSISTING IN SIN, AND REFUSING TO OBEY TO GOD'S WARNINGS, WILL CAUSE US TO CONTINUE TO LIVE IN SELF-DELUSION, THUS PUTTING OUR SOULS IN DANGER OF ETERNAL FIRE. IS THE FEAR OF MAN KEEPING US FROM DOING WHAT IS RIGHT, OR IS FEAR IN GENERAL KEEPING US FROM ADMITTING WE ARE A SINNER IN NEED OF A SAVIOUR?

NOVEMBER 5    IN TIME OF NATIONAL CRISIS, RELIGIOUS FAKERS ALWAYS FLOURISH, BECAUSE MANY PEOPLE WANT TO HEAR ONLY COMFORTING MESSAGES, WHICH MAY OFTEN BE UNTRUE. TO UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF LIES IN TIMES OF DISTRESS IS SHEER FOLLY. BUT NATIONS THAT OBEY GOD'S WILL REMAIN IN PEACE IN THEIR LANDS AND WILL PROSPER. TO RESIST THE KNOWN WILL OF GOD IS ALWAYS SPIRITUAL SUICIDE.

GOD SPOKE TO JEREMIAH AND COMMANDED HIM TO MAKE A YOKE, AND PLACE IT ON HIS NECK. THIS YOKE, SIMILAR TO THAT USED FOR OXEN, WAS MADE OF WOODEN BARS HELD TOGETHER BY LEATHER STRINGS. ACCORDING TO JEREMIAH 28: 10-11, JEREMIAH WAS WEARING THIS YOKE IN PUBLIC, AS A SYMBOL OF SUBMISSION, SERVITUDE, AND CAPTIVITY, WHEN HANANIAH CHALLENGED HIM AND BROKE IT. JEREMIAH, EXERCISING HIS COMMISSION AS A PROPHET TO THE NATIONS, CONVEYED THE MESSAGE OF THE YOKE, SINCE THE YOKE SYMBOL WAS HIGHLY APPROPRIATE AS THEY WERE TRYING TO SHAKE OFF THE YOKE OF BABYLON. THIS MESSAGE IS ALSO DETAILED IN KINGS 4: 7.

AT THIS POINT, REVOLT WAS FUTILE AND WRONG, BECAUSE GOD HAD APPOINTED BABYLON TO EXECUTE HIS PURPOSE OF JUDGMENT. BABYLONIAN RULE EXTENDED FROM NEBUCHADNEZZAR TO THE THIRD GENERATION. THOSE RESISTING THE BABYLONIAN POWER, AS THE COALITION WAS PLANNING TO DO, WOULD BE PUNISHED BY THE THREEFOLD STROKE OF SWORD, FAMINE, AND PLAGUE; AND ON TOP OF IT ALL, THE PROPHECIES OF THE FALSE PROPHETS WERE NOT TO BE TRUSTED, AND THEY WERE CLEARLY LEADING THE NATION TO DISASTER. SO POWERFUL WAS THE INFLUENCE OF THE FALSE PROPHETS AT THIS TIME THAT THE KING HAD TO BE COUNSELED TO IGNORE THEIR LYING PRONOUNCEMENTS.

KING CYRUS, UNDER GOD'S PROMPTING, ALLOWED THE VESSELS OF THE TEMPLE TO BE RETURNED. THE REASON THE TEMPLE GOODS WERE RETURNED WASN'T BECAUSE PEOPLE REVOLTED AGAINST THEIR CAPTORS; BUT BECAUSE THEY KNEW THEY HAD OFFENDED GOD, AND THAT THEY HAD DESERVED HIS ANGER; AND AS A RESULT, THEY ALSO KNEW THAT THEY HAD TO SUBMIT TO GOD'S DECISION: THEY HAD TO WAIT UNTIL GOD'S ANGER WAS SATISFIED, AND GOD WOULD DECIDE TO USE HIS OMNIPOTENT POWER TO DELIVER THEM FROM CAPTIVITY, ONCE AGAIN.

THE DIFFERENCE WITH THEN AND NOW IS THE FACT THAT WE HAVE BECOME SELF-SUFFICIENT MINDED PEOPLE, AND THE MORE WE CHASE GOD OUT OF OUR MIDST, THE MORE MESMERIZING OUR UNCERTAINTY BECOMES. WE STRUGGLE TO FIND MORAL FORTITUDE AND INTEGRITY WHERE GOD HAS BEEN MADE INTO THE SHADOW OF A MYTH. HOW LONG WILL WE HIDE FROM THE TRUTH, CONTINUE TO LOOK THE OTHER WAY, AND ACT AS IF ALL IS WELL. AS WE'RE NEARING A TIME OF SOLID DECISION OVER OUR NATION, OUR ATTENTION MUST FOCUS MORE ON PRAYING FOR GOD'S FORGIVENESS, AND FOR HIS ANGER TO SUBSIDE, THAN TRYING TO FORCE MORAL INGREDIENTS INTO A FALLEN NATION. THAT PART IS TO BE LEFT TO GOD'S MERCY AND GRACE. FREEDOM IS STILL THE BONUS WE RECEIVE FOR KNOWING THIS TRUTH!

NOVEMBER 4    IN JESUS' DAYS, THE TEACHING OF A RABBI WAS SAID TO BE HIS "YOKE". JESUS, AS OUR RABBI WHO TEACHES US THE WAYS OF GOD'S KINGDOM, IS SIMPLY SAYING THAT HIS YOKE IS NOTHING LIKE THE REST OF THE RELIGIOUS RULERS' YOKE; HIS YOKE IS NOT MEANT TO WEIGH US DOWN BY TRYING TO CONVINCE US THAT WE ARE NO GOOD, AND THAT WE COULD NEVER DO ANYTHING RIGHT, AND THAT WE COULD NEVER BE AS GOOD AS THE RELIGIOUS LEADERS, ETC. THOSE MANMADE RULES WERE TOO MUCH: NO NORMAL PERSON COULD EVER FULFILL ALL THE RULES. JESUS DIDN'T COME TO BURDEN US WITH A LONG LIST OF RULES AND REGULATIONS, OR TO TEACH US HOW TO ACT AND SOUND HOLY.

THERE ARE CERTAIN THINGS THAT HE CAUTIONED US AGAINST, SIMPLY BECAUSE THEY WERE EXTREMELY BENEFICIAL AND IMPORTANT FOR OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE FATHER. HOWEVER, IF WE'RE SERIOUS ABOUT PURSUING GOD AND GOD'S WAYS, THEN GOD, THROUGH JESUS AND THE HOLY SPIRIT, WILL REVEAL TO US WHAT HE NEEDS FOR US TO DO, AND GIVE US THE STRENGTH, AS HE FEELS WE'RE READY AND CAPABLE TO DO SO. OFTEN, WE WISH WE COULD, YET WE DON'T 

REALLY WANT TO. BECAUSE IT WOULD CAUSE US TO STEP OUT OF THE FAMILIAR SURROUNDINGS WE CALL "NORMAL" INTO THE UNCERTAINTIES OF THE UNFAMILIAR. A GOOD EXAMPLE FOR THIS WOULD BE WHEN WE SEE PEOPLE WHO STICK TO THEIR EXTREMELY ABUSIVE CIRCUMSTANCES, BECAUSE NOT HAVING THEM MEANS HAVING SOMETHING THEY DON'T QUITE KNOW, AND THAT THEY MAY FAIL EVEN MORE. FEELING LIKE A FAILURE IS A YOKE ONLY SATAN USES TO KEEP MANY OF US UNDER A WEIGHTY AND UNBEARABLE BURDEN.

THE YOKE JESUS IS TALKING ABOUT IS FEATHERWEIGHT AND EASY, BECAUSE AS WE SUBMIT OUR OWN WILL TO GOD'S EXPECTATONS OF HIS PLAN AND PURPOSE FOR US, JESUS BECOMES THE LEADING OX OF THIS YOKE: THIS SIMPLY MEANS THAT, AS WE ACCEPT OUR WEAKNESS TO CARRY ON WITH THE BURDENS OF TRYING TO PROVIDE FOR OUR FAMILIES, OR TRYING TO CHASE DOWN OPPORTUNITIES, OR TRYING TO LIVE UP TO CERTAIN RELIGIOUS DEMANDS AND EXPECTATIONS, WE LEARN TO RELY ON HIS STRENGTH. IT ALSO MEANS THAT WE DON'T JUST OCCASIONALLY TRY TO CATCH A GLIMPSE OF HIS GRACE, AND GET TO TASTE IT HERE AND THERE; BUT WE SAVOR IT! WE HAVE, AT ALL TIMES, GOD'S FULL ATTENTION; WE NEED TO FOCUS ON GIVING GOD OUR FULL AND UNDIVIDED ATTENTION.

SATAN DOES NOT ATTACK US BECAUSE OF OUR PAST; HE TROUBLES US BECAUSE OF OUR FUTURE. OFTEN, IF HE CANNOT DERAIL US, HE WILL DELAY US, BECAUSE WHEN WE'RE DELAYED LONG ENOUGH, IT WOULD BE EASIER FOR US TO LOSE SIGHT OF OUR DESTINATION. HOW CAN WE FORGET THE PARABLE OF THE FIVE FOOLISH VIRGINS WHO DELAYED THE PURCHASE OF THEIR OIL? THEY MAY HAVE BOUGHT IT, EVENTUALLY, BUT IT WAS THE WRONG TIME. KNOWING THE IMPORTANCE OF A CERTAIN RESPECTABLE TIME PERIOD, WHEN THE STRANGE FORCES OF DELAY TOOK HOLD OF LOT, GOD SENT DOWN HIS ANGELS TO RELEASE HIM. PROGRESS IS THE PLAN OF GOD, AND DELAY IS THE STRATEGY OF THE DEVIL. UNBELIEF, INDECISION, PROCRASTINATION, OR FEAR OF FAILURE MAY KEEP US FROM SAVOURING THE JOY OF BELONGING TO GOD'S KINGDOM, HERE AND NOW, OR IN SOME CASES, ETERNALLY. WE DON'T HAVE TO FIGHT AGAINST GHOSTS AND GOBLINS TO RECOGNIZE THAT THIS WORLD'S WAYS ARE CHALLENGING, DESTRUCTIVE, AND VENGEFUL. ALL WE NEED TO DETERMINE IS WHAT WE'RE INTERESTED IN DOING WITH OUR LIVES: DO WE WANT TO SUBMIT TO INSTANT GRATIFICATIONS, OR DO WE WANT TO SUBMIT TO ETERNAL PEACE AND JOY? THE DECISION IS OURS. GOD DOESN'T FORCE HIMSELF ON ANYONE; HE WAITS FOR US TO SEEK HIM, QUIETLY AND PATIENTLY; YET THAT DOESN'T MEAN THAT HIS PATIENCE HAS NO LIMIT!

NOVEMBER 3    JESUS NEVER ASKED ANYONE TO GET THEIR ACT TOGETHER BEFORE FOLLOWING HIM; NOR DID HE ASK THEM TO FIX ALL THEIR PAST MISTAKES. WE CAN CLEARLY SEE THAT BY STUDYING THE TWELVE GUYS JESUS CHOSE AS HIS INITIAL DISCIPLES: THEY WEREN'T PERFECT, BUT THEY RESPONDED WHEN JESUS CALLED THEM TO FORSAKE THE OLD LIFE, AND FOLLOW HIM! THEY WERE CHRIST-FOLLOWERS; AND THAT'S WHAT BECOMING A CHRISTIAN MEANS; IT'S NOT JUST A PERSON WHO HAS GOTTEN SAVED, OR JOINED A CHURCH, OR STARTED TITHING; IT'S SIMPLY A PERSON WHO IS WILLING TO GIVE FAITH A CHANCE BY SHIFTING THEIR TRUST TO SOMETHING UNKNOWN, UNFAMILIAR, YET EXTREMELY PROMISING. GOD'S PROMISES ARE THE ONLY SOLID SUBSTANCE WE'LL EVER GET TO TASTE IN THIS WORLD.

LET US SEE A LITTLE MORE ABOUT THOSE INITIAL CHRSITIANS JESUS CHOSE TO SPEND TIME WITH. THEY WERE PROUD, BECAUSE ACCORDING TO MARK 9: 33-34, THEY ARGUED AMONG THEMSELVES AS TO WHO WOULD BE THE GREATEST. THEY WERE OVERCONFIDENT, BECAUSE ACCORDING TO MATTHEW 26: 33, PETER EXCLAIMED BOLDLY, "EVEN IF ALL ARE MADE TO STUMBLE BECAUSE OF YOU, I WILL NEVER BE MADE TO STUMBLE". THEY WERE WIMPS, BECAUSE ACCORDING TO MATTHEW 26: 56, THEY ALL FORSOOK HIM AND FLED. WHEN THEY REALIZED THAT STANDING UP WITH JESUS WAS GOING TO COST THEM SOMETHING, THEY TOOK THE OTHER DIRECTION. THEY DIDN'T QUITE UNDERSTAND WHAT JESUS WAS TRYING TO TEACH. THEY HAD BEEN FOLLOWING HIM AROUND FOR THREE-AND-A-HALF YEARS, BECAUSE THEY WERE INTERESTED IN THE BENEFITS; THEY WANTED ALL THE GOODS, WITHOUT HAVING TO SACRIFICE ANYTHING IN RETURN. THEY WERE ALSO QUITE VENGEFUL, BECAUSE ACCORDING TO LUKE 9: 52-54, THEY ASKED IF THEY SHOULD COMMAND FIRE TO COME DOWN FROM HEAVEN AND CONSUME THE SAMARITANS.

ISN'T THIS SIMILAR TO WHAT MOST OF US THINK WHAT CHRISTIANITY IS TODAY? MANY OF US STILL CAN'T SEPARATE THE AWESOME OPPORTUNITY OF HAVING A RELATIONSHIP WITH THE FATHER, FROM THE TRADITIONAL REPETITIOUS RITUALS OF A RELIGION! MANY OF US STILL HAVEN'T GRASPED THE MIRACULOUS MEANING OF THE DEATH AND THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST, THE REASON WHY WE CLAIM HIM AS OUR LORD AND SAVIOUR! THE SIMPLEST WAY TO APPLY THIS INTO OUR LIVES IS BY CONDITIONING OURSELVES TO BE READY AND AVAILABLE TO HEAR HIS ONGOING WHISPERS AS HE SAYS, "WHY DON'T YOU START OVER BY FOLLOWING ME TODAY, WITH A BRAND NEW JOURNEY YOU'VE NEVER TRIED BEFORE; AND SEE HOW EASY LIFE CAN BE, SINCE I'M THE ONLY ONE WHO CAN TELL THE FATHER ABOUT YOU, AND I'M CONSTANTLY PRAYING OVER YOU, AND I'M ALSO SHARING MY YOKE WITH YOU? IF WE'VE BEEN FORGIVEN IN THE PAST, WITHOUT HAVING MADE A SOUND DECISION ABOUT FOLLOWING JESUS, MOST LIKELY, WE'VE MISSED THE MAIN POINT OF BEING FORGIVEN; BETTER YET, WE HAVE MISSED THE WHOLE POINT OF JESUS DYING ON THE CROSS, AS WELL AS OUR NEED FOR HIS RESURRECTION.

MATTHEW 11: 28 READS, "COME UNTO ME, ALL YE THAT LABOUR AND ARE HEAVY LADEN, AND I WILL GIVE YOU REST". THIS WORD "LABOUR" IN GREEK IS "KOPIAO", MEANING "LABOURING TO THE POINT OF SWEAT AND EXHAUSTION". JESUS' REFERENCE TO LABOUR IS MEANT TO TEACH US THE FUTILITY OF ATTEMPTING TO PLEASE GOD IN OUR OWN HUMAN EFFORTS. IT REFERS TO THOSE WHO ARE WEARY IN THEIR SEARCH FOR TRUTH, AND THOSE WHO HAVE DESPAIRED OF TRYING TO EARN SALVATION. IT IS AN INVITATION TO THOSE WHO FEEL CRUSHED UNDER A GUILT-RIDDEN CONSCIENCE, AND THOSE WHO ARE AT THE END OF THEIR RESOURCES. REPENTANCE AND OBEDIENCE ARE THE FRUIT OF GOD'S GRACE IN THE SOUL, AND CANNOT BE SEPARATED FROM SAVING FAITH. THE ONLY THING WE NEED IS A SIMPLE DETOUR FROM CARRYING A LOT OF UNNECESSARY BURDENS, AND EXCHANGE IT ALL FOR THE YOKE OF REST.

NOVEMBER 2    SATAN, WHO TEMPTS US TO SIN IN CONCERT WITH OUR FLESH, LIES TO US BY SAYING THAT IT IS IN OUR OWN SELF INTEREST TO SIN; AND WHEN IT STARTS TO LET US DOWN, OUR RESPONSE IS TO FIND SOMETHING MORE OR DIFFERENT TO TAKE ITS PLACE. WHEN WE HAVE ALREADY MADE THE DECISION TO WALK AWAY FROM GOD, WE THINK THAT THE ANSWERS TO OUR DILEMMA MUST COME FROM THE WORLD. 2 TIMOTHY 4: 3-4 READS, "FOR THE TIME IS COMING WHEN PEOPLE WILL NOT ENDURE SOUND TEACHING, BUT HAVING ITCHING EARS, THEY WILL ACCUMULATE FOR THEMSELVES TEACHERS TO SUIT THEIR OWN PASSIONS, AND WILL TURN AWAY FROM LISTENING TO THE TRUTH AND WANDER OFF INTO MYTHS". WHEN WE BELIEVE WE COULD NO LONGER FIND ANSWERS IN GOD'S WORD, WE'LL FIND VOICES THAT WILL SPEAK WHATEVER LANGUAGE OUR PASSIONS WILL CHOOSE. WE COULD END UP LEARNING A WHOLE BUNCH OF LESSONS, YET NEVER BEING ABLE TO ARRIVE AT THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD'S TRUTH.

WE MAY OCCUPY OURSELVES WITH COUNTLESS AFFAIRS OF THIS WORLD, HOPING TO APPEAR BUSY AND PRODUCTIVE; BUT SOONER OR LATER, THE HOLY SPIRIT WILL REACH US AND ARREST US; JUST AS IT WAS WITH THE PRODIGAL SON: WHEN THE MONEY WAS GONE AND THE FAMINE CHANGED THE ENVIRONMENT, SUDDENLY THE PLEASURE WAS ALL GONE. SIN, A GREAT MASK FOR REALITY, SUDDENLY GAVE WAY TO A STARTLING TRUTH: FEEDING SEED PODS TO THE PIGS, AND REALIZING THAT EVEN THE SERVANTS IN HIS FATHER'S HOUSE ATE BETTER THAN HE DID, AS HE STARTED LONGING TO EAT THE FOOD OF THE PIGS.

THIS MAY SOUND A TERRIBLE DESTINATION TO HAVE ENDED UP WITH; YET IT'S ALSO A WONDERFUL PLACE TO GET TO. JONAH HAD A SIMILAR EXPERIENCE IN THE BELLY OF THE BIG FISH. OFTEN GOD LETS US GET WHAT WE WANT: HE WILL NEVER COMPETE WITH THE LONGINGS OF OUR HEART. THOUGH WE MUST SUFFER THE FULL CONSEQUENCES OF OUR ACTIONS, WHETHER IT BE SICKNESS, TRAGEDY, LOST RELATIONSHIPS, JOBS, OR HOMES; WHEN WE'RE LEFT WITH NOTHING, AND DON'T EVEN KNOW IF WE'RE GOING TO MAKE IT; HE REACHES DOWN AND STARTS DANGLING PURE AND SIMPLE SUGGESTIONS OF HIS OWN, AS OUR BUOY. THE NEXT STEP WE TAKE DEPENDS ON OUR ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE: AS WE RECOGNIZE WHAT WE ONCE HAD, WE ALSO REALIZE THE FACT THAT WE HAVE SINNED AGAINST GOD, AND WE FEEL WE'RE NO LONGER WORTHY OF HIS GOODNESS AND KINDNESS. WE SEE THE GLORY OF GOD; WE SEE THE REALITY OF OUR SIN; AND WE SEE OUR TRUE POSITION AS WE'RE EXPOSED THROUGH GOD'S GLORY. THOSE ARE THE KEY ELEMENTS TO REPENTANCE.

AT THIS POINT, SOME PEOPLE MAY THINK, "GOD WILL NEVER TAKE ME BACK, SO I MIGHT AS WELL GIVE UP AND DIE...". YET THERE ARE OTHERS, WITH THE HELP OF SERIOUS MINDED BELIEVERS, WHO WILL BECOME HOPEFUL THROUGH GOD'S GRACE AND UNCONDITIONAL LOVE HE SO LAVISHLY DISPLAYS. IT DOESN'T MEAN THAT THE CONSEQUENCES GO AWAY, BUT THAT WE SIMPLY RECEIVE THE ASSURANCE OF BEING LOVED, AND BEING ACCEPTED INTO GOD'S FAMILY.

NOVEMBER 1    A THESAURUS LISTS THESE SYNONYMS FOR THE WORD "PRODIGAL": EXCESSIVE; EXTRAVAGANT; IMMODERATE; WASTEFUL; SPENDTHRIFT; SQUANDERER; WASTREL; ONE WHO WASTES. IT DOES DESCRIBE LAVISH BEHAVIOR, WHETHER IT IS DIRECTED TOWARDS ONESELF, BEING DISPLAYED THROUGH THE PRODIGAL SON OF JESUS' PARABLE; OR THROUGH THE FATHER WHO WAS LAVISH IN HIS FORGIVENESS AND ACCEPTANCE OF THE YOUNGER SON WHEN HE RETURNED HOME. THIS MIGHT BE A GOOD PLACE TO FIGURE OUT WHO THE REAL PRODIGAL IS IN THIS STORY. WE MAY HAVE ASSOCIATED THE WASTEFULNESS OF THE SON BECAUSE WE CAN RELATE TO HIS ACTIONS: WE LIVE IN A WORLD WHERE "IT'S ALL ABOUT ME" MENTALITY REINS THROUGHOUT ALL AGES. YET WE COMPLETELY OVERLOOK THE FACT THAT THE FATHER, OUR GOD, POURS ALL OF HIS UNCONDITIONAL LOVE UPON US, NO MATTER HOW LONG OR HOW FAR WE MANAGE TO RUN FROM HIM. THERE ARE MANY EXAMPLES TO PROVE HIS LAVISH BEHAVIOR FOR HIS CHILDREN.

JOHN 3: 16 READS, "...GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD THAT HE GAVE HIS ONLY BEGOTTEN SON, THAT WHOEVER BELIEVE IN HIS NAME SHOULD NOT PERISH, BUT HAVE EVERLASTING LIFE". HERE, WE SEE A FATHER WHO GAVE HIS ONLY BEGOTTEN SON TO MANKIND, AS A RANSOM FOR SIN, AND TO ESTABLISH THE CHURCH, A NEW KINGDOM THAT WOULD RESCUE MANKIND FROM ITS PREOCCUPATION WITH SELF. WE ALSO SEE A STARTLING MIRACLE WHERE GOD WOULD CLOTHE HIMSELF WITH HUMAN FLESH, ENTER INTO OUR SUFFERING AND PAIN, AND WALK WHERE WE WALK. WHERE HE WOULD SHOW HIS LOVE NOT JUST IN COMMANDMENTS BUT THROUGH HIS OWN SELF-SACRIFICE. GOD PLANNED ALL THIS FOR US FROM THE VERY BEGINNING, KNOWING THAT WE WOULD TURN OUR BACKS ON HIM ON MORE THAN ONE OCCASION. WE DO THIS NOT JUST IN OUR ACTIONS, BUT OUR THOUGHTS AND WORDS ARE JUST AS REPULSIVE TO GOD WHO IS THE PUREST, AND HE CANNOT LOOK UPON SIN. SIN IS MORE THAN BREAKING RULES AND LAWS. IT IS THE BREAKING OF A RELATIONSHIP. IN JESUS' PARABLE, THE SON DID NOT BREAK THE RULES AS MUCH AS HE BROKE HIS FATHER'S HEART.

LUKE 15: 12 READS, "THE YOUNGER SON TOLD HIS FATHER, 'I WANT MY SHARE OF YOUR ESTATE NOW, INSTEAD OF WAITING UNTIL YOU DIE'. SO HIS FATHER AGREED TO DIVIDE HIS WEALTH BETWEEN HIS SONS". LUKE 15: 30 READS, "YET WHEN THIS SON OF YOURS COMES BACK AFTER SQUANDERING YOUR MONEY ON PROSTITUTES, YOU CELEBRATE BY KILLING THE FINEST CALF WE HAVE". THE WORD PROPERTY OR WEALTH APPEARS THREE TIMES WITHIN THIS PARABLE. YET JESUS USED WORDS FAR MORE MEANINGFUL THAN JUST PROPERTY AND WEALTH. THE FIRST WORD TRANSLATED AS PROPERTY IN VERSE 12, "OUSIAS", WOULD HAVE BEEN USED TO TALK ABOUT ONE'S VERY "SUBSTANCE", "BEING". THE SECOND WORD WITHIN THE SAME VERSE, AS WELL AS WITHIN VERSE 30, "BION", COMES FROM GREEK BACKGROUND, MEANING "LIFE", "LIVING".

THE YOUNGER SON WAS ACTUALLY ASKING TO RECEIVE HIS INHERITANCE, AS IF THE FATHER WAS NO LONGER ALIVE. HE WANTED TO TAKE OFF WITH THINGS THAT DIDN'T BELONGED TO HIM, AT LEAST NOT YET; HE HADN'T WORKED FOR THEM; HE HADN'T EARNED THEM; HE SIMPLY WANTED TO USE THEM TO CREATE HIS OWN FUTURE, INDEPENDENT OF ANY RESPONSIBLITY HE WOULD HAVE FACED IF HE WERE TO LIVE WITHIN HIS FATHER'S PROPERTY. HE WAS TIRED OF HIS FATHER'S GOVERNMENT, OF THE GOOD ORDER AND DISCIPLINE OF HIS FATHER'S FAMILY, AND WAS FOND OF FALSE "LIBERTY" THAT WOULD LEAD HIM TO GREATER SLAVERY TO SIN. THE FATHER'S LOVE FOR HIS CHILDREN WAS FAR GREATER THAN THE PAIN HIS HEART HAD TO ENDURE: HE WAS BEING REJECTED AS IF HE NO LONGER EXISTED. ACCORDING TO THE JEWISH LAW OF INHERITANCE, A MAN MIGHT, DURING HIS LIFETIME, DISPOSE OF ALL PROPERTY BY GIFT AS HE CHOSE. THE YOUNGER SON WAS ENTITLED BY LAW TO HIS SHARE, THOUGH HE HAD NO RIGHT TO CLAIM IT DURING HIS FATHER'S LIFETIME. THE REQUEST MUST BE REGARDED AS ASKING A FAVOR.

MANY OF US WHO ARE RELIGIOUSLY EDUCATED, BUT ARE IMAPTIENT OF THE CONFINEMENT OF OUR EDUCATION, WANTING TO BELIEVE THAT WE ARE OUR OWN MASTERS, BREAK ALL GOD'S CORDS, AND BIND OURSELVES TO THE CORDS OF OUR OWN LUST. A WILLINGNESS TO DISBELIEVE GOD'S OMNISCIENCE IS THE WICKEDNESS OF ANYONE WHO DISCARDS A RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD, HOPING TO RECEIVE ALL RECOGNITION, ALL PRAISE FOR ALL ACCOMPLISHMENTS. GOD'S LOVE IS SO VERY AWESOME THAT HE WOULD ALLOW US A PERIOD OF PARTING; YET HE WAITS, AND WAITS, PATIENTLY, FOR THE DAY WE WOULD ADMIT OUR MISTAKES AND CHOOSE TO RECONCILE WITH HIM.

OCTOBER 31    IF WE COULD HAVE INTERVIEWED THE PRODIGAL SON IN JESUS' PARABLE, WE WOULD HAVE FOUND ENOUGH RESEMBLANCE WITH THE STROY OF JACOB: SOMEONE WHO WANTED TO BE IN CHARGE OF THEIR LIFE, AND MAKE ALL THE NECESSARY CHANGES TO ACCOMPLISH JUST THAT. THE ONLY DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THOSE TWO PERSONALITIES WAS THE FACT THAT THE PRODIGAL SON HAD FALLEN PREY TO THE DECEIT OF THE WORLDLY PLEASURES, WHILE JACOB HAD CREATED A LOT OF DESTRUCTION IN HIS LIFE THROUGH SELF-CENTEREDNESS AND DECEIT OF HIS OWN. THE RESULT WAS IDENTICAL: THEY BOTH WANTED TO GO BACK HOME!

THOSE ARE TWO EXAMPLES WE FIND IN THE BIBLE OF PEOPLE WHO HAVE MANAGED TO LEARN FROM THEIR MISTAKES, WERE ABLE TO BREAK THE CYCLE, AND DECIDED TO START OVER. SUCH IS OUR CHRISTIAN WALK WHEN WE STRUGGLE TO LET GOD BE IN CHARGE OF ALL THINGS, AND WE DON'T SURRENDER TO HIS DIVINE POWER UNTIL AFTER WE'VE DONE ALL WE CAN TO CONTROL OUR SITUATION. OFTEN, WE REMAIN IN OUR DYSFUNCTIONAL LIFESTYLE, BECAUSE IT IS HARDER TO FACE OUR OWN EVIL: OUR SINFUL NATURE! THIS IS ONLY ONE REASON WHY IT IS HARD FOR US TO FIND OUR WAY BACK HOME. THE NATURAL REBELLION IN THE HUMAN HEART WILL ALWAYS TRY TO POSTPONE THAT VERY SPECIAL FACE-TO-FACE KIND OF APPOINTMENT WITH GOD.

ANOTHER THING THAT MIGHT KEEP US FROM HAVING SUCH ENCOUNTERS IS THE FACT THAT WE MAY NOT KNOW THE WAY. THE GOOD NEWS IS THAT WHEN WE CANNOT FIND OUR WAY TO GOD, GOD WILL COME TO US. GOD APPROACHED JACOB SAYING, "I AM THE LORD, THE GOD OF YOUR FATHER ABRAHAM AND THE GOD OF ISAAC. I WILL GIVE YOU AND YOUR DESCENDENTS THE LAND ON WHICH YOU ARE LYING. YOUR DESCENDENTS WILL BE LIKE THE DUST OF THE EARTH... ALL PEOPLES ON EARTH WILL BE BLESSED THROUGH YOU AND YOUR OFFSPRING. I AM WITH YOU AND WILL WATCH YOU WHEREVER YOU GO, AND I WILL BRING YOU BACK TO THIS LAND. I WILL NOT LEAVE YOU UNTIL I HAVE DONE WHAT I HAVE PROMISED YOU" (GENESIS 28: 13-15).

ISAIAH 65: 1 READS, "I REVEALED MYSELF TO THOSE WHO DID NOT ASK FOR ME; I WAS FOUND BY THOSE WHO DID NOT SEEK ME. TO A NATION THAT DID NOT CALL ON MY NAME, I SAID, 'HERE AM I, HERE AM I'" THERE ARE MANY OF US WHO WANT TO BELIEVE GOD IS UP THERE AND HE IS VERY INVOLVED WITH OUR LIVES UNTIL HE TELLS THEM SOMETHING THEY DO NOT WANT TO HEAR. WE HAVE TO MAKE A SERIOUS DECISION: A JOURNEY BACK TO GOD MAY INVOLVE A JOURNEY BACK TO THE PEOPLE WE HAVE WRONGED IN LIFE. IN THE PROCESS OF HEALING OUR BROKEN RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD, OUR BROKEN RELATIONSHIPS WITH OTHERS MIGHT BE FACED. BECOMING RIGHT WITH GOD MIGHT INVOLVE BECOMING RIGHT WITH OTHERS. WE MIGHT HAVE TO FORGIVE AS WE ASK THE FORGIVENESS OF OTHERS. OUR IDEA OF BEING RIGHT OR WRONG IS CONDIDTIONED THROUGH WORLDLY STANDARDS. WE MUST SEEK GOD'S STANDARDS IN ORDER TO CLAIM A FRESH START ON LIFE, AND RECEIVE HIS BLESSING.

GOD COMES UNEXPECTEDLY INTO OUR LIVES. IT MAY BE WHEN WE ARE LEAST THINKING ABOUT IT. IT MAY HAPPEN WHEN WE NEED HIM THE MOST, OR WHEN WE FEEL WE DO NOT NEED HIM AT ALL. IT MAY BE IN A TIME OF CRISIS AND DEPRESSION, OR IT MAY BE IN A TIME OF GREAT BLESSSING AND JOY. GOD IS THE GOD UF UNEXPECTED. WHICHEVER WAY IT HAPPENS, WE MUST MAKE THE RIGHT DECISION. IF WERE FIGHTING GOD, HE WILL NOT OVERPOWER US. HE WILL NOT CRUSH US AND TAKE AWAY OUR WILL. HE WILL NOT FORCE US TO COME TO HIM AND FIND OUR WAY HOME. WE HAVE TO WANT TO MAKE IT HOME, TO A DESTINATION WHERE HE IS THE RULER OF ALL THINGS, AND WE ARE SIMPLY PRIVILEGED TO BE CALLED HIS CHILDREN.

OCTOBER 30    THE ENCOUNTER JACOB HAD WITH GOD AROUND JABBOK CHANGED HIM CHANGE TREMENDOUSLY: HE NOW HAD A LIMP THAT HE WOULD HAVE FOR THE REST OF HIS LIFE; AND THE ANGEL OF GOD HAD ASKED HIM, "WHAT IS THY NAME?". THIS WAS NOT TO FIND OUT HIS NAME, BUT TO GIVE HIM AN OPPORTUNITY TO ADMIT HIS CHARACTER. JACOB UNDERSTOOD THE UNDERLYING MESSAGE THIS QUESTION CARRIED: IT WAS AN OFFER FOR JACOB TO COME CLEAN AND SURRENDER TO HIS OWN REALITY. JACOB ANSWERED, "JACOB", MEANING "I'M A LIAR", "I'M A DECEIVER". JACOB HADN'T FELT THIS FREE FOR TWENTY YEARS. THIS WAS A MOMENT OF REBIRTH WHEN JACOB MATURED SPIRITUALLY. HONESTY HAD NEVER BEEN A CHARACTER TRAIT HE POSSESSED NATURALLY. HE KNEW THERE WAS NO TIME TO PLAY AROUND ANY MORE.

AS A RESULT OF THIS MIRACULOUS NIGHT, GOD GAVE HIM A NEW NAME; ISRAEL; MEANING "GOD PERSEVERES, CONTENDS". JACOB WAS IN HIS NINETIES WHEN GOD DECIDED TO CHANGE HIS NAME TO ISRAEL AS A TOKEN OF BLESSING. GOD DOESN'T LACK THE PHYSICAL STRENGTH TO ERADICATE ANY HUMAN BEING, YET THE DESTRUCTION OF JACOB WOULD HAVE BEEN AGAINST THE VERY NATURE OF GOD. WE KNOW FOR SURE THAT GOD WILL ALWAYS WAIT PATIENTLY, UNTIL WE CHOOSE TO COME TO HIM, WILLINGLY, WANTING TO SURRENDER, WHETHER IT BE AFTER A HUGE STRUGGLE, OR SIMPLY BELIEVING THE FACT THAT GOD IS IN CHARGE OF ALL THINGS, AND HE CERTAINLY DOES A FAR BETTER JOB RUNNING THE WORLD THAN WE EVER COULD.

THIS STORY OF JACOB APPLIES TO US ALL CHRISTIANS TODAY: THERE COULD NEVER BE A VICTORY WITHOUT FACING THE FINAL DEADLINE AT JABBOK. WE MUST FACE THE REALITY THAT WE ARE NOT A SPECIAL PERSON, IMMUNE TO EXPOSURE AND JUDGMENT. WE MUST FACE THE FACT THAT GOD, IN HIS LOVE, MUST GIVE US A DEADLINE, A LAST CHANCE TO OBEY HIM. NOT THAT HIS GRACE IS WITHDRAWN, OR HIS LOVE AND MERCY LIMITED; BUT THERE COMES A TIME WHEN GOD CAN NO LONGER HOLD BACK THE WAGES OF OUR SIN. WE MUST FACE THE REALITY THAT WE CANNOT GO ON LIVING A LIE. NO MATTER HOW BLESSED WE THINK WE ARE, AND NO MATTER WHAT GREAT THINGS WE BELIEVE WE HAVE ACCOMPLISHED IN HIS NAME; GOD WILL NOT PERMIT AN OPEN ENDED LICENCE TO GO ON SINNING. FOR JACOB, IT TOOK ONLY ONE DESPERATE NIGHT OF FACING THE TRUTH; ONE NIGHT OF STRUGGLE WITH THE OLD NATURE. HE HAD IT OUT WITH THE LORD AND PREVAILED. THE LORD SAW HIS DESPREATION, AND DETERMINATION, AND PUT HIS THIGH OUT OF JOINT; JUST LIKE HE CAN CRIPPLE ALL OUR HUMAN EFFORTS AND MAKE US TOTALLY DEPENDENT UPON HIM.

OCTOBER 29    GENESIS 32: 22-30 UNVEILS A TREMENDOUS SPIRITUAL LESSON WHERE JACOB SEEKS HIS SAFETY IN COMPLETE SURRENDER TO GOD'S POWER AND TO HIS LOVE. JACOB, THE GRANDSON OF ABRAHAM AND THE SON OF ISAAC, WAS A RASCAL; HE WAS THE KIND OF PERSON WHO COULD ENTER A REVOLVING DOOR BEHIND YOU, AND COME OUT AHEAD OF YOU. HE HAD CHEATED HIS BROTHER ESAU, AND SWINDLED HIS FATHER-IN-LAW. HE MAY NOT HAVE DONE ANYTHING ILLEGAL; BUT HIS ACCOMPLISHMENTS WEREN'T EXACTLY MORALLY RIGHT.

JACOB HAD SPENT A GOOD PORTION OF HIS LIFE BEING ALL ABOUT JACOB; AND HE HAD GOTTEN AWAY WITH MANY TRICKERIES. UP TO THAT POINT, JACOB HAD CONTINUED TO RUN AWAY FROM HIS PAST; SINCE EVERYWHERE HE TURNED, HE SAW PEOPLE DISAPPOINTED IN HIM. YET THOSE WEREN'T THE ONES CHASING HIM; IT WAS HIS OWN CONSCIENCE KEEPING A TAB ON EVERYTHING HE HAD DONE SO FAR. HE HAD DECIDED TO GO HOME AFTER TWENTY YEARS, AND CROSSING THE JABBOK RIVER MEANT CROSSING INTO HIS BROTHER ESAU'S TERRITORY. HE DIDN'T KNOW IF ESAU STILL BORE HIM A GRUDGE FOR STEALING THE BLESSING AND THE BIRTHRIGHT FROM HIM. JABBOK MEANS "POURING OUT" OR "EMPTYING". JACOB COULDN'T GO BACK HOME UNTIL HE WOULD CROSS THIS BODY OF WATER. IF WE ARE FAMILIAR WITH GOD'S WORD EVEN JUST A LITTLE BIT, WE KNOW THAT MANY BLESSINGS HAVE BEEN ASSOCIATED WITH THE CROSSING OF A BODY OF WATER.

HE SENT EVERYONE AHEAD AS HE STAYED BEHIND, ALONE ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STREAM. HE WANTED TO PRAY AND ASK GOD FOR HELP. BUT GOD ANSWERED HIS PRAYER RATHER UNEXPECTEDLY, WITH A WRESTLING MATCH! WE WILL NEVER KNOW ALL THE SPECIFICS AS TO HOW IT ALL TURNED INTO A WRESTLING MATCH, BUT MANY OF US ALREADY KNOW THAT GOD DOES NOT ANSWER OUR PRAYERS IN THE WAY WE EXPECT HIM TO. THIS TOOK ALL JACOB'S ENERGY, UNTIL GOD, IN HUMAN FORM, "TOUCHED THE SOCKET OF JACOB'S HIP, SO THAT THE HIP WAS WRENCHED; AND JACOB WALKED AWAY FROM THAT EXPERIENCE WITH A LIMP AS A REMINDER OF HIS ENCOUNTER WITH GOD. FROM THAT MOMENT ON, JACOB WAS A CHANGED MAN: HE WAS NO LONGER THE SELFISH JACOB, BUT THE GODLY "ISRAEL" HAD EMERGED.

JACOB COULD HAVE BEEN BITTER WITH GOD FOR DAMAGING HIS HIP. YET HE WAS MORE INTERESTED IN GETTING GOD'S BLESSING THAN MOANING ABOUT HIS PERSONAL LOSS. THERE ARE TWO SERIOUS REALITIES THAT WILL HIT US UPSIDE DOWN AS WE STUDY THESE VERSES. THE FIRST ONE BEING, NO MATTER WHAT, WE NEED TO FIND A QUIET TIME TO DRAW ASIDE WITH GOD AND COME CLEAN BEFORE HIM. AND THE SECOND, IF WE MEAN BUSINESS WITH GOD, WE SHOULDN'T BE SURPRISED WHEN GOD MEANS BUSINESS WITH US. BEING A CHRISTIAN IS EXCITING. GOD CALLS THOSE WHO ARE WILLING TO BE HIS DISCIPLES TO THE MOST EXTRAORDINARY THINGS. HE DOES HAVE AN AMAZING WAY OF CALLING US. IT MAY NOT ALWAYS BE APPARENT TO OTHERS AROUND US; YET HIS CALLING IS ALWAYS UNDOUBTEDLY LOUD AND CLEAR TO THE ONE HE IS INTERESTED IN CHARGING WITH A MISSION.

ARE WE READY TO BE BLESSED? WE MIGHT BE IN OUR OWN PERSONAL JABBOK; FEAR MAY HAVE GRIPPED OUR MIND; DEPRESSION MAY BE TRYING TO HOLD US DOWN; AND WE MAY FEEL LIKE WE ARE ALONE. WE MAY BE TROUBLED ON EVERY SIDE, PERPLEXED, AND PERSECUTED; BUT IF WE HUMBLE OURSELVES, HOLD ON TO GOD'S UNCHANGING HAND, SEEK HIS FACE, GOD WILL BLESS US WITH THE ABILITY TO OVERCOME THAT WHICH IS HOLDING US HOSTAGE. WITH HIM, WE CAN OVERCOME THE EVIL ONE, AND ALL THE WICKED CIRCUMSTANCES OF THIS WORLD.

OCTOBER 28    THE MAIN REASON WHY WE SHOULD TRUST GOD IS WHEN WE TRUST GOD, HE GUIDES US. PROVERBS 3: 5-6 READS, "TRUST IN THE LORD WITH ALL YOUR HEART AND LEAN NOT ON YOUR UNDERSTANDING; IN ALL YOUR WAYS SUBMIT TO HIM, AND HE WILL MAKE YOUR PATHS STRAIGHT". WE NEED TO BE CONFIDENT IN GOD'S CARE. TRUSTING MEANS PUTTING ALL OF OUR WEIGHT; JUST LIKE SITTING ON A CHAIR, AND KNOWING FULL WELL THAT IT'LL SUPPORT US; JUST LIKE LYING IN BED AND TRUSTING THAT WE WON'T END UP ON THE FLOOR; JUST LIKE TURNING THE ELECTRICAL SWITCH ON AND EXPECTING TO SEE LIGHT. THOSE ARE THE BASIC FUNCTIONS WE EXPECT TO SEE, UNLESS A MALFUNCTION HAD OCCURED.

HAS GOD EVER GIVEN US A REASON NOT TO TRUST HIM, OR TRUST HIM HALF-HEARTEDLY? HAS HE EVER LET US DOWN? HAS HE EVER FORSAKEN US, OR MISLED UD? IT'S ONLY WHEN WE PUT WHAT 

WE THINK AHEAD OF WHAT GOD THINKS THAT WE LOSE THE SIGHT OF HIS LIGHT, AND FALL INTO DARKNESS. WHEN KING SAUL DRESSED DAVID IN HIS OWN ARMOR, DAVID COULDN'T FUNCTION, BECAUSE IT WAS HUGE AND HEAVY FOR HIS SMALLER FRAME. YET HE REGAINED HIS FREEDOM TO THINK, TO FUNCTION, AND TO ACT UPON WHEN HE RELIED ON THE SOVERIEGN GOD OF HIS PEOPLE. HE SIMPLY PRESENTED HIMSELF TO GOD JUST THE WAY HE WAS, UNPROTECTED, UNPOLISHED, AND FULLY VULNERABLE AGAINST GOLIATH, THE PHILISTINE, AND EXPECTED GOD TO DRESS HIM, INSIDE AND OUT, AND EQUIP HIM FOR THE TASK AHEAD. SO DAVID WENT OUT AND CHOSE FIVE SMOOTH STONES; AND HE TOOK HIS SLING; AND HE FACED THIS GIANT; AND HE TOOK ONE STONE; AND HE STUCK HIM IN THE FOREHEAD; AND HE KILLED HIM, JUST LIKE THAT!

THIS IS NOT THE ONLY STORY THE BIBLE TELLS US ABOUT GIVING GOD OUR ENTIRE WEIGHT TO CARRY, AND RELYING ON HIS FAITHFULNESS: NOAH BUILT THE ARK DURING THE DROUGHT; JOSHUA CONQUERED JERICHO BY MARCHING AROUND THE CITY SEVEN TIMES; QUEEN ESTHER FASTED AND PRAYED AS SHE PREPARED HER SPEECH TO THE KING ABOUT THE REDEMPTION OF HER PEOPLE; DANIEL AND HIS THREE GODLY FRIENDS WERE THROWN INTO THE FIERY FURNACE, AND THEY WALKED OUT WITHOUT EVEN THE SMELL OF SMOKE; NOT ONE HAIR WAS SINGED.

GOD WANTS US TO SIGN A BLANK CONTRACT WITH HIM, AND HE WANTS US TO LET HIM FILL IN THE BLANKS. HE WILL NOT START GUIDING US, PROTECTING US, AND PROVIDING FOR US UNTIL WE SIGN THIS AGREEMENT WITH HIM. ONLY THEN WILL HE TAKE OVER OUR LIVES., AND TURN IT INTO AN AMAZING JOURNEY FILLED WITH HIS VICTORIES. HE WILL NEVER FORCE US TO DO THIS: WE MUST GET THERE WITH OUR OWN FREE WILL. PSALM 32: 8-10 IS QUITE DESCRIPTIVE ABOUT HIS FURTHER PLANS FOR US, "I WILL INSTRUCT YOU AND REACH YOU IN THE WAY YOU SHOULD GO; I WILL GUIDE YOU WITH MY EYE. DO NOT BE LIKE THE HORSE OR LIKE THE MULE, WHICH HAVE NO UNDERSTANDING, WHICH MUST BE HARNESSED WITH BIT AND BRIDLE, ELSE THEY WILL NOT COME NEAR YOU. MANY SORROWS SHALL BE TO THE WICKED; BUT HE WHO TRUST IN THE LORD, MERCY SHALL SURROUND HIM".

WE EXIST TO GIVE GOD GLORY; THIS IS THE ONLY WORTHY PURPOSE WE HAVE; AND THAT ALONE, IS A HUGE PRIVILEGE. THIS VERY LOVING AND FORGIVING GOD OF OURS HAS BEEN INVITING US TO STEP UP ON HIS STAGE OF GRACE, AND OFFER HIM OUR BEST PERFORMANCE YET; HE WANTS US TO LIFT UP OUR ARMS WITH GRATEFULNESS, TWIRLING AND TURNING LIKE KING DAVID DID, AND PERFORM THE DANCE OF FAITH BY PRAISING HIM FOR WHO HE IS, AND BY ACKNOWLEDGING WHO WE ARE TO HIM THROUGH JESUS CHRIST.

OCTOBER 27    WHEN WE CAN'T HEAR GOD; WE MUST REST ASSURED THAT HE IS ALWAYS LISTENING TO US; AND HIS ANSWER IS HIDDEN IN HIS WRITTEN WORD, READY TO BE DISCOVERED, IF AND WHEN WE ARE TRULY WILLING TO FIND IT. SOMETIMES WE MIGHT EXPERIENCE A SEASON OF DRYNESS IN THE SOUL, BECAUSE GOD WANTS TO COMMUNICATE SOMETHING TO US THAT WILL STICK WITH US A LIFETIME. AGAINST THE BACKDROP OF SILENCE, A FRESH REVELATION OF HIM IS MORE GREATLY APPRECIATED; JUST AS THE JEWELER DISPLAYS HIS GOLDEN WARES ON A BLACK VELVET IN ORDER TO HIGHTEN THE APPRECIATION. PROVERBS 27: 7 READS, "THE FULL SOUL LOATHETH AN HONEYCOMB; BUT TO THE HUNGRY SOUL EVERY BITTER THING IS SWEET".

GOD DID NOT SPEAK TO SAMUEL IN THE BUSYNESS OF THE DAY, BUT RATHER IN THE QUIETNESS OF THE NIGHT. HE DID NOT USE FLASHES OF LIGHTNING, BOOMS OF THUNDER, CLOUDS AND SMOKE. NOR DID HE APPEAR WITH ANGELS SINGING AND TRUMPETS BLASTING IN ORDER TO HELP SAMUEL NOTICE HIM. GOD CALLED OUT TO SAMUEL IN THE NIGHT; HE SPOKE TO MOSES THROUGH THE BURNING BUSH; HE SPOKE TO BALAAM THROUGH A DONKEY; AND HE SPOKE TO MARY THROUGH ARCHANGEL GABRIEL.

GOD'S VOICE STANDS OUT; WE CAN NEVER MISS IT, UNLESS WE HAVE FORGOTTEN WHAT HE SOUNDS LIKE. IN THE MIDST OF ALL THE VOICES WE TAKE IN EVERY DAY, IT IS HARD TO PICK GOD'S VOICE, ESPECIALLY IF WE ARE NOT SPENDING QUALITY TIME WITH HIM. SAMUEL DID NOT RECOGNIZE GOD'S VOICE BECAUSE HE HAD NEVER HEARD IT. IT TOOK GOD THREE TIMES FOR HIM TO FINALLY REALIZE SOMETHING WAS VERY DIFFERENT ABOUT THIS VOICE. IT WAS HIS TEACHER ELI WHO EXPLAINED SAMUEL WHO THIS VOICE BELONGED TO. GOD DIDN'T JUST START SPEAKING TO SAMUEL. HE ACTUALLY WAITED FOR SAMUEL TO SAY, "SPEAK, YOUR SERVANT IS LISTENING". GOD WILL NEVER GIVE US VALUABLE REVELATION UNLESS HE HAS OUR UNDIVIDED ATTENTION. HE WILL WAIT UNTIL ALL DISTRACTION IS OUT OF THE WAY. HE WILL EXPECT US TO PUT AWAY ALL THOUGHTS, ALL WORRIES, FEARS, AND CONCERNS, BEFORE HE SHEDS HIS LIGHT UPON OUR SITUATION.

OCTOBER 26    WE ARE TOO EASILY DISTRACTED IN THE RUSH OF THIS MODERN WORLD WE LIVE IN. THERE ARE TOO MANY CHOICES DEMANDING OUR TIME AND OUR ATTENTION. WE HEAR ONLY WHAT WE WANT TO HEAR, AND OFTEN, WE DO NOT TAKE TIME TO HEAR GOD. COULD IT BE BECAUSE WE'RE NOT QUITE READY TO HEAR WHAT HE HAS TO SAY; SINCE WE KNOW IT'LL BE HARD TO ACCEPT AND FOLLOW? ARE WE PREPARED TO OBEY HIS PROMPTINGS? THAT IS ONE OF THE REASONS WHY WE DON'T HAVE A TRUSTING RELATIONSHIP AS WE MAY THINK WE HAVE; BECAUSE THE SCRIPTURE IS GOD'S TRUTH AS IT IS ALSO GOD'S PROMISE TO HIS CHILDREN. JOHN 10: 27 READS, "MY SHEEP HEAR MY VOICE, AND I KNOW THEM, AND THEY FOLLOW ME". THERE IS ONLY ONE CONCLUSION WE CAN DRAW FROM THIS VERSE: IF WE'RE NOT HEARING HIS VOICE, THEN WE'RE PROBABLY NOT WALKING IN HIS WILL!

WHAT DO WE ACTUALLY MEAN WHEN WE SAY WE WANT TO KNOW GOD'S WILL FOR US? WE ARE SIMPLY SAYING, "...WE WANT TO DISCERN...WE WANT TO FOLLOW HIS PLAN FOR OUR LIVES WITHOUT HAVING A NEED TO UNDERSTAND IT...WE WANT HIS GUIDANCE IN SPECIFIC DECISIONS SO WE CAN MAKE WISE CHOICES...PLEASING GOD WOULD BECOME OUR MAIN CONCERN AND OUR MAIN GOAL IN LIFE; WE DROP ALL ELSE...". THE GOOD NEWS IS, NO MATTER HOW INDEPENDENT WE THINK WE ARE, GOD WANTS US TO KNOW HIS WILL! MATTHEW 4: 4 EXPLAINS, "MAN SHALL NOT LIVE BY BREAD ALONE, BUT BY EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD". THAT MEANS GOD SPEAKS WORDS TO HIS BELOVED CHILDREN, INCESSANTLY, WITHOUT TIRING, WITHOUT GIVING UP, WANTING TO HELP US THROUGHOUT ALL OF THE JOURNEY; HE DID SO IN THE PAST, HE CONTINUES TO DO SO IN THE PRESENT TIME, AND HE'LL BE DOING IT IN THE FUTURE. HE WON'T EVER STOP! THAT IS WHY IT IS IMPORTANT TO KNOW HIS VOICE. ONE OTHER REASON IS JUST AS IMPORTANT AS ROMANS 10: 17 EXPLAINS, "...FAITH COMES BY HEARING, AND HEARING BY THE WORD OF GOD".

THERE ARE TWO GREEK WORDS THAT TRANSLATE "WORD" IN THE SCRIPTURES: THEY ARE "LOGOS" AND "RHEMA". LOGOS IS OFTEN DESCRIBED AS THE GENERAL WORD OF GOD. THROUGH THE SCRIPTURES, WE CAN RECEIVE ALL THE KNOWLEDGE WE NEED CONCERNING GOD AND HIS PROMISES. THOUGH WE MAY RECEIVE KNOWLEDGE AND UNDERSTANDING ABOUT GOD YET, JUST THROUGH READING, WE DO NOT RECEIVE FAITH. RHEMA IS WHEN GOD GIVES A SPECIFIC WORD... TO A SPECIFIC PERSON... FOR A SPECIFIC SITUATION. FAITH COMES BY RHEMA, WITHOUT WHICH IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO PLEASE GOD.

PETER NEVER WALKED ON WATER BECAUSE OF THAT GENERAL KNOWLEDGE HE POSSESSED ABOUT CHRIST. NO; PETER REQUIRED THAT CHRIST GIVE HIM A SPECIFIC WORD, A RHEMA, THAT WAS MEANT TO BE THE ANSWER TO HIS QUESTION, "LORD, IF YOU ARE JESUS, COMMAND ME TO COME". IT WAS RHEMA THAT BROUGHT FORTH THE FAITH PETER NEEDED TO STEP OUT OF THE BOAT. HE WALKED ON THE WATER ONLY BECAUSE HE RECEIVED THE RHEMA.

THE SCRIPTURE IS GIVEN BY INSPIRATION OF GOD, AND IS PROFITABLE FOR DOCTRINE, FOR REPROOF, FOR CORRECTION, AND FOR INSTRUCTION IN RIGHTEOUSNESS. WE ARE TO READ THEM AND INWARDLY DIGEST THEM; BUT ONLY WHEN THE HOLY SPIRIT COMES AND QUICKENS OR STIRS THE SCRIPTURES TO OUR HEART, DOES THE LOGOS BECOME THE RHEMA; ONLY THEN WILL THE SCRIPTURES BURN INTO OUR SOULS, AND WE WILL KNOW THAT THEY APPLY DIRECTLY TO US; AND ONLY THEN WILL WE RECEIVE FAITH.

IF WE'RE NOT MEDITATING ON GOD'S WORD, AND IF WE NEVER HAVE ENOUGH TIME TO WAIT ON GOD, HOW COULD HE QUICKEN HIS WORD TO OUR HEART?

OCTOBER 25    IF WE WERE TO DO A CHARACTER STUDY ON THE MEN OF THE OLD TESTAMENT, WE WOULD DISCOVER THAT THE NAME "ISAIAH" MEANS "SALVATION OF JEHOVAH". IN FACT, THE NAME "SALVATION" APPEARS TWENTY-SIX TIMES IN THE BOOK OF ISAIAH. THIS MAY SOUND INSIGNIFICANT TO MANY OF US; HOWEVER THE CONTRAST IS THAT IT ONLY APPEARS SEVEN TIMES IN ALL OTHER PROPHETS COMBINED. THEREFORE, IT WOULD BE SAFE TO SAY THAT THE THEME AND THE PURPOSE OF THE BOOK OF ISAIAH IS FOUND IN ITS NAME: SALVATION IS OF THE LORD!

THE FIRST THIRTY-NINE CHAPTERS ARE JUST LIKE THE THIRTY-NINE BOOKS OF THE OLD TESTAMENT: THEY STRESS THE RIGHTEOUSNESS, THE HOLINESS, AND THE JUSTICE OF GOD. EACH ONE OF THOSE CHAPTERS IS FILLED WITH GOD'S JUDGMENTS UPON IMMORAL AND IDOLATROUS MEN. THEY ALSO PORTRAY MAN'S GREAT NEED FOR SALVATION; WHILE STRESSING THE FACT THAT GOD IS THE SUPREME RULER, THE SOVEREIGN LORD, AND THE ONLY SAVIOR. IN THE FIRST THIRTY-NINE CHAPTERS OF HIS BOOK, ISAIAH SOLEMNLY WARNS JUDAH OF APPROACHING JUDGMENT BECAUSE OF THEIR MORAL DEPRAVITY, POLITICAL CORRUPTION, SOCIAL INJUSTICE, AND ESPECIALLY THEIR SPIRITUAL IDOLATRY.

HOWEVER, AS WE READ THE FINAL TWENTY-SEVEN CHAPTERS OF THE BOOK OF ISAIAH, WE SEE THAT THEY ARE JUST LIKE THE TWENTY-SEVEN BOOKS OF THE NEW TEASTAMENT, WHICH DECLARE A MESSAGE OF GOD'S GLORY, COMPASSION, AND UNDESERVED FAVOR. ISAIAH 40: 27-28 READS, "WHY DO YOU SAY, O JACOB, AND ASSERT, O ISRAEL, MY WAY IS HIDDEN FROM THE LORD, AND THE JUSTICE DUE ME ESCAPES THE NOTICE OF MY GOD? DO YOU NOT KNOW? HAVE YOU NOT HEARD? THE EVERLASTING GOD, THE LORD, THE CREATOR OF THE ENDS OF THE EARTH DOES NOT BECOME WEARY OR TIRED". GOD IS INCAPABLE OF FATIGUE AND EXHAUSTION! GOD DOES NOT GET TIRED OF LOVING, CARING, DELIVERING, SAVING, HEALING, RESTORING, PRESERVING, AND SUSTAINING THE WORLD HE CREATED. HE IS THE CREATOR OF THE ENDS OF THE EARTH, AND THEREFORE EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN. HE CONTORLS IT ALL!HE IS BIGGER THAN OUR CIRCUMSTANCES! HE LOVES US ENOUGH TO BRING US OUT OF OUR SITUATION! HE LOVES US ENOUGH TO BRING US OUT OF OUR CAPTIVITY! HE LOVES US ENOUGH TO BRING US THROUGH MANY DANGERS, SEEN AND UNSEEN; AND HE DOES IT IN THE MIDST OF OUR REBELLION, AND SIN, AND SHAME!

THE SAME GOD THAT SAID, "LET THERE BE LIGHT" IS THE SAME GOD THAT COMFORTS OUR CRYING HEART DURING ADVERSITY TODAY. THE REASON WHY MANY OF US CANNOT ENJOY GOD'S COMFORT WHILE WE ARE GOING THROUGH LIFE'S COMPLEXITIES IS BECAUSE MANY OF US DON'T REALLY KNOW WHO GOD IS. WE CAN'T HAVE JOY UNLESS WE KNOW WHO GIVES JOY. MANY OF US HAVE COMFORT IN THE THINGS THAT WE SURROUND OURSELVES WITH; OR WE SEEK COMFORT IN OUR HAPPENINGS. THERE IS A HUGE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BEING HAPPY THROUGH GOD'S KINGDOM AND BEING HAPPY THROUGH "THINGDOMS".

WHEN WE ARE TIRED, HE WANTS TO BE OUR SOURCE OF STRENGTH. WHEN WE FEEL LIKE WE CAN'T MAKE IT, HE STEPS IN AND SOMEHOW MAKES A WAY FOR US EVEN WHEN THERE APPEARS TO BE NO WAY. WHEN WE FEEL FAINT, HE GIVES POWER TO OVERCOME. WHEN WE FEEL LIKE THROWING IN THE TOWEL, AND THAT LIFE ISN'T WORTH LIVING, OR FEET LIKE THE PRESSURE OF THIS LIFE IS TOO HEAVY TO BEAR, HE'LL GIVE US A NEW PERSPECTIVE AND TAKE OUR EYES AWAY FROM ALL THAT'S TROUBLING US. THERE IS NO POSSIBLE WAY TO PENETRATE GOD'S INTELLIGENCE TO EXAMINE IT; THEREFORE THERE IS NO WAY FOR US TO FIGURE OUT WHY HE DOES WHAT HE DOES.

GOD DOES NOT MOVE UNTIL WE HAVE GIVEN IT OVER TO HIM COMPLETELY, BECAUSE HE WILL NOT SHARE THE GLORY OF OUR DELIVERANCE WITH ANYONE. IT IS ALL HIM OR NONE OF HIM. IF WE ARE DETERMINED TO BE IN CHARGE OF EVERYTHING, WHEN AND IF WE MIGHT NEED HELP, EVEN FROM THE ALMIGHTY, OUR PRIDE GETS IN THE WAY. GOD OFTEN HAS TO BRING US TO A PLACE WHERE WE HAVE TO STOP TRYING, TURN TO HIM AND SAY, "GOD, I CAN'T DO THIS ANY MORE, BUT I KNOW YOU CAN... I'M TURNING THE CONTROL OF MY LIFE OVER TO YOU... HERE, TAKE THE KEYS OF MY LIFE...". THIS IS WHAT LIVING BY FAITH REALLY MEANS. GOD IS WAITING FOR THESE WORDS, BUT UNFORTUNATELY, THEY OFTEN DO NOT COME UNTIL WE HAVE EXHAUSTED OUR OWN IDEAS WITH NO RESULTS.

FAITH SAYS THAT EVERYTHING WILL WORK OUT WHEN IT SEEMS THAT EVERYTHING IS CRUMBLING AROUND US. FAITH SAYS THAT OUR BILLS WILL BE PAID WHEN WE CAN'T SEE HOW THEY POSSIBLY COULD. FAITH SAYS THAT GOD WILL TAKE CARE OF US, THEREFORE WE STOP WORRYING OVER THINGS, AND KNOW THAT TOMORROW WILL TAKE CARE OF ITSELF. FAITH SAYS THAT, EVEN THOUGH IT HURTS FOR NOW, WE'LL THANK GOD FOR THIS EXPERIENCE SOME DAY. WE MUST ALWAYS BELIEVE ON THE IMPOSSIBLE AND THE UNSEEN, SINCE GOD WILL NOT BOTHER WITH THINGS THAT SEEM POSSIBLE FOR US TO ACCOMPLISH OR TO SEE.

OCTOBER 24    WORRY WEAKENS THE BODY AND DAMPENS THE SPIRIT. WHEN WE ARE NOT FOCUSING ON GOD OR HIS WILL FOR US, WE ARE MOST DEFINITELY CAUSING SPIRITUAL CHAOS IN OUR LIVES. ALL THE TIME WE COULD HAVE BEEN INVESTING IN PRAYERS, WE END UP WASTING THROUGH WORRIES AND WITH NO GOOD RESULTS AT ALL. WORSHIPING GOD, AND RELYING ON HIS DIVINE AND OMNIPOTENT PRESENCE PROLONGS LIFE, KEEPING US HEALTHY, AS THERE IS NO REASON TO WORRY ABOUT THE THINGS OF THIS KINGDOM. MISPLACED PRIORITY MISSES THE MARK; AND WHEN WE MISS THE MARK, WE MISS THE REWARDS.

WORRYING NOT ONLY AFFECTS THE WAY WE TREAT GOD, BUT IT ALSO AFFECTS THE WAY WE TREAT OTHER PEOPLE. WE BECOME SHORT AND TERSE, FURROWED BROW, AND DOWNTURNED MOUTHS. PHILIPPIANS 4: 6 READS, "DO NOT BE ANXIOUS ABOUT ANYTHING, BUT IN EVERYTHING, BY PRAYER AND PETITION, WITH THANKSGIVING, PRESENT YOUR REQUESTS TO GOD". WHILE WE SPEND SO MUCH OF OUR TIME WORRYING, WE FORGET THAT CHRISTIANS HAVE NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT!

MANY OF US GO TO GOD AND TELL HIM ALL ABOUT OUR WORRIES; YET THAT'S ALL WE DO. WE DON'T KNOW HOW TO LEAVE THEM WITH HIM! WHEN WE GET THROUGH PRAYING, WE REACH OVER AND TAKE THEM BACK. HOW ABOUT THE TIMES WHEN WE FALL TO PIECES WORRYING ABOUT WHAT SOMEBODY ELSE MIGHT BE THINKING OF US? SHOULDN'T WE BE ALL THE MORE CONCERNED ABOUT WHAT GOD THINKS OF US? AFTER ALL, HE LOVES US MORE THAN ANY EARTHLY PARENT CAN LOVE THEIR CHILD. THERE IS NO POWER THE DEVIL HAS THAT CAN MAKE US BE SEPARATED FROM GOD. THE ONLY POWER GREAT ENOUGH TO DO THAT IS THE POWER OF DOUBT AND WORRY THAT RESTS WITHIN OUR OWN HEARTS, ONLY BECAUSE WE HAVE NOT LEARNED TO LEAN TOTALLY ON GOD FOR ALL THINGS.

WE MAY THINK THAT OUR PROBLEMS ARE HUGE AND INSURMOUNTABLE, BUT IN REALITY, OUR ENTIRE LIFETIME DOESN'T LAST LONG ENOUGH TO EVEN BE A BLIP ON THE RADAR SCREEN. THE DEVIL MAKES US CONCENTRATE SO MUCH ON THE HERE AND NOW, THAT WE FORGET ABOUT THE THERE AND THEN.

GOD IS THE ONE WHO GAVE MAN THE BODY. OUT OF THE DUST OF THE EARTH, HE CREATED MAN. HE FORMED EVERY PART OF THE BODY. AS HE CREATED MAN IN HIS IMAGE, MAN BECAME THE PHYSICAL REPRESENTATION OF GOD. THEN GOD BREATHED INTO THE MAN'S NOSTRILS AND GAVE HIM LIFE. IT IS GOD'S OWN LIFE WHO LIVES IN THE BODY OF MAN. GOD HAS ALSO DONE EVERYTHING THERE IS TO DO TO BE ABLE TO OFFER US A CHANCE TO BE RECONCILED WITH HIM. HE HAS REACHED OUT HIS WONDERFUL, LOVING, PROTECTING HAND TO US. WE OFTEN CANNOT SEE THE HAND AND WHAT IT REPRESENTS, ALL BECAUSE WE'RE WAY TOO BUSY WORRYING ABOUT THINGS WE HAVE NO CONTROL OVER. THE TRUTH BE TOLD, IF WE WERE TO BE IN CHARGE OF ALL THINGS, WE WOULD SIMPLY DIE AND GO TO HELL. THAT BEING SAID, WE SEE NO OTHER CHOICE BUT DEPEND ON HIM FULLY, ASK HIM FOR HELP AS HE CONTINUES TO SANCTIFY US, AND MOLDS US INTO OUR HEAVENLY BODIES. A SINCERE BELIEF IN JESUS AS OUR LORD AND SAVIOR IS WHERE IT ALL STARTS; A JOURNEY OF SALVATION, PRESERVATION, PROVISION, AND PROTECTION ALL THE WAY TO HEAVEN!

OCTOBER 23    THOUGH EXTREMELY UNIQUE IN HIS OWN WAY, HABAKKUK WAS ONE OF THE MINOR PROPHETS OF THE OLD TESTAMENT WHO HAPPENS TO BE JUST LIKE MANY OF US TODAY. WHAT MADE HIM DIFFERENT IS THAT HE NEVER SAID A WORD TO ANOTHER PERSON: HE WAS A MAN WITH A FEW QUESTIONS FOR GOD, AND HE WASN'T SHY ABOUT ASKING. HE HAD NO TROUBLE SAYING, "HOW LONG, O LORD, MUST I CALL FOR HELP, BUT YOU DO NOT LISTEN? OR CRY OUT TO YOU 'VIOLENCE', BUT YOU DO NOT SAVE? WHY DO YOU MAKE ME LOOK AT INJUSTICE? WHY DO YOU TOLERATE WRONG? THE LAW BECOMES SLACK AND JUSTICE NEVER PREVAILS. THE WICKED SURROUND THE RIGHTEOUS; THEREFORE JUDGMENT COMES FORTH PERVERTED. HOW LONG, O LORD?".

HABAKKUK WROTE IN THE 7TH CENTURY BC, JUST AS THE BABYLONIANS WERE EMERGING AS A WORLD POWER. HE HAD ALREADY BEEN ONE OF THE CAPTIVES IN ASSYRIA WHO HAD THREATENED JUDAH FOR A VERY LONG TIME. HE WAS TROUBLED ABOUT THE INJUSTICE AND THE OPPRESSION HE HAD BEEN OBSERVING. HE LOOKED AROUND HIS SOCIETY, HE LOOKED UPWARD TO GOD, RAISED HIS HANDS, AND SIMPLY OFFERED HIS CONCERNS. HIS WORDS ARE PERHAPS THE MOST TRULY HUMAN OF ALL PROPHETS. HE RECOGNIZED THE DIFFICULTIES OF BELIEF IN TROUBLING TIMES. HE LOOKED AROUND AND SAW ALL THE PROBLEMS THAT PLAGUED HIS PROPHETIC PREDECESSORS.

THERE ARE SOME WHO MAY THINK WE SHOULD NEVER QUESTION GOD. THAT IS ONLY TRUE IF WE WERE QUESTIONING HIM IN ANGER OR COMPLAINT. BUT GOD IS BIG ENOUGH TO HOLD OUR ANGUISHED PRAYERS. EVEN JESUS CHRIST LIFTED UP ANGUISHED PRAYERS TO HIS FATHER, OFFERED IN BLOOD, SWEAT, AND TEARS. WE MUST UNDERSTAND THE AWESOME POWER OF GOD WHO MUST EXECUTE HIS JUDGMENT NO MATTER WHAT, AND WHOSE ACTIONS ARE ALWAYS A STEP ON THE PATH TO SALVATION FOR HIS PEOPLE. GOD LOVES TO HEAR FROM US, AND HE IS WILLING TO ANSWER US. THE TROUBLE IS: DO WE WAIT TO HEAR FROM HIM, PATIENTLY AND EXPECTANTLY?

THERE WILL NO DOUBT BE TIMES IN LIFE WHEN MOST OF US WILL QUESTION WHY GOD ALLOWS CERTAIN THINGS TO HAPPEN. DURING OUR TROUBLED TIMES, INSTEAD OF RETREATING FROM GOD AND THINKING WE MIGHT KNOW HIS ANSWER, WE MUST JOIN HABAKKUK AND JEREMIAH, ABRAHAM AND THE DISCIPLES, AND EVEN JESUS HIMSELF IN ORDER TO BE ABLE TO EMBRACE OUR FAITH IN GOD'S SOVEREIGNTY. ARE WE PREPARED TO MAKE RECORD OF THE GREAT THINGS GOD HAS DONE, IN HISTORY AS WELL AS IN OUR LIVES; TO MAKE RECORD OF THE FACT THAT WE HAVE BEEN DELIVERED BY GOD; AND ARE WE PREPARED TO WAIT FOR THAT WHICH GOD IS SURELY GOING TO SHOW US, A VISION OF A KINGDOM RULED BY CHRIST, A VISION OF CONQUERED SIN, A VISION OF LIFE ETERNAL, A VISION OF SAINTS GATHERED PRAISING AT THE THRONE OF GOD?

OCTOBER 22    LIFE CAN BE DIFFICULT. BEING A CHRISTIAN IN A NON-CHRISTIAN WORLD POSES ALL KINDS OF PROBLEMS, BECAUSE THE WORLD DOES NOT UNDERSTAND WHY JESUS CAME. THEREFORE THE WORLD OFFERS VICES, SELF-FULFILLMENT, AND GREED. IT WANTS TO CONVERT US INTO PAGANISM, AND TO ITS UNGODLY DEVOTION TO THE UNHOLY. IF WE DON'T BEND THE KNEE TO ITS IDOLS AND SACRIFICES, WE ARE RIDICULED, MOCKED, AND ATTACKED.

SINCE THE ENTIRE WORLD IS AGAINST WHAT WE STAND FOR, THE BATTLE WE ARE FACING IS BEING MANIFESTED IN ALL SORTS OF STRUGGLES. ON THE INSIDE, WE ARE STRUGGLING AGAINST SIN, PRIDE, LUST, GREED, BOASTING, AND VARIOUS WANTINGS. ON THE OUTSIDE, WE ARE STRUGGLING AGAINST ILLNESS, POVERTY, MARRIAGE PROBLEMS, JOB DIFFICULTIES, AN UNSURE FUTURE, AND MORE. AS A CHRISTIAN, WHAT ARE WE TO DO WHEN LIFE COMES DOWN ON US HARD, AND WHEN THERE SEEMS TO BE NO WAY; ESPECIALLY WHEN OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD IS BEING AFFECTED? HOW ARE WE TO RESIST TEMPTATION, FLEE FROM EVIL, AND BELIEVE BEYOND OUR ABILITY TO UNDERSTAND HOW OUR PROBLEMS CAN BE SOLVED? THE ANSWER LIES IN THE WORD OF GOD. JAMES 5: 13-16 READS, "IS ANYONE AMONG YOU SUFFERING? THEN HE MUST PRAY. IS ANYONE CHEERFUL? HE IS TO SING PRAISES. IS ANYONE AMONG YOU SICK? THEN HE MUST CALL FOR THE ELDERS OF THE CHURCH AND THEY ARE TO PRAY OVER HIM, ANOINTING HIM WITH OIL IN THE NAME OF THE LORD; AND THE PRAYER OFFERED IN FAITH WILL RESTORE THE ONE WHO IS SICK, AND THE LORD WILL RAISE HIM UP; AND IF HE HAS COMMITTED SINS, THEY WILL BE FORGIVEN HIM. THEREFORE, CONFESS YOUR SINS TO ONE ANOTHER, AND PRAY FOR ONE ANOTHER SO THAT YOU MAY BE HEALED. THE EFFECTIVE PRAYER OF A RIGHTEOUS MAN CAN ACCOMPLISH MUCH".

GOD IS STILL LOOKING AFTER HIS OWN; HE IS STILL ANSWERING PRAYERS; HE IS STILL DISPENSING MIRACLES. HE IS STILL HEALING CONDITIONS IN PEOPLE THAT ARE BEYOND THE DOCTORS' ABILITIES TO HEAL. HE IS STILL REVERSING CERTAIN CONDITIONS THAT DEFY MEDICAL SCIENCE, AND PUTTING THOSE CONDITIONS IN REMISSION SO THEY NO LONGER PROGRESS. OFTEN, WE WATCH GOD ARREST A CERTAIN DISEASE SO IT'LL NOT CONTINUE TO DEVELOP.

MANY MIGHT ASK, "IF GOD IS ALL GOOD, AND IF GOD IS ALL POWERFUL, THEN WHY SHOULD ANYONE HAVE TO BE SICK? AND IF GOD IS ALL MERCIFUL, WHY DOESN'T HIS GRACE COVER ALL ILLNESSES?" THERE ARE TWO GREAT PURPOSES OF ALL THINGS: GOD'S DEMONSTRATION OF HIS GLORY IN CHRIST, AND HUMAN BEINGS TREASURING THAT GLORY ABOVE ALL THINGS. THAT IS THE TRUE MEANING OF LIFE AND OF ALL CREATION. OUR TREASURING GOD'S GLORY ABOVE ALL THINGS - EVEN LIFE ITSELF - IS THE WAY WE JOIN GOD IN DEMONSTRATING HIS GLORY. GOD IS MOST GLORIFIED IN US WHEN WE ARE MOST SATISFIED IN HIM.

BETWEEN THE DEATH OF LAZARUS AND HIS RESURRECTION FOUR DAYS LATER, HIS FAMILY COULD NOT SEE HOW GOD WOULD BE GLORIFIED IN IT. THAT WOULD BE REVEALED AT HIS RESURRECTION. THEREFORE, IF THAT IS WHERE WE STAND TODAY, NOT SEEING CLEARLY HOW GOD IS GLORIFIED IN THE DEATH OF OUR BELOVED, WE MUST AT LEAST BELIEVE THAT GOD IS DOING MORE THAN WE CAN KNOW OR UNDERSTAND. THE RESURRECTION WILL BRING IT ALL TO LIGHT. IN THE MEAN TIME, WE MUST TRUST HIM, AND TREASURE HIS PROMISES ABOVE ALL THINGS. WHAT IF WE WOULD BELIEVE THAT GOD IS SIMPLY OFEFRING THAT PERSON, AS WELL AS EVERYONE INVOLVED, AN OPPORTUNITY THAT MANY OTHERS DON'T GET: TIME TO RECONCILE THEIR WRONGS WITH HIM AND WITH ONE ANOTHER. HE IS ALSO OFFERING US THE UNIQUE OPPORTUNITY TO SPEAK WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT TO THE HURTING, THROUGH THE BIBLE.

WE'RE NOT IN THE LAND OF THE LIVING, GOING TO THE LAND OF THE DYING. IT'S THE OTHER WAY AROUND. WE'RE IN THE LAND OF THE DYING, TRYING TO GET TO THE LAND OF THE LIVING. THE END IS INEVITABLE; YET GOD IS PLEADING WITH EVERY HEART BY WHISPERING, "SPEND YOUR LIFE WISELY...PLEASE THINK LONG TERM...GET AWAY FROM INSTANT GRATIFICATIONS, AND QUICK FIXES...". FEARING GOD IS UNDERSTANDING AND TAKING TO HEART THE FACT THAT GOD COULD REQUIRE OUR BREATH AT ANY GIVEN MOMENT. WE MUST NOT RECEIVE GOD'S GRACE IN VAIN: WE MUST USE IT WISELY. EVERY WORD WE UTTER OUGHT TO HELP SOMEONE, AND PAVE A ROAD FOR THEM SO THEY'LL BE NEARER TO GOD. THE MORE WE PLEASE HIM WITH OUR EFFORTS, THE MORE HE BLESSES US, AND TEACHES US WAYS TO PRAISE HIM EVERY CHANCE WE GET.

OCTOBER 21    EXHAUSTED ALL THROUGHOUT AN ENTIRE RACE, A RUNNER GASPS FOR BREATH JUST YARDS FROM THE FINISH LINE. HIS HEART POUNDS AS IF IT CAN'T ENDURE ONE MORE STEP. STRIVING TO FINISH THE RACE, HE FORCES HIS DISCIPINED BODY TO OBEY, AND TO PUSH BEYOND ITS LIMITS. HE IS FULLY DEPENDENT ON THE SUPPLY OF FRESH AIR HE'S TO RECEIVE FROM HIS LUNGS. IF THE SUPPLY OF OXYGEN WERE TO BE CUT OFF AT THAT CRITICAL MOMENT, HIS BODY WOULD FAIL, AND THE RUNNER WOULD FALL DEAD, JUST SHORT OF THE FINISH LINE.

WE, THE BODY OF CHRIST, HAVE BEEN RUNNING A RACE; AND WE DEPEND ON THE LORD FOR EVERY BREATH, WITHOUT WHICH, WE WOULD COLLAPSE. IN FACT, WITHOUT HIS BREATH, EVERYTHING LIES BARE AND LIFELESS. IN GENESIS 2: 7, GOD GAVE LIFE TO MANKIND, AS HE BREATHED INTO ADAM'S NOSTRILS. AT THE MOMENT HE RECEIVED THIS BREATH, ADAM WAS TRANSFORMED FROM BEING A SAND CASTLE, TO A LIVING BEING. HE BECAME GOD'S PRIDE AND JOY, MADE AFTER HIS LIKENESS FOR THE PURPOSE OF CARRYING ON AN INTIMATE, RESPECTIVE, AND PRODUCTIVE RELATIONSHIP WITH HIS MAKER.

EVERYTHING ELSE GOD BREATHED LIFE INTO BECAME A LIVING BEING, WITH THE BREATH OF GOD INSIDE. NOTHING IS EVER A COINCIDENCE; GOD HAS A PLAN AND A PURPOSE FOR ALL THINGS THAT HE CREATED. AT THE END, EVERY ONE OF US HAS AN APPOINTMENT WITH GOD IN WHICH HE WILL ASSESS THE PASSION OF OUR LIVES, BASED ON EVERYTHING WE'VE DONE, ALL THAT WE'VE SAID, AND ALL THAT WE'VE THOUGHT. MUCH SOONER THAN WE THINK, WE WILL STAND BEFORE THE GOD OF ABSOLUTE HOLINESS AND PERFECT RIGHTEOUSNESS, AND WE WILL GIVE AN ACCOUNT OF EVERYTHING WE'VE ACCOMPLISHED, WITH THE VERY BREATH GOD HAS ENTRUSTED TO US.

EVERY BIT OF US WILL BE WEIGHED ON THE BALANCES; AND HIDDEN OR OPEN, EVERYTHING WILL BE REVEALED. AT THAT MOMENT, ALL THE SCRIPTURES WE'VE EVER READ ABOUT THE BLOOD OF CHRIST WILL STREAK THROUGH OUR MINDS, AND AT THAT MOMENT, THE DECISION WE MADE CONCERNING CHRIST WHILE WE WERE ALIVE IN OUR EARTHLY BODIES WILL DETERMINE THE DESTINATION OF OUR SOULS: THE ONLY ESCAPE FROM ETERNAL DEATH IS A RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS CHRIST!

ECCLESIASTIES 9: 12 READS, "MOREOVER, NO MAN KNOWS WHEN HIS HOUR WILL COME...". NONE OF US KNOWS WHEN WE'LL DRAW OUR LAST BREATH; AND IF THIS BREATH IS SO PRECIOUS, SHOULDN'T WE SPEND IT CAREFULLY, AND TRY TO GET THE MOST OUT OF IT? SHOULDN'T WE BE ALL THE MORE MOTIVATED TO STOP CHASING AFTER THE WIND, AND START FEEDING OUR INTERNAL HUNGER WITH THE RIGHT KIND OF FOOD?

OCTOBER 20    PEOPLE WHO HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN LITTLE AREN'T VERY THANKFUL; IN FACT THEY AREN'T ALL THAT EXCITED ABOUT JESUS, BECAUSE THAT WAS THE REASON JESUS CAME: TO FORGIVE THEIR SINS! BEFORE THE APOSTLE PAUL BECAME A CHRISTIAN, HE WAS A VERY DEVOUT JEW WHO WENT BY THE NAME SAUL. HE SAW CHRISTIANITY AS A THREAT TO THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL, AND HE WAS DEETRMINED TO DESTROY THIS HERESY BEFORE IT COULD GROW. IN FACT, STEPHEN, THE FIRST CHRISTIAN TO DIE FOR THE FAITH, WAS STONED TO DEATH BY A CROWD, SAUL WAS UNQUESTIONABLY ONE OF THE RINGLEADERS. HE FOUND A SPECIAL PLEASURE IN THE DEATH OF THIS MAN HE VIEWED AS HERETIC. LATER, HE JOURNEYED TO DAMASCUS, HOPING AND EXPECTING TO FIND MORE BELIEVERS, WHETHER MEN OR WOMEN, TO KILL.

IT WAS WHILE HE WAS TRAVELING TO DAMASCUS THAT JESUS PAID HIM A VISIT. HE ASKED, "SAUL, SAUL, WHY DO YOU PERSECUTE ME?". THIS ENCOUNTER LEFT SAUL BLINDED SO THAT HE HAD TO BE LED BY THE HAND TO FIND HIS WAY INTO THE CITY. HE WENT TO A HOME ON A STREET CALLED "STRAIGHT", AND SPENT THREE DAYS, WAITING FOR GOD TO SEND SOMEONE WHO WOULD TELL HIM WHAT HE WAS TO DO.

THEN GOD SENT A MAN NAMED ANANAIAS TO HIM WHO TOLD SAUL THAT GOD HAD CHOSEN HIM FOR A SPECIAL MINISTRY. ALL OF A SUDDEN, SAUL'S EYES COULD SEE. FROM THAT TIME ON, SAUL KNEW THAT HIS SINS HAD BEEN WASHED AWAY; HE FELL IN LOVE WITH JESUS; HE ALWAYS SAID, "THANKS BE TO GOD"; AND HE REALIZED HOW MUCH GOD LOVED HIM, BECAUSE GOD HAD BEEN MERCIFUL TO HIM, AND HAD FORGIVEN HIM A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BURDEN OF SIN. THIS IS HOW HE EXPRESSED IN TIMOTHY 1: 15, "HERE IS A TRUSTWORTHY SAYING THAT DESERVES FULL ACCEPTANCE: CHRIST JESUS CAME INTO THE WORLD TO SAVE SINNERS, OF WHOM I AM THE WORST". PAUL LOVED MUCH, BECAUSE HE'D BEEN FORGIVEN MUCH.

HOWEVER, IN ORDER TO FULLY UNDERSTAND HOW PAUL FELT, WE MUST FIRST COME TO TERMS WITH WHO WE REALLY ARE. WE'RE NOT TALKING ABOUT WHAT PEOPLE SEE IN US, OR WHAT PEOPLE SEE US AS; WE'RE TALKING ABOUT WHAT GOD SEES IN US! WE'RE TALKING ABOUT OUR INTEGRITY, MEANING WHO WE REALLY ARE WHEN NO ONE IS WATCHING. WE MAY THINK WE HAVE PULLED THE WOOL OVER GOD'S EYES, THAT GOD DOESN'T SEE WHAT WE'RE DOING, OR GOD DOESN'T KNOW WHAT IS GOING ON INSIDE OUR HEARTS AND MINDS. IN GALATIANS 6: 7 APOSTLE PAUL EXPLAINS, "YOU MUST NOT DECEIVE YOURSELVES... GOD KNOWS WHAT KIND OF SEED YOU ARE SOWING, AND WHATEVER KIND OF SEED YOU SOW, THAT IS THE KIND OF HARVEST YOU WILL REAP WHEN THE DAY OF HARVEST COMES".

THINK ABOUT APOSTLE PAUL. IT WOULD HAVE SEEMED SMARTER FOR PAUL TO HAVE REMAINED JUST A JEW, BECAUSE HE HAD PRESTIGE AND HONOR AMONG THEM. HE WAS A RESPECTED TEACHER AND A LEADER IN JEWISH CIRCLES. BUT, AS A CHRISTIAN, PAUL STARTED SUFFERING. HE WAS BEATEN, IMPRISONED, AND FINALLY KILLED BECAUSE HE BELIEVED IN JESUS. NOTHING COULD HAVE CAUSED PAUL TO CHANGE HIS MIND, BECAUSE THE CONVICTION HE RECEIVED ON THE WAY TO DAMASCUS OPENED HIS EYES AND HELPED HIM REALIZE HOW WRONG HE HAD BEEN IN THE PAST, AND HOW GREAT HIS DEBT WOULD HAVE BEEN IF IT WEREN'T FOR CHRIST'S SACRIFICE ON THE CROSS. HE FELL IN LOVE WITH CHRIST!

WHEN JESUS CAME INTO THE LIFE OF THE BLIND MAN, HIS LIFE WAS NEVER THE SAME AGAIN. WHEN THE WOMAN WITH THE ISSUE OF BLOOD GOT TO TOUCH THE HEM OF CHRIST'S GARMENT, HER LIFE WOULD NEVER BE THE SAME AGAIN. AS JESUS SPOKE A FEW WORDS DIRECTLY TO THE FATHER, LAZARUS WAS BROUGHT BACK FROM THE DEAD, AND HIS LIFE COULD NEVER BE THE SAME AGAIN. WHEN JESUS COMES INTO OUR LIVES, HE BRINGS A PHYSICAL TOUCH, DIGNITY, CLARITY OF WHO HE IS AND A PURPOSE FOR OUR LIVES. JESUS INITIATES THE FIRST CONTACT. HE COMES TO THE SINNER WHEN THEY ARE MOST IN NEED. BUT, WE MUST ADMIT OUR MISTAKES FIRST, AND BE READY TO WALK AWAY FROM A LIFE FILLED WITH REGRETS; WE MUST WISH FOR HIM TO CLEANSE US, AND ALLOW US A BRAND NEW START, WITH BRAND NEW DESIRES THAT WOULD PARALLEL GOD'S DESIRES FOR US!

OCTOBER 19    A.W.TOZIER SAID, "AMONG THOSE SINS MOST EXQUISITELY FITTED TO INJURE THE SOUL AND DESTROY THE TESTIMONY, FEW CAN EQUAL THE SIN OF COMPLAINING". COMPLAINING IS A SYMPTOM OF A DEEP ROOTED SPIRITUAL PROBLEM; IT'S A FAILURE TO TRUST GOD, AND A FAILURE TO BE SUBMISSIVE TO HIS PROVIDENTIAL PROVISION IN OUR LIVES; IT IS ONE OF THE MOST PREVALENT SINS AMONG CHRISTIANS.

DISCONTENTMENT IS THE ROOT PROBLEM THAT BIRTHS COMPLAINTS. THE MURMURINGS AND GRUMBLINGS OF COMPLAINT ARE EVIDENCE THAT WE ARE DISSATISFIED WITH THE WAY GOD IS DOING THINGS. EVERY COMPLAINT AGAINST OUR CIRCUMSTANCES, EVERY GRUMBLE ABOUT THE WEATHER, ABOUT THE WAY PEOPLE TREAT US, ABOUT THE DAILY TRIALS OF LIFE, IS DIRECTED AGAINST THE ONE WHO WORKS ALL THINGS AFTER THE COUNSEL OF HIS OWN WILL. THAT IS CLEARLY MENTIONED IN EPHESIANS 1: 11. COMPLAINING IS A SERIOUS SIN, BECAUSE IT CLEARLY PUTS THE ALMIGHTY GOD UNDER CROSS-EXAMINATION. ONE BIG PROBLEM WITH OUR COMPLAINING IS THAT IT FOCUSES ON WHAT'S FRUSTRATING US, AND IT FORGETS ABOUT THE BIGGER PICTURE. WE REMEMBER HOW THE ISRAELITES COMPLAINED ALMOST IMMEDIATELY AFTER GOD SAVED THEM FROM CAPTIVITY IN EGYPT BY DWELLING OVER THE GREAT VARIETY OF FOOD THEY USED TO HAVE WHILE THEY WERE STILL IN EGYPT; YET THEY COMPLETELY FORGOT THAT THEY WERE SLAVES IN EGYPT!

JUST LIKE THEM, WE CAN GET NEARSIGHTED, AND SEE THE IRRITATIONS AND THE FRUSTRATIONS UNTIL WE LOSE FOCUS AND OVERLOOK GOD'S GREATER PROMISES DEVELOP IN OUR LIVES. COMPLAINING IS ALWAYS AN EXPRESSION OF UNBELIEF TOWARD GOD'S SOVEREIGNTY. HIS WORD SAYS THAT "ALL THINGS WORK TOGETHER FOR THE GOOD TO THEM WHO LOVE GOD, TO THEM WHO ARE CALLED ACCORDING TO HIS PURPOSE". COMPLAINING IS DISTRUST AGAINST GOD, AND NON SUBMISSION TO HIS PLAN AND PURPOSE IN OUR LIVES; IT IS REPULSIVE TO OUR HEAVENLY FATHER; IT IS SERIOUS AFFAIR: GOD HAS DESTROYED PEOPLE AND NATIONS BECAUSE OF IT.

GOD IS IN THE BUSINESS OF GIVING US NEW EXPERIENCES WITH HIM, EXPERIENCES THAT WE DID NOT HAVE WITH HIM BEFORE. WE MIGHT THINK THAT GOD IS VERY ROUTINE, BUT ACTUALLY GOD WANTS TO GIVE US FRESH AND NEW EXPERIENCES WITH HIM ALL THE TIME. EACH TIME WE GO THROUGH A NEW EXPERIENCE WITH GOD, WE HAVE A NEW STORY TO TELL ABOUT WHAT HE HAS DONE. ANOTHER REASON GOD GIVES US A NEW EXPERIENCE IN OUR LIVES IS FOR OTHER PEOPLE TO COME TO TRUST GOD MORE. GOD WANTS US TO SHARE OUR TESTIMONIES WITH OTHERS. THAT IS ONE WAY TO DRAW OTHERS INTO A SEARCH FOR GOD. WE EACH HAVE A PERSONAL EVANGELISM THAT IS DESIGNED TO BE VERY UNIQUE, AND TOUCH A CERTAIN GROUP OF PEOPLE WITH A CERTAIN KIND OF WEAKNESS.

COMPLAINING ABOUT OUR CIRCUMSTANCES WILL CAUSE US TO MISS THE ENTIRE VICTORY GOD IS ABOUT TO DISPLAY BEFORE OUR EYES, AND THE EYES OF ONLOOKERS. PRAISE IS THE BEST DETERRENT FOR COMPLAINING. BELIEVERS WHO KEEP PRAISING GOD USUALLY ACHIEVE THE VICTORY OVER COMPLAINING; THEREFORE THEY CAN BECOME THE VESSELS THAT GOD CAN USE TO REACH OTHERS THROUGH. EVEN IF WE DON'T QUITE SEE THE BIGGER PICTURE, WE MUST LEARN TO TRUST THE ONE WHO DOES, AND BELIEVE HIS WORD WHOLEHEARTEDLY, WITHOUT THE SHADOW OF A DOUBT.

OCTOBER 18    PSALM 150: 6 READS, "LET EVERYTHING THAT HAS BREATH PRAISE THE LORD". GOD'S MANIFEST PRESENCE IS LINKED WITH HIS PEOPLE PRAISING HIM. IN FACT PSALM 22: 3 CONFIRMS THIS SAYING, "GOD DWELLS IN THE PRAISES OF HIS PEOPLE". PRAISE CAN BECOME THE TRUMPET OF THE SUPERNATURAL, THROUGH WHICH GOD'S WORD BINDS THE ENEMY'S CHAINS. WE ALL KNOW THAT THE MOST COMMON METHODS OF ATTACK THE ENEMY USES ARE TO BRING DISCOURAGEMENT, NEGATIVITY, HOPELESSNESS, AND DESPAIR INTO OUR LIVES. HE AIMS TO PARALYZE US FROM WITHIN, UNTIL WE GET OUR EYES OFF GOD. THE ONLY WAY WE CAN FOCUS BACK ON GOD'S GREATNESS IS THROUGH PRAISES. WE MUST PRAISE HIM FOR WHAT HE HAS ALREADY ACCOMPLISHED IN OUR LIVES; WE MUST PRAISE HIM SINCE WE KNOW FULL WELL HE IS WILLING TO MOVE MOUNTAINS FOR US; WE MUST PRAISE HIM BECAUSE HE HAS PROVEN HIS AWESOME AND UNCONDITIONAL LOVE FOR US THROUGH AN AWFUL DEATH ON THE CROSS; WE MUST PRAISE HIM FOR HIS FAITHFULNESS, HIS GOODNESS, AND HIS MIGHTY GIFT OF SALVATION REGARDLESS OF THE FACT THAT THERE IS NOTHING WE COULD DO TO EARN IT OR PAY HIM BACK FOR IT. IT'S ALL BEEN DONE FOR US BY HIM.

PRAISE ALSO UNBURDENS US FROM WITHIN. IT FREES US FROM THE SPIRIT OF HEAVINESS. IT DISCARDS FEAR, WORRY, STRESS, ANXIETY: IT'S A FORM OF EXCHANGE THAT WE MUST DO IN ORDER TO HAVE THE PUREST FORM OF JOY IN THE MIDST OF THE MOST UNFAVORABLE CIRCUMSTANCES. IT TAKES A STRONG WILL AND DETERMINATION TO BE ABLE TO PRESS ON, AND PRESS THROUGH, IN ORDER TO GET THERE; HOWEVER, IT IS AN AWESOME POSSIBILITY, SINCE GOD STRETCHES HIS HAND TO REACH FOR US, AS WE STRUGGLE TO PRAISE HIM. CIRCUMSTANCES WE FIND OURSELVES IN OUGHT TO BE IRRELEVANT IN OUR DETERMINATION TO PRAISE GOD.

THE ENEMY'S ATTACKS COME IN COUNTLESS VARIETIES: A BUSINESS ENTERPRISE WE SHOULD HAVE NEVER TAKEN ON; A RELATIONSHIP WE SHOULD NEVER HAVE ENTERED INTO; SOME HABIT OR ADDICTION FROM OUR PAST THAT IS LIKE A MONKEY ON OUR BACK, TO NAME A FEW. PRAISE SECURES RELEASE. IT HELPS US SHED ALL OF THE UNWANTED AND UNACCEPTABLE WEIGHT WE CARRY AROUND, OFTEN FOR NO SENSIBLE REASON OTHER THAN SELF PUNISHMENT. THERE ARE THINGS GOD HAS ALREADY FORGIVEN; YET WE CANNOT FORGIVE OURSELVES FOR! THAT'S ONLY BECAUSE WE ARE YET TO UNDERSTAND GOD'S GRACE, THROUGH WHICH HE EXTENDS HIS MERCY AS AN INVITATION FOR A CLOSER WALK WITH HIM. OUR MERE WORDS COULDN'T POSSIBLY BE SUFFICIENT TO DESCRIBE SUCH AN AWESOME GIFT, FOR NOTHING WE ALREADY KNOW COMPARES TO GOD'S GRACE. IT IS ABSOLUTE PURITY, AND THE SUM OF ALL MORAL EXCELLENCY. UNSULLIED BY THE SHADOW OF SIN, IT IS HOLINESS AND PERFECTION ONLY GOD COULD POSSESS. IT IS RIGHTEOUS IN EVERY WAY; AND IT IS SUPREMELY LOVELY TO THOSE WHO ARE DELIVERED FROM SIN'S DOMINION.

OCTOBER 17    SATAN KNOWS OUR WEAKNESSES; HE USES PEOPLE; HE USES OUR BATTLES AGAINST US; HE TEMPTS US THROUGH OUR PAST FAILURES, LOW SELF-ESTEEM, AND EVEN THE PEOPLE WHO HAVE HURT US IN THE PAST. HIS GREATEST VICTORY COMES FROM DESTROYING OUR TRUST IN GOD. YET IN THE VERY PLACE WHERE THE ENEMY SAYS IT IS GOING TO END, WE STEP INTO A NEW BEGINNING AND THE GREATEST BLESSING OF OUR LIVES. THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT GOD'S WORD PROMISES US.

CHRISTIANITY IS ALL ABOUT LIVING A LIFE OF PEACE REGARDLESS OF THE MARAUDING INFLUENCE OF THE ENEMY. IT IS AN INNER CHANGE BROUGHT ABOUT BY THE HOLY SPIRIT WHICH ENABLES US TO LIVE A LIFE THAT PLEASES GOD. IT IS COMING UNDER THE AUTHORITY OF THE KING, AND SUBMITTING TO THE CHANGES THAT HE MAKES IN US. THAT INVOLVES HUMBLE REPENTENCE ON OUR PART, AS IT ALSO ENABLES US TO EXERCISE GREAT AUTHORITY IN JESUS' NAME. GOD KNOWS EVERY FIBER OF OUR SPIRITUAL BEING; EVEN THE DETAILS WE'RE ABLE TO HIDE FROM THE WORLD. HE WANTS US TO COME JUST AS WE ARE, WITHOUT HIDING ANYTHING. ONLY THEN WILL HE BE ABLE TO TAKE OVER, AND FREE US OF THE BURDENS THAT THE ENEMY WOULD LOVE TO TRAP US WITH. WE LOSE MANY BATTLES, AS CHRISTIANS, NOT BECAUSE THE ENEMY IS GREATER; NOT BECAUSE HE IS SMARTER, OR HAS BETTER WEAPONS; BUT SIMPLY BECAUSE WE DO NOT CONTROL OUR THOUGHTS, AND LEARN TO TAKE FULL ADVANTAGE OF WHAT WE'VE BEEN GIVEN.

AT SOME POINT IN OUR LIVES, WHETHER WE LIKE IT OR NOT, WE WILL HAVE TO FACE FEAR. MANY TODAY ARE LIVING IN FEAR OF TERRORISTS, FEAR OF LOSING THEIR INCOME DUE TO A BAD ECONOMY, FEAR OF LOSING THEIR HOMES, FEAR OF SICKNESS AND DISEASE, FEAR OF CRITICISM OR PERSECUTION, EVEN FEAR OF NATURAL DISASTERS. THE ONLY WAY TO OVERCOME ANY KIND OF FEAR IS TO CONQUER THE SPIRIT OF FEAR. IN ORDER TO BE ABLE TO DO THIS, THE ONLY WEAPON WE HAVE IS "PRAISE".

PRAISE CONFUSES THE ENEMY; IT GOES TO THE FOUNDATION OF OUR PROBLEM; IT OPENS DOORS; IT BREAKS YOKES. WITH PRAISE, GOD TAKES OVER; THE ENEMY DOESN'T STAND A CHANCE. AS WE FACE THE ENEMY TODAY, WHATEVER ITS NAME MAY BE, WE MUST NOT OWN ANY LABEL HE HANDS OUT FOR US TO WEAR. INSTEAD, WE MUST LOOK UP TO WHAT "THUS SAITH THE LORD" WOULD HAVE US DO ABOUT THE SITUATION. GOD'S WORD SPEAKS LOUDER AND STRONGER THAN ANYTHING ELSE. ALL WE NEED IS A WORD FROM GOD.

OCTOBER 16    WE CAN GET COMFORTABLE IN THE WORSE OF SITUATIONS. WE EITHER DON'T UNDERSTAND THAT GOD IS WAITING TO HEAR FROM US NO MATTER HOW SMALL OUR NEED MAY BE, OR WE DON'T FULLY TRUST THAT HE WOULD TAKE TIME TO HELP US. AS WE STUDY 1 KINGS 17: 7-24, WE READ A VERY UNUSUAL STORY ABOUT FAITH AND OBEDIENCE. THE PROPHET ELIJAH IS ON THE RUN. THIS SERVANT OF THE LORD HAS BEEN KEPT BY A STREAM AND FED BY RAVENS IN THE MIDST OF A DEEP DROUGHT AND A FAMINE THAT AFFLICTED JEW AND GENTILE DURING THE REIGN OF KING AHAB. THE ONCE PEACEFUL NATION HAD BEEN TORN APART BY WARFARE BOTH FROM WITHIN AND WITHOUT. THEY HAD SPLIT INTO A NORTHERN AND SOUTHERN KINGDOM, AND BAAL, A CANAANITE GOD OFTEN LINKED TO RAIN, HAD BEGUN TO BE WORSHIPPED BY MANY. GOD HAD SIMPLY TURNED HIS BACK ON THEM SAYING, "IF THE PEOPLE WANTED TO WORSHIP BAAL, THEN LET BAAL PROVIDE THE RAINS".

ELIJAH HAS TRAVELED FAR. HE ASKS A WIDOW TO BRING HIM A LITTLE WATER AND A PIECE OF BREAD WHILE SHE IS MAKING PREPARATIONS FOR HER AND HER SONS' LAST SUPPER. HE INSISTS THAT SHE FEED HIM FIRST AS HE DELIVERS GOD'S PROMISE TO HER SAYING, "THE BOWL OF FLOUR SHALL NOT BE EXHAUSTED, NOR SHALL THE JAR OF OIL BE EMPTY, UNTIL THE DAY THAT THE LORD SENDS RAIN ON THE FACE OF THE EARTH". SHE ISN'T TOO THRILLED WITH WHAT'S HAPPENING, BECAUSE HER LIMITATIONS MAKE IT DIFFICULT TO TRUST THIS GOD SHE KNOWS NOTHING ABOUT. LIKE MANY OF US TODAY, SHE IS FACING A CROSSROADS IN HER LIFE. ONE DIRECTION MEANS SALVATION, FOOD, AND GOD'S PROVISION. THE OTHER DIRECTION LEADS TO DEATH.

WHAT SHE COULDN'T SEE CLEARLY WAS THE FACT THAT, IN THE MIDST OF HER LIMITATION, GOD HAD DECIDED TO USE THIS WOMAN'S OBEDIENCE IN ORDER TO BE ABLE TO BLESS HER. SHE HAD NOTHING TO OFFER. SHE WAS LIMITED BY HER GENDER AND NATIONALITY: SHE WAS A GENTILE, MEANING SHE WAS PART OF THE RELIGIOUS TRADITION THAT ELIJAH FOUGHT AGAINST. SHE WAS A SINGLE MOTHER WITH APPARENTLY NO EXTENDED FAMILY TO CARE FOR HER. ON TOP OF IT ALL, SHE WAS UNFAMILIAR WITH ELIJAH'S GOD. YET THIS WOMAN ENDED UP WITH THE KIND OF ABUNDANCE SHE HAD NEVER SEEN BEFORE, ONLY BECAUSE SHE OBEYED GOD.

GOD KNEW HER LIMITATIONS. STILL, HE DIDN'T EXCUSE HER FROM THE OBEDIENCE AND COMMITMENT HE DEMANDS FROM EVERY ONE OF US TODAY. IT IS ONLY WHEN WE STRETCH OUT ON THE LIMB OF FAITH, DO WE DISCOVER THAT, EVEN WHEN WE FALL, WE LAND IN THE ARMS OF OUR LOVING FATHER. OBEDIENCE UNLEASHES GOD'S GREATNESS AND BLESSINGS IN OUR LIVES IN UNEXPECTED WAYS. ONLY THROUGH OBEDIENCE DO WE DISCOVER THAT GOD'S PROVISIONS BECOME APPARENT WHEN WE LIVE BEYOND OUR LIMITATIONS, AS THIS WOMAN DID, AS WE STEP OUT ON FAITH AND OBEY.

OUR OBEDIENCE CAN BECOME QUITE DIFFICULT AT TIMES FOR GOD CALLS US TO GIVE UP OUR DESIRE, OUR DIRECTION, AND OUR DECISIONS IN FAVOR OF CHRIST'S CALL, CHRIST'S COMMISSION, AND CHRIST'S COMMAND. WHAT CAN BE EVEN MORE DIFFICULT ISN'T GIVING UP OUR MONEY OR TIME, BUT TO GIVE UP AN ATTITUDE OF HATRED, A PET SIN WE REALLY LIKE, A GRUDGE AGAINST OUR SISTER OR BROTHER, OUR EXCUSES FOR NOT READING HIS WORD.IT IS AT TIMES LIKE THESE WHEN WE HEAR CHRIST CLEARLY TELL US WHAT HE WANTS US TO DO, AND WE START PADDLING WITH ONE OAR, REGARDLESS OF OUR LIMITATIONS.

OCTOBER 15    PHILIPPIANS 4: 6 READS, "DO NOT BE ANXIOUS ABOUT ANYTHING, BUT IN EVERYTHING, BY PRAYER AND PETITION, WITH THANKSGIVING, PRESENT YOUR REQUESTS TO GOD". WHAT APOSTLE PAUL IS SAYING THAT THE BELIEVER HASN'T BEGUN TO FIGHT UNTIL HE LEARNS TO PRAY. PRAYER IS NOT SIMPLY AN AFTERTHOUGHT TO THE BELIEVER'S ARSENAL OF SPIRITUAL WEAPONS. PRAYER IS IN FACT THE WAY THAT THE BELIEVER IMPLEMENTS HIS SPIRITUAL WEAPONS AGAINST THE ENEMY. WE MAY HAVE ALL THE TALENT, AND ALL THE RESOURCES, AND ALL THE TRAINING, AND ALL OF THE INNATE ABILITY, BUT IF WE DON'T DO IT THE WAY GOD DIRECTS IT TO BE DONE, WE CAN STILL LOSE. THAT'S WHAT BEING IN CHRIST IS ALL ABOUT: WE DON'T GO ALONE!

PRAYER IS GOD-GIVEN ARMOR TO DEFEAT SPIRITUAL ATHEISM. THIS ARMOR IS NOT MECHANICAL; THIS ARMOR IS NOT MAGICAL; GOD HIMSELF INFUSES HIS POWER AND HIS ENERGY INTO THIS ARMOR. GOD'S GOAL FOR OUR PRAYER LIFE IS THAT IT BECOMES AS NATURAL AS BREATHING; SOMETHING THAT WE DO WITHOUT EXERCISING ANY CONSCIOUS THOUGHT TO MAKE OURSELVES BREATHE. AS BELIEVERS, NOT TO PRAY IS TO HOLD OUR BREATH SPIRITUALLY, AND THE RESULTS ARE TOO RISKY.

ONE OF THE PRIMARY REASONS WE DON'T PRAY IS THAT WE ARE AFFLICTED WITH COMFORT. WE CAN GET COMFORTABLE IN THE WORSE OF SITUATIONS. COMFORT IS THE SAME MENTALITY THAT SAYS, "I CAN HANDLE THIS", "I CAN DEAL WITH THIS". WHAT WE'RE ACTUALLY TRYING TO SAY IS, "I AM COMFORTABLE WITH WHATEVER I CAN PRODUCE IN MY LIFE ON MY OWN". THAT'S A SURE SIGN THAT WE HAVE STARTED DRIFTING AWAY FROM GOD'S WILL. IT'S A SPIRIT OF INDEPENDENCE! IT'S THE EXACT OPPOSITE OF WHAT GOD WANTS TO BIRTH IN OUR HEARTS. IT'S EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE OF THE LIFESTYLE GOD WANTS US TO LIVE; OTHERWISE, WE'LL ALWAYS NEED FERVENT PRAYERS TO UNVEIL GOD'S WILL FOR US.

GOD'S WILL FOR US IS A LIFESTYLE OF COMMUNION AND UNITY AND DAILY FELLOWSHIP WITH HIM; NOT JUST ONLY WHEN WE ARE REMINDED THAT LIFE IS TOTALLY OUT OF OUR CONTROL. A DESPERATE MOMENT, OR A CRISIS IS NEVER THE BEST TIME TO START PRAYING. EXTREME CIRCUMSTANCES CAN LEAD US TO PRAYER; BUT THERE SHOULD NOT BE ANY CIRCUMSTANCES THAT LEAD US AWAY FROM PRAYER.

OCTOBER 14    GOD CANNOT FULLY BLESS US UNTIL HE HAS FIRST CONQUERED US. THE DEGREE OF BLESSING BESTOWED UPON US WILL CORRESPOND EXACTLY WITH THE COMPLETENESS OF GOD'S VICTORY OVER US. THIS TENET IS OFTEN NOT UNDERSTOOD BY MANY IN THIS SELF-ASSURED AGE IN WHICH WE LIVE; THEREFORE OVERLOOKEK OR NEGLECTED.

A LITTLE ACQUAINTANCE WITH OUR OWN HEARTS WILL FORCE US TO ACKNOWLEDGE THAT THERE IS NO HOPE WITHIN US, UNLESS WE TURN TO GOD'S SUPERNATURAL POWER, IN ORDER TO OVERCOME THE UNEXPECTED BLOWS OF LIFE. OUR OWN WISDOM AND STRENGTH MAY CARRY US FAR; YET THEY WILL, SOONER OR LATER, HAVE US TRAPPED IN A POINT OF NO RETURN. WE WOULD DO WELL TO PRAY FOR ALMIGHTY GOD TO INVADE AND CONQUER US, BEFORE THE VERY OWN SEEDS OF DISINTEGRATION, WHICH WE POSSESS NATURALLY, CAUSE US TO DERAIL. OUR MORAL IMPRUDENCE ALWAYS PUTS US IN DANGER OF ACCIDENTAL OR RECKLESS SELF-DESTRUCTION. THE STRENGTH OF OUR FLESH IS AN EVER PRESENT DANGER TO OUR SOULS. OUR OLD LIVES MUST BE DEFEATED BY FORCING US TO OUR KNEES, BEFORE GOD'S SAFETY AND PEACE COULD PENETRATE.

GOD RESCUES US BY BREAKING US, BY SHATTERING OUR STRENGTH, AND BY WIPING OUT OUR RESISTANCE! HE THEN INVADES OUR NATURES WITH HIS OWN ATTRIBUTES, TO MAKE US FIT FOR ETERNAL FELLOWSHIP WITH HIM, WHICH IS FROM THE BEGINNING. THE EARTH, OUR BRIEF HOME, OFFERS US A GRAVE AT THE END, WHILE HIS LEADING TAKE US BEYONG ALL BOUNDARIES, INTO AN EVERLASTING IDENTITY WRITTEN ON THE BOOK OF LIFE. GOD'S GRACE TAKES OVER FROM WHERE WE LEFT OFF, AND HIS MERCY LEADS US INTO A WHOLE NEW DIRECTION IN LIFE.

GENESIS 32: 28 READS, "AND THY NAME SHALL BE CALLED NO MORE JACOB, BUT ISRAEL; FOR AS A PRINCE HAST THOU POWER WITH GOD AND WITH MEN, AND HAS PREVAILED". JACOB WAS THE SON OF ISAAC AND GRANDSON OF ABRAHAM. HE CAME OUT OF THE WOMB GRASPING HIS BROTHER ESAU'S ANKLE. THAT IS WHY HE IS GIVEN THE NAME "JACOB", WHICH IS FROM A HEBREW WORD MEANING "DECEITFUL". HE LIVED UP TO THE MEANING OF HIS NAME BY DECEIVING HIS FATHER ISAAC, STEALING THE PATERNAL BLESSING FROM HIS BROTHER BY PRETENDING TO BE ESAU. THE TWO-THIRDS OF HIS LIFE, JACOB CARRIED IN HIS NATURE SOMEHTING HARD AND UNCONQUERED, UNTIL ONE NIGHT, A "MAN FROM HEAVEN" CAME AND WRESTLED WITH JACOB ALL NIGHT LONG. AT THE CONCLUSION OF THE NIGHT'S STRUGGLE, THE MAN, WHO IS THE LORD, GAVE JACOB A NEW NAME: ISRAEL. IT WAS ONLY AFTER HE HAD GONE DOWN TO HUMILIATING DEFEAT, THAT HE BEGAN TO FEEL THE JOY OF RELEASE FROM HIS OWN EVIL STRENGTH, WHICH TO HIM, WAS NOTHING BUT A NEAR-FATAL WEAKNESS.

JACOB BECAME A NEW MAN- THE STUBBORN SELF-WILLED REBEL WAS TRANSFORMED INTO A MEEK AND DIGNIFIED "FRIEND OF GOD". HE HAD PREVAILED INDEED, BUT THROUGH WEAKNESS, NOT THROUGH STRENGTH! ONLY THE CONQUERED CAN KNOW TRUE BLESSEDNESS. WE DO NOT NEED TO ACCEPT THIS TRUTH BLINDLY; THAT'S WHAT GOD'S WORD, THE BIBLE, IS FOR. WE EITHER CHOOSE TO WRESTLE LIFE AWAY THROUGH STUBBORNNESS AND DETERMINATION TO PROVE GOD'S SOVEREIGNTY, OR WE SIMPLY CHOOSE TO ACCEPT THE VICTORY THAT JESUS OFFERS: WHEN WE ARE WEAK, HE IS STRONG!

OCTOBER 13    2 CORINTHIANS 12: 7-10 READS, "BECAUSE OF THE SURPASSSING GREATNESS OF THE REVELATIONS, FOR THIS REASON, TO KEEP ME FROM EXALTING MYSELF, THERE WAS GIVEN ME A THORN IN THE FLESH, A MESSENGER OF SATAN TO TORMENT ME, TO KEEP ME FROM EXALTING MYSELF! CONCERNING THIS I IMPLORED THE LORD THREE TIMES THAT IT MIGHT LEAVE ME. AND HE SAID TO ME, 'MY GRACE IS SUFFICIENT FOR YOU, FOR POWER IS PERFECTED IN WEAKNESS'. MOST GLADLY, THEREFORE, I WILL RATHER BOAST ABOUT MY WEAKNESSES, SO THAT THE POWER OF CHRIST MAY DWELL IN ME. THEREFORE I AM WELL CONTENT WITH WEAKNESSES, WITH PERSECUTIONS, WITH DIFFICULTIES, FOR CHRIST'S SAKE; FOR WHEN I AM WEAK, THEN I AM STRONG".

APOSTLE PAUL EXPOSES AN ISSUE WE TRY TO KEEP HIDDEN; YET IT PLAGUES ANYONE AND EVERYONE: IT SPEAKS OF OUR WEAKNESSES. OFTEN, WE RESPOND TO THOSE BY EITHER TRYING TO CAMOUFLAGE THEM, OR BY TRYING TO EXALT OURSELVES IN OTHER AREAS. PAUL ELABORATES NOT ON HIS STRENGTHS, BUT ON HIS WEAKNESSES. HE BOASTS ABOUT HIS INIQUITIES, AND NOTHING ELSE.

THESE DAYS, WE DON'T QUITE CARE TO START THE DAY ON THE RIGHT NOTE, LET ALONE FINISHING IT; WE CAN HARDLY TOLERATE HAVING TO WAIT IN LINES, THE NOISE OF THE CHILDREN, OR THE NEEDS OF OTHER PEOPLE; WE CAN'T GET THINGS RIGHT IN OUR MARRIAGE IF THEY CAN'T BE FIXED QUICKLY; WE ARE TOO USED TO PUSH THINGS OUT OF SIGHT, THINKING THAT WE'LL DEAL WITH THEM LATER; WE SUPPRESS THEM INTO A PILE AND STORE AWAY. OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND! NO WONDER WE END UP LOSING IT OVER THE SMALLEST ISSUES, SUCH AS A BAD HAIR DAY, A BANK STATEMENT, OR A POOR WAITER AT THE RESTAURANT. WE OFTEN GET FRUSTRATED, EVEN DEPRESSED, BY SUCH DEFICIENCIES.

WE PROGRAM OURSELVES TO APPEAR AS MASTERS OF ALL SITUATIONS WHILE WE ARE CRUMBLING WITH INTERNAL GRUMBLINGS. THE BIBLE SAYS, "WHEN I AM WEAK, THEN I AM STRONG" AND EXPLAINS IS AS A PERSONAL PROBLEM, AN INTIMATE ISSUE THAT SHOULD BE DISCUSSED WITH GOD, AND NOT IN A COMPLAINING MANNER. APOSTLE PAUL'S WRITINGS DIRECT ATTENTION AWAY FROM HIMSELF, AND DEMAND THE ATTENTION OF HIS READERS TO THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. GOD AND HIS GLORY ARE THE FOCUS OF PAUL'S WRITITNGS. HIS THOUGHTS AND HIS PREACHING REVOLVE AROUND THE VERY SAME. THE SAME OUGHT TO APPLY TO US: FOCUSING ON OUR CIRCUMSTANCES CAN ONLY MEAN THAT WE'RE TAKING OUR EYES AWAY FROM GOD.

THE THINGS THAT WE OFTEN COMPLAIN ABOUT ARE SUPPOSED TO KEEP US HUMBLE, AND REMIND US OF A DEEP NEED WE HAVE FOR A SAVIOR. A THORN WAS GIVEN TO PAUL THAT HE SHOULD STAY HUMBLE. AS A RESULT, PAUL STAYED MEEK, AND KEPT HIS FEET ON THE GROUND.

PROBLEMS ARE PART OF LIFE. WE ARE TO SEE THEM AS OPPORTUNITIES THROUGH WHICH GOD MAY SHOW HIS DIVINE PROVIDENCE OVER ALL THINGS. THEY ARE PERSONAL MATTERS BETWEEN US AND THE LORD; THERE'S NO NEED TO BRAODCAST THEM. THEY NEED TO BE TREATED GINGERLY; THEY MUST NEVER BE EXPOSED TO ARROGANCE AND PRIDE. 1 PETER 5: 5 SAYS, "GOD OPPOSES THE PROUD BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE".

WHEN THE LORD DOESN'T TAKE OUR BURDENS AWAY, JUST LIKE HE DID WITH APOSTLE PAUL, THIS IS EXACTLY THE MOST FAVORABLE TIME FOR US TO LEARN HOW TO DEPEND UPON HIM, AND NOT UPON OUR OWN STRENGTHS, OR OUR WISDOM. IN OUR INFIRFIMTIES, WE HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO EXPERIENCE THE POWER OF CHRIST AS HE HELPS US DEAL WITH THEM! GOD IS NOT AT ALL INTERESTED IN OUR COMFORT. HE IS MAINLY INTERESTED IN DEVELOPING OUR CHARACTER.

OCTOBER 12    THERE ARE 88 DENOMINATIONS THAT CALL THEMSELVES BAPTIST. THERE ARE 42 THAT CALL THEMSELVES METHODIST. THERE ARE 22 THAT CALL THEMSELVES PRESBYTERIAN; AND THE LIST GOES ON AND ON. ISN'T THIS A BIT PECULIAR SINCE WE SERVE ONE GOD, THE ONLY LIVING GOD, AND WE HAVE BEEN GIVEN ONLY ONE BIBLE TO STUDY?

PHILIPPIANS 1: 27 READS, "WHATEVER HAPPENS, CONDUCT YOURSELVES IN A MANNER WORTHY OF THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST. THEN, WHETHER I COME AND SEE YOU OR ONLY HEAR ABOUT YOU IN MY ABSENCE, I WILL KNOW THAT YOU STAND FIRM IN ONE SPIRIT, CONTENDING AS ONE MAN FOR THE FAITH OF THE GOSPEL". EPHESIANS 4: 3-6 SPEAKS THE SAME MESSAGE, " MAKE EVERY EFFORT TO KEEP THE UNITY OF THE SPIRIRT THROUGH THE BOND OF PEACE. THERE IS ONE BODY AND ONE SPIRIT- ONE LORD, ONE FAITH, ONE BAPTISM; ONE GOD AND FATHER OF ALL, WHO IS OVER ALL AND THROUGH ALL IN ALL". 1 CORINTHIANS 1: 10 SAYS, "I APPEAL TO YOU, BROTHERS, IN THE NAME OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, THAT ALL OF YOU AGREE WITH ONE ANOTHER SO THAT THERE MAY BE NO DIVISIONS AMONG YOU, AND THAT YOU MAY BE PERFECTLY UNITED IN MIND AND THOUGHT".

JESUS HIMSELF EMPHASIZED THIS ISSUE SAYING IN JOHN 17: 20-21, "MY PRAYER IS NOT FOR THEM ALONE WHO WILL BELIEVE IN ME THROUGH THEIR MESSAGE, THAT ALL OF THEM MAY BE IN US SO THAT THE WORLD MAY BELIEVE THAT YOU HAVE SENT ME". ALL OF THESE SCRIPTURES SAY THAT THE CHURCH SHOULD BE ONE. WHAT WILL IT TAKE FOR US TO ATTAIN THAT GOAL? JESUS DIDN'T PREDICT UNITY. HE PRAYED FOR IT! HE PLED FOR IT BECAUSE HE KNEW THAT WOULD BE THE ONE MAIN DIFFICULTY FOR HIS CHURCH. HE MADE IT A KEY PRIORITY OF HIS PRAYER. AS HIS DISCIPLES, WE MUST PURSUE IT AS WELL.

THERE ARE MANY APPROACHES TO DESCRIBE UNITY. ARE WE TO BE SATISFIED WITH THE IDEA THAT, ONCE WE CLAIM TO BE A CHRSITIAN CHURCH, WE ARE GOOD TO GO? THEN WHAT ARE WE TO DO WITH DIFFERENT CULTS THAT CLAIM THE VERY SAME THING? THEY SOMEHOW SUPPLY A PERVERTED VIEW OF GOD AND CHRIST, AND OFTEN ADD OR SUBTRACT FROM GOD'S WORD TO ESTABLISH THEIR CLAIMS.

ECUMENICALISM IS ANOTHER FORM OF UNITY WHERE WE ALL FOCUS ON THE DOCTRINES THAT THE MAJORITY OF CHURCHES AGREE WITH, AND USE AS THEIR STANDARD OF UNITY, TRYING TO KEEP A TIGHT GRIP ON THE COMMON DENOMINATORS AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE, JUST SO A HEALTHY ENOUGH BALANCE IS MAINTAINED.

JESUS SPOKE OF ANOTHER KIND OF UNITY. IN JOHN 17: 17 HE PRAYED; "SANCTIFY THEM BY THE TRUTH; YOUR WORD IS TRUTH", HE SAID. ACCORDING TO OUR MASTER'S SAYING, THE ONLY TRUE UNITY IS THE POWER OF GOD'S WORD. IT CANNOT BE ATTAINED BY CONCENSUS; IT CANNOT BE GAINED BY A MAJORITY VOTE; IT CAN ONLY BE ATTAINED ON THE BASIS OF SCRIPTURE ALONE. THIS COULD ONLY BE ACCOMPLISHED BY DISCARDING ALL MAN-MADE CREEDS, MAN-MADE TRADITIONS, AND MAN-MADE TERMINOLOGY.

THIS IS NOT AN ISSUE WE CAN AFFORD TO IGNORE. WE HAVE TO KNOW WHAT WE BELIEVE... AND WHY WE BELIEVE. THAT'S EXACTLY WHY STUDYING THE BIBLE AND WANTING TO KNOW GOD'S WORD; AND NOT SOME COMMENTATOR'S INTERPRETATION, IS VITAL FOR US BELIEVERS. WE MUST CLING TO THE IDEAL OF CHRIST AS OUR ONLY CREED; TO THE BIBLE AS OUR ONLY BOOK OF AUTHORITY; AND TO THE IDEAL OF LOVE AS WHAT GUIDES US AND BINDS US TOGETHER.

OCTOBER 11    JESUS WENT TO CHURCH EVERY SABBATH DAY, HIS ENTIRE LIFE. THE BIBLE SAYS THAT IN THOSE DAYS, THE JEWISH RELIGION HAD BECOME A DEAD FAITH, MEANING THEY HAD SUBSTITUTED RITUAL FOR RELATIONSHIP; THEY HAD RELIGION WITHOUT REALITY; THEY HAD SACRAMENTS WITHOUT SPIRITUALITY. JESUS SAID ON ONE OCCASION, "THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE A HOUSE OF PRAYER, BUT YOU HAVE MADE IT A DEN OF THIEVES!". DOES THIS MEAN THAT JESUS ATTENDED A DEAD CHURCH ALL OF HIS LIFE? HOW COULD THIS HAVE BEEN? WE ARE TO BE ATTENDING THE CHURCH OF THE ONLY LIVING GOD! IS IT TRULY POSSIBLE THAT, WITH ALL THE ATTRIBUTES GOD HAS BESTOWED UPON US, WE COULD TAKE HIS CHURCH, AND TURN IT UPSIDE DOWN, JUST BECAUSE WE LACK PATIENCE AND REVERENCE?

READING AND STUDYING GOD'S WORD TAKES PATIENCE. IT EVEN INVOLVES THE BATTLING OF OUR OWN THOUGHTS AND CIRCUMSTANCES, IN ORDER TO BE ABLE TO CONCENTRATE ON IT. TAKING TIME TO PRAY HEARTFELT PRAYERS WHEN ALL ELSE IS DEMANDING OUR ATTENTION TAKES PATIENCE. WAITING ON GOD'S TIMING TAKES PATIENCE. WE'RE IN A HURRY AT ALL TIMES, AS IF THE WORLD WOULD COME TO A HALT IF WE DIDN'T PLAY OUR PART OF CONTROLING IT. WE ARE SO VERY BUSY TRYING TO SOUND AND ACT IMPORTANT THAT OFTEN WE FORGET GOD IS IN CHARGE OF ALL THINGS. HE IS THE MAKER OF ALL THINGS. HE IS THE GIVER OF ALL THINGS. NOTHING ABOUT US OR ABOUT THE WORLD COULD POSSIBLY SURPRISE HIM. HE WROTE THE ENTIRE BOOK OF OUR LIFE WHILE WE WERE STILL IN OUR MOTHER'S WOMB. HIS IDEA OF LETTING US HAVE FREE WILL ISN'T BECAUSE HE WANTS TO SEE HOW WELL WE'LL MAKE OUT WITHOUT HIM. GOD SIMPLY WANTS US TO DECIDE FOR OURSELVES THAT, WITHOUT HIM, WE'RE NOTHING.; HE WANTS US TO CHOOSE TO COME TO HIM WITH OPEN ARMS, EXPECTING THAT HE WOULD PICK US UP, AND HOLD US CLOSE TO HIS HEART. HE IS EVERYTHING WHETHER WE CHOOSE HIM OR NOT; AND WE'RE NOTHING WITHOUT HIM. WE'RE SIMPLY A NOSEFUL OF BREATH, AT ANY TIME OF OUR LIVES, DEPENDING ON HIS MERCY. HIS GRACE PULLED US OUT OF ETERNAL DAMNATION; AND HIS MERCY CONTINUES TO SHAPE US ON A DAILY BASIS.

SHAME ON THE CHRISTIAN WHO TREATS THE HOLY DAY OF GOD AS A HOLIDAY. IT TAKES DETERMINATION FOR CHRISTIANS TO SAY, "I DON'T WANT TO EVEN ACCIDENTALLY BE USED BY THE DEVIL TO BE A HINDRANCE TO GOD'S WORK, BUT I WANT TO BE USED BY GOD TO BE A HELP TO GOD'S WORK... I DON'T WANT TO BE A DISCOURAGER, BUT AN ENCOURAGER... I DON'T WANT TO BE A STUMBLING BLOCK, BUT A STEPPING STONE...". CHRISTIANITY IS THE PLACE FOR SERIOUS MINDED PEOPLE; CHRISTIANITY IS TO POSE A SERIOUS THREAT TO SATAN'S DOMINION AROUND THE WORLD; AND CHRISTIANITY IS THE ONLY PLACE WHERE GOODNESS TRIUMPHS OVER EVIL. THROUGH PATIENCE AND THE EYES OF OUR FAITH, WE SEE ALL THINGS DEVELOP ACCORDING TO GOD'S WILL.

OCTOBER 10    THE QUESTION IS NOT ABOUT WHETHER OR NOT WE SOULD GO TO CHURCH. THE REAL QUESTION IS ABOUT WHICH CHURCH TO PICK. AS IT IS WITH ANY OTHER INSTITUTION WE MAKE OURSELVES AVAILABLE TO, THE FOUNDATION IS AN IMPORTANT PART OF A CHURCH. 1 CORINTHIANS 3: 11 READS, "FOR OTHER FOUNDATION CAN NO MAN LAY THAN THAT IS LAID, WHICH IS JESUS CHRIST. UNLESS JESUS IS THE FOUNDATION, WE MUST NOT MAKE OURSELVES FEEL AT HOME, BECAUSE NO OTHER FOUNDATION WILL LAST.

THE LEADERSHIP IS A VERY IMPORTANT FACTOR AS WELL. EPHESIANS 4: 11, 12 READS, "AND HE GAVE SOME, APOSTLES; AND SOME, PROPHETS; AND SOME, EVANGELISTS; AND SOME, PASTORS AND TEACHERS; FOR THE PERFECTING OF THE SAINTS, FOR THE WORK OF THE MINISTRY, FOR THE EDIFYING OF THE BODY OF CHRSIT". FROM THIS VERSE, WE SEE THAT THE OFFICE OF THE PASTOR WAS GIVEN BY THE ONE OF HIGHER AUTHORITY. THE CHURCH WILL HAVE THE RIGHT LEADERSHIP AS LONG AS JESUS IS THAT LEADERSHIP.

AGAIN, LIKE EVERYTHING ELSE OUT THERE, THE CHURCH HAS TO HAVE THE RIGHT PURPOSE. MATTHEW 28: 19, 20 READS, "GO YE THEREFORE, AND TEACH ALL NATIONS, BAPTIZING THEM IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, AND OF THE SON, AND OF THE HOLY SPIRIT: TEACHING THEM TO OBSERVE ALL THINGS WHATSOEVER I HAVE COMMANDED YOU: AND, LO, I AM WITH YOU ALWAY, EVEN UNTO THE END OF THE WORLD. AMEN". SHARING JESUS IS THE PURPOSE OF A CHURCH.

IS THERE ANYTHING IN IT FOR US? JESUS DID PROMISE A REWARD. HE SAID IN REVELATION 22: 12, "AND, BEHOLD, I COME QUICKLY; AND MY REWARD IS WITH ME, TO GIVE EVERY MAN ACCORDING AS HIS WORK SHALL BE". IN ORDER TO SEE WHAT HE IS TALKING ABOUT, WE MUST GO TO GENESIS 15: 1 WHERE WE READ, "FEAR NOT, ABRAM: I AM THY SHIELD, AND THY EXCEEDING REWARD". GOD HIMSELF IS OUR REWARD! A COMPLETE FELLOWSHIP WITH THE CREATOR IS OUR REWARD AT THE END. BEING ABLE TO HAVE ACCESS TO HIM THROUGH PRAYERS IS A GREAT ENOUGH REWARD; YET WE'LL BE ABLE TO BE AROUND HIM ETERNALLY: THAT IS AN AMAZING REWARD.

WE CAN VISIT MANY CHURCHES, TRYING TO FIND EITHER THE RIGHT PEWS, THE RIGHT MUSIC, THE RIGHT CROWD, THE RIGHT GROUP OF FRIENDLY PEOPLE, THE RIGHT TEMPERATURE, ETC. BY THE TIME WE NARROW IT DOWN TO A FEW PREFERENCES THROUGHOUT YEARS OF FRUITLESS SEARCHINGS, WE'LL REALIZE THAT THERE IS A LOT WRONG WITH OUR CHURCHES TODAY. THE ONLY THING THAT'S RIGHT WITH A CHURCH BODY IS JESUS CHRIST HIMSELF. EVERYTHING ELSE IS JUST ACCESSORY.

OCTOBER 9    "THROUGH FAITH WE UNDERSTAND...". THESE WORDS EMBODY ONE OF THE MOST BASIC PRINCIPLES OF SPIRITUAL LIFE. WE BELIEVE GOD'S WORD FIRST, THEN WE UNDERSTAND. THE WORLD SAYS, "SEEING IS BELIEVING..."; GOD SAYS, "BELIEVEING IS SEEING...". JOHN 11: 40 RECORDS OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST'S WORDS TO MARTHA, "SAID I NOT UNTO THEE, THAT IF THOU WOULDEST BELIEVE, THOU SHOULDEST SEE..." JOHN 20: 29 ACCOUNTS HIS WORDS TO THOMAS AS SUCH, "...BLESSED ARE THEY THAT HAVE NOT SEEN, YET HAVE BELIEVED". APOSTLE JOHN WROTE IN 1 JOHN 5: 13, "THESE THINGS HAVE I WRITTEN UNTO YOU THAT BELIEVE... THAT YE MAY KNOW..." SO THE ORDER OF THINGS IS THAT, UNLIKE OUR WORLDLY INPUT, WE BELIEVE GOD'S EXISTENCE FIRST... WE BELIEVE CHRIST'S IDENTITY FIRST... WE BELIEVE THE REALITY OF THE HOLY SPIRIT FIRST... WE BELIEVE THE BIBLE FIRST... AND THEN WE KNOW.

WHEN THE BIBLE SPEAKS OF MAN IN HIS TRIPARTITE BEING, THE ORDER IS ALWAYS SPIRIT, SOUL, AND BODY. WHEN MEN USE THESE TERMS TOGETHER, THE ORDER ALMOST INVARIABLY IS BODY, SOUL, AND SPIRIT. OUR SINFILLED AND SIN-INFLUENCED THINKING HAVE TURNED GOD'S ORDER UPSIDE DOWN. NOW MAN PUTS THE BODY FIRST, THEN THE SOUL, AND THE SPIRIT LAST OF ALL.

THE TWO NON-MATERIAL PARTS OF MAN'S BEING ARE HIS SPIRIT AND HIS SOUL. THE SPIRIT ENABLES HIM TO HAVE FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD. THE SOUL HAS TO DO WITH HIS EMOTIONS AND PASSIONS. ALTHOUGH IT IS NOT POSSIBLE FOR US TO DISTINGUISH THE SPIRIT AND SOUL IN MINUTE DETAIL, WE CAN AND SHOULD LEARN TO DISTINGUISH BETWEEN WHAT IS SPIRITUAL AND SOULISH.

EVERY PREACHING THAT EXALTS CHRIST IS SPIRITUAL. EVERY PRAYER TO GOD THROUGH JESUS CHRIST IS SPIRITUAL. EVERY SERVICE THAT IS MOTIVATIED AND EMPOWERED BY LOVE TO OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST IS SPIRITUAL. EVERY WORSHIP WHETHER IT IS THROUGH DAILY DEVOTIONAL READINGS OF GOD'S WORD OR THE APPLICATION OF THE WORD IS SPIRITUAL.

THIS ENTIRE LIST CAN BECOME SOULIS IN AN INSTANT WHEN IT DRAWS ATTENTION TO MAN, TO HIS ORATORY, COMMANDING PRESENCE OR WIT. MECHANICAL PRAYERS WITH NO REAL HEART INVOLVEMENT BUT DESIGNED TO MAKE IMPRESSION ON OTHERS ARE SOULISH. EVERY SERVICE THAT IS SELF-APPOINTED, CARRIED ON FOR MONETARY REWARDS, OR EMPLOYING CARNAL METHODS IS SOULISH. WORSHIP THAT REVOLVES AROUND VISIBLE, MATERIAL AIDS, RATHER THAN THE UNSEEN SPIRITUAL REALITIES IS SOULISH.

WHAT DO WE DO WITH CONSECRATED BULIDINGS, STAINED GLASS WINDOWS, ECCLESIASTICAL VESTMENTS, HONORIFIC TITLES, CANDLES, INCENSE, AND MANY OTHER THINGS THAT MAKE ONE DENOMINATION ENTIRELY DIFFERENT THAN ANOTHER? THOSE ARE SIMPLE TRAPPINGS THAT DEMONSTRATE WHERE GOD'S SPIRIT IS NOT RESIDING, BECAUSE IF HE DID, WE WOULDN'T FEEL THE NEED TO ADVERTISE HIM THROUGH THINGS THAT DON'T MATTER TO HIM IN THE FIRST PLACE.

APOSTLE PAUL DRAWS A DISTINCTION BETWEEN SERVICE THAT IS GOLD, SILVER, PRECIOUS STONES AND THAT WHICH IS WOOD, HAY, AND STUBBLE IN 1 CORINTHIANS 3: 12. JUST LIKE HE DESCRIBES, EVERYTHING THAT IS SPIRITUAL WILL RESIST THE FIRE OF GOD'S JUDGMENT; AND ALL THAT IS SOULISH WILL GO UP IN FLAMES. THAT'S WHY IT IS IMPORTANT TO STUDY GOD'S WORD, ESPECIALLY WHAT INVOLVES "...THE DIVISION OF SOUL AND SPIRIT" MENTIONED IN HEBREWS 4: 12. IF WE CONTINUE TO BE DRAWN TO CHURCHES WHERE WE FIND THE BEST PERFORMANCE, THE BEST WORSHIP MUSIC, OR THE BEST UPLIFTING MESSAGE, THAT'S ALL WE'RE GOING TO GET. BUT IF WE'RE SHOPPING FOR THE RIGHT PLACE TO WORSHIP, WE'RE GOING TO TAKE GOD'S WORD WITH US AND SEE IF THE MESSAGE WE HEAR HONORS THAT WHICH WE ALREADY POSSESS; THEREFORE WE HAVE A PLACE OF REFERENCE. THAT'S WHY IT'S IMPORTANT TO STUDY THE WORD AND BE AWARE OF CERTAIN SPECIFICS THAT GOD IS VERY PARTICULAR ABOUT. THIS IS OUR ETERNAL LIFE WE'RE TALKING ABOUT; WE CANNOT AFFORD TO LET SOME STRANGER DIRECT US, JUST BECAUSE THEIR SPEECH SOUNDS SOPHISTICATED ENOUGH. JESUS CALLED A BUNCH OF FISHERMEN FOR DISCIPLESHIP. HE DIDN'T NEED THEIR WORLDLY CLEVERNESS TO SPREAD HIS TEACHINGS THROUGH; HE NEEDED THEIR HUMBLE AND OBEDIENT HEARTS, JUST SO HE COULD FILL THEM WITH THE VERY BEST.

OCTOBER 8    THOSE WHO LIKE TO MAJOR IN BIBLICAL NUMERICS TELL US THAT FIVE IN SCRIPTURE IS USUALLY THE NUMBER OF GRACE. AS WE READ IN MARK 6: 41 ABOUT THE FIVE LOAVES, WE SEE THAT JESUS TOOK THE LOAVES, LOOKED UP TO HEAVEN, GAVE THANKS, BROKE THE LOAVES, AND GAVE THEM TO HIS DISCIPLES TO SET BEFORE THE MULTITUDES. THE LOAVES DIDN'T START MULTIPLYING WHILE JESUS WAS IN THE PROCESS OF PRAYING; NOR DID THEY MULTIPLY AS HE HANDED THEM TO THE APOSTLES. THEY SIMPLY NEVER RAN OUT, AS THEY WERE BEING GIVEN TO THE PEOPLE TO EAT, TO THE POINT WHERE, THEY ALL ATE AND WERE SATISFIED, AND THERE WERE LEFTOVERS. WHY DID THEY DECIDE TO PICK THE LEFTOVERS? BECAUSE THE LOAVES HAD BEEN MADE PLENTY BY THE GRACE OF GOD, AND NONE WAS TO GO TO WASTE!

WE CAN CERTAINLY SEE IN ISAIAH 9: 6 ANOTHER EXAMPLE THROUGH THE FIVE NAMES GIVEN BY GOD TO THE LORD JESUS CHRIST THAT WE HAVE A PERFECT REVELATION OF THE GRACE OF GOD IN THE PERSON OF OUR MEDIATOR AND REDEEMER, "FOR UNTO US A CHILD IS BORN, UNTO US A SON IS GIVEN; AND THE GOVERNMENT SHALL BE UPON HIS SHOULDER; AND HIS NAME SHALL BE CALLED WONDERFUL, COUNSELLOR, THE MIGHTY GOD, THE EVERLASTING FATHER, THE PRINCE OF PEACE". WHEN GOD GIVES THE NAME, HE ALSO TEACHES YOU TO BECOME THE PERSON CHARACTERIZED BY THAT NAME.

PLEASE NOTICE THAT THE CENTRAL NAME IS THE NAME "THE MIGHTY GOD", BECAUSE CENTRAL TO ANY TRUE UNDERSTANDING OF THE PERSON OF JESUS CHRIST IS THE RECOGNITION OF HIS ESSENTIAL AND HIS ETERNAL DEITY: GOD MANIFESTED IN THE FLESH! THE REST OF THE NAMES HIGHLIGHT FOR US THE LANDMARKS OF THE MINISTRY OF GOD MANIFESTED IN THE FLESH.

THE NAME WONDERFUL CENTERS ON HIS BIRTH. MARY IS THE MOTHER OF THE HUMANITY OF JESUS CHRIST. BUT AS FAR AS HIS ETERNAL DEITY GOES, HE IS WITHOUT BEGINNING. THE SON OF GOD IN THE STRICTEST TERMS WAS NOT BORN: HE WAS GIVEN. HE IS THE GIFT OF THE FATHER THAT IS BORN UNTO US, AS US. HE MUST BE DISTINGUISHED AS EXTRAORDINARY TO SAY THE LEAST. HE WAS SEPARATED IN A PERFECTLY UNIQUE WAY IN HIS BIRTH. HE IS THE ONLY SINLESS, SPOTLESS LIFE THAT THE WORLD WOULD EVER SEE.

THE NAME COUNCELOR DIRECTS OUR ATTENTION ESPECIALLY TO THE TEACHING AND THE MINISTRY, MEANING HIS WORDS AND HIS PREACHING. THAT WITNESSES THE WISDOM OF CHRIST. IT IS TRANSLATED IN PSALM 32: 8 AS "TO DIRECT". GOD DIRECTS HIS PEOPLE. HE IS THE INSTRUCTOR, THE ADVISOR, THE DIRECTOR. BUT FAR MORE THAN THAT, HE IS THE ONE WHO DECREES. THAT IS WHO OUR SAVIOR IS. IT CERTAINLY IS GOOD TO KNOW THAT WE ARE SAVED THROUGH HIM AND THAT OUR SINS ARE DEALT WITH. IN THIS PLACE, FULL OF CORRUPTION AND TEMPTATIONS, IT WOULD HAVE BEEN IMPOSSIBLE FOR US TO GET RIGHT WITH GOD BASED ON OUR OWN EFFORTS. WE WOULDN'T EVEN KNOW WHERE TO BEGIN SINCE OUR THOUGHT PATTERNS ARE WRAPPED AROUND WHAT WE SEE AND EXPERIENCE CARNALLY. WE DON'T BELIEVE IN A SAVIOR WHO SAVES US TODAY AND LET US SLIP INTO HELL TOMORROW. WE CAN'T POSSIBLY BELIEVE IN A SAVIOR WHO HAS POWER TO BRING US OUT OF SIN INTO ETERNAL LIFE, YET HASN'T POWER TO KEEP US.

THE NAME EVERLASTING FATHER HAS RELATION TO THE DEATH, RESURRECTION AND CURRENT INTERCESSION OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST. THIS INDICATES THE IMMUTABILITY OF CHRIST. MANY HAVE STUMBLED UPON THIS TITLE BY ASKING, "IF HE IS THE SON, HOW IS HE THE FATHER?" HE IS THE FATHER OF ETERNITY. IN OTHER WORDS, THE FATHER IS USED METAPHORICALLY TO SHOW US HIS RELATIONSHIP TO ETERNITY, MEANING RATHER THAN HIM BEING A CREATURE OF TIME, ETERNITY IS THE VERY ESSENTIAL MARK OF CHRIST, AND TIME IS THE CREATURE OF CHRIST. THAT IS WHY HE IS CALLED THE FATHER OF ETERNITY.

THEN FINALLY, THE PRINCE OF PEACE IS, OF COURSE, A NAME WHICH DIRECTS OUR ATTENTION SPECIFICALLY TO THE COMING AGAIN IN WONDROUS GLORY AND GREAT POWER OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST. THIS TITLE PRESENTS THE PURPOSE OF CHRIST. CAN WE THINK OF THE POSSIBILITY OF PEACE FOR A MOMENT? CAN WE SEE PEACE IN THE MIDDLE EAST ANY TIME SOON? CAN WE SEE PEACE IN THE STREETS OF NORTHERN IRELAND ANY TIME IN THE FUTURE? CAN WE SEE PEACE IN THE STREETS OF AMERICA TODAY? THERE IS NO SUCH VISION LEFT TO OUR IMAGINATION BASED ON THE TRUTH OF THIS WORLD. PEACE IS NOT SOMETHING THAT COMES ABOUT BY ACCIDENT. TRUE PEACE COMES ABOUT BY "PURCHASE". WHETHER IT BE PEACE OF HEART, PEACE OF CONSCIENCE, PEACE OF MIND, PEACE WITH GOD OR PEACE FROM GOD, TRUE PEACE CAN ONLY BE ENJOYED IN THE REALM OF JESUS CHRIST, WITHIN WHOM WE FIND THE ROYAL SCEPTER.

THERE ARE ONLY TWO PLACES IN GOD'S ETERNITY: EITHER PEACE WITH THE PRINCE OF PEACE FOREVER, OR NO PEACE AT ALL IN THE TORMENTS OF A NEVER ENDING ETERNITY. THIS MESSAGE ABOUT THE FIVE NAMES, THE FIVES IDENTITIES OF JESUS CHRIST, IS MEANT TO MAKE THINGS VERY SIMPLE. MANY HAVE COME UP WITH LISTS OF COMMENTARIES OVER THE BIBLE, GOD'S INSPIRED WORD, YET GOD DOES NOT NEED ANYONE'S INTERPRETATION; HE IS BOLD AND CLEAR ABOUT WHAT HE EXPECTS FROM US. THE COMMENTARIES AND INTERPRETATIONS ARE DESIGNED TO APPEAL TO OUR INTELLECT, WHEREAS THE BIBLE SPEAKS TO OUR HEARTS. AND THAT IS WHERE WE FIND THE REAL TRUTH ABOVE ALL ELSE.

OCTOBER 7 JESUS SPOKE OF MANY PARABLES DURING HIS LIFE, ESPACIALLY DURING THE LAST WEEK, ON HIS WAY TO JERUSALEM. HE GAVE US GREAT ILLUSTRATIONS AS TO WHAT WOULD TRULY TOUCH THE HEART OF GOD. HE DEMONSTRATED MEEKNESS, AND A QUIET SPIRIT WHILE HIS OPPONENTS CONTINUED TO ACCUSE HIM FALSELY. HIS SUFFERING TOOK GREAT MEASURES AS HE CARRIED HIS CROSS TO CALVARY, AFTER BEING BEATEN AND HURT IN THE MOST CRUEL WAY. YET HIS GREATEST SUFFERING CAME FROM BEARING THE SHAMEFUL BURDEN OF "SIN", WHICH CAUSED HIS FATHER TO TURN AWAY FROM HIS SON.

THERE NEVER WAS A WORD OF COMPLAINT, NOT EVEN A WHIMPER OF QUESTION FROM HIS MOUTH. NEITHER THE DREADFUL TREATMENT OF MEN, NOR THE TERRIFYING JUDGMENT OF GOD UPON HIM FOR ALL OF OUR SINS WOULD BRING A WORD OF PROTEST FROM HIS BLEEDING LIPS. HE COMPLETELY SURRENDERED TO THE WILL OF HIS FATHER, ALL BECAUSE THE ENTIRE PICTURE INVOLVING THE CROSS WAS PART OF GOD'S PLAN FOR HUMANITY. EVEN AS HE KNEW THAT WE WOULDN'T BE QUITE AS APPRECIATIVE AS WE OUGHT TO BE FOR HIS EFFORTS IN SATISFYING GOD'S WRATH ON OUR BEHALF, HE WENT THROUGH IT ALL WITHOUT A WORD.

THIS TEACHES US THAT ALL THINGS, EVEN SOMETHING AS AWFUL AS DYING ON THE CROSS, IS PART OF GOD'S PLAN. NOTHING HAPPENS TO US THAT GOD IS NOT AWARE OF. GOD DOESN'T PRODUCE THE EVIL THINGS THAT HAPPEN TO US; BUT HE CERTAINLY KNOWS HOW TO DRAW GREAT RESULTS FROM THEM, BASED ON OUR ABILITY TO TRUST HIM, NO MATTER WHAT, AND AS WE'RE ABLE TO FOCUS ON HIS GREATNESS, INSTEAD OF HOW GRAVE OUR CIRCUMSTANCES MAY APPEAR TO US.

JESUS WAS OPPRESSED DURING THE TRIALS. HE WAS ACCUSED BY THE CHIEF PRIESTS AND ELDERS OF THE TEMPLE. YET JESUS HELD HIS PEACE. HIS INNOCENCE NEEDED NOT ANY DEFENSE, AND THE CONVICTION OF HIS 

SPIRIT SAYS PLENTY TO ANY LISTENING HEART TODAY. WE MAY THINK JUSTICE WAS VIOLATED DURING THOSE FINAL DAYS OF OUR SAVIOR; BUT GOD'S JUSTICE WAS BEING ESTABLISHED ALL THROUGHOUT HUMANITY, JUST SO WE WOULD HAVE A CHANCE OF ETERNAL FELLOWSHIP WITH HIM. RELIGION WAS BEING REPLACED WITH RELATIONSHIP; AND THE ONLY ONE CHOSEN FOR THAT TASK WAS JESUS CHRIST, OUR LORD AND SAVIOR.

OCTOBER 6    JESUS REBUKED THE PHARISEES DURING HIS FINAL DAYS. WITH THAT, HE WAS TRYING TO TEACH US TO FOLLOW GOD'S COMMANDS, AND NOT THE MANMADE RULES OF THIS FALLEN WORLD. MORE DENOMINATIONS HAVE ESTABLISHED THEIR OWN DEMANDS AND EXPECTATIONS OF US AS THE FOLLOWERS OF THE WORD; BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY, WE OUGHT TO BECOME TRUE FOLLOWERS OF THE WORD. CHURCHES MAY HAVE COME UP WITH WAYS OF KEEPING AN ORDER WITHIN THEIR ESTABLISHMENTS, YET WE HAVE A RESPONSIBILITY TO SEE WHETHER OR NOT THOSE LINE UP WITH GOD'S WORD. ARE THEY LEADING US TO WORSHIP GOD, OR ARE THEY DESIGNED TO HELP US WORSHIP THAT PARTICULAR SYSTEM THAT DRAWS US INTO A MORE DISCIPLINED LIFESTYLE? THE IDEA IS TO DEVELOP DISCIPLINE, FOR SURE; BUT THE MOTIVE OF THAT DISCIPLINE OUGHT TO GIVE GOD THE RECOGNITION HE DESREVES, AND WORSHIP HIM MORE THAN ANYTHING AND ANYONE ELSE.

IF WE WERE TO BE ASKED WHAT THE GREATEST SIN WOULD BE, WE WOULD KNOW THAT IT WOULD HAVE TO BE THE MOST IMPORTANT COMMAND THAT WE DARE DISOBEY, THE ONE THAT LEADS ALL OF GOD'S OTHER COMMANDS: LOVE THY GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART. IS THERE ANYONE AMONG US WHO CAN HONESTLY CLAIM THAT THEY HAVE NEVER STRAYED FROM THIS ONE COMMAND, AT ANY TIME OF THEIR LIFE? JESUS DID: JESUS WHO KNEW NO SIN; WE'RE NOT TALKING ABOUT THE FACT THAT HE NEVER COMMITED ANY SIN; WE'RE TALKING ABOUT THE FACT THAT HE KNEW NO SIN, HAD ALWAYS BEEN COMPLETELY SATURATED WITH THE KIND OF LOVE THAT GOD DESERVED TO RECEIVE. IT WAS THE PERFECT KIND OF LOVE. IT NEVER DIMINISHED IN SIZE OR INTENSITY.

ONE OTHER TEACHING JESUS EMPHASIZED DURING HIS LAST DAYS HERE ON EARTH WAS HOW DIFFICULT OUR LIVES WERE TO BECOME AS THE OUTSIDERS OF THIS WORLD; YET HE ENCOURAGED US TO STAND FIRM AND BE FAITHFUL IN SPITE OF HARDSHIP. MANY WHO AREN'T GROUNDED ON GOD'S TRUTH WILL LOSE THEIR FAITH UNDER PRESSURE, BUT THOSE WHO KEEP THEIR FAITH UNTIL THE END WILL BE SAVED. MATTHEW 24: 9-13 WILL ACCOUNT FOR THAT.

JESUS ALSO WANTED US TO NEVER FORGET HIS RETURN; AND TO BE READY FOR IT AT ALL TIMES. HE EVEN DESCRIBED HOW HE WAS GOING TO ARRIVE ON THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN WITH POWER AND GREAT GLORY. HE PROMISED IT WITHOUT ANY SPECIFIC DATE, FOR HE WANTED US TO ANTICIPATE HIS COMING AND MAKE ALL OF THE PROPER PREPARATIONS TO RECEIVE HIM. READ MATTHEW 24: 30, 36; AND MATTHEW 25: 13 TO SEE ALL OF THOSE DETAILS CONCERNING HIS RETURN.

THE ONLY OTHER THING LEFT FOR US TO DO IS TO REMAIN ACTIVE IN MINISTRY; TO FOCUS ON SPREADING THE GOOD NEWS AS BEST AS WE KNEW HOW, USING LESS WORDS AND MORE DAILY DEMONSTARTIONS FROM OUR LIFESTYLE CHOICES. OUR OWN PERSONAL TESTIMONIES AND THE LEVEL OF GRATITUTE WE FEEL FOR WHAT GOD DID FOR US WOULD BE THE ONLY MOTIVATOR BEHIND OUR EFFORTS. IF WE DEPEND ON OTHERS' ENCOURAGEMENTS AND PROMPTINGS, WE'LL FALL SHORT, AND NEVER BE ABLE TO LIVE UP TO GOD'S EXPECTATIONS. THROUGH OUR HUMBLE EFFORTS, GOD ENABLES US WITH SMALL WORDS, THROUGH WHICH AWESOME POWER AND MESSAGE IS CARRIED. MATTHEW 24: 14-19 EXPLAINS THIS REAL WELL.

THE MAIN INGREDIENT WE NEED TO HAVE IS TO HAVE COMPASSION FOR OTHERS WHO ARE LIVING IN DARKNESS. WE MUST BE GRACIOUS TO THOSE IN NEED. WE MUST FEED THE HUNGRY, WHETHER IT BE PHYSICAL OR SPIRITUAL. WE MUST OFFER SHELTER, A SAFE HAVEN, FOR THOSE WHO ARE LOST; WE CAN ALSO BECOME THE SHELTER BY BEING THERE FOR THEM AS THE ONLY STABILITY THEY MAY HAVE IN THEIR LIVES. WE MUST OFFER THEM HEALTH THROUGH PRAYERS, AS WELL AS WHISPERING HEALTHY WORDS INTO THEIR EARS WHENEVER THEY SEEM TO FEEL HOPELESS.

WHAT JESUS WAS REALLY DOING WAS DRAWING A LINE IN THE SAND BETWEEN THOSE WHO WERE DETERMINED TO FOLLOW THE OLD WAYS OF OBEYING THE LAWS, MEANING BEING RULED BY WHETHER OR NOT TO DO CERTAIN THINGS IN ORDER TO QUIET GOD'S JUDGMENT, AND THOSE WHO WANTED TO DIE TO THE LAW SO THEY COULD WILLINGLY BECOME ONE WITH THEIR SAVIOR. WE DON'T HAVE TO BREAK ANY LAWS IN ORDER TO FOLLOW JESUS' TEACHINGS, BUT AS WE AIM TO FOCUS ON DOING WHAT WOULD PLEASE GOD ONLY, WE WOULDN'T REALLY HAVE TO WORRY SO MUCH ABOUT BREAKING ANY LAW, SINCE HE IS THE ONE WHO GAVE US ALL OF THE LAWS, AND WANTED TO INTRODUCE US TO HIS LEVEL OF DISCIPLINE, WHICH IS WHERE COMPLETE PEACE AND OBEDIENCE IS FOUND.

OCTOBER 5    DURING THE LAST WEEK OF HIS MINISTRY, JESUS EMPHASIZED CERTAIN BASIC DETAILS THAT WERE THE MOST IMPORTANT, ONE OF WHICH WAS ABOUT DEVELOPING A HUMBLE AND CONTRITE SPIRIT. HE FELT THE NEED TO CONTINUE TEACHING HIS DISCIPLES ABOUT SERVING OTHERS. THIS PARTICULAR KINGDOM HE HAD BEEN TALKING ABOUT, UNLIKE ANY OTHER KINGDOMS THEY HAD EVER SEEN BEFORE, WASN'T ABOUT SERVING SELF, OR CLIMBING A LADDER OF HIGH POSITIONS, HIGH EARNINGS, AND IN DOING SO, ACCRUING A CROWD OF ADMIRERS. THIS PARTICULAR LADDER WAS THE KIND THAT KEPT DESCENDING INTO LOWER POSITIONS, PREPARING THEM FOR LESS AND LESS ACKNOWLEDGMENTS, OFTEN WITHOUT ANY OUTSIDE ENCOURAGEMENT FOR THE TASK AT HAND. IF ANYTHING, THEY WERE TO EXPECT CRITICISM, CHASTISEMENT, AND EVEN MOCKERY AS THEY WOULD FOCUS ON PLEASING GOD ONLY. THE RECOGNITION FOR THEIR SACRIFICES WOULDN'T BE A VISIBLE ONE; YET THROUGH THE EYES OF THEIR FAITH, THEY WOULD KNOW, DEEP DOWN INSIDE, THAT GOD WAS COUNTING EVERY ONE OF THEIR HARDSHIPS IN ORDER TO SERVE HIM, AND FILING THEM INTO A SPECIAL FOLDER, RESERVED TO BE CARRIED UNDER THEIR NAME.

WE CAN SEE WHY THE PHARISEES WERE JESUS' ENEMIES DURING THOSE DAYS. JESUS EMPHASIZED THE INNER MAN; THE PHARISEES WERE CONCERNED WITH EXTERNALS. JESUS TAUGHT A SPIRITUAL LIFE BASED ON PRINCIPLES, WHILE THE PHARISEES MAJORED ON RULES AND REGULATIONS. JESUS TAUGHT HUMILITY AND SACRIFICIAL SERVICE; BUT THE PHARISEES WERE PROUD, AND USED PEOPLE TO ACCOMPLISH THEIR OWN PURPOSES. THE HOLY LIFE OF JESUS EXPOSED THEIR ARTIFICIAL PIETY AND SHALLOW RELIGION. JESUS USED HIS HARSHEST WORDS FOR THESE RELIGIOUS LEADERS, BECAUSE THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO BE LEADING PEOPLE TO GOD; BUT INSTEAD, THEY WERE LEADING THEM TO ETERNAL DAMNATION.

1) THE PHARISEES DISTORTED AND DILUTED THE WORD OF GOD SO MUCH THAT WHEN IT HIT THE HEARTS OF THE PEOPLE, IT HAD LITTLE OR NO IMPACT ON THEM. 2) THE PHARISEES WERE CONVINCED THEY WERE HOLY BY WHAT THEY DID AND DIDN'T DO. TRUE HOLINESS IS NEVER A SYSTEM, WHETHER ORAL OR WRITTEN. TRUE HOLINESS COMES FORTH FROM A RELATIONSHIP WITH THE HOLY ONE, JESUS. 3) THE PHARISEES WERE A VERY LEGALISTIC GROUP. THEIR PROBLEM WAS THAT THEIR LEGALISM GAVE THEM A FALSE SENSE OF HOLINESS.

JESUS DIDN'T DISCRIMINATE AGAINST THE PHARISEES; HE WAS AGAINST HOW THEY WERE USING THE INNOCENT ONES TO ELEVATE THEMSELVES, AND HOW THEY TAUGHT THE PEOPLE THE WAYS TO A FRUITLESS KIND OF LIFE. THEY WERE ACTUALLY PROMOTING A WORSHIP FILLED LIFE, SURROUNDED WITH RULES AND REGULATIONS; YET THEY THEMSELVES WERE THE ONES BEING WORSHIPED, AND NOT GOD.

JESUS ACCEPTED HOSPITALITY FROM A PHARISEE. HE KNEW, IF ANYONE NEEDED THE WORD OF GOD, SIMON THE PHARISEE DID. AS JESUS WAS SEATED AT THE TABLE, A WOMAN ENTERED THE HOUSE. SHE APPROACHED HIS FEET, WASHED THEM WITH HER TEARS, AND WIPED THEM CLEAN WITH HER HAIR. SIMON WAS EMBARRASSED BECAUSE NO WOMAN WAS TO ENTER THE HOUSE WHEN A RABBI WAS VISITING. YET THIS WOMAN HAD THE AUDACITY TO COME AND TOUCH THIS RABBI'S FEET. FROM THE WAY HE WAS REFERRING TO HER, MOST LIKELY, THIS WOMAN WAS A PROSTITUTE. BUT SIMON HAD NOT SHOWN JESUS THE CUSTOMARY RITUAL OF WASHING OF HIS FEET AS HE ENTERD THE HOUSE. IT WAS AMAZING TO SEE HOW TWO HUMAN BEINGS CAN HAVE SUCH A DIFFERENT RESPONSE TO THE PRESENCE OF JESUS. EVERYTHING THAT SIMON NEGLECTED TO DO, THIS WOMAN DID, AND SHE DID IT BETTER.

JESUS' PARABLES WEREN'T CENTERED AROUND HOW TO DEAL WITH THE AMOUNT OF SIN IN SOMEOUNE'S LIFE; BUT THEY MAINLY FOCUSED ON THE AWARENESS OF THAT SIN IN THEIR HEARTS. MANY CRIED OVER THE SINS OF THEIR FLESH, WHEN JESUS WAS SIMPLY EMPHASIZING THE SINS OF THE SPIRIT. HE WAS TALKING ABOUT HOW WE COULD KILL SOMEONE'S SPIRIT WITH UNKIND WORDS, WITHOUT PUTTING A SCRATCH ON THEIR PHYSICAL BODY. HE WANTRD US TO REALIZE THAT ONE CRIME WAS JUST AS IMPORTANT AS THE OTHER. MOST LIKELY, THE HIGHER WE THINK OF OURSELVES, THE HIGHER THE RISK WE TAKE IN DISPLEASING GOD.

OCTOBER 4    WHAT DID JESUS DO DURING HIS LAST WEEK HERE ON EARTH? HE KNEW THE END WAS NEAR. HE KNEW THE FINALITY OF FRIDAY. HE HAD READ THE LAST CHAPTER BEFORE IT WAS WRITTEN AND HEARD THE FINAL CHORUS BEFORE IT WAS SUNG. KNOWING HE HAD JUST ONE WEEK WITH THE DISCIPLES, WHAT DID JESUS TELL THEM? KNOWING IT WOULD BE HIS LAST TIME IN THE TEMPLE, HOW DID HE ACT? WHAT TRULY MATTERED FOR HIM DURING THESE FEW HOURS AS THE TEACHER, THE RABBI, AND THE MASTER AS THEY EACH HAD ADDRESSED HIM AS ALL ALONG?

ONE THING FOR SURE, JESUS KNEW IT WAS TIME TO FOLLOW THE COURSE OF HIS DESTINY, AND OF COURSE HIS DESTINATION: EVEN THOUGH THE DISCIPLES WERE FILLED WITH DREAD, HE SET OUT FOR JERUSALEM, WALKING AHEAD OF THEM. ONCE MORE, HE TOOK TIME TO DESCRIBE EVERYTHING THAT WAS ABOUT TO HAPPEN TO HIM. MARK 10: 32-34 EXPLAINS, "WHEN WE GET TO JERUSALEM, THE SON OF MAN WILL BE BETRAYED TO THE LEADING PRIESTS AND THE TEACHERS OF RELIGIOUS LAW. THEY WILL SENTENCE HIM TO DIE AND HAND HIM OVER TO THE ROMANS. THEY WILL MOCK HIM, SPIT ON HIM, BEAT HIM WITH THEIR WHIPS, AND KILL HIM".

HE WENT ON A STEP FURTHER, AS LUKE 18: 33 READS, "BUT ON THE THIRD DAY, HE WILL RISE TO LIFE AGAIN!". THE VERY NEXT VERSE, LUKE 18: 34 ACCOUNTS THAT THE DISCIPLES DIDN'T UNDERSTAND A THING HE SAID. RIGHT ABOUT AROUND THAT TIME, THE MOTHER OF ZEBEDEE'S SON CAME TO JESUS WITH HER SONS, AND, KNEELING DOWN, ASKED A FAVOR OF HIM. MATTHEW 20: 20-21 EXPLAINS, "GRANT THAT ONE OF THESE TWO SONS OF MINE MAY SIT AT YOUR RIGHT HAND AND THE OTHER AT YOUR LEFT IN YOUR KINGDOM". WHEN THE REST OF THE DISCIPLES HEARD ABOUT THIS, THEY WERE INDIGNANT. THAT'S EXACTLY WHEN ONE OF THE GREATEST TEACHINGS TOOK PLACE AS JESUS RESPONDED TO HER PLEA AS RECORDED IN MATTHEW 20: 26-28, "WHOEVER WANTS TO BE A LEADER AMONG YOU MUST BE YOUR SERVANT, AND WHOEVER WANTS TO BE FIRST MUST BECOME YOUR SLAVE. FOR EVEN, I, THE SON OF MAN, CAME HERE NOT TO BE SERVED, BUT TO SERVE OTEHRS, AND TO GIVE MY LIFE AS A RANSOM FOR MANY". JESUS HAD SPENT THREE YEARS TEACHING THIS PARTICULAR ATTITUDE. HE HAD EVEN APPROACHED EACH ONE WITH A BASIN AND A TOWEL SO THAT HE COULD WASH THEIR FEET. THE VISUAL LESSON HAD BEEN CLEAR; BUT JUST TO BE SURE, JESUS HAD BACKED IT UP WITH THESE WORDS RECORDED IN JOHN 13: 15-17, "I HAVE SET YOU AN EXAMPLE THAT YOU SHOULD DO AS I HAVE DONE FOR YOU. I TELL YOU THE TRUTH, NO SERVANT IS GREATER THAN HIS MASTER, NOR THE MESSENGER GREATER THAN THE ONE WHO SENT HIM. NOW THAT YOU KNOW THESE THINGS, YOU WILL BE BLESSED IF YOU DO THEM".

WHY WERE THE OTHER DISCIPLES INDIGNANT AS THEY HEARD OF THE QUESTION? WERE THEY INDIGNANT BECAUSE SOME PERSON WOULD DARE ASK SUCH A QUESTION? OR WERE THEY INDIGNANT BECAUSE THEY FELT THEY DESERVED THE POSITION? JESUS KNEW THE HUMAN HEART REAL WELL. THIS HEART WAS ENTIRELY DIFFERENT COURSE THAN WHAT GOD HAD INTENDED TO SEE IN US: IT DECEIVES US INTO THINKING THAT WE MIGHT HAVE PRIORITY OVER OTHERS; IT MAY HUNGER AFTER A GREATER POSITION; IT COULD EASILY BECOME WEARY WITH DISCONTENTMENT; WE MIGHT EVEN BECOME PROUD, AND END UP OVERESTIMATING OUR PLACE AND OUR IMPORTANCE IN GOD'S PLAN.

SUCH A PATTERN CAN EASILY OVERSHADOW THE FACT THAT SIN HAS ALREADY BEEN DEALT WITH. FROM THE SMALLEST TO THE GREATEST OF ALL SINS, GOD HAS GRANTED US HIS MERCY, AND SAVED US FROM ETERNAL DOOM THROUGH WHAT JESUS WENT TRHOUGH ON THAT CROSS. NONE OF US IS SAVED BY OUR OWN EFFORTS; AND NONE OF US ARE EQUIPPED TO TAKE OUR OWN CROSS, AND WALK THE WALK, UNLESS GOD EQUIPS US FOR THAT ONE JOURNEY LESS TRAVELED. WHAT IS IT THAT WE THINK WE CAN TAKE CREDIT FOR, OR BELIEVE WE HAVE ACCOMPLISHED? WE COULDN'T EVEN CHOOSE GOD BY OUR OWN EFFORTS: HE CHOSE US!

AS THE TEACHING OF THESE VERSES WERE CENTERED AROUND POWER, JESUS DEMONSTRATED HOW POWER WAS TO BE USED. EVEN THOUGH THESE WERE HIS LAST HOURS ON THE EARTH, AND HE HAD BEEN TEACHING FOR THREE YEARS, HE STILL DID NOT SHOW FRUSTRATION, ANGER, OR DISGUST OVER THIS QUESTION INVOLVING POWER AND RECOGNITION. HE SIMPLY TOOK IT AS ONE LAST OPPORTUNITY TO TEACH IT AGAIN. JESUS HAD ALREADY TAUGHT THEM ABOUT THEIR KINGLY ATTRIBUTES, THE DISCIPLES OFTEN GOT CAUGHT UP IN THE WRONG CONCEPT OF A MESSIAH WHO WOULD CONQUER THE HEATHEN NATIONS. THEY EVEN ASKED THE VERY QUESTION AT JESUS' ASCENSION, "LORD, ARE YOU AT THIS TIME GOING TO RESTORE THE KINGDOM OF ISRAEL?". THEY WERE ONLY ABLE TO VISUALIZE A PHYSICAL KINGDOM; YET JESUS HAD BEEN TRYING TO TEACH THEM ABOUT THE SPIRITUAL KINGDOM OF GOD, SINCE WE ARE SPIRITUALLY CONNECTED TO HIM THROUGH THE BREATH HE PLACED WITHIN US.

TODAY, WE ALL HAVE A PLACE IN THE KINGDOM. THAT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE IMPORTANCE JESUS PLACES UPON US; YET IT HAS EVERYTHING TO DO WITH WHO JESUS IS. OUR WILLINGNESS TO FOLLOW HIS FOOTSTEPS OUGHT TO SHOW UP AS OUR WILLINGNESS TO DEMONSTRATE WHO HE IS: HE IS GOD'S ONLY BEGOTTEN SON, OUR SAVIOR, LEADER, COMMANDER IN CHIEF, REDEEMER; THE PROVIDER OF ALL STRENGTH, ALL WISDOM, AND ALL OPPORTUNITIES TO SERVE GOD, AS LONG AS WE LET HIM SET OUR AGENDA FOR EACH DAY, AND EVERY DAY. HE LOVES OUR HUMBLE APPROACH WHEN WE KNOW FOR SURE WE COULDN'T POSSIBLY ATTEMPT TO DO ANYTHING WITHOUT HIS LEADING AND APPROVAL. THAT IS TRUE SPIRITUAL POWER: THE POWER TO BE ABLE TO PUT DOWN "SELF", AND WEAR THE VERY GARMENT JESUS WEARS AS THE SON OF GOD.

OCTOBER 3    OUR LIVES ARE A REFLECTION OF GOD'S LIGHT, JUST AS IT IS IN PLANTS THROUGH PHOTOSYNTHESIS: AS SUNLIGHT IS ABSORBED INTO THE LEAVES OF A PLANT, PRODUCING SUGAR AND CARBOHYDRATES, THE LEAVES START TO FADE AND DIE IF THE PLANT IS REMOVED FROM THE LIGHT. IN A SIMILAR WAY, WE CAN GRADUALLY LOSE ALL OF OUR GIFTS; AND WE'RE NOT TALKING ABOUT THE MATERIAL ONES; WE'RE SIMPLY TALKING ABOUT THE ABILITIES THROUGH WHICH WE REMAIN EXPOSED TO GOD'S GRACE AND MERCY.

WE MAY BE FOOLISH ENOUGH TO THINK THAT GOD DOESN'T SEE OR KNOW WHAT'S GOING ON IN OUR LIVES; AND IF WE JUST PRETEND HE'S NOT AWARE, THEN MAYBE WE WON'T HAVE TO CHANGE ANYTHING. WE HAVE A MORAL OBLIGATION TO COME BEFORE HIM, AND ASK HIM TO SEARCH THE DEEPEST CREVICES OF OUR HEARTS ON A DAILY BASIS. WE OUGHT TO ASK HIM TO BESTOW THE COURAGE TO FACE THE TRUTH, TO EMPHASIZE THE IMPORTANCE OF IT THROUGH BIBLICAL STANDARDS, AND HELP US WITH A STARTING POINT FROM WHICH WE WOULD AIM TO CHANGE IT, IN ORDER TO SATISFY HIS EXPECTATIONS. THE RESULT OF THE ENTIRE PROCESS DEPENDS ON GOD; HOWEVER IT IS IGNITED BY OUR HUMBLE PLEAS, THROUGH WHICH WE REMAIN IN HIS LIGHT, AND DRAW LIFE. 

THERE IS NO LIFE, SO TO SPEAK, OUTSIDE THAT LIGHT. EVERYTHING ELSE IS TEMPORARY, AND IT HAS NO ETERNAL VALUE.

SUCH AN ATTITUDE OF HUMBLE GRATITUTE IS NEVER TO BE FORGOTTEN WHEN DEALING WITH SIN, WHETHER IT BE OURS, OR SOMEONE ELSE'S. WE MUST BE JUST AS CAREFUL WHEN APPROACHING OUR BRETHREN WITH THE ENLIGHTENING POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, AND THE USE OF BIBLICAL TRUTHS. THAT IS WHY JESUS ASKED IN MATTHEW 7: 3, "WHY DO YOU LOOK AT THE SPECK IN YOUR BROTHER'S EYE AND PAY NO ATTENTION TO THE PLANK IN YOUR OWN EYE?". WE MUST JUDGE OURSELVES, AND JUDGE OUR OWN ACTS, BUT NOT MAKE OUR WORD A LAW TO EVERYBODY. WE MUST NOT PASS JUDGMENT UPON A BROTHER WITHOUT ANY GROUNDS, AND MAKE THE WORST OF PEOPLE. WE MUST REPRAIN FROM FOCUSING ON OTHERS' PETTY FLAWS, WHILE WE ALLOW OURSELVES GREATER ONES.

THERE IS NO MEASURE TO SIN: SIN IS SIN IN GOD'S SIGHT, REGARDLESS OF THE SIZE. WE SHOULD EVEN BE BOLD ENOUGH TO SAY THAT ANYTHING THAT CONTROLS US, OUTSIDE GOD, IS SIN. IF WE CANNOT DO AWAY WITH IT, IT IS CALLED SIN. IF OUR EFFORTS GIVE TEMPORARY RESULTS, AND WE KEEP FINDING OURSELVES STRUGGLING WITH IT, IT IS CALLED SIN. IF WE CONTINUALLY HAVE A NEED TO JUSTIFY IT, IT IS CALLED SIN. IF WE GRADUALLY ALTER OUR VALUES TO HELP IT LOOK AND SOUND RIGHT, IT IS CALLED SIN. IF IT SATISFIES OUR EGO AND OUR SENSES, AND CONTINUES TO FEED SELF, IT IS CALLED SIN. WE MUST FOCUS ON OUR OWN PERSONAL REFORMATION, BEFORE WE AIM TO CORRECT OTHERS, OR EVEN THINK ABOUT THEIR CHOICES. GOD'S WORD IS PLAIN ENOUGH FOR EVERYONE TO UNDERSTAND, THAT IS OF COURSE, IF THEY'RE WANTING TO UNDERSTAND; AND IF THEY ARE NOT, WHAT MAKES US BELIEVE THAT WE'LL HAVE BETTER RESULTS?

OCTOBER 2    JESUS UNITED THE LAST SUPPER TO HIS DEATH ON THE CROSS. BY REFUSING TO DRINK OF THE FRUIT OF THE VINE UNTIL HE GAVE UP HIS FINAL BREATH, JESUS JOINED THE OFFERING OF HIMSELF UNDER THE FORM OF BREAD AND WINE TO THE OFFERING OF HIMSELF ON CALVARY. BOTH ACTIONS SAID, "THIS IS MY BODY, GIVEN FOR YOU"; AND BY DOING SO, JESUS TRANSFORMED THE CROSS INTO A PASSOVER; AND BY MEANS OF THE CROSS, HE TRANSFORMED THE LAST SUPPER INTO A SACRIFICE. THIS NEW DEFINITION REPRESENTED JESUS' PASSING OVER TO HIS FATHER BY HIS DEATH AND RESURRECTION. THE DESIRE TO EMBRACE HIS FATHER'S PLAN OF REDEMPTION WAS THE VERY REASON FOR HIS INCARNATION; AND SO HE ASKED, "SHALL I NOT DRINK THE CUP WHICH THE FATHER HAS GIVEN ME?"

THE LAST SUPPER AND CHRIST'S SACRIFICE ON CALVARY ARE ALL OF ONE PIECE. IN THE UPPER ROOM, JESUS AND HIS DISCIPLES WERE CELEBRATING PASSOVER, WHICH SIGNIFIED THE SALVATION DEED OF GOD, THE WORK OF GOD. TO HIM, ISRAEL HAD TO BE FREED FROM SLAVERY, AND GOD WAS GOING TO RESTORE THE FAMILY PURITY AND THE FAMILY COMMUNION OF HIS CHILDREN, THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL. PASSOVER INSTRUCTIONS WERE GIVEN WITH ALL THAT IN MIND, JUST SO THE ISRAELITES' FIRSTBORN CHILDREN WOULD BE SPARED. BOTH EGYPT AND ISRAEL OFFERED THEIR FIRSTBORN. EGYPT'S SACRIFICE WAS UNWILLING: THEIR FIRSTBORN SONS. ISRAEL'S SACRIFICE WAS WILLING: THE UNBLEMISHED LAMB.

ACCORDING TO JEWISH TRADITIONS, JESUS AND THE DISCIPLES SHOULD HAVE PROCEEDED WITH THE PASSOVER MEAL RIGHT AFTER THEY HAD SANG THE HYMNS,THE GREAT HIL-EL; PSALMS 114, 115, 116, 117, AND 118. INSTEAD, THEY WENT OUT INTO THE NIGHT. JESUS SKIPPED THE FOURTH CUP, THE CLIMAX OF THE PASSOVER DINNER. MARK 14: 22 RECORDS, "...TRULY IS SAY UNTO YOU, I SHALL NOT DRINK AGAIN OF THE FRUIT OF THE VINE UNTIL THAT DAY WHEN I DRINK IT NEW IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD". WAS JESUS TRYING TO SIDESTEP THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF PASSOVER? WAS HE BEING FORGETFUL OF THE PROPER ORDER OF THINGS? WHY DID JESUS SKIP THE FOURTH CUP? EVERYTHING ELSE HAD FUNCTIONED ACCORDING TO GOD'S ORIGINAL PLAN. YET JESUS FELT A NEED TO GO TO GETHSEMANE, ACCOMPANIED WITH PETER, JAMES, AND JOHN, AND HE PRAYED IN THE MOST INTIMATE WAY SAYING, "ABBA, FATHER! ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE TO THEE. REMOVE THIS CUP FROM ME. YET NOT I WILL, BUT WHAT THOU WILT". OFTEN WE HAVE LOOKED UPON JESUS' REFERRAL TO THE CONTENTS OF THIS CUP AS THE SIN OF THE WORLD. OR WAS THIS SIMPLY PART OF AN INTERRUPTED LITURGY, A TIME SET APART FOR MORE FERVENT PRAYERS, UNTIL HIS OWN BLOOD WOULD BE SHED THROUGH THE TORTURES HE WAS ABOUT TO FACE. IN FACT, WHEN HE WAS OFFERED WINE MINGLED WITH MYRRH, WHICH WAS AN OPIATE, A SORT OF PAINKILLER, HE WOULDN'T TAKE IT. HE WAS THERE TO ACCEPT THE SUFFERING FOR THE SINS OF THE WORLD; AND SO HE REFUSED TO TAKE THE WINE.

JESUS HAPPENED TO WEAR A SEAMLESS LINEN GARMENT AT THE CROSS, JUST LIKE THE HIGH PRIEST WAS LEGISLATED TO WEAR WHEN HE SACRIFICED FOR THE PASSOVER. JESUS, BEING THE TRUE PRIEST AS WELL AS THE TRUE SACRIFICE, FULFILLED THE SCRIPTURES. UNLIKE THE TWO THIEVES HANGING ON A CROSS NEXT TO HIM, JESUS' BONES WERE NOT BROKEN. DURING PASSOVER, IF YOU WERE TO REALIZE THAT THE LAMB CHOSEN FOR SACRIFICE HAD A BROKEN LEG, IT HAD TO BE DISCARDED, AND REPLACED BY AN UNBLEMISHED LAMB. AT THE VERY END, JESUS SAYS, "I THIRST". HE HAD BEEN HANGING ON THE CROSS FOR HOURS. WAS THIS HIS FIRST TIME OF THIRST? THIS TOO WAS HAPPENING TO FULFILL THE SCRIPTURE. ONLY THEN DID THEY PUT A SPONGE FULL OF SOUR WINE ON HYSSOP AND HELD IT TO HIS MOUTH. JESUS DID RECEIVE THE SOUR WINE, AND HE SAID THE WORDS THAT ARE SPOKEN OF IN THE FOURTH CUP CONSUMMATION, "IT IS FINISHED". IT'S ACTUALLY NOT FINISHED UNTIL JESUS IS RESURRECTED FROM THE DEAD. SO WHAT WAS HE REFERRING TO WHEN HE SAID, "IT IS FINISHED"? THE "IT" HE IS REFERRING TO IS THE PASSOVER SACRIFICE. THE SACRIFICE JESUS INITIATED IN THE UPPER ROOM ENDED AT CALVARY.

THE KILLING OF THE UNBLEMISHED LAMB WAS ONLY A PART OF THE RITUAL. GOD'S CHOSEN PEOPLE HAD TO CONSUME IT, AND BURN THE REST OF IT. WITHOUT THIS, THE ORDER GOD HAD GIVEN THEM TO FOLLOW WOULD'VE BEEN INCOMPLETE. JUST LIKE THE TRADITION SUGGESTS, WE TOO, AS GOD'S ELECT, NEED TO RECEIVE THE LAMB. UNLESS WE RECEIVE THE LAMB AS OUR LORD AND SAVIOR, AND GIVE UP OUR OWN WILL AS OUR SACRIFICE; MEANING TRADE PLACES WITH HIM AND HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS, WE HAVEN'T COMPLETED THE NEW PASSOVER CELEBRATION. HE IS SIMPLY CALLING US TO UNITE OURSELVES WITH HIM THROUGH BAPTISM. HE IS NO LESS REAL NOW THAN HE WAS BACK THEN. THE SACRIFICE IS MEANINGLESS IF WE DON'T PARTICIPATE IN THE CONSUMMATION OF THE ENTIRE SACRIFCIAL MEAL.

OCTOBER 1    THE PASSOVER HELPED PEOPLE REMEMBER GOD'S DELIVERANCE OF ISRAEL FROM EGYPT. IT INVOLVED SELECTING A PERFECT LAMB, ONE WITHOUT DEFECT; AND SLAUGHTERING IT AT TWILIGHT ON THE FOURTEENTH DAY OF NISAN, 3-6P.M. AFTER COLLECTING THE BLOOD, THE PEOPLE USED A BUNCH OF HYSSOP TO SPRINKLE THE BLOOD TO THE TOP AND SIDES OF THE DOORFRAMES. THEN THEY STAYED INSIDE AND ATE THE ROASTED LAMB ALONG WITH BITTER HERBS. THEY WERE REMEMBERING THE NIGHT THE LORD WENT THROUGH THE LAND OF EGYPT AND STRUCK DOWN EVERY FIRSTBORN; BUT PASSED OVER THE HOUSES WITH DOORS SPRINKLED IN BLOOD. BESIDES LAMB AND HERBS, UNLEAVENED BREAD AT THE PASSOVER MEAL REMINDED THEM HOW SUDDENLY THE LORD HAD RESCUED HIS PEOPLE. IT HAPPENED SO QUICKLY; THERE WAS NO TIME FOR BREAD TO RISE.

PASSOVER CELEBRATIONS INVOLVED THE LIGHTING OF THE CANDLES AND THE DRINKING OF FOUR CUPS OF WINE. EXODUS 6: 6-7 EXPLAINS EACH CUP AS SUCH, "I AM THE LORD", FOLLOWED BY THE FIRST CUP WHICH IS THE CUP OF SACTIFICATION, "I WILL BRING YOU OUT FROM UNDER THE YOKE OF THE EGYPTIANS...". THE SECOND BLESSING IS THE CUP OF JUDGMENT OR DELIVERANCE, "I WILL FREE YOU FROM BEING SLAVES TO THEM...". THE THIRD BLESSING WAS THE CUP OF REDEMPTION, "I WILL REDEEM YOU WITH AN OUTSTRETCHED ARM, AND WITH ACTS OF JUDGMENT...". THIS WAS THE CUP OF REDEMPTION; AND IT MANIFESTED ITSELF DURING THE LORD'S SUPPER WHEN JESUS BELESSED AND GAVE IT TO HIS DISCIPLES. THE FOURTH CUP BROUGHT A PROMISE AS THE BLESSING AND IT WAS THE CUP OF PRAISE OR RESTORATION, "I WILL NOT DRINK OF IT UNTIL I DRINK ANEW IN THE KINGDOM", MEANING WHEN HE COMES AGAIN. THAT'S WHEN THE FOURTH BLESSING OF HAVING GOD FULLY WITH US WILL BE REALIZED.

JESUS DID A STRANGE THING DURING THAT PASSOVER. HE ADDED TO THE MEAL IN A WAY THAT MADE HIMSELF THE CENTER OF IT. IN THE CASE OF BOTH THE BREAD AND THE CUP, JESUS TOOK IT, GAVE IT TO THE DISCIPLES, TELLING THEM TO PARTAKE, AND DEFINED IT AS REPRESENTING HIMSELF, HIS BODY AND HIS BLOOD. THIS ALONE MADE IT ENTIRELY DIFFERENT THAN ANY OTHER PASSOVER THEY HAD EVER EXPERIENCED.

JESUS WANTED US TO REMEMBER HIS DEATH; NOT HIS LIFE, NOT HIS MIRACLES, OR HIS TEACHING. BECAUSE THE PRIMARY PURPOSE IN COMING TO EARTH WAS TO DIE FOR THE SINS OF THE WORLD; AND IT IS THE CROSS WE NEED TO REMEMBER. THAT'S EXACTLY WHERE OUR SINS WERE BLOTTED OUT, NEVER TO BE REMEMBERED AGAIN. THE WONDER OF THIS NEW COVENANT IS GRACE. AS GOD PROVIDED THE LAMB FOR ABRAHAM, GOD ALSO PROVIDED THE LAMB FOR THE WHOLE WORLD. THIS LAMB, JESUS CHRIST, SPOKE A POWERFUL MESSAGE, "...NO MAN TAKES MY LIFE, I WILL GIVE IT WILLINGLY". HE LOVED US THAT MUCH; THEREFORE WE OUGHT TO LOVE HIM BACK. HE OBEYED THE FATHER ALL THE WAY TO THE CROSS, THEREFORE WE SHOULD OBEY HIS WORD. HE OVERCAME THE WORLD, DEATH, HELL, AND THE GRAVE; THEREFORE WE COULD OVERCOME ONLY THROUGH HIM. HE SET DOWN THE KINGDOM; THEREFORE WE SHOULD ENTER IT. THE CHURCH AND ITS WORKS CAN'T SAVE US. THOSE ARE USED FOR INSTRUCTIONS AND APPLICATIONS; BUT TRUE SALVATION COMES FROM FOLLOWING JESUS' FOOTSTEPS, AND REDEDICATING OURSELVES TO GOD'S PURPOSE ON A DAILY BASIS.

SEPTEMBER 30    MATTHEW 11: 28-29 READS, "COME TO ME, ALL YOU WHO ARE WEARY AND BURDENED, AND I WILL GIVE YOU REST. TAKE MY YOKE UPON YOU AND LEARN FROM ME, FOR I AM GENTLE AND HUMBLE IN HEART, AND YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS". JESUS IS SIMPLY SAYING, 'I UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU'RE GOING THROUGH; I UNDERSTAND YOUR PAIN; AND I'M HERE FOR YOU...COME TO ME; LEAN ON ME; AND TRUST ME WITH YOUR LIFE...I CAN EASE THE PAIN; I CAN FORGIVE THE SIN; AND I CAN MAKE THINGS BETTER...'. JESUS HAS ALWAYS BEEN THE SOLUTION TO EVERYTHING, ONLY IF WE'RE WILLING TO GIVE IT ALL TO HIM. DON'T WE WISH THAT ALL THINGS COULD BE CURED, FIXED, AND REPAIRED QUICKLY, EASILY, PAINLESSLY, AND CHEAPLY? YET THERE IS NO MAGIC WAND. JESUS DIDN'T TAKE A SHORTCUT ON THE WAY TO CALVARY: HE WALKED ALL THE WAY THROUGH, ONE HEAVY STEP AT A TIME, CARRYING ALL OF OUR BURDENS, ALL OF OUR PAIN, ALL OF OUR INIQUITIES, ALL OF OUR SIN. HE NEVER TRIED TO LESSEN HIS LOAD; HE NEVER DEDUCTED SOME OF THOSE THAT WE SHOULD HAVE BEEN HELD RESPONSIBLE FOR; HE BORE IT ALL, INCLUDING OUR SIN, EVERY BIT OF OUR DELIBERATE DISOBEDIENCE TOWARD GOD. HE CARRIED WITHOUT COMPLAINING; HE SUFFERED WITHOUT MURMURING; AND HE EVEN ASKED GOD TO FORGIVE US ALL, FOR ALL OF THE TIMES THAT WE FAILED TO RECOGNIZE HIM, AND FOR ALL THE TIMES THAT WE OFFENDED THE ALMIGHTY GOD.

THE LIST CAN GO ON FOREVER; AND WE'VE ALL HEARD IT. UNLESS WE TRULY DEVELOP THE KIND OF GRATITUDE IT DESERVES, REMINDING OURSELVES OF THE DETAILS IS NOTHING BUT MERE WORDS. BUT WE MUSN'T OVERLOOK SOMETHING JUST AS IMPORTANT WHICH IS THE FACT THAT JESUS WAS ADDRESSING THE ONES WHO WERE WEARY AND BURDENED. HE KNEW FULL WELL THAT THIS JOURNEY WOULD BE NOT AN EASY ONE, SINCE HE HAD TALKED THE TALK, AND WALKED THE WALK. ON TOP OF IT ALL, HE ALREADY KNEW ALL THINGS BECAUSE HE WAS WITH THE FATHER FROM THE BEGINNING. NOTHING WAS HIDDEN FROM HIM. HE POSSESSED GOD'S DIVINE KNOWLEDGE AND ABILITY TO SPEAK THINGS INTO EXISTENCE.

EVEN THOUGH HE INVITED US TO COME TO HIM WITH OUR WORRIES, HE NEVER PROMISED THAT THERE WOULD BE A MAGIC CURE OR A QUICK FIX. GOD USES ALL CIRCUMSTANCES TO HELP US DEVELOP CERTAIN VALUABLE ATTRIBUTES THAT WOULD PLEASE HIM ETERNALLY. OUR LIMITED UNDERSTANDING CAN ONLY PROCESS WHAT WE SEE TAKE PLACE BEFORE OUR EYES, AND WE'RE HANDICAPPED THROUGH A WORLDLY MENTALITY THAT 'WE MUST SEE TO BELIEVE'. BUT GOD'S INTENTION IS TO HAVE US DEVELOP A DIFFERENT KIND OF VISION, THE VISION THAT'S ONLY CLEAR THROUGH THE EYES OF OUR FAITH. HOW IS IT THAT WE CAN CONFESS OUR FAITH IN GOD, AS LONG AS WE CAN PROVE HIS EXISTENCE THROUGH WHAT HE DOES FOR US, AND NOT BE ABLE TO RELATE TO HIM IF AND WHEN THINGS AREN'T AS PLEASANT AS WE THINK THEY OUGHT TO BE? HOW ARE WE DIFFERENT FROM THOSE TWO DISCIPLES WHO WERE FEELING DEFEATED BY CHRIST'S DEATH ON THE CROSS, AND BECAUSE THINGS HAD TAKEN AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT DIRECTION, THEY HAD STOPPED HOPING THAT HE WAS INDEED THE MESSIAH? JESUS HAD ASKED EVERYONE TO REMAIN IN JERUSALEM UNTIL THE COMFORTER CAME; BUT MANY FLED BECAUSE THEY DIDN'T QUITE UNDERSTAND THIS NEW PLAN THAT WAS DEVELOPING BEFORE THEIR EYES. DO WE TAKE A DIFFERENT ROUTE JUST BECAUSE OUR ANSWERS AREN'T ARRIVING FAST ENOUGH? DO WE LOOK TO FIND ANOTHER SOLUTION, ANOTHER BELIEF THAT MIGHT SUBSTITUTE THE ONE AND ONLY TRUE DOOR TO HEAVEN, JUST BECAUSE WE WANT IMMEDIATE ACTION? WHAT DOES GOD'S TIMING MEAN TO US? COULD IT POSSIBLY INVOLVE PATIENCE OF WHICH WE HAVE NO CONCEPT, WHILE WE CONTINUE TO EXPECT THINGS AT OUR OWN PACE?

YET HOW GRACIOUS IS JESUS, EVEN WHEN WE DON'T FOLLOW HIS INSTRUCTIONS TO WAIT ON HIM, AND TRUST HIM NO MATTER WHAT; HE STILL MAKES AN EFFORT TO MEET US ON THE DETOURS WE MANAGE TO TAKE, JUST SO WE'LL REMAIN HIS, AND JUST AS HE EXPLAINS TO THE FATHER IN JOHN 17: 12, "...THOSE THAT YOU GAVE ME, I HAVE KEPT, AND NONE OF THEM IS LOST...".

SEPTEMBER 29    LUKE 24: 13-35 NARRATES AN ENCOUNTER THAT TOOK PLACE BETWEEN JESUS AND TWO OF HIS DISCIPLES ON THEIR WAY TO A VILLAGE CALLED EMMAUS. THEY WERE HAVING A HEATED DISCUSSION OVER THEIR MASTER'S DEATH ON THE CROSS, AND THEY WERE FILLED WITH MANY UNANSWERED QUESTIONS. NONE OF THEIR EXPLANATIONS WOULD DIFFUSE THE DARKNESS THEY WERE FEELING IN THEIR HEARTS. ONE OF THE MOST AMAZING PART OF THIS JOURNEY WAS THE FACT THAT IT WAS TAKING PLACE ON THE DAY OF JESUS' RESURRECTION. THEY BOTH KNEW ALL OF THE DETAILS ABOUT THE EMPTY TOMB AND THE ANGELS' ANNOUNCEMENT OF CHRIST'S RESURRECTION, YET THEY FLED JERUSALEM QUICKLY. WHEN JESUS APPEARED TO THEM AND ASKED THEM WHY THEY WERE SO PERPLEXED, AS IF HE DIDN'T ALREADY KNOW THE REASON, THEY TOLD HIM WHAT HAD HAPPENED IN JERUSALEM FOR THE LAST THREE AND A HALF DAYS, AND HOW THIS GOOD PROPHET WAS SENTENCED AND CRUCIFIED BY THE CHIEF PRIESTS AND RULERS. THEY SAID, "...WE HAD HOPED THAT HE WAS THE ONE WHO WAS GOING TO REDEEM ISRAEL...".

THESE TWO DISCIPLES WERE MENTIONING THE FACT THAT THEY HAD ONCE TRUSTED THIS PROPHET, AND THEY HAD HOPED THAT HE WAS THE MESSIAH; BUT THEY HAD STOPPED HOPING, BECAUSE THE UNEXPECTED DEATH OF THIS PROPHET HAD RUINED THEIR VISION OF BEING SAVED FROM SLAVERY UNDER THE ROMAN RULE AS A NATION. SINCE THEY COULD NO LONGER SEE THEIR CIRCUMSTANCES CHANGE FOR THE BETTER, THEY HAD STOPPED BELIEVING THAT THIS ONE PROPHET COULD'VE POSSIBLY BEEN THE MESSIAH.

JESUS RESPONDED TO THEM SAYING, "HOW FOOLISH YOU ARE, AND HOW SLOW TO BELIEVE ALL THAT THE PROPHETS HAVE SPOKEN! DID NOT THE MESSIAH HAVE TO SUFFER THESE THINGS AND THEN ENTER HIS GLORY?" THE DISCIPLES KNEW MOST OF THE PROMISES THE SCRIPTURES OFFERED, BUT THEY WERE NOT AWARE OF ALL OF THEM. THEY ONLY KNEW CERTAIN PORTIONS, AND HAD MISSED A GOOD CHUNK OF INFORMATION. IF THEY HADN'T DONE SO, JESUS WOULD'VE HAD NO REASON TO REMIND THEM OF THE REST OF THE SCRIPTURE. THEY WOULD'VE EASILY REMEMBERED THAT THE ENTIRE EVENT OF THE DEATH AND THE RESURRECTION OF THE MESSIAH HAD HAPPENED EXACTLY ACCORDING TO GOD'S WORD.

ONLY WHEN JESUS WAS SEATED AT THE TABLE WITH THEM, GIVING THANKS AS HE BROKE THE BREAD, DID THEY RECOGNIZE HIM; AND IMMEDIATELY HE DISAPPEARED FROM THEIR SIGHT. ONLY THEN DID THEY REALIZE THAT THEIR HEARTS WERE BURNING WHILE JESUS WAS TALKING TO THEM ON THE ROAD, AND WHILE HE WAS OPENING THE SCRIPTURES TO THEM. THEIR WALK WITH THIS STRANGER HAD HELPED EXTINGUISH THE DARKNESS THEY HAD BEEN FILLED WITH, YET THEY STILL NEVER KNEW WHO HE WAS. THESE TWO OBVIOUSLY WERE HOPING TO HAVE SEEN THEIR CIRCUMSTANCES CHANGE, IN ORDER TO SEE THAT HE INDEED WAS THE MESSIAH.

THE SAME MENTALITY IS VERY PREVALENT IN OUR SOCIETY TODAY. AS BELIEVERS, WE PREFER TO SEE RESULTS AS AN EVIDENCE OF OUR SAVIOR'S INVOLVEMENT IN OUR LIVES. WE PREFER FOR OUR TRIALS TO DISAPPEAR QUICKLY, INSTEAD OF HAVING TO WAIT ON GOD'S TIMING. WE PREFER IF JESUS WOULD GIVE US SOME SHORTCUTS, JUST SO WE WOULD JUSTIFY OUR NEED AND REASON FOR A SAVIOR. WE ONLY BELIEVE AS LONG AS WE'RE ABLE TO SEE TANGIBLE AND UNDERSTANDABLE RESULTS. UNEXPECTED AND UNEXPLAINABLE EVENTS CAN'T POSSIBLY BE GOOD FOR US, IF THEY'RE NOT CHANGING OUR CIRCUMSTANCES LIKE A MAGIC WAND COULD.

SEPTEMBER 28    SPIRITUAL GROWTH IS A COMMITMENT TO LIVING TO THE GLORY OF GOD; AND AS WE LIVE TO THE GLORY OF GOD, THE SPIRIT OF GOD ENERGIZES THE PROCESS OF SPIRITUAL MATURITY, AND WE BECOME MORE AND MORE LIKE CHRIST. WE MOVE, BY THE GRACE OF GOD, FROM SPIRITUAL INFANCY TO SPIRITUAL MATURITY; NOT INSTANTANEOUSLY, BUT GRADUALLY, AND AS GOD SEES IT APPROPRIATE. THIS PROCESS DOESN'T HAVE TO TAKE A LIFETIME, BUT IT'S IMPORTANT THAT IT HAPPENS IN PROPER INCREMENTS, UNDER GOD'S GUIDANCE AND PROMPTING, AND IT CERTAINLY DOESN'T REQUIRE OTHERS' INVOLVEMENT THROUGH GOSSIP OR CRITICISM. IN FACT, IF EACH ONE OF US WERE TO REMAIN MINDFUL ABOUT OUR OWN PERSONAL GROWTH, AND OUR DEPENDENCY OF GOD'S MERCY, WE WOULDN'T HAVE THE TIME NOR THE EFFORT TO LOOK INTO OTHERS' LIVES.

EVEN THOUGH WE'RE SO DIFFERENT IN SO MANY WAYS FROM ONE ANOTHER, THERE ARE CERTAIN THINGS ABOUT US THAT ARE PRETTY CLOSE. WE ALL HAVE A TENDENCY TO SHOW LITTLE OR NO PATIENCE TOWARD PEOPLE WHO WON'T TRY TO HELP THEMSELVES, AND END UP MISUSING BELIEVERS' GOOD INTENTIONS; AND WE DON'T LIKE IT WHEN PEOPLE QUESTION GOD INAPPROPRIATELY, AS IF THEY WERE TRYING TO QUESTION HIS EXISTENCE OR HIS ABILITIES. WE MAY EVEN RESENT THE FACT THAT SOME PEOPLE WOULD PUT US ON THE SPOT AND HAVE US DEFEND GOD'S WORD, WHICH IS NOT AT ALL NECESSARY; AND WE CERTAINLY DON'T APPRECIATE IT WHEN THEY FORGET SO EASILY HOW GREAT GOD HAD BEEN TO THEM, AND THEY GO ON WITH THEIR COMPLAINING ATTITUDE. WE END UP HAVING TO REMIND THEM OVER AND OVER AGAIN, UNTIL SOME DAY, WE REALIZE THAT WE ARE ON THE VERGE OF GIVING UP ON THEM.

GOD UNDERSTANDS OUR FRUSTRATIONS, OUR SHORTCOMINGS, AND ESPECIALLY OUR LACK OF PATIENCE. HE OVERLOOKS MANY OF OUR FLAWS SINCE HE IS MORE INTERESTED IN OUR INTENTIONS. IT IS DURING SUCH STRUGGLES THAT HE'LL POUR INTO US QUALITITES THAT HE IS WANTING TO SEE US DEVELOP. IT IS BECAUSE OF SUCH MOMENTS THAT WE GET TO BE PURIFIED. THERE ARE PASSAGES FROM THE BIBLE THAT AIM TO ENCOURAGE US IN OUR JOURNEY WHILE WE'RE CONSTANTLY BEING USED TO BUILD GOD'S KINGDOM. THE TRUTH OF THE MATTER IS THAT, HOWEVER TIRING IT MAY BE, WE ARE NOT TO KEEP AWAY FROM PEOPLE JUST BECAUSE THEY DON'T QUITE UNDERSTAND GOD'S WAYS. MANY PEOPLE MISINTERPRET BEING SET APART AS BEING ISOLATED FROM THE WORLD.

JESUS PRAYED OVER US ALL IN JOHN 17: 18-20 SAYING, "AS YOU SENT ME INTO THE WORLD, I HAVE SENT THEM INTO THE WORLD. FOR THEM I SANCTIFY MYSELF, THAT THEY TOO MAY BE TRULY SANCTIFIED. MY PRAYER IS NOT FOR THEM ALONE. I PRAY ALSO FOR THOSE WHO BELIEVE IN ME THROUGH THEIR MESSAGE...". JESUS DIDN'T BESTOW HIS OWN RIGHTEOUSNESS UPON US JUST SO WE WOULD BRAG ABOUT IT UNTIL THE DAY WE STAND BEFORE HIM. HE SANCTIFIED US THROUGH IT, SO WE WOULD HAVE AN ONGOING FELLOWSHIP WITH THE FATHER. HE MEANT FOR US TO BE SET APART IN THE SPIRITUAL SENSE, AND NOT IN THE PHYSICAL. OTHERWISE, HOW ARE WE TO TESTIFY FOR HIM IF WE DON'T APPROACH THE UNSAVED.

IF AND WHEN WE HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY TO WITNESS, TIME AND LOCATION HAS NO SIGNIFICANCE, AS LONG AS WE LOOK FORWARD TO BEING ABLE TO PLANT SEEDS INTO SOMEONE'S LIFE. THAT IS WHY JESUS SENT US INTO THE WORLD. IF HIS PRAYER WAS FOR THOSE WHO WOULD BELIEVE IN HIM THROUGH OUR MESSAGE, THEN HE CERTAINLY MEANT FOR US TO BE READY AND WILLING TO REACH THE UNSAVED.

SEPTEMBER 27    UNITY OF THE BODY IS AN IMPORTANT THEME WORTH DISCUSSING OVER AND OVER AGAIN. AS WE WATCH DIVISIONS TAKE PLACE WITHIN OUR CHURCHES TODAY, WE DISCOVER IN EPHESIANS 2: 11 THAT THIS WAS A CONCERN EVEN IN BIBLICAL TIMES, AND NEEDED TO BE ADDRESSED. IT IS HARD TO UNDERSTAND THE FACT THAT THERE IS ONE LEADER, JESUS CHRIST; THERE IS ONE KINGDOM, THE KINGDOM OF GOD; THERE IS ONLY ONE SPIRIT, THE HOLY SPIRIT; YET WE MANAGE TO HAVE DIFFERENT VIEWS OVER THE ONE TRUTH THAT EXISTS, THE BIBLE.

COULD IT BE BECAUSE THERE ARE SO MANY COMMENTATORS, WAY TOO MANY INTERPRETATIONS, AND COUNTLESS SELF-HELP BOOKS SUGGESTING THE SELF ABSORBED SPIRIT THAT HAS INVADED HUMANITY, CREATING A DEEP DESIRE TO BE RIGHT IN THEIR VIEW OF GOD'S WORD? THE FACT OF THE MATTER IS THAT THE TRUTH DOESN'T NEED DEFENDING. THE TRUTH DOESN'T NEED INTERPRETING. THE TRUTH DOESN'T EVEN NEED EXPLAINING. THE TRUTH STANDS ALONE; IT IS GOD'S WORD. GOD HAS ALWAYS BEEN CLEAR ABOUT HIS COMMANDS. HE'S NEVER HIDDEN ANYTHING FROM HIS PEOPLE. IN FACT, THERE WAS A TIME WHEN GOD ENDED UP APPOINTING PROPHETS, BECAUSE HIS OWN VOICE, AS HE WAS GUIDING THE ISRAELITES, WAS FOUND TO BE WAY TOO LOUD... WAY TOO DEMANDING... AND WAY TOO SCARY BY THE MURMURING MULTITUDES.

GOD'S WORD IS GOD'S VOICE. IT'S DESIGNED TO HELP US, AND BESTOWS THE MEASURE WE'RE COMFORTABLE RECEIVING, AND EVEN THE TIME AND PLACE WE UTILIZE IT FULLY. IT TELLS US ABOUT ALL OF THE VIRTUES THAT GOD IS TRYING TO HELP US DEVELOP, JUST SO WE'LL BE MADE RIGHT FOR HEAVEN. ONE OF THE VIRTUES IS ABOUT UNITY. UNITY IN ITSELF IS NOT A VIRTUE; BUT THE PURSUIT OF UNITY, THE DESIRE OF IT, IS CONSIDERED A VIRTUE. IT CALLS FOR US TO BE ABLE TO SET ASIDE ALL OF OUR DEIFFERENCES, AND FOCUS ON BEING ONE, IN ORDER TO ATTRACT THE HURTING, THE LAME, AND THE BLIND.

WHEN JESUS PRAYED FOR SUCH UNITY IN JOHN 17, HE PRAYED AS OUR HIGH PRIEST, AND JESUS NEVER PRAYED AN UNANSWERED PRAYER. EVERY PRAYER OF HIS CAME TO PASS, EXCEPT FOR THE ONES THAT REQUIRE OUR OBEDIENCE, OUR HUMILITY, AND OUR SUBMISSION TO PLEASING GOD MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE. JESUS ALWAYS PRAYED ACCORDING TO GOD'S WILL; AND TODAY WE FIGHT AGAINST OUR LACK OF UNITY WHICH HAS RESULTED IN DENOMINATIONALISM, HISTORICAL AND THEOLOGICAL VIEWPOINTS, TRADITIONS, OPINIONS, AND PREFERENCES. SUCH DISCORD IS UNACCEPTABLE AND UNEXPLAINABLE WHEN THERE IS ONE GOD TO WORSHIP. THEREFORE THERE IS NO ROOM TO WORSHIP SELF-BASED CHOICES: THEY DON'T FIT IN AT ALL WITHIN A PICTURE WHERE CHRIST BECAME THE SACRIFICE TO MAKE US RIGHT WITH GOD, AND ALL OF A SUDDEN, WE SOMEHOW START BIRTHING AN IDEA OF HOW THAT ENTIRE GIFT, BASED ON GOD'S UNCONDITIONAL LOVE, OUGHT TO BE MANAGED AND DEVELOPED.

INSTEAD OF TRYING TO FIGURE THINGS OUT WITH OUR LIMITED AND UNSOPHISTICATED WAYS, WE SHOULD SIMPLY WRAP OUR ARMS AROUND WHAT GOD WANTS: THAT WE ARE IN CHRIST, AND CHRIST IS IN US. CHRIST AND WE ARE ONE. OUR IDENTITY, OUR EFFORTS, AND OUR WORKS ARE INVISIBLE TO GOD, IF WE ARE TO APPROACH HIM APART FROM CHRIST. THEREFORE WHEN GOD LOOKS AT US, HE SEES US AS ONE. THERE IS NO CLASS SYSTEM. THERE IS NO HIERARCHY. THERE ARE NO BLUE RIBBON SHEEP. THERE IS ABSOLUTE EQUALITY THROUGH JESUS CHRIST. THE VERY DIFFERENCES WE EACH POSSESS ARE TO BE USED AS A WAY TO REACH PEOPLE, AND NOT AS AN EXCUSE TO START A SOLO JOURNEY OF OUR OWN.

SEPTEMBER 26    "I'M NOT AS BAD AS YOU THINK I AM". IS THIS WHAT WE'RE SAYING TO GOD WHO KNOWS EVERY FIBER OF OUR BEING WHEN WE'RE TAKING HIS PLAN OF SALVATION SO LIGHTLY? WHY THEN DO WE SPEND MORE TIME AND ENERGY FOCUSING ON OTHERS' LIVES INSTEAD OF SAYING, "GOD... THANK YOU FOR SEEING ME PRECIOUS, AND WORTHY OF SUCH SACRIFICE; AND WE BOTH KNOW THAT I'M NOT. YOU ALWAYS KNEW THAT; YOU ALWAYS KNEW THAT I WOULD LET YOU DOWN SOONER OR LATER; YOU ALWAYS KNEW THAT I COULDN'T POSSIBLY LIVE UP TO YOUR EXPECTATIONS OF PURETY AND HOLINESS; YOU ALWAYS KNEW THAT I WOULD TAKE THE EASY WAY OUT BECAUSE, WITHOUT YOU IN MY LIFE, I DON'T HAVE WHAT IT TAKES TO GO ON..."

THE LONGER IT TAKES FOR US TO HUMBLE OURSELVES BEFORE THE LORD, AND ACCEPT HIS GENEROUS GIFT OF LOVING US NO MATTER WHAT, THE LONGER WE'LL STAND QUIET EACH TIME AN OPPORTUNITY TO MINISTER TO SOMEONE IS THROWN OUR WAY. WE'LL REMAIN DEAF AND MUTE, INSTEAD OF WINNING SOULS FOR CHRIST, JUST BECAUSE WE HAVEN'T PARITICIPATED IN THE ENTIRE IMMERSION OF THE BAPTISM. WE'VE SIMPLY SPRINKLED A FEW DROPS HERE AND THERE, JUST SO WE'LL APPEAR AND FEEL WET TO OTHERS; YET THE FULL IMMERSION HAS NOT BEEN OUR REALITY, JUST A FICTION OF OUR IMAGINATION. GOD WHO KNOWS ALL ABOUT THIS CONCERNING WHAT'S HIDDEN INSIDE EACH INDIVIDUAL'S HEART, PATIENTLY AWAITS FOR US TO COME CLEAN WITH HIM, SO HE CAN LIFT ALL RESTRAINTS, AND POUR ALL OF HIS PROVISIONS UNTO US, AS WELL AS THROUGH US. UNTIL THAT COMPLETE IMMERSION TAKES PLACE, WE LIVE IN DENIAL, AND KEEP LYING TO OURSELVES, AND PERHAPS EVEN TO OTHERS WHO AREN'T SAVED YET. BUT ANYONE WHO GETS SAVED, ALMOST IMMEDIATELY THEREAFTER, IS GIVEN THE GIFT OF DISCERNMENT, AND A SENSE OF UNDERSTANDING BEYOND THE HUMAN CAPACITY THEY ONCE HAD. ONLY THEN DO WE TRULY SEE REALITY THE WAY GOD PERCEIVES, AND KNOW TO HELP OTHERS THROUGH WHAT THE NEEDS MAY BE, AND NOT FORCEFEED THEM A SERIES OF BIBLICAL VERSES THEY KNOW NOT HOW TO INTERPRET.

AS WE UNDERSTAND THE DEPTH OF WHAT REALLY TOOK PLACE ON THAT CROSS, WE ARE REMINDED OF THE SHAME WE OUGHT TO BEAR, AND HUMBLED ENOUGH TO SEE THAT WE'RE NOT ANY BETTER THAN THE PERSON NEXT TO US. WE'RE PERHAPS A LITTLE MORE CLEVER IN CAMOUFLAGING OUR IMPURITIES, AND APPEARING CLEANER, MAYBE EVEN MORE SOPHISTICATED THAN AVERAGE; BUT EVEN THE BEST OF OUR OWN EFFORTS ARE USELESS WHEN IT COMES TO SAVING OUR SOULS FROM ETERNAL DOOM. LET US NOT BE FOOLED BY PEOPLE WHO KEEP DISPLAYING THEIR KNOWLEDGE OF THE BIBLE, OR THEIR CAPABILITY OF MEMORIZING VERSES, THINKING THAT THEY'RE SO FAR AHEAD OF US. IF THEY'RE STILL SPEAKING WORDS, INSTEAD OF LIVING THEM, IT'S SIMPLY A SIGN THAT THEY THEMSELVES ARE LIVING IN DENIAL. THE MAIN THING WE OUGHT TO UNDERSTAND IS THE FACT THAT GOD'S JUDGMENT IS ALWAYS RIGHT. IF GOD DECIDED TO GIFTWRAP THE PLAN OF SALVATION THROUGH THE DEATH OF JESUS CHRIST, AND HANDED IT TO EACH AND EVERY ONE OF US, HE KNEW FULL WELL THAT WE HAD TO HAVE IT; AND WITHOUT IT, WE DIDN'T STAND A CHANCE.

SEPTEMBER 25    WE EXPERIENCE THE DEEPEST HURTS THROUGH PEOPLE WE LOVE THE MOST. UNFORTUNATELY, WE SEE MARRIAGES END UP WITH DIVORCES BECAUSE OF SOMEONE'S FEW UNKIND WORDS; FAMILIES FALL APART BECAUSE OF SOMEONE'S INSENSITIVITY; BUSINESSES CLOSE DOWN BECAUSE OF SOMEONE'S GREED; EVEN OUR YOUNG STUDENTS GET BULLIED AT SCHOOL FOR SILLY REASONS. HOWEVER THE MOST DESPICABLE KIND OF BULLYING OCCURS IN CHURCHES, WHEN BELIEVERS DISAGREE WITH THE CHOICES OTHER BELIEVERS MAKE, AND THEN PULL AWAY. WE, AS FOLLOWERS OF CHRIST, TAKE SPIRITUAL, EMOTIONAL, VERBAL, AND THEOLOGICAL RANDOM CRITICISM ALMOST ALL THE TIME, AND CAUSE DIVISION JUST TO SATISFY "SELF RELATED" INTERNAL DYSFUNCTIONS. NOT EVERY DISAGREEMENT ENDS UP ON A BITTER NOTE; ONLY THE ONES DURING WHICH WE DON'T TAKE TIME TO PROCESS OUR THOUGHTS AND OUR WORDS THROUGH THE FILTERING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.

WE'VE SEEN A GOOD EXAMPLE OF THIS BEING DISPLAYED IN JOB 15: 1-35 WHERE CLOSE FRIENDS OF JOB FIND WAYS OF ACCUSING HIM DURING HIS TIME OF SADNESS AND SORROW, INSTEAD OF 

COMFORTING AND ENCOURAGING HIM. THEY SOMEHOW OVERRODE COMPASSION WITH THEIR KNOWLEDGE OF THE LAW, AND TOOK HIM OUT WITH ACCUSATIONS BASED ON ASSUMPTION. ALL THEY NEEDED TO DO WAS SIMPLY TO PRAY OVER HIM, JUST SO HE COULD BEAR THE PAIN, THE DISTRESS, THE ANGUISH, AND THE DESTRUCTION OF HIS LIFE.

THE GREEKS AND THE ROMANS HAD MANY GODS. THEY WERE ANYTHING BUT UNIFIED. THAT IS WHY JESUS PRAYED IN JOHN 17: 20-22, BECAUSE HE KNEW WHAT RESULTED FROM NOT HAVING A SINCERE AND A LOVE-FILLED CONNECTION WITH ONE ANOTHER. HE KNEW EVEN THEN THAT A LACK OF UNITY AND TOGETHERNESS WOULD BE A PROBLEM FOR HIS FOLLOWERS. HE WANTED US TO FORM A GODLY UNITY, AND ENCOURAGE ONE ANOTHER. HE DESIRED THAT OUR APPROACH TO EACH OTHER'S FLAWS WOULD BE FILLED WITH LOVE AND COMPASSION; THAT WE WOULD AIM FOR CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM, AND OUR WORDS WOULD BE CHOSEN CAREFULLY TO BUILD, AND NOT TO TEAR DOWN.

ONCE WE TRULY UNDERSTAND WHAT CHRIST DID FOR US, AND HOW AWESOME AND UNCONDIITONAL GOD'S LOVE IS FOR US, WE HAVE NO REASON TO MAKE SECONDARY ISSUES TAKE FIRST PLACE, OR TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE DISUNITY OF THE CHURCH. THIS MUST TRULY BREAK THE HEART OF JESUS.

BIBLICAL UNITY IS NOT FOUND IN RULES AND RITUALS. BIBLICAL UNITY IS NOT FOUND IN ORGANIZATIONS, DENOMINATIONS, AND STRUCTURES. BIBLICAL UNITY IS NOT FOUND IN A COMMON BUDGET OR IN PERSONAL DEVOTION TO SOME LEADER. BIBLICAL UNITY IS FOUND WHEN WE REMEMBER THAT ALL TRUE BELIEVERS ARE IN THE HAND OF CHRIST, WHO PAID FOR OUR REBELLION OF REJECTING GOD. IT IS TIME TO FIGHT GREED, STRIFE, AND DIVISION AS A GROUP OF BELIEVERS WHO ARE RIGHTLY RELATED TO THE FATHER AND THE SON, AND WHO REFLECT THE UNITY THE FATHER AND THE SON DISPLAY IN THEIR RELATIONSHIP WITH EACH OTHER. THE SIZE OF A CHURCH ISN'T IMPRESSIVE AT ALL; IT IS THE UNITY FOUND WITHIN ITS CONGREGATION THAT DISPLAYS GOD'S PLEASURE, AND GENERATES CONFIDENCE IN GOD TO BESTOW EVEN GREATER MIRACLES.

SEPTEMBER 24    WE ALL HAVE AREAS OF WEAKNESSES AND MOST OF US KNOW WHAT THEY ARE. UNFORTUNATELY, THE ENEMY KNOWS THEM TOO, AND THE TEMPTATIONS WE FACE ARE ALWAYS TAILORED FOR A PERFECT FIT. JAMES 1: 14 READS, "BUT EACH ONE IS TEMPTED WHEN HE IS DRAWN AWAY BY HIS OWN DESIRES AND ENTICED". IT IS IMPERATIVE THAT WE FILTER OUR ACTIVITIES THROUGH THE GRID OF WHAT IS SPIRITUALLY HEALTHY FOR US. WE MUST KNOW WHAT OUR WEAKNESSES ARE, AND WHY, JUST SO WE'LL RESIST THE TRAPS SURROUNDING US.

ROMANS 12: 2 URGES US TO STOP BEING CONFORMED TO THIS WORLD, BUT TO BE TRANSFORMED BY THE RENEWING OF OUR MIND. THE WORLD IS CONSTANTLY TRYING TO SQUEEZE US INTO ITS MOLD, BY SUGARCOATING SIN. ALMOST NINETY-NINE PERCENT OF THE TIME, WE'RE EXPOSED TO LEGALIZED SIN THESE DAYS, AND WE CAN'T HELP BUT QUESTION RIGHT FROM WRONG. WHAT SEEMED TO BE THE RIGHT THING TO DO IS NO LONGER; AND VICE VERSA. IT IS CONFUSING, TO SAY THE LEAST, TO WATCH WHAT'S ACCEPTABLE AND WHAT'S NOT. TELEVISION SHOWS GLORIFY WITCHCRAFT AND HOMOSEXUALITY, WHILE WE'RE BEING ENTERTAINED THROUGH REALITY SHOWS THAT PREY UPON PEOPLE'S INIQUITIES AND VULNERABILITIES. WATCHING OTHERS' DISPLAY OF HUMILIATION AND DISGRACE AMUSES US; AND WE TALK ABOUT THEM AS IF THEY'RE TOO FAR GONE, INSTEAD OF FEELING AGONY FOR THEIR SOULS.

THOSE ARE SAD BUT TRUE ABOUT OUR MODERN DAY ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY. IN FACT, IT IS WELL UNDERSTOOD THAT IF A SHOW IS FOCUSED ON GOOD STUFF, PROMOTING HOPE AND ENCOURAGEMENT, IT WILL NOT HAVE THE RATINGS TO LAST EVEN A SEASON. WE'RE LIVING IN AN AGE OF INCREASING TOLERANCE OF IMMORAL BEHAVIOR; WE'RE LIVING IN AN AGE OF POLITICAL CORRECTNESS; WE'RE LIVING IN AN AGE WHERE CONCERN FOR NATURE AND THE ENVIRONMENT EASILY OVERRIDES POVERTY AND ABUSE STRICKEN INNOCENT SOULS. SUCH WARPED MENTALITY SPILLS OVER TO ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING WE CONSIDER TO BE NORMAL; AND WHAT APPEARS TO BE A SLIGHT DECLINE AT THE BEGINNING, DEVELOPS INTO A NORMALCY, UNTIL SOME DAY, WE BECOME JUST LIKE EVERYBODY ELSE. AFTER ALL, CONFORMITY TO A SINFUL BEHAVIOR SOOTHES THE CONSCIENCE OF THOSE WHO ARE LOST, LEAVING BEHIND A PATH OF INDULGENCES WITHOUT REMORSE OR CONCERN. EVEN IF WE WERE TO BE AVID BIBLE READERS, UNTIL WE MAKE AN EFFORT TO APPLY GOD'S WORD IN OUR LIVES, ONE STEP AT A TIME, WE'RE STILL FLIRTING WITH OUR ENEMIES, WHICH CAN BE CATEGORIZED INTO THREE:

1) MATERIALISM, MEANING 'THE LUST OF THE EYES': WE'RE CONSTANTLY BEING INTRODUCED TO ONE MORE THING WITHOUT WHICH WE'RE TO BELIEVE WE CAN'T POSSIBLY BE HAPPY; AND THE MORE WE PURSUE HAPPINESS THROUGH MATERIALISM, THE LESS THE SATISFACTION. 1 JOHN 2: 15 READS, "DO NOT LOVE THE WORLD OR THE THINGS IN THE WORLD.

2) FAME AND POWER, MEANING 'THE PRIDE OF LIFE': KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES SO TO SPEAK, TAKING PRIDE IN OUR POSSESSIONS, OR OUR POSITION CAN DRIVE US INTO MAKING DECISIONS MUCH LESS ACCEPTABLE THROUGH GOD'S STANDARDS. IT EATS AWAY AT OUR EFFORTS, UNTIL WE'RE COMPLETELY DEPLEAT

3) PLEASURE, MEANING 'THE LUST OF THE FLESH': THIS WORLD TAKES NATURAL DESIRES AND TWISTS THEM, AND PRESENTS THEM IN WRONG WAYS. ACCORDING TO THIS WORLD'S INTERPRETATION, ONE OF THE MAIN WAYS TO BE HAPPY IS TO INDULGE IN SINFUL PLEASURES, SUCH AS IMMORALITY, DRUNKENNESS, DRUG ABUSE, ETC. HEBREWS 11: 25 SPEAKS OF THOSE AS BEING TEMPORARY.

THE MAIN IDEA IS FOR US TO BECOME OUTWARDLY WHAT WE ARE INWARDLY; OUR NEW NATURE IS TO BECOME MANIFEST THROUGH OUR BEHAVIOR AND SPEECH, UNTIL WE START REFLECTING OUR GODLY INTOLERANCE OF SIN. THIS IS A CONTINUAL PROCESS, MEANING, WE CONTINUE TO EVOLVE INTO OUR NEW NATURE, AS WELL AS IT CONTINUES ON UNTIL JESUS' SECOND COMING. AT THAT TIME, THERE WILL BE AN INSTANTANEOUS CHANGE; BUT FOR NOW, OUR THINKING AND OUR CONDUCT SHOULD BE MORE PROGRESSIVE IN CHANGE, AND OUGHT TO BE NOTICABLE BY OTHERS...

SEPTEMBER 23    NUMBERS 11: 1 READS, "AND WHEN THE PEOPLE COMPLAINED, IT DISPLEASED THE LORD: AND THE LORD HEARD IT; AND HIS ANGER WAS KINDLED; AND THE FIRE OF THE LORD BURNT AMONG THEM, AND CONSUMED THEM THAT WERE IN THE UTTERMOST PARTS OF THE CAMP". THE ORIGINAL HEBREW WORD USED TO EXPLAIN THIS PARTICULAR PASSAGE HAD THE SAME DEFINITION AS "TO MOURN". THEIR COMPLAINING WAS RATHER A WHINING THAT STEMMED FROM SELF-PITY.

SINCE WE KNOW THAT NOTHING COMES OUR WAY WITHOUT THE KNOWLEDGE OR THE APPROVAL OF GOD, WE OUGHT TO BE ABLE TO SEE WHAT MESSAGE WE'RE GIVING OUT WHEN WE COMPLAIN. SUCH BEHAVIOR, DIRECTLY OR INDIRECTLY, COMMUNICATES AN ACCUSATION AGAINST GOD. IT TELLS GOD OF AN UNJUST TREATMENT. THAT IS EXACTLY WHY 1THESSALONIANS 5: 18 READS, "IN EVERYTHING GIVE THANKS: FOR THIS IS THE WILL OF GOD IN CHRIST JESUS CONCERNING YOU". IF WE DON'T TAKE THIS MENTALITY SERIOUSLY, WE HAVE THE POTENTIAL OF CARRYING A SPIRITUAL TOXIN WHEREVER WE GO, OR BECOMING A SPIRITUAL TOXIN IN THE LIVES OF PEOPLE WE LOVE. SATAN USES THIS DISEASE MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE, JUST SO HE CAN KEEP CHRISTIANS FOCUSING ON THEIR PROBLEMS, RATHER THAN GOD'S PROVISIONS.

THESE PEOPLE HAD STARTED COMPLAINING SOON AFTER GOD HAD FREED THEM FROM SLAVERY IN EGYPT. THEY WERE SAYING THAT THE OLD LIFE, MUNDANE AND LIMITED IN EVERY WAY, WAS FAR BETTER THAN WHAT THEY HAD NOW. IF WE LOOK INTO EGYPT AS A TYPE OF THE LOST CONDIITON OF A SINNER, THEN WE'LL UNDERSTAND WHY MORE CHRISTIANS, UNDER PRESSURE, WILL SAY, "I NEVER HAD THIS MANY PROBLEMS BEFORE I GOT SAVED".

SOME PEOPLE MAY BE ON THE VERGE OF TOTAL COMMITMENT; WHICH IS THE BASIC COMMITMENT OF TRULY BORN AGAIN BELIEVERS; AND WITH THE SIGHT OF THAT ONE UNFAMILIAR EVENT, THEY TURN AND RUN BACK FULLY INTO THE WORLD. THE DECEIVER COMES WEARING MANY DIFFERENT MASKS; YET THE MESSAGE IS ALWAYS THE SAME: EAT, DRINK, AND BE MERRY; YOU DESERVE IT; TAKE IT EASY, PARTY, HAVE A BLAST WHILE YOU CAN; YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE... THE LATTER PART IS TRUE: WE ONLY LIVE ONCE. YET HOW WE LIVE DETERMINES WHERE WE'LL END UP SPENDING ETERNITY.

IT IS TRULY UNBELIEVABLE TO SEE HOW GOOD GOD IS, ESPECIALLY WHEN WE APPROACH HIM WITH AN ATTITUDE OF INGRATITUDE. INGRATITUDE DENOTES SPIRITUAL IMMATURITY. LIKE INFANTS, ONLY THOSE WITH SHORT MEMORIES WOULD CRY OVER THE PRESENT MOMENT, INSTEAD OF BEING ABLE TO SEE THE GREATER PICTURE A DOTING PARENT OVERSEES. AFTER ALL, COMPLAINING IS CONTAGIOUS. IT CONTINUES TO PRODUCE MORE THINGS TO COMPLAIN ABOUT, OR MORE LIKE-MINDED COMPLAINERS; AND BEFORE WE KNOW IT, WE'RE SPIRALING DOWN A PATH OF DARKNESS, ONLY TO REALIZE THAT WE LET OURSEVES DOWN; NOT GOD.

IT IS SO VERY EASY TO OVERLOOK THINGS THAT GOD HAS ENTRUSTED US WITH, AND DARE TO SEE WHAT WE SHOULD'VE QUALIFIED FOR INSTEAD. HOWEVER, GOD IS GRACIOUS ENOUGH NOT TO GIVE US WHAT WE TRULY DESERVE TO HAVE. WE DESERVE TO BE TREATED THE WAY CHRIST WAS BY THE MULTITUDES. WE SHOULD'VE CARRIED A HUGE CROSS MADE OUT OF SHAME, GUILT, DISGRACE, AND HUMILIATION ACROSS OUR BACKS. WE SHOULD'VE BEEN SPIT UPON, MADE FUN OF, BEATEN AND FLOGGED UNTIL WE COULD NO LONGER STAND ON OUR TWO FEET. INSTEAD, WE WERE GIVEN A GARMENT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS THAT BELONGED TO JESUS, THROUGH WHICH WE'RE ABLE TO SHOW OUR FACES TO GOD, AND YET WE HAVE THE AUDACITY TO GIVE HIM A TO-DO LIST OF OUR WANTS.

THE GREATEST CONCERN IS NOT ABOUT WHETHER OR NOT WE CAN OVERCOME THIS ONE WEAKNESS. THE PROBLEM IS DEEPER THAN THAT: IT IS DIFFICULT FOR ONE TO BE TRULY IN AWE AND PRAISE, AND IN NEARLY THE SAME BREATH, DOUBT GOD'S RIGHTEOUSNESS. GOD ALWAYS HAS A REASON AND HE IS CERTAINLY ABLE TO TRANSFORM ALL THINGS INTO THE MOST FAVORABLE OF ALL SITUATIONS, THAT IS OF COURSE, IF WE'RE ABLE TO TRUST HIM NO MATTER WHAT. THIS ONE TRANSACTION IS EXTREMELY UNCOMPLICATED. WE GIVE UP THE COMPLAINING SPIRIT, ONE PRAYER AT A TIME, AND HE GIVES US THE RICHES OF CONTENTMENT, THROUGH WHICH WE'RE OVERFLOWINGLY SATISFIED.

SEPTEMBER 22    FORCES THAT ARE OPPOSED TO GOD'S WILL ARE MANIFESTED AS FOLLOWS: RATHER THAN BLESS, THEY CURSE; RATHER THAN BUILD UP, THEY TEAR DOWN; RATHER THAN ENCOURAGE, THEY DISPARAGE; RATHER THAN PROMOTE LOVE, THEY SOW HATE; RATHER THAN DRAW US TOGETHER, THEY SEEK TO SPLIT US APART. THIS IS NOT A FOREIGN EXPERIENCE IN OUR CHURCHES TODAY. THIS VERY SPIRIT CAN DRIVE PEOPLE TO MULTIPLE NEGATIVE RESULTS. WE MAY BE POSSESSED BY ARROGANCE OR POOR SELF-IMAGE. WE MAY OPERATE THROUGH SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS OR FEAR OF FAILURE. WE MAY BE DRIVEN BY JEALOUSY OR ANGER. ALL OF THOSE ARE DESTRUCTIVE. APOSTLE PAUL MAKES IT PLAIN AND SIMPLE IN 1CORINTHIANS SAYING THAT THERE IS ONE GOD FROM WHOM ALL THINGS COME AND FOR WHOM WE EXIST; AND ONE LORD, JESUS CHRIST, THROUGH WHOM ARE ALL THINGS AND THROUGH WHOM WE EXIST. YET THERE ARE PLENTY OF PEOPLE WHO DO NOT HAVE THIS KNOWLEDGE!

WE AS BELIEVERS MUST BE CAUTIOUS ABOUT DOING THINGS THAT COULD WEAKEN OTHERS' FAITH. LET'S NOT GET CAUGHT UP IN RIGHTS AND WRONGS, BUT REMEMBER TO BE SENSITIVE ABOUT HOW OUR ACTIONS AND REACTIONS MIGHT AFFECT OTHERS. IF WE WERE TO PRAY, AND ASK GOD TO HELP US PLUNGE INTO THE DEPTH OF OUR OWN INIQUITIES, TO UNVEIL FOR US THAT WHICH MOTIVATES OUR DAILY ATTITUDE, GOD WILL GLADLY SHOW US SUCH REVELATION, JUST SO WE'LL HAVE A CHANCE TO SHED THE UNWANTED. THE IDEA IS TO MAKE IT TO HEAVEN AND LIVE ETERNALLY WITH OUR MAKER. HE WON'T EVEN LET US GET NEAR THAT NARROW GATE IF WE LUG AROUNG UNACCEPTABLE INTENTIONS AND BEHAVIORS. THEREFORE THE IDEA IS TO TRAVEL LIGHT. OTHERWISE, OUR EXCESS BAGGAGE WILL HINDER OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD, CAUSING HIM FURTHER PAIN AND DISAPPOINTMENT; IT'LL LEAD US UNTO A PATH OF SINFUL HABITS, AND IF WE'RE NOT CAREFUL, WE'LL END UP PAYING THROUGH SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES; IT'LL KEEP COMING BACK TO HAUNT US IN MANY WAYS, THROUGH OUR RELATIONSHIPS WITH FAMILY MEMBERS, THROUGH OUR JOB RELATED ACCOMPLISHMENTS, EVEN THROUGH OUR WORSHIP. IT'LL NEVER DIE ON ITS OWN, IF WE DON'T ASK GOD TO INTERVENE THROUGH THE HELP OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, AND REMOVE IT ONCE AND FOR ALL.

FACING OUR WEAKNESSES DOESN'T MEAN WE WALLOW IN SELF-PITY. IT SIMPLY HELPS US TO REPEAT THE WORDS JESUS SAID IN MARK 1: 25, "BE SILENT, AND COME OUT". INSTEAD OF BEING POSSESSED, WE CAN TAKE POSSESSION OF OURSELVES, AND THROUGH THE HELP OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, WE CAN START ANEW. EVERY TIME WE GET SIDETRACKED AND FALL BACK INTO OUR OLD WAYS OF THINKING OR BEING, WE MUST REMIND OURSELVES THAT CHRIST SUFFERED SIN, AND CHRIST SUFFERED THROUGH SIN, ALL BECAUSE OF US. SINCE HE HIMSELF BECAME THE GREATEST AND THE MOST ACCEPTABLE SACRIFICE EVER IN ORDER TO CLEANSE US, HE BESTOWED HIS OWN AUTHORITY OF WISDOM AND INTEGRITY UPON THE HUMBLEST AND THE POOREST IN THE WORLD. THE MORE NEED WE HAVE IN OUR LIVES, THE MORE OF HIM WE CAN ADHERE TO AND HAVE.

THEREFORE, IF WE MUST CHOOSE BETWEEN LOVING OTHERS OR LIKING THEM, WE MUST OPT FOR LOVING THEM; THE KIND OF LOVE CHRIST POSSESSED; THE KIND THAT THE HOLY SPIRIT IS READY AND WILLING TO LET US TASTE, JUST SO WE'LL UNDERSTAND HOW MUCH WE WERE LOVED. FOR THAT, WE MUST PRAY HEARTFELT PRAYERS AND ASK GOD TO GRANT US THE LOVE AND THE COMPASSION WE NEED TO POSSESS, JUST SO WE'LL BE PRODUCTIVE IN KINGDOM WORKS. MOST LIKELY, HE'LL PLACE US IN THE COMPANY OF THE LEAST LIKEABLE PEOPLE, AND TEACH US WHAT HIS KIND OF LOVE IS ALL ABOUT. WE CAN'T POSSIBLY GO TO A HEAVENLY BAZAAR, AND PICK UP A POUND OR TWO OF HEAVENLY ATTRIBUTES. SUCH ABILITIES MUST TAKE RESIDENCE SLOWLY AND DEVELOP SLOWLY.

SEPTEMBER 21    NUMBERS 32: 23 READS, "BUT IF YOU WILL NOT DO SO, BEHOLD, YOU HAVE SINNED AGAINST THE LORD: BE SURE YOUR SIN WILL FIND YOU OUT". THIS VERSE IS IN CLOSE RELATION WITH A PARABLE OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, WHERE A FATHER ASKS ONE OF HIS SONS TO GO AND WORK IN THE FIELD. HE SIMPLY RESPONDS, "I WILL NOT"; BUT LATER DECIDES TO DO HIS FATHER'S WILL. THE FATHER ASKS THE OTHER SON THE SAME QUESTION, AND HIS ANSWER IS, " I WILL, SIR", YET HE NEVER FOLLOWS THROUGH. WHEN WE GIVE OUR LIFE TO CHRIST THROUGH VERBAL PROCLAMATION OF OUR FAITH, WE'RE SIMPLY PROMISING, "I WILL LAY DOWN MY PLANS AND FOLLOW YOURS; I WILL QUIET THE DESIRES OF MY OWN HEART, JUST SO I CAN HEAR YOURS; I WILL TAKE A DETOUR FROM MY WAYS, IN ORDER TO FIND THE ONES THAT WOULD PLEASE AND GLORIFY YOU; I WILL PUT FORTH ALL EFFORTS TO SHOW YOU HOW MUCH YOUR SACRIFICE MEANS TO ME; I WILL SET ASIDE ALL OF MY INTENTIONS, TAKING TIME TO PRAY OVER THEM, AND SEEKING YOUR APPROVAL; BECAUSE LIVING FOR YOU HAS BECOME MY ONLY PRIORITY..."

THOSE ARE WHAT OUR PROMISES OUGHT TO MEAN WHEN WE DEDICATE OURSELVES TO GOD, THROUGH THE BAPTISM OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. OTHERWISE, BEING IMMERSED INTO WATER WITH A FEW PRAYERS WILL ONLY MAKE US WET; BECAUSE THAT'S ALL IT CAN DO. WHEN WE'RE GETTING READY TO GO TO CHURCH ON SUNDAY MORNINGS, IT OUGHT TO PRODUCE THE GREATEST JOY, FOR WE'RE PREPARING TO VISIT GOD. WE OUGHT TO PREPARE OUR MINDS AND OUR SPIRIT TO RECEIVE FROM HIM, INSTEAD OF SIMPLY FOCUSING ON WHAT TO WEAR, OR HOW TO LOOK IMPRESSIVE. THE REVELATION GOD BESTOWS UPON US WILL ALWAYS BE RICHER THAN THE AMOUNT WE TITHE. GOD IS GENEROUS. GOD GIVES ABUNDANTLY. GOD DOESN'T HOLD BACK AT ALL. IT IS ALWAYS US WHO'LL BE FOCUSING ON UNNECESSARY AND INSIGNIFICANT DEATILS WHILE HE'S POURING OUT HIS GOODS TO BLESS US.

THE CROWD OF DETRACTORS OFTEN KNOW MUCH ABOUT THE BIBLE. THEY OFTEN CLAIM TO KNOW TRUTH THAT EVEN GOD DOESN'T KNOW, AND THEY FIND MEANINGS IN THE BIBLE THAT GOD DIDN'T PUT IN. THEY CAN TELL YOU ALL OF THE TYPES CONCERNING WHAT THE BEAST STANDS FOR; THEY CAN TELL YOU THE SYMBOLIC MEANINGS OF THE LEG ON THE BEAST, THE FOOT ON THE LEG, THE TOE ON THE FOOT, THE NAIL ON THE TOE, AND EVEN THE NAIL POLISH ON THE TOE. YET THEY OVERLOOK THE EFFECTS OF IT IN THEIR LIVES, AND IN THE LIVES OF OTHERS, JUST AS LONG AS THEY MANAGE TO COVER IT UP WITH SOMETHING PRETTY, AND NOT FOCUS ON IT.

THOSE ARE THE SAME PEOPLE WHO CROWD CHURCHES WEEK AFTER WEEK, ONLY TO FIND FAULT WITH THE ADMINISTRATION, WITH THE WORSHIP SONGS AND CHOIR, WITH THE TEMPERATURE, WITH THE WAY SOMEONE IS DRESSED, OR EVEN WITH HOW SOMEONE DISPLAYED THEIR WORSHIP BEFORE THE LORD. THOSE ARE THE TERMITES OF THE BODY OF CHRIST WHO EAT AWAY AT THE FOUNDATIONS OF OUR CHURCHES BY SPREADING A SPIRIT OF DISCONTENT, DISPARAGEMENT, AND DISCOURAGEMENT. THEY ARE THE WILD ANIMALS OF THE PLAINS, CIRCLING AROUND BODIES OF NEW CONVERTS, READY TO TEAR OFF THE FLESH OF IGNORANCE AS WELL AS INNOCENCE. THEY ARE PARASITES WHO LIVE ON OTHER'S TOIL; THEY EVEN SHOOT DEADLY VENOM AT EVERY SOUL-WINNING CHURCH AND PASTOR.

WE ARE IN WAR! WE ARE AGAINST AN ENEMY WE CAN'T SEE OR TOUCH! WE CAN'T EVEN HEAR IT APPROACH! WE ARE OFTEN FOOLED BY ITS BEAUTY AND ATTRACTIVENESS, AND EMBRACE IT AS IT WERE A LONG LOST FRIEND, ONLY TO BE PULLED INTO A DEADLY FUNNEL OF UNEXPECTED CIRCUMSTANCES, SHAME, GUILT, AND REJECTION. THIS IS NO TIME TO POLLUTE EACH OTHER'S VISION. THIS IS NO PLACE TO SIT STILL WHILE OTHERS ARE RISKING THEIR LIVES. GETTING SAVED IS NOT THE DESTINATION; NOR IS IT A PLACE OF REST. IT IS A PLACE OF BEING PREPARED TO SERVE. WHEN WE MAKE A COMMITMENT TO GOD THROUGH CHRIST'S NAME, WE BETTER MEAN IT. OTHERWISE, OUR SIN WILL FIND US OUT. OUR SIN WILL FIND US OUT THROUGHOUT LIFE BY CATCHING UP TO US; OUR SIN WILL FIND US OUT THROUGH OUR CHILDREN'S LIVES; AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, OUR SIN WILL FIND US OUT THROUGH DEATH; UNLESS GOD WOULD BE GRACIOUS ENOUGH TO EXTEND ONE LAST OPPORTUNITY, JUST SO WE WOULD COME CLEAN WITH A REPENTANT HEART BEFORE HIM.

SEPTEMBER 20    BEAUTIFUL BUILDINGS CAN CERTAINLY INSPIRE, WITH PEOPLE WILLING TO TRAVEL THOUSANDS OF MILES TO DISCOVER THE MASTERPIECES OF FAMOUS ARCHITECTS. SOME ARCHITECTS LIKE TO ADHERE TO THE TRADITIONAL LINES AND TRENDS IN THE FIELD OF ARCHITECTURE, WHILE OTHERS SIMPLY EXPERIMENT AND LEAVE A PERSONAL TRACE THROUGHOUT THEIR CREATION. BY ALLOWING THEIR CREATIVENESS AND PASSION TO FLOW FREELY, ARCHITECTS HAVE BEEN ABLE TO CREATE WONDERFUL STRUCTURES THAT BRING FORTH EDIFICES THAT INSPIRE AWE AND TRUE ADMIRATION. SOME STAND OUT FROM ALL THE OTHERS, AND ARE CONSIDERED TO BE THE MOST INNOVATIVE AND BEAUTIFULLY DESIGNED. SOME MAY BE FOUND MESMERIZING AND COLORFUL, POURING OUT A SENSE OF LUXURY AND OPULENCE. THERE ARE SOME THAT EXHIBIT ALL KINDS OF GEOMETRIC DESIGNS TO REMIND PEOPLE OF A BEAUTIFUL CASTLE OF OLD, YET IN ALL ITS MODERNITY. SOME ARE EVEN LOOKED UPON AS THE MAIN ATTRACTION OF A CITY; PLACING ALL ELSE INTO A FOLDER OF SECONDARIES. THEY ARE WONDERFUL WORKS OF ART, NO DOUBT. THE IDEA IS TO CREATE SOMETHING THAT'S NEVER BEEN ATTEMPTED BEFORE, DRAW CROWDS AND ADMIRATION, AND EVEN GENERATE A CERTAIN LEVEL OF COTROVERSY IN SOME CASES.

TRULY, PEOPLE MARVEL OVER THEM, AND TRY TO TAKE IN ALL OF THE DETAILS, AS IF THEY WOULD NEVER SEE ANYTHING BETTER IN THEIR LIFETIME, UNTIL SOMEDAY, THEY MAY FIND SOMETHING NEW AND FAR MORE SOPHISTICATED, AND TALK ABOUT IT, JUST SO THEY COULD DISPLAY THEIR OWN SENSE OF WORLDLINESS. THE CYCLE GOES ON AND ON, FROM ONE FORM OF ART INTO ANOTHER, WHETHER IT BE AN ARCHITECTURAL MASTERPIECE OR SOMETHING ELSE. BUT IT'S MAINLY TALKED ABOUT WITH AN INTENTION TO DISPLAY A SELF-INSPIRED VALUE THAT COULD ONLY BE EXPRESSED AS SOMETHING GRAND.

TODAY, AFTER MANY CENTURIES OF TRYING TO DECODE THE BIBLE, GOD'S INSPIRED WORD, WE COME TO ONE EXTREMELY SERIOUS DETAIL STATED IN JOHN 10: 9-18, "I AM THE DOOR; IF ANYONE ENTERS THROUGH ME, HE WILL BE SAVED, AND WILL GO IN AND OUT AND FIND PASTURE... I CAME THAT THEY MAY HAVE LIFE, AND HAVE IT ABUNDANTLY... I AM THE GOOD SHEPHERD, AND I KNOW MY OWN AND MY OWN KNOW ME... FOR THIS REASON THE FATHER LOVES ME, BECAUSE I LAY DOWN MY LIFE SO THAT I MAY TAKE IT AGAIN... I HAVE THE AUTHORITY TO TAKE IT UP AGAIN...". JESUS HIMSELF ANNOUNCES THE FACT THAT HE IS THE DOOR TO HEAVEN. IT IS NARROW; MEANING WE HAVE TO LEAVE BEHIND MANY THINGS THAT DON'T HAVE ANY ETERNAL VALUE; MEANING WE ARE TO TRAVEL LIGHT AND BE MINDFUL; MEANING WE ARE TO FOCUS, AT ALL TIMES, ON THE FINAL DESTINATION AND NOT BE SWAYED BY THE GLAMOUR AND ATTRACTIVENESS OF WORLDLY PLEASURES; MEANING WE ARE TO REMAIN STEADY ENOUGH IN OUR FAITH AND UNSHAKABLE DURING OUR TRIALS THAT MANY WILL WANT TO KNOW WHERE OUR SENSE OF SECURITY ORIGINATES FROM...

WE, AS BELIEVERS, HAVE KNOWN THIS BASIC FOUNDATIONAL TRUTH FOR QUITE SOMETIME; YET WE CONTINUE TO SPEND TIME ADMIRING THIS AWESOME DISPLAY OF GOD, JESUS CHRIST, AS IF HE WAS A PIECE OF ARCHITECTURE AMONG MANY. WE CONTINUE TO READ ABOUT HIM, STUDY HIM, AND COME UP WITH MANY MORE VERSIONS TO HELP US FEEL BETTER AND SUPERIOR, PERHAPS COMPARED TO WHAT WE ONCE WERE, OR COMPARED TO OTHERS IN GENERAL. THE MESSAGE JESUS GAVE WAS MEANT FOR US TO "COME IN THROUGH THE NARROW GATE; DO NOT STEP BACK AND ADMIRE IT FOR HOWEVER LONG IT TAKES TO LOSE SIGHT OF WHAT AWAITS BEHIND THAT DOOR". WE COULD SPEND A LIFETIME FILLED WITH PLEASURE, WONDER AND APPROVAL; WE COULD ESTEEM AND RESPECT THIS AWESOME GATE TO HEAVEN, TOUCH IT, REVERE IT, ADORE IT, ADORN IT WITH RENEWED DEDICATION, AND EVEN KISS IT LIKE JUDAS DID; YET OVERLOOK THE IMPORTANCE OF WALKING THROUGH IT. JESUS SAID, "COME... COME TO ME... TAKE THE NARROW GATE FOR IT IS THE ONLY PATH THAT LEADS TO THE FATHER... YOU CAN'T CARRY OTHERS WITH YOU... EVERY PERSON IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR OWN SALVATION... SIMPLY SPREAD AS MANY SEEDS AS YOU CAN, BUT DON'T TRY TO FORCE THEM TO GROW: THE HOLY SPIRIT DOES ALL THAT FOR THE FATHER... DON'T LOOK BEHIND... JUST KEEP ON WALKING... AND MOST IMPORTANTLY...WALK THROUGH!"

SEPTEMBER 19    IN JOHN 17: 22-26, JESUS PRAYS FOR THE KIND OF UNITY AMONG HIS FOLLOWERS WHICH HE HAS WITH GOD THE FATHER, A PERFECT UNITY IN HEART AND MIND. GOD IS PLEASED TO ANSWER SUCH PRAYER OVER OUR FELLOWSHIP WITH ONE ANOTHER, FOR HIS GLORY.

AS CHRIST UTTERS A SPECIAL PRAYER, WE MUST MELD OUR COMMITMENT TO PURSUE BIBLICAL TRUTH TO GLORIFY GOD AND EDIFY HIS TEMPLE, THE CHURCH. WE MUST LABOR FOR THAT UNITY WHICH CLEARLY PLEASES GOD. WE MUST DESIRE AND STRIVE FOR ONENESS. NO TRUE BELEVER CAN DENY THE IMPORTANCE OF UNITY AMONG CHRISTIANS AFTER HEARING JESUS PRAY. THE DIVISIONS WE'VE MANAGED TO DEMONSTRATE SO FAR ARE A SCANDAL TO THE TRUE FAITH AND A SIN AGAINST THE TRUE GOD. WHEN WE SHOULD BE TEAMING UP AND RESISTING THE DEVIL , EVANGELICAL CHRISTIANS ARE TOO OFTEN FIGHTING AGAINST ONE ANOTHER.

CHRIST EMPHASIZES IN VERSE 22, "THE GLORY THAT YOU HAVE GIVEN ME I HAVE GIVEN TO THEM, THAT THEY MAY BE ONE EVEN AS WE ARE 

ONE", THE IMPORTANCE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, THROUGH WHOM, OUR PATHS ARE UNITED; OUR INTENTIONS ARE SANCTIFIED; OUR VISION IS CLARIFIED; OUR DESIRE TO SERVE GOD IS INTENSIFIED; AND OUR GOAL BECOMES THE ONE AND ONLY TRUE LOVE. THROUGH LOVE, WE JOIN FORCES AND EMBRACE OUR DIFFERENCES. ONENESS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH SAMENESS. IN FACT, ONLY THROUGH EACH OTHER'S INIQUITIES DO WE HAVE A CHANCE TO COMPLETE ONE ANOTHER, AND BUILD THE KIND OF STRENGTH AND ENDURANCE THAT NO ENEMY COULD TEAR DOWN.

VERSE 23 EXPOSES TWO WONDERFUL UNIONS "GOD IN CHRIST" AND "CHRIST IN US" THAT ARE OBSERVED AS BEING PARALLEL. WHAT ELSE COULD POSSIBLY GIVE US OUR CONFIDENT HOPE, OUR ASSURANCE OF SALVATION, AND OUR BOLDBESS IN PRAYER. THIS IS NOT SOMETHING THAT HAPPENS AUTOMATICALLY; WE MUST DESIRE IT AND STRIVE FOR ITS FULFILLMENT.

EVEN THE BEST CONGREGATIONS LACK THE PERFECTION OF UNITY THESE DAYS. WE EASILY OVERLOOK THE FACT THAT JESUS RECONCILED PEOPLE TO GOD; MAKING ALL OF US EQUALLY LOVED BY HIM. HE NEVER SPECIFIED CERTAIN SINNERS WHO WOULDN'T QUITE QUALIFY FOR HIS SACRIFICE. HE NEVER TOLD US ABOUT CERTAIN GREAT SINS THAT WOULD HAVE TO BE EXEMPT. HE COVERED ALL SINNERS, HE CLEANSED ALL SIN, AND HE MENDED ALL RELATIONSHIPS, WITHOUT ANY EXCEPTION. IT IS UP TO US TO RESIST THAT WHICH CAUSES US TO FEEL SUPERIOR TO OTHERS, WHETHER IT BE OUR LEVEL OF KNOWLEDGE, OR OUR INTELLIGENCE, OR EVEN THE AMOUNT OF OUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS. NONE OF THOSE HAVE ETERNAL VALUE, OTHER THAN WE ARE ALL ONE IN GOD'S EYES. WE MIGHT AS WELL LEARN HOW TO BE ONE.

SEPTEMBER 18    THE TRUE GLORY OF A NATION LIES IN ITS MORAL FIBER AND NOT IN ITS MILITARY MIGHT. DURING THE REIGN OF KING DAVID, ISRAEL REACHED ITS HEIGHT MILITARILY, YET WE READ DAVID'S CONCERNS IN PSALM 12: 1-8, "HELP, LORD, FOR NO ONE IS FAITHFUL ANY MORE; THOSE WHO ARE LOYAL HAVE VANISHED FROM THE HUMAN RACE. EVERYONE LIES TO THEIR NEIGHBOR; THEY FLATTER WITH THEIR LIPS BUT HARBOR DECEPTION IN THEIR HEARTS...". THE GOLDEN AGE OF A COUNTRY MATERIALLY MAY VERY WELL BE A DARK AGE MORALLY.

GODLINESS HAS NEVER BEEN POPULAR AMONG THE SONS OF MEN. THE SAME IS TRUE FOR US TODAY. WE ARE IN A WAR WITH TERRORISM. THIS NEW ENEMY DOES NOT FIGHT FAIR. THEY DO NOT EVEN HAVE A COUNTRY. OUR MILITARY IS NOT THEIR TARGET AS MUCH AS INNOCENT CIVILIANS. CIVILIZATION ITSELF HAS COME UNDER ATTACK. THE ENEMY SEEMS TO BE EVERYWHERE AND NOWHERE. IT IS LIKE TRYING TO SHOOT A SHADOW. AND UNFORTUNATELY, THIS WAR IS TAKING PLACE ON THE SHORES OF OUR COUNTRY. THE CONCERN IS THAT WE DON'T KNOW WHAT IS COMING NEXT. THERE ARE MANY UNANSWERED QUESTIONS OVER THE VULNERABILITY OUR COUNTRY HAS BEEN EXPERIENCING; THEY, VERY UNDERSTANDABLY, GIVE BIRTH TO ANXIETY AND ANGST.

AS TOO MANY PEOPLE ARE STILL LOOKING FOR A CHRISTIANITY WITHOUT CHRIST THESE DAYS, THIS IS CERTAINLY NOT A GOOD TIME FOR US TO TAKE A CHANCE, AND CONTINUE TO TEST GOD'S PATIENCE. AS WE'RE SCATTERING ALL OVER THE PLACE THROUGH COUNTLESS DENOMINATIONS, FINDING FAULT WITH ONE ANOTHER, THE ENEMY IS TAKING ADVANTAGE OF OUR SENSELESSNESS. THE MAJOR PROBLEM IS THE FACT THAT THE ENEMY KNOWS THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING A "WHOLE". IT FOCUSES MAINLY ON THE IMPORTANCE OF UNITY, SO MUCH SO THAT HE OR SHE WOULD DIE, WILLINGLY, FOR ITS CAUSE. IT TEACHES AND TRAINS STARTING AT A VERY EARLY AGE, UNTIL NOTHING ELSE EXISTS BUT THE CAUSE, WHICH IS TO HAVE CONTROL BY TERRORIZING AND TORMENTING ANYONE AND EVERYONE WHO IS NOT LIKE-MINDED.

THE MISSION WE'VE BEEN GIVEN THROUGH CHRIST OUGHT TO BE THE HIGHEST CAUSE THERE IS. THE FACT THAT JESUS DIED ON THE CROSS TO EMPHASIZE THE IMPORTANCE OF IT, MAKES IT EVEN MORE WORTHY OF OUR UTMOST ATTENTION; YET WE TAKE THE EVERGROWING TERRORISM RELATED EVENTS AS WARNING SIGNS, TRY TO DISSECT THEM UNTIL WE LOSE SIGHT OF WHAT OUGHT TO BE DONE, JUST SO WE WON'T HAVE TO REMAIN ON THE DEFENSE FOREVER.

HOW CAN WE FIGHT SOMETHING WE CAN'T POSSIBLY UNDERSTAND, RELATE TO, REASON WITH, OR KNOW WHERE TO LOOK FOR. ISN'T IT TIME WE TURNED TO GOD WHO SEES ALL, KNOWS ALL, AND HE'LL DO ANYTHING TO PROTECT HIS CHILDREN. AFTER ALL, THE BIBLE DEMONSTRATES HOW FAITHFUL HE HAS BEEN TO HIS CHILDREN, EVEN WHEN THEY CONTINUALLY OFFENDED HIM THROUGH ONE DISOBEDIENCE AFTER THE OTHER. HIS PROMISE TO US TODAY IS STILL THE SAME. HE HASN'T TURNED FROM US. IT'S THE OTHER WAY AROUND.

SEPTEMBER 17    THE BIBLE TELLS US MANY STORIES ABOUT PEOPLE WHO SUFFERED. THE MOST FAMOUS IS THE STORY OF JOB, AND THE HEARTACHE HE ENDURED FOR A PERIOD OF HIS LIFE. NEXT TO HIM, WE CAN NAME THE HARDSHIPS OF JOSEPH AND JEREMIAH. YET THE STORY OF THE WOMAN WITH THE ISSUE OF BLOOD, MENTIONED IN LUKE 8: 40-48, IS SLIGHTLY UNIQUE. THIS WOMAN HAD A PHYSICAL CONDITION THAT SHE ENDURED FOR TWELVE YEARS. EVEN UNDER NORMAL CIRCUMSTANCES, THIS COULD'VE BEEN CONSIDERED A LOT MORE THAN AN UNCOMFORTABLE INCONVENIENCE. IN THOSE DAYS, A WOMAN WHO HAD AN "ISSUE OF BLOOD" WAS UNCLEAN, AND ANYTHING SHE TOUCHED DURING THAT TIME WAS UNCLEAN. SHE WASN'T ALLOWED TO TOUCH OR BE TOUCHED.

THIS WASN'T A SIMPLE PROBLEM OF NEEDING A BATH AND BECOME CLEAN AGAIN. THIS CONDITION LED TO BEING ISOLATED FROM ALL HER LOVED ONES, AND BECOMING UNCLEAN AND UNACCEPTABLE BEFORE GOD, UNABLE TO OFEFR SACRIFICES, UNABLE TO ENTER THE TEMPLE. THIS WOMAN WAS CUT OFF FROM GETTING TO GOD. SHE WAS NO DIFFERENT THAN BEING A LEPER, AN OUTCAST, A DESPISED CREATURE WHO DIDN'T DESERVE TO BE PART OF THE SOCIETY.

THE TALMUD TELLS THAT THERE WERE ELEVEN DIFFERENT "MEDICAL" TREATMENTS FOR HER CONDITION AT THE TIME. THIS WOMAN HAD TRIED IT ALL. SHE WAS DEPERATE FOR A CHANGE, MEANING SHE WAS GOING TO TAKE A CHANCE. SHE QUICKLY RUSHED TO THE CENTER OF TOWN BREATHLESSLY HOPING SHE COULD GET TO JESUS BEFORE HE LEFT. SHE HAD HEARD ENOUGH STORIES OF PEOPLE BEING HEALED. SHE NEEDED THAT HEALING MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE. SHE WAS SICK AND TIRED OF BEING AN OUTCAST.

WHEN SHE MADE IT TO HER DESTINATION, SHE REALIZED THAT JESUS WAS SURROUNDED BY A CROWD, AND THE ONLY WAY TO APPROACH HIM WAS TO SQUEEZE THROUGH. SHE GOT AS CLOSE AS SHE COULD, QUICKLY KNELT DOWN, AND BRUSHED HER HAND AGAINST THE TASSEL OF JESUS' GARMENT. SHE IMMEDIATELY FELT THE CHANGE IN HER BODY. SHE KNEW SHE WAS HEALED. SHE QUICKLY MOVED AWAY BEFORE ANYONE RECOGNIZED HER. HER SECRET WAS NOT TO BE DISCOVERED. YET, TO HER HORROR, JESUS STOPPED AND TURNED, AND DEMANDED, "WHO TOUCHED ME?". WHEN OTHERS THOUGHT HE MAY HAVE MEANT, "WHO PUSHED ME?", THIS WOMAN KNEW IMMEDIATELY WHAT JESUS WAS TALKING ABOUT.

IN FEAR AND TREMBLING, SHE FELL ON HER KNEES BEFORE HIM, READY TO RECEIVE SOME KIND OF HUMILIATION, SINCE SHE HAD ALREADY PREPARED HERSELF FOR PUNISHMENT. INSTEAD, SHE SAW JESUS REACH DOWN AND PULL HER TO HER FEET SAYING, "DAUGHTER, YOUR FAITH HAS HEALED YOU. GO IN PEACE". FIRST OF ALL, THIS UNNAMED, UNWANTED WOMAN WAS BEING ADDRESSED AS "DAUGHTER" BY THE GREAT HEALER HIMSELF. AND SECONDLY, HER COMPLETE HEALING WAS BEING EXPOSED. SHE WOULD NO LONGER HAVE A NEED TO BE ISOLATED AND BE RUINED THROUGH A SPIRITUAL DEATH, DAY AFTER DAY.

SUFFERING HAS A PROFOUND EFFECT ON US. IT CHANGES US. IT CAN STRIP AWAY ALL THE DROSS OF LIFE AND HELP US FOCUS ON WHAT REALLY MATTERS. IT CAN DRAW US TO A CLOSER AND MORE PERSONAL WALK WITH CHRIST. AND THE VALUE OF COMING TO JESUS IS THAT HE CHANGES US ON THE INSIDE. HE TAKES OUR DAMAGED LIVES AND REMAKES THEM IN HIS IMAGE. 1 CORINTHIANS 6: 9-11 READS," AND THAT IS WHAT SOME OF YOU WERE. BUT YOU WERE WASHED, YOU WERE SANCTIFIED, YOU WERE JUSTIFIED IN THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST AND BY THE SPIRIT OF OUR GOD". SUCH PURIFIED LIFE IS WORTH SEEKING AFTER, TAKING A CHANCE, AND FIGHTING FOR. IT'S THE GREATEST KIND OF HEALING ANYONE COULD EVER ASK FOR.

SEPTEMBER 16    ONE OF JESUS' TEACHINGS WAS ABOUT WHO WE SHOULD HELP OUT AND WHY. HE WAS TRYING TO TELL HIS DISCIPLES THAT WHEN WE DO FOR PEOPLE, WE MUST GIVE PRIORITY TO THOSE WHO CAN'T PAY US BACK. THAT DOESN'T NECESSARILY MEAN THAT WE SHOULD NEGLECT OUR LOVED ONES, OR IGNORE THEIR NEEDS. IT SIMPLY MEANS THAT WE START FROM THE ONES WHO TRULY NEED US, AND THEY CAN'T DO FOR US IN RETURN. EXCHANGING FAVORS AMONG BELIEVERS DOESN'T IMPRESS GOD. IN FACT, AS WE EXTEND OUR HAND TO SOMEONE WHO DOESN'T EVEN KNOW GOD'S INVOLVEMENT IN THEIR LIFE, WE'RE DEFINITELY GIVING OURSELVES AN OPPORTUNITY TO WITNESS FOR CHRIST.

THIS IS A SIMPLE KINGDOM RULE, AND AS USUAL, IT LEADS TO ANOTHER ONE OF JESUS' PARABLES. IT TELLS ABOUT A MASTER WHO WAS PREPARING HIS HOUSEHOLD FOR A HUGE BANQUET, AND HE HAD INVITED EVERYONE HE HELD DEAR IN HIS HEART. YET MOST OF HIS GUESTS CAME UP WITH AN EXCUSE, AND POLITELY DECLINED. THE MASTER WAS DISAPPOINTED, BUT HE WASN'T ABOUT TO CHANGE HIS PLANS. HE GAVE HIS SERVANT CERTAIN SPECIFICS. LUKE 14: 15 READS, "... GO OUT QUICKLY INTO THE STREETS AND ALLEYS OF THE TOWN AND BRING IN THE POOR, THE CRIPPLED, THE BLIND, AND THE LAME". HE DID THE SAME ONCE MORE WHEN HE REALIZED THEY STILL HAD ROOM FOR MORE. LUKE 14: 25 ACCOUNTS, "...GO OUT TO THE ROADS AND COUNTRY LANES AND COMPEL THEM TO COME IN, SO THAT MY HOUSE WILL BE FULL".

EVERYONE OF JESUS' PARABLES DEMONSTRATES SOMETHING OF IMPORTANCE ABOUT GOD'S CHARACTER. HE USED THOSE MOSTLY BECAUSE HE WANTED TO UNVEIL THEM ONLY TO THE ONES WHO HAD A SINCERE DESIRE TO UNDERSTAND GOD. SO IF THERE IS A PARABLE WE DON'T QUITE GET, IT'S NOT BECAUSE IT'S HARD TO GET; IT'S BECAUSE WE'RE NOT ALL THAT INTO IT. WE MUST BE SERIOUS ABOUT WANTING A RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD.

THE MASTER IN THIS PARABLE IS OBVIOUSLY GOD. AND HE IS PREPARING HIS HOUSE FOR US. AND HE WANTS US TO TAKE EVERY INVITATION VERY SERIOUSLY. AND IF WE DON'T, THERE MAY BE A POSSIBILITY THAT OUR INVITATION WILL BE GIVEN TO SOMEONE WHO IS MORE EAGER AND WILLING TO COME TO HIM.

WHAT'S SO INTERESTING ABOUT THIS PARABLE IS THE FACT THAT IT DISCLOSES HOW GOD SEES THE UNSAVED. HE SEES THEM AS THE POOR, THE CRIPPLED, THE BLIND, AND THE LAME. THE ONLY WAY TO DISSECT THIS IS TO LOOK AT EACH CATEGORY AND TO UNDERSTAND WHY JESUS CHOSE THOSE WORDS. IT CERTAINLY WASN'T BECAUSE OF HIS LACK OF VOCABULARY. AND WE KNOW THAT HE DIDN'T TAKE ANY OF HIS TEACHINGS LIGHTLY. HE SPECIFICALLY USED CERTAIN WORDS FOR A VERY GOOD REASON, IN RELATION TO THE WORD "SIN". IT WAS NEVER A FIGURE OF SPEECH. HE SAID EXACTLY WHAT HE MEANT. AND HE MEANT EXACTLY WHAT HE SAID.

WHAT MAKES A PERSON POOR AND HOW POOR ARE WE? SIN TAKES AWAY FROM US EITHER LITTLE BY LITTLE, OR ALL AT ONCE. BUT THERE IS NOTHING UPLIFTING ABOUT SIN.IT TAKES AWAY FROM US. IT REDUCES US TO A SMALLER PORTION, AND CONTINUES TO DO SO UNTIL, SOME DAY, THERE ISN'T MUCH OF US THAT CAN BE RECOGNIZED.

WHAT MAKES US A CRIPPLE AND HOW CRIPPLED ARE WE? AS SIN TRICKS US UNTO AN UNFAMILIAR AND AN UNSAFE PATH, IT TURNS ON US, HOLDS US DOWN, HOLDS US BACK, MOCKS US AND TORMENTS US, UNTIL WE NO LONGER TRUST OUR OWN JUDGMENTS. AND ONCE WE START SECOND-GUESSING OURSELVES, WE'RE NO LONGER CONSIDERED "ONE", THEREFORE OUR STRENGTH IS ALL GONE AS WELL.

WHAT MAKES US BLIND AND HOW BLIND ARE WE? THE REASON WE STEP INTO SIN IS BECAUSE A CERTAIN TEMPTATION HAS MANAGED TO BLUR OUR VISION TEMPORARILY. AND ONCE WE START WALKING IN SIN, WE CONTINUE TO LOSE OUR VISION A LITTLE AT A TIME, UNTIL SOME DAY, WE'RE COMPLETELY BLIND, AND WE CAN NO LONGER SEE RIGHT FROM WRONG.

WHAT MAKE US LAME AND HOW LAME ARE WE? AS A RESULT OF WALKING ON A RATHER SOILED PATH, OUR WALK BECOMES UNSTEADY, OUR STEPS UNEVEN AND UNCERTAIN, UNTIL WE NO LONGER REFLECT THE BEAUTY OF CHRIST. THAT'S WHEN WE HAVE COMPLETELY LOST OUR EFEFCTIVENESS. AND THAT'S WHEN GOD SAYS THE VERY WORDS UTTERED BY THE MASTER IN VERSE 24, "I TELL YOU, NOT ONE OF THOSE WHO WERE INVITED WILL GET A TASTE OF MY BANQUET". THE BIBLE IS VERY CLEAR ABOUT THE FACT THAT GOD WILL OVERLOOK IGNORANCE ONLY SO FAR.

THE COMMAND IS TO "GO OUT QUICKLY". GOD WANTS US TO BECOME WILLING TO SERVE HIM WITHOUT WASTING ANY TIME. WE SHOULDN'T BE DELAYED BECAUSE OF HOW MUCH WE KNOW; HOW INTIMIDATED WE ARE BY THE IDEA OF TALKING TO TOTAL STRANGERS; OR HOW BUSY WE ALREADY ARE VOLUNTEERING IN SOME CHURCH, ETC. GOD CALLS THE SHOTS: HE TELLS US WHERE TO GO, WHO TO TALK TO, AND HE EVEN GIVEN US THE NECESSARY FEW WORDS THAT WILL MAKE THE DIFFERENCE. HE SIMPLY WANTS US TO DESIRE TO HELP SOMEONE OUT THERE, WITHOUT ANY OPINION OF OUR OWN. WE MUST FEEL THE URGENCY AND BE ON FIRE AT ALL TIMES. OTHERWISE COLD PREACHING, COLD PRAYING, EVEN A COLD INVITATION WILL NEVER HELP SAVE A SOUL.

SEPTEMBER 15    MATTHEW 25: 14-30 FOCUSES ON ONE OF JESUS' TEACHINGS ABOUT OUR RESPONSIBLITY TO USE WHAT GOD HAS GIVEN US. HERE, JESUS IS WARNING HIS DISCIPLES TO BE ON GUARD SO THAT NO ONE WILL DECEIVE THEM, AND CHALLENGES THEM TO BE READY, BECAUSE THE SON OF MAN WILL COME AT AN HOUR WHEN HE IS LEAST EXPECTED. AS WE READ ABOUT THE PARABLE OF THE TALENTS, WE FIRST UNDERSTAND THAT WHAT WE HAVE IS NOT OURS. JESUS MADE THAT PERFECTLY CLEAR BY TELLING US THAT THIS LAND OWNER WAS GETTING RAEDY FOR A JOURNEY...HE CALLED HIS SERVANTS AND ENTRUSTED HIS PROPERTY TO THEM. THERE WAS NO DOUBT IN THE MINDS OF THOSE SERVANTS THAT THE PROPERTY AND MONEY STILL BELONGED TO THE MASTER.

SECONDLY, WE SEE THAT TO EACH SERVANT WAS GIVEN A DIFFERENT AMOUNT "ACCORDING TO HIS ABILITY". THIS IS REFERRING TO HOW WE USE OUR GOD-GIVEN ABILITITES, AND IT HELPS US MEASURE THE LEVEL OF OUR RESPONSIBILITIES. IT'S OUR JOB TO BE FAITHFUL TO WHAT GOD HAS GIVEN US TO DO. HE KNOWS WHAT WE CAN HANDLE. ISN'T IT AMAZING THAT HE KNOWS MORE ABOUT US THAN WE KNOW ABOUT OURSELVES?

OUR POTENTIAL IS GOD'S GIFT TO US. IN FACT, WE ARE PRIVILEGED TO KNOW THAT GOD HAS EVEN PLANNED TO USE US, KNOWING FULL WELL THAT HE DOESN'T NEED US FOR ANYTHING AT ALL. GOD IS SOVEREIGN. HE CAN SIMPLY SPEAK THE WORD AND GET THE JOB DONE. YET HE WANTS OUR WILLINGNESS TO SERVE HIM, SIMPLY BECAUSE HE LOVES US, AND PREFERS TO WORK WITH US. ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING HE USES US FOR IS FOR THE BETTERMENT OF HIS KINGDOM. IT'S NEVER FOR US; IT'S ALWAYS THROUGH US.

JUST LIKE THE FIRST TWO SERVANTS WHO PLEASED THEIR MASTER, WE TOO OUGHT TO MAKE SURE WE GIVE OUR ALL TO GOD. WE MUST USE OUR ABILITIES FOR HIS PLAN AND PURPOSE, AND MAKE SURE THAT WE HEAR HIS INSTRUCTIONS BEFORE WE TAKE OFF WITH OUR OWN IDEAS. GOD IS PATIENT ENOUGH TO TAKE TIME AND GIVE US CERTAIN SPECIFICS; IF ONLY WE WOULD BE PATIENT ENOUGH TO LISTEN. IF WE STOP AND WAIT ON HIS PROMPTINGS, THEN WE'LL ALSO BE ABLE TO HEAR HIM SAY AT THE END, "WELL DONE... GOOD AND FAITHFUL SERVANT...COME AND SHARE YOUR MASTER'S HAPPINESS".

THE LAST SERVANT HAD A WRONG VIEW OF THE MASTER, AND HAD HIS MIND MADE UP EVEN BEFORE HE RECEIVED HIS INSTRUCTIONS. HE SAW HIM AS SOMEONE WHO WAS HARD AND HARSH, INSTEAD OF LOVING AND GRACIOUS. THE SAME APPLIES TO US TODAY. OUR UNDERSTANDING OF GOD CAN EASILY BE SKEWED, DEPENDING ON THE INTRODUCTION WE MAY HAVE ENCOUNTERED FROM THE VERY BEGINNING. IT MAY HAVE BEEN ABOUT SOMETHING GOD DID OR DIDN'T DO FOR US, AND THEREFORE WE MAY HAVE DECIDED TO OVERLOOK HIS ABILITY OF KNOWING WHAT'S BEST FOR US.

FAULTY VIEWS OF GOD COULD LEAD US TO ALL KINDS OF NEGATIVE RESULTS OR EXCUSES. JUST LIKE THIS THIRD SERVANT MENTIONED IN THE PARABLE, WHO WAS PARALYZED WITH FEAR, AND THEREFORE AFRAID OF LOSING THE MONEY. HIS OWN ASSUMPTIONS HELD HIM BACK. AND IF WE'RE STRUGGLING WITH FEAR TODAY, WE HAVE MORE REASON TO FURTHER OUR UNDERSTANDING OF THE CHARACTER OF GOD, AND ASK HIM GROW OUR FAITH. COURAGE IS NOT ABSENCE OF FEAR; COURAGE IS MOVING AHEAD IN SPITE OF FEAR. WHEN WE DECIDE NOT TO USE OUR GOD-GIVEN RESOURCES, WE END UP BURYING OUR BLESSINGS; AND OTHERS END UP REAPING THE RESULTS THAT WERE MEANT TO BE OURS.

SEPTEMBER 14    AS WE STUDY THE BIBLE, WE REALIZE THAT JESUS WAS ANOINTED THREE TIME. THE FIRST ONE IS RECORDED IN LUKE 7: 37-38, "AND, BEHOLD, A WOMAN IN THE CITY, WHICH WAS A SINNER, WHEN SHE KNEW THAT JESUS SAT AT MEAT IN THE PHARISEE'S HOUSE, BROUGHT AN ALABASTER BOX OF OINTMENT, AND STOOD AT HIS FEET BEHIND HIM WEEPING, AND BEGAN TO WASH HIS FEET WITH TEARS, AND DID WIPE THEM WITH THE HAIRS OF HER HEAD, AND KISSED HIS FEET, AND ANOINTED THEM WITH THE OINTMENT".

THE SECOND ANOINTING TOOK PLACE IN BETHANY, WHERE MARY, MARTHA, AND LAZARUS LIVED. JOHN 12: 1-3 RECORDS IT AS MARY WASHING JESUS' FEET RIGHT BEFORE THE MEAL, WHILE MARTHA WAS BUSY PREAPARING THE FOOD. THIS WAS THE TIME JUDAS ISCARIOT COMPLAINED ABOUT WHAT A WASTE THIS WAS, SINCE THE PERFUME COULD'VE BEEN SOLD AND BENEFITED THE POOR. HE REALLY WASN'T ALL THAT INTERESTED IN HELPING THE POOR. HE WAS MORE INTEERESTED IN HELPING HIMSELF WITH THAT MONEY. THIS EVENT TOOK PLACE SIX DAYS BEFORE PASSOVER.

THE THIRD ANOINTING IS RECORDED IN MARK 14, WHERE JESUS WAS IN BETHANY, RECLINING AT THE TABLE IN THE HOME OF SIMON THE LEPER, A WOMAN CAME WITH AN ALABASTER JAR OF EXPENSIVE PERFUME, MADE OF PURE NARD. SHE BROKE THE JAR AND POURED THE JAR ON HIS HEAD. SOME OF THE APOSTLES CARRIED ON WITH THEIR MURMURS JUST AS JUDAS HAD DONE DURING THE LAST ANOINTING, AND CRITCIZED THIS WOMAN'S ACTION. YET THEIR CONTEMPT DID NOT STOP HER FROM DOING WHAT SHE WAS SET OUT TO DO. SHE DIDN'T LET OTHERS' OPINIONS TAKE AWAY HER ZEAL. SHE COULD CARE LESS ABOUT WHAT THEY THOUGHT OF HER SACRIFICE. THAT'S WHY JESUS SAID, "LEAVE HER ALONE. WHY ARE YOU BOTHERING HER?... SHE DID WHAT SHE COULD...WHEREVER THE GOSPEL IS PREACHED THROUGHOUT THE WORLD, WHAT SHE HAS DONE WILL ALSO BE TOLD, IN MEMORY OF HER". THIS TOOK PLACE TWO DAYS BEFORE PASSOVER.

THIS WOMAN'S NAME IS NOT BEING MENTIONED. SHE WAS AN UNKNOWN IDENTITY, JUST AS THE DYING THIEF WAS. YET THROUGH THE FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST'S TRUE IDENTITY, THEY BOTH RECEIVED AN UNFORGETTABLE ONE. WE COULD NEVER OVERLOOK THE FACT THAT THEIR STORY WILL BE TOLD OVER AND OVER AGAIN. THERE IS SO MUCH WE CAN LEARN FROM A POWERFUL STORY OF AN UNNAMED PERSON'S FAITH, THAT STANDS OUT MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE ABOUT THEM. IT OVERRIDES THEIR PREVIOUS CHARACTER, ALL THINGS THAT THEY GOT AWAY WITH, ALL THINGS THAT THEY HAD PLANNED TO DO WITH THEIR LIVES, THE THINGS THEY SUCCEEDED AND THE THINGS THEY DIDN'T QUITE DO WELL WITH, THE DREAMS THEY GOT TO SEE FULFILLED, AND THE SAD DISAPPOINTMENTS THEY HAD TO ENDURE, ETC... ALL THOSE THINGS LOST THEIR MEANINGS THE MOMENT THEY HAD AN ENCOUNTER WITH THE ONE WHO CAME TO GIVE LIFE; THE VERY SAME AWESOME SAVIOR WHO WOULD BE WILLING TO DIE JUST SO THEY WOULD CONTINUE TO HAVE A FELLOWSHIP WITH THE FATHER AS IF THEY HAD NEVER SINNED; THIS VERY UNUSUAL SACRIFICE THAT TOOK PLACE IN ORDER TO WASH THEM CLEAN BEFORE THE EVERSEEING EYES OF GOD. IN FACT, AS HE WAS HANGING NEXT TO CHRIST, JESUS PROMISED THAT THIEF THE PARADISE "THAT DAY". NOT AFTER HE HAD GONE THROUGH A PERIOD OF PENANCE... NOT AFTER HE HAD RECITED THE SINNER'S PRAYER... NOT AFTER HE HAD BEEN ACCEPTED INTO A CONGREGATION OF BELIEVERS. THIS UNNAMED, UNIDENTIFIED SINNER WAS PROMISED THE PARADISE THAT SAME DAY, THAT VERY SAME MOMENT WHEN HE SAW JESUS AS "LORD".

SO INSTEAD OF TRYING TO BE POLITICALLY CORRECT, AND WATCHING OUR WORDS SO VERY CAREFULLY IN AN ATTEMPT TO NOT OFFEND ANYBODY, IN THIS WORLD WHERE WE OUGHT TO BE THE MOST OFFENDED BY HOW HARSHLY WE BELIEVERS ARE BEING CRITICIZED, WE MUST HAVE A GREATER DETERMINATION TO SPEAK UP FOR OUR LORD. THE FEAR AND THE INTIMIDATION THIS WORLD HAS BEEN IMPOSING UPON US HAS WORKED SO FAR: WE EVEN HAVE THE AUDACITY TO CLAIM, "WE'RE NO LONGER A CHRISTIAN NATION". BUT WE WERE FOUNDED AS A CHRISTIAN NATION; WE WERE GIVEN ABUNDANTLY ALL OF THE RESOURCES THAT HELPED US BECOME THE GREATEST NATION IN THE WORLD; WE WERE ALLOWED A SPECIAL KIND OF PROTECTION AS THE HAND OF GOD HOVERED OVER US, UP UNTIL 9/11/2001, THAT ONE AWFUL WHEN GOD DECIDED TO MOVE HIS HAND AWAY. YET WE STILL REMAINED INSENSITIVE TO GOD'S TEACHINGS AND HIS WARNINGS BY NOT REPENTING.

HOW MUCH LONGER WILL WE STAY ALOOF? HOW LONG BEFORE WE UNDERSTAND WHAT GOD IS CAPABLE OF DOING WITH US, AND HOW LONG BEFORE WE REALIZE THAT WE ARE HANGING BY A THREAD WHEN IT COMES TO HIS WRATH? AND WHAT IS KEEPING US TODAY FROM SPEAKING UP WITH BOLDNESS TO PROCLAIM THAT GOD-GIVEN REVELATION, WHICH IS UNIQUE AND NOT AVAILABLE FOR EVERYONE OUT THERE. ONLY GOD'S TRUSTED CHILDREN HAVE RECIVED THIS GIFT; YET WE DO NOTHING TO PRESERVE IT AND PROTECT IT FROM PEOPLE'S COMMENTS AND CRITICISM. WHAT AN INSULT TO GOD! WE CAN UNDERSTAND AS TO WHY UNBELIEVERS OFFEND GOD... BUT IT'S INEXCUSABLE WHEN US BELIEVERS AREN'T DOING WHAT WE ARE EXPECTED TO DO.

WHAT JESUS SAID ABOUT THAT UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN WITH THE ALABASTER JAR, "SHE DID WHAT SHE COULD...", MEANT THERE WAS NOTHING ELSE FOR HER LEFT TO DO; SHE DIDN'T HOLD BACK ANYTHING; SHE GAVE HER ALL. WOULD'N WE LOVE TO HEAR THAT SOMEDAY AS WE'RE STANDING BEFORE HIM, AND WE HEAR HIM SAY, "...YOU DID WHAT YOU COULD".

SEPTEMBER 13    WE CHRISTIANS HAVE A LOT TO CELEBRATE AND WE NEED NOT BE ASHAMED AND APOLOGETIC ABOUT OUR WORSHIP. THIS HAS ALWAYS BEEN A SERIOUS ISSUE EVEN IN THE BIBLICAL DAYS. AS THE CROWDS WOULD JOYFULLY PRAISE GOD FOR ALL THE MIRACLES JESUS HAD BEEN PERFORMING, THE PHARISEES ALWAYS EXPRESSED THEIR DISCONTENT AS USUAL. THEY MURMURED, "TEACHER, REBUKE YOUR DISCIPLES...THEY ARE TOO LOUD... THEY'RE TOO EMOTIONAL... THEY'RE TOO FANATICAL...RELIGION IS MEANT TO BE MEASURED AND RESPECTABLE...". THEY WERE OBSESSED WITH LEGAL COMPLIANCE, EVEN TO THE POINT OF FINDING FAULT WHEN SOMEONE WAS HEALED ON THE SABBATH. THE BOTTOM LINE, THEY WERE JEALOUS BECAUSE THEY DIDN'T QUITE UNDERSTAND WHAT OTHERS COULD SEE IN JESUS; THIS STRANGE MAN WHO HAD BOLDNESS ENOUGH TO MAKE SERIOUS CHANGES TO THEIR TRADITIONS THAT EVERYONE WAS WELCOMING WITH OPEN ARMS. WHAT THEY REALLY DIDN'T GET WAS THE FACT THAT GOD WAS RECEIVING WORSHIP THROUGH JESUS' MIRACLES, AND THE CROWDS WERE BEING SATURATED WITH HIS GRACE. THAT'S WHAT THEY MISSED MOST OF ALL.

ON TOP OF IT ALL, JESUS HAD BEEN CALLING THE TEMPLE "MY HOUSE". AS A LITTLE BOY, HE HAD REBUKED HIS PARENTS' CONCERNS, AFTER HAVING LOST HIM FOR THREE DAYS, BY SAYING, "DIDN'T YOU KNOW THAT I HAD TO BE ABOUT MY FATHER'S BUSINESS?" ON ANOTHER OCCASION, HE HAD SAID, "DESTROY THIS TEMPLE, AND I WILL RAISE IT AGAIN IN THREE DAYS". JESUS COULDN'T SEPARATE THE TEMPLE FROM HIMSELF; BECAUSE HE HIMSELF WAS THE TEMPLE, THE DWELLING PLACE OF GOD.

THEN JESUS STARTED IDENTIFYING THE TEMPLE WITH HIS CHURCH, MEANING HIS CHURCH WAS BECOMING THE DWELLING PLACE OF GOD. THIS NEW LOCATION HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH A MAN-MADE BUILDING. AND IT DIDN'T NEED TO HAVE THE GOLD AND THE SILVER TO EMBELLISH IT WITH. IT WAS THE CORPORATE BODY OF BELIEVERS WHO RECOGNIZED JESUS AS THEIR SAVIOR, AND RECEIVED THE REVELATION OF HIS DEATH ON THE CROSS, AS WELL AS THEIR FREE GIFT OF SALVATION THROUGH HEARTFELT REPENTANCE. THIS BODY HAD ONLY ONE THING IN COMMON: THEY WERE HUMBLED OVER THEIR INIQUITIES SINCE THEY KNEW THE FACT THAT THEY NEEDED SUPERNATURAL HELP TO OVERCOME THEM. YET THEY WERE ALSO ELEVATED THROUGH THE VERY SAME INIQUITIES, SINCE GOD WOULD USE THEM IN THE AREAS THEY WERE THE WEAKEST.

IT DOES NOT PAY TO BOAST ABOUT OURSELVES; BECAUSE GOD HATES THE PROUD. HE HAS NO USE FOR THEM. HE AIMS TO DEFLATE THEIR EGO BEFORE HE CAN BUILD THEM UP ACCORDING TO HIS VALUES AND MEASURES. AS WE LIVE IN A WORLD WHERE PEOPLE ARE SUFFERING BECAUSE OF THEIR OWN EGO MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE, AND AS WE WATCH OUR CHURCHES ADOPT THE TEACHINGS OF FAMOUS ATHEISTS SUCH AS SIGMUND FREUD AND OTHERS IN ORDER TO COUNSEL THEIR MEMBERS, WHY ARE WE SO SURPRISED TO SEE MORE CONFUSION AND MORE DETACHMENT FROM THE REAL THING? THE FACT IS, APART FROM GOD, WE'RE NOT CAPABLE OF HOLDING OUR OWN, AND SUPPLYING ALL OF OUR PHYSICAL AND EMOTIONAL NEEDS, AND BE ABLE TO WALK THROUGH LIFE, AND NOT EXHAUST OURSELVES. THE ONLY THING WE CAN TRULY BOAST ABOUT IS GOD HIMSELF, AND HIS LOVE FOR US.

FROM THE DUST WE CAME. AND TO THE DUST WE RETURN. THAT WILL NEVER CHANGE. WHAT REALLY MATTERS IS HOW FULLY WE LIVE OUR LIVES; HOW GRATEFUL WE ARE FOR CHRIST'S SACRIFICE ON OUR BEHALF; AND WHAT KIND OF AWESOME GOD WE SERVE WHO LOVES US SO UNCONDITIONALLY. IF WE TRULY UNDERSTAND THIS ENTIRE PICTURE, WE TOO WOULD BE CELEBRATING JOYOUSLY, LOUDLY, AND UNRESERVEDLY... AS WE DRAW NEAR TO THAT INEVITABLE TIME, WOULDN'T WE WANT TO KNOW WHAT PORTION OF OUR GOD-GIVEN PURPOSE WE'VE BEEN ABLE TO ACCOMPLISH; OR HAVE WE EVEN BEGUN TO UNVEIL WHAT THAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN? WOULDN'T WE LIKE TO KNOW WHAT PERCENTAGE OF OUR ELDERS, SITTING AND REFLECTING BACK, ARE REALLY WANDERING ABOUT HOW MUCH MORE MONEY THEY COULD'VE MADE, OR HOW MUCH BETTER THEY WOULD'VE LOOKED IN A SPORTS CAR...

SEPTEMBER 12    THE STORY OF THE PRODIGAL SON HAS BEEN ONE OF THE MOST CONFUSING PARABLES AMONG THE BELIEVERS. ONE OF THE PUZZLING THINGS ABOUT GOD, FOR SOME PEOPLE, IS HIS REFUSAL TO STEP IN AND STOP US FROM DOING WHAT IS WRONG. HE HAS THIS NON-INTERFERENCE POLICY THAT LEADS MANY OF US TO ASK, "WHY DOESN'T GOD DO SOMETHING ABOUT THE EVIL IN THE WORLD? WHY DOESN'T HE STOP PEOPLE FROM DOING DISPICABLE THINGS, AND CONTINUE TO HURT ONE ANOTHER? THE ANSWER LIES IN THAT AWESOME GIFT OF FREE WILL, WHICH IS LIKE A TWO-EDGED SWORD. WE CAN EITHER CHOOSE TO RUN TO HIM, OR AWAY FROM HIM. THAT, IN A NUT SHELL, IS THE ONLY ANSWER. GOD KNOWS THAT THE MOMENT HE FORCES US TO DO HIS WILL, IT IS NO LONGER WE WHO ARE OBEYING, AND THEREFORE IT MEANS NOTHING. IT IS POINTLESS TO COERCE US INTO OBEDIENCE. WE CAN ONLY IMPRESS AND DELIGHT HIM BY OFFERING OUR OWN OBEDIENCE FROM THE DEPTHS OF OUR HEART.

THIS STORY IS ABOUT A YOUNG MAN WHO LEFT HOME AT A TIME WHEN NO CHILD EVER LEFT HOME, EVEN WHEN THEY GREW UP AND GOT MARRIED; THEY WERE SIMPLY ADDED TO THE FATHER'S HOUSEHOLD. TO LEAVE HOME WAS TO LEAVE EVERYTHING, MEANING YOUR EXTENDED FAMILY, RELATIONSHIPS, WORK, AS WELL AS YOUR FUTURE. THE FATHER IN THE STORY WASN'T JUST BEING A PERMISSIVE PARENT; HE WAS SIMPLY GIVING THE SON WHAT THE SON BELIEVED HE WANTED, IN THE HOPE THAT SOMEDAY, HE WOULD END UP WANTING SOMETHING BETTER AND GREATER. ONLY IF HE EXPERIENCED WHAT IT WAS LIKE BEING TO BE AWAY FROM HIS FATHER'S LOVE WOULD THE DESIRE FOR THAT LOVE BEGIN TO GROW. THAT IS EXACTLY HOW GOD DESIRES FOR US TO SEEK HIM.

THE FATHER DID NOT GO TO THE DISTANT COUNTRY IN SEARCH OF HIS SON; NOR DID HE TRY TO RESCUE HIM AGAINST HIS WILL. LIFE'S ALLURING PLEASURES WOULD HAVE HAD TO STOPM ON THIS YOUNG MAN SO MUCH SO THAT HE WOULD START THINKING THE AMOUNT OF LOVE AND VALUE HE USED TO RECEIVE IN HIS OWN HOME. READING THIS PASSAGE, IT'S EASY FOR US TO SEE THE GREATER PICTURE. YET, WHEN WE'RE IN THE MIDDLE OF OUR OWN FOOLISH SITUATION, OUR VISION IS BLURRED, UNTIL SOME DAY, BY THE GRACE OF GOD, WE'RE ABLE TO SEE WHERE WE STAND. MOST OF THE DAMAGE HAPPENS BECAUSE WE THINK WE'RE INVINCIBLE, WE'RE SOMEWHAT IMMUNE FROM DESTRUCTION THAT TAKES PLACE IN OTHER PEOPLE'S LIVES, WE'RE SMARTER THAN THEY ARE, ETC... AND EVEN WHEN WE REALIZE WE'VE BEEN FOOLISH, IT TAKES COURAGE TO ADMIT IT.

THERE IS SOMETHING IN US THAT CONSTANTLY WANTS TO BREAK FREE AND BE ON OUR OWN. WHAT'S OUT THERE ALWAYS LOOKS MORE APPEALING; AND THE MORE WE YEARN, THE MORE WE DISCOVER WHAT OTHER THINGS WE MIGHT BE MISSING. IT IS A VICIOUS CYCLE! THIS YOUNG MAN BELIEVED THE FACT THAT IT WAS HIS INHERITENCE, HIS OWN MONEY, AND HE COULD DO AS HE WISHED. BUT IT ALL BELONGED TO HIS FATHER. HE HADN'T EARNED A PENNY OF IT. YET THE FATHER GRANTED HIM HIS HEART'S DESIRE. HE NEEDED TO BE EXPOSED TO THE WRONG VALUES BEFORE HE COULD APPRECIATE THE IMPORTANCE OF THE REAL ONES. THIS YOUNG MAN WAS GOING TO LEARN THINGS THE HARD WAY.

AS HE STARTED APPROACHING HIS FATHER'S PROPERY, HE HAD BEEN HUMBLED, DESTROYED, AND HUNGRY. HE HAD BECOME A HOMELESS, LOOKING TO FIND MERCY. HE CERTAINLY DIDN'T EXPECT TO BE WELCOMED WITH OPEN ARMS, AND A HUGE BANQUET WHERE EVERYONE WOULD CELEBRATE HIS RETURN. BUT THAT'S WHAT THE FATHER HAD BEEN WAITING TO DO FOR ALL THOSE YEARS. HE DIDN'T CARE HOW AND WHEN HE RETURNED... AS LONG AS HE RETURNED.

THAT IS OUR GOD TODAY, WAITING AND HOPING FOR US TO MAKE THAT DETOUR FROM WHERE WE'RE HEADING, READY TO GIVE US A BRAND NEW START. THE VERY LIFE WE BELIEVE WE OWN IS HIS GIFT TO US; EVEN THE VERY BREATH WE THINK WE POSSESS CAN BE STOPPED AT ANY GIVEN MOMENT. YET HE IS PATIENT. HE IS GRACIOUS TO US WHILE WE'RE TOO BUSY BEING THE OTHER BROTHER IN THE STORY, THE ONE WHO NEVER LEFT HOME, AND BELIEVED THAT ALL OF HIS EFFORTS WOULD QUALIFY HIM TO EARN HIS FATHER'S FAVOR. HE HAD BEEN COUNTING ON HIS GOOD WORKS TO INHERIT HIS FATHER'S INHERITENCE. HE WAS SADLY DISAPPOINTED TO FIND OUT THAT HIS BROTHER'S BEHAVIOR WAS FORGOTTEN SO EASILY, AND THAT HE WAS AND WOULD CONTINUE TO BE HIS EQUAL, AS LONG AS HE WAS WILLING TO BE PART OF THEIR FATHER'S HOUSEHOLD.

WE COULD STAY BUSY TENDING TO GOD'S BUSINESS THINKING IT MAY EARN US HIS GRACE AND MERCY. WE MAY EVEN EXHAUST OURSELVES IN ORDER TO OUTDO ONE ANOTHER. YET WE ALREADY HAVE ALL THAT WHICH GOD PROMISED US THROUGH HIS LOVE FOR US. AND WHEN WE LEARN TO LOVE HIM BACK, WITHOUT ANY EXPECTATIONS, WE START RESIDING WITHIN THE PALM OF HIS HAND, UNDER THE POURING OF ALL OF HIS PROVISIONS, AND BEING VALUED AS AN EQUAL HEIR WITH OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST.

SEPTEMBER 11    2 CORINTHIANS 6: 1-2 READS, "WE, THEN, AS WORKERS TOGETHER WITH HIM ALSO PLEAD WITH YOU NOT TO RECEIVE THE GRACE IN VAIN. FOR HE SAYS:' IN AN ACCEPTABLE TIME I HAVE HEARD YOU, AND IN THE DAY OF SALVATION I HAVE HELPED YOU' BEHOLD, NOW IS THE ACCEPTED TIME; BEHOLD, NOW IS THE DAY OF SALVATION". HERE, APOSTLE PAUL IS ADDRESSING THE BELIEVERS. HE IS REFERRING TO THEM AS "WORKERS TOGETHER", MEANING EVERYONE WHO IS BUSY DOING THE WORKS OF GOD. HE IS TALKING ABOUT "GRACE" THAT IS MUCH MORE THAN MERELY AN EVENT THAT TAKES PLACE WHEN AN INDIVIDUAL IS "BORN AGAIN" INTO THE KINGDOM OF GOD. GRACE IS MUCH MORE THAN AN ABSTRACT IDEA THAT MUST BE UNDERSTOOD. GRACE IS MUCH MORE THAN A SPIRITUAL PRINCIPLE THAT CAN BE LEARNED AND UNLEARNED. GRACE IS SIMPLY THE TRUE ENCOUNTER BETWEEN A SUPERNATURAL GOD AND FRAIL HUMANITY. GRACE IS POWER FROM ABOVE DISPERSED TO MEET THE NEEDS OF OUR LIVES.

TO RECEIVE GOD'S GRACE IN VAIN IS NONE OTHER THAT FALLING INTO THE LEGALISTIC THINKING PATTERNS SUCH AS WANTING TO PULL OUR OWN WEIGHT, AND HOPING TO IMPRESS GOD WITH OUR HARD WORK. NO WONDER WE 

END UP FEELING FRUSTRATED, ESPECAILLY WHEN WE SEE OTHERS DO A WHOLE LOT LESS FOR GOD, YET HAVE THE PLEASURE OF TALKING ABOUT GOD'S UNCONDITIONAL LOVE FOR THEM AND THEIR ENTIRE FAMILY. HOW COULD THAT BE RIGHT WHEN THE ONLY MEASURING SYSTEM WE KNOW IS BASED ON PERFORMANCE? HOW COULD GOD LOVE EVERYONE EQUALLY, REGARDLESS OF THEIR EFFORTS?

THAT IS EXACTLY WHY IT'S CALLED THE "GIFT OF GRACE"; THERE IS NO NEED TO WORK FOR IT; THERE IS NO REASON TRYING TO EARN IT; OR EVEN DESERVE IT. GRACE IS WHAT GOD'S LOVE PRODUCES FOR US, SIMPLY BECAUSE IT CAN, AND IT WILL, NO MATTER WHO AND WHAT WE ARE ALL ABOUT. GRACE IS MUCH MORE THAN CHANGING THE ETERNAL DESTINY OF AN INDIVIDUAL. IT IS NOT TO BE LOOKED UPON AS AN ACCESS INTO HEAVEN. IT IS POURED UPON US SO WE MAY BE WHOLE; JUST SO OUR INIQUITIES ARE REPLACED WITH GOD'S ENDLESS FAVORS, UNTIL WE ARE FULLY CAPABLE OF OVERCOMING OBSTACLES IN THIS LIFE, NOT THE LIFE TO COME.

GRACE IS NOW...IT'S NOT MEANT TO BE SET APART FOR LATER USE. GOD IS NOT MERELY DESIROUS OF CHANGING PEOPLE'S POSITIONS IN RELATIONSHIP TO ETERNITY. GOD IS SIMPLY WANTING FOR US TO STOP LOOKING TO BE INDEPENDENT. POINTLESS PHILOSOPHIES ARE THE REASON AS TO WHY ONE OF THE MOST CHERISHED PHARMACEUTICAL DRUGS IN OUR SOCIETY IS ANTI-DEPRESSANTS. BASELESS TRADITIONS AND PRINCIPALS OF THIS WORLD ARE THE REASON AS TO WHY MOST OF US ARE LIVING IN FEAR AND RAGE. THE DYSFUNCTIONAL HOMES AND BROKEN LIVES ARE THE RESULTS OF NOT HAVING RECEIVED GOD'S UNCONDITIONAL LOVE. WE CONTINUE TO TORMENT OURSELVES, EVEN THOUGH WE KNOW WITHIN THE DEPTHS OF OUR HEARTS THAT GOD IS NOT WRONG; AND THAT YOU CAN TAKE HIS PROMISE TO THE BANK: IT'S MORE SOLID THAN ANYTHING TANGIBLE IN OUR LIVES. THE ENEMY DESIRES TO KEEP US BOUND, BRUISED, AND BROKEN SO WE CANNOT FULFILL GOD'S PURPOSE FOR US. YET WE POSSESS ALL THAT WE'LL EVER NEED THROUGH CLAIMING HIS GRACE, CLINGING TO IT, AND MAKING SURE WE DON'T TAKE ANOTHER STEP WITHOUT IT.

SEPTEMBER 10   THE SAME GOD WHO SPOKE TENDERLY TO A DOWNTRODDEN ISRAEL IN THE CLUTCHES OF BABYLON, SAYING IN JEREMIAH 29: 11, "I KNOW THE PLANS I HAVE MADE FOR YOU, PLANS TO PROSPER YOU AND NOT HARM YOU..." IS THE SAME GOD WHO BROUGHT SORROW ON ISRAEL IN THE FIRST PLACE. HE IS THE ONE WHO BROUGHT EXILE UPON THEM. HE LED THEM TO A PLACE WHERE THEY HAD NO OTHER CHOICE BUT RECOGNIZE ALL OF THEIR REGRETS, IN ORDER TO GIVE HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY TO TURN FROM THEIR SINS.

EVEN THOUGH GOD WANTS US TO BE HAPPY, AND FEEL GOOD ABOUT OURSELVES, HE WANTS, MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE, TO INSTRUCT US IN THE WAYS OF HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS AND JUSTICE. HE WANTS TO UNVEIL HIS HOLINESS TO US, JUST SO WE CAN APPROACH HIM WITHOUT LOSING SIGHT OF WHO HE REALLY IS, AND TO BE ABLE TO REVERE HIM WITH ALL OF OUR HEARTS. AND THE ONLY WAY HE CAN HELP US UNDERSTAND THE ENTIRE IMAGE OF HIS BEING IS BY INTRODUCING US TO OUR OWN INIQUITIES, THROUGH WHICH WE'RE GIVEN A CHANCE TO REPENT.

A GOOD PORITON OF OUR LIVES IS SPENT FIGURING OUT WHO WE ARE; OR WHAT WENT WRONG; OR WHAT COULD'VE BEEN DONE TO AVOID SOME OF THE HEARTACHES, ETC... AS EACH ONE OF US START WALKING ON A PATH FULL OF WORLDLY REGRETS, SOME DAY WE MAY LOOK BACK, THAT IS IF WE HAVE SENSE ENOUGH TO LOOK BACK, AND SEE HOW FAR WE'VE GOTTEN AWAY FROM WHAT TRULY MATTERS IN LIFE. WE MAY HAVE RAN AFTER EARTHLY GOODS SUCH AS PROSPERITY, OR A HIGH POSITION, OR A PLACE TO HAVE MORE AND MORE CONTROL, ONLY TO FIND OUT THAT NONE OF THEM HAS THE ABILITY TO SATISFY THE HUNGER WITHIN. THAT PLACE OF EMPTINESS HAS BEEN SET APART FOR GOD, AND HE SIMPLY WANTS US TO RECOGNIZE IT BY LETTING US EXHAUST OURSELVES FOR A TIME.

AS WE CONSCIOUSLY DECIDE TO STOP FILLING THAT SPACE WITH ALL KINDS OF NONSENSE, AND START PREPARING IT FOR GOD TO ENTER AND TAKE RESIDENCE, HE ALMOST INSTANTLY UNVEILS THE TRUTH ABOUT OUR LIVES, AND HELPS US SEE OURSELVES THE WAY WE HAVE APPEARED TO HIM ALL ALONG. THAT REVELATION ALONE IS WHAT LEADS US TO REPENTANCE, WHICH IS THE PRELUDE TO HOLINESS. THAT IS WHEN THE PROCESS OF SANCTIFICATION BEGINS; AND THE MORE HE REVEALS HIMSELF TO US, THE MORE HUMBLED WE ARE ABOUT OUR PAST. THAT'S HOW AND WHEN WE'RE ABLE TO UNDERSTAND HOW INTENSELY GOD HATES SIN AMONG HIS PEOPLE. THIS IS ALWAYS A PERSONAL JOURNEY, DOES NOT BELONG TO ANYBODY ELSE, AND IT CERTAINLY DOESN'T GIVE US THE LICENSE TO POINT FINGERS AT ONE ANOTHER.

THERE IS NO QUESTION THAT ONCE GOD HAS LAID CLAIM TO OUR HEART, AND WE HAVE LAID HANDS ON HIS GRACE AND MERCY, WE'RE SAVED. BUT OUR SALVATION IS NOT COMPLETE. YES, GOD WILL FINISH WHAT HE HAS STARTED; BUT UNTIL WE REACH A GODLY SORROW WHICH BRINGS REPENTANCE, A SENSE OF HUMILITY BASED ON WHAT JESUS DID ON THAT CROSS, THROUGH WHICH WE HAVE BEEN PURCHASED AND MADE CLEAN, WE ARE SIMPLY IN THE PROCESS OF BEING SAVED. APOSTLE PAUL EXPLAINED IT AS SUCH IN 2 CORINTHIANS 7: 9-10, "...BECAUSE YOUR SORROW LED YOU TO REPENTANCE... FOR GODLY SORROW PRODUCES A REPENTANCE THAT LEADS TO SALVATION WITHOUT REGRET, WHEREAS WORLDLY SORROW PRODUCES DEATH". THEREFORE REPENTANCE IS A LIFETIME DISCIPLINE NECESSARY FOR A HOLY LIFE.

SEPTEMBER 9    LUKE 8: 22 READS, "NOW ON ONE OF THOSE DAYS JESUS AND HIS DISCIPLES GOT INTO A BOAT, AND HE SAID TO THEM, 'LET US GO OVER TO THE OTHER SIDE OF THE LAKE'. SO THEY LAUNCHED OUT. BUT AS THEY WERE SAILING ALONG HE FELL ASLEEP; AND A FIERCE GALE OF WIND DESCENDED ON THE LAKE, AND THEY BEGAN TO BE SWAMPED AND TO BE IN DANGER. THEY CAME TO JESUS AND WOKE HIM UP SAYING, 'MASTER, MASTER, WE ARE PERISHING!'. AND HE GOT UP AND REBUKED THE WIND AND THE SURGING OF THE WAVES, AND THEY STOPPED, AND IT BECAME CALM. AND HE SAID TO THEM, 'WHERE IS YOUR FAITH?' THEY WERE FEARFUL AND AMAZED, SAYING TO ONE ANOTHER, 'WHO THEN IS THIS, THAT HE COMMANDS EVEN THE WINDS AND THE WATER, AND THEY OBEY HIM?"

THIS PASSAGE HAS CAUSED MANY OF US TO ASK THE VERY SAME QUESTION. HOW COULD JESUS HAVE HAD AUTHORITY OVER A FEROCIOUS WIND? AND HOW ABOUT THE TIME HE HAD AUTHORITY OVER THE FISH IN THE SEA WHEN HE TOLD PETER TO CAST THE NET ONTO THE OTHER SIDE OF THE BOAT, AND IMMEDIATELY, THE NET WAS FULL? THE APOSTLES HAD TO CALL FOR HELP FROM NEARBY FISHERMEN. IT'S OBVIOUS THAT THIS DIDN'T HAPPEN BECAUSE ONE SIDE OF THE BOAT WAS EXPOSED TO FISH AND NOT THE OTHER. IT WAS BECAUSE JESUS, WITH ALL HIS DIVINE AUTHORITY, HAD POWER TO COMMAND EVEN THE FISH, JUST LIKE HE DID WITH THE WIND.

THESE FISHERMEN WERE OUT ON THAT SAME SEA OF GALILEE ALL THE TIME, AND THEY WERE USED TO ROUGH WEATHER. IT WAS PART OF THEIR LIVES. YET ON THIS ONE PARTICULAR DAY, THEY WERE SCARED TO DEATH. THIS MUST HAVE BEEN A STORM ONLIKE ANY OTHER, DURING WHICH JESUS WAS SOUND ASLEEP UNTIL THE APOSTLES WOKE HIM UP, PETRIFIED OUT OF THEIR MINDS. AND JESUS ASKED, "WHERE IS YOUR FAITH?" THIS IS THE QUESTION THAT OUGHT TO BRING PEACE INTO OUR HEARTS MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE. JESUS HAD ALREADY TOLD THEM, "LET US GO OVER TO THE OTHER SIDE OF THE LAKE". HIS INTENTION WAS TO GET THERE! IT WASN'T THE SIGHT OF THE STORM THAT SCARED THE APOSTLES: THEY WERE USED TO SEEING THAT! IT WAS THE FIERCENESS OF IT THAT CAUSED THEM TO LOSE SIGHT OF THEIR DESTINATION; EVEN THOUGH JESUS HAD ALREADY TOLD THEM WHERE THEY WERE GOING AS THEY HAD STEPPED INTO THE BOAT. COULD THEY HAVE POSSIBLY THOUGHT THAT A STORM WAS GOING TO GET IN THEIR MASTER'S WAY, AND KEEP HIM FROM REACHING HIS DESTINATION? THEY HAD WATCHED JESUS PERFORM COUNTLESS MIRACLES ALL ALONG; AND THEY HAD CLAIMED TO HAVE ACCEPTED HIM AS THE SON OF GOD; YET THE SIGHT OF SOMETHING SO UNUSUALLY TUMULTUOUS CAUSED THEM TO BE OVERTAKEN BY FEAR. THEY SIMPLY FORGOT WHO THEIR MASTER WAS FOR A TIME.

THE VERY SAME HAPPENS TO ALL OF US IF WE DON'T KEEP OUR EYES ON OUR SAVIOUR, AND OUR MINDS CONSTANTLY FILLED WITH THE SCRIPTURE. IN FACT, WE MUST MEMORIZE AS MANY VERSES AS WE POSSIBLY CAN; BECAUSE WE NEVER KNOW WHEN AND HOW SEVERE OUR NEXT STORM IS GOING TO BE. BUT THERE WILL BE A STORM, SOMETIME IN THE FUTURE!

WE MUST MEDITATE ON GOD'S WORD DAY IN AND DAY OUT, AND WE MUST BE IN CONSTANT COMMUNICATION WITH HIM. HE HONORS THE TIME WE SPEND WITH HIM OUT OF THE WILLINGNESS OF OUR HEARTS, INSTEAD OF REACHING OUT TO HIM ONLY IN TIMES OF NEED. HE IS OUR PROVIDER, NO DOUBT, BUT WE MUSTN'T INSULT HIM BY FORGETTING THAT HE IS THE GOD OF THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE; THAT WE OWE HIM WORSHIP AND REVERENCE BEFORE ALL ELSE; THAT WHETHER OR NOT HE ANSWERS OUR PLEAS, HE DESERVES OUR ALL.

THE BIBLE PROMISES TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS. THOSE ARE INEVITABLE, SINCE THEY ARE DESIGNED TO HELP US DEVELOP A DEEPER RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD. THOSE ARE THE TIMES WHEN GOD IS IMRESSED WITH OUR ATTITUDE. IT IS EASY TO BELIEVE SOMETHING TANGIBLE THAT WE SEE AND TOUCH. YET OUR FAITH IN GOD IS WHAT ALLOWS US TO BELIEVE THAT WHICH WE CANNOT SEE NOR TOUCH. THOSE ARE WHAT TRULY PROVES THAT WE BELONG TO GOD; THEREFORE WE SEE THE COMPLETENESS OF HIS WORKS, WITHOUT ANY EFFORT ON OUR PART. IN FACT, THE ONLY CONTRIBUTION HE EXPECTS FROM US IS TO BELIEVE IN HIS MIGHT, AND HIS WILLINGNESS TO KEEP US WITHIN THE PALM OF HIS HAND, JUST AS HE HOLDS THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE.

SEPTEMBER 8    WHAT WILL CAUSE US TO GET UP, SHAKE OFF APATHY, MOVE OUTSIDE OUR COMFORT ZONE, AND BEGIN TO TAKE ACTION? GOD ALWAYS KEEPS HIS WORD... BOTH CURSES AS WELL AS PROMISES. HOW WE CHOOSE TO LIVE PRETTY MUCH DETERMINES WHICH ONE HE'LL ACTIVATE. OUR PRAYERABILITY AND AVAILABILITY TO GOD'S PROMPTING ALSO ADD TO THE DIRECTION WE TAKE, AS WELL AS THE OUTCOME OF EACH TRIAL WE FACE. IN ORDER TO SECURE A CERTAIN STRENGTH AND STABILITY THAT WOULD HELP US FLOW THROUGHOUT OUR EVERCHANGING LIFE, WE MUST LEARN ABOUT BUILDING A FORTRESS OF GOD'S FAVOR AROUND US!

FIRST, WE MUST PRACTICE COUNTENANCE CONTROL. LET'S READ NEHEMIAH 2: 1 WHERE KING ARTAXERXES ASKS, "...WHY THE LONG FACE? YOU'RE NOT SICK ARE YOU? OR ARE YOU DEPRESSED?...". NEHEMIAH, A SLAVE, A CAPTIVE, HAD NEVER KNOWN A DAY OF REAL FREEDOM IN HIS LIFE; HE HAD NEVER SERVED THE KING IN THE CAPACITY OF CUP BEARER FOR A LENGTH OF TIME; NOR HAD HE BEEN THERE LONG ENOUGH FOR THE KING TO KNOW HOW HE NORMALLY LOOKED. ON TOP OF IT ALL, NEHEMIAH HAD BEEN RECEIVING CONSTANT SAD NEWS ABOUT HIS PEOPLE'S STATE OF OPPRESSION - THE REBUILDING OF THE WALLS AROUND JERUSALEM WAS BEING HINDERED DUE TO ATTACKS FROM THE SURROUNDING NATIONS. NEHEMIAH FELT AS IF HE WAS BETRAYING HIS PEOPLE BY NOT SHARING THEIR BURDEN, AND HE WISHED HE WAS FREE TO HELP THEM BUILD THE WALL. IF ANYONE HAD THE RIGHT TO BE SAD, DOWNCAST, AND DEPRESSED, IT WAS NEHEMIAH. YET THE KING HAD NEVER SEEN HIM LOOK OR ACT SAD!

SOME OF US HAVE SO LITTLE RECOGNITION OF THE MESSAGE THAT OUR FACE IS SENDING THROUGH WHICH PEOPLE CAN'T FIGURE OUT WHAT THIS CHRISTIANITY IS ALL ABOUT. A FEW OF US ARE SO DOWNCAST ALL THE TIME THAT NO ONE CAN DISCERN IF THERE IS REAL PAIN, OR IF THAT IS JUST THE WAY WE ALWAYS LOOK. THE TRUTH IS, IF WE APPEAR HAPPY ALL THE TIME, THERE'S A GOOD CHANCE WE MAY BE FAKING IT. BUT IF WE'RE SAD ALL THE TIME, THEN WE MAY NEED TO ASK SOME HARD QUESTIONS ABOUT OUR SPIRITUAL WALK.

KING DAVID SAID IT LIKE THIS IN PSALM 42: 11, "WHY ARE YOU DOWN IN THE DUMPS, DEAR SOUL? WHY ARE YOU CRYING THE BLUES? FIX MY EYES ON GOD - SOON I'LL BE PRAISING AGAIN. HE PUTS A SMILE ON MY FACE. HE'S MY GOD". EVEN THOUGH OUR FACE MAY EXPRESS PAIN, WORRY, OR STRUGGLE FROM TIME TO TIME, OUR COUNTENANCE SHOULD ALWAYS REFLECT GOD. AND WHEN WE HAVE THE RIGHT ATTITUDE ABOUT OUR CHALLENGES, WE ALSO HAVE CONTROL OF OUR CONVERSATIONS. WE THEN ARE ABLE TO DISCERN PEOPLE WHO WOULD GIVE US BIBLICAL ADVICE, VERSUS THE ONES WHO HAVE THE POWER TO SPREAD DETAILS OF OUR LIFE AS IF IT WERE THE LATEST ISSUE OF THE DAILY NEWSPAPER.

WE MUST LET PETITIONS AND PRAISES SHAPE OUR WORRIES INTO PRAYERS, LETTING GOD KNOW OUR CONCERNS, BEFORE THEY ENGULF EVERY AREA OF OUR EXISTENCE. ONLY THEN WILL GOD'S WHOLENESS AS WELL AS OUR BELIEF OF EVERYTHING COMING TOGETHER FOR GOOD CAN HELP SETTLE US DOWN. IT'S WONDERFUL WHEN CHRIST DISPLACES WORRY AT THE CENTER OF OUR LIVES.

OUR GOOD NEWS AS WELL AS THE BAD MUST BE PRESENTED TO GOD BEFORE ANYONE ELSE, BECAUSE HE IS THE ONE WHO PROVIDES ALL THINGS, INCLUDING OUR PROTECTION. SHOULD WE EVER SHARE OUR ISSUES WITH OTHERS? YES, BUT ONLY AFTER HAVING PROCESSED THEM UNDER THE LIGHT OF GOD'S COUNTENANCE; AND ONLY IN A WAY THAT OUR WORDS WOULD BRING GLORY TO HIS NAME; AND ONLY IN A WAY WHERE THERE WILL BE THE UPLIFTING OF A SOUL FROM THE DEPTHS OF DARKNESS INTO GOD'S PRESENCE, WHERE THERE IS HELP AND HOPE.

SEPTEMBER 7    AS WE LOOK BACK ON OUR LIVES, WE EACH CAN PICK OUT MILESTONES, TIMES THAT A NEW SEASON OF LIFE HAS BEGUN. IN FACT, GOING FORWARD, IF WE STOP TO CONSIDER SOME POSSIBLE FUTURE EVENTS, WE COULD SEE SOME NEW SEASONS OF OUR LIVES WAITING TO UNFOLD, READY TO LEAD US INTO A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT TODAY IS ALL ABOUT. THAT IS BECAUSE WE FACE NEW SEASONS REGULARLY IN OUR LIVES, AND NONE OF IT IS UNIQUE TO ANY OF US. ONE THING FOR SURE IS THE FACT THAT NEW SEASONS CONTINUE TO COME; WE CAN'T STOP THEM; NOR DO WE HAVE ANY CONTROL OVER THEM.

BUT THE HARDEST PART OF ENTERING A NEW SEASON IS BEING ABLE TO ACCEPT CHANGES. MANY OF US HAVE A LOVE/HATE RELATIONSHIP WITH CHANGE. WE MAY COMPLAIN ABOUT MONOTONY; YET CHANGE SCARES US. THE LONGER AND HARDER WE FIGHT IT, THE GREATER BECOMES OUR DISCONTENT; IT CONTINUES TO BUILD A CYCLONE THAT EVENTUALLY ENGULFS AND SUFFOCATES US.

YET AS LONG AS OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE LORD CONTINUES TO GROW, AND GOD'S AUTHORITY OVER OUR LIVES REMAINS UNCHANGED, EVERY OTHER RELATIONSHIP IS BEING STRENGTHENED AND STEADIED DURING THE TIMES OF CHANGE. THAT IS INEVITABLE SINCE GOD IS THE ONLY SOLID ROCK WE CAN HOLD ON TO, AND NOTHING OF THIS WORLD CAN OVERTHROW HIS SOVEREIGN PRESENCE AND POWER.

KING DAVID, KNOWN AS "THE MAN AFTER GOD'S OWN HEART, COMMSSIONED HIS SON SOLOMON, WHILE LAYING ON HIS DEATH BED, WITH THESE LAST WORDS OF WISDOM RECORDED IN 1 KINGS 2: 1-3, "WHEN THE TIME DREW NEAR FOR DAVID TO DIE, HE GAVE A CHARGE TO SOLOMON HIS SON 'I AM ABOUT TO GO THE WAY OF ALL THE EARTH' HE SAID. 'SO BE STRONG, SHOW YOURSELF A MAN, AND OBSERVE WHAT THE LORD YOUR GOD REQUIRES: WALK IN HIS WAYS, AND KEEP HIS DECREES AND COMMANDS, HIS LAWS AND REQUIREMENTS, AS WRITTEN IN THE LAW OF MOSES, SO THAT YOU MAY PROSPER IN ALL YOU DO AND WHEREVER YOU GO".

THAT IS AN AWESOME COMMISSION; AND EVERY PARENT OUGHT TO MAKE THAT A PRIORITY. HOWEVER, IN ORDER TO BE ABLE TO FOLLOW SUCH WEIGHTY COMMAND, AND THEREFORE BE ABLE TO FOLLOW THE LORD'S WAYS, SOLOMON HAD TO UNDERSTAND WHAT HIS FATHER WAS TALKING ABOUT. HE HAD TO HAVE SEEN MANY EPISODES OF HIS FATHER'S LIFE UNFOLD, THROUGH WHICH HE WOULD'VE SEEN THE APPLICATION OF THOSE WORDS, AND WATCH THEM DEVELOP, IN ORDER TO RECOGNIZE GOD'S HAND IN EVERY ONE OF THEM. AND WHAT HAPPENS TO THOSE OF US WHO DON'T HAVE SUCH A ROLE MODEL IN OUR LIVES? WHAT ARE WE SUPPOSED TO DO WHEN LIFE'S CHALLENGES TAKE OVER AND SIFT US LIKE WHEAT? CHRIST HAD THE PERFECT ANSWER FOR THAT. ACCORDING TO LUKE 22: 31 HE SAID, "SIMON, SIMON, SATAN HAS DESIRED TO HAVE YOU, THAT HE MAY SIFT YOU AS WHEAT: BUT I HAVE PRAYED FOR THEE, THAT THY FAITH FAIL NOT..."

THE PETITION WAS THAT "THY FAITH FAIL NOT"; MEANING IF SATAN'S CURVE BALLS CAN'T KEEP US FROM QUESTIONING GOD'S FAITHFULNESS, THEY CAN CERTAINLY DISGRACE OR DISTRESS US THROUGHOUT LIFE TO SAY THE LEAST. UNLESS WE ARE KEPT BY GOD, AND THE PRAYER OF JESUS CHRIST, WE WOULD EASILY FALL PREY TO SATAN'S INTENTIONS IN AN INSTANT. IN FACT THE BOOK OF NUMBERS 6:24 READS, "MAY THE LORD BLESS YOU AND KEEP YOU...", MEANING GOD'S BLESSING DOESN'T JUST REST UPON US, BUT IT "KEEPS" US. AND NUMBERS 6: 26 FOLLOWS, "MAY THE LORD SHOW YOU HIS COUNTENANCE AND GIVE YOU PEACE...", MEANING WHEREVER GOD'S CONTENANCE IS, THAT'S EXACTLY WHERE TRUE "PEACE" WOULD BE.

THERE IS A KIND OF PLEASURE, AND SATISFACTION, AND HAPPINESS THAT WE GET FROM MATERIAL ABUNDANCE; BUT THERE IS SOMETHING DEEPER THAT CAN ONLY COME FROM THE LIGHT OF GOD'S COUNTENANCE UPON OUR LIVES, THE TRUE JOY THAT EXCELS ANYTHING THAT WE CAN GET FROM MERE MATERIAL PROSPERITY, OR SECURITY, OR SATISTACTION. THE LIGHT OF GOD'S COUNTENANCE MAKES OUR LIFE MEANINGFUL AND SECURE, THROUGH WHICH EVERY CHANGE WE ENDURE BECOMES A PREPARATION FOR A BETTER AND GREATER INNER BEING, WITH MORE AND MORE SPIRITUAL GOD-GIVEN AUTHORITY.

SEPTEMBER 6    IN TODAY'S CHRISTIANITY, WE SEE TWO EXTREME POSITIONS THAT EXISTED SINCE APOSTOLIC TIMES. AND UNFORTUNATELY NEITHER IS BIBLICALLY CORRECT. ON THE EXTREME RIGHT IS "LEGALISM"; WHILE ON THE EXTREME LEFT IS "LICENSE". AND SOMEWHERE IN BETWEEN THE TWO, WE FIND THE BIBLICALLY CORRECT POSITION CALLED "LIBERTY".

THERE IS SOMETHING COMFORTABLE ABOUT REDUCING CHRISTIANITY TO A LIST OF DO'S AND DON'TS, BECAUSE IT ALSO TENDS TO REDUCE ANXIETY; WE ALWAYS KNOW WHERE WE STAND. WE DON'T NEED TO APPLY WISDOM. WE DON'T HAVE TO THINK SUBTLY OR MAKE HARD CHOICES. WE DON'T EVEN HAVE TO RELATE "PERSONALLY" TO A DEMANDING GOD.

THE OPPOSITE EXTREME CLAIMS THE IDEA THAT SINCE WE'RE FREE IN CHRIST, WE CAN DO ANYTHING WE WANT. THAT'S THE EQUIVALENT TO HAVING A LICENCE TO DO WHATEVER, WHENEVER KIND OF LIFESTYLE. IT'S NO DIFFERENT THAT ABUSING GOD'S GRACE IN ORDER TO SERVE SELF, SELFISHLY AS WELL AS SINFULLY. IT IS AN UNRESTRAINED LIFE THAT SCORNS GOD'S COMMANDS. IF WE FALL INTO THIS CATEGORY, WE MAY INDULGE THINKING THAT OUR ETERNAL SALVATION CAN'T BE LOST; AND WE START RATIONALIZING, "...ALL I HAVE TO DO IS REPENT, AND GOD WILL FORGIVE ME...". THIS IS ANOTHER IMMATURE APPROACH TO THE TRUTH UNVEILED BY JESUS, AND LEADS TO A PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE BEHAVIOUR. EITHER WAY, WE ARE BOUND AND DETERMINED NOT TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR OUR ACTIONS. AND WE TEND TO EASILY OVERLOOK CONSEQUENCES BY BLAMING OTHERS, A CERTAIN DOCTRINE, OR EVEN GOD.

2 TIMOTHY 3: 1-5 ADDRESSES BOTH QUITE DESCRIPTIVELY, "THIS KNOW ALSO, THAT IN THE LAST DAYS PERILOUS TIMES SHALL COME. FOR MEN SHALL BE LOVERS OF THEIR OWN SELVES, COVETOUS, BOASTERS, PROUD, BLASPHEMERS, DISOBEDIENT TO PARENTS, UNTHANKFUL, UNHOLY, WITHOUT NATURAL AFFECTION, TRUCEBREAKERS, FALSE ACCUSERS, INCONTINENT, FIERCE, DESPISERS OF THOSE THAT ARE GOOD, TRAITORS, HEADY, HIGH-MINDED, LOVERS OF PLEASURES MORE THAN LOVERS OF GOD; HAVING A FORM OF GODLINESS, BUT DENYING THE POWER THEREOF: FROM SUCH TURN AWAY". ARE WE NOT NOTICING MOST OF THOSE BEHAVIOUR PATTERNS THESE DAYS? OUR SOCIETY HAS BEEN SEEKING TO NURTURE PERSONAL FEELINGS AND SELF SATISFYING RESULTS RATHER THAN SEEKING GOD'S FACE.

LIBERTY, THE HAPPY MEDIUM, DOES NOT MEAN THE ABSENCE OF LAWS. WE CAN NEVER ENJOY TRUE FREEDOM WITHOUT SOME RESTRICTIONS ON OUR ACTIVITIES. IT ALWAYS COMES WITH CONDITIONS; WE MUST TREASURE IT; WE MUST DEFEND IT; WE MUST USE IT RESPONSIBLY. AFTER ALL, AS CHRISTIANS, WE ARE TO MAINTAIN PROPER STANDARDS OF CONDUCT BECAUSE OF THE LORD'S ADMONITION TO "BE YE HOLY; AS I AM HOLY" RECORDED IN 1 PETER: 1-16.

JUST TO SUM IT UP, WE CAN SAY THAT THE MOTIVE WHY WE'RE OBEYING GOD'S LAWS DETERMINES WHERE WE STAND WITH GOD. ARE WE TRYING TO FEEL GOOD ABOUT OURSELVES, THINKING THAT WE'RE SOMEHOW ABOVE AVERAGE, SINCE WE'RE DOING OUR BEST TO KEEP GOD'S COMMANDMENTS? OR ARE WE SIMPLY KEEPING THEM BECAUSE WE'RE TOTALLY DEDICATED TO GOD, AND OUR DESIRE IS TO SEE HIM BE PLEASED WITH US AT ALL TIMES? LOVING GOD IS SOMETHING ENTIRELY DIFFERENT THAN ANYTHING ELSE WE HAVE EVER EXPERIENCED. IT MEANS TO TOTALLY GIVE OURSELVES TO IT; TO BE TOTALLY CONSUMED WITH IT; AND TO BE TOTALLY COMMITTED TO IT. THIS PARTICULAR LOVE IS WHAT WE SHOULD PUT FIRST IN OUR LIVES. ALL OUR INTENTIONS AND ABILITIES SHOULD BE FOCUSED AND CONSUMED WITH THIS ONE THING. WE NEED TO WILLINGLY SUBMIT OUR WILLS AND OUR LIVES TO IT. IN OTHER WORDS, THIS LOVE IS A COMMITTMENT, OR A BINDING OF OURSELVES TO "HIM", THAT WE BECOME "ONE" WITH HIM.

SEPTEMBER 5    APOSTLE PAUL WROTE IN GALATIANS 1: 10, "IF I SEEK TO PLEASE MEN, I CANNOT BE THE SERVANT OF CHRIST". WE HAVE BEEN AFRAID OF THE GENERAL PUBLIC'S OPINION FOR QUITE SOMETIME NOW; SO MUCH SO THAT EVEN IN OUR CHURCHES TODAY, SERMONS ARE BEING PREPARED TO GRATIFY THE LISTENER, AS IF THE ALTAR WAS A CASUAL SPOT BUILT TO ENTERTAIN VISITORS. MANY SERVANTS OF GOD ARE AFRAID TO PREACH THE GOSPEL FOR FEAR OF LOSING THEIR MEMBERS. IT IS EASY TO FOOL AN UNDISCERNING GROUP OF IMMATURE BELIEVERS IN OUR CHURCHES TODAY WITH ANY KIND OF WATERED-DOWN, SUGAR-COATED MESSAGE, IF WE WERE SIMPLY TRYING TO BRING THEM BACK FOR MORE. BUT WE CAN'T FOOL GOD. AND WE CERTAINLY CAN'T FOOL THE DEVIL WHO IS CONSTANTLY RE-EDITING GOD'S WORD FOR THOSE INNOCENT AND IGNORANT PEOPLE, WHO CAN'T DISCERN THE TRUTH. WE FAIL TO GIVE THEM THE RIGHT TOOLS SUCH AS THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD'S UNDILUTED PROMISES TO REMAIN IN CONTROL. THEY ARE BEING DISMISSED EACH TIME, HUNGRY AND THRISTY, WITHOUT ANY SUBSTANCE, AS LONG AS CHURCHES' TREASURIES ARE BEING WELL SATISFIED.

AND WHAT ABOUT THE MATURE CHRISTIANS WHO ARE IN NEED OF SOLID FOOD? THOSE ARE THE ONES WHO ARE ON FIRE, READY TO WIN SOULS FOR CHRIST! THEY ARE CRAVING FOR MORE STRENGTH, MORE ENCOURAGEMENT, MORE BOLDNESS, MORE POWER, ETC... THEY ARE THE ONES WHO ARE CONSTANTLY FACING CRITICISM, RIDICULE, PREJUDICE, AND EVEN PERSECUTION. NO WANDER THEY STRUGGLE WITH FEAR, FOR THEY KEEP TRYING TO MOTIVATE THEMSELVES WITH NO SUPPORT FROM A CHURCH BODY. SHOULD THEY BE HELD RESPONSIBLE FOR THE FEAR THEY CONTINUE TO EXPERIENCE THROUGHOUT THEIR MINISTRY? SHOULDN'T THAT BE PART OF THEIR TEACHERS' RESPONSIBILITY?

GOD SEES ALL THINGS; HE KNOWS ALL THINGS; AND HIS JUDGMENT IS RIGHT. WE MUST NOT BE AT ALL SURPRISED WHEN A CHURCH LEADER TAKES A TUMBLE WITH A PUBLIC DISGRACE, AND A GOOD PORTION OF HIS 

CONGREGATION DISPERSES BEFORE THE DAY IS OVER. THAT IS SURE EVIDENCE OF GOD'S SERIOUSNESS ABOUT HIS WORD, AND IT OUGHT TO BE TAKEN AS A WARNING SIGN FOR MANY CHURCHES OUT THERE.

WE MUST DISTINGUISH HOWEVER, BETWEEN BEING CAUTIOUS AND BEING AFRAID. AS WE READ IN MATTHEW 10: 16, WE MUST BE AS CUNNING AS SERPENTS, BUT AS INNOCENT AS DOVES; MEANING WE SHOULD USE WISDOM, YET BE COMPLETELY PEACEFUL WITH THE UNDERSTANDING THAT GOD HAS US WITHIN THE PALM OF HIS HAND. THEREFORE WE DON'T NEED TO FEAR ANY OTHER SOURCE BUT GOD. JESUS INSISTED UPON ONE COMMAND, "...FEAR NOT... FEAR NOT... FEAR NOT...". IN MATTHEW 10: 28 HE EVEN TOLD US TO FEAR GOD ONLY, AND NO ONE ELSE. IT IS OF EXTREME IMPORTANCE THAT WE DON'T MAKE ANY DECISIONS BASED ON FEAR; IT IS MUCH BETTER TO SUBMIT OURSELVES TO GOD'S MERCY THAN MEN'S.

GOD IS GRACIOUS ENOUGH TO LEAD US INTO MAKING GOOD DECISIONS, AS LONG AS WE FAITHFULLY WAIT TO HEAR FROM HIM. THAT IS ENTIRELY DIFFERENT THAN MAKING A DECISION AND SAYING, "I HOPE YOU APPROVE AND BLESS MY DECISION LORD...". IT IS GREAT PRACTICE TO WAIT ON HIM, WITH PATIENCE, KNOWING THAT SOONER OR LATER, HE WILL ANSWER AND GIVE THE BEST SOLUTION THERE IS. BUT WE MUST LEARN TO WAIT FOR HIS TIMING, AND NOT OURS. THE BIBLE IS FULL OF PEOPLE WHO CHOSE TO SPEED UP GOD, OR EVEN HELP GOD; AND THEREFORE THEY FOUND THEMSELVES IN A WORLD OF TROUBLE. GOD'S PLAN AND PURPOSE CONTINUED TO TAKE SHAPE WITHOUT INCLUDING THOSE WHO COULDN'T WAIT TO PLAY THEIR PART RIGHT.

IT IS NATURAL FOR US TO FEEL FEAR; YET WE MUST LEARN TO PEEL OFF EVERY LAYER OF IT, BEFORE WE COMMIT OURSELVES TO A DECISION. WE MUST FIGHT EVERY TEMPTATION IT MIGHT PRESENT BEFORE IT ALTERS OUR LIVES; REPLACING THE GLORIOUS LIFE THAT GOD PROMISED US, WITH AN EXISTENCE OF COUNTLESS LIMITATIONS. AS CHRIST INSISTS UPON THAT ONE COMMAND TODAY, HE ALSO ASSURES US THAT HIS AUTHORITY BACKS US UP TOTALLY, JUST AS LONG AS WE FOLLOW HIS CALLING; WITHOUT WHICH WE'RE NOTHING, AND OUR EFFORTS ARE DESTINED TO REMAIN FRUITLESS.

SEPTEMBER 4    GOD, IN HIS GRACE, ALLOWS US TO DO THINGS THAT ARE CONTRARY TO HIS WILL. THAT MAY BE HARD TO UNDERSTAND; YET "HE" IS THE ONE WHO GRANTED US A "FREE WILL". HIS DESIRE FOR US IS TO COME TO HIM WILLINGLY, TO CHOOSE HIS WILL OVER OUR OWN. THEREFORE HE WILL, FOR A TIME, TOLERATE OUR DISOBEDIENCE AND CONSEQUENCES TO IT. YET WE CAN REST ASSURED THAT NOTHING WILL HAPPEN TO US THAT ISN'T IN THE WILL OF GOD. ALTHOUGH HE TOLERATES OUR DISOBEDIENCE, HE'LL NEVER ALLOW ANYTHING TO HAPPEN TO HIS PEOPLE OUTSIDE HIS WILL. HIS MAIN DESIRE FOR US IS TO HAVE ETERNAL FELLOWSHIP WITH HIM. THAT IS EXACTLY WHY JESUS DIED ON THE CROSS AS OUR SUBSTITUTE, BECAUSE NO OTHER SACRIFICE WOULD HAVE BEEN GOOD ENOUGH TO PURIFY US BEFORE GOD.

THESE DAYS, WHEREVER WE MIGHT BE LIVING, TERRORISM IS AT OUR DOORSTEP, AT ANY GIVEN TIME, EVEN ON OUR OWN SHORES. FOR DECADES IF NOT MORE, WE HAVE BEEN WITNESSING POLITICAL POSTURING WHERE PEOPLE ARE MORE CONCERNED ABOUT GETTING THEIR SOCIAL AGENDA ON THE BOOKS THAN THEY DO PROTECTING THE LIVES OF THE PEOPLE THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO BE REPRESENTING. WE HAVE BEEN WATCHING SEVERAL GENERATIONS OF YOUNG KIDS GOING ABOUT THEIR BUSINESS WITHOUT THE GUIDANCE OF A RESPOSIBLE PARENT; AND YET, WE HAD THE AUDACITY TO TAKE PRAYER OUT OF SCHOOLS. THESE ARE HURTFUL, DISHEARTENING TRUTHS; YET THEY POSSESS NO UNDERLYING SENSE WHATSOEVER. THEY SIMPLY TESTIFY HOW WARPED OUR PHILOSOPHY OF LIFE HAS BECOME SINCE WE DECIDED TO TAKE MATTERS INTO OUR OWN HANDS, AND LEAVE GOD OUT.

ROMANS 14:7-8 BRINGS US A PROMISE. IT READS, "FOR WE DON'T LIVE FOR OURSELVES OR DIE FOR OURSELVES. IF WE LIVE, IT'S TO HONOR THE LORD. AND IF WE DIE, IT'S TO HONOR THE LORD. SO WHETHER WE LIVE OR DIE, WE BELONG TO THE LORD ". WE ARE GOD'S NO MATTER WHAT! WE MUST NEVER LOSE SIGHT OF THE ONLY TRUTH THERE IS, AND THE ONLY TRUTH THERE WILL EVER BE; NOR SHOULD WE DISCARD OUR HOPE IN PRAYER. AS WE SEE MANY OF OUR FOUNDATION BASICS CRUMBLE UNDER THE NEW AGE THINKING PATTERNS, OUR FAITH IN GOD NEED NOT BE DIMINISHED AT ALL. WE MUST ALWAYS REMEMBER THAT CHRIST WAS PERSECUTED; THE APOSTLED WERE PERSECUTED. WE, AS FOLLOWERS OF CHRIST, ARE AND WILL ALWAYS BE TARGETS TO OPPOSITION, AS LONG AS WE CONTINUE TO POSE A THREAT FOR THE PRINCE OF THIS WORLD, THE DEVIL! HE WILL NOT REST UNTIL HE MANAGES TO CONFUSE US AND CAUSE US TO QUESTION THE PRESENCE OF GOD ALMIGHTY. HE HATES US BECAUSE HE HATES GOD. AND HIS LATEST TRICK IS TO CONVINCE THE WORLD THAT WE CHRISTIANS ARE THE TROUBLEMAKERS; THAT OUR DOCTRINE IS THE GREATEST FUNDAMENTALISM EVER IN COMPARISON TO OTHER RELIGION FUNDAMENTALISTS.

THAT'S EXACTLY WHY WE MUST TRUST IN WHAT WE STAND UP FOR, AND NOT DOUBT GOD'S SOVEREIGNTY. OUR GOAL OUGHT TO BE MORE ABOUT PLEASING GOD, INSTEAD OF LOOKING TO GAIN PEOPLE'S APPROVAL. IF THEY LOOK DOWN ON US BECAUSE WE BELONG TO JESUS AND WE CHOOSE TO FOLLOW HIS LEADERSHIP, HOW AWESOME WOULD THAT BE! ONLY THEN DO WE KNOW FOR SURE THAT WE'RE WITHIN GOD'S WILL, AND THAT GOD IS PLEASED WITH US.

SEPTEMBER 3    JESUS' PLAN WAS TO SELECT SOME KEY MEN WHO WOULD BE WITH HIM AT ALL TIMES, AND IN ALL PLACES. TO ACCOMPLISH THIS, JESUS HAD TO FIND MEN WHO WERE AVAILABLE. STARTING WITH PETER AND ANDREW, WE SAW SEVERAL FOLLOWERS OF CHRIST WHOSE LIVES REVOLVED AROUND FISHING, THE QUIET OF THE SEA, AND THE CROWDS OF THE MARKETS. THEN JESUS CALLED THEM. "COME FOLLOW ME!", HE SAID. AND THEY BROKE LOOSE FROM NETS AND NEIGHBOURS, IMMEDIATELY AS MATTHEW 8: 18-20 STATES, TO LEARNING TRUE SERVANTHOOD UNDER THE GREATEST TEACHER THERE IS. IT'S EASY TO OVERLOOK THE FACT THAT JESUS WAS DOING THE FISHING DURING THAT TIME AS HE HAD TO PULL THEM IN, BEFORE HE COULD SEND THEM OUT. MARK 3: 14 SAYS, " AND HE APPOINTED TWELVE, THAT THEY MIGHT BE WITH HIM, AND THAT HE MIGHT SEND THEM OUT TO PREACH". THEIR FRUITLESS AMBITIONS BECAME THE FISHING ROD IN JESUS' HAND, AS THE PEACE AND THE LOVE HE HAD FOR PEOPLE WAS THE BAIT OF HIS CHOOSING.

JESUS' LIFE WAS THE CURRICULUM. AS SOON AS THE FISHERMEN DROPPED THEIR NETS, THEY WERE ACCEPTED INTO THE THE UNIVERSITY OF JESUS, AND BECAME DISCIPLES OF THE GREATEST PROFESSOR. COMING FROM ALL KINDS OF DIFFERENT BACKGROUNDS, THEY LEARNED AND PRACTICED TOGETHER, FORGETTING AND FORGIVING EACH OTHERS' WAYS. CLASS WAS ALWAYS IN SESSION.

ON MORE THAN ONE OCCASION, JESUS HAD FOUND A HILL BLANKETED WITH HUNGRY PEOPLE AND POTENTIAL FOLLOWERS. HIS SUFFICIENCY WAS BEING TESTED ALMOST ALL THE TIME, YET THESE TWELVE MEN LEARNED ABOUT CONSISTENCY, DEPTHS THEY HAD NEVER SEEN BEFORE, AND THEIR FAITH GREW BEYOND LIMITS. AND AT THE END, THEY GOT TO SEE THE TRUE MEANING OF SACRIFICE, RECEIVING A DIPLOMA WRITTEN IN BLOOD WITHIN THEIR HEARTS. EVEN THOUGH THEY EACH HAD COME WITH A BAGGAGE, OVER TIME, THEY HAD LEARNED TO EXCHANGE THEIR PASTS FOR GOD'S GRACE. AS WE SUBMIT OUR OWN AMBITIONS AND CLING TO GOD'S WAYS THROUGH JESUS CHRIST, WITH UTMOST DEDICATION AND SELFLESS DESIRE TO SERVE ONE ANOTHER, WE SOON REALIZE THAT THINGS WE HAVE IN COMMON ARE FAR GREATER THAN THE THINGS WE TAKE TIME TO CRITICIZE.

SEPTEMBER 2    THE ZEALOTS WERE A VERY PATRIOTIC PARTY OF JEWS, STRONGLY OPPOSED TO ROMAN RULE. THEY WANTED THE FREEDOM OF THEIR NATION MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE, AND WERE READY TO DIE FOR THEIR CAUSE. THEIR MENTALITY WAS SUCH THAT IT WAS ALRIGHT TO DO EVIL IF GOOD RESULT WOULD ULTIMATELY BE ACCOMPLISHED. THEY WERE WILLING TO JUSTIFY ANYTHING, INCLUDING VIOLENCE, FORCE, EVEN MURDER, AS LONG AS THEY COULD FURTHER THEIR MISSION. DURING CHRIST'S PUBLIC MINSTRY, THERE WERE MANY "ZEALOTS" WHO WANTED TO LIBERATE THEIR COUNTRY FROM THE ROMANS. MOST PROBABLY, BARABBAS AND OTHER CRIMINALS OF THOSE DAYS, SUCH AS THE ONES WHO DIED NEXT TO CHRIST, WERE ASSOCIATED WITH THE SAME GROUP OF PEOPLE.

HOWEVER, ISN'T IT AMAZING TO FIND OUT THAT SIMON, ONE OF THE INITIAL TWELVE APOSTLES, HAPPENED TO BE A ZEALOT? AT THE BEGINNING, HE MUST HAVE BEEN INTERESTED IN CHRIST'S TEACHINGS, MAINLY BECAUSE THEY FOCUSED ON BEING SAVED. HOWEVER AS HE BEGAN TO REALIZE THAT CHRIST HAD COME PRIMARILY TO LIBERATE THE HEART AND NOT THE COUNTRY, A DRASTIC CHANGE HAD STARTED TAKING PLACE ON THE INSIDE: SIMON UNDERSTOOD THAT THE "BONDAGE OF SIN" WAS FAR MORE TERRIBLE THAN THE ROMAN BONDAGE. HE SOON MANAGED TO SEE OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST AS THE GREATEST LIBERATOR OF ALL.

THE FACT THAT SIMON AND MATTHEW WERE BOTH DISCIPLES OF JESUS AT THE SAME TIME IS HIGHLY ENLIGHTENING. WE CANNOT THINK OF TWO MEN MORE OPPOSITE. MATTHEW WAS AN UNPATRIOTIC TRAITOR, WHEN SIMON WAS THE PATRIOTIC EXTREMIST. APART FROM CHRIST, SIMON AND MATTHEW WOULD HAVE BEEN GREAT ENEMIES; YET BOTH MEN LISTENED TO THEIR MASTER WITH THE SAME PURPOSE WHICH WAS TO REPENT AND BE GIVEN A CHANCE TO START ANEW. CHRIST WAS OFFERING THEM ALL THE RICHES OF THE HEART, AFTER HAVING WASTED THEIR EFFORTS, FRUITLESSLY, ON PERSONAL AMBITIONS. THE FACT THAT THESE TWO MEN COULD BE TOGETHER, WORK TOGETHER, EAT TOGETHER, SERVE TOGETHER, AND LEARN TOGETHER IS ONE OF THE GREAT MIRACLES OF CHRIST'S TRANSFORMING POWER. AND BECAUSE OF CHRIST, NOT ONLY DID THEY LEARN TO LIVE TOGHETHER, BUT THEY ALSO ENDED UP HAVING GREAT THINGS IN COMMON, WHICH WOULDN'T HAVE BEEN POSSIBLE OTHERWISE.

SEPTEMBER 1    WE ONLY HAVE FEW COMMENTS OF APOSTLE THOMAS THAT MIGHT HELP US DETERMINE WHAT HIS PERSONALITY WAS LIKE. ACCORDING TO JOHN 11: 16 WE SEE HIM AS AN EXTREMELY CONFUSED INDIVIDUAL WHEN HE EXCLAIMS, "LORD, WE DON'T EVEN KNOW WHERE YOU'RE GOING; SO HOW CAN WE KNOW THE WAY?" AND YET DURING ANOTHER ONE OF HIS CONFUSED MOMENTS WHEN JESUS, DESPITE IMMINENT DANGER AT THE HANDS OF HOSTILE JEWS, DECLARED HIS INTENTION OF GOING TO BETHANY TO HEAL LAZARUS, JOHN 11: 16 RECORDS THOMAS' WORDS AS SUCH, "LET US ALSO GO, SO WE MAY DIE WITH HIM".

LOOKING INTO THOSE TWO VERSES MAY BE ENOUGH FOR US TO DETERMINE THAT THOMAS WAS A DARK, PERHAPS EVEN A DEPRESSED INDIVIDUAL. HE HAD A NEGATIVE APPROACH TO THINGS, LEADING US TO ASSUME THAT HE DIDN'T QUITE UNDERSTAND A WHOLE LOT OF WHAT WAS HAPPENING AROUND HIM THOSE DAYS. HE MAY NOT HAVE SHARED THE THEIR ENTHUSIASM; YET HE WAS WILLING TO GO ALONG WITH THE REST OF THE APOSTLES. MOST LIKELY HE HAD GROWN TIRED OF HIS OLD WAYS, HOPING TO FIND SOMETHING POSITIVE IN HIS LIFE. THAT'S WHY HE HAD BEEN STICKING AROUND. HOW ELSE CAN WE EXPLAIN AS TO WHY HE WAS SO COMPLETELY INDIFFERENT OVER THE IDEA OF RISKING HIS LIFE ON THE WAY TO BETHANY? IT CERTAINLY WASN'T BECAUSE HE WAS ENTHUSED ABOUT DYING FOR CHRIST; IT WAS RATHER BECAUSE LIFE OR DEATH WERE OF THE SAME IMPORTANCE.

THOMAS WAS THE ONLY APOSTLE WHOSE CALLING HAS NOT BEEN RECORDED IN THE BIBLE, BUT HE WAS DEFINITELY ONE OF THE ORIGINAL TWELVE WHOM JESUS COMMISSIONED TO FOLLOW HIM. THAT ALONE SHOULD BE GOOD ENOUGH FOR US TO BELIEVE THAT THOMAS WAS CHOSEN TO PLAY A VERY IMPORTANT ROLE. HE REPRESENTS ANYONE AND EVERYONE WHO RELY ON THEIR SENSES IN ORDER TO BE CONVINCED OF THE TRUTH. JOHN 20: 26 FOCUSES ON THAT GLORIOUS DAY WHEN JESUS APPEARED TO HIS DISCIPLES IN THE UPPER ROOM AFTER THE RESURRECTION. THOMAS HAD MISSED IT. AS HE WITNESSED THEIR EXCITEMENT WHEN THEY EXCLAIMED, "WE HAVE SEEN THE LORD!" BUT HE SAID TO THEM, "UNLESS I SEE THE NAIL MARKS IN HIS HANDS AND PUT MY FINGER WHERE THE NAILS WERE, AND PUT MY HAND INTO HIS SIDE, I WILL NOT BELIEVE IT".

AS A RESULT OF HIS SKEPTICISM, CHRIST DID APPEAR TO THOMAS AND WATCH HIM FALL ON HIS KNEES SAYING, "MY LORD! AND MY GOD!" THAT IS EXACTLY WHEN THOMAS' ACTUAL CONVERSION TOOK PLACE. HE WAS FINALLY CONVINCED OF HIS MASTER'S IDENTITY; THEREFORE HIS OWN SENSE OF DEDICATION WAS IGNITED. HE TOOK OFF AND TRAVELED THROUGH PERSIA AND INDIA; AND DELIVERED THE GOOD NEWS WITH THE RIGHT KIND OF EXCITEMENT. IT IS AMAZING TO SEE HOW THOMAS' ENTIRE OUTLOOK CHANGED AS HE FINALLY FOUND HIS GOD GIVEN PURPOSE IN LIFE. WOULD HE HAVE BEEN CHOSEN BY CHRIST HIMSELF IF HE WAS TO REMAIN A "DOOM AND GLOOM" KIND OF PERSON, OR DID CHRIST RECOGNIZE HOW MUCH MORE GRATEFUL THOMAS COULD HAVE BEEN WITH HIS NEW SENSE OF BELONGING AS HE WOULD TOUCH OTHERS' LIVES?

AUGUST 31    THE MENTION OF APOSTLE JUDAS LEAVING RIGHT "AFTER THE SUPPER" IS THE MOST IMPORTANT POINT ABOUT CHRIST'S LAST SUPPER WITH HIS APOSTLES. IN THOSE DAYS, THE HOST OF THE TABLE WOULD DIP A CHUNK OF BREAD AND OFFER IT TO HIS GUEST OF HONOR, AS A SYMBOL OF HOW MUCH HE WAS PLEASED TO HAVE HIM AT HIS TABLE; JUST LIKE JESUS DID WITH JUDAS. JESUS KNEW ALL ALONG THAT JUDAS WAS TO BETRAY HIM AT THE END. IN FACT, WHEN HE PRAYED OVER HIS DISCIPLES AT THE MOUNT OF OLIVES RIGHT BEFORE THE LAST SUPPER AT THE UPPER ROOM, HE SAID, "... I HAVE KEPT EVERYONE OF THEM THAT YOU GAVE ME, EXCEPT FOR THE BETRAYER..." JESUS HADN'T FAILED AT KEEPING JUDAS AS ONE OF HIS APOSTLES. JUDAS WAS KEPT FOR THAT PURPOSE JUST SO THE SCRIPTURE WOULD BE FULFILLED. YET DURING THE LAST SUPPER AT THE UPPER ROOM, JESUS WAS STILL TREATING JUDAS AS ONE OF HIS GUESTS, EVEN A GUEST OF HONOR, AND PERHAPS HE WAS EXTENDING AN OPPORTUNITY FOR JUDAS TO TURN AWAY FROM THE EVIL DEED HE WAS SET OUT TO DO.

UNFORTUNATELY FOR JUDAS WHO WAS BOUND AND DETERMINED TO FOLLOW THROUGH HIS PLAN OF BETRAYING JESUS, AND HANDING HIM OVER TO THE OPPOSITION, THAT INVITATION BASED ON UNCONDITIONAL LOVE WENT UNNOTICED. THE BIBLE MENTIONS THAT AFTER JESUS GAVE HIM THE DIPPED BREAD, SATAN ENTERED JUDAS, AND HE FLEW OUT TO CARRY ON WITH HIS ORIGINAL INTENTION. JUDAS, HIMSELF, BECAME THE ACCUSER, THE DEVIL, FROM THAT MOMENT ON. THAT'S WHY IT WOULDN'T BE RIGHT TO CALL HIM A DEMON. HE WAS FAR MORE THAN THAT. IT IS THE DEVIL HIMSELF WHO GETS HOLD OF A PERSON'S SOUL, GETS HIM TO SAY OR ACT A CERTAIN WAY, AND THEN TURNS ON HIM, AND TORMENTS HIM FOR THE REST OF HIS LIFE. THAT IS WHY JUDAS, AFTER HAVING TRIED TO UNDO HIS TERRIBLE MISTAKE, DECIDED TO HANG HIMSELF, BECAUSE HE COULD NOT LIVE WITH THE TORMENT OF HIS SOUL. HE NEVER UNDERSTOOD THAT HE WAS SIMPLY ONE PRAYER OF REPENTANCE AWAY FROM BEING SAVED FROM SATAN'S GRIP. IF ONLY HE HAD PAID SOME ATTENTION TO THE PREACHINGS OF JESUS HE HAD WITNESSED DAY AND NIGHT.

WE MUST UNDERSTAND THAT JUDAS WAS ONE OF THE TWELVE, HANDPICKED BY CHRIST, YET HE HAD NEVER GIVEN EVEN A GLIMPSE AT WHY HE HAD BEEN PICKED, AND WHAT HE WAS SUPPOSED TO LEARN FROM IT ALL. HE HAD ONLY KNOWN TO STAY TRUE TO HIS FIRST DEVOTION, WHICH WAS THE LOVE OF MONEY, AND YET, JESUS HAD TRUSTED HIM WITH MONEY THE APOSTLES WERE RECEIVING FROM THEIR COUNTLESS FOLLOWERS. JUDAS WAS CONSTANTLY STEALING FROM THEM, BECAUSE HE HAD SILENCED HIS CONSCIENCE WAY TOO MANY TIMES, UNTIL NOTHING COULD BE HEARD OR FELT. JUDAS MANAGED TO KISS THE DOOR OF HEAVEN, JESUS CHRIST, AND WENT TO HELL. HE CHOSE HIS EVIL PASSIONS OVER THE RICH PRIVILEGES HE HAD BEEN GIVEN BY THE AUTHOR OF LIFE HIMSELF.

TODAY, WE CAN CHOOSE TO LOOK DOWN AT JUDAS ISCARIOT, AND DESPISE HIM FOR WHAT HE DID; OR WE CAN SEE HOW MUCH OF THAT SAME GREEDINESS IS TAKING PLACE IN OUR MIDST. WE HAVE PULPIT OR TELEVISION MINISTERIES THAT ARE UNDOUBTEDLY MOTIVATED BY PERSONAL GAIN RATHER THAN REACHING OUT FOR THE NEEDS OF THEIR LISTENERS. IN COUNTRIES WHERE CHRISTIANS ARE BEING PERSECUTED, WE HAVE BETRAYERS, WHO WILL NOT HESITATE TO DISCLOSE THE LOCATION AND THE WHEREABOUTS OF A BIBLE STUDY, SIMPLY BECAUSE THEY, JUST LIKE JUDAS, MISSED THE MOST IMPORTANT POINT. WE HAVE PEOPLE WHO INTENTIONALLY MISINTERPRET THE MEANING OF A VERSE OR TWO, JUST SO THEY CAN MANIPULATE THEIR WAY THROUGH A CHALLENGING SITUATION, OR SIMPLY TO RECEIVE RECOGNITION AS A WELL VERSED STEWARD AMONG THEIR CHURCH COLLEAGUES. THIS LIST CAN GO ON, AND ON...

THE MAIN REASON WE'RE WANTING TO FOCUS ON THIS SUBJECT TODAY IS THE SIMPLE FACT THAT, IF WE DON'T STAY IN CONSTANT COMMUNICATION THROUGH FERVENT PRAYERS WITH GOD WHO STRENGTHENS AND EQUIPS US FOR ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING, IT'S VERY EASY FOR US TO BECOME A PREY FOR THE ACCUSER, WHOSE INTENTION IS TO CREATE A DISCONNECTION WITH THE FATHER, AS WELL AS WITH ONE ANOTHER. THAT'S WHAT HE LIVES FOR. THAT'S WHAT HE THRIVES ON. AND WE'RE NOT STRONG ENOUGH, NOR KNOWLEDGEABLE ENOUGH TO STAND AGAINST HIM, UNLESS WE DIP INTO GOD'S WISDOM ON A DAILY BASIS TRHOUGH SINCERE AND HEARTFELT PRAYERS.

AUGUST 30    WHEN WE START STUDYING THE LIVES OF JAMES AND JUDE, TWO BROTHERS OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST WHO ALSO BECAME HIS APOSTLES LATER ON, WE CAN'T HELP BUT QUESTION WHAT IT WOULD HAVE BEEN LIKE TO BE IN THEIR SHOES. THEY WERE THE HALF-BROTHERS OF OUR LORD WHO GREW UP IN THE SAME HOUSEHOLD, SAT AROUND THE SAME TABLE, SHARED CONVERSATIONS WITH THE SAME FAMILY, YET DIDN'T QUITE KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT HIS TRUE IDENTITY. WHAT WOULD IT HAVE BEEN LIKE TO HAVE A BROTHER WHO MATURED AND DEVELOPED AS GOD INCARNATE, WHO PREACHED LIKE NO OTHER, AND WHO NEVER SINNED? AND WHAT WOULD IT HAVE BEEN LIKE TO BE SURROUNDED BY SCEPTICISM, WHEN THE EVER SO MULTIPLYING OPPOSITION WAS REFERRING TO THEIR HALF-BROTHER AS A MADMAN; WHEN ACCORDING TO MARK 3, EVEN THEIR MOTHER MARY'S FAITH WAS SHAKEN: SHE HAD WANTED TO GET JESUS AWAY FROM THOSE CRUEL ACCUSATIONS. JAMES AND JUDE LIVED IN THE SAME HOUSE WITH OUR LORD FOR THIRTY YEARS, YET THEY DIDN'T QUITE KNOW HOW TO INTERPRET HIS TEACHINGS, AND THEY WERE FILLED WITH MANY QUESTIONS.

AND THEN ALL OF A SUDDEN WE FIND OUT, TOWARD THE END OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, THAT THEY EACH WROTE A BOOK: THE BOOK OF JAMES AND THE BOOK OF JUDE. IF WE DISSECT THE UNDERLYING MESSAGE EACH OF THEM DELIVERS, WE FIND THAT JAMES TARGETED HYPOCRICY, WHEN JUDE DIRECTLY ATTACKED APOSTACY. AND NEITHER ONE HAD EVER BEEN EXPOSED TO AS MUCH HYPOCRICY AND APOSTACY AS WE ARE TODAY THROUGH MODERN DAY BELIEVERS AND CHURCHES.

HYPOCRICY IS THE PRACTICE OF BELIEFS CONTRARY TO ONE'S CHARACTER, MAINLY VISIBLE THROUGH ACTIONS, INCLUDING PRETENCE OF VIRTUE AND PIETY. APOSTACY IS THE ACTUAL ABANDONMENT OF ONE'S RELIGIOUS FAITH, PRINCIPALS, AND CAUSE; CONVERSION INTO AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT SET OF MORALS TO SATISFY THEIR OWN GAINS. MOST LIKELY, WHAT STARTS AS A LITTLE TWEAKING HERE AND THERE OF OUR GOD-GIVEN COMMANDMENTS CAN EASILY END UP TAKING US UNTO DANGEROUS GROUNDS IF WE'RE NOT BEING CAREFUL. WE CAN END UP DISTORTING THE TRUTH LONG ENOUGH AND FAR ENOUGH TO SEE OURSELVES SINKING INTO UNKNOWN DEPTHS, AWAY FROM ALL HELP. AND THOSE TWO SUBJECTS WERE EXTREMELY IMPORTANT THROUGHOUT THE LIVES OF JAMES AND JUDE. THEY MUST HAVE BEEN BURDENED WITH SUCH EXTREMES IN ORDER TO FOCUS ON THEM AS THEIR MAIN SUBJECT.

ACCORDING TO THE BOOK OF JOHN 7: 5, NEITHER ONE OF CHRIST'S BROTHERS BELIEVED IN HIM FOR THIRTY YEARS, MEANING JAMES AND JUDE DID NOT UNDERSTAND CHRIST'S WORDS OF WISDOM AT ALL UNTIL THEY WERE CALLED TO BE HIS APOSTLES. GOD'S MERCY MAY PROTECT AN ENTIRE FAMILY TRHOUGH ONE SAVED MEMBER'S FERVENT PRAYERS, YET SALVATION DOESN'T RUN IN FAMILIES, EVEN IF WE WERE TO BE PHYSICALLY RELATED TO THE ONE WHO CAME TO SAVE US. HAVING A BLOOD RELATIONSHIP WITH HIM DOES NOT GRANT ANYONE ENTRANCE THROUGH THE GATES OF HEAVEN. SALVATION IS A VERY INTENSELY PERSONAL MATTER AVAILABLE ONLY THROUGH A SPIRITUAL RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS CHRIST. BEING IN THE RIGHT KIND OF CHURCH DOES NOT BRING US INTO A BETTER RELATIONSHIP WITH THE FATHER; NOR DOES LISTENING TO THE RIGHT KIND OF MUSIC IN THE BACKGROUND ALLOW US TO WORSHIP HIM BETTER. JAMES AND JUDE WERE EXPOSED TO THE CONSISTENCY OF CHRIST'S SPEECH, MANNERS, AND ACTIONS, YET THEY DIDN'T GET HIM AT ALL UNTIL THEY WERE CALLED TO FOLLOW HIM. IT TAKES GRACE TO GIVE A MAN FAITH! AND ONLY GRACE ENABLES HIM TO WALK ON THAT NARROW PATH FOR WHICH HE GETS TO BE CHOSEN.

AUGUST 29    APOSTLE MATTHEW WAS A PUBLICAN, A TAX COLLECTOR, AND HE WAS DESPISED BY THE JEWS. HE WAS ONE OF THE MANY LEGALIZED HIGHWAY ROBBERS EMPLOYED BY THE ROMANS, MOST POSSIBLY BY HEROD. HE HAD TO PRODUCE HUGE AMOUNTS OF MONEY TO HIS ROMAN MASTERS IN ORDER TO KEEP HIS POSITION; THEREFORE HE KEPT AN AWFUL GRIP OF TYRANNY OVER HIS OWN PEOPLE. THERE WERE NO LIMITATIONS UPON HIM AS TO HOW TO EXTRACT THE MONEY, AS LONG AS HE COULD FEED THE ROMAN GOVERNMENT, AND KEEP HIS TITLE. HIS LOVE AND LUST FOR MONEY WAS GREAT ENOUGH TO SLAUGHTER HIS OWN CONSCIENCE; HE DESTROYED EVEN THE POOREST OF HIS OWN PEOPLE, WILLINGLY TRAMPLING UPON ALL THE LAWS OF HIS OWN NATION.

MATTHEW WAS AN OPPORTUNIST WHO WAS DISSATISFIED WITH THE NORMAL, YET HONORABLE OCCUPATIONS OF HIS TIME. HE HAD SOLD HIMSELF TO THE MOST SHAMEFUL AND SCHEMEFUL POSITION OF THOSE DAYS. HE WAS MORALLY ROTTEN. HE WAS NO DIFFERENT THAN TODAY'S 

OPPORTUNISTS WHO DRIVE INNOCENT PEOPLE TO DESPAIR, TO SHAME, TO HUMILIATION, JUST TO SATISFY THEIR HUNGER FOR MORE AND MORE RICHES OF THE WORLD. THERE ARE NO LIMITS TO THEIR TRICKS SINCE THEY CAN NEVER HAVE ENOUGH.

THAT'S WHAT APOSTLE MATTHEW WAS ALL ABOUT, UNTIL JESUS CHRIST CALLED HIM TO BE ONE OF HIS FOLLOWERS. AT THAT POINT, MIRACULOUSLY ENOUGH, MATTHEW CHOSE THE RICHES OF THE SPIRIT OVER THE RICHES OF THE WORLD. THE CHANGE THAT TOOK PLACE WITHIN HIS HEART HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH CHRIST'S TEACHINGS, SINCE NOTHING ABOUT THOSE COULD HAVE INTERESTED SOMEONE AS GREEDY AS MATTHEW WAS. THE CHANGE TOOK PLACE BECAUSE JESUS CHRIST CALLED HIM: THE MINUTE HIS NAME WAS MENTIONED, NOTHING ELSE MATTERED. HE LEFT ALL OF HIS BELONGINGS AND COMPLETELY DEDICATED HIMSELF TO THE TEACHINGS OF HIS NEW MASTER. IN FACT, THE ONLY THING HE CARRIED WITH HIMSELF WAS HIS WRITING ABILITY: HE ENDED UP AUTHORING THE FIRST OF THE FOUR GOSPELS.

THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENS TO US TODAY AS WE RECEIVE GOD'S CALLING. WE ARE GIVEN A NEW SENSE OF IDENTITY THROUGH WHICH MANY CHANGES TAKE PLACE, AND MORE MEANING IS BEING ADDED TO OUR LIVES. ONLY THEN COULD WE BE CALLED BORN-AGAIN, A SIMPLE RESULT OF GOD'S DESIRE TO MENTION OUR NAME, AND WHISPERING, "IT'S TIME..."

AUGUST 28    ANDREW HAD NO TROUBLE PLAYING SECOND-FIDDLE SINCE HE WAS SIMON PETER'S YOUNGER BROTHER. IN FACT, IT WAS A PLACE WHERE HE HAD GROWN COMFORTABLE BEING UNTIL HE AND JOHN HAD AN ENCOUNTER WITH JESUS CHRIST SOME DAY. THE TWO SPENT AN ENTIRE DAY WITH THE MASTER, ASKING ALL SORTS OF QUESTIONS, AND WERE QUITE CONVINCED THAT JESUS WAS INDEED THE LONG-AWAITED PROMISED ONE. ANDREW'S FIRST INSTINCT WAS TO GO AND TELL HIS BROTHER THAT THEY HAD FOUND THE MESSIAH. HE WAS SO EXCITED THAT HE COULDN'T KEEP IT TO HIMSELF. HE HAD TO TELL SOMEONE! THIS TELLS US THAT ANDREW'S HEART FROM THE VERY BEGINNING WAS ALL ABOUT TELLING OTHERS TO MEET JESUS. THIS ONCE HOWEVER, HE WAS TO LEAD HIS OLDER BROTHER, AND NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND. IT WAS THE WISDOM OF OUR LORD TO HAVE ANDREW LEAD HIS BROTHER FOR A CHANGE. ISN'T IT AMAZING THAT IT IS THE PERSON WHO LIVES IN THE SHADOW OF OTHERS THAT GOD USES IN MIGHTY WAYS.

ANDREW HAD ALWAYS BEEN KNOWN AS SIMON PETER'S BROTHER. IN FACT, BEING THE ELDER OF TWO, PETER HAD ALWAYS MADE DECISIONS ABOUT THE FAMILY AND THEIR FISHING BUSINESS. ANDREW WAS USED TO BEING THE FOLLOWER, SO MUCH SO THAT SPENDING ONE DAY WITH JESUS WAS ENOUGH FOR HIM TO WANT TO FOLLOW HIM TO THE ENDS OF THE WORLD, WITHOUT ANY QUESTIONS ASKED.

SIMON PETER WAS BIG, LOUD, AND BOISTEROUS, AND ALWAYS IN THE FOREFRONT OF EVERYTHING. YET, WHEN HIS LITTLE BROTHER CAME TO HIM AND TOLD HIM ABOUT JESUS CHRIST, PETER LISTENED. HE KNEW WELL THAT ANDREW WAS A MAN WHO LOVED GOD, WHO WAS SEEKING THE SPIRITUAL MATTERS OF LIFE, AND HE WAS ONE WITH PERSONAL INTEGRITY AND CONSISTENCY. OTHERWISE IT WOULD HAVE BEEN VERY EASY FOR PETER TO SCOFF AT HIS BROTHER, SINCE THAT HAPPENED TO BE HIS NATURE.

WE SEE ANDREW IN ACTION WHEN JESUS WAS SURROUNDED WITH THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE AND DECIDED THEY NEEDED TO BE FED. ALL OF THE APOSTLES WERE STARING AT HIM WITH QUESTIONING EYES WHEN ANDREW SUGGESTED THE LITTLE BOY WITH FIVE LOAVES AND TWO FISHES. HOW DID ANDREW KNOW ABOUT THAT UNLESS HE WAS INVOLVED IN EACH PERSON INDIVIDUALLY? WHEN OTHERS WERE OVERWHELMED UNDER THE CIRCUMSTANCES, ANDREW HAD TAKEN TIME AND HAD PAID ATTENTION TO THE DETAILS; HE HAD SEEN MORE THAN THE REST OF THE APOSTLES BECAUSE HE WAS INTO CHRIST'S TEACHINGS WITH MIND AND SOUL. THIS WASN'T JUST AN ADVENTURE FOR HIM; IT WAS EVERYTHING HE HAD EXPECTED AND HOPED FOR ALL OF HIS LIFE. HE WAS INTO IT FOR LIFE.

WHAT IF ANDREW HAD HELD BITTERNESS FOR HIS BROTHER'S POPULARITY? WHAT IF HE HAD KEPT HIS MEETING WITH JESUS CHRIST A SECRET? YET HE HAD NO TROUBLE SHARING HIS NEW FOUND LOVE WITH PETER BECAUSE ANDREW WAS HUMBLE, QUIET, AND RELIABLE. HE MAY NOT HAVE BEEN AS OUTGOING AS HIS BROTHER WAS, BUT ANDREW WASN'T INTERESTED IN QUANTITY AS MUCH AS HE WAS IN QUALITY IN HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH OTHERS, INCLUDING LITTLE CHILDREN. WHEN ALL OTHER APOSTLES WERE TRYING TO SHOO AWAY THE CHILDREN, ANDREW KNEW TO KEEP THEM NEAR WAY BEFORE CHRIST HAD A NEED TO ADDRESS THE ISSUE.

IT IS PEOPLE LIKE ANDREW WHO ARE AWARE OF THE HURT AND THE PAIN OTHERS ARE DEALING WITH. IT IS PEOPLE LIKE ANDREW WHO REACH FOR THE OUTSIDERS AND THE SEEKERS. IT IS PEOPLE LIKE ANDREW WHO SEEK NO SPOTLIGHTS OR BILLBOARDS, AS LONG AS THE MESSAGE THEY DELIVER IS FAR GREATER THAN THEMSELVES. IT IS PEOPLE LIKE ANDREW WHO DON'T MIND PLAYING SECOND-FIDDLE. ISN'T IS AMAZING THAT JESUS WOULD CHOOSE SOMEONE LIKE ANDREW - QUIET, UNASSUMING, GENTLE, AND CARING, BEFORE HE WOULD CHOOSE A PETER?

AUGUST 27    WE REMEMBER APOSTLE PETER'S GREAT FAILURE WHEN HE DENIED CHRIST THREE TIMES IN THE BOOK OF ACTS AS THEY WERE TAKING OUR MASTER AWAY TO BE TRIED... WE ALSO REMEMBER HIM REAL WELL WHEN HE TOOK OUT HIS SWORD AND CUT ONE OF THE SOLDIERS' EAR OFF WHEN ABOUT FIVE HUNDRED OF THEM HAD COME TO ARREST CHRIST. AND HOW CAN WE FORGET HIS FAMOUS REBUKE WHEN HE TOLD CHRIST "YOU CAN'T POSSIBLY DIE!", RIGHT AFTER HE, HIMSELF HAD ADMITTED THAT CHRIST WAS "THE MESSIAH, THE SON OF GOD"? IN FACT THERE ARE MANY TEACHINGS IN THE BIBLE THAT TOOK PLACE JUST BECAUSE APOSTLE PETER QUESTIONED JESUS IN THE MOST CHILDISH MANNER, JUST AS WE WOULD HAVE DONE IF WE HAD BEEN FACING EVENTS OF SUCH INCREDIBLE MAGNITUTE. THEREFORE WE KNOW THAT PETER WAS VERY INQUISITIVE, JUST AS ANY CHILD WOULD BE; WE SEE HIM COME UP WITH THE MOST UNEXPECTED COMMENTS AND ACTIONS; YET CHRIST MULTIPLIED HIS NAME BY ADDING "PETER", MEANING "ROCK", MEANING "SOLID", MEANING "STRONG", WHEN ALL ALONG PETER'S NATURAL TENDENCIES WERE ANYTHING BUT STABLE. HE WOULD NO LONGER BE KNOWN AS SIMON THE FISHERMAN, BUT SIMON PETER, OR SIMPLY PETER ALL THROUGHOUT THE BIBLE.

THIS OUGHT TO GIVE US GREAT HOPE. CHRIST DIDN'T CHOOSE HIS DISCIPLES BECAUSE HE KNEW WHO THEY WERE; CHRIST CHOSE THEM KNOWING WHO THEY WERE. OFTEN WE SEE OUR OWN SHORTCOMINGS AND CONSIDER OURSELVES UNWORTHY OF ANY SORT OF MINISTRY, WHEN ALL ALONG GOD SEES IN US NOTHING BUT PURE POTENTIAL THROUGH JESUS CHRIST. HE TAKES ALL OF OUR NATURAL TENDENCIES, EVERY LAST ONE OF THEM, THE RAW MATERIAL THAT WE ARE TO HIM; HE MANOEUVERS THEM AND HELPS THEM FIT HIS PURPOSE IN ORDER TO PRODUCE GOOD FRUIT. IF HE CAN TAKE SOMEONE LIKE PETER AND SHAPE HIM INTO A LEADER, HOW ARE WE TO BE TIMID ABOUT WHO WE ARE, AND WHAT WE CAN OR CANNOT DO?

IT IS NOT OUR INTENTION TO LOOK DOWN AT APOSTLE PETER TODAY. INSTEAD, WE ARE TO LOOK UP TO HIM AND LEARN FROM HIM. FIRST OFF, APOSTLE PETER WAS DRAWN TO HIS MASTER; HE FOLLOWED HIM EVERYWHERE; HE WANTED TO LEARN EVERYTHING HIS TEACHER HAD TO OFFER; HE COULD CARE LESS ABOUT WHETHER OR NOT HIS WORDS OR ACTIONS MADE HIM APPEAR OR SOUND STUPID; HE WASN'T CONTENT WITH HIS IGNORANCE; HE WANTED TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT; HE WAS ENGAGED; HE WAS INVOLVED; HE WANTED ALL OF THE ABILITIES CHRIST COULD BESTOW SO MUCH SO THAT HE STEPPED OUT OF THE BOAT AND WALKED TOWARD JESUS IN THE MIDDLE OF A HUGE STORM. WE MAY THINK, "BUT HE ENDED UP SINKING AND ASKED FOR JESUS TO SAVE HIM. YES, HE DID, BUT HE DID STEP OUT OF THE BOAT. WE CANNOT OVERLOOK SUCH ENORMOUS TRUST THAT MADE HIM FORGET THE FACT THAT HE WAS A MERE HUMAN. AND WHAT ABOUT THE TIME WHEN HE TOOK OUT HIS SWORD AND TRIED TO DEFEND HIS MASTER? SURELY HE DIDN'T BELIEVE HE COULD TAKE ALL OF FIVE HUNDRED-PLUS WELL TRAINED SOLDIERS WITH HIS FISHERMAN SKILLS! ALL THAT APOSTLE PETER HAD IN MIND AT THAT MOMENT IN THE GARDEN WAS THAT HE WAS READY TO DIE; THAT THEY WERE GOING TO HAVE TO KILL HIM BEFORE THEY COULD GET THEIR HANDS ON JESUS.

THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT JESUS HAD SEEN IN SIMON THE FISHERMAN FROM THE VERY BEGINNING WHEN HE DECIDED TO CALL HIM PETER, THE ROCK. HE SAW LEADERSHIP QUALITIES THAT WERE FAR MORE DIFFERENT THAN, EVEN ALMOST THE VERY OPPOSITE OF, WORLDLY LEADERSHIP QUALITIES. PETER WAS NOT COMPLACENT WITHIN A POSITION; IN FACT HE WAS DISSATISFIED UNTIL HE MULTIPLIED THE POSITION. HE WANTED TO KNOW ALL ASPECTS OF IT; NOT JUST HAVING A TITLE THROUGH WHICH HE COULD DICTATE TO HIS SUBJECTS. THIS PARTICULAR POSITION REQUIRED BEING A SERVANT AT THE SAME TIME, AND HE WAS WILLING TO FILL IN EVERY BIT OF THE RESPONSIBILITIES. WE WOULDN'T HAVE KNOWN TO PICK SUCH A LEADER FROM A GROUP OF FISHERMEN TODAY...BUT JESUS DID.

AUGUST 26    WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO WORSHIP CIRCUMSTANCES? JESUS WAS VERY CLEAR WHEN HE ADDRESSED THE ISSUE AS HE ANSWERED THE PHARISEES SAYING, "IT IS NOT WHAT GOES INTO OUR MOUTHS THAT DEFILES US; IT'S WHAT COMES OUT...IT'S FROM THE ABUNDANCE OF THE HEART THAT THE MOUTH SPEAKETH..." OFTEN WE ARE SO MUCH MORE CONCERNED ABOUT WHAT WE DO AND SAY THAT WE EASILY OVERLOOK THE SIMPLEST OF ALL THINGS: JESUS MENTIONS THE "HEART", MEANING THE VERY CORE WHERE OUR DEEPEST BEING IS IN HIDING. ARE WE ABLE TO EXPOSE OURSELVES FULLY? OR DO WE HAVE TO USE MANY LAYERS OF FILTERING BEFORE WE ALLOW THE GENERAL PUBLIC TO SEE AND UNDERSTAND WHO WE ARE.

ONE THING FOR SURE IS THE FACT THAT WHEN WE TRULY WORSHIP GOD, IN ALL GRATEFULLNESS AND THANKFULNESS, ALL WE WANT TO DO IS TALK ABOUT HIM. WE WANT TO EXALT THE FACT THAT HE LOVES US REGARDLESS OF WHO WE ARE, WHAT WE HAVE ACCOMPLISHED, AND ESPECIALLY KNOWING WHO WE REALLY ARE ON THE INSIDE. THAT IS SUCH AN AWESOME FEELING OF WORTH, NOT TO BE MISTAKEN FOR WORTHINESS, THAT OVERWHELMS US TWENTY-FOUR-SEVEN, SO MUCH SO THAT WE RADIATE FROM IT. EVERYONE BECOMES CURIOUS OF SUCH INTENSITY OF INNER LIGHT; THEY'RE DRAWN TO IT, HOPING TO POSSIBLY POSSESS SOME OF IT, IF NOT ALL. THAT IS THE MOST CONTAGIOUS LIGHT THROUGH WHICH WE'LL BE ABLE TO ATTRACT PEOPLE, AND HOPEFULLY BE ABLE TO USE IT IN ORDER TO EXPOSE THEM TO THEIR MAKER.

BUT WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE IMMERSE OURSELVES IN THE DEPTHS OF OUR CIRCUMSTANCES, AND CONTINUALLY TALK ABOUT THEM TO ANYONE AND EVERYONE? FIRST OFF, WE'RE ROBBING PEOPLE OF THE OPPORUNITY TO GET TO KNOW ABOUT JESUS CHRIST. SECONDLY, WE'RE GIVING OUR CIRCUMSTANCES A CHANCE TO BECOME GREATER THAN US, AND HELP THEM SWALLOW US INTO NOTHINGNESS, WHEN THE BIBLE, GOD'S INSPIRED WORD, IS DESIGNED TO PROVE TO US WHO WE REALLY ARE IN CHRIST. AND THIRDLY, WE'RE MAGNIFYING OUR ISSUES TO THE POINT THAT THEY BECOME GREATER THAN ANYTHING ELSE, EVEN GOD! AND JUST AS WE WOULD MAGNIFY SOMETHING WE DEEPLY WORSHIP, BY MAGNIFYING THE NEGATIVE ASPECTS OF OUR CIRCUMSTANCES, WE'RE AUTOMATICALLY SUBMITTING OURSELVES TO THEIR GREATNESS; MEANING WE'RE SOMEWHAT WORSHIPING THEM DIRECTLY, OR INDIRECTLY. AND MORE PEOPLE ARE THINKING, "IF THIS IS WHAT CHRISTIANITY IS ALL ABOUT... I MIGHT AS WELL LOOK FOR SOMETHING ELSE... AFTER ALL, THERE ARE HUNDREDS OF OTHER RELIGIONS OUT THERE... WHY BE STUCK IN SOMETHING THAT OFFERS NOTHING BUT LIMITATIONS WHEN I AM BEING OFFERED TO BE 'GOD' OVER MY CIRCUMSTANCES AND NOT A 'SLAVE'... WHO NEEDS THAT!!!"

THAT'S WHAT A DAILY PRAYER LIFE OFFERS TO US: WE GET TO SPREAD ALL OF OUR CIRCUMSTANCES AS THINLY AS POSSIBLE AND IMAGINE IT INTO BEING A HUGE GROUND UPON WHICH WE DANCE... AND WE DANCE... AND WE DANCE SOME MORE. GOD OWNS IT ALL! GOD IS IN CHARGE! AND GOD IS GOOD!

AUGUST 25   BEING GIVEN A WHOLE NEW IDENTITY BY GOD IS THE GREATEST GIFT WE'LL EVER RECEIVE; ONE THAT ALLOWS US TO BE ABLE TO PUT TOGETHER THE MISSING PIECES OF THE PUZZLE THAT WE'VE BEEN WORKING ON FROM BIRTH. MORE AND MORE THINGS WILL START MAKING SENSE. WE WILL NO LONGER TRY TO FIGURE OUT CERTAIN THINGS THAT DON'T ADD ANY VALUE TO OUR LIVES; IN MOST CASES, THEY EVEN TAKE AWAY FROM IT. IF WE'RE NOT CAREFUL, WE COULD BE FOCUSING ON NUMEROUS CIRCUMSTANCES THAT ARE SIMPLY THERE TO DISTRACT US; WHETHER OR NOT WE ADDRESS THEM WITH A SOUND MIND MAKES NO DIFFERENCE FOR OUR FUTURE, OTHER THAN DELAY OUR GOOD RESULTS, CAUSING THEM TO POSSIBLY DISAPPEAR FOREVER.

GOD, IN HIS INFINITE WISDOM AND GOODNESS, GAVE US AN OPPORTUNITY TO GET AWAY FROM ALL DISTURBANCES. THAT DOESN'T MEAN THAT CHRISTIANITY IS A WAY OF ACTING AND BELIEVING AS IF NONE OF THEM ARE REAL. THEY ARE REAL! THEY ARE DESIGNED TO BE HINDRANCES IN OUR LIVES, DESIGNED FOR US TO STUMBLE UPON THEM. WE MUST UNDERSTAND THAT THE WORLD IS FILLED WITH SUCH OBSTACLES, WHETHER IT BE IN PHYSICAL FORMS, OVERWHELMING EMOTIONAL STATES, OR MONATERY LIMITATIONS, ETC. ALL OF THOSE AND MORE HAVE THE CAPACITY TO TAKE AWAY OUR JOY, THAT AWESOME JOY THAT COMES FROM BELONGING TO THE MOST HIGH GOD, AND KNOWING THAT HE LOVES US NO MATTER WHAT. WE CANNOT POSSIBLY THINK THAT DISMISSING OUR CIRCUMSTANCES FROM OUR MINDS WILL MAKE THEM GO AWAY. WE KNOW BETER THAN THAT. BUT KNOWING AND BELIEVING THAT EVERYTHING IN THIS WORLD, INCLUDING OURSELVES, ARE WITHIN THE PALM OF GOD'S HAND; THAT NOTHING PROGRESSES WITHOUT HIM BEING IN CONTROL; AND THAT NOTHING WILL EVER HAPPEN TO US THAT GOD'S INFINITE POWER COULDN'T USE FOR HIS GLORY, GIVES US INNER PEACE. THAT IS WHAT SEPARATES US FROM THE REST OF THE WORLD. WE'RE NOT TALKING ABOUT THE PEACE THAT SETTLES IN WHEN THERE'S NOTHING FOR US TO FIGHT; WE'RE TALKING ABOUT THE PEACE WE POSSESS WHILE WE'RE FIGHTING.

THE IDEA OF CHRISTIANITY IS NOT ABOUT LESSENING OUR WORLDLY ACTIVITIES AND SEPARATING OURSELVES FROM OTHERS SO NONE OF THEIR NONSENSE WILL HAVE A WAY TO TEINT OUR LIVES. EVEN IF WE WERE TO RELOCATE OUR FAMILIES TO A VERY REMOTE AREA WHERE NO ONE ELSE EXISTS, WE'RE STILL EXTREMELY CLOSE TO SIN, SINCE OUR VERY NATURE GOES EVERYWHERE WITH US. THAT IS WHY A HEALTHY PRAYER LIFE IS SO VERY IMPORTANT. IT HELPS US TO BE CLEANSED FROM OUR DAILY IMPURITIES, AS WELL AS IT HELPS US CONCENTRATE ON WHAT REALLY MATTERS. IT REMINDS US THAT GOD IS "THROUGH ALL", "IN ALL", AND "ABOVE ALL" THINGS, AS LONG AS WE ALLOW HIM TO BE ON THE DRIVER SEAT OF OUR LIVES. HE WILL NEVER LEAVE US, NOR FORSAKE US. EVERY ONE OF OUR SEPARATIONS FROM HIS PRESENCE IN THE PAST HAVE HAPPENED BECAUSE WE BEGAN TO QUESTION HIS SOVEREIGNTY; NOT BECAUSE HE QUESTIONED OUR ABILITIES TO PLEASE HIM. THERE IS NOTHING HE EXPECTS OF US THAT HE WON'T PROVIDE FOR IT, JUST SO IT'LL BE POSSIBLE FOR US TO ACCOMPLISH. HE SIMPLY WANTS US TO CLING TO HIM THROUGH PERSONAL DEVOTIONS AND CORPORATE PRAYERS THAT REWARD US WITH FURTHER STRENGTH AND INSTRUCTIONS AS TO HOW TO HANDLE OURSELVES IN A FALLEN WORLD. WHEN WE TRULY WORSHIP GOD, WE STOP WORSHIPING CIRCUMSTANCES.

AUGUST 24    WHEN WE ARE CALLED BY GOD TO BELIEVE IN HIS SON JESUS CHRIST AS OUR LORD AND SAVIOUR, OUR NEW LIFE BEGINS UNDER A NEW SET OF STANDARDS THAT OFTEN ARE CONTRARY TO WHAT WE'RE USED TO FOLLOWING. THE DESIRE TO GROW AND EXCEL REMAINS THE SAME; IT'S SIMPLY GIVEN A NEW DEFINITION. AS LITTLE CHILDREN UNDER OUR PARENTS' GUIDANCE, WE ARE TAUGHT TO WORK FOR ACCOMLISHMENTS, AND DEVELOP A SENSE OF WORTH BASED ON THE AMOUNT, AS WELL AS THEIR MAGNITUTE. EVERYONE MAY NOT BE EQUALLY MOTIVATED; YET IF WE'RE SOMEWHAT AN EXTREMIST, WE MIGHT END UP CARRYING THAT MISSION WAY TOO FAR, AND NOT KNOW WHEN TO STOP. SUCH OBSESSION CAN LEAD US TO THINK THAT WE WON'T BE APPROVED BY OTHERS UNLESS WE'RE BEING PRODUCTIVE, OR WE'RE NOT QUITE LIKED UNLESS WE STAND OUT AMONG THE AVERAGE, OR WE'RE NOT DESERVING TO BE LOVED UNLESS WE PROVE OUR CAPACITY THROUGH A SOLID AND A FACTUAL POSITIVE RESULT.

BUT WHEN WE'RE FINALLY INTRODUCED TO GOD'S UNCONDITIONAL LOVE THROUGH THE SACRIFICE OF HIS SON JESUS CHRIST ON THE CROSS AS OUR SUBSTITUTE, WE CAN'T ESCAPE THE TRUTH THAT WE'RE LOVED. AND THEN OF COURSE WE REALIZE SOMETHING ELSE: JESUS CHRIST WILLINGLY LEFT HIS GLORY BEHIND AND HIS UNINTERRUPTED FELLOWSHIP WITH THE FATHER, AND CHOSE TO LIVE AMONG US, EXPOSING HIMSELF TO DISAPPOINTMENTS, HARDSHIPS, REJECTIONS, AND BETRAYALS. HE DID IT BECAUSE HE WANTED TO PLEASE THE FATHER, AND WANTED TO HELP US REMEDY OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE FATHER. THAT WAS GOD'S PLAN FROM THE BEGINNING. IN FACT, WE CAN GO ON BELIEVING THAT IF ONLY ADAM AND EVE HADN'T FALLEN TO SATAN'S TRAP! ARE WE REALLY NAIVE ENOUGH TO THINK THAT SOMETHING GOD CREATED COULD POSSIBLY HAVE SURPRISED HIM? CAN WE HONESTLY THINK THAT THE PLAN OF SALVATION HAPPENED ONLY BECAUSE WE SINNED? OF COURSE NOT! NOTHING THAT WE MERE HUMANS DO AND SAY CAN POSSIBLY SURPRISE GOD; HE IS OMNISCIENT. THEREFORE WE'RE TO SEE JESUS CHRIST AS OUR ROLE MODEL, AND FOLLOW HIS FOOTSTEPS.

OUR MESSIAH TOOK TWO THINGS SERIOUSLY: HE WORSHIPED GOD "PUBLICLY" AS WELL AS THROUGH "PRIVATE DEVOTIONS". HE CONTINUALLY VISITED THE TEMPLE. HE TRIED TO GET RID OF ALL OF THE IMPOSTORS AROUND AND WITHIN THE TEMPLE. HE KNEW HOW VITAL PUBLIC WORSHIP WAS. HE DEMONSTRATED THE IMPORTANCE OF PUBLIC WORSHIP EVEN AS A YOUNG KID UP UNTIL THE VERY END.

AND WE ALSO SEE THAT HE ALMOST HAD TO FIGHT TO HAVE HIS DAILY DEVOTIONS WITH THE FATHER. HE GOT AWAY FROM THE CROWDS SO HE COULD DEDICATE FERVENT PRAYERS. HE LOOKED FORWARD TO PULLING AWAY FROM THE ATTENTION HE WAS RECEIVING, AND HE NEVER FORGOT WHO AND WHAT REALLY MATTERED. TODAY, WHEN WE HAVE SO MUCH "BUSY-NESS" GOING ON IN OUR LIVES AND WE'RE HAVING TO ADDRESS MANY MORE DEMANDS OVER A GOD-GIVEN LIFE, WOULDN'T IT BE ABSURD IF WE FORGOT WHO THE "GIVER OF LIFE" WAS? INSTEAD OF TRYING TO IMITATE CHRIST IN WAYS THAT WE'LL NEVER BE ABLE TO ACCOMPLISH WITHOUT THE HELP OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, SHOULDN'T WE BE MORE CONCERNED ABOUT THE SIMPLE THINGS WE HAVE CONTROL OVER, AND LET GOD BE GOD?

AUGUST 23    A GENERAL "CALL TO SALVATION" INCLUDES THE PRESENTATION OR THE PREACHING OF THE GOSPEL, AND THE REVEALING OF CHRIST'S IDENTITY TO SOMEONE. IT MAY OR MAY NOT ALWAYS PRODUCE A CHANGE OF HEART IN PEOPLE; THAT SOLELY DEPENDS ON A "CALL OF GOD". UNLESS GOD OPENS OUR INNER EYES TO REVEAL THE ENTIRE TRUTH, AND CALLS US TO WORK FOR HIS KINGDOM, THE PRESENTATION IOFTEN IS FRUITLESS. AND IF THERE ARE ANY FRUITS DUE TO THE OVERFLOWING EFFECTS OF THE INVOLVED WORSHIPERS, THEY DON'T LAST LONG, SINCE THEY CAUSE A WHOLE LOT MORE EXHAUSTION THAT THEY'RE WORTH.

THE EFFECTUAL CALL OF GOD IS INTERNAL, THROUGH WHICH THE WORK OF THE SPIRIT REMAINS SECRET, IN A SENSE THAT WE DON'T SEE IT; YET WE SEE THE RESULTS OF IT. THE EFFECTUAL CALL OF GOD IS WHEN GOD CALLS SOMEONE OUT OF THE GRAVE; WHEN HE ENLIGHTENS THEIR HEART; WHEN HE MAKES THEM ALIVE; WHEN HE GRANTS THEM REPENTANCE, AND HE GRANTS THEM FAITH IN HIS SON JESUS CHRIST. THIS IS THE "CALL TO SALVATION" APOSTLE PAUL WAS PRAYING FOR IN 2 

THESALLONIANS 1:11 WHEN HE SAID, "TO THIS END ALSO WE PRAY FOR YOU ALWAYS, THAT OUR GOD WILL COUNT YOU WORTHY OF YOUR CALLING...". HE IS ACTUALLY REFERRING TO THE TIME WHEN WE WOULD BE STANDING BEFORE OUR LORD SOME DAY, AND BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE FOR A LIFE THAT FITS HIS CALLING; THAT WE MAY HAVE LIVED OUR LIVES IN SUCH A WAY THAT WOULD BE FITTING WITH RESPECT TO WHAT GOD DID IN OUR LIVES TO SAVE US. THAT'S WHAT APOSTLE PAUL WAS PASSIONATE ABOUT WHEN HE PRAYED; AND HE PRAYED INCESSENTLY.

AS GOD SANCTIFIES US TODAY, HE IS ACTUALLY CLOSING THE GAP BETWEEN WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT SALVATION, WHAT WE PROFESS ABOUT SALVATION, OR HOW WE LIVE IN RELATION TO THE TRUTH, AND WHAT SALVATION ACTUALLY IS. SANCTIFICATION IS GOD BUILDING INTO HIS PEOPLE THE CHARACTER OF HIS SON, SO THAT MORE AND MORE THE LIFE THAT WE LIVE FITS WHAT HE ACTUALLY DID IN ORDER TO SAVE US: A LIFE THAT FITS THE THINGS THAT WE TEACH, THAT WE PREACH, THAT WE PROFESS TO HAVE AND TO KNOW. THE DOCTINE THAT GOD USED TO SET US FREE OUGHT TO GIVE THE FOLLOWING RESULTS: ARE WE SPIRITUALLY ALIVE? HAVE WE BEEN GIVEN THE MIND OF CHRIST? DO WE NOW HAVE ALL THE RICHES OF WISDOM AVAILABLE TO US SO WE CAN UNDERSTAND THE WORD OF GOD? DO WE HAVE A DESIRE TO LIVE A LIFE THAT PLEASES HIM? CAN WE SAY WE'RE WILLING TO LOSE OUR LIFE TO HAVE JESUS INSTEAD? AND NOT TO MENTION THE FACT THAT THE WORKS GOD USES US FOR REQUIRE NO EFFORT AND NO SACRIFICE OF OUR OWN, SINCE HE SUPPLIES ALL THAT'S NEEDED FOR THEM.

AS GOD IS DEALING WITH OUR SIN, HE GROWS US, GRADUALLY, INTO THE CHARACTER OF HIS SON. THIS MAY NOT BE PERFECTLY ACCOMPLISHED OVERNIGHT, YET PROGRESSIVELY MADE BETTER THROUGH EACH TIGHTENING OF THE GAP. WE DO SEE THAT GAP CLOSE EVER SO SLOWLY - WE'RE AWARE OF THE SUBTLE CHANGES THAT OTHERS MAY NOT BE AWARE OF, YET WE KNOW THEY'VE BEEN TAKING PLACE - UNTIL SOME DAY WHAT WE PROFESS TO BEING IN JESUS CHRIST IS EVIDENCED WITH A LIFE WELL FIT WITH OUR WORDS. THAT'S WHAT APOSTLE PAUL ACCOMPLISHED AT THE END WHEN HE SAID IN 2 TIMOTHY 4:7, "I HAVE FOUGHT THE GOOD FIGHT, I HAVE FINISHED THE RACE, I HAVE KEPT THE FAITH". WE HOPE AND PRAY THAT WILL BE OUR STATEMENT SOME DAY.

AUGUST 22    IS THERE SUCH A THING AS A "LYING FRUIT"? ACCORDING TO LUKE 6:43-46 JESUS STARTS BY SAYING, "NO GOOD TREE BEARS BAD FRUIT; NOR AGAIN DOES A BAD TREE BEAR GOOD FRUIT; FOR EACH TREE IS KNOWN BY ITS OWN FRUIT...". THIS PARABLE IS ALL ABOUT A PERSON WHO HAS A SPIRITUAL NATURE THAT IS ONE WAY, WHEN EVERYTHING IN THEIR LIFE IS ANOTHER WAY. IT IS ABOUT A PERSON WHO CAN SAY THEY KNOW JESUS AS LORD AND SAVIOUR AND PROFESS TO BE A NEW PERSON IN JESUS CHRIST; IT IS ABOUT SOMEONE WHO CAN SAY THEY'RE INDWELT BY THE HOLY SPIRIT, AND HAVE EVERLASTING LIFE; IT IS ABOUT SOMEONE WHO CAN SAY THAT THEY ARE ON THEIR WAY TO HEAVEN, AND WE'RE TO BELIEVE THAT IT'S TRUE, WHEN EVERYTHING ABOUT THEIR LIFE TELLS A DIFFERENT STORY.

JESUS IS NOT PRESENTING US WITH POSSIBLITIES; NOR IS HE SPEAKING OF PROBABILITIES. HE IS CLEARLY TALKING ABOUT CERTAINTIES. HE'S EVEN GIVING US A FEW EXAMPLES JUST TO EMPHASIZE THE IMPORTANCE OF EVIDENTIAL LIVING. HE IS MENTIONING THE ABUNDANCE OF THE HEART WHERE TRUE IDENTITY RESIDES AND HE IS SAYING TO US TODAY THAT WE'RE TO REFLECT WHO WE TRULY ARE ON THE INSIDE, AS THE INSIDE IS CONTINUALLY DEVELOPING A GREATER THRIST AND A HUNGER TO BECOME MORE AND MORE LIKE HIM. THE PROBLEM THEN CEASES TO BE OVER WHAT PEOPLE THINK AND SAY OF US; WE SIMPLY START TO BE MORE CONCERNED ABOUT WHAT TRANSFORMATIONS ARE TAKING PLACE IN ORDER TO PLEASE GOD.

MANY OF US GET SAVED, YET AT THE FIRST SIGHT OF A CHALLENGING SITUATION- MEANING SOMETHING THAT IGNITES A PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE THROUGH WHICH SERIOUS EMOTIONS ARISE- WE AIM TO TACKLE IT IN THE ONLY WAY WE KNOW HOW; AND MORE OFTEN THAN NOT, WE END UP THROWING OURSELVES INTO A WILDERNESS AGAIN FOR MANY YEARS. SO WHAT ARE WE TO SAY ABOUT THOSE WASTED YEARS? CAN WE SAY THAT THERE ARE TIMES WHEN A GOOD TREE MIGHT PRODUCE A BAD FRUIT... AS LONG AS IT'S TEMPORARILY? THAT COULD ONLY SUGGEST THAT SALVATION IS A SLIGHT TRANSFORMATION OF THE INNER PERSON, HOWEVER SMALL OR GREAT; BUT WE DON'T QUITE GIVE UP THE ENTIRE PORTION.

SO WHAT IS THEN THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN "A TRANSFORMATION OF THE INNER PERSON" VERSUS "A TRANSFORMATION OF THE LIE"? DON'T THEY BOTH SOUND THE SAME? THEY MAY EACH HAVE DIMINISHED IN SIZE, YET STILL BE AVAILABLE ENOUGH TO PLAY A LEADING ROLE IN OUR LIVES, DEPENDING ON THE CIRCUMSTANCES. THEY MAY BOTH DICTATE TO THE SAME SITUATION, AIMING TO FIND AN EASY WAY OUT, WHEN ALL ALONG, THE PROBLEM ISN'T ABOUT TACKLING THE ISSUE AT HAND, BUT IT'S ALL ABOUT LEARNING HEAVENLY VALUES AND BEHAVIORS THROUGH THEM; IT'S ALL ABOUT BEING THANKFUL TO OUR MIGHTY GOD WHO WOULD OPT TO CHALLENGE US THROUGH THOSE INCIDENTS, INSTEAD OF SIMPLY GIVING UP ON US; IT'S NOT ABOUT WANTING TO BE KNOWN IN OUR OWN RIGHT, BUT INSTEAD, WANTING TO DO WHAT IS RIGHT. AND THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT DESCRIBES WHETHER OR NOT OUR FRUIT IS GOOD TO THE LORD.

AUGUST 21    SALVATION IS BY GRACE ALONE; IT'S BY FAITH ALONE, AND IT'S IN CHRIST. THEN, WHAT IS SAVING FAITH? IS IT JUST HAVING AN INTELLECTUAL AGREEMENT WITH THE FACTS OF THE GOSPEL THAT IS FOUND IN THE PAGES OF THE SCRIPTURE; WE SIMPLY READ THEM AND WE'RE SAVED? OR IS IT JUST MERELY CONFESSING WITH OUR MOUTHS; WE SIMPLY SAY THAT JESUS IS LORD, AND WE'RE SAVED? THE NATURE OF SAVING FAITH IS SUCH THAT WE BELIEVE ON THE LORD JESUS CHRIST; MEANING WE LOVE HIM, WE WORSHIP HIM, WE OBEY HIM, WE FOLLOW HIM.

THIS IS AN ONGOING DEBATE BETWEEN MANY DENOMINATIONS TODAY; AND IT'S ALSO WHAT CAUSES GREAT SEPARATIONS AMONG GOD'S PEOPLE. YET IT'S NOT US WHO HAVE RAISED THE ISSUE. IT'S JESUS WHO RAISED THE ISSUE IN LUKE 6:46-49 BY SAYING, "WHY DO YOU CALL ME LORD, LORD, AND NOT DO WHAT I TELL YOU?..." WHY DID HE HAVE TO REPEAT "LORD"? IT'S TO PLACE MORE IMPORTANCE OVER WHAT FOLLOWED THAT QUESTION. WE MUST UNDERSTAND THAT EVEN WHERE THERE IS EMOTIONAL PROFESSION OF FAITH IN HIM; EVEN WHEN THERE IS EMPHATIC PROFESSION OF FAITH IN HIM, WE CAN HAVE SOMETHING LESS THAN REAL FAITH.

THE REAL FAITH IS NOT PROFESSION ONLY: THE REAL FAITH IS EVIDENCED BY OBEDIENCE. THIS CROWD JESUS WAS ADDRESSING THAT DAY WAS A BUNCH OF RELIGIOUS PEOPLE. THEY HAD A NEED TO ADD TO THEIR INTELLECT THROUGH WHICH THEY COULD RELY ON HOW MUCH MORE AND HOW MUCH BETTER THEY COULD BECOME. THIS CROWD WAS MADE OF DEVOTED PEOPLE. TO CALL JESUS "TEACHER" WAS TO ATTACH THEMSELVES TO HIM. THAT'S WHY THEY FOLLOWED HIM AROUND FROM PLACE TO PLACE. OFTEN HIS WORDS WOULD BECOME SO VERY CHALLENGING AND HARD TO UNVEIL THAT MANY OF THEM STOPPED FOLLOWING HIM AFTER A WHILE. AND THAT'S EXACTLY WHY JESUS SPOKE IN PARABLES. ONLY THE ONES WHO WERE SERIOUS ABOUT GETTING TO KNOW HIM WERE GIVEN A CLEAR UNDERSTANDING OF HIS TEACHING: ONLY FOR THOSE WOULD GOD'S UNFAILING GRACE OPEN THE INNER EARS OF THE HEART, AND ALLOW THE "RHEMA" OF HIS WORD TO PENETRATE THROUGH THE HELP OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.

THEY WEREN'T JUST RELIGIOUS PEOPLE. THEY WERE ALSO CONFESSING PEOPLE. WE KNOW THIS BECAUSE OF WHAT JESUS EMPHASIZED BY ASKING, "WHY DO YOU CALL ME LORD, LORD?..." IF FOLLOWING HIM CLOSE AND CONFESSING HIS IDENTITY WERE ENOUGH, JESUS WOULDN'T HAVE CHALLENGED THEM WITH SUCH QUESTION? IT'S BECAUSE IT ISN'T ENOUGH! THROUGH SUCH QUESTION, JESUS IS EXAMINING US TODAY. IT ISN'T ENOUGH JUST TO RESPECT HIM; IT ISN'T ENOUGH THAT WE'VE SEEN HE HAS DIVINE POWER; AND IT'S CERTAINLY NOT ENOUGH TO BE ATTRACTED TO HIM BECAUSE HE HAS HEALING POWER. JESUS IS NOT LOOKING FOR ADMIRERS! JESUS IS NOT LOOKING FOR MERE CONFESSORS! JESUS IS EXAMINING US TODAY TO SEE WHETHER OR NOT WE'RE TRUE FOLLOWERS. AND WE'RE NOT TALKING ABOUT A MORALISTIC OR A REFORMED FOLLOWING. WE'RE TALKING ABOUT HOW REPENTANT WE'VE BECOME EVER SINCE WE'VE UNDERSTOOD HIS TRUE IDENTITY; WHETHER OR NOT SUCH UNDERSTANDING HAS DEVELOPED A SINCERE HUMILITY, A HUNGER AND A THRIST FOR THE RIGHTEOUSNESS THAT WE CAN NOT PRODUCE FOR OURSELVES, AND A DESIRE TO PLEASE HIM IN EVERY WAY THAT WE CAN; AND WHETHER OR NOT WE WOULD BE WILLING TO SUFFER AND BE PERSECUTED JUST LIKE HE WAS FOR THE SAKE OF OUR ETERNAL IDENTITY GIVEN TO US THROUGH HIM. JESUS IS NOT TALKING ABOUT TRUE FAITH; HE'S SIMPLY ADDRESSING WHAT "TRUE FAITH DOES": TRUE FAITH IS AN ACTION THAT FOLLOWS WHAT WE PROFESS AS WE BEGIN TO SAY, "LORD, LORD.

AUGUST 20     THE PARABLE OF THE LABORERS IN THE VINEYARD MENTIONED IN MATTHEW 20:1-16 DISPLAYS THE FACT THAT GOD'S BLESSINGS ARE NOT BASED ON HUMAN EFFORTS, BUT ON HIS OWN GRACE. WE MUST COME TO HIM RECEIVING HIS GRACE, NOT SEEKING TO EARN IT. ACCORDING TO THIS STORY, THE OWNER OF THE VINEYARD WENT OUT AND HIRED WORKERS EARLY IN THE MORNING, AND OFFERED THEM A DAY'S WORTH, ACCORDING TO THAT TIME. THEN HE WENT OUT ON THE THIRD HOUR, AND ON THE SIXTH HOUR, AND ON THE NINTH HOUR TO HIRE MORE WORKERS. HE EVEN WENT OUT AND HIRED SOME MORE WORKERS ON THE ELEVENTH HOUR. WHEN IT WAS TIME FOR EVERYONE TO BE PAID, HE GAVE EACH ONE OF THE WORKERS EXACTLY THE SAME AMOUNT, STARTING FROM THE ONES HE HAD HIRED LAST. THIS CREATED DISCONTENMENT AMONG THE ONES WHO HAD PUT IN MORE HOURS; YET THE MASTER WAS SIMPLY FOLLOWING WHAT HE HAD INTENDED TO DO FROM THE BEGINNING.

ONE THING WE SHOULDN'T OVERLOOK IS THE FACT THAT THOSE WORKERS HAD BEEN STANDING AT THIS PARTICULAR LOCATION EVERY DAY, DESPERATELY HOPING TO FIND A JOB, AND BE ABLE TO PROVIDE FOR THEIR FAMILIES. WHEN THE MASTER APPROACHED THEM WITH HIS OFFER, THEY FOLLOWED HIM IMMEDIATELY. THEY DIDN'T QUALIFY TO ASK THE SPECIFICS CONCERNING THE JOB: THEY SIMPLY NEEDED A JOB. HOWEVER THEY STARTED TO QUESTION THE MASTER'S BEHAVIOR AS THE WAGES WERE BEING DISPENSED. AND THE MORE THEY FOCUSED AT EACH OTHER'S EARNINGS IN COMPARISON TO THE TIME AND EFFORT INVOLVED, THEY BECAME UNHAPPY. THEY EVEN FELT CHEATED OUT OF SOMETHING THEY BELIEVED WAS RIGHTFULLY THEIRS. YET THEY WERE IN NO POSITION TO PASS JUDGMENT.

ISN'T IT TRUE THAT OFTEN WE THINK HIGHLY OF OUR OWN ACCOMPLISHMENTS SO MUCH SO THAT WE FORGET GOD'S GRACIOUSNESS. WE HAVE A TENDENCY TO THINK, "IF WE KEEP THE LAW, IF WE DO OUR BEST, IF WE'RE KIND TO PEOPLE, IF WE DON'T LIE, IF WE DO WHAT WE'RE SUPPOSED TO DO, SURELY WE'LL RECEIVE A GOOD REWARD". SUCH PHILOSOPHY BECOMES A HUGE BARRIER THAT HINDERS OUR SALVATION, AND CAUSES US TO FOLLOW A PATH OF EXHAUSTION, FATIGUE, DISCONTENTMENT, AND SOONER OR LATER, RESENTMENT. IF WE COULD ONLY REMAIN SATISFIED WITH GOD'S CONSUMMATE PRESENCE AND IDENTITY, SURELY WE'LL UNDERSTAND THAT WE DON'T QUALIFY TO PASS JUDGMENT ON HIS IMMACULATE PLAN OF SALVATION FOR US.

MATTHEW WAS A TAX COLLECTOR BEFORE HE BECAME ONE OF CHRIST'S FOLLOWERS. THAT IS WHY THE BOOK OF MATTHEW COVERS MOSTLY MONEY RELATED EVENTS. IT IS OBVIOUS THAT HE TRULY UNDERSTOOD AND DISSECTED SITUATIONS CONCERNING HIS AREA OF EXPERTISE. SAUL WAS AN AMAZING SOLDIER WITH A GREAT ZEAL TO FOLLOW ORDERS UP UNTIL HE BECAME PAUL, AND HE BEGAN TO FIGHT FOR THE GOSPEL. GOD USED PAUL'S ABILITIES JUST AS HE DID MATTHEW'S; HE SIMPLY CHANNELED THEM TO SERVE THE KINGDOM.

THE SAME WAY, EACH ONE OF US ARE GIVEN CERTAIN APTITUDES, GOOD AND BAD. UNLESS WE SURRENDER OURSELVES TO GOD, WE'RE NOT ABLE TO MAKE THE NECESSARY CHANGES, NOR WOULD WE EVEN KNOW WHAT THEY MIGHT BE. GOD MADE US AND HE IS NOT TRYING TO CHANGE US. HE IS SIMPLY WANTING TO CHANGE THE DESIRES OF OUR HEARTS SO WE TOO COULD BE FRUITFUL WITHIN HIS KINGDOM. WE DON'T QUALIFY TO QUESTION HIS WAYS: WE SIMPLY OUGHT TO BELIEVE IN HIM AND TELL ONE ANOTHER TO TRUST HIM EXPLICITELY.

AUGUST 19    ONE OF THE MOST TROUBLING QUESTIONS IS ABOUT PEOPLE WHO'VE NEVER HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO HEAR THE GOSPEL NEWS. ARE THEY NOT GOING TO MAKE IT TO HEAVEN? AND HOW A MERCIFUL GOD CAN TURN HIS BACK ON THEM? THE BIBLE HAS A CLEAR LESSON IN ORDER TO PUT OUR MINDS AT EASE ABOUT THE SUBJECT. IT SPEAKS OF CORNELIUS, A CERTAIN ROMAN CENTURION WHO WAS VERY DEVOUT TO GOD, YET HE HAD NEVER UNDERSTOOD THE WAY TO SALVATION. WE CAN FOLLOW THE STORY IN THE BOOK OF ACTS, CHAPTER 10.

THIS POWERFUL PRESTIGIOUS MAN REVERED GOD IN THE ONLY WAY HE KNEW HOW. HE WAS A GREAT LEADER OF PEOPLE, GREAT HEAD OF HIS HOUSEHOLD, AND DID CHARITABLE DEEDS IN EVERY POSSIBLE WAY THAT HE COULD. HE HAD AN IDEA OF HOW HE MIGHT PLEASE GOD THROUGH WORSHIP, THROUGH PROPER LEADERSHIP, AND THROUGH A HEART THAT CARED FOR THE NEEDY. HE DIDN'T HOLD BACK: HE USED ALL OF HIS RESOURCES TO BE A "GOOD" MAN.

GOD WAS PLEASED WITH HIS HEART SO MUCH SO THAT HE PREPARED AND LAUNCHED A MISSIONARY TO LEAD HIM INTO THE GOSPEL TRUTH, MEANING "THE ULTIMATE PLACE WHERE A GOOD HEART AND A GOOD COMMISSION HAVE A DIVINE APPOINTMENT". HE GAVE PETER A DREAM IN WHICH PETER UNDERSTOOD HE WAS TO DELIVER THE GOSPEL OUTSIDE THE JEWISH COMMUNITY, TO THE GENTILES. GOD HAD ALSO SENT AN ANGEL TO CORNELIUS IN PREPARATION TO THE CHANGE THAT WAS ABOUT TO TAKE PLACE IN HIS LIFE. YOU SEE, GOD RESPONDS TO OUR HEARTS WITHOUT ANY HESITATION, WHETHER OR NOT WE KNOW JESUS. HE OVERLOOKS ALL OF WHICH WE HAVE PREVIOUSLY ACQUIRED, IF AND WHEN HE IS CONVINCED THAT HE CAN EASILY USE OUR HEARTS. IF ONLY PEOPLE ARE SINCERE IN RESPONDING TO THE LIGHT THEY HAVE WITHIN, GOD WILL SURELY GIVE THEM MORE LIGHT!

WHEN THERE IS A DIVINE CALLING, WE HAVE AN OBLIGATION TO ANSWER. NO ONE WILL END UP GOING TO HELL JUST BECAUSE WE DIDN'T STEP UP TO THE PLATE! GOD WILL COMMISSION SOME OTHER WORKER TO GET THE JOB DONE, IF WE'RE NOT WILLING TO DO IT. BUT WE'LL STILL BE HELD RESPONSIBLE FOR OUR UNWILLINGNESS TO OBEY. SO THE QUESTION IS NOT HOW OR WHETHER THE HOLY SPIRIT IS WORKING ON OTHERS: THE REAL QUESTION IS WHETHER OR NOT WE ARE SUBMITTING TO HOW HE IS WORKING IN US.

AUGUST 18    SIMON MAGUS WAS A RELIGIOUS FIGURE WHO MANAGED TO LEAVE BEHIND QUITE A LEGACY. HE WAS A BELIEVER AND HE WAS BAPTIZED; YET HIS HEART WASN'T RIGHT WITH GOD. HE COVETED THE APOSTOLIC OFFICE AND SAW THE OPPORTUNITY TO MAKE MONEY. HISTORY BOOKS PROVE THAT HE WAS EXTREMELY ASSERTIVE IN HIS PROCLAMATIONS AND ACCRUED QUITE A FOLLOWING. HE FOUNDED THE IDEA OF GNOSTICISM THROUGH WHICH HE SPREAD THE THOUGHT "SEEING IS BELIEVING". HE APPEALED TO THE HUMAN INTELLECT AND UNDERSTANDING, THROUGH WHICH HE DISPLAYED NUMEROUS TRICKS TO PROVE HIMSELF AS THE MESSIAH. HAVING GAINED GREAT RECOGNITION, HE WENT TO ROME AND BY TRICKS AND FALSE MIRACLES ESTABLISHED A "CHRISTIAN CHURCH" IN THAT CITY. MATTHEW 25:5 DESCRIBES HIM AS SUCH, "MANY COMING IN CHRIST'S NAME AND DECEIVING MANY". THIS MAN CAN TRULY BE CONSIDERED AS THE FIRST OF THE LONG DYANSTY OF POPES.

THE RECORDS REGARDING SIMON'S DEATH VARY WIDELY. BUT THE EARLIEST RECORDS SAY THAT HE WAS BURIED IN ROME AFTER A LONG PERIOD OF GREAT HONORS AND DEIFICATION. OFTEN PEOPLE HAVE MISTAKEN THIS PERSON FOR APOSTLE SIMON PETER, ONE OF CHRIST'S DISCIPLES. CLEMENT OF ROME (A.D. 97) WROTE THAT PETER AND PAUL WERE MARTYRED TOGETHER AT ROME. IN FACT, APOSTLE PETER WAS CRUCIFIED UPSIDE DOWN AT HIS OWN REQUEST. HE WAS CONVINCED THAT HE WAS NOT WORTHY TO SUFFER THE SAME KIND OF DEATH OF HIS MASTER JESUS CHRIST. HIS DEATH AND PLACE OF BURIAL, DOCUMENTED IN A BOOK CALLED "GLI SCAVI DEL DOMINUS FLEVIT", WRITTEN BY TWO ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS, IS PROVEN TO BE JERUSALEM. AFTER ALL, BEING A JEW, SIMON PETER COULDN'T HAVE QUALIFIED TO BE BURIED UNDER THE ALTAR IN THE BASILICA IN ROME.

THE BIBLE HOWEVER DOES MENTION A SHORT STORY ABOUT AN EVENT THAT TOOK PLACE BETWEEN THESE TWO MEN IN ACTS 8: 18-24 WHERE SIMON SAW HOW THE APOSTLES WERE CAPABLE OF HEALING THE SICK THROUGH THE HELP OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. HE OFFERED THEM MONEY SO HE TOO COULD RECEIVE RECOGNITION. PETER REBUKED HIM FOR HAVING SUCH A THOUGH IN HIS HEART. AND IF YOU GO BACK TO ACTS 8:9-11 YOU'LL FIND A SHORT DESCRIPTION OF SIMON MAGUS AND HIS FALSE MIRACLES.

YOU SEE, IT'S EASY TO BELIEVE THAT WHICH WE SEE OR HEAR. YET ARE THEY ALWAYS TRUE? BETTER YET, ARE THEY STEMMING FROM THE RIGHT SOURCE? THERE ARE MANY "SO-CALLED SIMONS" TODAY, CLAIMING TO BE THE RIGHT PREACHER, GATHERING COUNTLESS PEOPLE AS FOLLOWERS, AND DELIVERING NOTHING ELSE BUT A SELF-PROCLAIMED IMAGE THAT DESPERATELY NEEDS RECOGNITION AND APPROVAL. THERE ARE MEGA CHURCHES TODAY BUILT BASED ON THAT SAME MENTALITY. WE HAVE AN OBLIGATION TO DISCERN AND CONFIRM THEIR VALIDITY THROUGH THE BIBLE. WE HAVE AN OBLIGATION TO PROTECT THAT WHICH GOD ENTRUSTED US WITH, INCLUDING THE VERY PLAN AND THE PURPOSE HE HAD FOR OUR LIVES HERE ON EARTH. PLEASE TAKE TIME TO VERIFY EVERY TEACHING BEFORE YOU SET YOURSELVES ON A POSSIBLY UNKNOWN JOURNEY.

AUGUST 17    FAITH IS NO MERE PRIVATE MATTER. SAVING FAITH IS OPEN AND ACKNOWLEDGED. THOSE WHO EXPECT CHRIST TO CONFESS THEM BEFORE THE FATHER, WILL NOT BE ASHAMED TO CONFESS HIM BEFORE MEN. WHEN WE FIRST CAME TO KNOW CHRIST AS OUR LORD AND SAVIOR, WE HAD MORE ZEAL YET LESS BIBLICAL KNOWLEDGE TO SHARE THE GOOD NEWS. YET GOD WASN'T AS MUCH INTERESTED IN OUR HEAD KNOWLEDGE THEN. HE SIMPLY USED OUR ZEAL TO REACH OTHERS THROUGH.

WHEN WE LOOK BACK TO THOSE DAYS, WE REMEMBER HOW MUCH EXCITEMENT WE CARRIED AROUND, WANTING TO SHARE OUR TESTIMONY, AND HELP OTHERS IN EVERY WAY THAT WE COULD. WE WISH WE COULD GO BACK AND SAVOUR THAT EXCITEMENT AGAIN. WE OUGHT TO HAVE IT BACK. IF WE CONTINUE TO FOCUS ON WHAT CHRIST DID BY WILLINGLY DYING ON THE CROSS AS OUR SUBSTITUTE, WE WOULDN'T RESIST HIM SO BOLDLY AND TALK ABOUT HIM SO TIMIDLY. IT WOULD BE THE OTHER WAY AROUND.

IN FACT, THE OUTWARD PHYSICAL CHANGES THAT GRADUALLY TAKE PLACE IN OUR LIVES AS WE SUBMIT OURSELVES TO OUR NEW IDENTITY ARE SIMPLY THE VISIBLE MANIFESTATIONS OF WHAT IS STARTING TO TAKE PLACE ON THE INSIDE: THE SPIRITUAL PART OF US IS GROWING UP. AND IF TRY TO CONCEAL, CONTROL, OR EVEN TONE IT DOWN, WE BECOME AS THE HYPOCRITES CHRIST WAS SO ADAMANTLY ANGRY ABOUT. AFTER ALL, WE ARE HYPOCRITES WHEN THE INSIDE DOESN'T MATCH THE OUTSIDE!

AUGUST 16    WE MUST TALK ABOUT THE DANGER OF HAVING THE WRONG ATTITUDE ABOUT THE WORD OF GOD. WE CAN KNOW THE BIBLE WITHOUT KNOWING CHRIST, BUT WE CAN'T TRULY KNOW CHRIST UNLESS WE KNOW HIM FROM THE BIBLE. IT IS OUR GREATEST PRIVILEGE TO HAVE BEEN INTRODUCED TO THE ONLY BOOK THAT HOLDS THE KEY TO OUR ETERNAL LIFE WITH GOD. WHAT A TRAGEDY IT IS THAT MILLIONS HAVE NEVER SEEN THE BIBLE. YET IT IS EVEN A GREATER TRAGEDY THAT MILLIONS HAVE SEEN THE BIBLE BUT STILL DON'T KNOW CHRIST. THEY HAVE STUDIED THE ENTIRE BOOK, PAGE AFTER PAGE, ONLY TO UNVEIL CERTAIN RELIGIOUS FUNDAMENTALS WHICH WOULD BE THE MAIN INGREDIENTS IN EVERY OTHER RELIGION OUT THERE EXCEPT FOR CHRISTIANITY; YET THEY HAVE COMPLETELY OVERLOOKED THE REVELATION OF THE CROSS.

ISN'T IT IRONIC THAT IT WAS THE RELIGIOUS LEADERS WHO HAD MANAGED TO FORM AN OPPOSITION AGAINST CHRIST? AND THE SAME MENTALITY IS STILL AT WORK TODAY, CAUSING PEOPLE TO MISS THE VERY CORE OF THE GOSPEL NEWS. THAT'S EXACTLY WHY JESUS COMMUNICATED THROUGH PARABLES. PARABLES HAD TWO FUNCTIONS: THEY CONCEALED AND REVEALED THE TRUTH. FOR THE ONES WHO DIDN'T HAVE THE RIGHT HEART, THE PARABLES WERE PLANNED TO CAUSE CONFUSION. YET FOR THE ONES WHO DESPERATELY NEEDED TO RECEIVE THE "RHEMA", THE UNDERLYING TRUE MEANING, THE PARABLES OF CHRIST WERE PLANNED TO DELIVER JUST THAT. AS ALWAYS, WE GET BACK EXACTLY WHAT WE PUT OUT. OUR EFFORTS ARE GREATLY REWARDED BY THE FATHER WHO WANTS TO SEE US DESIRE TO HEAR FROM HIM, TO GET TO KNOW HIM MORE AND MORE EVERY DAY, UNTIL SOME DAY, ALL WE WANT IS HIM, AND NOTHING ELSE.

AUGUST 15    SIN GRIEVES GOD AND AROUSES HIS ANGER WHEN THERE IS NO REPENTANCE. THE TROUBLE IS WITH TODAY'S MENTALITY, WE'RE FOCUSING ON LOOKING AND SOUNDING HOLY, OR HOLIER THAN THE PERSON NEXT TO US, WHEN IN FACT, NONE OF US IS HOLY! NONE OF US WAS HOLY! AND NONE OF US WILL EVER BE HOLY! IF THERE EVER WAS ROOM FOR SUCH POSSIBLITY, THERE WOULDN'T HAVE BEEN A REASON FOR CHRIST TO DIE ON THE CROSS AS OUR SUBSTITUTE. EVEN WITH SUCH KNOWLEDGE BASED ON TRUE FACTS FROM THE BIBLE AS WELL AS SCIENTIFICLY PROVEN EVENTS, WE HAVE HARD TIME UNDERSTANDING THE REALITY OF IT ALL, LET ALONE BELIEVING ENOUGH TO "LET GOD BE GOD". WE DON'T HAVE TO LOOK A CERTAIN WAY, DRESS A CERTAIN WAY, SOUND A CERTAIN WAY, AND EVEN ACT A CERTAIN WAY TO OFFER OURSELVES TO GOD. THAT WOULD BE NO DIFFERENT THAN ACTING, NOT BEING TRUTHFUL. AND WHEN WE'RE NOT BEING TRUTHFUL WITH HIM, WE'RE CERTAINLY NOT BEING HONEST WITH OURSELVES. HOW WOULD IT FEEL IF WE WERE TO FIND OUT THAT THE WHOLE WORLD KNEW SOMETHING ABOUT US THAT WE HAVEN'T BEEN AWARE OF FOR YEARS? IT WOULD BE EMBARRASSING. IT WOULD BE DEVASTATING. IT WOULD BE HUMILIATING. YET WE CHOOSE THAT VERY OPTION EVERY DAY OF OUR LIVES IF WE'RE NOT BEING HONEST BEFORE GOD, AND ASK HIM TO ASSIST US WITH OUR PROBLEM. THE GREATER PROBLEM IS THE URGENCY OF SHOVING THINGS UNDER A RUG OR SOMETHING, JUST SO IT'LL ALL LOOK IN PLACE. SOONER OR LATER WE END UP WEARYING OURSELVES WITH EARTHLY PREPARATIONS TO FIGHT GREATER BATTLES IN THIS EXTREMELY HAZARDOUS PLACE FILLED WITH EARTHLY DISASTERS, DAY AFTER DAY, AFTER DAY, AFTER DAY...

ALL WE NEED IS TO KNOW GOD'S CHARACTER, TO REVERE HIM, AND DESIRE TO PLEASE HIM MORE THAN ANYTHING IN THIS WORLD. GOD HAS PROVIDED US WITH MANY GIFTS TO SERVE HIM WITH, THROUGH WHICH ALL THINGS MAY BE POSSIBLE AND AVAILABLE FOR US IN THIS LIFE. YET WE HAVE TAKEN ALL OF THAT INTO OUR POSSESSION, AS IF WE HAD COME UP WITH THE IDEAS, AS IF THEY WERE THE RESULT OF OUR OWN HARD WORK, AND AS IF THEY BELONGED TO US ETERNALLY. NOT ONLY DO WE FAIL TO THANK HIM FOR ALL THOSE GOODS, BUT WE EVEN HAVE HARD TIME GIVING BACK, WHEN IT ALL BELONGS TO HIM IN THE FIRST PLACE. WE'RE IN AWE THESE DAYS, WHEN A SISTER OR A BROTHER IS BEING PRAISED FOR AN ACCOMPLISHMENT, AND WE HEAR THEM GIVE GLORY TO GOD WITH A HUMBLE ATTITUTE, INSTEAD OF BOASTING AND RUNNING AWAY WITH ALL OF THE CREDITS. THAT'S NO DIFFERENT THAN SAYING YOU'RE PRAISING A MOTHER FOR BEING A GOOD MOM, OR A SON FOR BEING A GOOD SON. WHAT OTHER OPTION IS THERE? WHY SHOULD WE EXPECT REWARDS FOR DOING EXACTLY WHAT WE WERE SUPPOSED TO DO ALL ALONG? THINK ABOUT IT.

AUGUST 14    GOD HAS GIVEN US MUCH TIME TO REPENT. THERE IS AN URGENCY TODAY THAT WE HAVEN'T SEEN BEFORE. AS THE WORD IS BEING PREACHED THROUGHOUT THE WORLD, WE KNOW THAT PEOPLE LIVING IN DESPERATE SITUATIONS ARE GRABBING HOLD OF THE GOSPEL TRUTH AS THOUGH IT IS A LIFE BUOY. THEY HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE, FOR THEY NEVER HAD ANYTHING OF VALUE. THEREFORE THE GOOD NEWS IS ALL THERE IS TO LIVE FOR.

WE, ON THE OTHER HAND, HAVE BECOME WAY TOO COMFORTABLE WITH WORLDY "STUFF", WHETHER IT BE A LIFESTYLE WE'VE WORKED HARD TO ACHIEVE, A CORPORATE POSITION WE'VE STRUGGLED TO REACH, OR SIMLY A GROUP OF PEOPLE AND LOVED ONES WE'VE GROWN TO IDOLIZE AND CARE FOR AS OUR MAIN RESPONSIBILITY. AS WE HAVE STRUCTURED OUR PRIORITIES ONE AFTER THE OTHER, WE REALIZE THAT WE HAVE ONLY A LIMITED TIME TO SPARE FOR THE "ONE" WHO REALLY MATTERS. AFTER ALL, HE IS THE GIVER OF ALL GOODS, INCLUDING THE FAMILIY MEMBERS WE CHERISH, THE MIND AND THE OPPORTUNITIES TO BIRTH THE SUCCESS WE SAVOUR, AS WELL AS THE HEALTHY BODIES THAT ENABLE US TO ENJOY LIFE'S MULTIPLE PLEASURES. YET WE ARE ENTERING A NEW TIME OF TESTING. THIS PARTICULAR ONE REQUIRES FOR US TO BE ALERT AT ALL TIMES, AND ENTIRELY AWARE OF OUR CIRCUMSTANCES. THE EVIL ONE HAS BECOME MORE DESPERATE, FOR HIS TIME IS RUNNING OUT. HE IS USING ALL OF HIS MIGHT TO DESTROY OUR FINANCES, OUR PROVISIONS, OUR MINDS, OUR MARRIAGES, EVEN OUR BODIES. THE MORE SOPHISTICATED THE MEDICAL FIELD HAS BECOME, THE MORE CHALLENGES IT'S HAVING TO FACE. THE MORE ELOQUENT OUR COMMUNICATING SYSTEMS ARE THESE DAYS, THE SLOWER WE'VE BECOME UNDERSTANDING ONE ANOTHER. AND WHO COULD MAKE ANY SENSE OF THE MASS KILLINGS WE HEAR SO VERY FREQUENTLY? HOW MUCH WORSE CAN IT GET? YET WE,AS CHRISTIANS, DO KNOW THE ANSWER TO THAT, DON'T WE? THESE DAYS WE'RE LIVING IN NOW ARE DARK INDEED, BUT THEY WILL GROW MUCH DARKER BEFORE THE END OF TIME. WE'LL ALL FACE SITUATIONS WE'VE NEVER DREAMED WE WOULD FACE SOME DAY, CONFUSING ENOUGH THAT OUR MINDS WILL STRUGGLE TO UNDERSTAND THEM.

OUR KNOWLEDGE, OUR HIGH POSITIONS, OUR WEALTH AND FORTITUTE WILL FALL SHORT AGAINST THE WICKEDNESS THE WORLD IS PREPARING TO DISPLAY. YET GOD'S PROMISE AND AVAILABILITY IS VERY CLEAR ABOUT ALL OF THOSE UPCOMING CHALLENGES, AS LONG AS WE CLING TO HIS WORD, READ IT DAILY, DEVOUR IT AS IT'S THE MAIN COURSE, RECEIVE HIS PEACE BY PUTTING IT TO PRACTICE A LITTLE MORE EVERY DAY, WATCH THE HOLY SPIRIT TAKE PERMANENT RESIDENCE WITHIN, AND TRANSFORM US INTO GIANTS. WHAT OTHER OPTION DO WE HAVE? DO WE REALLY WANT TO ALLOW THE ENEMY TO SIFT US DUE TO OUR DISOBEDIENCE TO GOD'S COMMANDS? AFTER ALL, GOING BACK TO BASICS WILL BE OUR ONLY WAY TO CONNECTING WITH GOD WHO REQUIRES NOTHING BUT A CHILDLIKE ATTITUTE. THAT'S ALL!

WE HAVE FEW SCRIPTURES TO ENFORCE WHAT OUR MAIN RESPONIBILITIES ARE. 1 PETER 5:8: "BE SOBER, BE VIGILANT; BECAUSE YOUR ADVERSARY THE DEVIL, AS A ROARING LION, WALKETH AROUND, SEEKING WHOM HE MAY DEVOUR". PSALM 91:4, "HE SHALL COVER THEE WITH FEATHERS, AND UNDER HIS WINGS SHALT THOU TRUST: HIS TRUTH SHALL BE THY SHIELD AND BUCKLER". 1 PETER 1:16, "BECAUSE IT IS WRITTEN, BE YE HOLY; FOR I AM HOLY". JAMES 1:22, "BUT BE YE DOERS OF THE WORD, AND NOT HEARERS ONLY, DECEIVING YOUR OWN SELVES".

THIS PASSAGE AIMS TO ENCOURAGE US TO TAKE THINGS SERIOUSLY, LIKE NEVER BEFORE. GOD HAS BEEN PATIENT ENOUGH. THERE IS NO MORE ROOM FOR PROCRASTINATING. ONE THING FOR SURE, IF WE, AS HEARERS OF THE WORD, DON'T START USING THE SCRIPTURE TO SERVE GOD, THE ENEMY IS CAPABLE OF USING THE SCRIPTURE TO WAYLAY US INTO BARRENNESS.

AUGUST 13    IT'S TIME FOR MANY OF US TO STEP INTO A GOD GIVEN MINISTRY TO WHICH HE HAD CALLED US AND HAS BEEN PREPARING US. AS WE LEAVE BEHIND THE CARES AND THE CONCERNS OF THIS WORLD, KNOWING FULL WELL THAT OUR PROVISIONS WILL BE AVAILABLE AS GOD SEES FIT, WE HAVE NO REASON TO BE HELD BACK FROM THE GREATEST MISSION OF OUR LIVES: THAT IS TO REACH AS FAR AS WE CAN TO SPREAD THE GOOD NEWS, EVEN IF WE HAVE TO FACE CRITICISM AND MOCKERY THIS WORLD IS VERY CAPABLE OF DOING. WHY SHOULD THAT EVEN BOTHER US? WE ARE SIMPLY WALKING THROUGH A VERY MUDDY AND STYMYING JOURNEY WHERE WE ARE FORCED TO LEARN HOW TO LEAVE THE RESIDUES BEHIND, NONE OF WHICH IS ACCEPTABLE TO GOD. ONLY THE PURE AND THE CHILDLIKE GETS TO ENTER THROUGH THE GATES OF HEAVEN.

I N ORDER TO COMPREHEND THIS VITAL INGREDIENT GOD IS LOOKING FOR IN US, WE MUST FIRST DISTINGUISH "CHILDLIKE" AND "CHILDISH". THE BIBLE TELLS US THE DIFFERENCE. WE READ ABOUT A DISPUTE THAT TOOK PLACE IN LUKE 9:46, "AN ARGUMENT STARTED AMONG THEM AS TO WHICH OF THEM MIGHT BE THE GREATEST. BUT JESUS, KNOWING WHAT THEY WERE THINKING IN THEIR HEART, TOOK A CHILD AND STOOD HIM BY HIS SIDE, AND SAID TO THEM, 'WHOEVER RECEIVES THIS CHILD IN MY NAME RECEIVES ME, AND WHOEVER RECEIVES ME RECEIVES HIM WHO SENT ME; FOR THE ONE WHO IS LEAST AMONG YOU, THIS IS THE ONE WHO IS GREAT'. A CHILD IS AVAILABLE TO ANY KIND OF TEACHING, MOLDING AND SHAPING. A CHILD IS HUMBLE FOR HE OR SHE KNOWS WHO TO LOOK UP TO OR TO EXPECT FROM. A CHILD IS WILLING TO OBEY AND PLEASE THE ONE IN CHARGE. AS WE SPEND MORE TIME FOCUSING ON HOW ELSE WE COULD OUTDO ONE ANOTHER, OR HOW WE SHOULD ACT AND DRESS AS CHRISTIANS TO IMPRESS ONLOOKERS, WE MIGHT START FALLING INTO THE WRONG CATEGORY. OUR ASSIGNMENTS CAN'T BE COMPARED, AND SHOULDN'T BE COMPARED. WE ARE ALL UNIQUE INDIVIDUALS MADE BY GOD WITH A UNIQUE TASK EACH. WE MUST RELY ON OUR INDIVIDUALITY AS A SPECIAL GIFT FROM GOD THAT'S DESIGNED TO FIT THE PLAN AND THE PURPOSE HE HAD IN MIND FOR US.

THE WORLD, FULL OF SIN, IS BECOMING A DANGEROUS PLACE FOR GOD'S PEOPLE. THE MORE WE DELAY OUR MISSION, THE LESS CHANCE GOD'S CHILDREN WILL HAVE IN RECEIVING HIS UNENDING LOVE AND PROVISIONS. WE MUST WALK IN PURITY, FULLY AWARE THAT NOTHING CAN TOUCH US AS LONG AS WE PROGRESS IN THE FLOW OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.

WE CAN SPEND THE REST OF OUR LIVES STUDYING GOD'S WORD; AND THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH DOING SO. IN FACT, THE MORE WE LEARN, THE HUNGRIER WE BECOME. HOWEVER THERE ARE OTHERS WHO COULD ALSO BENEFIT FROM ALL THAT KNOWLEDGE, AND THEY HAVE YET TO BE INTRODUCED TO THE BIBLE. ALL WE HAVE TO DO IS SHARE GOD'S WORD WITH THEM, SO THEY TOO WILL HAVE A CHANCE TO KICK FEW STUMBLING BLOCKS OUT OF THEIR LIVES. YOU SEE, THE EVIL ONE ROAMS THROUGHOUT THE EARTH, SEEKING WHOM HE MAY DEVOUR. WOULDN'T BE GREAT IF WE COULD EQUIP FEW OTHERS WITH THE MUCH NEEDED WEAPONS GOD ENTRUSTED US WITH, IF WE KNEW THAT GOD WOULD BE PLEASED WITH US? OR DO WE RATHER PLEASE THE WORLD BY ACTING CHILDISH? THAT CHOICE IS OURS TODAY... AND EVERYDAY.

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