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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Journey to the Cross - The Darkness

Are you afriad of the dark? Let's face it - things go bump in the night. When we hear a sound at night, our instinct is to turn on a light. Spiritual darkness leads to destruction and when our loved ones walk in spiritual darkness we beg them the turn on the light.  When God created the world, he said, "Let there be light." Turning a light on physically and spiritually brings relief.


Morning Meditation



Read Micah 7:8-9
Mic 7:8-9 NIV

Though I sit in darkness, the LORD will be my light. Because I have sinned against him, I will bear the LORD's wrath, until he pleads my case and establishes my right. He will bring me out into the light; I will see his righteousness.



Allow the Lord to light your darkness.

• Confess sin, doubts, and fears.

• Allow Jesus to plead your case and establish your right.

• Have hope. He will bring you into light. You will see His righteousness.



Morning Prayer



Praise God for being your light.

• Ask God to reveal your darkness so He can separate it into light.

• Tell God your joys, fears, and needs. Praise Him in everything.

• Pray for knowledge of God’s will for you today and the power to carry that out.

• Ask the Holy Spirit to interpret the scriptures you are about to read.




Morning Bible Study



Lent is a period of time that many set aside to deal with the darkness in their lives. Dealing with darkness is a difficult but essential part of spiritual development. Everyone faces the darkness. Without understanding the darkness, it is impossible to enjoy the light. Fear of facing the darkness causes many Christians to spend their lives limping through the half-life of denial.

Life on earth is difficult. Relationships begin full of hope only to become stale and or troubled. We look into the eyes of our newborns and anticipate their joyful and productive lives. They grow up and we have to face that they live in a world full of difficulty and pain. We wake up in the morning anticipating a day following God. We go to bed disappointed with the day and ourselves. Peace comes from examining the darkness in our lives to find the wisdom to see what must be accepted or changed.

Read Genesis 1:2-5.

Gen 1:2-5 NIV

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light "day," and the darkness he called "night." And there was evening, and there was morning — the first day.

What came first, the light or the darkness?

Have you ever noticed that most spiritual growth periods in our lives begin with darkness? God created the light and saw that the light was good. He separated the light from the darkness. We turn to God to separate our light from our darkness.

The word “darkness” or “dark” is in the book of Job 34 times. We read how God separated Job’s light from his darkness. Read Job 12:22.

Job 12:22 NIV

He reveals the deep things of darkness

God reveals deep things in darkness. How has darkness been your teacher?

Read David’s prayer in Psalms 82:4-5.

Ps 82:4-5 NIV

Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. "They know nothing, they understand nothing. They walk about in darkness.

What are the weak and needy walking in?

Notice David’s concern that the weak and needy are vulnerable to the wicked. Satan attacks us at our weakest moments. Prayer is essential when we are weak and needy.

Read John 12:46.

John 12:46 NIV

I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.

Why has Jesus come into the world?

Notice the word “stay” in darkness. No one who believes in Jesus has to stay in darkness. We may move in and out of darkness many times in our lives but we never have to stay there.

The world experienced three hours of darkness when Jesus was crucified. On the cross, Jesus experienced His own personal moments of darkness. Read His words in Mark 15:33-34.

Mark 15:33-34 NIV

At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"-which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

Have you ever wanted to cry out, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” Our Savior understands your pain.

Praise God, the world did not stay dark. Read Luke 24-1-6

Luke 24:1-6 NIV

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

Morning came in the form of the resurrection, revealing the deep things only discovered through the darkness. The Light, now separated from darkness, returned from the grave, on the third day. Jesus had accomplished His mission of facing darkness and winning. He is the Light of the World. Let Jesus separate your light from your darkness.


Application



An Episcopal priest told the following story. As a boy, he went on a retreat. Their leaders led them out in the pitch-black night and asked what they saw. It was dark and they saw nothing. Then their leaders blindfolded them for 45 minutes. Wearing a blindfold in the already dark night was terrifying. “I had never felt such darkness.”

Finally, the time came to remove the blindfolds. “What do you see?” the leaders asked.

“It was amazing,” he said excitedly. “Suddenly, we could see in the dark. The stars were brighter than they had ever been. They lit the way for our path. We could see the shape of the trees. By going deeper into darkness, our vision had improved.”

Examine the darkness in your life.

What terrifies you?

• What is causing you pain?

• What needs improvement?

• Are there behaviors causing you shame?

• Take an honest and fearless look at yourself and your life.


It helps to write it down. If you have time, make a list. If it looks too black, remember the old expression, “It is always darkest before the dawn.” Fear not for He is with you. He will light your way. We will spend the next several days working this through. We will discuss sin, forgiveness, confession, and restoration. Please do not stop in the middle of this process. It would be like staying blindfolded in the night.

Be courageous. As you go through your day, ask God to reveal your darkness.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Journey to the Cross - Hearing Aids - Good Night God

Every night before my 2-year-old grandson, Noah, goes to sleep, he and his parents say their prayers. Noah ends this precious time by saying, “Goodnight God. Goodnight Jesus.”



The Bible tells us to talk to God evening, morning, and at noon. The hearing aid we are going to put on today is the hearing aid we need when we are tired and our defenses are down. In those last moments, before we retire for night, we have one more opportunity to hear God.


Morning Meditation



Read Psalms 55:16-17

Ps 55:16-17

As for me, I will call upon God; and the LORD shall save me. Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice. KJV



Call on the name of God.

• Enjoy your salvation.

• Pray and cry aloud, knowing He shall hear your voice.





Morning Prayer



Ask God to give you the energy to spend the last few minutes of your evening, listening to His voice.

• Thank Him in advance, for what He is going to say.

• Tell God your joys, fears, and needs. Praise Him in everything.

• Pray for knowledge of God’s will for you today and the power to carry that out.

• Ask the Holy Spirit to interpret the scriptures you are about to read.





Morning Bible Study



My Bum Bum was a spry little man with a twinkling grin. No one could have had a better grandfather. He could say the alphabet backwards as quickly as he could forwards and his ability to say words backwards kept me giggling. I would sit in church and listen to his booming tenor voice, knowing no one could sing better than Bum Bum.



My cousin named our grandparents Bum Bum and Nanar and no one seems to know why. Bum Bum treasured my Nanar throughout their 55-year marriage. I have the love letters and cards they continually wrote to each other. “Thet, I’m sorry,” he wrote after an apparent argument. “I love you and didn’t mean to scold.”



On our wedding day, Bum Bum walked up and whispered, “You may not believe it now but you’re going to get mad at that man. Just make sure you never go to bed mad at him. Work out all your arguments before you go to sleep.”



At the time, I didn’t know Bum Bum was speaking the words of God. When Bob and I decided to take this advice, we had no idea how hard it would be. In those early years, when two strong willed people were trying to learn how to become one with each other and God, that commitment made for some very long nights. The advice, that I attributed to my grandfather and later learned was from God, has served us well for 35 years and I now give the same advice to newlyweds.



Read Ephesians 4:26-27.

Eph 4:26-27

Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry — but don't use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don't stay angry. Don't go to bed angry. Don't give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life. (THE MESSAGE)



Does God say not to be angry?

• What does God warn us about our anger?

• What happens if we go to bed angry?




After God tells us “don’t go to bed angry” in Ephesians 4:26-27, He continues with some questions and instructions. Read Ephesians 4:28-32.

Eph 4:28-32

Did you used to make ends meet by stealing? Well, no more! Get an honest job so that you can help others who can't work.



Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift.



Don't grieve God. Don't break his heart. His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for himself. Don't take such a gift for granted.



Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk.



Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you. THE MESSAGE



What are the instructions for the dishonest?

• What are the instructions about how we are supposed to talk to one another?

• How are we supposed to feel about God?

• What does God have to say about mean behavior?

• How are we supposed to treat one another?

• Why do you think these questions are right after God tells us not to go to bed angry?




Read David’s evening prayer in Psalms 141-1-4.

Ps 141:1-4

O LORD, I call upon You; hasten to me! Give ear to my voice when I call to You! May my prayer be counted as incense before You; The lifting up of my hands as the evening offering. Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips. Do not incline my heart to any evil thing, To practice deeds of wickedness with men who do iniquity; And do not let me eat of their delicacies. NASU



Note how much of this evening prayer revolves around David’s longing for God to help him refrain from sin.

How do we know this is an evening prayer.

• What is David asking of God?




And finally, read Daniel’s evening prayer.

Dan 9:20-23

Now while I was speaking and praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the LORD my God in behalf of the holy mountain of my God, while I was still speaking in prayer, then the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision previously, came to me in my extreme weariness about the time of the evening offering.



He gave me instruction and talked with me and said, "O Daniel, I have now come forth to give you insight with understanding. At the beginning of your supplications the command was issued, and I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed; so give heed to the message and gain understanding of the vision.” NASU



What does Daniel say about his physical state when he had a visit from Gabriel?

• What elements of confession do you see in this prayer?

• Do you think Daniel’s weariness made him more open to hearing the message of God?




As we close this series on hearing aids, I urge you to turn up the volume on your hearing aid. Open your ears and listen. Listen in the morning, throughout your day, and at night. Listen to the Still Small Voice as He gently urges. Listen to the God of Fire as He speaks through mighty acts. Listen as you pray without ceasing. Finally, listen when you are tired. Confess before you lay your head down at night and sleep the deep sleep of the innocent. Read Acts 28:27. Hear with your ears and understand with your heart so God can heal you.



Acts 28:27

For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. KJV


Application



The 12 Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous has a step that encourages daily prayer and meditation. It also has a step that suggests taking daily inventory, promptly admitting where they have been wrong.



The book Alcoholics Anonymoussuggests that alcoholics constructively review their day nightly, looking for places where they had been resentful, selfish, dishonest, or afraid. It goes on to ask a series of questions like:

Do we owe and apology?

• Have we kept something to ourselves which should be discussed with another person at once?

• Were we kind and loving towards all?

• What could we have done better?

• Were we thinking of ourselves most of the time? Or were we thinking of what we could do for others?



The book suggests that after reviewing the day, we ask God’s forgiveness and inquire what corrective measures should be taken. (p 86 Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Addition)



What members of Alcoholics Anonymous have discovered is that at night, when they are tired and their defenses down, they are more likely to get honest with themselves. They’ve also discovered that sin puts a barrier between them and God and makes them more likely to drink again. For them, nightly confession of sins makes the difference between life and death.



Tonight, before you go to bed, review your day. Use the above questions from Alcoholics Anonymous or use Ephesians 4:26-32. Put on the hearing aid of nightly confession and listen to God in the openness of weariness. Say, “Goodnight God, Goodnight Jesus,” with a clean conscience.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Journey to the Cross - Hearing Aids - Holy Encounters

Have you seen a burning bush lately? Did God’s hand appear and write a message on the wall? Did a river part and allow you to get to your destination? Maybe your day didn’t have that much drama but if you had your hearing aid on, God probably spoke to you throughout the day’s events in what I like to call Holy Encounters.


Morning Meditation

Read 1 Kings 18:24

1 Kings 18:24
Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD, and the God who answers by fire, He is God." And all the people said, " That is a good idea." NASU
Ponder the false gods of your life? Were they fulfilling?

• Contemplate the God who answers by fire.

• Call on the name of God.



Morning Prayer



Ask for forgiveness for any false gods.

• Ask God for the ability to recognize “the God of fire.”

• Tell God your joys, fears, and needs. Praise Him in everything.

• Pray for knowledge of God’s will for you today and the power to carry that out.

• Ask the Holy Spirit to interpret the scriptures you are about to read.



Morning Bible Study



God speaks to us in the quietness of the early morning and in the still small voice of our longings as we live in a spirit of prayer. Our God of Fire also speaks to us through Holy Encounters like burning bushes and handwriting on the wall.

The story of Moses and the burning bush is a familiar one. Most would run from a burning bush but Moses stopped and looked. Have you ever wondered how many bushes God burned before He found a Moses?

Read Exodus 3:1-6
Exodus 3:1-6
Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb. And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.

And Moses said, “I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.”

And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, “Moses, Moses.”

And he said, “Here am I.”

And he said, “Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.” Moreover he said, “I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”

And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God. KJV
What was Moses doing before the bush started burning?

• What did Moses have to do before God would speak to him?

• When God spoke, what was Moses’ answer?

• Why do you think Moses hid his face?


King Belshazzar had a most unwelcome Holy Encounter. Read Daniel 5:5-6

Daniel 5:5-6

Suddenly the fingers of a man's hand emerged and began writing opposite the lampstand on the plaster of the wall of the king's palace, and the king saw the back of the hand that did the writing. Then the king's face grew pale and his thoughts alarmed him, and his hip joints went slack and his knees began knocking together. NASU

What did the king see?

• How did he react?

• How would you react?


Naturally, King Belshazzar wanted to understand the strange words on his wall. After trying all the magicians, conjurers, and diviners in his kingdom, a young Jewish man, Daniel was called. Read Daniel 5:13-14.

Dan 5:13-14

Then Daniel was brought in before the king. The king spoke and said to Daniel, "Are you that Daniel who is one of the exiles from Judah, whom my father the king brought from Judah? Now I have heard about you that a spirit of the gods is in you, and that illumination, insight and extraordinary wisdom have been found in you. NASU

What was Daniel’s status?

• How did the king describe Daniel?

• What are the character traits of someone who can hear the voice of God?


Daniel was able to correctly interpret the words from God but the news wasn’t good for the king. The days of his kingdom were numbered. King Belshazzar died that very night.

Lest you think all of these Holy Encounters were in the Old Testament, read the New Testament. God spoke to Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, in a dream. An Angel appeared to several people involved in the birth of Jesus. God used people like Paul to speak His message to the churches of Corinth.

Then, there was poor hardheaded Peter. God often had to use what I call “baseball bat therapy” to get his attention. Peter struggled with prejudice and resisted spreading Christianity outside of Judaism. Read Acts 10:-10-12.

Acts 10:10-12

But he became hungry and was desiring to eat; but while they were making preparations, he fell into a trance; and he saw the sky opened up, and an object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, and there were in it all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air. NASU

What human need did God use to slow Peter down?

• How did God get his attention?

• What vision did Peter see?

If you have time, read the entire story in Acts 10:10-38. Puzzled by his vision, Peter sought answers. While Peter was still pondering, an Angel appeared to a Godly man, Cornelius, and sent him to Peter with answers and orders from God. Peter had a choice. Was he going to listen, obey, and learn his lesson? Read his humble words in Acts 10:34-36.

Acts 10:34-36

I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him. NASU

What did Peter choose?

• What was his lesson?


The Spirit of God was constantly speaking to Jesus on His journey to the cross. After Jesus’ baptism, God gave very specific instructions to Jesus. Read Mark 1:12-13.

Mark 1:12-13

Immediately the Spirit impelled Him to go out into the wilderness. And He was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan; and He was with the wild beasts, and the angels were ministering to Him. NASU

What were those instructions?

• Who ministered to Jesus?


Have you ever felt impelled by the Holy Spirit? Perhaps you were driving down the road and had a sudden desire to stop and help. Maybe you passed a church and felt called to enter. Did you think of someone today and wonder how they were? Was the beach calling you for a long walk? Did you wake up full of doubt, only to receive an encouraging message to keep trying? It’s easy to decide these impulses and events are coming from ourselves but when we recognize and obey them, the results become our witness to the workings of God. We only understand Holy Encounters with the benefit of hindsight so perhaps we miss most of them.


Application



Most of my messages from God come from the still small voice of the Holy Spirit. I feel His gentle urgings to act, and when I obey, the wondrous unfolding of His will cements my faith and helps me better recognize that whispering wind.

Occasionally, God sends a clear dramatic answer that I call a Holy Encounter. These occur, usually, but not always, when my faith is wavering or when I doubt the wisdom of what I think I’ve heard. Two such encounters happened at the Florida Christian Writers Conference.

In 2005, I was wondering with what to do next. I was 3 years into my ministry and doubting my continued call. I’d spent the last 3 years traveling the country, talking to people about God and handing out cards that contained a quarter and the address to the website, www.pocketfullofquarters. I had several books mostly finished but nothing published. My call to ministry was to help people have full spiritual pockets but discouragement had my pockets strangely empty as I struggled with the next step.

I was at the writers conference, trying to get my book, Pocket Full of Quarters published. On the last day of the conference, no publisher had shown interest and I was discouraged. I made the decision that when I returned home, I was going to leave the ministry and reenter the corporate world. Right after making the decision, I went into the Ladies Room and there, sitting on top of the toilette paper container, were 2 quarters. I could have decided that someone had just left those quarters behind but I knew God had sent me a very specific message. My “handwriting on the wall” was those 2 quarters. The “Pocket Full of Quarters Lady” left the conference with full spiritual pockets. By the same conference the next year, 2 of my books were published and I had made another missionary journey.

At the 2006 conference, I was overwhelmed by the quality of writing I was witnessing. As I looked through the books of other authors, I began doubting my own skill. I submitted my writings for editorial review and when I received the comments back, I felt like a green child who couldn’t write.

On Saturday morning, I prayed, God, I’m sorry to doubt you and myself, but I need some kind of affirmation about my writing if I’m to continue doing this. I went through all of Saturday discouraged and almost left on Saturday night.

On Sunday morning, at the closing, they gave out awards for various types of writing. I was chatting with my girlfriend when they called out the awards and almost missed my name. Wonder of Wonders - I had won the award for “Best Devotional Writer.” God and the Florida Christian Writers Conference had affirmed my writing skills and I thanked both. Briefly, I felt guilty for taking the award away from the person who would have received it if I hadn’t prayed such a faithless prayer but I shook it off. God loves me even in my doubt and goes out of His way to speak when I’m listening. I’m framing this award, hopefully not out of pride, but as a reminder of the Holy Encounter.

As you go through your day, look and listen for Holy Encounters. Turn up the volume of your hearing aid. Tell God your doubts and notice His answers when they come. Trust those messages and urgings and act immediately. When you get an answer, allow no doubt. For today, I’m continuing to write. What has the God of Fire said to you?

Journey to the Cross - Hearing Aids - Holy Encounters

Have you seen a burning bush lately? Did God’s hand appear and write a message on the wall? Did a river part and allow you to get to your destination? Maybe your day didn’t have that much drama but if you had your hearing aid on, God probably spoke to you throughout the day’s events in what I like to call Holy Encounters.


Morning Meditation

Read 1 Kings 18:24

1 Kings 18:24
Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD, and the God who answers by fire, He is God." And all the people said, " That is a good idea." NASU
Ponder the false gods of your life? Were they fulfilling?

• Contemplate the God who answers by fire.

• Call on the name of God.



Morning Prayer



Ask for forgiveness for any false gods.

• Ask God for the ability to recognize “the God of fire.”

• Tell God your joys, fears, and needs. Praise Him in everything.

• Pray for knowledge of God’s will for you today and the power to carry that out.

• Ask the Holy Spirit to interpret the scriptures you are about to read.



Morning Bible Study



God speaks to us in the quietness of the early morning and in the still small voice of our longings as we live in a spirit of prayer. Our God of Fire also speaks to us through Holy Encounters like burning bushes and handwriting on the wall.

The story of Moses and the burning bush is a familiar one. Most would run from a burning bush but Moses stopped and looked. Have you ever wondered how many bushes God burned before He found a Moses?

Read Exodus 3:1-6
Exodus 3:1-6
Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb. And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.

And Moses said, “I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.”

And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, “Moses, Moses.”

And he said, “Here am I.”

And he said, “Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.” Moreover he said, “I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”

And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God. KJV
What was Moses doing before the bush started burning?

• What did Moses have to do before God would speak to him?

• When God spoke, what was Moses’ answer?

• Why do you think Moses hid his face?


King Belshazzar had a most unwelcome Holy Encounter. Read Daniel 5:5-6

Daniel 5:5-6

Suddenly the fingers of a man's hand emerged and began writing opposite the lampstand on the plaster of the wall of the king's palace, and the king saw the back of the hand that did the writing. Then the king's face grew pale and his thoughts alarmed him, and his hip joints went slack and his knees began knocking together. NASU

What did the king see?

• How did he react?

• How would you react?


Naturally, King Belshazzar wanted to understand the strange words on his wall. After trying all the magicians, conjurers, and diviners in his kingdom, a young Jewish man, Daniel was called. Read Daniel 5:13-14.

Dan 5:13-14

Then Daniel was brought in before the king. The king spoke and said to Daniel, "Are you that Daniel who is one of the exiles from Judah, whom my father the king brought from Judah? Now I have heard about you that a spirit of the gods is in you, and that illumination, insight and extraordinary wisdom have been found in you. NASU

What was Daniel’s status?

• How did the king describe Daniel?

• What are the character traits of someone who can hear the voice of God?


Daniel was able to correctly interpret the words from God but the news wasn’t good for the king. The days of his kingdom were numbered. King Belshazzar died that very night.

Lest you think all of these Holy Encounters were in the Old Testament, read the New Testament. God spoke to Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, in a dream. An Angel appeared to several people involved in the birth of Jesus. God used people like Paul to speak His message to the churches of Corinth.

Then, there was poor hardheaded Peter. God often had to use what I call “baseball bat therapy” to get his attention. Peter struggled with prejudice and resisted spreading Christianity outside of Judaism. Read Acts 10:-10-12.

Acts 10:10-12

But he became hungry and was desiring to eat; but while they were making preparations, he fell into a trance; and he saw the sky opened up, and an object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, and there were in it all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air. NASU

What human need did God use to slow Peter down?

• How did God get his attention?

• What vision did Peter see?

If you have time, read the entire story in Acts 10:10-38. Puzzled by his vision, Peter sought answers. While Peter was still pondering, an Angel appeared to a Godly man, Cornelius, and sent him to Peter with answers and orders from God. Peter had a choice. Was he going to listen, obey, and learn his lesson? Read his humble words in Acts 10:34-36.

Acts 10:34-36

I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him. NASU

What did Peter choose?

• What was his lesson?


The Spirit of God was constantly speaking to Jesus on His journey to the cross. After Jesus’ baptism, God gave very specific instructions to Jesus. Read Mark 1:12-13.

Mark 1:12-13

Immediately the Spirit impelled Him to go out into the wilderness. And He was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan; and He was with the wild beasts, and the angels were ministering to Him. NASU

What were those instructions?

• Who ministered to Jesus?


Have you ever felt impelled by the Holy Spirit? Perhaps you were driving down the road and had a sudden desire to stop and help. Maybe you passed a church and felt called to enter. Did you think of someone today and wonder how they were? Was the beach calling you for a long walk? Did you wake up full of doubt, only to receive an encouraging message to keep trying? It’s easy to decide these impulses and events are coming from ourselves but when we recognize and obey them, the results become our witness to the workings of God. We only understand Holy Encounters with the benefit of hindsight so perhaps we miss most of them.


Application



Most of my messages from God come from the still small voice of the Holy Spirit. I feel His gentle urgings to act, and when I obey, the wondrous unfolding of His will cements my faith and helps me better recognize that whispering wind.

Occasionally, God sends a clear dramatic answer that I call a Holy Encounter. These occur, usually, but not always, when my faith is wavering or when I doubt the wisdom of what I think I’ve heard. Two such encounters happened at the Florida Christian Writers Conference.

In 2005, I was wondering with what to do next. I was 3 years into my ministry and doubting my continued call. I’d spent the last 3 years traveling the country, talking to people about God and handing out cards that contained a quarter and the address to the website, www.pocketfullofquarters. I had several books mostly finished but nothing published. My call to ministry was to help people have full spiritual pockets but discouragement had my pockets strangely empty as I struggled with the next step.

I was at the writers conference, trying to get my book, Pocket Full of Quarters published. On the last day of the conference, no publisher had shown interest and I was discouraged. I made the decision that when I returned home, I was going to leave the ministry and reenter the corporate world. Right after making the decision, I went into the Ladies Room and there, sitting on top of the toilette paper container, were 2 quarters. I could have decided that someone had just left those quarters behind but I knew God had sent me a very specific message. My “handwriting on the wall” was those 2 quarters. The “Pocket Full of Quarters Lady” left the conference with full spiritual pockets. By the same conference the next year, 2 of my books were published and I had made another missionary journey.

At the 2006 conference, I was overwhelmed by the quality of writing I was witnessing. As I looked through the books of other authors, I began doubting my own skill. I submitted my writings for editorial review and when I received the comments back, I felt like a green child who couldn’t write.

On Saturday morning, I prayed, God, I’m sorry to doubt you and myself, but I need some kind of affirmation about my writing if I’m to continue doing this. I went through all of Saturday discouraged and almost left on Saturday night.

On Sunday morning, at the closing, they gave out awards for various types of writing. I was chatting with my girlfriend when they called out the awards and almost missed my name. Wonder of Wonders - I had won the award for “Best Devotional Writer.” God and the Florida Christian Writers Conference had affirmed my writing skills and I thanked both. Briefly, I felt guilty for taking the award away from the person who would have received it if I hadn’t prayed such a faithless prayer but I shook it off. God loves me even in my doubt and goes out of His way to speak when I’m listening. I’m framing this award, hopefully not out of pride, but as a reminder of the Holy Encounter.

As you go through your day, look and listen for Holy Encounters. Turn up the volume of your hearing aid. Tell God your doubts and notice His answers when they come. Trust those messages and urgings and act immediately. When you get an answer, allow no doubt. For today, I’m continuing to write. What has the God of Fire said to you?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Journey to the Cross - Hearing Aids - Pray Without Ceasing

The second “hearing aid” we will discuss is to pray without ceasing. How can we pray without ceasing with cell phones ringing, watch alarms going off, and rap music blasting from the next car? What good would it do to pray without ceasing when our calendar is full?

One of Daddy’s excuses for taking off his hearing aid is that random sounds coming from everywhere blend and confuse him. It’s much like that with hearing the voice of God. Hearing aid technology does not allow Daddy to tune in the frequency he wants and tune out everything else. In our spiritual walk, with practice, we can develop that ability.


Morning Meditation



Read John 10:27-30.

John 10:27-30

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. "My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. NASU

Sheep recognize the voice of their shepherd. Like a sheep, listen for your shepherd.

• No one can snatch you out of your shepherd’s strong gentle hands. Let them cradle you.

• The Father gave you to Jesus. Enjoy being His gift.



Morning Prayer



Ask God to teach you how to pray without ceasing.

• If you have trouble hearing His voice, ask that He speak more distinctly.

• Ask for the courage to follow the sound of His voice.

• Tell God your joys, fears, and needs. Praise Him in everything.

• Pray for knowledge of God’s will for you today and the power to carry that out.

• Ask the Holy Spirit to interpret the scriptures you are about to read.





Morning Bible Study



Have you ever read a book twice? When you know the ending, you can better see how the seemingly random events fit together. My husband loves the television drama, “Twenty-four.” I watch it because I want to spend time with him but for me, the events are too startling and upsetting. If someone watches it first and gives me a synopsis, I’m not as traumatized by this 1 hour of breath-taking terror. I take comfort in knowing the ending, no matter how bad it is.



I’m also comforted in knowing that my Father is the director of our lives and knows the ending. I refuse to let myself be distracted by the theological debate that tries to figure out how God can know the ending and still offer free will. I just want to hear the voice of my Director and follow His cues. When I can’t distinguish His directions from the screaming of the other actors in my drama, I don’t have a clue what to do next. When I’m confused, I see my life as singular events and start living in breath-taking terror. When I hear the Director’s voice, I rejoice in all things, knowing that all things work together for good. The only way I can distinguish my Director’s voice is to be constantly in dialogue with Him.



Read 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. NASU



How often are we to pray?

• What is the direction before the words “pray without ceasing?”

• What is God’s will for us?



Jeremiah was a prophet of God who lived in a spirit of prayer. People depended on him to hear a word for God and repeat it to them. Read Jeremiah 42:4.

Jeremiah 42:4

Then Jeremiah the prophet said to them, "I have heard you. Behold, I am going to pray to the LORD your God in accordance with your words; and I will tell you the whole message which the LORD will answer you. I will not keep back a word from you." NASU



How could Jeremiah have such confidence that he could hear God?

• How do you think his confidence affected the people around him?

• Are you that confident about hearing God’s voice?




Nehemiah was another prophet. Read his prayer in Nehemiah 1:5-6.

Neh 1:5-6

I said, "I beseech You, O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who preserves the covenant and loving kindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments, let Your ear now be attentive and Your eyes open to hear the prayer of Your servant which I am praying before You now, day and night, NASU



How often was Nehemiah praying on behalf of Israel?

• How did Nehemiah see God?

• How do you think he developed this opinion of God?




Read Nehemiah’s confident words in 2:11-12.

Neh 2:11-12

So I came to Jerusalem and was there three days. And I arose in the night, I and a few men with me. I did not tell anyone what my God was putting into my mind to do. NASU



He didn’t doubt that the “plans in his mind” were from God. Is it possible for us to be that sure?



Now read Ephesians 6:18.

Eph 6:18

With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, NASU



How often are we to pray?

• Why do you think the scripture uses the word “perseverance”?

• What do you think it means to pray “in the spirit?”




Recognizing the voice of our creator isn’t difficult when we see Him everywhere. Read Psalms 150.

Ps 150

Praise the LORD! Praise God in His sanctuary; Praise Him in His mighty expanse. Praise Him for His mighty deeds; Praise Him according to His excellent greatness. Praise Him with trumpet sound; Praise Him with harp and lyre. Praise Him with timbrel and dancing; Praise Him with stringed instruments and pipe. Praise Him with loud cymbals; Praise Him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD! NASU



What are some prayer reminders in this scripture?

• How are we supposed to praise Him?

• Who is supposed to praise Him?




Jesus prayed continually as He took His own journey to the cross. He prayed on mountains, in gardens, before crowds, and in the wilderness. Read Luke 5:16.

Luke 5:16

But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray. NASU



What did Jesus often do?

• Why do you think He needed to “slip away?”




Now and again, we can live in a spirit of prayer in the midst of the noise and chaos we call life. More often, like my daddy and his confusing hearing aid, the sounds blend, forming a series of indistinguishable noises. We may even be tempted to remove the hearing aid. That’s when we need to briefly “slip away” and fine-tune our hearing aids.


Application



Since 1979, I’ve maintained the habit of talking and listening to God every morning. The time alone with God is precious and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. If I have an 8:00 AM flight, I’ll get up at 4:30 AM to spend time with God. In those quiet moments, God is as real as anything or anyone I can see, hear, or touch.



If you’re impressed, don’t be. Lest you think me too spiritual or disciplined, I must confess that it has only been in the last few years that I have even begun to have a tiny understanding of what it meant to “pray without ceasing.” I certainly had no idea how much clearer God’s voice could get with even feeble attempts at this exercise.



In 2002, God called me out of corporate America and into a life that I viewed to be fulltime service to Him. This calling was to travel the streets of America, listening to people and talking to them about God. I wasn’t sure if this was a permanent call but I was and still am sure of the directions for that moment of my life. I now realize that in anything I’m called to do, it’s full time service to Him.



In corporate America, my days were heavily scheduled. It worked for me to get up every morning and ask God for knowledge of His will for me and the power to carry that out. When I left my morning quiet time, I’m embarrassed to admit that I almost had the feeling I was saying goodbye to God until the next morning. But alas, God was faithful and answered my morning prayer as I experienced walking through my corporate days feeling like God was directing my steps.



When I left the rigors of a packed calendar to enter a life where I didn’t know what to do next, I had to develop an entirely new perspective on what it meant to hear the voice of God. On the road, I had to follow minute-by-minute instructions, without the benefit of a calendar, secretary, to-do list, outside family pressures, or an earthly authority. Not wanting to miss a single adventure, I knew I needed to improve my listening skills.



I began simply. When I stopped my car, I noticed the nature around me, and praised God for His beauty. The world became a church where worship was the only choice. With heavenly eyes, each place was more beautiful than the next. The rocks literally cried out in their call to worship.



I noticed God’s children and asked whom I was supposed to talk with. Amazingly, God answered directly by putting people in my path and preparing their heart for conversation. Often, they would walk up and begin a conversation while I was still praying. Occasionally, people would talk about their spiritual needs without prompting. One woman simply said, “Do you know how to pray?” As I began to pray without ceasing, I grew to expect direct answers.



Then I got the bright idea to ask God, while I was still driving, where I should stop. What a delight that was. When the Still Small Voice whispered, “Stop now,” the pleasure, adventure, or miracle in store was indescribable. I grew to expect a mighty work at every stop.



Suddenly, I realized what a powerful resource my Christian CDs were. Being a musician, I should have figured this out earlier but another confession is in order. Up until then, my driving time was for conversation – via a passenger or cell phone, listening to talk radio, or daydreaming. I began worshipping with music as I drove and as the trees and bushes rushed past, the music lifted my soul.



As my dialogue with God improved, I began to wonder what my corporate life would have been like if I’d prayed continually. Would I have been willing to follow God’s voice with a 9:00 AM appointment written in black ink on my schedule? Could I have praised Him in His sanctuary when that sanctuary consisted of gray walls, work cubicles, and people in suits? What would have been the results? I don’t know if God will ever call me back into corporate America but I’m intrigued by the question.



For today, pray about everything.

Praise Him in His sanctuary and view everywhere as that sanctuary.

• Praise Him for His blessings and view everything as a blessing.

• Ask for His will and the power to carry that out, assuming He will say yes.

• When the sounds get indistinguishable, slip away to pray.

• Ask God what to do, trust your instincts, and continually obey in faith.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Journey to the Cross - Hearing Aids - Morning by Morning

Do you need a hearing aid? My daddy claims he doesn’t and I laugh and say, “You may be right but wear it anyway.” Sometimes, he complies.

The season of Lent is a time to grow closer to Jesus and to listen carefully for His voice. For the next four days, we are going to talk about ways to hear Him, starting with morning by morning.

“But I’m not a morning person,” you cry. “I don’t need this particular hearing aid. I pray at night.” I’m glad you pray at night but that’s the 4th day of this hearing aid series. During this Lenten season, I beseech you – regardless of how your feel about morning, put on the morning hearing aid anyway. If you wear this hearing aid for 30 days, like my daddy, you may take it off, but you’ll never again doubt that you need it.

Morning Meditation

Read Psalms 5:1-3
Ps 5:1-3
Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my meditation. Hearken unto the voice of my cry, my King, and my God: for unto thee will I pray. My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up. KJV


Sit quietly where you can see outside.
• Give ears to the word of God.
• Consider His meditations.
• Ask God to hear your prayers.
• Notice the signs of morning – possibly the golden and red sunrise, dewdrops glistening on the ground, birds frolicking, flowers bursting with color, or tall trees stretching out their arms to God.
• Sit quietly and listen for the voice of God.


Morning Prayer

If you’re not morning person, ask God to help you with the discipline of beginning your day with meditation, prayer, and Bible Study.
• Thank God for morning.
• Ask God for ears to hear as you go throughout your day.
• Tell God your joys, fears, and needs. Praise Him in everything.
• Pray for knowledge of God’s will for you today and the power to carry that out.
• Ask the Holy Spirit to interpret the scriptures you are about to read.


Morning Bible Study

Do you wake up in the morning with God on your mind? Are you thrilled to have an entire day before you to walk with God? Do you get a rush of excitement as you prepare for your sweet morning time with God? Are you willing to go to any lengths not to give up that morning thrill?

People who have disciplined themselves to early morning devotional time report the answers to the above questions as a resounding yes. I know this because I’ve traveled across America asking people about their time with God. These “morning people” all say pretty much the same thing. Their spiritual morning time goes through the following 3 stages:
Stage 1: The Struggle – they try repeatedly, only to fail. Everything gets in the way and eventually they give up. Guilt goads them into trying again but it seems hopeless. Some stay at this “on again off again phase” for years and some never move past it.
• Stage 2: The Habit – Eventually, it becomes a habit. The time may seem dry and dull but they persist. Temptation to stop whispers in their ear but they’ve come too far to stop now. They continue out of obedience, not quite understanding why. Some make it to this stage, only to tumble back to Stage 1. Some give up completely. Others hang in there long enough to move to the next glorious stage.
• Stage 3: The Adventure – If we obey long enough, one day we will wake up excited about our time with God. We will hear God’s voice in the morning and it will minister to us throughout the day. We will understand God’s will for us and the power to carry it out will be ours. Life will become an adventure as we walk through each day under the authority of the voice of God. We will go to any lengths to make room for that special time of our day.


The Bible uses the words “morning by morning” at least six different times. The writer Charles Spurgeon wrote a devotional book entitled “Morning by Morning.” If you search Google for the words “morning by morning” you get 94,000 hits, with most of them being spiritual.

Read Ezekiel 46:13-15.
Ezek 46:13-15
Every day you are to provide a year-old lamb without defect for a burnt offering to the LORD; morning by morning you shall provide it. You are also to provide with it morning by morning a grain offering, consisting of a sixth of an ephah with a third of a hin of oil to moisten the flour. The presenting of this grain offering to the LORD is a lasting ordinance. So the lamb and the grain offering and the oil shall be provided morning by morning for a regular burnt offering. NIV


What time of day were the sacrifices to be made?
• How many times was “morning by morning” used?


Read Psalms 143:5-12.
Ps 143:5-12
I remember the days of old; I meditate on all thy works; I muse on the work of thy hands. I stretch forth my hands unto thee: my soul thirsteth after thee, as a thirsty land. Selah. Hear me speedily, O LORD: my spirit faileth: hide not thy face from me, lest I be like unto them that go down into the pit. Cause me to hear thy lovingkindness in the morning; for in thee do I trust: cause me to know the way wherein I should walk; for I lift up my soul unto thee. Deliver me, O LORD, from mine enemies: I flee unto thee to hide me. Teach me to do thy will; for thou art my God: thy spirit is good; lead me into the land of uprightness. Quicken me, O LORD, for thy name's sake: for thy righteousness' sake bring my soul out of trouble. And of thy mercy cut off mine enemies, and destroy all them that afflict my soul: for I am thy servant. KJV


What does the Psalm writer meditate about?
• What other word is used that could mean the same as “meditate?”
• What time of day does the writer hear God’s loving kindness?
• What does the writer ask for his day?
• Take a moment to pray this scripture as a prayer


Read Isaiah 50:4.
Isa 50:4
The Sovereign LORD has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught. NIV


What time of day does the Lord give the instructions?
• How are we to use our instructed tongue?


Read Mark 1:35.
Mark 1:35
And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he (Jesus) went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed. KJV


What time of day did Jesus pray?
• Jesus was fully God and fully human. Why do you think He prayed in the morning?
• Many say they are too busy to have a morning time with God. Are you daily activities more important than Jesus?


Are you convinced that time with God “morning by morning” is important? Statistics tell us that only about 15% of Christians spend regular quiet time with God. After traveling across the country several times talking to people about their relationship with God, I believe those statistics.

When I first began my missionary journeys, I expected to find Christians content and non-Christians restless and unhappy. That was not what I found. If anything, Christians struggled more because they knew they were supposed to be trusting God with their circumstances.

What I did observe was that the 15% of Christians who had a disciplined intimate morning time with God had the promised peace that passes all understanding. These Christians exhibited a heavenly perspective as their face glowed with the knowledge that God was bigger than anything they faced. If you don’t believe the word of God, believe the witness of His people. Give yourself the gift of time with God, morning by morning.

Application

My 82 year old daddy is one of the most interesting people I know. At the mention of his name, people’s faces light up with a particular expression that is a combination of amusement, affection, and respect. He loves a practical joke and has a quick teasing humor. When I wore my new suede pink jacket with a fuzzy collar, Daddy looked me up and down, eyes twinkling and said, “You look like a poodle.”

His spiritual gifts are service and generosity and he spends his days serving others by caring for their yards, fixing their cars, or just doing the next right thing, whether people want him to or not. When Daddy starts cutting grass, he can’t seem to stop and it isn’t unusual for him to continue up the block and into several neighbors’ yards. He’s the only person I know who sometimes cuts grass in a tie, dress shoes, and dress pants.

He’s also stubborn and fights the use of his 2 hearing aids. With them, he keeps up in conversations and notices everything around him. Without them, he lives in his own world and misses the nuances of social interactions. I’m constantly saying, “Daddy, put on your hearing aid!”

Daddy constantly argues, “I don’t need them! They don’t do any good.”

On day in frustration I said, “Daddy, when you don’t wear your hearing aid, people treat you like you’re old. They don’t look at you and don’t talk directly to you. Sometimes your responses don’t have anything to do with the conversation.”

Knowing that my spry father could never be old, I thought my words would have an impact. I should have known better. Daddy just grinned and said, “I’ll just have to keep quiet.”

When we put on our spiritual hearing aids for God, others see the difference in us, often before we do. Like my daddy, we can be in denial about the good it is doing us. If you don’t believe morning time with God has an impact , try it from now until Resurrection Sunday and ask those closest to you if they notice a difference.

This morning devotional series, Journey to the Cross, uses the same format every day. It’s a format I was taught years ago and I’ve been using it daily since 1979. I think of my meditation time as listening to God and my prayer time as talking to God. I study the word of God to hear His voice and understand His nature. I focus the end of my quiet time trying to apply what I’ve learned to this one day. I get up and go into my day, feeling prepared.

There is a link to this 4-step format on my website, www.pocketfullofquarters.com. The format is as follows:

Step 1 – Meditation (5 minutes)

Be still before the LORD” Psalms 37:7
Sit quietly
• Focus on a scripture
• Listen to God


Step 2 – Prayer (5-10 minutes)

Pray in the Holy Spirit Jude 20
Praise – Tell God Thank You
• Pain – Tell God Your Problems
• Please – Ask God for what you need.
• Ask God to interpret the scriptures you are about to read


Step 3 – Bible Study (15-20 minutes)

So that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Rom 15:4
Study the word of God
• Use supporting materials like Bible studies, Christian inspirational books, devotionals, or other denominational materials


Step 4 – Application (1-5 minutes)

Here I am, I have come to do your will. Heb 10:9 (1-5 minutes)
Ask God what He wants you to do with your day, month, life
• Journal your thoughts, plans, goals, and prayers
• Pray daily for knowledge of God’s will for you and the power to carry it out.


Commit to giving God at least 30 minutes of your morning. Use this or any other format that includes meditation, prayer, Bible Study, and application. Try this morning “hearing aid” for 30 days and if you don’t like it, you can get double your deafness back.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Journey to the Cross - From Cheers to Jeers

Americans are fascinated with royalty and rulers. One only has to observe America’s obsession with the life, wedding, and death of Princess Diana to understand the truth of that. Books and television shows about Hitler are eagerly absorbed as Americans search for new information about this evil dictator whose early leadership elicited such cheers. Could this obsession with kings and rulers be because of our inborn need to serve the true King of Kings?

Morning Meditation

Read 1 Timothy 6:12-16
1 Tim 6:12-16 NIV
Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time-God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.


Sit quietly and let yourself become willing to fight the good fight of faith.
• Think about life eternal and let yourself “take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.”
• Our Savior “made the good confession” even when he had to testify to Pontius Pilate. Ponder what it means to “make the good confession” in the face of opposition.
• Jesus is our Ruler, our King of Kings, our Lord of Lords. Ponder what that means.
• To Him be honor and might forever. Worship Him.


Morning Prayer

Praise God for who He is.
• Commit to letting Him be your King of Kings regardless of the circumstances.
• Ask God to help you let His love be enough for you today.
• Ask God to help you see and understand Him in everything around you.
• Tell God your joys, fears, and needs. Praise Him in everything.
• Pray for knowledge of God’s will for you and the power to carry that out.
• Ask the Holy Spirit to interpret the scriptures you are about to read.


Morning Bible Study

Have you ever seen a joyfully shouting crowd coming towards you? At best, it would be disconcerting, and yet that was just what happened whenever Jesus was around.

Read Luke 19:37-38.
Luke 19:37-38 NIV
When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!"


How did the crowd feel about Jesus?
• What was the volume of their praises?
• What did they call Jesus?


It’s no wonder that Jesus’ impact upset people. Maybe they were trying to take an afternoon nap or their babies were asleep. The gleeful sounds were probably frightening. It’s not surprising that people called the police – or at least the Pharisees. Wouldn’t you?

Read Luke 19:39
Luke 19:39
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, rebuke your disciples!"
NIV


What did the Pharisees say to Jesus?
• Why do you think they were concerned.


Have you ever felt so excited, you could burst? Electricity filled the air when Jesus was near. The drama and the moment captured people’s emotions. Some were sincere while the moment possibly carried others away.

Read Luke 19:40.
Luke 19:40 NIV
"I tell you," he replied, "if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out."


What was Jesus’ dry answer to the Pharisees?
• What do you think He meant?


Instead of curtailing Jesus’ popularity, the crowds and enthusiasm grew. Read John 12:12-13.

John 12:12-13 NIV
The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the King of Israel!"


What signs of worship do you see?
• What did the people call Him?
• What do you think they expected of Jesus?
• How do you think the Pharisees felt about the title Jesus was given?


Yes, the people wanted a hero. They wanted someone to do the hard work for them and to change their lives. Their desires were self-directed and selfish as they misunderstood Jesus’ purpose. Jesus knew the truth and wept for them. Read His lamentation in Luke 19:41.

Luke 19:41-44 NIV
As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, "If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace-but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you."


What did Jesus see for Jerusalem?
• What did Jerusalem fail to see about Jesus?
• Do you always recognize “the time of God’s coming” to you or do you fight your earthly circumstances?


How quickly the crowd’s praise turned from cheers to jeers when they realized He was not an earthly king sent to relieve their current circumstances. Read Matthew 27:23-23.

Matt 27:22-23
They all said, "Crucify Him!" And he said, "Why, what evil has He done?" But they kept shouting all the more, saying, "Crucify Him!" NASU


What did the world want from Jesus?
• Why do you think the crowd’s cheers turned to jeers?


Application

Bonnie’s life was a mess. Her marriage was in trouble. She and her husband fought continually and she blamed him for the difficulties. In her eternal search for happiness, Bonnie was repeatedly unfaithful to her husband but it only made her pain worse. Finally, in desperation, she went to a church seeking an answer.

The first church she visited suggested she confess her sins, turn her life over to Jesus, and change her behavior. They asked her to take responsibility for her past. They warned her of the long road of recovery but they offered her a picture of redemption and hope.

Unfortunately, Bonnie didn’t “have ears to hear.” What they were suggesting was too hard. Besides, how would her confessing help the marriage when everything was her husband’s fault?

Bonnie went to a second church, one that promised instant miracles. She walked the aisle and told the counselor her difficulties. They took her into a dark candlelit room and formed a circle around her with everyone touching her. Together they screamed chants and joyfully pronounced the demons gone from her body.

Bonnie shouted her praise before God. The people surrounding her shouted even louder and sent her from the room, “cured.” They gave promises of restored “virginity” and “purity.” They warned that if her life was still difficult, it would be because her of lack of faith. They encouraged her to believe in the miracle.

Bonnie left that room delighted, thinking she had found “the way.” The “exorcism” of demons had evoked deep emotions that left her with a high better than any drugs she had ever tried.

Unfortunately, Bonnie arrived home that Sunday to the same angry husband and dreary life. The urges that drove her to sexual infidelity were still there. Nothing had changed. By the end of the week, she was even more guilt ridden than when she arrived at the church the Sunday before.

At first, she blamed herself for her lack of faith and tried harder. She went to church every Sunday, danced in the aisles, and shouted hosanna. Eventually, she gave up. By the time I met Bonnie, her cheers had turned to jeers and she no longer believed.

Why didn’t Bonnie get the miracles she was seeking? I submit to you that Bonnie wasn’t looking to serve the King of Kings. Instead of seeking to follow a ruler, she was seeking a quick easy fix. I submit that she mistook the drama of emotion for the work of serving a King who gave specific instructions. I submit that if Bonnie had followed the instruction of the first church, she would have found the miracle she sought.

What kind of God are you seeking today? Does your God need to prove His worthiness to you by solving your earthly problems? Do you barter your faith by wanting Him to alter the way of the world and give you a life free from pain or are you willing to accept His rule? Are your cheers turning to jeers as your life disappoints you?

We have a God of miracles and sometimes, we get the quick fixes we seek. More often, God works in slow and mysterious ways that are sometimes “hidden from our eyes.” Today, ask yourself some questions:
Are you willing to serve Jesus as “King of Kings?”
• Have you studied the Bible to learn His nature?
• Do you have the faith to believe The King is in charge?
• Are you willing to let Jesus be your Lord of Lords without earthly restrictions?
• Is King Jesus enough for today?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Journery to the Cross - Surely Confessing to God is Enough

Journey to The Cross: Surely Confessing to God Is Enough



Warning - today’s lesson is only for those courageous Christians who want to walk fully in grace. It is not for faint hearted.

Morning Meditation


Read Nehemiah 1:5-7
Nehemiah 1:5-7 NIV
O LORD, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commands, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father's house, have committed against you.


Our God is great and awesome. Sit quietly and enjoy His covenant of love with you.
• Ask Him to let His ear be attentive and His eyes open to your prayers.
• Let yourself surrender to the humility of being a servant of God.


Morning Prayer

Take the “sins” list you created during the previous devotion and confess them before God.
• Ask God for the courage to confess to one of your Christian brothers or sisters.
• Tell God your joys, fears, and needs. Praise Him in everything.
• Pray for knowledge of God’s will for you today and the power to carry that out.
• Ask the Holy Spirit to interpret the scriptures you are about to read.


Morning Bible Study

The Greek word for confess is homologeo. The meaning that applies to this devotion is “to confess by way of admitting oneself guilty of what one is accused of, the result of inward conviction." It also means “to agree with God.” In short, God accuses via our convicted spirit and we decide to agree with what He already knows.
(from Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, Copyright (c)1985, Thomas Nelson Publishers)

Read 1 John 1:8-10.
1 John 1:8-10 NIV
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.


What is our promise if we confess our sin?“
• What happens if we say we have not sinned?


Read James 5:15-16
James 5:15-16 NIV
If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.


What is our promise, as Christians?
• What two things are we supposed to do with other Christians?
• What is God’s promise to us if we confess to God and each other?


Some churches have a formal way for confession and others depend on the sweet intimate fellowship of Christian brothers and sisters. Perhaps the method isn’t as important as the fact that we find a way to do it. To miss the experience of confession to “each other” is to miss the humbling bond of trust and love that develops when people share their souls.

We see many examples of public confessions in the Bible. Paul often confessed his sins to others. At one point, he admitted that he did things he did not wish to do. Read 2 Corinthians 11:20-21 for an example of his confession on behalf of himself and the people he was writing to.

2 Cor 11:20-21 NIV
In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or pushes himself forward or slaps you in the face. To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that!


Read David’s sweet prayer of confession in Psalms 32:5.
Psalms 32:5 NIV
Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD" — and you forgave the guilt of my sin.


Yes, David is confessing to God but he is also confessing to us since we are reading this confession. Who among us doesn’t appreciate David’s honesty with us?

No one enjoys the humility of confession until the rewards afterward are reaped. Confessing to God is usually easier than confessing to humans. After all, God loves us unconditionally but we aren’t so sure about everyone else. Besides, God already knew about our sin so what have we got to loose? The reward is that through complete obedience of confession to God and each other, we get to experience and enjoy the grace that was already ours.

Christians often struggle with guilt long after they have confessed to God. By confessing to humans, we become a humble sojourner with the family of God. Unwillingness to confess to humans demonstrates a lack of humility. If you are thinking about skipping confession to humans, remember that God tends to get us humble one way or another. Most prefer a willing act of obedience to the baseball bat of humiliation.

Read 1 John 1:9.
1 John 1:9 The Message
On the other hand, if we admit our sins — make a clean breast of them — he won't let us down; he'll be true to himself.


So – let’s “admit our sins” and “make a clean breast of them.” God will be true to Himself!

Application

Karen had a terrible secret. She was 29 and still tortured by it. As she lay in bed at night, the ghosts from past screamed so loudly that she couldn’t fall asleep. She begged God for forgiveness but could find no peace. Her church taught grace but she could not release her guilt.

Karen’s story of guilt goes back many years. She was a PK (a preacher’s kid). She was active in church and enjoying being a freshman in high school. She was excited because her father and allowed her to go to a high school football game. It was her first one. She went with her two best friends.

Like many teenagers, Karen enjoyed pranks. During the football game, Karen and her friends left the stands and went behind the bleachers. As Karen stood there, she realized that they were just a few feet from the smaller scoreboard. No one was standing near it. Karen dared her friends to climb the scoreboard, wave at the crowds, and climb down before anyone caught them. Her girlfriends accepted the dare and climbed the pole. As they reached the lights, Karen watched with horror as the lights flickered, flamed, and died. Her friends fell to the ground, dead from electrocution. Karen ran back to the stands in shock.

The entire school grieved the tragic loss of these precious fun loving girls. Racked by grief and guilt, everyone thought Karen’s hysteria normal for losing two close friends. No one questioned her about the deaths. In desperation, Karen confessed to her father. “It was my fault,” she sobbed. “They didn’t want to do it but I kept teasing them. I called them a chicken.”

The father listened quietly. When she finished, he said, “You can’t bring them back. Do not tell a soul. The scandal would hurt everyone. Ask God for forgiveness and drop it.”

Karen begged God for forgiveness, night after night, but could find no peace. She began overeating to mask the pain and gained weight rapidly. She became a recluse, focusing only on her studies. “I didn’t feel worthy of having a friend,” she told me. When she went to college, she began experimenting with drugs. She’d lost all respect for herself and had stopped taking care of her personal hygiene. “At age 29, I was addicted to food and drugs, overweight, alone, and hopeless.”

Someone told Karen about Overeaters Anonymous. “I attended meetings but they didn’t help. I couldn’t understand why others could recover and I could not. One of the steps of Overeaters Anonymous is to humbly admit to God, ourselves, and another person the exact nature of our wrongs.”

Out of desperation, she sat down and talked with a Christian woman who was also a recovering member of Overeaters Anonymous. The entire sordid story poured out of her. Her friend held her as she cried. This was the first time she had talked about the incident since the night she told her father.

“As I confessed, I could feel myself getting lighter. We talked about the grace of God. I left the meeting, knowing God loved me and had forgiven me. I realized I had forgiven myself for a childish prank that had destroyed over half of my life.”

Eventually, Karen even talked to the parents of the girls and neither set of parents blamed her. Karen had to go through a process of forgiving her father for his poor and possibly selfish advice to keep silent. Karen lost weight, stopped using drugs, and began taking care of herself. She continued to be active in Overeaters Anonymous and grew active in the church of her childhood.

Secrets kill the soul. Karen’s confession to God and her father was not enough because it perpetuated her secret. By opening up to someone who loved her unconditionally, Karen was able to experience the grace that was already hers. She said, “That woman was God with skin on.”

Here comes the hard part. Take your list from yesterday:
Pray about to whom you should confess.
• Pick a loving and discrete trustworthy Christian. If your church has a formal way to do this, work within your church’s system.
• Immediately, call and ask if you can share something with them. Keep it short and simple. A phone call may be all that is necessary.
• After talking to the individual, get down on your knees and ask God for the willingness to allow Him to remove all of these sins.
• Offer them to Him in humility.
• Stand up and walk in grace.


Keep the list. We are not finished with it yet. If you thought today was hard, wait until tomorrow when we find out if you owe anyone an apology or amends. I warned you that Easter was a time for repentance and confession.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Journey to the Cross - Sin - Up Close, Personal, and Uncomfortable

Journey to the Cross
Sin – Up Close, Personal, and Uncomfortable



Morning Meditation


Read Psalms 32:2-5
Ps 32:2-5 NIV
Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD" — and you forgave the guilt of my sin.


Blessed is the man in whose spirit is no deceit. Quietly check your spirit.
• Are your bones wasting away and your groaning long? Allow God to search your heart.
• Do you feel as if your strength is sapped? Prepare your heart to acknowledge your sin.
• Anticipate the joy of confession.


Morning Prayer


Ask God to give you the courage to honestly face yourself and your sin.
• Ask God to be gentle as He reveals the sin in your life.
• Tell God your joys, fears, and needs. Praise Him in everything.
• Pray for knowledge of God’s will for you today and the power to carry that out.
• Ask the Holy Spirit to interpret the scriptures you are about to read.

Morning Bible Study

Lent is a time to examine the sin in our lives. The word for sin in the Hebrew is awen. It means "iniquity; vanity; or sorrow." Because of the roots of the word, there is an implication that awen means the absence of all that has true worth; hence, it would denote "moral worthlessness," as in the actions of wrongdoing, evil devising, or false speaking. The word sin in Greek is hamartia. It means “missing the mark.” It is the most comprehensive term for moral obliquity. (from Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, Copyright (c)1985, Thomas Nelson Publishers)

The word sin is in the Bible 471 times. Admit it. We may not like it but at least God warns us – sin surrounds us and permeates our lives. If that news is not bad enough, sin is getting worse. Read 2 Timothy 3:1 and “don’t be na├»ve.”
2 Tim 3:1 The Message
Don't be naive. There are difficult times ahead.


There are indeed difficult times ahead as we grow closer and closer to the end times.

For examples of sin, read 2 Timothy 3:2-5.
2 Tim 3:2-5 The Message
As the end approaches, people are going to be self-absorbed, money-hungry, self-promoting, stuck-up, profane, contemptuous of parents, crude, coarse, dog-eat-dog, unbending, slanderers, impulsively wild, savage, cynical, treacherous, ruthless, bloated windbags, addicted to lust, and allergic to God. They'll make a show of religion, but behind the scenes they're animals. Stay clear of these people.


Sin is even in the church and that shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, people are going to make a show of religion but behind the scenes be animals. Again, we may not like the truth but at least God warns us.

Do you know any “bloated windbags?” Are you one?
• What about the words cynical, ruthless, self-absorbed, crude, or contemptuous of parents? Recognize any of these?
• Are you someone people should “stay clear of?”


Difficulties and trying times make us particularly susceptible to sin but there is hope. Read Job 1:22.
Job 1:22 NIV
In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.


While it might be rare, it is possible not to sin when having difficulties. Look at all Job went through. Even though he was blameless, his friends blamed his problems on sin. One would think he had earned a long bout with doubt or self-pity but somehow, he managed to avoid it. Amazing but true!

If you are wondering how not to sin, read Matthew 5:29-30.
Matt 5:29-30 NIV
If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.


It is so simple. We figure out what is likely to make us sin. We gouge it out and throw it away. Recovering alcoholics, drug addicts, and compulsive overeaters know this to be true. To recover, they must spend the rest of their lives gouging out and throwing away their “drugs of choice.” It may be simple, but is certainly isn’t easy.

Sin is serious. Read Matthew 18:6.
Matt 18:6 NIV
But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.


It would be better to have a large millstone hung around his neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea than to cause someone else to sin. Think about that the next time you:
Lash out at someone or hurt their feelings, causing them to want to retaliate.
• Complain about your pastor and make others doubt his leadership.
• Involve others in gossip by listening or passing it on.


The message not to sin is a personal one to us. The focus of examining sin is to be on us and not others. Only when we are sinless, can we judge. Read John 8:7.
John 8:7 NIV
If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her."


At the risk of committing the sin of judgment, one has to wonder about the “honesty” of anyone who thinks they are without sin.

So, what is sin? Practically speaking, it is anything that breaks one of the many laws of God. There are plenty of sins to choose. The words “Thy shalt not” are written in the Bible 240 times, beginning with the Garden of Eden. “Thy shalt not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil!” (Gen. 2:17) You probably know the end of that story. Adam and Eve ate from the tree. That knowledge of good and evil was as useless to them as it is to us. They continued to commit evil anyway, much like us today.

If you want to see an extensive list of ways to “miss the mark” before God, read Exodus 23:3-17, 2 Corinthians 12:20, and Mark 7:20-23. These are but the tip of the iceberg.

Ex 20:3-17 The Message
No other gods, only me. No carved gods of any size, shape, or form of anything whatever, whether of things that fly or walk or swim. Don't bow down to them and don't serve them because I am GOD, your God, and I'm a most jealous God, punishing the children for any sins their parents pass on to them to the third, and yes, even to the fourth generation of those who hate me. But I'm unswervingly loyal to the thousands who love me and keep my commandments. No using the name of GOD, your God, in curses or silly banter; GOD won't put up with the irreverent use of his name. Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Work six days and do everything you need to do. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to GOD, your God. Don't do any work — not you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your servant, nor your maid, nor your animals, not even the foreign guest visiting in your town. For in six days GOD made Heaven, Earth, and sea, and everything in them; he rested on the seventh day. Therefore GOD blessed the Sabbath day; he set it apart as a holy day. Honor your father and mother so that you'll live a long time in the land that GOD, your God, is giving you. No murder. No adultery. No stealing. No lies about your neighbor. No lusting after your neighbor's house — or wife or servant or maid or ox or donkey. Don't set your heart on anything that is your neighbor's.

2 Corinthians 12:20 The Message
I do admit that I have fears that when I come you'll disappoint me and I'll disappoint you, and in frustration with each other everything will fall to pieces — quarrels, jealousy, flaring tempers, taking sides, angry words, vicious rumors, swelled heads, and general bedlam.

Mark 7:20-23 The Message
He went on: "It's what comes out of a person that pollutes: obscenities, lusts, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, depravity, deceptive dealings, carousing, mean looks, slander, arrogance, foolishness — all these are vomit from the heart. There is the source of your pollution.


If there are so many sins, how do we get it right? The answer lies in the cross. When we sin, like the scripture in the opening meditation, our strength is sapped. We accept our inability to live by the law and turn to grace. Read James 5:15-16.
James 5:15-16 NIV
If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.


Believers of Jesus Christ are to confess sins to God and to each other and accept the fulfillment of the law, Jesus Christ. Only then, are our prayers powerful and effective.

Unfortunately, most of us journey back and forth from sin to the cross many times throughout our lives. While our eternal salvation may be secure, we are perfectly capable of condemning ourselves to a “hell on earth” if we avoid regular trips to the cross. Use this “Season of Lent” to return to the cross. Examine your life. Use the above scriptures to identify the sins in your life. Become willing to “Gouge them out.”

Application

Ben was an alcoholic. To fund his disease, he broke into houses in the middle of the night and robbed them. In desperation, he cried out to God. God heard and sent him to Alcoholics Anonymous. Ben confessed his sins and asked forgiveness. Ben learned that in order to recover, he would have to give up alcohol for the rest of his life. God required even more of him. He felt the voice of God gently urging him to go to each house he had robbed, apologize, and offer to make restitution.

One by one, he checked the houses off his list. His victims were amazingly forgiving. Realizing Ben was financially destitute and rebuilding his life, most forgave him instantly without requiring anything further.

Finally, he arrived at the last name on his list. He had done damage to this house and was dreading the confrontation. He procrastinated longer than he should and became tortured emotionally. Not wanting to return to drinking, Ben knocked on the door of this family and quietly told his story. The man and his wife were stunned. The women burst into tears. “Thank you so much for telling u,” she said. “Up until now, we had thought our son had done this to us. We had completely cut him out of our lives.” Ben’s “journey to the cross” restored a family’s love. Like Ben, our journey to the cross can have the same miraculous outcome.

Look at yesterday’s list of your darkness. Reread at the above lists in Exodus 23:3-17, 2 Corinthians 12:20, and Mark 7:20-23 and notice what sins contribute to your darkness. Make a bulleted written list of your sins.
Have you been a gossip?
• Are you mean spirited?
• Have you committed slander, lust, or fornication?
• Where have you been dishonest, fearful, selfish, or prideful?


Be fearlessly honest. God already knows where you have sinned and is patiently waiting to restore your strength. Take a deep breath, pray, and proceed. Keep this list for use in our future devotions together.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Journey to the Cross - Discipline or Release

Journey to The Cross
Lent - Discipline or Release?



Morning Meditation

Read Revelations 3:19-21

Rev 3:19-21 NIV
Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.



• Praise God for His loving discipline.
• Listen as He speaks.
• Open the door of willingness.
• Anticipate the joys of being an “over-comer” this Easter.


Morning Prayer

Ask God to reveal everything that is getting in the way of your relationship with Him.
• Ask God what Spiritual Disciplines you need to practice this season of Lent.
• Ask God to reveal any strongholds in your life.
• Commit to using this Easter season to growing closer to God.
• Tell God your joys, fears, and needs. Praise Him in everything.
• Pray for knowledge of God’s will for you today and the power to carry that out.
• Ask the Holy Spirit to interpret the scriptures you are about to read.


Morning Bible Study

Have you ever wondered where the word “Lent” came from? An old English word meaning spring, Lent is named for the season in which it is celebrated. It is 40 days long (minus Sundays) because forty days is a significant number in the Bible. It is an amount of time traditionally set for discipline, worship, or study.

Read Exodus 24:18.
Ex 24:18 NIV
Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights.


How many days did Moses stay on the mountain?
• What do you think Moses used this time to do?
• What spiritual disciplines do you think he used during this time?


Read 1 King 19:8.
1 Kings 19:8 NIV
So he (Elijah) got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.


How long did it take Elijah to travel to the Mountain of God?
• What do you think he thought about as he made this journey?
• What disciplines do you think were necessary as he made this journey?


Read Jonah 3:4-5:
Jonah 3:4-5 NIV
On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: "Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned." The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.


How long did God give Nineveh to repent in Jonah 3:4?
• What did the people use that time to do?
• What actions did they take as they sought God?
• What substances do you think they fasted from?
• What strongholds do you imagine they were trapped in?


Read Matthew 4:2.
Matt 4:2 NIV
After fasting forty days and forty nights, he (Jesus) was hungry.


At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus took time to be with God. Why do you think he did that?

Now read all of Jesus’ experience on the mountain in Matthew 4:1-11.
Matt 4:1-11 NIV
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread." Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written: 'He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'" Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. "All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me." Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'" Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.


What happened to Jesus?
Why do you think Satan used this time to tempt Jesus?
How did Jesus respond?


Perhaps the reason 40 days is so important is because it takes that long to release bad habits and develop new ones. Lent is time where we commit to spiritual discipline, confession, and renewal. Set this time aside in your life. Be honest with yourself. Spend this Easter season developing a deeper walk with God.

Application

Many religions recommend the discipline of giving up something for Lent. The act of giving up a pleasure is a discipline of our will. Spiritual discipline is essential to a close personal relationship with God and Easter season is a good time to reaffirm that relationship. By practicing spiritual discipline, we are able to focus our time and energy on a season of prayer. We come out of this period with a deeper understanding of God and ourselves.

Spiritual Discipline is a proactive action taken by spiritually growing people. It is an act of submission necessary for developing a deeper walk with Christ. People needing spiritual discipline may feel like they are coasting and want or need a spiritual boost. They may already have a deep walk with Christ but long for more of Him. At Lent, people give up things like movies, meat, sugar, carbonated beverages, or their free time. Many practice spiritual discipline during Lent by attending additional worship services, increasing time in prayer, meditation, and or Bible Study, or volunteering their services. A spiritual discipline may or may not need to be a permanent change in our lives.

Many confuse the need for spiritual discipline with the seemingly overwhelming task of seeking relief from strongholds. A woman that struggles with food addition attempted to give up sugar for lent and was frustrated because she was unable. A person struggling with a sexual addiction said she was giving up sex for Lent. That lasted about 3 days. I’ve seen people try to give up alcohol, drugs, shopping, and pornography, most not making it through Lent without a slip. The stronghold simply had too much power over them.

Seeking release from a stronghold is a desperate action taken by a desperate person needing spiritual, emotional, and or physical freedom. People trapped in strongholds have replaced God partially or completely with their stronghold. They find themselves in a downward spiral. A stronghold is poor substitute for God and typically has either left or is on the way to leaving a person spiritually, emotionally, and or physically bankrupt. Normally the only way to be released from a stronghold is to turn our lives over to God and to become willing to give it up the stronghold completely.

If you were to give up something for Lent, what would it be? Pray about it.

What is the first thing that comes to mind?
• Are you seeking spiritual discipline or release from a stronghold?

If you are unsure of the answer, try taking from now until Resurrection Sunday to change the behavior. If you are unable to accomplish it or the act of accomplishing it is disturbingly painful, chances are, you are firmly in the clutches of a stronghold, which we shall talk about later in this devotional series.

If you are willing to commit to a spiritual discipline:
Ask God for a suggestion.
• Listen to His answer. The “Still Small Voice” will make a quiet suggestion.
• Obey - call someone today and ask him or her to hold you accountable.
• Spend this Easter season growing closer to Christ.
• Expect Satan to attack and tempt you.
• Like Jesus, say “Away from me Satan, for I shall worship God!”