power of God

No Empty Words

39 “‘See now that I, even I, am he,
    and there is no god beside me;
I kill and I make alive;
    I wound, and I heal;
    and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.
40 For I lift up my hand to heaven
    and swear, As I live forever,
41 if I sharpen my flashing sword
    and my hand takes hold on judgment,
I will take vengeance on my adversaries
    and will repay those who hate me.
42 I will make my arrows drunk with blood,
    and my sword shall devour flesh—
with the blood of the slain and the captives,
    from the long-haired heads of the enemy.’

43 “Rejoice with him, O heavens;
    bow down to him, all gods,
for he avenges the blood of his children
    and takes vengeance on his adversaries.
He repays those who hate him
    and cleanses his people's land.”

44 Moses came and recited all the words of this song in the hearing of the people, he and Joshua the son of Nun. 45 And when Moses had finished speaking all these words to all Israel, 46 he said to them, “Take to heart all the words by which I am warning you today, that you may command them to your children, that they may be careful to do all the words of this law. 47 For it is no empty word for you, but your very life, and by this word you shall live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.” – Deuteronomy 32:39-47 ESV

This was no vapid ditty to be sung with a light heart or whistled absent-mindedly as one walked along their merry way. This was a poem containing the words of God and they were powerful and portentous. As God had told Moses, this divine ode was intended to act as a witness against the Israelites, testifying in advance to their future disobedience and unfaithfulness.

And while this song might be best classified as belonging to the blues genre, it contained more than a hint of hope and a glimpse of God’s gracious compassion and goodness. Yes, He was going to punish Israel for their spiritual adultery, but He also reveals that He will one day redeem and restore them. He will keep His covenant promises. While they would prove to be unfaithful and disobedient, God would never fully forsake them. There would be ramifications for their unfaithfulness and unrepentance though.

“I will hide my face from them;
    I will see what their end will be,
for they are a perverse generation,
    children in whom is no faithfulness.” – Deuteronomy 32:20 ESV

The end would come, in the form of the Assyrians and Babylonians.

“Outside, the sword will bring death,
    and inside, terror will strike
both young men and young women,
    both infants and the aged.”
– Deuteronomy 32:25 NLT

But God would repay these nations for their role in Israel’s demise. God, “the Rock,” would pour out His vengeance and wrath upon all those who took advantage of His people.

“I will take revenge; I will pay them back.
    In due time their feet will slip.
Their day of disaster will arrive,
    and their destiny will overtake them.”
– Deuteronomy 32:35 NLT

And all of this will be possible because God is God. There are no other gods beside Him. He has no competition. The nations of the earth are no threat to Him. The kings of the earth are set on their thrones by Him. The plans of all men are established by Him.

“Look now; I myself am he!
    There is no other god but me!
I am the one who kills and gives life;
    I am the one who wounds and heals;
    no one can be rescued from my powerful hand!”
– Deuteronomy 32:39 NLT

This message is an integral part of the song. God’s sovereignty and power were non-negotiable and non-debatable aspects of His character. That is why God could demand that Babylon and Assyria call on “their rock” and see what good it would do them. They would be left all alone and at the full mercy of “The Rock” of Israel.

But notice what God declares about Himself. He kills and He gives life. He wounds and He heals. He has the power to remove or to restore, and the choice is completely His. He can bring the full force of His wrath to bear or He can choose to extend His grace and mercy, bringing healing and wholeness. It is completely up to Him.

And God warns, “when I sharpen my flashing sword and begin to carry out justice” (Deuteronomy 32:41 NLT), you better watch out because He finishes what He starts.

“he will avenge the blood of his children;
    he will take revenge against his enemies.
He will repay those who hate him
    and cleanse his people’s land.” – Deuteronomy 32:43 NLT

This news was meant to cause rejoicing among the people of Israel. This was the upbeat portion of the song that was intended to bring a smile to the face of God’s people, even in light of all the dire predictions of doom and gloom. While the message of this poem contained ample cause for sadness, it also provided a reason for rejoicing.

God wins. He will avenge His people. He will repay their enemies. He will accomplish His plan concerning the people of Israel – in spite of their unfaithfulness and His well-justified punishment of them. And after Moses taught the words of this song to the people, He commanded them to burn them into their collective memory.

“These instructions are not empty words—they are your life! By obeying them you will enjoy a long life in the land you will occupy when you cross the Jordan River.” – Deuteronomy 32: 47 NLT

All that Moses had taught them, which included the laws of God and the words of this song, were to be recalled, recited, and revered. From the promise of blessings and the warning of curses to the assurance of His presence and the threat of His abandonment, all of these matters were to be passed down from generation to generation. They were to remember the ways and the words of God. They were to teach them to their children. And, more importantly, they were to obey the words of God.

The promised land lay before them. But so did the decision to either obey and disobey God. They had been warned what would happen if they disobeyed. They had even been told that they would disobey. But God assured them that His will would be done, with our without them. His redemptive plan would be accomplished in spite of them, not because of them. Why? Because He alone is God.

“Look now; I myself am he!
    There is no other god but me!” – Deuteronomy 32:39 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

By the Power of God.

Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? It is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ, and all for your upbuilding, beloved. For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practiced.

This is the third time I am coming to you. Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. I warned those who sinned before and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again I will not spare them—since you seek proof that Christ is speaking in me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God.– 2 Corinthians 12:19-13:4 ESV

Paul is making plans for a third trip to see the Corinthians, and based on all that has transpired since his last visit, he is somewhat apprehensive and anxious. He is concerned that he will find them in a less-than-ideal spiritual state. They had obviously been influenced by those he has labeled the “super-apostles” and their degree of their spiritual maturity is somewhat suspect. In some ways, he is afraid that things were not much different than they had been since he had written his first letter to them.

But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? – 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 ESV

Paul’s greatest concern for them was their spiritual growth and maturity. All his time spent defending his apostleship was not to make himself look better in their eyes, but to get them to realize that he was God-ordained for his ministry and well worth listening to. Unlike his adversaries, he had their best interests at heart. The last thing Paul wanted to find when he arrived was his spiritual children still struggling with the same issues they had been before. He expected to see true life change. He desired to see signs of repentance and spiritual reformation. And he hated the thought of having to spend his time among them reprimanding and disciplining all those who remained unrepentant and addicted to their life in the flesh.

While Paul is not anxious or eager to find the Corinthians dealing with their same old problems, he warns them that he is ready to confront their sin in the power of God. if they want proof that he has been sent by God, they are going to get it – in the form of church discipline. But Paul is going to do things in a godly fashion. Any accusations anyone may have against a brother or sister will have to be based on two or three witnesses, just as Jesus had commanded (Matthew 18:15-20). There was going to be a fair and equitable process followed, but in the end, Paul was going to deal with the situation in a powerful way. 

Earlier in this letter, Paul had appealed to them based on the gentleness and meekness of Christ.

I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!—I beg of you that when I am present I may not have to show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh. – 2 Corinthians 10:1-2 ESV

But it appears that Paul wasn’t too confident that they would listen to his pleas. He was going to have to “show boldness.” They were going to have to witness the power of Christ exhibited through the authoritative, disciplinary actions of Paul. He was going to get their attention and prove to them once and for all that he was speaking on behalf of Christ. Paul reminds them that Christ was crucified in weakness. In other words, He was beaten, humiliated, tortured and nailed to a cross – in his human flesh. He slowly bled out. He gradually and painfully asphyxiated as his lungs filled with fluid and he had to push down with his nail-pierced feet in order to take his next breath. This had gone on for hours, until He had finally breathed his last breath and died. But Paul reminds them that Jesus had not stayed dead. He was resurrected by the power of God and “lives by the power of God.” And they were going to experience that same power when Paul came to them. Even in his human weakness, Paul possessed the very same power that raised Jesus from the dead. And he was going to use that power to make sure that the Corinthians remained true to their faith in Christ, so that they might one day experience the resurrection of their bodies and enjoy all the joys of eternal life as promised by Jesus Himself. As Paul told the Romans:

The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you. – Romans 8:11 NLT

For Paul, the important matter was how you finished the race, not how you started it. Coming to faith in Christ was wonderful, but the Christian life was intended to be a journey with a final destination. The goal was to finish well. And the only way to do it was to rely upon the power of God – for daily strength, but also for discipline. “For the LORD disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child” (Hebrews 12:6 NLT). “My child, don’t reject the Lord’s discipline, and don’t be upset when he corrects you. For the Lord corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:11-12 NLT). The power of God. It guides and directs, empowers and protects, disciplines and corrects. The One who called us is powerful enough to keep us and ensure that what He began, He completes.

 

 

 

A Holy Helper.

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. – John 14:15-17 ESV

I think Jesus knew the disciples loved Him. I think He believed they truly wanted to keep His commandments. But He knew that they would find that task impossible in the days ahead, especially after His death, burial and resurrection. Which is why Jesus said He was going to send them a Helper – someone to assist them. The Greek word Jesus used was paraklētos and, like most Greek words, it is rich and multifaceted in its meaning. It refers to someone who is summoned or called to the aid and assistance of another. In the literal sense it meant “one who pleads another's cause before a judge, a pleader, counsel for defense, legal assistant, an advocate” (www.blueletterbible.org).  Jesus used this common Greek word to refer to the Holy Spirit who would “lead them to a deeper knowledge of the gospel truth, and give them divine strength needed to enable them to undergo trials and persecutions on behalf of the divine kingdom” (www.blueletterbible.org).

Jesus knew that His disciples loved Him and would be eager to keep His commandments, but they would find both tasks impossible to fulfill without divine help. Their love was going to be tested. Their desire to be obedient would weaken. And without Jesus by their side, they would find it difficult to remain motivated. So Jesus promised to send help in the form of a divine advocate or aid. They would not be left alone. They would not be left powerless. The same Spirit of God who they had seen actively present in the life of Jesus would be given to them. They would soon find themselves not only living in the presence of the Spirit of God, but living with the Spirit of God present within them. God the Son would ask God the Father to send God the Holy Spirit to come to their aid. What an incredible thought. What a remarkable reality. But one that we either take for granted or treat with a sort of doubt or incredulity. Our own experience seems to suggest that this Holy Helper is either absent in our lives or not nearly as helpful as Jesus seemed to suggest.

Jesus told His disciples that the Holy Spirit would live in them. The power and presence of God would no longer be an external force they witnessed, but an internal reality that would set them apart from the rest of the world. When Jesus performed miracles everyone was able to witness them and see the power of God at work. Anyone could hear the words of Jesus and be amazed at His teaching. But with the coming of the Holy Spirit, the followers of Jesus would find themselves possessed of a power that allowed them to not only hear the words of Jesus, but obey them. No longer would they simply be witnesses to the power of God, they would be the very conduits through which that power flowed.

As believers in Jesus Christ, we have the Holy Spirit living within us. Our ability to love Christ consistently is not left up to our own strength. We have a helper. Our capacity to remain obedient to His commands is not based on our will power and inner resolve, but on the indwelling presence of God. Jesus referred to the Spirit as the “Spirit of truth”. Because He is the Spirit of God and God is truth, the Holy Spirit speaks truth. He doesn’t bring new truth, but helps believers understand and apply the truth of God as revealed in the Word of God. We might wonder how the disciples of Jesus were able to remember all the things that He said and taught. Did they take copious notes and spend every evening writing down all that He said. Jesus Himself gives us the explanation. “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26 ESV). Not only would the Spirit give them the capacity to remember the words of Jesus, they would be able to understand them and apply them to their lives.

This “help” we have been given is not to be viewed like some kind of divine Cliff Notes or study aid. He is the very essence of God Himself. He is the third person of the Trinity and He lives within all who have accepted the free gift of salvation made possible through Christ's death on the cross. Because He lives within us, we have all the help we need to live the life we have been called to live. We can love consistently. We can obey fully. Not because we have the capacity to do so on our own, but because we have the presence of God within us. Jesus didn't leave us defenseless, helpless or hopeless. He sent the Spirit of God to live in us, to help us, to empower us and transform us as we live our lives in anticipation of His return. We have all the help we need to prove our love for Jesus by living in obedience to His commands.

Man of God.

Deuteronomy 33-34, Acts 5

We must obey God rather than men. ­– Deuteronomy 34:29 ESV

Moses was a man, a flawed and sometimes fault-filled man. But he was God's man. Throughout his tenure as God's appointed leader of the people of Israel, Moses tried to live in obedience to God. He attempted to faithfully carry out God's will, in spite of his own feelings of inadequacies and the people's stubborn refusal to obey. It isn't easy to find examples of this man's faults and failings. There were times when he got frustrated and even angry with God. He often became exasperated with the very people he had been called to lead, and at times wished he could walk away from the job. But there are just as many examples of his faithful leadership and his loving intercession to God on behalf of a stiff necked people. We know that Moses was not perfect because God refused to allow him to enter into the land of promise. Instead, he died in the land of Moab, and was buried by God Himself. He was 120 years old when he died, and “his eye was undimmed, and his vigor unabated” (Deuteronomy 34:7 ESV). Moses was an incredible man, but a man nonetheless. He is an example of what it means to follow the Lord and to know God face to face. He had an intimate, personal relationship with the living God of the universe. He was used by God because he remained useable to God. He was willing to do whatever God called him to do. Yes, sometimes he exhibited reluctance and even reticence. But eventually he always overcame his fears and apprehensions, doing whatever God had called Him to do.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God works through men. He chooses to reveal His extraordinary power through the means of ordinary men and women. Moses was not chosen by God because he had any special qualities or characteristics that set him apart. God used him in spite of his faults. Moses was actually a murderer with a bounty on his head, but God chose to use him to set the people of Israel free from captivity in Egypt and to lead them to the land of promise in Canaan. In the New Testament, we see God using a group of men to spread the message of Christ's death and resurrection to the world. These were ordinary men who brought nothing to the table except their belief in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. After the resurrection of Jesus, God would fill these men with His Holy Spirit and empower them to do signs and wonders in the midst of the people of Israel, just as Moses had done. Like Moses, they would become spokesmen for God, speaking on His behalf and exhibiting His power and presence through their own lives and ministries.

God is not obligated to use men. He could just as easily accomplish His mission without the help of men or women, but He has chosen to use us. Just as in the days of Moses, God wants to exhibit His power and presence through the lives of ordinary men and women in order to show the world what a right relationship between He and His human creation should look like. When we live in obedience to His will and empowered by His Spirit, we become living, breathing witnesses to the world of the reality and life-changing power of God. The world gets to see God in us. His presence becomes tangible and highly practical.

What does this passage reveal about man?

When the apostles faithfully ministered as Jesus had commanded them to do, they quickly found themselves in trouble with the Jewish religious authorities. In fact, it wasn't long before they were arrested and thrown in jail. They had been teaching, preaching, healing and proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ. Thousands of people were hearing and accepting the message regarding salvation through Christ alone. “And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women” (Acts 5:14 ESV). These ordinary men were making an extraordinary impact on the world. And even when they found themselves locked in a jail cell, God would use their circumstance to reveal His power. He sent an angel to release them and commanded them to “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life” (Acts 5:20 ESV). And they obeyed. The high priest had them re-arrested and brought before him. He confronted them saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you intend to bring this man's blood upon us” (Acts 5:28 ESV).

Confronted by this powerful religious leader who had played a role in the death of Jesus, Peter and the apostles didn't bat an eye. Rather than back down and give in to his threats, they remained faithful to their calling. “We must obey God rather than men,” Peter responded. They would not give in or give up. Even when they were beaten and warned again not to speak in the name of Jesus, Luke records that they left “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:41 ESV). These ordinary men, filled with the Spirit of God, would go on to do extraordinary things for God. “And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (Acts 5:42 ESV).

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

There is no limit to what God can accomplish through the man or woman who is willing to be used by Him. Our usefulness to God has nothing to do with our own abilities, talents, or strengths. God is not obligated to use us or somehow dependent upon our abilities to accomplish His will. Like the apostle Paul, we often find ourselves weak and ill-equipped to do what God has called us to do, but we quickly learn as he did, that God's grace is sufficient. “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10 ESV). I don't have to be strong. I don't have to be smart. I don't have to have my act together or bring a special array of talents to the table. I simply must be willing and ready to be used by God. It is the recognition of my own insufficiency and weakness that makes me useable by God. When I realize just how much I need Him, I am much more likely to be used by Him. What the world needs to see are more men and women of God who are empowered by God and being used by Him to accomplish His will in His power through their lives.

Father, I want to be a man of God, who knows You face to face and relies on Your power and presence in my life to accomplish the unimaginable and inexplicable, so that they world my truly know You exist. Amen

 

From Joy To Tears.

Numbers 7-8, Luke 19

And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes." – Luke 19:41-42 ESV

In chapter seven of Numbers, we see the joy and generosity of the people of Israel at the dedication of the Tabernacle. The entire chapter is a list of all the gifts the various tribes brought to the dedication. And Moses painstakingly records the exact nature of each tribe's contribution, revealing that they all gave equally. This occasion was spread out over 12 days, with the various sacrifices for each tribe taking up the better part of the day on which they made their presentation. So for almost two solid weeks, there was the giving of gifts, the burning of sacrifices, and the atonement for the sins of the people. This would have been a remarkable celebration. And it ended with Moses going into the Tabernacle to meet with God, where "he heard the voice speaking to him from above the mercy seat that was on the ark of the testimony, from between the two cherubim, and it spoke to him" (Numbers 7:59 ESV).

God had accepted their gifts and was in their midst. This was a joyful celebration. And it was followed by the dedication of the Levites. These men were the literal "stand-ins" for the people. God had chosen them to serve Him in place of the first-born males of the people. At one point, God had commanded that all the first-born males of the people of Israel were to be dedicated to His service. This was due to the fact that He had spared all the first-born Hebrew sons on the night the Death Angel passed through the land of Egypt. But because of the sin of the people in worshiping the golden calf, God had chosen the Levites to serve Him instead. So on this day, the people were commanded to lay their hands on the heads of the Levites, transferring the responsibility of serving God from the first-borns on to the Levites. In essence, the Levites became living sacrifices, dedicated to God's service. Paul reminds believers that we are to live with the same mindset: "I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.Do not be conformed to this world,but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Romans 12:1-2 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

God had gone out of His way to ensure that His presence would be with the people – in spite of their sinfulness. He had given them ample proof of His power, His ability to provide, and the benefits of living as His people. He had freed them from slavery in Egypt. He had given them the Tabernacle as a dwelling place for His presence. He had provided the sacrificial system as a means of atoning for their sins and receiving His forgiveness. He had given them manna from heaven and water from a rock. He had guided them all along the way through a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of could by day. When they had sinned at Mount Sinai and worshiped the golden calf, rather than destroy them, God had forgiven them and allowed the Levites to serve as substitutes for the first-born. God had been generous, merciful, gracious, kind, forgiving, and incredibly faithful – in the face of the people's faithlessness. And over the coming years, their track record for faithlessness would prove to be abysmal. They would consistently fail to follow God faithfully – from the first moment they laid eyes on the Promised Land to the day they would find themselves headed into exile and back into slavery as a result of their rebellion against God. And Yet God would remain faithful to His covenant and unfailing in His love.

What does this passage reveal about man?

If we fast-forward to the time of Jesus, we find the people of God living in the Land of Promise, worshiping Him in a magnificent Temple rather than a temporary Tabernacle. They have long-since returned to the land after years in exile. But they are living under the rule of Rome. There is a dark cloud hanging over the land. They have no king. The man who calls himself the king of the Jews is a puppet king appointed by the Romans. King Herod, the self-proclaimed king of Israel, was not even a Jew, but an Edomite. He was a tyrant and a madman, who owed his allegiance to Rome, not the God of Israel. The spiritual climate in Israel was not good. The religious leaders were little more than self-righteous autocrats who lived by their own self-manufactured code of ethics. Jesus would commonly refer to them as hypocrites. These men were the spiritual elite of the day, but were little more than religious charlatans who mislead the people and who would reject Jesus as their long-awaited Messiah.

In spite of all that God had done for the nation of Israel over the centuries, they had continued to rebel against Him, while claiming a false sort of allegiance to Him. They had come to believe that their very existence as descendants of Abraham was their ticket into God's favor. They still expected their Messiah or King to show up any day, but they were looking for a military leader who would set them free from the tyranny of Rome. They longed for a political savior, not a spiritual one. So when Jesus appeared on the scene, He didn't meet their requirements. He wasn't what they had been expecting, so they rejected Him.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Jesus arrival should have been a day of celebration for the people of Israel. When Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah that day in the synagogue in His hometown of Nazareth, He read the words, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19 ESV). Jesus was announcing the fact that He truly was the long-awaited Messiah. But the freedom and victory He came to bring was not from political oppression, but from sin and death. Jesus was God's appointed representative to bring the one thing the people of Israel needed more than anything else – permanent atonement and forgiveness for their sins. He came to restore the people to a right relationship with God once and for all.

And while there was a brief, yet seemingly enthusiastic welcome upon His arrival in Jerusalem that day, the shouts of "Hosanna!" would soon turn to screams of "Crucify him!" When He failed to reveal Himself as the conquering king and liberator from Roman rule, the people would turn their backs on Him. And while His arrival should have been a time of joy and excitement, for Jesus it was actually a time of weeping and sadness. Luke records that he wept over the city of Jerusalem. He knew that they were going to reject Him as their Messiah. He also knew that the city was doomed to destruction in just a matter of years. Their might city and the Temple of God they revered would both be destroyed in 70 A.D. Jesus sadly predicted, "they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation" (Luke 19:44 ESV). As in the days of Moses at the dedication of the Tabernacle, God was in their midst. Immanuel – "God with us" – was standing amongst them and they failed to see Him for who He was. The very presence of God was there, but they were blind to God's goodness, grace, mercy, and love. And it brought Jesus, the Son of God, to tears.

How often do I fail to recognize the presence and power of God in my own life? How many times have I neglected the very presence of God in my life by refusing to listen to and obey the voice of His indwelling Holy Spirit? God has proven His power, provision and presence in my life time and time again, and yet I can find it so easy to doubt Him, disobey Him, and determine to ignore Him – turning what should be days of rejoicing into times of sadness and tears. I don't want to overlook or miss out on the presence of God in and around my life. He is there. But I must look for Him. I must focus on Him. I must faithfully trust in Him.

Father, You are faithful. There is no doubt about it. You are gracious, kind, loving, patient and consistently present in my life. Help me to see You more clearly. Help me to listen to You more closely and obey You more willingly. Each day of my life should be a celebration of Your goodness, grace, presence and power. Amen

You Have What It Takes.

Romans 15:14-22

But I myself am fully convinced about you, my brothers and sisters,that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another. – Romans 15:14 NET

While Paul has spent a great deal of time critiquing the behavior of the Christians in Rome, he begins to close out his letter with some words of encouragement. He wants them to know that they not only have within them the power to live lives that are different and distinct from those around them, they are actually pulling it off. His letter was not meant to depress and demoralize them. He was simply doing what God had called him to do as a minister of the Gospel. And that sometimes included having to say and write difficult things. But his goal was always the same: "that the Gentiles may become an acceptable offering, sanctified by the Holy Spirit" (Romans 15:16 NET). Paul wanted them to live lives that were set apart, different and distinct from the way they used to live. He wanted their lives to be marked by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit – who alone can make a life of holiness possible. Paul knew that they had what it takes to live holy, set apart lives because he knew they had the Holy Spirit residing within them. As a result they were "full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another" (Romans 15:14 NLT).

Paul uses the term "goodness." It is the Greek word, agathōsynē and it means "uprightness of heart and life." It is the goodness that comes from God and reveals itself in spiritual, moral excellence. In other words, it is an inner quality that shows up in our character and our interactions with others. Paul uses the word in three other places in his letters and it is always associated with the work of the Holy Spirit. In other words, it is not of human origin, but is divine. In Galatians 5, Paul includes it in the list of the fruit of the Spirit. In Ephesians 5, Paul tells the believers in Ephesus that they are full of light and, as a result, they should live as people of light. For the light that resides within them only produces "goodness" – spiritual and moral excellence. In 1 Thessalonians 1:9, Paul prayed that they would be make them worthy of His calling and fulfill for them every desire they had for "goodness" and every act that was prompted by their faith. Paul wanted to see the power of the Holy Spirit "fleshed out" in their lives by the way they lived their lives and interacted with one another. They had it in them, but they had to live it out.

The key for Paul was dependence upon and obedience to the Holy Spirit. His life was marked by a constant reliance upon the Holy Spirit's direction. He did what he was told to do. He went where he was told to go. He preached what he was told to say. In spite of opposition, difficulty, set backs, his own apprehensions, fear, physical illness or any feelings of inadequacy or inability. Again, Paul was simply doing what the Holy Spirit had directed and empowered him to do. "I bring you the Good News so that I might present you as an acceptable offering to God, made holy by the Holy Spirit" (Romans 15:16 NLT). Anything he had accomplished through his life had been done by the Spirit, not him. His life had been marked by "goodness" – spiritual, moral excellence. By allowing himself to be used by the Spirit, Paul had been able to see lives changed, and the message of the Gospel spread throughout the Roman Empire. The power of God had been "fleshed out" in Paul's life, making a difference in not only his own life, but the lives of thousands of others. The goodness of God had done a good work in and through Paul. And Paul wanted to see that same thing happen in the lives of the believers in Rome. Having the Spirit of God living within us is great. But the key to living the Christian life is learning to let the Holy Spirit reveal His power through us. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes, "We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves" (2 Corinthians 4:5 NLT). Our darkness has been penetrated by the light of the Gospel and the presence of the power of God in the form of the Holy Spirit. Now we need to let that light shine. He describes us as fragile clay jars. We are weak and worthless, and yet God has placed His Spirit within us, so that His power might flow from us – revealing and testifying to His life-changing presence in our lives. But if the Spirit's power never shows up, if the "goodness" of God never reveals itself in spiritual, moral excellence in our lives – God doesn't get the glory and the darkness around us remains unchanged. We have what it takes. Now we have to take what we have and let it out.

Father, too often we live in our own power and fail to reveal Your power that resides within us. Show us how to let the power of the Spirit within us out of us. May His light shine through us, proving that we truly are Your sons and daughters. May Your goodness flow from us in acts of kindness, works of faith, and the fruit of the Spirit. Amen.

The Mind of Christ.

1 Corinthians 2

For, "Who can know the Lord's thoughts? Who knows enough to teach him?" But we understand these things, for we have the mind of Christ. – 1 Corinthians 2:16 NLT

In chapter 1, Paul makes it clear that the work of salvation is entirely up to God, not man. There was no reason for anyone to boast regarding their acceptance by God, because they had nothing to do with it. It was completely God's doing. God called them. He chose them. And he united them with Christ. And it was Christ who made them right with God. It was He who made them pure, holy and freed them from sin. Now Paul hammers home the point that even the message of the Gospel he had shared with them on his first visit was not the product of man's imagination or human wisdom. It was revealed by the Spirit of God. Paul reminds them that his words were not impressive or particularly eloquent from a human perspective. "And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God" (1 Corinthians 2:4 NLT). Paul didn't win these people over with his powerfully persuasive words. Instead, it was the Spirit of God that made the foolishness of the cross suddenly make sense. Without the Spirit's help, the message of the Gospel would fall on deaf ears. "So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended, and the Gentiles say it's all nonsense" (1 Corinthians 1:23 NLT). It was the Spirit of God who made the mystery of God's plan of salvation knowable and accessible. "But it was to us that God revealed these things by His Spirit. For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God's deep secrets" (1 Corinthians 2:10 NLT). It is impossible to know the things of God without the help of the Spirit of God. "No one can know a person's thoughts except that person's own spirit, and no one can know God's thoughts except God's own Spirit" (1 Corinthians 2:11 NLT).

Salvation is a purely spiritual endeavor. It has nothing to do with human effort or human wisdom. It is the work of God. It requires the Spirit of God to understand the truths of God. Without the Spirit's help, the truth of God will be impossible to understand and sound like foolishness. But because God places His Spirit within the heart of every believer, they have the capacity to know and comprehend His thoughts. Paul describes it as having the mind of Christ. Not only can we understand and accept His plan of salvation, but we can know God's thoughts and grow in our knowledge of His character. We can understand deeper spiritual truths that were once hidden from us. We can read the Word of God and comprehend its meanings and apply its messages to our lives. Like Christ, we can regularly talk to the Father and have Him respond, not only in answers to our prayers, but with words of comfort and direction. We can know God's will for us. We can walk in obedience to His plan because His Spirit has made it clear to us. And His Spirit provides us with the power to do what God calls us to do.

We have the mind of Christ. What an incredible statement. What a powerful reminder that the walk of faith is not left up to us. It is not based on our ability to study harder, pray longer, memorize more, sin less or make ourselves more spiritual. It is the Spirit's' doing. It is the Spirit who provides us with the mind of Christ. He alone can provide us with the capacity to think as Christ did. He gives us the ability to hear God speak. He empowers us to do what God says. He makes God known to us. So when we read God's Word, it becomes far more than an academic pursuit, increasing our human intelligence. It becomes a spiritual endeavor, providing us with a supernatural capacity to comprehend the truths of God on a level that was previously impossible for us. There is no reason for us not to grow. There is no excuse for us to not understand the things of God. We must simply remember that it is all based on the power of God made possible through the Spirit of God. We have the mind of Christ.

Father, Your Spirit made the plan of salvation understandable to me. Without His help, I never would have even heard Your call. And now He makes it possible for me to comprehend Your Word and to hear Your voice speaking to me through it. Give me an every-increasing sensitivity to Your Spirit. Help me hear clearer, obey quicker, and rely more readily on His power and not my own. Amen.

A Lesson In Limitlessness.

John 6:1-14

“Jesus soon saw a huge crowd of people coming to look for him. Turning to Philip, he asked, ‘Where can we buy bread to feed all these people?’” – John 6:5 NLT

John gives us a unique insight into this familiar story. Matthew, Mark and Luke all record that as the day grew late, the disciples came to Jesus and asked Him to send the crowds away. It was getting close to dinner time and they would have to find someplace to eat. John gives us the added insight that "it was nearly time for the Jewish Passover celebration" (Luke 6:4 NLT). Which means that there were more people in this vicinity as Jews were making the long trek to Jerusalem for Passover. So that explains why the disciples mentioned the crowds having to find somewhere to buy food rather than simply return to their own homes. Many of these people would have been pilgrims, just passing through on their way to Jerusalem for Passover. Inns were few and far between. There would have been few places to eat or sleep. This only intensifies the need of the moment.

At some point, Jesus turns to Philip and asks, "Where can we buy bread to feed all these people?" (John 6:5 NLT). We're not told why Jesus singled out Philip, but it was probably because he was from the town of Capernaum, which was about nine miles from where they were standing. He would have known all the towns and villages in the area. Interestingly enough, Philip's response didn't bring up the fact that there weren't enough places around there to buy food. Instead, he pointed out that their real problem was a lack of resources. They didn't have enough money to buy the food to feed that many people. So he simply responded, "Even if we worked for months, we wouldn't have enough money to feed them!" (Luke 6:7 NLT). We don't know why the other Gospel writers didn't record this exchange. It may have been that Jesus did it in private and only John was there to overhear it. John had a unique relationship with Jesus and always seemed to be at His side. So he could have been there when Jesus had this conversation with Philip. But we're told that Jesus was simply testing Philip, to see what he would say and do, given the circumstances. Jesus already knew what He was going to do. Remember, the disciples had just returned from their short-term mission trip where they had experienced first-hand the power and authority given to them by Jesus. They had cast out demons and healed all kinds of diseases. Now they found themselves facing a new kind of problem, a different kind of need. How would they respond? What would they do?

Philips response is totally normal and natural, but it reveals a limited perspective. He was judging their capacity to solve the problem based on human and physical limits. There were too many people and not enough money. Case closed. The need outweighed their resources. Even when they found a young boy with five barley loaves and two small fish, Andrew said, "What good is that with this huge crowd?" (Luke 6:9 NLT). They had limited resources. But Jesus was about to show them new way of looking at things. He was going to change their perspective by taking what little they had and doing much with it. The real lesson was going to be that nothing can limit God. Jesus had everyone sit down. We don't know the exact number of people, but chances are, if there were 5,000 men alone, there were probably at least an additional 5,000 women and children present. So at minimum, there were 10,000 plus people in the crowd that day. Jesus took the fives loaves and the two fish, gave thanks to God, then began breaking them apart, giving them to the disciples to distribute among the people. "And they all ate as much as they wanted" (Luke 6:11 NLT). John tells us that Jesus did not stop until everyone was completely full and satisfied. This was not a case of careful rationing of what they had. It was a miraculous multiplying of what appeared to be not enough. Jesus used the limitless power of God to produce a limitless supply of food. Nobody went without. And nothing was wasted. Jesus had the disciples pick up what was not eaten and there were twelve baskets filled with the leftover scraps the people didn't eat. No money was used to solve this problem. There was no pooling of resources in order to produce a solution. Surely the disciples could have come up with a plan to take up an offering and then use that money to go and buy food for the people. And if they had succeeded, they would have taken credit for having solved the problem on their own. But Jesus wasn't really interested in how or what they could do. He was trying to get them to understand that God solves human problems by heavenly means. I have to believe that there was subtle message from Jesus to the disciples in all of this. He was breaking bread and handing it to the disciples, who then passed it out among the people. The day was coming when Jesus, the Bread of Life, would be broken on a Roman cross, and the disciples would be tasked with passing on the message of His death and resurrection to people in need all around the world. And the day right after this event happened, Jesus would say, "The true bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world" (John 6:33 NLT). The people responded by asking Jesus to give them some of this bread. To which He replied, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty" (John 6:35 NLT). Jesus would go on to tell them, "Yes, I am the bread of life! Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, but they all died. Anyone who eats the bread from heaven, however, will never die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and this bread, which I will offer so the world may live, is my flesh" (John 6:48-51 NLT).

The real message on the hillside that day wasn't just about Jesus being able to miraculously feed thousands of people with next to nothing at His disposal. It was about something far greater and more important. The people who ate the food that day would have been hungry again in just a few hours. Their satisfaction would only have lasted a little while. They were amazed at Jesus had done and wanted to crown Him king right then and there. But they had yet to eat of the Bread of Life. They were still spiritually needy and condemned by their own sin. But not long from this moment, the disciples would be handing out a new form of sustenance and salvation that would have the potential to change the lives of these people forever. Jesus would give His life so that others may live. He would be broken so that others might be healed. He would suffer so that others would not have to. That's the real message behind the miracle. We can't save ourselves. Our resources are limited. But God has a plan to meet our need, and His name is Jesus.

Father, thank You Jesus. Thank You for providing a solution to my problem. My sin was great, but Your solution was greater. You provided a way to satisfy my spiritual hunger and give me life when I was faced with certain death. Never let me lose sight of the real message of this story. It isn't about bread and fishes, but about the Bread of Life – Jesus Christ – the only answer to the spiritual hunger of the world. Amen.

Go and Tell.

Luke 8:26-39

"The man who had been freed from the demons begged to go with him. But Jesus sent him home, saying, 'No, go back to your family, and tell them everything God has done for you.' So he went all through the town proclaiming the great things Jesus had done for him." – Luke 8:38-39 NLT

After the demons left the two demon-possessed men and fled into the herd of pigs, sending them running wildly off the edge of a nearby cliff, that's when the real action began. The disciples stood amazed and afraid. The herdsmen, who just watched their livelihood get wiped out, took off at a run for town in order to tell everyone what had happened. In no time, Jesus was surrounded by villagers eager to see for themselves what had happened. They wanted to verify that what they had heard was true – the two men (at least according to Matthew's account) were no longer demon-possessed. These two men had been a fixture in the lives of these people for years. They feared them and stayed as far away from them as possible. Both of the men were more than likely from the nearby village and their neighbors had seen them make the transition from normal, healthy boys to crazed, demon-possessed lunatics living in a graveyard and terrorizing the community.

When the villagers arrived, they found the man who had the many demons and was known as Legion, "sitting at Jesus' feet, fully clothed and perfectly sane, and they were all afraid" (Luke 8:35 NLT). Not amazed, but afraid. A similar response to that of the disciples when Jesus calmed the sea just a few hours earlier. Luke records that when the disciples had seen Jesus calm the waves and the wind, they "were terrified and amazed" (Luke 8:25 NLT). At the witness of the power of Jesus, the villagers and the disciples reacted in fear and terror. They didn't know what to do with what they had seen. In this case, the villagers wanted Jesus to leave, "for a great wave of fear swept over them" (Luke 8:37 NLT). Rather than worship, they wanted Him to leave. They wanted life to go back to the way it was before. It didn't matter that there was a miracle sitting in their midst in the form of two totally healed, demon-free men. They wanted Jesus gone.

But there was at least one individual who reacted in faith and not fear. One of the men who had been healed asked Jesus if he could go with Him. His life had been radically, unalterably changed by an encounter with Jesus, and he wanted to spend the rest of his life serving and following Him. But Jesus denied his request. Instead, He told the man to "go back to your family, and tell them everything God has done for you" (Luke 8:39 NLT). Jesus made him a missionary to his own people. The area in which this all took place was on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee, in a region that was primarily Gentile. So Jesus commissions this man (and more than likely, his companion) to return home and spread the news of what God had done for him. This man had had an encounter with God Himself – in the form of Jesus, the Son of God. Now he was to go and tell what had happened. And he did. Mark tells us, "the man started off to visit the Ten Town of that region and began to proclaim the great things Jesus had done for him, and everyone was amazed at what he told them" (Mark 8:20 NLT). There is no greater tool for proclaiming the power of God than the lips of the one who has experienced that power first-hand. Our testimony of transformation at the hands of God is undeniable and irrefutable. Yes, people can doubt it, but they can't disprove it. There were probably those who would deny that this man had ever been demon-possessed, but he would always know the truth. His zeal and unwavering knowledge of what had happened to his life would always be there. And the same should be true of us. Our greatest witness of the power of God is what He has done in our own lives. Jesus is telling us to do exactly what He told this man to do: "Go back to your family, and tell them everything God has done for you." Go and tell. Just share what Jesus has done. Give testimony to the fact that you have been and are being transformed by the power of God. And this testimony should be an ongoing and a growing one. Each day, we should have new news to share regarding God's power in our lives. It is not just about a point in time when we accepted Christ as our Savior. That is just the beginning. Our testimony is a work in progress. God is always doing something in our lives. His power is always available and at work behind the scenes. Sometimes we just don't see or recognize it. But we must look for it and then tell everyone we meet about it. Go and tell – spread the news of "everything the Lord has done for you and how merciful he has been" (Mark 8:19 NLT).

Father, too often I fail to recognize Your power in my life. And as a result, I fail to tell anyone else about it. First of all, help me to see it. Secondly, help me have the boldness to talk about it to others, regardless of how they might receive it. I want to go and tell more regularly and faithfully. You have done so much for me and shown me so much mercy over the years. I have a story to tell that is growing with each passing day. May I begin to tell it to all with whom I come into contact. Amen.