Sunday, January 22, 2012

Cleansing: 2 Corinthians 7:1

“Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor 7:1 NKJV).

Have you ever read through the whole Bible? One of the hardest places to read, it seems, is Leviticus. There are so many laws about what’s clean and unclean and what to do when you’ve touched something unclean. Why did God give so many particulars about how to be physically and ceremonially pure? He was showing His people how to be clean in their outward practices to lead them to be holy in their hearts.

In Leviticus, a book of twenty-seven chapters, the word “holy” is mentioned seventy-eight times. Four times God told His people to be holy because He was holy (Lev 11:44,45; 19:2; 20:26). He had rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt and chosen them to a special people for Himself. He wanted to be their God, and with His own nature being holy, He wanted that for them, too. Holiness is free from corruption, from sin, and from harming others. It chooses to build others up, to show love, and to do good. “Holy” is essential to having a healthy heart and healthy relationships. That’s why God gave them so many laws about being clean. He wanted holiness to be something that started from within and was expressed in everything that they did.

Holiness wasn’t just for the saints in the Old Testament. In 2 Corinthians 7, Paul encouraged the church to cleanse themselves. Why? Look at the promises of God in 2 Corinthians 6: “I will dwell in them [believers] … I will be their God … they shall be My people … I will be a Father to them,” and they will be His sons and daughters (2 Cor 6:16-18 NKJV). God has rescued us from slavery to sin and set us apart to be His church. He wants us to be set apart from sin—holy—because He dwells in His children. And He has a special mission for us on earth—to share His word and His love. We get to enjoy a relationship with Him that starts here in this life and lasts for eternity. With gifts like that, why wouldn’t we want to pursue a life that pleases God’s heart? The allurements of sin can’t compare with the fellowship and satisfaction we find in God. His purpose for our lives outshines any selfish purpose we could follow.

Staying pure doesn’t mean we can’t move for fear of getting dirty. Cleansing ourselves is a continual process. Whenever we get dirty, we can cleanse ourselves with the truth of God’s word (1 Peter 1:22; Eph 5:26). Turning back to God and living out the truth cleanses our hearts and our actions. We serve a holy God, and out of love and respect for Him, we can seek to be clean and useful to Him in blessing others.

Other verses on cleansing and renewal: 1 John 1:9; 2 Timothy 2:22; 1 Peter 1:22; Isaiah 58:12

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Prayer: 1 Peter 4:7

“But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers” (1 Peter 4:7 NKJV).

The end is coming. We don’t know how much time Planet Earth has left. I bet it is weary of all the destruction it has seen. Yet, it has also seen God’s redemptive hand. The Savior walked on its dirt, calmed its seas, healed its people, and rose from one of its graves to give us new life. As long as God exists, we have hope. Since our time on Earth is limited, a sense of urgency calls us to share the truth we know and the love we’ve been given.

That’s why Peter says, “Be serious and watchful in your prayers” (NKJV). That makes me think of a sentry. As a sentry keeps watch on the walls of his city, keep watch in your prayers. Be aware of what’s going on around you. Know what’s happening in the world, and recognize the signs of the times. Also be on guard against the enemy and his schemes. Lift each other up in prayer, and ask for God’s help and grace.

Keep watch as diligently as a sentry does. A sentry’s job is to keep a sharp eye and spot any enemies approaching the city that he has been appointed to protect. If he loses focus or interest, it could be costly for those who live inside the walls. Prayer is a sure defense against the enemy. When we “see” that Satan is closing in, ready to shoot his arrows at us or harass us in some way, we can pray to our God who sees all and has all power. In prayer, we stand guard not only over our own hearts, but we can keep watch on behalf of others. When we know that something is troubling someone we care about, we can take that need or problem to God, and He will hear us. Psalm 55:22 promises us that God will sustain us when we turn to Him for help: “Cast your burden on the LORD, and He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved” (NKJV).

We don’t know for sure when Jesus is coming back. Only the Father knows (Matt 24:36). But before the end comes, let’s pray all that we can and beseech God to move in this generation—to save souls, to heal hearts, to strengthen families, and to enable His church around the world to share the truth while we still have time. The end is coming. Let’s be ready!

More verses on prayer: John 14:14; Matthew 6:5-6; Matthew 6:9-13; 1 Thessalonians 5:17; James 5:16b

Monday, January 16, 2012

God's Deliverance: Psalm 18:13,17

“The LORD thundered from heaven, and the Most High uttered His voice, hailstones and coals of fire … He delivered me from my strong enemy, from those who hated me, for they were too strong for me” (Psalm 18:13,17 NKJV).

When I was younger, I was afraid of thunderstorms. My cat was, too. When a severe thunderstorm hovered over our house, my cat would find me, and we would find my parents. Sam, my kitty, didn’t like the bright flashes of light and the thunderbolts that rocked the windows. He found security in being close to me. I always thought that was endearing.

My opinion of thunderstorms changed in my twenty’s. Instead of running from the windows, I watched the thunderstorm, usually at night time, and anticipated the lightning flashes. When they lit up the sky, I counted the seconds until the thunder sounded. When lightning and thunder cracked at the same time, I prayed. I always hoped the lightning wouldn’t hit anyone’s home or trees. The light show was captivating, and yet every time it was over, I was glad.

Thunderstorms can be fearsome, but there’s a thundering that brings relief and deliverance. In Psalm 18, David recounts how God saved him and delivered him from his enemies. He cried out to God when the “pangs of death” surrounded him and evil frightened him (Psalm 18:4 NKJV). The LORD heard his prayer, and the whole earth shook because God was angry (Psalm 18:6). God has a big “protection button.” He hears every prayer of His children, and knows everything that goes on in our lives. He sees, He cares, and He acts on our behalf.

“The LORD thundered from heaven” (Psalm 18:13 NKJV). He thundered to rescue one of His beloveds. God’s thundering was deliverance for David and havoc for his enemies. They were too strong for David to handle on his own. So the LORD scattered the enemy with “lightnings in abundance,” and He “vanquished them” (Psalm 18:14 NKJV). He defeated them. When enemies plague our soul, like fear, anger, pride, or selfishness, we can cry out to God, and He will deliver us. His work on our behalf is amazing, and He will do it, if we ask Him. To be rescued, we need to cry out to Him and turn to Him when we encounter things that are too difficult for us to handle on our own. And we don’t need to wait—we need to turn to God right away. He treasures us as His beloveds, and “descends from the heavens in majestic splendor” to help us (Deut 33:26 TLB). Nothing is too big for God to handle. I like it when He thunders.

More verses on God’s deliverance and protection: Deuteronomy 20:4; Exodus 14:14; 2 Samuel 22:18; Psalm 55:18; Psalm 17:8

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Love: Zephaniah 3:17

“The LORD your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing” (Zeph 3:17 NKJV).

There’s so much noise in the world. And sometimes it’s hard to get away from it. From the time we wake up in the morning till we go to sleep, we can hear innumerable sounds—the radio, traffic, people chatting, a baby’s cry, children laughing, sirens, and construction. Some sounds we want to hear; others we can’t avoid. But noise isn’t only on the outside. At times a tumult arises in our hearts. It can be so loud that we can’t think straight—anxiety over a problem, fear of the unknown, sorrow of some kind, or spiritual conflict.

In Zephaniah 3:17, we find a love that quiets us and a sound that we’d want to hear. God calms our hearts with His love, and He rejoices over us with singing. His love brings us peace, and He takes joy in us through song. I wonder what it sounds like to hear God sing. If the ocean had a voice, that might be close enough.

God’s love calms the storms in our hearts. Through His word and in so many ways, He reassures us that He is with us and He cares about what we’re going through. Nothing is too big for Him to handle. We may seem small compared to the troubles we face, but God is big enough to handle any anxiety, fear, sorrow, or conflict we have. We’re small enough to fit in the palm of His hand, and He holds us close to His heart. It’s safe there. He is our loving heavenly Father, and He is our Mighty One. He saves, rescues, heals, and restores. His love is our sustaining power and our peace in difficult times and good times. He is our joy, and when we get to heaven, we will finally hear what His voice sounds like. Whatever you’re facing, find quietness in His love today and rest in His joy.

More verses on God's love and quietness in our souls: Psalm 42:11; Jeremiah 31:3; 1 John 4:16; Jeremiah 32:40

Monday, January 9, 2012

Worship: Psalm 29:2

“Give unto the LORD the glory due to His name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness” (Psalm 29:2 NKJV).

I think this verse is beautiful. Give to God the glory that is due Him, and let your worship be “clothed” in holiness. Worship Him from a holy heart, and worship Him for the holiness that resides in His soul.

When I picture the “beauty of holiness,” I think of something majestic and beautiful, like towering mountains high above crystal waters, or the striking orange and red flame of a fire, or a purple sunset. God’s holiness, however, is not something visible to our physical eyes, but we can distinguish the features of His holiness with the eyes of our mind. Can you see it? Perfect love, constant faithfulness, enduring peace, and formidable strength. Isaiah caught a vision of the Lord’s holiness, and his immediate reaction was, “Woe is me!” (Isaiah 6:5 NKJV). He understood the darkness of his sin and his people’s sin compared to the brilliant white light of God’s purity and majesty. But God cleansed him, so he could be a proper ambassador of God and His message.

When we think of God’s holiness, we may become aware of our own shortcomings. But because of Jesus’ blood which was shed for us, we can have boldness to enter God’s presence and draw close to Him (Hebrews 10:19-22). We can praise God from sincere hearts, focusing on who He is and pointing others to Him. A heart that lives every day in the knowledge and appreciation of God’s character and works must be a delight to His soul. That same heart, focused on God and His holiness, can become like Him, pure and good. We can worship God and live all of life in the beauty of His likeness.

Other verses on worship: Psalm 100:4; Psalm 95:6; Psalm 47:7; Psalm 107:21; Psalm 103:1-5

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Wisdom: Proverbs 4:11-12

My mom told me not to play basketball with boys. One afternoon when I was in college, I did anyway. We were at a friend’s house, and it was two-on-two: two boys versus two girls. It was quite embarrassing. One of my friends was so tall that all he had to do was hold out his hand to block my shot, and it worked. (He was about six foot three.) My other friend was shorter, more my height. I thought I could take him as he dribbled toward the basket for a lay-up. My intention was to block his shot. He shot his lay-up, but I wasn’t able to block it. Instead, I ran into him accidentally, tripped, and stumbled to the ground. Fortunately, his mom had a first aid kit in the house.

The physical pain of falling didn’t hurt as bad as the stumbling in my wisdom. I knew it wasn’t wise to play a scrimmage game with boys. Something like “Horse” would have been better, a safer game with less of a need to show off. I learned to trust the wisdom that not only my mom had, but I knew as well.

A short time later, I was reading the Bible in my quiet time, and I turned to a helpful passage—Proverbs 4:11-12. The words seemed to jump off the page when I read them: “I have taught you in the way of wisdom; I have led you in right paths. When you walk, your steps will not be hindered, and when you run, you will not stumble” (Prov 4:11-12 NKJV). It was as if God was saying to me, “You know the right way to walk because I have taught it to you. Now if you use the wisdom you have, you won’t fall.” I was grateful for God’s patience and encouragement.

God is faithful to teach us His ways. As we hear our pastors preach the word and our teachers at church share with us what God has taught them, we learn more about the right way to walk. As we study the Bible in our times alone with God, He shows us what things build up our lives and what things tear them down. Wisdom is knowing what is right in a particular situation and doing it. It’s taking the truth we know and applying it to the choice we face. God’s promise is that when we use the knowledge and wisdom we have, our steps will be sure and our stride steady. We won’t easily fall when we take to heart the truth that He tells us by living it out.

Other verses on wisdom: Proverbs 3:5-7; James 1:5; Proverbs 9:10; Ephesians 5:15; Proverbs 3:13

Monday, January 2, 2012

Courage: Deuteronomy 31:8

"And the LORD, He is the One who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed" (Deut 31:8 NKJV).

Some of my favorite movies have knights in them, or men (and women!) who resemble knights—The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, Ella Enchanted, Ever After, and Alice in Wonderland (2010). There’s something about heroic tales that capture the heart. These stories usually have a villain, a hero, and a mission to accomplish. A band of unlikely friends unite in the Lord of the Rings to destroy evil and save Middle-earth. The children of “modern” England travel in space and time to Narnia, to defeat a wicked queen and take their rightful places as rulers of the land. Spunky girls in Ella Enchanted, Ever After, and Alice in Wonderland find who they truly are and have the courage to either save their prince or defeat formidable enemies. Honor is something to be lived out and exemplified, and courage makes ordinary people heroes.

Courage isn’t just for fictional characters; we need it, too. Courage doesn’t withdraw from danger; it faces it and moves ahead as God directs. In real life, we encounter many foes—Satan and his forces, the flesh, fear, anger, and worry. But God calls us to be His warriors, to “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12 NKJV). Courage is a great ally in fighting life’s spiritual battles and in accomplishing God’s will for our lives. Fear, however, is an enemy that keeps us from fulfilling God’s mission. Fear of the unknown is a great hindrance to stepping out in faith and following God’s path. We don’t know whether we’ll have a happy ending or what kind of “gremlins” and “monsters” we may meet. But nothing is unknown to God. He sees all, and He knows all.

If we are uncertain and afraid of how a certain situation will turn out, we can be assured that God is already there. “He goes before you” as Deuteronomy 31:8 (NKJV) says. He knows what it will take to do His will, to accomplish the mission, or to win the victory over the enemy. He has already given us all we need in Christ. Because we have God with us, our Immanuel, we don’t have to be afraid of the unknown or afraid that we can’t do what we need to. God goes before us, He sees the happy ending, and He bolsters our courage, so that we walk in victory and not fear.

What are you hoping to accomplish in the new year? What do you think God is calling you to do? Take heart that God is with you. He already sees the future and what’s possible when we depend on Him to do great things. Have courage, and stay close to Him! He writes the best endings.

This is the first post in a new series of some of my favorite verses. Each verse deals with a particular subject, something that helps us in the daily Christian life. Each post will end with extra verses about the subject. Some you may already know, and some may be new treasures waiting to be discovered. I hope that these verses encourage you in your walk with God.

Other verses that bolster courage: Joshua 1:9; 2 Timothy 1:7; Proverbs 3:25-26; Isaiah 44:8; Psalm 27:1,14; 1 Corinthians 16:13