‘Then Peter said to them, “Repent…”’ Acts 2:38 NKJV
A sign on a church notice board read, ‘Try God Week.’ The idea was simple enough: if you try Him for a week and don’t like the results, you can go back to your old life again. Peter didn’t tell the crowd on the Day of Pentecost to try God for a week. He preached, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.’ (Acts 2:38–39 NKJV) A fish doesn’t try water; it needs water in order to survive. A plant doesn’t try soil; it needs soil in order to grow. Likewise, you don’t try God; you need God because there’s a void within you only He can fill. And He wants to do more than just come into your life; He wants to take over your life! ‘But I struggle with certain weaknesses,’ you say. The truth is we’re all born with certain proclivities; some are just more obvious than others. That’s why every one of us needs to be ‘born again’. (John 3:3 NIV) As Jesus explained to Nicodemus, although he had a natural birth he needed a spiritual birth to enter God’s Kingdom. Salvation and the guarantee of Heaven take place immediately; all you have to do is put your trust in Christ. But submitting to the lordship of Jesus is a project you’ll be working on from the new birth to the New Jerusalem.
‘Build an altar to the Lord your God.’ Judges 6:26 NKJV
We may all be aware of individuals who have done something really wrong, and then try to hide it or find someone else to blame. Often we might try to excuse ourselves by saying our shortcomings are hereditary, or try to blame our faults on our past—‘it was the way I was brought up;’ ‘I didn’t know any better;’ ‘it’s not my fault.’ We may even try to cover up mistakes that our family has made in the past, thinking that it reflects badly on us. When it comes to your upbringing and family tree, sometimes you can’t do better than learn from it! But by God’s grace, you can do a lot about your future. Your parents may have stumbled in spiritual blindness, but you can walk in the light of God’s Word—and take your family with you. Gideon, an Old Testament hero, grew up in a family of idol-worshippers. It was a cultural thing; everybody did it. But God had plans for Gideon, so the angel of the Lord visited him one day and said, ‘Tear down the altar of Baal that your father has…and build an altar to the Lord your God.’ (Judges 6:25–26 NKJV) Now, that wasn’t an easy thing for Gideon to do because by nature he was a fearful person. And when he stepped out in faith to obey God, the townspeople wanted to kill him. But because Gideon said ‘yes’ to God, he ended up changing his entire family. So the word for you today is: change in your family can begin with you. Indeed, if not you—then who?
‘He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions.’ Daniel 6:27 NLT
Sarah Utterbach writes: ‘There have been times when I wanted God to rescue me from certain pits, but He didn’t. Why? Because He wanted me to learn that His grace was sufficient in the pit. The question is never, “What will God do when all around me spells destruction?” The question is, “What will I do?” I may not be able to conquer the lions, but I don’t have to—that’s God’s job. Daniel said, “My God sent His angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions… because I was found innocent in His sight.” (Daniel 6:22 NIV) I may not be able to stop legislation from being enacted against me, but like Daniel, I can call on my God. “He prayed three times a day.” (Daniel 6:10 NLT) Stop exhausting yourself fighting the enemy and the conditions around you; they are too many. Just lean on God and be innocent of the charges made by those who are jealous or afraid because of your position with God and man. God didn’t rescue Daniel from the pit; He delivered him from the power of the enemy while he was in the pit. The lions were still there when Daniel left, waiting for their next victim. But they had no power over him—and as a redeemed child of God, they have no power over you either. Daniel went on to prosper in the kingdom, and that’s what God plans for you too.’ The Bible tells us, ‘He rescues and saves His people… He…rescued Daniel from the power of the lions.’ When you walk with God you can count on Him to protect you.
‘I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh.’ Acts 2:17 NKJV
Jesus was called a ‘friend of…sinners.’ (Matthew 11:19 NIV) Why? Because He didn’t analyze and label people. He didn’t seek out the well-heeled and well-behaved. He included them, but He didn’t limit Himself to their company. He sought out those who were marginalized and ostracised by society and reached out to them with God’s love. ‘But what about their sinful practices?’ you ask. ‘Mightn’t it look like we’re excusing their lifestyle?’
One day the Pharisees brought a woman to Jesus, saying, ‘This woman was caught in adultery, in the very act.’ (John 8:4 NKJV) Notice what Jesus did; He stooped down to her level and brought her back up to His! Only then did He say, ‘Go and sin no more.’ (John 8:11 NKJV) The fact is, if people could clean up their act before coming to the Lord, they wouldn’t need Him. The church was born when God’s Spirit was poured out on people from every race, culture, tradition, and background. You can’t have a genuine outpouring of the Spirit where people are alienated and excluded. When the world sees us coming together in unity under one anointing, they’re going to run again to the Upper Room crying, ‘What shall we do?’ (Acts 2:37 NIV) Paul wrote: ‘I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first (the insiders) and also for the Greek (the outsiders).’ (Romans 1:16 NKJV) As believers, we have the formula for making broken people whole. But before we can share it with them and have credibility, we must first be united by the Spirit.
‘Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us.’ 2 Corinthians 4:17 NKJV
Contrary to what you may think, the ideal environment for your children is not one that’s devoid of problems and trials. Though it’s hard to accept at the time, your children need the minor setbacks and disappointments that come their way. How can they learn to cope with problems and frustrations as adults, if their early experiences are totally without them? Nature tells us this. A tree that’s planted in a rainforest is never forced to extend its roots downward in search of water. As a result, it remains poorly anchored and can be toppled by even a moderate wind. By contrast, the mesquite tree that’s planted in a dry desert is threatened by its hostile environment. How does it survive? By driving its roots down ten meters or more into the earth, seeking water. By adapting and adjusting to harsh conditions, the well-rooted tree becomes strong and steady against all assailants. Our children are like these two types of trees. Children who have learned to conquer their problems are better anchored and better able than those who have never faced them. So your task is not to eliminate every challenge your child faces. Rather, it’s to serve as a confident ally on their behalf, encouraging them in their distress, intervening when the threat becomes overwhelming, and being available when the crisis comes. You need to give them the tools with which to handle the inevitable problems and pressures of life. Paul expresses it this way: ‘For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us.’ Bottom line: we are trained by our troubles.
‘Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ Ephesians 5:18 NLT
Sometimes people get drunk to try to fill an emptiness on the inside. But it doesn’t work. Like the man quipped, ‘It’s champagne tonight and the real pain in the morning!’ Recognizing that His disciples wouldn’t survive without Him when He left, Jesus said, ‘I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever—the Spirit.’ (John 14:16–17 NIV) Once you understand what the Holy Spirit can do, you won’t want to live a single day without His help. Observe:
(1) He will plant your feet on the path of truth (see John 16:13).
(2) When you doubt your salvation, He will confirm that you are truly God’s redeemed child (Romans 8:16).
(3) In difficult situations when you don’t know what to say, He will give you the right words at the right time (see Acts 1:8).
(4) He will reproduce His nature in you (see Galatians 5:22). This is referred to as ‘the fruit of the Spirit’, not the efforts of your flesh. Fruit doesn’t struggle to grow; it simply draws life from the tree to which it’s connected and thrives. Paul writes, ‘Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ You can generally spot someone who is drunk by the way they slur their words and wobble when they walk. When it happens, we say they are ‘under the influence’. Paul’s point is clear: as a believer, your walk and your talk should be ‘under the influence’ of the Holy Spirit. So today ask God to fill you with His Spirit—and stay topped-up by reading His Word and praying daily.
‘Joseph had a dream, and he told it to his brothers, and they hated him.’ Genesis 37:5 NKJV
First, dreamers are willing to make trade-offs. When God puts a dream in your heart you’ll have to make certain trade-offs, like forfeiting popularity for the pursuit of excellence and short-term pleasure for long-term fulfillment. Paul understood this principle: ‘The Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me. But none of these things move me.’ (Acts 20:23–24 NKJV)
Second, dreamers aren’t always appreciated. ‘Joseph had a dream, and he told it to his brothers, and they hated him.’ Some people won’t appreciate your dream because it reminds them of the dream they never had or one they abandoned. And when they try to talk you out of your dream, often they’re trying to talk themselves back into their comfort zone. They will present you with every ‘rational’ excuse they’ve ever given themselves. So how should you respond? Love them, help them if you can, but don’t be influenced by those who have given up on their dream. Author John Mason says, ‘If you move with God you’ll be critiqued. The only way to avoid criticism is to do nothing and be nothing.’ (Even then you might be criticised—for doing nothing!)
Third, dreamers are overcomers. Joseph’s dream enabled him to overcome temptation at the hands of Potiphar’s wife, betrayal by his family, false imprisonment and a lot of other things that cause us to quit. God’s purpose alone should be the stuff of which your dream is made. To discover your dream, get to know yourself: your strengths and weaknesses. Observe where God has placed you, seek His counsel, and look for opportunities and ‘Kingdom connections’. When you do, He will give you a dream for your life and help you fulfill it.
‘Listen to your father, who gave you life, and don’t despise your mother.’ Proverbs 23:22 NLT
You don’t learn how to be a parent in school or college, you learn it ‘on the job’. And you make lots of mistakes—ones you sometimes look back on and cringe. But through it all, you love your children and want only what’s best for them. What’s the point here? If your parents failed you, then you probably have wounds that need to be healed. And God says, ‘I am the Lord, your healer.’ (Exodus 15:26 ESV)
But don’t fall into the trap of self-pity by buying into the idea that you came from a ‘dysfunctional family’. Some families are better than others, but all of them have areas of dysfunction. Look back and consider your parents’ circumstances and some of the challenges they faced while raising you, and perhaps you’ll be able to view the mistakes they made with a little more compassion. They are human beings, just as you are; they make mistakes, just as you do. Nobody’s perfect. By showing compassion towards them you’ll be better able to show compassion towards yourself when you inevitably make mistakes with your own children. And—this is important—when your children see you extending grace towards your parents, they’ll be better able to extend it towards you.
So if you need to forgive your parents, do it today and move on. Don’t keep bringing it up. Would you like God to keep reminding you of the sins He’s forgiven you for? No? Then try to show that same grace and compassion. And pray for them. Why? Because when you pray for somebody it’s hard to complain about them!
‘Lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes.’ Isaiah 54:2 NIV
The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco can move up to six metres in either direction at its centre. All of its parts, including its concrete roadway, steel railings, and cross-beams, are connected from one welded joint to another through the vast cable system to two great towers, then down to a rock foundation beneath the Pacific. Here are two important biblical truths we learn from this:
(1) You must be strong. Paul writes: ‘Be strong—not in yourselves but in the Lord, in the power of His boundless resource. Put on God’s complete armour so that you can successfully resist all the devil’s methods of attack. For our fight is not against any physical enemy: it is against organisations and powers that are spiritual. We are up against the unseen power that controls this dark world, and spiritual agents from the very headquarters of evil. Therefore you must wear the whole armour of God that you may be able to resist evil in its day of power, and that even when you have fought to a standstill you may still stand your ground.’ (Ephesians 6:10–15 PHPS)
(2) You must be resilient! The Golden Gate Bridge has survived a century of earthquakes because it was built to sway—but not too far. It’s flexible and resilient—you must be too. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: ‘We often suffer, but we are never crushed. Even when we don’t know what to do, we never give up. In times of trouble, God is with us, and when we are knocked down, we get up again.’ (2 Corinthians 4:8–9 CEV)
‘I will in no way be ashamed.’ Philippians 1:20 NIV
Over half of all Christians now live in the Third World, often in anti-Christian environments. More Chinese take part in Sunday worship than the entirety of Western Europeans. Lebanon is 40 percent Christian; Sudan, 5 percent; Egypt, about 10 percent. Many of these saints worship at their own risk. Consider their plight. If you were one of them, you may be the only Christian in your Iraqi university, or an Arab woman who offers prayers in silence, or a secret believer in an underground church. Or perhaps you’re in a society of religious freedom, but a community of spiritual oppression. Family members mock your beliefs. University professors belittle your convictions. Classmates snigger at your choices. Colleagues pressure you to compromise your integrity. Co-workers make it their mission to snag you in a weak moment. If that’s where you find yourself, stand up for Jesus! Paul wrote these words from his prison cell: ‘I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.’ (Philippians 1:19–21 NIV) The hymnist wrote: ‘Stand up, stand up for Jesus, ye soldiers of the cross. Lift high His royal banner, it must not suffer loss. From victory unto victory, His armies shall He lead. Till every foe is vanquished, and Christ is Lord indeed.’ Today, stand up for Jesus!