Removing the Mask

For many years, everybody, including me, thought the Christian brother who had come to talk to me was a godly, gifted man with much responsibility in God’s kingdom. Now he was sitting before me weeping and confessing to a secret failure that had been going on for 12 years.
When I asked him how he managed to live such a double life, he answered, “I wore a mask. When I met you and others, I knew exactly what to say. I worked hard, performed well and made things happen. Nobody suspected anything. But I could not hold on to this mask any longer. It began to crumble, and my face began to be exposed. I could not sleep at night or think clearly anymore.”
King David wore such a mask for one year after his secret sin with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband. He described in Psalm 32 how his physical body began to waste away, how his vitality was lost and how his sin was haunting him day and night. When he could not bear it any longer, he pulled off his mask, confessed his sin and genuinely repented. God forgave and restored him and called him a man after His own heart.
Judas too was wearing a mask for three and a half years. He did it so skillfully that the rest of the disciples didn’t suspect anything. Only Jesus knew the truth. Judas never removed his mask, and it led him to betray the Son of God and eventually hang himself in despair.

A Mask to Hide What’s Inside

What could make us, as believers and Christian workers, resort to wearing a mask?
It all has to do with our inner life. On the outside we have the needed head-knowledge, expertise and gifting to accomplish great things for God, but on the inside we have not grown up. Our spiritual maturity and Christlike character has not developed enough to be able to support the ministry or leadership position we were given. In order to compensate for the lack of our inner life, we resort to wearing a mask and pretending to have a spirituality we don’t possess.
We keep wearing the mask because we fear others will reject us if they really knew who we are on the inside. We feel threatened that we may lose our important place in the church or ministry if people could see our real life and discover how spiritually unqualified we are for the position we hold.

An Empty Life vs An Authentic One

What do we really want: an empty life or an authentic one?
If we wear a mask, we have to constantly scheme, plan and pretend to keep the deception going. But sooner or later the truth will catch up with us, and the mask will start to crumble, and our inner emptiness will be exposed.I
f we want an authentic life, we must be ruthless with ourselves and, like David, pull off the mask we wear. We must humble ourselves before God, before those in authority over us and possibly before others we have hurt, and confess our pretense and ask for forgiveness.
Yes, there will be consequences, such as possibly losing a position, facing up to failure and even public embarrassment. But in the end, it’s all worth it because our fear is gone, we are cleansed from sin and guilt, and we are free to be honest and walk in the light. The fruit we produce in the future will be lasting because it will be the result of an authentic inner life.

Receiving the Grace We Need

More than anything else, we need grace when we finally pull off our mask.
We need God’s grace to give us the necessary courage, openness and vulnerability to come clean about our life of pretense. The only way we can receive His grace is through humility.

“God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).

If we humble ourselves, we will experience God’s abundant grace to cleanse us, fill us with new strength and bring about a supernatural transformation in our inner life.

Being Stewards of Grace

We very much need grace from our brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ. Our double life not only hurts them personally, but they also have to pick up the pieces we left behind and face the dishonor we brought to the name of the Lord.
How can we extend such grace to one another? Only if we remember that none of us is without sin and failure—that is how. Therefore, let us show others the same compassion and grace God has shown to us.
My dear friend, only you can remove your own mask to become authentic. No one else can do it for you. When you take this step, God promises to be there to extend His grace to you and transform your inner life into the likeness of His dear Son. In the light of eternity, it’s all that counts.


A PROPHECY WE CAN COUNT ON

The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw. Isaiah 1:1

Isaiah’s name means “salvation of the Lord,” and salvation (deliverance) is the key theme of his book. He wrote concerning five different acts of deliverance that God would perform: (1) the deliverance of Judah from Assyrian invasion (see chaps. 36-37); (2) the deliverance of the nation from Babylonian captivity (see chap. 40); (3) the future deliverance of the Jews from worldwide dispersion among the Gentiles (see chaps. 11-12); (4) the deliverance of lost sinners from judgment (see chap. 53); and (5) the final deliverance of creation from the bondage of sin when the kingdom is established (see chaps. 60; 66:17).

Sir Winston Churchill was once asked to give the qualifications a person needed in order to succeed in politics, and he replied: “It is the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year. And to have the ability afterwards to explain why it didn’t happen.”

Because God’s prophets were correct all of the time, they didn’t have to explain away their mistakes. “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true,” wrote Moses, “that is a message the LORD has not spoken” (Duet. 18:22). Isaiah wrote: “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn” (Isa. 8:20). Isaiah was a man who had God’s light, and he was not afraid to let it shine.

Applying God’s Truth:

  1. Isaiah’s name means “salvation of the Lord.” If you were given a name to reflect your spiritual goals or mission, what do you think it would be?
  2. In what ways do you think others see God’s light shine from your life?
  3. What are five “acts of deliverance” that you wish God would perform in your life?


No Pain, No Gain

Bible Reading: Hebrews 4:12-13

The word of God is full of living power. It is sharper than the sharpest knife, cutting deep into our innermost thoughts and desires.   Hebrews 4:12

“How bad is it, Doc?” the patient asks. “Tell me the truth.”

“I’m afraid it’s bad—very bad,” the doctor replies. “If I don’t perform major surgery and remove the tumor, you will die in a matter of weeks.”

“I don’t want surgery, Doc. It will hurt.”

The doctor smiles. “You won’t feel a thing. You’ll be asleep during the surgery.” “But there will be pain after the surgery, maybe for weeks, right?” “We have medications to reduce the pain.”

“But the incision will still hurt a little; taking out the stitches will hurt.”

“Well, yes, there is always some pain involved in a major—”

The patient interrupts. “No surgery then. I don’t like owies.”

Talk about it: What things do you do to avoid experiencing the owies of life?

If we’re anything close to normal, we make it a rule to avoid pain whenever possible. We wear seat belts so we don’t fly through the windshield. We put on shoes so we don’t step on glass. We wear skid-lids when we bike so our noggin doesn’t knock against the pavement.

But no sane person shies away from the surgeon’s lifesaving knife because of being scared it will cause an owie. We know that pain sometimes produces something good, whether it’s the pain of a must-do medical procedure, the effort of a sweaty fitness workout, or the agony of attending a little brother’s tuba recital when we would rather be hanging with our friends.

Did you know that God’s Word can sometimes hurt us? I’m not talking about the pain we feel if we drop a ten-pound study Bible on our toes. The writer of Hebrews pictures God’s Word as a surgeon’s knife. God, the master surgeon, knows exactly where tumorlike growths of wrong thoughts and desires are lurking. And he knows that those growths will destroy us if they aren’t sliced out. His Word is the instrument he uses to expose those growths, bringing them to light and showing us how to get rid of them.

So whenever you read the Bible and feel the pain of God’s knife poking at you to correct you, don’t pull away. The Great Physician allows the hurt only because he loves you and wants to give you spiritual health.

TALK: How is God using his good Word like a knife in your life? Are you pulling away or letting him do his healing work?

PRAY: Thank you, Lord, for sending your Word to heal us.

ACT: Pick a Bible command that makes you hurt inside because you don’t want to hear it. Write it on the front of an index card. On the back, list the benefits of obeying. Put your card where you can see it often.



Hope: Day 1

“but those who hope in the Lord, will renew their strength.” Isaiah 40:31

Hope. Such a powerful word in those four little letters. We think we can live without it. Oh, but friend, we can’t. Without the hope that tomorrow will be different, we sink further and further into despair.

The Word of God is full of snippets of hope…glimpses of glory…bits of truth and wisdom by which our soul comes alive. We were born for hope.

My heart is to share these verses of hope with you, not to be the one with all the answers, but to point you to The Answer for all hope. Hope is a person. Jesus.



The Way Up Is Down

Journey back with me for a moment to one of the many scenes that demonstrated just how ordinary Jesus’s disciples were. What makes this account interesting is the presence of a mother of two of the disciples. She’s Mrs. Zebedee, wife of a Galilean fisherman and mother of James and John. Let’s consider her request to Jesus:

She said to Him, “Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit one on Your right and one on Your left.” (Matthew 20:21)

Now don’t be too tough on this dear Jewish mother. She’s proud of her sons! Her motive was probably pure, and her idea was in proper perspective. She didn’t ask that her sons occupy the center throne, of course not—that belongs to Jesus. But she pushed for James and John as candidates for thrones number two and number three. She wanted people to think highly of her boys who had left their nets and entered this up-and-coming ministry. They were among “the Twelve.”

And that needed recognition!

Just in case you’re wondering how the other ten felt about this, check out verse 24. It says, “The ten became indignant.” Guess why. Hey, no way were they going to give up those top spots without a fight! They got downright ticked off that maybe James and John might get the glory they wanted. Sound familiar?

Jesus pulled His disciples aside and spelled out the sharp contrast between His philosophy and the world system in which they lived. Read His words slowly and carefully.

“It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:26–28)

In the secular system there are distinct levels of authority. It’s true today, for sure. In the military there are officers and enlisted men . . . and ranks within each. In sports there are coaches and players. In the business world there are corporation heads and lines of authority between managers, personnel, foremen, and laborers. The person in the labor force is expected to punch a clock, show up on time, work hard, and not take advantage of his or her employer. There’s a name for those who choose not to follow those directions. Unemployed! Why? Because the boss is in charge.

That’s the way the system works. As Jesus put it, “Their great men exercise authority over them.” But then He added, “It is not this way among you” (20:25–26). What isn’t this way? Simply this, in God’s family there is to be one great body of people: servants.

In fact, that’s the way to the top in His kingdom.



Three Basic Ingredients of Servanthood

The Word of God lays a solid, biblical foundation for what it means to have a servant mentality. But let’s get some handles on what’s involved in pulling it off.

For starters, let me suggest three basic ingredients of servanthood: giving, forgiving, and forgetting. Two key passages come to mind:

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3–4)

For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. (Galatians 5:13)

Once you and I make up our minds to implement the truth of Philippians 2:3–4 (taking a special interest in others) and Galatians 5:13 (serving others in love), these three basics will begin to emerge.

Instead of always thinking about receiving, we’ll start looking for ways to give. Instead of holding grudges against those who offend us, we’ll be anxious to forgive. And instead of keeping a record of what we’ve done or who we’ve helped, we’ll take delight in forgetting the deed(s) and being virtually unnoticed. Our hunger for public recognition will diminish in significance.

Giving, forgiving, and forgetting . . . as a servant of Jesus Christ, which of these three do you need to apply most today?

 


Believe When You Pray

We can have all our doctrines right and be experts in the Scriptures like the Pharisees, but it will be of no use unless we apply it to our lives by faith.

This was the reason why those Israelites whom God delivered out of Egypt could not enter their promised land: “For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it” (Hebrews 4:2).

For the same reason, God cannot answer our prayers unless we pray in faith: “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord” (James 1:6-7).

Can You Believe?

Two blind men came to Jesus and said to Him, “Son of David, have mercy on us!”
(Matthew 9:27).

Why did they phrase their petition for healing in this way? According to tradition, being blind was a punishment and curse for something terrible they or their forefathers must have done. So the men actually were saying to Jesus, “You know that we are not worthy of getting anything from You. If You would do this for us, it is Your choice and mercy.”

And the Lord answered them, “According to your faith let it be to you” (Matthew 9:29).

With this Jesus was saying, “The question is not whether I am willing to show mercy—I am always willing—but can you believe?” They could, and they immediately received their sight.

We Must Hold Onto the Word

The faith we need to see our prayers answered only comes and develops from God’s Word: “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God”(Romans 10:17).

Yet so much of the Bible teaching we hear and the Scripture we study or memorize is taken away by the enemy, either through our unbelief or because we don’t hold on to it and meditate on it.

Joshua was instructed by God not to let the book of the Law depart from his mouth, but to meditate on it day and night in order to have success (see Joshua 1:8).

Continuously meditating on God’s Word drives it deep into our hearts and develops faith.

Our Faith Must Be in Jesus

Abraham believed God when it was impossible for him to have a son. The blind men believed in Jesus to get their sight.

Likewise, our faith does not rest on our faith, or in some imaginations we cook up on feelings. Instead, our faith is in the person of Jesus Christ.

When we pray for a need, let us deliberately say, “Jesus, You are more than able to do this. I believe You can do it and I trust You to do it.”

It Takes a Childlike Heart to Believe

I heard the story of a father who was frantically trying to rescue his little son from their burning two-story house.

The child was alone upstairs, and the father couldn’t get to him because of the flames and smoke.

Standing downstairs in an open area, he called out to his son.

“Daddy, I can’t see you! I can’t see you!” the boy answered.
“Son, jump!” the father shouted.
“I can’t see you, Daddy,” the boy hesitated.
“Can you hear my voice?” the father asked.
“Yes!” the child cried.
“Then jump in the direction of my voice,” his father responded. “Don’t worry; I will catch you.” The child jumped, and his father caught him in his arms and carried him to safety.

We may find ourselves in the midst of confusion that feels like thick smoke and flames, where our rational thinking and reason don’t work. That’s when we need to respond and pray like a little child: “I don’t understand, Lord, but I will jump at Your Word and trust You to fulfill Your promise.”

Nothing is impossible with God.

Whatever your need may be today, Jesus is able and willing to help you. There is nothing impossible with Him.

Fill your heart with God’s Word, meditate on it and put your faith in Jesus. And then, when you pray, believe like a little child and you will see your Heavenly Father meet your need.



Why Have You Made Me Like This?

“No, don’t say that. Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’” Romans 9:20 (NLT)

The high-level buzz told the story: The mothers and daughters were thrilled to be enjoying this special time together. My mom and I joined the retreat’s painting workshop, giving a try at something new. Enthralled by a table with several young girls, I wanted to be near their excited energy.

Following the teacher’s early instructions, there was chatter and even laughter as each painter created the simple background for our masterpieces. “I can do that!” I thought, studying the example the instructor held up. The storm began to swirl, though, as the easy part ended. Now it was time to try our hand at the details.

Trying to make light of a skill I don’t readily possess, I teased with my mom about how my painting was not a re-creation of our teacher’s. For a young girl nearby, it was no joke, though. Frustration began to take over; tears hung on her lower lashes as she tried to keep it together while her painting developed in a way she despised.

Suddenly, grabbing her paint brush, her tears became a pot of boiling water and overflowed. She scrubbed her canvas, her brush loaded with black paint, trying her best to ruin what she’d just begun.

Her creation was not like the model, and her little spirit could not take the disappointment in herself. She ran from the room. Rushing from her failure, she tried to escape the expectation she’d brought.

My heart broke for this dear, sweet little person.

If the expert’s example had not been placed in front of her eyes, I thought, she would have known the truth: Her painting was her own unique masterpiece.

Instead, she detested what she saw.

Don’t we do the same at times?

We look at our image in the mirror, the numbers on the screen or the scale, the things we’ve given our lives to that have not turned out the way we thought, and we come to this conclusion: I’m too far from the “model.” Too short of society’s expectations … and our own.

Yet our Creator, looking on, is saying to us, the ones He loves:

“No, don’t say that. Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’” (Romans 9:20)

We’re not the only ones who struggle. So do the young ones who surround us. With perfection continually before their eyes, their tender spirits can’t take the continual scrutiny of the screen. Maybe this is why recent studies tell us 1 in 5 of today’s teens suffers from depression, and suicide rates practically double during the school year versus the summer.

Can’t we help them, friends? Can’t we stand up and say, “Put it down.” Put down the phone. Put away the continual cultural parade. Be done with the daily comparison. Put down society’s definition of ideal. Pick up God’s definition of flawless.

Jesus is calling to us all: “Open to me, my treasure, my darling, my dove, my perfect one” (Song of Songs 5:2b, NLT).

Let us respond with first putting down our own thoughts, too often far short of our Creator’s, and then model and teach those around us to do the same.

Oh, God, I need You. Help me choose to see myself the way You see me, and empower me to share this truth with another person in my sphere of influence. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.



True Riches

Ephesians 1:1-8

Jesus willingly left behind His divinity and for our sake took on the limitations of human form. Second Corinthians 8:9 tells us that He became poor in order that we might have the riches of grace. As a result, we are …

Chosen. God made us part of His plan from the beginning (Eph. 1:5). He chose us to belong to Him even though we did not deserve it.

Redeemed. Jesus paid the price to redeem us from sin so that we might no longer be held in its bondage. The price of our redemption was His precious blood, shed on the cross (1 Peter 1:18-19).

Justified. We are all guilty of disobedience against God. However, when we place trust in Jesus as our personal Savior, God declares that we are justified, and He treats us as not guilty (Rom. 3:23-24).

Reconciled. Because of our sin, we were at odds with God. Through Christ, we have been brought back into a right relationship with Him (2 Corinthians 5:18).

Forgiven. God has already forgiven all our past, present, and future sins; it’s a “done deal.” Ongoing confession and repentance keep us in intimate communion with Him (1 John 1:7; 1 John 1:9).

Freed from condemnation. The Law was given for us to understand God’s standards, our inability to keep them, and our need of a Savior. Jesus fulfilled the law, and His finished work counts on our behalf. We are, then, free to pursue holiness without fear of punishment when we fail (Rom. 8:1-4).

True riches are spiritual in nature, and grace has made us wealthy people. Let us never forget these remarkable reasons to be thankful.



The Faith Factor

Bible Reading: Hebrews 11:1-6

Faith … is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen.   Hebrews 11:1

Remember Kim? She’s the one who finds it easy to see God at work in her friend Robin, nudging her closer to becoming a Christian. But get this: Kim has a hard time seeing how God can help her with her homework, so she constantly worries about her grades.

And Ian? He sees God changing his life from the inside out as a result of his spending time reading the Bible and talking to God. But often he thinks that he alone gets the credit for the money he earns mowing lawns and sweeping driveways. So he seldom gives any of his hard-earned cash to God in the church offering.

What kind of faith is that?

The normal kind! It’s the kind of faith that most of us have most of the time. Faith is like the pitcher on a baseball team—you can’t have much of a game without one. The Bible uses strong words to describe the role of faith in the Christian life:

• “It is impossible to please God without faith” (Hebrews 11:6).

• “It is through faith that a righteous person has life” (Romans 1:17).

• “Everything that does not come from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23, NIV).

The apostle Paul said faith is one of the three great qualities in the Christian life—along with hope and love (see 1 Corinthians 13:13).

You can’t get along without faith. But faith doesn’t start out strong. It doesn’t start out like a pitcher who can hurl a fastball over home plate at a hundred miles an hour. It’s more like a baby who has trouble just trying to lift her head off the bed.

So sometimes your faith is strong. You can look at a situation and see God at work. Other times doubt, worry, or spiritual ignorance make it difficult to trust God. Sometimes you can say, “I do believe!” But other times you beg God to help you trust him. If you ever feel stuck between belief and unbelief, you’re normal.

Jesus’ disciples—even though they watched their master up close and personal for three years—were often short on faith. Can you imagine? With their own eyes they saw Jesus raise the dead, heal the sick, calm the storm, and cast out demons—and they still struggled with faith.

When you wish you had bigger trust in God, pray these words straight from the mouths of Jesus’ closest disciples, and be confident God will grow your faith in him: “We need more faith; tell us how to get it” (Luke 17:5).

TALK: How are you going to grow in faith? What is God’s plan to help?

PRAY: God, thanks for sticking with us even when our faith isn’t full grown.

ACT: Strengthen your faith by spending some time reading Scripture today!