Matthew 21:6-11 – The lamb…

Matthew 21:6-11 – The lamb…

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!’ And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, ‘Who is this?’ And the crowds said, ‘This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.’” – Matthew 21:6-11ESV

Imagine a lamb: the soft, pristine, snowy wool; the dewy, gentle eyes; the seemingly innocent smile; the pink of new skin showing through the wool on the soft nose and inside the ears; the total vulnerability… On the Sunday before Passover, a male lamb like this was brought into the homes of the Israelites. The lamb would be cared for carefully. The children of the household would play with this lamb, showering it with love and affection. The adults would monitor it for illness or lameness or any indication it was less than perfect. It would sleep in the household with the family. And then, on the Friday of Passover…that cherished lamb was butchered for the sins of the family.

Shocked? Unless you grew up on a livestock farm, this probably is shocking to imagine. Even if you grew up raising animals for meat, you’re probably familiar with the practice of avoiding getting attached to meat animals. You know they’re going to die, so you keep them emotionally at a distance to make it easier for you and your family. You don’t even give meat animals names.

Yet God institutes the practice of the sacrificial lamb, back in Exodus on the night the angel of death came to take the firstborn and secure the freedom of the Israelites from Egypt, and He creates a situation where the family necessarily becomes close to the lamb who will be slain. I imagine the children would inevitably give the lamb a name. The adults, who have spent four solid days protecting this young animal from all harm, suddenly must give it over to death. It could not have been easy to take this animal who had come to trust you and give it over to strangers to be sacrificed without mercy. Why did God do this?

Because He wanted us to know exactly what Jesus came to endure and why.

Like the passover lamb, Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem on the Sunday before Passover. A young man in his early thirties, above criticism and sinless before men.

Like the passover lamb, Jesus spent four days in the midst of the people, letting them know Him and proving Himself a worthy sacrifice. He criticized the evil practices of the Jewish leadership, He drove out the money changers putting a financial barrier between people and forgiveness from God, He taught about who God is and the importance of a right relationship with Him. At the end of it, even His pagan judge, Pontius Pilate, stated boldly, “I find no basis for a charge against this man” (Luke 23:4).

And like the passover lamb, Jesus was abandoned into the hands of strangers to be murdered…dying at precisely 3PM, the same hour at which the passover lambs were being sacrificed in the Temple for the sins of Israel.

You see…Jesus came to be known by us. To be cherished and loved and looked to as an example. We can’t keep Him at arms length, a distant God to be worshiped, but not loved. He comes into our lives, into our very homes. He made it so His sacrifice brings every person to account.

And He died, bearing our failures with Him into the darkness of death.

But unlike the lambs, who every year were sacrificed but could not truly free us from sin… Jesus’ death forever carried away our failings. When His body was born into the darkness of the earth, and He descended into the pits of Hell…He took every failure with Him, forever breaking us free from the torment of our own imperfections.

But that wasn’t all… because Easter was coming… The sun would rise Sunday morning on a world that would never be the same.

Because the Son would rise.

  1. There is only one challenge this week: keep your eyes on the Son of God. Don’t let this week just be another week in your calendar. This week changed everything. This week was the week toward which all Jesus’ earthly life was focused. He walked into Jerusalem to die. He intentionally drove the Pharisees (Jewish leadership) to turn against Him, fearlessly holding back none of Himself… For you… For all of us. This week… don’t forget the footsteps of the Savior… headed straight for the cross.
Phil. 3:7-14 – Connected to Christ…

Phil. 3:7-14 – Connected to Christ…

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 3:7-14ESV

The first time I ever went climbing and rappelling was at Lutheran Valley Retreat, a Christian youth camp in the heart of Pike National Forest, outside Woodland Park, CO. Now, they don’t just fling you off the cliff, but they walk you through the gear you have, how it works, safety procedures, communication with your belayer (the guy making sure you don’t fall to your death if you slip), and how to recognize safe rock. Then, they start you at the bottom of the cliff to work your way up.

Going up is mostly a matter of skill, rather than courage. With your face pressed against the rock and your eyes generally upward, it’s easier to forget about the distance opening up between your feet and the next horizontal surface. The fear comes when you’re ready to rappel. You lean backward, putting tension on your rope…and walk backward off the cliff. The more parallel you are to the ground below as you go over the edge, the easier it is to rappel. If this isn’t enough, rappeling in its most enjoyable form involves hopping away from the cliff face, letting the rope run through your hand and allowing gravity to use your hop to drop you down the cliff.

When you’re backing off that cliff for the first time, for many people…it’s a supreme act of will to be able to force yourself off the ledge. As you back toward the drop, leaning toward the drop, all your instincts are screaming that you’re going to die. Even though you rationally know you’re connected to someone who’s not going to let you fall, your survival instincts are screaming “DANGER! DANGER!” When you finally coax yourself off the ledge, it’s another act of will to lay backward, rather than trying to go down the cliff in a sitting position. When you add the hop, it’s even harder, as though your body thinks that as long as your legs are touching the rock you won’t fall. Despite everything, at the deepest level you don’t really trust your belayer to save your life, even though they’re the only one who can.

This is like our life with Jesus. Jesus is all the gear preventing us from falling: a harness clinging snug to our bodies, the carabiner connecting the belay to the rope, the rope connecting us to the belayer and their gear. In fact, Philippians 3:12b says “Christ first possessed me” with the word “possessed” implies God’s hand taking hold of us and laying claim to our lives. Through the death of Jesus and the faith that connects us to Him, God wraps us up in His protection and life.

Yet there is still the cliff that is this life. There is still the apparent danger of each day. There is still the possibility of rope burn or a knock against the rocks or fatigue as we go along. There is still the discomfort of the harness. As we go through life, connected to God, we can still be hurt, we can still grow weary, we can still find our very connection to God a source of discomfort and even pain in a broken world.

Like the new rappeler, we try to take control of the process, to the impediment of the journey. Instead of trusting in the connection God has wrapped us in, we begin to seek other solutions to ease our journey, other things we think will make us feel secure: popularity, professional excellence, wealth, beauty, education, athleticism, family, or the one-thousand other things we pursue in this life. And there is nothing wrong with these things in-and-of themselves, just like as you rappel down a cliff you can pause to looking around you at the sweeping mountains, a beautiful sunset, a shining river, or a bird flying by. But these things are benefits of the journey…not your source of life. If you reach too hard for them, you risk a massive fall.

Instead, the source of life is the connection to the belayer…to Jesus, in whom is “life, and that life is the light of men” (John 1:4ESV). He is the one who takes hold of us, offering His life, holding tight to us even though He knows how often we will reach for other sources of security. He is the one who will never let go.

  1. Make a list of the pursuits in your life that get you out of bed in the morning; that make life for you worth living.
  2. How much do you depend on these things for security? (If helps to consider if you could still love God if you no longer had these things.)
  3. What would it look like to still love these things, but for your perspective to shift to depending on God for your security?
  4. Challenge for the Week: Whenever you feel anxious, pause and take a moment to note what is triggering your anxiety. Is this a situation where you are finding security in something other than God? If so, ask God to set you free.

 

 

2 Corinthians 5:18-21 – “Mr. Fix-It”…

2 Corinthians 5:18-21 – “Mr. Fix-It”…

“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” – 2 Corinthians 5:18-21ESV

I’m a problem solver. Like… a huge one. I see something wrong, and I feel like since I notice it, I must be responsible for fixing it or at least getting involved. I know the jokes are usually about men always wanting to “fix” things, instead of just listening, but sometimes when people share their life challenges with me, I have to mentally force myself not to jump into “fix it” mind.

When that comes to ministry or relationship issues in my own life, that means I tend to go straight to relying on my own intelligence or experiences to find a solution. I look at what outcome I’d like to see and start strategizing out how to get there. See what’s going wrong, already?

Me… I’m what’s wrong.

You see… what if God cares more about the outcome than I can imagine? What if He is actually working toward a solution, and my arrogant interventions to “save the day”, without reference to Him, are actually just causing grief for myself and the very people I am trying to help? What if, instead of relying on myself and my intelligence, I relied on God?

You see…we cannot have healthy relationships, healthy self-image, or meaningful lives relying on our own abilities. That is why in 2 Corinthians 5:18-21, God calls us to be reconciled to Him. Before we can even be reconciled to others, we need to be connected and woven into who He says we are. We need Him. We need Him to heal us, we need Him to guide us, we need Him to help anyone else.

So you fixers are now already fixing, aren’t you? You’re trying to figure out how you can reconcile yourself to God so you can get on with business! But the reality is God has already done that work in Christ. While we were “enemies of God”, Jesus let His broken body die on a wooden cross in ancient Palestine (Romans 5:10ESV).

In this Christ, we “become the righteousness of God”, able to live in reconciliation with others and bring healing to our world (2 Corinthians 5:21ESV). Yes…you read that right. We are God’s righteousness on earth; we are an image of a life made in relationship to the God who made us. And that is a life laid upon you by God to set you free to let Him lead. He’s the one who fixes it…and He lets us join in.

  1. Looking at your own life, how are you a “fixer”?
  2. What do you tend to rely on to fix things in your life?
  3. If we’re really just going along with God in His great work to fix all things, how does that change how you look at the “broken” things in your life?
  4. Challenge for the Week: On a sticky note or note card, write the words “Pray First” and put it where you will see it daily. Use it as a reminder to lay the things you want to fix in God’s hands, first.
Matthew 26:26-30 – Blood of life…

Matthew 26:26-30 – Blood of life…

“Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.’ And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” – Matthew 26:26-30ESV

In the United States, it seems like Christians are kind of in love with the idea the United States was a Christian paradise at one time. We were once this place where it was safe and okay to live out our lives in obedience to Christ without criticism from the world around us. But is that really true, or is that a rationale we have to deal with how sidelined Christian values are becoming in our culture?

Certainly Christianity was less controversial in our country at one time. It was expected people were part of a church community as a social norm and subscribed at least publicly to Christian ethics. But does that necessarily translate to it being “easy” to be Christian “back then”? Does that mean the lifestyle of one who follows Christ was ever anything but controversial? I’m not sure it does. Even in 1940s and 1950s America, a man who didn’t curse, didn’t smoke, didn’t “chase skirts”, and maybe even didn’t drink was a shocking anomaly. Go back even farther to the British Empire, and while the gentry and nobility were expected to attend church on Sunday, it wasn’t “fashionable” to be fervently religious.

In fact, a life modeled after Christ is perhaps designed intentionally to be the very opposite of “comfortable” at any time in our world. After all, the one we follow tended to shock people. Even the most religious of the day. Even those who thought they had a finger on what it meant to follow Him: the disciples.

In Matthew 26, we tend to gloss over some of what was really going on in this scene. Jesus establishes the practice of communion, offering a cup of wine as his blood and a loaf of bread as His body. This practice, where we believe, in some way we can’t understand, that Jesus physically comes to us in wine-that-is-also-blood and bread-that-is-also-flesh, is central to our faith. We focus on this as a comfortable, familiar piece of our life in Christ.

Yet this communion was anything but comfortable for the disciples…because Jesus said, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood.” 

This single phrase would have been shocking… disturbing… especially from the one they followed as the Son of God. And it’s not because of them merely finding it tasteless to drink blood. It’s because God expressly forbade the drinking of blood in Leviticus 17:14. The very idea of drinking blood was anathema.

And Jesus never explains Himself. Never explains away the controversy to make the disciples more comfortable with it. As far as we can tell, He proceeds with this First Communion. And the disciples go with Him, stepping boldly into the breech without any recorded objections to what He offered them.

That, perhaps, is the unifying truth about Christianity we can point to at every instance in history. Not that it was easier once or less controversial. I don’t know if that’s ever been true. Rather, what we can say with confidence is Jesus has always called us to a life of controversy. To be Christian is to, in some way, defy the rules society tries to bind around us. Christians answering the call of Christ have fought to free slaves in defiance of the entire British government, shared Christ and His forgiveness with Japanese war criminals, sheltered Jews against the Nazis authorities, gave voice to the unborn when the law does not, and a million other acts of defiance for the sake of Christ and His work here.

Yet we don’t pursue controversy for the sake of “making a scene”. Rather… it is a side effect of holding out in our trembling hands the life of Christ we have been given. We bring Life to our world when we serve Christ because we point people to the God who inspires us.

Just as Jesus did. For as Leviticus 17:14 states, “the life of every creature is its blood”, and whose blood is offered in Matthew 26 and in every communion ever since? The blood of Christ, the Son of God.

In offering this controversial cup… Christ offered us His blood. The life of Jesus Messiah, Son of God…Creator.

  1. How is Christianity controversial in our society? Try to avoid politics and stick to what about Christianity itself people disagree with.
  2. What values of Christianity do you agree with, but struggle to openly follow in our culture?
  3. If being Christian is, and always has been, controversial, why is it often portrayed as the “boring, normal path”?
  4. Challenge for the Week: Pick one of the values of Christianity you subscribe to that other people find controversial. In a non-political, non-argumentative way, find one way to live into that value in an open way this week. Then do it!
Matthew 6:5-13 – You can’t prove it

Matthew 6:5-13 – You can’t prove it

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:

‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from evil.'”
– Matthew 6:5-13ESV

“You can’t beat me!” my niece proudly proclaimed to her mom, immediately taking off, arms and legs pumping. It was a bold statement, really. Ignoring the fact she was five years old and somewhere around three feet tall, my niece had more than just the limits of her leg length to compete against. Her mother was a former NCAA sprinter. Her high school state 400 meter time would have placed her eighth in the Beijing Olympics, and that wasn’t even the height of her running career. In other words, even twenty years later, my sister-in-law is not slow.

The statement is an example of how the limited experience of children makes them poor evaluators of their own skills. What is more, it had been a long time since she’d seen my husband and I. She’d grown a bit and thought we were “so fast”, so she was showing off for attention. It was cute. It was innocent. It made my husband and I laugh.

We laugh, but aren’t we still like that, even as adults? We may not come right out with such a bold “look at me” statement, particularly one so easy to disproved. But how often do we do things or buy things or say things because we want other people to think well of us? Because we want to look good? Because we want some sort of “return on investment” for our efforts? Ultimately, how often are we trying to prove something to everybody watching? Even to God?

In this passage, Jesus condemns public prayer or praying “on and on”. Yet are public prayers or long prayers the real issue He’s highlighting? I don’t think so. He’s trying to highlight a deeper heart issue. What He’s getting at is the Pharisees prayed in public to get the praises of people, to prove they were righteous enough. The “pagans” “babbled on and on” in their prayers to prove they were devoted enough for their gods to grant them their desires. Their prayers were not about being a relationship with God…they were about proving their worthiness.

Prayer isn’t about proving anything to God. God is already our Father; He says so multiple times in this passage. We don’t need to prove our devotion to Him; He already knows us fully (1 Corinthians 13:12). That leaves us free to be totally honest with Him. To hold nothing back as we speak to Him about our lives, our days, our desires, our joys, our fears, our failures…as we bare a soul already known well by our good Father. We are free to be in a relationship grounded in complete trust, knowing nothing inside us repels the God who saved us with eyes wide open.

He’s not going anywhere.

  1. Why do we often view relationships as a means to an end, rather than the end in themselves?
  2. We have a society focused on “earning what you get”. What’s the danger when we apply that concept to our relationship with God?
  3. How does trying to “prove something” to God actually impair your ability to be close to Him?
  4. Challenge for the Week: Each day, setup a chair across from your favorite spot to sit in your house. Imagine Jesus grabbing a seat in that empty chair and dare to tell Him at least one “ugly truth” out loud, without editing to make it sound better. Then rest in the knowledge He heard it and you are still loved.
Matthew 16:13-18 – He cares what you think

Matthew 16:13-18 – He cares what you think

“Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.'”
– Matthew 16:13-18ESV

Here in Colorado, we’re pretty proud of our sports nation. Each season brings fans rolling out their color-combos depending on which major sports team is currently duking it out in the stadiums. Did you know we have a national AND major league lacross team? Yep! The Mammoth and the Outlaws! We can even get pretty passionate about our minor-league sports.

But there’s another competition that is sacred to many Coloradans: the Rocky Mountain Showdown. This is the rival game between the two major state schools in Colorado: the Colorado State University Rams and the University of Colorado Buffalo. Hailing from different championships, they meet for one rabid game a year, often at Mile High Stadium, home of the Denver Broncos.

At once such showdown, I attended with a large group of friends. As we were passing through the gates, each one of us had shoved into our hands some sort of paper advertising. I didn’t want it, but there was not a chance of beating my way back upstream to hand the paper back. So, at the next trashcan I saw, I quickly shoved it in (comeon, they didn’t have paper recycling at the stadium at the time). Almost immediately, I heard someone shout from behind, “Hey you! In the cowboy hat! Al Gore hates you!” Considering I was currently wearing the aforementioned hat, it was clear where the words were directed. For those wondering, this was shortly after Al Gore had released his controversial film An Inconvenient Truth on global warming.

I was devastated.

In this case, by devastated I mean laughing out loud. I can’t imagine caring less about what a complete stranger, wholly unconnected with me or my life, thinks of me. I still tell that story with laughter today.

And that’s just the thing. What a total stranger thinks of me meant nothing. But if someone I love were to hate me…well that would be something else. That would be something devastating…life defining…impossible to get over. To look a dear friend, loved family member in the eye…and to be told they hate me… That is no laughing matter.

So when Matthew records in chapter 16, verses 12-18 that Jesus is interested in what the disciples think of Him, we should sit up and pay attention. Remember, this is the same Jesus who, “was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:2-5ESV). All creation was made through Jesus. His words spiraled out the galaxies, ignited stars, covered the earth with land and water, sprouted flowers, spawned the creatures of the deep and the birds of the air, and scattered life across the earth. And in His arms was gathered the frame of man, into which He breathed His own life. The same life He would sacrifice on the cross, stained with our sin.

You see, this Creator God also calls us “child” throughout the Bible. This Creator God names us inheritors of all He has made. This Creator God granted us His authority to work on earth in His name.

And this God cares what we think of Him..the beings He wove from dirt.

In fact… letting us know Him for Who He really is…that’s everything to Him. To that end He has dedicated His every act in our world, from the very beginning.

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” – 1 John 3:1NIV

  1. Think of the people you love the most. What would it be like to discover they actually hated you?
  2. How does it impact your perspective to think about this all-powerful Jesus caring what you think of Him?
  3. Knowing how much Jesus cares about what we think about Him, how do you think it impacts Him to see people lose faith in Him or not believe in Him?
  4. Challenge for the Week: We have a lot of ideas about who Jesus is, and not all of them are actually based in the Bible! Commit to reading through the entire book of John over the month of February and March. Make note of all the things you can know about Jesus from this Gospel account.
Matthew 2:13-15 – Familiarity breeds indifference

Matthew 2:13-15 – Familiarity breeds indifference

“When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up,’ he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.’ So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.'” – Matthew 2:13-15NIV

There is a saying “Familiarity breeds contempt.” I have heard it used most often to supposedly explain why marriages go sour. I don’t know if that adage is necessarily true in most circumstances, but I have found familiarity tends to breed indifference. The more we are exposed to ideas or experiences, the less they seem to impact us. It’s why ski jumpers progressively have to hit higher jumps. It’s why travelers always want to see new places. It’s part of why kindergarten is fantastic and junior year is terrible. It’s part of why people cheat in relationships or people get new jobs. Once the newness wears off, the ordinary no longer holds our attention.

It’s true with travesty, too. In our post 9/11, post Columbine, post Black Lives Matter, post #MeToo world, we hardly go a day without news of a new war, a new terrorist attack, a new shooting, a new politician spouting hatred, a new beloved icon turned out to be a monster. It’s so expected it rarely excites us. Rarely holds our attention. The movements which spawned in response to these atrocities and abuses slowly lose momentum as we become used to them being part of the news and our lives.

So it is with the story of Jesus’ birth. Every year, we read about Mary’s and Joseph’s dreams, Elizabeth’s testimony, the journey to Bethlehem, the angels singing, the shepherds rushing, the Magi journeying, the star shining, Herod’s slaughter, and the escape to Egypt. Memorialized in ornaments and cute manger scenes and Christmas lights…there’s a blurry, soft edge to the account. Something familiar and comfortable. We focus on the fluffy lambs, the excitement, the cooing baby, the adoring family, the hope of nations… and forget the nightmare. Forget the courage and desperation and fear.

Mary was probably thirteen or fourteen years old when Jesus was born. Shockingly early for our world, but the age of many new brides in first century Israel. Joseph…no more than a teen himself. He was probably between seventeen and nineteen, as Jewish men often married shortly after completing their apprenticeship in their family trade. No more than children themselves, they’d also probably rarely been far from home and family. First century people did not travel the world as we do today.

Yet now, a new husband, a new father, a new wife, a new mother…the angel appears to them to proclaim, “Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him” (Matthew 2:13b NIV). They are being hunted by the ruler of their land. Personally. For death. So, in a world where being an unprotected stranger often left you killed or enslaved, these teenagers had to flee to the very country from which God had liberated the Jews hundreds of years before. A land with no family or connections with whom to claim refuge. It was roughly a 200 mile journey just to the border of Egypt, into a life they had never planned for.

It was a call to extraordinary courage from a young, inexperienced, unprepared couple from rural Israel.

As we begin a new year, hoping it will be better than the last, getting wrapped up in the new demands and expectations of our lives… Don’t forget the courage of two ordinary believers caught up in the work of the extraordinary. Don’t set aside the account of Jesus’ birth with your ornaments and trees and lights until next December. Don’t forget what God achieves through the most unexpected means.

Remember…remember the courage of Christmas. Remember what God’s strength made Joseph and Mary capable of. Holding the Savior in their arms, they journeyed in fear and doubt, yet with the God of the universe right there in their midst.

And as with them, so with you. The God of the Universe is with you as you face the unknown, perhaps with your own fears and doubts. He does not abandon you to the evil intentions of others or the uncertainty of the path. He gives you strength to face the day. To face your times: through the Bible, through worship, through fellow believers, through the miraculous in every day that we so easily overlook.

Have courage, my friends. The Author of Life is with you.

  1. How does your life feel overwhelming right now?
  2. If you’ve never considered the courage of Mary and Joseph before, how does it impact you to think on it, now?
  3. How is it different to try to be courageous versus trusting God to provide you with the strength you need for your challenges?
  4. Challenge for the Week: Courage happens through small instances of acting in trust in God’s promises. Pray for an opportunity to practice courage this week. When it comes, take steps into it.
Isaiah 64:6-9 – I’m doing all right

Isaiah 64:6-9 – I’m doing all right

“We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities. But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Be not so terribly angry, O Lord, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, please look, we are all your people.” – Isaiah 64:6-9ESV

I was raised in the foothills of northern Colorado. Contrary to how much of it is now, when I was a child is was a quiet place. You didn’t often hear cars going by, and you could be woken up in the night by packs of coyotes running down the street. Even mountain lions would come down to terrorize peoples’ dogs and horses.

What I remember most about that part of my life was the wind. The wind can be powerful, even dangerous, in the foothills. Storms build up on the peaks, sending wind tearing down from thousands of feet, down the face of the mountains to create microbursts of wind up to 100mph. To give you an idea, it took my dad three tries to put up a flag pole strong enough to not bend in half due to the winds. We raised chickens when I was growing up, and it wasn’t uncommon to look outside and see the wind blow a chicken (upside-down) across the back yard to the fence line. We’ve had sustained winds in Colorado blowing fast enough to match even a Category 5 hurricane. We don’t joke about wind around here.

So when I read in Isaiah 64:6ESV, We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away”… it gives me pause. As Christians, we spend a lot of time trying to figure out what God wants us to do. We’re very preoccupied with “living right” and “avoiding sin”. And admittedly, when our motivation is love, these are important things to pursue. Love for God and others should drive us to battle sin and live as God has called us to live. How can we, who have been so freed by God, bow to the power of sin without a fight?

But therein also lies the temptation to another sin: arrogance.

As our external messes come under management, it’s easy to acquire a sense of satisfaction in our own righteousness. I’m not even saying the kind of self-righteousness which elevates itself above others, but just the sort of self-satisfaction that says, “I’m doing all right.” In other words, we are tempted to congratulate ourselves on all the ways we have succeeded in managing our sinfulness. The danger is then, when we step before the altar to confess our sins before receiving the Lord’s body and blood at Communion…we can’t think specifically of anything to mention. And if our sin is small…so is our Savior. When we are unable to recognize how desperately we need Christ, He is inevitably diminished in our eyes… a situation ripe for Satan’s meddling.

Yet the power of our sin is compared to the wind. Wind that throws over trains, rips off roofs, and throws hikers to their deaths. Wind is what leads to the destructive power of hurricanes. Wind, over time, even wears down the very peaks of mountains. And, “like the wind our sins sweep us away” (Isaiah 64:6bNIV). Before the power of sin, we are helpless to stand. It tears at us, takes our feet out from under us…and drags us where we do not want to go. To death.

And we have no power to stop it.

But there is One who can. Who did. Who does.

Outside little Bethlehem, two thousand years ago…a teenage girl and her new husband huddled together in a cave, surrounded by animals sheltering from the cool of an early spring night…to usher the Savior into the world. Angels announced His coming. Starlight shone in brilliance to draw His witnesses. And overshadowing it all was the cross at Calvary, the place where our sins would finally be stopped by the work of Jesus Christ.

He is the bulwark against the wind. He is the only one through Whom we defeat the power of sin in our lives. It is not our doing.

It is Christ alone.

  • When was the last time you confessed your sins and truly felt you had something worth confessing?
  • Do you find it easy to feel your are “doing well” when it comes to sin management?
  • Where in your life do you think you have been dishonest with God in your struggle with sin?
  • Challenge for the Week: Pay attention for moments when you find yourself resisting sin successfully. Instead of focusing on yourself, intentionally stop and focus on praising and thanking God for the power of Christ and His forgiveness.
Deuteronomy 8:11-20 – Remember

Deuteronomy 8:11-20 – Remember

Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. And if you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish. Like the nations that the Lord makes to perish before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the Lord your God.” – Deuteronomy 8:11-20ESV

In 2018, Americans are predicted to spend an over of $887 per person (not per household) on Christmas gifts, and actual spending is usually higher than the predictions (Haury, 2018). In Arvada, CO, where our church is located, the median income for 2016 was just over $70,000 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2016). Just a year earlier, the average household income for the entire world was $17,760 (Muggeridge, 2015). In fact, in 2013, at least 80 percent of the world was living on less than $10 a day, which translates to less than $3,650 a year (Shah, 2013).

The moral of the story? No…it’s not shame on Americans for having money when other people in the world are poor. Rather… if you are an American, no matter your circumstances, you have been given so much. You are incredibly blessed. We live in a nation of unprecedented wealth, where even those at the poverty line are among the top 14 percent richest people in the world (Blair, 2011).

And in America…there are plenty of places to spend that money. We can buy a designer dog or cat that costs almost as much as the entire yearly income of the poorest in the world. The average new car price in America in 2018 was $36,270 (Nicolai & Buehler, 2018). Even a latte is over $4 a cup, which again, is at least half the daily income of the poorest in the world.

And with wealth…it’s easy to forget to whom we owe all things. God knew that about the Israelites as they prepared to enter the Promised Land after over four-hundred years of slavery in Egypt and forty years of wandering the desert. They were going to go from from former slaves and homeless wanderers, to living in a paradise in their own kingdom. As their fields grew and their animals multiplied, God knew the temptation would be to sit back and say, “Look what I have accomplished.” Against that temptation, God said, Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth…”

As you enter the Christmas season, hunting down those perfect gifts, buying new decorations for the house and the ingredients for special meals…don’t forget from Whom those dollars come. Don’t forget Who has made it possible for you to own that home, have that family, see those sights. Don’t forget the One for whom the lights sparkle. Don’t forget the Gift the gifts point to. When Silent Night comes on the radio, or you single along to Noel, don’t forget He for Whom the songs were written came into the world to a poor man and woman in a cave on a cold spring night. He came to bless the world with Himself. With Hope. With Purpose. With Love. With Truth…

So as you rush around this Christmas season, remember our Lord. In your blessings remember the blessing He first gave. And then be that blessing with the blessings He has provided.

  • On a piece of paper, list out all the blessings God has provided for you. Get really detailed.
  • Spend some time in prayer, thanking God for this list of gifts. Think of it like the big hug you give someone you love when they’ve given you exactly what you wanted for Christmas.
  • What are some of the reasons why you forget all the good God has done for you?
  • Challenge for the Week: At the end of each day, make a list of all the blessings in the day God provided. Then once a week, find a way to be a blessing to someone else.

References

Haury, A. C. (2018, November 8). Average cost of an American        Christmas. Investopedia. Retrieved from https://www.investopedia.com/financial-edge/1112/average-cost-of-an-american-christmas.aspx

Muggeridge, P. (2015, June 23). What is the average wage around the world? World Economic Forum. Retrieved from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2015/06/what-is-the-average-wage-around-the-world/

Nicolai, A. & Buehler, B. (2018). Press releases: Average new-car prices rise nearly 4 percent for January 2018 on shifting sales mix, according to Kelley Blue Book. Kelley Blue Book. Retrieved from https://mediaroom.kbb.com/2018-02-01-Average-New-Car-Prices-Rise-Nearly-4-Percent-For-January-2018-On-Shifting-Sales-Mix-According-To-Kelley-Blue-Book

Shah, A. (2013, January 7). Poverty facts and stats. Global Issues. Retrieved from http://www.globalissues.org/article/26/poverty-facts-and-stats

U.S. Census Bureau. (2016). Data USA: Arvada, CO. Retrieved from https://datausa.io/profile/geo/arvada-co/#category_wages

1 Peter 5:6-11 – True Advertising

1 Peter 5:6-11 – True Advertising

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.” – 1 Peter 5:6-11NIV

According to a 2015 survey of 6000 people, the number one priority in a relationship is honesty, with a whopping 70% saying it is the most important aspect of a relationship (Croce, 2015). More than anything, we want to know the truth about where we’re at with the people we value most, even if that truth is painful or takes some getting used to.

It explains why so many people today are done with the institutions in our country. We sense, often rightly, we’re being sold something, but we aren’t necessarily sure what is really being sold. We’re afraid to commit to anything because we’ve been so often disappointed by false or misleading advertising. As the adage says, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.” We long to connect with people and institutions who genuinely care about us, not just what we have to offer or what the other party can get out of us…but we’re skeptical anyone really is offering that kind of relationship. Even Christianity is more and more viewed as a group selling morality but not delivering.

In this passage, Peter is writing to fellow Christians during a time when Emperor Nero, the leader of the Roman Empire, is absolutely butchering Christians. One of the more well-known ways Christians were killed was by putting a group of them in the Colosseum and then releasing into their midst half-starved lions. The crowds would watch as they were hunted and ripped apart before their eyes.

It is interesting Peter describes Satan as a lion prowling about, looking for someone to devour. The implication is, as great as the threat of persecution for the Christian is, the threat of the spiritual attacks of Satan is just as great. He can also rip us apart…in soul-deep ways.

Does Peter go on to say, “But no worries…it’ll be fine”?

No…no he doesn’t. In fact, he goes on to write they will, in fact, suffer at the hands of Satan during their life here on earth. He doesn’t sugar-coat it. He. Is. Honest.

That means God’s priority in His relationship with us is exactly what we’re hungry for: honesty. He guided the writers of the books of the Bible to be completely honest with what the cost of following Him will be. He doesn’t try to make it look prettier or easier than it really will be. He doesn’t dismiss the struggle.

He points it out. Right up front.

In my book…that’s a trustworthy God. And if He’s honest about the suffering, then we can trust He’s honest about the promise, “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ…will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.

  1. How has your trust been betrayed by misleading promises?
  2. Why do you find it hard to trust what you hear in scripture?
  3. How is God’s honesty about the struggle helpful in your life?
  4. Challenge for the Week: Each day, keep track of struggles you’ve faced related trying to be faithful to Christ. Ask God to give you strength to stand firm in Him.

References

Croce, M. (2015, September 1). Forget sex, the secret to a good relationship is communication. Daily Record. Retrieved from https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/lifestyle/family-relationships/forget-sex-secret-good-relationship-6357824