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 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

Matthew 26:36-42 – Jesus gets you

Matthew 26:36-42 – Jesus gets you

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.’ Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’ Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. ‘Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?’ he asked Peter. ‘Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ He went away a second time and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.'”
– Matthew 26:36-42NIV

One of the things that perplexed me as a child was that Jesus went through the big deal of living a life on earth, going through all the betrayal and pain of the cross, rising from the dead…just to save us. Not that I thought saving us wasn’t a big deal, but why did God do it that way? He’s the All-Powerful One, right? Couldn’t he just wave His God-hand and obliterate our sin, then make sure someone told us we were forgiven? It would still have been a free gift to which we could respond in faith. He’d still get to bring us healing and the opportunity to be with Him always. Win-win, right?

As an adult…I get it. It’s not for any profound theologically-discerned reason based on an understanding of God’s adherence to justice because of His wholly-just nature. This reason is certainly true…but there’s a reason that hits right into my heart far more than a highly rational explanation like that.

Jesus’ life proves He gets me.

Jesus’ suffering proves He knows me.

You see…as an adult, I have come to understand Jesus’ words in the depths of my soul:

“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death”
(Matthew 26:38NIV)

Have you ever cried until your were screaming? Have you ever felt like the world was spiraling into an inescapable dark hole beneath your feet? Have you ever looked at your future and saw…nothing? Have you ever faced a moment where you knew the next moment would determine whether you’d ever be able to truly live again? Have you ever roamed the darkness of night in silent desperation and found no hope or comfort at all?

The worst night of my life was the first night in the hospital after my husband unexpectedly collapsed at work and nearly died in the ER. We didn’t know what was wrong with him, yet. We didn’t know if we had a future together. We didn’t know what the next day would be like. We just knew other people’s blood was keeping him alive. We would find out three days later he had leukemia…that we were in a fight for his life.

He was asleep in his hospital bed. I couldn’t hold him…I couldn’t sleep. Everyone I knew was asleep. I was alone.

And that’s why Jesus took the path to the cross.

Because when I read His words in Gethsemane on the eve of His death…I know He understands what it’s like to be me. My God knows me. He has lived through what I am living through. So when the author of Hebrews wrote in Hebrews 4:15, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses”… I know it’s true. I know Jesus’ heart is with me on this road we’re walking.

And if it’s true for us…it’s true for you.

  • “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” Describe a time when that was true for you.
  • How did you endure through that experience?
  • How does it impact you to realize Jesus has felt the same as you?
  • Challenge for the week: We all know someone whose soul is in the same situation as Jesus described. Do something small to let them know they are not forgotten.
Ephesians 1:15-20 – What is truth?

Ephesians 1:15-20 – What is truth?

“For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places.” – Ephesians 1:15-20ESV

Truth…how can we even know it in our world? Since the revelation of how prevalent and deep-running “fake news” is, every time I read an article or watch a snippet of news…I feel the worm of doubt eating its way through the back of my mind, unless the news report is on rescued kittens or the latest outfit a female royal wore to a high-profile event. It’s gotten to the point where, unless I actually read the transcript of the entire conversation being reported on, I nearly wholly doubt the truth of what is being reported. The biases are so obvious, even in the most respected sources of world news…how can I even know for sure what is really happening unless I witness it myself? I find myself asking:

“What is true?”

And in so doing, I echo the question an incredulous Pontius Pilate posited to Jesus, “What is truth?” (John 18:38ESV). Ironically enough, in a world where we celebrate “You do you” truth, where truth’s parameters are defined subjectively by the individual without any necessary application to anyone else… we hunger for somewhere strong to stand. We want the things we believe in to not just be our arbitrary stances but to have good reasons for us to believe them. We want to know we are doing well, even if we don’t agree what that looks like. We want our lives to have meaning, not just a chasing after the whims of the moment. When we stand at the end of our lives, we want to look back and say, “Man…what a good ride.”

Interestingly, it seems as though we stand in a world similar to the one in which Pontius Pilate first placed his question before Jesus. A preoccupation with gladiatorial violence and love of dangerous chariot races doesn’t seem that different from some of the reality shows and popular sports we see today. People want their shows to be more and more realistic, barring no content in the pursuit of “authenticity”. Paganism, central to Roman culture, is the on the rise in the United States. Extremely lose parameters on sex and sexuality were common in Rome (at least for men), and we see those same parameters sliding away for men and women today. Political unrest and dissidence are shared between ancient Rome and the modern United States, including a general skepticism of the reliability of political entities. I’m sure a more informed historian could draw even deeper parallels.

So we ask, ‘What is truth?” as Pontius Pilate did two thousand years ago…and shrug.

But the question is: what did Jesus say that drove Pontius to ask this heart-deep question?

“For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37ESV).

You see…Jesus is the source of truth we are hungry for.

In Ephesians 1:15-20, Paul prays for the Church at Ephesus to:

  • receive “the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him” – v. 17
  • have “the eyes of your hearts enlightened” v. 18
  • know what is the hope to which he has called you” – v. 18

If you look at the bolded words in this passage, all of them have to do with someone coming to know something in deep, life-changing ways. The Spirit referenced in verse 17 is the Spirit of God, whose whole job is to help us know and understand God’s voice and will. To have your heart’s eyes enlightened is to have them come to see the world through the eyes and love of God so you desire what He desires. To know God’s hope is to know the hope revealed in Jesus’ victory over death, sin, and the Devil when He died on the cross and rose from the grave.

You see, in a world where everything seems suspicious and uncertain, fearful and dangerous and hopeless…Jesus gave Himself so we could know truth. The kind of truth immune to the twisted words and judgment of this life. The kind of truth that never buckles under scrutiny. The kind of truth we can turn to when we are pounded with lie after lie. The kind of truth we can stand firm on when everything else is stripped away.

And He is not a truth buried in mystery that we have to hunt down. He is truth revealed. Revealed freely out of love for us.

  • When you look at our culture today, what discourages you?
  • When you try to define what is true, how hard is it for you to do so? Why?
  • Do you sense the desire for firm truth in our culture, even as we reject it? Where?
  • Challenge for the Week: If Jesus is the truth, then His words shape reality. Review His words in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and ask God to guide you to live into His truth this week. Pray this prayer every morning.

 

2 Corinthians 5:16-20 – Ambassador

2 Corinthians 5:16-20 – Ambassador

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 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.” – 2 Corinthians 5:16-20ESV

For most of my life, I’ve been intrigued by this idea that we are ambassadors for God to our world. It started in high school, when I was studying up to lead a Bible study for the middle school students at my church, and found the connection between the concept of being a disciple and being an ambassador. It was a connection point for me that really clarified my purpose here as a follower of Christ. I suppose, in a way, it’s sort of been a vision around which I’ve desired to live my life. Whether I’ve done so successfully or not is a book for another day, but suffice it to say…I think there is huge significance in this idea we are ambassadors of Christ.

You see…ambassador implies a role in the kingdom…a critical purpose. Though we are citizens, we are not merely citizens. Under a good monarchy, a citizen’s job is merely to work the land, give money for the good of the kingdom, follow the laws, and perhaps help stand against invasion in extreme circumstances. If this were merely our role in the Kingdom of God, our job here on earth would be merely to persist as believers until we die, attending church and Bible studies regularly, tithing to the church’s work, being “good Christians”, and perhaps taking a quiet stand against cultural values which violate our faith.

Yet, we are not merely citizens. We are ambassadors. Ambassadors do not just live off the fat of the land. They know the desires and mind of the king intimately and thoroughly. They have the best interests of the kingdom at heart…and they are sent into the stronghold of the enemy. As soon as they cross the border into the enemy kingdom, their every action no longer represents them personally, it represents the kingdom, and in particular, the king who has sent them. When they speak, it is their king’s words. When they act, it is their king’s will. They go into the enemy kingdom, not for their own interests, but the interests of the king and kingdom from which they come. If they are rejected by the enemy kingdom, that is a rejection of their king. If the ambassador is abused and killed, it is viewed as an attack on the king, himself. In a good kingdom, the ambassador goes to the enemy to pursue peace between the nations, utilizing resources that don’t belong to the ambassador but are a gift from the king.

This is our life in Christ, here on this earth.

We, knowing the heart and mind of God for the salvation of all people, step into enemy territory for all the days given us. And people know Christ through knowing us. If we are merciful, if we are loving, if we are honest…people believe Christ is these things. If we are judgmental and cruel and self-righteous…people believe Christ is these things. We come extending God’s reconciliation with mankind, and at times we are rejected, abused…even killed for the words and actions the King has commissioned us to share. We do all this with the gifts and blessings God has given us, in the way He has equipped us to do so. And when we die to this world…it is not a death to existence, but a triumphant return to the King and Kingdom to which we have always belonged but have long been away from.

And someday…the True King will finally and totally bring peace. The King will bring His kingdom here. And we will be with Him, to see His work fulfilled at last.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, your life was not bought with the blood of God to be merely a citizen, though that is what you are by God’s power. You are called to be more! You are gifted to be more! You are crafted to speak the words of the King to a world at war. To bring the Peace of God to our shattered world. Now, more than ever, be courageous in small and huge ways. Breathe life into a dying world through the love and grace of Jesus. Dare to bring a picture of what His kingdom is like, today, to the sphere in which you live.

You are an ambassador. And your King is good.

  • How do you feel seeing yourself as an ambassador, not just a citizen, of God’s kingdom?
  • What is one thing in your life that is holding you back from living into your role as ambassador?
  • Where is one area in your life you are feeling the tug to be an ambassador in a more intentional way?
  • Challenge for the week: Find one moment to be an ambassador in a small way. Do it and share with a Christian mentor how it went, “good” or “bad”. Make sure you learn something and then try it again.