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.
1 John 3:1 – What a Father

1 John 3:1 – What a Father

“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

Father…

What images, thoughts, or feelings instantly come to mind when you read that single, powerful name?

For some of you, it may be a trustworthy, super-hero like figure whose strong hands held you when you cried and taught you to play football.

For some of you, it may be a mysterious, empty title…a looming, dark figure with no face whose presence was made loud by its absence from birthdays, holidays, and the victories of life.

For some of you, this is a dangerous name…a name filled with booming, angry voices, pain, and fear.

For some, this is a bitter title, symbolic of empty promises and unfulfilled longing. A figure, while present, who made you feel like nothing more than an uninteresting footnote in his life.

Depending on which father you had, the concept of being the “child of God”, a son or daughter of our Heavenly Father…may be difficult to understand. Even if you had the best of fathers, he wasn’t perfect, and for many of you, the idea of a father hasn’t been much of a positive experience in your life.

Yet John writes “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God” (1 John 3:1A ESV [emphasis mine]).

To understand what he means, I think we need to head over to Jesus’ “Parable of the Prodigal Son” in Luke 15. Jesus is trying to help people understand just how incredible the love of God is for His people. So He tells the story of a man with two sons. One son is faithful and good and continues to help his wealthy father work the land. The other son essentially tells his father “you are dead to me” by taking his inheritance money from his father and running off to live the high life on the money. Naturally, the money runs out, and he finds himself starving to death, feeding pigs in the countryside just to survive. And suddenly he comes to a realization in Luke 15:17-19ESV, “How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.'”

Already we’re getting a taste of what kind of man the father is. You see, there are a few problems first century hearers would have expected this young man to face on returning home. One is he was merely a second son. You only need one son to inherit the family estate, so there is no pressure on the father to accept the boy back, despite what he had done. Second, the son had insulted his father’s honor by demanding the inheritance before his father’s death, leaving the family work, and running off to spend the money on “frivolous” things (we can safely infer gambling, prostitution, and the like). It would have been expected the father would, at the very least, disown the son, and there would have been no surprise if the father had the son killed on sight to preserve his honor.

With all this, the son is still willing to go home and ask his father for work. That implies something the son knows about his father’s character: he is kind, he is merciful, he is loving, he is forgiving… The sons knows what his actions deserve, yet he still does not doubt his father will allow him back safely. Yet even then, the son underestimates his father. Not only does the father not demand the punishment due for his son’s behavior, instead “his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him… the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate” (Luke 15:20, 22-24ESV).

Not only does the father not demand the life of the son for the evil he has done…the father welcomes him with open arms, running to him to end the separation that much sooner. The father celebrates the son’s return, not even bringing up what happened in the past but living only in the joy of reunion. Despite everything, the son is cared for, loved, cherished, and welcomed…without restraint.

And that is the kind of Father our Heavenly Father is. When John writes we have been “showered” with love by God calling Himself our Father and we His children, that is the kind of loving relationship we can expect with God.

Not a distant, faceless, empty absence in the joys and sorrows of our lives.

Not an angry, judgmental, hurtful shadow looming from the darkness to “get us” when we mess up.

Not a disinterested, blessing-dispenser who’ll snatch us up when we die but otherwise has washed his hands of the intimate details of our lives.

This God…this Father cares about every detail because He cares about you. This God wants you back, despite how bad a mess you’ve made of your life. This God is walking with you into the challenges, celebrating the joys and victories, and looking forward to when you can look Him straight in the eyes as He says, “Well done.”

What great love, indeed.

  • How do you feel and think about your experience with earthly fatherhood?
  • Do you see yourself sometimes viewing God through the lens of how you have experienced fatherhood? How?
  • How would it change the way you view your life to see God as a “good Father”, not matter your personal experience with fatherhood?
  • Challenge for the Week: Spend some time reading passages where God calls Himself “Father” or us “Children”. Make a list of all the good things it means to be a “child of God”. Put the list where you can see it as you prepare for your day.
1 Corinthians 12:14-26 – More than Attendance

1 Corinthians 12:14-26 – More than Attendance

“For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” – 1 Corinthians 12:14-26ESV

Have you heard the claim the pinky toe has no purpose? If you haven’t, it was definitely something I’ve heard and never believed. I’ve stubbed my toe on the edge of a bed or bedside table enough times, trying to get to bed in the dark, to know stubbing the 5th piggy can really lay you out.

Well, it turns out, the pinky toe’s value has been proven in recent years! Apparently, loss of the pinky toe “can significantly inhibit a person’s ability to skip, run or walk” (Hoyt, 2017). In other words, that stumpy, sad-looking, finger-like appendage that may not even have a nail helped you balance when you learned to walk, made your childhood fun, and carries you through every early-morning run or evening olympic lift. Hard to believe something so small can be so important. If you lost your pinky toe tomorrow, if would take physical therapy to help you learn to walk without it.

As important as the pinky toe is to your body, you are just as important in your church! But the sad thing is…most of us never believe that. We view ourselves as mere “members” of the church, like we are members of a gym, showing up to get personal benefit but cutting it the moment the demands of life require a sacrifice somewhere. Or maybe, we dedicatedly show up year-after-year offering our presence and tithe, but never do more than consume the word of God in Bible study and worship.

But Christian…we are meant for so much more! In 1 Corinthians 12:14-26, Paul compares each believer to a part of the body, saying in verses 21 & 22 (ESV), “the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable…” In other words, every part of the body of Christ is critical to the work God is doing on earth. There is more to your life in Christ than warming a pew at worship or a seat at Bible study! Worship and Bible study are merely the nutrients through which the Holy Spirit works to help you live out your critical role!

Now, I know it can be hard to find your place…and that first step out to do what you feel God is calling you to do can be intimidating. But that voice in your head saying, “Don’t do it…you’ll only fail because you don’t know what you’re doing” or “Don’t do it, you’ll make a fool of yourself and no one will ever respect you again”…that voice is a lie from Satan to hold you back from exactly who God made you to be. Indeed, you may fail. When Jesus went to His hometown to share the Gospel they tried to stone Him to death (John 10)! And He’s God! But that does not absolve us from obedience…stepping into God’s calling because He knows what He’s doing…even if we don’t.

If your gift is making food…make food for a church meal or for a hurting family you know! That is a gift as important as the gift of preaching when it comes to God’s call to bring His love to our world.

If your gift is knowing how to fix things, help keep the church fixed up or use your gifts to be the most trustworthy, Christ-centered repairman in town! That is a gift as important as teaching the Word when it comes to God’s call to bring His love to our world.

If your gift is compassion for the hurting…you know they are everywhere inside and outside our church. I bet they’re even in your office building or your restaurant or school. Love people as Christ does! That is a gift as important as singing praises when it comes to God’s call to bring His love to our world.

Brothers and sisters in Jesus…God has crafted you and called you to so much more than mere “attendance”. You are a warrior called to the front lines to fight for the King to save our kidnapped family members. Step forward with your gifts, knowing the God who shaped the universe works in and through you. Even failure isn’t failure in His hands.

  • Make a list of the things you’re good at. Now underline the things you are good at that you are also passionate about, enthusiastic for, make you excited, or give you energy.
  • Now from those you underlined, circle those you are already doing in your day-to-day life.
  • If you haven’t been seeing these as an avenue to bring God’s love to our world, why?
  • Challenge for the Week: Spend some serious time in prayer asking God to set you free from whatever is holding you back from using your gifts for Him, whether it’s fear of failure or self-doubt. Then ask God to show you how to use your gifts to His glory. When the opportunity arises…take it!

References

Hoyt, A. (2017, October 16). Surprise, your pinky toe does serve a purpose. HowStuffWorks. Retrieved from https://health.howstuffworks.com/human-body/parts/surprise-pinky-toe-does-serve-purpose.htm

Ephesians 2:10-21 – Uniting the Divided

Ephesians 2:10-21 – Uniting the Divided

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called ‘uncircumcised heathens’ by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ. For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death. He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us. So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord.”
– Ephesians 2:10-21NLT

When I started working at a church, I found that in some ways…it really isolated me from the everyday people of my community who may never step foot inside a church. I felt convicted I needed to know these people and their world if I was going to dare to claim I loved them and cared about them. What this led to was a practice of spending at least half a workday every week doing my work in a coffee shop near my church. Over the years, this has led to some amazing conversations and relationships with people I would never have met otherwise.

In this practice, I’ve also heard a lot of varied political perspectives. Coffee shops during the workday are an amazing hotbed of political discussion. Over the last few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to hear the heated opinions of an active Communist. In the past I’ve listened to disenfranchised Democrats and Republicans hash out what is wrong with the American political system.

In our American society, politics are one of the deepest divides we face right now. It seems like we can’t even have healthy, useful conversations about our political views because people become so emotional and hostile over their political values. Inevitably, it seems like political debates devolve into criticisms of the other side’s intelligence and morality.

In Ephesians 2:10-21, the Apostle Paul writes something incredibly controversial in his political environment. He wrote in verse 14NLT, “For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people…”

Stop. Right. There.

Jews looked down on Gentiles because they were “outsiders”, not observing the laws and rites of the Jewish faith. At best, Gentiles observed a “corrupt” version of Judaism not centered on the Temple in Jerusalem. At worst, the term “Gentiles” composed any other person in the world who did not worship Yahweh, including Roman and Greek peoples with their multiple gods and sometimes questionable worship practices, such as temple prostitution. In return, Gentiles despised the Jews for their self-righteousness and absolute refusal to bend to popular culture, which included observing the worship of Caesar as a god. The divides could not be deeper. Jews would often refuse to even enter a Gentile’s house or share food with them.

What you can draw from this is Jesus uniting these two groups as “one people” was scandalous for everybody. Yet that didn’t even slow Him up. On the one hand, one of His own disciples was “Simon the Zealot” (Luke 6:15). Zealots were essentially “Jewish terrorists”, seeking to forcibly remove Roman rule from Israel. They frequently worked to assassinate Roman leaders and inspired revolts against Roman rule. Yet on the other hand, in Luke 7:1-10, Jesus encounters a Roman centurion asking for healing for one of his servants. After meeting this man, Jesus says to the Jewish audience around Him, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith” (Luke 7:9b).

Christians…we are loved by an incredible God. “Once [we] were far away from God, but now [we] have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13NLT). Note the language here: we did not somehow bring ourselves close to God. Jesus, through His death, laid bloody hands on us and drew us into relationship with the God of the universe. He gave us a Family based on shared blood with the Creator.

That family is not just for those who are already in it.

Look at that sexuality or gender questioning neighbor: Christ is drawing them.

Look at that Islamic coworker bowing toward Mecca: Christ is drawing them.

Look at that radical feminist broadcaster: Christ is drawing them.

Look at that sky-high driver you’re trapped behind: Christ is drawing them.

What if He is drawing them through you? What if He intends them to be adopted as your brother or sister by working through you?

As Reverend Matt Popovits of Our Savior New York stated, “People should reject you because of Christ, not reject Christ because of you. There is a difference.”

  1. Who are the people you have the most difficulty making peace with?
  2. Why are these people such a challenge for you?
  3. How do you feel when you read Jesus may want to draw them into His family through you?
  4. Challenge for the Week: Whenever you find yourself thinking negatively about someone, think of them in terms of someone Christ died for that He wants to bring into His family…your family. When you have the opportunity to bring peace in His name in our divided society…do it.
Psalm 139:13-16 – Wonderful

Psalm 139:13-16 – Wonderful

As a child, I spent a lot of time with chickens. Not only did my parents, for a time, raise them for meat, we also raised hens throughout my childhood for eggs and sheer entertainment value. Those of you familiar with chickens know they march to the beat of their own drum, and I often found myself watching the antics of our little flock for twenty minutes at a time, amused throughout.

Growing up with chickens, one thing you learn pretty quickly is not to mess with momma-hen. You might say that’s nothing surprising, as most animals are fiercely protective of their young. However, the protectiveness of a hen doesn’t start when the chicks hatch but long before. As soon as she commits to sitting a nest, her protective instincts kick in hard. We call this being “broody”. A broody hen will fight to the death to protect her little clutch of eggs. I have seen a bantam cochin hen, weighing in at a whopping pound-and-a-half, fly out to attack a ninety-pound Labrador in defense of her nest. I have seen hens starve themselves nearly to death, refusing to leave their eggs even for a moment to eat. As the chicks grow within the eggs, the hen will make soft, tender clucking noises to her eggs as she rolls them over carefully, already establishing communication with the chicks growing within. Before they are born, chicks become familiar with the unique voice of their mother, and the mother will be able to pick out their chirping from any other chicks born in the barn. They are hers.

In Romans 1:20ESV, Paul writes, “For [God’s] invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” When I read this, I often think of mountains and oceans and sunsets and all the beauty of the created world. But even in the a little, momma hen, we can see the fingerprints of the creator in her fierce love for her children, even unborn.

In Psalm 139:15-16ESV, the Psalmist writes, My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” Before you were born, God knew you. You weren’t a mystery to Him. Your days were not yet to be revealed, but He knew every moment of every day of your life before one of them came to be. He knew your failings, your successes, your gifts, your faults, your loves, your regrets…the deepest parts of all you are.

And He didn’t recoil.

He didn’t sign in regret that He hadn’t done better.

He didn’t roll his eyes, shrug, and mutter, “Oh well…”

Rather, the Psalmist writes you are, “Fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works”. Wonderful. Not just wonderful, but fearfully wonderful. In other words… incredibly, awesomely, overwhelmingly wonderful. No matter how you feel. No matter what you are told by others. This is the declaration the CREATOR of the UNIVERSE makes over you:

Wonderful.

  1. Why does your life often seem less than “wonderful”?
  2. Why is it so difficult to believe God’s word’s about you, compared to your own inner dialogue or the criticisms of others?
  3. How often do you look at others as wonderful works of God?
  4. Challenge for the Week: God affirms His love for you in every day. Pay attention for those moments and little gifts He gives you. When He does, write them down and spend some time reflecting on them instead of dismissing them with negativity.
Matthew 28:19-20 – Fearful & Free

Matthew 28:19-20 – Fearful & Free

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:19-20ESV

Most kids, it seems to me, love puppets and clowns. They’re funny, they’re outgoing, and they inspire the imagination. I was not like most kids. By three years old, I had decided both these things were scary and untrustworthy. My mom would take me to the fair, and she couldn’t get me to go anywhere near the clown shows. Even the Christian clowns made me uncomfortable.

I remember one fair, when I was very young, we were walking past a tent where they were doing a kids’ event, and they were appealing to families walking by to come into the tent. It was a clown show, and I could see the kids gathering around the clowns doing the presentation. Amidst the rising fear, I reached for my mom’s hand. As she held my hand, the fear was still there…but I also felt safe. I knew my mom was there, that she wouldn’t leave me…that I would be okay because she loved me.

In Matthew 28, the disciples are coming to the end of three-and-a-half incredible years at the feet and side of Jesus. Not only had they seen Him heal the sick, cast out demons, stand up against the Pharisees, raise the dead, and feed thousands with a poor boy’s meal…He had enabled them to do the same in His name. What is more, they had watched Him die a brutal, agonizing death…only to rise from the dead and walk with them and teach them even more. Now…He is about to ascend into heaven, and He has just given them an incredible responsibility:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20aESV).

In other words, Jesus is telling them, “Make faithful believers of the whole world.” May it be noted the leaders of the most powerful nation on earth – namely Rome –  just decided Jesus was a threat and had Him executed with no evidence of a crime. The religious leaders of the Jews, the very leaders ALL the disciple’s friends and family are part of, conspired for Jesus’ murder to take place. And the world outside Rome is no safer for lone people with no apparent protection. Add to that, Jesus is leaving. While He had sent the disciples on missions before, it was always with the plan of them returning to His side to learn and grow again at His feet. To their eyes, this time He will not be there to physically turn to. They will not be able to have the same deep, heart-to-heart and mind-to-mind conversations.

Can you imagine how daunting this task would seem? How afraid they might have been?

But, like my mom taking my hand when I was afraid, Jesus acknowledges their fears with these final parting words, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20bESV). He isn’t leaving them alone to this task, with no support and no help. He will be with them through it all, speaking the truth to their hearts, speaking the truth through their mouths and hands. And to be honest…they faced a brutal road. Every disciple, except for John, would be murdered serving this mission, and John himself would die in exile on a prison island. Yet they did not die alone. In death they leapt into the arms of Jesus because He was never away from their sides.

The same stands true for you, believer. In every moment of fear, every breath of terror and uncertainty, every sense of inevitable, crushing defeat… Jesus has never left your side. As He promised the disciples, He is with you always, even to the end of all we know. The fear may persist, but you are not abandoned.

You are never alone.

  • On a piece of paper, list all the fears you are facing right now, great or small.
  • When you think about all these fears, how do you feel? Whatever feelings or thoughts came to mind, note them under your list.
  • How might Jesus’ constant presence in the midst of these fears and feelings impact how you deal with fear?
  • Challenge for the week: Jesus has promised to be with us in fear. Memorize Proverbs 3:5-6 and speak it to yourself whenever your fear begins to rise.
Isaiah 46:1-9 – “Modern” Idols

Isaiah 46:1-9 – “Modern” Idols

“Bel and Nebo, the gods of Babylon, bow as they are lowered to the ground. They are being hauled away on ox carts. The poor beasts stagger under the weight. Both the idols and their owners are bowed down. The gods cannot protect the people, and the people cannot protect the gods. They go off into captivity together. Listen to me, descendants of Jacob, all you who remain in Israel. I have cared for you since you were born. Yes, I carried you before you were born. I will be your God throughout your lifetime— until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you. To whom will you compare me? Who is my equal? Some people pour out their silver and gold and hire a craftsman to make a god from it. Then they bow down and worship it! They carry it around on their shoulders, and when they set it down, it stays there. It can’t even move! And when someone prays to it, there is no answer. It can’t rescue anyone from trouble. Do not forget this! Keep it in mind! Remember this, you guilty ones. Remember the things I have done in the past. For I alone am God! I am God, and there is none like me.” – Isaiah 46:1-9NLT

When I’ve taught about idolatry (the worship of things other than God) to people of all ages, a lot of times I get back blank looks. To be honest, I get it. When people think of worshipping idols, they think of human sacrifice to animal-headed statues supposedly representing some sort of god. They think of smoky-rituals and body-paint and strange songs in strange languages to appease angry, looming gods of ancient pantheons modern science has set aside as nothing more than mythology. In other words, people generally aren’t too worried about the command not to worship idols or false gods, as they don’t really think it’s something you can struggle with.

But what if it’s something every one of us struggles with every single day. What if you are struggling with it right now? What if your idol-worship is the reason you’re fighting with your wife? What if it’s the reason every success you have in your career leaves you feeling empty? What if it’s the reason you can’t get along with your parents or your friends or the people you love most? What if idolatry is what stands between you and all the things in your life you’ve always really wanted to do?

Because you see…idol worship doesn’t necessarily look like our movie-rendered mental images. Our idols can land much closer to home and look a lot more familiar than we realize:

  • Your spouse
  • Your kids
  • Your girlfriend or boyfriend
  • Money
  • Time
  • Success
  • Approval
  • Fun
  • Happiness
  • Pleasure

The list doesn’t end there. Now don’t get me wrong, these things are good things…blessings, even…but they can also own our devotion above and beyond God.

When God is talking to the Israelites in Isaiah 46 about how the gods of Babylon are not worthy of worship, He says about Himself in verses 3-4NLT, “Listen to me, descendants of Jacob, all you who remain in Israel. I have cared for you since you were born. Yes, I carried you before you were born. I will be your God throughout your lifetime—until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you.” In other words, God reminds His people that despite their lack of loyalty to Him, He is the One who can be relied upon to provide hope, meaning, safety, and security to us. He is the only one who can carry us when we are broken. He is the only one who can guarantee the safety of our lives for eternity, even as our bodies fail. He is the only one who knows us inside-and-out, able to use our gifts for the greatest and most meaningful causes. He is the only one guaranteed to love us and stick with us in every circumstance.

Yet how often do we trust our safety, security, hope, self-assurance…identity… to the things of this world?

  • Does the balance of your bank account determine how secure you feel?
  • Does your job title tell you if what you do is valuable?
  • Does the affection of your spouse tell you if you are worthwhile?
  • Do your grades tell you if you are succeeding or not?
  • Does the time you have to complete your task list take priority over giving time to your relationship with Jesus or the people He puts in your life?

You see, we all have idols. We all struggle to love and trust God more than anything else in our lives. That’s why the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 3:23ESV, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” But the passage doesn’t end there, for Paul continues in verses 24-25NLT, Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood.”

We all have our idols…but we also have a God who decided to set aside His power and authority to come and be like us, taking on a human body in the form of Jesus, because He knew how limited our devotion would be. He paid the price for our wandering hearts in Jesus’ death, and He set aside our sin forever when Jesus rose from the grave. You will stumble, you will fail to let God rule first in your heart. But with each new day there is forgiveness in Jesus, God sweeping away the unfaithful moments and reminding us He still reigns, and we have a true anchor in the storm in Him. An anchor that cannot fail.

  1. Before reading this post, how did you view idol worship?
  2. When you look at our culture, what sort of “idols” do you see in our society?
  3. How do you feel when someone you love is disloyal to you? With that in mind, why is it so powerful God remains loyal to us when we put idols before him
  4. Challenge for the week: Every time a circumstance causes a strong emotional reaction in you, write it down in a journal. At the end of the week, look back at your list to try and pinpoint what some idols might be in your life. Spend some time lifting that idol to God in prayer, asking Him to set you free from your devotion to that idol.

 

Revelation 1:8 – Almighty God

“‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.'” – Revelation 1:8

My husband and I used to play ultimate frisbee…a lot. In college, it was two hours a day Monday through Friday, plus the occasional Saturday. It didn’t matter if it was raining or snowing, we were out on one of the fields, huffing and puffing. Needless to say, we got pretty good at it.

Even when we graduated, we still threw frisbee all the time together to keep up our skills. On one such occasion, we came across a group of high school club players playing ultimate frisbee in a park. Eager to play again, asked if we could join them. They were gracious enough to let us play with them, but I could tell right away they were feeling confident and self-assured I would be a non-factor in the game. Proudly certain of their skills, they completely ignored me. Their pride made it all-the-more satisfying when my husband and I outran, out-threw, and out-caught them the whole game.

Isn’t that how we react to pride all the time? We see someone boldly confident and proud and we just love to watch them fall. We resist siding with them on any occasion because we don’t want to puff them up even more. Pride rubs against our nerves like sandpaper.

In Revelation 1:8, it seems like God is puffing Himself right up. The very first words John writes about God saying are, “I am the Alpha and the Omega…who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” The rebel in you just wants to say sarcastically, “Well good for you!” After all, while He’s being “Almighty,” things seem pretty rough down here.

But this isn’t God bragging Himself up, wanting us to feel how puny we are and how much bigger and better He is. This is not God lording over us (though He certainly has every right to.) Revelation was written in a time when Rome was actively murdering Christians. All of the Apostles, except John, had already been murdered for their faith, and John was in exile on a prison island, where he would ultimately die. This is after Rome had taken up the practice of sewing Christians into animal skins to be mauled to death by wild dogs in the arena, tying them up to huge stakes and setting them on fire as “Roman candles”, and crucifying them by their hundreds.

In that light, God’s bold statement of His power and authority is actually God reassuring and comforting His people. The most powerful Empire on earth is hunting down and murdering God’s people. It seems like dark, hopeless days facing a power they cannot possibly overcome. But God reminds His people HE is the one with the first say (Alpha) and the last say (Omega). The one who has existed before time, throughout all time, beyond the end of time (who was, and is, and is to come), the one who has ALL power and ALL authority to govern the universe (the Almighty). Evil may come, but it will not overcome Him…nor those who belong to Him… no matter what source it comes from.

And that same promise holds true now. In a world that seems to be spinning out of control, where Christians are more-and-more ignored and sidelined for speaking the Truth, where fact and fiction are intertwined so tightly it’s hard to know what’s really going on in the world, when everything seems to be a physical or verbal conflict…when violence is a norm…when it seems like nothing can ever get any better… God says to us, even today, “I am the Alpha and the Omega…who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” He has the power and always will have the power to overcome the evil in our world. No matter how dark things become, He is reigning – He is winning – and where He reigns and wins…so do we. There is real hope in Him.

No matter what.

  1. Do you ever feel like God isn’t interested in what you’re going through? Why?
  2. What do you think it felt like to live through what the Christians were living through when John wrote Revelation?
  3. How can you see God winning over evil in your day-to-day life?
  4. Challenge for the Week: Go to Voice of the Martyrs and look into how Christians are being persecuted around the world. Commit to praying for a specific persecuted Christian group or Christian for the week.