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.
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

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.

 

John 14:6 – Jesus’ Truth

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'” – John 14:6ESV

When I was young, I remember going to the local butterfly habitat with a group of kids. I vividly remember getting up the courage to pet a tarantula (it’s legs felt like kitten fur!), flicking lights on an off in a scorpion habitat because the scorpions could glow-in-the-dark, and entering the giant, butterfly room. There were butterflies everywhere, of every color. They even landed on people as they walked among the verdant flowers and plants.

Unfortunately, as clear as these memories are, there is one even clearer that ended up defining the trip for me. This was the time of the “Beanie Baby” craze, and in the gift shop they had a stuffed bee that looked a lot like a “Beanie Baby”. I wanted it desperately…but I didn’t have the money to purchase it. So, when it was time to leave, I reluctantly put it back on the shelf and headed out with the rest of the group. While we were eating outside, our leader came around and was checking everyone’s bags, so when she got to the friend I had gone through the exhibit with, I said jokingly, “What? You think we stole something?”

When the bag opened…to my horror, there sat the very stuffed bee I had wanted so much. And my supposed friend accused me of putting it there while she was in the bathroom. Over my protests, our leader made us both return the bee and apologize for stealing it. It was one of the most humiliating, and unjust, experiences of my childhood.

Experiences like this can end up defining a person. When we are treated poorly, when we suffer because people cannot be honest and decent to others, we start to believe everyone is that way. When a husband or father leaves, when a mother or wife is abusive, when a boss pushes us to lie to make the sale, when a teacher clearly plays favorites, when friends betray our confidences…we start to believe we can only trust ourselves.

Sometimes…perhaps more than sometimes…we even look at God that way. When the world is so dark, when there is so much hardship we have to endure… it is easy to lose trust in God.

Yet Jesus insists He is quite the opposite of the lack of honesty and decency we see in the world. Instead of being out to trick us, He insists, “I am…the truth.” He is the embodiment of all that is true. It is His very nature. In a world where we are constantly overwhelmed by lies, even from inside our own heads, we can look to Jesus for honesty and guidance. We can rely on Him to be consistent when no one and nothing else is. We can find direction and hope in a world that seems to empty of both.

Let the voice of Jesus cut through the garbage this world and Satan throws at you…and be set free by the Truth.

  1. What untruths do you see portrayed as truth in our culture?
  2. What are some untruths you find yourself believing about yourself?
  3. Why are those untruths so hard for you to shake?
  4. Challenge for the Week: Read this compilation of who God says you are by bible.org. Write down a few that really speak into your heart on a notecard. Put it in your wallet in front of your credit card so every time you spend money, you are reminded of the Truth about you from God.

Ezekiel 37:1-14 – You’re Not a Waste

“The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’ And I answered, ‘O Lord God, you know.’ Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.’

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.’ So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.

Then he said to me, ‘Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.'” – Ezekiel 37:1-14ESV

Do a quick Google search and you’ll find out some interesting things about this blue ball we live on. For example, the deepest point on earth is the Mariana Trench, which is about 35,462 feet deep. Do the math. That’s almost 7 miles below the surface of the ocean. The creatures living out their lives there look like something out of a horror film. It’s hard to believe they share this planet with us.

Another interesting fact: according to a November 15, 2017, article in Forbes entitled “The Number Of Earth-Like Planets In The Universe Is Staggering – Here’s The Math”, there are potentially 19,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars in the universe with the potential for at least one planet similar to Earth. That’s 21 zeros after the 19. I’m not even sure how to say a number that big. Yet, so far as we can tell, Earth is the only example among all these with the opulent existence of life. And not just mere micro-organisms, but beautiful, complex, astonishing life.

Now that I’ve got fixed firmly in your mind how incredible creation is, take a look at Ezekiel 37:4-8:

“Then [God] said to me, ‘Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.’ So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them…”

Did you pick up on the enormity of what just happened here? Ezekiel was an ordinary man living in 6th century BC Babylon among his fellow Jewish exiles after Babylon conquered Israel and Judah. He would only live about fifty years, prophesying the coming redemption of Israel that he would never see. Yet the same God who thought up the weird creatures in the Mariana Trench, the same God who thought it would be fun to make however-many kajillion (or however you say that number) stars and planets, but only inhabit one with life…chose to use this simple man to raise the dead. He could have easily done it Himself, but He chose to include Ezekiel in the display of His absolute authority over all life.

What does that remind you of? It reminds me of a mission trip I once went on with a group of high schoolers where we had to re-roof an 8/12 pitch house with cedar shingles underneath two layers of tar shingles. You have to have safety lines on everyone just to stay safe on the roof. It was almost one-hundred degrees and humid in the middle of summer in central Michigan. It would have been far faster and far easier for the experienced adults to rip right through that roof and get it done. But what was important to us wasn’t just re-roofing a house for someone…it was equipping the youth with new skills and confidence to do hard things. It took us a lot more brutal days under the sun, but because of that attitude, by the end of the trip, the kids were laying shingles with hardly any help from the adults, using nail guns and cutting shingles to fit like they’d been doing it all their lives.

You see…God is our Father, not just our Lord. We are His children. He says it over-and-over again throughout the Bible. There are countless times in the Bible when He could have easily done things Himself…and didn’t. Instead, He worked with and through ordinary people to achieve the extraordinary and transformed human history and human lives for the good by doing so.

And He is still doing the same thing today…through US. Through YOU.

You are not a waste. You are not a failure. Not now that God has come to live in your heart. The same God Who defeated Egypt through the power of the son of a slave, the same God Who defeated a giant through the arm of a shepherd, the same God Who defeated a conquering army through two women not trained for battle…choses to work through you every single day of your life. He choses YOU.

  1. Do you ever feel like God doesn’t really have a use for you? Why?
  2. How do you feel knowing the God of Creation works through you?
  3. How might it impact the way you view your life if you view yourself as just as important to God as the heroes of the Bible?
  4. Challenge for the Week: Read Ezekiel 27:1-14 every day and pray for God to give you eyes to see the ways He wants to work through you this week.