Integrity

Today’s reading is Mark 12.

As we continue to take a close look at the words of Jesus, He tells us here that the greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength in Mark 12:30, reaffirming what Moses said in Deuteronomy 6:5 after delivering the Ten Commandments. He then states in Mark 12:31 the second greatest commandment is what some refer to as the “golden rule” which is to love your neighbor like yourself. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that a few verses later in Mark 12:38-40 he calls out the religious scribes who talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk and truly live their lives for God warning of their condemnation. This is a good reminder for all of us to take a look at the true condition of our heart. How do we know the true condition of our heart?

This week our son came home from kindergarten and asked his mom and me if we knew what integrity meant. Taken a little bit back by this from him asking this at a young age we asked, “What is it buddy?” He said, “My teacher says it’s doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.” Albert Einstein said there are 5 levels of intelligence in ascending order: smart, intelligent, brilliant, genius, and the highest form which is simple. This is not the textbook definition of integrity, but I believe it’s the simplest and the right one. We should all ponder this question,” What am I doing when no one is watching?” This shows the true condition of our heart. We need to fully examine ourselves to know the condition of our heart which God already knows. As the scribes were doing, any of us can paint a picture we want others to see by writing for devotional like this, serving as an elder or even as a pastor, volunteering, going to church and saying the right things. But, does your heart and follow up actions show you are doing these things for the right reasons? Do you truly love Him? You know. God knows.

As I write this, we are talking about repentance as part of our Joshua 24 study and Eastview Church. If we are not living the way we want to live, the great news is at any time we can turn away from sin and run into God’s loving arms. We must acknowledge our sin and specifically and then take action to change what we are doing. The even better news is that 1 John 4:19 tells us He first loved us before we loved Him by giving His life on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. Do you believe this? If so, despite past wrong doings, you can go live your life with integrity for Him today and every day without any guilt of past wrong doing. Is there any greater feeling than that?!

The Great Commission

Today’s reading is Matthew 28.

As we focus on Jesus’ words in our recent Bible Journal posts, Matthew 28 refers to what is commonly called “The Great Commission” from Jesus.

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Scholars have differing opinions on whether these were Jesus’ last words, but I don’t think any of them can argue over the importance of them considering the fact that these are the words the Bible says He told the disciples after the resurrection both here in Matthew 28 and in Mark 16.

Why is so hard to talk about our faith and share the gospel with others? I know I struggle with this, as I’m sure most reading this do. Most Christians have never been on a mission trip at all, let alone one where true evangelism is included. Most Christians have likely never witnessed to a non-believer…even those they may be very close with. At a very young age we’re commonly taught that you don’t bring up politics and religion at social, and even family, gatherings. Yes…these can be sensitive topics which can get people fired up, but I think the main reason we struggle is fear. We wonder what they will think about us. We wonder if we will say the right thing. We don’t think we know our Bible well enough to answer questions they might ask us. We wonder if we are worthy to speak the gospel because of the sin in our life which they also might even know and call us out. Do you notice the theme here? All of these reasons are about us..not about the individual we’re sharing with. All our concerns are selfish. Fear is always about you. But, what is more important..the potential negative impact to you or their eternal life? When we genuinely love and focus on others fear goes away.

What is a common trait of great leaders? I would sum it up into 2 words…servant leadership. No one models this better than Jesus. It says here in Matthew 28:18 “all authority in heaven and on earth” has been given to Him. Yet, we read in John 13 where one of the last things Jesus does before He’s captured is wash his disciples’ feet. Now, I’m not sure how much you would have to pay me to wash 12 of my closest friends’ feet now…let alone in the days when there were only sandals and they walked and rode camels everywhere. Ultimately, Jesus shows us the greatest act of servant leadership possible by laying down His life for us. Jesus states here He was given “all authority in heaven and on earth,” yet He washes dirty feet and lays down His life. Wow. It’s really hard to comprehend isn’t it? Is that what you would do if you had all the authority in heaven and on earth?

Great, servant leaders are with you through the best and worst of times. They are with you in the trenches and on the mountain tops. How cool is it that the king of Heaven and Earth says, “…I am with you always, until the end of the age!” Is there anything more we can really ask from Him in this life until we meet Him again than that?

As we finish this week, let’s remember life is not about you..it’s never been about you. Jesus showed us what life was really about and that’s love..love for others. Perfect love casts out fear. Is there anything we can do more to show our love for others than to share the Good News and help give them the gift of eternal life? Live the mission.

Known

Today’s reading is Matthew 16.

In verse 7, we read the disciples are concerned because they have no bread to eat. Jesus follows up saying in verse 8, “O you of little faith..” reminding them that not only did he just feed 5,000 with 5 loaves in Matthew 15, but that he also fed 4,000 on 7 loaves in Matthew 14 and they even had leftovers both times! It is very easy to judge the disciples wondering how they could quickly forget the miracles He just performed?! However, when I take a step back and reflect, I realize I do the same thing all the time. Within a matter of weeks, days, and even hours it’s easy to forget the miracles recently performed in our lives. It’s the cancer diagnosis that could have been much worse, the accident that could have been fatal but wasn’t, and the job that could have been lost but was saved which are quickly forgotten, and we are on to worrying about the next thing. Instead, we should constantly be thanking Him, trusting Him, and giving Him the praise and glory knowing He has the whole world in His hands.

Despite our failures, imperfections, and lack of faith, God Has big plans for us. Jesus knew in verse 22 Peter would rebuke Him saying that Jesus’ words predicting His crucifixion were not true, and He knew Peter would later deny Him 3 times after He was arrested. Yet prior to these events and knowing Peter would fail, Jesus calls him by the name Cephas meaning rock, and He tells him He will build his church through Peter and give him the keys of the kingdom of Heaven. Peter doesn’t sound like much of a rock to me…does he to you? But, like I tell my kids every night before I tuck them in, God loves you and has big plans for you. Not only has He made us righteous and perfect before God through His blood (Romans 5:1), but despite our sinful actions, trials, and doubts, He will do in amazing things in your life as He did with Peter. Isn’t it crazy to think of the fact that He knows you will mess up as He knew Peter would, yet He is still planning big things for your future with and through you? But, He is. That’s grace. That’s love. Nearly every “hero” in the Bible was a messed up sinner, David, Moses, Paul, and Jonah just to name a few. However, God not only fully redeemed them through His blood, but he also redeemed them through their actions later in their life. Whatever sin you have going on in your life and whatever mistakes you have made and will make, God’s plans for you and His saving grace on the cross are bigger. This new Tauren Wells song Known says it perfectly…

“…You won’t let go no matter what I do

And it’s not one or the other

It’s hard truth and ridiculous grace

To be known fully known and loved by You

I’m fully known and loved by You…”

The Tempter

Today’s reading is Matthew 4.

As I mentioned in my previous writing 2 weeks ago, one of the big “ah-ha’s” for me as I became an adult was when it really hit me that Jesus was tempted, just like us and as we see in this writing, but was the only human to live without sin, yet died on the cross to take our place. As new small group members some years ago, there was a couple in our group who seemed to talk constantly about Satan and his temptations in their lives and the lives of others around them. They talked about it so much that it my wife and I found it awkward and thought they were really kind of out there. Not that we didn’t acknowledge Satan is real because if you acknowledge God is real you have to acknowledge Satan is real, but we just felt they were a little over the top about how much Satan interjects and they talked about it. However, as we have matured in our faith, we completely understand it now.

A few weeks ago, I was in a restaurant speaking with a friend who is really struggling to believe God is real and is struggling with other things in his life. We had been talking for over an hour and although there was much activity in the restaurant he was locked in on me, keeping eye contact the entire time. As I began to make a very strong and direct witness to him to the point that you could feel the intensity building in the conversation and I began to tell him we all have a God-shaped hole in our hearts only He can fill, “BAM!!” a worker dropped a trash can right in the middle of my sentence and he lost all focus on what I was saying. A few years ago, I would have said that’s crazy and this was just coincidence, but I now believe that was Satan interjecting. You’ll hear similar stories during conversions from other believers and pastors if you ask them.

I find it very interesting in Matthew 4:3 Satan is called “the tempter.” God did not have to use this terminology. This was very intentional. That’s what Satan does. He tempts. That’s who he is. 1 Peter 5:8 says, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” If he tried to tempt Jesus 3 times here in a short period of time, you can bet he’s going to be tempting us. In fact, it is my humble opinion that he tries to tempt those of outspoken faith and belief the most because that is a huge win for him if he gets us to sin, especially when others find out about it about it. It does a lot of damage when a pastor, elder, small group leader, or strong believer sins and it becomes known by many. He loves this. People expect a known and public repeat sinner to sin so that is not a big win to Satan when they sin again.

How do we avoid falling into Satan’s traps and temptations?

  1. Acknowledge he’s real and tempting us daily..even by the hour and the minute.
  2. Stay in prayer and the Word. Expectancy theory says that which you think about expands. If you spend more time with God, you’ll stay close to and be thinking about Him keeping you insulated. Satan knows the Scriptures as we see her, but so did Jesus as we see here in Matthew 4:4, Matthew 4:7, and Matthew 4:10.
  3. Stay in close community with other believers through church and small group to keep you accountable (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). Consider reading The Resolution for Men and The Resolution for Women with other male or female believers…committing to the Resolution at the end.
  4. Stay humble and on watch…even as we mature in our faith. If he tried to tempt Jesus, he will tempt us!

Even the Lord’s Prayer tells us to pray “Lead us not into temptation” in Matthew 6:13. Let us put on the armor of God and answer the call today and everyday Timothy gives us in 1 Timothy 6:11-12.

“But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”

 

 

No Matter What

Today’s reading is John 8:1-19.

We will focus mostly on the first portion about the woman who the Pharisees brought to Jesus for committing adultery. They were attempting to trap Jesus by saying she must be stoned based on the Law of Moses for committing this sin. But, Jesus did the unexpected. He told them whoever was without sin should throw the first stone and not only did they not stone her, but they walked away from oldest to youngest. Jesus then told her He would not condemn her either and to go and sin no more. He gave her both grace and truth. If we are willing to walk away from our sins, He’ll wash away our sins.

John 3:17 reads…

“For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”

About this time last year, I remember interacting with a gentleman in park in New York City on the Spread Truth mission trip. This man was brought up going to church and was very knowledgeable about many world religions. He specifically stated that He was not a Christian because he thought the idea that God would humble Himself to become man and suffer the way Jesus did was ludicrous. He said if there truly was a God, he would show his power and might and condemn humans because essentially if he was God that’s what he would do. He’s right…we can’t fathom the idea of what God did because we, as sinful humans, would show our power and judge others as the Pharisees did and expected Jesus to do. I sin a lot and in many different ways, but if I were to count each one and label by type, judging others would be near the top of the list. We expect God is like us and would do the same, but He’s not. He tells us in Isaiah 55:8-9 that His ways and thoughts are higher than ours, therefore it’s hard to fathom what He did through Jesus.

As a child, I remember sort of wondering what the big deal was with Jesus dying on the cross at some level because other people die in the act of helping someone like police officers and fire fighters. What was the big deal about Jesus doing it? It wasn’t until I was an adult and realized that Jesus was the only person to walk the Earth without sin, and even just one sin permanently separates us from God without his perfect death on the cross (Romans 3:23). Only when I was able to wrap my arms around this and that He didn’t have to suffer for us, but willingly did and brings us together again with Him and gives us the free gift of eternal life through His death on the cross could I fully appreciate what God has done (Romans 6:23). Actually, as hard as I try, I’m probably still much like the Pharisees and the man in the park, it’s just hard to fathom.

As I’ve mentioned before, I feel one of the main ways God reaches me and connects to my life is through music. This time is no different. Recently, friends and family have been directly or indirectly impacted by depression. Depression can come for many reasons, but I have to believe many circumstances are due to the weight of past sins or feeling like the person is insufficient and doesn’t measure up. If you or someone you know suffers from depression, I hope this amazing song, “No Matter What,” can bring you or them peace and comfort. Every single one of us, even those perceived to be very successful and appearing to have everything going for them, are insufficient without Him. He is enough though. He makes us whole and perfect to God despite all our failures and imperfections. No matter what.

Walk the Walk

Growing up in small town in Central Illinois where high school basketball and football were king, I remember at a very young age being out to prove you were the best and would be the future quarterback or basketball star. One way you could prove it to the high school coach and the community as early as second grade was during the summer camps run by the high school coaches and players. The biggest platform to do this in basketball was the one on one contest. I remember not being able to sleep the night before which seems so silly now and the trash talking started months ahead of time. When another kid began saying how he was going to beat me, I remember my Dad and older brother telling me to say to him, “You can talk the talk, but can you really walk the walk?”

In today’s reading, Ephesians 5:6-20, God is telling us as a Christian and Christ-follower to not just talk the talk, but to walk the walk. Ephesians 5:8 reads, “for at one time you were in darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of the light.” Align your actions with your values. Again, in Ephesians 5:15-16 it says, “Look carefully then how you walk not as unwise but wise, making the best use of your time, because the days are evil. ”Did you catch that? ….”because the days are evil.” As we dig in to the character of God over these 40 days, we see here that He knows the temptations we face in this world because Jesus faced them himself. He knows it’s not easy.

He gives us 3 ways to help us walk the walk.

  1. Choose who you spend your time with wisely. Ephesians 5:6 -7 tell us not to partner with the sons of disobedience. I love and believe the saying that who you will be in 10 years is a result of the people you surround yourself with and the books you read. Even Jesus spent time with the worst of sinners to help guide them in the right direction, but are the people you spend the most time and partner with those that will nurture your faith or bring you more temptation which could cause you to fall into more sin?
  2.  Ephesians 5:10 tells us to try to discern the will of God. How? I believe there are 2 primary ways to know the will of God better…being in the Word daily (back to the books you read from above) and asking Him for wisdom and discernment daily in prayer. How often are you in the Word, and how often are you asking Him for wisdom not only on the big decisions and issues, but even on things you don’t know may come at you in the upcoming day?
  3. Ephesians 5:20 tells us to give God thanks in everything. You will live (walk) differently and inspire others to have a relationship with Jesus when you have an attitude of gratitude no matter the circumstances. I’ve heard it said you can’t feel gratitude and stress at the same time. How often do you write down the things you are thankful for or not only thank Him in prayer for His saving grace on the cross, but also for the simple things like your home, your spouse, or your kids? Do those around you see you as someone who is extremely gracious for the blessings God has given you despite the stress and challenges on this Earth? Would they be drawn to Christ to want what you have by seeing your walk?

Take some time to ask yourself how you are doing on these 3 items. What is the nature of my faith? Am I growing closer to Him and learning the character and will of God which can help me in my walk? Do my actions align with my values and what I say I believe? We are not perfect and need Him as our Savior, but let us honor His sacrifice on the cross by striving to improve every day and live a life worthy of His calling.

Crazy Socks

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers,[a] by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.[b] Do not be conformed to this world,[c] but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Romans 12:1-2

When do you remember first worrying about what others thought of you and trying to fit in? For me, it was junior high. I began to really care about how I looked, dressed, and the brand of my clothes. I remember wearing some jeans and wondering that morning if I had grown and if they were long enough. That same day, someone made a comment about me having “high waters” on and then a girl who many of us junior high aged boys were fond of chimed in and said…”Looks like the tides are coming in, Chet.” You can be rest assured I never wore those pair of jeans again, and I made sure my pants were never too short again. In fact, my wife is going to chuckle when she reads this because I think this experience is why likely today I am still always asking her if my pants are too short (like even maybe just last week). Unless if’s for exceptional performance at something, nearly all of us are constantly trying to fit in. Even as adults, we are worried about what others think and follow to the norms of this world.

This world is always trying to get us to conform, even though Romans 12:2 clearly tells us it’s ok to be different, which is exactly what we will be, when we are following Christ. This world tries to tell us that we can do whatever we want and feel like because that will make us happy. This world tells us that rules and guidelines God gives us in His Word keep us from being satisfied. Do whatever you feel like..that will bring you happiness and peace. Then you will be free. However, God knows whatever He tells us is sin in the Bible will actually make us a slave, not free. Sin either initially gives us a sense of anxiety knowing we did something wrong shortly thereafter or gives us temporary satisfaction in the moment, but it will eventually bring us pain and hurt at some point in the long run. This world tells us that many things the Bible says are wrong are now socially acceptable. Things have changed since Bible times we are told, and the Evil One will even trick us into believing that some things are not a sin just because Jesus didn’t specifically address them. But, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 tells us,” 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God[a] may be complete, equipped for every good work.” The Evil One knows that if we discredit one piece of Scripture…he’s got us..because that means you have to throw out the Scriptures as a whole. We, as believers, must stand up and recognize that the nature of our faith is 2 Timothy 3:16 is true and as a result, we believe ALL Scripture to be true. We must then do all we can to live out the truth of those Scriptures to reveal the character of God.

Romans 3:23 tells us “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Isaiah 59:2 tells us “..your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God.” But, thankfully the character of God is to give us that which we do not deserve as told here in Romans 6:23.. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We all have a God shaped hole in our heart due to our sin that only He can fill through a relationship with Him.

No matter how hard we try, we will fall short and sin, but Romans 12:1 tells us that we should do all we can to make our own body holy and sacred, dedicating it to Him and doing all we can to not sin. Romans 12:2 then also tells us that when we do this and do not conform to this world we will know the will of God. How many times do we ask ourselves why something bad is happening in our lives, others’ lives, or in our world today? How can this seemingly bad thing be good? What good can come of this? What is the right thing for me to do right now? Well, this tells us if we give our life up to Him, we will better understand His will and what is going on. Who doesn’t want that wisdom and the peace that will come from it?

For the last few years, a few guys in my office have been on me to get rid of my old plain, solid colored dress socks that match my suit and switch to wearing the crazy designed, multi-colored socks that don’t have to match your suit. I pushed back caring about what potential clients would think and wondering if someone would trust a financial advisor who dresses like this. Well, three months ago I was in San Diego and walked into a store with probably a 60 feet wall full of crazy socks. I began to think (or maybe it was the Holy Sprit’s divine intervention)..maybe it’s time. So, I did it…I decided not to conform with the regular old, plain socks and to get some crazy socks…to be different. Let me tell you after 3 months, I love wearing them. It’s actually fun, and I like not having to worry about matching. Covering up past sins which cause worry and anxiety is not enjoyable. Giving your body as a sacrifice and not conforming to this world and what this world says is right may sound boring and not fun. However, if you hear the Holy Spirit telling you to change the way your living through His Word or through Christ-centered friends, listen and take action. Turn away, and give your life to Jesus. You won’t have to worry about the bondage of past sins that make you a slave. It may be even better and more freeing than not having to worry about matching socks….

 

Holy Ground

Today’s reading is Luke 18:2-8 and Psalm 127.

Psalm 127:1-2 reads..

“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil, for he gives to his beloved sleep.”

How often do we try to “build our house” without the Lord? In reflecting back on the prayers throughout most of my life, my prayers have typically involved asking for forgiveness for my sins, thanking God for dying on the cross for me, and praying for others’ needs of which I’m aware. While asking for forgiveness for my sins and believing in His death on the cross is sufficient to go to Heaven and praying for the needs of others is noble and something God wants…I don’t think that’s all He wants.

John 15:5 reads..

“I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

Meriam-Webster defines Lord as “one having power and authority over others.” God wants to be Lord of your life, not just some of your life, but all of it. God doesn’t just want some of your heart, he wants all of it. It says clearly in John 15:5, “apart from me you can do nothing.” God wants our marriage, our kids, our careers, our finances, our health…he wants EVERYTHING. He wants to be Lord of all those things. He wants us to surrender all of those things to Him and His lordship (authority)..not just our sins.

Why do we hold back our personal needs and desires from Him and not ask Him for help, guidance, and wisdom in all these areas of our life? Why do we not acknowledge he’s already in control of these things anyway and ask Him for help?

Here are a few potential reasons…

  • We don’t think he really cares about our needs..big and small. Why would he be concerned about little old me? However, Psalm 139:13-14 tells us He knit us together in our mother’s womb, and we are fearfully and wonderfully made by Him. Matthew 10:29-30 tells us that not even a sparrow falls without God knowing and even the hairs on our head are numbered.
  • We fear He won’t answer our prayers the way we want which may in turn cause us to question whether He really cares or even question His sovereignty. My Mom always told me as a child God answers all prayers. However, he just may not answer them in the exact way we ask them. Romans 8:28 tells us, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” We must trust and believe this.
  • We may wonder why even bother because of past prayers that we feel were unanswered and may even hold animosity towards Him due to this. But, Isaiah 55:8-9 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” We never know the good that may come out of things we feel are really bad in our eyes, and I’m sure all of us can think of some prayers we thought were unanswered but later realized it was actually a good thing.
  • Either our desires are truly selfish or we feel because they benefit us in some earthly way they must be. Just because something benefits us doesn’t mean it’s selfish necessarily. We can use earthly gifts and blessings for His glory when we consciously think about it, give Him the due praise and glory, and then use those gifts for His glory.

Truly surrendering all to Him means we are doing all for His glory and not ours. We give all areas of our life to Him and His lordship. It’s not about us, and it’s never been about us. It’s about Him.

Once we surrender it all to Him, He will truly bless us. Abraham and Sarah waited until age 100 for Isaac. Can you imagine how precious and coveted this child was to Abraham? God then asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, the son he had waited all this time for. Not until the very last second when Abraham had the knife raised did God stop Abraham. Not until he knew Abraham was truly going to give his most prized possession to Him did God stop him. Then, God tells Abraham because he obeyed him and did not spare his beloved son he will surely bless him and give him more offspring than the sand on the seashores. He surrendered it all, and God blessed. Check this out in Genesis 22.

Maybe God is holding back things from you because you are holding things back from Him. You are not asking Him for help and giving it to Him. He’s waiting until you give them all to Him and will use them for His glory. He loves you enough to not give them to you until you do because He knows that’s when you will be truly satisfied and fulfilled..when you give it all to Him. He’s waiting for you to go “all in” with Him.

We read in Luke 18:2-8 where an unrighteous judge gave a persistent widow justice against her adversary because she kept asking him to do so. The question is posed that if an unrighteous judge will give help because you keep asking, won’t God if you truly cry out to Him for help?

Romans 8:32 reads…

“He who did not spare His own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

What more does God really need to do than give us His only Son to show us His love and tell us we can bring him all our troubles surrendering all to Him? If today someone else sacrificed themselves or their son for my life, would that not tell me all I needed to know about their care and love for me?

Surrender your entire life to Him…not just some areas…all of them. Ask Him for help. Do not build your house in vain. Make every area of your life “Holy Gound.” It’s what He’s been waiting for. It’s what you’ve been waiting for that will give you peace and comfort that surpass understanding.

Let us pray the words of the song Holy Ground below by Passion/Melodie Malone..

“…Come and have your way Jesus.

Chains fall.

Fear bow.

Hear now.

Jesus, you change everything.

Lives healed.

Hope found.

Here now.

Jesus, you change everything….”

Got Talent?

Today’s reading is Matthew 18:23-34 and Psalm 115.

We will focus on the parable in Matthew which many of us our familiar with where a king forgave a servant 10,000 talents. Some resources indicate 1 talent is about 20 years of wages in biblical times so 10,000 talents would be 200,000 years of wages! However, when the servant was released and someone owed him 100 denarii which resources say is about 4 months wages, he did not show the same grace. In fact, he had him thrown into prison.

Tonight, I was talking with a friend about a mutual relationship we have with another individual who we both have a disagreement with. My friend made a comment in which he said something to the effect of…”you’re a little more forgiving than me on items like this” with this person. However, while I would like to say I’m living this out…I would say this very circumstantial and is not the case anywhere near to the level the Bible calls us to do. He doesn’t know this, but I actually went off on this person’s boss about them at one point and learned later I was quick to judge, didn’t know some things about the individual, and felt the need to apologize to this person’s boss for my quick and harsh judgement without knowing everything. This person’s boss is also someone I’m trying to witness, too. Oops..I did not show them a very good example to draw them to Christ in this case did I?!

One time I even took a personality assessment which said I’m typically forgiving….to an extent. It said I give individuals chances, but when it reaches a certain “breaking point,’ I’m completely done with them and write them off. I’m not going out on a limb to say my breaking point is WAY less than 10,000 talents!

In fact, I often find my amount of forgiveness depends on the relationship with the person or if I find myself with similar beliefs. I’m quick to forgive family, a close friend. or those that have the same political beliefs as me or are on the sports team I root for. Yet, I am quick to condemn someone who stumbles and makes a mistake that has different political views or is a celebrity I don’t know or is on a rival sports team for example. This is just wrong. It shouldn’t matter. I need to realize that I’m called to forgiven in the same way Jesus has forgiven me as this parable teaches of. If Jesus held me to the same standard I hold others to, I’d be in big trouble.

As we read through the Psalms, we come across many passages that talk about having a healthy fear of the Lord. This passage is very humbling because it reminds us at the end that if we don’t forgive others, the Lord will not forgive us. It is also humbling because reminds me how thankful I should be that the Lord has forgiven my sins that come not just by the hour, but by the minute. By using 10,000 talents or 200,000 years wages…He wanted to show the unbelievable depth of His forgiveness and grace. He washes ALL our sins white as snow. It is not circumstantial like my forgiveness of others which I must improve on. All we have to do is believe in Him and ask…and give the same grace to others. God is great!

Take Root, Part II

Today’s reading is the parable of the sower and the seed which is found in Matthew 13:3-8 and Matthew 13:18-23, Mark 4:3-8, and Luke 8:5-8 and Luke 8:11-15. The fact that this parable is found in 3 of the 4 gospels tells me this might be one the Lord once to empathize through His Word. This parable was actually my first ever Bible Journal writing topic in January of 2017. One of my mentors always said, “repetition is the mother of learning,” so most of what is contained below is from that post. However, there were a few new things I picked up in reading this again which I added.

Jesus first tells of seeds which fell along the path and were eaten by birds. He clarifies this is those who hear the message, but don’t understand and accept it. Their hearts are hardened, and they are not ready to accept their Lord and Savior Jesus. The Devil carries these seeds away. The Devil and the norms of this earthly world are leading their life. He then tells of seeds that fell on rocky soil. He clarifies here He is describing those that gladly hear the Good News, but lose faith when trouble and persecution come. The Word did not “sink in” so to speak like the seeds did not sink in the soil. He then tells of seeds that fell among the thorn bushes. These seeds grow up, but are choked out by the worries of this life, the love of riches and the world. Finally, Jesus tells of seeds sown in the good soil which sunk in and bore great grain. This is describing those that hear the message, understand it, and bear fruit by living it out in their everyday lives.

A few years ago, I told my wife how thankful I was for the blessings we have received, but that I was also fearful for how I would react when we faced what I perceived as some “real” challenges others have faced. We know that challenges will come because James 1:2 says “when” trials come and not “if.” I had attended church my whole life, but how do we make sure our faith is strong and the seeds are planted deep in the good soil? Is going to church regularly enough? Would that prepare us?

In order for the seeds to be buried deep and take root, we must have a strong relationship with Jesus. In fact, Jesus specifically directs us to do so in John 15:5.

“I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

How do we foster that relationship with Him? Here are a few things we came up with…

  • Find a church that focuses on the Bible and sees it as the truth and never changing with time, despite what modern day culture tries to tell us.
  • Be in the Word daily (finding a daily devotional helps) to provide a constant and consistent message of instruction and direction.
  • Be in prayer throughout the day to be in communication with God and keep our heart in the right place. This draws us close to Him.
  • Join a Bible study/small group to create a community of believers and friends that can help facilitate and hold us accountable to growing our relationship with Him and our faith.

Since this conversation, we have faced some new challenges we had not faced before or ever anticipated, and I believe we were better prepared to face those by improving in the areas above. Are we where we need to be? No. We can always grow closer to Him by improving even more in these areas. We need to grow more to live more like Him as we are called to and also in order to be ready for the next round of challenges which may be even tougher. Putting on the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18) to create a relationship with Jesus allows us to move forward with confidence each day in knowing we are equipped to face trials and tribulations. Again,  Matthew 13:18 and James 1:2 says “when” trials come…not “if.”

One additional takeaway from reviewing these passages again is Luke 8:15.

“As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the words, hold it fast in an honest and true heart, and bear fruit with patience.”

If the love of, and relationship with, Jesus has truly taken root deep in our heart, we will hold fast and be able and willing to wait as we often get thrown curveball after curveball in this life without reprieve which we cannot understand. We will trust in Him and know that nothing happens to us, but happens for us..to learn and grow closer to Him. We will cling to Him and have faith in His perfect plan for our life which ultimately leads to joining Him someday in Heaven.

What one area above will you focus on to bring you closer to oneness with Him and to be better prepared to face current and future trials?

For additional reflection on the riches of his mercy and the glory which will be revealed in Heaven, read Psalm 103, which is titled “Bless the Lord, O My Soul,” and check out amazing song, 10,000 Reasons by Matt Redman.