He is our Advocate

1 John 2:1-6

Whenever I’m in trouble, it always helps to know another person is on my side. When I was little, my big sister (who was almost never in trouble) could be a big help to me if she had my back when it came to my parents. As I got older, depending on the circumstances I would usually go to my mom with my problem first, working her over to my side somehow before my dad got involved. If she was on my side, even a little bit, it made things go smoother when I had to fess up with Dad. As an adult, when different things came up and I wasn’t sure how to face them alone, my dad was my go-to. I remember when I was 16 I got a letter in the mail with a traffic citation, claiming I had driven past a stopped school bus. I was terrified. I knew that was a major infraction, and I had no idea what to do. My dad wrote a letter regarding the issue, and the ticket was dismissed without me ever having to step foot in front of a judge.

The character of Christ depicted by John in today’s passage is that of an advocate. One who not only takes on our sin so that we are not burdened by it, but who also intervenes on our behalf with God the Father. How comforting is that??? John is clear – he’s giving us instruction and warnings so that we may not sin – but immediately following tells us that if we do (or rather, when we do) that we are not on our own. If we confess our sins to him, Jesus without fail advocates for us with our Lord. What an amazing thing that is.

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.

Great Love

Ephesians 2:4-10 (ESV)

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

The few verses preceding this passage highlight the powerless, hopeless, lifeless condition of mankind, being enslaved by our fleshly desires and being dominated by the world around us. Then we are reminded that despite our fallen condition, God looked on us with love. Not just a little bit of love – GREAT love. He knew that salvation, if left to us to earn, would be granted to none. He gave us a gift that we have only to accept through our faith. No strings attached. Nothing we have to do to keep the gift.

Why? “So that he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” He created us and gave us life and this earth to dwell on. He gave us the things we love and enjoy while we’re here (family, food, beautiful weather, etc.) But since many of the things we crave and yearn for are unpleasing to him, and eventually bring sadness and despair in our own lives, he offered a way for us to live with him in perfect eternity – just because he loved us.

It’s difficult to grasp the measure of his love, and the full meaning of this much grace. Almost daily I have to remind myself to show grace to people – over small, mostly insignificant things (cutting me off in traffic, using a large pile of coupons in the grocery checkout aisle, children spilling milk). My instant natural reaction is anger and/or frustration. And these actions aren’t even specifically committed against me personally – they’re just from people making mistakes or going about their business in life and causing me an inconvenience in the process. The concept of loving the way God loves and giving grace the way God gives it is nearly impossible to comprehend. And it has nothing to do with us – we have done, or will do nothing to deserve or earn his love. It’s just there, without fail, without end.

As you think about God today, meditate on his kindness. When you see someone or have an interaction with someone whose actions are less than perfect, try showing them grace. It won’t be easy, but I bet it will turn your heart to prayer and to thankfulness for God’s ability to love us better than we love others. 🙂

Lord, Thank you for loving me. Thank you for being a God of Grace, and for saving me through your son Jesus. Help my actions to reflect your kindness, and help me to show more grace and less frustration to others. 

What are you doing with your talents?

Matthew 25:14-30 contains the Parable of the Talents. A talent was a measure of currency in weight, worth about 6 years of wages. In this parable, a man going on a long journey leaves his servants in charge of different amounts of money (large sums – 5 talents for one, 2 for another and 1 for the last – but even 1 talent was a substantial amount).  The first two servants each took the amounts entrusted to them and worked to grow that sum. When the master returns much later, each of those servants is able to give over to his master not only the original amount left in their care, but also the same amount over again in growth from their diligent stewardship. Their loyalty and hard work is rewarded with a response of  “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”

The third servant, who received the least amount, had taken his sum and buried it. While he was able to return the entire amount to his master, that was not enough. The master is not happy with this. The response actually seems pretty harsh. You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.” 

What does this mean? And how does it apply to us? Verse 15 says that each servant was left with a different amount, “to each according to his ability”. Let’s think of the talents (currency) as a different talent – gifts, abilities, etc. To each one of us, God has given a gift. ALL of us have one. Some of us have more, some of us have less, but we all have been given the ability to use what God has given us for his glory. Each of us according to our abilities.

What are we doing with our talents? Do we hide them away safely, maybe let them peek out a bit on Sundays at church, but never use them to grow God’s kingdom? Do we put our talents to use to love on people, to reflect grace to those in need, and to show generosity of spirit?

Reflect today on how many “talents” have been left in your care. What are you doing with them? Are you investing them to grow God’s kingdom or hiding them away?

Lord, thank you for your daily blessings and mercies. Thank you for the promise of your return. Help me to take the abilities you’ve given to me and not only to recognize what they are, but to actively pursue using them to show your love to those around me. 

Who is the Lazarus in your life?

Luke 16:19-31; Psalm 125

The parable of Lazarus & the Rich Man is the account of a very rich man who lived a life of extreme luxury. Laid outside the gate of this rich man’s house was an extremely poor man named who simply hoped “to eat what fell from the rich man’s table”. The rich man was completely indifferent to Lazarus, showing no sympathy or compassion whatsoever. Eventually, they both died. Lazarus went to heaven, and the rich man went to hell.

The context of this parable is that Jesus was condemning the Pharisees for their love of money as well as for the lack of mercy to the poor. The Pharisees were “pious” in that they knew the old testament laws and liked to flaunt their holy behavior and actions, but they were completely without compassion and love to those around them. This parable was a warning to them that the way they were living would be rewarding only on earth, but eternally they would not be shown grace or compassion because they had already received their reward on earth.

In this parable Jesus talks about what the lives on earth were like for the two, what kind of eternity each would have, the inability to cross over from one place (Hades) to another (in the bosom of Father Abraham), and the sufficiency of scripture to be a warning to those on earth of what will happen to them after death.

I am not a Bible scholar, a theologian or a seminary graduate – but I do not think that Jesus is using this parable to condemn being wealthy per say. I read it more of a warning that if your riches and wealth are so important that you are unable to see need of other human beings and are unwilling to show generosity, your spiritual life and relationship with Jesus will suffer. Jesus tells us over and over again through the New Testament how the love of money can separate us from God. He tells us over and over again how the poor, sick, orphaned, widowed, etc. are special to Him.

Before I move on – I think it’s also important to say that it’s difficult to acknowledge this – but for the purposes of this scripture I believe all of us are wealthy. This scripture doesn’t apply only to those with a certain minimum amount of assets and liabilities, but to anyone who has more than what they need to meet their individual needs in a given day.

So who is the Lazarus in our lives? It’s unlikely that there is a sick/lame/starving man laying outside your front door, so here are some ideas to help open your eyes to who I believe Jesus would see as those in need of love, generosity and compassion:

  • Needy illegal aliens who avoid the social welfare system for fear of being deported
  • Divorced moms with kids who are living below the poverty level but are too proud to ask for help
  • Families where the breadwinner is sick or shiftless or missing
  • The poor in third world countries who are out of sight and out of mind

Obviously this list is only a tiny sample, but it is really just meant to get us (me) to begin thinking of and seeing the people around me, and many of whom I come into regular contact with, and finding ways to share what God has blessed me with.

Lord, thank you for your blessings. Give me a heart for the poor and suffering. Please strip away the calluses that I build up to protect myself from their pain. Let me love the poor as Jesus loved them..

 

Sheep, Gate, Shepherd

John 10:1-18 and Psalm 113

Preparing for today’s reading, I read a little bit about what sheep are like as animals. Here are some of the ways they are described: stubborn, picky eaters, social, followers, run from danger/easily afraid, playful.

Being a mom, how can I not associate these descriptions with my children?? And following that, associating the role that Jesus describes as with mine as a parent? In this parable, Jesus is talking about sheep (us – his flock), and explaining his role as shepherd (caregiver, protector, authority figure).

It is the shepherd’s role to provide for the needs of the sheep, to keep them safe, to keep them well, and to keep them out of dangerous places. The sheep don’t always like for the shepherd to do these things, especially when the grass seems greener on the other side of the hill and they don’t realize there is a cliff to fall off on that side. It is not the shepherd’s job to make the sheep happy all the time, but to safely shepherd them from one place to the other so they can fulfill their purpose in life. Sheep learn their shepherd’s voice and respond to it, trusting the shepherd to take them where they need to go and provide what they need. The shepherd acts as a gate to keep the sheep in their pin safely, keeping the sheep from leaving without protection, and also keeping harmful predators away from the flock.

My little boy Samuel is almost five. When he gets in trouble, it is almost always because he did not listen to me or his dad. Much of my time is spent explaining to him that if he would just listen he would not be in trouble. I try to explain that when I tell him something, it is to protect him, to keep him from hurting himself, or because what he wanted to do was a really bad idea.

I’m asking myself right now how much I listen for God’s voice. I’m thinking about how the God’s word and instruction is meant to protect us, because God knows what we need more than we do, and He wants us to be happy, to live fulfilling lives, and to be safe and anxiety-free.

In fact, He tells us not to worry – very specifically. Yet worry and anxiety can own my thoughts and even cause physical distress in my life. Why?? Because I don’t listen.

Reflect today on what Jesus as your shepherd means in your life right now. Do you know His voice? Do you come when called? Do you follow where He leads?

Lord, thank you for Jesus and his loving words laid out for us in scripture. Help me to listen for your voice, and to obey without doubt. Take away my fear and anxiety, and cause me to trust and have faith in your promises. 

 

I loved you enough to insist that you save your money and buy a bike for yourself even though we could afford to buy one for you.

I loved you enough to be silent and let you discover that your new best friend was a creep.

I loved you enough to make you take a Milky Way back to the drugstore (with a bite out of it) and tell the clerk, ‘I stole this yesterday and I want to pay for it.’

I loved you enough to stand over you for two hours while you cleaned your room, a job that would have taken me 15 minutes.

I loved you enough to let you see anger, disappointment, and tears in my eyes. Children must learn that their parents are not perfect.

I loved you enough to let you assume the responsibility for your actions even when the penalties were so harsh they almost broke my heart.

But most of all, I loved you enough to say ‘no’ when I knew you would hate me for it. Those were the most difficult battles of all. I am glad I won them, because in the end you won something, too.”

Mothers, and fathers, are given an incredible privilege and opportunity to have the primary role in helping shape the character of the children entrusted into their care. Words are important, but our actions and examples are more important. From how to treat other people to the habit of going to Sunday School and church to the teaching of stewardship by giving the child a quarter to put in the offering, we can instill good habits, morals, and beliefs into our children.

Am I a Faithful Servant???

Todays readings come from Matthew 24:45-51, Luke 12:42-48 and Psalm 101. Jesus’ parable about the wise and foolish servants talks about a “faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household” who, having been left in charge of the household, does well with his responsibility and is blessed for it. Conversely, the foolish servant who “says to himself, ‘my master is delayed in coming,'” and does not follow the instructions of the master. The master shows up unannounced and finds the servant’s disobedience, which has pretty severe consequences.

This parable, like all other parables – and all of scripture, for that matter – has a lot going on in it. I’m being spoken to today, though, on the surface context of this passage. There are some basic messages here without having to dig too deeply.

  1. Jesus says we must carry on with diligence while the Lord is gone. We must be that faithful and wise servant who takes care of his master’s business while the master is away.
  2. Jesus also promised that we will be rewarded for our diligence. The servants serve the master, but the master knows how to take care of and reward the servants.
  3.  Jesus warns of having an attitude that relies on a master “delayed in coming.” Instead, we should live in constant anticipation of His return.

Thankfully, we’re not expected to be perfect all the time. But when I think about having to give an accounting for my actions to the Lord, it is always in some far-off future time and place, not in the here and now.

What if in the middle of my workday – or evening at home with family – or weekend visiting with friends – Jesus came and said that it was time to answer for everything. How would He find me? Would I have been in prayer, in communication with him that same day? Would I have been meditating on His words found in scripture?

Or would He instead find me binge-watching one of my shows on Netflix, in a messy house with my kids running amok??  Or gossiping with someone? The list could really go on here, but I think you get the idea.

David sets high standards for behavior in Psalm 101.

  • I will sing of (be enthused by!) steadfast love and justice
  • I will ponder the way that is blameless
  • I will walk with integrity of heart
  • I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless
  • I will know nothing of evil
  • I will not tolerate gossip or haughty/arrogant behavior (v5)
  • I will look with favor on the faithful and dwell with them
  • I will be ministered to by those whose walk is blameless
  • I will not tolerate/dwell with those who practice deceit

Let’s meditate on this Psalm and the parable today. Which servant am I? Am I ready for my master to return at any moment?

False Disciples

Today’s reading, Matthew 7:21-23, follows closely our warning of “False Prophets” from yesterday. The leaders and teachers among us aren’t the only ones who can “talk the talk” without truly walking with Christ. There will be those who prophesied in God’s name and did “mighty works” that God does not know.

I can’t help but think right now of some of the criticisms of “church” that I’ve heard from nonbelievers. They go something like, “church is full of hypocrites” and “I know what so and so is like outside of church” and on and on. This has always been a struggle for me because, well…it’s true. But there’s a difference between repentant sinners who are following Christ and trying to live obediently and those who are there just to “look good”. And thankfully, it’s not up to me to judge what’s in someone’s heart. Even so, the true believers – the Christ-followers in a living, breathing relationship with Him, shine out like stars in the night. Not because they’re without sin, or because they show up to church every time the doors are open, or tithe religiously…but because they bear the fruits of the spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control). Not necessarily all of them, and certainly not all of the time – but it’s there and it’s evident.

The past 3 years I’ve been attending Eastview Christian Church. It is, by far, the biggest church I’ve ever been involved in. When I first visited there I was so blinded by the sheer size and dramatics of “contemporary worship” that it took another 2 years of church shopping before my family and I returned and eventually committed to making it our church home. Sure – are probably a lot of people there that don’t truly know God. There may even be false prophets there (although I’ve never encountered any that I’m aware of), but there are also many, many believers who come together to worship and, through serving together, I’ve seen and been encouraged by so many people humbly serving the Lord and bearing those fruits of the spirit.

There are 2 main things I take away from this reading today. First, that so long as we are aware of the existence of false disciples we do not need to be afraid of them. In fact, I don’t think we even need to look for them, but instead look for the disciples (Christ-followers) who are bearing fruit. Commune with them, rejoice with them and be encouraged by them. The second thing is how I’ve come to respond to the criticisms about church and Christians I mentioned above. There are believers and non-believers. The believers and Christ-followers are not without sin, but they are repentant and, while they make mistakes, constantly seek to follow Jesus. The non-believers may act like they are Christians, but if they do not know Him they will not live like they do.

Father in Heaven, even as I write these words I know I fall short of living a Christ-like life. Help me to seek you first in all that I do and to live a fruit-bearing life.

Psalm 89

To be forgiven…

Today’s reading is Matthew 6:14-15 and Psalm 77.

What does Jesus mean when he says that if we do not forgive others we will not be forgiven? I don’t think he is holding forgiveness back from us – I think he is trying to get us to understand that the grace that makes forgiveness available to us has to be accepted. How can we accept forgiveness for our own sins (against God and others) if we don’t believe we’ve done something wrong? And, if we know we’ve sinned, and have asked for and accepted the grace of forgiveness, how can we hold it back from others – but still expect our own slate to be wiped clean?

Forgiveness is guaranteed as a response to repentance (1 John 1:9-10). I think with true repentance comes a recognition of our own unworthiness – but thankfully Jesus only asks for repentance, not for perfection. If we cannot forgive others who are not unlike ourselves, then we must not truly be recognizing the condition of sin in our own hearts. When we do recognize our sin, and go to God in humility asking for forgiveness, we receive His mercy. Part of being a Christ-follower is striving to be Christlike in thought, word and actions – even to forgiving those “unworthy” of forgiveness. If we withhold that forgiveness, we are also keeping ourselves from experience the full comfort of God’s grace and mercy. We become trapped in a prison of our own making.

Is there anyone you’ve been unable to forgive? Spend some time in prayer and confession. Ask God for forgiveness, thank Him for his grace and mercy, and ask the Holy Spirit to fill your heart with the desire to forgive.

An eye for an eye…

I can’t help but think of my little boys when I read this passage. Samuel and Andrew are ages 4 and 3, respectively. When they’re playing together it is inevitable that one of them is wronged. Samuel snatches the toy that Andrew was playing with. Andrew’s first response is to strike out and hit Samuel. Samuel then hits Andrew back. You get the picture – this kind of scene is played out for parents and people who are around young children all the time. All of that is usually…well, always…followed by crying and stories of injustice, usually accompanied by pleas for punishment to the other.

Jesus is teaching us here to resist our most natural urge of striking back. Don’t be confused by the language in verse 39 though – “Do not resist the one who is evil.” Ephesians 4:27, 6:11-13, 1 Peter 5:8-9, James 4:7, all talk about resisting the devil with the “whole armor of God.” When Jesus says, “Do not resist the one who is evil,” He is talking about revenge.  He isn’t telling us to be weak and passive; He’s telling us not to be vindictive. Jesus wants us to ask the question, “If someone does something evil to me, how may I respond with only good in return?”

This is a really difficult concept to apply in every day life. My mind automatically jumps to the “big” wrongs – but what about the rest? What if, instead of getting frustrated when someone cuts in front of me in line, I offer to help them unload their groceries onto the belt for them? It sounds nice in theory – but in the heat of the moment it’s not easy to humble myself to offer help to someone that acted rudely or inconsiderately to me.

Jesus wants us to be selfless. He goes on to tell us that if someone sues us for our shirt, don’t only give that away, but our cloak as well. If someone begs, give to them. If someone asks to borrow – give to them as well. The theme here is to “disconnect” from material goods and possessions. I don’t think Jesus wants us to be penniless, but I do think that He recognizes that the things we acquire and that have importance to us can separate us from Him.

The Apostle Paul summarizes what Jesus’ teaches us here in Romans 12:17-21,

“never pay back evil for evil to anyone. respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

In Psalm 65 David writes, “When we were overwhelmed by sins, you forgave our transgressions…We are filled with the good things of your house, of your holy temple.” The awesome gift of forgiveness – granted while we were still sinners – needs to be contemplated daily. We need to remember that all we are, all we have, comes from God. Our financial wealth, our knowledge and abilities – they are gifts given to us to use for His glory.

Try this week to return a negative action with a loving response. Look for an opportunity to use what God has given you to help someone in need. Show compassion and grace when you feel a response of anger or frustration.

Lord, please fill my heart with the desire to serve you. Thank you for your constant forgiveness. Help me to reflect your light to those around me and give me the courage to return evil with good. Give me a generous spirit and cause me to look for ways to show generosity. 

Victims of a broken promise…

2 Samuel 21Psalm 53

This chapter of Samuel begins with a famine in Israel for over three years, with David finally asking the Lord why the famine is taking place in his kingdom. God answers that Saul  had broken a vow (or promise, or covenant) by killing the Gibeonites (see Joshua 9 for the origin of that vow – note that the Israelites were tricked into making the promise, but still God expects them to keep it!).

David approached the Gibeonites on how he can correct the broken promise. They demanded seven of Saul’s sons to be killed as an atonement. David had no choice but to deliver and did as they requested (except for Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth, due to yet another promise). It was sad but necessary to stop the famine. After this, David went and retrieved the bones of Saul and Jonathan and buried them in the country of Benjamin with Saul’s father Kish.

The chapter ends with the Philistines going to war against Israel. In the battle, David grew faint and was nearly killed by the sons of the giants. Israel decided then that David should not come out to battle any more, so the light of Israel is not quenched – in other words, they didn’t want to lose their king because he was fighting in wars.  [Incidentally, in this war a man named Elhanan killed Goliath’s brother, and David’s nephew Jonathan killed a giant of Gath who had six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot.]

David was no stranger to covenants with God, or man, for that matter. The 400 year old covenant broken by Saul caused famine and tragedy in David’s kingdom, even though David was not the one to break the promise. It is a good reminder that God takes our covenants seriously. The promises we make to each other, and the promises we make to God, are known by Him and remembered by Him.  It is comforting to think of that aspect when we think of the good things God has promised us in his covenants with us, but scary to think of that in light of all of the broken promises we see between each other and between ourselves and the Lord.

I cannot think of broken covenants without thinking of the covenant of marriage. We all know, some of us with intimate and first-hand knowledge, someone who is either divorced or going through a divorce. Regardless of who and/or what is to blame, the broken promises between two people that had promised to be together “till death do us part” does not affect only those two people. The children, extended families and even friends are all impacted by the separation of two people once married. Yet, even through the sorrow that follows divorce, we do not have to be separated from God. We can still seek forgiveness for the promises broken, we can offer forgiveness for the betrayal, and set an example to others of mercy and grace through a difficult time. Like David, we can seek out God’s will in the aftermath of the brokenness.

Father, thank you for being a loving God. Thank you for never breaking your promises and covenants with us. Please open our eyes and hearts to your word and allow it to speak to us where we are in our lives today. Help me to be faithful like you are faithful, keeping my promises. God, if there is any promise I have broken, please help me to see that and to make it right. Please help me to turn to you in times of trouble, and to reflect your grace and mercy to those around me.