Bad Investments

Luke 21

When I read Luke 21, I get a little scared.  It starts with the destruction of the Temple.  Jesus is telling us that God’s very house will be destroyed.  When it does, we will be tempted to follow others that are not God.   We could easily be led astray.   There will also be wars, natural disasters and persecution.  Jesus makes it personal.  He tells us that we, as believers, will be beaten and tried with some being put to death.  This action is not caused by strangers or even the government. It is our own parents, brothers, relatives and friends.   Entire cities will be destroyed and overtaken.

The events found in this chapter are truly horrifying, with one exception.  Did you notice the first paragraph about the widow?  How did it land here?   It is out-of-place, isn’t it?  I thought so, until I got a closer look.  Read it again and note that the widow kept nothing back for herself.  She gave everything she had, because that is not where she found value.  Consider it this way.  She invested everything she had.  Why?  Was she foolish?  No.  She gave everything because she did not hold value in herself, her own comfort, or her own well-being.  Instead, she invested everything she had for the Kingdom.  She only though of others’ comfort and well-being.  She invested it so that God’s kingdom could be full.

It is worth considering our investments vs the widows.  I realize now that my fear when reading chapter 21 is a result of the investments I am making.  You see, if I am investing in my business or my possessions or even my family, Jesus is quick to show me that my investment will not pay off.  This is what gives me anxiety.  Thankfully, I have an opportunity to make it right.  Today, I choose to invest in God’s kingdom.  I can do it with my pennies and dollars as well as my talents and abilities. Will you?

Two Roads + Two Gates

The Narrow and Wide Gates

 Matthew 7:13-14 and Psalm 87

 Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

This scripture is equally perplexing AND frightening! It is really hard for my small brain to comprehend God’s ways sometimes. Why will only few find it? If all will hear, why will just a few enter?

As Jesus wraps up His teaching on the hillside (now called the Mount of Beatitudes), He has covered a lot ground with topics ranging from serving, to judging, to prayer. He addresses our hearts: pointing out areas of law, tradition, and ritual, and replacing them with pure motives, love, and authenticity.

In an environment of Jewish law and order reigning over all, He fulfills those laws by showing what’s at the root of them – going back to the basics/intention of the law, and then maximizing the law to the fullest with love + utmost surrender to the Lord.

Every time I read this passage, two things come to mind. Anyone else watch A Thief In the Night back in the day? I was 7 and that movie FREAKED ME OUT! The razor left in the bathroom sink… the sad sad song “I Wish We’d All Been Ready”. It was more than my developing brain could process.

The second thing my mind races to is the scripture about the lukewarm being spit out (Rev 3:16). If you’ve read any of Francis Chan’s work, you’ve likely come across some of his thoughts on this scripture.  One cool thing about heaven is we will see + know things as they truly are (1 Cor 13:12) – no more guessing!

When I think about this narrow road of a few, it’s easy for me to start feeling frightened or downtrodden. Many enter the path to destruction, but few enter the path of life. Who am I to be among the few? There are a lot more Christians that are more spiritual than me.  Yikes!

How does this scripture coincide with the popular mantra “Just Believe”? If you pray the sinner’s prayer and confess Jesus as your Lord + Savior, that’s it, right? How do we know for certain? Will we ever know for certain?  Paul’s letter to the Philippians (1:6) sure sounds assuring: Being confident of this very thing, that He that began a good work in you will complete it until the day that Christ returns. How do we get that confidence??

I don’t know the answers to all of these questions. What I do know is that God doesn’t want me living in a state of fear, worry, or a mindset of “working my way into heaven”. This is exactly what Jesus preached against.  He wants my heart surrendered and pure. If I am truly believing in His saving grace and can comprehend His love for me, then my life wouldn’t be lukewarm. My passion for Him would be evident in all areas of my life. My desire to glorify Him (not earn salvation) will supersede everything else.

So what about when it’s not? What’s happening then? Am I “saved” when I have seasons of lukewarm living? When I start walking on the wide path toward the big gate…then what?  Is there grace for that? If I had a car accident in that moment and died, can I just use the common line “well, God knows my heart”?  And is that always a comfort or is that just what people say to justify sin and lukewarm living? Because the truth is, God really does know my heart. ALL OF IT. I’m not sure that’s something I want to brag about all the time.  Sure on Sundays when I’ve sang some worship songs and taken good notes from the sermon…or when I just got back from a long run filled with talking to God. But what about when I’m stuck in traffic, see someone that’s really treated me poorly, or my kids won’t listen. Yep, He sees my heart then, too. We can’t pick and choose when and what He sees. I digress…

The bottom line is, in my heart of hearts, I have confidence in the saving grace of God, His love for me, and I choose to surrender all to Him. I can’t wait for heaven!! I believe in Jesus and I believe in heaven! And I believe I will be there.

As I say that, I also have to tell you that I’ve had moments where I couldn’t get a hold of someone… so had to call another Christian (Grandma Rita is a good one) to make sure Jesus didn’t come back and I was left behind. You know, because if anyone’s FOR SURE IN, it’s her. HA HA!

Does anyone else ponder these questions? What have you come up with?

 

 

 

 

He Wants Us

2 Samuel 19 and Psalm 51 – Resurrection Eve

Have you ever wondered when the deniers, doubters, crucifiers, and liars had their moment of realization of who Jesus was and their role in His death? Was it immediate, like Peter when the rooster crowed the third time? Or did it take longer, after Jesus had been taken from the cross and put in the tomb? Or was it not until days later, when word got around that Jesus was alive, and Thomas even put his hand into his side.  Did they respond like David does, in his Psalms about his own sins? Had I been there, would I have realized it immediately, or would it have taken me awhile to understand? What would have been my response to knowing I put Jesus on the cross?

From an early age I learned about Jesus and have never doubted who He was or what He did for me.  As I got older, my heart to please God was challenged by my selfishness and temptations to sin. In high school especially, I was stuck on this hamster wheel of wanting to “be good” and do the right thing, but time and time again would fall into cycles of sin and rebellion. I would go through a period of mourning, praying, and vow to not fall into that junk again. I would “be good” for awhile and then it would start over. I was so frustrated with myself and lack of self control. Everything seemed so easy and made so much sense sitting in church on Sundays and at youth group on Wednesday nights.  But by Friday night – it all flew out the window.

I made a decision when I was 16 to try to get off that hamster wheel for good, and I wanted a REAL CHANGE. While I had always believed in Jesus, I needed to do something different and drastic in my life so that I could be more consistent in my choices to follow Jesus. I believed. I could talk the talk. I needed to WALK the WALK – even on the weekends.  I joined a conservative faith community that was rich in tradition and strong in holy habits.  The fellowship of the close-knit group was unmatched. The believers there invested time and energy in helping me understand God’s Word. I learned so much in this season of life and thank God for putting people into my path to draw me to Him.

One of the biggest things I learned is that even with all of the holy habits, fellowship, and accountability, I still sinned.  As much as I wanted to ‘be good’, I couldn’t. I wasn’t. And it took my early adult years to figure out that God doesn’t want me to ‘be good’. He wants me forgiven. This is why He brought us Jesus. In my youth I found myself categorizing sin and thought mine was the worst – if I could just stop those major sins, then I would be acceptable in God’s eyes. It took a lot of years to really believe that ALL sin is unrighteousness in God’s eyes. While sins may have greater or lesser consequences on earth – the sin itself is all the same: separation from God, no matter how big or small.

During this time of growth, the elder of our church, a kind and sweet man named Ervin, would point me back to Psalms 51. Over and over again, I would counsel with him, pour my heart out, trying to figure out why I would still from time to time fall back into those old sinful ways and make bad decisions.  He was so patient with me, and would read this scripture with me.  Even though it was twenty years ago, I can clearly recall our conversations.  He would encourage me to go home and pray the prayers that David did, a man who loved God so much and would still find himself in a mess of sin. And just like David, I would weap and mourn over my sins and ask God for forgiveness.  My quest to “be good” was a fruitless journey – and through prayers like Psalm 51, I found that a broken heart for my sin drew me closer to Him more than my checklist of ‘being good’ ever did.  As C.S. Lewis said: God doesn’t want something from us, He simply wants US.

Today, on Holy Saturday, the time between Jesus’ death on the cross, and His victory over the grave tomorrow, I can’t help but put myself there and walk through the range of emotions.

It is our sins against God that crucified Jesus that Friday vs. 4 and David calls his own sin what it is – evil.

Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight;

I wonder how quickly we would have realized this and sought forgiveness and change. Would it have been the very next day, on Saturday?  Would we have prayed vs. 10?

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

And then to wake up Sunday morning and learn that HE IS ALIVE! Would we really believe? Would we spend the rest of our days living in the JOY that salvation brings (vs. 10)?

Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

How would our lives be different if we lived everyday with the utmost JOY for Jesus conquering the grave and the utmost JOY for our salvation?

Wait on the Lord

1 Samuel 26 and Psalms 27

1 Samuel 26 reads like a repeat of 1 Samuel 24, that we explored two days ago with Jennifer Armstrong.  The circumstances are two different events, although  similar, with Saul once again pursuing David. David has another opportunity to kill him, yet he shows mercy for the second time.  The picture Jennifer painted of choosing reconciliation over revenge, and trusting God’s authority, is applicable to this chapter as well.

I love how Psalms 27 so clearly describes David’s experiences outlined in 1 Samuel. He shows us that putting the Lord at the center of his life removes his fears (verse 1). Surrounded by enemy armies, he declares his confidence in God’s protection (verse 2-3). Even when David had the opportunity to take control, kill his enemy, he chooses to show mercy and allow God to work how He will.  TWICE!

Like David, we can trust God to deal with our enemies. Do you have a Saul in your life that you need to commit to the Lord’s hands?  He is the supreme authority, the righteous judge, and the ultimate miracle worker.  As a mentor once told me, “Let that go… it’s above your pay grade. That’s work that the Lord will do”.

I’m so encouraged by David’s cries out to the Lord in this Psalm, seeking wisdom and leadership (verse 11) in the middle of his drama. He chooses to WAIT for the Lord, even when under duress.

In contrast, my instinct is to take action. The Lord continues to give me opportunities to be patient and wait on Him. I’m a problem-solver, coming up with a mental action plan for the 12 “what-if” scenarios I create in my mind for any given situation. Inaction can make me uneasy, even when I know that immediate action isn’t always the best solution.  Waiting – whether it’s on direction from the Lord, or for my kids to get in the car – does not come easy.

I can think of a big season of waiting in my life, while handling hurts at the hands of others. God used this time to grow my trust in Him, He provided more wisdom, and delivered hope.  He protected my heart from seeking revenge, and in time, turned it toward reconciliation.  Had I taken immediate action, the outcome would be very different.  While the waiting can be the hardest part, in hindsight, we can see the beautiful work God does. For me, more time brought more truth.  And more time and truth brought more healing.

Lord, Thank you for being a righteous judge.  Please give us an ear to hear your direction and a heart to follow. Help us to know the difference of when you are leading us to wait and when you are leading us to action. Amen 

Rejoice, Repent, Relinquish

1 Samuel 2 & Psalms 3

In today’s readings we follow three attitudes and approaches to God from three different people (Hannah, the Sons of Eli, David). 1 Samuel outlines Hannah’s song of praise and then in contrast, the choices of the worthless sons of Eli.  Turning to Psalms we find David’s prayer of trust in God.

After years of praying and waiting, Hannah is blessed with a son, Samuel, and her response is one of genuine joy and gratitude. She declares in this prayer-song who the Lord is, what He has done, and what He will do.  His knowledge and judgement are perfect: He makes the feeble strong, feeds the hungry, brings babies to the barren, poor become rich, exalts the lowly, and protects His faithful. Her worship to the Lord with her words is a foreshadowing of Mary’s song in Luke 1, praising God for who He is and what He has done.

Meanwhile, Eli’s sons continue to disobey God and are called worthless men who do not know the Lord. One of the transgressions detailed is their taking advantage and dishonoring the sacrifices to God from the people. Eli rebukes his sons, and instead of responding with sorrow and repentance for their sin, they continue in a sinful lifestyle – even sleeping with servant women at the temple entrance. They demonstrate complete disregard for Eli’s admonishment, and most of all for God. They are arrogant in their positions as Eli’s sons and ‘servants of the priest’, and it is known among Israel.

Fast-forward to Psalm 3, David’s prayer-song to God of the events unfolding (that come later in 2 Samuel 15-16).  David’s son Absalom has created a conspiracy against David and has turned the people against him. As David flees from Jerusalem to the Jordan river, he cries out to the Lord. Verses 1 & 2 outline the reality of David’s situation and what he is up against – many, MANY enemies that are against him and almost taunting his faith and salvation. I love verse 3, the turning point in this song, beginning with “But YOU, Oh Lord…”, David’s hope and fear is in the Lord, not in man. He declares God’s protection, answering, and sustaining, even when he is surrounded. He turns it over to God and His trust is in Him alone.

These three scenarios leave us with examples of how we can respond to God.  Both Hannah and David declare WHO God is, what He has done, and what He will do.  One after experiencing a miracle and the other in a plea for protection and prayer of trust.  And finally, we have an example that leads to destruction: responding to God with continued sin and rebellion. I can’t read these accounts without examining my own response to God.

In times of blessings and miracles right in front of me, do I stop and praise God for His perfect provision and timing? What a beautiful example of rejoicing Hannah gives us! Whether it be something small that the world may brush off as coincidence, or something much bigger that is clearly divine, do I give God all the glory? Do I continually believe in WHO God is and WHAT He will do?

In times of Godly correction, can I soften my heart to repent or will I rebel even more? Maybe it’s a prompting from the Holy Spirit showing me my sin, a sister in Christ sharing a truth I need to hear, or a scripture speaking right to me.  I can look back at times when my response was much more like Eli’s worthless sons, rationalizing and justifying my actions, instead of turning to God with sorrow for my sin.

In times of desperation, like David, can I turn my fear into faith? Do I say ‘But YOU, Oh Lord…’ when faced with trials that seem unfair? Am I willing to believe that His judgement and justice is best?  David could have fought to stay in Jerusalem and clear his name, instead he chose to protect his followers and flee to keep them out of harm’s way. Can I praise Him in the midst of fear and heartache? Am I willing to let God fight my battles and relinquish the control I think I have?

Lord, you ARE the Almighty, King of all Kings. Your ways are far beyond my understanding. Thank you for showing me grace and patience as I repent for my sin and rebellion. Please give me the rejoicing heart of Hannah and the relinquishing trust of David. Amen.

Cornerstone

Matthew 21, Psalm 94

By definition, a cornerstone is “a stone that forms the base of a corner of a building, joining two walls.”  Historically, the cornerstone was the first stone set in a new building.  It was carefully selected and placed, becoming the reference point for the rest of the building.  The Bible often references the cornerstone of our lives.  This stone is special and set apart, selected and laid by God himself (Job 38:4-7).  It has been tested and it is precious. These ensure a firm foundation (Isaiah 28:16).  This cornerstone is an anchor point for an entire building; his temple.  It consists now of apostles, prophets (Ephesians 2:19-21), saints, the chosen as his royal priesthood  (1 Corinthians 1:2, 1 Peter 2:9).  Each of us, placed securely and carefully around the cornerstone.

We get to choose a cornerstone upon which to build our own lives.  Just like the Jews in Matthew 21, we have a choice.  We either choose Jesus for that stone, or we reject him as that stone.  Trouble comes in the rejection.  You see, failure to place Jesus as the cornerstone, doesn’t mean that we have built an inferior house.  No, it means that we have built a house without God.  A house without life (Genesis 2:7, Acts 17:25).  In fact, Matthew 21:44 gets right to the point, reminding us that our rejection results in death. 

As we consider that truth, it is right to consider our current state.  Maybe our lives already have Jesus as the cornerstone.  In that case, the fruit will be obvious.  Our lives are exuding love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).  If these are missing, however, what are we to do?  That, my friends, is the wonderful thing about the Gospel. 

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22)

In order to receive his mercy and place him as our cornerstone, there is only one thing required.  Believe.

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. (Romans 10:9-10)

Luke 13

I am a reader. Those who know me will probably smile when they read those words. In my free time, I am rarely without a book in my hand. When I was younger, I read mostly fiction – especially the Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden series. My favorite author, though, was Louisa May Alcott. I read and re-read every book she ever wrote because I loved how she created a story. Even though her books were fiction, I felt as though I were reading a true story – her plot and details were that believable. And I always learned something from her books.

Jesus is the master story-teller. Over and over in the New Testament, we read of our Savior using a story to make a point or to teach a lesson. In doing so, He teaches about complex topics like faith and grace and salvation. We see this over and over in Luke 13, our chapter for today.

Jesus uses the parable of a barren fig tree to teach about how to live a Godly life (Luke 13:6 – 9). He compares the kingdom of God to both a mustard seed and to leaven used in baking bread (Luke 13:18 – 21) He uses the idea of a narrow door to represent the fact that “no one comes to the Father except through me” (Luke 13:24 – 30; John 14:6). The people to whom He was talking would have had as difficult a time as we do now understanding concepts like the kingdom of God, faith, and salvation. Fig trees, mustard seeds, leaven and doors, though? They understood those. They were familiar with these objects, because they used them in their daily lives. By using stories, Jesus made complex topics more easily understood.

As Jesus ends this time of teaching, He laments over the lost in Jerusalem, saying, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34). As I finish writing this devotion, it is Monday morning, and our country is waking to the news of the massacre in Las Vegas. Jesus’ poignant cries over Jerusalem remind me that my Savior also weeps today, along with those who grieve.

Salvation Test

In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.  – 1John 3:10

The NIV starts verse 10 out this way, ‘This is how we know’.  All throughout Scripture, obedience and love are the hallmarks of a true believer.  1 John 3:10 answers the question every believer should test themselves on: how do I know that I am saved?

God assures believers of their salvation through the Spirit. (1John 3:24)  A believer’s renewed heart compels them to obey the will of the Father in obedience to His word and to love God and others in deed and truth.  The presence of Christ in a believer is unmistakable to them over time.

And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us. – 1John 3:24

Obedience and love.  Like all of Scripture, 1 John chapter 3 continues to return to these two hallmarks of a believer.  As you read through today’s Scripture: 1 John 3 and Psalm 41, be on the lookout for these.  As you enjoy the fellowship of Christ today, feel the Spirit leading you to obedience and love.  

If you have not committed your life to Christ, placed your trust in Him alone and repented from trusting in all other promises, imagine for a moment what your day would be like if you had.  Your whole life made new.  Ever going with a Companion who will reign in your heart and will never leave you.  A companion who is Master over all, King of Kings, who leads you beside still waters in righteousness, who makes you to lie down in green pastures. 

 

Remind The People

A few days ago, our Bible Journal community began reading the book of Titus together. This is a short book, so we are actually finishing it up today! Paul begins the last part of his letter with the words, “Remind them” (Titus 3:1). In the NIV version, it reads, “Remind the people.” He then lists several things that he wants Titus to be sure to tell the people in the churches he is overseeing: “…to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people (Titus 3:1).

All of these admonishments are as relevant today as they were when Paul first penned these words. Each relates to living in community with others – and living in community is hard work! Paul understood that it was necessary to encourage people to pursue behaviors that lead to a healthy community and society.

There is one section of this verse that Paul returns to twice more before he ends this letter. In verse 1, Paul writes, “…be ready for every good work…” (Titus 3:1). Later, in verse 8, he writes, “…so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to good work.” (Titus 3:8). Finally, in verse 14, Paul states, “Let our people learn to devote themselves to good works.” (Titus 3:14) Clearly, doing what is good is important to Paul.

In our lives today, what does this look like, to “devote ourselves to good work”? It can be any number of things. Good work can be working at the job God has called us to to the best of our ability and with integrity. It can be something practical, like blessing a friend with a meal. It can be anything, really, that reveals Christ to someone else.

And what is the benefit to our doing good work? Is it for our own salvation? No. Paul states this clearly: “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us rightly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7, emphasis mine). That verse is a long one, but the part I want us to focus on today is this: devoting ourselves to good works does not save us. Only Christ in his mercy does this. However, doing good works might draw others to us, giving us the opportunity to share the “the reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). Today, let’s consider how we can do something for the benefit of someone else, and let’s always be ready to share the reason for our hope: Jesus.

Faith, Righteousness and Glory

Are you a rule follower?  Have you ever thought about why?  Most of us were taught that we either follow the rules, or get punished.  If that is you, I have another question for you.  Who do you believe God to be?  The judge?  The wrathful prosecutor?  An angry father?   Do you fear his punishment and condemnation?  Believe it or not, our answers to those questions can help us understand our faith.  Or, maybe they highlight our lack of faith.  According to Paul in Romans 4, if we believe those things about God, we are living according to the law.  How can we tell?  Let’s first consider righteousness.

How could I ever consider myself righteous?  I am painfully aware of how short I fall from God’s expectations, which is to say that I am disobedient to him and his commands.  I am sinful. But, to say so, invites the condemnation and wrath that I fear.   Even worse, to believe it, is to ignore Jesus.  Truly, because of Jesus death and resurrection, I do NOT fall short of God’s expectations.  In fact, I fully satisfy them.  That is the message that Paul is preaching today in Romans 4.  In verse 25, Paul explains that Jesus was “delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”  So, does Jesus make us righteous?

Yes, Jesus can make us righteous.  In fact, the Bible elevates believers in Jesus to Priests and Saints, but there is a catch to reaching this mark.  We must believe. We must have faith.  Paul uses Abraham as an example.  Faith for Abraham was being “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (Romans 4:13).  Remember, Abraham was 100 years old, yet his faith in God’s promises enabled him to push through physical weakness (Romans 4:19).  Furthermore, “no unbelief made him waiver.”  Abraham’s unwavering posture points to mental toughness.  Faith in God, therefore, provided everything he needed to persevere and succeed.  That’s powerful!  So, the real question of righteousness looks less like living according to a strict set of rules and more like knowing, trusting and believing that God, through Jesus, has a plan for my life.

Finally, what is the evidence that our faith is full and real?  Glory.  Not to us, but glory to God.  Looking at verse 20, we see that Abraham “grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God.”  We can conclude that faith is fully manifested in us when we give God glory for everything in every way.  Ironically, living for God’s glory means that we cannot possibly entertain thoughts, or engage behaviors that are contrary to his nature.  To do so would negate our belief and therefore, his very existence.

It’s that simple.    Faith, righteousness and glory do not come from finding all the right things to do in the Bible.  Instead, our perfection now and eternally, comes through “the one whom the Bible reveals,” Jesus Christ.  Believe it!

Chambers, Oswald (2011-05-01). My Utmost for His Highest, Classic Edition (Kindle Locations 2064-2066). Discovery House. Kindle Edition.