Do you have everything you need?

In John 6, Jesus feeds more than 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish, walks on water across the sea during a storm in the middle of the night, and then declares to a crowd of people that in order to live they must eat His flesh and drink His blood.

To be honest, some of the events in this chapter seem a little scary. Not just because Jesus talks about eating flesh and blood, but because the concept of eating flesh and blood is difficult to comprehend. Many in the crowd felt the same, “from this time many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him” (John 6:66).

Walking on water and making bread join a long list of miracles along with raising people from the dead and opening blind eyes.

Jesus’ miracles and His controversial “eat my flesh” statement all convey the same message: Jesus is the point. In this life and the next, we can never be satisfied apart from Jesus. And on the opposite end of that spectrum, if we have nothing but Jesus, we have everything.

“Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty’” (John 6:35).

For God So Loved the World

John 3

I can’t remember a time that I did not know the words to John 3:16. It’s one of the verses I learned when I was so young that I can’t even remember not knowing it. My first inclination when writing this post was to focus on verses other than that one, simply because, well – we all probably know it already. Reading through the chapter to prepare for today though, that verse kept popping out at me. I started realizing that, probably because of its familiarity, maybe it’s something I take for granted?

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” 

I want us to read this verse today like it’s the first time. Who does God love? The world. Everyone. All of the people of every nation and race, rich and poor, sick and healthy, etc. Jesus tells us God’s love is for each and every individual – no exclusions. Not only that, he loves us even before we acknowledge Him. “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

“He gave his only Son…” My children are so far from perfect it’s almost difficult to analogize this, but I cannot think of any earthly circumstance in which I would offer up one of them to be tortured and put to death on behalf of someone else. Much less if they other party was guilty and my child was innocent. As parents, we love our children and fiercely protect them from harm. My mind cannot even conceive of the kind of love that God has for the world that he could let His perfect and blameless son die the way he did for ME.

“…that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Notice what God asks of us in return? Nothing! Jesus doesn’t start talking about the 10 Commandments and all of the laws and rules of the Old Testament. The gift God gave us was given freely. The gift of Jesus’ death on the cross is for everyone and anyone – The only caveat is that we have to believe in Him. God takes away the punishment for our son in exchange for our Faith.

Challenge yourself today to really meditate on this verse. Think about (1) God’s love being for E.V.E.R.Y.O.N.E. (something my pride struggles with sometimes); (2) the only thing God of us asks is that we believe (no “to-do” list of good acts before God lets us into heaven); and (3) give thanks to God in prayer for His merciful love.

Are you in “hesed” with God?

The terms contract, agreement, treaty and covenant have the same basic legal interpretation. Two or more sides, or parties, have agreed to carry out obligations or responsibilities in exchange for favors from the other party.

We live with these kinds of agreements on a daily basis. When we write a check, use a credit card, take out a loan, or sign a lease, we are engaging in a covenant relationship with the merchant or lender. With our signature on the check, credit card or loan application, we promise to pay for the goods or services in the future. We must be faithful to carry out our regular payments, or the agreement will be terminated by the other party. If either party becomes dissatisfied with the behavior of the other party, the right to end the relationship is exercised.

When I hear the word “covenant,” I am reminded of the marriage vows, most sacred of all covenants in our human world. The man and the woman take vows to love and support each other in the good times as well as the bad and to forsake all others while putting one another first. If one person breaks the covenant, the relationship is tested, or perhaps broken. It is a covenant made and ratified in heaven.

So how often do we hear or think about the word “covenant” when describing our relationship with God? This idea of covenant was important to the formation and continuation of the political, military and economical relationships among many of the ancient kingdoms. Alliances and empires were built largely upon covenants — covenants which were often very fragile.

God chose to pursue his people by the use of this covenant idea. In Malachi 2 we find several references to this idea that God reveals who he is through covenant-making. God’s covenant sets him off from all other gods and tells us that there is none other than him. He is a God who keeps his promises, and his nature promotes obedience in us his people. As we look deeper, we find that the covenant that God offers his people has a quality that is not found in any of the other covenants. God’s covenant includes grace and love and is expressed by the Hebrew word “hesed.”

Hesed can be defined as “passionately loyal, a deep, never-ending love.” Both sides in the covenant “doing hesed” toward each other. Scripture reveals that the ancient Hebrews soon realized that God’s hesed was everlasting. Here was a God who kept on “doing hesed” with them even when they had broken relationship with him.

John Oswalt writes in “Where Are You God?”: “What sort of God is this? Not only is he trustworthy, but persistently trustworthy, not only loving, but insistently loving. It was embarrassing! Had he no pride? Slowly, but surely, these ancient people realized they had not found God, but that he had found them, and his very nature was hesed.”

The God of the ancient covenant is the same God of the Christian faith today. The invitation is the same today as we hear the words paraphrased from scripture, “I will be their God, they will be my people, if they turn their faces toward me and surrender themselves completely.” Our God is a God who is “passionately loyal” to us his people, desperately wanting to “do hesed,” eagerly pursuing us.

Are we consistently in covenant with the God of hesed?

Bold prophecies

The Lord instructed Ezekiel to draw a picture of Jerusalem on a clay tablet and to stage a miniature siege of the city, complete with siege ramps, enemy camps, and battering rams. The prophet was also to place an iron pan between himself and the city. This action perhaps illustrated the unbreakable nature of the siege or represented the barrier between God and His sinful people.

God also instructed Ezekiel to symbolically bear the punishment of Israel. He was to lie on his left side for 390 days, corresponding to the years of the Northern Kingdom’s punishment. He was then to lie on his right side for 40 days, corresponding to the years of Judah’s punishment.

At the Lord’s command Ezekiel made bread from various grains and stored it in a jar. During the 390-day period he was to eat a daily portion of eight ounces of bread, supplemented by two-thirds of a quart of water. This restricted diet would symbolize the food rationing that would be necessary during the coming siege of Jerusalem. The Lord also told Ezekiel to cook his bread over a fire fueled by human excrement. Though the Old Testament law does not specifically prohibit this, it does suggest it would be regarded as unclean (Duet. 23;12-14). Ezekiel’s action would portray Judah’s spiritual uncleanness and the plight of the exiles, who would be forced to eat food in an unclean foreign land. When Ezekiel objected that he had always kept himself ceremonially pure, the Lord allowed him to use cow manure as fuel.

Applying this prophecy to my daily walk with the Lord, and putting something into words to share with you this morning was a challenge. What meaning do these prophecies have in our lives here and now? Probably more than my feeble mind can comprehend 🙂 Today though, my takeaway is this: How many of us would be willing to so dramatically portray the sins of our nation?

I need to pray for greater boldness in my witness for the Lord.

 

Because He is Good

Nahum 1

Jonah describes a Nineveh that repents of their sin, but Nahum describes an unrepentant Nineveh that is under God’s wrath. Nahum goes into great detail about the power and strength of God, especially in his role as an avenger.

But before we get the impression that God is only about wrath, Nahum reminds us that God is good. In fact, God’s wrath toward Nineveh is not based on hate toward Assyria but rather love toward Israel. God stands up for his people because he is good.

Sometimes we need a reminder of God’s goodness. With all of things that happen in our world and in our lives, we sometimes forget about this. We can think of God as Creator and Judge, but not necessarily God as good. God loves us no matter how difficult life seems. God loves us no matter how silent he seems.

Take some time to reflect on God’s goodness and how he has revealed that to you over the years.

Restoration from Despair

Good morning friends! If you’re reading along in the scriptures with these daily devotionals, you may find Joel 2 to be a bleak prophesy, and initially a somewhat difficult passage to apply in our 21st century lives.

What was most certainly a true devastation by locusts, combined with a severe drought that resulted in a widespread famine can – and does – have application today.

When I was 31, my first marriage of almost 10 years ended abruptly. Without going needlessly into detail, I can tell you that the end of that marriage left me feeling as though my past several years had been spent in drought and famine. After more than a decade in a relationship and nearly a decade in marriage, I was left alone, childless, unloved and unhappy and very lonely. I could not fathom how or why I was in that situation. I remember wondering in the midst of it how I was ever to have the life I thought I was meant to – how would I have a long marriage with children when I was starting over in my thirties and no one was in my life?

Joel 2:25-26 says this of God’s promise to us, “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you. You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame.”

Time itself isn’t restored to us – but what is lost from the years can be. God can bless his people with bountiful crops to replace what was lost in drought or plague, and can multiply blessings on us – after going hungry not only are we able to have enough to eat but to eat in plenty and be satisfied.

A little more than a year after my divorce I married my husband. He had two amazing and beautiful children already who instantly became my family, and God blessed us with our son Samuel and then Andrew right away. God most certainly restored to me the years the locust had eaten. In more abundance than I ever could have imagined or designed for myself.

Have you experienced this in your life? Are you in a time of desolation or famine, or are you experiencing the restoration God promised through Joel’s prophesy?

Regardless – remember this: “You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you.”

Don’t forget to praise God for his mercy and blessings. Take time to recognize where, how and when God has restored you.

Restoration from a guilty conscience

Psalm 51

2 Samuel 11 tells the story of King David and Bathsheba (wife of Uriah), and David’s double sins of adultery and murder. The last sentence of the chapter is, ” But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord. ” After all of this happened, the prophet Nathan went to David and confronted him about the sin (in a subtle, indirect way) and when David realized the full weight of what he had done, he became overcome with guilt.

David had to have known that what he did was wrong, but it seems like when everything was “hidden” or had gone unnoticed by people, he was able to live with himself. But after Nathan exposed to David the gravity of what all had transpired, David was overcome.

Psalm 51 is David’s response to the weight of his own sin. David first confesses what he has done, then asks for mercy and forgiveness, then praises God’s attributes with worship, having received forgiveness.

I think it’s unlikely that anyone reading this post is carrying around the guilt of a sin equal David’s sin of adultery/murder, but I’m fairly certain that at least one of you knows what the burden of guilt feels like. I know I do.
Everyone has sinned, and one of the results of sin is guilt. We can be thankful for guilty feelings because they drive us to seek forgiveness.

I invite you today to unburden your conscience in prayer. Tell God what sins are causing you to feel guilt, ask him to forgive you, and ask for him to fill your spirit with joy.

“Speak, Lord, for your servant hears”

1 Samuel 3:4-10

Then the Lord called Samuel, and he said, “Here I am!” and ran to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down.
And the Lord called again, “Samuel!” and Samuel arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.
And the Lord called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
10 And the Lord came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.”

Did you notice that Samuel could heard God’s voice before he knew Him? The Lord is talking to his people and communicating with us still today, but I think it’s difficult to hear him. We might confuse his voice for something else – or not even hear it at all over the noise of everything else our noisy lives are full of. Maybe our ears and minds are tuned to listen out for worldly sounds instead of listening for God’s voice?

God can and does speak to us in many ways. He speaks through creation, giving testimony to his faithfulness and creativity. He speaks through his Word, where we come to understand his salvation and purpose for us. He speaks through wise mentors in our lives. He speaks through life situations, opening and closing doors. God speaks by his Holy Spirit, equipping us with gifts and passions to use for service in his kingdom.
How are you experiencing God’s leading in your life? Are you listening attentively for God’s voice?


Moses Prays for the People

Today’s reading comes from Exodus 32. Here’s a quick summary:

  1. Moses has been gone up on Mt. Sinai talking to God (for 40 days)
  2. While Moses was gone, the people get restless and think Moses isn’t coming back, and they start pestering Aaron (who’s left in charge) to give them a tangible god (idol) to worship.
  3. Aaron makes the people a golden calf.
  4. God sees this and becomes angry, and tells Moses he is going to destroy the people of Israel.
  5. Moses intercedes – he begs God’s mercy and forgiveness – for the people, and reminds God of the promises He’s made regarding the nation’s future.
  6. God agrees to spare the Israelites.
  7. Moses returns to the camp with the tablets written by the Lord and confronts Aaron and the people.
  8. After all of this, Moses asks who in the camp is on the Lord’s side and then instructs those that are to kill “his brother and his companion and his neighbor”.
  9. Moses speaks to the people about their sin and promises to go back up the mountain to beg God’s forgiveness for the people’s actions.

This chapter has quite a bit going on with its story and from a theological standpoint. For this Tuesday’s devotion though, I want to focus on Moses’ willingness to speak to God on behalf of the very people who have given up on him and begun worshiping a cow. (Seriously – can you imagine just how foolish these people looked to Moses who had just spent more than a month in God’s presence? They’re bowing down to a cow made of metal???)

Moses’ first response to God’s anger was to beg for mercy for the people. Then, after going down and seeing what had happened during his absence with his own eyes, he has an even better understanding of the gravity of the people’s sin. I’m imagining on a personal level there were likely feelings of hurt, betrayal, anger, frustration, sadness, embarrassment, etc.

But Moses didn’t respond to the people in a way that indicated he was thinking about himself at all. He cared for the people. He knew they had messed up but wanted them to be back in God’s favor again. He prayed for them, begged for mercy, and even reminded God of past promises in hopes of salvation for the people.

This isn’t a natural way to pray (at least for me, it isn’t). But as I reflect on these words, there are at least three very specific people in my life that I am convicted to go to God to fight for. Two are believers, one is not. But each has something (a golden calf, if you will) that is separating them from the Lord. Going to God and praying for his forgiveness and mercy on their behalf isn’t something I’ve thought to do – but just as Moses was willing to intercede for his people, shouldn’t we be willing to do the same?

The Plan…

Today’s reading is Genesis 15. The first verse begins with, “After these things…” In the previous chapter, Abraham and just over 300 of his men defeated a much larger army made up of a partnership of four kings and all of their men. Following that victory, Abraham was offered a substantial reward by a king, but turned it away.

“After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: ‘Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”

God comes to Abraham, comforting him and promising him reward – and Abraham comes back with questions – what can you give me? I’m still childless! You haven’t given me any sons! God sends Abraham outside and has him look at the stars – Look at the stars, can you count them? If you can, that’s how many descendants you will have.

v. 6 And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

We know that this isn’t the end of Abram’s story. It was many, many years after this that Isaac was born. Abram had to be reminded of God’s promise and His covenant many times. But way earlier, as we just read – Abraham BELIEVED – and his faith was pleasing to God.

It’s so easy to doubt God’s promises. If I can’t see the “how” and “when” that God will carry out his plan, my faith falters and disbelief seeps in and sows seeds of discontent. But thankfully God’s promise isn’t dependent on my ability to accept it. It doesn’t even depend on anything I do. The covenant God made with Abraham – made perfect through Jesus’ death and resurrection, is solid and true. It is done. There is nothing expected from me (or you).

Believe. That’s it. Have faith. God is working out his plan for you (which is good, by the way – see Jeremiah 29:11) And not just faith in general – faith that is specific. God has given us specific promises, here are just a few of them:

Every one of us is struggling with something today – or, more likely, may somethings. Finances, work stress, over-busy schedules, frustrating co-workers, illnesses, broken relationships, feelings of inadequacy, etc.

I challenge you today to do one thing: BELIEVE. Believe that God knows these troubles (no matter how big small!) and that He can fix them. Don’t trouble yourself all of the logistics – just listen to his promise(s) and believe that they are true.