Sowing Seeds

Today’s reading: Exodus 5; Luke 8; Job 22; 1 Corinthians 9

Hello,

I’m Jillian, the newest collaborator on your Bible Journal team. A few weeks ago I met two of your fearless members, Jon and BJ at a Metcalf school fundraiser. One glass of wine later I was agreeing to join the Bible Journal! I’ve been getting to know each of you through your journal entries this week. Now it’s time for me to share our story with you.

My husband Lynden and I were married in 2008. I was raised very Catholic. From grade school to grad school I attended Catholic institutions. In 2010 we had our first child. Our son Oliver was born a seemingly healthy happy infant. Our life took a dramatic turn when Ollie was 6 weeks old. What began as just the “flu” quickly turned into something much more serious. Within a few days Ollie was at Children’s in Peoria unable to absorb any nutrition via mouth or IV. For six long weeks we watched him spiral into heart and kidney failure. Doctors told us later they weren’t sure he would survive. I remember feeling lost, desperate and alone. A nun would visit me in the room where I sat alone holding him in my arms, unable to feed or comfort him. She would offer me communion and ask if I’d like him baptized. She repeatedly appealed to my Catholic faith, trying to reach me in a spiritual place but I was empty. Slowly our sweet baby improved and we returned home shaken and a little broken. Oliver required lots of care but eventually we got back to life as we knew it. As the days passed the fear and anxiety of the whole event passed too.

“A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture” Luke 8:5-7 ESV.

 Lynden and I were sowing seeds all over the place, but our crops were withering. Oliver continued to have minor health problems that brought me to the brink of panic each time. I didn’t have the tools I needed to turn to Jesus for strength and help. In October of 2011, Oliver got an ear infection. Our pediatrician heard a heart murmur he had never heard before. He sent us to get an echo. Two days later we learned that our son has 2 tumors in his heart. His tumors are not operable; we cannot change it we cannot fix it. The next day I drove to work in a fog. I sat in my car on the corner of Empire and Vetaran’s Parkway, tears rolling down my face. A huge flock of birds flew past my windshield and I heard, “Call Amy.” Why…my brain said…no one can fix this. Like a robot I picked up the phone and called Amy Arnold, the mother of Libi, my patient at Easter Seals. Through sobs I told her of Ollie’s diagnosis. She told me to drive home and she’d meet me there in an hour.

Amy arrived at my house that afternoon with about 15 yellow note cards. On each she had written a verse to encourage me. She looked me in the eyes, held my hands and shared with me who Jesus is and about God’s love for us. I’ve been learning about religion and faith my whole life but I had never built a relationship with my Savior.

“And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are not in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand’ Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes the word away from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But those who have no root; they believe for awhile, and in time of testing fall away.” Luke 8: 9-13 ESV

 Amy gave me seeds. Real seeds that I began to sow. A few weeks later, I called and asked her if I could see her church.  From there I joined a Bible study and then a small group. A few years later, Lynden and I conceived a second child. We lived by Jeremiah 29:11, knowing He had plans for us and our family. In November of 2013 at 24 weeks gestation we learned that our daughter Ruby Mae had six tumors in her heart. She was born at OSF St. Francis on March 3, 2014 with 9 doctors in attendance. She came out smiling, screaming and breathing! After 3 days in the NICU we brought her home and continued this journey only God could have planned.

After Ruby Mae’s birth we sought more medical testing and learned that our children and one of us is affected by a genetic disease. This disease can cause tumors in the brain, heart and kidneys. It can also cause visual impairment and seizures. Prayerfully we decided that new growth in our family would be best achieved through adoption. Lynden and I have always had a heart for orphans and recognized this as Gods’ will in our lives. We vowed to raise our biologic children for a few years until their health was stable and pursue adoption when we felt led. We made plans to end our ability to have more biologic children in order to follow His plan.

In October of 2014 when Ruby Mae was just 5 months old, Oliver was hospitalized. I started feeling ill around then. And so…

“…As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” Luke 8:15 ESV

The full measure of our story was revealed to us. Our precious Nadya, the child I couldn’t dream of, or believe He would send us was born 14 very short months after Ruby Mae at OSF St. Francis before a slightly smaller crowd. We learned 2 weeks after she was born that she too is affected with 2 small heart tumors. Although, all three of our children are miracles in my eyes, Nadya is my gift. My living, breathing, sometimes screaming proof of Jesus Christ in our lives. She is my constant reminder that we are all broken, but the love of Jesus makes us whole. Perfection is not a worldly attribute, it is reserved for our heavenly Father.

I am humbly joining the Bible Journal family, so that I may sow more seeds in rich soil. Thank you for being kind and sharing this opportunity with me and our family. We look forward to learning more and growing with you in Him.

~The McGriff Party of 5

McGriff05

 

Trust In God

Today’s Reading: Exodus 4; Luke 7; Job 21; 1 Corinthians 8

After killing an Egyptian, Moses fears for his own life and flees to the land of Midian, content to start anew. But after about forty years, God calls out to him from a burning bush, encouraging him to become the deliverer of his people. Moses is reluctant of course, for there is much at risk. Not only does he consider himself ill equipped for the task, but he is rightfully concerned about his chances for success. Like all of us, Moses is inclined to lean on his own understanding, trusting his intellect and his feelings, instead of trusting God. But God shows him signs and wonders, and makes a compelling case. Moses then responds in obedience, and through God’s power, eventually delivers the Nation of Israel to the land of milk and honey — the promised land.

Most of us are not called to be great deliverers of nations, but we are called to help one another find deliverance from burdens and afflictions.  We are also called to point the way to God in a world that has often lost its way. We are not likely to encounter burning bushes, or have serpents that turn into a staff and back again. Still we are called to listen to God and trust His purposes and His timing.  Ultimately we are called to glorify God.

By observing Moses’s reluctance in the very presence of God, we can see how easily doubt and fear can hold us back from important work. Fortunately, God in His love for us, by His brilliant provision, is willing to show us the way, if we will just pay attention.

But God demonstrates his love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

Unlike Moses, we have the full Bible, complete with the law and the prophesy which is fulfilled in Jesus. God’s word includes the well documented story of Jesus and how the truth of the gospel spread through out the Roman Empire and the Mediterranean. It paints the big picture of God’s provision for all mankind — for us. It is the story of Man’s struggle for truth and righteousness, and redemption, fulfilled in the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For in this we have been reconciled to God — fully justified in faith.

Jesus answered “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 4:6

Not only did Jesus’ sacrifice provide the full price for our sin, He demonstrated a life that put God front and center.  He lived a life of serving others first. Through our faith in Jesus we receive the Holy Spirit, and in that power we are transformed to be creatures of God, not just in the flesh but also in the spirit. Though undeserving, because of Jesus’s death on the cross we are made perfect and holy to God. All we have to do is put our trust in Jesus.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! Corinthians 5:17

God please grant me faith enough to trust you to take my life and shape it to your perfect will. Grant me the wisdom to discern your plan for me and the strength to follow it. May Thy will, not mine be done. Amen.

Judgment or Opportunity?

climbing helping team work success winner concept

Family: Exodus 3; Luke 6. Secret: Job 20; 1 Corinthians 7.

In my post last week, I talked about America’ obsession with being the best.  At this time of the year, the college basketball intra-conference season is in full swing, Rivalry Week is on ESPN, and I anxiously anticipate announcement of the field of 64 on selection Sunday in a few short weeks.  Not much makes me smile more than the CBS NCAA basketball jingle at 11:00 am before the tipoff of the first game of round one on Thursday!

While fun, the fundamentals of competition require a winner and a loser.  In other words, the best team or the game winner cannot be determined without some measure of comparability; something must always be judged against something else.  Someone always has to be second best in order for someone else to be first. This philosophy flies in the face of Luke 6.

In preparation for today’s post, I read Luke 6 last Sunday. Luke 6:37-38 has been on my heart all week.

Luke 6:37-38, Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.

As we moved from Genesis to Exodus this week, we began to read through the life of Moses. What we know about him so far was that he was given up by his Levite mother at 3 months, then was adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter.  He was a Hebrew child in the home of an Egyptian.  Hebrews were slaves to the Egyptians.  Given his situation, how do you think Moses felt?  Do you think he was looked down upon and judged by others because of his heritage? In Exodus 2, we read about Moses killing an Egyptian. When Pharaoh learned of the situation, he threatened to kill Moses, thus Moses fled to Midian.  While not necessarily undeserved, this was another example of judgment in Moses’ life.

Perhaps these experiences give us a little insight on Moses’ reactions to God speaking to him through the burning bush today in Exodus 3. When God told Moses he was going to deliver God’s people out of Egypt.  Moses questioned, and displayed a lack of confidence, Exodus 3:11, But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” Can you identify with Moses’ self-doubt?  Have you been criticized or judged for something to the point where you no longer have the confidence to proceed?

As we get to Luke 6:38, Luke switches from words of instruction (do not…) to words of opportunity.

…forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you.

Instead of what not to do, he suggests what should be done. Instead of judging or condemning, Luke puts a positive spin on the instructions…  Control your own circumstances, seize the opportunity to make a difference.  Don’t sit back and wait to be criticized, go on the offensive in a good way.

My favorite part of the passage, however, is the 2nd half of verse 38, Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put in your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back.

This part of the passage speaks to magnitude. Forgiveness and generosity will be “pouring into your lap”.  If we all tried to get ahead by forgiving, giving or blessing others, what would our world look like?  Imagine people trying to out-love each other.  Instead of the greatest basketball players of all time, what if our measure of comparability evaluated how much forgiveness we have bestowed on others and/or how much generosity has been poured in our laps?  Would you make it on the top 100 list?

Do Not Open This Door

If you open this door
You can leave anytime.
If you open this door
No one would know.
If you open this door
It would be just this once.
If you open this door
You won’t hurt anyone.

All lies we are told.

Today’s reading link: Exodus 2; Luke 5; Job 19; 1 Corinthians 6

God granted us free will so it is our choice to follow him, love him, obey him, and worship him. With free will we also experience the temptation to sin. Sin results in exchanging something good for something bad. Rick Jebb’s post on Spiritual Capital taught about the fruits of the spirit as our capital. In sin, we exchange these fruits (or capital) for something of less value. It’s a bad deal.

We exchange:
Godliness for ungodliness.
The true God for a false idol.
Joy for regret.
Freedom for slavery.
Life for death.
Generosity or kindness for selfishness.
True worship for false religion.
Truth for a lie.

Sexual sin exchanges purity for impurity, love for lust, and even health for disease. We have all been tempted. Fortunately, God always gives us a way out, and the best way out is to flee from sin, especially sexual immorality.  It would be better to not go near the temptation in the first place but we need to flee (run away) from the place where we are tempted. Do not even open the door to invite the temptation in.

Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. (1 Corinthians 6:18 ESV)

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. (Ephesians 5:3 NIV)

Perhaps we’re feeling pretty good right now and cannot recall any sexually immoral acts, but Jesus convicts all of us through sins of the heart and mind.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  (Matthew 5:27-28)

We need to remain vigilant that there will be temptation in our future. We can and should be praying up front that we do not enter into temptation. We can prepare for life situations just like an athlete mentally prepares for a game, envisioning the plan and response to the opponent.

Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41)

Jesus had a unique and ultimate exchange that proved his deity. He willfully gave his life, through brutal torture, and death on the cross in exchange for our salvation. An exchange none of us can repay, a free gift for all who choose it.

Father God, we have all sinned and fallen short, and through this sin we do not deserve your mercy, but you gave it anyway. Please cleanse our hearts and minds. Please keep us from sin. For the sake of our own lives and for our families, please show us a way out when we are tempted. Thank you for teaching us to flee from sin. We regret when we have opened the door to sin. Our spirits are willing but our flesh is weak. Thank you for the forgiveness through your son Jesus Christ, who washes our slate clean. Amen.

SuperFood

Fresh mixed fruit superfood background with fruits high in antioxidants, vitamin c and dietary fibre.

Exodus 1; Luke 4; Job 18; 1 Corinthians 5

Have you ever noticed the use of the word “bread” in the Bible? It’s everywhere.   I began thinking about it as I read through Luke 4 today when the Devil tempts Jesus to eat after forty days of fasting in the desert. In response to Satan’s offer to turn rocks into bread, Jesus quickly quotes Deuteronomy 8:3 telling Satan that, “man does not live on bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”   When I am honest, I have to admit that I would not have responded the same way. Instead, I would have likely been eating rocks. How is it that I can avoid such temptation in the future? The easy answer is found by considering three things that ruled Jesus’ life.

Jesus understood the scriptures. A deep understanding of Deuteronomy 8:3 allows him to quickly and confidently retort Satan. We must also have this knowledge close at hand. Paul gives evidence to this conclusion in Ephesians 6:17. He calls the Word of God “the sword of the Spirit.” When we know it, it will cut down the enemy, allowing us to stand strong.

Jesus understood his true needs. I cannot imagine how great a piece of bread would feel in my stomach after not eating for forty days! Jesus could. In fact, he knew that it would not compare to the life-giving bread that he was already receiving from God himself. Jesus clarifies this in John 10:10, explaining that he came to us so that we can have abundant life. Now, I am positive that he was not talking about food, as American’s, we already have that! No, instead he is talking about spiritual renewal and growth that comes from feeding on His bread, “the bread of life” (John 6:53).   When we eat it, we receive His fruits, which look like love, joy, peace patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.   (Galatians 5:22-23)

Jesus understood God’s way.  He would not waver even though he was capable of producing food from rocks.  He refused to circumvent God’s plan for his own comfort. I find it noteworthy that he didn’t even flinch. I would have at least asked God for a quick nibble. Instead, Jesus was sold-out. Nothing could make him choose his own will over God’s.

I am thankful today for the opportunity and freedom to study and know God’s word. BibleJournal is an excellent way for all of us to sharpen our swords, deepen our dependence and understand God’s His way. Thank you for following along!

The Fear of the LORD

Today’s reading: Genesis 50; Luke 3; Job 16–17; 1 Corinthians 4

February 17th, 2016

The fear of the LORD

One of my fundamental understandings of God comes from Hebrews 12:29

For our God is a consuming fire. -Hebrews 12:29

From today’s reading we get another glimpse of this truth from John the Baptist  

John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire: Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable. – Luke 3:16-17

From this we start to understand a sense of finality in two states by way of one process. Just a few verses earlier:

And all flesh shall see the salvation of God – Luke 3:6

From God’s Word it is my understanding that God will baptize. We choose; by Holy Ghost or by fire. Frightening, is it not? Do you believe?

My hope and joy is to be in God’s presence with Jesus. My fear and trembling is to be in God’s presence without Jesus. I choose the Holy Ghost. Praise God that He is a giver of good gifts to the undeserving!

I have meet people who have ‘grown up in the church’ and proclaim now to be atheists. On one occasion during discussion with such a fellow, I thought to myself “He does not know God. The things he says of God are not true. Let me proclaim His name.” Seems like an obvious realization; atheist doesn’t know God, right, let me explain. It became clear to me that although he had, as he put it, “grown up in the church”, (perhaps meaning their family attended church) he had a view of God something of the sort of Santa Claus. A great being with all the stuff. When I told him of my joy and trembling of meeting God one day, he did not understand. When I told him who God was, a consuming fire with no tolerance for sin; and of our need for Jesus, he said “That’s in the bible? I’ve never heard that.”

Among many other things in Proverbs, we learn that the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom and that wisdom will save us from all sorts of trouble, even from death. It is a great tragedy that some are deceived into thinking they know God but do not receive the fear of the LORD. May we all get to know our God and be saved.

In the classic Christian tale, Pilgrim’s Progress, Hope and Christian, two of the main characters, are talking of the Fear of the LORD on their pilgrimage to the Celestial City:

Hope: How will you describe right fear?

Christian: True, or right fear, is discovered by three things:

  1. By its rise. It is caused by saving convictions for sin.
  2. It drives the soul to lay fast hold of Christ for salvation.
  3. It begets and continues in the soul a great reverence of God, His Word, and ways; keeping it tender, and making it afraid to turn from them, to the right hand or to the left; to anything that may dishonour God, break its peace, grieve the Spirit, or cause the enemy to speak reproachfully.

Foundation in Christ

Today’s Readings: Genesis 49; Luke 2; Job 15; 1 Corinthians 3

As children, we remember the story of the Three Little Pigs,  and in grade schools this story may come up now and then.  As we reflect on this fable the moral is about what we build our house with and whether or not it will stand based on “various trials”.  What we build our foundation on makes a difference.  I know someone who builds houses that could definitely go into more details, but the house I want to focus on today starts with one Cornerstone…Christ.

I Corinthians 3:11  For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

 

Our foundation plays a factor in all life moments.  This includes our “highs and lows” (as we call them around our dinner table) and everything in-between of our daily lives.  Each day our foundation prayerfully shows characteristics of faith, prayer, wisdom, truth, humbleness, obedience, patience, giving, forgiving, and love.   When we have laid this foundation in ourselves we can depend on the Lord for everything. A daily foundation based in God’s truth, love, and grace will help us to keep a mind of Christ.  Just like our wisdom that comes from above, so does our foundation in life.

Philippians 4:13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Luke 6:48 He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built.

The foundation we create starts in our own lives based around God.  It starts with me.  If my foundation is made with the wrong materials or my blueprints are off it can be detrimental. This is something I experienced for many years of my life.

2 Timothy 2:19  But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.”

We then impact our families and everyone we interact with. Our Christ filled foundation impacts our heart, words, and actions. You will leave a legacy with your family. Often in education people will talk about the legacy they would like to leave with students and colleagues.  Our most important legacy will be with our family.  Your family always sees everything we say and do whether you want them to or not.  A daily walk with God as our foundation will build a foundation in your family. I pray daily that as a family we live more like Christ each day. I pray that God helps me to do this.  If there are any legacy’s I hope to leave it is that God has to be the center of everything. If you build your life on the foundations of God’s truth it can never be shaken.

Matthew 7:24 “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock.

On what have you built the foundation of your life?  Is it holding up?

What distractions in your life keeps you from fully building your foundation on the Bible?

Dear God, Let us always make your truth be our foundation. Let your perfect Word guide us daily and not let storms shake our foundation. Its about you and not me. Thank you for our foundation built on you Lord. Amen

 

Wisdom of the Holy Spirit

image

Today’s reading: Genesis 48; Luke 1:39–80; Job 14; 1 Corinthians 2

I have been looking for wisdom most of my life.  At first it was so that I might be considered smart or wise by others, later it was for wanting to distinguish myself in the halls of academia, and in the market place.  Wisdom I believed (along with knowledge) would help me compete for prosperity and notoriety.  I believed the more knowledge and wisdom I gained, the more worldly success I would attain, and to some extent this was true.  As luck (or providence) would have it, being born in the twentieth century into a productive and well educated American family made my prospects for prosperity all the better — or so I thought.  The pursuit of achievement sometimes drove me to exhaustion, and this clearly took my focus off things that mattered more, like loving God and others.  There was no doubt I wanted to do things my way.  Still at times I looked to God in the process for help.  But the help I looked for was to get more of the things I wanted for me.  Essentially, I just wanted help building my kingdom and was happy to have God’s help if necessary.

I’m not sure I can say exactly when the change took place for me.  There were certainly moments, and seasons, where the light of truth seemed to get brighter in my misguided brain. But mostly it has been a process and a struggle with my flesh, like some great sports contest with momentum shifting many times.  Recently the outcome of this game of life has become more certain for me despite my many struggles and poor choices.  Through prayer and worship, studying God’s word, and in fellowship with other believers wisdom has crept into my life.  Through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus my transformation was made possible, thank God!

Perhaps the better metaphor for this new life is climbing mountains.  As I reach the peak, now I look out across the land, and off in the distance I clearly see the next mountain I must climb.  The big difference in my new life is this; now the climb is mostly filled with joy which goes beyond any feeling of accomplishment.  Once I reach the summit, any feeling of accomplishment is exceeded by the exhilaration of seeing the next mountain off in the distance.  Wisdom tells me that in the challenge of the new mountain there is hope, and this hope is in the knowledge of the blessings from the transformation that awaits me.

Sure there are still dangerous moments and dark times, but more and more, each day I have come to rely on the Holy Spirit to guide my path.  I am now more aware of the limitations of my knowledge and wisdom which pails in comparison to the wisdom from the presence of God’s Holy Spirit which has been proven over and over again.

image

When I read the passage today about Joseph traveling to see his ailing father and seeking Jacob’s blessing upon his two sons Ephraim and Manasseh, I was moved to tears thinking of my own sons and how much I hope to bless them, and for them to receive the blessing of my Heavenly Father.  I’m not sure if these feelings represent the presence of the Holy Spirit, but they come at times when I’m thinking about the majesty of God and about the people I love.  These are powerful emotions that correlate with the rare times that I am deeply focused on God and people, other than me.  They rise up from some better place deep within, a place in my spirit where I believe God is able to dwell, if I am willing to allow it.  This is a place of power, courage, strength, hope and freedom.  It is a place that is prepared in my surrender, when I release my desire to control my destiny.  It is a place of joy made ready by love.

God please help me to understand your plan for my life.  I need your help to navigate between the world and your kingdom.  I seek Your wisdom, not mine, and I long for your guidance, especially how I use my time.  Help me invest in others, the lives of my family, good friends and those that you place in my path, directing me to serve.  Help me build up and encourage the people that I have the privilege of interacting with — those who are close to me.  Help me demonstrate your love through a life that points to you, glorifies you and demonstrates my openness to the incredible power and legacy of your wisdom.  Let your Holy Spirit, in all your infinite wisdom, dwell within me and flow out from me, all the days of my life.  Amen.

 

God’s Economy

The Winner Is Concept text on background

Family: Genesis 47; Luke 1:1–38. Secret: Job 13; 1 Corinthians 1.

Last Tuesday, Rick’s post was about Spiritual Capital, the spiritual goods and possessions that allow the production of the fruit of the spirit. He reminded us that everything began and ends with God and everything belongs to God, even our hearts.  Because God has given each one of us free will, Rick then challenged us to consider where we will invest.  Today’s passages focused me again on God’s economy.

How great the contrast to what we know as The American Dream, the ideal that every American should have an equal opportunity to achieve success and prosperity through hard work, determination, and initiative. Our entire culture is obsessed with the notion of trying to be the best.  I am not immune, and must admit, I have thoroughly enjoyed following ESPN.com’s recent analysis of the Top 100 NBA players of all time (agree MJ is still #1) and the 2016 class of NFL greats elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame last week (glad Brett Favre and Tony Dungy made the cut).  This is good fun, but the power of our culture makes it that much more critical that we continually ground ourselves in the truth of God’s word.  To follow Christ requires that our motivations be different.

I Corinthians 1:27-28, But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are…

The struggle to be the best is not unique to us in 21st century America.  In Mark 9, we read about the disciples’ debating with each other about who was the greatest.  When Jesus heard the discussion, he sat them down for a lesson on God’s economy.

Mark 9:35, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”

I don’t have much athletic talent, and for those of you who know me well, it is unlikely that I am going to “be the greatest” at anything. But not being first or the greatest is a whole lot different than choosing to be last and a servant to all.  Not being the best involves admitting someone is better than you.  Servant-hood requires that you make yourself lower than another, choosing to place your needs and desires in submission to theirs.  This is hard, and not something we will achieve on our own.  Fortunately, God’s economy is fueled by grace.

Today, in Genesis 47, we read about the last days of Israel (Jacob). He had been reunited with his son Joseph.  Because Joseph had found favor with Pharaoh, Israel’s last 17 years were fruitful in the land of Goshen with his descendants.  He dies peacefully and Joseph buries his body with his fathers, according to Israel’s wishes.  What?  Is this the same person who was born in Genesis 25, stole his brother’s birthright, tricked his father into giving him the blessing that belonged to his brother, and then had go live with his uncle Laban to avoid being killed by his brother?  It is.

In Genesis 28, we read the account of Jacob’s dream where God promises to bless Jacob. See, God chose Jacob just like he chose us.

Notice as Jacob’s life goes on he begins to make some different choices. In spite of Laban’s deceitfulness (on more than one occasion), Jacob served him for twenty years.  Later, in preparation for a reunion with his brother Esau, Jacob sent gifts and messengers ahead to meet Esau with a message from Jacob, “his servant”.  Do you see Jacob’s actions beginning to reflect a change in attitude, motivation and position?

God’s economy is remarkably different than the world’s economy. How can we combat the irresistible pull of our culture to be the best/know the best/worship the best?  As we see with Jacob’ life.  It is never too late.  God’s grace is greater than all our sin.

1 Corinthians 1:4-9

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Good News!

Today’s reading link: Genesis 46; Mark 16; Job 12; Romans 16

I’ve recently taken the opportunity to consider what others would say if asked, “What is most important to Jon?” Even if you barely know me, you are probably aware of how easily and freely I verbally proclaim my love for triathlons, India Pale Ales (IPAs), coffee, travel, and fine food. And if you know me fairly well you hopefully have heard me passionately talk about how much I cherish and adore my wife, and the great joy that our children bring. What tugs at me is the fear that too many people would be surprised to know that I love Jesus. My treasure may appear to be more Earthly focused rather than Heavenly focused.

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21)

The “good news” that I usually share is missing the Good News that we are commanded to share. In today’s reading, the resurrected Jesus commands us to share the Good News so that others may be saved.

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:15-16)

Go

We are told to take action. Throughout his preaching and teaching period, Jesus was constantly on the move. He was not an earthly king on an earthly throne being served. Jesus went, but without concern for his own comfort. And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Luke 9:58)  

into all the world

Jesus traveled to numerous cities throughout Galilee. “And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.” (Matthew 4:23) The apostle Paul traveled extensively as well. The Lord’s words in Acts 9:15 are referring to Paul, and his travels are well documented throughout the book of Acts. But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. (Acts 9:15)

and proclaim

The NLT Bible uses “preach” and the ESV version uses “proclaim”. The word preach (preacher) brings back memories of the guy in a suit, giving a sermon on a Sunday morning (something most of us haven’t done). The word proclaim hits closer to home. We can proclaim things through speech (verbal or written) and through our actions. These words from Peter provide more context to the act of speaking and serving to glorify God:

If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:11, NIV)

the gospel

The Gospel (or the Good News) is repentance of sins and faith in Jesus Christ. Before we can proclaim the Good News, we need to believe in our own hearts and live as though it is actually good news. The Good News offers eternal life with our loving creator so we should share it with great joy! Consider the apostles after they had been jailed, humiliated, interrogated, and beaten for sharing the Good News. Their response? Rejoicing. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. (Acts 5:41)

to the whole creation.

The message is for everyone. We are God’s creation. In the context of the writing of the Bible there was a great division between Jews and Gentiles or the Greeks, so it needed to be said that even the Gentiles get to share in this eternal salvation. For further reference, please refer to Romans 10:5-21 as it beautifully and miraculously teaches the message of salvation for all.

Whoever believes and is baptized

This refers to believing the gospel, that Jesus rose from the dead, that Jesus was who he said he was, the Son of God. As we believe in our hearts, we will have outward actions that reflect our belief. Baptism is one outward step to reflect our inward belief.

will be saved,

Saved from sin and given eternal life. Sin separates us from God; he cannot tolerate sin therefore he sent Jesus to die as a sacrifice, as a replacement for our sin. It is binary, we can be with him or without him and it is our choice to believe or not believe. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

I slowly typed this last part and it gave me a chill. The thought of condemnation for anyone, especially those I love, cuts me to the heart. If you are reading this and you do not yet believe, please consider that it is not the me the author of this post, your friend, your co-worker, or “the christian” who condemns; this is Biblical text coming from a God who is a God a love, but also a God of wrath. He either saves or condemns, based on our choice. Our culture spins lies in telling us that a loving God wouldn’t condemn good people. He loves us, but if we do not love him back, we are inherently rejecting him. We are for him or against him. We will be with or without him for eternity and this is serious business. “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:15)

Father God, would you put it in our hearts to recognize the great significance as to the choices we make and the direction our lives are pointing people to? Would you open doors to conversation that would glorify you? Would you soften the hearts of those who do not yet believe? Would you equip us through your Holy Spirit to have the words that clearly and truthfully reflect your will? Thank you God for loving us so much, for giving us free will, and saving us through your son Jesus. Amen.