Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Bragging Rights

When he was in the house, [Jesus] asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
Mark 9:33-35

The disciples wanted to be first and greatest. They wanted pride of place and the material success that goes along with it. This is the way of our world. In fact, it's hardwired into our sinful nature. We don't have to teach our children to be this way. It comes naturally to them. As I work with children I see it regularly. They all want to be the line leader for the day. They want to be able to do the best cartwheel in their class. They want to get better grades than their friends. Those who win often brag and those who come in last place are often made fun of.

Sadly, many of us never outgrow this behavior. Even as adults we compete to claw our way up the social or corporate ladder. Men and women have proven over and over again that they will do anything to get ahead, to be first, to be the greatest. This is the way of our world. But Jesus shows us a better way. 

He says, "I came not to be served but to serve and to give my life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). As we read the gospels we never find Jesus bragging. Never do we see Him showing off (though the Devil tempted Him to in Matthew 4:5-7). Though He was incredibly poor in material possessions, we never find Him using His spiritual riches to leverage worldly success. (The Devil also tempted Him with worldly success in Matthew 4:8-10). Not once do we hear Jesus say, "I will restore your eyesight... for $50."

No, Jesus used His gifts to serve, teach, heal, and help other people. Let's do the same. Instead of expending so much effort trying to be first and best, let's strive to be kind, helpful and loving. Let's serve. Beware of those who use their blessings and their spiritual gifts to gain material blessings and make a name for themselves in this world. And be wary of falling into the same trap yourself.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Love and Obedience

Sometimes what we need isn't another devotional or sermon to increase our knowledge of God, but rather we need simply to take the time to obey what we already know He's commanded us to do. Jesus is very clear that loving God requires action. He said, "If you love me, you will keep my commands" (John 14:15). Elsewhere Jesus described it like this: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength" (Mark 12:30). The kind of love God expects from us involves our whole body. It isn't just mental assent. It also involves physical action.

The Bible leaves no room for Christians to claim to love God but be unaffected by that love. There is not a single example of a believer in Scripture who had faith and remained unchanged by it. Even the thief on the cross (which is the closest thing we have in Scripture to a "deathbed conversion") was changed by his faith. Matthew 27:44 and Mark 15:32 tell us that both robbers who were crucified next to Jesus hurled insults at Him, but Luke 23:39-42 says that one robber insulted Jesus while the other defended Him. How do we reconcile this? Is it not obvious that both robbers heaped insults upon the Savior, but then one was convicted of his sins? As he watched Jesus suffer and die he came to see the truth of who Christ really was. He began to look on Him in faith, and his faith changed him. Only then did he begin to defend Jesus. It is out of brotherly love that Luke records only this Christian's latter state and not his first. He isn't correcting Mark or Matthew's depiction of the crucifixion, he is highlighting a detail they left out.

I pray that obedience and acting out our faith will not be a detail we leave out of our Christian lives. The Bible says that "if anyone knows the good they ought to do and doesn't do it, it is sin" (James 4:17). Which of God's commands are you not obeying? Maybe you aren't telling others about Jesus. Maybe you aren't praying. Are you caring for the poor, for widows and for orphans? What about your money? Are you giving back a generous amount to God's church and His kingdom? Whatever God is laying on your heart, do it now. Don't plan to do it later. Take some action right now, no matter how small a first step it may be, to begin living out your love for God by obeying Him.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

I am against you

‘This is what the Lord says: See, I am setting before you the way of life and the way of death. Whoever stays in this city will die by the sword, famine or plague. But whoever goes out and surrenders to the Babylonians who are besieging you will live; they will escape with their lives. I have determined to do this city harm and not good, declares the Lord. It will be given into the hands of the king of Babylon, and he will destroy it with fire.’... I am against you, Jerusalem,
Jeremiah 21:8-10, 13

"I am against you." These have to be the most terrifying words God has ever spoken to a man. The prophet Jeremiah delivers this oracle to the people of Jerusalem in the 6th century. King Nebuchadnezzar would soon destroy the city of Jerusalem. God's punishment for their rebellion was to send a foreign king to kindle a fire and destroy their city.

"I am against you." God has passed this terrifying judgment on each and everyone one of His rebellious creatures. In Romans 1:18 the Word says "the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness." We have all sinned and gone our own way (Romans 3:23). We have all rebelled against God, and our impending judgment is just as sure as the judgment of which Jeremiah spoke. The fires of Hell have already been kindled to destroy those who oppose God.  

But thank God He is never changing! Just as He prepared a way of escape for the Old Testament people of God, so He has made a way of salvation for us as well. Those in Jerusalem had to humble themselves under God's punishment and submit to captivity, but the offer of salvation which He has extended to us is far better. We must also give up our earthly "city." We can longer live for this world if we are to escape God's wrath. We must become citizens of a different and better country. And we must also surrender ourselves to God and submit to His will for our lives. We too will live like aliens and strangers on this earth, but we will be reconciled to God. Everlasting peace will have been brokered on our behalf between ourselves and the Father by the only mediator who is able to do so, Jesus- His perfect Son. 

If we will but cast our faith on Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins, and believe that His death and resurrection secured our peace, then God will speak new words to us. Instead of "I am against you," He will say "I will be your God and you will be my children" (Revelation 21:7). 

Thank you Father for the way of salvation you offer to us through Jesus Your Son. May all praise and glory be to You, God of all mercy!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Think of Me

But as for me, I am poor and needy;
    may the Lord think of me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
    you are my God, do not delay.
Psalm 40:17

The first two lines of this verse reveal a great deal about the Christian religion and its God.

The psalmist says he is both poor and needy. In the rest of the psalm he lays out his bleak situation. His enemies not only want to see his life in ruins, they want to take his life away (v. 13-14). "Troubles without number surround me;" the psalmist states before admitting "my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see" (v. 12). This is a desperate a man. His sins and his enemies have caught up with him, and he is crying out to God for help.

Yet, He asks God to "think of me." That God should bend His great and limitless mind to think about any man would be an immeasurable honor. That He would do so for a poor and needy man who is in dire circumstances because he has sinned against God is unthinkable. Yet, it is entirely in keeping with the God of the Bible. Scripture tells us again and again that God's eye is on the poor, the needy, and the humble. He leaves the ninety-nine in the open country to go search for the one lost sheep that has strayed (Luke 15:3-6). He is like a father who runs to meet the prodigal son who dares return (Luke 15:11-31). Jesus even tells us there's rejoicing in heaven over a sinner who repents (Luke 15:10).

What an amazing God we serve! How unthinkable that He should think of me! Even more so after I have rebelled against Him. Yet, if I humbly repent of my sin and approach Him through the blood of Jesus (Acts 4:12 & Hebrews 10:19-23), then I can be confident that I have not only entered into His thoughts but into His very presence as well. 

Imagine how vastly different God would be if just this one thing about His character were changed. What if He were still all-knowing, all-powerful, eternal and everything else we know Him to be, but He simply wasn't personally concerned for needy, sinful people like you and me? I shudder to think of it. God deserves all our praise and all our gratitude. He has poured out amazing, unimaginable, unfathomable grace on us. To Him alone be the glory!

Father, we too are poor and needy. We confess our sins to You. We have gone our own way. Our sins surround us and our enemy waits to devour us. Forgive us, Father. Deliver us. Think of us in Your grace. Draw us back to yourself and teach us to walk in Your ways. Make us more like Jesus and give us the joy of spending our lives here extolling Your goodness and grace in the ears of men.