Jesus Over Everything

Angels-Landing

September 29 (Matthew 7:13-14)

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.  (ESV)

Angel’s Landing is one of the scariest hikes in the United States.  The trail takes you two and a half miles to a peak that towers 5,790 feet above Zion Canyon in Zion National Park.  The narrow path to the ascent is not for the faint of heart, yet the reward for making it is a breathtaking view of natural splendor, and it is a perfect illustration for what Jesus was talking about.

Do not let anyone tell you the Christian life is easy.  It is not.  Ask the martyrs, both in the ancient world of the Roman colosseum and in modern day Iran.  As one Iranian Christian put it, “We know that if they get us, the first thing they will do to us as a woman is rape us and then they will beat us and ultimately they will kill us.”  An Iranian Christian leader said this.  “Disciples forsake the world and cling to Jesus ’till he comes.  Converts don’t.  Disciples aren’t engaged in a culture war.  Converts are. Disciples cherish, obey, and share the word of God.  Converts don’t.  Disciples choose Jesus over anything and everything else.  Converts don’t.  Converts run when the fire comes.  Disciples don’t.”

Disciples choose Jesus over anything and everything else.  Have you?  Have I?  Are we nice, polite, decent people who help make society work in a civilized manner, or are we more than that?  Are we born-again, washed-in-the-blood, new creations in Christ?  Do we see Jesus when we look at our problems and desires?  Do we see Jesus when we look at our jobs and our money and our time?  Do we see Jesus when we look at other people?  Pause for a moment and present the words of Jesus and the actions of your own life to God.  Let Him speak to you and show you which path you are truly walking.

Lord, I want no illusions.  Have I truly forsaken the world to cling to Jesus?  Do I cherish, obey, and share Your word?  Do I choose Jesus over anything and everything else?  Reveal to me any place where my answer is no and lead me back to the narrow path of life.  In the name of Jesus, Who has redeemed me and made me new, amen.

Advertisement

War Against God

War-in-Heaven

September 15 (Revelation 12:7)

Then there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon and his angels.   (NLT)

Of all creatures made by God, only two have rebelled against Him, angels and humans, and since they both have free will, this means they both chose to do so.  The rebellion of angels resulted in war.  The rebellion of humans resulted in the free and loving sacrifice that saw God become a man, die on a cross, and rise again with the promise of eternal life for all who accept Him.

Nothing else in all of creation has fought against God.  Many scientists believe that other animals possess free will to some degree, and if so, this puts angels and humans in a particularly bad light, for it wasn’t dolphins or dogs, cats or cows that used their free will to fight the Lord of the universe.  Then again, if angels and humans are the only creatures to possess free will, this makes us even worse, for it means that the only two beings granted the incomparable gift of free will used that gift against its giver.  Are you starting to see just how terrible the rebellious act of sin actually is?

Now return to the consequences of misused free will.  The only two instances of this unspeakable betrayal resulted in two very different outcomes.  In the one case, God actually went to war against those who used their gift against Him.  In the other, He forgave them through the blood of His own Son.  Can you catch a glimpse, if only for the briefest of moments, how much God obviously loves you?

Father, Your love is truly overwhelming.  The sheer magnitude of it is more than I can comprehend.  I do not deserve such love, but I am indeed grateful, for without it I would remain separated from You, Your enemy forever.  Thank You for providing a way back to You through Jesus, whom I love and adore as my Savior.  May all I do bear witness to Your love for me and my acceptance of it.  Amen.

Life’s Choices

Walking_Rain

September 8 (Matthew 5:45)

For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.  (NLT)

Picture a gentle rain sweeping across rolling, green hills.  A cool breeze crosses your face, and as you look into the grey, fleecy clouds, you see them start to lighten and then break.  Shafts of light break through, and the blades of grass and leaves on the flowers glisten as the water droplets reflect the sun.  Do you have the image in your mind?  That is the backdrop, the scenery against which any number of dramas can be played.

Now give some action to the scene unfolding in your mind.  Perhaps a girl of six or seven has been walking with her mother through the fields.  When the rain starts, they both lift their faces to the sky, laughing and twirling and running through the refreshing shower, stopping only when the rain has passed to explore the delicate, crystalline world it has left behind.  Of course, the scene could be quite different.  Troops shouting the harshest vulgarity could be running over the hills, fire and death blazing from their rifles as they slip on ground made wet with water and blood.  The break in the rain does not bring a time for poetic reflection on blades of grass, but rather a clearer sight line for taking another life.

There is no gift of such jaw-dropping awesomeness as free will.  Like the air we breathe, it goes unnoticed and unremarked most of the time, yet it is the most powerful force in nature.  God has created a cosmos of infinite beauty, a world of energy and color and life.  Into this environment He has set you and me.  The glories of the backdrop to the drama of life will remain the same whether we choose to act in love or hate, joy or anger, confidence or fear.  They may appear different depending on the scenes we enact, but the difference is entirely of our own making.

Father, thank You for life and for my life.  Thank You for the wonder-filled opportunities You have given us to live.  May every choice I make be in harmony with Your perfect will, and when I do act in ways that bring ugliness to the beauty You have created, I ask Your forgiveness in the name of Jesus, through Whom all has been made and will be made new.  Amen.

To Whom Do You Listen?

Purchase this image at http://www.stocksy.com/382274

September 1 (Proverbs 16:23)

The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious and adds persuasiveness to his lips.  (ESV)

Have you ever noticed that you tend to pay more attention to what some people say?  Their words somehow pierce right to your core or seem to have a weightiness to them that causes you to remember them and discuss them with others.  I have known many people like this, and on the surface they would seem to have nothing in common.  Some are older, some are younger, some are men, and some are women.  They have come from different walks of life and differing levels of education.  What they shared, however, was wisdom, and wisdom is a matter of the heart.

It is easy to spout advice.  Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest would not last long if people did not like to share their opinions with others, and the books we find at conferences and conventions all contain what the speakers have thought and want us to know.  Which ones will you buy?  Which social media accounts will you follow?  Mere popularity is not enough to guarantee wisdom.  As you listen to and read the thoughts of others, consider what seems to be behind them.  Is it wisdom?  Is it a life that is walking in step with God?

And when it comes down to it, why do you give the advice you do?  Is it just to have something to say?  Is it to feel important or wanted or needed?  James 1:19 urges us to be slow to speak.  When you do open your lips, do the words that come out flow from a heart that has been transformed by Jesus, one that beats with His blood, one that can be a fount of His wisdom?

Lord, for all the questions in life, may I seek You only and always for the answers.  Help me to discern clearly and quickly when You are speaking through one of Your servants and when the counsel I hear is coming from a source other than You.  May all the words that I speak to help others be rooted in the One Who is truth, Jesus Christ, in Whose name I pray.  Amen.

God Wears Your Shoes

Jesus-walking

August 25 (Philippians 2:7)

Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.  (NLT)

“You should be in my shoes.”  We’ve all heard it and we’ve all said it.  We say it when we want someone to understand just what we’re going through, but when we hear it….  Let’s be honest.  We don’t always want to be in someone else’s shoes.  I know I don’t.  When I am tired at the end of a long day, the last thing I want is to hear about someone else’s struggles, much less stand in that person’s shoes and actually experience them.  In fact, I want someone to stand in my shoes, thank you very much!

It is not natural to stand in someone else’s shoes.  It involves a depth of love that humans do not naturally possess.  Oh, we can be genuinely kind, but when it comes to experiencing the struggles of someone else, our natural response is to defend and protect ourselves.  We do not want more difficulties to add to our own and bring us down.  On top that, taking on the burdens of another requires tremendous strength and energy, something that most of us lack in sufficient quantity in this hurly burly world.

Now consider Jesus.  He loved us so much that He was willing to set aside His divine life with the Father and Holy Spirit in order to become one of us.  He not only stood in our shoes, He actually took on human flesh and lived out the physical reality of what it means to be a human being.  And this incredibly loving God, Who is love and possesses more love than we could ever emotionally muster, was strong enough to do it.  Remember, He is the one Who created the stars and the atoms.  The one Who holds the universe together was more than strong enough to take on our flesh and our problems.  Knowing this, what do you want to say to Him today?

Jesus, I need to know that You know what I’m going through.  I need to be confident that You not only understand my situation, but that You will help me through it.  You have shown me that You are more than capable of handling my burdens and that You love me enough to be willing to do so.  Today I give You all of my struggles and worries and fears.  I know that You can handle them.  Amen.

Does God Want You To Do It All?

vine-branches

August 18 (John 15:4)

Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.  (NLT)

One of God’s most common messages is that we cannot do it all by ourselves.  One of the most common messages of the current age is not only that we can do it all by ourselves, but that we should.  From e-trading that no longer requires a broker to the self-checkout line at the grocery store, technology has put more and more power into our hands to do things alone that before would have required others.  Just consider the filmmaking power you have on your phone.  You can record sound and moving images, add background music and credits, edit the whole production, and upload it for grandparents and the world to see before you even get home from your child’s game or recital.

How does all that power make you feel?  Does it really make you feel powerful?  Or does it increase your stress and anxiety because everyone now expects you to do it all and to do it perfectly?  Not that this would come as a surprise to anyone who knows me, but I am not God.  I could not have kept up with the demands of the pre-industrial age, much less the pressures of our 24/7, interconnected world.  I can’t do it and I am not going to try.  What I can do is stay connected to the true vine, Jesus Christ.  What does He want me to do today?  Whatever it is, Matthew 11:28-30 tells me it will be a lighter burden than what the world puts on me.  Whatever it is, Philippians 4:13 reminds me that I can do it with His strength.  Whatever it is, 1 Corinthians 12 says that other people may be gifted to do part of it and that I would do well to work with them.

There’s one other thing.  Trying to do it all may keep you from doing what God has actually called you to do.  Busyness is not holiness.  What will generate your agenda this week?  Will it be your calendar and your inbox and the electronic voices of all those who have your contact information, or will it be God, Who knows you and formed you to do His good and perfect will?  If you set out to do all, but only, what God has for you to do, He will give you all you need to accomplish it.

Father, rather than asking for help to do all the things I think I must, I will first ask what You actually want me to do.  Show me the path You want me to take, and I will trust You to provide what I need to get there.  In the name of Jesus, amen.

Telling God No

Lucy_football

August 11 (Acts 10:14)

“No, Lord,” Peter declared.  (NLT)

I was listening to Danielle Strickland, who takes the gospel to those involved in prostitution and human trafficking, deliver a talk, and when she referenced this verse, she said it was a contradiction and moved on, but I couldn’t.  That observation punched me in the face.  One of two things is true.  If Jesus is truly your Lord, you can’t tell Him no.  If you really mean no, then He isn’t your Lord.

Of course, Jesus was Peter’s Lord, and this was Peter’s typically impetuous response, this time to a vision in which God was telling him to eat animals that his Jewish heritage told him were unclean, but think about it for a moment.  If we surrender to God, we are giving up our right to tell Him no.  We are acknowledging His sovereignty over our lives.  If He is really and truly our Lord, then our only response ever to His call must be that of Mary, the mother of Jesus.  “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

On top of that, why wouldn’t we say yes to God?  Jesus Himself taught us to pray that He would not lead us into temptation, so what are we afraid of?  Do we really think that God is going to trick us?  Do you honestly believe that He is going to yank the football away just as you go to kick it?  If God is truly your Lord and if He is indeed good, then why on earth would you ever tell Him no?

Jesus, when I hesitate to obey You, it reveals all my true fears and lack of faith.  Make me bold.  I do love You and have acknowledged You as my Lord and Savior, but I am also weak and allow so many other thoughts to affect my actions.  Help me to only and always to see You and follow Your lead with a quick and simple yes.  Amen.

Eternity And The Heart

eternity

August 4 (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

He has planted eternity in the human heart.  (NLT)

The tyranny of the urgent crushes the human spirit.  Consider for a moment the things that make you nervous or anxious, scared or worried.  Are they not things like paying your bills, dealing with a difficult relationship, or handling the mountain of work at your job?  The young person knows this anxiety as she prepares to enter a new level of school, and the elderly person knows it as he frets over burdening his family.  Seventeenth century thinker Blaise Pascal identified why this is so.  “Our imagination so enlarges the present by dint of continually reflecting on it, and so contracts eternity, by never reflecting on it, that we make a nothing of eternity and an eternity of nothing.”

Contrast that with how God designed us.  He planted eternity in our hearts.  We were made to dream of and to ponder the limitless.  Do we have to put gas in the car?  Of course we do, but activities like that are not the focus of our lives, and neither are things like wealth, honor, and the accumulation of achievements.  We live in discrete moments, minute to minute, in bodies no taller than the tops of our heads and no faster than our muscles can contract, yet our hearts are made for eternity.  How, then, do we reverse the absurdity that Pascal identified?

We dwell in the eternal when we surrender to God.  When we give Him our fears and our worries, when we give Him our plans and our dreams and focus not on any of those things but on Him and His rich, extravagant, lavish, warm, perfect love for us, in such a moment our moments expand to eternity.  Confidence and peace become ours as we walk in sure relationship with our Lord.

Oh, Jesus, You overwhelm me with Your love and friendship.  When I think about it, I can’t imagine why I ever look to anything, be it my worries or successes, other than You.  If anything tempts me to look elsewhere, please draw my gaze back to You.  Amen.

Hold On To The Truth

bible-study

July 28 (2 Thessalonians 2:15)

With all these things in mind, dear brothers and sisters, stand firm and keep a strong grip on the teaching we passed on to you both in person and by letter.  (NLT)

This verse comes in Paul’s discussion about the return of Jesus, and it is easy to see that return right around the corner when things are going wrong on a large scale.  When we see wars and injustice and immorality sweeping the nations, we become convinced that Jesus is ready to come back.  Yet Paul’s admonition here is for Christians.  What’s going on?

There is a temptation to fall away from God’s word every day, or worse yet, to rebel against it.  This rarely takes the form of openly embracing murder or tyranny, but instead comes in the form of yielding ground an inch at a time.  God wants me to be happy, right?  Therefore, I should be able to do X.  The Bible says it is wrong.  Oh, but the Bible was just the best wisdom of its day, and we know better now, don’t we?  And on and on it goes, a bit at a time, until we have fallen so far from God’s will that our lives are unrecognizable as Christian, despite whether we still choose to call ourselves such.

It is more important than ever in the information age to keep a strong grip on orthodox, Christian teaching.  Everyone with a keyboard or camera can broadcast this or that and claim it is Christian, but that does not necessarily make it so.  God has given us His word in the Bible along with the Holy Spirit to guide our understanding.  On top of that we have the body of Christ, the church, which is far more than the congregation we attend.  The church includes the faithful stretching across the planet and two thousand years into the past.  If what you claim to be a Christian belief or practice can only be reached by a tortured reading of the Bible or would be unrecognizable to the body of Christ at large and throughout the centuries, then it probably is not Christian at all.

Lord, guide my thoughts as I study Your word.  Engrave Your teachings into my heart.  Help me to hold on to what is true no matter how attractive another teaching may seem or how much I want to believe something else.  I ask this in the name of the One who is the truth Himself, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Does God Like Us?

Beautiful Vineyard in the Adelaide Hills

July 21 (Psalm 104:14-15)

You allow them to produce food from the earth—
     wine to make them glad,
olive oil to soothe their skin,
    and bread to give them strength.  (NLT)

You do not have to like people to love them.  In fact, being able to love without liking is something Christians are called to do.   Remember that whole “love your enemy” bit?  This is how forgiveness is possible.  We love those who do us wrong, even while fully admitting that what they did was indeed wrong and that we do not like it.  On the other hand, we all want to be liked, and this leads us to an important question.  Does God like us?  We know He loves us, a fact that was made clear for all time through the death and resurrection of Jesus, but does He actually like us?

The answer is yes, and Psalm 104 proves it.  Because God loves us, He gives us what we need, but because He likes us, He goes beyond that.  Bread for strength is necessary, but wine to gladden the heart?  Olive oil to soothe the skin?  We can live without those last two, but that is not what God wanted for us.  It is true that Jesus said we are to deny ourselves and follow Him, but we often take this too far, assuming that God is a harsh taskmaster wanting nothing but Spartan soldiers as His followers.

Ponder this for a moment.  God gave us wine to gladden us and olive oil to soothe our skin.  He orchestrated the songs and calls of the animal kingdom to fill us with music and He painted the oceans and landscapes and the far-flung reaches of space with colors to dazzle and thrill our eyes.  How, then, will it change your relationship with Him to know just how much God likes you?

Lord, You have shared with us the glories of Your imagination brought to life.  First of all, thank You.  I truly do thank You for the glory and wonder and spectacle and comfort and adventure that You have spread before us.  Thank You for liking us enough to give us such a life now, and thank You for loving us enough to give us life everlasting with You.  In the name of Jesus, through whom and for whom all things were made, amen.