Whitewashed tombs

Daily Readings: Exodus 15-16, Psalm 24, Matthew 23

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous.  And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!”

-Matthew 23:23-26, 29-32

Jesus did not mince words when it came to rebuking the religious establishment of the day. He came out swinging.

It really hit me today when he challenged how they thought that they would have approached the past. “And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets…”

It is so easy to look back in time and think, “I would have never acted that way!” That is certainly how I feel about the Pharisees we read about today.

What would Jesus say to the church today? If he was speaking to the American Evangelical Church, what would his message be?

I believe that many churches are doing an incredible job of fighting for justice, mercy, and faithfulness, the way Jesus described in this passage. However, there are so many instances where, I believe, Jesus would compare the American Church to whitewashed tombs. More worried about external appearance than mission.

This is also a powerful thought for each of us individually to spend time considering. It is never fun to be confronted with areas in our lives where we are more concerned with how we appear on the outside than what is happening inside, and yet we all have them. Part of being human is constantly fighting the urge to simply wash the outside of the cup.

My prayer today is that God would show me those areas of my life. My prayer is that Jesus would convict me in the truth of my motives in different areas and expose any that are not in line with his will. I want to walk more and more closely with Christ every single day, even if that means he occasionally needs to say to me, “Woe to you, Aaron, you hypocrite!”

When these moments do come, it is important to choose joy over shame. I am so thankful that the God of the universe cares enough about me to show me my blind spots! I want to grow and get better! I want a stronger relationship with him! Therefore I am thankful for his occasional loving rebuke.

Thought to ponder

Where are areas of my life where I am like the Pharisees?

He leads me beside quiet waters

Daily Readings: Exodus 13-14, Psalm 23, Matthew 22

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.

-Psalm 23

Wow. So good.

Read that entire Psalm again but this time slow down. Let God truly lead you beside quiet waters as you read these beautiful words. Pause after each sentence to really let it sink in.

Psalm 23, for me, perfectly summarizes how I feel in my relationship with God when my heart is focused on him and when my eyes are on heaven and not on the daily moments of strife, worry, stress, frustration, or anger that this world can bring.

When my heart is aligned with God, even when “walking through the valley of the shadow of death” or “in the presence of my enemies”, he guides me. He gives me peace. He comforts me.

I love the imagery of leading me beside quiet waters because there is nothing more relaxing for me in this entire world than being alone with God on the water. There is something inherently peaceful about sitting quietly next to a large body of water and taking it all in. In those moments I am in awe of God’s majesty and all of his creation.

Today, actually choose to go live out Psalm 23. Let God lead you beside quiet waters. Let him make you to lie down in green pastures. The beauty of this Psalm is that David refers to our ability to let God give us this rest even when we are in the midst of trial and turmoil. We do not need to be physically resting and actually sitting alone next to quiet waters to have our souls refreshed. The Holy Spirit is ready and willing each and every day, regardless of what that day brings, to anoint our heads with oil and follow us with love and goodness. He is ready to help us dwell in the house of the Lord.

Today, let him.

Thought to ponder

What is the most peaceful and relaxed I ever feel? If I was writing Psalm 23, what would I replace, “He leads me beside quiet waters” with? That peace is available for you today regardless of what the world brings!

Flipping over some tables

Daily Readings: Exodus 11-12, Psalm 22, Matthew 21

Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’”

-Matthew 21:12-13

Jesus was a passionate guy. Occasionally you hear people talk about Jesus you get the image of a much more serene, peaceful, laid back guy. It can be easy to focus purely on the moments of his ministry when he was sitting on the mountainside sharing nuggets of wisdom such as, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” This warm and fuzzy Jesus is a pretty easy guy to get behind. In our western world there is a temptation to water down Jesus into nothing more than a wise teacher who has some good quotes that overlay nicely onto a peaceful picture of a lake and put onto Pinterest.

There is no doubt that the core of the message of Jesus on earth is, love God and love others. Sometimes that message was delivered peacefully seated on a hill over a miraculous meal of fished and loaves.

But on occasion, it was time to turn over some tables.

It is important to have some context surrounding this passage today. Jesus had not yet paid the price for our sins once and for all and the Jewish culture was still operating under old system of sacrifices to atone for their sins. In Leviticus we will read about different animals that people brought to sacrifice to God in order to atone for different types of sins. In Leviticus 12:8 we read, “But if they cannot afford a lamb, then they shall take two turtledoves or two young pigeons…”

What was happening in the temple courts was merchants preying on the poor. Those folks who were too poor to have a lamb they could bring with them to sacrifice were being told they could not approach God to worship in the temple without a sacrifice and then being price gouged on doves. This place in the temple that was meant to be a place of prayer was being used to take advantage of the poor.

If you have been reading along with us in the Bible throughout Matthew you already know, Jesus is not a fan of people using their power to hurt the poor. We see throughout the gospel that the most passionate version of Jesus is when he is addressing those who would take advantage of the poor or those who are trying to puff themselves up as teachers of the law and making their position of religious leadership nothing more than a status symbol. When it comes to hypocrisy in leadership and hurting the poor, Jesus is ready to turn over some tables!

In the Christian church today there are so many church bodies that are getting this right. Their ministry is focused on serving the less fortunate and helping their congregation develop deeper levels of intimacy with God.

However, there are still lots of churches where this is not the case.

Over and over again throughout his time on earth, we see that Jesus has extreme compassion and patience with people who are simply lost and need to find their way to God. Jesus came to reach out with love to sinners who did not even realize they were living in sin. He was also always talking about serving the poor. If he was a politician on the campaign trail, those were he two central messages.

On the other hand, Jesus had very little patience for those who know God and are actively choosing to live a hypocritical life or for those who are in a position of power and choose to leverage that position to take advantage of the poor.

As missionaries in the marketplace, this is a huge opportunity for us to model our lives after Jesus. What would it look like today if Christians in the marketplace looked at companies and individuals that prey on the poor and were ready to turn over tables on their behalf? What would it look like if we, as a body of Christ, were more focused on this issue as opposed to some of the other sins that tend to monopolize the discussion in Christian circles today?

It is far easier to take a look at the lifestyle of folks who have not yet turned their lives over to Christ and condemn. Us verses them is a convenient belief system. It is simpler and emotionally easier. Jesus spent very little time doing that on earth, but greeted those people with love, and that love won many of them over.

When it came to taking advantage of the poor or supposed followers of God who said one thing and then did another…Jesus was walking in and flipping over tables.

I want faith like Jesus. I want extreme compassion for those lost sheep that are far from God and passionately pursue them for the kingdom. And when I see injustice towards society’s most vulnerable, I want the courage to flip over some tables.

Thought to ponder

If we look at the issues Jesus addressed on earth and the posture of his heart towards each, how closely in line with Jesus is our heart? How can we better advocate for those who need advocates against those who would do the opposite?

As always, thank you for reading! Your comments are a constant source of encouragement. If you think this post would be a help or encouragement to someone else, feel free to share it!

The first shall be last

Daily Readings: Exodus 9-10, Psalm 21, Matthew 20

“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

“But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

-Matthew 20:8-16

So much of our emotional baggage in life stems from unmet expectations.

Often in life these unmet expectations may stem from a friend or loved one that falls short, doesn’t do what they say they are going to do, or intentionally hurts us in some way. In these times we are called to forgive them and turn it over to God. This, however, is not the situation we read about today.

Quite often frustration, hurt feelings, or anger stem from expectations that we have artificially created ourselves. They are formed on our own perceptions of what should occur based on what we have seen transpire with others around us. Frequently we are the workers, in the parable that Jesus shared today, that are hired on in the morning and worked a full day in the fields. When it is time to be compensated we want more than the others!

We want everything to be fair! This is unjust!

Jealousy and envy begin to creep into our hearts.

Jesus paints us a very different picture of what it looks like to follow him.

Later in chapter 20 this same theme comes up again when we see ten of the disciples angered at a mother’s request that her two sons be seated at the right and left hand of Jesus in Heaven. I am sure every single disciple there thought that place should be reserved for them!

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus wants us to serve others willingly and joyfully. He wants us focused on him and not on what blessings appear in the lives of others and playing the comparison game with money, material goods, status, power, etc.

The last will be first and the first will be last.

The truth is that any blessings we have here on earth pale in comparison to what is to come. Through our faith in Jesus we have been guaranteed eternal life. The human brain cannot even come close to wrapping itself around this concept. The 70-100 years we have on earth is nothing compared to the eternity we will spend with God and yet how we choose to approach these years we are given can have an eternal impact on the lives of others when we choose to serve.

In Psalm 21 today we hear the following from David:

The king rejoices in your strength, Lord.
How great is his joy in the victories you give!

You have granted him his heart’s desire
and have not withheld the request of his lips.
You came to greet him with rich blessings
and placed a crown of pure gold on his head.
He asked you for life, and you gave it to him—
length of days, for ever and ever.
Through the victories you gave, his glory is great;
you have bestowed on him splendor and majesty.
Surely you have granted him unending blessings
and made him glad with the joy of your presence.
For the king trusts in the Lord;
through the unfailing love of the Most High
he will not be shaken.

I want this to be the posture of my heart each and every day. This generally only occurs when the victories I am focusing on are eternal ones. When the desires of my heart and requests of my lips are for opportunities to do God’s will here on earth. When the splendor, majesty, and crown of pure gold I am chasing is the amazing gift of being able to walk with God and have him live in me. When I am focused on the joy of his presence and his unfailing love.

At times in our lives we may have a long absence of materials blessings in our lives, but we will never lack the opportunities to serve. When we shift this lens and rejoice in these opportunities instead of focusing the material blessings we see come into our lives, God is always faithful. We will never struggle to find the next person that could use a kind heart willing to serve.

Thought to ponder

In what areas of my life do I tend to play the comparison game and behave like the workers who worked the full day in the field instead of embracing the call Jesus gave us to servant leadership?

Where are we storing our treasure?

Daily Readings – Exodus 7-8, Psalm 20, Matthew 19

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”

“Which ones?” he inquired.

Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother, and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.”

“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

-Matthew 19:16-26

Most people in today’s modern world read this passage in Matthew 19 and choose to mainly focus on the last verse and interpret it to mean the phrase “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” to mean:

“Don’t worry about that whole financial piece of the puzzle, following me is enough. With God, all things are possible, including entering Heaven while hoarding money here on earth.”

It is possible that is what he meant. However, what if he actually meant, “With God all things are possible. I will give you the strength, courage, and faith to give away most of what you earn to further my kingdom here on earth if you will trust that your needs will always be met”?

Jesus was not overly subtle throughout his time on earth about how he would prefer that we use our finances. Back in Matthew 6:19-21, 24 we also saw Jesus say, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

This idea that we cannot serve both God and money is not a side thought for Jesus. It is a reoccurring theme.

This can be one of the great tensions for marketplace missionaries in our modern culture. There are so many lost sheep that God wants us to go after in the marketplace. God needs missionaries in the marketplace. The result of being a marketplace missionary can frequently result in us earning a good income. That is not an inherently evil thing. In fact, the ability to earn a great living is a blessing. God has built many of us to earn incredible incomes…to give away. There is an amazing amount of good we can do in the world through the financial blessings we are given.

So, how are we to treat our wealth as Christians? Do we tithe 10%? Do we give most of it away? Where is the line exactly?

There could be entire books written on this single topic alone. I am not going to tell you how to interpret the Bible’s teaching on your finances, but I would encourage you to give that decision to God and not society. I would encourage you to spend serious time in prayer surrounding this topic and with all major financial decisions in your life. I would urge people to reframe the question, “How much should I give away?” to “How much is God allowing me to keep?” If we start with the basic premise that all of this wealth is God given and it is our job to be good stewards of this wealth to further his kingdom, our hearts will be better aligned to give in accordance with God’s will and not our own.

For me throughout my life a good litmus test for whether I am focused on serving God or serving money has been this: If I set concrete financial goals for a given year in my career, how do I choose to allocate those funds if I hit that goal? Am I more excited by what hitting that goal will mean for my own long-term financial future, the next item I can treat myself to, or the next cool experience that money can buy? Or am I more excited by what that extra income could do to further God’s kingdom here on earth? Am I more motivated by the additional ministries that money can fund? It is not inherently sinful to use a portion of the wealth God has blessed you with on fun experiences with your loved ones, but is that our primary focus? Or is our primary focus with our finances kingdom building and occasionally we do those fun things when we feel God prompting us to?

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

I want my heart to be with God. I want my eyes focused on him. I want to use the financial blessings he puts in my life to better the lives of those around me that are not as fortunate and to further God’s kingdom here on earth.

The world constantly tugs at me in the other direction.

So, what goals do we have with our finances? Where are we storing up our treasure?

Jesus told us directly what his will is. He also told us that, with God all things are possible, including changing our heart towards our own finances and trusting him with those decisions. Today I will choose to view that truth with a great sense of delight and excitement and not as a burden. God, where are you calling me to store my treasure in this season of my life?

Thought to ponder

What excites you most when thinking about your financial goals? Where might God be calling you to store up your treasure?

Gouge it out!

Daily Readings: Exodus 5-6, Psalm 19, Matthew 18

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.”

-Matthew 18:6-9

I am going to go out on a limb and suggest Jesus isn’t a huge fan of the sin we allow to maintain a foothold in our lives! This idea of gouging out your own eye wasn’t just some over exaggeration Jesus threw out casually when shooting from the hip one day; it was virtually one of his greatest hits! We saw him give the exact same advice when delivering his Sermon on the Mount back on Day 5. Jesus takes the sin in our lives extremely seriously!

We know, as Christians, that we are saved by our faith in Christ and accepting him as our Lord and savior. We cannot avoid sin entirely. We are human and live in a broken and fallen world. We are incapable of perfection, which is why Jesus came to earth to present himself as the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf. However, Jesus wants us to accept him as our savior AND our Lord. Not just our savior. So what does that mean to accept Jesus as the Lord over our life?

Well, for starters it means praying the prayer that David prayed in Psalm 19:13.

Keep your servant also from willful sins;
may they not rule over me.
Then I will be blameless,
innocent of great transgression.

David does not pray that God would keep him from all sin. We will always have moments of weakness and sin in the moment. There will be stumbling blocks that we don’t see coming. David prays that God would keep him from willful sins.

There is a huge difference.

Through the help of the Holy Spirit, God wants to help us get better and better at conquering all of our sinful impulses that previously ruled our lives. However, it may take some time to allow God to fully break down our former habits, especially deeply ingrained ones. However, we can immediately choose to turn away from willful sins.

If you struggle with Alcoholism, be honest with yourself about what your triggers are that put you back into your old habit patterns. Stay away from bars. Avoid putting yourself in situations that tend to take you down that path. Get all of it out of your house. Let Jesus gouge it out! If you struggle with pornography and tried to quit over and over again without success, have you been willing to put accountability software on all of your devices and not just your computer? Have you taken legitimate steps to say, “No more! Jesus, I want you as LORD, not just savior.” or have you simply prayed about it without gouging it out? The list goes on.

If we are unwilling to take legitimate steps to gouge out these sins from our lives, then they become willful sins. They are no longer, caught off guard and didn’t see the stumbling block coming, type of sins. We are actively choosing to allow them to maintain their foothold. We want Jesus as simply savior, but would prefer avoiding embracing him as Lord over our lives.

Here is the thing, life is so much more rewarding, peaceful, and rich when we let go of these things! Jesus isn’t calling us to a bland, lesser version of life where we no longer “get to sin”. He is calling us to so much more!

A close friend of mine, Jason Redoutey who helps run Hearts Alive and Free Ministries, once said something to me that hit home. “Satan wants us to believe that sin is the fun stuff that you don’t get to do.”

That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Earlier in Psalm 19:7-8 we read this from David:

The law of the Lord is perfect,
refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right,
giving joy to the heart.

We should gouge sin out of our life with passion, not to “earn salvation”, but to allow Jesus to give us the good stuff! I have found over and over again in my own life that the words of David are true. When I am walking closely with Jesus and allowing him to work on my heart, I naturally desire to follow his commands. Sin no longer is the “fun stuff I don’t get to do”. Instead, by gouging it out of my life, God truly does give joy to my heart, wisdom to my decisions, and refreshment to my soul. Jesus loves you like crazy and wants you to experience the good stuff! He wants you to live life to the fullest and to cast off the millstone from your neck!

And that is something I would sign up for every day of the week!

Thought to ponder

What sin do I struggle with in my own life? If I am honest with myself, would God tell me that it is a “willful sin” like David spoke of because I have been unwilling to gouge it out? How can I gouge out this sin from my life so that Jesus refresh my soul even more and give me even more joy in my heart?

As always, thank you for reading! Your comments are a constant source of encouragement. If you think this post would be a help or encouragement to someone else, feel free to share it!

Ignoring the burning bush

Daily Readings: Exodus 3-4

“So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

And God said, “I will be with you.”

-Exodus 3:10-12

Throughout our readings in Exodus today we see Moses continually push back against God’s will for his life. God spoke directly to Moses from a burning bush. God laid out for Moses exactly how the plan would go. When Moses was still nervous that the Israelites would not follow him, God demonstrated for Moses that he would be there to help him perform multiple miracles in the sight of the Israelites if they needed additional convincing. After all of this, surely Moses would be inspired and motivated to go liberate his people! Moses was God’s chosen one to bring his people out of bondage! What an amazing calling!

And yet that was not the response Moses had…

Moses said to the Lord, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.”

The Lord said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”

But Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.”

Then the Lord’s anger burned against Moses.

-Exodus 4:11-14

How often in life are we like Moses? I know in my own life it is typically not a burning bush, but rather a combination of circumstances that seem to be God guiding me down a certain path where my life experience, God given strengths, and skills developed over time, can be used in a powerful way to further his kingdom.

This has occurred for me multiple times in regards to career choices as well as ministry opportunities. Many times, I have chosen to jump at God’s calling. In these instances God has always shown up in a powerful way when I have gone full speed down the path he has placed me on. However other times, I have responded like Moses.

“God, you have the wrong guy.”

“What if this doesn’t go well?”

“I am really not excited to take this on.”

Sometimes it has simply been, “I just don’t want to.”

The danger I have seen over and over again in my own life and in the lives of people I have had the opportunity to mentor, is wanting to project God’s will onto our own emotions. If we “aren’t feeling it” towards a particular vocation, ministry, relationship, etc. it is extremely easy to fall back on, “I think God is leading me towards…” We want to believe that our will for our own life must be God given, and therefore his will as well.

Sometimes that is absolutely correct and those feelings of nervousness, frustration, fatigue, etc. are from God and his way of pointing us in another direction. Frequently, however, it is just us trying to run from the task God has put in front of us. We want God’s will in our lives to match our will for our own lives! The key is never being afraid to ask ourselves, “Am I having a Moses moment? Is this simply me pushing back against God’s will in my life?”

There is no place in scripture that says we are going to going to feel constant excitement, passion, and desire to follow the path God has laid out for us. In fact there are many examples beyond just Moses where the opposite is true. Frequently, the people God uses the most throughout his story push back. They say, “Nope. This is not what you built me for. This isn’t what I want. Clearly you must have a different plan for my life. I need to follow my own heart and my own gut feeling.”

God says, “I will be with you.”

So the next time you are about to “go with your gut” or “follow your heart” on a decision that doesn’t seem to really line up with the gifts, abilities, and life circumstances God has brought you through, lift it up to God in prayer. Ask advice from Godly people in your life. Take some real time to ask yourself, “Is this a Moses moment?” in my life? Am I trying to avoid what God has clearly put in my path?

When opportunities in life seem to big, too challenging, too risky, or too stressful; we would always prefer to say, “God, you have the wrong person!”

God is always there to respond, “I will be there with you!”

Thought to ponder

Where in my past have I potentially had a Moses moment towards God’s will in my life? What is an area in my life currently where I might be saying, “God, you have the wrong person?”

As always, thank you for reading! Your comments are a great source of encouragement. If you think this post could be helpful for someone you know, feel free to share it!

Faith the size of a mustard seed

Daily Readings: Exodus 1-2, Proverbs 4, Matthew 17

“Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

-Matthew 17:20

Faith the size of a mustard seed is a concept that can frequently be a stumbling block for many Christians today. I have often had a hard time wrapping my mind around the miraculous works that God does in our lives and through our lives. Where this struggle becomes particularly pronounced for me is when I am required to trust in God’s timing. In the Western World we want to take these words from Jesus and change it slightly. We prefer the version of the verse that goes a little something like this:

“Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move…immediately upon the snap of your fingers!”

We want our faith to result in magic trick style miracles. We want miracles that can clearly be seen as supernatural in the moment that they occur. The man was blind one moment and the very next moment his sight returns! A dear friend had a serious medical condition and then it was gone without explanation!

Now, don’t get me wrong, I have known many people personally that have experienced these types of miracles in their own lives. It is amazing to see God work in these ways and nothing short of awe inspiring when it happens! God wants us to pray with conviction for the miraculous.

However, God’s miraculous works in our lives are not always instantaneous. Sometimes they take place overs years or even decades. Occasionally the miracle is instantaneous…but not until a significant time later. We saw this back on Day 9 with the story of Abraham and Sarah. The moment Sarah became pregnant was a an unexplainable, instantaneous, medical miracle…that they had to wait 25 years for. How is our faith when we are made to wait? How is our faith when we are required to truly let go of our plan in a given situation and trust that God has a much bigger plan than we can ever comprehend?

Faith the size of a mustard seed.

I think we would all prefer a setup where we are allowed to have faith the size of a mountain…for 6-12 hours!

Jesus wants us to simply have faith the size of a mustard seed…that has staying power! Faith that withstands the storms in our life. Faith that is unwavering even if the outcomes of our prayers don’t go exactly the way we expect. Faith that embraces that God’s plan is frequently a marathon and not a sprint.

That is the type of faith I know that I want in my life!

Thought to ponder

In what areas of my life have I tried to put God into a box and wanted him to answer my prayers on my terms and on my timeline?

What is our rock and our fortress?

Daily Readings: Genesis 49-50, Psalm 18, Matthew 16

Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”

-Matthew 16:21-26

It is amazing how quickly we revert back to our human nature and allow ourselves to be completely consumed by, not the concerns of God, but what Jesus refers to as human concerns.

Immediately before this exchange with Peter, Jesus had a very different interaction with him. Jesus said that Peter, because of his faith, was the rock on which Jesus would build his church. It is incredible how easily our hearts can be shifted away from God’s design and towards human worries. Peter, the rock, when adversity was merely discussed, reverted to human concerns.

I can’t imagine how Peter felt having Jesus turn to him and say, “Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me…” shortly after saying “he was the rock”.

Quite the shift.

The enemy works quickly and decisively to throw our focus off. He works extremely hard to direct our hearts towards human concerns and away from the will of God. In that moment I am sure Peter was not alone amongst the disciples in thinking, “We can prevent this somehow!” They probably all wanted to come up with a plan to avoid having Jesus taken from them.

As humans, we love to be in control. We love trusting in ourselves instead of God’s plan. Even when Jesus, the son of the living God, was the one standing there in front of the disciples laying out God’s plan for how things would unfold, Peter wanted to step in and change it. We have such a hard time releasing control.

We see this in Genesis as well today after the death of Jacob. Even though Joseph had rescued his family from starvation, forgiven his brothers, brought them to Egypt, and declared to them that it was God’s plan all along; all it took was the death of their father for Joseph’s brothers to begin waiting for the other shoe to fall.

When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?”

So they went to Joseph and lied about their father’s dying wishes. They wanted to be in control. They wanted to manipulate the situation.

How often do we do the same? For me it is a constant battle that rages throughout each and every day. I am always wrestling with my own human nature and desire to be the captain of my own ship. I want to trust God with every step, but need to turn things over to him over and over and over again throughout the day. When I pray in the morning that God lives in me today and uses me for his plan and his purposes, it lasts for a little while. However, it doesn’t take long for Satan to put stumbling blocks in my path that cause me to jump back to wanting to take control. It doesn’t take much for me to want to nudge God out of the way and take back control of the ship. And I need to pray that prayer again…and again…and again.

Submitting to God’s will throughout the day is an ongoing battle. I believe that far to often we beat ourselves up as Christians when we feel this natural tendency occurring. If Peter, the rock on which Jesus built his church and one of the disciples who actually walked the earth with Jesus in the flesh, struggled with this; it is unreasonable to think that we will not struggle as well. The enemy is real and he is active.

The key is choosing to battle. The enemy not only wants us focused on human concerns, but he also wants us to feel an extreme sense of shame and guilt when we realize we are doing it. Shame and guilt are two of the most powerful tools in Satan’s toolbox. It keeps more Christians on the sidelines, instead of in the game building the kingdom, than almost anything else.

So, today, when you feel yourself leaning on your own abilities, wanting to be in complete control, wanting to manipulate the situation to match your human concerns; turn it over to God. Pray without ceasing throughout the day. Give it over to him repeatedly. Reject the feelings of shame and guilt and choose to accept the beautiful gift that God has given us in the Holy Spirit that desperately desires to live within us the entire day.

It doesn’t have to take long to recalibrate our heart in these moments. When you catch yourself today, start by offering up the words of David we read in Psalm 18:

I love you, Lord, my strength.

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

When we stop trying to be the source of our own strength, our own deliverer, our own rock, shield, horn of salvation, and stronghold; and allow God to be firmly behind the wheel, amazing things happen.

Thought to ponder

What is the biggest area in my life where I tend to want full control and struggle giving control over to God?

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