We never know the hour

Daily Readings: Judges 13-14, Mark 13, Psalm 72

Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.

“You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. And the gospel must first be preached to all nations.

“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.

“Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”

Mark 13:5-10, 32-37

I am always amused when I see Christians spending a great deal of energy trying to determine when Jesus will return by reading the Bible and attempting to look at current events for a concrete sign of his return. It is easy to become fascinated with the concept of the end times. Many Christians enjoy latching onto the portions of passages speaking of wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, famines, etc. It is easy to say, “Gosh, doesn’t this feel a lot like the end times?”

Jesus made unmistakably clear that we will never know the exact time or date of his return, but he did tell us to always be ready.

I started thinking today how much different our world would look if we took seriously the end of Mark 13 individually and as a collective church.

He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task… 

How diligent are we at seeking after our own individual task in God’s greater story? How are we doing at chasing after this calling in our lives and allowing God to use us to reach every nation?

God wants to use us. He wants to use us wherever we work, in our neighborhoods, with our friends, in our families, and wherever else he chooses to call us. He wants to give us a task.

If God returned tomorrow, would he see us actively engaged in the task he has given us? Jesus paints us a picture of the master leaving for an undetermined amount of time and leaving the servants in charge. In a modern version of this analogy, imagine being the master of the house and tasking a single servant with the job of dishes. Then upon returning you see the sink overflowing with dirty dishes, the kitchen a disaster, and not a clean dish to be found in the house. Meanwhile the servant is binging the most recent show on Netflix, playing hours upon hours of video games, zoning out for entire evenings on social media, watching television, and completely ignoring the task he was given.

I can’t imagine being all that thrilled with this servant.

We all have the same task as Christians, reaching those who have never heard the good news of Jesus and caring for his sheep. We see this truth over and over again throughout the gospels. They unique gifts we have each been given and the circumstances that God has put in our path vary, but those are the tasks we have been put on earth to accomplish.

How are we doing at praying daily, “What do you have for me today Lord? Please give me eyes to see you will in my life today. Give me the wisdom to discern your will in the chaos of life today. Help me to see the lost and hurting today that I am meant to impact, even in a small way. Give me the strength and courage to live for you today.”

I don’t want Jesus to return one day while I am still on earth and have him arch an eyebrow while looking at me and say, “Really? This is how you decided to use your limited time here on earth?”

There is the classic question people love to ask: If this was your last day on earth, what would you do with it?

Most of the time when people ask this question my mind goes to all of the things I would still like to see, fun things I would still like to do, people I would want to spend time with, etc. I would be lying if I said that my mind immediately zooms to, “Man, I have some work to do for the Kingdom!”

Don’t get me wrong; there is a place for rest. We all need to recharge our batteries from time to time as well. Carving out intentional time to rest and recharge is critical. However, we have become a culture of rest. We have become a culture of endless entertainment where we place being constantly entertained above being on mission for Jesus.

Whether or not Jesus returns during our lifetime, it is undeniably true that we never know when our own time will come to an end here on earth. At that moment, the master returns for his individual servant. What will he say when he returns for you and I?

I want my last days, weeks, months, and years to bear fruit. I want Jesus to be able to look at me and smile saying, “Well done good and faithful servant.”

Thought to ponder

“Would I be ready if Jesus returned today?”

Desiring a Psalm 71 perspective

Daily Readings: Judges 11-12, Mark 12, Psalm 71

As for me, I will always have hope;
I will praise you more and more.

My mouth will tell of your righteous deeds,
of your saving acts all day long—
though I know not how to relate them all.
I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, Sovereign Lord;
I will proclaim your righteous deeds, yours alone.
Since my youth, God, you have taught me,
and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.
Even when I am old and gray,
do not forsake me, my God,
till I declare your power to the next generation,
your mighty acts to all who are to come.

Your righteousness, God, reaches to the heavens,
you who have done great things.
Who is like you, God?
Though you have made me see troubles,
many and bitter,
you will restore my life again;
from the depths of the earth
you will again bring me up.
You will increase my honor
and comfort me once more.

Psalm 71:14-21

My wife and I were sitting on the back porch recently talking about some of the questions I would love to ask God one day in Heaven. There are so many things I would love answers to. There are so many circumstance in life, in the world, and throughout the Bible where I would love to be able to sit across from God and ask, “Why did it have to unfold that way? What was the bigger picture reasoning there? Was that event from you for a purpose or was it simply something you allowed as the result of us living in a broken and fallen world?”

I think we have all probably been there. Two days later I came to Psalm 71.

God has a great way of speaking to us in the moment through his word when we choose to listen. It never ceases to amaze me.

My mouth will tell of your righteous deeds,
of your saving acts all day long—
though I know not how to relate them all.

I want this to be the unceasing posture of my heart. I want to be a person who praises God and tells of his righteous deeds regardless of whether or not I feel equipped with all the answers. I want to be singing his praises even if I cannot understand how to relate them all.

It is so natural as a Christian in our modern world to feel uneasy sharing what God has done in our lives because we feel the need to be able to articulately answer any question that might be thrown our way. The desire to be an expert has crippled so many potential evangelists. We want to be experts first and THEN we will share our faith with others around us. Contemplating what we might say when the tough questions come can be absolutely paralyzing.

Psalm 71 goes on to say:

Though you have made me see troubles,
many and bitter,
you will restore my life again;
from the depths of the earth
you will again bring me up.
You will increase my honor
and comfort me once more.

This is one of the ever-present struggles that most Christians have relating to God’s ways. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why was this challenge put in my life or allowed in my life or in the lives of people I care about?

It can be so difficult in these tough times to remember that we have a Father in Heaven that will always restore. What we are going through, while extremely difficult at times, is temporary. God’s restoration will be eternal. His comfort will never end.

I want to live like Psalm 71.

I want to always have hope. I want to always praise him more and more. I want to tell of his marvelous deeds and declare his power to the next generation. I want the emotional strength and spiritual maturity to do all of this through all circumstances, not just the good. I know this level of perspective and spiritual maturity can only come from a deep, intimate, daily relationship with God. It is something we must desire so strongly that we are willing to pursue it the same way we pursue the other tangible desires of our heart.

It is worth the pursuit.

Thought to ponder

What has occasionally held me back from sharing the miraculous deeds of God, praising him more and more, and sharing him with the next generation?

I have become a terrible forgiver

Daily Readings: Judges 9-10, Mark 11, Psalm 70

“Truly, I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. 

Mark 11:23-25

Every morning when I am about to do my readings for the day I always pray a simple prayer of, “God, what do you have for me today?”

Today the answer was not hard to discern. I have reverted to being a terrible forgiver.

This used to be an extreme weakness of mine, holding things against people. I have spent the majority of my life believing that there were almost no people in my life that I could count on in the clutch, that most people would take advantage of me eventually, and that few people truly cared.

I imagine I am not alone in this.

The challenging part of being surrounded by other human beings is that they are human beings. If we are waiting on the edge of our seat for them to disappoint us, we will never have to wait long. We all fall short.

If our first response is, “See, I knew it…” we live a life of keeping others at an arms length away to “avoid getting hurt”, we have our guard up at all times, and we search out the worst motives in others instead of giving them the benefit of the doubt.

God wants our reaction to be one of forgiveness.

Forgiveness is hard.

Throughout the last 7-10 years, I feel like I had grown a lot in this area. I feel like giving grace and forgiveness had become strengths of mine over time. God had really worked on me in this area and I had so much more peace of mind in my relationships with others.

Forgiveness is a beautiful thing. Life is so much more peaceful when you forgive quickly. Life is so much more enjoyable when you don’t hold on tightly to every wrong someone does against you. Life is so much more rich and full when there isn’t a constant movie playing in your mind, replaying of every slight you have felt in the last year or imagining terrible conversations unfolding in the future with the person you are harboring unforgiveness towards.

Lack of forgiveness is exhausting.

Over the last 18 months or so, somehow, I have reverted to being a terrible forgiver.

When we turn to Jesus and ask him into our lives, we are called to forgive. This isn’t just a small asterisk or minor footnote when it comes to our faith. At the end of Jesus teaching his disciples how to pray he concludes with this in Matthew 6:14-15:

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. 

As a church we rarely think of “unforgiveness” as a sin that needs to be rooted out of our lives the same way we think about things like lying, violence, lust, drug abuse, etc. And yet at the end of teaching his disciples how to pray, this was the singular thing that Jesus decided to highlight that has the power of keeping us from receiving the full forgiveness of God.

Whenever I feel stressed, underappreciated, overlooked, taken advantage of, overwhelmed, angry, and generally just distant from God; there is a 100% chance that there is someone in my life I have not fully forgiven.

Always.

I am stewing in it. I am allowing that anger to fester. I am harboring ill will. I am not giving forgiveness freely the way Jesus commands us to and in return I don’t feel that closeness with the Father that we have access to.

Forgiveness.

It is hard, but it is worth it. It is worth the constant pursuit.

True forgiveness takes more than just 30 seconds of quick prayer. We frequently need to really come before the Father and absolutely plea for his help in forgiving others. Forgiveness is unnatural. It runs counter to every natural wiring we have as human beings. That is why we need God.

I am going to go back to living a life of forgiveness. I am going to go back to seeing the best in people and not waiting for the other shoe to fall. I am going to go back to loving people even when they may not “deserve it” because God first loved me when I certainly didn’t deserve his love! I am going to go back to living a life that has forgiveness at the center of it.

Thank you God for revealing this to me today. I needed the reminder.

Thought to ponder

Who am I currently withholding forgiveness from?

“My own strength has saved me”

Daily Readings: Judges 7-8, Mark 10, Psalm 69

Early in the morning, Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) and all his men camped at the spring of Harod. The camp of Midian was north of them in the valley near the hill of Moreh. The Lord said to Gideon, “You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, ‘My own strength has saved me.’ Now announce to the army, ‘Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.’” So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained.

But the Lord said to Gideon, “There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will thin them out for you there. If I say, ‘This one shall go with you,’ he shall go; but if I say, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ he shall not go.”

So Gideon took the men down to the water. There the Lord told him, “Separate those who lap the water with their tongues as a dog laps from those who kneel down to drink.” Three hundred of them drank from cupped hands, lapping like dogs. All the rest got down on their knees to drink.

The Lord said to Gideon, “With the three hundred men that lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the others go home.” So Gideon sent the rest of the Israelites home but kept the three hundred, who took over the provisions and trumpets of the others.

Now the camp of Midian lay below him in the valley. During that night the Lord said to Gideon, “Get up, go down against the camp, because I am going to give it into your hands. If you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah and listen to what they are saying. Afterward, you will be encouraged to attack the camp.” So he and Purah his servant went down to the outposts of the camp. The Midianites, the Amalekites and all the other eastern peoples had settled in the valley, thick as locusts. Their camels could no more be counted than the sand on the seashore.

Gideon arrived just as a man was telling a friend his dream. “I had a dream,” he was saying. “A round loaf of barley bread came tumbling into the Midianite camp. It struck the tent with such force that the tent overturned and collapsed.”

His friend responded, “This can be nothing other than the sword of Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite. God has given the Midianites and the whole camp into his hands.”

When Gideon heard the dream and its interpretation, he bowed down and worshiped. He returned to the camp of Israel and called out, “Get up! The Lord has given the Midianite camp into your hands.” Dividing the three hundred men into three companies, he placed trumpets and empty jars in the hands of all of them, with torches inside.

Gideon 7:1-16

I love this story in Judges.

You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, ‘My own strength has saved me.’

Sometimes I wonder how many times God has done in this my life without announcing it to me. I wonder how many times God has thought to himself, “Aaron has too many men in his army right now. He might begin to think any success he has is of his own doing. I need to thin this out a bit…”

When I look back over times in my life where I have faced quite a bit of adversity and really needed to lean on God to get through it, they have almost always been preceded by periods where I have been feeling pretty darn good about myself and what “I have been accomplishing”.

When the Lord chooses to bless us in our families, careers, ministries, etc. it is natural for this success to draw attention to us. It is natural that people can’t help but ask, “How did you do it?” At these moments there is the temptation for false humility that takes the shape of, “Well, God has been really good throughout…” and then launching into ten minutes of tactics, strategies, etc. that ‘actually brought about our success’. We know we are supposed to credit God in the beginning, but our heart is not really in it even as we say those words.

God doesn’t mind you sharing helpful strategies with others that might help them in their family lives, careers, etc. However, we short change God if we are not also sharing the times where we totally dropped the ball, had very little to do with our own success, and had no idea how things were going to come together; and then God stepped in.

Success in our lives can be a blessing with which we can bless others if we are able to share our shortcomings as well.

This is also true in advance of potential success.

When people ask you, “How is everything going in your career?” or “How is your marriage going?” or “How have your kids been?” the natural tendency is to want to make things sound rosier than they are.

If the true way you are feeling about your career is, “I will be honest with you, I have been sick with worry a lot recently and I feel like God is the only thing keeping it together right now” say that. By going with, “good, really good” we rob people of the ability to come alongside us in support when we need it most.

We also rob God of future glory.

When he works the miraculous and there is an incredible, unexplainable comeback story in your business, marriage, or as a parent; no one knows about it. There is no glory given to God. People are not able to look and see 300 men with Gideon routing the Midianites. They just see “business still going well, marriage still chugging along, kids still appearing to be good kids”.

I wonder how many times God has thinned out my army so that I would turn back to him in desperation and tearfully proclaimed, “God, I don’t know what I am going to do!”

In these moments, if we genuinely turn to God and place our challenges in his hands, I think he frequently does for us what he did for Gideon.

“Go down into the camp and hear what they are saying.”

God wants to encourage us. He wants to let us know that everything will ultimately be ok.

Sometimes this might take the shape of divine inspiration on things you should do to right the ship. Sometimes it takes the shape of a kind word from a friend speaking truth to you and lifting you up. Sometimes it is a dream, a passage in the Bible you read that morning, or a line from a worship song that speaks directly to your heart and the situation you find yourself in.

God says, “I have got this, if you will just trust in me.”

I don’t want to be an unaware Gideon. I want to be honest with challenges in my life and give God the glory in advance, not just in hindsight. I want to push boldly into challenges with full confidence that God will work in this situation in one way or another.

I want to take my 300 down into the camp expecting victory.

Thought to ponder

What is my Midianite army currently? What area of my life do I need to turn over to God instead of leaning on my own strength? Are there any recent successes in my life where I have been tempted to take all of the credit and not allowed God to get the glory?

 

Heal my unbelief

Daily Readings: Judges 5-6, Mark 9, Psalm 68

I love the story of Gideon. The church I attend recently finished up a series on Gideon and the courage that it takes to follow God’s will in our lives. When his story popped up again today in our readings, I was reminded of another reason his story is so inspiring to me: His story reflects so many of our stories.

At the beginning of this story Gideon is met by and angel and we see the following encounter:

The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened bread, place them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” And Gideon did so. Then the angel of the Lord touched the meat and the unleavened bread with the tip of the staff that was in his hand. Fire flared from the rock, consuming the meat and the bread. And the angel of the Lord disappeared. When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the Lord, he exclaimed, “Alas, Sovereign Lord! I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!” 

But the Lord said to him, “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.”

So Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and called it The Lord Is Peace. To this day it stands in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.

Judges 6:20-24

God had promised Gideon a victory over the Midianites. For 7 years God had allowed the Israelites to experience the ramifications of their actions. They had turned away from God, worshipped false idols, and broken their covenant with God. Now God tells Gideon he has come to save them.

At first we see Gideon following God’s instructions and removing the altar of Baal from his own household before leading the Israelites against the Midianites. But as the time to confront the enemy draws near Gideon grows nervous…

Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised—look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said.” And that is what happened. Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew—a bowlful of water.

Then Gideon said to God, “Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece, but this time make the fleece dry and let the ground be covered with dew.” That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry; all the ground was covered with dew.

Judges 6:36-40

Every time I read this series of events I look back at my own life and laugh. I would venture to guess that most of us truly are like Gideon.

There have been so many examples of God showing up in my life in incredible ways. On my occurrences I have strongly felt that God directed me down a certain path and walked that path faithfully despite obstacles that came my way.

However, frequently I have been Gideon. Frequently I have wanted to negotiate with God for just one more sign.

“Lord, I know you made this fairly clear already, but my normal human emotions are kicking in, so I am going to need you to confirm that one last time…”

“Ok, maybe just one more confirmation…”

“Ok, those were nice. Thank you for that. I am really nervous though, and at this point I need a borderline audible voice…”

I love that Gideon even realized he was being ridiculous as he was asking this of God. “Do not be angry with me…”

We see another story of unbelief in today’s readings as well.

“You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”

So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.

Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”

“From childhood,” he answered. “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

Mark 9:19-24

This is a different type of belief in Mark 9. In the case of Gideon, he didn’t feel that he was worthy of being used by God to accomplish incredible works. Here in Mark, we see someone struggling to believe that they can be on the receiving end of God working a miracle in their life through no effort of their own.

I imagine we have all found ourselves relating to each of these two stories at times in our lives.

In some cases, God wants to use us to accomplish great things and our natural tendency is to say, “Are you sure you have the right person?” We then kindly inform God of all the reasons we are unqualified, incapable, and simply not enough. We have an identity issue. We see ourselves through our own lens and not through God’s lens. The good news is that virtually every major character throughout the entire Bible struggled with this same feeling! You are in good company!

In other cases we want to come before our father in Heaven and ask for something on behalf of another or ourselves. But that nagging unbelief lingers…

“Heal my unbelief!”

God knows that we struggle believing. God knows we struggle to accept his calling for our life. God knows every one of our human weaknesses.

I love Jesus showing us that part of him that is fully human and slightly annoyed in today’s story when he said, “You unbelieving generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?”

And yet our God is patient. He is loving. He wants to give us the chance to turn our unbelief into belief. He wants to give us the chance to step into our calling even if we begin that journey needing to be dragged into it a bit, kicking and screaming like a child. That nervousness, apprehension, and personal insecurity put us in good company when you read stories of all the major characters throughout the Bible.

The key is that we are willing to say, “Lord, heal my unbelief.”

I can point back to many times throughout my life where I prayed that prayer at some point along the way and God was there to greet me.

However, I sometimes wonder how many times I have missed out on something God had put in my path, whether it be an undeserved blessing or an opportunity to serve others, because I acted like Gideon one too many times. For every Gideon in the Bible there are also lots of periods of seven years leading up to Gideon where God had to say, “Alright, if you are going to be that stubborn…”

I know as a parent, I constantly have to think through this with my own children. Sometimes they make the right choice soon enough, but sometimes I have given them one too many reminders (my wife might argue three too many reminders) and there needs to be consequences for their disobedience.

I am a human father with imperfect judgment. Our father in Heaven’s judgment is perfect and just. Our human timeline is short, his timeline is eternal.

Today, this week, and this year my prayer will be, “Lord, heal my unbelief. Heal my unbelief on a daily basis that you want to work in my life. Heal my unbelief on the larger scale so that I might have the courage to be steadfast on this path you have put me on.”

Heal my unbelief.

Thought to ponder

When have I most recently been Gideon and constantly asked for “just one more sign” that I should walk down a path God has clearly laid in front of me? When have I have been the father in the story wanting to ask God for a miracle in my life or the life of a loved one and struggled with unbelief?

Get behind me Satan

Daily Readings Judges 3-4, Mark 8, Psalm 67

He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” 

Mark 8:31-33

I have heard it said many times that friends tell you what you want to hear, but true friends tell you what you need to hear.

While I agree with this sentiment and find it absolutely true that we should always seek to surround ourselves with people in our lives that will challenge us, push us, and call out the best in us; it strikes me that this statement oversimplifies it a bit.

The reality is that friends, family members, and colleagues frequently love us so much that they just don’t want to see us struggle. They don’t want to see us in pain. They believe that their advice truly is in our best interest.

Sometimes it is.

However, sometimes, they are simply telling us to take the easy road when that is not God’s will in our lives.

As a friend it can be extremely challenging to know where the line is. It is difficult knowing whether a particular challenge in someone’s life is one that they need to remove themselves from or one that they are meant to push through and grow from. Unless you are incredibly close to the situation and have the full context, it is easy to offer bad advice. Sometimes, we even believe that we have 100% of the context, and yet there may be more to it than we realize.

Peter was trying to help. Peter didn’t want to see Jesus suffer. Unfortunately, Peter wanted to see Jesus live out PETER’S plan for Jesus’ life, not the plan that God had designed. And here is the thing, how many of us would have been much different than Peter at this moment?

The Jewish people spent hundreds of years picturing a Messiah coming in as a conquering war hero like the judges we read about today. They pictured the Messiah overthrowing the Roman Empire and establishing a new Jewish Kingdom that reigned forever.

God had a different Kingdom in mind, an eternal one.

Peter was quite literally Jesus’ right hand man. Jesus would later say that Peter was the rock on which he would build his church. I would dare to say that Peter would qualify as a true friend.

However Peter is also human, just like us.

So, when you get advice from a friend to remove yourself from a challenge in your life, when you are tempted to take the road that seems easier at the moment, when you have friends and family members asking, “Why are you still trying so hard to…” I think it is important to bring that question to God. It is important to spend time in God’s word, take SERIOUS time prayerfully considering whether this is a challenge in your life God wants you to push through and grow from, or whether your friends and family are right in their assessment.

It is so easy to accept advice from people telling us to the do the thing that would be emotionally easier in the moment. That is what we have desperately wanted to do as well! At those moments it is easy to think, “This is a trusted, wise, and Godly friend! I should heed their advice!” Sometime this is true and their advice is spot on.

However, sometimes they may be playing the role of Peter.

They may genuinely think they know what is best for you, not wanting to see you in pain, thinking they are giving Godly advice from a place of love, but ultimately missing God’s bigger plan.

In these times, we need to have the confidence to say, “Get behind me Satan.”

(Not literally, since that is a pretty easy way to lose friendships!)

For me, I have found the easiest way to discern God’s will is to really prayerfully consider big plans in my life before ever embarking on them. I know that there will come a point in any difficult endeavor where I want to quit. I know I am going to want to be like every major character in the Bible that wanted to turn back at some point in the mist of the challenge. So, I want to make sure I have thoroughly thought through my decision before I commit.

A mentor of mine said that it is important to pray over decisions and commitments while rational and then stick to what God has told you when you turn emotional. When we are emotional the easiest thing in the world to do is say, “I feel like God is leading me to…” and spiritualize our emotions in order to justify avoiding hard moments in life. I know I have been guilty of that!

At these moments, we probably have many Peters in our life ready to come with seemingly good advice that we are desperate to hear. We want an out. We want someone else to justify turning back from the path God has set us on. At these moments we need to really try to settle our hearts, turn back to God and ask with an open mind, “Have you changed the path you want me on, or is this a challenge I am meant to overcome?”

Sometimes the answers don’t come immediately. We live in such a western culture that demands the instantaneous. We do not serve a God that works on our timeline. He works on his.

My encouragement to you is this, if God has previously put something in your path that you really felt called to, continue to push through challenges until a door has been CLEARLY shut. Otherwise, we may be falling prey to our normal human emotions and miss out on the incredible work God has planned for us if we just trust fully in him and embrace the ups and downs that come with a life of service.

God never promised that serving him faithfully would be easy, but he did promise that he would be in the yoke with us. He did promise to share the load if we would allow him to walk alongside us.

Peter was eventually Jesus’ rock on which he built his church, but he was also human.

Appreciate the Peters in your life. Even if their advice is not always helpful at the moment and you instantly know is incorrect; remember that they love you. They are just trying to help.

God has bigger plans. Don’t be afraid to turn to the father and seek those bigger plans out.

Thought to ponder

When was the last time you were tempted to turn back from a path that God set you on when it was getting hard? How did you respond? How would you like to respond in the future?

That which defiles us

Daily Readings: Judges 1-2, Mark 7, Proverbs 12

Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” 

He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

Mark 7:14-15, 20-23

In the Jewish world, being defiled was a big deal. So much effort went into remaining “ceremonially clean”. By the time Jesus arrives on the scene the Jewish establishment spent far more time worrying about a handful of regulations than actually following the will of God.

Jesus wasn’t having it.

I love Jesus.

I love Jesus not only because he was the perfect son of God who came down willingly to lay down his life for us so that we might have an eternal relationship with his father in Heaven; but also because he was unafraid of speaking the truth boldly and calling out hypocrisy.

Jesus gets angry a handful of times throughout the Bible and it was never directed at “sinners”. It was always directed at those that would claim to be followers of God and yet lead others astray by focusing on the wrong things.

The religious leaders of the day were more concerned with appearing ceremonially clean than with truly seeking after the will of God and bringing that to life in a broken and fallen world.

Over and over again throughout the scripture Jesus goes after our hearts. He wants us to truly understand this.

“What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

It got me thinking today about the American Church and what Jesus would say if he arrived on the scene now. If the Jewish leaders of the day were obsessed with being ceremonially unclean and seemed to miss the bigger picture, what would Jesus say we are obsessed with today that may be clouding our thought process and keeping us from truly striving to do the will of God?

It seems to me that there are two separate Christian universes in America today. There is the Sunday morning church service itself, where I see all sorts of amazing truth being preached. I see church leaders preaching fruits of the spirit, helping those in need, leaning on God, having courage in the face of adversity, etc. If we walked out of those doors and, as the body of Christ, were motivated to go live out what we had just heard, the world would be changed in a generation!

Then you jump on social media. Here we find a different universe entirely.

Social media does a great job of highlighting what people find important enough to share with the world. There is this beautiful platform where we can, quite literally, say anything we want to the entire world that is willing to listen!

How do we use it as a body of Christ?

Then you can click over to the news and see “Christian Leaders” on talking head shows that have been given an even larger platform to reach even more people for Jesus.

What message do we see there?

The overwhelming message Jesus would see people, who claim to follow him, putting out into the world today would be salute the American Flag, racism is a thing of the past and doesn’t need to be talked about so much, assault weapons are an absolute right that cannot be taken away, abortion is wrong, and homosexuality is ruining the country.

I am not trying to make a statement on any one of these issues. I am simply stating that 90-95% of the content that I see put out into the world from self-proclaimed Christ followers typically falls into one of those buckets.

In Matthew 7 Jesus told us, Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” 

In John 8 he said, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”

And today he challenges us saying, “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

Before God sent Gideon to take on the Midianites he told him to first get his own house in order. I think Jesus would say the same to us today.

What would the world look like if Christians first looked internally and challenged ourselves, our families, members of our church, and our self-proclaimed Christians leaders to live out what Jesus spoke of here?

What would it look like if we hated greed with the same passion that we hated abortion?

What would happen if Christians used their platform to speak out against arrogance, slander, lewdness, and deceit with as much passion as they speak out against gun control?

Jesus came with a message of love and forgiveness. He came with a message of caring for your neighbor and loving God with all of your heart. He came with a message of first looking inwardly before trying to change the minds of the world.

What would it look like if we took that message to heart?

In Proverbs 12:18, 20 today we also read that, “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” and “Deceit is in the hearts of those who plot evil, but those who promote peace have joy.”

The world is in desperate need of Christians who call out reckless words when they see them and instead strive for words of peace and healing.

God sent his son so that none might perish. We are his advocates in a broken and divided world. The world needs an army of Christians who strive to bring more people to Jesus, not push them away through hateful rhetoric. The world needs Christians who first seek transformation personally, then in their own family and church community, and then in the greater church as a whole.

When people see that level of peace in our lives, the authenticity of our relationships, and our commitment to helping those in need, it is amazing how there is a tendency for people to want to find out more about that Jesus character.

Now life change can happen. Now people can be saved.

If we first seek to remove the collective plank from our own eyes, remember how much time Jesus spent preaching that we should take care of the forgotten and vulnerable, and spread a message of love and peace; the world could be truly changed!

Thought to ponder

If I was to compare myself to Jewish leaders of the time that were too fixated on being ceremonially clean and missed the bigger picture, what Christian hot-button issue has a tendency to dominate my thoughts and may keep me from thinking about the bigger picture?

But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.

Daily Readings – Joshua 23-34, Mark 6, Psalm 66

But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.

Joshua 24:15

But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.

What a beautiful verse. There is power in a public declaration that your house will serve the Lord. This is a verse that has become one of the most popular verses in modern Christianity. If I had to guess, I bet this single verse can be found hung proudly in more Christian homes than any other verse in the Bible.

When reading the entirety of Joshua 24 today and the surrounding verses, something struck me today. As beautiful as this verse is, and as much we like to profess it as Christians in America on decorations we hang by our doorway, it is also a good example of what we tend to do with the Bible in general in America.

We tend to water it down. We have a tendency to pick isolated verses that give us the warm and fuzzy version of faith we desire and not dig into the rest.

Here are verses 16-22

Then the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods! It was the Lord our God himself who brought us and our parents up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. And the Lord drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God.”

Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you.”

But the people said to Joshua, “No! We will serve the Lord.”

Then Joshua said, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the Lord.”

“Yes, we are witnesses,” they replied.

When Joshua was making this bold proclamation and the Israelites were recommitting themselves to follow the Lord, he did not pull any punches. When we declare that we are turning our life over to God, he expects us to honor that. There are consequences when we don’t.

We are human and will always fall short in moments of human weakness. God knew this and, in his divine wisdom, sent his son to pay the price for our sins so that we could still have a relationship with him and inherit eternal life. We serve an amazing father in Heaven that gives us more grace than we deserve!

Even if we truly turn our lives over to Christ, there will be moments of weakness.

However, what we see throughout the Bible is that there is a difference between momentary human weakness, and turning sin into an idol that we worship.

We see this again in Psalm 66:16-20 today.

Come and hear, all you who fear God;
let me tell you what he has done for me.
I cried out to him with my mouth;
his praise was on my tongue.
If I had cherished sin in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened;
but God has surely listened
and has heard my prayer.
Praise be to God,
who has not rejected my prayer
or withheld his love from me!

Our natural tendency is to want to focus on verses like, “Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me!” 

It is less exciting to think about the verse immediately before, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.”

Again, there is a big difference between, “If I had I sinned…” and “If I had cherished sin in my heart…”

One speaks to momentary weakness; the other speaks to idolatry.

The combination of these verses really stood out to me today, because I think we have a tendency in the American Church to preach a gospel of confession without repentance. We have a tendency to put out there a message of, “Believe in Jesus and your sins are forgiven and you have punched your ticket to heaven!”

In the Bible what we actually read is that even demons believe in God and shudder. What separates Christians is acting upon those beliefs. When we gloss over this portion of the gospel, we do a massive disservice to those we are doing life with. If someone has given over their life to Christ, there is fruit in that person’s life. You can see a change. That is spoken of over and over again throughout the Bible.

These changes are not the reason someone is saved. You cannot do enough good deeds to earn your way into heaven. That is why Jesus came. Life change is not the way into Heaven, but it is the evidence that someone has genuinely given their life over to Jesus and not just simply believed in him.

I love what Joshua did when the Israelites said, “We are in! Sign us up!” He didn’t leave it at that and celebrate. He didn’t treat it as if the sale had been made, his motivational talk had worked, etc. He challenged them. He told them what they were committing to truly meant.

If we profess to be Christians, have we done this for ourselves? Have we looked inwardly and asked God to reveal any strongholds in our hearts? Have we asked him to show us any metaphorical altars we have built in our lives that are taking the place where he is meant to dwell?

I want to have the type of faith that produces fruit. I want to constantly be asking God to refine me. I want my family to truly serve the Lord and not just have the pretty artwork hanging by the front door.

But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.

Is that something we are willing to declare today? When Joshua goes on to challenge us about what that is going to take, are we willing to reaffirm that statement?

Thought to ponder

What altars have I erected in my heart? What sin do I not only succumb to, but also actually cherish, that may be keeping me from experiencing full life in Christ?

“Why bother the teacher?”

Daily Readings: Joshua 21-22, Mark 5, Psalm 65

When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” So Jesus went with him.

A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

“You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”

But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”

Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him.

After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.

Mark 5:21-43

Seeing these two separate stories juxtaposed next to each other really spoke to me today. In one case there is the woman who truly believes in her heart that “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed!” She believed so thoroughly in the healing power of God to work miracles in her life!

As this is still happening we read of other people coming from the house of Jairus saying, “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”

As I was reading this morning it occurred to me that I have frequently been able to relate to each of these stories at different points throughout my own life. There have been times where I completely believe in the Father’s ability to heal me mentally, emotionally, and physically from whatever is holding me captive at the moment. In these moments I absolutely run after the Father know that if I can simply be in his presence all will be well. “If I just touch his clothes…”

Then there have been moments where I feel like I have failed over and over and over again at whatever battle I have been facing and it feels a lot more like the second story. I have felt completely defeated to the point where I don’t even want to bring my concerns to the Father. It feels hopeless. It feels like the last chance for God to work a miracle, in whatever that challenge was in my life, has died.

“Why bother the teacher anymore?”

Why bring this problem to God when I have let him down so many times in the past? Maybe it is just time to throw in the towel on this one and simply be thankful that Christ went to the cross for my sins and I have salvation as a result that cannot be taken away, because clearly I cannot overcome this struggle!

Jesus says, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.”

I wonder if Jesus has ever spoken this to you in an area of your life? I wonder if there has ever been an issue you have dealt with for so long when Jesus says, “This battle is not over yet…” the immediate response in your heart has become the same as in the story, disbelieving laughter.

God wants us to be the woman in the crowd.

“If I can just touch his clothes!”

The woman in the crowd had suffered her bleeding for 12 years before she received healing. The child in the house only recently became sick. Sometimes healing, whether emotional or physical, comes after years and years. Sometimes it is nearly instantaneous.

Healing doesn’t always come the way we picture it. Sometimes God’s plan is different than our own. I imagine Jairus didn’t picture his daughter dying as part of this story as he reached out to Jesus to come to his house and heal her. Sometimes the healing we are after is one type and yet Jesus uses our challenge to give us healing in a different area we never even realize we needed.

Press in. Draw near. Chase after his presence. Reach out and touch his clothes. Jesus is there and the Father is willing.

Thought to ponder

In what area of my life have I recently given up on the hope of healing? Where have I recently felt like “I should no longer bother the teacher”?

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