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For Better or Worse

opened book on brown field during daytime

Jesus said, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.  Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” [Luke 13:2-5]

What do you want to be when you grow up? You might remember getting asked that, and the dream that accompanied it. Astronaut, professional athlete, doctor, lawyer, business owner, farmer. Whatever it was, a dream of something better out there drives us to accomplish our goals.

But sometimes a vision of a better future isn’t enough.

Sometimes we need the scary vision of what life would be like if everything went completely wrong. What it would look like if we utterly failed.

Jesus was asked about some people who were killed while offering a sacrifice to God. How horrible! Trying to serve God and getting killed- they might have thought these people were actually wicked, and that was the only reason God would allow something like that. But Jesus clarifies for them: “Unless you repent, you too will perish.” 

Imagine, for a second, if God gave you everything you deserve. Dwell on what life would be like if God stopped helping you out and being there for you. Think about how terrible it would be if you were stranded in your sin, shipwrecked in the shattered boat of your life. Things could get pretty ugly, couldn’t they?

If you are struggling to get a vision of a better life centered in Jesus, start by getting a vision of a worse life centered in your sin. That might be enough to scare you into seeing God’s hopes and plans more clearly. 

I wonder if Jesus said, as a kid, “I want to be king!” Everyone would have thought he was silly. How can a poor boy, born to common parents, be king? But they didn’t understand what Jesus meant by King- the leader who leads by serving. The warrior who battles our enemies, instead of his own. The wise sage who teaches and guides us. Jesus is King, and he never turned from God’s best plan ever, rescuing us from ourselves, from a broken world, from the devil. 

For better, or worse, continue in the process of repentance by seeing clearly where God is leading you- or what God is trying to help you avoid. 

Heavenly Father, help us to see the many good things to which You are leading us. And give us a picture of the terrible things from which You are protecting us. We repent and seek after Your will in Jesus. In His name we pray, AMEN.


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Showing Up

silhouette of person hand
 
“Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”   Psalm 50:14-15 

They say that “showing up is half the job.”  I once was a weekend watchman, and showing up was most of the job.  Showing up for work is a demonstration of integrity, honoring our word, faithfulness.  So is showing up for your daughter’s soccer match, even if she isn’t a starter.  Or showing up at the hospital to sit with a friend, waiting to hear how her husband’s surgery went, even though you don’t know what to say.

How about showing up at church on Sunday, even though you don’t feel much like worshiping, showing up because you have too much respect for God not to?  You know what happens then?  The Word of God and the worship of Christian friends lift your spirit, and you begin to feel like worshiping.  Psalm 50 doesn’t urge you to feel like worshiping, rather to just do it.  Faithfulness is often doing what God asks of us, what love requires of us, even when we don’t feel like it.  Usually, the feeling follows.

God showed up in the person of Jesus Christ, even though there were a lot of reasons not to, reasons like my indifference and my rebellion against his will.  That was half the job.  It demonstrated God’s faithfulness to his promise, his love and his compassion.  Then Jesus completed the job, living in our place the life God required of us and dying as our substitute to pay the price of divine justice. 1 John 1:9 elaborates: “If we confess our sins,  he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  That changed our life and our destiny, and it gave us a reason to show up in situations that call for his kind of love and faithfulness.

Somewhere today your Lord will call you to show up and rep his love.  Psalm 50 promises that he will show up with you.

Accept, Lord, my less than whole-hearted devotion, for the sake of your dear Son.  Forgive my slacking and move my hesitant feet in the direction of your service.  Give me an appreciation for the importance of just being there for others, together with a confidence that you are always there for me.  Amen.

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The Need to Change

coil of black photo negative film
 
Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is here; repent and believe in the gospel.” {Mark 1:14-15}

There are unforgettable moments in our lives. Some are like a highlight reel, replaying some of the best days we’ve experienced. Maybe even more visceral, though, are the unforgettably difficult moments. The day you got told, “We’re letting you go.” The argument that destroyed that relationship. The time you let down people close to you. The moment you got caught red handed in sin.

In those times, we feel that life can’t get any worse, that this is the lowest of the lows, and we don’t know how to drag ourselves out of it. Honestly, we don’t even like talking about these memories, and you might be ready to quit reading, but hang with me.

It might just be that God wants us to hit rock bottom. 

More accurately, God wants us to be at a place where we will turn to Him and Him alone.

If we are honest with ourselves, life is extremely difficult, and filled with much more pain than we care to acknowledge. And we bring a good amount of it on ourselves. When Jesus began his earthly ministry, he started by sharing the Good News- “God’s reign is now! The time has finally come!” And then he said it- REPENT. 

Repent means to change your thinking, to redirect. And somehow that’s good news. Well, when we recognize we are on a trajectory for hell (or at least hell on earth), we finally are able to see the need to change. The Good News is that there is a better way, and it is God’s way. 

God is in control. God is King. Because He is our leader, God sent Jesus to conquer all our enemies- sin, death, and the devil. Jesus comes to us in the darkness of regret and shame and guilt. And as the light shines in our darkness, we see ourselves as we really are. We need to change. We need to repent and believe in the hope that comes only from Jesus. 

Do that today. Recognize your need to change. Recognize that you cannot rely on yourself. Admit that you can’t get out of this by your own power. Repent today, and believe in the Good News that Jesus saves! 

Prayer: Dear Jesus, You rescue us from the darkness. Proclaim Your saving grace to us, and help us to experience the freedom that comes from turning to You. In Your name we pray, AMEN.

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Living With the Windows Open (Devotion 3)

opened brown wooden window

“That you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as light in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.” Philippians 2:15-16

On Monday, I described the first evening when you left the three children alone in the house while you went on a short walk around the block. You came home, hearing them through the open windows. The hope was that they would be happy, washing and drying the dishes and even laughing with each other. Wouldn’t that be great?

Now let’s make it even better. Trust your children so much that you want to share the moment. Come up the walk with your friends. Listen to the kids talking and laughing and your friends are going to hear them also. Don’t hold your breath—just walk home knowing that you’re going to hear happy voices.

That’s Paul in our text. He wants the Philippians to be those children in faith, growing together and serving in such a way that he can be proud of them. Who would be Paul in your life? Who would say as Paul did, “Live in such a way that I may be proud.” I imagine your parents would certainly say that. Maybe your most loved teachers would say it. Your high school coach or that first boss who hired you and gave you a chance. All those and more would say, “Live so that I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.” This is something we can hear and we then ask God for the strength and direction to live so that all these people have reason to rejoice. It’s all by God’s grace that we run this race of faith and by grace we have both his forgiveness and his power.

Our Heavenly Father, help us to so live together, share our lives and use our talents that those who have gone before us may be thankful for these turns in our lives. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.


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Who Do You Want To Be?

silver fishes on green plastic container
 
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  Galatians 5:22-23
 
Who would you rather be:  Job or the disciples feeding the 5000?  Job is the model of patience.  “The patience of Job” is a common phrase. You have to hand it Job, he endured far more trouble than any of us has likely seen. And his patience, the steady bearing of trouble, is justly famous.
 
But that image of patience might leave you wanting more. The disciples feeding the 5000 got to do things. That is the model of our theme this week:  kindness.  Kindness is usually seen as active. Kindness is compassion that moves out of the heart and into our hands and feet. Kindness lets us do something about the world we see.
 
Kindness is Jesus feeding the 5000. Remember how the disciples saw the mammoth crowd of hungry people at the end of the day?  They counted the people, the distance to food and the potential cost. Adding it up, they thought there was nothing to be done. But Jesus said simply, “You give them something to eat.” (Mark 6:37)  Only five loaves and two fish?  Kindness begins with what it has and leaves the multiplying to God.  Kindness is thankful that it has something to do.
 
Maybe we can think of kindness then as a three step sequence. Compassion first says, “These people are hungry.”  Compassion then steps out with even the little it has, five loaves and two fish.  Finally, compassion brings these small things to God and says, “Lord, you’ll have to multiply these, but I know that is exactly what you do.”
 
All credit to Job and his patient endurance of trouble. But I think we would rather be the disciples given the chance. Kindness is the chance to bring even the little we have first to God and then on to others.

Our Heavenly Father, we have little in our hands and those around us need so much. Bring us first to you with whatever we have. Then multiply what we have, even though it still looks like only a handful before a crowd. But you make it more, even enough, by your grace. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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