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Posts tagged ‘Daily Devotional’

Lenten Devotional – Day 15 – Room for Living Water

Lent 3Scripture:  Jeremiah 2:13

My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
    the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
    broken cisterns that cannot hold water.

I had a seminary student who resisted learning about the course topic. The course objective was to explore human sexual identities, so that the students would truly be able to minister to all of God’s children. I did everything I knew to try to connect and provide a pathway for the student to benefit from the course. No response. What was in that earthen vessel?

As the course concluded that student wrote that I was going straight to hell, without that student having done the work for the class, participating in the course sessions, or meeting with me to discuss concerns. I expressed my regret that the student had not experienced a successful outcome and suggested that the student discuss concerns with the dean.

I was sad that the water that might have helped the student prepare and wrestle with understandings and readiness to help parishioners in their sexual lives found no place in that vessel.

Years later at the end of a chapel service, that student came, embraced me, and apologized for prior behaviors. Later, the student took another course with me, exhibiting the truth that the earthen vessel was newly ready for Living Water that the student had had no place for before. Had seminary opened up room for Living Waters?

Prayer: Lord, empty each of us of anything that hinders your Living Water from filling our earthen vessels. Amen.

  – Youtha Hardman-Cromwell  |  Washington, D.C.

Lenten Devotional – Day 20

Lent 3In John 8 we read,

“The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery.  Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women.  So what do you say?’”

The whole scene was a plot to trick Jesus.  Once again, Jesus perplexes me.  He simply squats down and starts playing in the dirt.

Then I read Numbers 5:11-31 and I think Jesus was having a silent conversation with the Pharisees.

Go ahead and read the passage.  See if you catch it.

To my North American eyes, the passage is outrageous.  What does barley flour, holy water and dust from the tabernacle floor have to do with sexual sin?

During a trial for sexual sin, the priest mixed water and dust from the tabernacle floor.  If the accused could drink it and not get sick, the person was innocent.  If the accused got sick, a curse would be on them.

In John 8, the woman brought before Jesus had already been caught in the act.  Her guilt was sure: she knew it, the Pharisees knew it.

After reading Numbers 5, it appears that Jesus touching the dirt was a nod to the law and its demands for guilt.  Yet Jesus put the leaders on trial, expecting them to take inventory of their hearts.

Like the adulteress and the Pharisees, our guilt before God is sure.  If we were required to drink the cup of bitter water that God’s justice requires, we would surely die.

In the coming days, Jesus would pay for their guilt and mine, drinking the cup we all deserved, carrying our curse.

On days like today, it is good for me to see a glimpse of what my sin cost Jesus by remembering the law.  It was, after all, initiated by God so that I might experience God’s holiness and see more fully my need.
It increases my gratitude for Him.
It fills in my understanding of His unrelenting love for me.
It causes my heart to soften toward Him in worship.

How does a deeper understanding of the law affect you today?

Lenten Devotional – Day 15

Lent 3If given the chance to have dinner with either Simon or the “sinful” woman, I would chose her.

While broken, this woman is both authentic and humble and I like that.  Plus I know what it means to wrestle with sinful patterns in my own strength, only to come up short.  I think she and I could have an honest conversation about sin, suffering and our need for hope.

I’ve made some assumptions about the woman that draw me toward her story.  I bet she didn’t go looking for a bad reputation.  I assume the sins that lead her into a scandalous reputation started just like mine do – with a single, seemingly insignificant, choice.

Maybe it was a lie she did not rebuke.  Maybe it was a hurt she couldn’t forgive.  Maybe it was a bait-and-switch situation where someone promised her the world, used her, and then left her to figure out what to do next.

Whatever it was, the woman in Luke 7:35-50 gave in and embraced the reputation that her sin awarded her. It was probably easier that way – that’s one of the enemy’s great selling points.

But I do that:

I give in to ‘little’ sins that redirect my heart bit-by-bit.

I accept my sharp tongue by justifying, “They know I’m kidding.”

I spend money as if this world is where my hope lies.

When there is tension in a relationship I distance myself, opting for ambiguity rather than authenticity.

I lose sleep feeling like the weight of the world is on my shoulders.

The bottom line is, I must stop living in the past and start living in light of Jesus’ finished work on the cross. He offers me freedom when I am His.

The weeping woman recognized her only hope in this life was to convert her sin into repentance at the feet of Jesus.  Causing a scene in a Pharisee’s home was the least of this woman’s cares.  Living with a clean slate was worth everything to her.

And I bet she wasn’t expecting to hear the words, “Your sins are forgiven.”

Where would you love to hear God say “You are forgiven?”  What are you willing to do to get to His feet?

Lenten Devotional – Easter – Resurrection Sunday

Easter - Resurrection Sunday

He has risen!

Jesus’s friend and disciple John recorded this memory in his letter (John 20:19b-20):

“Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.”

I wonder how Jesus felt to know that it was finished.  Here He was, 3 days later standing before the people He had just gone to hell and back (literally) to save.  Just like before, Jesus moves toward people.  He offers Himself to them.  He offers to show them the wounds on His hands, feet and side.  These marks, born through fierce love, were evidence of the pain and suffering required to break sins power.  Yet His first words to the source of that pain are, “Peace be with you.”

No entitlement here.  It was love that motivated Jesus – before the grave and afterward.

The peace He offers comes only through a relationship with Him. Like the diamond on the black cloth, as we recognize our need we see His brilliance and perfection all the more.

Will you trust in the finished work of Christ?  Will you continue to let the spirit dig up more areas of your hard heart so that He can glorify himself through you more fully?

If we do that, then Jesus’ last words become our act of worship and thanks.  Matthew records the scene where these last words were spoken.  Just 40 days after Jesus’s resurrection Jesus came and said to them, “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20).

He is with us.

Our risen Savior asks us to, “Go,” help others see how to His finished work frees us from the power and penalty of sin.  To demonstrate His love even when people don’t deserve it.  Why?

Because we are people who have been forgiven also. His love is what life is all about.  His love pursues.  His love speaks Truth.  His love redeems broken people.

What a privilege to channel my gratitude for Him by helping others thrive in a relationship with Jesus.  He commissioned His followers, “Go.”

I’m going.  Will you come, too?

Lenten Devotional – Day 40 – Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday

Matthew 27:45-56 records numerous details about the day Jesus died.

The earth went dark and shook violently.

Tombs opened and godly men and women were raised from their graves.

The moment Jesus gave up His spirit, the thick curtain to the sanctuary of God was ripped in two.

Heaven and earth thundered with activity and then, I imagine, it all felt very quiet.

For 3 days Jesus’ grave was very quiet.

If the story ended there, we would still be lost. It doesn’t.

In a letter to the church in Corinth, the apostle Paul addresses the importance of Christ’s resurrection.  Take some time today to thoughtfully read Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:

“But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?

If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that He raised Christ from the dead…For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.

Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead… For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”

We have hope because the grave did not swallow Jesus.  He drank the cup our sins created.  He ransomed us – bought us back from sin’s power.  And then He conquered death – set a heavenly order in motion again.  The curse – death, separation from God – had no power over His perfection.

In Psalm 46:10, we are encouraged to, “Be still, and know that I am God.”  Take time today to be still before God.  Thank Him for whatever comes to mind.  He is good and He is very much alive today.  And tomorrow we get to celebrate that Heaven-altering fact.

Lenten Devotional – Day 39 – Good Friday

Good FridayGood Friday.

I wonder what goes through the minds of people in the world who don’t “get” Christianity.  I bet they wonder why Christians remember the day Jesus died as “good.”

I hope someone asks me sometime.  I don’t know what I would have answered before, but now I would speak honestly about my sin.  I would acknowledge that my life is out of whack and I recognize that my sin hurts others and me.

Worst of all, my sin separates me from the one True God who loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life.

Today, Good Friday, is good because God’s Son, Jesus, drank the cup of wrath that my sin birthed.  Because of His perfection, He broke the cycle.

Today is good because Jesus willingly died to bring me Hope.  He conquered sin.  Death has no claim on those who choose to trust Christ alone.

In light of the Lenten season, I have come think of my sin and my Savior in tandem – like pedals on a bike.  It is for my good to live in the reality of my sin and even more vital to balance that by focusing on Jesus and His saving love.

Because His death met a deep need of mine.

He is so good.

Lenten Devotional – Day 38 – Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday - PilateWe are more like Pilate than we want to believe.

Rather than stand up for what he believed to be true – he is, after all, recorded three times declaring Jesus’ innocence – Pilate avoids a decision by trying to push the problem into someone else’s court.

Pilate plays the political game, attempting to please both his conscience and the crowd by offering to beat the innocent Jesus but ultimately release Him.

Pilate ignores truth speakers around him.  In Matthew 27:11-36, we learn that Pilate’s wife urged him to release Jesus.  “Just then, as Pilate was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent him this message: ‘Leave that innocent man alone.  I suffered through a terrible nightmare about Him last night.’”

Pilate let public opinion have a greater influence over him than Truth.  Then he washed his weak hands in a tiny bowl of water.  But at the end of the day he knew he caved to a crowd, sent an innocent man to the cross and released a dangerous criminal back onto the streets.

Like Pilate, I have given away many opportunities to take a stand for truth.

Truth is uncomfortable.  It makes a conversation awkward.  It might change a dynamic in a friendship or I may be mocked.

Like Pilate, I often try to softly stand up for what I believe through “less divisive” movements.  I pass the buck to someone else, I change the conversation or I candy-coat my beliefs by merely implying what I mean, yet making sure not to clearly offend anyone with my convictions about Jesus Christ.

It takes guts to lead spiritually.  Biblical convictions aren’t cuddly.  Jesus was the Son of the living God and that’s what He told others.  That Truth is worth telling others.

Pilate missed a great opportunity to know His maker in a personal, life-changing way.  How will you take advantage of the platforms God gives you today – will you tell others the truth about Jesus?

Lenten Devotional – Day 37

The Last Supper

The account often referred to as “The Last Supper” is recorded beginning in John 13:1:

“Jesus knew that His hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.”

 

What a statement: “He loved them to the end.”

The end was not pretty.  He was given over to an unjust trial by Judas, one of the men who had served by His side for the last 3 years.

He was abused, whipped, lied about, spit on and publicly mocked.

All done by people whom Jesus loved to the end.

And Peter, one of Jesus’s closest friends who claimed he would be true to the end, failed Him by denying every association he had with Jesus.

Yet Jesus loved him until the end.

That’s…I don’t even have a word for it.

After Judas left the meal to alert the Pharisees, Jesus spoke up again in John 13:34-35:  

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

As a follower of Christ, I am to love like Jesus.  I see vast room for improvement in my heart.

Yet I’m thankful, again, that this command is not for me to just “do” better, try harder.  Instead, Jesus gave me His Spirit to live inside of me and teach me to love better, equip me by His Spirit’s power to do what I cannot.

I am one who wants to live and love others in light of the love Christ has shown me.

Lenten Devotional – Day 36

Lent 3The crowd from the feast at Lazarus’ house followed Jesus out into the streets of Jerusalem the next day.  In their exuberance and worship they lay palm branches, the Jewish national symbol, down in the dirt like a carpet for their King.

“Hosanna!” they shouted joyfully, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”

John notes the crowd’s motives in John 12:17-18: “The crowd that had been with Him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet Him was that they heard He had done this sign.”

The crowd was looking for a leader.  An eloquent, spiritual man who raises people from the dead was a spectacular choice.  The popularity vote was strongly in Jesus’ favor.
 And the Pharisees hated that.  Their plotting continued.

But Jesus remained focused.  His ride on a young donkey down the street before the jubilant crowd was a fulfillment of the Prophecy recorded in Zechariah 9:9, the priest, over 500 years before. Scripture was being fulfilled right before their eyes.

“Fear not, daughter of Zion;
behold, your king is coming,
sitting on a donkey’s colt!”

The crowd’s idea of a king and God’s idea of a King were different.  God is not limited to political parties or public opinions. Isaiah 55:8 says, “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,’ declares the LORD.”

God was unrolling a plan that would span centuries.  He was in the process of redeeming mankind, not just relaxing the strain on the Jewish people of that day.

Where are you in the crowd?  Do you have your own ideas or agendas that you are asking God to bless?  Will you choose to lay down your own plan and ask God to reveal His purposes in your life instead?

Lenten Devotional – Sixth Sunday in Lent – Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday

Here’s a quote to consider during your Sabbath rest this weekend.

“… Sabbath is about more than external rest of the body; it is about inner rest of the soul.  We need rest from the anxiety and strain of our overwork, which is really an attempt to justify ourselves – to gain the money or the status or the reputation we think we have to have.  Avoiding overwork requires deep rest in Christ’s finished work for your salvation (Hebrews 4:1–10).  Only then will you be able to ‘walk away’ regularly from your vocational work and rest.”

– Tim Keller, pastor and author.

Lenten Devotional – Day 34

Lent 3God wants His people to know and love Him.

This aspect of His character is remarkable.  Other religions worship gods who are unapproachable.  But the one True God says words like this:

  • “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to Me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst.”  John 6:34-36 and John 6:50-52.

 

  • “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  John 8:11-13.

 

 

  • “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.”  John 10:7

 

  • “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.”  John 10:9

 

  • “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.”  John 11:17-27

 

  • “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  John 14:6

 

There are more identity statements from Jesus in Scripture but this short list is a good start.  Choose one of the statements above and ponder its truth throughout the day.

I am pondering:  Jesus is the bread of life.

Lenten Devotional – Day 33

Lent 3In John 11:1-44, the disciple John records a conversation Jesus had with Martha and Mary upon His arrival to their town of Bethany.  The women, two of Jesus’ dear friends, had sent for Jesus to come heal their brother. Lazarus had been dead for 4 days by the time Jesus arrived.

Martha immediately went to meet Jesus upon His arrival.  She brought Him her hurt, yet in her pain she chose to rehearse truth about Jesus.  In faith she chose to focus on the long view of God’s plan for broken and hurting people like her.

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” she began. “But even now, I know that whatever You ask from God, God will give You.”

Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

Jesus asked Martha about her faith before He called her brother back from the dead.  Martha’s faith was in Jesus, not the results for which she prayed.

Do you believe Jesus is the answer to your prayers, rather than a particular outcome?

Lenten Devotional – Day 32

Lent 3In Matthew 16:21-28, Jesus uses words like suffering and death and makes references to raising from the dead.

The disciples and followers of Jesus had no idea what was coming.  The concept of God dying was unfathomable.

Since God’s plan didn’t add up in Peter’s mind, he spoke out against it.

Difficulty, sacrifice, discomfort, pain; these are not words that sell others on following Jesus.  And like Peter, I often do my best to convince God that the suffering is not just a bad idea, but altogether unnecessary.

“Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from You, Lord!  This shall never happen to You.”  
But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!  You are a hindrance to me.  For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Jesus doesn’t just rebuke Satan.  He also draws Peter’s eyes, and mine, back to the bigger picture, albeit counterintuitive and uncomfortable.

I don’t like leaving the safety of my Christian box.  But that’s exactly what Jesus requires.

Then Jesus told His disciples, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.  For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?  Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?  For the Son of Man is going to come with His angels in the glory of His Father, and then He will repay each person according to what he has done.  Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”

Sacrifice.  It’s part of the Christian life. Our Lord sacrificed everything for us.

Consider writing a statement of trust. I’ll go first:

Jesus, I may not understand my circumstances but I will trust You and obey even when it is difficult.

Lenten Devotional – Day 31

Lent 3One of Jesus’s most poignant questions is found in Matthew 16:13-20:

 
“Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’  And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’  He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

How would you answer that question?

The text goes on to say Simon Peter, one of Jesus’ close friends and followers, responded with this statement: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

I believe those words are true.  But I wonder how quickly I could come up with a concise statement of faith like that.

In the world, I’m cautioned to handle bold statements with care.  Truth is seen as relative, not real, so we are encouraged to ride the fence of popularity.

In contrast, as a Christ-follower, I want to make very clear the issue of Jesus’ identification as Savior for the world.

Today I boldly proclaim with Peter.  Jesus Christ, I believe  You are the Son of the living God.

Who do you say Jesus is?

Lenten Devotional – Day 30

Lent 3This week we have reflected on David’s example of turning from sin and reconciling with God.  I wronged a coworker, but I can tell you firsthand that a great weight has lifted because I chose God’s plan of repentance, not my plan of escape.  I am on good terms with the people I offended and I know God is pleased with me.

Confession, I’m learning, actually does me good.  By confessing my sin to Him and to others, God revealed other areas of my heart that I needed to entrust to Him more fully.

You’ve read the Psalm a few times this week.  Today, pray through Psalm 51 adding in specifics from your own walk with God.

Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins. Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin.

For I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night. Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight. You will be proved right in what you say, and your judgment against me is just. For I was born a sinner – yes, from the moment my mother conceived me. But you desire honesty from the womb, teaching me wisdom even there.

Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Oh, give me back my joy again; you have broken me – now let me rejoice.

Don’t keep looking at my sins. Remove the stain of my guilt. Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me. Do not banish me from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you.

Then I will teach your ways to rebels, and they will return to you. Forgive me for shedding blood, O God who saves; then I will joyfully sing of your forgiveness. Unseal my lips, O Lord, that my mouth may praise you.

You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one. You do not want a burnt offering. The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.

Look with favor on Zion and help her; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Then you will be pleased with sacrifices offered in the right spirit – with burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings. Then bulls will again be sacrificed on your altar.

Lenten Devotional – Day 29

Lent 3David knew to Whom he was praying.

What we believe about God’s character plays a huge part in our walk of faith with Him.

In Psalm 51, David’s Psalm of repentance, David lists several of God’s qualities.

  • God is merciful“Have mercy on me, O God…”
  • God’s love is unfailing“ because of your unfailing love…”
  • God is compassionate“Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins.”
  • God is our judge“You will be proved right in what you say, and your judgment against me is just.”
  • God desires honesty (Truth) – “But you desire honesty from the womb, teaching me wisdom even there.”
  • God purifies us from sin“Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.”
  • God forgives“Don’t keep looking at my sins. Remove the stain of my guilt.”
  • God is present with us through His Spirit“Do not banish me from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.”
  • God’s salvation brings joy – “Restore to me the joy of your salvation…”

What other truths about God do you see in Psalm 51?

Lenten Devotional – Fifth Sunday in Lent

Lent 1Here’s a quote about God’s rest to consider during your Sabbath this weekend.

“At least one indication of unbelief is the tendency to measure life’s challenges against our own adequacy instead of God’s promises.  To enter our Sabbath rest, we must put an end to self-reliance – trusting in our own abilities to overcome difficulties, rise above challenges, escape tragedies, or achieve personal greatness.”

― Charles R. Swindoll

Psalm 51

Prayer for Cleansing and Pardon

To the leader. A Psalm of David, when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
    and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
    and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
    and blameless when you pass judgment.
Indeed, I was born guilty,
    a sinner when my mother conceived me.

You desire truth in the inward being;[a]
    therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
    wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
    and blot out all my iniquities.

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and put a new and right[b] spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from your presence,
    and do not take your holy spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and sustain in me a willing[c] spirit.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodshed, O God,
    O God of my salvation,
    and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.

15 O Lord, open my lips,
    and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you have no delight in sacrifice;
    if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.
17 The sacrifice acceptable to God[d] is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
    rebuild the walls of Jerusalem,
19 then you will delight in right sacrifices,
    in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
    then bulls will be offered on your altar.

Lenten Devotional – Day 28

Lent 3This week we’ve been talking about our sin in the midst of God’s mercy. Do you struggle with understanding this view of yourself?

To learn more about your identity in Christ, try this simple experiment to help you find your true identity:

One afternoon in sixth grade, a boy stood in the aisle of our yellow school bus as I walked up the dirty rubber steps.  He put his arms across the rows, blocking me from walking past.

“No chinks on the bus,” he said.  I swung around, exited onto the sidewalk and walked 15 minutes to the public bus station.  For the rest of the school year, I intentionally missed the school bus and used public transportation.  I have never forgotten that 20-second scene, that boy’s swinging legs or the other students’ laughter.

“Chink” is a derogatory term used against Asians, targeting the shape of their eyes.  My eyes.  Over the years, I’ve heard different, appropriate phrases for the appearance of my eyes, like “almond-shaped.”  None have been able to fully pacify the flurry of emotions I felt that day the boy stopped me from taking our bus home.  This is what I heard:  Because of my race, my identity, I wasn’t worth a bus ride.

We claim our identity from different places.  When asked, we would identify ourselves by name, race, country of origin, job and abilities.  Some would include religion.  We strive to mark ourselves as unique, so we often want to be identified by what we wear, drive and do.

The Exercise

Let’s try something.  Write down 8 identifiers about yourself.  Write down things positive, negative and neutral.  These can be what you do, a personality trait, your appearance, etc.

I’ll do it too.  Here’s what I came up with: creative, Asian American, completely disorganized, dog owner, math illiterate, daughter, journalist, short.

As I sit staring at this list, I think God recognizes these things.  In fact, I’m sure of it.  After all, He designed all 5 feet, 1 3/4 inches of me.  But, thankfully, God does not identify us in these ways.  The Polis Institute’s study, “Dignity Serves,” helps me remember that the Heavenly Father uses Jesus as the standard.  Let me explain.

In the original Creation, God made us in His image, in His likeness, as described in Genesis 1:26.  When we accept that Jesus Christ took our sin, died for it, and then rose again victorious, the Bible explains that we become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).  When we are Christians, God sees us through Christ – He bridges the gap between us, but He also shapes our identity.

The Bracket

Imagine a bracket.  At the lower end of the bracket are all the bad things ever used to identify you, either by you or someone else.  Overweight, poor, lost, ugly.  Maybe a loser.  In my case, a chink.

In Philippians 2:6-8, Paul explains very clearly that Jesus, “who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (New International Version).

Jesus made Himself nothing.  So essentially, He, being God, took the very bottom end of that bracket, taking on all of our sin and shame and, in obedience to God’s desire to love the sinners and hate the sin,  He took all our punishment.  His identity became nothing.  The lowest of the low.  There are theologians who believe that because of the sins of the world, Jesus literally was present in hell during the three days before He rose again.  That low.

At the top of our imaginary bracket, list the good identifiers.  A+ student, married, successful, parent, prayer warrior.  In the next part of Philippians 2, verses 9-11 we read, “Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father” (NIV).  Jesus, by right, deserves everything in the universe to bow to Him.  He’s that high.  His identity is that He is the strongest, most powerful, most acknowledged being in existence.

Our Identity

Our identities, as believers, fit within that bracket of Jesus Christ.

We cannot be lower than Jesus. God made it clear there is nothing so low within us that is outside of His saving power.  Nothing, says Romans 8:38-39, “will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (NIV).

We cannot be higher than Him, either.  We are not better; we cannot play God, we are not as capable, we do not deserve the worship He does.

Jesus Christ’s life, death and life again is God’s grace manifested.  He bestows on us an identity impossible to acquire on our own.  Rather, He gives it – and that’s much more a reflection of Him than of who we are.

As a sinner, one of the things I’m most capable of is placing people below me.  I’m an A+ student and you aren’t.  That means you’re stupid.  I’m a prayer warrior, so I hear clearly from the Lord and spend much time in prayer.  You probably don’t.

Here’s where Christ, fortunately, catches me again:  All of us are within His bracket.  His death causes everyone else to have that same identity as I do: no lower than Christ, outside of God’s saving grace. Christ died for that.  And no higher than Christ, that I should ever consider to know better than Him; that my ideas are better than God’s.

Last year, the word “chink” surfaced in my life again, in conjunction with an ESPN story titled “Chink In The Armor” about NBA star Jeremy Lin.  For the first time, I told multiple people how the same slur was used on me.  One friend responded to my story confidently: “You are worth a seat on a bus,” he wrote to me, “and FAR, FAR more.”

With Christ, we are awarded a humanly unattainable identity.  Our value and importance comes directly from God.  He is the standard of goodness and truth, and He claims us as His own.  Do you believe it?

Lenten Devotional – Day 27

Lent 3Scripture refers to King David as a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14 and Acts 13:22)

As a young boy, David was chosen to reign over God’s kingdom.  He walked with God and lived a life of great faith for many years.  But David was human and he eventually failed, spiritually and morally.

Specifically, he had an affair with another man’s wife, and when she became pregnant with his child, he arranged for the death of her husband, just to hide his sin.

This is the stuff of soap operas, except we’re talking about the man after God’s own heart.  Now new words were true of David.

Adulterer.

Murderer.

Like me, David first tried to cover his tracks.  God, on the other hand, wants more than a quick cleanup of the exterior mess our sin caused.  God wanted David’s heart to be soft and repentant toward Him.

In this context, David wrote Psalm 51.  David humbled himself before God and repented.

His first cry out to the God of Heaven was for MERCY.  “Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your steadfast love.”

Someone who knows their guilt cries out for mercy.  David knew his sin was spiritual as well as physical.  He had sinned against the God he loved.

“For I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night. Against You, and You alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in Your sight. You will be proved right in what You say, and Your judgment against me is just.”

How do you respond when you consider the context of Psalm 51?

Lenten Devotional – Day 26

Lent 3Minutes after my sin had been revealed, my anger morphed into shame.  I didn’t want to humble myself before my co-worker and confess I was wrong.

Over the next 12 hours I tried to wiggle out: avoidance, blame shifting, hiding, pride.  Anything to stop feeling my guilt.

Does this sound familiar?  It’s a default pattern all humans have in common.

Yet in David’s prayer (recorded in Psalm 51) I saw a marked difference between my idea of saying, “I’m sorry” and God’s call to repentance.  “Behold, You delight in truth in the inward being,” David wrote, “and You teach me wisdom in the secret heart.”

I just wanted to sweep up the mess my sin had created.  God wants me to clean out my motivations, heart attitudes and selfish pride.

Instead of hiding, David prayed: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”

So I confessed my sins to God, thankful for the wisdom and power to then make things right the hard way (God’s way) with my co-worker.

I was unsure how he would respond.  But now his response was secondary.  I wanted to be made right with God.

My heart desired the same thing David penned in Psalm 51: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.  Cast me not away from Your presence, and take not Your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.”

In faith and humility, I met my co-worker; God guided the reconciliation conversation for us.  My eyes did get teary but my co-worker was gracious.

It was a sweet moment for me.

  • I once again came face to face with the fact that I am one who has been forgiven of much.
  • I also remembered that I have a Savior who drank the punishment my sin deserves.
  • Lastly, I experienced what it means to live in a community of people who reflect His truth and grace to me.

Read all of Psalm 51, start to finish.  Which verses are helpful for you to claim today?

Lenten Devotional – Day 25

Lent 3My blood began to boil as I skimmed the email from a co-worker.  I had interpreted it as belittling and rude, so in my head I spouted off several well-scripted snappy retorts.

Instead, I emailed a one-line reply.  Several minutes later, an email thread was building and I was fighting mad.

I don’t get visibly angry very often but this short interaction sent me through the roof.  I went in search of sympathy and advice from two trusted friends who graciously pointed me toward resolution.  Each friend listened.

Truth began to shine when one of them thoughtfully read the original email out loud to me.  With a few sentences and a more levelheaded reader, my basis for my anger dissolved.

I wish my sin and the effects of it could dissolve as easily.

I had caused a conflict because I was lazy and did not read what my co-worker had originally written.  My sin created mayhem and it influenced several around the office that day.

This week’s passage is Psalm 51, David’s prayer of repentance.  Already I identify with his opening line:

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your steadfast love; according to Your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.”

The psalmist says his sin is ever before him.  That can feel discouraging unless we really believe the line beforehand – a plea that God might cleanse him entirely and thoroughly blot out his sin.  What does that mean for you today?

Lenten Devotional – Day 24

Lent 3This week we have reflected on the power and prevalence of sin in our lives and the perfection of Jesus.

Today, if you have surrendered your life to Jesus, take some time to think about the love of God that stepped into the cursed mess of your life and redefined you as victorious, as God’s child.

How do you respond to Jesus when He says to you: “Neither do I condemn you.”

Don’t quickly answer and then emotionally or spiritually walk away. Stay with Jesus and talk about a few specific reasons why you are in need of His mercy.

When you have a few concrete things in mind, consider lifting your eyes to our Holy God in prayer and gratitude for the forgiveness He offers.

Maybe a prayer like this will get your conversation with God started:

Lord,

You see my mess.

You know the depth, complexities and power of sin in my life. Today I recognize that You are stronger than these strongholds, attitudes and lies. You drank the cursed cup my sin deserves. You died in my place.

I worship you today recognizing that You alone are perfect, just, merciful and loving. Help me to love you and love others more – and to more fully understand and appreciate the mercy You show me. Surface sin in my life, Jesus. In darkness, it will only fester and grow, like a tumor undetected or a fungus unseen. Jesus, You are the Light of the world. I find my hope and my freedom in a relationship with You alone.

Amen.

Lenten Devotional – Day 23

Lent 3“Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

She said, “No one, Lord.”

And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

 

 

The story breaks here in most printed versions of the Bible.  One of my good friends hates that.  He thinks ending the story there sets up the woman for failure because she could not “sin no more,” try as she wanted.

If the lesson we take away is to “go and be good,” then who needs Jesus?  He hasn’t really saved the woman, or us.  “She, and I, will screw up in a matter of minutes after leaving His side,” he finished.

He’s right.  Even if this woman chose not to go back to her lover, other sins would quickly disqualify her from a relationship with God.  There is no hope if the story ends there.

Continuing on, however, my friend read aloud the very next verse in the passage:

“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’”

Jesus does not abandon me, warning me to behave.  Instead He promises to give me the light of life, to shine on the areas where I want to hide, not for my shame, but as a loving God who will be with me, guide me, and ultimately change me.

Yes, Jesus tells me not to sin, but even better, He gives me Himself so when I do sin, I don’t have to hide in the darkness anymore.  That is a reason to face another day. I will never be alone.

Take a moment right now to thank God for conquering sin for you.

Lenten Devotional – Fourth Sunday in Lent

 Lent 1Here’s an excerpt from Mark Buccanan’s book “The Rest of God” (pp. 60-62) to consider during your Sabbath rest this weekend:

The root idea of Sabbath is simple as rain falling, basic as breathing.  It’s that all living things – and many nonliving things too – thrive only by an ample measure of stillness.  A bird flying, never nesting, is soon plummeting.  Grass trampled, day after day, scalps down to the hard bone of the earth.  Fruit constantly inspected bruises, blights.  This is true of other things as well: a saw used without relenting – its teeth never filed, its blade never cooled – grows dull and brittle; a motor never shut off gums with residue or fatigues from thinness of oil – it sputters, it stalls, it seizes. Even companionship languishes without seasons of apartness.

God stitched into the nature of things an inviolable need to be left alone now and then.  The primary way people receive this aloneness and stillness is, of course, through sleep.  We can defy slumber only so long – propping ourselves upright with caffeine, manufacturing artificial alertness with drugs – but past a certain point, we collapse.  We must submit to sleep’s benign tyranny, enter its inescapable vulnerability and solitariness.  Unless we do, we die…

The tricky thing about Sabbath, though, is it’s a form of rest unlike sleep.  Sleep is so needed that, defied too long, our bodies inevitably, even violently, force the issue.  Sleep eventually waylays all fugitives.  It catches you and has its way with you.

Sabbath won’t do that.  Resisted, it backs off.  Spurned, it flees.  It’s easy to skirt or defy Sabbath, to manufacture cheap substitutes in its place – and to do all that, initially, without noticeable damage, and sometimes, briefly, with admirable results.  It’s easy, in other words, to spend most of your life breaking Sabbath and never figure out that this is part of the reason your work’s unsatisfying, your friendships patchy, your leisure threadbare, your vacations exhausting.

We simply haven’t taken time.  We’ve not been still long enough, often enough, to know ourselves, our friends, our family.  Our God.  Indeed, the worst hallucination busyness conjures is the conviction that I am God.  All depends on me.  How will the right things happen at the right time if I’m not pushing and pulling and watching and worrying?

Sabbath keeping requires two orientations.  One is Godward.  The other is time ward.  To keep Sabbath well – as both a day and an attitude – we have to think clearly about God and freshly about time.  We likely, at some level, need to change our minds about both.

Unless we trust God’s sovereignty, we won’t dare risk Sabbath.  And unless we receive time as abundance and gift, not as ration and burden, we’ll never develop a capacity to savor Sabbath.”

Lenten Devotional – Day 22

Here is one artist’s depiction of the passage we have been studying this week from John 8:1-12 of Jesus and the woman taken in adultery:

Jesus and the Woman Taken in Adultery - John 8:1-12

Jesus and the Woman Taken in Adultery – John 8:1-12

Does anything stick out to you as meaningful or unusual?

Is the lesson God has been speaking to you this week depicted in the image?

Lenten Devotional – Day 19

Lent 3I had approximately 3 minutes’ notice.  A coworker was going to bring a 10-year old girl by my desk to see a “real journalist” at work.

I work best in an orderly area but the schedule and stress of the last few months have left their telltale marks on my office space: three coffee cups, a small mountain of article drafts and sticky notes.

I’ve been meaning to address this mess for weeks.  Ok, probably for more than a month.

Suddenly on autopilot, I shuffled the stack of papers and folders, order semi-restored.  Sitting back in my chair, a puzzling thought emerged.  Why didn’t I do this earlier?  What is it about a stranger (even a 10-year old) seeing my mess that motivates me to clean up and act as if this tidy version is the everyday truth?

I believe it reveals yet another of my default settings.  I don’t want people to see the true mess in my life – the many cracks where the glare of brokenness shines through.

The woman in this week’s passage, John 8:1-12, was caught red-handed.  She didn’t have time to hide or tidy up the scene of her crime.  My heart goes out to her.  This woman was exposed.  Moreover, her choice to rebel against God was exploited by the Pharisees in an unmerciful way.

Do you do that to others?  Has someone done that to you?

Today, remember the hope of Easter – an invitation to discover the lover of our soul, yet our Savior wants us to admit our need for Him.

Are you willing to express your weakness and failures to God and to others, or do you prefer to hide?

Lenten Devotional – Day 18

Lent 3Take a moment to make an internal inventory of your life and heart.  This week we have reflected on our deep need for forgiveness.

Which of your default settings have come to the surface this week?  If specific names or emotions come up, write them down and make time to talk with God about those items soon.

For now, think about His grace in light of your need.  We are not worthy.  We love Him because He first loved us.  He pursues.  He loves.  He asks for us to depend on Him fully and live our lives in gratitude.

Will you follow the woman’s example in this passage and pour out a beautiful perfume on Jesus’s feet?

Throughout the Old and New Testament when sin-filled people brought a humble offering to God, it is often stated that the aroma was pleasing to Him.

Consider ending your time today in a prayer-offering to Jesus.  Maybe you could say something like this:


Lord,


I identify with _______ in Luke’s passage.  When left to my own choices, my heart is set on rebellion against You.  I see it show up in my life in these ways:_____________.

God, I’m sorry.  I know my sin is a slap in your loving face.  The sinful attitudes/choices/words I choose in my rebellion create a barrier between you and me.

Thank you for continuing to open your arms to me in forgiveness.  Thank you that because of your finished work on the cross you can separate me from my sin.

Lord, your character is unchanging.  You are ___(rehearse something that is true about Him)_________.   I want to live in light of my forgiven state with you.

In Luke, You said, “he who has been forgiven of little loves little.”  Help me to remember the depths you went to in redeeming me from my rebellion.  I, ____, have been forgiven of much.  That truth reorients my life.


Amen.


Lenten Devotional – Day 17

Lent 3Jesus offers forgiveness by offering Himself to both Simon and the woman with a reputation.  Best of all, His offer is extended to us today.  1 John 1:8-9says, If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

And even though we’ve been studying this passage for a week, we are invited each day to come and repent.  Jesus welcomes us every time.

Maybe yesterday you were like the woman who was broken in her sin, but today you are more like the Pharisee, proud and judgmental.  Forgiveness looks the same.

Every day, all day, every minute of the day, we are invited to confess our need for forgiveness in humility; because of Jesus we can experience change and hope.  Again.

Consider inserting your name in the phrase below in the comments as an act of faith and a testimony of His grace. “My name is ______.  I am one whom Christ has washed clean and forgiven of much.”

Lenten Devotional – Third Sunday in Lent

Lent 3Key Bible Verses:  Many people did believe in Jesus, however, including some of the Jewish leaders.  But they wouldn’t admit it for fear that the Pharisees would expel them from the synagogue.  For they loved human praise more than the praise of God.  John 12:42-43

Dig Deeper: 1 Peter 1:13-17

You and I can be appreciated and admired by our peers, our family and friends, our boss and coworkers, our neighbors and even ourselves, and yet not be a success in the eyes of God.  

It doesn’t matter how many promotions we might be given at work, how much our salary might rise, how much prestige we might enjoy in the eyes of the community; if we’re not faithful to God, we’re not successful.

And conversely, if we are genuinely faithful to God, trusting him enough to be obedient to him, we are truly successful, no matter what anyone else might say about us.

Consider John the Baptist.  He took a courageous stand for righteousness in confronting Herod about his unlawful marriage to Herodias, and he ended up being beheaded for it (Matthew 14:1-12).

This does not at all seem to be a sign of a “successful” ministry.  Yet Jesus commended him in glowing terms: “I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John” (Luke 7:28, TNIV).

Success in the eyes of other people and success in the eyes of God are not necessarily the same thing.  It is very possible to have one but not the other.

—Steven Roy in What God Thinks When We Fail

 

My Response:  How do I measure my own success?

 

Thought to Apply:  Greatness in the kingdom of God is measured in terms of obedience. —John Stott (British theologian, writer)

Adapted from What God Thinks When We Fail (IVP)

 

Prayer for the Week:  Father, help me to define success the way you do; remind me that the only opinion that ultimately matters is yours.

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 16

Lent 3This week we have been looking at recognizing our need for forgiveness.

Now let’s watch a video clip of the very passage we’ve been studying, Luke 7:35-50.  The clip comes from a full-length film based on Luke’s Gospel, which depicts the life of Christ and is the most translated film in the world.

In this Scripture passage, I see both of my responses to sin on display in one room with Jesus: Repentance and self-righteous defiance.

Are you living as one who has been forgiven of much?

Lenten Devotional – Day 14

Lent 3Ever since the garden in Genesis 3, humans have forsaken God and chosen to cozy up to our rebellious acts of choice.  Where do you see yourself in the scene Luke details in Chapter 7?

Look at Simon’s casual response.  Though Jesus was invited into his home, Simon ignored the hospitality customs of the day.  He did not greet Jesus or wash His feet.  But this dishonor for Jesus doesn’t seem to bother Simon at all.

What does scandalize him is the brokenness of other people.  His quick response of judgment toward the woman worshiping at Jesus’s feet reveals the deeper calluses of Simon’s heart.

Does Simon remind you of yourself?  Are you quick to notice the sins of others but tolerant of your own sin?

I can be like Simon.  Too often, I half-heartedly entertain Jesus and continue operating as if my need for Him is minimal.

Thankfully, Jesus knows my heart just as He knew Simon’s.  So, He lays it out for calloused religious people like me by pointing Simon back to the bigger story:

“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed 500 denarii, and the other 50. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

Most of us would agree that the person with the greater debt would be the most thankful.

Jesus affirms Simon’s budget wise answer, then turning on a dime, Jesus focuses on our human need for forgiveness.

The woman at Jesus’ feet was broken by the magnitude of her need for forgiveness.  Simon, on the other hand, was deceived, hard-hearted and resistant to his need for forgiveness.

Both had the cancer of sin coursing through their bodies.  Each needed to repent and turn to Jesus to be forgiven.

Try something “out of the box” today.  Imagine yourself in this Biblical scene, and list who you identify with most (the Pharisee or the sinful woman).  Briefly explain why.

Lenten Devotional – Day 13

Lent 3I’ve never been good at math.  I’ve always been better at the English side of learning.  So when numbers and words combine, the principles stick and I track much better.

In Luke 7:35-50, Jesus explains a heart problem by using numbers.  The result is a revolutionary equation.  Let’s look at it together:

When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, He went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table.

A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume.  As she stood behind Him at His feet weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears.  Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

When the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, He would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is – that she is a sinner.”

Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender.  One owed him 500 denarii, and the other 50.  Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both.  Now which of them will love him more?”

Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

Then He turned toward the woman and said to Simon,  “Do you see this woman?  I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.  You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet.  You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.  Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven – as her great love has shown.  But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

In the scene above, two sinners interact with Jesus, but only one converts sin into repentance and love for Jesus.  “Whoever has been forgiven little, loves little.”

Jesus explains that there is a ratio between our awareness of sin and our recognition of God’s grace.

Now you do the math:  What is your ratio of repentance to your love for God?

Lenten Devotional – Day 12

Lent 3Take a moment for an internal inventory of your life and heart.  This week we have reflected on the values of the rich young ruler and the perfection of Christ.

Which of your default settings have come into play?  If specific names of emotions come up with an item, write them down.  For the moment, resist any instinct to try and solve or justify anything related to these default settings.

When we choose to rebel against God – trying to find life or comfort in anything other than Him we grieve His heart.  As we grow closer to Him, our heart will grieve over our choices as well.  It is appropriate to be sad over our sin, like the young man in Matthew 19.

However, in that grief we have a choice to make.  That choice will turn us in one of two directions.  We can choose to leave our lesser god and move toward Jesus in our need.  Or we can operate on our default setting – rebellion against God and pursue life from the deadened things around us.

Consider ending your time today in a prayer of surrender.  Maybe it could say something like this:

Lord, I am often like the rich young ruler in Matthew. I confess my rebellion and allegiance to ____________ . I recognize that the hold this idol has in my life robs you of glory and it robs me of the freedom and grace you offer.


Lord, your character is unchanging. You are holy, without blame, expectant of all my allegiance. When you require everything to be surrendered to you it is because you are worthy of the sacrifice. Help me to have a high view of you. I confess my need for you and choose to live this moment in light of your strength of character.


In my times of great need – when I’ve experienced failure and shame, help me to move toward you. By claiming your mercy I choose to leave behind the dead idols I’ve worshiped for too long.


I crave a life lived to the fullest, Lord. Help me to live in light of the eternal freedom you offer. Holy Spirit, give me eyes to see the temporary shortcuts I run to for the counterfeit idols that they are. Help me to redirect my dependence to you – trusting your strength and grace to lead me.


Only you satisfy Lord. Thank you that you have made it so.


Amen.

Lenten Devotional – Day 11

Lent 3Revisit Matthew’s account of Jesus and the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-30.

But I don’t want us to get stuck by focusing only on our failure to live up to Christ’s perfection.  Remember, we live on the far side of Resurrection Sunday.  Our sins are forgiven though, many times, we still do battle against them or succumb to their charms on this side of Heaven.

I’m glad Matthew honestly recorded the disciples’ reactions to the picture that played out before them.  A rich young moral man who seems to have his act all together is sent away sad after talking with Jesus.  The externals weren’t enough.  Religion didn’t save.  

Sacrifice and dependence on Christ alone saves.  It’s countercultural and the disciples, and I, were left questioning – Who stands a chance?  Is this a losing game?

Once again Jesus ends by offering eternal perspective.  He draws their eyes out of the temporary “x” sacrifices and reminds them of his eternal perspective.  Jesus responds with a picture of hope for every difficult choice made out of obedience and love for Him.

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible… And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.

God will help us realign our worship in light of eternity.  Our weakness isn’t the point.

His strength is what the Christian life is all about.

How are you living in light of your relationship with Jesus today?

Lenten Devotional – Day 9

Lent 3In this week’s pre-resurrection profile with Jesus and the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-30, Jesus lets the young man walk away from Him, sad.  That gets me every time.

Everything in me wants Jesus to chase after the guy offering to talk a bit more about the cost of wholeheartedly following Him.  Instead, Jesus turns toward his followers and debriefs with them about the cost of living for the eternal line.  Everything.

It’s countercultural.  Our society says work your way to the top.  Jesus says, give up everything and follow me.

Even churches promote the idea that following Jesus is comfortable because He is loving and kind.  Those characteristics are true – He is loving and kind to the brokenhearted but those qualities are balanced with justice and righteousness.

Jesus doesn’t accept half hearted.  He knows His worth.

The requirements for entrance into God’s perfect Heavenly realm are untouchable by humans.  Perfection is needed.

On our own, we don’t stand a chance.  And that is exactly the point.  You and I MUST have a perfect someone step into the gap between God and our sin for us.

God righteousness set up the highest standard for entrance into His presence.  And God in his love sent His only son to meet the standard for sinful people.  He plays both sides of the equation.

He doesn’t lower the bar to let us into His perfect home.  But he offers us “the door,” to Heaven through His one son, Jesus.  Jesus stands in the gap for us. He lived a sinless life. He is our hope.

In the New Living Translation of Romans 3:20-26we read:

“For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands.  The law simply shows us how sinful we are.

But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago.  We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ.  And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.

For everyone has sinned. We all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.”

 

What attribute of God are thankful for today?  

Consider writing that attribute on a sticky note to remind you throughout the day of the finished work of Jesus and the mercy of God.

Lenten Devotional – Day 8

Lent 3Many people commemorate the 40-days before Easter by choosing to fast in some way.  Some give up chocolate, caffeine or food in general.  Others turn off media outlets or choose to wake up a bit earlier every morning, a sacrifice of sleep, to spend more time with God.

The big idea is to identify with Christ in His suffering and focus that time or desire more fully on Him.  I didn’t grow up practicing this tradition but I like the idea of having a tangible reminder that redirects me back to Jesus.

Yesterday when I answered the question about what I didn’t want Jesus to ask me to give up – it revealed (again) an area of dependence in my life, sugar.

I move toward sugary snacks out of familiarity, routine, boredom and a desire for comfort.  That might sound bizarre to some of you but it’s true for me.  Sugar influences my day more than God does at times.  It’s a substance that I have to continually evaluate and guard against or an unhealthy dependence begins again.  I am in a season of unhealthy dependence right now.

For this 40-day fast, I could have chosen something easier – something that would have been inconvenient to give up for 40 days but would have ensured “success” at the end.  But in light of the passage in Matthew 19:16-30, I couldn’t help but sense that I would have been only trying to look religious and in doing so might miss the presence of God with me.

The young man in Matthew was calculated about his worship, and he walked away when real sacrifice was required.  When Jesus upped the ante and asked the young man for his the things he depended on apart from God, the young man walked away, sad.

I do that.  I give in to things like sugar because they don’t require anything from me.  In the next 40 days I want to bring those sin patterns to God. I want all facets of my life to bow to Him alone.

Should I fail to resist sugars hollow charms at some point over the next few weeks, I want to keep my error in perspective with these questions.  Maybe they will be a help to you as well.

What is your hope for Easter Sunday?  Do you want to celebrate how much self-control you have?  Or, do you want to celebrate the fact that you have a great Savior who meets you in times of defeat?

– Katie Croft

Lenten Devotional – Day 7

Lent 3When I think about what Jesus gave up for me on the cross I can’t help but wonder at our contrast.  What would I be willing to give up for someone who had wronged me?

Jesus met with a prominent man who had toed the line of morality and religious rules well for years.  Jesus’s friend Matthew records his observations of the interaction in his gospel – Matthew 19:16-30.

Jesus used questions to communicate with this young man.  When Jesus listed many of the 10 commandments the rich young ruler stated that he had successfully obeyed them all.

It’s interesting to note that Jesus did not correct him.  The disciples must have been impressed with the man’s spiritual display as well.  The rich young man’s external choices of obedience and worship were good.

But Jesus knows our hearts – better than we know them ourselves.

Jesus says, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”  With this second statement, Jesus channels to the man’s internal loyalty to possessions before God.

The first commandment, Thou shalt have no other gods before me, was not in the young man’s list of successes.  Jesus gave him an opportunity to realign his worship by walking away from entrapment of possessions to serve Him.  But the man couldn’t do it.

We read that the rich young man walked away sad.  That puzzles me.  What could have been so precious that he wouldn’t give it up to be with Jesus?  After all, he was giving up so many other things for God.  Why not this last straw?

The question becomes profound when I put myself in the young man’s shoes.

I can think of a few habits in my life where I do the same thing.  These habits, loyalties and choices keep me from Jesus.  Like the rich young ruler I too grow sad when I say yes to them instead of Jesus.  But, I’m entangled with these counterfeit gods.  I live for their quick fixes and their false protection.

Once again I find myself living for the “x” and choose to sidestep the work or sacrifice that a life lived for eternity might bring.

Take a moment to consider what question you would not want Jesus to ask you.

What do you fear He would require from you?

Talk with God about the habits, beliefs and choices that are keeping you from Him.

Lenten Devotional – Day 5

Lent 3One night last week, I made a decision to stay home.  I’ve learned that in order to press in with God, it will take clearing some mental and emotional space.

So, I had a quiet dinner, relaxed in front of the T.V. for an hour, had an unhurried conversation with my grandma and went to bed early.  When the lights went out and the room went quiet, my head and heart began to reconnect.  And the tears flowed.

So, I did what I have done since high school.  I pulled out my journal and began to write an honest prayer to God.  Elements of fear, frustration, discouragement, conflicted emotions; deep questions and hurts flowed out on the page.

The next day I reviewed my midnight journaling session and a question started haunting me.  The basis of my struggles all pertain to the curse that was put on all mankind and recorded in Genesis 3.

When Adam and Eve chose rebellion against God in paradise, the world as it was created was forever stained by selfishness, mistrust in God, greed, silence and several dozen other dark words.

Everything I have ever known is broken.  Relationships, starry nights, weather patterns, heart motives…everything.

If I were in Adam or Eve’s position after the fall, just East of the garden’s gate, I wonder, what or whom would I miss the most?  Would I miss the gifts of the garden more than face-to-face conversations with God?

If I’m honest, I often want the gifts more than the giver.  Do you do that?

Like Adam and Eve, I let the enemy question my knowledge of God’s heart and character. I begin to question His motives, His timing or His plan.  A few mental sidesteps later and my view of my Savior is completely distorted.  

I often start to think that I need to somehow protect myself from God. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

I hope one benefit of this 40-day process will be a deeper appreciation for Jesus – The Sacrificial Lamb.  I want to know Him.  I want to be certain of His qualifications.  Every Monday I plan to look at Jesus’s character instead of my own.  I want to shape my life in response to what is true about Him, not the gifts he gives.

          Katie Croft

Lenten Devotional – First Sunday in Lent

Lent 3I hope you’re taking time to rest and reflect today on this first Sunday in Lent.  

Here’s a quote about Sabbath to ponder.  You can also review this week’s thoughts and questions about the preparation for Resurrection Sunday by revisiting our devotional earlier this week for Day 1 – Ash Wednesday.

“A biblical theology of work also includes the explicit call for regular Sabbath rest, when we set our work aside and take time for leisure, recreation, worship and fellowship.  

We are not merely workers; rather we are children of God who are called to work.  

Our work is never the primary expression of our identity, and though regular Sabbath rest we re-establish our identity in God and in his love, acceptance and grace toward us (Exodus 31:13-17).”

-Gordon T. Smith in his book, Courage and Calling.

Exodus 31:13-17

13 You yourself are to speak to the Israelites: “You shall keep my sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, given in order that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you.  14 You shall keep the sabbath, because it is holy for you; everyone who profanes it shall be put to death; whoever does any work on it shall be cut off from among the people.  15 Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord; whoever does any work on the sabbath day shall be put to death.  16 Therefore the Israelites shall keep the sabbath, observing the sabbath throughout their generations, as a perpetual covenant.  17 It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.”

Lenten Devotional – Day 4

Lent 3-Listen or read these words thoughtfully.  Consider writing out a few specific areas in your life where you need to recognize God’s grace or ask for forgiveness.  

Talk with God about your needs.  Take time to listen to Him before verbally readdressing these specific areas in light of His finished work on the cross.

 

 

Grace Greater Than All Our Sin

Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt,
Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured,
There where the blood of the Lamb was spilt

Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin

Dark is the stain that we cannot hide;
What can avail to wash it away?
Look! There is flowing a crimson tide;
Whiter than snow you may be today.

Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace,
Freely bestowed on all who believe,
All who are longing to see His face,
Will you this moment His grace receive?

Lenten Devotional – Day 3

Lent 3The wonderful part about a Christian taking time to look at their sin is, at the end of the day, I can trust my nasty thoughts, wrong choices, dark heart attitudes, rebellious actions and hurts toward myself and others are paid for in full already.

I do not need to manage my emotions better.  Berating myself for wrong choices will not solve anything.  I can’t pay Him back for my wrong thoughts, attitudes or choices.  Those things are already accounted for, forgiven.

What I can do is channel my guilt, shame, remorse and heartbreak to Jesus.  Trusting Him to once again reassure me that He knew about these acts of rebellion when He chose to die on the cross for me.  He died setting me free to be with Him.

That offers me a different motivation for my reform.  When I talk with Jesus about my sin, acknowledging that it’s what he died to save me from, then I want to honor his sacrifice by fleeing from rebellious thoughts, habits, actions and motives.

I don’t have to dig my heels in and “try harder” in my own strength.  He sent His spirit to give me strength..

Today I’m looking at my sin out of a desire to more fully give up my grasp on these dead habits, half-hearted beliefs and manipulative actions.  They no longer hold me in the eternal realm, but old habits die hard.

I want to address a few of these rebellious areas directly and ask my Savior to help me live more fully in light of my eternal reality where I am freed from sins curse.

Lenten Devotional – Day 2

Lent 2In the past few years I’ve noticed Easter seems to pass me by.  Scripture shows again and again that Christ’s death and resurrection are the pivotal event in history.  I desire to commemorate its significance more fully but I don’t know how to get there.

The apostle Paul tackles the subject of Christ’s resurrection in a letter to the early church members in Corinth.  We benefit today by reading Paul’s answers to their questions.

1 Corinthians 15:12-19:

But tell me this – since we preach that Christ rose from the dead, why are some of you saying there will be no resurrection of the dead? For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. And we apostles would all be lying about God – for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. But that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.

My problem is deeper than just recognizing the significance of the Resurrection on it’s own.  I must face my need for the resurrection by grasping what my spiritual and eventually physical condition is apart from Christ’s finished work.

That’s uncomfortable.  I don’t like thinking about the areas where I come up short.  I don’t want to dwell on how I lack wisdom, self-control, kindness, patience or action.  But, I believe the reality check is necessary to take inventory of my heart.

A jeweler often showcases a diamond against a black cloth to show its brilliance by contrast.  In the same way, I hope that contrasting the depth of my need with the brilliance of His grace and love will increase His eternal value in my eyes and heart.

Do you want to serve a great and gracious King who has fought a losing battle for you and come out victorious?  Take a moment and think about your need for Him.  Now let’s thank Him together.