Cruel Savior

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Hebrews 4:15

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Looking for my daily infusion of hope this morning, I opened my Bible to Hebrews 4 and read vs 15, then did a double take.

I’d read the verse wrong. The message I received in my brain was, “We have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses…” I shook my head. What?! I went back and read it again, and again it said, “We have a high priest who is unable…”  That’s not right, I said to myself, and of course it’s wasn’t. Funny, what the brain can do to you before an infusion of caffeine.

The jarring reality of what this world would look like if we didn’t have a Savior able to empathize with our weakness, though, was a thought that lingered with me long after my mistake.

What if Jesus was a harsh Savior?
What if He cracked a whip over our backs every day?
What if He couldn’t or wouldn’t understand how susceptible we are to sin?
What if He didn’t come looking for us when we’re lost and alone?
What if He couldn’t care less about our pain?

What if He only cared about how low we’d go when He passed by, and wonder if it was never low enough?

What if Jesus looked the other way when we were tempted, or tearful, or tested beyond our ability to resist? What would life look like for us then? And wonder if we had no choice but to serve Him. Wonder if we hated Him, and He us, what would that do to us? What kind of life would we live then?

Today, I’m eternally thankful for a baby born in a manger, and that His birth was a divine act of mercy; that He grew up understanding a sacrifice would be necessary, and that He was willing to make it for me. I’m thankful that when I cry out, Jesus listens and not only listens, but understands and responds.

In the courtroom of heaven one day, I will have Jesus standing and defending me. How grateful I am for that promise that He will never leave me, never forsake me.

Today, I’m grateful for a high priest who is able to empathize with my weaknesses–for admittedly, they are legion. This reality is my only hope for my future.

How about you?  Are you glad for a Savior who understands?

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5 IMPORTANT ACTIONS TO TAKE WHEN YOU’RE IN DEEP TROUBLE

Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls;all your waves and breakers have swept over me. Psalm 42_7

I had a friend share with me his afflictions this week.  A pipe broke overhead, above his newly remodeled kitchen, causing him to spend two of his banked vacation days making repairs.  Deep called to deep as he fixed one problem only to discover another quickly taking its place.  In his troubles, Psalm 42 seemed to apply.

I’ve been there–in that place where deep calls to deep and troubles multiple like blow flies around a nasty pool of stagnant water.  Blow follows blow, until misfortunes “come not in single file, but in battalions.” Do you know what I mean?

All your waves and breakers have swept over me, the Psalmist wrote.

Those waves and breakers can do more damage than the strongest tornado, destroy more property that the most powerful tsunami, and send us thrashing into the murky flow of a Mississippi delta at flood stage, were it not for God holding us back.  The only wise response to such an occurrence is prayer, because the truth is…

Discipline does come to us from the Lord sometimes.
Difficult things do happen.
We sometimes invite the rod of correction to snap across our back.
Pipes break, but more disconcerting than broken pipes are broken lives!

What should our response be when deep calls to deep and the flood is threatening to pull us under?

David’s response to trouble, observed by the Psalmist, was to remember the Lord and the good times of the past. This is an important part of God’s remedy for deep pain, especially when it comes at his command. If He sends the troubles, he can sweep them away. Make sense?

During his difficult time, David remembered—brought together in his memory—that relationship he had always shared with the Lord. He acted out of his memories concerning God in five important ways.

FIVE IMPORTANT ACTIONS TO TAKE WHEN YOU’RE IN DEEP TROUBLE

When in deep trouble, David did this:

1. He remembered God’s goodness.
2. He recalled the joy of better times.
3. He recounted the depth of God’s unfailing love.
4. He honestly expressed his grief and sorrow.
5. He prayed, believing that God would hear and help in his distress.

David may not have always done the right thing before God, but he was always honest with God about the wrong he had done. David had integrity. Maybe not in the moment. Maybe not even in the short run. But when it mattered, David acted rightly before God, confessing his wrong doings and seeking forgiveness from the One he knew loved him and wanted more than he to have a king sit on the throne that acted justly before and with the people.

How do you “get by” when deep calls to deep in your life?  Can you tell us how prayer and faithfulness, believing God is the Master of Grace, got you through a crisis of trouble in your life? Do tell.

 

Listening to Crowder’s song, Forgiven, we gain a great appreciation for our piece in Christ’s ultimate suffering and the need for forgiveness.  The “deed” may have been done 2,000 years ago, but if it were to be re-enacted today we have assurance from God that the outcome would be the same.

We, humanity, are culpable!

The good news about a bad decision made centuries before we were born is that forgiveness stretches so far.  All the way back to that moment. All the way forward to today.  We have forgiveness from the only One who has the power and authority, even the right to give it–Jesus Christ!

Jesus has never wanted anything more than he wants you

Likewise, our Lord has never longed for anything more than he longs for them.

He set all of creation aside in favor of winning the greater prize. YOU are loved, cherished, redeemed, and forgiven. Remember that today!

When have you been forgiven?  Who do you need to forgive?

 

 

stubborn donkey

Speaking of stubborn animals…

The story of Balaam’s donkey found in Numbers 22 in the Bible can be a pretty funny one on its face. For the uninitiated, it has some weird elements: a group of Rambo Moabites, a stubborn donkey, an invisible threat, and a Master who sees things others don’t and talks to his animals as if they were answering back.

If you weren’t seeing things from Balaam’s perspective in the story, you’d think him nuts, insane; a crazy kook of a man.

We’re not always good at pegging the origins of our opposition, and we’re not always good at seeing what God’s doing in and through us.

When you read the “rest of the story” concerning Balaam, you begin to see that indecision and greed were two confusing factors for the seer. They can be problems for us too. The bigger issue though, is a matter of spiritual acuity. Are we seeing God for who he really is, or is our image of Him muddled and confused by the trappings of this world?

When things get confusing and we’re struggling to understand, that’s when its time to create a little white space in our lives. We need to add some margin. We need to reevaluate our priorities, and we may need to get quiet before God for a minute or two.

We can do anything for a minute or two, right?

Stop. Breathe. Ponder. Meditate.

Ask!

God, “What’s going on here?”

Be still and know that He is God.

When your mind wanders gently move back to the task at hand-listening.
If a thought won’t leave, surrender it.
If a name has popped into your head, acknowledge it and say a quick prayer, then return.
Keep returning for that whole 60 seconds.
It’s just a minute, right?

In the beginning, as that new habit of meditation is forming, remember:  it’s just one minute.

Today, let’s listen.

Wait. Agree. Obey.

It may be that you have an angel standing in your way, charged with protecting you from you.

Don’t beat the donkey that’s always faithfully served your needs.
Don’t resist the God who’s always loved you well.
Don’t push away the help that has been provided for you, sometimes by hurdles and frustrations.

How many tragic accidents on the highway have been avoided by batteries that were dead, tires that went flat, and starters that wouldn’t ignite?  Maybe delays and frustrations are for our good.

When have you been frustrated in your plans, only to find it a blessing in the end? What do you hate most about waiting?

 

Says Easy, Does Hard

Love your neighbor as you love yourself.  Matthew 19:19 

This whole “love your neighbor as yourself” business says easy, but does hard, and there’s a reason for that.  Jesus regularly taught principles that rankled people and caused a shift in their perspective.  Jesus’ own disciples, upon hearing him proclaim in the temple that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood if they wanted to be one with him, said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”  Many didn’t, and the herd was thinned that day.

Truth:  There are times when living for Jesus says easy, but does hard!

We often face a struggle of the will when trying to put self in a bottle.  Being creatures with egos, we find it difficult to live out the fullness of this hard teaching about love. This week, though, Jesus has opened my eyes to see the contrast between how we help one another and how the world does it.  In the world, help denotes payback.  Few people who live without Jesus in their heart freely give either love or possessions. Some, but not many. Whereas inside the church, we’re all striving to share selfless love on a daily basis, and not just with church members.  Be it generosity, kindness, toys, or tools—we regularly share with others in ways that meet or exceed the way we take care of ourselves.

Today, if you are finding it hard to love others on the same level as you love you, know, you’re not alone.  We’re all finding it hard, given the day. Here is what I know: The only thing that stretches our Jesus muscles, is lifting Jesus weights.

What part of the Christian journey do you find says easy, but does hard?

 

 

 

 

 

Be a Jonah…try, try again!

Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it.  Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”  The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.   Jonah 3:1-5 

There are several things about today’s Bible passage that pique my interest.

First, Nineveh was a large city. Large enough that it took THREE days to walk through it. That’s Big!

Also of interest is the fact that the Ninevites believed Jonah when he finally got around to speaking to them about God and the destruction that was coming. They believed him so thoroughly that they prepared their hearts for punishment, even as they hoped for mercy.

The Ninevites quick decision to take action is impressive, I think. Once they heard what God was planning for them, they immediately stopped their evils ways, confessed their wrongs, and fasted and prayed, going several days without food, nor water.  The king of Nineveh even ordered that the cattle go on a fast with the rest of the city.  Everyone in Nineveh stopped what they were doing and prayed, prayed earnestly, to the God of Jonah, Yahweh.

Can you imagine the noise the cattle made when they’d gone just one day without food or water? The wailing that must have produced–I bet the commotion put goose bumps on arms all over town–and I bet it only intensified after the sun went down!  No sleep for anyone in Nineveh until this sitch had been dealt with properly.  No sleep!

The most amazing thing about this passage for me, though, is the fact that…

God gave Jonah a second chance!

 A second change, people!!!!  How good is our God!

Like Jonah, we let the Lord down, don’t we?

Like Jonah, we run in the opposite direction from His will for us, sometimes.

Like Jonah, we care about our own skin before we care about other’s.

Like Jonah, we find serving God in ways that are relevant to him, troublesome for us.

Like Jonah, we’ve failed God when he’s called us the first time, and like Jonah, we need that second chance. 

Today, if you know anyone like Jonah, will you pray for him or her? Will you ask God to give them a second chance?  Will you ask Him to put them in a spot where they’re motivated to do what He wants them to do, even if that means rough times for them?

Will you pray for their inner fortitude, strength, and faith in the only true God?  If you will, you’ll need fortification to do that job, right?  A touch from God?!  Let’s pray…

Who do you know that is a Jonah, in need of a second chance?  When have you been in need of the same?

 

 

Healing Words Speaking Grace

The following is an excerpt from Cyndy Sherwood’s devotional, Healing Words.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  2 Corinthians 12:9a

“I have hung my hope on this truth more times than I can count. When I was remembering the horrible abuse of my childhood, his grace was sufficient. Later, when my step-daughter took her life, his grace was sufficient. When my husband had no work, his grace was sufficient. 

It is in the hard times we can most easily see his unlimited resources and his tender heart toward us.  He delights in taking care of us during adversity.  It also gives God pleasure to do great things through unlikely people.  When he accomplishes his work through weak people it reveals his unlimited power.”

Cyndy goes on to talk about grace as “a dynamic expression of the divine personality, rather than as a static attribute of God’s nature,” which is The Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible’s definition of grace.  Cyndy believes that when God transfers His power into our lives, then, we get a glimpse of His grace as it was meant to operate in our world.  “When God is working in and through us,” she says, “that is His grace.”

I love Cyndy’s description of grace in her devotional.  It speaks to partnership, and intimacy, and the give-and-take that accompanies demonstrations of God’s grace in my life.

We give our weakness to God and He fills us with His power!

Today, if you’re facing a lion, a bear, or a shadow of fear…so that you’re not sure whether you can finish what God’s given you to do or not, won’t you reach out to Him and ask for a little grace to get you through?

He’s a good, good father, and he love, love, love, loves his kids.  Today, let’s trust God a little bit more in our weakness.

What do you think about grace? How do you define grace in your life?

 

Owe nothing but love

Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. Romans 13:8 KJV

Is it a good thing that the Good Book says to owe no man any thing, except your love?

It is if you are inclined to love.  If you seek out love and you’re willing to impart it to others, then a commandment to love one another comes as an easy guideline to follow.  If, however, you’re one taken to pride, or loving yourself more than others, or being miserly with your material belongs, you will find a commandment to love others a heavy burden…maybe too heavy to bear.

Oh, Christian, I hope you are among the former and not the later with regards to this command to love.   

Love works no ill to his neighbor… (vs 10).

The Bible is full of hints on how to love, how to encourage, and how to effectively display love in a community setting.  Life gives us plenty of opportunities to practice love too…to show love, share love, and embrace the love that comes back to us from others.  While some folks might be hesitant to love without restraint, others have this amazing capacity for love that baffles the mind, almost.  Would that we all spent more time praying for that love gift—for the Bible says love covers over a multitude of sins, and who wouldn’t profit from having their sins covered over more often?

This morning, would you be willing to pray for God to make you a more loving person?

Would you be willing to take a chance on love once more?

Would you be willing to put yourself in a position where others could depend on your love to be gentle with their hearts?

If you would, God can use you in mighty ways: exciting, wonderful, compassionate, and mighty ways!  It all begins with intentional living.  Today, let’s love on one another and see what happens.

By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another. -Jesus

Who do you find it hard to love?  What is your love language?

Bible Sass

The_Message_cover

I’ve shared this in the past, but again, I love reading The Message translation of the Bible for my quiet time with God.  It has a sort of sass to it that I like.  Is that wrong for me to admit? Well, I’ll admit it anyway.  I love the “realness” that comes off this translation of God’s Holy Word. Like the passage, for instance:

Remind the people to [be]…always ready to lend a helping hand. No insults, no fights. God’s people should be bighearted and courteous.  It wasn’t so long ago that we ourselves were stupid and stubborn, dupes of sin, ordered every which way by our glands, going around with a chip on our shoulder, hated and hating back. But when God, our kind and loving Savior God, stepped in, he saved us from all that. It was all his doing; we had nothing to do with it. He gave us a good bath, and we came out of it new people, washed inside and out by the Holy Spirit. Our Savior Jesus poured out new life so generously. God’s gift has restored our relationship with him and given us back our lives. And there’s more life to come—an eternity of life! You can count on this.  Titus 3:1-7 MSG

Where else can you hear the term “dupes of sin?”  Come on, that alone is worth the read!

We are presented with countless chances each day to help one another in the faith, aren’t we?  Endless opportunities to show love and loyalty…and we get to choose whether we’ll respond in words or deed–hopefully, both!

One is moving and asks for a helping hand.

Another is sick and in need of assistance to feed a growing brood of kids.

Yet another wants to build a new habit that will produce increased spiritual awareness. They are looking for a study buddy to go through the Scriptures with them, and help them better understand the story God shares with humanity in the Bible.

In all these ways and countless others, we are encouraged by the Spirit to build a substantial and sustaining community with one another until Jesus returns.

Building community means everything to Jesus!

As God points out those Saints and sinners in need of help in your circle of influence today, would you consider what you could do to make their lives easier?

Many hands make light work, and hands that are motivated by God’s Spirit cause blessings to flow.  Today, let’s pray, considering what we can do to make another’s day easier.

Together we get better, and better, and better at meeting the call to minister through service.

Hallelujah, Praise God—May His house be a busy one, as we are about His work! 

When have you needed help and found believers willing?  Who do you know that could use a helping hand today?

 

Disobedience & Disappointment

Then God spoke to Samuel: “I’m sorry I ever made Saul king. He’s turned his back on me. He refuses to do what I tell him.”  1 Samuel 15:10-11

Could there be any sadder words than those spoken by God shortly after having Saul anointed king?  Read the prayer prompt for this morning once again, slowly.  Can you hear the disappointment in God’s voice?  Can you tell how heartsick He is that the one he chose to favor above all the Hebrew nation turned out to be a betrayer?

Are we refusing to do what God tells us to do?

Sometimes we wander through this adventure we’re having with God with little conscious care for the things that matter to Him: Time with us. Intimacy with Him. A love that is proven through obedience. We miss out on divine blessings because of our careless attitudes, and we get God miffed when we “forget” what he told us to do, or worse yet, outright refuse.

1 Samuel 15, reminds us how angry the king’s response to God made the Prophet.  The Bible says Samuel prayed his anger and disappointment all through the night, before going to hunt the king down (vs 11-12 MSG).

Yikes!  I can’t imagine how those prayers must have energized Samuel’s resolve.  How they must have fueled every word he spoke later, when he finally caught up with the king and rebuked him publicly.  I hope I’m never the focus of those kinds of prayers, and I hope you never are either.

Today as we spend some time with God, let’s reaffirm to Him our willingness to do what he asks us to do. Easy, hard, or seemingly impossible, it doesn’t matter.  Where God’s finger points, his hand always makes a way! We have no excuses.  We can obey him! All we need to do it is a little bit of prayer to embolden us and a heart ready to faithfully serve.  Today, let’s exercise both.

When have you been disappointed by a good friend? When have you disobeyed God?