Not Too Busy to Understand

During this season of the year, there are many delightful traditions and customs that promote joy, togetherness, and fun!  Whether it’s a jolly fellow dressed in a Santa suit greeting children, a neighborhood party, or Christmas carolers going door to door, there are many great experiences to be had and joy to be shared.  And although we should enjoy and embrace these positive times with family and friends, there one very important thing about Christmas we must take care not to overlook.

Look Deeper

In the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, it can be easy for us to rush from one thing to the next, focusing on the task at hand and missing the beauty around us.  Instead of being sucked into this frantic activity, we’ll do well to pause and remember what Christmas is about.  It is about the love we share with others, but there is a truth deeper than even this lovely sentiment.  That truth is this:  that when we were estranged and distant from our Creator, God came down from heaven to be born a helpless baby in a dirty stable.  Why would the glorious and all-powerful Maker of all things step down from glory to enter the world in such a humiliating way?  Could the One who made the stars and the seas not manage to find a house to be born in?

God’s Gracious Plan

The humility of Christ’s birth was only exceeded by his humility in death, hanging naked on a cross, and these events both took place as they did for the same reason.  That is, Christ came to the earth for us.  He lowered himself to the form of a man so that He could live the perfect life that we never could.  Jesus kept God’s Law perfectly, never transgressing with even a single step.  In the Garden of Gethsemane, he was betrayed into the hands of evil men, suffered torture and an agonizing death, in order to pay your debt and mine.  The punishment he suffered was the punishment we deserved.  But as he takes on our sin, we can, through faith, take on His purity.  Christ’s blood washes us white as snow, if only we will turn from our sin and trust Him exclusively for salvation and cleansing.  Our own good works can never save us, but His perfect life, death, and resurrection will.

Christ Now Lives in Me

This Christmas season, as you enjoy the joy in the air and the wonderful times with family, remember why Christ’s birth is reason to celebrate.  Live not for yourself, but for Him—do what He taught and love what He loves.  Share Him with others who don’t know the peace and joy found in Christ alone, and follow Him as a disciple-making disciple, day by day by day.

Why Do Clean Hands Matter?

Whoever loves Christ has the remarkable privilege of adoption into God’s family.  Since we call God Father, we may inadvertently diminish His great power and His holy wrath toward those who oppose Him.  The following excerpt from Psalm 18 depicts God in his mighty majesty and power, and reminds us that in times when those who pit themselves against God seek to harm us, our Father yet holds the strength and the will to bring down those who lift themselves up.

 

Psalm 18

13The LORD also thundered in the heavens,
And the Most High uttered His voice,
Hailstones and coals of fire.

14He sent out His arrows, and scattered them,
And lightning flashes in abundance, and routed them.

15Then the channels of water appeared,
And the foundations of the world were laid bare
At Your rebuke, O LORD,
At the blast of the breath of Your nostrils.

16He sent from on high, He took me;
He drew me out of many waters.

17He delivered me from my strong enemy,
And from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me.

18They confronted me in the day of my calamity,
But the LORD was my stay.

19He brought me forth also into a broad place;
He rescued me, because He delighted in me.

20The LORD has rewarded me according to my righteousness;
According to the cleanness of my hands He has recompensed me.

21For I have kept the ways of the LORD,
And have not wickedly departed from my God.

22For all His ordinances were before me,
And I did not put away His statutes from me.

Nature Obeys Him

In verses 13-15 we get a clear picture of the massive strength and power of our Mighty God.  The elements of this earth obey His every word, as he sends forth lightning to scatter groups of men who would oppose Him.

The psalmist remembers past times when the Lord has delivered him from his enemies.  Strength and safety was found in the secure presence of God himself.  This haven was provided to the psalmist because God delighted in him.  He chose righteousness and clean hands, rather than falling to the temptation that undoubtedly surrounded him.

What You Place Before Your Eyes

See in verse 22 how the psalmist continued to keep the ways of the Lord:  by keeping God’s Laws before his eyes.  This is a great example for us to follow—day by day placing the statutes of the Lord in front of us, that we might live in them.

To those who do not understand the ways of God and who He is, it seems silly and pointless to place such restrictions upon ourselves.  For example, why would we choose to “miss out” on all the fun of casual sex or drunken partying?  Many who engage in these things seem to do just fine, and disaster and destruction don’t necessarily rain down on them.  But there is wisdom in the words of this Psalm, and in the example set by the psalmist.  By living God’s way when it seems that we could “get away” with behavior that displeases Him, we are storing up a reward (v20) with Him who holds all things in His Hands.

What Will That Day Be Like?

Days of struggle and even oppression by the unrighteous occur in the lives of Christians more often than we’d like to think about.  When these days come for you, how will you face them?  Will you confidently rest in the comforting protection of your Father God, or will you look back in regret at all the times you broke and disregarded the statutes of the One who stands in power over all things?

In our culture, it can be so easy to push the Laws of God into the back corners of our mind—to focus on so many things which fill our schedules, until there’s no time for reading God’s Word or talking with Him.  Let’s encourage each other to adopt some new habits of placing the statutes of God ever before our eyes.  Let’s work as a group to grow in righteousness and love of our Lord Jesus Christ, that we may face our enemies and disasters with clean hands and a pure heart, watching what our Mighty God will do in defense of His children!

Check Your Heart

We often discuss the habits and principles for becoming wealthy here at TotalThriver.  But if we pursue financial gain with the wrong heart, we are setting ourselves up for disaster.  Today we’ll examine the Master’s teachings on wealth, and learn from him the proper attitudes and perspective.

In Luke 12, we read:

13Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” 14But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” 16And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

The Man’s Heart

I love how Jesus always sees us for what we are.  The man in this story asks what might seem to us to be a legitimate question.  He wants Jesus to instruct his brother to give him half of his father’s estate.  Notice how Jesus goes straight to the heart of this issue:  “be on your guard against covetousness.”

The man’s request had little to do estate planning or arbitration and everything to do with his jealousy toward the possessions of his brother.  Not only is this a violation of the tenth commandment, but the man has the audacity to imply wrongdoing on the part of his brother.  No doubt this did not foster a good relationship between the man and his brother.

Looking out for Number One

Jesus explains the foolishness of pursing wealth with the wrong heart in His usual way: through a parable.  The man in the parable had an abundance of wealth, but instead of being thankful to God and praising Him, using the resources to glorify God and help others, the man is solely concerned with his personal comfort.  He plans how he will use his resources to bless himself, and unlike wealthy and righteous Job, does not use his riches for the glory and worship of God.

Too late, the man in the parable realizes how temporal worldly riches are.  He had the opportunity to use his money to expand the kingdom of God, thereby storing up treasure in heaven.  But instead, he sought wealth only for himself and his own security and comfort.

What About You?

Are you like either of these men?  Does your heart hold jealousy toward others who have greater riches than you?  Do you desire that some of their money be taken from them and given to you?  Or, are you like the man in the parable, focused on what you can get for yourself, and indifferent about the kingdom of God and the ways that your money can be used for His glory?

Father God, help us to resist the lies that the world teaches on the value and use of money.  Let us seek financial gain honestly, and use it for your purposes and your purposes alone.  By your grace, may it be so in my heart and each one who reads these words.

You Need a Smaller Vocabulary

Do you know why you only achieve small victories in your life?  Why you may hope or wish for a grand success, but make only meager progress?  Why you’ve always dreamed of making a big impact on the world but can’t seem to turn those dreams into reality?  The answer is in your vocabulary.  You see, you’re letting the word, “impossible” spoil your mind.

But Don’t Jump Off a Building

Don’t misunderstand—there are certain rules of the world we live in which are not to be toyed with; gravity for instance.  I’m not saying that you can fly if you just start with a great mental attitude.  But I am saying that we are all apt to grossly underestimate our capabilities.  When we make up our mind that our dream cannot be done, we have ensured that it will not.

Garbage In, Garbage Out

Your mind is an incredible and powerful machine, and in many ways it is programmed by what you pour into it.  When you repeat to yourself that a certain goal or dream is impossible, your mind goes to work to find all the ways that the thing is impossible.  If you surround yourself with negative programming (most TV shows) and negative people, you’re programming your mind to bring you failure.  On the other hand, if you toss the word, “impossible” out of your vocabulary, you do the opposite—you begin programming your mind to find the ways to achieve the goal you’ve set before it.

A Lesson from the Master

When your goals are in line with God’s plan and you’re programming your mind to seek ways to fulfill your vision, you are in a wonderful place indeed.  I believe that this is the concept which Jesus was teaching in this passage in Matthew 17:

14When they came to the crowd, a man came up to Jesus, falling on his knees before Him and saying, 15“Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is a lunatic and is very ill; for he often falls into the fire and often into the water. 16“I brought him to Your disciples, and they could not cure him.” 17And Jesus answered and said, “You unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him here to Me.” 18And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out of him, and the boy was cured at once.

19Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not drive it out?” 20And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.

Trying Hard Isn’t Enough

Jesus tells the disciples that their lack of faith was the root cause of their inability.  Although it appears that the disciples were trying hard to drive out the demon, nevertheless they failed because they did not believe.  In order to succeed in that which is difficult, we must first choose to believe that that which we seek is possible.  Once we can see the goal clearly and accept that we will be able to reach it, our minds can go to work figuring out how to make it happen.  Oftentimes, God will give us ideas along the way that lead us in the right direction.  And finally, we must use our minds, passion, and resources to take action toward reaching the goal.

Ok, I Get It

A simple concept, huh?  As with most things, this idea is not difficult to understand.  Yet, how hard it is to practice!  It is a great challenge to believe a thing possible when circumstances seem to indicate otherwise, and all one’s loser friends surround the idea with negativity and discouragement.  But of how sweet the reward is for those who will believe their dreams and take action to achieve them.

How about you?  What do you dream of becoming or achieving?  Are you handicapping yourself by repeating, “it’s impossible,” whenever the dream pops back into your mind?  Release yourself from the self-imposed bondage and take action today toward the goal set before you.  You have nothing to lose but mediocrity!

Follow Your Heart?

In many of today’s movies and TV shows, the lesson is put forth that we should follow our hearts above all else.  From Disney cartoons to adult-rated dramas, the idea that what is best for us is to look deep within ourselves and do that which we inwardly desire.  But will this philosophy really bring blessing to our lives?

Hidden Assumptions

Oftentimes, ideas that seem pleasant on their surface carry along with them disastrous and erroneous assumptions which are not readily apparent.  When we are not vigilant to test the truth claims of the society around us, we can mistakenly believe some of these pleasant-sounding lies, right along with the errors contained in them.

In this case, the assumption that lies within the “follow your heart” advice is this:  your inner self is perfect and righteous.  This claim lies in stark opposition to Scripture, which teaches us the following:

The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick;
Who can understand it?
(Jeremiah 17:9)

 I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.
(Romans 7:21-22)

The Corruption of Our Wills

We know that God created us in His image, and that our earthly father Adam was initially without sin.  Yet when Adam rebelled against God in the Garden, he shattered the perfect nature he was given.  Because of his sin, we, his children, have been born corrupted, bent away from the will of God and inclined toward selfishness and self-centered living.

When we look to our inner selves for direction and purpose, we will find nothing but emptiness and ruin.  How many men have abandoned their wives and families because their hearts told them to pursue a fling with a woman at the office?  How many youths have traded their bright future for a life of addiction because their first hit felt like heaven?  Perhaps your own experiences have been less drastic than these examples, but have they not left you empty and unsatisfied?

The Way to Life

There is a better way to live.  Jesus came to give us life, and that abundantly—His atoning death on the cross bought us peace on this earth and with our Father in heaven.  Because He died to take the penalty of your sin and mine, we can be washed clean by placing our faith in Him as Savior and Lord.  He rose from the grave to demonstrate His power over death, and sits now at the right hand of God the Father.

As Christians, we live not to follow our own inner desires, but rather to serve our Lord and Giver of Life.  Living each day to bring God glory will not only fill the emptiness in a way “following your heart” never could, but your life will bring a smile to the face of the Lord Jesus Christ—on the day He welcomes you into His paradise with those wonderful words, “well done, my good and faithful servant!”

 

Equipped

Today’s post is a devotional on John 20:19-23. This story takes place just after Jesus’ resurrection, and from it, we’ll learn four ways that Jesus equips us to take His gospel to the world.

19So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 22And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23“If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.”

He Seeks Us

The first way that Jesus equips us to share the gospel with others is by seeking us where we are, even when we are not seeking Him. In verse 19, we read that the disciples were not looking for Jesus, even though He had told them many times that he would rise on the third day after His crucification. Instead, they had locked themselves in a room in an attempt to keep safe from those who hated Jesus and succeeded in killing Him. Yet, Jesus sought them out anyway.

Notice also that Jesus met the disciples where they were in terms of belief. They clearly did not believe His words that He would rise again, but rather than harshly condemn them for their lack of faith in Him, he offered them to touch the wounds of His hands and side. In the same way, Jesus is patient with us and our small faith. When we doubt His words that He can give us a new life, make us a new person when we trust Him as Lord and Savior, he begins showing us in little and big ways, the extent of His awesome power to transform lives.

Jesus seeks after us even when we don’t seek after him. Just like the disciples in the story, many unbelievers have come to faith in Christ not by seeking out a church in the phone book and attending regularly in order to find the Truth, but instead found Jesus at their rock bottom—prison, near-suicide, or in the midst of trying times. Jesus finds us when we need most, and this shows how amazing his grace is! He doesn’t wait for us to deserve salvation, rather, He gives us what we desperately need but can never obtain on our own–forgiveness and eternal life with Him.

Calming Fears

The second way that Jesus equips us to share His gospel is by calming our fears. In the story, the disciples were clearly afraid, so much so that they hid in a locked upper room. Like these men, we face fears of all sorts living the Christian life in a hostile world. John 16:33 says, “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” Jesus tells us that we will face challenges in this world, but He also tells us that He is with us. As He calmed the disciples fears through His steadfast love and comforting voice, let Him ease your fears today. Call out to Him in prayer, and trust in His promise, “lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20).

As the Father Sent Him

The third way that Jesus equips us to share His gospel with the world is by sending us in the same manner that the Father sent Him. This we read in verse 21, and we take comfort in knowing that Christ himself blazed the path for the Truth to enter the world. We are simply to follow in His footsteps. There are many aspects in which our mission and Christ’s were similar. Two of the clearest are as follows.

First, His mission was difficult. Though He performed countless miracles and spoke with wisdom greater than any other, many hated Him. Just the same, when we share the Truth with those who reject Christ, we will gain many enemies. And yet, as Christ pressed on in spite of opposition, pain, and discouraging circumstances, so must we do as we tell others of His love.

Second, His mission brought glory to God. When Jesus took the sin of the entire world upon Himself and endured the punishment we deserved on the cross, He redeemed His people back to Himself! Though we had rebelled and cursed our Creator, Jesus made a way for our forgiveness and justification. Hallelujah, what a Savior! Like Jesus, we bring glory to God as we shine as lights in a dark world. In sharing the gospel of Christ, we glorify the Father in heaven (see Philippians 2:10-11).

The Holy Spirit

The final way that Jesus equips us to take His gospel to the world is by giving us the Holy Spirit. Having the Holy Spirit in us unleashes the power of God to work through us. The moment you put your faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in your heart (see 1 Corinthians 6:19). What an incredible blessing to have the God of the universe abiding in our heart! What power is ours, what effectiveness for winning souls, if we will bit recognize that God is in us—powerfully able to speak with wisdom, grace, and truth if we will boldly go where the gospel message needs to be heard.

In Acts 2:1-13, the Holy Spirit allowed the disciples to proclaim the works of God in every tongue. Those who saw the sight were astounded! But this same God, this same Holy Spirit is in us! Let us allow Christ to deepen our faith, and prepare to stand in awe before the work God will do through us, His people.

 

  1. Jesus seeks us out where we are and makes himself known to us
    1. Jesus appeared to the disciples
        1. In a closed room (v19). He took the initiative—they didn’t go to the synagogue or the Mount of Olives to look for Him
        2. Where they were in terms of belief. He showed them evidence that He was the risen Christ (v20).

       

    2. Jesus finds us and saves us
      1. Luke 19:10 says, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
      2. John 3:16 says, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
  2. Jesus calms our fears by his presence
    1. We have real fears in this life
      1. The disciples feared persecution from the Jews (v19)
      2. We will face difficulties too. John 16:33 says, “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”
    2. Twice, Jesus calmed the disciples’ fears (v19, v21). He is patient with our fears (lack of faith)
    3. Because Jesus was with them, they found joy despite their fears (v20)
  3. Jesus sends us in the same way the Father sent Him
    1. Jesus’ mission was difficult; He has told us ours will be too
    2. Jesus’ mission brought glory to God, as does our fulfillment of the Great Commission (see Philippians 2:10-11)
  4. Jesus fills us with the Holy Spirit
    1. 1 Corinthians 6:19 says, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?”
    2. Having the Holy Spirit in us unleashes the power of God to work through us
      1. In Acts 2:1-13, the Holy Spirit allowed the disciples to proclaim the works of God in every tongue.
      2. Jesus granted the disciples power to forgive or retain sins by the Holy Spirit (v23).