Maximize the Opportunity

Message/Application:  Jesus predicted the destruction of the physical temple which also seemed to foreshadow and parallel the spiritual destruction of a religious system before his prophesied return. He warned of all kinds of physical and spiritual decline in the world in the ‘end times’ and even warned of a spiritual and physical persecution that would happen to his people, but right in the middle of all of those warnings he said something very important. He told them that these would be opportunities to witness. This is something that the New Testament church absolutely took to heart. They were being beaten, martyred and thrown in prison but they weren’t angry about the persecution because they saw it as a confirmation and a privilege to be “found worthy” to be persecuted against and they maximized the opportunity to make Christ known.  As Christians we have to get out of the mindset of the American culture surrounding us that tells us we need to protect our “rights”. Jesus left his rights and laid his life down and as we follow him we are required to do the same. When people see a different response out of us they will be open to hear the gospel. As long as we miss consume ourselves with our ‘rights’ we will completely miss these opportunities. If we suffer injustices in the mindset of the original disciples of Christ we will watch the church thrive and grow in spite of our suffering.

Instructions & Authorities

Message:  The processes we are required to walk through are designed by God but enforced by authority figures and circumstances in our lives. They don’t make sense to us but they teach us valuable things we need to learn so when we complain about these processes and people we are actually complaining against God. When we try to manipulate and, take matters into our own hands, our efforts will not prosper-even if at first it seems they do. Some of the Israelites collected extra manna and they probably thought they got one over on God by disobeying his instructions, but it later developed worms and it smelled bad.

Command:  Follow God’s instructions! God gave very specific instructions to the Israelites about how and when they were to collect the manna. When they tried to collect extra or hold extra to the side for later, it molded and worms grew in it. It’s foolish to think that we can cheat to gain something extra or to ensure God’s provision when all that we have came from him in the first place!

Promise: God heard their complaints and still had mercy on them by providing them with meat and bread.

Warning: When we are complaining against authorities both natural and spiritual in our lives, we are actually complaining against God because he put them there. If we don’t trust the process of God’s instructions  our efforts to handle them our own way will not prosper.

Application:  There is so much to draw from this! The very first verse of Exodus 17 fascinated me when I read that the Israelites wandering in the “wilderness of sin” was transliterated from a shortened version of “Sinai”. They literally wandered around in the wilderness while complaining about Moses and Aaron because they didn’t trust the process that God was talking them through. I related to this way more than I wanted to  and I felt convicted that when I complain about the systems and the authorities in my life, I am really complaining against God because he put them in place and he requires me to learn to trust him through the process of it. The Israelites probably didn’t have the nerve to complain about God, but they felt pretty safe blaming their uncertainties on Moses and complaining about him. This wasn’t Moses’s plan, and he didn’t want to be chosen for it anyway, so in their deception they didn’t realize their complaints were really against God. Even still he met their needs by providing meat and bread.

Who is Ruling Over Me?

Message:  Who is ruling over me? In Luke 19 Jesus went into a parable that sounds strikingly similar to the parable of the 10 talents in Matthew. In this parable Jesus spoke about a nobleman who traveled to a far country to receive for himself the authority to become king. He would later return with his kingly authority. He called for his slaves and gave them each 10 minas and told them to “engage in business” until he returned. We understand this parable to represent Jesus as the nobleman who would leave a portion of his valuable business to his slaves/servants (the Jews) while he was gone for an unknown amount of time. What really jumped out at me was verse 14 which says “but his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him saying ‘we don’t want this man to rule over us!’ When he returned with his full authority in place, he took account for what they had done and rewarded accordingly. I normally read this with the understanding of stewardship, but as I read about how much they hated him it occurred to me that this parable was really dealing with the rebellion of their hearts and how that affected their obedience.

Command:  Surrender our desire to rule ourselves and engage in the business of the nobleman.

Promise: Our surrender determines our fruitfulness. The more surrendered we are, the more fruitful we will be.

Warning: Our surrender determines our fruitfulness. The more rebellious we are to surrender, the less fruitful we will be. If we fight that surrender hard enough, we just might become the servant who completely refused to engage in the business of the nobleman.

Application:  There are authorities in our lives whether we want to accept them or not. The Jews rejected Jesus as that authority, but it didn’t change the reality of the matter. This passage tells us that his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him saying “we don’t want this man to rule over us”. It seems we all want the reward of eternity in heaven, but we hate the idea of allowing anyone to rule over us. The rebellion in our hearts will fight this process literally to the death of us. We will either die to our flesh in obedience, or we will die in eternity due to our defiance. The real truth is that as believers, we no longer belong to ourselves. We belong to God and either we will fully embrace his rule over us, or we can be like the slave who rejected his authority. His decision to reject authority did not change the fact that the nobleman’s authority existed. It just came with a hard consequence in the end. As I read this over and over, I felt like most of us would reject or dispute the idea that we ‘hate’ Jesus. We might justify that we love Jesus and want all he has for us, but we just hate being ruled over right? This is the whole premise of the gospel. We don’t get to accept Jesus and all of his rewards without also accepting his full rule over our hearts. Our surrender is absolutely necessary, and in this story the amount of surrender each servant had was depicted in his fruitfulness with the valuable things that the nobleman left them. This causes me to question my level of surrender. How much am I allowing God to rule? Am I ruling myself and giving God certain pieces or am I really fully surrendered? What things do I allow Jesus to touch, and which things do I try to kind of hide to the side in an effort to mostly surrender, but keep a few things for myself.

Way Ahead of Me!

Message: God knows about the things pursuing after us in life and is often the one setting them up. Israel was frightened when they realized the Egyptians were hot on their tail pursuing them to take them back to slavery and they immediately resented Moses for giving them the hope that they could be free because the familiarity of their slavery felt more comfortable than the unknown terror of being pursued. They had no idea that God had set this whole thing up to destroy the armies of Egypt and make himself known.

Command:  Don’t assume our circumstances are a surprise to God. They are a surprise to us because we don’t know or understand the larger plan.

Promise: By the time we’re aware that we’re in hot pursuit, God is already way ahead of us!

Warning: Don’t assume that just because we are suddenly aware of trouble that we have to fill God in on the details and hope he’ll move.

Application: I really saw myself in this and even as I prayed through it I laughed as I told God that even though I’m aware that he’s already waaaaaay ahead of me, that talking it out with him reminds me that he has invited me in to partner with him. I need to talk it out with him so he can fill me in on the plan, rather than me trying to fill him in on my panic scenario and pitch my plan ideas to him. Israel was well on their way to freedom from years of oppression but when they realized they were being pursued they panicked, cursed Moses for bringing them out there and wished they were back in bondage in Egypt. This is such a sad state but it’s exactly what we do emotionally when we hit opposition. God not only knew this was happening, but he orchestrated it all for a purpose. He wanted to show Egypt who he was, but he also needed to teach Israel to trust him. The same is true of us. He will use our scary life moments to show others what he can do while teaching us to trust him in it.

Ready Yourself

Message:  Be ready! Live a life of surrender, don’t fall in love with this life and anticipate the coming of the Lord.

Command:  Be ready and don’t look back.

Promise: The day of the Lord is coming.

Warning: Not everyone will be ready and aware when Jesus comes but when the time does come don’t look back!! Whoever chases after their lives will lose it!

Application:  We don’t know when Jesus will return. We have to be ready and watching at all times anticipating that the day could come at any time. Luke 17 reminds us that when Noah warned about the flood people were carrying on their normal daily events until Noah boarded the ark. The same was true when Lot and his family left, and will be true again when Jesus returns. We have definitely been given rewards and are intended to enjoy this life, but we can’t fall so in love with this life that we are distracted from our purpose and aren’t ready and aware when Jesus returns.

Our Character is Revealed in Our Disciplines

Message: In Luke 14 Jesus was talking to the large crowds that were travelling with him and by chapter 15 the sinners and tax collectors were approaching to hear him as he spoke about finding the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. By chapter 16 Jesus continued on with the parables, but he was specifically addressing his disciples as he spoke about money management, faithfulness and how all of that ties together with our character.

Command:  We should use money with wisdom as a smart tool to accomplish things, but not allow money to be our master.

Promise: If we are faithful in the small things (whether it be financial or spiritual) we will have the character and discipline to be trusted as faithful in larger things.

Warning: If money (or anything else) is our master, we will not be faithful or wise with finances or other spiritual things because whatever is driving us will determine our financial and our spiritual direction. We will not have the wisdom, the discipline or the character to be trusted with kingdom things.

Application: This is both about money and spiritual direction. At times they are one in the same because money has such a powerful influence, but really anything can drive us to use our financial and spiritual capacity for either good or for bad. Whatever is driving us will be revealed in the way we use money. A common heart-check quote says “show me your calendar and your bank account and I will tell you what is most important to you.” Another heart-check quote says “We are to use money for people, not use people for money.” Our disciplines (or lack of) are revealed in the way that we manage our finances, our time and the way we lead our lives. This is a measurement of our faithfulness. In this measurement I can see where I am strong and where I am weak and it reminds me of the importance of strengthening the weak areas because all of these things are so deeply intertwined.

The Joy in Surrender Leads to Compassion

Message:  If we are not passionate about finding the lost there is probably something deeper going on inside of us.

Command:  Go and find the lost! Search for them with priority and urgency!

Promise: God celebrates every time a lost son is found.

Warning: When we have been saved for a long time, we can become so immersed into our own lives and our own journeys that we are no longer thinking about the lost. We know they are there, but we don’t feel the urgency to find them. Why is that?

Application: As I read about the lost sheep, the lost coin and the prodigal son I felt the familiarity of it all weighing on me so much that I had to stop and ask God to please show me something new in this. I have heard so many teachings on this from the perspective of the son, the father and even the older brother. I have placed myself in these different roles and I just felt like there had to be something else to pull from this. When I went back through chapter 15 I took notice of what caused Jesus to share these three parables. Chapter 15 begins by telling us that all the tax collectors and sinners were approaching to listen, and the Pharisees and scribes were complaining “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them!” I had to back up just a bit more to reel in the context and I realized that Jesus had just finished sharing the parable of the feast where he was saying that the originally chosen invited guests (the Jews) refused to attend the feast and the master was inviting in everyone else (the Gentiles). He had just finished telling them to count the cost and understand that salvation requires complete surrender, and this is where the sinners and tax collectors were leaning in to hear more. The Jews had been exclusively God’s chosen people for so long that they seemed to take for granted that they were just “in” because of who they were. Although they were adamantly opposing and rejecting everything Jesus was speaking about, they were not happy that Jesus was reaching out to the lost and the lost were responding. As I thought back to the “older brother” in the prodigal story it occurred to me that his unhappiness with the celebration was much deeper than the jealousy that he had worked so faithfully, and his rebellious brother was now being celebrated. It seemed he was not at all concerned about his lost brother. He resented the fact that he was there being faithful and unhappy while his brother was out living a life that he couldn’t. This is the unhappiness of living an obligated life of religion. There are miserable Christians all over that are unable to even care about the lost because they themselves are living a life of obligation. This exposes the “count the cost” message and reveals that desire to satisfy our own flesh so much that we could actually resent the lost for their so-called freedom to live in sin. We can’t care about the lost if we resent the lost and we need to address the problem within our own hearts if we haven’t counted the cost and truly found joy in our surrender. Our compassion for the lost can be measured by the joy in our surrender.

Count the Cost

Message:  Count the cost to choosing salvation. It’s not something you add to your life. It will require complete surrender and cost everything! This passage compares it to building something. If you decide to build something before calculating what it will require and how much it will cost, you will look like an idiot when you run out of money and supplies and you can’t finish it.

Command: Count the cost.

Promise: We may feel like we’re giving up everything…and we certainly are, but the cost of our everything in comparison to what we gain can’t be compared.

Warning: If we walk out our relationship with Jesus without the understanding that it’s intended to be a surrender, we will be stuck between trying to please ourselves and frustrated with trying to please God. The struggle will cause us to resent God when we fail

Application: This passage is really about counting the cost before committing our lives to Jesus, but this is something we have to do regularly to keep in check. Our flesh never stops trying to rise up and demand first place. If we don’t count the cost regularly, we will forget about surrendering and try to live a double life of trying to fulfill our own desires and trying to appease God out of guilt. The sad part about it is that we will never be happy and fulfilled trying to live life this way. We can choose to live 100% surrendered to God or 100% selfishly and for ourselves, but we were created for communion with God. We won’t be fulfilled until we are surrendered but the fight for our flesh is real!

Natural & Spiritual Laws of Wisdom

Message:  The laws of God exist whether we acknowledge them or not. If we follow them, we will reap the blessings of them. If we consider ourselves to be wise and try to follow our own instincts we will inevitably be influenced by our own selfish desires and this leads to destruction. When we allow the wisdom of God to lead us there is peace and contentment even through hard times.

Command: Obey God and walk in the natural laws of wisdom that were established by God.

Promise: Our obedience to the laws of wisdom bring rewards, but it also beings peace and contentment.

Warning: Pride causes us to be “wise in our own eyes.” When we are prideful we don’t consult the word of God because we are confident in our own ideas and experiences.

Application: Because the nature of man is full of pride and selfishness, we tend to operate out of our own ideas and experiences, and we reject anything that doesn’t line up with that. Our perceptions are completely unreliable because they are formed out of our pain and emotions. This is why it’s so critically important to consult the word of God and reject any ideas that oppose it. The way Proverbs describes wisdom and the laws of God are just like the natural laws of earth that we have come to understand and respect. Whether or not we academically understand or believe in the laws of gravity, we live it (or challenge it) every day in life. By experience we have come to understand that what goes up will always come back down even if we reject the idea of gravity. Our rejection of this truth doesn’t change the fact that if we fall, we will fall down and not up as long as we are on the earth where gravity exists. We can either respect the natural and spiritual laws or we will injure ourselves defying these laws in our ignorant ways. Proverbs 3 reminds me to lay aside my own ideas and consult the wisdom of God. In this brings peace even in the middle of chaos. This reminds me that even if I’m not aware of the natural laws of wisdom, I am subject to them just like I am with gravity. I can either come into agreement with it or hurt myself fighting against it. We have been given the word of God so we don’t have to learn it all the hard way. Today I’m reminded that I need to submit every thought and idea to Jesus and ask him to lead me into his wisdom. If I do I will reap the benefits.

Backwards Priorities

Message:  Our priorities are backwards because we are wasting our time trying to please people by superficially showing them what they want to see. God sees everything and is only concerned about the condition of our hearts. Not the appearance of our façade.

Command: Don’t be so concerned about what other people think. They’re just people and they have no authority. Our focus and concern should be on the fact that God hears and sees our thoughts.

Promise: God sees my every thought and motive, but he is the only one who loves me unconditionally in spite of it!

Warning: Not only can God hear and see our thoughts, but he has the power to kill the body.

Application: This sounds terrifying and threatening and though it should, I feel like the point is that we spend so much more time concerning ourselves with what people think than what God thinks. People are unstable and unfaithful and concerned with image, but God is faithful, just and concerned with the condition of the heart. Our drive for pleasing people is our own pride, but our drive for pleasing God is our eternal salvation. Nothing is hidden from God and that is both beautiful and terrifying. While we might be able to fool people with a promoted image, we can’t fool God. Again, that is both beautiful and terrifying. God sees us and loves us for who we are but people don’t. This passage prompts me to think about all of the times I am trying to save face with people, but if I am more concerned with pleasing God, I will address the concerns of my heart. If my heart is in order I don’t have to play damage-control with people. It’s a matter of putting the priorities in the right order.

Spiritual Vision

Message:  Eyesight is important in order to see clearly, but we also need proper lighting to see where we are going. If the room is dark, we aren’t able to navigate our way around as well, and we are likely to bump into things no matter how familiar we are with the layout. Luke 11 uses our understanding that a light on a lampstand is the best way to properly light up a room. Then verse 34 tells us that the eye is the lamp of the body, so as long as our eyes are good, our whole body will be full of light and therefore able to see clearly to navigate through life.

Command:  Read the word and allow the truth of the gospel to light up our souls so that our spiritual eyes can see accurately.

Promise: When you receive the truth of the gospel it illuminates your spiritual eyes so that you can see your way.

Warning: When we reject the truth of the gospel it is compared to putting a basket over the light source and this causes us to walk in darkness where we stumble around because we are unable to navigate through.

Application:  As I read this passage this morning I thought about all of the times I have been in the dark and things didn’t look as they should have. My daughter and I were taking a walk a few nights ago, and in the dark, there were times when a tree or a large rock looked like a person or animal standing or hunched over. Without the proper light we couldn’t see the fine details and the shadowy images distorted our view of what was actually in front of us. Although we weren’t necessarily fearful during our walk, our dark, distorted vision caused us to see things based on what we were familiar with, so our minds automatically made inaccurate assumptions to interpret what we were seeing in the dark. We had some light from the streetlamps and the moon so we could see enough to walk, but what we were seeing was not at all accurate- although I will tell you, it looked as real as can be in the moment until we got closer and saw enough detail to interpret that the shapes we saw were actually trees and rocks. We were vulnerable to potential dangers around us that could have been lurking in the dark, and we also perceived other dangers that weren’t even real. This is SO true of our spiritual eyesight! If we are reading the word the chances are pretty good that we have accepted the basic truth of the gospel and we believe that Jesus came to save us. We can navigate around in the dark without crashing into things, but there is so much more truth in the gospel, and when we read it and most importantly, when we receive it as truth and live it, the word illuminates more and more so that our spiritual eyes light up our way and correct the distortions we were seeing in the dark.

Spiritual Vision

Message:  Eyesight is important in order to see clearly, but we also need proper lighting to see where we are going. If the room is dark, we aren’t able to navigate our way around as well, and we are likely to bump into things no matter how familiar we are with the layout. Luke 11 uses our understanding that a light on a lampstand is the best way to properly light up a room. Then verse 34 tells us that the eye is the lamp of the body, so as long as our eyes are good, our whole body will be full of light and therefore able to see clearly to navigate through life.

Command:  Read the word and allow the truth of the gospel to light up our souls so that our spiritual eyes can see accurately.

Promise: When you receive the truth of the gospel it illuminates your spiritual eyes so that you can see your way.

Warning: When we reject the truth of the gospel it is compared to putting a basket over the light source and this causes us to walk in darkness where we stumble around because we are unable to navigate through.

Application:  As I read this passage this morning I thought about all of the times I have been in the dark and things didn’t look as they should have. My daughter and I were taking a walk a few nights ago, and in the dark, there were times when a tree or a large rock looked like a person or animal standing or hunched over. Without the proper light we couldn’t see the fine details and the shadowy images distorted our view of what was actually in front of us. Although we weren’t necessarily fearful during our walk, our dark, distorted vision caused us to see things based on what we were familiar with, so our minds automatically made inaccurate assumptions to interpret what we were seeing in the dark. We had some light from the streetlamps and the moon so we could see enough to walk, but what we were seeing was not at all accurate- although I will tell you, it looked as real as can be in the moment until we got closer and saw enough detail to interpret that the shapes we saw were actually trees and rocks. We were vulnerable to potential dangers around us that could have been lurking in the dark, and we also perceived other dangers that weren’t even real. This is SO true of our spiritual eyesight! If we are reading the word the chances are pretty good that we have accepted the basic truth of the gospel and we believe that Jesus came to save us. We can navigate around in the dark without crashing into things, but there is so much more truth in the gospel, and when we read it and most importantly, when we receive it as truth and live it, the word illuminates more and more so that our spiritual eyes light up our way and correct the distortions we were seeing in the dark.

Don’t Make it About Myself

Message:  Jesus sent out seventy disciples and when they returned they were excited over the power and authority that had been given to them through the name of Jesus. Jesus cautioned them not to focus on this and he referenced the fall of Satan as a warning. This wasn’t intended to stop them from further ministry. It was a warning that they shouldn’t get caught up in the gifts and make it about themselves.

Command: Don’t allow the gifts that God has given us for his glory to become about us.

Promise: All power in heaven and earth has been given to Jesus and as his followers he has shared with us his power and authority.

Warning: Don’t be distracted by the power and authority that God has given us to do miracles. When the seventy disciples returned to Jesus excited over the fact that “even demons submit to us in your name” Jesus cautioned them that he watched Satan “fall from heaven like a lightning flash.” Satan had been given all kinds of God-given power and authority in heaven but because he became focused on that power, the gift in him that was intended for God’s glory was turned inwardly in his heart and he desired it for himself instead.

Application: In this story they were excited over the power and authority given to them in the name of Jesus. In this case the demons submitted to them, but this was just one example. We have been given lots of different gifts. Not just pertaining to demons, but power and authority in all kinds of things. In the story Jesus referenced about Satan, he had been given the place of leading worship in the throne room of God and what began in beauty became distorted in purpose. Any one of us has the potential to allow the gifts in us that were intended to serve and bring glory to God to become distorted if we start to make them about ourselves and enjoy the power and authority that these gifts have. Sometimes we feel like we are being humble and we don’t think we are making it about ourselves because we know how to respond when people compliment us for our gifts. We know that the right thing to do is point back to Jesus so we feel humble as we say things like “it’s all him.” Pride is sneaky though and some of the ways I catch it sneaking in is when I catch in myself in offense. If I become offended or feel rejected when my gifts aren’t used or appreciated this is an indicator that the gifts intended for God’s glory have become about me. This is my warning to myself today that as I watch out for pride that I look in these places of offense to tell the real story of where I am at.

The Surrendered Heart Squashes Selfishness

Message:  “If anyone wants to follow me he must deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me.”

Command: Deny myself and take up my cross daily.

Promise: When I deny myself and take up my cross daily, I will no longer be trying to preserve my broken life, and I will instead receive a new life in exchange.

Warning: Trying to preserve my own life in it’s broken state will only lead to more loss and brokenness.

Application: This feels like such a contradictory passage but it’s such an important thing to grasp. There are promises all over the bible of all the good things God has in store for us as followers. When I read this from a selfish state of mind it sounds like God is going to give me all of the desires of my selfish little heart. But the condition is that I have to deny myself and allow God to do a powerful work in my heart. When I am truly surrendered and denying my flesh I will no longer desire the selfish things and will be completely fulfilled. Instead of chasing the desires of my flesh I will be fulfilled with contentment and God will be able to bless me with things in a surrendered state because the surrendered heart doesn’t chase after selfish desires. I find this to be a challenge literally every day as selfishness rises up in unexpected places. It’s like a game of whack-a-mole as I squash one thing, another rises up in the form of relationship offenses and other non-suspecting areas of selfishness try to take hold of my heart. They don’t look like selfishness from the surface but when I get to the root of the unrest in my heart, there it is!

Don’t just Observe, But Engage

Message:  In Exodus 3, Moses encountered God in the burning bush. Something that caught my attention was that God didn’t just plop that burning bush right in front of Moses. The bush was near Moses but caught his attention because he saw that it was burning but not consumed so he went over to it to investigate. When God saw Moses approach the bush, that is when he called his name and spoke. He didn’t call out to Moses when he saw the bush. He waited for Moses to come close, and he spoke to him then.

Command: Don’t just observe the presence of God. Approach, come closer and engage.

Promise: If we choose to come close and approach God when we see him at work he will speak to us.

Warning: An encounter with God is our choice. We can observe the presence of God and walk right on by without pressing in. If we do this we will observe the beauty of seeing that God is there but we will miss the engagement of hearing what God has to say to us.

Application: It’s not enough to just sense that God is near and acknowledge his presence. God has things to say to us and he wants us to press in and come close. This is not just in moments of worship, but as I read this I thought about my devotional time. There was a time (and still are times) when I would just read. Reading is good and it gets the word of God in your heart, but there is something very powerful about engaging God in it. When I started writing in response to what I read some powerful things started happening. I saw and heard things that I didn’t see or hear when I just read. Writing and even just talking to God out loud about what I read opens up a dialog with God that is more than just a one way conversation. I have found that if I ask questions God will speak and Holy Spirit will reveal things not only then but throughout the rest of God when I choose to engage.

Simple Obedience

Message:  No matter how trained or educated we are in a particular topic there is a blessing in the humility of laying all that we know aside in obedience so that God can move. Peter was a fisherman. He and his crew undoubtedly knew what they were doing but when Jesus told them to throw their nets out once again they humbled themselves and listened to him and the blessing was literally more than they could contain.

Command: Lay aside my expertise, education, and experience when I need God to intervene or when he speaks into a situation that he wants to move in.

Promise: God knows more about my area of expertise or experience than I will ever know, and he is interested in my humility and obedience to trust him.

Warning: My own knowledge and experience has the potential to block the voice of God.

Application: The story about Jesus telling Peter to cast his nets to the other side seems so insignificant to me because fishing is not my area of knowledge and expertise. It’s not the job I do every single day and it’s not how I make a living. If I think about the things that I do know a thing or two about, I wonder how often this blocks me from hearing God. If I’m in a position of asking for help I might expect to hear from God, but Peter wasn’t asking. He just had a rough night of fishing and as he was bringing in his boat with the stink of failure from the night when Jesus asked him to pull up his boat and allow him to stand on it to teach the crowds. He could have been in a bad mood because his work didn’t go as expected that day, but Peter honored him in this with no expectation of any kind of reward whatsoever.  After Jesus was done teaching, he instructed Peter to cast those nets to the other side. He could have said no. I’m sure it was a hassle to drag it all back out but he basically told Jesus- “we did this already but on account of your word I’ll do it again”. That decision was life changing. Not just because of the financial profit but because it revealed to Peter that Jesus was more than just a teacher and verse 11 tells us that he left it all behind and followed Jesus. When I read this I wonder what simple acts of obedience God is asking of me that I might be ignoring. What things have I “tried already” without success and Jesus is calling me back to it. I have a choice to honor him with my obedience or hang onto my pride and stay the same. For me personally, I believe God is calling me back to the basic obedience of working my job with joy and allowing nothing to distract me from being the best employee I can be. I have done this before in the past with no reward of promotion, but I feel God pulling me to do it again out of a heart of obedience and not for the desire of promotion. Obey because it’s right.

Encroaching on the Place of God

Message:  When Jacob died and Joseph and his brothers went home, fear came over them. They assumed that Joseph had only been good to them for the sake of their father. Now that he was dead they feared that Joseph would unleash a hidden grudge and punish them for all of the suffering they caused. They came up with a false story and told Joseph that their father had made a command before his death. When they Joseph he wept and asked them “am I in the place of God?” He acknowledged that although they planned evil, God had used it for good to save and protect them all. He promised that he would take care of them and their children.

Command: Look at the bigger picture. Our hurts give us the idea that something is owed to us, but when we recognize the place of God we realize that regardless of the pain, nobody owes us anything.

Promise: If we don’t go bitter and demand judgment for trespasses against us, God will use the pain of what we endure to propel us into something that could never compare to any repayment.

Warning: If we insist on hanging onto our bitterness God is unable to use it for our good. We will drown in the misery of our judgment and never feel satisfied. God also reminds us that if we do not forgive others, we forfeit his gracious forgiveness in our own trespasses. We can’t afford this sacrifice and hanging onto our offenses is not worth it!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

Application: The line that screamed at me in this story was “am I in the place of God?” It’s one thing to forgive someone, but if I’m honest sometimes I feel so benevolent about it. As if forgiving someone is an act of kindness of my own. Joseph understood that to do anything other than forgive would be encroaching on the very place of God. This wasn’t just an act of kindness. It was conviction and obedience. I’m not taking away from Joseph the tenderness in his heart. He spoke kindly to his brothers  and promised to care for them but reading this I understood that Joseph had an understanding that God uses people and situations in spite of the motives of people. He wasn’t hung up on holding an offense against his brothers because he saw something bigger than them all. This reminds me of the importance of pulling back the focus on situations. People will do what they do and regardless of their motives I need to look  at the bigger picture and respect the place of God. We would never seat ourselves in the judge’s seat in a courtroom so why would we stand in the place of God in our hearts?

Legitimate Promises Presented in Illegitimate Ways

Message:  After Jesus was baptized the Holy Spirit descended upon him and verse 1 of chapter 4 says that he was full of the Holy Spirit and he went to the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. I noticed that this didn’t say he went on speaking and performing, and the devil attacked him. It said that he went there with the intent of being tempted by the devil. Not only did he do this while fasting, but he did it on purpose! When the devil came to tempt him he hit Jesus with every vulnerability that we face. He started with his appetite, moved to his identity and ended with his life and purpose.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

Command: Silence the voice of satan with the word of God.

Promise: God will fulfil the promises that we have and we don’t need to take any shortcuts to get there.

Warning: The devil will try to use legitimate needs and desires to distort their purpose. There was nothing wrong with eating bread and the truth was that he didn’t need to bow to satan in order to gain the throne. Satan took what was God-given and he distorted the means of getting it!

Application: When I read through the temptations I realized how significant they were for humanity. Our most difficult struggles are our appetites, our identity and our very lives. Satan comes to distort our appetites with counterfeit substances and desires, he challenges our identity by trying to convince us that he will give us something that God has already given us. He threatens our very existence by trying to convince us that we should take our own lives. He has not created anything and he can’t provide anything so his temptation is to distort the very things God intended . When the devil lies to us we need to silence him with the truth of God’s word. Just like Jesus did.

The Fruit of Repentance

Message:  This chapter was all about repentance without excuse. John the Baptist was preaching a message of preparation for the coming Messiah. He told them that they couldn’t use Abraham as their father to excuse their sin and stressed the importance that their repentance should show up in the form of good fruit and turning away from sin without excuse.        

Command: Repent. Turn away from sin and don’t return to it.

Promise: The promise was the Messiah. John was preparing their hearts for his coming.

Warning: John warned against insincerity. They were used to using their lineage to get away with things because their lineage had the favor of God. John warned them that they couldn’t use Abraham as their substitute for repentance. They had to actually repent and the fruit of their repentance would be obedience in turning away from their previous sin.

Application: The main point I pulled from this is that it’s not enough to acknowledge or feel bad for our sin. We have to show the fruit of our repentance in our obedience. When I’m aware of a sin issue or an attitude problem in my heart I can’t just look at it as a weakness. I have to see it as sin and change it.

Hiding In Plain Sight

Message:  Jesus was born in the least dignified place and hidden from those who would have been considered important. His birth was revealed and announced to those who were least worthy. Even though there were generations of prophesies about the coming of Messiah, those who were educated and anticipating him the most completely missed it. He was hiding in plain sight. Those who were not educated and waiting for him were given the honor and privilege to see him and welcome him.

Command:  Stay connected with Jesus.

Promise: If we are connected to Jesus we will see the promises come to pass just like the man named Simeon who was told he would not taste death until he saw the Messiah.

Warning: It’s not about what we know and it’s not about us at all. If we are focused on our own agenda we will anticipate a move of God but will miss it when it happens right before our eyes.

Application: The Jews were God’s chosen people and they were the ones carrying the promise of Messiah. For generations they anticipated his coming but when he came in obscurity they completed missed it. Those who were undignified and not looking were the first ones alerted to the birth of Jesus. We run at risk at missing the plans of God if we are caught up in our own agendas. The most “qualified” people were not in the loop and the most despised people imaginable were brought in to share in the celebration. If we are caught up in our own agenda we risk missing the obvious plan of God hidden in plain sight!

The Powerful Partnership of Our Words

Message:  In Luke 1 Elizabeth & Zechariah receive their gift of conception just before Mary received her gift of conception. Zechariah asked “how will I know” and Mary asked “How will it happen”. Because of this, Zechariah was silenced for the duration of the pregnancy and his speech was restored when he aligned in agreement and confirmed the name of the baby according to the word of the Lord. In these stories baby John was filled with the holy spirit in the womb, Elizabeth was filled with the holy spirit and so was Mary. Zechariah was filled with the holy spirit and began to prophesy after his speech was restored.

Command: Align with the word of the Lord. It’s ok to have questions but questioning the plan is counterproductive. Zechariah was silenced until the day he aligned himself with the plan of God by confirming John’s name.

Promise: God has plans that are bigger than we are and he gave us a powerful gift of partnership to confirm his plans by speaking words that align with his plans.

Warning: These plans are not about us so when we question the plan we are making it about us. I believe Zechariah was silenced not as a punishment but in order to protect the plan of God.

Application: Understanding the power of our words is important. Jesus gave us his power and authority to partner with him in speaking out his plans into existence so when we use our words to align with God’s plan powerful things occur. This means that the contrary is also true so we have to be careful with this privilege and use our words responsibly because we can also use our words to bring harm and interrupt the plan of God as well. The conception of John the Baptist happened when the entire assembly was praying together and brought favor to Zechariah while he was making a sacrifice. When his words opposed the plan of God he was silenced and when he came into alignment he was restored. Imagine if we were silenced every time we spoke out of agreement with God’s word! Some of us might find ourselves on mute for a while but I bet we would learn to change our speech pretty quickly! God was not going to allow Zechariah’s careless words to be spoken and mess up the plan so he protected the plan. For us, we need to be aware of the power of our words so that in our ignorance we don’t use the partnership power of our words to interrupt or counteract the plans of God. This convicts my heart so much as I think of all of the things I have said in my ignorance to the power he has given me.