Thursday, February 28, 2013

follow

lent devotional 16


at once they left their nets and followed Him.
-mark 1:18

when Christ calls me to do something in His name, to follow after Him in that moment (if you will), do i drop what i'm doing "at once" to obey?

not often.

the passage above, in which Christ calls His disciples to follow Him, and they do so "at once," immediately, without hesitation, preparations, questions, or excuses, reveals to me just how little trust i put in Christ and His provision for me.  i, instead, surrender to fear and my own selfish desire to have control over my future, my vain admiration of my own carefully crafted plans for my day

may this passage be written on my heart so much so that i am ever aware for how Christ is calling me to follow Him, and that i do so...

at once.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

crowd

lent devotional 15


meanwhile, the leading priests and elders persuaded the crowd to ask for barabbas to be released and for Jesus to be put to death. so the governor asked again, "which of these two do you want me to release to you?"

the crowd shouted back, "barabbas!"

pilate responded, "then what should i do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?"

...

the mob roared even louder, "crucify Him!"
-matthew 27: 20-23

it is so easy to get swept up in a mob mentality.  while be strive to be unique individuals, we also, deep down, just want to blend in, be part of the crowd.

we fear standing out too much, standing up for something that isn't popular amongst our friends and peers.  and that is too often true with engaging in discussion or activities that are not Christlike.  gossip is fun, so we don't try to steer the conversation in a different direction, instead we fuel the fire of negative speech with hurtful comments of our own.  we fear what someone might think if we mention "Jesus" in a conversation, so we dance around the topic, attributing the blessing of our lives to "good fortune," "luck," or our own valiant efforts.  the list goes on and on.

i'm as guilty of these things as everyone else, and i know the addictive quality of joining in the mob mentality, of being easily swept long with the tide of what society says is good and right.  to question it is to begin to swim up stream, to push back against the crowd.

i wonder how many, if any, of the crowd that was present during pilate's questioning screamed back "release Him!" instead of "crucify Him!" did anyone? how often do i stand by what the Bible says when the rest of the world around me is shouting something contrary to it.  it takes a great deal of strength and courage that can come from no other source then the Holy Spirit.

this passage is a necessary reminder to question whether going along with crowd is right, or whether, in the given circumstance, given moment, we need to step outside of the mob in boldness, less we be part of crucifying Christ anew.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

betrayal

lent devotional 14

then judas iscariot, one of the twelve disciples, went to the leading priests and asked, "how much will you pay me to betray Jesus to you?" and they gave him thirty pieces of silver.  from that time on, judas began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus.
-matthew 26:14-16

normally, when i read or think about judas, it is mostly with criticism and disdain. how could he sell out Jesus like that? and for what?! 30 pieces of silver?  i stand on my high opinion of myself, thinking i'd never do such a thing, and scoff at him and his memory.

yet, when thinking about it more deeply, i realize that i am just like judas: i betray Christ for nothing more than 30 pieces of silver.  i give into my temptations, my selfishness, my pride without thinking twice about it. i don't know what 30 pieces of silver equates to in today's standard, but no amount of money is ever worth giving Christ over to death. granted, it was all part of God's plan anyways, a death necessary for the salvation of mankind, but i who would want to be human link in that chain of events?

this passage was more of a conviction that i so often betray Christ like judas without realizing it (at times) but also knowingly (more often then i care to say).  i can feel satan so often making me feel guilty about that, which isn't a good thing, which pushes me away from Christ. but conviction is good, and this passage convicts me to question whether my knowing betrayals of Christ are worth it. because judas' was not, and mine certainly never are when looking back on them in hindsight.

Monday, February 25, 2013

watch

lent devotional 13

so you, too, must keep watch! for you don't know what day your Lord is coming..you must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.
-matthew 24:42,44

while it is a well-known tenant of Christianity, that Christ will come again, i don't often meditate on that promise. but i should. because, the expectation and watching for Christ's return, if done more often, would inevitably change the way i act, think, and spend my time

remembering that Christ may return at any time and at a time least expected serves to remind us to be in a continual process of preparing our hearts and living our lives with the looking-forward to being redeemed.  getting our eye on that prize naturally changes your priorities and perspective on things.

when watching for a pot to boil or a bus to come or for someone to call you back, it becomes something you shape your time around, look forward to, use as a foundation for your plans.  you become eager for the coming of such things, you have faith that they will come, and it tends to shade the rest of what you think about for that period of time, as you are watching.

we are called to "be ready all the time" and i think that is a good reminder, a good check point: "if Christ were to return right now, is what i'm doing at this moment, is what i said just a moment ago, is what i am planning to do this next hour, something that would add glory to His return?"

Sunday, February 24, 2013

simplify


lent devotional 12

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?”

Jesus replied: “ ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. and the second is like it: ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’  all the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.
-matthew 22: 36-40

as i’ve been going through matthew, there has been a common theme of Christ trying to simplify His message to make it easier to understand and easier to internalize.  this is seen in His frequent use of parables to deliver the Word of God to the masses, but also in the passage above, where He defines the two most important aspects of a Christian walk.

there are so many directives in the Bible, things we are called to emulate, work on, and reflect in our actions.  it is good that so many are there, because, as humans, we have so many questions and uncertainties on how to be in this world but not of it, or at least i do.

however, sometimes we get so bogged down in the minute that it starts to become the everything of the faith, when that was never it’s place. i am immensely thankful that Christ outlined the two things that should be the foundation of our actions and thoughts: loving God and loving others.

we so often complicate the simple, and Christ here gives us the means to simply and return to the foundation of what being a Christian is meant to be.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

hungry

lent devotional 11

early in the morning, as Jesus was on His way back to the city, he was hungry.
-matthew 21:18 

although i believe as scriptures say, that Christ became a man while also being the Son of God, it is hard to understand, to it's full truth.

when i read the verse above, it was not anything spiritually profound, per se, but it just hit me anew: Jesus was a human like you and i and he felt all the same human emotions and basic needs that we feel.  

the fact that Christ was sinless would be less worthy of awe if He wasn't also fully a man.  more importantly, i think it would make Jesus harder for us to relate to, more difficult to develop a personal relationship with if we did not also know that He felt and went through the same woes, temptations, joys, and tribulations that we did.

something as basic as hunger seems beneath Christ, but He came to serve, not to be served, and saw nothing as beneath Him...nothing including taking on all sin even though He never sinned.

if Christ were simply God's Son on earth, then, to me, His sinless example would be praise worthy, but not as awe inspiring...i could always use the rationalization that Jesus "didn't know what this feels like" because He was God, not a lowly human. but He did know what "this feels like" and He was sinless yet.  and that makes His example one to give continuous glory to and to dedicate our lives to try to emulate. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

serve

lent devotional 10

for even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many
-matthew 20:28

one of the most captivating aspects about Christ is how often He directly contradicted the expectations of the masses.  the Jews imagined the Messiah as a coming King, someone who would reign on Earth in His rightful place of authority and privilege.

yet, Christ made Himself and humble servant, and took on the sins of the world. 

He is the example we are called to follow, so we ought to have servanthood on our hearts, as the objective of our every action. reading the above reminded me to be ever looking for opportunities to serve, and to check whether the way i spend my time, and decisions i make, are primarily geared to serve myself or to serve the purpose God has called me to for that particular day, that particular moment.

the call to servanthood is a direct contradiction to society's opinion of servanthood.  Christ defines being a servant as a beautiful and God-glorifying role to play in daily lives, yet everything in our society (and this has been true for all ages and eras) defines being a servant as the opposite, paints it as an oppressed and deplorable state to find yourself in.  

one of the things this lent-devotional exercise is continuing to teach me is the importance of checking principals i accept as true and good against what scripture says about them.  human nature says that serving yourself, ensuring your own security and comfort primarily above other things, is good and right.  that is our natural default.  and if we didn't read scripture, we'd assume this to be correct. yet, Jesus' words in matthew challenges and refutes this directly.  Christ came to serve and we are to seek servanthood, not flee from it.


Thursday, February 21, 2013

together

lent devotional 9

for where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them
-matthew 18:20

it is hard for me to fully digest the great privilege it is to have community, to commune and have fellowship with other believers.

among the many other gifts gathering together to study the Word or to speak about faith with other Brothers and Sisters, is the overwhelming and hard-to-understand truth that when even two followers of Christ gather together, Christ is there as well.

this is not to say that Christ is not with each of us always, whether alone or amongst a crowd. but there is something different about the tangibility of Christ when in fellowship.  it is nearly possible to describe.

what i can put down in type is that there are glorious realities that we cannot fully comprehend with our human, mortal minds. but we accept certain things on faith, because...well...we feel their truth.  and (for lack of a better, more sophisticated word) it is AWESOME that Christ chooses to walk amongst us, despite how often we disobey his commandments, despite how frequently we absentmindedly or deliberately shy away from reflecting Him in our actions, despite being a mere speck in the great cosmic existence of the world: He is here with us.  He sees value in us and loves us that much.

i give praise for that now, because i most often don't think fully enough upon it.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

one

lent devotional 8


in the same way, it is not my heavenly Father's will that even one of these little ones should perish.
-matthew 18:14

recently, God has been causing me to dwell on 'opportunity.'  as a creature of habit, who loves and is comforted by routine and planning ahead, i have gotten into the bad habit of not looking for opportunities to speak Jesus into the lives of those around me.

now, this of course means your closet friends and family, people you see everyday, but as i've been pondering 'opportunity' i've realized that God also calls us to reflect Christ to everyone we cross paths with, even those that we might only see for a single moment, and never again.

you, of course, won't be able to talk about scripture or tell the 'Jesus story' to every person you see on this planet. but there are ways that you can witness without speaking, and you may not personally be part of a given individuals conversion, but you can bless their day and give them a taste of the love of Christ in the process.  i like to think of it as 'planting seeds,' we are not responsible for 'harvesting' people into belief, but we are called to drop seeds of who Christ is via our actions and words to all those that we interact with in our life

there was this man i used to see everyday on my morning job. we never spoke except for a "have a good day"..."you too."  but, some mornings, that "have a good day" was the greatest gift i could be given, it shook me out of a negative thought pattern, started my day out right. i suspect that my returned "you too" often did the same for him. i never knew his name.

in the passage above out of matthew, Jesus uses the parable of how a shepherd cares for every sheep, will leave the whole flock in an effort to save an individual sheep, and that God, likewise, does not want a single person that walks the earth to die without knowing of the salvation Christ's offers us all if we simply accept it and believe in Him.  like the shepherd, we should long to reflect Jesus to everyone in our life: best friends, coworkers, family, passerbys...even our enemies.

i pray today that i would develop the eyes to see any opportunity to be Jesus to someone that crosses my path, and the heart of Christ that longs to speak into the lives of each single one.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

who

lent devotional 7

"who do people say that the Son of Man is?"
...
"but who do you say I am?"
-matthew 16:13, 15

i very often settle in to assuming i represent Christ rightly, define Him correctly, reflect Him as scripture does. but how often do i verify that? prayerfully ponder that? discuss that with other believers? not very often.

when i read the above it reminded me of how heartbreaking it is to see Christ misrepresented, which turns people away from knowing Him, hardens hearts to accepting His gift of salvation.  Jesus has been ill defined and morphed to serve our own purposes, His words taken out of context to justify our own misguided beliefs, and i am guilty of that along with the rest.

as a Christian, it is an honor but a great responsibility to know who Christ, truly and correctly know so that we may present Him to others in our lives accurately and fully.  if Christ were to ask me today "who do you say I am?" or i want to respond as confidently and without hesitation, like peter: "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." Plain and simple. no apologies, no lack of boldness, and leaving nothing essential out.


Monday, February 18, 2013

alone

lent devotional 6

as soon as Jesus heard the news (of the beheading of john the baptist) he left in a boat to remote area to be alone...

after sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. night fell while he was there alone...
-matthew 14:13,23

when i read about Christ's time on earth, i imagine Him as always amongst people, if not surrounded by a huge crowd.  so the word "alone" stuck out to me in the passages above.  

as an introvert, i find i need daily time alone, but often feel like that is 'wrong' somehow, recalling both the image of Christ i have in my mind, scripture about the importance of community, and just the example of Brothers and Sisters that i try to emulate (who embrace fellowship at any time and all times). so i end up feeling guilty that i enjoy and actually need time by myself.

so, these examples of Christ seeking time alone, verses that i have (to be honest) never spent any time mulling over in my mind, were a comfort.

to me it just says that while it is true that we are called to be in community, in regular fellowship with one another, instructed to put others before ourself and to sacrifice our own desires and "plans" to help each other, i do not think that it is wrong to be alone at times. in fact, it seems like a rather healthy exercise, a time to commune more fully with God.  if Christ did it on occasion, surely it cannot be a bad practice

it also seems like we need to be alone at times in to be able to hear more fully from God, to devote ourselves more intimately to prayer, and just to know ourselves a bit better.  

so for all the other introverts out there, it isn't all bad to seek some alone time now and again.  

Sunday, February 17, 2013

parable

lent devotional 5

the disciples came to him and asked, “why do you speak to the people in parables?”
-matthew 13: 10

i often feel like Christ speaks to me in parables. not the whimsical sort that are in the gospels (which i’ve always enjoyed for their aesthetic, folklore-like quality alone), but rather He most typically speaks to me in a “hidden message beneath this” sort of manner. 

instead of getting a direct answer to prayer that i expect, i most often get answers in format i almost don’t recognize as my answer.  so often Jesus gives me a response, buried within a conversation with a friend, interaction with a co-worker, or even a simple passage read in a book.  maybe part of this is because He knows i enjoy a good puzzle and any excuse for deep pensivity.  a lot of times this proves frustrating, because i feel that God is being silent, has forgotten my plight, or simply does not care to respond to me.  but, in hindsight, i come to understand this as self-inflicted blindness and deafness to the intricate ways that God speaks to the heart.

i think that part of this is because, at times, that is the only type of response my heart is ready to hear and understand: something a big hidden, but deeply meaningful all the same. to the question above asked in matthew by His disciples, Christ replied (in effect) that responses are given in convoluted or frankness depending on where the heart of the individual is at. in the case of this passage in matthew, Christ knew that the people “though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.” (verse 13)  they had not grown enough in their hearts to understand a direct message of God, but a parable proved the language that could speak the essence of the message to their souls.

this passage reminds me to look for Christ speaking to me in the straightforward as well as the symbolic or mysterious.  both have their equal merit and transforming capabilities if i only seek to have eyes to see and hears to hear.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

words

lent devotional 4

for out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks…but I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. 
-matthew 12: 34-36

as one obsessed with words (reading them & writing them), i do not put enough thought into making sure that the words that flow out of my mouth, or even the words that flow from my fingers to paper, keyboards, emails, and blog posts, are a reflection of God’s Love. 

here, Christ is clear: the words that flow out of us are an overflow of the nature of our heart.  thus, we are called to nurture the Love of Christ in our hearts such that it naturally spills out of us in our speech.

so often it is fun to be sarcastic, or to gossip, or speak negatively about a circumstance as a means of venting or proving self righteousness, at least i catch myself feeling such things. but, the verses above make it evident that everything we say we should, in a sense, imagine we’re saying to Christ Himself, for we “will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word.” heavy.

now, i know that the above does not mean that things we say bar us from salvation.  (praise to God) our salvation is not dependent on our actions or our words, because no amount of ‘right’ words could ever earn us access to Heaven.  however, on the day i meet our Creator i want Him to look back on my life and call me a “good and faithful servant” whose words, more often than not, reflected a heart devoted to His service, a heart transformed by His salvation and heart so full of His Love that my speech and words written were a praise to Him. 

i find words so valuable: encouraging words from those i admire, soul sharing conversations, letters  or emails sent from friends and family…they are treasures to me.  and i have been convicted anew to more continuously check myself and measure whether my words are bringing others up or bringing them down.  to ask myself whether i am withholding words of encouragement or guidance from others out of fear or pride when the Spirit is prompting me to utter them.

may God so overflow in my heart that my mouth speaks nothing but His praises.

Friday, February 15, 2013

expect

lent devotional 3

when john (the baptist) heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, “are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Jesus replied, “go back and report to john what you hear and see: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.”
-matthew 11: 2-5

i often put Christ in a box of my own definition.  i pray and draft out a solution to my prayers, and expect Christ do deliver this solution just as i specified. and when that solution doesn’t appear, i feel jilted and that Christ has forgotten me, and at times question if Christ is even real at all.

i often expect Christ to be just as i define Him, without endeavoring to check my definition against scripture.  and when Christ doesn’t show up in my life as a magic genie or a always “yes” santa claus, i then ask Him whether He “is the one who was to come” or should i “expect someone else?”

the passage above is a comfort because if even john the baptist, who was devoted proclaiming the coming Lord, wasn’t certain that Christ was indeed the prophesied Lord and Savior, then this misguided expectation must be a common condition.

i prayerfully hope to keep my expectations of Christ over my life in check, and when i feel disappointed or let down by Jesus, i hope to remind myself to check scripture in order to see whether i am right in my disappointment or whether, more likely, i had painted a Christ of my own imagination.

originally, i feel certain that the Christ of my expectations is the best possible version of our Lord, mostly for selfish reasons. and john, along with many other jews of the time, believed that the coming Lord would be a political leader that would create a kingdom on earth. to their limited perspective on the present and future, this was the best of all possible expectations.

but human perspective is a prisoner to time and circumstance, personal bias, and selfishness.  this puts a limit to our understanding of an even better possibilities.  in the case of john the babtist’s and the jewish expectation of the Messiah, they were thinking earthy kingdom when Jesus was to bring access to an eternal kingdom.  when he replied to john’s disciples to tell john that healing, life, and good news were being given, this at first likely struck those men as a disappointment to their expectations.  what we know now is that this was Christ’s way of correcting their misguided definition of the type of kingdom the Messiah was to bring: not of political power but of forgiveness, peace, and eternal life. 

what they had expected was so much less than what Christ was to bring.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

equipped

lent devotional 2

don't take any money in your money belts--no gold, silver, or even copper coins. don't carry a traveler's bag with a change of clothes and sandals or even a walking stick...look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves.  so be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves.  but beware! for you will be handed over to the courts and will be flogged with whips in the synagogues.  you will stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers.  but this will be your opportunity to tell the rulers and other unbelievers about me.  when you are arrested, don't worry about how to respond or what to say.  God will give you the right words at the right time. for it is not you who will be speaking, it will be the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
-misc bits of matthew 10

this passage was particularly hard for me to read. because i'm a planner. ask anyone who knows me even distantly, i like to plan, find it comforting. i like the feeling of being equipped for whatever i might face, and having several back up plans 'just in case.'  but this is rooted, perhaps, to a lack of trust as well, in that i feel, somewhere deep down, that unless i figure it all out, i won't be ready for what life presents me with, that it is my own efforts or nothing.  how very misguided.

in Christ's commission to the 12 disciples above, He is quite clear that we are quite often  called to go into situations in which we can depend on nothing but Him and carrying nothing with us but the Holy Spirit.  this doesn't mean, of course, that we are supposed to go all "into-the-wild" into every situation, recklessly abandon sense and refuse to think thoughtfully about situations and how to prepare for them.  however, i know for myself that there are many times i shy away from speaking out in the name of Christ or resist living out scripture in my daily life because i am afraid of how others might react or feel i will mess up a situation or mostly because i just don't want to feel uncomfortable.

Christ calls us to discomfort, and promises that we will be persecuted for following Him, but that we won't be alone in it.  it is hard to read those promises above: flogging, trials, arrests.  yet, if we do look to Christ in times where life is hard, we will find we are fully equipped and that God will  give us the right words and the proper guidance and the tools necessary to handle anything.

i'll always be a planner, but i'm growing in holding my plans in open palms rather than clutched tightly to my chest. my plan might be part of God's as well (awesome!) or it might simply be part of the "traveler's bag" i have been instructed to leave behind.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

foundation

lent devotional 1

i have never really observed lent, being protestant, and not growing up with the tradition of doing so. however, i've long thought about doing so, and through the encouragement of a friend today, i've decided to embark on my first lent practice. i asked her what she had done in the past, so I’m following suit with one of her suggestions.



my desire is to make the lent season an intentional period to meditate on who Christ is by dedicating a portion of each day to studying some aspect of His life and teachings as documented in one of the 4 gospels, and to blog about it as i go.  i so often gloss over the stories and teaching of Christ found in the gospels as things i’ve ‘heard before’/’heard a thousand times’ and conclude that i have nothing further i can learn from these bits of scripture. how foolish. i’ve been convicted by this and want to do more to truly know our Lord and Savior, so when Easter arrives, the celebration of His resurrection will be that much more piercing and real.

---

therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on a rock. the rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because It had its foundation on the rock.  but everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell in with a great crash.
-matthew 7:24-27

this passage from matthew reminded me to check where and how i have laid my foundation.  i believe that reading the Word regularly and living it out daily, in the every moment is essential to building a firm foundation in my life, yet i so often go through days or weeks, and realize i have not read or even thought about the Bible’s instructions when faced with life’s many challenges.  yet, here in Christ’s own voice, we are instructed to lay our foundation in Him and His teachings, and that this is the best and lasting way to weather life’s storms.  He warns quite clearly what will happen if we build our foundation with other things, count on salvation and security by other means, and yet i am still caught off guard when my carefully blueprinted plans fall through, still angry at God for letting pain into my life, yet all this has always been foretold.



the scripture i have written on my heart over the years, through the grace of the Spirit, i find revives itself during times of trials.  since i have meditated on it, internalized it, i am able to remember it as a reflex when i’m faced with something hard, when i feel the weight of circumstances and sorrow.  i often wonder how other people survive rain and floods, as the Jesus mentions above in matthew, because i truly don’t know how i could have survived some valleys of life if i didn’t have Christ to fall back upon, His Words to whisper to myself.  if i was not in the continual process of building my foundation in Christ, i think I would have been swept away with the rain like lose sand long ago, and how i have so taken that for granted, and given so little praise for it.  i give thanks for that now, and praise for the reminder to devote time to scripture in order to add more layers to that firm foundation that is in development.