Devotion

The angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal to Bokim and said, “I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land I swore to give to your ancestors. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.’ Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this? And I have also said, ‘I will not drive them out before you; they will become traps for you, and their gods will become snares to you.’”

After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They aroused the Lord’s anger because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths. In his anger against Israel the Lord gave them into the hands of raiders who plundered them. He sold them into the hands of their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist. Whenever Israel went out to fight, the hand of the Lord was against them to defeat them, just as he had sworn to them. They were in great distress.

Judges 2:1-3, 10-15

These are very sobering words and sound all too familiar. While Christians around the world are giving up everything for the sake of the gospel, American Christians are raising a generation “who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done” for us. The consequences of this are severe.

In an article written in Christianity Today about a tiny village church way up in the mountains of a country where Christianity is not welcome, the author wrote this about the pastor of that church:

Before the meeting, the church’s pastor had shared with me that his non-Christian parents died when he was just 15. A few years later, someone shared the gospel with him for the first time. He trusted in Jesus and was baptized, but as soon as this happened, the rest of his family abandoned him. His brothers told him to never come back, and he lost the inheritance his parents had left him. But this pastor and his people believe that Jesus is worth it. “Jesus is worth losing your family,” the pastor told me.

Then he quoted Mark 10:29–30, saying,

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus said, “there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for my sake and for the sake of the gospel, who will not receive a hundred times more, now at this time—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and eternal life in the age to come.”

David Platt, Christianity Today, October 3, 2019

Jesus is worth it. Could most American Christians say that? Americans can sit through 3 hour football games with complete focus but struggle to sit through 1 hour worship services. American Christians complain about their ADHD during a 30 minute sermon but are able to watch a 2 and a half hour movie or binge-watch 3 hours of Netflix.

The issue is not our attention span. The issue is what we love most. And, unfortunately, it’s not Jesus. To the American Christian, Jesus is not worth it. We struggle to give Jesus a few minutes of our time let alone our family. We are masters at worshipping the gods of our culture and infants when it comes to worshiping our Lord and Savior. The global church has a lot to teach us about what real devotion looks like.

Lord, please forgive us! Forgive us for breaking covenant with you. Forgive us for worshiping the gods of this culture. Forgive us for prioritizing entertainment and comfort over our love for you. Forgive us for being a church that is sleep walking. Wake us up, Lord!

The Amazing Father

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light… 

…a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

Matthew 17:1-2, 5-8

When Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James and John and they saw Him talking with Moses and Elijah, they were amazed–full of awe and wonder. But when the Father spoke from heaven, they were terrified. Yet, notice that Jesus, the One who knows His Father the best, says, “Don’t be afraid.”

Because of our dysfunctional relationships with our own dads, we can feel more comfortable interacting with Jesus, even Jesus in a glorified body, than the Father. I have a great relationship with my dad, but I can still remember a time in my life when I did not want to sit and listen in prayer for the Father to speak to me. I was afraid that the Father would only speak words of criticism, judgment and disappointment. For some reason, that same fear wasn’t there with Jesus. Maybe because He is always portrayed as full of mercy, grace and compassion.

Yet, if we’ve seen Jesus, we’ve seen the Father. If we know what Jesus is like, we know what the Father is like. The apostle Paul wrote to the church in Colossi, “The Son is the image of the invisible God…“(Colossians 1:15). Jesus had to remind His own disciples of this truth.

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.

John 14:8-10

Jesus is just like the Father. If we feel comfortable praying to and interacting with Jesus but not the Father, then we don’t know who the Father really is. The grace, love and compassion of Jesus comes from the heart of the Father.

We need to be reminded that the Father is not like our earthly dad. He’s not removed and distant. He’s not angry or hot-tempered. He’s not disapproving and hard. He’s not an addict. He’s not passive and weak. He’s not irresponsible or flighty. And even for those of us who had amazing dads, the Father is even better than that!

We don’t need to be terrified of the Father. He is slow to anger and abounding in love. He is full of power and yet full of peace. He is majestic and mighty and yet full of kindness. We are free to approach the throne of grace with confidence (Hebrews 4:16) knowing He will be present for us in our time of need.

What’s keeping you from spending time with the Father?

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights…

James 1:17

Their Faith

Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. Some men brought to him a paralyzed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”

Matthew 9:1-2

A paralyzed man lying on a mat would not have been able to get to Jesus. He would not have been able to move himself toward Jesus to receive healing. If someone else didn’t bring him, he wasn’t going.

Then a group of men, maybe family or friends, bring the paralyzed man to Jesus. And Jesus says something that should sink deep into our hearts. “When Jesus saw their faith…” Their faith? The man was healed because his friends had faith. Astounding!

And this isn’t the only time. We see a pagan, Gentile girl who was demonized get delivered because of the faith of her mom (Matthew 15:21-28). We see a servant healed because of the faith of his centurion boss (Matthew 8:5-13). And on and on it goes throughout the Gospels. Over and over again we see friends, family members, parents and others engaging their faith for the sake of their loved one. And we see Jesus honor their faith even if the person needing healing has none.

It is as if, for healing to occur, faith must be present. But God in his graciousness will let faith come from anyone involved. Sometimes it is the person who needs healing who has the faith. Jesus often said, “Your faith has healed you.” Sometimes the faith comes from friends or family who are standing the gap for their loved one. Sometimes faith comes from the person praying.

God is just looking for the conduit of faith through which to release His power into the situation. He doesn’t even need much faith. Just a little faith will do. And He’s willing to work through the faith of anyone present.

What this means is that growing in our faith–increasing our trust in God–isn’t just about us and our relationship with Him. It is about that, but it is also about being able to release faith for the sake of others.

Are you engaging your faith for the sake of others? Are you releasing your faith into situations where others may not have faith? Are you letting friends and family borrow from and draft off of your faith as it grows?

Offensive Jesus

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:43-48

Jesus was always saying offensive things like this. The culture of His day, not unlike our own, operated on an “in-group” and “out-group” mentality. You were to be loyal and loving to “your” people. But you had no obligation to care about the out-group, your enemies that didn’t earn their way into the in-group.

It is in the midst of this cultural climate that Jesus blows it all up. He says just about the most offensive thing one could say. He tells the crowds to not only love their in-group but to love their enemy. This was scandalous! It still is!

Sometimes we don’t understand how offensive Jesus really is until we put it in the context of our own culture.

To the progressives: Jesus isn’t speaking to the crowd and saying, “See, this is why we shouldn’t go to war. We should love our enemy.” No. Jesus was speaking to a crowd of oppressed Jewish people and He was telling them to love the Romans–their violent oppressors. In other words, Jesus was speaking to a crowd full of undocumented immigrants at the border and He was saying, “You need to love Trump! If you don’t love him, you’re no better than he is.”

To the conservatives: Jesus isn’t speaking to a crowd and saying, “You should learn to love the Chinese even though they are communists.” No. Jesus was speaking to the pro-life rally and saying, “You need to love the feminist who flaunts her many abortions as badges of honor. If you don’t love her, you’re no better than she is.”

Whether you are a progressive or a conservative or somewhere in-between, can you feel how offensive this feels? This is Jesus. He was not always easy to be around. His words were not always comforting. He offended. He hurt feelings. He wasn’t always trying to liberate the oppressed from their external oppression, but instead was often trying to free people from sin. He was trying to liberate people from the internal oppression of hatred and bitterness. He wasn’t always trying to enforce external morality, but instead was often inviting people into internal transformation.

Who do you hate? Who can’t you stand? That’s the very person Jesus is commanding you to love. Loving our “in-group” isn’t enough if we are followers of Jesus. We’re called to love our enemy. We’re called to love our enemy until we can see them, not as an enemy, but as a person created in the image of God…a person for whom Jesus died.

Salty

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

Matthew 5:13

Jesus compares the people of God to the salt of the earth. We have sayings in our culture that involve salt that can confuse the meaning of this passage. When someone says that a person is a “salt of the earth” kind of person, they mean that the person is a good, simple, straightforward, and trustworthy person. This isn’t what Jesus was saying.

Likewise, sometimes people will describe someone as “salty.” By this they mean the person is colorful in their language and often tough, aggressive, and/or defensive. Again, this is not what Jesus is describing in this passage of scripture.

Salt in Jesus’s day was often expensive and was pulled from the Dead Sea region. Getting salt this way often caused it to be contaminated with other elements and impurities. If it was too full of impurities, it would lose its saltiness.

Salt was used for flavoring and preserving foods in ancient times. Yet, because of its value, one had to be careful how much was used. Salt was required as part of the grain offering for the Jewish people because of its value (Leviticus 2:13). It was seen as a sacrifice to use salt. It was even called “the salt of the covenant of your God.”

Salt was a major element of meals where a covenant was being made between individuals or families. When describing His relationship to the priests of Israel, God said:

“Whatever is set aside from the holy offerings the Israelites present to the Lord I give to you and your sons and daughters as your perpetual share. It is an everlasting covenant of salt before the Lord for both you and your offspring.”

Numbers 18:19

So, salt not only seasoned food and preserved food, but it was a sign of a covenant.

With all of this in mind, Jesus said that His followers are the salt of the earth. They are to season the earth. As they spread out, they flavor every area of culture that they are in. When they gather together, it is for the sake of preservation–preserving the faith, hope, and love that are in Christ. And just as the rainbow was a covenant sign to Noah that the Lord would never flood the earth again, followers of Jesus are meant to be a covenant sign to the earth of God’s love and faithfulness. We are to be a living, breathing sign of the covenant–a covenant of salt–between God and humanity.

Yet, if we have impurities that contaminate our life, we lose our saltiness. We lose our purpose for existing. Sin has a way of making us forget that the reason we are on the earth is to bring the Kingdom of God “on earth as it is in heaven.” Impurities can make us lose our purpose in the midst of distractions and diversions. When we lose our saltiness, we lose our ability to do good in the world for the Kingdom.

This Is Love For God

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

1 John 5:1-5

There is a way to carry out the commands of God that is legalistic, self-righteous, and that comes from a place of performance. This is what we see in the Pharisees. Yet, there is a way to carry out the commands of God that comes from a place of love for God. The opposite of legalism for the Christian is not a life filled with sin and rebellion. The cure for legalism is not licentiousness. We don’t avoid becoming the older son by becoming the prodigal son. The goal is to become like the father (Luke 15:11-32).

John teaches us here in 1 John 5 that love for God looks like following His commands. But unlike the Pharisees, when we live from a place of love the commands of God do not become burdensome. Love for God causes us to want to surrender our whole life to Him and obey everything He tells us to do. Jesus confirms this when he says:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

When we are living from a place of fear, however, obedience feels like performing in order to avoid punishment. It feels like flexing a muscle and seeing how long we can hold it. But John reminds us:

This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us.

1 John 4:17-19

Living and obeying from a place of loving God starts with receiving His love for us. When we bask in His love for us, we then return love to Him by joyfully obeying Him. We end up wanting to live how He has commanded us to live in the scriptures. We want to do what He has commanded us to do personally. We don’t obey out of fear. We are compelled to obey out of love.

Obedience from a place of fear and performance is worried about what God will do to us if we don’t obey. Obedience from a place of love understands that He is a gracious God, and that it is not Him but instead our disobedience that harms our love relationship with Him. Obedience from a place of love understands that whatever He’s asked of us is the best for His Kingdom. And His Kingdom is what we are seeking first above our own comfort and life-plans (Matthew 6:33). It’s not about us in the end, but about Him.

This mindset is where we find the victory. This is where we overcome the world. The world cannot kill something that’s already been put to death. The world cannot steal something that has already been surrendered into the hands of the Lord. We can trust Him to be faithful as He guides and directs our life.

God is Love

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love.

1 John 4:7-12, 15-16

Here John teaches us about love. This is what we learn:

  1. God is love.
  2. Love comes from God.
  3. Loving others is a sign that we know God.
  4. God showed His love for us by sending His Son Jesus, that we might live through Him.
  5. Our love for God is a response to His love for us. He loved us first.
  6. Out of response to God’s love for us, we should love one another.
  7. God’s definition of love is this: Jesus came and died for us.
  8. The fullness of love is displayed in Jesus’s death and resurrection. Without this at the center, love becomes defined by our own preferences and selfishness.
  9. It is our acknowledgment that Jesus is the Son of God that allows God to come and live in us and allows us to live in God’s love.
  10. Our identity is rooted in God’s love for us (not our performance for Him).

What is clear from this passage is that there is no separation between God’s love and Jesus. We can’t somehow abstractly talk about the fact that “God is love” without also mentioning that “Jesus is Lord” and that Jesus is the “Son of God.” All of this is intricately woven together. Any attempts to separate talk of God’s love from talk of Jesus immediately depart from the biblical definition of love.

There is also this tendency, especially in progressive circles, to remove “God is love” from the context of this whole passage. Likewise, there is a tendency to remove “God is love” from the other New Testament descriptions of God. For example:

  1. God is love (1 John 4:8, 16)
  2. God is holy (1 Peter 1:16; Psalm 99:5,9; Rev 4:8)
  3. God is light (1 John 1:15; John 1:4-5)
  4. God is good (Mark 10:18; Psalm 34:8)
  5. God is faithful (1 Cor 10:13; 2 Thess 3:3)
  6. God is just (1 John 1:9; Hebrews 6:10; Isaiah 61:8)

This list could continue but I think we get the point. In God, these attributes never conflict. Does God bring love to the unloved? Yes. He also brings holiness to the impure parts of our lives. He brings light to the darkness of our lives. He brings goodness to the evil parts of our lives. He is faithful when we are unfaithful (2 Timothy 2:13). He brings justice to the injustices of our lives.

If we want God to love us but we don’t want His holiness, goodness, and light to purify us, then we want some of God but not all of God. It is partial surrender. It is half-hearted faith. He absolutely loves us. God is love. And He loves us enough to want us to get free from our sinful lifestyles that damage our soul. God is holy. God is light. God is just. God is love.