Devotional: We are the Clay

“Yet, O Lord, you  are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are the work of your hand.” Isaiah 64:8

Observations: God is our father–not only is He the source of all life, but He has a special relationship with His people as our provider, protector, teacher, etc. Comparing God’s people to clay and God to a potter suggests that God molds and shapes us into the people we become. In one way, God created us with our unique personalities, natural talents and inner desires. But He also molds us by the work of His spirit through our restored relationship with Jesus Christ (sanctification). We are God’s handiwork, created by Him for a purpose and we are dependent upon Him to fulfill our purposes in this life. However, we are not devoid of all responsibility for our behaviors and the shape we take. It is our responsibility to respond to God’s call in our lives and to the work of His spirit, at least as much as we are able to in our broken condition.

Application: I will rest in the arms of my heavenly Father, secured by the blood of Christ, remembering that I am the work of His hand that was created for a specific purpose. I will remember that my responsibility is to respond to God’s leading and continually seek out His will daily, though it is Him who actually accomplished His perfect will.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for Your tremendous love and grace. Thank you also for creating me the way that You did. God, help me to not lose sight of who I  really am in this ever-changing, crazy world. Help me to look to You alone for my worth and value, seeking after Your will above all else. Guide me and mold me into the image of Christ. Amen. 

Be content

Scripture: “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.'” (Hebrews 13:5)

Observation: We can trust God to meet all of our needs because He has promised to continually be with us and provide for us. Therefore, we should be content with what we have as we find rest in His promises. Money and possessions can never really fulfill our needs like God can.

Application: I should not love money or put my trust in it, but I should instead love and trust God, who is the source of all good things. I should have confidence in my Lord, remembering that He loves me dearly, knows all my needs and desires, and has promised to never leave or abandon me. Because of this covenant relationship, I am free to be content with my life–my income, my job, my family, my possessions–if everything is kept in the right perspective as gifts from God to be used to serve others and honor Him. I will continually strive to honor God with the money and possessions I’ve been given, handling them wisely and generously.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for being my provider in whom I can always trust. Help me to remember who you are and what you have promised. Help me to keep money, possessions, and my entire life in proper perspective before You. Help me to be content with what I have and to honor You with all that I have and all that I am. Thank you Lord for your grace, your provision, and your incredible gift of eternal life through Jesus. Amen. 

God disciplines His children

Scripture: “Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness.” Hebrews 12:10

Observations: Although our fathers discipline us for a short time as children, God disciplines us for life. Because we are disciplined by God, we can be assured that we are His sons and daughters whom He loves. Also, we must be disciplined if we want to share in God’s holiness.

Application: I need to view hardship and difficult life circumstances as discipline from God–looking for opportunities to learn from God even in the most difficult times. I should check my attitude when things don’t go my way and focus my mind on God, remembering that He disciplines those He loves. If I fix my eyes on Jesus (see 12:2) and remember His work on the Cross for me, it will help me to keep my life in proper perspective and see how God may be teaching me.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for being good and holy. Thank you that you are a God of tremendous patience and grace. Lord, help me to remember who you are and that I am your child, whom you love. Help me to see you at work even in the worst of circumstances and let me see how you are disciplining me and helping me grow in holiness. Give me patience, Lord, and help me to discern your will in my daily life, honoring you in both good times and bad times. Help me to fix my eyes on my Savior each and every day. Amen. 

What will Jesus’ feet taste like?

Have you ever thought about what Jesus feet will taste like when you get to Heaven? I know, that’s a really weird thing to ask and I’m sure most people have not spent much time pondering this question. However, the other day while I was driving, this odd question popped into my mind. For some reason, thinking about this question brought up strong emotions in me and brought tears to my eyes. Here’s why.

I imagine passing from this life into the next and suddenly being in the presence of Jesus. Standing face-to-face with my Savior, I can feel my knees weaken as I am overwhelmed by His glory, bowing down to worship Him. I can see my hands grasping His ankles as my head lowers to kiss my Lord’s feet. I’m sure I will taste mostly my tears as they stream down my face. They will be tears of overwhelming joy.

You see, I can’t imagine myself coming into the presence of my God and Savior and simply giving Jesus a high-five, fist-bump, or even a “bro-hug” (whatever that means anyway). I consider Jesus my friend, but He is so much more. When I see him I cannot think of a more humble and appropriate response than bowing down before Him in worship and kissing His feet. I know this is all very spiritual talk, but I really do wonder what His feet will taste like. I believe I will actually taste, smell, see, and hear Jesus, along with so many other heavenly, yet tangible things.

When you think about Heaven, do you think mostly about highly spiritual, intangible ideas? Do you think of yourself as weightless in the clouds, playing a harp and singing praise songs constantly? Or maybe you use words and phrases like worship, praise, the presence of the Lord, the throne room of God, a place of no more tears or suffering, pearly gates, etc. to describe the heavenly realm. Personally, I have often imagined myself bowing before Jesus on His throne in a great white room, with a white floor, and walls and a ceiling that seem to have no end. The details are rather vague and I can only recall a few people in the periphery standing by to make sure my name is on the list. But in reality, I think that picture is much closer to a low-budget TV commercial set than it is to Heaven. How is this possible? I asked Jesus to be my Savior when I was a child, I grew up going to church and to Bible school and to Bible study and youth group and I even studied religion and the Bible at a college level. So how could I possibly have a narrow and inaccurate view of Heaven? The answer is painfully simple: I have allowed the popular culture around me to influence my ideas of Heaven more than the Bible itself. Maybe you have too. Here’s a quick test:

Think of 3 movies, tv shows, or songs that have something to say about Heaven or the afterlife…

Now think of 3 verses or passages from the Bible that have something to say about Heaven…

If you thought of something for each question, which one was easier?

Unfortunately, I am not alone in my vague, unclear vision of Heaven that makes it out to be a mysterious, dull, and even unattractive place we only talk about when someone we love is dying. Inaccurate and unsettling conclusions about Heaven plague modern Christians, including pastors and other church leaders. Throughout my life, I’ve spent so much time thinking, talking, and worrying about this temporary life that I’ve been missing out on something far greater. It’s so much easier to think about my job, my house, my family, my stuff, my money than it is to focus my mind on heavenly things. After all, I live in this world, not in Heaven. I’ve been in this world my whole life, but I’ve never been to Heaven. It’s also very easy to make excuses as to why I have not had a more complete and accurate understanding of Heaven. The Bible actually has a lot to say about Heaven; we just have to intentionally look for it. It tells us that Heaven is a real place with real tangible, physical attributes. There are multitudes of people there now who have a conscious awareness of what is going on in this world; there will be a great city with streets, buildings, people, and culture. We will eat and drink and work and love as we do now without being subject to the curse of sin and death. The barrier between sinful people and a Holy God will be forever shattered and we will live in the glory of His presence.

Over the next several weeks, I would like to share some thoughts and ideas on Heaven you may not have heard before. I will be drawing from credible sources and will make sure to share them with you. My goal is to get others thinking more deeply about Heaven as I have been lately, as this subtle shift in focus can actually change your life. When Heaven is on my mind, it keeps daily problems in the right perspective; I think more about people and relationships than getting ahead or keeping more for myself. You see, thinking about the afterlife informs our present lives in the here and now. Thinking about what happens when we die does not have to be a dreadful, uncomfortable topic that needs to be avoided. As a matter of fact, many people live their lives more fully after getting a terminal diagnosis because they actually believe they are going to die, so they better get ready. I hope that sharing my thoughts and the ideas of others smarter than me from a Biblically-sound framework will challenge, educate, and encourage you with the hope of Heaven.

QUESTION:

What ideas have you heard or believed about Heaven that came from pop culture (movies, tv shows, music, etc.)? 

Please share your response on Facebook or in the Comments.

What would you do for Him?

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life. Matthew 25:41-45 (NIV)

These words of Jesus appear at the end of Matthew 25 following several parables. At first glance, it may be easy to assume this is another parable about a king speaking to his servants. However, Jesus leads up to this passage by saying, “when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne” (v. 31), then he describes separating the “sheep from the goats,” placing the sheep on his right and the goats on his left (see vv. 31&32). The verses above (41-45) are directed toward those on his left, the “goats” who apparently missed the essence of who Jesus was and how He wanted them to live. Jesus is pretty clear about their eternal destination as well (see v.45).

Referring to this passage from Matthew, Francis Chan writes, “Jesus is saying that we show tangible love for God in how we care for the poor and those who are suffering. He expects us to treat the poor and desperate as if they were Christ himself. Ask yourself this: If you actually saw Jesus starving, what would you do for Him?” (Crazy Love, pg 119). When I first read that question, my immediate thought was, “if I actually saw Jesus starving, I would give him food!” But then as I thought about it further, I realized that I would do a lot more than that. I might treat him to lunch and ask him approximately a thousand questions. I may give him all the money I had in my wallet (or stop by the ATM). But I hope I would do more. If I actually saw Jesus on the street and in need, I hope I would invite him over to my house and ask my wife to cook some of her best recipes for us to enjoy together. I would beg him to stay as long as he would like, to eat my food, to talk with me and my wife, and to play with my kids. I would invite friends and family and neighbors over to meet Jesus in person, to listen to his stories and his teaching, and to be healed. I would want to take him to hospitals to heal the sick, to care homes to bring joy to the lonely, and to the prisons to give hope to prisoners. I would share him with as many people as possible. If Jesus lived down the street or in the next state, I would quit my job, move my family, sell my stuff just to be close to him. I would rearrange my schedule and my entire life just to spend the most amount of time possible in the presence of Jesus. If he had a house, I would work on his roof, mow his grass, fix his toilet; I would use the skills and abilities I have to serve him and I would constantly seek to find new ways I could serve him.

But Jesus doesn’t live down the street, or does he? He is not going to be laying in a hospital bed, begging in the street, or locked in a prison, or is he? From Jesus’ own words, it seems painfully clear that he equates serving people in need with serving him. Whatever we do for and to the people in our sphere of influence who are in need, we do for and to Jesus himself. Like me, I am sure most people reading this have heard of this idea of loving others as if they were Jesus, but do we really believe it? And if we do believe it, is it evident in our lives? Personally, I do believe we are to care for others as if they were Jesus himself, but when I look at my life honestly, I just don’t see it. Sure, I see a few glimpses of generosity, but they have more to do with just being a good person than with serving Jesus. How many hungry people have I walked by and not even noticed? How many people right in my own community are in desperate need of simple things that I could provide? How many people are seeking love in the wrong places and need someone to share the love of Jesus with them in words and in actions? What do I have to give that would be valuable to people in need?

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.                  (1 John 3:16-18)

Francis Chan adds that, “another important element to giving is with our time…[but] instead of adding in another thing to our lives, perhaps God wants us to give Him all of our time and let Him direct it as He sees fit” (Crazy Love, pg.120). When it comes to giving and loving others, Chan points out that we often cling to more than our money and material possessions; “we hoard our resources, our gifts, our time, our families, our friends,” (pg 120) instead of sharing ourselves and our lives generously with others. As we constantly reflect on the incredible gift of salvation through the love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, our response should be to draw near to the heart of God and share this life-giving, sacrificial love with as many other people on this earth as possible.

Who in your life may be considered ‘the least of these’ and need you to serve them as you would serve Jesus?

What would you do if you actually saw Jesus in need? Have you been doing it?

I would love to hear your responses in the comments below or on Facebook.

For more from Francis Chan, see crazylovebook.com 

Strength in the Lord

Isaiah 40 says, “he gives power to the faint and to him who has no might he increases strength” (ESV). Just before Jesus ascended into Heaven after His resurrection, He told His disciples “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8, ESV). Judges 7 tells the story of Gideon who defeated the numerous Midianites with only 300 men so that Israel would attribute the victory to God, not their own strength (see verse 2). Again in Judges 16 we read about Samson, who was a judge over Israel known for his incredible, God-given strength and brute force. 1 Samuel 17 gives the well-known account of David, a young shepherd boy, who kills the Philistine giant Goliath and propels God’s people to victory over their enemies.

These are just a few pieces of the Bible that I read this morning. The interesting thing is, I didn’t plan to just read passages about people who had strength and power through the Lord. The first two (Isaiah 40 & Acts 1) came from a daily devotional reading about strengthening your marriage spiritually. The others were from a reading plan (The Story) that gives three chapters or so each day that highlight some of the most notable people and events throughout the entire Bible. However, I quickly saw the connections between theses passages when I read the questions at the end of the marriage devotional: Do you lean on the Holy Spirit to strengthen you and your marriage? What is a specific situation where you lacked ability, but were strengthened by the Holy Spirit? Obviously, Gideon, Samson, and David could answer those questions with several examples. Jesus tells His disciples before He leaves them that they will receive power in the form of the Holy Spirit and they will be His witnesses (see above). You see, God never asks people to do incredible things alone; He always offers us strength and courage to do things that seem too difficult or even impossible. God’s purposes for our lives are much bigger than we can imagine, but our God is also much bigger than we know. His thoughts are higher than our thoughts, His dreams are more grand than our dreams. When He calls us into relationship with Him, He calls us to turn our lives upside down. He asks us to live lives that look crazy to those who don’t know Him, to love and sacrifice more than we think we can, and to surrender our will to His. All of this change and breaking away from being self-centered takes tremendous courage and strength; God provides everything we need to follow Him faithfully through His Holy Spirit. A common thread that runs through many of the stories throughout the Bible is simple, average (or even pretty bad) people doing incredible things for the Lord by genuinely trusting and obeying Him. They were often under-qualified, outnumbered, too young, too old or just not good or smart enough, but they believed God and walked in obedience to Him.

Do you lean on the Holy Spirit to strengthen you and your marriage? What is a specific situation where you lacked ability, but were strengthened by the Holy Spirit? 

When I look back to three years ago when my son and first child was born, I am reminded of the strength and courage that God gave me during that time. Being our first child, my wife and me were both nervous before we even arrived at the hospital. But I kept reassuring her that things would be fine. Although it worked out well in the end, things were not “fine.” She was induced because her blood pressure was elevated, then she spent 42 hrs in labor followed by an emergency C-section. Afterward, both she and our new baby had infections, several issues with IVs not staying put, and sleep issues. We were in the hospital 10 days in all, followed by months of follow-up visits to the pediatrician and an orthopedic surgeon in the city due to some minor underdevelopment issues my son had with his hips. I know our experience pales in comparison to that of many other young parents who have lived much more serious, and even tragic stories. However, it was still the most nerve-wracking and exhausting experience of my life (not to mention my sweet wife). Through this experience, I wrestled with fear, doubt, anger, confusion, frustration, and an overall feeling of dread during some of the most difficult times. But in that hospital I had my parents and my wife’s parents to encourage me. We had friends visit us in the hospital and at home, and we had a lot of people praying for us. I don’t think I have ever prayed more seriously and earnestly in my life than I did in that hospital. The Lord brought me (and my wife and son) through that difficult and stressful experience, and gave me courage that I know I didn’t have before. I was able to encourage my wife, talk calmly with the doctor and nurses, and make difficult decisions without letting my fear paralyze me. This boost of courage continued after we went home from the hospital and has continued to influence the person that I am. While expecting another baby in just a few months, I have been praying for trust and obedience to God no matter what issues may arise. I have also asked to be given more courage and wisdom to raise my children faithfully in the ways of the Lord.

 

Do you lean on the Holy Spirit to strengthen you and your marriage? What is a specific situation where you lacked ability, but were strengthened by the Holy Spirit? 

I would love to hear your response to one or both of these questions. Please respond in the comments section or on Facebook.

Are you rich?

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But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. Matthew 6:20 (ESV)

On Sunday, the pastor at my church spoke about being “rich.” He asked several rhetorical questions to the congregation to prove that we were all rich compared to most of the world. Have you ever looked in your closet full of clothes and said, ‘I have nothing to wear’? Do you have a house just for your cars? Have you ever traded in a working car, plus a pile of money, to get a slightly newer working car? Of course, I answered yes to most of his questions (and so did he). He also pointed out that a small family could live in my walk-in closet. This was a passing comment, but it is still very true. Much of the world has living quarters only a fraction of the size and quality that most Americans enjoy. If we ever feel guilty about this, the solution is not to simply get poor and live in a storage shed. It is to become good at being rich (the pastor’s words, not mine). In his first letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul says:

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. (1 Timothy 6:17-18 NIV)

It is an epidemic in our culture; most people place their hope in their bank account, the stock market, and their ability to provide stuff for themselves and their own family. People easily become arrogant when they make a lot of money (a lot is a very subjective amount, by the way) and seem to forget that it can all disappear in the blink of an eye. Paul reminds us of this truth and wants us instead to “put [our] hope in God, who richly provides us everything…” Did you catch that? God provides for us richly and He provides us everything. Every good thing that we have comes from Him. We are responsible to work and labor for our paychecks, but it is God who provides the job, brings the rain and sunshine, who created and sustains the entire universe in which we live and work and play. If we gather buckets full of water to drink it is only because God’s fountain has overflowed and He has allowed us to drink.

In his book Crazy Love, Francis Chan gives a brief “profile of the lukewarm,” citing several characteristics of the half-hearted Christian. One of the questions they ask is “how much do I have to give?’ instead of ‘how much can I give?’ (pg 76). “Lukewarm people,” says Chan, “are continually concerned with playing it safe; they are slaves to the god of control. This focus on safe living keeps them from sacrificing and risking for God” (pg 77). When we think that we have everything under control, it is easy to trust in ourselves and the possessions and status that we have acquired. It is difficult, likely impossible, to trust in God when we do not recognize His sovereign control in our lives. We want to keep ourselves, our families, our money and our stuff safe, but we truly lack the positional authority to do so. (For more on this topic, see my previous post “Safety is our Top Priority” http://wp.me/p42Xa5-C). As Chan so clearly points out, this overemphasis we place on our safe living is often disastrous to our spiritual lives. We don’t sacrifice ourselves, our time, or our money. We don’t take risks for God’s sake. We may give some small percentage of our income to our local church, maybe even a few other non-profits, but do we really ever go above and beyond what we feel is “safe”? Recently, I’ve been giving consistently to my church even when money is tight. I have been developing a more generous heart and I’ve felt pretty good about it. However, when I realize that my “generous giving” only means that I cannot double up on my car payments every month, it seems pretty pathetic. I’m not missing any meals to make sure others don’t go hungry. I’m not giving until it hurts. Well, maybe it does hurt a little. But I think what God wants, and what the world needs, is for us to give generously with our money, well beyond what the average Christian gives (3-5% of income is what I’ve heard) and even more so to give of our time and talents. We can always get more money in this life, but we can never get more time. None of us even know how many days, hours, and minutes are in our “time account,” so we ought to spend today wisely. It’s good to give away money to keep in mind who is really in control, but I challenge you to also give your precious time to serving and loving others in your life. Serve your spouse, your kids, and your friends, but also go beyond the familiar and serve those who cannot likely serve you in return. Remember that God sees even what is done in secret and He truly knows the condition and motives of your heart.

How can you serve others and be generous in your daily life? What creative ways have you found to love others amid the busyness of life?

 

For more on the book “Crazy Love” by Francis Chan, see crazylovebook.com 

To hear what my pastor said straight from the source, see tricountychurch.net