Raise your hand if you like to make things harder than they really are. I think we are all guilty of this every now and again. One example might include making a lot of excuses on why NOT to do the easy chore your parents gave you (too tired, not my job, why can’t you do it? etc.) Other examples might include stepping into the batters box, walking up to the tee box, or standing at the free throw line. Don’t coaches always say: “You have a big baseball bat/driver and that’s a small ball, this should be easy” or “Hey, these are FREE throws, you should make these!” It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that there are other factors at play when we are tasked to do something, but our success in a particular endeavor is usually dependent upon how well we block out the excuses, block out the noise, and just execute. Our world tends to tell us we need to make things more complicated, but we really are supposed to just keep it simple.
God also wants us to keep it simple. I know the Bible is a big book and sometimes we may not understand what we read, but there are many parts of the Bible that get straight to the point. For example, my favorite scripture from Matthew (Matthew 22: 36-40) says, “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 commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
God knows it’s difficult to follow everything He asks us to do. It’s why He gives us grace (unmerited favor) through Jesus Christ so we can be forgiven for our sins when we inevitably don’t do everything He asks. However, God keeps it simple by saying the greatest commandment is to love him relentlessly. The order is important here, because we can’t truly love others until we love God first. Danny Gokey sings about all this in his new song, “Love God Love People.” When life gets complicated, keep it simple. Love God, Love People.
I mentioned last week in one of my devotionals that gym class was my favorite elective in elementary school. Can you guess what my favorite subject was/is? Well, based on the title of this devotional, if you guess math, you are correct! I have always loved math because I enjoy solving problems with numbers and am fascinated by the patterns you can develop to make quick math in your head a lot easier. For example, as we talked about in small groups yesterday (and as is depicted in an awesome video), 6 feet apart = 1 Jacob. This is one of the things I like most about math. If we can conceptualize lengths and heights of things we know, we can estimate lengths and heights of things we don’t know without using Google or a calculator! Okay…nerd time is over now.
Whether you like math or not, you probably remember learning about inequalities. Think back to those homework sheets you had to do where they gave you a bunch of numbers and you had to pick the correct inequality sign…< or >. It seems simple now, but it’s a fundamental representation of how we know what numbers are bigger (or smaller) than others. Even John the Baptist knew about inequalities.
In John 3:22-30, John the Baptist was asked to testify about Jesus by his disciples. Everyone thought John the Baptist was Jesus because he testified about Jesus before Jesus came, but John knew that wasn’t the case. When Jesus did come, the disciples basically said to John, “Who are you then?” John proclaims that he was only sent to preach about the coming of Jesus and would receive joy in his heart when he heard Jesus’ voice. In verse 30 he says about Jesus, “He must become greater, I must become less.”
The most important inequality we can learn doesn’t involve numbers. In the song “Only Jesus” by Casting Crowns, there’s a lyric that says, “I don’t care if they remember me, only Jesus.” We love to promote ourselves, but we aren’t on the same level as Jesus, and we never will be. We should all live so that others see glimpses of Jesus in us because…Jesus>Us.
When you grow up in church, you get used to hearing all of the great stories in the Bible. You know the ones…Moses leads the Israelites to the Promised Land, Noah’s Ark, David slays Goliath, etc. All of these stories are extremely important in the larger context of the Bible, but they don’t tell the whole story. These are what I like to call the “feel good” parts of the Bible. As believers, we know that Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins. We also know that Jesus calls us to be His followers and bring other people closer to Him. If you really dive into scripture, you’ll find scripture from Jesus that makes you feel uncomfortable…like a balloon hugging a cactus.
In Matthew 7:21-23 Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out the demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from you me, you evildoers!’”
When I read that scripture I am floored. Jesus basically tells us that many of His followers will be told at the end of their lives, “Away from me, I never knew you” instead of “Well done my good and faithful servants.” This is inherently the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and at its core, offensive to our individual earthly plans and aspirations.
We talk in youth group a lot about being lukewarm Christians. According to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we can’t afford to be lukewarm Christians. Christ has to be our rock and everything we believe, say, and do must come from Him. Over the years, I have discovered the best way to grow in my faith is to read the Bible and become uncomfortable with the way I am living my life. While Jesus gives us much to hope for, He wants us to be offended by His message and seek Him for EVERYTHING. Jesus knows we can’t do life on our own terms and He’s waiting for us to say, “Lord, I need you.” In 2020, let’s get comfortable being uncomfortable Christians.
My 4th grade art teacher didn’t like me very much. Before I continue…it’s important to note that in elementary school; I was the kid who lived for gym class and despised art class. I used to dread going to school on the days that art class was the elective because I knew I would have to waste my time sitting in a dark room drawing or painting something. All I could normally think about was dodgeball, kickball, basketball, etc. As the eventual 5th grade kickball home run champion (I kicked 49 home runs in recess in the 5th grade), it’s safe to say that art class and I did not go together very well. To be fair, my art teacher wasn’t the nicest person. She actually didn’t let me participate in class sometimes because she always said my work was too sloppy. Nevertheless, I was a rule follower and a good student, so as much as I dreaded participating (including her often not wanting me to participate), I always tried.
The picture for today’s devotional is the finished product of my self-portrait from 2004. To this day, I still say this painting is some of my best artwork EVER (my mom even has it framed)! I have pretty good memories of my art teacher not really liking anything I did in her class, but for whatever reason, I was proud of this work of art! Reflecting back on this, I think I now know why I like my self-portrait so much.
Genesis 1:27 says, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” In life, there will be people who like the things we do, and there will be people who never like anything we do. We shouldn’t live our lives trying to please other people because God made us exactly the way He wanted. When we truly understand that we were made in God’s image, we can appreciate everything about ourselves. I like my self-portrait because I am who God says I am. No form of art can change God’s work of art!
Who remembers the TV show “Dragon Tales”? You know, the cartoon show where two kids (Max and Emmy) have possession of an enchanted dragon scale that when holding and saying a magic rhyme, were transported to an imaginary place called “Dragon Land.” In Dragon Land, whimsical dragons Zak, Wheezie, and Cassie entertained Max and Emmy and became their new best friends. Max and Emmy always assisted the dragons in a particular quest. The dragons usually taught valuable lessons before Max and Emmy had to say that magic rhyme again and return home. That magic rhyme went like this: “I wish, I wish, with all my heart, to fly with dragons in a land apart.”
When I was a child, I would go out into my backyard and say this rhyme, then spin around a few times to get myself dizzy (embarrassing right?). After the dizziness wore off, I would imagine that my backyard was my own version of Dragon Land. Once I was done with my adventures in the backyard, I would repeat this process to return to “The Real World.” While I never actually left “The Real World”, it was really fun to use my imagination. I mentioned in my last devotional that I don’t know what heaven looks like, but the Bible gives me great reason to use my imagination.
In 2 Corinthians 10:3-4, the Apostle Paul writes, “For though we live in this world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of this world.” Let’s be honest, our world as we currently know it is a little different right now. There are many “wars” being raged, and as Christians, we may not know how to respond. The Bible gives us great hope that while we are called to minister in our world, we are equipped to do so by another world…God’s Kingdom in heaven. To paraphrase 2 Corinthians 5:6, we know that when we are at home in the body, we are away from the Lord. We long to be out of our earthly bodies and one day, home with Christ.
I don’t think much about Dragon Land anymore, but I do try to imagine the everyday happenings in heaven and put them to practice here on Earth. Maybe my new rhyme should go like this: “I wish, I wish, with all my heart, to fly with angels in a land apart.”
What if I told you that we don’t have to grow old, but instead, we can grow young? Instead of growing up to be “cranky old people” we can become “energetic young people.” Well…at least on the inside. Those that are older than we are can definitely attest to what it’s like to get old. Just to name a few: getting a job, paying taxes, aching muscles, and change of hair color are all signs that we are getting old. Making money, driving a car, and buying a house are also common signs associated with growing old. These are all pretty standard examples of describing what it’s like to get old, but they only consider the outside and not the inside.
You may have seen the movie, or read the book, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” The story is about a baby who is born as an elderly man. As a baby, he looks (and acts) like a senior citizen and ages in reverse. While everyone around him is naturally growing older, he is growing younger…both on the inside and outside. We know that this isn’t physically possible, but it makes for a fascinating story. The story of Benjamin Button reminds me of our potential as Christians.
In 2 Corinthians 4:16, the Apostle Paul writes, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” Matthew writes in Matthew 18:3, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” I love these two pieces of scripture because they perfectly encapsulate our lives. While we know we can’t be like Benjamin Button and age completely in reverse, we are called to give ourselves a daily faith check and become like little children again. Children have an uncanny ability to believe even before they really understand. 2 Corinthians 4:18 says, “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
I’m here to tell you that we can’t escape the external effects of growing old, but we can experience the internal effects of growing spiritually young. I don’t know what heaven looks like, but I surely want to find out.
My favorite country singer, Josh Turner, in his song “Long Black Train”, does a great job illustrating Satan, temptation, and sin. “There’s an engineer on that long black train, making you wonder if your ride is worth the pain. He’s just a waiting on your heart to say, let me ride on that long black train.” Satan is the engineer and the train is a physical representation of temptation. We are naturally interested in where that train is going, so we hop on…but once we do, we sin.
As Christians, we all struggle with sin and the temptation that leads to it. When we are young, we are taught right from wrong and we are expected to do what is right. However, it’s not that easy. Romans 7:15-17 actually explains why doing what’s right is not easy. “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.” If you really break this scripture down, you’ll see that even though we know what we shouldn’t do, we will do it anyway…that’s sin!
So, if we know the difference between right and wrong, and we still do what’s wrong, are we forced to ride that long black train forever? Josh sings in the chorus of his song, “You know there’s victory in the Lord I say, victory in the Lord. Cling to the Father and his holy name and don’t go riding on that long black train.”
Romans 14:23 says, “Everything that does not come from faith is sin.” God sent his son, Jesus Christ, to die for our sins so that we might be saved from sin. If we believe this and confess we need Jesus, we are saved. That’s the victory we receive in the Lord. Even if you hear a train whistle from a mile away, Jesus says to us: “Hey, you don’t have to ride that long black train.”
Summer in North Carolina = heat, humidity, and mosquitos. We know the heat and humidity are coming, but how many times do those pesky mosquitoes catch us off guard? Think about relaxing in your backyard or going to the lake with family and friends. After a few hours outside, we are slapping ourselves to try to fend off a mosquito, or worse, scratching little red bumps! A lot of scientific research has concluded mosquitoes don’t like everyone and their attraction to you is based on the chemicals in your skin, blood type, carbon dioxide emission levels, etc. If you are the type of person who never gets bit by mosquitoes, please say a quick prayer to thank God for this blessing in your life (for those wondering, my blood to mosquitoes is like ice cream to humans). Even if you aren’t a mosquito magnet, we can all agree on this…mosquitoes are persistent!
In the Gospel of Luke (Chapter 18), Jesus tells his disciples a parable about a widow who kept coming to a judge asking for justice against someone who had wronged her. Initially, the judge refused to acknowledge her because he didn’t fear God (see my wisdom devotional for what this really means) and because he had a cold heart and didn’t care about helping people. However, the woman was persistent and continued to knag the judge about getting justice. The judge eventually grew tired of the woman nagging him and granted the woman her justice because he didn’t want to be bothered by her anymore. Jesus wanted his disciples to understand that “God will come one day to bring justice to his chosen ones who cry out to him day and night” (Luke 18:7).
Jesus poses a great question at the end of this parable: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). God does not ignore us when we chase after Him, but are we persistent enough? I like to think that God wants us to seek Him with the same persistence that a mosquito seeks us with. A mosquito needs our blood to survive just like we need God to truly survive. Let’s ensure that Jesus returns to find millions of persistent Christians and mosquitoes!
I spent the last week in the Southwestern United States camping, hiking, and rafting in Arizona and Utah. This was my first time visiting the desert areas of the United States, but my third week-long trip exploring the Western portion of the United States with some adventurous friends of mine. Having grown up in North Carolina my whole life, I always jump at the chance to explore the more desolate, quiet, and simple parts of our great country. It’s no secret that life has a little more uncertainty these days, but there’s immense certainty in God’s beautiful creations.
One of the highlights of our trip was rafting the Colorado River, which runs inside the Grand Canyon. Imagine what it would be like to go to sleep inside the Grand Canyon...(next time you see me I’ll tell you!) While the rafting experience was exhilarating, we found ourselves relishing the more peaceful aspects of our trip. The photo for this devotional was taken at Dead Horse Point State Park in Moab, Utah. We hiked out to the edge of this park on the last night to watch the sunset. You may recognize that little silhouette in the photo (Hint: It’s me!).
Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” As this photo helps to explain, evidence of God’s creation is all around us. We often miss the opportunity to exalt (praise) God because we are always moving and can’t seem to stay still. When you find yourself trying to keep up with life’s twists and turns: go outside, watch the sunset, and be still and know that God is God of all.
We all know someone in our lives that we consider to be “wise.” According to Webster’s, a person who is wise has “capacity for sound judgment.” In simpler terms, your friend who tells you to ride your bike with no hands because “it’s fun” is NOT the definition of wise. We typically associate wisdom with someone who is older than us since they have more life experience and can reasonably think through different types of situations because they have been in them before. For example, why do our parents tell us not to eat all of the Halloween candy at one time? Well, it’s because one time your parents ate all of the Halloween candy at one time and then had a stomach ache all night but didn’t tell anyone because they were “tough.” Wisdom is found in understanding both the good and the bad, but ultimately choosing the good.
What does the Bible say about wisdom? A good place to start is King Solomon. When King David was nearing his death, he appointed Solomon as the new King of Israel. Solomon did his very best to honor God in all that he did and one day God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” [1 Kings 3:5]. Of all the things Solomon could have asked for; he asked for wisdom! God was so pleased with this request; he gave Solomon wisdom and all the other things he could have asked for (riches, honor, confidence, etc.,) From Solomon, we learn that we don’t just become wise people by default. We have to ask God first.
The best discovery about wisdom in the Bible is in Proverbs 9:10. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Wait, so we have to be afraid of God to be wise? Not exactly. In Hebrew, “Yirat Adonai” means, “fear of the Lord." The word "Yirat" actually translates to “a form of devotion” or “in awe of.” So, our journey to wisdom actually starts with us being in awe of God and respecting His authority over our lives.
If you keep both hands on the handlebar, share your Halloween candy, and read your Bible; you may just be the wisest person you know!