Kris Kristofferson sings at the beginning of his song released in 1972, "Why me Lord, what have I ever done? To deserve even one of the pleasures I've known. Tell me Lord, what did I ever do that was worth loving you or the kindness you've shown?" The song is like a prayer for a struggling Christian who realizes he has lived much of his life for himself, but he still realizes God loves him. I believe there is a point in all our lives where we stop and say the title of the song, "Why me, Lord?" It's difficult to comprehend that God loves us the exact same when we sin and when we do as He asks. There's probably no better expert on this topic than Job.
The book of Job begins by describing a man named Job who "was blameless and upright." Job "feared God and shunned evil" (Job 1:1). Satan knew that Job was a man of God, but he wanted to prove a point. Satan believed that Job only loved God because of all the abundant blessings God gave him, so he asks God for permission to take away all of Job's blessings knowing that Job would then curse God. God allows Satan to do it on one condition, that he take all he has, but to not "lay a finger on him" (Job 1:12). I encourage you to read the rest of Job to see all the things Satan did to Job to try to make him curse God. While Job did complain, he held on to his love for God, and for that, "The Lord blessed the latter part of Job's life more than the first" (Job 42:12).
Many Christians have a hard time understanding that loving God doesn't mean your life will be full of sunshine and rainbows. They also have a hard time understanding that humans don't get the final say in justice. God does. The story of Job is one of the most powerful stories in the Bible because it teaches us that God always protects His people in accordance to His plan. As I like to say, when we don't understand something, God is at work. God never explained to Job why he suffered the way he did, but he never took his hands off him.
So, why you? Well...God is painting you a masterpiece and He's excited to show you what it looks like when He's finished.
The "Mission: Impossible" movie series has been around a long time. The first movie of the series came out in 1996 and the sixth movie in the series was released in 2018. According to the internet, it appears two more movies are expected to be released in 2021 and 2022. That would make eight movies in the series over a span of 26 years, all with Tom Cruise as the leading actor! The basic plot of the movies revolves around Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his work with the Impossible Missions Force (IMF). By the end of every movie, a bunch of high-octane action events occur and a seemingly impossible mission is made possible by Tom Cruise (sorry about the spoilers). While movie critics will say these are some of the best actions movies ever made; I think we all get the point by now.
In Matthew 19: 23-26, Jesus is teaching the disciples one of the toughest lessons of the Bible. This is the famous passage where Jesus says, and "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” When they comprehend this, they ask, "Who then can be saved?" Jesus then looks at them and says, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” As the disciples later learn, Jesus was foreshadowing the most important mission ever completed.
Tom Cruise looks really cool in those fictitious action movies that have lasted a long time, but he's no God. God made the impossible possible by sending His son to die on the cross for our sins so that we might have eternal life with Him. Without this completed mission, our sins would naturally keep us separated from the life that God wants us to have with Him. Many people want to be "Tom Cruise heroes" here on earth, but without Jesus, their mission is truly impossible. Never forget who flips the script to walk (and talk) with you each day. Mission: Possible.
We all know someone who would just rather be on the water "fishin"...as they say in the South. Some of you know that person really well because that person is you! I can't say that fishing is one my favorite things to do, but I appreciate the art behind it. There is a certain peace and tranquility that's realized when you are on a boat or near the water casting a line to hook a fish. You always know the reason you're there, but you don't know what you'll catch until you're finished. There are a multitude of tactics you can employ to improve your chances of catching a fish and successfully reeling it in, but even the best fisherman in the world still come up empty. Truth be told, even Jesus was no stranger to fishing.
The two most popular stories in the New Testament involving Jesus and fish are found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. In Matthew, we learn about Jesus taking time to acknowledge a crowd of people who were hungry (at least 5,000 men) and miraculously feeding them with only 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish (Matthew 14:13-21). In Luke, Jesus hears about some of his future disciples having trouble catching fish. When Jesus gives the command for them to cast their net into deep water, much to their surprise, they caught so many fish that their nets began to break (Luke 5:1-11). So, what's the big deal about Jesus and fish? The Greek word for fish is "ichthys", which helped develop the acrostic term "ichthus." In the word "ichthus" the Greek letters are symbols for words that mean "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior." If you don't believe me, look it up!
Many Christian scholars will say that the point of Jesus' fish stories were not to simply depict miracles, but to serve as an account for the mass distribution of the most important message ever to be told. In both stories, Jesus won over the hearts of people who dropped everything they were doing to follow Him. Jesus calls us all to be "Fishers of Men", and that's no coincidence. It's time we all grab our hooks (Bibles) and go fishin'.
As citizens of the United States of America, we learn at a very young age that this is the "land of the free and the home of the brave." The history of our country is not perfect, but since at least 1776, millions of people have fought (in a variety of ways) to protect our individual pursuit of happiness and the "American Dream." We may not always like the decisions our country makes, or even the people who lead it, but our freedom remains.
The original designer of freedom is the creator of the world. When God created Adam and Eve, He gave them free will (the ability to choose between good and evil). That didn't end well, so God gave Moses the Ten Commandments (old covenant/the answers to the test) as a way to reinforce how God wants us to live our lives. Even that didn't work, as the Israelites kept breaking the rules even after knowing what the rules were! The Apostle Paul alluded to all of this in 2 Corinthians 3:14-17. "But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom."
Paul is stating a simple truth that often gets overlooked. As sinners, it doesn't matter what the rules are to follow or what our earthly freedoms look like, only Jesus grants us real freedom. God sent Jesus to die on the cross as the final vindication for our sin. We are redeemed by His blood and are given the chance to live with Christ in eternity. In Christ, the veil of darkness and evil is taken away. I love my country, but I choose to pledge my allegiance to the Savior. Thank you Lord for the freedom of the Gospel.
There is a slim chance you make it through school without participating in "popcorn reading." For anyone who doesn't like to read out loud, I might be triggering some negative emotions. For those that don't know, popcorn reading is a technique many teachers use to ensure participation in a large group reading exercise. Usually popcorn reading involves reading a passage or story that's fairly lengthy. Someone starts off reading, and once they reach the end of a particular sentence or paragraph, they are given free reign from the teacher to call on anyone else in the class to pick up the reading. The idea here is because you don't want to get embarrassed being called on and not knowing where the reading last stopped, you better pay attention and be ready for when your name is called. There's always the one kid who doesn't care and is lost no matter what during popcorn reading, but for the good faithful students, following along and being prepared is a must!
Today's biblical connection to popcorn reading is found in 1 Peter 3:15. It says, "But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect." In the same way our teachers expect us to be prepared when our name is called during popcorn reading, God expects us to have an answer to who and where we place our hope.
Recently, a coworker was sharing with me how frustrated he was with the world and the bad direction it appears to be headed. I disagreed with many of the points my coworker was making, but I knew the source of my disagreement with him. Instead of arguing with my coworker, I said, "When you realize we live in a fallen, broken world, placing your hope and trust in the Lord becomes the only way to live." I wanted my coworker to know exactly where hope is truly found. God wants us to have an answer for the hope that we have because He is the peace that surpasses all understanding. Will you be ready when your name is called?
""I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together. All who follow Jesus all around the world, yes we're the church together. The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple; the church is not a resting place; the church is a people." If you're like me, you have heard or sung this hymn many times, but have you ever really thought about what it represents? In a previous devotional, I wrote about the differences between "BIG C" Church and "little c" church. The differences in the two are not my opinion or something that I came up with on my own; the differences are scriptural truth. In a time where church that takes place within walls (or in a field) is different than what it once was, we are still the church.
Some of Paul's most powerful writing about the church is found in Ephesians 5:22-25. It says, "Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her." While this scripture is often taken out of context, Paul makes it clear what he means in Verse 32, "This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church." Christ ("Big C" Church) and His relationship with us ("little c" church), is what a marriage should represent, because we are the church.
And if you still aren't convinced that we are the church, look no further than Matthew 18:20 where Jesus says, "For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Whether by song, a marriage, or a small gathering among friends, we are the church. The most important mission of the church is to tell others about Jesus and EVERYONE is held responsible. "I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together."
What would you grab first if your house was on fire? This may seem like a dark question, but I'm sure you have heard it before, or maybe thought about it. I pray that no one ever has to go through something like that, but what would you grab? Some people may answer this question with responses such as: a wallet, a purse, clothes, keys, a memorable photo, or maybe even a big trophy. Realistically speaking, these are all probably things we would like to grab and protect, but they would ultimately come after an attempt to protect ourselves and other people (or pets) that live with us. In a house fire, our lives and the lives of those we love should matter the most.
In John 12, Jesus has just raised Lazarus from the dead and a dinner is being given in his honor. Mary, who was in attendance, poured an expensive perfume on Jesus' feet and wiped his feet with her hair (a customary honorary practice at the time). Judas Iscariot objected to this by saying in Verse 5, "Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” Verse 6 says, "He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it." Jesus responds in Verses 7-8 saying, "Leave her alone, It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” In a biblical house fire, Judas would have grabbed his wallet!
I love this story in the Bible because it teaches an essential theological lesson. Sometimes, we tend to worship the things of God instead of worshipping the God of all things. In this case, Judas tried to elevate his cause over the cause of Christ. Unfortunately, Judas goes on to betray Jesus and eventually hangs himself. Since Jesus is the forgiveness of sins and the eternal solution to all of life's problems, He should matter most. In our spiritual house fires, Jesus is the only hope in getting out alive.
Heather and I spent the last week in Wyoming camping and hiking in Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park. There is much to see and explore in nature outside of North Carolina, so if you ever get the chance to go out west, do it! Yellowstone National Park is over 2.2 million acres in size. The scenery is essentially indescribable, but the most interesting part about Yellowstone is the fact that over 10,000 hydrothermal features are located within the park. Geysers, hot springs, mudpots, and fumaroles, are all types of hydrothermal features. Hydrothermal features act like hot tubs, except the bottom is not a tub, it's literally the earth's crust! The earth's "plumbing system" pushes scalding hot water (~200 degrees Fahrenheit) out of these openings due to fluctuations in pressure that create a fountain-like effect. Heather and I viewed as many of these hydrothermal features as we could from a distance, but we couldn't help but notice all of the signs that said "DANGER! KEEP OUT!"
The water that comes out of these hydrothermal features is extremely hot because it's heated by magma from the earth's crust. This got me thinking...what's your heat source? In Romans 15: 5-6, Paul challenges all Christians. He says, "May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." We know this is hard to do, especially if we aren't "boiling" with Christ inside our hearts. Like a hydrothermal feature, our exterior motives can be dangerous if our interior boils too hot.
Many Christians spend their whole lives saying they love Jesus, but they don't really feel it. The best way to feel the love of Jesus is by observing the work of the Holy Spirit in others and searching for it in yourself. Hydrothermal features can be dangerous, but if observed properly, they are a beautiful sign of God's creation. If we bubble and steam to the surface filled with Jesus and His love, we are the most beautiful of God's wondrous creations.
Spanish was my least favorite subject in high school. I have never been one to believe that intelligence should be graded on how well you can memorize something; so memorizing a bunch words in another language for vocabulary quizzes seemed silly to me. I despised studying for Spanish vocabulary quizzes so much that I got the grand idea one day in Spanish II to bring in my notes for a vocabulary quiz and sit them under my leg during the quiz (aka cheating). I was about halfway through when my quiz disappeared from my desk. In less than five seconds, my quiz became a paper ball...shaped like the grade I was about to receive. The teacher took me outside her trailer and asked me straight to my face, "Why did you do it?" I answered honestly and said, "I don't like Spanish and I didn't study." She then proceeded to lightly smack my cheek (I deserved it) and say: "Don't do it again!" Unlike Jesus, I couldn't resist the tentación (temptation).
Luke Chapter 4 tells us the story of Jesus being tempted by the devil in the desert for forty days. First, the devil tested Jesus' hunger by asking him to turn stone into bread so that Jesus could eat. Jesus responded, "Man does not live by bread alone." Second, the devil tested Jesus' faith and asked Jesus to worship him. Jesus responded, "Worship the Lord your God and serve him only." Lastly, the devil tested Jesus' abilities and asked Jesus to throw himself off a cliff to see how he would be rescued. Jesus answered, "Do not put the Lord your God to the test."
Jesus probably didn't enjoy being tested by Satan, but He never gave into the temptation. At the heart of Satan's temptation was a question: "Who is your God?" Jesus knew His God was His Father and not Satan. While a zero on a Spanish quiz didn't ruin my life, it did remind me of who saves it. Temptation is always lurking around the corner, but our amigo is always there to guide and protect us, even when we give in. Gracias Jesus!
I have never met a baby who doesn’t like to tell you exactly how they feel. When a baby is hungry, they cry. When a baby is tired, they cry. When a baby is sleepy, they cry. When a baby is happy, sometimes they still cry, but usually you can at least get a cute little grin from them. Before babies learn how to effectively communicate their feelings, they really only know how to cry and smile. Eventually babies learn how to talk and that changes the way they communicate their feelings. As babies grow even older, they learn how to use technology, and that too changes the way their feelings are communicated. Your baby instincts only last for so long, but many parents still say years later, “I miss those days.” Like parents, God loves baby instincts.
It’s human nature to experience all possible types of emotion at one point in your life. Some of us experience the full range of human emotion all in one day. As the late Jim Valvano famously said, “If you laugh, you think, you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.” The problem with humans is that we like to pick and choose the way we express ourselves, but God tells us exactly how it should be done. James 5:13 says, “Is anyone among you suffering? Then pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.” Our spiritual baby instincts are to pray and sing praise.
I’m as guilty as anyone for not first turning to prayer when I’m suffering, but I know (and have learned) it’s the answer when I’m feeling down. When I feel on top of the world, I’m guilty of becoming a little self righteous, but it’s God who deserves all of the credit. Humanity will always struggle with their emotions unless they get back to their baby instincts. For our parent’s sake, it’s okay to cry and smile. For God’s sake, pray and sing praise!