The alternative rock band, The Fray, released a song in the early 2000's titled, "How to Save a Life." I would argue that this song is still very popular (and catchy) and is one of those songs that you can hear played just about anywhere (retail stores, hair salons, TV shows, Mix 101.5, etc.) The song is about a person coming to the realization that their friend is no longer who they used to be and they don't really understand why. The biggest problem for the person who is confused about their friend is that they couldn't seem to figure out how best to "save a life." Initially, the band said the original inspiration for the song was based upon an adult who is trying to confront a troubled teen. Given the vague nature of the song, they have have since opened it up to various forms of interpretation. The Fray pose a good question. How do we save a life?
In John 14, Jesus is comforting his disciples and says in John 14:4, "You know the way to the place where I am going." True to character, Thomas speaks up and says, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?" (John 14:5). Jesus responds in John 14:6-7 saying, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on you do know him and have seen him." The disciples had the advantage of walking and talking with Jesus, but even they had a hard time understanding who He was or what He was sent to do. Jesus is serious in Matthew 10:39 when He says, "Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it."
In this world, we (humans) can't really save lives, but we know who can and we know who does. To know Jesus is to understand that ALL roads to life run through Him. When we find ourselves helping other people, why do we do it? To feel good? To look good? To make the world a better place? Only when we lose our lives for Christ sake will someone else be able to do the same. I love the way the Apostle Paul hits on this in Philippians 1:21 when he says, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." If someone wants to know how to save a life, point them to the only one who can.
According to several surveys conducted over the years, almost half of Americans say their favorite holiday is Christmas. Usually, Thanksgiving and Halloween go back and forth for second place. Independence Day and Easter usually also make the list, but are near the bottom. There seems to be one unofficial holiday that never makes the list, but everyone loves to celebrate it, just not at the same time. Who doesn't celebrate when it's their birthday? Now, I know what some of you are thinking, "Jacob - When you get old, birthdays aren't as enjoyable because getting old stinks." This may be true to an extent, but secretly, everyone loves to feel special on their birthday. Whether we show it in our emotions or not, our inner child comes out every year when someone says, "Happy birthday!" Birthdays serve as a reminder of how miraculous it is that we were brought into this world, and they are a time to appreciate another trip around the sun, no matter how young or old you might be. A good birthday will change your mindset for a few days, but a "born day" will change your heart for life.
In the lead up to the often quoted scripture John 3:16, Jesus is having a discussion with a man named Nicodemus. Jesus tells him that "no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again." (John 3:3). ""How can someone be born when they are old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother's womb to be born!" Jesus answered, "Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."" (John 3:4-8)
Initially, we are all like Nicodemus. We can't understand how it's possible to be born again. Jesus makes it clear that there is a difference between "Flesh" and "Spirit." Like the wind, we can't see the Spirit, much less completely understand how it works or predict when it will. When you are born of the Spirit, you follow God's will, even if it doesn't make any earthly sense. Some people remember their "born days" and others don't, but they both know that there's something different about them. Our holidays and our birthdays come once a year as scheduled, but our "born days" can happen at any time and any place. If you are born of the Spirit, I'd like to wish you a Happy (Born)day, and that's plenty cause for celebration.
One of the more popular signs of distress that most people recognize is found in three simple letters. The three letters "SOS" are derived from Morse code that is said to have originated in the early 1900's and first used by the Germans as a form of communicating distress at sea over radio. Radio was invented in the 1890's, so this type of distress signal was like a cell phone to people who lived during this time. Despite people commonly referring to SOS as "Save Our Ship" or "Save Our Souls", the actual distress signal in Morse code is a continuous sequence of three dots, three dashes, and three dots (...---...). In International Morse Code, three dots represent the letter "S" and three dashes represent the letter "O", thus creating what we know today as SOS.
When I think about the distress signal SOS, I'm reminded of the movie Cast Away and the book of Psalm. In the movie Cast Away, Tom Hanks is involved in a plane crash over the middle of the ocean and he is the only one to survive. While stranded on the island, he wastes no time writing "HELP" in the sand on the beach in hopes that someone flying above will see it and try to rescue him. Whether it's with a plea of "SOS" or a plea of "HELP", Tom Hanks had it right. Our rescue comes from above, but maybe not in the way we expect. The book of Psalm is full of deliberate cries for help directed towards God. Psalm 121: 1-2 tells us, "I lift up my eyes to the mountains, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth." Later in Verses 7-8 we are reminded, "The Lord will keep you from all harm, he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore."
Tom Hanks spent most of his time in the move Cast Away crying out for help and talking to a volleyball. We may never be stranded on an island like Tom Hanks, but we all need help in this life. Psalm 50:15 says, "And call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me." As a practicing Christian for 26 years, I still give God my SOS distress signals. I have tried (and ultimately failed) to be rescued in many other ways, but nothing restores peace and strength like God can. No matter what stage of life you find yourself in, God is still at work, and He recognizes our unique SOS signals long before we even make them.
I just finished leading a four-week program at youth group on "cancel culture." While "canceling" has been around for a while in modern society (think TV shows, weather impacts to outdoor events, or even hitting the wrong button on your computer), it has unfortunately become more of a cultural phenomenon rather than a cautious, one-time action. In our world, we are quick to dismiss people we disagree with, and if we let those disagreements get the best of us, we may say or do things that contribute to people being destroyed or "canceled" from society. In my lessons, I focused on four different types of people we want to cancel, but instead are called to love. We are called to love those that aren't like us, those in need, those we envy, and those we want to hate. Why? Well, God started and completed "cancel culture" long ago.
In Colossians 2:13-15, the Apostle Paul writes, "When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross." Paul reminds us that the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ completely canceled our sins and our obedience to laws that as humans, we will break. Written as a charge to the aftermath of our canceled sin, Paul says later in Colossians 3:2, "Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things."
God could have chosen to cancel His people when they disobeyed, but that's not the story or divine nature of God. God loves His people, and because of it, He sent his only Son to die on a cross for our sins so that we may one day be reunited with Him in eternity. God didn't cancel the person, He canceled the sin. When we are tempted to cancel people in our society, we are forgetting the canceling was already done. Setting our minds on things above, we can instead share the Good News (Gospel) with our brothers and sisters in Christ so that we can be brought together in unity to affirm what Jesus said in John 17:23, "I in them and you in me." Many have tried, but there’s no canceling that!
Do you remember writing your first research paper? If you haven't been required to do that, this devotional will help prepare you! When you first learn to write, it's all about learning the alphabet and figuring out how to turn letters into words, words into sentences, and sentences into paragraphs. Once you are able to write a whole paragraph, you are well on your way to writing a research paper. While a good research paper usually has many paragraphs, it's content and conclusions are always based on its sources. The practice of "citing your sources" is important to give other authors credit for where some of your ideas come from, but it also creates "a map" for your readers to do their own research into your sources to agree or disagree with the ideas presented. Much like a research paper, a good devotional references scripture and gives others "a map" to follow Christ. In a world that offers an abundance of sources for guidance on how to live, we need to remember and know the real source.
My favorite scripture as a child was 1 Corinthians 16:13, "Be on your guard, stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong." I liked this scripture because it was easy to memorize and always reminded me to live boldly for Christ. I can't tell you how many times this scripture helped me to choose the right path when I came to a fork in the road. However, there were many times I thought I was standing up for Christ, when in reality, I was actually working against Him. As I continued my study of scripture over the years, I decided to take a closer look at 1 Corinthians 16:13. Much to my surprise, all those years I never knew the four words that directly follow this verse in Verse 14. "Do everything in love."
We are called to mend a broken world by showing others that God's love flows through us. This kind of love is beyond human capabilities, especially if we don't really know the source. Standing firm in the faith is not something we can willingly decide to do on our own. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, God works within us to change our hearts and transform our lives. Proverbs 21:30 reminds us that, "Nothing can succeed against the Lord." A research paper full of incomplete, unreliable sources won't hold up well, and neither will our lives without Christ. Speaking from personal experience, if you want to live confidently and courageously in Christ, know the source.
It's human nature to feel disappointed when someone doesn't follow through with what they promised. For example, when your mom or dad interrupts your video game or phone conversation with a request to wash the dishes or put your clothes away, you'll likely answers "yes" without really hearing what they asked. When your parents ask the same question again, you may be tempted to answer, "Yes, mom/dad, I promise!" "I promise" are the famous last words of a human being who fails to do what they promised. Sometimes we don't follow through with what we promised because we don't really want to, and other times, we just simply forget whatever it is that we promised. There's a reason a lot of "seasoned" adults love to talk about the importance of being true to your word. It's far too common to say one thing and do another, so why not just do what you said you would do? Well, if you're a follower of Christ, you know the answer to that. No matter how awesome our promise, or how good our intentions, sin will make us stumble and fall. Thankfully, God gives us something to stand on.
One of the earliest remarkable stories of the Bible is the story of Abraham. In Genesis 12, God calls Abraham (named Abram at the time) to get up, leave his land, and go to a land that God was to make known to him so that He could bless Abram and make him a great nation. God says to Abram in Genesis 12:3, "Through you every family on earth will be blessed." Inevitably, God follows through with His promise. Later in Genesis 17, God changes Abram's name to Abraham, which translated in Hebrew means, "father of many." He then promises Abraham and his wife Sarah a child when they are approaching 100 years old and Abraham can't believe it. Inevitably, God followed through with His promise and Abraham and Sarah had a son named Issac. Finally, in Genesis 22, God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son Issac and again Abraham couldn't believe it. Despite this seemingly crazy request from a God who promised him a nation, Abraham prepared himself to go through with the sacrifice before God stopped him in his tracks. Yet again, God followed through with His promise and later blessed Issac with two sons, Jacob and Esau, to further advance a spiritual lineage of God's people that live among us today.
The story of Abraham is remarkable because it literally explains how we arrived at where we are today. Abraham was constantly disappointed in the short-term for what he thought was God failing to honor His promises, but he never lost faith, and God never broke His promise. We don't have the luxury of knowing what God knows, so it's why we have to trust Him. Hebrews 11:1 reminds us, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." As the song says, when we stand on God's promises, we cannot fall. I'm standing on the promises of God.
No matter how old we are, we never forget trick-or-treating and dressing up on Halloween. On Halloween, there are candy takers and candy givers, and the lucky ones are both! I haven't dressed up for Halloween in many years, but I always enjoy checking out other people's costumes. You can always count on seeing witches, pumpkins, ghosts, superheroes, cowboys, princesses, and animals, just to name a few. Some people go all out on Halloween and make themselves look so spooky that it's hard to tell who they really are! When everyone is out and about on Halloween, it's the closest we get to the "Zombie apocalypse." You often have to do a double take to make sure you're not watching The Walking Dead! The dead appear to be alive on Halloween, but what about our spirit?
Ephesians 2:1-2 says, "You were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of the world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient." The Apostle Paul reminds us that when we get caught up in the ways of the world, playing the role of someone God has not called us to be, we are spiritually destitute (dead) and in need of a Savior. In our inevitable moments of spiritual destitution, Paul gives us hope in Ephesians 2:4-5 when he says, "But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions - it is by grace you have been saved."
The human spirit is often mistakenly lauded as powerful and strong. A "walking dead" spirit is the realization of the need for The Holy Spirit. When we admit that we are spiritually destitute, we are crying out to God for what He can and will provide. Jesus reminds us in Matthew 5:3, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." In Christ, our dead spirits come alive by the grace of God the Father. Jesus Christ is the original perfecter of the walking dead, and that's no spooky tale!