The shortest prayer there ever was is still in use today. If we can't think of how to articulate what it is we want to say when we pray, oftentimes the word "Amen" is enough. Amen is a word of great biblical Hebrew origin. It's said to have originated in Hebrew scriptures as a confirmatory response. When your family is tired of cooking and doing dishes and someone finally breaks the ice to say, "I'm tired of all this cooking and cleaning, we're getting pizza tonight!", the natural response is always, "Amen." When little Johnny or little Susie has been playing their new musical instrument for hours and has no clue what they are doing, but love to hear it make noise, someone has to have the courage to say, "Let's give this a rest for a while." Shortly after, everyone in the room is likely to say, "Amen." I have heard many different types of prayers over the years, but every single one has always ended with Amen. The word is so important, it's the last word in the Bible.
The last four verses in the bible are found in Revelation 22:18-21. In these verses, the Apostle John (the writer of the book of Revelation) says, "I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll. He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen."
The book of Revelation is a lot to unpack in one devotional, but its conclusion (a.k.a. the Bible's conclusion) gives Christians both earthly and eternal confidence. To say Amen is to say, "it is so" or "so be it." If we read our Bible, study our Bible, and really believe in the Bible, we can surely acknowledge and trust that Christ will come back again for us one day. No one knows when that day will come, but there's still plenty of work to do for God in the meantime. Regardless of who or what we encounter throughout our lives, we know that God is always with us. Until that glorious day, may the grace of the Lord Jesus be with God's people. And all God's people said...
If I asked you what are the two most important days of the year for Christians, what would you say they are? Without fail, most people (myself included) would answer Christmas and Easter. These are the days we celebrate the birth of Jesus and the death and resurrection of Jesus, respectively. Christians are most likely to prioritize their faith on or around these days, and for good reason too. Make no mistake, Christmas and Easter cover a lot of theological framework and allow us to reflect on the central elements of our faith. Christians who attend church regularly often joke about those that only attend church on these days, but true Christians know there's more to Christianity than just attending church. Whether you have never been to church, rarely attend church, attend church only on Christmas and Easter, or try to attend church every Sunday, a commonality is present. After the build-up and excitement of the two most recognized and celebrated days on the Christian calendar, we all are frequently left asking, "Now what?"
To answer this question, we have to take an honest account of our faith. Do we simply like what Jesus did and said, or do we really believe it? 1 Peter 2:1 says, "Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good." 1 John 2:6 says, "Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked." In Matthew 16:24, Jesus' disciples were likely asking the same question after Jesus finished telling them about His pending death, but then Jesus said, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me."
Muhammad Ali, the famous boxer, once said, "I believe that when you die and go to heaven, God won't ask you what you've done but what you could have done." We can debate if this is actually true, but if it is, how does it change the way you live out your "Now what?" moments? Jesus makes it pretty clear that He doesn't just want some of us part of the time, He wants all of us all of the time. When the presents are all unwrapped and the Easter chocolate is all gone, Jesus remains. Despite what some may say, Jesus (The Holy Spirit) is alive and well among us. If we ask God and look to Jesus, the answer to "Now what?" may never be more clear.
Do you remember your first Christmas? I don’t remember my first Christmas (I wasn’t even a month old), but I do remember the feeling of waking up every Christmas to a bunch of gifts! It’s no secret that as we get older, we tend to get further and further away from that childlike magic of opening gifts on Christmas. This is partly because we learn it’s often better to give than it is to receive, and we start to realize we really don’t need all of the “stuff” that’s typically bought and gifted. Don’t get me wrong…I still love a good Christmas present, but in spiritual maturity, I have become much more thankful for the greatest gift I ever received.
What is arguably the most common Bible verse known to the world is often the most overlooked. You know the verse I’m talking about! John 3:16 (KJV) says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” A key word in this scripture that is often overlooked is the word “begotten.” To beget something is to produce of the same kind as yourself. The Latin word for beget is “generabis”, which means “to descend from.” God did not just create an infant named Jesus to come into the world to die for our sins on a cross, He produced a version of Himself (in human form) so we could best understand who God really is and the love that he has for the world. God didn’t just write a book for us on how to ride a bike and send it to us in the mail via the USPS, UPS, or FedEx. He came over to our house and fell off the bike with us time and time again until we learned how to get our balance. That’s love.
A little baby born in a manger in Bethlehem was to be a Savior, the likes of which the world had never seen. Jesus is the greatest gift ever given because He’s the gift that keeps on giving. When you receive God’s gift of Jesus, you receive the gift of life. As C.S. Lewis says in his book Mere Christianity, “Your real, new self will not come when you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him.” My prayer for you this Christmas, and every future Christmas, is that you take time to be thankful for how much God loves you and how much He loves everyone around you. We may not remember OUR first Christmas, but may we never forget THE first Christmas and the greatest gift that keeps on giving.
Have you ever met someone who loved to lose? I can't say that I have. No matter what the competition is, everyone knows the point of competing is to win, but even if you manage to win, there's always someone who will lose. In what is probably one of the first lessons of sports; for every winner, there's a loser, and vice versa. As a young child and teenager, like many, I was really competitive. It's healthy to care and want to do your best for yourself or your team, but there's a fine line between winning and winning at all costs. People love to say, "a win is a win", but how we win is just as important as why we win. After experiencing a loss, a good coach or parent might say, "losing is okay because there is always some form of victory in defeat." No one may have understood this better than the Apostle Paul.
In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul writes about the victory that comes in defeat, but it's not what you might expect. 1 Corinthians 9: 19-23 says, "Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings."
Paul acknowledges that he was free to do whatever he wanted, but bringing people to Jesus was the only thing that mattered to him. He defeated himself to gain victory in Christ. Losing is hard, but letting go of our selfish ambitions and desires for the sake of bringing people to Christ is arguably the toughest thing we must do. Doing so is not an option, it's an obligation we have as Christians [Note: I'm guilty of struggling with this too.]. When society starts to look divisive, remember that Paul made himself "a slave to everyone to win as many as possible." This may seem impossible, but Paul (and originally Jesus) gave us footprints to follow. For the sake of the gospel, there is victory in defeat.
I lead a series at youth group a while back titled, "Is Jesus In My Mirror?" I came up with the idea after becoming frustrated with the world and all of the evil that runs rampant in it. The series was centered around something we all do every day...look in the mirror. When we look in the mirror, we always see a reflection of ourselves, but it's not necessarily the reflection we want to see. We can be quick to point out our flaws and we waste time dreaming about how much better we would look if this or that was different instead of praying about who God has created us to be. I challenged myself and our youth group to change perspective when looking in the mirror by posing a simple question. When you look in the mirror, do you see Jesus? A conversation between Jesus and Simon Peter after The Resurrection can help provide some context to your answer.
After Jesus was raised from the dead, he made several appearances to His disciples. Jesus helped His disciples catch a miraculous amount of fish the third time he appeared to them (John 21:14). Not too long after Peter had denied Jesus three times prior to His death, their follow-up conversation is written in John 21:15-17. "When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep."
In His undeniably perfect way of delivering a message, Jesus is saying to Peter, "I know you love me, but if you really love me, you gotta know me." If we want to see Jesus in our mirrors, yes we have to love Jesus, but in order to love Jesus, we HAVE to KNOW Jesus. Jesus challenges Peter to feed His lambs and sheep because that's what Jesus does. He also knows that as a true disciple, Peter is equipped and capable. The lamb and sheep of Jesus represent ALL of His people. We can't feed the Lord's sheep by hanging our hats on our differences or by engaging in meaningless political banter. This only gives evil exactly what it wants...attention. In order to hold back the evil in the world, Jesus' disciples (you and I) must clearly know, love, and reflect Him. When we see Jesus in our mirrors, we are the reflection of Christ that evil hates to see.
Humans (and cats) have always been drawn to the wonders of magic. [Note: For additional information related to how cats are impacted by magic, see YouTube.] Some tend to enjoy and appreciate a magician more than others, but everyone has an imagination. Magicians are fascinating because their performances often defy common logic and it's human nature to be captivated by the unexplained. A magicians's act can be quick or lengthy, but they always conclude with a "big reveal" (i.e. pulling a rabbit out of a hat or showing the audience that you made someone disappear). Unfortunately, a true magician never reveals their secret. The explanation behind "The Big Reveal" is usually kept a secret to protect the integrity of the act and keep the audience entertained. God is often cited as being a magician because of the things He does that we can't explain, which some believe are for the purposes of God's own entertainment. God's most important "big reveal" is no secret.
All throughout the Old Testament, God reveals himself to His people. Considering the highlights, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, Noah, Abraham, Joseph, David, Elijah, Samuel, and Isaiah all were personally chosen by God to carry His mission forward. While each of these (and all the others) had their successes and their failures in carrying forward God's mission, God was always intentional in His messaging about His "big reveal", even if no one understood it at the time. Hebrews 1: 1-2 says, "Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world." And just as a real magician would never do, God explains the why behind His "big reveal" in Matthew 24:14 where it says, "And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come."
It's fair to say that God isn't much of a real magician by magician standards, and that's for our benefit. God not only told and foreshadowed the coming of himself in human form (Jesus) to Earth, He actually did it and explained why. When Jesus came to take on our humanity, He sanctified us (freed us from sin) and now asks us to reveal Him to each other just as God himself did through Jesus. While this may seem impossible to do at times, it's helpful to remember we don't need any magic. C.S. Lewis once said, "The longest way round is the shortest way home." We must choose the longest (often hardest) way round to Christ and we can't forget to bring people with us along the way. A magician's "big reveal" will always be for entertainment, but God's "big reveal" is our road map to get us all back home.
During my senior year of high school, an acronym was made popular by a Canadian rapper named Drake. I will be the first to tell you that I am not the biggest fan of Drake or his music, but I was aware that he had my friends in high school running around saying "YOLO" all the time. For those that remember, don't know, or were slow to know like I was, YOLO is an acronym for "You Only Live Once." Some say it's the modern version of the Latin phrase "carpe diem" which means "seize the day." The idea behind YOLO is to live life to the fullest, even if it means doing things that involve some risk. As an example, a friend might encourage you to drive faster than the speed limit. You respond, "That's dangerous!" Your friend responds, "YOLO." Maybe your friends want you to go to a party that involves some "questionable behavior" and you don't feel comfortable. If you say this out loud, you may get a response of "YOLO." For some people, YOLO is not just an acronym, it's a lifestyle. Why play it safe all the time when we can live life on the edge? YOLO inherently implies that we can afford to take risks without considering the future because our lives only matter once. Is this really true?
The often referenced (in my devotionals) Apostle Paul explains in Hebrews Chapter 9 how the blood of Christ helped to establish the new covenant. Paul makes it clear that Christ did not have to die for us over and over, He only had to do it once. Hebrews 9:26-28 says, "Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him."
Hebrews tells us that just as we are destined to die once (YODO?), Christ died for our sins once. However, that's not the end of the story. We know that Christ will appear again to save us from our sin and provide "salvation to those who are waiting for him." While it may appear that we only live once, we belong to God twice. First when we are created (by God) and second when we are redeemed (by Christ). I believe God wants His people to live a life that honors His creation and acknowledges a need for salvation. We can't afford to play it safe when it comes to our relationship with Christ. If Drake had it right, live life on the edge by seeing YOLO in a different light. We may only live once, but we are important enough to God to belong to Him twice.
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.