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!
Growing up in a small town, it's common to hear people reminisce about "The Good Ol' Days." When hanging out with your old buddies or going to a local high school football game, everyone loves to talk about the way things used to be. I will admit I have fallen victim to doing this before, but I usually am the first to become frustrated when these conversations go on for too long. I guess it's because I have never been one to look too far into the past. Life has its ups and downs, but God works for us in the past as much as He works for us today and in the future. Since this is true, why spend your whole life looking behind you when God still has so much planned ahead of you?
Despite all of the encouraging scripture in the Bible, the book of Ecclesiastes is known for its pessimistic writings, often citing the phrase "life is meaningless." However, when you really study this book of the Bible, you'll see there's greater meaning behind the seemingly pessimistic scriptures. Ecclesiastes 7:8 says, "The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride." Verse 10 says, "Do not say, 'Why were the old days better than these? For it is not wise to ask such questions.'" In Verse 14, the writer makes their point: "When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other. Therefore, a man cannot discover anything about his future."
No matter what those "good ol' days" were like, the Bible says it's not wise to ask questions about why things have changed. The point of the book of Ecclesiastes is not to tell us our lives don't matter. Our lives do matter, but only when we live in reverence to God and appreciate each day as a gift from Him. If we don't do this, what are we saying about our Creator? It's human nature to want the world to be our way, but it's God's way that makes up the past, present, and future. In my "good ol' days" during the ups and downs of my young life, my former youth leader would always tell me, "You have such a great life ahead of you." Taking a brief second to look back, he was right, and I believe the same is true for you too.
If you've ever been to an old fashioned wedding, you have probably heard the wedding officiant tell the attendees, "If anyone objects to this marriage, please speak now or forever hold your peace." The origin of this statement is said to come from Medieval Times when communication wasn't what it is today. At that time, it was possible that someone in the crowd would know that the bride or groom was already married, or even worse, possibly related...(imagine how awkward that would be). In our modern world, many movies and TV's shows have featured this as a part of the wedding ceremony, often very dramatically. In the movie Shrek, there's a famous scene of Shrek running down the aisle to stop Lord Farquaad from marrying Princess Fiona. It was Shrek's last chance to let the truth be known. He loved Princess Fiona, and he wanted her to know she should marry him instead.
God doesn't want us to wait until the last minute to speak up on behalf of Him. In 2 Timothy 2:16-17, Paul writes to Timothy, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." Taking it a step further, James 1:22 reminds us, "Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves."
The devil comes to steal, kill, and destroy, but Jesus comes to provide, create, and make new. Far too often does evil take root in our society with Christians standing on the sidelines watching the clouds go by. As the scripture says, we are trained in righteousness by studying and adhering to the scriptures of God, who breathed His life into scripture and into the teachings of His son Jesus Christ. Unlike a wedding ceremony, the consequences of failing to speak up in the name of Jesus Christ won't allow you any peace. Before we speak up, we must know the truth. As Jesus told the Jews in John 8:31-32, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."
In my later years of high school and all throughout college, I always heard people ask one particular question at test time. I recall the academic "competition" among my friends ramping up in the last two years of high school as everyone tried to get their grades in order so they could apply (and hopefully get in) to the college of their choice. Right before it was time to take a test, everyone always asked each other, "How much did you study?" The question continued to get asked in college all throughout engineering school because no one wanted to feel like they didn't study enough compared to someone else. Personally, I never cared how much other people studied or if I felt like I needed to study more because I always did the best I could and was content to get whatever test result I deserved. This philosophy helped keep me sane and prevented me from unnecessarily comparing myself to someone else. In school, a number or letter usually represents how much we know on a given subject, but in life, one book determines how much we really know about God.
In reference to the first 5 books of the Bible (all that was available at the time), God tells Joshua in Joshua 1:8, "Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful." I believe this scripture still applies today, except we now have the whole Bible to meditate on. We don't get to pick and choose the way we represent God because we are called to follow God with everything we have. It's almost as if God enjoys asking us the question I never liked being asked, "How much did you study?"
When God asks us to study the Bible, He isn't just asking us to know a few verses that make us feel warm and fuzzy inside. While it's good to memorize scripture that can lift others up, it's better to truly study The Bible to learn about who God and Jesus really are. Your faith will be challenged countless times in this life and you have to know what it is that you truly believe. Don't take a Pastor's word for it, open up your Bible and see for yourself. The next time your faith is challenged, your response will hinge on that annoying, but eternally important, question God is always asking, "How much did you study?"
One of God's many marvelous works of creation is the butterfly. Unless you have been living under a rock (or just forgot), butterflies start out as caterpillars. A caterpillar (scientifically known as a larva) begins its life like many of us do, eating everything in sight. Caterpillars eat a lot of leaves to grow longer and more plump until the day they stop eating and decide to hang upside down. At this point, a caterpillar will work to spin itself a silky cocoon. While inside the cocoon, the process of metamorphosis commences the slow transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly (see your local butterfly expert for more details on metamorphosis). The point of this devotional is the emergence of the caterpillar from the cocoon. When the caterpillar emerges from its cocoon, it's no longer a caterpillar, it's a butterfly! The old is gone and the new has come.
The Bible says we have a lot to learn from the caterpillar and the butterfly. The person we were prior to truly knowing Jesus should never be the same person we are after we truly know Jesus. The Apostle Paul explains it best in 2 Corinthians 5:17, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new." We don't have to eat leaves and go through metamorphosis like a caterpillar, but we should desire to become spiritual butterflies who have shaken off our old selves and become someone new.
The hardest part in the journey to becoming a spiritual butterfly is understanding the journey is never complete. I'm a believer of the saying, "you know when you know" when it comes to someone who really knows Jesus. When you really know Jesus and really love Jesus, your life goal is to try to be as much like Jesus as possible. My prayer for you is to avoid living your whole life like a caterpillar, or maybe worse, never completing the transformation and remaining stuck in the cocoon. Our world depends on spiritual butterflies to embody and share the love of Christ. If you're tired of eating and crawling, remember that you were made to fly.
Anyone who has ever played sports, trained for a public performance, studied for a test, or started a diet has probably heard their coach, teacher, director, or leader say, "No pain, no gain!" When I was a child, I vividly remember the mental battle that went on in my head as I tried to understand why someone would have to experience something negative (like pain) before they could obtain a reward (the gain). The hours of practice, the studying, the muscle fatigue, and the craving of food we shouldn't eat too much of are the "pains." The victory, the A+, the standing ovation, and a healthy body are the "gains." Growing up in a Christian home and going to church is an enormous blessing, but sometimes it creates a facade on how we should approach our faith. Life is not going to be easy just because you go to church and try to say and do the right things. From a biblical perspective, your life should actually become increasingly more difficult, especially as you grow in your faith. Just so we are clear, it's not Jacob who makes this proclamation, it's Jesus!
The Crucifixion of Jesus is the most literal example in the Bible of "No pain, no gain." It's no secret how much Jesus had to suffer just to save the whole world, but it had to be done to set the example. Jesus says in Mark 8: 34-37, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?"
One might ask, "What is the Christian training method when considering the motto, ‘No pain, no gain’?” I believe the Apostle Paul, a person who faced many "pains" and persecutions after his conversion helps answer this question in 1 Corinthians 15:31 (KJV) when he says to the Church of Corinth, "I affirm, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily." To truly emulate Jesus, follow Jesus, and love Jesus, is to die daily to yourself. When Jesus says, "take up your cross and follow me", He knows how painful that is, but He also knows it's worth it.
I recently had a minor accident at work while driving my company truck. To perform my job tasks for that day, I was supposed to pull a trailer with an ATV and offload the ATV from the trailer to use as my site vehicle (the site was very muddy and better suited for an ATV). While offloading the ATV from the trailer, the trailer coupler popped off the ball mount and scraped a dent into my company truck tailgate door. I followed all of the proper protocols and reported the accident, but having recently joined our companies "Safety Committee", I had the pleasure of sitting in on a discussion of my accident. No one on the the committee knew I was the one involved with the accident, so that made the discussion even more interesting as I sat quietly hearing everyone's opinion. The whole situation made me feel like I was on trial! Ultimately, the committee chair decided that it was an accident and I would not be held financially responsible. The case was closed, and I was off the hook!
Whether we like it or not, we will all be on trial with God one day. 2 Thessalonians 6-8 says, "God is just: he will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus." 2 Thessalonians 2:10 speaks specifically to those that perish from God's judgement saying, "They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved."
It's important to understand that God is not out to gain vengeance on the world (remember he sent his Son to Earth to die for our sins because He loves us), but He does desire for us to be intentional about our faith. In the earthly kingdom, people tend to seek temporal solutions to temporal problems, but no one escapes death. God is the final judge and jury of who heard the truth, loves the truth, and is saved. When it's time for our case to be closed, what will the evidence show?