Devotion

Tuesday Devotional: Galatians 4

bibleRead Galatians 4

“It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always, not just when I am with you.” (Galatians 4:18)

 

Christian, what is your passion?  What drives the work of your hands?  What motivates you to work tirelessly, sacrificially, painfully and at times unceremoniously?  What are you zealous for?  Is it for your glory or His?  Is it for the name of Jesus, the beloved son, or yours?  Is your zeal for the Lord dependent on the circumstance or social setting?  Is your zeal for the Lord present when no one else is?  Does your zeal for the Lord need anything other than the Gospel for it to manifest in your life?  Christian, do you know where you were before Christ?  Do you know that you were lost but that by the stripes and wounds of Jesus Christ you have since been found? Do you know what you were saved from?  Without Jesus you were destined to never know love, to never know joy, to never know peace and rest.  You were slaves before Christ, choosing to obey and serve your sinful nature, but in the name of Jesus you are now free!  You are free in Christ never to experience slavery and bondage ever again.  Is that enough for you to be zealous?  Is that the Gospel to you?  Upon knowing this Gospel, why would you ever want to go back?  What does that former life have to offer you?  Have you forgotten the bondage?  Have you forgotten the hopelessness before Christ?  As a Christian, Jesus must become your everything because before him you had nothing.  There was nothing of any enduring worth or value before Jesus.  In Jesus, your Savior, you are now truly alive.  Don’t go back without an honest reflection of your life before Jesus.  Don’t move forward without an honest reflection of your motivation and purpose for serving in the name of Jesus.  The Gospel declares that you are alive because of Jesus and therefore everything you do is so that his name, the only name, can become greater while yours continually becomes less.  There is no other way.  This is the way.

 

 

Tuesday Devotional: Song of Songs 3

Read Song of Songs 3 bible

A personal encounter with Jesus Christ creates unspeakable joy in His presence and unparalleled agony in His absence.  To miss something or to long for something, one must first love and desire it.  We never despair the loss of something that we take no interest in.  However, when our lives are completely invested in something or someone it is unthinkable to imagine living without what we’ve begun to see as a part of us.

Since Jesus Christ came for us and promised to never leave us or forsake us, how or why do we experience His absence?  The truth is, we create His absence.  By turning away from Him and indulging in our sinful natures we create a chasm between us and Jesus Christ.  This chasm is not insurmountable as long as we repent and turn back to our true love, our Savior, allowing His unrelenting love to bridge the gap we’ve created.  The wave of darkness that we feel when experiencing suffering, loneliness or pain is not the absence of God but the very real presence of the trials of a broken world.  However, amidst the suffering we are offered the presence of our true love and Savior, that is, if we will have him.  For a person that has experienced the presence of Jesus Christ, to retain and sustain the presence of Jesus in their life is worth trading this entire world for.  For the person that has never truly experienced the presence of Jesus Christ, gaining the whole world is the equivalent of 30 pieces of silver and the denial of Jesus Christ is a reasonable bargain to make.  The measure of hate we feel toward sin is equal to the measure of love we feel toward Jesus.  The more we love Him, the more we feel in agony when we feel a separation between us and Him.  Therefore, in order to avoid this agonizing space between us and Jesus, we actively fight sin so as to protect the relationship most dear to us.  If we feel no despair in the fact that our sin separates us from him, and if we never find ourselves missing the presence of Jesus in our lives we must ask ourselves the same question that Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?”

 

 

 

Serving the King: Priorities

Many characteristics may define a Christian life.  Many things may be signs that someone truly lives their faith in correspondence with the Gospel.  In this reflection series, we’ll explore how different Scriptures emphasize service as a defining character trait of the Christian.

Service can be defined as what you do for something or someone.  But in the Gospel context, service is much larger than that.  Service, according to the teaching of Jesus, is a way of life.  More than an aspect Christian character, it IS Christian character.  In these reflections, we’ll discover five elements of service that please God.

Serving with Priorities (Matthew 5)

The teachings of Jesus Christ, found throughout the Gospel narratives, are the foundation on which a Christian builds her life. These teachings are most concentrated in the Sermon on the Mount.  This sermon holds such well-known commands as, “Do not judge,” “Love your neighbor,” and “Turn the other cheek.”  The teachings of Jesus come fast in this passage, and are overwhelming in their expectations.  If you don’t read it carefully, the famous sermon may be nothing more than a peaceful evening with the “good shepherd” on a grassy hillside, everyone holding hands while breathing deep sighs of contentment.  But if we really consider the life this sermon called Jesus’ disciples to live, one can imagine that those sighs of contentment as shocked gasps.   How could anyone be expected to live that way?  If we realize this, Jesus might possibly respond, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God,” as he does in Mark 12.  The reason being that to understand these standards are impossible leaves room to believe that the only way to achieve such impossible standards is through power greater than our own.  In fact the only way to meet the standards found in this famous sermon is to be drawn to the power of God, not the power of self-will.

Matthew 5:23-24

23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

In the previous three readings we explored three issues directly pertaining to the idea of serving God.  First, we found that we must serve with obedience.  Second, we must serve recognizing God’s power.  Third, we must always be prepared to suffer in service as our “suffering servant” served and modeled before us.  In all of these scriptures, what we read were descriptions of what God wants from our service.

The fascinating aspect of Matthew 5 is that here we finally hear the voice of God speaking through Jesus Christ about service. God says that when we come to serve him, we must be motivated, inspired and focused on serving God alone, devoted to serving him and nothing else.  Jesus tells the people that if there is anything else that occupies any space in our hearts or minds, we might as well take the offering, set it down, go take care of our “more important business” and then come back and serve.

Today, it is not unusual to find a church on any given Sunday at any given location filled with people who have set aside a one or, for the “high-level Christians,” a two-hour block in their weekly schedule for God.  Our world is fast-paced and full of obligations.  We have many things to do and have little time to get anything done.  In this environment people find it increasingly difficult to “make time” for God.  Unfortunately, this includes our time as we take our seats at church.

While many of us face schedules and commitments that require much of our energy, time and attention, we pride ourselves on our ability to multi-task.  Multi-tasking is a great skill when the objective is to complete several tasks in the least amount of time.

But the danger of becoming a professional multi-tasker is that we become so proficient at occupying our time with multiple tasks at once that we lose our ability to determine when one task deserves our complete and undivided attention.  For example, the idea of ” family time” has suffered increasingly over the past 20 years.  The amount of quality time that families spend with one another with no distractions whatsoever has been on a steady decline, a trend that may be attributed in some ways to “busyness” and “multi-tasking.”

When you don’t give your undivided attention to something or someone you hold to be important to you, the quality of that relationship will suffer and the relationship will ultimately lose that sense of importance.

From this perspective we can better understand the demand of Jesus that we take care of certain issues before approaching the altar with offerings.  When we come to God preoccupied with a thousand different things, we are doing the equivalent of starting an important discussion with a close friend and then immediately answering a seemingly trivial phone call while “sharing” this “quality time.”

Being raised in a Christian household gave me many impressions, assumptions and ideas about how to live a Christian life.  However, what I understood was superficial at best when it came to who God actually claims to be and what he specifically desired from me as a Christian.  I believed God was the egotistical, power-hungry “man upstairs” who, without much proof or explanation of his true existence, wanted me to trust him with everything and believe that the basis of this demand was loving and in my best interest.  I believed what he wanted from me was regular church attendance, prayer and the practice of impossible standards, many which are noted in Matthew 5.

When I at last read through the entire Bible, I did not find the God I expected to find.  This God was not obsessed about the things I thought he would be.  In regards to service and worship, like the verses in Matthew 5, God clearly states that he would rather have no offering, no church attendance and no money from a so-called “Christian” if those things came with a divided focus and a divided heart.  I discovered that God’s desire was to have all of my heart, but not if I was unprepared and unwilling to give it all away.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus demands many things from those who choose to follow him.  He desires service, a level of commitment to his promise of transformation that seems impossible.  However, without a fully prepared heart and mind to pursue this new life, Jesus would rather we not accompany the offering into his presence.

 

The Impossible Religion: Devotion

This reflection series,  “The Impossible Religion,” reveals five specific problems that people have with the gospel of Jesus. These impossibilities arise when Christianity is a religion to achieve, rather than simply the “good news” of grace and redemption that will naturally transform us. Christianity outside of Christ’s redemption is in fact impossible, but with God nothing is impossible. For the next five weeks, we’ll go through Scriptures from five different areas of the Bible in order to confront these impossibilities:

  • Impossible Devotion
  • Impossible Standards
  • Impossible Trust
  • Impossible Power
  • Impossible Purpose

Impossible Devotion (Numbers 6)

This particular chapter in the book of Numbers, found in the first five books of the Bible, also known as “the Torah,” discusses a particular vow taken by some, but not all, Israelites.  This vow was “the vow of the Nazirite.”

For the purpose of time we will not discuss the details of the vow in depth. The main idea is that it was a vow of extreme devotion to God.

To many people, Christianity is where you “try your best.” But, deep down, we do this with a prepared surrender to the idea that we cannot achieve the devotion to God that is not merely suggested, but expected.  This rebellion and resignation arises out of a distinct misunderstanding of Christianity and the relationship to God depicted in the scriptures.  This rebellious resignation implies that the purpose of Christianity is to try your best, out of your own power, to please an impossible-to-please deity.

The problem with this perception is that, throughout the entire Bible, God speaks directly to his people, telling them that if they don’t want to serve him, if they don’t want to worship him, if they don’t want to love him, then there is no place for half-hearted attempts.

The Nazirite vow was chosen, not compulsory.  God did not demand this life from all of his people.  However, the heart of the Nazirite vow is a life that God’s people should ultimately desire.  The life of the Nazirite was one of complete and utter devotion to a God that deserved such worship and commitment. The Nazirite understood that living this way was the only way to justify the balance of what God had already done and what we could never do.  The Nazirite vow revealed a commitment to God that seems unrealistic: a level of self-denial that is offensive to some and impossible to the rest.

The only way in which to desire such a vow, such a life, and the only way by which to maintain this level of devotion is to understand the reason behind the choice to take it.

Taking a Nazirite vow does not mean that you try harder than the rest and therefore will receive greater praise from the creator.  Rather, the individual perceived this option as the choice that would best honor the relationship between a “Creator” and his “Creation.”  Taking a vow like that only arises out of the knowledge and understanding that anything less would be unworthy worship and service given God’s sacrifice for us already.

Being a Christian with the commitment like a Nazirite is impossible, if one approaches Christianity from the perspective that following God is simply something to add to your repertoire of good deeds and characteristics.  The vow is impossible from the “point-earning” perspective.

The only way that this level of devotion is possible and, more importantly, acceptable to God, is if it is born out of a new identity that surrenders the heart totally to God, the only one worthy of such praise.  Only a person remade in the image of Christ can willingly and wholeheartedly undertake such a vow.