DEVOTIONALS

Word for Tuesday, September 15th

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

It’s a dangerous world that we live in, though we don’t often think of it. Yesterday, when I got the news that portions of Three Rivers (a town 10 or 15 miles away from us) were under mandatory evacuation, the reality that disaster can hit me and my family was driven home for me. As I read my history books and listen to my history podcasts (ancient Rome, at the moment) I realize that most of world history has been characterized by shocking brutality, and that there are no guarantees that our future won’t hold the same; human nature hasn’t changed over the last several thousand years.

So when Jesus promises that his followers will face danger for belonging to him, let’s be clear that Jesus isn’t doing rocket science or brain surgery. He is making a statement roughly equivalent to “water is wet.” Danger isn’t the exception in our world – it is the rule. The largely insular and secure lives we have lived in 20th and 21st century America are the exception, not the norm. Let’s not be discouraged when Jesus promises opposition and danger – let’s just be real.

But my purpose for you today is not to establish that we will face danger; my purpose is to establish that we can face danger with hope. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.” Do you notice what Jesus doesn’t promise in this passage? He doesn’t promise that no sparrows will fall to the ground. He doesn’t promise that Christians will be spared from all danger. Danger is a way of life in a world broken and corrupted by sin.

What he does promise is that not a single sparrow will fall outside of God’s providential care. And if this is the concern that God shows for a common sparrow, how much more will He care for His precious sons and daughters? “Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” Jesus is telling us that no matter is too small for the Father’s closest attention in our lives. Every danger, every hurt, every cry, every moment of pain, every tear gets the very closest attention from the Father. This is true in part because God is GOD, He isn’t a human being to become overwhelmed or to be unable to give His attention. He is powerful, wise, and good to be able to care for every last part of every last life. It’s also true because this is how deep the Father’s love is for us. “Do don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

What parts of your life have you held back from God because you don’t want to bother or trouble Him? Take a moment to reflect on the fact that God’s power and love are so great that He invites you to bring every part of your life before Him, that He is willing and able to help in every situation.


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Word for Saturday, September 12th

There is so much going on in our world these days that seems so threatening. Social upheaval, economic turmoil, viruses and environmental catastrophe, just to name a few. All of these things can make us fearful. They make me fearful!

But I am convinced that we cannot live or act out of fear. And I perceive that this is what many Christians are doing these days, and I don’t exclude myself from that list. I know that I would rather quietly sweep the problem of racism under the rug rather than deal with it. I know that at times I try not to think of the future world my children will inherit because I am afraid that so much of what is good in the world will be gone by the time they are adults. I see that the West is moving farther and farther away from Jesus, and I fear that within my lifetime I will no longer be able to openly worship. I don’t know that these things will happen, but I fear that they will.

But I cannot live in fear, and neither can you. 1 Peter 3:14 says, “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…”

Jesus died, Jesus lives again. He has defeated death, and if the keys to the grave really are stolen, what can the enemies of the Gospel do to us? Suffering makes us like Christ – that’s why the disciples rejoiced when they suffered for their faith. Death now ushers us into the presence of our beloved – into the presence of Christ. We do not need to be afraid!

It’s one thing to say it, of course, and another to live it. So spend a few moments in prayer today, asking God to reveal fearful places in your heart. Ask for His courage and strength as medicine for your fear. Ask Him to put you in places where you are afraid so you can see His provision for you. Ask to be relieved of your fear.

After you’ve done that, I want to ask you to read a passage out of the Gospel of Matthew, which I’ve provided for you below. As you read, I want you to pay attention to your heart, and to be asking all along, “Why is Jesus telling me these things? Why did he want me to know about them beforehand? How does he equip me to live in light of this?”

May God free all of us from fear, curing us by the Lord’s promise and the Spirit’s power, which we access by faith. May the God of peace accompany us all tomorrow!

Matthew 10:16–39 (NIV)
16 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. 17 Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. 18 On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. 19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
21 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 22 You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 23 When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
24 “The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!
26 “So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
32 “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.
34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn
“ ‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’
37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.


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Word for Friday, September 11th

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst.” ~1 Timothy 1:12

There is a great exchange the classic movie The Three Amigos. The Amigos (Steven Martin, Chevy Chase, and Martin Short) receive a telegram from Mexico asking for their help to fight the infamous El Guapo. The Amigos (kind hearted, but feeble-minded) struggle to understand what the word infamous means, and eventually hit upon the following, “infamous means you’re more than famous; El Guapo isn’t just famous, he’s infamous!” Classic!

You and I, of course, know that infamous means something more like notorious. In many ways, I think that many of Jesus’ contemporaries thought of him as something like El Guapo – he was infamous.

One of the reasons that Jesus was infamous was because he spent quite a bit of time with the wrong sorts of people. We saw that on Thursday when Jesus allowed a notoriously sinful woman to wash his feet and anoint them with expensive perfume. The “good person” (Pharisee) with Jesus was perplexed, and likely offended that Jesus allowed himself to come in such close contact with someone so impure.

You see, the Pharisees believed that purity was everything. A Pharisee went through numerous rituals that had once been reserved just for temple service to cleanse themselves, and then were careful not to into contact with anything that would make them ritually unclean. Jesus criticized them near the end of his ministry by saying, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.” (Mat. 23:25)

The Apostle Paul, who wrote the letter to Timothy quoted at the beginning of this message, was himself a Pharisee. He considered himself to be the best of the Pharisees; the most obedient to the law, the purest of them all. And then he met Jesus. The risen Jesus gave the lie to all that Paul had hoped in. Paul realized that he wasn’t the most righteous person of all, but rather the one most opposed to true righteousness because he was trying to stomp out the truth. He was persecuting the most righteous person of all.

But while Jesus revealed the truth about Paul’s unrighteousness he didn’t condemn Paul. Instead, Jesus appeared to Paul to save him. And so Paul writes “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst.” By Paul’s logic, if Paul himself could be saved, anyone could be saved.

That’s what a deep experience of forgiveness does to us. It causes us to spread the good news of our own forgiveness on to others, and to extend forgiveness to all who need it as well. Is there someone in your life that you are struggling to extend forgiveness to? Then think of your worst sins. Bring them again before God. Ask Him to remind you, to teach you that you are completely and absolutely forgiven, that God has removed your sin from you as far as the east is from the west, that he remembers it no more. Remember the depth of forgiveness that God has given you, then you will find your heart softened to forgive others.


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Word for Thursday, September 10th

36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” ~Luke 7:36-47

 

 

1)     How is the woman’s response to Jesus different from that of Simon’s?

2)     What does Jesus say motivates the sinful woman to act as she did toward Jesus?

3)     Have you been greatly forgiven? What are your worst sins? Read Romans 8:1 and apply that to the guilt of your worst sins.

4)     Do you respond to Jesus as one greatly forgiven?


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Word for Wednesday, September 9th

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. ~Romans 5:1-2a

Today I came across an article by Tim Keller, in which I read the following: “…many people try to rely on their sanctification for their justification, instead of the other way around.” For those who may not be familiar with the terms, “sanctification” or “justification,” what does this mean?

A couple of quick definitions: Sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit in my life to make me more and more like Jesus. Justification is God’s declaration, as before a courtroom, that I am righteous in his sight.

What Keller is reminding us of, then, is that we are forever tempted to do good works so we can be saved. We often invert the Christian life by saying, “God, look! I’m being good! You should love me/save me/accept me! The truth about ourselves is exactly the opposite; we could never be good enough, so God rescued us.

Why is this important? Well, if we mix up the order of sanctification and justification, we will forever be falling short, forever be living in the guilt of not measuring up. When sanctification comes first, we will never really be at peace, we will always entertain at least a shred of doubt. We will forever be asking questions like; Am I good enough? Did I do enough? Is God pleased with me, or sorry that He wasted His time on me? But life is very different when we begin with our salvation, when we begin with justification.

But when justification comes first, God’s declaration that we are righteous because we have trusted in Jesus (and even that we cannot take credit for, e.g., Ephesians 1:4-6, 2:8-9, Rom. 9:11-13), we find something very different. When justification comes first, we realize that we are absolutely safe and secure. We will come to understand that our salvation doesn’t rely on our own performance, but it rests solely on the performance of Jesus Christ. And God has already given his verdict on Jesus, raising him from the dead! We will have real assurance!

And another wonderful thing will happen – instead of constantly feeling the pressure to measure up to Jesus, we will desire to measure up. When we realize that Jesus had done it all for us, that when we were hopelessly lost God came and found us, no credit to anyone but Him! All of our thanks, all of our joy, all of our hope, all of our life will more and more become wrapped up in Him.

Justification leads to sanctification. Knowing that God has saved us will reshape and refashion our souls, in cooperation with the Holy Spirit, into a life of spectacular, exciting, fulfilling holiness. We don’t have a God who guilts us into being good, but a God who ushers us into goodness as a guest of honor. Amen!


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