Christianity 201

August 18, 2020

A Famine of God’s Word | Lordship of Christ | God Owns it All

As we did one year ago, today we are presenting a trio of shorter devotionals for you from The Bare Soul Daily Devotional by Rick Roeber (aka The Barefoot Runner). Rick’s story is one of defeating addiction and he has been a guest on The 700 Club.

Spiritual Famine

Amos 8:11 – “’Behold, days are coming,’ declares the Lord God, ‘When I will send a famine on the land. Not a famine for bread or a thirst for water, but rather for hearing the words of the Lord.'”

As it was in Amos’ day, so it is now. The context of the eighth chapter of Amos is one of great apostasy. The Nation of Israel had substituted greed for charity. They no longer sought the welfare of others, only what they could selfishly obtain. Therefore, the Lord told them He would send a famine of God’s word upon the land. No longer would there be dream or vision to instruct the nation in their wickedness. The silence of God would be their eventual downfall.

Today, we have silenced God by replacing Him with our selfish pursuits. Far be it from us to miss a weekend at the lake rather than serving God in our local church! Or, how about that weekly prayer meeting God has been prompting us for weeks to attend? The world is sleeping in the dark as the church sleeps and relaxes in God’s light. However, there is coming a day of reckoning when God will hold us accountable for how we have used our time. Beloved, the days are evil. Let us make the most of each day by including God in our plans. For a day is coming soon when our lives will be laid bare before His throne where we will all give an account.

Jesus’ Lordship

Psalm 16:2 – “I said to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good besides You.’”

When we come to the place of David, confessing Christ’s Lordship and really believing it, then great things begin to happen. We recognize how His righteousness is the only thing that can ever be “good” in our lives. Religion is replaced by relationship and romance toward the Lover of our souls. Like David, our hearts will rise in praise and thanksgiving when we truly recognize He is Lord and Master of our surrendered hearts.

The Savior tells us in the Gospel of Matthew that many will say “Lord, Lord” on that final day. Jesus further explains how He will disown those who have practiced lawlessness (Matthew 7:21-23). Christ is not talking necessarily about just the Ten Commandments. He is speaking about a love for living the character of God which is embodied in the law. The law of liberty has set us free from the bondage of the law, beloved (James 1:25). Jesus is truly our Lord when we instinctively live His commandments. This is true freedom that demonstrates itself in love for God and mankind.

God’s Ownership

Job 41:11 – “Who has given to Me that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is Mine.”

God Almighty, the one and true God, has never sought repayment for sending His Son the Lord Jesus Christ to die for the sin of mankind. This is what makes Him unique among all other religions. Every other belief in God, other than Christianity, demands repayment of some kind. These faiths conclude that we must be like God, so therefore we must work to attain to His character. Or, that we strive to recompense Him in some way for all of His benefits toward us.

Truly, the only thing we can give back to God is ourselves, which He already owns. One of the truest expressions of this is giving Him our time in worship. Devotion takes on many forms, but it should never be looked at as something that makes God like or love us more. It is impossible for Him to love us more than He already does, which is infinitely. All we can truly do as believers is accept His great gift and say thank you. When we expend time in this manner, we acknowledge we can do nothing further in the grand plan of redemption.

November 26, 2015

Gulping Life’s Champagne

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Today we’re paying a return visit to Barenuckle Bible, the blog of John Myer. There are some great articles on this site, and if you’re looking for some good reading for the U.S. Thanksgiving weekend, click the title below, and then click the “Home” button and find more thoughts to chew on! (A connect-the-dots Thanksgiving and eating reference.)

If You’ve Lost Something for Christ, Your Moment is Coming; If You Haven’t, Your Moment is Still Coming

We follow Jesus by going where He goes.  But few people ever ask Him, “Where are you going?”  We assume He’s headed to financial abundance, good times, and of course at the very end of the trip, heaven.   The sign-up list bulges with names for that kind of journey.

That’s why it’s shocking when Jesus cradles your head in His hands and says straight into your face, “I must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Matt. 16:21).

Talk about putting a damper on the whole Follow-Jesus thing.

His next statement equally unsettles us:  “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24).

These aren’t words I necessarily want to wear on a tee-shirt.  Yet, if we follow him, at both large and small crisis points we’ll be required to deny—say “No”—to ourselves.

Self-denial leads to taking up your cross.  The link between those two makes sense.  Some experiences of self-denial are going to be excruciating.    I’m talking about tears, the feeling of throwing your heart under a bus.

Our first reaction is to refuse with expletives, while fighting to save, to hold onto our lives.  Jesus adds, “Whoever would save his life will lose it” (Matt. 16:25).  Even if you persist in clutching what He was requiring you to lose, you’ll lose it anyway—Perhaps not only the thing itself, but your interest in it, the fulfillment, or the enjoyment of it.

Stories abound of people who have held onto things at great personal cost, and compromised their integrity and even their identity in order to do so.  Then having “saved” it, they quickly “lost” it.

One athlete revealed in an interview how he had made his sport the purpose of his life.  The day he established himself in the top echelon of it, the thrill of his victory suddenly reset to zero.  Regardless of the accolades that followed, he couldn’t shake the sense of depression and waste.  This always happens when we try to save something.  We are after all, lousy Saviors.

Then Jesus goes on to issue one of the most stunning promises ever.  “Whoever loses His life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 16:25).  Nothing ever lost for the sake of Christ is truly lost.  In some way, shape, or form it always ends up being found.  That’s because when we lose something for His sake, we’re basically “losing” it into His hands.  Jesus is after all, an excellent Savior.

Time out.  You probably know somebody who broke all the rules and got exactly what they wanted.  They don’t seem to have lost a thing.  They “saved” it all.  Jesus doesn’t deny such a thing is possible.  People make terrible decisions and move up.  They do destructive, selfish things and feel happy with the outcome.  Every day this happens.

But then He poses a hypothetical.  What if they got everything they wanted—in fact, the whole world!—and then forfeited their soul? (Matt. 16:26).  Yes, they could say they got an exciting gulp of life’s champagne.  But they threw away the fountain of fellowship with Christ.  Worse, when they realize their mistake one day, what will they possibly give to get back what they lost?

The book of Hebrews warns us that Esau couldn’t get back what he lost even when he “sought it with tears” (Heb. 12:17).  He had been hungry one day and had swapped his inheritance for one bowl of porridge.  No doubt it was the best bowl of porridge he ever had, with that special spiced gravy all served up in his man-bowl.

It was so tasty for that moment.

Don’t live for the moment.  Jesus said, “The Son of Man is going to come with His angels in the glory of His Father and then He will repay each person according to what he has done” (Matt. 16:27).  This is the grand moment.  For some, sadly, it will be about forfeiture.  For others who have lost for his sake but haven’t yet found, that will be a time of celebration.

Never envy those who seem to be getting all their rewards now.

During my first week of grad school, I took a look at the syllabus and wondered how I could still have room for a life.  As stress levels went through the roof, one of my classmates (who was not yet thirty years old) developed shingles.  The rest of us stole time from our families or resigned ourselves to living in a quasi-exhausted state.

But not everybody.  Some folks casually came and went.  When paper or quiz deadlines were announced, they never flinched.  In fact, they never tested or turned in homework of any kind.  They were called auditors.  They paid a cheaper price to attend class but with no commitment to assignments.  Their nights and free time belonged to them.

I couldn’t decide whether I hated them or wanted to be them.  They absorbed the same material as I, but without the emotional trauma that comes from the work-family-study crunch.

The only substantial difference was that they received no credit for attending those classes, while I did. Still, now and then the question would cross my mind, Why am I doing this to myself?

Eventually, my moment came.  I graduated.  I walked in a public ceremony, received honors from my college, and a master’s sash around my neck.  I got a diploma and letters after my name.  The commitment that seemed so unreasonable, so crazy at times, went somewhere.

Yours will, too.

October 22, 2014

What’s In It For Me?

Pastor Clarke Dixon continues his series on generosity; to read this week’s entry at source and check out previous installments, click the title below.

Selfish Generosity? Reflections on Matthew 19, 20

 

Rich Young RulerCan you be generous and yet remain selfish and self-centered at the same time? According to the Bible, yes!

First, let us consider the rich young ruler who asks: “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16 NRSV). Notice incidentally that he is looking for only one thing to do! But notice especially what he is not asking: “Teacher, what must I do to see God’s name honored? Teacher, what must I do to see your Kingdom come? Teacher, what must I do to see God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven? Teacher, how can I be of help?” Instead his question is very self focused. He may as well be asking “What about me? What’s in this for me?” Being rich, he would have had the resources to be helpful to Jesus in His ministry, being young he would have had the energy, and being a ruler, his influence also might of been of help. But helping himself is the only thing on his mind at this time.

A short conversation between Jesus and the young man ensues, but there is something notable about Jesus’ response as to which commands the man should focus on:

And Jesus said, “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honour your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 19:18-19 NRSV)

Do you notice anything about this list? These are all commands that focus on relationships. Jesus is here looking to wean the young man off his self-focus and instead to focus on others. Jesus takes this focus on others a step further:

“If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me (Matthew 19:21 NRSV)

The young man walks away grieved for being rich now he cannot fathom becoming poor and trusting the Lord with his treasures in heaven. He cannot focus on others. He cannot get beyond his self-focus.

Jesus takes the opportunity to teach, as we read 19:23-26 , about the difficulty of the rich entering the Kingdom of Heaven but things quickly get back to the theme of self-focus: “Then Peter said in reply, “Look, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?”” (Matthew 19:27 NRSV). Peter here is comparing himself and the other disciples to the rich young ruler. They had left everything to follow, the young man had not. Is there reward for that? Yes, great will be their reward according to Jesus in verses 28-29. However, notice how Peter’s question is very much like the rich young man’s? He may as well be saying “What about me? What’s in this for me?” It is a self-centered question.

The next parable in 20:1-16 develops this. Some laborers are hired to put in a full twelve hour day, while others are hired for less, some even for only one hour. But at the end of the day they all get the same amount, and understandably the workers who worked the longest are upset. But to this the master responds:

Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous? (Matthew 20:13-16 NRSV)

That we are to take this parable as furthering the thoughts of reward in the previous chapter is made clear by the repeating of “So the last will be first, and the first will be last” in both 19:30 and 20:16. To summarize those two passages: “First; yes you will be rewarded. Second; do not focus on your reward.” Someone who has fully surrendered to the Master will trust Him with the final outcome of all things. Someone who has a self focus, however, will focus in on the rewards and make comparisons with others receive. Though we may leave all to follow Jesus, we may still be self-centered rather than fully surrendered. Self-sacrifice may not be sacrificial at all if it is an attempt to come out on top.

Keep reading and we will keep seeing this lesson on self focus. Next up, Jesus speaks of His own death in 20:17-19, which of course has its focus on you and me. Right after that in 20:2-,21 the mother of James and John, with both of them along, asks Jesus to give her sons the best places in the Kingdom. They didn’t get the lesson on being focused on others. They didn’t get the lesson on being focused on God. They didn’t get the lesson on being focused on the Kingdom. They had left everything to follow Jesus. But they had not yet left their self focus. Have you?

September 15, 2011

Worship Classic: Make My Life a Prayer

…It is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.
~Hebrews 11:6 (NLT)

…I assure you that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it can only be a single seed. But if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their lives will lose them, and those who hate their lives in this world will keep them forever. Whoever serves me must follow me. Wherever I am, there my servant will also be. My Father will honor whoever serves me.
~John 12: 24-27 (CEB – Common English Bible)

Time for another worship song devotional.  When I listen to Keith Green’s Make My Life a Prayer to You after all these years I’m struck by a couple of things.  First, this is what we would call a ‘vertical’ worship song, inasmuch as he is addressing his words upward to God, but it’s not a ‘corporate’ worship song as the words are intensely personal.  Second, there is a degree to which the sincerity of his lyrics, or the earnestness of his words seem to cause this song to stand out.

Enjoy this the first time; then listen a second time and take ownership of these lyrics; make them your own.

Make my life a prayer to You,
I want to do what you want me to,
No empty words and no white lies,
No token prayers, no compromise,
I want to shine the light you gave,
Through Your Son, you sent to save us,
From ourselves and our despair,
It comforts me to know you’re really there.Oh, I want to thank you now, for being patient with me,
Oh, it’s so hard to see, when my eyes are on me,
I guess I’ll have to trust and just believe what you say,
Oh, you’re coming again, coming to take me away,I want to die, and let you give,
Your life to me, so I might live,
And share the hope you gave to me,
The love that set me free,
I want to tell the world out there,
You’re not some fable or fairy tale,
That I made up inside my head,
You’re God, The Son, you’ve risen from the dead.Oh, I want to thank you now,
For being patient with me,
Oh, it’s so hard to see,
When my eyes are on me,
I guess I’ll have to trust,
And just believe what you say,
Oh, you’re coming again,
Coming to take me away.

I want to die, and let you give,
Your life to me, so I might give,
And share the hope you gave to me,
I want to share the love that set me free.