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When At a Crossroads in Life, Consider…

Text: Deuteronomy 28:1-68

“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life.” —Deuteronomy 30:19

Last week my wife and I had the opportunity to take a tour of the dorms where our daughter is going to be a freshman in college this fall. It’s a bittersweet moment for me as a father—watching my child leave the home and take on more independence. Though she will surely be in a good place and in the Lord’s hands, I have to admit that it’s still not easy letting her go. Frankly, it’s quite hard.

In Deuteronomy 28, Moses is at a place where he must let the people go whom he has been shepherding for many years. The transition is inevitable. It was time for Israel to step foot on the soil of their new habitation—the long awaited Promised Land—and Moses wasn’t going over with them.

Many Israelites were filled with uncertainty. It was well documented that there were “giants” in the land, but there were also many other unknowns. It was a critical transition into a new chapter in which God would present them with a crossroads of particular outcomes—outcomes of blessings if they made the choice to obey Him, or outcomes of curses if they chose not to obey Him.

At this pivotal moment, Moses assured the people that God had already appointed overwhelming favor that would overtake them. The unambiguous condition was “if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 28:1). An obedient Israel would be blessed everywhere—in their homes… in their farms… in the city… in the country… when you come in… when you go out. God’s purpose in blessing Israel was greater than merely enriching the nation for it’s own sake; God intended to glorify Himself through blessing them. The antithesis would be that their disobedience meant robbing God of that opportunity of glorifying Himself through them.

This chapter can be quite intimidating if we read it as a list of do’s and don’ts rather than God’s intended aim that the people would simply abide in Him by serving “the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart” (Deuteronomy 28:47). Therefore this crossroads isn’t about passageways of perfection, but rather journey’s of grace-filled joy. God wants to be our heart’s desire. And if He is that primary passion, we will want to follow Him faithfully each and every day as His strength is made perfect in our weakness.

When you consider the crossroads that God has put before you, know that He never intended for you to take that journey alone. The same Jesus who died on the cross to take the punishment for your sins (disobedience) and bear Deuteronomy’s curse for you at Calvary (Galatians 3:13), is the same Jesus who intercedes for you today at the right hand of the Father. He is pulling for blessings to overtake you as you walk in union with Him! In Christ’s all-sufficient grace, the Savior says, “Take my hand, let’s walk this path together. Through all the ups and downs, I will never let you go. I will never leave you. I promise.”

Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

God, thank you for the life you have set before me. You have invited me into a journey where you alone have already and sufficiently met all the criteria for me to live in union with you. Because of Christ’s blood, and His grace alone, I can share in this blessed journey. Please continue to grace my heart that it’s primary passion and desire would be to serve you with gladness and joy. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. What choices are the most difficult for you to make?
  2. In Deuteronomy 28, what blessings would Israel receive for following God’s instructions? What curses would be the outcomes of disobedience?
  3. How might small decisions for God have an impact on bigger faith decisions for God?
  4. What confidence should it give us that when facing a particular crossroads in life, Christ has already given us the victory and appointed blessings to overtake us?
  5. What choices do you need to make this week that will honor God with the glory He longs to gain from your life?

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The Dangers of Forgetting What You’ve Been Through

Text: Deuteronomy 8:1-20

“You shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart.” —Deuteronomy 8:2

Have you ever walked into a room and suddenly forgot what it was you were looking for in that room? I heard about a man who told his doctor: “Recently I have become a bit forgetful.” The doctor asked him: “How long have you had this problem?” To which the patient replied: “What problem?”

There are some things that God wants us to never forget. For example, though He wants us to forget the shame and regret of our past, I believe He doesn’t want us to forget what it was like to be lost in this world without Him. By remembering the barrenness that comes with being spiritually destitute, we are better equipped with empathy to be His witnesses in a world where millions of people are stranded without hope. Hurting people—lost, empty, and alone.

God didn’t want ancient Israel to forget that He never brings us out without bringing us in (Deuteronomy 6:23). He doesn’t deliver us from something adverse without course-correcting us for something greater. He reassured His chosen people this as they wandered for many years in the wilderness. They were promised something that had not yet become a reality to them—“a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing” (Deuteronomy 8:9).

“Remember” is a key word in this eighth chapter of Deuteronomy (v. 18) along with its antonym “forget” (vv. 11, 14, 19). In His manifold wisdom, God knows that in times of prosperity we tend to forget His hand that has brought us through time and time again. In the land of plenty, pride comes from forgetting the wilderness (8:14–17) and failing to apply its lessons in the good land. This ill-fated path of forgetfulness leads not only to pride but also to idolatry (8:19–20). This necessitated a warning that when Israel commits idolatry, it acts like a pagan nation and so its destiny at God’s hands will be like that of the other nations. Did you get that? When we forget that God has brought us through we end up acting like pagans!

Beloved, God wants you to remember that He “who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know” is also your Provider in that good land flowing with milk and honey.

And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. (Deuteronomy 8:2)

Remembrance is demonstrated in obedience. If we can’t remember Him in the wilderness we will in no manner be fit to remember Him in the Promised Land. As Matthew Henry noted: “Let none of God’s children distrust their Father, nor take any sinful course for the supply of their necessities. Some way or other, God will provide for them in the way of duty and honest diligence, and verily they shall be fed.” This we should never forget!

David said, “I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread” (Psalm 37:25). He “who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end” (Deuteronomy 8:16), will never fail His promises. Never forget that.

So go ahead and take a stroll down memory lane this week and praise God for His goodness in bringing you through—bringing you OUT that He might bring you IN.

PRAYER

God, you have been good to us. Your arm has never failed us. Even when you discipline us it is in love that we might be humbled and tested, to the aim that you would do us good in the end. Thank you for your love, correction, and provision. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. What is something you tend to be forgetful about?
  2. How were God’s people told to remember His commands? (Deuteronomy 8:1-2)
  3. How does God discipline us? (Deuteronomy 8:5)
  4. How do you think God wants us to reconcile forgetting the shame of our past while also remembering the desert of adversity that God has brought us through?
  5. What memories might God be calling on you to hold closely this week in terms of where He has brought you through in the past?

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A Wrong Way to Be Right

Text: Numbers 20:2-13

“In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” — Ephesians 4:26

In our household, especially when there are heated disagreements, we try to recall that there is a wrong way to be right. When conflict or arguments arise, the way we posture ourselves is just as important, if not more important, than the issue we may be defending or the stance we may be taking. We may feel that our position is right, or just, but the way we posture ourselves often puts us in the wrong.

God doesn’t want us to just be right on an issue, He wants us to be right in our posture, our tone, and our expression.

After a long time (nearly 40 years) of aimless wandering in the wilderness, Israel was ready to move on and enter the Promised Land. The camp had been complaining about a lack of water and the people began to quarrel with Moses, their leader. He took the matter to God and the Lord spoke to Moses saying, “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.” (Numbers 20:8)

Moses and Aaron gathered the people saying, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” They had been down this road before and Moses seems to be running out of patience (Exodus 17). Then he lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly.

There was evidently something very severe about Moses’ behavior and the fact that he struck the rock. It was something to which God took exception. Back at Mount Sinai, God told Moses to strike the rock and water came forth (Exodus 17:6). But here at Meribah he was merely instructed to speak to the rock, yet with the rod in his hand. He failed to do what God told him to do.

Moses lectured the “rebels” with a resentful attitude of heart and carelessness of posture that he had not shown before—one of anger and contempt for the people of God. His bitterness was on reckless display. It says in Psalm 106:32-33…

They angered him at the waters of Meribah,
and it went ill with Moses on their account,
for they made his spirit bitter,
and he spoke rashly with his lips.

Though God’s Word describes how the people provoked Moses here, and commentators have given hundreds of explanations for the outcomes, we find not a single excuse for his behavior. It’s been observed that Moses took the rebellion of the people against the Lord too personally and also over-magnified his own partnership with God. His lapse into contempt led him into a lapse of subtle pride. The Lord declared that his actions were rooted in unbelief, and that he failed to “uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel” (Numbers 20:12). The consequences would be severe—“therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.”

It sounds kind of harsh that this episode alone would keep Moses out of the Promised Land, but it did.

The Bible tells us that the anger of man doesn’t produce the righteousness of God (James 1:20). When arguing with a spouse or sibling, deliberating with colleagues in the boardroom or the office, sparring with other believers over important leadership issues in the church, or when debating political issues with those of different viewpoints, we need to remember that there is a wrong way to be right. God expects us to have a posture of humility, gentleness, and respect (1 Peter 2:17, 1 Peter 3:15, Titus 2:7)—one that affirms those issues or principles that are important to us and in keeping with His Word, but also in a way that values those people who may not be in agreement with us.

When you are confronted with relationship issues that ruffle your feathers, remember the importance of upholding God as holy in all manner of conduct and conversation (1 Peter 1:15-16). Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, we understand that there is a wrong way to be right. Even if we are right on an issue it doesn’t mean we are right in expression or posture. Forgive us where we have failed you in this regard. Help us to uphold you as holy in every manner of our daily interactions. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. Where have you seen the destructiveness of man’s anger in the world today?
  2. How is God dishonored when we make hasty or emotion-charged decisions?
  3. When have you been right in a wrong way?
  4. What can you take away from this passage in Numbers 20:2-13?
  5. What is a specific action you can take this week to uphold God as holy in your conduct and conversations?

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Overcoming Grasshopper Vision

Text: Numbers 13:25-33

“And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.” —Numbers 13:33

Have you ever felt stuck between two chapters in your life—a place where it doesn’t seem like there is much purpose and a place where you feel that God, like a middle school crush who failed to call you, has subtly moved on without you?

The tribes of Israel were in such a place in Numbers 13. They had witnessed the power of God in saving their families from Egyptian bondage, leading them out of slavery and steering them on toward the possession of their very own Promised Land. But they hadn’t gotten there yet! They were stuck in between and their faith was beginning to fail.

It was in this wilderness place that Moses sent out twelve spies to seek out the land they had been promised and to bring back a report to the rest of the people. The last instruction he gave them was: “Be of good courage…” (Numbers 13:20). Tragically, the spies came back with “grasshopper” vision—all but two of them (Joshua and Caleb) referenced the size of the giants and said, “we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them” (Numbers 13:33). Woefully, their adversaries saw them the same way they saw themselves!

These spies discouraged the hearts of the people by obsessing over the size of the giants in the land and the impossibility of the mission that God had given them.

Grasshopper vision is what happens when our eyes look at our problems or obstacles in regard to their intimidating size or our own personal inadequacy, rather than looking at them in regard to the greatness and the all-sufficient power of our God. People with grasshopper vision view God in proportion to the enormity of their problems rather than viewing their problems in contrast to the size of their God.

Caleb, however, seconded by Joshua, encouraged them to go forward (Numbers 13:30). He does not say, “Let us go up and conquer it”; but, “Let us go up at once and occupy [possess] it.” The former relies on self while the latter relies on God to do what He already promised to do. It later says of Caleb: “Therefore Hebron [the mountain once possessed by giants] became the inheritance of Caleb… because he wholly followed the LORD, the God of Israel” (Joshua 14:14).

“Difficulties that are in the way of salvation, dwindle and vanish before a lively, active faith in the power and promise of God,” noted Matthew Henry. “All things are possible, if they are promised, to him that believes; but carnal sense and carnal professors are not to be trusted. Unbelief overlooks the promises and power of God, magnifies every danger and difficulty, and fills the heart with discouragement. May the Lord help us to believe! We shall then find all things possible.”

God isn’t calling you to conquer anything. He is simply asking you to “occupy” what He has already promised and conquered Himself. He wants you to occupy a faith-filled mindset. He wants you to occupy a God-size vision. He wants you to occupy a believer’s heart. He wants you to occupy a trust-in-Him spirit—an overcoming attitude. He wants you to occupy a peace in the midst of the storm. I have said this before but it bears repeating: In Christ, we don’t fight for victory; we fight from victory. We occupy what Christ has already wrought for us on the cross.

Whatever giants may be standing before you today, let them not meet in you a grasshopper mentality. Let them tremble at the reality of a faith-filled worshiper completely occupied by the strength, size, and greatness of their God!

Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

God, thank you for your greatness—the sovereignty to promise and the sufficiency to come through. Let us not waver in unbelief or be crippled by grasshopper vision. May our hearts swell with faith as we begin to see those problems shrink in proportion to the immensity of WHO you are. You are all-powerful and all sufficient, and you have called us into a journey of seeing the impossible give way to miracles. We worship you today as the God who is the same yesterday, today, and forevermore. In Jesus’ blessed name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. What kinds of risks are involved in standing up for what you believe?
  2. What did Moses tell the spies to look for and what were they told to bring back? (Numbers 13:18-20)
  3. What did Caleb say and how did the other spies react to Caleb’s comment? (13:30-31)
  4. How can trusting in Christ give you the courage to face difficulties this coming week?
  5. In what ways can you shift from fighting for victory to fighting from victory? How can this shape your worship?

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Get That Muscle Car Out of the Garage

Text: Matthew 16:13-20

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” — Acts 1:8

In high school, I had a friend who owned a 1969 Pontiac GTO—a stout muscle car. This bright red beauty had a V-8 engine with close to 400 horsepower, a rear-deck spoiler for aerodynamic favorability, and wide-tread Polyglas tires made to grip the road for traction and handling. Manufacturers named it “The Judge” because the vehicle embodied authority on the highway. This powerful machine was made for the road. The only problem was my friend never took it out of the garage. The car was stuck in preservation mode—all that horsepower left idle in a confined shelter. It looked bold, beautiful, and commanding, but rarely saw the world for which it was designed and made.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus manufactured a vehicle to change the world. He gave it power and authority to make a difference in society. He called it the “church,” and in Matthew 16, he said the gates of hell would not prevail against it. Then he gave his disciples the keys to this new vehicle saying, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Did you get that? They were given the keys to God’s hot rod!

That early church didn’t have many garages in which to take shelter. They gathered together in homes for worship, prayer, and devotion, but their greatest moments of flexing the power that had been given them happened in the most public of places—street corners, market places, riversides, city squares, sports arenas, roadways, etc. Church buildings were not erected until the early 200s, and yet this movement became a phenomenon without a garage to preserve it.

As Ken Curtis said:

“It was unthinkable that a small, despised movement from a corner of Palestine could move out to become the dominant faith of the mighty Roman Empire, an empire steeped in fiercely defended traditional pagan religions. The spread of the Christian church in its earliest centuries is one of the most amazing phenomena in all of human history. The church was considered a religio prava, an illegal and depraved religion. Wave after wave of persecution was unleashed to squash it. At least two of the persecutions were empire-wide and intended to destroy the church.”

And yet this fledgling movement thrived in the face of adversity.

Humanly speaking, the odds were all stacked against it. So how did the early Christian church not just survive, but thrive? There is no shortage of debate about this among modern ecclesiologists, but one thing can surely be agreed upon: the early church wasn’t defined by a building. In other words, the muscle car wasn’t defined by a garage; it found its identity in its robust design, its authority in the matchless power under the hood, and its purpose in the road for which it was made to traverse.

The church was made for times like this—rebellious, immoral, pagan, godless landscapes. It was never intended to be in preservation mode. You were made for times like this. God has given you the keys of the kingdom, beloved. You were designed to make a difference in the times you are living.

You have power (Acts 1:8).

You have authority (Luke 10:19).

You are favored and equipped (Psalm 90:17, 2 Peter 1:3-4).

What is holding you back?

Where do you need to get your faith out of the garage and into proximity with others who are lost without the hope of Jesus? Pray about this as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, our times are in your hands. Thank you for making us and positioning us for such a time as this. You are building your church and the gates of hell will not prevail. You have equipped us with the power of the Holy Spirit to infiltrate this generation with gospel hope. Teach us how to abide in you to do that. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. If you could ask any person any question, whom would you ask, and what would you want to know?
  2. What broad, impersonal question did Jesus ask His disciples, and what answer did Peter give (Matthew 16:13-16)? What difference does it make what we believe about Jesus?
  3. What did Jesus promise about the Church? (Matthew 16:18)
  4. What task did Jesus assign the apostles, and Who would help them get their job done (Acts 1:8)? Why would it be important that they didn’t go in their own power?
  5. Are there practical ways you can keep your faith from drifting into preservation mode? Where might God be calling you to rely on His power this week to bring hope or encouragement to others?

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What Rivals Your Love for God?

Text: 1 John 2:7-17, Hebrews 12:1-3

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” —1 John 2:15

“Unrivaled: Earnhardt vs. Gordon” is a new documentary that highlights the 90s rivalry between NASCAR legends Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon. Though the drivers were combatants on the track, they were friends outside their cars. The documentary contrasts their family backgrounds, driving styles, paint schemes and fashion sense. But perhaps the most polarizing aspect of their personas was that of their loyal fan bases. The film highlights how it was virtually impossible for fans to love one without hating the other.

As we run our race in life, there are things all around us that rival our relationship with Christ. This imagery is well portrayed by the writer of Hebrews: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1–2 ESV)

This exhortation reminds us that running our race with endurance involves a shedding of things that would hinder our growth, our progress, and our missional influence. Love for God and love for the world cannot coexist.

John wrote: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” This passage should not be taken as an extreme rejection of everything in the world, for “God… loved the world” (John 3:16), but rather a warning about attaching ourselves to pursuits, affinities, and idols that would rival our passion for God. John doesn’t demonize God’s whole created order, but gives examples of what a believer should guard against—“the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and the pride of life.”

The world wants our love—that which dictates how we spend our time, our attention, and our money. It rivals God’s call on our lives to seek first His kingdom, to love Him with all of our being, and to serve others in generosity and compassion. Saint Augustine captured the heart of this when he prayed, “He loves thee too little who loves anything together with thee which he loves not for thy sake.”

Is there an affinity in your life right now that is rivaling your love for the Father? Your deliverance from that competitor begins, not so much in the effort of giving up this or that, but in seeing the world through God’s eyes—recognizing that everything opposed to God is under a death sentence. For “the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”

The more we fix our eyes on Jesus, the less our affection will be for those things that rival him. We can then say with the psalmist:

Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.
(Psalm 73:25-26 NIV)

PRAYER

God, be my portion in this life and the one to come. There is nothing in this world that can compete with you. Let nothing rival my love for you and your kingdom. You have my heart, my vision, and my desires. I am wholly Yours. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. What makes TV commercials and advertisements so appealing?
  2. Which of these three most clearly motivates the people you know: (1) the drive to meet their physical needs, (2) the drive to get things, or (3) the drive to succeed?
  3. Why did John tell us not to love the world? (1 John 2:15-17)
  4. What would you categorize as “the desires of the flesh,” “the desires of the eyes,” and “the pride of life”?
  5. What in your life might be rivaling your love for the Father today? What steps can you take to find satisfaction in God over the things of the world?

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When Serving God is Loco

Text: Mark 3:1-35

“And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, ‘He is out of his mind.’” —Mark 3:21 ESV

I was listening to someone from another part of the world describe what he thought was crazy about the stereotypical American way of life.

“I find it crazy when one’s greatest goal is to work seventy hours a week for thirty-five years to have a nice house and a pension. I find it crazy when you are more concerned about insuring your life on this earth while doing nothing to insure your life for all eternity. Even more so, I find it crazy that you would install gates, alarms, and locks all around you and your family while you open your doors wide to the father of lies, the great destroyer and accuser, Satan.”

I guess “craziness” does seem to be a relative concept.

In Mark 3, Jesus’ closest relatives thought he had gone crazy. He left the prosperous family business to become an itinerant preacher, attracting huge crowds in celebrity-like fashion. He was healing the sick, casting out demons, and butting heads with the religious establishment of his day. On top of that, he picked a motley crew of misfits to be his disciples. The soundness of his judgment was in question. But that didn’t hold him back from fleshing out God’s kingdom to the fullest.

Despite their lack of support early on, Jesus never did forsake his relationship with his earthly family. And though some of his brothers did later come to faith in him (1 Corinthians 9:4–5), he often had to contend with unbelieving family members.

Scripture encourages us that there is safety in the multitude of counsel. It is wise to listen to the people God has put into our lives. But there are also times when obedience to God will cause others to question your sanity—including those closest to you. If you follow Jesus long enough, sooner or later it will require you to get a little loco—something that just doesn’t make sense to anyone else around you. If not, you might not be following him closely but more so from a safe distance.

Abraham was called to get up and go to a distant place “not knowing where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8)—without the luxury of Google Maps or GPS. Didn’t sound very responsible. Imagine what Noah’s neighbors thought of his backyard construction project (what a waste of gopher wood!). Joshua’s military strategy to bring down Jericho’s fortified walls involves marching around in circles while shouting loud praises to God (hardly rational). The rich young ruler is challenged to sell all of his possessions and give to the poor. The disciples are told to wait patiently in an upper room for an unseen force to come upon them and empower them with supernatural vigor to evangelize their world with a message of salvation.

Yes, serving God will get loco at times.

It might sound crazy to others that Christ’s disciples would choose to love their enemies or to forgive those who have done them wrong. It might seem insane that they would give up worldly gain for eternal treasures, or appear foolish to invest in the advancement of a kingdom that transcends human institutions. But that’s what serving God requires of us, a life that doesn’t always make sense in the here and now—yet one that will surely be commended later (Hebrews 11:38-39).

I love how Paul describes his loco journey in 2 Corinthians 5:13—“If it seems we are crazy, it is to bring glory to God.” He considered that his zeal and diligence was for the glory of God and the good of the church. How about you beloved, have you found your crazy? What might God be calling you to do that seems irrational to others? Consider that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, craziness is a relative concept. It’s encouraging to know that even Jesus was considered crazy by his closest of earthly kin. What might seem crazy to the world is perfectly normal to the DNA of a Christ-follower. Help us to find the path of obedience, even when it doesn’t make sense to ourselves or to those around us. Anything less than full obedience is crazy to a disciple. Keep reminding us of this. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. When have you been accused of being crazy for obedience to God?
  2. Why do you think Jesus’ family thought He was “out of his mind”?
  3. How did the teachers of the law try to explain Jesus’ behavior? (Mark 3:22)
  4. In light of this passage, what do we fight against?
  5. What might God be calling you to do that seems irrational to others?

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The Tragedy of Dying While Living

Text: Luke 12:15-21

“I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” —Philippians 3:8 ESV

Death is not the ultimate tragedy. The real tragedy is what we let die while we live.

In the Parable of the Rich Fool, Jesus hits on this idea. It tells of a man who acquired prosperity, comfort, and abundance, but was consumed with only the here and now. Death came without warning, and he could take nothing with him. God called him a fool, rebuking him for living focused only on himself. This parable surely isn’t an indictment on wealth; it was more clearly a warning of the dangerous implications of its seductive tendency toward complacency, self-sufficiency, and covetousness.

Though the rich fool anticipates years of ease—a time to eat, drink, be merry—instead an eternal destiny apart from God awaits him. As Jesus’ condemning words confirm, “This night your soul is required of you.”

This man was rich in the world’s eyes but had no relationship with God. He hadn’t invested anything in Christ’s kingdom. All the treasures he stored here were worthless once he died. What’s even worse is that without Jesus, he’d be separated from God forever. This is the tragedy of a wasted life.

As we consider the self-consumed life of this man, we are faced with two critical questions. First, if you were to die today, would you go to heaven? Salvation is a free gift for those who trust in Jesus as the God-appointed sacrifice for sin. He is the only way to eternal life (John 14:6). Scripture teaches that when believers die, they immediately find themselves in the presence of the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8).

The second question is: what is driving your life? Are you fueled by selfish ambition, acquiring wealth for yourself, or anxiously trying to store up security in this lifetime? Or is your motivation more about furthering God’s kingdom?

We may not know when our time will come, yet assuredly we know that death is inescapable. Dying doesn’t have to be an unpleasant topic when you are living for something so much bigger than this transient world. Paul put it this way: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21)—“to live” is tantamount to living in such a way as to have Christ’s glory and fame as your supreme treasure. Death may be a great loss to a carnal, worldly man, for he loses all his earthly comforts and all his hopes; but to a true believer it is gain—the end of all his weakness and misery, and most chiefly, a more glorious union with Christ.

Dying while living is trying to find happiness in more worldly stuff. To be fully alive is to be most consumed with Christ. Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, forgive us for getting consumed with all that stuff in the world that competes with your fullness in our lives. Guard our hearts from the covetousness that leads to deeper disappointment and carnal complacency. Teach us what it really means to live fully in the joy of Christ, and to have his glory as our greatest treasure in this life and the one to come. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. What measures of a person does our society value?
  2. What was the rich man’s dilemma in the parable? (Luke 12:16-17)
  3. How did God intervene in the rich man’s life? (v. 20)
  4. Why is it difficult for us to accept the fact that our life and things are temporary?
  5. How is it possible to be rich toward God and store up treasures in heaven? Where might those investments be practically applied this week?

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Los Angeles Rams Receiver: Looking to Jesus

Text: Hebrews 12:1-13

“Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” —Hebrews 12:1-2

Brandin Cooks can be found regularly sitting at his locker with his Bible open or kneeling in prayer. A spiritual leader for the Los Angeles Rams, Cooks didn’t grow up in a Christian home. He became a follower of Christ as a college student at Oregon State. His father died of a heart attack when Cooks was six, so he is no stranger to tragedy or hardship.

The wide receiver is hoping that the Super Bowl affords him an opportunity for redemption after he exited last year’s big game prematurely due to an injury. The difference being, last year Cooks played for the New England Patriots before an offseason trade sent him to the Rams. He is grateful for another chance to play on football’s biggest stage.

One of Cook’s mottos is: “Let us turn our eyes to Jesus so that the desire of this world may grow dim.”

In Hebrews 12, the Christian life is compared to a race—one that is won by looking to Christ, who is “the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

The words in this chapter were penned to encourage believers who were facing great persecution all around them. They were urged to keep their eyes on the perfect example of Jesus, who suffered and died, but was raised to life again in glorious and triumphant fashion.

In the ancient Greek, “looking to Jesus” uses a verb that implies a certain looking away from other things and a fixed focus on another. I have tried to look at two things at the same time and I have found it to be impossible. Sure, I can have multiple things in the peripheral of my vision at the same time, but there can only be one thing upon which my eyes are fixed—or focused. My eyes can’t be fixed on worry and worship at the same time. They can’t be focused on greed and generosity at the same time. They can’t be captivated with sin and holiness at the same time.

As Charles Spurgeon observed, “The Greek word for ‘looking’ is a much fuller word than we can find in the English language. It has a preposition in it which turns the look away from everything else. You are to look from all beside to Jesus. Fix not thy gaze upon the cloud of witnesses; they will hinder thee if they take away thine eye from Jesus. Look not on the weights and the besetting sin-these thou hast laid aside; look away from them. Do not even look upon the race-course, or the competitors, but look to Jesus and so start in the race.”

So many things in this moment are competing for our gaze—acceptance and approval, infinitely scrolling timelines on social media, worldly temptations, expectations of others, our endless problems, those financial burdens, today’s homework, tomorrow’s deadlines. Of course we all have practical responsibilities to which we would be foolish to turn a blind eye, it’s just that our eyes are not to be “fixated” on these things of the world. There is a difference between giving something healthy attention versus being engrossed or absorbed with something.

God also wants our gaze. He knows how easily distracted we are by the things of this world and that’s why Hebrews gives us this portrait of an athlete running a race. The athlete doesn’t exist without discipline. He or she has to repeatedly come back to those fundamentals and exercises to run their race with clarity of purpose and perseverance. And herein the author of Hebrews exhorts us: “do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves” (vv. 5-6).

His plan is for you to run well and finish strong. You do that by keeping your eyes fixed on Him with discipline and focus. Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.
(Helen H. Lemmel, 1922)

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, we get so easily distracted from what is eternally important in life. Thank you for your discipline, which always has our good in mind and brings us back to what really matters. Teach us how to keep our eyes fixed on you while going about our daily responsibilities. Help us to run our race with perserverance, by looking unto Jesus as the perfecter of our faith. In his name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. How were you disciplined as a child? What do you think was good or bad about the way you were disciplined?
  2. What should motivate followers of Christ to live for Him? (Hebrews 12:1)
  3. What do we learn about God from the fact that He disciplines us? (12:6-7)
  4. When have you sensed that God was disciplining you?
  5. Where might you need to shift your focus from the things of this world to the person of Christ this week?

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Wisdom is Crying Out to You

Text: Proverbs 8:1-36

“Does not wisdom call? Does not understanding raise her voice?” —Proverbs 8:1

I have a friend and colleague in Northern Ireland who loves to awaken young people at summer camp to the melody of an old traditional children’s song. Each morning he grabs the megaphone, stands in the center of camp, and with the morning fog hovering over the mountains as his backdrop he sings so that the whole countryside can hear:

So rise and shine
And give God the glory glory
Rise and shine
And give God the glory glory
Rise and shine and give God the glory glory
Children of the Lord

The children reluctantly rise to a voice that beckons them to wipe the crust from their eyes and liven their senses.

In Proverbs 8, we hear a voice crying out as widely and broadly as possible “to the children of man,” like a prophetess summoning those within earshot to navigate through the world’s fog and find “prudence” and “sense.” Wisdom is personified as a noble woman rising early in the morning and calling out to the “simple ones” to find “life” and “obtain favor” from the Lord—even offering a stern warning that he who fails to do so “injures himself” (vv. 35-36).

One of the main purposes of the wisdom principles in Proverbs is to align a person’s heart with what the Lord loves, also bringing contrast to what wisdom hates (and therefore what the Lord hates). The call is for a person to examine his or her heart, to guard it from such things, to walk in accord with what the Lord loves, and to seek wisdom for all of life’s interactions. Whether a person’s heart and path are aligned with wisdom is a recurring theme of this chapter (vv. 8:17, 21, 36).

“I love those who love me” reinforces the call to seek wisdom, for she will show favor and then grant multiplied benefits. “Those who seek me diligently find me” reinforces the promise that the Lord will give wisdom and its benefits (vv. 8:18–21, 35). “Riches and honor” come with wisdom, but also something even greater: a kind of “enduring wealth and righteousness” (v. 18), a “fruit” that is “better than gold” and “silver” (v. 19), and an abundant “inheritance” (v. 21). One professor noted: “Paradoxically when wealth is sought it corrupts, but when wisdom is sought, edifying wealth is given (see 1 Kings 3:4–15).” While this description would include any material blessings that come to those who seek wisdom, these things cannot compare to the greater value of what is promised here: life and favor from the Lord (v. 35).

Not everything in life is easy to figure out. How can I be a better parent, spouse, or neighbor? What should I major in? Should I marry this person? Should I take this job? Should I make this financial investment? How can I resolve this relational conflict? How do I honor the Lord with my business? Mr. Google may have a wealth of information, but he doesn’t necessarily have wisdom.

We don’t need to buy into the lie that wisdom is elusive or beyond us. God has never been veiled or cryptic in His leading. His word is clear: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting” (James 1:5-6). He loves to bring clarity into our confusion. He promises to direct “the steps of the godly” because “He delights in every detail of their lives” (Psalm 37:23). Sometimes we just fail to ask Him. Ask in faith and you shall receive!

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, you are the Author of all wisdom, and I’m trusting that you will make this path straight. Please give me insight, clarity, and instruction for what I am facing in this moment. Your Word says you give generously without finding fault, and I believe that promise. I ask for wisdom in faith and I trust you to lead me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. What one possession do you value more than any other?
  2. In Proverbs 8, why do you think wisdom was depicted as being out in the streets of the city?
  3. What keeps us from asking God for wisdom? What role does faith play in asking God for wisdom?
  4. What is something that you have mistakenly valued more than wisdom?
  5. What is a big question mark in your life right now? How will you go about seeking God’s wisdom this week?

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