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Scrapping Your Way Through a Slump

Text: Psalm 22:1-31

“But you, O LORD, do not be far off! O you my help, come quickly to my aid!” — Psalm 22:19

Not long ago, Chris Davis of the Baltimore Orioles found himself in the middle of the biggest slump in major league baseball history. Davis set an MLB record that nobody wants attributed to their name when he went hitless in 54 consecutive at-bats. When he finally got a hit in the 2019 season, the Orioles dugout broke out into frenzy—there were cheers, the banging of helmets, and the pounding of lockers as his teammates celebrated in support.

Why were they so excited for the guy who once smashed 53 homeruns in a single season and finished in the top three for the MVP award? Why did one teammate say, “We were jumping for joy like we got the hit”? Because slumps in baseball are inevitable for everyone—even those at the highest level of the game. Not one player is immune to a hitting drought. That’s why the younger 24-year-old outfielder Cedric Mullins said:

“He continued to show us how to be a professional. Going through the struggles that he has, he kept his chin up no matter what. To witness that in person, it’ll help me maintain my composure when I go through the same thing.”

None of us are immune to slumps in life. What makes the Bible so relatable is that when we read about a person’s strengths we also get the revelation of their weaknesses. The Word of God never sanitizes or covers up the struggle—especially in those who walked with God so faithfully.

King David, a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14), also found himself in a slump. That same guy who took on Goliath, championed numerous military battles, and established sweeping justice throughout his kingdom, also experienced a low point in his relationship with the Lord. It was a time when he didn’t feel God’s presence. Psalm 22 begins in this fashion: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?” Israel’s all-star, their chosen one of God, was feeling isolated and distant from God. It’s the same heart cry of Jesus in Matthew 27:46 as He hung suspended on the cross.

As Christians, we all go through it at some point. A prayer seems to fall on deaf ears, or our quiet time feels cold and dry. Our soul is in a drought, our spirit is in a funk, and we feel alone. But if we keep reading Psalm 22, we find that even though David’s “strength is dried up,” he tunes his heart to praise (Psalm 22:23, 25-26). He remembers that his current circumstances won’t last forever; he recognizes that his slump is not permanent, but that God’s promises are.

David envisions the glory of God being revealed from one generation to the next—even to a people yet unborn (v. 31). He foresees the ends of the earth turning to the Lord, all the families of the nations worshiping before Him, and the afflicted being heard and rescued (vv. 24-26).

Slumps don’t last but God’s promises are forever. One of the most important things we can do while in a slump is to focus less on the temporary and more on the eternal. We can praise Him even in the midst of a hitless streak and it will impact future generations. Whatever you are going through right now, someone is watching you go through it. How you go through it will have an affect on them. Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

God, slumps are real. They are inevitable. It’s part of the human struggle. In those discouraging times of drought, help us to fix our minds more on the eternal over the temporal. Remind us of your faithfulness throughout all generations and tune our hearts to praise you. Help us to be mindful of your promise that you will never leave us or forsake us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. When was the last time your life was in a slump?
  2. When was a time that you felt God was unreachable or silent?
  3. How would you sum up the focus of David’s prayer in Psalm 22?
  4. What changed David’s attitude in verses 22-24? How does praise affect our focus?
  5. Even in a slump, what vows did David make to the Lord? (vv. 22-31)

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Blame Shifting: It’s the Nachos’ Fault

Text: Ezekiel 18:1-32

“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” —1 Corinthians 13:11

A woman in Ohio reportedly attempted to blame a near automobile accident on her Taco Bell order. After almost striking a police car, the woman claimed that she had been taking a bite out of her nachos. The police officer said that he had to swerve his vehicle to avoid being hit. He then pulled the woman over, and when he asked her what happened, she held up a bag of Taco Bell and blamed the nachos. The woman had a history of DUI offenses and upon initially refusing to get out of her vehicle, she reluctantly did. After failing a field sobriety test, she was taken into custody.

It’s convenient for us to cast external blame for our behavior, addictions, troubles, and outcomes related to the choices we have made in life. We love to take self-serving moral inventories of everyone else rather than taking inventory of ourselves—“If only he would’ve…” or “If only she hadn’t…” (You can probably finish the sentence, right?). The idea that we are in some way responsible for outcomes in our lives can be scary, which is often what leads to self-medicating dependencies.

“It’s not my fault—it’s everyone else’s fault”—becomes the battle cry of the perpetual victim.

In many ways, the difference between a child and an adult is the willingness to take personal responsibility for one’s own actions. Paul says, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (1 Corinthians 13:11). The Bible not only teaches the concept of personal responsibility (Ezekiel 18:20), it correlates it with the law of sowing and reaping (Galatians 6:7-8).

Blame shifting is typically the default of the person who fails to accept personal responsibility for failure.

Adam tried to blame Eve for his sin (Genesis 3:12). Cain tried to dodge responsibility for murdering his own brother (Genesis 4:9). Pilate attempted to absolve his guilt in the matter of the crucifixion of Christ: “‘I am innocent of this man’s blood,’ he said. ‘It is your responsibility!’” (Matthew 27:24). Ultimately, attempts to pass the buck are futile. “You may be sure that your sin will find you out,” the Bible affirms in Numbers 32:23. Or as the saying goes: The chickens always come home to roost.

One of the most beautiful things about the nature of Christ’s interactions in the Gospels is the manner in which He humanized the dehumanized. He would challenge individuals to take inventory of their own failure while at the same time making them feel fully loved and valued as human beings—the quintessential incarnate of “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). This is especially seen in the way He treated the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-42). He exposed her immoral past, guided her to take inventory of her own personal failure, and then freed her to become a woman of dignity, respect, and powerful influence.

God has a redemptive plan for all of our failure. That plan doesn’t happen on the heels of blame shifting, it comes to fruition when we own the wrongdoing and the wrong “being” in our lives. Taking personal responsibility for our failure is like turning the ignition of God’s redeeming engine on in our lives. He’s given you the keys to a powerful vehicle for spiritual growth; it’s time to turn the ignition. Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

God, help me to take inventory of my life and assume responsibility for choices, behaviors, and outcomes. Help me to be quick to repent when the Holy Spirit reveals areas of blame shifting or excuse making. Help me to own what is going to make me grow. In your presence I am fully known, fully judged, and fully loved. Help me to embrace your redemption in every way that I would be conformed more to the image of Christ and to display His glory in my life. In Jesus’ blessed name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. What makes it so convenient to blame others for the outcomes in our lives?
  2. Whose sin did God say has the power to condemn a person? (Ezekiel 18:4)
  3. What does God call each person to do in light of His coming judgment? (Ezekiel 18:30)
  4. Read Romans 14:10. What can be intimidating or empowering about this promise?
  5. In what area of your life do you need to take responsibility for failure, behaviors, feelings of bitterness, or outcomes?

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“Souled” Out: Loving This World Too Much

Text: Matthew 16:21-28

“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” —Matthew 16:26

The total wealth in the entire world is $280 trillion. If you were offered every cent of that money to reject Christ and forsake the kingdom of God, would you take it?

Before you make haste in your answer—because it’s convenient to give the Sunday School answer when no one is really offering you that kind of money—consider that Esau sold his birthright for a measly pot of stew (Genesis 25:27-34). Judas sold out Jesus for a sum of about twenty dollars (Matthew 26:15)—this after physically walking closely with Jesus for over three years and seeing all of those miracles firsthand! Demas sold out his ministry “having loved this present world” (2 Timothy 4:10). All three of them believed they were gaining something when in reality they were losing so much.

It’s easy to say we are sold out to God while actually giving away bits and pieces of our soul every day to the world we live in. In our culture, the greatest value is often placed on that which has no lasting value—and if we were to be honest, we all struggle with trading in eternal currency for temporary gain. Oftentimes this looks more like a gradual erosion of values as opposed to a sudden betrayal of faith.

In Matthew 16, Jesus asks what good it is for a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul (Matthew 16:26). To gain the whole world would be to receive anything this world has to offer which you deem would make your life better—money, fame, pleasure, power, prestige, etc. To lose one’s soul, in the clear sense of Jesus’ words, is to spend an eternity apart from God. Losing your soul is about trading in a vertical relationship with God for all of the horizontal pleasures of this world.

In this particular context, Jesus was predicting His suffering and death and resurrection (Matthew 16:21). Peter, a little too enamored with the horizontal things of this world rather than the vertical riches of being kingdom-minded, resisted Jesus’ words. Jesus rebuked him and said, “For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (verse 23). Turning to the rest of the disciples, Jesus exhorted them that nothing in all the world can be compared to the worth of one’s own eternal soul.

When Jesus died on the cross to pay the debt for your sins, He was saying that you are worth more than the value of the whole world. It’s fair to say that Jesus believed that the value of your soul is worth more than $280 trillion dollars to God. Is God worth more than that to you? What evidence in your life would point to a “Yes”?

Your soul—that invisible and eternal part of you—is the most important part of who you are. Your soul is the real you. Everything else is just temporary. It’s fleeting. God doesn’t want you so enamored with all that glitters on the horizontal landscape that you lose focus of what’s of eternal value on the vertical landscape. Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

How do I sense the tide that’s rising?
De-sensitizing me from living in the light of eternity
How do I sense the tide that’s rising?
It’s hypnotizing me from living in the light of eternity

Lord forgive us when we get consumed by the things of this world,
That fight for our love, and our passion,
As our eyes are open wide and on you
Grant us the privilege of your worldview,
And may your kingdom be what wakes us up, and lays us down

—tobyMac

PRAYER 

God, help me to see the riches of your kingdom and its immeasurable value in my life above all that this world has to offer. Let me not be like Esau, who traded in his birthright for a temporary pleasure, or like Judas and Demas, who betrayed Jesus for worldly ambition. By your grace, keep my heart set on the things that transcend this temporary and fleeting world. Enamor me with your kingdom that nothing in all this world would compare with the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ. In His name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. What would you do with $280 trillion?
  2. Would one cent of that money make your heart richer toward God and His kingdom? Why or why not?
  3. How does your life reflect the truth that “your soul is your most valuable possession”?
  4. Is Christ radically changing your attitudes toward the way you cling to this world? What evidence points to that?
  5. What actions are you willing to take today in order to feed and care for your soul?

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Easter Devotion: God Isn’t Holding Out On You

Text: John 11:1-44

“He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from off all faces.” —Isaiah 25:8

Have you ever felt like God was holding out on you? Martha might’ve felt that way after her brother had died.

The text tells us that Jesus loved Martha and her sister Mary, and their brother Lazarus. They spent a great deal of time and fellowship together. But when a crisis hit, Jesus didn’t exactly rush upon the scene to prevent a tragedy. Lazarus fell ill, and instead of sweeping in with a miraculous healing, Jesus tarried a few days before coming. Lazarus ended up dying and Jesus didn’t even get there in time for the funeral!

To make sure that the readers of this story don’t misconstrue Martha and Mary for not having enough faith to receive a miracle, the Bible makes it clear that these were full-fledged worshipers and devoted disciples (John 11:2). If any folks were worthy of a miracle, you’d think it would be these sisters who followed Jesus so faithfully. But it seemed like Jesus was holding out on them.

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” Martha laments to Jesus after he finally shows up. Why did Jesus delay in coming and allow a friend whom He loved so dearly to die? In Jesus’ response to Martha, we get one of the most precious verses of hope and promise. Jesus said in John 11:25-26…

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

As all the others who had been grieving gathered together at the tomb where Lazarus lay, Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” Then He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out,” and “the man who had died came out.”

I don’t know what you may be going through in this moment, or how it will all pan out; yet one thing of which I am certain is that Jesus does know. He even knows the pain in the process as He weeps with us (John 8:35). He isn’t late as you might suppose, but He is surely sovereign over the timeline of your life. His timing is always perfect. Inevitably, you will see that whatever has “died” in your life will be raised again to redemption and glory. In that moment, Jesus will also rejoice with you as He has wept with you.

Martha wanted healing; Jesus wanted resurrection. His plans are always so much bigger than ours. His disciples learned that lesson after their plans were shattered at Christ’s crucifixion. They wanted to save Jesus from the cross, yet He purposed to destroy the power of sin and death through the cross. We do well to remember that the resurrection of Jesus changes the face of death for all His people. Death is no longer a last word, but a passage into God’s presence. Easter reminds us that you can put truth in a grave, but it won’t stay there.

PRAYER

God, you are to be praised. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus you have destroyed once and for all the sting of death. No longer is the grave the end, but it has become the womb for birthing the greatest of all miracles—a restored fellowship with YOU and a total victory over all that is in this world. Thank you for the salvation afforded to us through the resurrected Christ.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

    1. What do the people you know fear most in life?
    2. What sort of miracle would be the most spectacular to witness?
    3. Under what circumstances have you doubted the power of God?
    4. How did Jesus show Martha the importance of her faith? (John 11:40)
    5. What specific situation do you need to trust God to work out in your life?

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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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