The Last Dance: What Will Yours Look Like?

Text: Ruth 2:1-23

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” — Romans 8:18

Like millions out there today, I was inspired by “Air Jordan” in the 80s and 90s, and often dreamed I could “be like Mike.” I loved to come home from school and play hoops for endless hours. When Cindy and I were newlyweds, some of our date nights involved going to the local park where I would practice “fade-aways” for an hour and she would grab my rebounds. Yep, that girl is pretty amazing!

Though I never was able to dunk a basketball—I don’t think I drank enough Gatorade!—the sport has been a meaningful part of my life. Basketball was one of our first sports ministries to at-risk youth in Florida juvenile detention centers during the late 90s, and it’s a big component of our summer camps for prisoners’ kids and disadvantaged children in East Tennessee. It’s also been a touch of heaven bringing mission teams to the Dominican Republic to do sports ministry with the kids on a basketball court we built for an orphanage a few years ago.

Because so much of my basketball passion was fueled by Michael Jordan, the hype surrounding ESPN’s new documentary The Last Dance has stirred many hoop memories for me. In 1995, When MJ returned to the NBA after a brief retirement, I mused along with the rest of the world: Can he still compete at the same level? Can he still win? Could he silence all the critics who doubted the possibilities? Well, not only did he win, his team dominated the league while showcasing one of the greatest basketball teams to ever take the court. The “Last Dance” revealed that the best was still to come, despite all the tension coming from the skeptics and doubters.

Are my best days behind me, or in front of me?

This internal question is something many of us ponder as the drama of our lives continues to unfold. In this devotional series, we’ve been looking at the book of Ruth the last couple of weeks. During a time of famine, Naomi and her family had left the Promised Land and went to Moab, where she would face unimaginable tragedy—losing her husband and her two sons. It was a season, surely, when the widow must’ve questioned whether her best days were now behind her. She even renamed herself “Mara” (meaning “bitter”), describing what her life now felt like. Her homecoming is one of sorrow and grief. What she didn’t know was that God was orchestrating a “last dance” that would give rise to a redemption story for the ages.

Naomi and Ruth faced agonizing hardship, but with God, hardship never spells hopelessness. As widows, they benefited from an ancient tradition that helped those affected by poverty (Leviticus 19:9-10). The law commanded farmers in Israel to “cut corners” in harvesting, for the purpose of leaving behind some bundles of grain for the less fortunate in the land. It was a win-win social assistance program intended to help farmers have a generous heart while giving the poor an opportunity to actively work for their food in a way that restored their dignity.

Ruth, demonstrating a hard-working spirit, set out to glean in the fields to support Noami and herself. Whether directly from God himself (Ruth 2:12), or through a human channel “in whose sight I shall find favor (Ruth 2:2),” her faith expected to see God show up (Hebrews 11:6). Despite being a Moabite and a foreigner, she was wiser than many in Israel when it came to recognizing the Lord’s hand in her labor (Colossians 3:23-24, Galatians 6:9, Psalm 128:2, Psalm 90:17, Proverbs 14:23). Her faith is seen in the way she works. James would be proud! (James 2:14-26)

The beauty in Naomi and Ruth’s last dance is seen where faith and hard work intersect with divine intervention. Their story—as does the story of your life—has a redeemer. As Ruth’s faith is thrust into action in the barley fields, she “happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech” (Elimelech was Naomi’s deceased husband). The odd construction of this sentence in the original text is deliberate. In colloquial English, we would say, “As her luck would have it…” But the statement is ironic. The storyteller intentionally uses an expression that forces the reader to sit up and muse how Ruth just “happens” to land in the field of a man who was not only gracious (Ruth 2:2) but also a kinsman who had the right to marry Ruth after the death of her husband (according to Jewish law). As the story plays out, we see that Ruth’s arrival at Boaz’ field has nothing to do with sheer coincidence or happenstance, but indisputable fingerprints of God’s providential hand.

Suddenly, the future is looking much different for these two women who have suffered agonizing misfortune. Why? Because a redeemer is now in the picture, and this changes everything, as we will conclude next week.

Tragedy. Loss. Unemployment. Financial hardship. Sorrow. Grief. Depression. Addiction. Anxiety. Sickness. Pandemic. These stories are all told differently when a redeemer is present. Your Redeemer lives, beloved. No matter what kind of hardship or setbacks you have experienced, be assured that your best days are still to come. Your next dance—last dance, or whatever you want to call it—will be full of favor and beauty, but not due to luck, coincidence, or human sufficiency; it will be brilliant because of the fact that The Almighty is the Choreographer and HE upholds you. He will never leave you nor forsake you in this dance. You can trust His next steps!

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, what a picture of hope for the battered and weary soul. You always have a plan and a process. It’s a process that we can trust because we know Your heart. Remind us this week that the best is still to come. Our redemption draws nigh because You purpose for the world to see Your glory—not just in some abstract way, but very directly and specifically on the canvas of our lives. Increase our faith. Stretch our hope. Ignite our prayers. Kindle us with a passion to serve you in this hour with great expectancy of the redemption to come. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. When have you ever faced danger in doing what you thought was right? When has your faith put you in a vulnerable situation?
  2. How did Boaz’s foreman describe Ruth (Ruth 2:6-7)? What character traits of Ruth stand out to you?
  3. What specific instructions did Boaz give to Ruth, and how did she respond to him (Ruth 2:8-11)? In what ways is faith different from optimism or mere wishful thinking?
  4. Judging from the events in this story, what character traits does God honor in His people? What is a step you can take this week toward developing your character?
  5. How have you seen God’s providence at work in your life? How could you demonstrate your thankfulness to the Lord for His provision for you?

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When Feeling Bitter With Life

Text: Ruth 1:19-22

“Indeed it was for my own peace that I had great bitterness; But You have lovingly delivered my soul from the pit of corruption, For You have cast all my sins behind Your back.” —Isaiah 38:17

Have you ever had a crisis of faith? If God is so good, then why did this happen to me? How do I believehopepress on, when I have known such indescribable pain and loss? That’s where we find Naomi in her return to Bethlehem (Ruth 1:19-22).

When Naomi set out for Moab years earlier with her husband, Elimelech, she was filled with such high hopes and vibrant dreams of what her life would look like. Yet in Moab, all she seemed to encounter was a series of disappointments and hardship. She loses her husband, and then both of her sons. Impoverished and bereaved, she finds herself on a painful journey back to her homeland, along with her widowed daughter-in-law, Ruth. It’s hard for Naomi to see that God is near in the wake of such sorrow, loss, and devastation. “I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty,” she says. “Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”

The wounded widow is referring to the meaning of her name, which means “pleasant.” She tells her people, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.” Mara means “bitter.” In a sense, Naomi is trying to rewrite the story of her life based on the cards she has been dealt. Like many of us do from time to time, she is not associating her name with her God-given identity, but with what has happened to her. Her pain has errantly become her identity.

Disappointments are not meant to define us. You are NOT what has happened to you. Too often that’s how life unfolds; we feel branded by our hardship. In her grief, which can be very messy, Naomi presumes that God is punishing her. She laments that the Almighty has dealt her a very bitter hand. Notice the wordplay on God’s sovereignty (“Almighty”). It seems that Naomi is charging that because God is sovereign over all things, He didn’t have to let this happen. But He did… so it’s an indictment on His goodness—thus the crisis of faith.

Naomi can’t see the bigger picture in this particular chapter of suffering. As we keep reading the next chapters, we see God’s blessing and favor materialize, and Ruth playing a key role in the rehabilitation of Naomi’s faith. God demonstrates his grace, goodness, and faithfulness in manifold ways. Naomi’s bitterness will soon be turned to joy, as her life will illustrate the power of God to bring something good out of bitter circumstances.

How about you, beloved? Have circumstances derailed your faith? Have you allowed what has happened to you come to define you? Has bitterness distorted your interpretation of what God is up to in your life at this moment? Despite our own misinterpretations about God’s plan and our indictments about His intentions toward us, His redemption always tells the story rightly in the end. His grace narrates the drama more completely—and it’s always in our favor (Hosea 6:1, Isaiah 61:7, Job 42:10, 1 Peter 5:10). Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, thank you for your goodness despite our often misinterpretations about what you are doing. We are too near-sighted to see the bigger picture of what Your redemption is painting on the canvas of our lives. Help us to trust in your goodness, and wait patiently for the redemption that is sure to come. Thank for your grace and favor, which will ultimately speak over all of our disappointments and sorrows. Weeping may endure for a moment, but joy comes in the morning. We worship you because YOU are worthy. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. In what things do most people in our society seem to find their identity?
  2. Why did Naomi call herself Mara (Ruth 1:20-21)? Why do we so easily accept what has happened to us as our identity?
  3. Have you ever charged God with ill intentions, or questioned His goodness, because of something that happened in your life?
  4. How does the relationship between Naomi and Ruth speak about how God uses others to bring about redemption in our stories?
  5. Rather than finding your identity in the things that have happened to you, what can you do this week to find your identity in the redemptive story that God will one day tell more rightly—completely—about your life?

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Orpah Kissed Naomi, But Ruth Clung to Her

Text: Ruth 1:1-18

“For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” —Ruth 1:16

I used to think of myself as a football fan (American football, not soccer!), that is, until I moved to Tennessee. Once I found myself surrounded by such diehard college football enthusiasts, I eventually learned that I’m not really a true fan (fanatical follower), just a casual spectator who enjoys the game. There is a huge difference.

The casual spectator can watch a game without experiencing any animosity toward an opposing team. On the other hand, the fanatical fan experiences a whole different spectrum of emotions during and after the game. They will carry their passions from the game—its hostility withal—to their workplace for the rest of the week! Husbands and wives with divided team loyalties might even have to sleep in different rooms following a game! A true fan doesn’t just watch the game; this person will live vicariously through their team’s identity, even claiming to “bleed” that team’s colors.

I eventually realized that, when it comes to football, I’m not in the same league as fanatical followers.

In this week’s devotional passage, we see a similar contrast. In only four short chapters, the book of Ruth reveals an epic love story, depicting unwavering faithfulness and relentless devotion. Naomi and her husband, Elimelech, had been sojourners in the land of Moab after a severe famine drove them out of Judah. But now, years later, Naomi’s husband and her two sons have all died, leaving Naomi and her Moabite daughters-in-law widowed, vulnerable, and without any support.

The three of them set out for Naomi’s homeland together when we get to a pivotal scene in the Scriptures. Naomi, recognizing the difficulties that lay ahead, gives her blessing for the two women to return to their native mother’s house in Moab. Ruth 1:14 tells us that Orpah kissed Naomi goodbye, but that Ruth clung to her. Picture this devotion for a moment. Ruth desperately wraps her arms around Naomi and adamantly refuses to let go. Though her mother-in-law urges her to let go and turn back, she will not.

The word translated as “clung” in this passage means: to stick to, adhere to, cling to, join with, stay in close proximity to, and which yields the noun form for “glue.” The same word is used when Moses told the Israelites they were to “hold fast” to the LORD God because “this is your life and the length of your days” (Deuteronomy 30:20). It conveys the ideas of loyalty and devotion, as it is used in Genesis 2:24 to associate how a man shall leave his father and his mother, and “cleave” to his wife. It emphasizes the basic meaning of being intimately joined to another and of being identified with another, even as Ruth was now committing to no longer being “identified” with the Moabites but primarily with Naomi, her people and her God.

Ruth’s act of clinging to Naomi is a reminder to all of us that even in times of seeming abandonment and despair, God calls on us to cling to Him with all of our intimate devotion. Orpah’s kiss was respectful and considerate, but also showed how easy she found it to turn back in the face of difficulty. It’s one thing to be a casual fan of Jesus—a fair-weather worshiper; it’s an entirely different “ballgame” to cling to Him in times of adversity—famine, loss, unemployment, sickness, pandemic.

Alexander Maclaren writes that as Orpah goes back to her home and her idolatrous gods, “She is the first in the sad series of those, ‘not far from the kingdom of God’ (Mark 12:34) who needed but a little more resolution at the critical moment, and, for want of it, shut themselves out from the covenant, and sank back to a world which they had half renounced.” Matthew Henry, referring to Orpah’s apparent resolution to do but failure to follow her words with actions says, “Strong passions, without a settled judgment, commonly produce weak resolutions.” Henri Rossi notes that Orpah’s good intention is not enough, “For nothing less than faith will do in order to enter into relationship with grace… It is possible to have a very amiable character without having faith. Faith makes a gulf between these two women who are so similar in so many ways. Confronted with impossibilities, the natural heart draws back, whereas faith is nourished on impossibilities and so increases in strength.”

True faith leads us to abandon our idols, give up our gods of self-sufficiency and illusions of control, and turn to the one true God as our only hope. True faith will inevitably make a distinction between the casual, “cultural Christian,” and the markedly devoted follower of Jesus Christ. That’s what is so precious about the faith Ruth displays—it’s full of resolution, clinging, and submission. Naomi is everything to Ruth because Ruth now cleaves to Naomi’s God (Ruth 1:16). She now “bleeds” a newfound loyalty to the King of kings and the Lord of lords. This changes everything. Unlike Orpah, her decisions are no longer dictated by a path of ease and comfort, but dictated by a path of what glorifies her God.

A kiss of outward profession to Christendom may be an act that appears sincere (Matthew 26:48, 49 Luke 22:47, 48), that is, until you see it contrasted with what real and true devotion to Jesus Christ looks like. In this moment of your life, does your association with the Divine look more like a respectful kiss (going through casual religious motions), or more like a fanatical-and-desperate-all-out clinging to Christ as your only path forward in life? Think about this contrast as you seek to abide in Him this week.

Unsure about what it means to be “saved by grace” and have a real, personal relationship with Jesus? Go here for answers. God is closer than you think.

PRAYER

Dear God, I don’t want to give you a casual kiss of appreciation from time to time. I want my life to be spent relentlessly clinging to the Lord Jesus Christ with wholehearted abandon. Teach me what unreserved devotion looks like. Confront my fears, my trepidation, my pride, my complacency, and my hesitation. I don’t want to turn back to the land of idols. Lead my heart in a path of repentance forward. Holy Spirit, free me to live wildly and passionately for the God I love, and the Savior I worship. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. What is one of the nicest things someone has ever done for you?
  2. What kind of relationship did Naomi have with her daughters-in-law? (Ruth 1:8-10)
  3. What could Ruth expect for her future when she decided to go with Naomi to Judah, and how did that involve faith? How does Ruth’s commitment to the God of Israel offer hope and encouragement to you?
  4. How would you describe a person merely going through religious motions versus a person fully devoted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ? In his teachings about discipleship, why do you think Jesus talked about “counting the cost” and “taking up your cross” as part of the process?
  5. In what way might your faith sometimes resemble Orpah? How can it look more like the devotion of Ruth?

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A Good News Heart in a Bad News World

Text: Psalm 112:1-10

“He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.” —Psalm 112:7

Nobody likes bad news, although I did have quite an affinity with the “Bad News Bears” of the 70s when I was a kid. I think that film resonated with me due to my love for baseball intertwined with much dysfunction I experienced in childhood. I could truly relate with those outcasts, though the hard-drinking, grumpy coach in the movie had nothing on my real Little League coaches who smoked marijuana during our practices.

I would’ve never imagined back then that my “baseball” future would entail sharing the Gospel with kids all over the world through a global sports ministry. God has certainly redeemed the game of baseball in my life!!!

Psalm 112 speaks of a person with a Good News heart in a bad news world. Because this worshiper “fears the Lord,” and “greatly delights in His commandments,” he “is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.” Charles Spurgeon noted, “He is neither fickle nor cowardly; when he is undecided as to his course he is still fixed in heart: he may change his plan, but not the purpose of his soul.”

Living with a fearless heart isn’t about being oblivious, impervious, in denial or dismissive of reality. It’s about having the utmost confidence in the One Who still speaks to this present storm, and trusting His heart when things are spiraling out of your control. Bad news might come to us from our family, the doctor, the economy, the unfaithful, the culture around us, or from politics. Yet the one who fears the LORD will not be afraid.

Too often we have the right theology, but not the right doxology. Though our mind knows the lyrics to that historic creed, we still find our heart singing a song of anxiety and panic. We tend to go “off-pitch” when our circumstances are in disharmony with our faith. We might know all the Sunday School answers, and yet still recoil at the pressures of the real life test. The psalmist wants us to be sure—“His heart is steady; he will not be afraid” (v.8)—that the Good News is greater than the bad news.

This kind of fearlessness isn’t about shrugging off reality, or retreating into some place of passive resignation, but with a very intentional and deliberate active trust in the goodness of our Father. I pray that the next time you are feeling overwhelmed with bad news, you will be reminded of all the good the Lord has promised you, and focus on the glorious redemption that is sure to headline your future.

PRAYER

Dear God, how I yearn for the steadiness that David highlights in this Psalm. Teach me how to have a steadfast heart that beats confidently in a circumstance-challenged body… a fearless calm when surrounded by gloominess and uncertainty… a Good News heart in a bad news world. Holy Spirit, liberate my soul to trust and not fret… free me to worship more and worry less. In Jesus’ blessed name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. What are the things that worry you, or unsettle you about the future?
  2. Why is it often difficult to have a Good News heart in a bad news world?
  3. Where does the godly person find his or her sense of security? (Psalm 112:7) What can this person expect in the future? (Psalm 112:8)
  4. When have you seen God redeem something bad and turn it into something good?
  5. Where might you need a change of perspective to become more like the person described in this passage?

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Have We Lost Our Wonder?

Text: John 1:1–18

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” —John 1:14

Have you ever seen a celebrity in person and felt a sense of awe about that moment? I’m not sure what it is that causes that kind of marvel when we are in the presence of a famous person, but it’s a sharp contrast to the way we might feel in the mundane norms of life, where God is always present. It’s something worth considering. Have we lost our sense of wonder for the God of the universe—the omnipotent One who is present with us in every moment of every day?

In John 1, it says that Jesus put on flesh and blood, became incarnate among His own creation, and yet they failed to marvel at His presence:

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. (John 1:9-11)

Think about it: The Supreme Deity “became flesh and dwelt among us”—this was the most amazing event in all of history. The eternal, omnipotent, omnipresent, infinitely holy Son of God took on a human nature and lived among humanity as one who was both God and man at the same time – yet many of them still shunned Him. They failed to wonder at His majesty. How much more might we be disinclined to marvel at His presence having never seen God in the flesh?

The Greek text “dwelt among us” can mean more literally “pitched his tent” right next to us—an allusion to God’s dwelling among the Israelites in their tabernacle (Exodus 25:8–9; 33:7). In the past, God had manifested his presence to his people in the tabernacle and the temple. Now God takes up residence among his people in the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ (John 1:17). Thus, the coming of Christ fulfills the Old Testament symbolism for God’s dwelling with man in the tabernacle and the temple. Later, through the Holy Spirit, Christ will make into a temple both the church (1 Corinthians 3:16) and a Christian’s body (1 Corinthians 6:19). God has come so close to us in Jesus Christ that we don’t have to struggle to find Him. He is very near. It’s just that we may not be looking to Him with eyes of faith.

This thought is so familiar in Christianity we may no longer be staggered by it. A prayer of the Eastern churches conveys well the breathtaking wonder: “We see most eloquent orators voiceless as fish when they must speak of Thee, O Jesus our Savior. For it is beyond their power to tell how Thou art both perfect man and immutable God at the same time.”

Maybe you’ve heard the song “Wonder” from Bethel Music. The lyrics go like this:

May we never lose our wonder

May we never lose our wonder

Wide eyed and mystified

May we be just like a child

Staring at the beauty of our King

Cause you are beautiful in all your ways

You are beautiful in all your ways

There is a place of marvel that we enter into when our hearts are fully embracing the presence of God. This place of worship is where our soul gives way to uninhibited delight at the dwelling of God among us. It is here that we are filled with the wonder and awe of our Creator, and life sustainer. This kind of worship is found throughout the Bible…

Abraham fell on his face in holy wonder as God spoke to him (Genesis 17). Moses hid his face before the presence of God in the burning bush (Exodus 3). Paul could hardly tell whether he was in or out of the body when he was allowed to see the indescribable wonders of the third heaven (2 Corinthians 12). When John saw Jesus on the island, he fell at His feet as dead (Revelation 1).

May we never become so familiar with the dwelling of God with us that we lose our sense of wonder and awe, especially as we remind ourselves of the high cost of Jesus’ blood that was shed so that a holy God could dwell among such sinful creatures. Think about that as you seek to abide in His presence this week.

PRAYER

God, you are holy and awesome, yet you have chosen to pitch your tent among us—sinful creatures. This is only possible because of what Christ did for us at the cross, sacrificing his life to make the payment for our sins. Thank you for the light you have brought into our darkness. Holy Spirit, help us to not take that light for granted in the every day norms of life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. When have you been a little star struck by the presence of a celebrity?
  2. In what ways can familiarity cause us to lose our sense of awe or wonder?
  3. Why did the Word become flesh and live among us?
  4. How should the reality that God became a man affect your life today?
  5. How should the reality that God has made His dwelling within you affect your life today?

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The Risk You Must Take

Text: Philippians 2:1-30

“For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.” —Philippians 2:21

As a child growing up in Maryland, I often emulated my favorite baseball players. In the basement of our townhome I would throw a tennis ball against the wall imagining I was a big league pitcher. I studied and learned the distinct batting stances of each player on the Baltimore Orioles lineup, imitating their swings in my grandmother’s backyard. I wanted to play the game well, so I modeled my practice after successful big leaguers.

In Philippians 2, Paul wants Christians to experience a deep, abiding, internal unity among one another. In order to have that type of “full accord” and oneness of mind, they must emulate the humility and mind of Christ.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)

Think about this for a minute. Who do you know that lives this way? What makes people want to count others more significant than themselves? In Paul’s estimation, it is having the “mind” of Christ—“who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant…”

Then the apostle gives us two big league examples of those who actually emulated Christ in this way, highlighting the very sacrificing nature of early church life. Their names were Timothy and Epaphroditus. Paul said of his mentee, Timothy, “I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 2:20-21).

In addition to writing about Timothy’s “proven worth” as a servant of the gospel, he also points to Epaphroditus, as a “fellow soldier” who nearly died for the work of Christ, “risking his life to complete what was lacking” of others. The ancient Greek phrase “risking his life” uses a gambler’s word that meant to risk everything on the roll of the dice. For the sake of Jesus Christ, Epaphroditus was willing to gamble everything for the benefit of others.

In the days of the Early Church there was an association of men and women who called themselves the gamblers, taken from this same ancient Greek word used in risking his life. It was their aim to visit the prisoners and the sick, especially those who were ill with dangerous and infectious diseases. Often, when a plague struck a city, the heathen threw the dead bodies into the streets and fled in terror. But the gamblers buried the dead and helped the sick the best they could, and so risked their lives to show the love of Jesus.

Imagine this kind of emulation of Christ in our communities today—people who risked everything in seeking the welfare, dignity, and interests of others. Imagine communities where people did not engage primarily to get something out of it for themselves, but to contribute something exceedingly beneficial to others. Imagine how emulating Christ’s humility could shape our esteem of one another. If I consider you above me and you consider me above you, then a marvelous thing happens: we have a community where everyone is looking up and no one is looked down on. Think about this as you seek to abide in Christ this week.

PRAYER

Lord Jesus, teach us how to emulate your humility, compassion, and sacrificial love for others. Help us to risk ourselves in ways that bring glory to You and good to others… that we may truly live, and become fully alive. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. Who is one of the most selfless people you have ever met? What do you think motivated that person?
  2. When have you risked something in your life for the sake of someone else? What might constitute a foolish risk versus a necessary risk?
  3. The text says that Christ emptied himself by taking the form of a servant. Why is that important for us to emulate? How does that touch on pride and humility?
  4. Why is it important that the church be “in full accord and of one mind”? What is at stake if we aren’t?
  5. Where do you need to apply the biblical examples of “seeking the interests of others” in your life this week?

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Don’t Forget What It’s Like to Be Lost

Text: Ephesians 2:1-22

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” —Ephesians 2:13

Has your GPS ever done you wrong? Mine sure has, and apparently I’m not alone. I read about a 67-year-old Belgian woman who drove 900 miles off course, over a two-day period due to a faulty GPS combined with her own disorientation. Her actual destination was only 90 miles away.

During Sabine Moreau’s odyssey, she stopped two times to get gas, slept for a few hours on the side of the road, and even suffered a minor car accident. She ended up in Croatia! Moreau later explained: “I saw all kinds of road signs: first in French, then in German, and finally in Croatian, but I kept driving because I was distracted. Suddenly I appeared in Zagreb and I realized I wasn’t in Belgium anymore.”

To those early Christians in Ephesus, Paul reminded them of what their lives looked like when they were spiritually off course and disoriented in a world of lost-ness. It seems that he doesn’t want his readers to forget the reality of what that was like. Remembering, perhaps, would not only cause them to worship God more gratefully, but also help them to be more compassionate toward those still in a state of spiritual darkness.

The apostle writes: “you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:12-13)

Let those words sink in for a moment—“having no hope and without God in the world.” This is the condition of so many of those around us. I think oftentimes we forget what it is like to be in this cold and lonely world apart from Christ. This is especially true for those of us who have been “saved” for many years. Though we still have struggles, trials, troubles, persecutions, and suffering, we still tend to forget what it was like to go through these hardships alone.

Though we were once “far off,” the blood of Christ has brought us near. We are no longer slaves to this world’s faulty GPS system—lies, disillusionment, moral myopia, and spiritual disorientation. Our minds are no longer blinded by the “god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4); we have had the eyes of our hearts enlightened, that we may know what is the hope to which he has called us, and what are the riches of his glorious inheritance (Ephesians 1:18). We have a new and reliable GPS—the Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17) and the Spirit of Truth (John 16:13).

He wants us to remember that we have been saved by such amazing grace. This grace was demonstrated in that Jesus offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. In His great mercy, God has reconciled us to Himself and brought us near through the ransom of Christ’s blood. He also doesn’t want us to forget what we have been saved from, and that people all around us are still in that alienated condition, afar off—hurting, blinded, lost, and without hope. Ask God to give you eyes to see this brokenness and the hands to reach out to those enslaved by the world’s faulty navigation system. They need your testimony. They need your witness. Pray about this as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

God, you have saved us from a world without hope. Help us to never forget the great price and ransom that you paid to save us from this spiritual darkness. May our meditation of the depth of your grace cause us to worship YOU more fully. May the remembrance of what we have been saved from cause us to love and serve others more diligently, especially with great compassion toward those who are presently far off. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. When was the last time you were physically lost? What happened and how did you get back on course?
  2. Do you remember what it was like to be spiritually lost? How would you describe your life when you were “far off” from God?
  3. Why do you think it is important to remember that we have been saved by grace alone (God’s free gift of salvation), and not our own doing?
  4. Why do you think it is important to remember what it was like to be lost and without God in this world?
  5. Who are those in your proximity or network of relationships that may be lost in this world and in particular need of your prayers, witness, or outreach?

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When It’s Hard to Pray

Text: Romans 8:18-27

“The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” —Romans 8:26

When I am communicating at one of our cross-cultural sports camps in Italy, Germany, or Dominican Republic, I always make sure to have a translator app on my phone. There have been many times I couldn’t speak in a foreign language, but thanks to technology, I could pull out that app and type in what I am saying and let the person read it off of my phone—and voilà, I am communicating though I don’t know the right native words to use.

Sometimes I feel like I’m unable to communicate and express my heart when I pray to my heavenly Father—and I’m not alone. Many of us struggle at times with prayer. But the apostle Paul wrote, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God” (Romans 8:26–27).

How amazing is the gift of the Holy Spirit! Better than any technology or computer program, He clearly communicates my thoughts and desires in harmony with the Father’s purposes. The work of the Spirit not only makes prayer work, that intercession also carries us when our hearts fail.

Perhaps you are going through a time in which you find it difficult to talk to God. It’s comforting to know that God doesn’t expect us to have all the right words. He is merely looking for childlike faith in our hearts—the simple and innocent trust, even naïve dependence, that our heavenly Father is going to take care of us no matter how bleak a situation looks. In those times when our hearts fail and words are not to be found, God meets us in our weakness. The Spirit searches our hearts and speaks on our behalf. The Psalmist said (Psalm 73:26):

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

PRAYER

Father, I thank You for the gift of Your Spirit and the privilege of prayer. Help me to lean on Your Spirit in moments when I don’t know how to pray. Thank you, Holy Spirit, for having the words when I don’t. Thank you for meeting me in my weakest and bleakest of moments—interceding for me when I get stuck. My flesh and my heart may fail, but YOU are my portion forever. I praise YOU that I am never, ever left to my own devices. I am YOURS, and YOU carry me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. In what circumstances might a Christian find it hard to pray?
  2. What is the relationship between God and the Holy Spirit, and how does the Holy Spirit help us in our weakness? (Romans 8:26-27)
  3. What does God promise to us that can make any suffering bearable?
  4. What do we learn about God’s love for us when we realize that the Holy Spirit helps us even when we cannot pray?
  5. How can you lean on the Holy Spirit as you seek to abide in the Father’s love this week?

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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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