Cancel Culture and a Fiery Furnace

Text: Daniel 3:1-30

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” —Isaiah 43:2

In the 1920’s, Eric Liddell was one of the greatest 100m sprinters Scotland had ever produced. Known as the “Flying Scotsman,” Liddell was in the spotlight and poised to bring home the gold medal during the 1924 Olympics. That is, until his convictions got in the way. Oh, how faith can sometimes be inconvenient! The 100m finals in Paris were scheduled on a Sunday and Eric believed that running on the Sabbath was dishonoring to God, so he refused to participate in the 100m. As the media can so readily do, they pounced on Liddell by vilifying him and labeling him a traitor. He found himself the brunt of “cancel culture” long before the phrase was ever coined.

Has your faith ever caused you to act on principles or convictions that got you into trouble with the culture or social norms? When I read the Bible I see countless heroes who sacrificed everything, not just social vilification, but their entire lives to remain obedient to God in the face of intense persecution. Hebrews 11 gives us a summary of the many who faced suffering, torture, and death for their faith. If we think that we can somehow skate through this world without paying a price for our faith in one way or another, we might have the wrong faith! The Bible makes it unmistakably clear that our faith—if genuine—will cause us to be canceled or vilified in some way (John 15:18-25).

In our current devotional series from the book of Daniel, we come to chapter three, where King Nebuchadnezzar erects a golden statue to which he commands all the people to bow down and worship. Here we see a discernible link connecting to Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2 (last week’s devotion) and the image he made in Daniel 3. As God gave Daniel the interpretation for the king’s dream, we saw that only the head was gold (symbolizing that Babylon was a temporary kingdom). When Nebuchadnezzar deliberately made an entire statue of gold in chapter 3, it appears he is arrogantly portraying his reign and authority as one that would never end—in defiance of God’s clear interpretation of his dream.

Nebuchadnezzar goes into full-scale tyrannical mode. He sends for all the prefects, governors, and public officials to come and gather for the dedication of his statue. The mandate to attend the ceremony indicates that he is using the worship of this image to test the allegiance of his people. Orders were given that when the musicians and party DJ began to play the music, “you are to fall down and worship the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up.” Anyone who didn’t conform by bowing down to the golden image was to be immediately thrown into a burning fiery furnace. No mercy!

When it all went down, there were three young men standing in defiance of the king’s orders. They are the same youths we read about in Daniel 1 who declined to conform to the king’s defiled meal plan. Now Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow down to the king’s statue. They understood what this kind of idolatry yielded. Their knees wouldn’t bow for anything except the one true God of heaven and earth. They counted the cost of their faith and determined to obey God rather than man.

The young lads’ refusal to participate in Nebuchadnezzar’s sin party caught the eye of some Chaldeans, who had obvious political motivation, and reported these Jews to the king. This was ancient Babylon’s way of appropriating cancel culture—a heated furnace was typically involved! Nebuchadnezzar was furious, threatening to throw the boys into his fiery furnace. He challenged the young men, “who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” Their response is unflinching: “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

These boys were ready to die for their faith. They were determined that even if God didn’t physically rescue them, they still weren’t going to bow down to the bullying tactics meant to compromise their faith. If they were to burn, they would burn in honor of their convictions and not selling out to cultural conformity.

You’ve probably read this story before and know how it ends. Nebuchadnezzar ordered the furnace to be heated seven times more than it was usually heated, meaning “as hot as possible.” But after these guys were thrown into the furnace, a fourth person surprisingly accompanied them in the fire, described “like the son of the gods.” This manifestation has been explained as a Christophany (a physical appearance of Christ before his incarnation) or an angel. Either way, this is a physical demonstration of God’s presence with believers in their distress, a graphic fulfillment of the Lord’s promise in Isaiah 43:2. The Lord promised his presence with his people, ensuring that their trials and difficulties would not utterly overwhelm them. He always walks with us through the fire. We are never alone!

Nebuchadnezzar is amazed that the fire has no power over these young men. He pulls them from the fire and is so impressed with the witness of their faith that he changes the laws of the land to honor their God.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego never flinched. They never tried to hide their convictions. They didn’t pick a fight, but when it came to them, they were ready to contend for the faith (Jude 1:3). They understood that blending into culture for the sake of approval or acceptance wasn’t an option. Only God was worthy of their allegiance. As Charles Spurgeon wrote:

“You will not be able to go through life without being discovered: a lighted candle cannot be hid. There is a feeling among some good people that it will be wise to be very reticent, and hide their light under a bushel. They intend to lie low all the wartime, and come out when the palms are being distributed. They hope to travel to heaven by the back lanes, and skulk into glory in disguise. Ah me, what a degenerate set!… If you cannot be true to Christ, if your coward heart is recreant to your Lord, do not profess to be his disciple, I beseech you. He that is married to the world, or flinthearted, had better return to his house, for he is of no service in this war.”

If you choose to be obedient to Christ, you too may have to take unpopular stands that may pit you against the culture. You may be mocked, ostracized, unfairly treated, and even vilified. But in the midst of such treatment, we are called to “live such good lives among the [unsaved] that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds” so that they may “glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12). Are you ready for what your faith might cost you? Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

God, you alone are worthy of my allegiance. You are the one who bankrupted heaven to pay the ransom for my sins. You sent Jesus to this earth knowing that He would be flogged by an angry mob, beaten and crucified, so that I could be rescued from the dominion of darkness. You already went to hell and back for my redemption, so there is no fiery furnace in which you will abandon me to myself. Thank you for that assurance. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. What spectacular fireworks display stands out in your memory?
  2. What did King Nebuchadnezzar make and what were the people commanded to do? (Daniel 3:1-6)
  3. How did Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego respond to the king (Daniel 3:16-18)? What do you think gave them that kind of boldness?
  4. What did the crowd observe when the men came out of the fire, and how did the king respond to God’s deliverance of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego? (Daniel 3:26-30)   
  5. What would make you confident or afraid if your safety were threatened because of your faith in God? If God chose not to rescue you from intense personal suffering, how would this affect your faith? What are you willing to risk in order to obey God’s clear commands?

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This VBS curriculum is based on the Old Testament book of Daniel. The theme teaches children how to live with courage in uncertain times. It was designed as a camp curriculum for children 8-12 years of age. Can also serve as a 5-week Sunday morning children’s ministry teaching series.

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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George Mueller: Faith in God’s Providence

Text: Genesis 24:1-67

“The Lord, before whom I have walked, will send his angel with you and prosper your way.” —Genesis 24:40

What happens when an ordinary person puts all of his or her faith in an extraordinary God? Well, extraordinary things!

The life of George Mueller is a prime example. He has been described as the reformed playboy who became a missionary to the street orphans of 19th century England. The bawdy youngster found himself in prison for stealing when he was 16 years old. After a glorious conversion from a life of sin and selfish ambition, he became a prominent evangelist and philanthropist. He built five large orphan houses and cared for over 10,000 orphans in his lifetime. He provided educational opportunities for them to the point that he was even accused by some of empowering the poor to rise above their accepted status in British life.

Additionally, Mueller established 117 schools that offered Christian education to more than 120,000 young people. He did follow up work for D. L. Moody, preached for Charles Spurgeon, and inspired the missionary faith of Hudson Taylor. Yet perhaps what is most remarkable is the way that he went about his work.

Three weeks after his marriage, he and his wife decided to depend on God alone to supply their needs and to never again approach people about them. Mueller didn’t draw attention to his charity work by asking others to support his life-changing ministry to needy children. Instead he depended solely, and relentlessly, on God’s response to his prayers of faith to supply all things. Rather than petitioning donations from people, he simply took all of those petitions directly to the throne of God—and he saw God provide in the most unorthodox ways.

On one occasion when the housemother of the orphanage informed Mueller that there was no food for them to eat, he asked her to take the 300 children into the dining room and have them sit at the tables. He thanked God for the food and waited, trusting with a confidence that God would provide. Within minutes, a baker knocked on the door. “Mr. Mueller,” he said, “last night I could not sleep. Somehow I knew that you would need bread this morning. I got up and baked three batches for you. I will bring it in.” Soon, there was another knock at the door. It was the milkman. His cart had broken down in front of the orphanage. The milk would spoil by the time the wheel was fixed so he asked Mueller if he could use some free milk. The man of God smiled as the milkman brought in ten large cans of milk. It was just enough for the 300 thirsty children.

Mueller loved to quote Psalm 84:11…

For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
     the Lord bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold
     from those who walk uprightly.

The Mueller life and legacy has proved to the world the truth of Philippians 4:19-20—“And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.”

George Mueller denied that he had the gift of faith but would point others to the grace of faith, saying that God had given him the mercy in “being able to take God by His word and to rely upon it.”

Abraham (the “father of faith”) is considered the poster child for trusting in the promises and relying on the faithfulness of God. In Genesis 24, he sends out his servant on a long journey to find a wife for his son Isaac, giving Eliezer this bold assertion: “The Lord, before whom I have walked, will send his angel with you and prosper your way” (Genesis 24:40). Not “might” or “could” or “perhaps,” but the Almighty “will” show up. Abraham never doubted that God would lead his servant to the right woman for Isaac. As you read this chapter, try to count the many divine providences that occur—all because Abraham believed.

Mueller once said, “I live in the spirit of prayer. I pray as I walk about, when I lie down and when I rise up. And the answers are always coming.” Your answers are coming, beloved. They are coming because your God is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). The Lord, before whom you have walked, will show up. Trust Him!

PRAYER

God, it is so easy to read about men and women of faith and to think of them as great or gifted people. But the truth is that they were just ordinary people who took you at your word and experienced extraordinary outcomes. They believed your promises, trusted your character, and relied on your faithfulness. Help me to do the same. Teach me to be utterly dependent on you for all things in my life. Grace me with the mercy of faith where it is lacking in my heart. I love you Lord. I trust you to show up and to show up big! In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. Where would you like for God to show up big in your life right now?
  2. Why do you think it was so important to Abraham that his son would marry the right woman?
  3. How did God respond to Abraham’s faith and Eliezer’s prayers? (Genesis 24:15-25)
  4. When was the last time God specifically answered one of your prayers?
  5. For what major decisions will you ask God to give you guidance this week? In what way will you demonstrate trust in His provision?

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When Saying Goodbye is Hard

Text: Acts 20:13-38

“However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” —Acts 20:24

Last week we had to say goodbye to our 13-year old Doberman. Samson lived a relatively long life for his breed, and even though we were prepared for the loss of a family pet that our children have known their entire lives, it still wasn’t easy.

The longer we live on this earth, the more seasons of goodbyes we will experience—it’s an unavoidable part of the journey. Some goodbyes might be temporary, others permanent. Whether it’s moving to another town, graduating and heading off to college, a job change, a church or ministry transition, a deployment for a military or missional assignment, or the grief of laying a dear loved one to rest, goodbyes are rarely easy.

Winnie The Pooh seems to be quite the optimist when he says:

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

In Acts 20, we find Paul saying goodbye to his friends and church leaders in Ephesus. Compelled by the Spirit, he was on his way to Jerusalem not knowing what would happen to him when he got there. Yet he was certain it would involve prison and hardships. He was also convinced that this would be the last time his friends would ever see him, making this farewell even more sentimental. But this didn’t deter him from following the Lord’s lead. His “only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” (Acts 20:24 NIV)

Though Paul’s noble goal in life was to spread the gospel as far and wide as the Lord commissioned him, getting on that boat and waving goodbye must’ve been painful. He did it because, in the words of Charles Spurgeon, he preached a gospel worth dying for, but not before warning them to be on guard for “savage wolves” and false prophets. He charged them to remain brave in their journey and faithful to the Lord.

Paul’s key to being able to move forward in such a hard transition and emotional moment is found in verse 32: Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace.”

This is our comfort in any season of farewell. It may not make the moment easier, but it does sanctify the moment. Entrusting our loved ones and the circumstances to God in the goodbye times is a way of bringing Jesus and his sustaining grace into the very center of our lives. This is the faith demonstration of trusting God as the Keeper and Guardian over everything, especially in those times of separation.

The next time you are faced with a difficult farewell, think about how Paul entrusted this deeply emotional moment to God’s safekeeping, and the grace that flows from that place of surrender.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, it is often hard to say goodbye. Transitions are not easy. Separation and loss are painful. But you are a loving Father who can be trusted in seasons of farewell. Help me to lean into your grace in those difficult seasons—trusting you as the Keeper of this life and entrusting to you every circumstance and every dear loved one. You are faithful. Help me to be faithful when it is time to say goodbye. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. What has been one of your most difficult “goodbye” seasons?
  2. If you knew that this would be your last day with your loved ones, what would you want to say to them?
  3. How does Paul’s life and mission challenge you?
  4. What does it mean to commit someone else to God?
  5. Is the gospel you live and proclaim worth dying for? How does that directly affect the way you live?

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A House Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand

Text: Mark 3:1-35

“And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” —Mark 3:25

“A house divided against itself”—I often see this engraved on license plates, especially here in the south, along with two rival college football teams’ logos on each side of the plate. It’s how many married couples like to brandish their loyalties and show off their opposing allegiances to sports teams.

This famed proverb “a house divided against itself cannot stand” has been used in political arenas as well. Abraham Lincoln used it as the basis of a speech he gave after he had accepted the Illinois Republican Party’s nomination as that state’s US senator in 1858. At the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin was quoted as saying: “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

The “house divided” phrase originated with Jesus, as seen in each of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 12:22–32; Luke 11:14–23; Mark 3:22–29). All three instances of this statement were spoken in response to the Pharisee’s accusation that Jesus was casting out demons by the power of Satan—a blasphemy that Jesus said would not be forgiven them.

In the third chapter of Mark’s gospel, Jesus is having quite a battle with the powers that be. Things are getting a bit testy on the mission front. After Jesus healed a man of a withered hand on the Sabbath, the Pharisees held a “counsel” with the Herodians to discuss how they might destroy him. Jesus continued to heal many who had diseases and unclean spirits, as demons even cried outright: “You are the Son of God” (Mark 3:11). So the scribes accused Him of being possessed by Beelzebul, that is, Satan. They said, “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons” (Mark 3:22). To which Jesus replied:

“How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” (Mark 3:23–25)

Jesus’ response to the incendiary accusations of these prominent and power-obsessed figures was completely logical: Any “household” cankered by infighting will rip itself apart. Kingdoms infiltrated with such opposing cross-purposes will ultimately fall. It’s impossible for Jesus to be in a league with Satan while He is casting out Satan’s own minions. Their attack wasn’t rational. But when you are blanketed with hatred, you are blind to logic.

The principle Jesus is illustrating is the fact that sustainability relies on congruency. Disunity is a cancer to living cells. Division obstructs growth and progress. It’s something we see in every sphere of life and civilization. Whether it is a business, a sports team, a government, or a marriage, there must be harmony for success and survival. Without a unified soul, organizations and entities are weakened and vulnerable to attack. They inevitably collapse, wither, and die. It’s only a matter of time.

[bctt tweet=”The principle Jesus is illustrating is the fact that sustainability relies on congruency. Disunity is a cancer to living cells.” username=”jimmylarche”]

The Word of God clearly warns about the instability of division—even in the hidden chambers of one’s own soul. “An inconsistent life, I say, is a sure token of a divided heart,” Charles Spurgeon noted. We see that a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways (James 1:8). Perhaps that’s why the psalmist prayed, “Teach me Your way, O Lord; I will walk in Your truth; unite my heart to fear Your name” (Psalm 86:11).

Paul appealed to the churches that there be no divisions among them, and to avoid people who cause such disunions (1 Corinthians 1:10, Romans 16:17). The world may get accustomed to the hostility that comes from divisiveness—even feeding off of it—but God has a different mind for His family: “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1).

At the end of Mark chapter 3, Jesus redefined his “family” as those who “do the will of God.” It is good to be reminded that Jesus Christ is building His church and it will not be overcome (Matthew 16:18). His “house” will stand forever—“his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end” (Daniel 6:26). Being fully convinced of this, we should strive to live in harmony with one another (Romans 12:16) and, as far as it depends on us, “make every effort to live in peace with everyone” (Hebrews 12:14).

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, we live in a divisive culture. And sometimes a divisive culture lives in us. Help us to learn how to be counter-cultural in the manner of your kingdom. We pray like the psalmist, dear Lord, unite our hearts to walk in your truth. Give us a sound mind to be stable in all of our ways. Help us foster unity and reconciliation where it is needed. And for the glory and fame of Jesus in our generation, help us to overcome this world’s toxic divisiveness and demonstrate a better hope. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. How do you feel when good is attributed to evil, or righteousness gets demonized?
  2. In your experience, when has faithfulness to a cause or person led to conflict with others?
  3. The Bible says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). How do you think this verse applies to the times we are living in now? How should this be practically fleshed out?
  4. What can you do this week to restore a relationship that strains your unity with other believers, neighbors, or coworkers?
  5. What is something you can do to help strengthen the unity of the Church?

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Help My Unbelief!

Text: Mark 9:14-29 

“Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’” —Mark 9:24

Every year, Breakaway Outreach facilitates a summer camp for under-served children and youth facing adversity in East Tennessee. This year’s Bible theme centers on the book of Exodus and the leadership of Moses. In one of our small group discussions, a leader used a soft sponge and a hard rock to contrast the difference between hearts that are sensitive to God and those that are calloused, stimulating an interesting response from one of our campers.

“S” is a camper whose mother is in prison. She’s been dealt a pretty difficult hand early in life—a hand I believe she is going to play with great resilience, to overcome the odds stacked against her. She took the sponge from the object lesson, wrapped it around the rock and told the group leader:

“Sometimes God wraps His love around our hard hearts.”

In Mark 9, a troubled father appears to be dealing with a heart crisis. His son had been seized by an unclean spirit, which left him mute. He asked the disciples of Jesus to cast it out though they were unsuccessful. Then Jesus came down from the mountain and the man pleads with him, “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus replied, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and uttered one of the most authentic prayers of the Bible: “I believe; help my unbelief!”

The man seemed unsure if this miracle worker could do anything to help his son, but according to Jesus’ response, the “if” wasn’t contingent to what Jesus could do, the “if” was conditional to the man’s faith. The distressed father was challenged by Jesus’ appeal for faith. He had his beliefs and doubts, and what made his prayer so authentic is that he acknowledged them both. Thus he ruefully pleads with Jesus: I believe; help my unbelief! Jesus answered and the boy was healed.

A prayer of faith isn’t necessarily one void of fear or unbelief, but one that knows what to do with these crippling feelings. Sometimes the most powerful prayers of faith are those that, despite being mixed with feelings of trepidation, express trust in a God Who isn’t intimidated by our weaknesses—a God Who is fully capable of helping our unbelief.

“Help my unbelief” is something a person can only say by faith. As Charles Spurgeon said:

“While men have no faith, they are unconscious of their unbelief; but, as soon as they get a little faith, then they begin to be conscious of the greatness of their unbelief.”

It’s comforting to know that we don’t have to cloak our weaknesses when we are with God in prayer. It’s when we are transparent about those weaknesses that God wraps Himself around those places in our hearts that are getting jaded by our doubts and unbelief. Help my unbelief is a prayer we can all pray when it feels like our hearts are getting a little stony.

Think about that as you abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, help us to remember that the most powerful prayers are free of masquerades. We don’t have to pretend that our weaknesses, doubts, or fears don’t exist. We can boldly bring them to you and cry out in our time of need: Lord, help my unbelief! Teach us how to pray authentically like the man in this story prayed. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. When was the last time you were overcome by feelings of inadequacy?
  2. Why were the disciples unable to cast the demon out of the boy? (Mark 9:18-19, 28-29)
  3. How should we pray when we feel inadequate?
  4. In what ways has God helped you to overcome unbelief in the past?
  5. Why do you think it is important to God that we pray authentically, and not with masquerading or long and pretentious words? (Matthew 6:5-8)

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Covered in the Dust of Your Rabbi

Text: Luke 10:38-42

“But one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:42 ESV)

We have a dachshund that loves to dig. That’s probably a bit redundant as this obstinate natured breed of dogs was bred to scent, chase, and flush out burrow-dwelling animals. You can always tell when our ornery little Mocha has been digging in the back yard because her nose is covered in dirt. She can’t get the evidence off quick enough!

Biblical scholars reveal that the first-century Jews had an expression they used to describe a disciple who followed their teacher closely and relentlessly. They were “covered in the dust” of their rabbi. Some consider this to reflect the imagery of a group of disciples sitting on the earth at the feet of their master, who is seated on a stool before them. While others embrace the idea that a rabbi’s disciples—those who took on his yoke (his set of interpretations of scripture)—followed so closely that the dust his feet kicked up from the road is what caked their clothing and lined their faces as they journeyed. In either case, it may be understood to convey the idea that the disciple should always remain within the ambit of his master’s “dust” or influence.

They would often offer the blessing: “May you be covered in the dust of your rabbi.”

When we are following Jesus closely, there will be traces of his presence in our lives. We will be covered in the dust of our rabbi. Or, like our backyard wiener dog, there will be evidence that we have been digging. We should intend to live so much in our Lord’s presence that we become dusty disciples.

In today’s text we see that Martha was very busy for Jesus. She was working hard to please him. Her intentions may have been good but she was also filled with anxiety and worry. The preparations of life overwhelmed her. Martha did nothing wrong in working hard for Jesus—that was good. Her problem was that she became “distracted with much serving.” She was distracted from what was most important to serving Jesus well—abiding in Jesus. Sure, Martha was doing constructive work; she just wasn’t doing it with the “one thing” necessary.

Excessive religious activity void of intimacy with Jesus often leads to frantic behavior—even bitterness towards others, as we see demonstrated in Martha’s attitude towards Mary. Yet Mary chose that “good portion.” She sat at the Lord’s feet being covered in the dust of her Rabbi.

Charles Spurgeon noted, “The way to get the revival is to begin at the Master’s feet; you must go there with Mary and afterwards you may work with Martha.”

We all have those Martha moments when we live under the illusion that worry enhances our ability to control the world. The danger of our worries is that they keep us frazzled in the kitchen instead of being covered in the presence of our Lord.

What if you were to wake up each morning and begin with a prayer similar to this: “Today, I wish to be covered in the dust of my rabbi”? What if you were to repeat that prayer throughout the day every time you faced a challenge? Jesus has made God’s presence scandalously available to anyone who wants it. May you find yourself covered in the dust of the Rabbi as you seek to abide in Him this week!

Prayer

Heavenly Father, work is a gift with which you have entrusted us. Hard work is a heavenly virtue. Yet work apart from your presence makes us agitated, irritable, and edgy. It saps the life out of us, producing worry, discontentment, need for control, anxiety, even bitterness towards others. Yet you offer us a better way. We need our labor to be covered in the dust of your presence. Teach us to abide in your grace as we go about our daily toil and labor of love, and may your fragrance be upon us in all that we do. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

twitter-64The answer to worry is not to try really hard to stop worrying. It is to be covered in the dust of your rabbi. Tweet this

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. When have you been accused of being like someone else, good or bad?
  2. To what extent can you relate to the hurried, frantic personality of Martha?
  3. When have you struggled with the need to be in control lately?
  4. What do you suppose Jesus meant when He said “one thing is necessary”?
  5. What can you do this week to be more “covered in the dust of your Rabbi” as you face life’s challenges?

 

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Pardon My Mess, I’m Still Under Construction

I once saw a T-shirt that said, “Please pardon my mess. I’m still under construction.” I don’t own that shirt, but there are some days when I wish that I did.

A few years back I had a speaking engagement in Charlotte, North Carolina, which also afforded us the convenience of visiting the Billy Graham Library where Ruth Bell Graham is buried. Mrs. Graham, the wife of world-renowned evangelist Billy Graham, was laid to rest there in a simple coffin made of birch plywood, modestly crafted by an inmate at a Louisiana correctional facility.

Her epitaph reads: “End of construction. Thank you for your patience.”

Mrs. Graham chose those words herself several years before her death. While traveling through a construction zone, she once commented, “What a marvelous image for the Christian life—a work under construction until we go to be with God. That’s what I want as my epitaph.”

Her words are a radiant reminder that our voyage here on earth is a continued work of grace. Jonathan Edwards once said, “Grace is but glory begun, and glory is but grace perfected.”

In this “construction zone” we live in, we have only begun in our experience of grace—our day of perfection is set apart for a much later chapter in the tomes of our faith journey. In this present chapter, however, we are spiritual paupers in need of grace every hour of the day. We often see and accept ourselves as God’s unfinished workmanship, but unfortunately we don’t always afford others that same token of grace.

What if God dealt with us in the same measure of grace that we deal with others? What if we were only forgiven to the extent that we forgave others? What if we were loved only to the degree that we have loved others? Miserable creatures we would be!

Yet God’s love is steadfast and faithful. His love is unconditional, and His grace is never limited by our spiritual bankruptcy, it is always extended in consistency with the fullness of His character, not ours.

In his letter to followers of Christ in Philippi, Paul gives hope to all of us still living in a messy construction zone called life. With brazen confidence he says, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace.” (Philippians 1:6-7 ESV)

Every Christian is Either a Missionary or Imposter

Once more, he who really has this high estimate of Jesus will think much of him, and as the thoughts are sure to run over at the mouth, he will talk much of him. Do we so? If Jesus is precious to you, you will not be able to keep your good news to yourself; you will be whispering it into your child’s ear; you will be telling it to your husband; you will be earnestly imparting it to your friend; without the charms of eloquence you will be more than eloquent; your heart will speak, and your eyes will flash as you talk of his sweet love. Every Christian here is either a missionary or an impostor. Recollect that. You either try to spread abroad the kingdom of Christ, or else you do not love him at all. It cannot be that there is a high appreciation of Jesus and a totally silent tongue about him. Of course I do not mean by that, that those who use the pen are silent: they are not. And those who help others to use the tongue, or spread that which others have written, are doing their part well: but that man who says, “I believe in Jesus,” but does not think enough of Jesus ever to tell another about him, by mouth, or pen, or tract, is an impostor. You are either doing good, or you are not good yourself. If thou knowest Christ, thou art as one that has found honey; thou wilt call others to taste of it; thou art like the lepers who found the food which the Syrians had cast away: thou wilt go to Samaria and tell the hungry crowd that thou hast found Jesus, and art anxious that they should find him too. Be wise in your generation, and speak of him in fitting ways and at fitting times, and so in every place proclaim the fact that Jesus is most precious to your soul.

Charles H. Spurgeon
From the March 1873 “Sword and Trowel”

Every Christian is either a missionary or imposter. You can’t separate yourself from His “mission” and call yourself His “follower.” The two are immutably wedded. To be about the mission of Jesus Christ is to be his follower.