Category: Devotions

I wouldn’t build a golden calf..or would I?

the-golden-calf-idol

“You came down on Mount Sinai; you spoke to them from heaven. You gave them regulations and laws that are just and right, and decrees and commands that are good. (Nehemiah 9:13)

What does it mean to keep the commands? Should we even care?

As New Testament Christians, since we are in an age of grace in Jesus, it is easy to look at the Old Testament and say oh, it’s just a bunch of legalistic rules and regulations. I don’t have to worry about obeying.

But in today’s passage Nehemiah is giving his people a reminder of something that happened for them many centuries earlier. He reflects on who God is, and what God did, back in the times described in the book of Exodus. Obedience is connected to what God is really like: God is just, God is right, and God is good. Obedience gives us a taste of all three of these wonderful qualities of God.

But Nehemiah understands quite well that we do not automatically obey.

 “But they, our ancestors, became arrogant and stiff-necked, and they did not obey your commands. (Nehemiah 9:16)

They deserved to be left alone by God. But, amazingly, we hear,

…… But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them, even when they cast for themselves an image of a calf and said, ‘This is your god, who brought you up out of Egypt,’ or when they committed awful blasphemies. Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the wilderness (Nehemiah 9:17b-19,emphasis mine)

But, what if we rebel and make an image of a golden calf and worship it?  As modern 21st century people we say “Who, me?  I wouldn’t make a calf. I’m not like those primitive people.”

But think about this: Jesus says, “He who loves me…keeps my commands.” Doesn’t the calf stand for anything we treasure more than keeping Christ’s commands? Aren’t we worshiping that thing more than Christ?

Nehemiah gives us a wonderful preview of God’s forgiveness for us in Christ.  Because of God’s great compassion he does not abandon us in the wilderness even when we make an idol; instead he sent Christ to rescue us.

Through Christ giving us the Spirit, we can reflect God’s justice, righteousness, goodness—-and love. And because God’s love outweighs his anger, Christ always keeps the door of repentance open.

Father, we thank you that you do provide rescue for us in the person of Jesus, that because of your great compassion you do not abandon us.

Is Balance Boring ?

Child Stone Wall Balancing Walking Balance Kid

Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.  (1 Timothy 4:16)

There’s a debate going on in Christian circles nowadays. Some say that all there is to Christianity is to just “act like Jesus” and everything will be fine. You can believe what you want. But those on the opposite side say that you just need to believe the right doctrines, what you do does not matter at all.

But today’s passage says that both deeds and doctrine need to come into play.

If we’re overly reliant on deeds, two bad things can happen. One error is a feeling of “Sure, I’m in with Jesus –and since I am, I have no worries at all about what I do – I’m good. I can do whatever I want.”

In the second deeds error, we see how our good deeds fall far short – and feel we can never do enough. Recently, I got a personal taste of that.  I read a blog post which basically said doctrine does not matter, you should be doing tons and tons of good deeds. But that post discouraged me. Not only did I think that my good deeds fall far short, but I also felt like my love for doctrine is a waste of time. My wife and I both felt we were being subjected to a satanic attack as she had her own doubts that her talented writing was “not good enough.”

On the other hand, when we over-focus on doctrine, we insist that being a good Christian simply means believing the right facts. Then, we end up being the “frozen chosen”, with a serious shortage of love and good deeds.

What is the solution?  Let’s look at Proverbs 4

Let your eyes look straight ahead;
     fix your gaze directly before you.
  Give careful thought to the paths for your feet
     and be steadfast in all your ways.
  Do not turn to the right or the left;
     keep your foot from evil. (Proverbs 4:25-27)

The boy in today’s picture faces a consequence if he turns to the right or the left. He will fall. He needs to have a balance. So do we: Our balance is that when we believe correctly about Jesus, we believe the doctrines of grace, which tell us that nothing we can do can make Christ love us more. That leads right to the correct view of deeds:  we do good deeds with an attitude of gratitude for what Christ has done. Now we have the right balance between deed and creed.

This way of keeping our balance is not boring at all —what we believe is in sync with what we do, we are filled with the Spirit, we don’t turn to the left or right, and we are walking steadfast with our Lord!

 

You’ve Saved the Best Till Now

And the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” (John 2:9-10)

You have just enjoyed a pleasant meal out at a restaurant. You think you are all done and ready for your check when the server appears with an exquisite, fancy, tasty dessert. She announces “Courtesy of the chef. This dessert is on the house”.

Your surprise and delight with the dessert is only a tiny taste of what Jesus wants to do.

In the John 2 narrative the water jugs represent tradition, the law, the old way of doing things. The jugs were part of the purification rituals under the old Jewish law.  But by obeying Jesus the servants were putting these traditional objects into a new use.

The miracle: Jesus has turned the water into wine.

The significance: The wine represents the new covenant in Jesus Christ.

Think again of what you have counted on for fulfillment that left you empty. Keep in mind that Jesus may or may not change the circumstances around the emptiness but he WILL give a new way of experiencing them.  Christ, being the new wine, gives a replacement that goes beyond anything we can try on our own. Dwell on what the Psalmist says in 34:8 “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!”

What is the area of your life where you want to taste and see that the Lord is good? Where do you need a supernatural attitude adjustment?

Give thanks that Jesus gives the new wine and ask Him to transform that area of your life.

Do Whatever He Tells You

blindfold

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. (John 2:5-7) 

Did you ever play a blindfold team building game?  In one version, you need to find a book that is hidden somewhere in a room. You put on a blindfold and your unblindfolded teammate tells you where to turn and reach until you find the book. Basically, you need to “Do whatever he tells you.”

In the blindfold game, when you find the book was it mainly because of your own effort?

In today’s verses, the water in the jugs becomes wine. The servants did whatever Jesus told them but who was responsible for the transformation into wine?  Of course, the answer was Jesus.  But do you think that following Jesus means doing your very best to keep the rules? Do you think it means you must try harder and harder?

Sure, Jesus tells us to obey, and we should. But we often act as if the results all depend on us. We can fall into two opposite traps. The first is to think “It worked! I am Super Christian!” And the second is to think “This is not working! I am such a failure! I must figure out what I am doing wrong.”

Often the feeling that it all depends on us is why our joy and fulfillment are gone and we are empty. Today we see that Jesus is telling us to obey, but the fulfillment in our Christian life is all from him.

Do you get stuck thinking that fulfillment depends on your own effort? Ask Jesus to show you how it really does depend on Him!

A feast with no wine and a plane with no pilot

When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”  (John 2:3-4)

On a December flight from Des Moines to Denver a few years ago came two disquieting announcements. First

“Does anyone in the cabin have medical training?”

And then, ominously,

“Does anyone in the cabin have flight experience?”

A plane with no pilot.

A feast with no wine.

A life with no hope.

Now what? Can anyone handle it?

Somehow Mary thinks that Jesus is the answer to the wine problem. She understood part of why Jesus came to earth back then, but now we understand the full story of why he came.

Jesus gently rebukes Mary because He is not ready to reveal at this point what you and I now know:  that He was the Messiah who would go to the cross to pay the penalty for our sin and be resurrected to redeem us and give us eternal life.

I don’t think Mary was expecting Jesus to give a point by point procedural, 5 steps to take when the wine runs out.

Nor would we expect that Jesus gives us a list of 5 things to do to replenish our empty joy tank.  Rather, when we are out of hope, we see that Jesus does not have the answer to the problem, he is the answer. In John 10:10b He said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

By the way, the pilot in our opening vignette had had a heart attack. But in this case, no disaster. Turns out a talented nurse saved the pilot and and the co-pilot knew how to land the plane after all.

Today, focus on who Jesus is. Give thanks that only Jesus, who rescued us from sin and death, is able to give us true joy and fulfillment.

The Real Cure for a Dirty Mouth

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Ephesians 4:29)

teacher-go-wash-your-mouth-out-with-soap

Were you ever thrilled that someone became a Christian and stopped cussing?

Great, they don’t use any of George Carlin’s 7 forbidden words any more.

But which is easier—to stop cussing or to become someone who knows how to build people up?

Don’t you hate it when you’ve been gone a couple days and you open your refrigerator and you are overwhelmed by the stench of rotten fish? The Greek word for “unwholesome” in today’s verse is Saprós, which means putrid and rotten. But if you think about it, you realize that we can say stuff that is putrid and rotten without using any cuss words. We can use clean language while simultaneously ripping someone to shreds with gossip and slander.

So, what is the opposite of this kind of trash talk? Do we wash our mouths out with soap?  By washing our mouths out with soap, I mean we might be able by sheer force of willpower, to hold ourselves back from using those cuss words. After all, people in church expect us to clean up our act. But this wouldn’t automatically lead to edifying and encouraging talk. What we really need to see is:

But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere.  For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. (2 Corinthians 2:14-15)

I like that we are captives of Christ. Without being Christ’s captive, we really are just washing our mouths out with soap. But it’s different when, empowered and captivated by Jesus, we refuse to let crudeness, viciousness or slander come out of our mouths, and instead replace it with being a sweet aroma—what a wonderful opposite to the smell of stinking fish!

Time to Change Your Dirty Clothes

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; (Ephesians 4:22)

honey3

Recently, roofing crews showed up to do 25-year replacement of some of the roofs in our development. I saw a flatbed truck arrive, and on it were 6 porta potties and a vacuum unit to pump out what gets deposited in porta potties after they have been used.

The potty pump got me thinking about a similar process in our own lives. When Scripture talks about “putting off our old self” it is like getting what belongs to our old self pumped out.

We are quite unable to achieve this pumping on our own. Scripture teaches that we need a helper. It’s the Holy Spirit, who is a supernatural cleaning agent—indeed, scripture talks about the Spirit cleansing us of unrighteousness.

But even better than the cleanup, is that God gives us something wonderful to replace the slop with.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience (Colossians 3:12)

Keep in mind that this clothing is also the work of the Spirit. The Spirit provides us with Christ’s compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

I’d like to return to today’s picture one more time, because there’s a scriptural parallel to the expression “not same truck”. Mainly, our earthly nature and what replaces it, our new self, cannot co-exist.

For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:4b)

We are saved by Christ from the penalty of sin once and for all, but the process of putting off and putting on is not once and for all. No, it’s a daily lifestyle. Just as the pump needs to repeatedly come back to the construction site, we need to repeatedly be cleansed. And every day we can put on some more of Jesus. This is not complete for us until the day when the Lord returns or calls us home!