Monday, February 12
Being Sent All the Time
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, as you go, disciple people in all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. And remember, I am with you each and every day until the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20 (ISV)
Do you ever have daydreams about taking a rest? Maybe a short vacation, maybe a three-month sabbatical, or maybe a furlough with a complete change of scenery?
God does grant all these. He loves it when we get a breather and he models a life where we don’t have to toil endlessly. Our God never lies to us about a balanced life. He is a God of natural rhythms. We sow and we reap, we toil and we rest, and we come and we go.
Here’s the kicker though. Our God is always at work. Every moment of every second he is up and moving. Like a huge cruise ship that silently cuts through the water while delighted sleepers slumber in peace, something is always moving forward.
Jesus called it the kingdom of God.
Yes, we do get to wake up rhythmically every day, put on our clothes, grab a cup of coffee, and enjoy the activity on the deck, and then return below the bow to rest again. But surely, something keeps moving forward.
We wake and then we’re in a new port, a new home, a new missionary post. It’s an incredible mystery of God’s work ethic, his economy, his humor, and his passion for his life that moves us ahead.
So consider changing your posture with God about what he’s called you to. Stop looking around the corner to see when you can clock out, furiously working in the meantime.
Instead, head to your cabin more often and sleep every night, knowing that while you do, God is still moving your life, your ministry, and your hopes forward, because our God works from the stability of rest.
Friday, February 9
You Have to Get Away
“After this, Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee….” John 6:1 (ESV)
It’s an amazing thing that Jesus spent 30 of 33 years of his life just living as a normal man without any formal “ministry” going on. Then, with only three years left, he actually took many moments away from ministry to recharge with the Father.
On this occasion, Jesus had a multitude of people following him, hanging on every word, and even more checking him out from a distance. They were crowded around him and you would think he would have stayed for weeks at the same spot, leveraging the momentum of the moment.
But he doesn’t.
He leaves the crowd and heads to the other side so that he could get away.
We know Jesus had a second-by-second sense of obedience to only do what he saw the Father doing, and we justify our torrid activity by saying, “We aren’t Jesus.”
Maybe we think to ourselves, “The Father isn’t as clear with us, so we should work as hard, as fast, and as long as we can, and hope that God brings his kingdom out of our tireless work.
But he won’t.
He gives us the life of Jesus to teach us that kingdom influence doesn’t happen in a rush, or in a hurry, or in leveraged time.
It happens when we are rightly-related and rightly-rested.
Incarnational living is the most energy sapping existence simply because it’s so relational. Nothing costs more than when it requires you to listen, care, carry burdens, open up your home, and then do it again the next day…all while you still work a normal job or raise children.
Today, consider how often you get to the other side of the lake? Is Sabbath a reality for you? If not, drop to your knees and ask God to teach you how to quiet down, slow down, and trust him.
Thursday, February 8
Where is your Heart?
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21 (ESV)
Jesus made simple statements that held the keys to the universe. These next nine words are some of the most important: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
The most honest of followers admit to God that they don’t have a heart for what He does. “God, I’m exhausted, distracted, and I can barely wedge in a few moments for myself, let alone give my time to others I barely know.”
Is this you?
If so, and you know your heart simply isn’t into what you know you should be into on behalf of Jesus, how do you find a new heart?
Well, it’s going to be wherever you find the rest of your stuff. God has designed us so that we love what we see in front of us and although that has a beautiful upside, it also means that we are susceptible to develop a heart for the low end of life. If you get on a plane and spend a week in an impoverished township, you’ll find that you leave with a heart for those people. If you spend time with people of other ethnicities, income levels, and story, you’ll begin to love their story. It’s just built in. But if you keep looking only at what your life is about now, your heart will remain with all your stuff.
The key to sustaining a sacrificial life to the least of these, or at least the lost, is simply to see them all the time.
At first you’ll have to wedge in people and acts of service, but in very short order, you’ll find it hard to wedge in the old stuff, the selfish stuff. You’ll find a new heart, the heart of Jesus, begins to grow as your treasures get exchanged for His. Start right now, make an appointment with new treasure.
Wednesday, February 7
The Greatest Command
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:37-40 (ESV)
Life is always more fruitful when we settle on simple ways of living. Jesus didn’t overwhelm us with “to-do”s, constraining demands that push us beyond our capacity, or past lines that make us unhealthy humans. He made things as simple as possible and if we live by just a few patterns, our lives will be full of beautiful kingdom fruit.
As religious people were asking him “What is the greatest commandment?,” Jesus said, “Love God with all you have, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus always combines love of him (our vertical relationship) with love of others (our horizontal relationships) because they really can’t be separated. Just like I will someday tell the young man that marries my daughter that the best way for him to love me as his father-in-law is to love my daughter, so God asks us to love him by loving those around us.
Interestingly, there’s a hidden third love in this equation. There is love God, love our neighbor, but there is also love of ourselves. Why would Jesus say this? All three loves are based on being created in God’s image.
We should love ourselves because God created us in his image.
We should love him because he loved us by creating us.
We should love every human being around us because they, too, are made in his image.
It’s that simple. How good would life be if every Christ-follower loved everyone simply because they are made in God’s image?
Don’t overthink what things will make you great or make your life great. What makes all things meaningful is the love God has for us and the love we give him back by loving those in our homes or across the street.
Tuesday, February 6
The Blessing of Constraint
“Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!” Psalm 27:14 (ESV)
For most people, the biggest spiritual struggle is that of waiting on God. Because we cannot see what’s around the corner, we strive and struggle to make things happen in the temporal world even though we know that God works on another time table called eternity.
The apostle Paul was held back and constrained all the time. Sometimes, he said Satan was holding him back, and sometimes he acknowledged that the Spirit of God was holding him back. Other times, he was held back by his Jewish countrymen; sometimes, he was held by the Roman powers. He was also slowed by sickness and a thorn in his flesh, as well as months and years of staring at a wall in a prison.
Paul, however, learned to stop beating the air with faithless prayers, and finally penned these words, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Philippians 4:11, ESV).
It is a rare man or woman who trusts the legacy of their lives to God. As John the Baptist prayed that he would become less so that God would become more, we should only strive toward this one goal: to be used by God in his timing and in his way.
We won’t get to see very much of God’s legacy in our lives, but we do get to see some and that is worth everything.
Take time today to give him the very rest of your days. Keep your head down, stop questioning everything, and simply be with Jesus today.
Monday, February 5
Slow Life Gets There Faster
“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Luke 5:16 (NIV)
Momentum is something we always seek. We believe that one thing leads to another and so on. Therefore, we get ourselves all worked up to try to maximize moments for any advantage we can. Another way to name this belief is “ambition.”
It is usually a good thing to be ambitious, or so we think. Ambitious people are hardworking, shrewd, intentional, and get up early. For sure, ambitious people use momentum in their favor as they build their own kingdoms.
Jesus, however, was not ambitious or concerned with momentum. He was concerned about strategic moments of power, where true influence happened to a specific person at the opportune moment. Because he didn’t get flustered trying to reach the world, he did reach the world. Because he moved slowly with just a few, the world was changed in just a few hundred years after his death.
Kingdom people don’t worry about momentum or manipulating growth or fruit. They are people who wake up with peace and who seek the Father’s leading and slowly plod along in obedience. They are people who sensibly prune and care for the vines of potential fruit but leave the harvest to the Head Wine Master. They view life in seasons and are patient enough in the Father’s processes with people to work alongside him instead of frantically trying to make wine before its time.
Always remember the pace of Jesus when you consider your own pace so that prayer becomes the work, instead of praying so that your work will work.
Friday, February 2
Share a Mind with Jesus
“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. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 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, being born in the likeness of men.” Philippians 2:3-7 (ESV)
The apostle Paul had a unique saying: “I am out of my mind for Christ.” He was sharing a secret that allows us to have the right posture with people. We talk about living incarnationally, but it really doesn’t happen unless you think about people differently.
We tend to assess people based on our categories. We pick and choose who we will spend time with based on our level of enjoyment of them or of our surface-level observations.
Jesus spent time with people because he assessed their hearts. He saw people from a point of view without concern for their outward behavior. He viewed them in light of his plan and possibility of redemption. No person, regardless of sin, was beyond a total-life transformation. And because he saw them differently, they saw him differently.
When you take on the mind of Christ for every person you come in contact with, they will sense your love for them. As you eat with them, ask questions, offer encouragement, and practical help, they will not only sense your acceptance, but they will start to see God differently.
With every person you meet, let your first thought be, “God, what do you think of this person?” This question is the most important one you will ask as God pulls you along in his mission.
Thursday, February 1
Pure Religion vs. Your Devotional Life
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” James 1:27 (ESV)
The life of a Christian often veers toward solemn, solitary moments of private reflection. If we go beyond that, we say, “We’ll go to church, give money, be in a small group, or find a place of service in the church.” As we grow, we expect to be involved in leadership, maybe leading a Bible study, sitting on a council, preaching a sermon, or going on a mission trip.
But what about all these things? How does God view them? Is this what he wants? According to James, if you add up all these spiritual activities and add a few more, you may miss the real deal. Religious activity that God gives a thumbs up to is actually to care for people in need.
Isn’t it amazing how we can be so busy with everything that isn’t the main thing to the God we want to serve and please?
I wonder at times if we use these things to make ourselves feel good when the whole time we miss what would truly feed our souls and grow us into the type of people that Jesus would ask the world to emulate.
When God says “this is what I consider pure and blameless,” we should look up and listen – and it’s to look after orphans and widows! No mention of church attendance or Bible studies here....
So if you have only 20 minutes today or tomorrow either to wedge in another devotion time or lend a hand to a neighbor, I think we may find, truly find, God in the latter.
Wednesday, January 31
Our Heart Follows our Eyes
“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.” Matthew 6:22-23 (ESV)
Most days, we go through our routine without much real emotion. We have the day’s work, the interruptive tensions of living, and a host of self-focused thoughts. We know we should care for others and be deeply concerned with their spiritual state, but we make no change to our lives. We then wait for the next moment of guilt over what we’re not doing for others.
How can we really become people that have compassion on the souls of others? It only comes when we look at people. The eyes are the lamp of our heart. What we see determines what we ultimately will believe or do…and most of us only see ourselves. Look up!
Jesus, rounded the corner, ducked under a branch of a tree and as his eyes focused, he saw people like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36). Immediately, his heart felt compassion, which is a deep emotion. It moved him to speak and act toward them…and to eventually die for them.
Yesterday I saw people and it helped me to talk to them and ask questions about their lives. As I see the furrowed brows of a business man while he yells at his wife on his cell phone, or the anxious teary eyes of a single mom trying to get her unruly children through the airport, or the blank stare of a homeless father holding a sign on the corner asking for help, it changes my heart and I move toward them.
Today, open your eyes. See people for who they are and you won’t need to ask God for compassion. It will just come.
Tuesday, January 30
Getting Applause from God Alone
“How can you believe when you accept each other's praise and do not look for the praise that comes from the only God??” John 5:44 (ISV)
In daily life, I don’t think most of us ever stop to realize how much we do to please other people. If we take into account the pressure we feel around family members, co-workers, professional peers, neighbors, in-laws, or parishioners, and then add up the hours we spend working and worrying to gain their approval, it is a staggering percentage of our time. Add to that the time we spend pleasing ourselves, trying to get our own minds right, and get what we want, and it only adds to the mountain-sized garbage heap we build our lives around.
Jesus asks a simple question. Why don’t we at least work as hard to gain praise from God as we do from others? You might say, “Well, we don’t need to gain his approval. We already are approved through Christ.” And you’d be right! We are accepted fully through Christ as we are. Our salvation is secure because of what Jesus has done!
But this Scripture is about living now as people saved by Jesus. Jesus encourages us to live in such a way that we get God to wink at us, to smile over us, or to get a thumbs up, as it will.
God doesn’t just see an ocean of souls he has accepted. He sees you and me as individuals – he knows each of us personally! - and we can live in such a way that all we care about is pleasing Him.
Today, how can Jesus get the first appointment with you?
What can you say “no” to on his account?
What can you now say “yes” to because you’ve made him first?
Monday, January 29
Come to the Depths
“Immediately [Jesus] made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.” Matthew 14:22 (ESV)
The Gospels repeatedly show a separation between true disciples and the “multitude.”
I wonder which one we identify with. As Dave Matthews says, there’s a “space between.” There is the uncomfortable tension between what we know the call of Jesus to be and what we presently live out and experience. What is sure from Scripture is that Jesus loves the multitude. He taught them, fed them, healed them, and eventually died for them.
But he also called a few others to go deeper, beyond just being a part of the masses of people that go to Jesus for what they can get from him. The disciples became a smaller group of people who let Jesus take them somewhere different, somewhere harder, into a life of service and sacrifice for his purposes.
It sounds attractive, but we know it costs and so we hang back, hold back, and keep Jesus at a safe distance.
If Jesus loves the multitude, why shouldn’t we stay a part of the big group? Why should any smart person slowly move from the fray of consumer Christianity and raise a hand asking Jesus to pour our lives out for others?
Only one reason: that we want to be with Jesus wherever he goes.
True apprentices don’t mind the cost if the cost allows them to be with their master, their trainer, their coach, or their father.
You don’t have to leave the crowd or the church pews. Grace is grace and God lets you sit there your entire life if you want. But some hear the clarion call of the depths and take on his mission to others.
Friday, January 26
“And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” Luke 2:52 (NIV)
In our day, the common man or woman feels completely unable to connect or identify with those who have taken a more formal or professional role for God. If we are one of the “pros” we tend toward lives of extraction from the real world, believing that our time on Mt. Sinai with God will be useful to those who must live in the valley.
With Jesus, we see a picture of God in the lowlands, who watches his son live as a normal man. And we see normal men being drawn to God. God favors his son as his son finds favor with people.
What a farce it is to think that our “calling” sets us apart to do things others aren’t called to do. What a misconception that we can do more for God from the pulpit than from the porch on the front of our home.
How can we live a life where the lines become blurry between what is truly sacred or secular, religious or real?
Jesus showed us the way of integrated living where the way we work and the way we interact as human beings on the soccer field, the coffee shop, or cathedral all speak of him. If we become more like Jesus, we will become more favored by our friends.
In fact, we will have friends and that is proof that God is pleased with how we live.
If you find that in all your spiritual activity you are alone and the world does not want to be with you, quite possibly we are not growing at all.
Favor with God comes simply through our faith in Jesus, but favor with men comes only as we live like Jesus.
Thursday, January 25
He Came Eating and Drinking
“The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.” Matthew 11:19 (ESV)
Enfleshing ourselves into the world isn’t as theological as we think it is. Incarnational life is about how we come to people.
If I were Jesus, or a pastor, or someone who thought they were representing God, I suppose one could think of all sorts of serious ways to “witness” to the world.
But Jesus just came “eating and drinking.”
There is nothing more simple or more powerful than this. Jesus came and sat across the table, rested his elbows, crossed his legs, unfolded the napkin, and tipped a cup, sipped his wine, dipped the bread into olive oil, chewed his food, and enjoyed great conversation.
Then he did it again the next day. Each time, a person sat across from him, they felt accepted, warmed, and knew that someone close to God was focused on them. This is the simple, yet profound, work of incarnational living.
According to this Scripture, it is as if wisdom sits down and finally makes sense to the world. In other words, you will know what things work by what is produced. Sometimes we work really hard to plan a church service, pull off a small group, or hold a prayer meeting. The fruit is obvious…and sometimes doesn’t show much wisdom.
But take an evening to spend with new friends, invite someone out to lunch, or take a hike up a mountain, and an hour or two of conversation will almost always show its worth and its wisdom.
It’s like God calling to us from the heavens: “Don’t be religious; be normal!”
Grace and Truth (Part Two)
“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 (ESV)
As grace keeps us in relationship with God and allows us to be deeply related to those outside of faith, truth is what transforms a person.
It’s a good thing to be a great friend. It’s beautiful when Christians show sincere mercy, friendship without strings, and love without expectation, but it’s not enough. People followed Jesus because they heard he was a friend of sinners, but they were changed as he called them to live by another wisdom: the wisdom of God.
Religious people drug an adulterous woman in front of an angry crowd and tested Jesus with her sin. She had not only sinned against the Law of Moses, many families, and a handful of men, she had sinned against the man who now was stooping down next to her, challenging her accusers, and advocating for her life. Grace was clear to her and she was cleared of her sin. Everyone left and she and Jesus were left. She knew Jesus loved her, relationship by his grace was sure. But Jesus didn’t just say “good-bye.” He said, “Woman… go and sin no more.” Truth cut through her pain, dysfunction, and brokenness as Jesus was offering her new life!
As we extend grace and relationship, let it not end there. As we win the hearts of our friends, as they know we would never leave relationship, as they share their stories and pain, offer grace-filled words of truth.
Grace and Truth (Part One)
“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 (ESV)
Grace isn’t just getting something we don’t deserve. Grace has a purpose. Christ paid the penalty of our sin, died our death, and it wasn’t just so that we would be forgiven and go to heaven.
The purpose of grace is so that we can be in relationship with God again.
Although we enjoy the benefits of knowing that God no longer thinks of us with anger and that we can now approach him with confidence, it’s amazing that God did all this because he wanted to be in relationship with us! He initiated the great plan of redemption that would cost him his very precious son. He is the one who continues to pursue us while we blindly but intentionally stiff-arm him and hold him at bay. But he keeps grace flowing and thus we never leave his sight or his side.
Because God has given grace to sinners, he can sit at our table or invite us to his.
There’s no one who isn’t accepted by Him nor should there be any person we would not eat with.
Grace, and the relationship extended by grace, must be the mark of a Christ-follower and it is the front door to our ability to invite friends into truth that transforms.
After all, we follow one who is “full of grace and truth.”
Jesus is our Only Peace
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have trouble. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 (ESV)
Jesus is severely honest about the tension of living in this world. It’s hard enough just to live, to care for our children and spouse, to work our jobs, to keep the house in order. Added to all this we have Christ’s call to mission which seems to only add a level of stress, carrying more burdens, and the simple addition of time constraints.
How is it that God expects us to find a balanced life? How are we to get the most out of this life and still bring life to others?
Maybe balance isn’t the issue. Maybe we can’t have deep impact and maintain our sensible life. Maybe life is hard and “in this world” we will never find balance, harmony, or peace.
Quite possibly, Jesus is telling his disciples that only in him will they find peace.
The call to care for people outside your immediate world will almost surely add weight to your life, but that’s what makes a follower of Christ so beloved by God. We are the ones who put away grumbling and selfish ambition and, like a herdsman driving his sheep through a tempest of sleet and howling snow, we put our heads down and keep moving forward.
When our ministry to people doesn’t come easy, we should not so quickly become upset. When it takes years of prayer, we should not lose heart. When our own world is vexed and perplexed, we should not leave the field.
What we should do is simply go to Jesus. In him and in him alone will we find peace. The people God has called us to are worth it to Him – so much so that He endured the cross. And because Jesus is our greatest worth, we will not shrink back and live for this world.
Finding the Emotions of God
“As Jesus approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it.” Luke 19:41 (NIV)
“When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Matthew 9:36 (ESV)
People only do what they want to do or are compelled to do. We often feel as if we should do something for God or for people, and occasionally we muster up enough spiritual energy to do a quick good deed, but we go back to normal, which is life focused on ourselves. How are we to become people that actually wake up with intentions to give our lives away? How can we find a life lived out of passion and “want-to’s” instead of “should-do’s”?
For Jesus, he just looked at people and loved them. There was something about the way Jesus saw people that moved him to emotion. For sure his head was in it! He understood the ramifications if people live and die without hope in a personal god. But his daily action of looking for people to give his live for, was way beyond strategy, theology, or doctrine. He was moved by watching people.
As you ask God to help you develop a pure and passion-full heart for people, consider looking at people. Peer up from your desk in the cubical you work in and just watch people for a few seconds. Consider their human struggle. Stop and thank the barista that is pouring your coffee every morning; make solid and lasting eye contact with them. Instead of giving a head nod or a quick wave to neighbors you always drive by, pull your car over, get out, and give that person a few minutes. Look at people. You may know some of their stories and so you will know how to pray, but others you may have to keep looking at until you’re moved with unction to invite them to lunch to hear their story.
Looking at people, truly looking, is a hidden key to finding your heart for people.
Thursday, January 18
Are You Settled?
“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” John 1:46 (NIV)
One of the greatest myths of life is “it’s better over there, having what they have or doing what they do.” Our world is a transitional space and we move at a pace that pulls us away from being settled in the place God wants us to be. Most people move at least every three years. We get on planes to get away. We struggle to commit to people or to processes because we don’t want to lose our freedom, and at the end of our lives, we have very little legacy with people and often find a gaping hole in our own sense of faithfulness to God.
Christ was from Nazareth, and more specifically Bethsaida. He had a home town. Yes, he did walk around quite a bit. But before his ministry was visibly in full bloom, he lived 30 years in one area and learned both the discipline and benefit of staying put.
A great question for any leader or any serious follower is, “Lord, where have you called me to invest and live my life?” “What is my home town?” “Lord, why am I afraid of committing to this area or these people?” These are the questions that lead to not only the right answers but real Kingdom-legacy.
When you find what keeps you on the move, and the underlying insecurities and self-oriented concerns that wage war against “the simple life,” and then you let God speak into these issues, you will not only find rest for your soul, but you’ll see fruit begin to bloom all around you.
Wednesday, January 17