Monday Motivation: Standing Alone

We are creatures of comfort and with that comes our ingrained desire to be liked and agreed with.  Even the most staunch introverts and individual thinkers still wish to be heard and understood.

So, imagine if you will, what it was like in Noah’s day when he was commanded by God to build the ark.  Imagine what it was like to be the only man who stood for God in an evil, sinful generation.  Sometimes we bemoan the wickedness of our current time, but I believe it is nowhere near as bad as Noah’s time on earth.  It must have been if God wished to destroy his creation (Genesis 6:12-13).

But look at Noah’s example.  We have to look no further than Noah to see what it would look like to stand alone for God.  As difficult as that was, he was still willing to live a righteous and blameless life before God(Genesis 6:9).  Imagine not having the support of other Christians in the church like we do today.  Think about what it would be like to spend 100 years building the ark, all the while preaching to the lost of their impending judgment, and not having a single convert!  Would you get discouraged?  Would you still be willing to stand for God if you were the only one left to do so?

Today and every day, we as Christians must all make that decision.  Every day we must decide to deny ourselves, our desires and our wants, and live an obedient life for God (Luke 9:23).  Only in living by faith and giving our lives to God do we have the opportunity to save them (Luke 9:24).

Make that commitment right now to wholly and lovingly give your life to God.

-Joe

When Does Grace Run Out?

A while back, our washing machine broke.  I walked out to the garage to find water and soap suds spilling over the edge of the wash tub and onto the floor, and like any wise husband would do, I tried to get it fixed before my wife saw.  Sadly, the damage was done, and when she walked into the garage and saw the state of that load of laundry, I realized it wasn’t only the machine that would be having a meltdown.  We’ve since replaced the washing machine and my wife is happily doing laundry without the drama of an overflowing wash tub, but the whole affair had me thinking of God’s grace and how it overflows in our lives.

Like the glass in the picture above, God’s grace overflows and exceeds all that we can imagine.  It never runs out.  We all have that point where we believe grace should end, where there’s no more room for forgiveness, but God sees otherwise.  He keeps pouring out his grace into our lives well before we do anything to deserve it and long after it has met our needs.  The only thing that could possibly keep God’s grace away from us is if we pull away the cup.  He can only fill us to overflowing if we’re willing to stand there and receive it.  Otherwise, we’ll miss out on all that God has to offer.

In Matthew, chapter 18, we see that Peter asks Jesus how many times it is necessary to forgive (Matthew 18:21).  Jesus basically says that we should never stop forgiving and then he goes on to tell a parable about an unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:22-35).  In this story, we see a man who was forgiven an immeasurable debt, turn around and be unwilling to forgive someone who was indebted to him.  It’s a classic case of hypocrisy, and it’s one of the ways we show God that we really don’t appreciate his grace for what it’s worth.  We think grace should have a limit, that someone should deserve our mercy before we offer it.  But God teaches that we should continue to offer grace beyond what we think is appropriate.  It’s the least we can do in response to what’s been done for us.

The reality is, we are all like the servant in the parable who was forgiven of the immeasurable debt.  We can work hard, but we’ll never be able to pay it off.  God knows the tally of our debt no matter if we try to hide it or not (Hebrews 4:13). He knows the score is not in our favor and he chooses to forget it.  His grace is greater than your debt. But God also gives a warning.  His grace and forgiveness are contingent on how we forgive.  If we respond to grace like the servant in the parable and refuse to forgive others, we can still expect to pay for our debt of sin.  If we take lightly the grace of God, we have no expectation or right to the rewards that he so freely offers.

We will spend a lifetime trying to learn of God’s grace and what it means and still not come close to understanding it.  It’s a love that is beyond the ability of humans to fathom.  And yet, he shares it with us and asks us to do the same with each other.  It’s the way we show the light of Chris to the world and the way God helps us to know just how important to Him we really are.

-Joe

It Doesn’t Matter What We Think

We’re pretty smart…at least we’d like to think so.  We humans of the 21st century are convinced that we’ve got the world’s mysteries all figured out.  Well, maybe not all of them, but we sure do have an opinion on everything.  And while I’ll freely admit that the combined wisdom of mankind in our age is something to marvel at, we really haven’t scratched the surface of what there is to know.

I mention this, because it always amazes me when people try to interject their opinions in matters of religion and Christianity.  People say they believe the Bible as the inspired authority and word of God, and then some go about trying to change it to meet their preconceived ideas or needs.  The truth is, yours and my opinions don’t really matter at all, at least in the sense of trying to change God’s word. What matters is what God says!  We may want to disagree with God’s view on things and say that the times have changed or that we have a better understanding of his word today than people of previous generations.  But the truth is, God’s word stands just as firmly today as it did when it was first written down.

We shouldn’t take the liberty to force our viewpoint or interpretation on God’s word.  That’s the job of the Holy Spirit.  It is He that allows us to understand the thinking behind God’s commands and promises.  It’s not fair for me to change those commands if they don’t coincide with the way I’m living my life.  It’s not right to add contingencies to God’s plan of salvation and accuse Him of not being loving if He doesn’t follow my advice (Galatians 1:6-9).  What we should do is study God’s word for what it says and pray continually that his Spirit will bring us into a better understanding of it (John 16:13).

This is probably most important as I take more opportunities to preach publicly and through this blog.  I must always remember, as does anyone who claims to teach God’s word, that it is God who does the teaching, not me (John 7:16-18, James 3:1).  I can study and use analogies to convey to others what the Bible is asking of us Christians, but I’m not free to add to or take away from God’s message (Revelation 22:19).  He knows far more that I will ever know (Isaiah 40:28).  Who am I to challenge the understanding and validity of the one who created me in the first place?

In the end, it doesn’t really matter what I think.  All that matters is that God’s truth is proclaimed!  All that matters is that He is honored and glorified!

-Joe

Monday Motivation: Jesus as Lord

“The Lord reigns; he is robed in majesty;
    the Lord is robed; he has put on strength as his belt.
Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved.
Your throne is established from of old;
    you are from everlasting.

The floods have lifted up, O Lord,
    the floods have lifted up their voice;
    the floods lift up their roaring.
Mightier than the thunders of many waters,
    mightier than the waves of the sea,
    the Lord on high is mighty!

Your decrees are very trustworthy;
    holiness befits your house,
    O Lord, forevermore.”

(Psalm 93:1-5)

Jesus is Lord.

JESUS IS LORD.

JESUS IS LORD!!!

Just let that sink in.  We have a King, a Lord who loves us beyond compare.  We have a Lord who is our Savior, who died on a cross to redeem us.  We have a Lord who has defeated death and is seated at the right hand of God in Heaven, and who is coming again to take us there.

JESUS IS LORD!!!  Make sure you live like you believe it.

-Joe

Here Comes the Bride

A wedding day is such a special and magical celebration, one that is filled with love and anticipation.  For the bride, it’s an especially exciting time, a day that’s been dreamt about for years.  From a young age watching Disney princess movies and playing dress up, little girls long for the day when they too will be able to wear a beautiful, flowing gown and walk down that aisle on their perfect wedding day.

A bride spends a tremendous amount of time, even a year or two before, preparing everything for the ceremony.  She wants every detail to be just so.  She desires to walk down that aisle a picture of perfection for her husband.  Hair, makeup, dress, shoes, everything must be carefully attended to.

I paint this picture of a woman’s perfect wedding ceremony to prove a point.  There is a huge amount of time and effort getting ready for that big day.  How much more should we anticipate the day that we are joined together with our bridegroom Jesus?  Even though we don’t know the exact day of his return, we should prepare for that day nonetheless.  But how do we do that?  How do we get ready for our own special wedding day?

  • Purity- There’s a reason why brides wear white on their wedding day.  It’s a clean, pure color that is meant to represent the chastity and purity that a bride brings to the relationship.  Christians also have the responsibility to present ourselves in a holy, pure way before Go.  He made the ultimate sacrifice of his Son Jesus to cleanse us of our impurity (1 John 1:9), and it’s the least we can do to live a life worthy of that sacrifice (Ephesians 4:1).
  • Knowledge- When a man and woman are dating or engaged, they go to great lengths to spend time with one another and get to know each other better.  Their relationship becomes more intimate, not from a sexual union, but from quality time spent with each other.  Likewise, time spent with God helps us learn more about him, his character, his wisdom, and his love (John 15:1-5).  God desires a deep, personal relationship with his bride, but we have to put forth the effort to grow closer in that manner.
  • Clothing- Probably the biggest decision a bride faces is her choice of wedding dress.  My male brain simply cannot comprehend why a woman would need to try on a hundred different dresses just to find the right one, but she does so because she has to look just right on her big day.  While we won’t be worrying about physical clothing at our own spiritual wedding, we still must clothe ourselves in a proper manner.  The Bible tells us that our clothing will be our righteous acts (Revelation 19:7-8), and while some will teach that our works don’t matter to God, the truth is, they are very important (James 2:14-26).  What better way to thank God for the blessings he provides than to clothe ourselves with good deeds that come from a grateful heart.

There’s a great day coming, a day when Jesus will return to bring us home with him to Heaven.  He has already gone and prepared a place for us there (John 14:2-3), and all we have to do is be ready for when he comes.  What are you doing as the bride of Christ to be ready for your big wedding day?

-Joe

Monday Motivation: Real Discipleship

“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26)

“34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” (John 15:1-4)

Disciple: One who follows Christ and is a student of his teaching.

It’s common practice in the hiking community to take on a trail name while out on the trail. This practice originated with Appalachian Trail thru-hikers and is now somewhat of a tradition. With the help of some other hikers, I decided that if I ever thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, I would take the name “Disciple” as my trail name because it summarizes what I want my life to be about: following faithfully in the footsteps of Jesus.

So what does that really mean? It means I must pick up my cross daily to follow him. I must sacrifice self if I’m to serve Christ completely (Matthew 16:24-26). It also means I must love him with all my heart and love others as myself. Jesus exemplified love to the world, and as a disciple of his, I should do the same (John 13:34-35). Finally, it means that I must stay close to my Lord and Teacher. I must learn from his example and his word in order to be as fruitful as possible in my lifetime (John 15:1-4).

What are you doing today and in the week to come to be a disciple of Christ and to follow him to the best of your ability?

-Joe

Love Letter

I have two large shoeboxes in the top of my closet that, by all appearances, look old and worn out.  In fact, they are pretty old.  These two boxes hold all the letters and cards that my wife has given me over the years that we’ve known each other.  We met in our junior year of high school, and it’s pretty funny to go back and read of our innocent love for one another and how we longed to be in each other’s company.

Later, when I was in bootcamp with the United States Air Force, she would send me letters of love and encouragement that helped me get through our time of separation.  I keep those mementos to this day as a reminder of our feelings for one another and the bond of commitment that we share.  It reminds me to never take her for granted and to always recall the innocence and purity of when we first fell in love.

There’s another such love letter that we all have access to and its message has always stood the test of time.  The Bible is the most beautiful love letter ever written, and we have it preserved for us so that we may never forget that we are truly and wholly loved.  The story of God and his love for us is a remarkable one, one in which we see what real love and commitment look like.  All that he has done to redeem us to himself is, by far, the most amazing act of love of all time.  God himself, Christ in the flesh, bought us back, his adulterous bride, with his own blood, and the Bible is testament to that glorious gospel message.  We simply can’t miss it…God loves us more than we could ever imagine.

One of the best ways to understand this is by studying all of the analogies between human marriage and the marriage of Christ and the church that are spoken of in the Bible.  Books like Hosea and Ephesians tell of the sacrificial love that one should have for their spouse and it’s the same kind of love that Jesus has for us.  It’s a love that looks at the faults of the other and chooses to still love anyway.  It’s a love that strives for perfection for the one who is chosen.  And God tells us of this ideal union all throughout his word.  It’s a love letter that’s there for us to read and to relish every day.

God wants you to know him just as a husband and wife know each other physically (Ephesians 5:31-32).  But the intimacy of the sexual union between marriage partners pales in comparison to the closeness that God desires with each of his children.  He longs for you to fall into his arms, into his rest, into his grace and mercy.  He wishes for you to reciprocate that love and give yourself freely and completely to him.  He hopes that you will continually read his love letter to you and know, in the deepest part of your heart and soul, that there is nothing in all of creation that can separate you from his love (Romans 8:38-39).

-Joe