Monday, March 23, 2015

Stone vs. Flesh

MONDAY // READ
Jeremiah 31:31-34
“That’s right. The time is coming when I will make a brand-new covenant with Israel and Judah. It won’t be a repeat of the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took their hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant even though I did my part as their Master.” God’s Decree.

“This is the brand-new covenant that I will make with Israel when the time comes. I will put my law within them—write it on their hearts!—and be their God. And they will be my people. They will no longer go around setting up schools to teach each other about God. They’ll know me firsthand, the dull and the bright, the smart and the slow. I’ll wipe the slate clean for each of them. I’ll forget they ever sinned!” God’s Decree.

Psalm 51:1-12
Generous in love—God, give grace!
Huge in mercy—wipe out my bad record.
Scrub away my guilt,
soak out my sins in your laundry.
I know how bad I’ve been;
my sins are staring me down.
it all, seen the full extent of my evil.
You have all the facts before you;
whatever you decide about me is fair.
I’ve been out of step with you for a long time,
in the wrong since before I was born.
What you’re after is truth from the inside out.
Enter me, then; conceive a new, true life.
scrub me and I’ll have a snow-white life.
Tune me in to foot-tapping songs,
set these once-broken bones to dancing.
Don’t look too close for blemishes,
give me a clean bill of health.
God, make a fresh start in me,
shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.
Don’t throw me out with the trash,
or fail to breathe holiness in me.
Bring me back from gray exile,
put a fresh wind in my sails!
You’re the One I’ve violated, and you’ve seen
Soak me in your laundry and I’ll come out clean,

TUESDAY // THOUGHTS

Ah the heart is a tricky, mysterious thing. I’ll let Jeremiah sum it up here: “The heart is hopelessly dark and deceitful, a puzzle that no one can figure out.” And God gets this and understands that the heart is where our true motives lie. Jerri (Jeremiah) goes on to say, “But I, God, search the heart and examine the mind. I get to the heart of the human. I get to the root of things. I treat them as they really are, not as they pretend to be.”

This is leading up to Jeremiah 31 to the New Covenant where the law will be written on their hearts. Up to this point the law was etched on stone tablets where if they went against it, consequences follow. You see, the law only serves to let you know when you have done wrong, when you’ve messed up. When do you usually see the cops? When something is wrong. When someone has done something wrong, that’s when they come around and they represent the law. This New Covenant starts to make things more personal. With it written on our hearts, we start to see the things that God cares about and we start to care about them as well.

Ezekiel 36:26 says something similar, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”
From this passage and Jeremiah’s, it seems that to have the Law written on our hearts, we need a new one, one that is scrubbed clean and cleansed with the Holy Spirit, one that is fleshy instead of from stone. It’s as though the flesh lets the Law sink in deeper. They’ve tried it written in stone and now it’s time that it is written somewhere else where it can permeate deeper, the heart.
Wednesday

WEDNESDAY // CHALLENGE
Take a moment this week to reflect on what you need to breathe out, like bitterness, anger, regret, etc. and start to exhale that stuff out so you have room to breathe in what you need, like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc.

Think upon Jeremiah’s passage and the Psalms 51 on what it might mean to have a heart that receives the things of God. Ask Him to come in and create a new heart in you. Ask Him what else you can do on your end to make this happen.

THURSDAY // REFLECT





FRIDAY // PRAY
Lord, thank you for your generous love
And unending mercy!
We both know the bad that can collect in my heart
Scrub it and make it clean again Dad
My offenses, it seems, to be aimed at You
I’m sorry! Sorry for being out of step with You
Allow me to walk by Your side once again My God
Create in me a clean heart that has a rhythm so beautiful
That the angels playing their harps right on key
Would pale in comparison.

This we pray in Your Son’s Name
Amen


Monday, March 16, 2015

Grace & Purpose

MONDAY // READ
Ephesians 2:1-10
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved,through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

TUESDAY // GRACE & PURPOSE
Grace- The free and unmerited favor of God unto salvation.  Free.  Unmerited.  When considering our condition as the human race we can see that we are lost.  We are hopelessly lost if left to our own ways.  Even the things we try to do well end up skewed and off the mark.  We can see many ministries that end up doing more harm than good because of the fallen state of their leaders.  Charity organizations that are in place to help those in need come under scrutiny because of their mishandling of funds.  Everything we try to do misses the mark.  However, in our lost state, our destructive, selfish state, God enters with grace.  There is nothing we can do to deserve this grace.  There is no way to repay God for his sacrifice to bring us this grace.  It is free and we can not earn or deserve it.  That is probably not an  arrangement we feel very comfortable with.

God does all the doing when it comes to saving us.  The only thing we really "do" is admit that we need saving.  Once we have established our need for God's salvation then He can begin to work in our lives.  God's love for us moved Him to make a way for us to be saved.  You might wonder what you need to be saved from.  Perhaps your life is all in order and you don't feel you are in need of saving.  You have always been kind to others, you give to the poor and needy, you volunteer at your local food bank, you come to church regularly.... What more could God require?  Or on the other hand maybe you have  messed up everything you have ever touched in your life.  You've been in trouble with the law.  You can't maintain a healthy relationship.  You have alienated family and friends with your selfish ways.  You have been arrested for illegal activities.  You may have even spent time in jail.  You are so far from the ways of God He could never mean YOU when He refers to salvation.  Maybe you find yourself somewhere in between the two scenarios.  You don't think you have arrived but you sure are glad you are not like THAT guy.  God sees things differently than we do....thankfully.

God looked down on the mess of mankind and saw what He already knew...we needed saving. I'm sure God's plan to save us through grace came about because He knew our selfish tendencies would lead us to be prideful if salvation required any act from us. So salvation comes only through the grace of God....that unmerited, free gift of grace.

This passage which so clearly defines grace and salvation for us ends with an interesting reference to works. Wait a minute... Didn't we just spend three paragraphs clarifying that we are saved by grace not works?! Now Paul throws in this reference to works. This is a crucial part of us understanding God's saving ways. God not only saved us FROM something...God saved us FOR something. God is still in charge of the saving and He doesn't stop there. God now commissions us to go out doing good works. The good works don't save us, they identify us as saved. What are these good works that God calls us to? Jesus summed it up when he was asked what the most important commandments were. He said first you must love God with your whole being and next you must love your neighbor as yourself. So it's not as much about WHAT you do, rather what motivates you to do it...the purpose behind the actions.

WEDNESDAY // CHALLENGEYesterday our discussion  left off with the idea that what motivates our actions can define us. If we are following Jesus and finding Friends out of obligation or pride or any number of misled  reasons then we are not defined as saved. The reason is because it is not our actions that save us. So our motivation has to be love... not personal gain for us to be defined as followers of Jesus.


The challenge is to begin to evaluate how well we love. When we try to love is it attached to conditions and expectations?  Our love, our thoughts, our actions, our motives must be for the purpose of helping others know Christ; what Paul describes as good works.

At the end of the day sit down and write 3 good works/nice things you did today for someone else. Then really give some thought as to why you did them. Give some consideration and evaluation of your motive. Was it selfish? Was it because you needed something in return? Was it to ease your guilty conscience about something? This can be a confusing process. We as humans have needs. We have healthy boundaries and expectations. But how do those fit with the idea of good works as described in our passage? Would loving someone unconditionally look odd to this world?  Could others question your sanity because of the choices you make for the Kingdom of God? Something to ponder....

THURSDAY // REFLECT



FRIDAY // THINK & PRAYTake some time today to thank God for His grace. Imagine how impossible it would be to work your way into salvation. As you go through the day be aware of the times when you are a grace consumer. Begin to imagine ways you can draw others into the saving grace of God. End your day with repentance, confession and thanksgiving.

God-
Your grace is almost an incomprehensible concept to a world that is self absorbed. May we be more and more aware of your grace and our brokenness. May we embrace you and draw others to your grace as well. May our love for you grow constantly and may our love for others become more and more like the love you show to us.
Thank you for loving us and extending your grace...even before we knew we needed it.
Amen

Monday, March 9, 2015

Not So Foolish

MONDAY // READ
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
    the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

TUESDAY // Not So Foolish
What is wisdom, and what is foolishness? Paul writes that the message of the cross is foolishness to some, and surely it is. “The last will be first, and the first last; the strong will be made weak, and the weak, strong,” are constructs certainly not within the confines of our social norms. They are contrary to a number of principles our culture is built upon, wherein we celebrated for our successes, both legitimate and illegitimate, our work ethic, and or ability to come out on top. Our culture applauds those who make their mark and stand out, who perform the best, who look the best, and who work the hardest.

This is evidenced all around us, whether Hollywood and Wall Street, or the halls of our neighborhood schools. We teach our children to seize their opportunities, and that success is determined by how hard we work. We celebrate people for their great accomplishments, or celebrities for who knows what, and we pick and choose what to put on our social pedestals. We create our idols: money, fame, status, popularity, appearance, and on and on. These are tangible, quantifiable rewards, not so different from golden calves. Our culture does not value the ideas of Christ as a whole.

Can you remember the last time the media tried to encourage celebrities? Or Democrats and Republicans collaborated for the good of everyone? Or the New York Times gave a front page spread to the struggles of a stay-at-home mom? Or a clothing or cosmetics retailer tried to reset the standard of beauty (There is a small movement here!)? It rarely happens, and it isn’t popular. It doesn’t sell. And we have only ourselves to blame—the media portrays what we want to read and see and hear, Politicians act on what they think will help their next reelection campaign, and retailers sell and market what people are buying. We drive our cultural norms, which are not in line with the foolishness of Christ.

WEDNESDAY // CHALLENGE
So, then, what is this foolishness of Christ? It surely encompasses many things, most of which we likely do not understand, but we will narrow down for today to this: the foolishness of Christ is a contradiction to those things we value on the whole. Paul writes that Christ was a stumbling block to the Jews and foolish to the Gentiles. He was outside the box of what the Jews would allow, and his ways defied the intelligence of the Greeks.

We are creatures who thrive on the celebrity of our intelligence, and many beautiful creations have certainly come from the intricacies of our minds. Medicine, art, music, literature, physics—the list of incredible and wonderful discoveries and creations of mankind is exhaustive. Yet, God says he will frustrate that intelligence, and he will destroy our wisdom.

It’s important to discern what intelligence is under scrutiny. God gifted our minds to us. Where we falter, however, is when we grant more stock to our own abilities, intellectual capacities, and the notion that we can discern right from wrong on our own. Christ became a stumbling block for the Jews because they had the story figured out—they knew how it was supposed to go. He frustrated the intelligence of the Greeks, because his ways were outside the realm of how things worked—outside what they knew to be true. In both of these situations, that which God tore down was that which we established, of our own free will and decision, in an effort to control the world and know our place within it.

Christ is not interested in conforming to our understanding of the world—he created it! We are not so different today. Our cultural norms place the greatest value on our ability to command our own destinies, to know what is best, to rule the world. Or our world, at the very least.

What is the foolishness of God, then, and how might we become so foolish?

THURSDAY // REFLECT



FRIDAY // THINK
Consider your place in the world. How do you fit into the storyline of Christ? We cannot instantaneously change the cultural norms that we find ourselves in—it can’t really been done on a large scale. Cultures shift, and changes ebb and flow in time, slowly eroding what used to be and carving a new framework. We can, however, change how we interact with our culture. How we do that is between us and Christ—it is the foolishness of Christ that must guide our decision-making.

But what is that foolishness? It is nothing. It is everything. It is both a return to our natural state of being and a journey into a new way of being. But this isn’t a matter of philosophy. This is a letting go. It is a surrender of the notion that we know best, and an acceptance of God’s invitation to show us a better way. We see this in the life of Christ. We see it in conviction, in hope, in peace, in love. We measure it in the wind and in the faces of everyone around us. To begin to grasp the foolishness of God is to be ready and willing to say, “I don’t know.” To grasp the weakness of God starts with, “I need help.”

It’s easy to say. It’s much more difficult to weave into our souls.

// PRAY
Father, teach us to become dependent upon you—to embrace your foolishness and find rest in your weakness. We need you, Lord. We don’t know how to do life in the full reaches of its glory. Teach us, form us, strengthen us, and love us.
Amen.


Monday, March 2, 2015

Promises

MONDAY // READ
Romans 4:13-21
For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.

For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.

That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring--not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”--in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.

TUESDAY // Promises
I had this friend, once, shocking, I know. We’ll call him “Chet” because I don’t think I know any Chets. Chet loved making promises. He would bamboozle your secrets out of you but promise not to tell anyone. He would beg you to give him a ride to Walmart and promise he wouldn’t take more than fifteen minutes. He would borrow five dollars and promise to pay you back. And, before you know it, you’re broke, stuck at Walmart, and everybody in your Monday/Wednesday Psych Class knows about that time you did that thing and it was really embarrassing.
As people, it makes sense to be a little skeptical of promises. After all, people tend to be flakey and fallible. But God isn’t flakey or fallible: he keeps his promises.
When God promised Abraham that he’d be the father of many nations, Abraham was old. He wasn’t just kind of old, either. He was really, really, really old. Furthermore, his wife was old, too. And in all of their lives together, they hadn’t had any children. So, if I were Abraham, I might be a little, erm, doubtful... about the fulfillment of this particular promise. But Abraham wasn’t. Romans 4:21 says, “He [Abraham] grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.”
And he was right to be convinced. God was able to do what he had promised, and he did. But sometimes, God keeps his promises in ways we might not expect. That’s what happened here. Abraham did have children of his own, but he didn’t literally father nations. Now, I’m not sure if he spent his time picturing a bunch of little Abrahams wandering around, ruling the world, but, if he did, he’d probably be a little surprised by how God’s promise was fulfilled. Today, on every continent of the world, somebody is living an Abrahamic faith. I think that’s something we should keep in mind in regards to God’s promises. They’re always fulfilled, but they aren’t usually fulfilled the way we figure they will be.

WEDNESDAY // CHALLENGE
One of the promises that God makes to us is that he’ll be here. With us. This promise appears again and again throughout the bible. Deuteronomy 31:6 says, “it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” Isaiah 41:10 says, “I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you.” John 6:37 says, “whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” Over and over again, God makes this promise. If we want a relationship with him: we can have one. He won’t abandon us, he won’t give us more than we can handle, he will help us, he will love us, he will forgive us, he will care for us.

Now: do you ever get frustrated with God? Do you ever feel like he’s just not keeping his promise? Maybe you’re having a really bad day, or week, or month, or... when was the last good day you had anyway? Maybe you stretched too thin, disillusioned, and angry. And didn’t God say he’d be here? Well, where is he now? At 11:00 o’clock at night and I’m sitting in the bathroom, sobbing, because today was too hard and I just don’t have the strength to push through tomorrow? Or do you ever have a prayer--something that you, really, really want--that seems to go unanswered. Maybe it’s something that you feel called to, or maybe it’s just something that you feel deserving of, but no matter how many times you pray you just don’t get it?

Those times and situations are really, really hard. So, here’s where the challenge comes in: take a step back. Breathe. And remember: God promised he’d be here, and he keeps his promises. But, he’s also pretty crafty. So, remember, that no matter what you want, or what you’re struggling with, God has an answer. It just might not be what you’re expecting. But I have a feeling it’ll be even better.

THURSDAY // REFLECT



FRIDAY // THINK
It is through the discipline of obedience that I get to the place where Abraham was and I see who God is. God will never be real to me until I come face to face with Him in Jesus Christ. Then I will know and can boldly proclaim, “In all the world, my God, there is none but Thee, there is none but Thee.”
The promises of God are of no value to us until, through obedience, we come to understand the nature of God. We may read some things in the Bible every day for a year and they may mean nothing to us. Then, because we have been obedient to God in some small detail, we suddenly see what God means and His nature is instantly opened up to us. “All the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen…” (2 Corinthians 1:20). Our “Yes” must be born of obedience; when by obedience we ratify a promise of God by saying, “Amen,” or, “So be it.” That promise becomes ours.
—Oswald Chambers
// PRAY
Lord,
Trust doesn’t always come easily to me.
Sometimes, I am suspicious and skeptical.
Sometimes I try to rely on myself alone.
But I know that you are great.
You keep your promises.
You are with me always, and, if I open myself up to it, you will lead and protect me.

So, please help me to set aside my distrusting nature.
Help me to remember that you are near.
On my worst days, help me remember that you promised to be with me always.


Monday, February 23, 2015

Grace Makes Its Way to the Stage

MONDAY // READ
Genesis 9:8-17
Then God spoke to Noah and his sons: “I’m setting up my covenant with you including your children who will come after you, along with everything alive around you—birds, farm animals, wild animals—that came out of the ship with you. I’m setting up my covenant with you that never again will everything living be destroyed by floodwaters; no, never again will a flood destroy the Earth.”

God continued, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and everything living around you and everyone living after you. I’m putting my rainbow in the clouds, a sign of the covenant between me and the Earth. From now on, when I form a cloud over the Earth and the rainbow appears in the cloud,

I’ll remember my covenant between me and you
and everything living,

that never again will floodwaters destroy all life. When the rainbow appears in the cloud, I’ll see it and remember the eternal covenant between God and everything living, every last living creature on Earth.”

And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I’ve set up between me and everything living on the Earth.”

TUESDAY // Grace Makes Its Way to the Stage
The story of Noah’s Ark is one that we’re so familiar with we can easily dismiss it. For most of us, it was a story that was told over and over again in Sunday school using felt board and cut outs in class rooms covered in wallpaper of animals coming out of the ark two by two with a rainbow in the background. I guess we figured since it had animals in the story it should be a staple in the children’s church curriculum :).

Really it’s a pretty violent story of a consequence from sin so severe that it nearly wiped humanity out! As much as we want to block out the people knocking on the doors of the ark begging to be let in, all the while drowning from exhaustion, that’s what happened according to the story. Sorry if I’m being grotesque but that’s what happened and it makes you wonder how bad things got for God to do such a thing. Now think about all the stories that have led up to this point of God’s covenant: We have Adam and Eve that disobeyed and were punished, we have Cain killing Abel and was punished, and now we have the human race that was so depraved that God was remorseful for creating them and so, punished them by nearly wiping them out…

SAVE ONE!

One family that is. Noah and his family were exempt from this total destruction by the means of an ark. This story seems to follow the pattern of disobedience played out (it won’t be the last either) BUT this seems to be the first story that we see setting the tone of grace finding its way into humanity. It seems to be the first story of providing a way to avoid this punishment. The ark was Noah and his family’s salvation for that point in time and when we get to where God makes His covenant with Noah using a rainbow to demonstrate it; it becomes a promise not only to Noah and his family but to everyone to come.

In a way, we can compare both the ark and this rainbow to Jesus. Now hear me out before you say, “How in the world is Jesus like a rainbow and a boat?” Its more of how is Jesus like this particular rainbow which is tied into a covenant and this particular boat that saved their lives? God promised not to destroy the earth by flooding it again and he gives us a rainbow to remind us of this. This is grace and it comes to us from God down to us, it’s the only way it can. Jesus also came down to us letting us live and move in grace instead of in fire & destruction (not with water this time). We can live in Him. He is like our ark that saves us from the consequences of our actions (sin). 

This story sets the course for God using very creative means for humanity to escape punishment. You see this throughout the whole of the Bible coming to his ultimate scapegoat: Jesus Christ. Where we fail God always finds a way to forgive and for grace to find its way to us.


WEDNESDAY // CHALLENGE
We see how God is just and fair with punishing us and yet he always has room for grace; something we can lean on that can do what we can not. Now, do we do that with people who have wronged us? Do we leave room for grace or are we unwilling to do so? My challenge to you is to show grace in situations where it’s hard.
Also, what are some things you need to let go of? What are the areas in your life that you need to stop flooding, where you need to forgive? This week if there’s anything in your life that you need to let go of, do so.

Start setting up your rainbows :)
and let go of some things that are dragging you down!

THURSDAY // REFLECT




FRIDAY // PRAY

O Lord, how absolutely necessary Your grace is for me,

both to begin a good work and to persevere until I accomplish it.

Without grace I can do nothing (Jn 15:5),

but I can do all things in You,

when Your grace strengthens me (Ph 4:13).

Grant therefore, O Lord,

that Your grace will always go before me and follow me,

keeping me ever intent upon good works,

through Jesus Christ Your Son.

Amen.