Faithful in my place!

THE STORY OF JESUS: 1 Samuel 1-3
“I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who will do according to what is in my heart and mind.” (1 Samuel 2:35)
This story offers a summary of the story of creation, and our need for Jesus.
God created us to be His priests, His representatives on earth.
But like Hophni and Phinehas, we have failed our responsibilities for selfish gain.
God’s judgment rests on us as well, but also His promise for a faithful priest.
Through history, there have been many faithful servants like Samuel.
But none of us, no matter how ‘holy’ we try to be, measure up to our original nature.
The world was created to be led by God-like faithful priests who obey God’s heart and mind.
“For this reason he had to be made like us, fully human in every way, that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and make atonement for the sins of the people.” (Hebrews 2:17)
Jesus is God’s faithful high priest, He is God’s perfect representative on earth.
In Him God’s kingdom is restored (Genesis 1:26-28), a God-like-human ruling over creation.
Jesus restores our connection to God, so that His word is heard once again (1 Samuel 3:1).
Today’s reading reminds me why we need Jesus… someone to be God’s faithful priest FOR us.
I am encouraged to know that even though I fail, He is faithful in my place!
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, I am aware of the ways I do not fulfill God’s heart and mind. Thank You for covering for me, and for assuring me of God’s love, forgiveness, acceptance and restoration!

I am response-able!

THE STORY OF JESUS: Matthew 27:20-26
“‘I am innocent of this man’s blood,’ he said. ‘It is your responsibility!'” (Matthew 27:24)
Who is responsible for what happened to Jesus?
In one sense Pilate and the Jewish leaders are responsible, but more importantly we all are.
Each one of us faces the death penalty because we are responsible for our sinful choices.
In a sense we are all responsible for all sin and suffering, for we are part of the problem.
Sin is like pollution in the world; its not ALL my fault, but I am a contributor.
We are not robots, we are not merely victims – we are response-able!
Jesus was not responsible for the mess of the world, but He did accept responsibility for it.
Our ‘Barabbas’ crimes were assigned to Him, and He took our place on the cross.
Jesus didn’t deserve to die; if the wages of sin is death, He didn’t need to be paid.
Like Barabbas, I see Jesus being flogged and think, ‘that should have been me’.
I am forgiven, but I should never forget that every time I sin drives a nail into Jesus’ hands.
I am responsible for sin and death, but now because of His love I am response-able for life.
I need to say NO to the sin that pains my Lord, and YES to the life He died for me to live!
By grace, I am response-able, able with His help to resist sin and restore goodness!
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, may the weight and wonder of Your loving sacrifice compel me to hate sin and love goodness and do my best to not wound You anymore by my actions!

The Spirit is already at work!

THE STORY OF JESUS: Matthew 27:11-19
“That innocent man… for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.” (Matthew 27:19)
I find something very encouraging in this story about Pilate’s wife.
She is a Gentile, she has no interest in a Jewish messiah, and yet God speaks to her in a dream.
I understand her suffering not to be God tormenting her, but impressing on her Jesus’ innocence.
God reveals Jesus to her and she can’t get Him out of her mind… and heart?
According to some traditions, she eventually became a Jesus follower.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church she is even recognized as Saint Claudia (or Saint Procula).
True or not, what we see here is how God does not just speak to those who know Him.
I am encouraged to remember that God is speaking to those I know, who do not know Him.
As an interesting parallel, we read how Jesus is speaking to Muslims today through dreams.
The Spirit of Jesus still speaks today, and you don’t have to be a Christian to hear Him.
We also see this when the centurion at the cross affirms Jesus as the Son of God (Matthew 27:54)
This as a huge encouragement as I share my faith: the Spirit is already at work!
Instead of telling someone about Jesus, try asking them what they know about Jesus.
You may discover the Lord has already started the work of opening their hearts and minds to Him!
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, forgive me for thinking it is up to me to make someone believe. Thank You for reminding me that You are already witnessing to peoples’ hearts and minds, and I can build on what You are doing in them!

A desire for integrity!

THE STORY OF JESUS: Matthew 27:6-10
“It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money.” (Matthew 27:6)
It is ironic to hear the religious leaders talk about ‘against the law’.
This blood money was the money they paid to have Jesus betrayed.
Their hands are already stained, this act of ‘integrity’ won’t clean that up.
We cannot cover our misdeeds with good deeds, or bury our sin under religious obedience.
Jesus was forever challenging the religious leaders for their hypocrisy.
Their focus was on publicly obeying the laws, while practically disregarding the Law.
Following the rules, but showing little concern for the intent of these rules.
As a Jesus follower, I need to be concerned about inward integrity, not just outward duty.
There’s a big difference between a bridge that LOOKS safe, and a bridge that IS safe.
We need to be concerned about the integrity of the bridge, not just its appearance.
Jesus was not rebuking their flaws, but their refusal to admit them… pretending to be righteous.
As Jesus followers, we need to stop thinking that we are better than others, more righteous.
Instead we need to be honest, we need to admit our flaws, we need to be willing to change.
Our hope is in God’s grace, not in our supposed obedience to the law… He sees right through that.
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, You know my structural flaws, You know where I lack integrity. Help me to grow towards greater honesty and greater integrity!

Seized by mercy, not despair

THE STORY OF JESUS: Matthew 27:1-5
“Judas was seized with remorse, ‘I have sinned, for I have betrayed innocent blood.'” (Matthew 27:3-4)
My experience is that this is how one feels after doing something sinful.
Someone once said the Devil speaks in two voices: he entices with sweetness and accuses with shame.
During temptation he plants thoughts that are so appealing, enticing, alluring.
But afterwards you feel sick for what you have done, and the Tempter becomes the Accuser.
How did Adam and Eve feel about the forbidden fruit before they ate it… and after?
From sweetness to shame, from desire to despair.
The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23); this doesn’t just mean that God punishes sinners with death.
Already in that moment of shame, a despair that feels like dying naturally grips the soul.
Judas’ shame and sadness lead to the despair of death, and he takes his own life.
Judas is an example for all of us for what happens when we feed our sinful desires.
I know from experience how the Enemy first tempts, then accuses, and drives to despair.
I sense the Lord urging me to see the ways my sinful attitudes or behaviors are killing me.
As a Jesus follower, I choose to hear Jesus’ voice of mercy, not Satan’s accusations of defeat.
I mess up, I fail, but my Saviour never does, never will… His mercy is forever!
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, may I feel remorse, but not get stuck there. Seize my heart with mercy when I see my sin for what it is. May I hear You more than Satan, and hang on to hope!

Seeking the God life!

“Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.” (Psalm 37:3)
This Psalm lays out the contrast between a God-like person, and a God-less person.
Even though for a time selfish, greedy or cruel people may succeed, their doom is certain.
Don’t envy them, hang on to God, make it your priority to do what is right.
Trust that the God-life is the good-life, the only life worth living, the only life that will last.
The thing is, I am not sure I recognize myself in either extreme.
I’m neither devoted to selfish, greedy living nor to selfless, generous living.
I find myself in the middle, generally moving in the right direction but not always.
The Lord is not condemning me nor commending me… He is gently compelling to aim for better.
The goal of this Psalm is to remind us of the true ‘good life’ and to compel us to seek it.
“Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4)
This is not a way to get your selfish desires fulfilled; such a person is not delighting in the Lord.
Rather, if I want (delight in) the God-life, He will give me the God-life (what I desire).
So many people pursue the good life but never seem to find it.
That’s because only the God-life can give us the good life — life to the full that will never end!
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, thank You for restoring me to the God-life, it really is the good life!

From emptiness to fullness

“He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age.” (Ruth 4:15)
Naomi returned to Israel bitter because she had been emptied of life and hope (Ruth 1:20-21).
Her husband and sons dead, she was essentially homeless and destitute.
Life for widows and orphans in that day was terrible, they bared lived off of charity.
But this story does not end with empty despair, but with overflowing hope.
This is the back story to the birth of Israel’s greatest king, David (Ruth 4:22).
But more than this, David is the back story to the coming messiah, Jesus the Son of David!
If Naomi’s story moves from emptiness to fullness, how much more OUR story in Christ.
“For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority.” (Colossians 2:9-10)
Through Jesus, the promise to Naomi is also fulfilled for us.
God has renewed our lives, and beyond old age He has guaranteed eternal life!
The story of Naomi and Ruth assures us that God has a ‘guardian redeemer’ for us.
He has rescued us from emptiness and destitution; He has claimed us as His Bride.
This is how my story ends, this is how your story ends – my cup overflows!
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, in You have have life, life to the full! In You my soul is satisfied, and I will dwell with You in the house of the Lord forever!

God’s response to immigrants!

“Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me — a foreigner?” (Ruth 2:10)
The story of Ruth is a teaching story, to impress a great truth on God’s people.
Ruth stands out as a model believer, even though she is not a Jew.
Her example of humility and loyalty sets her up as a symbol of God-pleasing faith.
As we will see, God uses Ruth to bless the future of Israel, and to ultimately lead to Jesus.
Again and again God uses surprising people to reveal His grace through weakness.
This is also seen in Jesus’ family tree, where for ‘questionable’ women are included.
According to Matthew 1:2-16, Jesus’ heritage includes Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba.
This shows how God uses sinners and outsiders to bring the Saviour into the world.
God is NOT only interested in the Jews; He chooses the Jews to reach the world!
Jesus Himself was often more impressed by the faith of ‘foreigners’.
“I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” (Matthew 8:10)
God shows His favour to all people, yet often His own people resist it.
The humble, grateful attitude of this immigrant makes God smile.
This is the posture that impresses Jesus, that opens the way for God’s blessing.
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, teach us as Your followers to see all people like You do, with grace, mercy, peace and love. Help us build bridges of welcome, not walls of exclusion.

Hope through the tears

THE STORY OF JESUS: Matthew 26:69-75
“Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken…” (Matthew 26:74)
Boastful Peter – who claimed he would never deny Jesus – curses himself if he is lying.
Ouch, can you imagine if God held him to his words, and actually cursed him for his lie?
Can you imagine if God actually took us at our promise to love and serve Jesus?
Peter remembers Jesus’s words and is broken with grief.
Jesus was not condemning Peter, but acknowledging his weakness and need for Him.
He also promised to pray for Peter, and that Peter would live to see a new day (Luke 22:31-32).
Even Jesus’ words to Judas were grace filled, “Friend, do what you came to do.” (Matthew 26:50)
To the very end, Jesus is gracious and offers forgiveness and hope for those who resist Him.
I am not one to judge Peter… in fact Peter inspires me with hope.
If Jesus can use Peter’s weak faith to build His church (Matthew 16:16-18), He can use me.
Jesus knows my weakness, He does not reject me even though He knows I will reject Him.
The many times I have professed my faith, and the many times I have gone against my faith.
I am no longer boastful in my faith, I realize painfully how weak my professions are.
But I remember Jesus’ words, and though I weep for my weakness, I am hopeful in His grace.
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, You know me. You hear my boasting, and You know my stumbling. Yet I am still Your friend. May my lapses bring me conviction with hope, confident that You will restore me again.

Jesus Messiah

THE STORY OF JESUS: Matthew 26:63-68
“‘Are you the Messiah, the Son of God?’ ‘You have said so,’ Jesus replied.” (Matthew 26:64)
This is the most important question in the history of mankind.
When Adam and Eve sinned, God promised a messiah to crush the serpents head (Genesis 3:15).
He would reverse the curse and restore Adam’s position as ‘Son of God’ (Luke 3:38).
He would restore Adam’s throne, the kingdom of God, to rule at God’s right hand (Genesis 1:26-28).
Either Jesus is the hope of the world, or there is no hope at all.
Yet how can this meek messiah save anyone, He cannot even save Himself?
But this is the wonder of God’s plan of salvation: He breaks the grip of selfish power.
It is our self-assertion, self-advancement, self-interest, etc. that curses our world.
Jesus refuses to play Satan’s game of looking out for self, and He so He beats Satan.
Jesus rules the world through grace, mercy and peace, and He will win.
Like the cross, it seems that this way leads to defeat, but it ends with the crown!
The world continues to use selfish power – like the religious leaders did to Jesus.
But those who stand with Jesus by faith, and join with Him in grace, mercy and peace…
Will one day be seen with Jesus at God’s right hand, coming on the clouds of heaven!
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, You are the messiah, the son of God. And with You I am restored as child of God. I stand with You in meekness, I lead this world with You in grace, mercy and peace!