I recently published a devotion on Christiandevotions.us. The first part of the devotion is here, and then a link to the website for the rest of the devotion. Thanks for reading.
But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 NKJV
My heart raced. I didn’t know how to respond.
A friend asked me to watch the movie I Can Only Imagine. I hated the song. Ten years ago, another good friend was brutally murdered. She was young, beautiful, and a solid Christian. They played the song at her funeral.
I decided to watch the movie to work through my lingering pain. I sobbed during the song and relived the hurt of letting go. My good friend’s mother had lost her husband earlier that year and now her only daughter. She encouraged the 600 funeral attendees to get right with God because they never knew when their time would come. My friend’s life honored God, even in her death.
Click here for the rest of the devotion.
Used by permission Christian Devotions Ministeries.
God doesn’t owe us anything. Sometimes I forget this truth. I bemoan my life and don’t understand why I don’t have what everyone else seems to have.
A while ago, a friend and I ran errands to get care package items for the people on her mission trip. She felt loved with acts of service, and I liked quality time, so a trip to Walmart to buy gifts was perfect. I returned to her place to change clothes because I was heading straight to another friend’s wedding that evening.
I complained that it seemed unfair that she got to go on a mission trip and my other friend was getting married. What was I doing with my life? Nothing. I explained to her that even though I tried to obey God, read my Bible, and pray regularly, my life looked nothing like I’d expected. Tears of frustration welled up in my eyes. Why wasn’t I going places or getting married? Didn’t God know I was doing my best? Didn’t God love me?
My friend introduced me to a story from Luke 17. Jesus reminded His disciples that after a servant came in from tending sheep, his master didn’t offer for him to sit and eat first. No, the master expected the servant to make food for the master and rest later. Luke 17:10 says, “So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do’” (NKJV).
Her illustration rubbed me wrong. I didn’t want to be an unprofitable servant who simply does her duty. I’m not a robot. My friend highlighted that our pride causes us to bristle. We want to feel worthwhile in and of ourselves, when all of our worth and value comes from God, not from our works.
We don’t serve God because of what we get from Him, but because of who He is. God is worthy of more than we could ever give Him. If we approach our relationship with God as a series of transactions, we will lose every time. We can never do enough to earn God’s blessings. It is naïve to even think so, yet we do. The only exchange happened when God sent His Son Jesus to take the punishment for our sins on the cross. Jesus took our sins, and we get His righteousness and eternal life in heaven. That is a much better reward than trying to earn the American dream through bribing God with my works.
Years later, my life still doesn’t look like everyone else’s life. I’ve decided that’s a good thing. If the world is living to serve themselves, my life shouldn’t look like theirs. I live to serve Christ. Over time, God has opened unique doors for me to serve His kingdom that wouldn’t have been available if I’d taken a more traditional road. And that joy I thought would come from having it all, actually came as a byproduct from seeking God first. Obedience is its own reward. Now my goal is to get to heaven one day and hear my lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord” (Matthew 25:23, NKJV).
Our Savior was born for the grave. When He rose that third day, He completed our victory. His life's work done, death was overcome. An infant changed the world for all of time, gave us life sublime.
As we examine Jesus’ birth, the signs point straight to His death. He had the humblest beginning. Luke 2:7 says, “And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (NKJV)
In Biblical times, they didn’t have inns in the way we think of them now. The Greek word translated as inn is κατάλυμα (kat-al'-oo-mah) which can also mean lodging or guest room. The eastern cultures of the time prided themselves on their hospitality, so there was no need for formal inns. However, the large influx of people for the census resulted in fewer spaces in relatives’ homes to take in the young couple. Instead, their hosts found room for Mary and Joseph in a cave. In western culture, we think of the animals living in a wooden barn. However, wood was scarce in that region so animals lived in caves.
How appropriate for our Savior to be born in a cave. When he died, they laid his body in another cave and rolled the stone shut. Christ came full circle. Even His modest birth foreshadowed where His life would take Him—back to a cave, crucified for the sins of the world.
It is odd to think of Jesus’ life purpose as His death. Most people aim to be a hard worker or make a name for themselves. Matthew 20:28 says, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (NKJV) Christ sought to serve by surrendering His life to pay the debt our sins demanded, but we could never pay.
Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (NKJV) Jesus didn’t die for us when we were His supportive friends. He sacrificed Himself even though we were His enemies. It boggles my mind.
Death on the cross was such painful physical death, they created a word to describe the agony of dying on the cross – excruciating. Yet, it wasn’t just the physical pain, but the spiritual separation from His Father as the entire cup of God’s wrath was emptied on Christ. All sins ever committed by mankind, past, present, and future, were paid on that cross.
Jesus was born for the cross. He bled and died and suffered loss. Philippians 2:7-8 says Christ, “made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” (NKJV) Jesus walked, talked, hungered and tired, just like we do. He came so He could relate to us; so we can obtain mercy in our times of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16) He demonstrated sacrificial love, leaving a gilded throne for a dirt floor to die for His enemies.
Not only is Jesus’ birth the reason for the season, but His death gives us life. He reconciled us to God so that we can live eternally with Him. Jesus didn’t stay in the grave, but rose the third day. As we leave the Christmas season and enter the New Year, we go as new creations. Romans 6:4b says, “Just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (NKJV) I pray that in 2019 we walk in our new lives that Christ won through His death.
What is your life purpose?
How can you serve others in 2019?
To console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes … that He may be glorified. Isaiah 61:3 NKJV
God can change even the worst things into beauty.
When I visited Iceland, my tour guide drove the group by the volcano, Eyjafjallajökull, which erupted in 2010. He explained the hardships the farmers endured trying to salvage their crops, which were covered by ash. The sheep usually roamed the hills, but had to remain indoors so they wouldn’t inhale the smoke. Iceland had suffered during the economic crisis in 2008 and hadn’t recovered by 2010. The immediate repercussions seemed insurmountable.
For those who survived the initial turmoil, the volcano brought good in the long run. By blanketing the ground, the ash made it fertile. Also, the locals believe the volcano put Iceland on the map. Tourism skyrocketed.
God turned something as tragic as a volcanic eruption into something good for Iceland. Those ashes were recreated into beauty.
God does the same in our lives. Sometimes our dreams seem to go up in smoke as we struggle. We suffer loss we don’t understand. But God doesn’t waste our pain. He transforms it into something more glorious than its original state. He builds spiritual endurance in us during the dark times that He can use for His purposes in the good times. Often, no other way exists to obtain that strength other than by going through the fire.
If you have had your dreams explode and your life turned into ashes, ask God how He wants to use these times for His glory. He has plans to use the darkness as a backdrop to better display the light of His kingdom’s work.
Ask the Lord to bring beauty from the ashes of your life.
Used by permission Christian Devotions Ministries.
When I try to push myself ahead, I wind up last. Recently, I rushed and forced myself into the elevator first. To my dismay, I got stuck in the back corner and left last. All of my efforts to get ahead resulted in being late to my meeting.
This reminded me of Matthew 9:35, “And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” (NKJV) The disciples had argued on the road about who was the greatest among them. When Jesus asked what they had discussed, no one answered. So Jesus scooped up a small child and held him in His lap. He told the disciples that those who received a child, received not only Jesus, but the One who sent Him.
That would have blown the disciples’ minds. It turned everything upside down from the way their society was oriented. Children were the lowest ranked members of their communities. For Jesus to equate receiving a child to receiving God was counter culture. The most revered members of society had wealth and prestige; they weren’t children who couldn’t fend for themselves. Jesus valued what others disdained. He elevated the least of these to the same worth of God Himself. When we love those that society would ignore, we love God.
Another time, Mary the mother of James and John petitioned Jesus to have her sons sit beside Him in His kingdom. Jesus warned them that they did not know what they asked and indicated the Father would choose who sat at His side. This request irked the other disciples.
“But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:25-25 (NKJV)
First Jesus told the disciples that accepting children was accepting God. Then Jesus said the very people they had always esteemed—the rulers—were the exact people to avoid emulating. His teachings probably irritated the disciples because it was a radical way to interact with those around them. Jesus’ life goal was to serve others by sacrificing Himself for the world.
Later, Jesus demonstrated servanthood by washing His disciples feet during the meal we call the Last Supper. Jesus bent low and scoured caked mud from His disciples’ feet. The lowest servant usually did this job because it was so filthy. Peter initially refused to allow Jesus to wash His feet because it violated his sense of propriety. It simply was not done for someone important to humble himself to get dirty for someone else.
After Jesus cleaned their feet, He said, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him.” John 13:14-16 (NKJV)
Jesus set an example when He cleaned their feet. Nothing was beneath the dignity of Christ. He knew the next day He faced humiliations galore on the cross. His body was bruised and beaten until He was unrecognizable as a human. Yet He took His final moments with His beloved friends to instill in them the importance of serving others.
Christ always focused on others. Jesus bore our sin and shame to restore our relationship with the Father. Everything He did bore witness to His love of service, so we may follow in His footsteps. A servant is not greater than His master. Nothing is beneath us.
The next time I entered an elevator, I let everyone else get on first. I smiled at my fellow passengers instead of tapping my foot and staring at my watch. As the doors opened, because I walked in last, I was nearest the door and exited first. God’s word held true. “So the last will be first, and the first last.” Matthew 20:16 (NKJV) When I serve from behind, God gets me where He needs me, when He needs me there.
Has trying to get ahead ever backfired on you?
What ways can you actively seek to serve others?
Sometimes I am very human and make silly mistakes. Be the errors big or small, the enemy of my soul likes to fashion my sins into a mallet to bludgeon my soul so I can’t escape the shame. For years I lived under strong condemnation, but God is helping me fight my way to the light.
Earlier this year, God gave me a phrase to help me embrace the freedom I have in Christ. It was my first writer’s conference, and I had no idea what to expect. My friends let me stay with them to break up my drive. The next morning as I left town the song “Reckless Love” by Corey Asbury came on the radio. The song breathed life into my worn out spirit. I had needed the reminder that although the previous year had been abysmal, God hadn’t left me there. Instead, God was actively pursuing me with His love.
I got so excited about the song that I turned the wrong direction on the highway and drove for over 20 miles on autopilot, basking in the love of the Father. Eventually, I noticed the numbers on the signs were increasing instead of decreasing. I did a U-turn at the next exit and finally headed in the right direction.
Satan worked hard to rob of the joy I’d just had. My grandma driver tendencies wouldn’t let me speed enough to make up the time. Now I would be late. Not having been to a conference before, I imagined myself walking in late, all eyes swiveling to me as I entered in shame. Perhaps no one would read any of my writings if they knew I was late. My thoughts began to spin out of control.
Then God told me to live under grace. He said “Just LUG!” My heart was in the right place, and God did not judge me. Instead, He rejoiced that I had embraced His love for me. Now He wanted me to make His love for me greater than my mistake. I could live in the freedom to be human and err, yet still be loved by the Lord. Even though condemnation felt normal, I chose to LUG. The freedom that accompanied that decision was delightful. This was how I was supposed to live – forgiven with my sins covered by Christ, not condemned, still a slave to sin.
Romans 6:14 (NKJV) says, “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” When we know Christ, we are not ruled by the law which requires us to be perfect. The law was designed to reveal that we are sinners (Romans 3:20) but will never be perfect. Praise Jesus that He was the sinless sacrifice for us. He fulfilled the requirements of the law that we never could. He also took the complete punishment for our sins on the cross, thereby making it possible for us to LUG.
James 2:12-13 (NKJV) says, “So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” God’s grace is bigger than the law. Under the new covenant, we live under the law of liberty, the law of freedom and forgiveness in Christ. We are not to live under the fear of the old law where our works won’t measure up. Instead, we live in assurance that we will be judged by the work of Christ on the cross that paid for our liberty. We get mercy because Jesus took the judgment.
Now, does this mean that because we can receive God’s forgiveness that we should abuse His grace? Paul addresses this clearly in Romans 6:15, “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!” (NKJV) When we live out of our identity as being free in Christ, we actually want to obey God. Our motivation is not to prove ourselves as good enough. We do right because we are already made worthy by the blood of Jesus.
Now, what do we do when we have genuinely messed up and sinned, not just gotten lost driving somewhere? 1 John 1:9 (NKJV) says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” When we confess our sins, we agree with God that what we did with wrong. In response, God forgives our sins and restores our relationship with Him.
We’re not supposed to agree with Satan that our sins are bigger than God’s grace. We’re to accept God’s forgiveness and continue to LUG. As we live under that grace, we focuses on how big God is and put our sins in proper perspective. God’s grace defeated the law though the blood of Jesus. I pray we choose to LUG with joy!
Have you ever struggling with making your sins bigger than God?
What has helped you cling to God’s grace?
We live in a microwave society where everything seems instantaneous. Instant popcorn, fast food, microwave vegetables. Our phones hold vast libraries worth of information at our fingertips. We watch TV “on demand” to see shows at whatever time suits our needs.
In high school, I had a pen pal in England. If I received a letter and responded the next day, I got a note every 10 days. Now with email, we can communicate across the globe in less than 10 seconds. With everything available so quickly, we can lose our ability to wait.
Waiting is never easy. So God, in His great love for us, provides opportunities for us to grow. Hebrews 10:36 says, “For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise.” (NKJV) One of the byproducts of obedience over the long haul is the ability to persevere. The more we heed God, the more we see Him care for His own.
The story of the persistent widow and the unjust judge (Luke 18:1-18) has always struck me. The widow demanded justice every day from the judge and wore him down. He granted her justice so she’d leave him alone. God is a just judge, and avenges His children speedily. It probably didn’t feel fast to the widow, but God took care of her. Part of our job is to ask God for help.
Matthew 7:7-11 (HCSB) says “Keep asking, and it will be given to you. Keep searching, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you.” The original Greek verbs denote a continued action, not a one-time occurrence. We are to keep asking, not just ask once. We need to continue praying and not give up.
We must keep praying, because sometimes God says no before saying yes. Trying to find my first real job was stressful. I had seasonal work, which had the possibility to lead into full time employment. The position I wanted to fill was in my field of studies. My coworker had a different educational background and unrelated work experience. I assumed I’d get the job. I didn’t.
I was devastated. I couldn’t understand why she was hired. In my mind, I was more qualified. I questioned God’s wisdom in withholding this job from me. This showed a lack of faith when I acted like God didn’t care. Our Heavenly Father always heard me, but I needed to endure. Daniel fasted three weeks before the angel brought a message to him because of a spiritual battle. I had to pray and trust God, knowing He would come through.
Fortunately, God answered my cries. A month later, I was offered a three month-internship that required me to move. I knew it was where God wanted me. If I had had a full time job, I wouldn’t have had the courage to leave for another short-term job. Even after moving in faith, it still took months to get a permanent job. I worked for a temp agency until God gave me a good job with nice people.
God’s no turned into a wait so He could give me His best. Ephesians 3:20-21 says, “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (NKJV) God exceeded my expectations and generously provided for my needs.
My part is to pray and trust. God’s job is to hear. His timing and ways are perfect. However, God’s timing rarely seems to be my timing. When I pray, the answer is often wait. Sometimes, I wouldn’t have appreciated the things God had for me if I had received them sooner. Other times, God was laying groundwork behind the scenes for my future. I just didn’t know about it when I first prayed. Had I received my original requests, I would have missed out on better things.
Ask God boldly for all things, great and small, knowing He hears your voice. Keep praying until something changes. It might look different than what was on your original radar, so watch out. Good things are coming, just keep praying.
This week I guest blogged on Katy Kauffman's Overcoming the Obstacles of the Christian Life
A Blog Series on the Gospel of Mark. You will find the first part of the blog here, and then a link to the rest on her website. Thanks for reading.
The harvest is worth the effort to cultivate good soil. Too often, I sabotage myself by falling into common traps that prevent God’s seed from taking root and thriving. The parable of the sower in Mark 4 highlights some common impediments to growth, but ends with the harvest. How do we avoid the pitfalls of having bad soil? Developing fertile ground requires digging into God’s Word so His truths feed our hearts.
The Same Seed for Everyone
Mark 4:14 “The sower sows the word.” (NKJV)
Jesus scatters the seed onto all types of soil. He does not discriminate with whom He shares the gospel message. God’s Word doesn’t change. The difference in growth depends on the soil.
Click here to read the rest of the blog.
My heart raced. I didn’t know how to respond. My friend had asked me to see the movie “I Can Only Imagine.” I hated that song. Ten years ago they played it at the funeral of a good friend who had been brutally murdered. She was young, beautiful inside and out, a solid Christian, and a true friend.
One of my dearest memories of her was flancing at the beach. We’d managed to stuff 28 of our closest friends into one beach house, and someone had bought a box of Barbie cereal as a joke. Barbie was described as flancing – a combination of flight and dance. During that beach trip I got dreadful news that my brother was very sick. She cheered me up by flancing with me in the sand. In the midst of my turmoil, she brought joy.
Instead of joy, every time I heard that song I felt pain. I’d have a visceral reaction and always rush to change the dial. My friend suggested I watch the movie to redeem the song and work through my lingering angst. So I went. I sobbed when the song played, and relived her funeral and the hurt of letting go. Her mother had lost her husband earlier that year and now her only daughter. She’d recalled her daughter’s love for Jesus. She encouraged the over 600 funeral attendees to get right with God because they never knew when their time would come. My friend’s life honored God, even in her death.
I looked to the Bible for comfort and found Psalm 116:15 “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” (NKJV) God did not see her death as evil, but precious. He rejoiced to have her with Him in heaven, safe and whole. Had she remained on earth after that, I can’t imagine how broken she would have been. God was merciful to take her home to be with Him.
God also reminded me of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.” (NKJV) My sorrow was to be different than those who have no hope. I would see her again. In my mind’s eye during the song, God gave me a new vision. I saw her flancing before the Lord. Someday we’d flance before Him together. She just had a head start.
There is more than just this life, and we have hope beyond the grave. This world is not our home. We look forward to heaven when we won’t have to say goodbye. God never said bad things wouldn’t happen. He actually said in John 16:33 “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (NKJV) We have troubles, but Christ has conquered the grave. One day, He will make all things new and wipe away all of our tears.
Maybe you’ve lost someone you loved, well before their time. How have you handled the grief? You don’t have to carry the hurt anymore. Take it to Jesus, and ask Him to show you His perspective. If that person knew Jesus, you have hope to see them again. If they didn’t know Jesus, use the reminder to spur you to share Christ with a lost and dying world.
What has comforted you the most during times of sorrow?
Unlike school supplies, God’s grace never runs out of stock. We never have to take a rain check. It’s always there when we ask.
It’s that time of year again when everyone is heading back to school. Office supply and discount stores offer sales and tax-free weekends as parents scurry to buy all the necessary things for their children’s new classes. The school provided us with a list of required items: a three-ring binder, glue sticks, pens, pencils, papers, erasers, pencil sharpeners, and dividers.
Everything proved easy to find until we came to the dividers. We spent over 45 minutes in two parts of Target desperately seeking them. The girls needed enough dividers for each class to create their binders. Finally, we asked a sales clerk where to find dividers, just in case we’d missed something. The store only ordered a certain number for the beginning of the school year. Once they were gone, they didn’t order more. We started praying to find dividers.
Fortunately, we checked an office supply store online to ensure they had dividers in stock before going there. Though we could not find the original dividers, we procured enough to allow the girls to organize their notebooks. Expedition over. School supply buying a success.
Just like children need school supplies to complete their studies, we need life supplies to finish the Christian race. Fortunately, God has fully equipped us for every need. 2 Peter 1:3 says “His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue.” (NKJV) No matter what we face, we already have everything required to live a godly life. We tap into our life supplies by asking God to fill our needs and digging into the Word where we gain nuggets of wisdom for our daily walk.
We also have the indwelling Holy Spirit who will guide us in all truth (John 16:13a, NKJV) and produces the fruits of the Spirit within us. Galatians 5:22-23 says “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (ESV) God’s supply of spiritual fruit enables us to survive all the difficulties we encounter journeying through life.
So whether it is dividers for a school binder, courage to face a difficult situation, or hope to get through a tough relationship, God will supply all your need. Philippians 4:19 says “And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” (NKJV) He knows our needs and provides for us according to His riches. Because He made everything, He owns it all.
And what He has never runs out. Unlike how the store only ordered limited numbers of dividers before they were gone, God’s supply of goodness and grace is endless. Lamentations 3:22-23 says “Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” (NKJV) Every sunrise God has enough grace for the day, no matter the circumstances. I pray we enter into His stockroom of life supplies through the Holy Spirit each day as we gratefully watch Him provide for our every need.
What life supplies do you need to ask for from the Lord?
What prevents you from asking God to fulfill your needs?
Joanna Eccles has led Bible studies for over ten years and completed the year-long C. S. Lewis Fellows Program. She is passionate about discipleship and helping people know God better. Joanna enjoys coffee, traveling, and reading, and currently lives in Virginia.