Hope and Change

The resurrection of Christ is the central teaching of Christianity. The empty tomb is the place where hope is given birth.

And hope is vitally important. Without hope, our hearts go cold. Our happiness soon dries up. Our love of others — and God most of all — evaporates.

Guilt and shame take over. Frustration and fear take hold. Greed and selfishness take control.

Certainly, none of these provide a fertile environment for life-change.

The apostle Paul, standing before Felix (the Roman governor) and his wife Drusilla, is there to defend his faith in Jesus. He is a follower of the Way. This was the early name given to Christians by others. And truly he was a follower of the Way. Jesus had called himself “the way, the truth and the life.”

There with his faith on trial, surrounded by many who were pretty unlikely to ever change their minds about Jesus, it’s interesting to note what Paul says is the natural outcome of his hope in Christ. His hope has resulted in him becoming passionate about keeping his conscience clear. And not just before God. Before men too.

Still today, there is no better motivation for living according to the will of God. We call it “gospel motivation”: the good news of Jesus Christ, and the hope we derive from that good news, is the most pure and powerful energizer for personal life-change that exists.

The empty tomb is the place where hope is given birth. And the empty tomb is the place where powerful change is given birth as well.

“However, I admit that I worship the God of our ancestors as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets, and I have the same hope in God as these men themselves have, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man” (Acts 24:14-16, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Sunday, July 5, is 2 Kings 10:1 – 11:21, Acts 24:1-27 and Psalm 80:8-19.

Lord, thank you for the hope of the resurrection. By your Spirit’s power, help me to use that hope to fuel my own striving to keep my conscience clear before you and before people.

Header image based on "Floyd W. Tomkins Let the resurrection joy lift us..." by BK, CC By-SA 2.0

It’s not the size of the crowd…

… it’s the size of the cross in the crowd.

At least, that’s what Jesus says. And he says it because large crowds had started following him and listening to his message.

They had seen the miracles he performed. They respected him for his teaching with authority. They loved the way he displayed grace and mercy to the poor, the ill, the injured and the hurting.

But Jesus looked at the crowds and made a bold statement. In effect, that strong statement asked each one in that crowd to examine his or her own heart.

Were they ready to make sacrifices to follow Jesus? What if those sacrifices involved something really big, or even someone really important?

Jesus says that if we resist that kind of sacrifice for his sake and refuse to carry our cross (as Jesus first carried his for us), then we cannot be his disciple.

That’s a strong expectation from Jesus. But then again, this is the same Jesus who sacrificed his life for us, to make himself the perfect sacrifice for our sins.

It’s said that no great leader ever asks those following him to do something that the leader himself is unwilling to do.

The thing is, as big a sacrifice as Jesus demands from us, his sacrifice for us was greater still.

“Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:25-27, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Sunday, April 12, is Deuteronomy 16:21 – 18:22, Luke 14:15-35 and Psalm 44:13-26.

Jesus, thank you for your sacrifice for me. Help me to make sacrifices for you too. I want to make those out of gratitude for your love. I want to carry my cross for you, as you once carried yours for me.

Header image based on "Jesus Cross" by Claudio Ungari, CC By 2.0

How to Win Friends and Influence People

I’m not sure Dale Carnegie would endorse John the Baptist’s approach. John’s message was not at all designed to make him a popular man. And yet, somehow he was definitely attracting crowds — large groups of people fascinated with his message.

And this was not exactly the Ritz-Carlton they were following him to. They had to hike out into the wilderness near the Jordan River to hunt John down. They likely had to camp out there. That’s a lot of effort to hear a sermon.

Consider the way he addressed the crowds. To our modern ears it sounds mean-spirited and bordering on abusive language: “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” (Luke 3:7, NIV).

Then he calls the crowds to change. Not just to a regular, garden-variety, everyday kind of change. Radical change. If they wanted a relationship with God, they must change everything about their lives: “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8, NIV).

And then he accuses them of a lack of integrity. “You call yourselves the children of Abraham,” he tells the crowds, “but you bear absolutely no resemblance to Abraham.” It’s as if he’s saying, if you claim to be the children of Abraham, then even rocks can be children of Abraham: And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham” (Luke 3:8, NIV).

Finally, he implores them to understand how close they are to absolute destruction: “The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (Luke 3:9, NIV).

Now, is that the way to win friends? Or influence people?

Well, it is when you are being authentic and transparent, the way John the Baptist was. It is when your most important Friend is Jesus. And it is when what you really care most about is what that Friend thinks.

It is when you also care enough about the people you are addressing that you really want to see them in heaven with you one day, and right now you see them going in the entirely wrong direction.

Our Bible reading for Friday, March 20, is Numbers 9:15 – 11:3, Luke 3:1-22 and Psalm 35:19-28.

Lord, help me go in the right direction. Give me your Spirit so that I can be truly repentant of my sins, and produce fruit in keeping with repentance. Help me to live according to my identity as a child of Abraham, and through faith in Christ Jesus, a child of God. Thank you that I live in your grace and mercy every day, and that Jesus has won forgiveness of all my sins.

Header image based on "Wrong Way" by Elaine with Grey Cats, CC By-SA 2.0

Inside Out

Have you ever discovered that you’ve put your t-shirt on inside-out? It’s not usually the most elegant fashion statement.

But, as an elegant solution for change? The inside-out approach is absolutely the best! The Bible talks frequently about “inside-out” change, as opposed to “outside-in” change. And there are some very good reasons for that.

Jesus points out that one of those reasons is that the outside-in approach leads to hypocrisy. That was the case with the Pharisees. Everything seemed fine on the outside, but the inside was still very unclean and corrupt. Greed and self-indulgence ruled their hearts. And so Jesus called them on their spiritual blindness and told them to get their priorities straight.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean” (Matthew 23:25-26, NIV).

Jesus teaches us that when we start with the inside (the mind, the heart), the outside (the hands, the feet, the tongue, the ears and the eyes) will follow suit.

So, how do I clean the inside? How do I bring about change in my mind and heart?

The answer is, “I don’t!”

But Jesus does. When his love, grace, and mercy are poured into our hearts, Jesus cleans the “inside” for us. His blood-bought forgiveness is the only “cleansing agent” that truly works to radically alter our minds and hearts.

When Jesus’ grace lives in your heart, Jesus’ strength resides in your hands.

Lord, thank you for changing and re-making me into a new person. With your grace and forgiveness, you purified my mind and heart. Now give me your Spirit that I may be made new all the way to tips of my hands and feet.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, February 4, is Job 33:1 – 34:37, Matthew 23:1-39 and Psalm 18:25-36.

Header image based on "heart is in my hands" by Laine, CC by 2.0

Where Change Begins

January is the month when we try to make changes in our lives. New Year’s resolutions!

We’re going to work out more. We’re going to lose weight. We’re going to finally read that book. We’re going to fix that relationship.

Character qualities rise to the fore. I’m going to be a more hard-working person in 2015. And more honest. I’ll amp up the compassion. Get rid of the swear words. Stop the gossiping.

So we set up a “fine jar.” A dollar for every cuss word. Five dollars for every time I catch myself gossiping.

We write out our list of goals. We share it with our best friend, and ask him to keep us accountable.

None of those are bad things. In fact, they can be very, very good things. But they are not the place to start.

Jesus shows us that place. The starting line for life-change is not our neighbor or the list on our smartphone.

“But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” (Matthew 15:18-19, NIV).

This is so important. Jesus tells us why our habits are broken. It’s because our hearts are broken.

The place to start is with healing the heart. And the place where healing the heart begins is the cross. The person who can change my habits permanently is not me. The person is Jesus.

That’s because change begins with hope, with strength, with love. Not with condemnation, with feeble attempts, with selfishness and shame.

And who is Jesus? He is hope. He is strength. He is love.

Ask him to heal your heart. And change your life.

Jesus, heal my heart through the good news of your forgiveness won for me at the cross. I want to change. Give me your hope, your strength, and your love.

Our reading for Thursday, January 22, is Genesis 43:1 -44:34, Matthew 15:10-39, and Psalm 13:1-6.

Header image based on "Granite Cross" by Lindman, CC by 2.0

Stay Thirsty in 2015

One day soon, it will happen (Revelation 22:10). We’ll ring in not just a new year, but a whole new universe (Revelation 21:1-2). Everything we see now, every possession we hold dear in this life will disappear.

But—and here’s the best news—it will be replaced. It will be replaced by something and Someone far more beautiful, and way more perfect.

And this will come along with every blessing imaginable. In fact, it will come with every blessing unimaginable as well.

How do you participate? Jesus says you’re invited! The ticket in is his gift to you. And drinks are on him!

“The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life” (Revelation 22:17, NIV).

Stay thirsty, my friends! Stay thirsty in 2015.

Lord Jesus, you are the water of life. Keep me thirsty for you in 2015. Thank you for the free gift of eternal life, and for the invitation for all of us to join you there.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, December 31, is Malachi 1:1 – 4:6, Psalm 150:1-6, Proverbs 31:10-31 and Revelation 21:1 – 22:21.

Temple Project

The temple in Jerusalem had to be rebuilt at the end of the exile in Babylon. God called the Jewish governor, Zerubbabel, to play an important role in this rebuilding (Haggai 2:23). God instructed Zerubbabel through the prophet Zechariah that the beginning of the temple project would be all-important. It would determine success or failure.

“Then he said to me, ‘This is what the Lord says to Zerubbabel: It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies… Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand'” (Zechariah 4:6, 10a, NLT).

Because Jesus redeemed us at a high price, our bodies are now temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). So with 2015 rapidly approaching, we can begin right away on our own “temple project” for the new year. What a great approach God gives us through Zechariah too!

  1. Success in building the temple is by no means impossible for me.
  2. I won’t rely on my own force or strength, but the Holy Spirit’s.
  3. Small beginnings are important. I won’t downplay them.
  4. Grab the tools (God’s spiritual “plumb line” = word and sacrament) I need and get going right away with the first task.

What a great encouragement to continue reading our Bibles daily in 2015. God rejoices to see the “plumb line” in our hand!

Our reading for Saturday, December 27, is Zechariah 4:1 – 6:15, Psalm 148:1-6, Proverbs 30:24-28 and Revelation 17:1-18.