A Sweet Fragrance

God’s word has an amazing quality. It’s very nature is to spread.

In that way, it’s not unlike a bottle of perfume in a room. Once you open that bottle, the fragrance — by its very nature — will spread throughout the room.

Paul and Barnabas were going from town to town on their first missionary journey. In each town they told people about Christ, and shared the message of God’s grace with them. They spoke boldly, even when they met opposition.

They uncorked the gospel’s sweet fragrance. And in each town, people who heard the message believed in Jesus Christ as their Savior.

The word works. It worked in the days of Paul and Barnabas. And it works in our day, too.

It spreads a sweet fragrance of forgiveness into the hearts of sinners.

“The word of the Lord spread through the whole region” (Acts 13:49, NIV).

Jesus, thank you for the good news that I am forgiven of all my sins. Thank you for the message of the gospel. May that message spread, just as you have designed it to do.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, June 20, is 1 Kings 7:23 – 8:21, Acts 13:42 – 14:7 and Psalm 76:1-12.

Header image based on "Perfume" by Luciano Meirelles, CC By-SA 2.0

Do You Need A Friend?

We all need God. We need God to be our friend. And he is our friend, because of Jesus’ blood shed on the cross, reconciling us to him.

But we all need earthly friends, too. We need a person we can trust, confide in, and be confident that we have their love and their support — no matter what.

That’s what Jonathan was to David. And David to Jonathan.

A friend.

Do you have one or two of these? If not, pray and work hard until you find one. Most of all, don’t fool yourself into thinking you really don’t need a friend.

You do.

And if you’re struggling with how to get started, do what David and Jonathan did. Don’t look for someone who might be willing to be a friend to you.

Instead, look for someone you would be willing to be a friend to.

“Jonathan said to David, ‘Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants forever.’ Then David left, and Jonathan went back to the town.” (1 Samuel 20:42, NIV).

Our Bible reading for today is 1 Samuel 19:1 – 20:42, John 17:6-26 and Psalm 68:7-14.

Lord, help me be a friend to someone who needs a friend. And help me to love this friend the way you first loved and befriended me — with pure grace!

Header image based on "Four Friends" by cowboytrix, CC By 2.0

Just Not Enough Resources

Do you ever feel like you’re going through life without sufficient resources to get done what God is asking you to do? Maybe you feel a little like the title of this book by New York Times bestselling author Walter Mosley: “Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned.”

It seems like the Israelites, and even the Israelites’ leader felt this way. Saul was the first king of the Israelites, following the days of the Judges when every person in Israel had a tendency to do what was right in their own eyes.

One of the big jobs that still needed to be carried out by Saul and the Israelite armies was the removal of the influence and power of the Philistines who lived in the Promised Land. But Saul — though he was God’s anointed leader — was hesitant to act. He didn’t feel confident he had the resources he needed to get the job done.

Sure enough, when the Philistines did muster an army after an attack provoked by Saul’s son, Jonathan, the Israelites appeared  to be vastly outnumbered.

“The Philistines assembled to fight Israel, with three thousand chariots, six thousand charioteers, and soldiers as numerous as the sand on the seashore. They went up and camped at Mikmash, east of Beth Aven. When the Israelites saw that their situation was critical and that their army was hard pressed, they hid in caves and thickets, among the rocks, and in pits and cisterns. Some Hebrews even crossed the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead” (1 Samuel 13:5-6, NIV).

Later in this same chapter, we also learn that only Saul and Jonathan had swords to fight with. Everyone else was fighting with gardening tools because they had no blacksmiths who could fashion weapons. Their Philistine masters had prevented blacksmiths to operate in Israel.

We are sometimes tempted to do as the Israelites did when we feel our resources are low. We stare down our situation and ruminate about it. We feel our circumstances have become critical, and we sense the hard pressure. And we just want to run and hide, to find refuge wherever we can find it: chemicals, sex, money, power, possessions — those are today’s “caves and thickets, rocks, pits and cisterns.”

Saul’s son Jonathan shows us another way. He was not pressured or dismayed by the circumstances, but kept pressing forward with the attack. He knew confidently that God is never intimidated by the size of the forces arrayed against us, or by how complicated a situation might appear.

“Jonathan said to his young armor-bearer, ‘Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised men. Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few'” (1 Samuel 14:6, NIV). 

God plus me is a majority, Jonathan reasoned. And because he’s God, he has all the resources we need to accomplish his purpose. So press forward with the battle, and be optimistic about the outcome. The size of the forces arrayed against you is never going to restrict God’s ability to help you.

Overwhelming odds are God’s favorite way to show you that he is in control, and that he has both the power and the love to lead you to victory. Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few!

Our Bible reading for Saturday, May 23, is 1 Samuel 13:1 – 14:23, John 13:18-38 and Psalm 66:13-20.

Lord, thank you for being with me. I need your power and love in my life. My own resources are always inadequate to the task of living for your glory, and fulfilling your purposes for my life. My energy is too little, my finances too meager, my intelligence and wisdom way too small, my friends and fellow “soldiers” too few. Help me to be confident, as Jonathan was, that the best way forward is always to rely on you for victory–in your timing, and in your fashion.

Header image based on "always outnumbered, always outgunned" by Chris Drumm, CC By 2.0

To Serve or Be Served, That Is the Question!

We spend a lot of time asking ourselves how we can best serve God. But Jesus suggests that it might be wise to ask another question.

And that question is, how can Jesus best serve us?

Peter was struggling with the very idea of having Jesus serve him. Allow Jesus to wash his feet?! No way!!

Peter wanted so badly to serve! And the most likely rationale is not difficult to understand: Jesus is God. Why should he serve me? He is the one who ought to be served!

Many times we operate on this same rationale. And it’s not as if it’s a poor rationale. But it does leave out something critically important.

Jesus himself came to serve. And he came to serve us. But that does no good if we are constantly trying so hard to serve Jesus that we forget how to be served by him.

The grave danger here lies in a misplaced emphasis. And the danger is that we turn our faith, which is all about receiving grace, into a religion that is all about doing works.

Here are some questions for you:

  1. Have you been taking time to pray daily, and ask God to help you, to shield you, to meet your needs?
  2. Have you been consistent in attending church so that you can hear of Jesus’ love for you, Jesus’ forgiveness, Jesus grace and mercy?
  3. Have you attended the Lord’s Supper recently, so that you could be served with Jesus’ true body and true blood, and be reconnected and reconsecrated to your Savior and to your fellow believers?

Yes, it’s important to serve and honor God. But it’s of first importance to be served by him! Rest assured, your Savior Jesus loves nothing more than to serve you and share his blessings with you.

After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” (John 13:5-9, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Friday, May 22, is 1 Samuel 10:9 – 12:25, John 12:37 – 13:17, and Psalm 66:1-12.

Lord Jesus, I need you. I need you every day. I need you every hour of every day. Please watch over me, defend me, protect me, forgive me, and show me your grace and mercy. Wash my feet, and my hands and my head as well. Wash my very soul! Cleanse me from every sin and every shameful act. Serve me, Lord Jesus!

Header image based on "dirty feet" by James Theophane, CC By 2.0

Five Kinds of Freedom

There are so many things that shackle us in life. There are the expectations of others. There are our own self-expectations.

Then there are our hurts, our habits and our hang-ups. Perhaps we’ve recently lost a loved one, and we’re deep in grief. Maybe we can’t break an addiction’s grip despite multiple attempts to pull away. We might have a fear that we simply can’t shake. Or perhaps we made a mistake in life that seems to just keep haunting us, like a bad horror movie.

I want to remind you of something Jesus once promised, and assure you that he meant that promise. At the time, Jesus was being challenged by the Pharisees every time he taught.

But not everyone was a skeptic. Some of the Jews believed him. He spoke to these Jewish believers and made an important claim.

If they would “hold to” his teaching, they would be free. What did Jesus mean by “hold to”? And what did he mean by “free”?

If we read other places, or even if you see what Jesus says in John chapter 8 to those who claim to be the children of Abraham, to “hold to” is to believe that what a person is teaching is really the truth. I would define it as trusting Jesus’ teaching to the point of actually resting in it for peace and putting it into practice in our lives.

What Jesus meant by freedom is release from bondage to things we don’t want to be enslaved to:

  • Freedom from sins. Our sins no longer cling to us. We are released from them and washed clean… yes, of all of them!
  • Freedom from guilt and shame. We are no longer condemned before God. We are no longer self-condemned either (unless we sadly choose to be…). Instead, we can walk with our head held high, because we have been given a verdict of “not guilty” in God’s courtroom. No matter what anyone else thinks about us, we know what God says!
  • Freedom from the power of sin. The constant temptation to cave in to sin — to return to sin and do whatever it tells us to — gradually also begins to recede as the Holy Spirit strengthens our faith in Jesus and his teaching. This will never be perfect as long as we are on this side of heaven, but with God’s help our “new man” can gain territory as life progresses! And that’s an awesome gift!
  • Freedom from fear-based emotions such as worry, anxiety, feelings of worthlessness, fears of failure or embarrassment, and fears of loss or helplessness or loneliness. The list could go on. It could also include what I like to think of as “compensating” emotions based in pride and selfishness, arrogance and self-empowerment.
  • Freedom from the terrors of death in all its forms — spiritual, physical and most of all, eternal. Because of the teaching of Jesus, I can believe in him as my Savior and my Lord, I can pass through physical death like it’s no more than a doorway, and I can enjoy the adventure of heaven for eternity.

Hold to Jesus’ teaching. Because Jesus’ claims that his teaching is the truth. Or maybe I should say it this way: The Truth. Jesus promises you that when you hold on to The Truth, his truth and his teaching, you will be free!

All we need to do, and with God’s help can do, is rest in it every day and put it into practice in our lives.

“To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free'” (John 8:31-32, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Friday, May 15, is Judges 20:1 – 21:25, John 8:31-59 and Psalm 61:1-8.

Lord, Jesus, I trust in you and your teaching. Your words and promises are pure gold. Forgive me for the times I have treated them as trash. Cleanse me from my sins of self-trust and self-importance, and help me to simply rest in you and your promises. Send me your Holy Spirit and empower me to put your words into practice in my life so that I may experience all the freedom you promise.

Header image based on "UNSHACKLED" by Steve Snodgrass, CC By 2.0

Be Still

Is it as easy for you as it is for me to get to that place where you feel agitated, restless, and upset?

Fear might be the cause. Anger might provoke it. Worry or guilt often play a role in it, too.

The hardest thing in the world is to pause, take a deep breath, and be still. But we can cultivate the habit of quieting our hearts.

It starts with knowing our God better. Whatever we are afraid of, or angry with, or worried about, or ashamed of, we need to ask ourselves a simple question.

Is it really bigger than God?

(Hint: It’s not!)

God will shelter us. He will protect us. He will step up and be our strength. He promises to be our help in times of need. 

How do we know all this? The Bible tells us it’s so!

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging… He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’ The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (‭Psalm‬ ‭46‬:‭1-3, 10-11‬, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Thursday, April 16, is Deuteronomy 26:1 – 28:14, Luke 17:11-37 and Psalm 46:1-11.

Lord, my heart is restless. Help me to find rest in you, Jesus! Send your Spirit and your gracious promises to quiet my mind and direct my heart to you. You are my refuge, my strength, and my fortress. You are with me always, and especially when I am in trouble.

Words Speak Louder than Actions

Typically, I think most of us would say that actions speak louder than words. This is especially true, one would think, if those actions also happen to be miracles.

But Jesus talks about words that have far more power than actions. Far more power than miracles even!

Jesus is speaking about the words (and the promises) of God. When it comes to changing hearts and inspiring faith in Jesus Christ, there’s literally nothing more powerful.

Not even someone rising from the dead will have the impact on a human heart that God’s word has!

“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ “ ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ ” (‭Luke‬ ‭16‬:‭27-31‬, NIV). 

Do you want to access this power that God’s words and promises have for you? It’s not difficult! Just pick up your Bible and read a little bit with us every day.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, April 15, is Deuteronomy 23:1 – 25:19, Luke 16:19 – 17:10 and Psalm 45:10-17.

Lord Jesus, help me to listen to and understand your words and promises. May your word change my mind and transform my heart. Give me a growing faith in you, Jesus, as my Lord and Savior.

Stubborn. Who, me?

Are you feeling “mulish” today?

I know I have those days. I’m talking about the days when I just don’t feel like listening to anyone. Or doing what anyone else tells me. And I especially don’t want someone trying to boss me around on days like this.

Even God.

I just want to listen to my own voice. I want to do what I feel like doing. I want to be my own boss.

I want to take care of No. 1. And on my mulish days, “No. 1” is me!

But God has some wise counsel for me, made just for days like that. His loving eye is still on me. He doesn’t want to have to force me to do the things he knows will turn out best for me. In his unfailing love, he wants to guide me to the things that will bring me blessings instead of woes.

Maybe you have the occasional mulish day yourself. If so, God has some wise counsel for you, too.

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you. Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you. Many are the woes of the wicked, but the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him” (Psalm 32:8-10, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, March 11, is Leviticus 23:1 – 24:23, Mark 15:33-47 and 32:1-11.

Lord, I know that I am often stubborn. I selfishly want what I want — even when it’s not what you want for me. Please forgive me, and send me your Holy Spirit so I stop digging my heels in all the time. Thank you for your unfailing love that surrounds me, even when I am a stubborn sinner.

Header image based on "Donkeys" by Guichard, CC By-SA 2.0

The Lord Is One

Ultimately, the answer to peace and joy in life is figuring out the answer to one question: How many gods are there?

Some people’s answer is, “Many.” Other people’s answer is, “Zero.”

God had made sure the Old Testament people of Israel knew his answer to that question. Many, many times over God repeated this to them: “There is only one God. And that is me.”

When Jesus arrived, he wanted the people around him to know this truth, too.

So when the opportunity presented itself through the question of one of the Jewish teachers of the law, Jesus made sure that he — and those around him — knew this truth as well.

“One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’

‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one'” (Mark 12:28-29, NIV).

There is only one God. And the greatest commandment is to love him with all my heart, all my soul, all my mind, and all my strength.

Anything else, anyone else, is the sin of idolatry.

One God. He loves you with everything he’s got. Even to the point of forgiving you after you have allowed an idol to stand in his place.

Amazing.

Our Bible reading for Thursday, March 5, is Leviticus 13:1-59, Mark 12:28-44 and Proverbs 6:20-29.

Lord God, help me to remember always that there is only one of you. Remove from my heart every temptation toward idolatry. I am truly sorry for the idols that threaten to displace you in my heart. Please forgive me, and fill my heart until you crowd every idol out. You have made me the singular object of your love. May I make you the singular object of my love.

Header image based on "one" by Chinn, CC By 2.0

Snared

I first learned how to set a snare in Africa. A guinea fowl, because it likes to run across the ground, was a relatively easy target.

But in the spiritual world, I am the target. And it happens far more often than I’d like to admit. Sin snares me.

Jesus points out to his disciples, as he teaches them about the error of the Pharisees, that their tendency was to focus on outward behavior. But far more frequently, spiritual snares are set internally, in our hearts: “He went on: ‘What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person'” (‭Mark‬ ‭7‬:‭20-23,‬ NIV).

Look at that list closely. See how easy it is to get snared?

Really easy, because snares come in many forms. You teach yourself to recognize and avoid one. But then a whole new one waits for you. And like a true snare, once you’re caught in it, it is really, really difficult to extricate yourself.

Almost impossible, really.

Which is why King David writes what he does in Psalm 25. You have to believe that growing up out in the field as a shepherd boy, this man knew intimately what a snare was. And for him, there was only one way to get un-snared from the kinds of sins that live inside of us, that snare our very hearts.

Keep your eyes on the Lord. He alone will release you.

“For the sake of your name, Lord, forgive my iniquity, though it is great… My eyes are ever on the Lord, for only he will release my feet from the snare” (‭Psalm‬ ‭25‬:‭11, 15,‬ NIV).

Our Bible reading for Monday, February 23, is Exodus 33:7 – 34:35, Mark 7:1-30 and Psalm 25:8-15.

Lord Jesus, you are my Lord and my God. I look to you. Please release me (and my heart) from the snare of my heart’s sins. I have many unclean things residing in my heart. For the sake of your name, forgive my iniquity. Thank you for washing all my sins away by your blood shed for me on the cross.

Header image based on "Custom Setting a Trap" by Hollis, CC By 2.0