Plenty of Fish

The truth is that a Christian should expect to be unpopular. And he should fully anticipate that he will be treated that way.

Why? Truth is, sometimes it’s us. We’re sinful, and we put our sins on display far more often than we’d like to admit it.

But sometimes it’s not us. At all. In those cases, Jesus says it’s not personal. At least, it’s not personal to you or me. It’s personal to Jesus. We will be hated because of him.

His direction to us in these situations is clear. Hang in there! Stand firm. Don’t let go of Jesus. Don’t let your faith slip away.

And don’t feel compelled to stay where you’re not liked, either. When you’re rejected in one place, Jesus says, head on to the next. After all, there are plenty of fish in the sea. As a fisher of men, don’t waste a lot of time with those who don’t care much for your message. Find a better fishing hole and go on to those who are receptive.

Pull a page from Isaac’s book, in other words. Isaac was not well liked in his day. In fact, he was so disliked that anytime he and his men dug a well, his enemies would track him down and stop up the well, filling it with dirt. Or simply steal it outright. Each time, Isaac simply retreated to a new location and dug another well.

What Isaac did in the physical realm with obtaining water, is what Jesus recommends in the spiritual realm with sharing the Water of Life.

Open up the well. Share the Water. If someone resists you, don’t get hung up quarreling. Move on. God will take care of you. And God will take care of his message.

“You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another… 27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:22-23a, 28-31, NIV). 

Lord, help me discern who is truly thirsty when I share your gospel. You are the Water of Life. But you have not called us to force-feed anyone. As I trust you for the growth of your kingdom, make me ready to move on to the next person you have in mind for me, even when the unpopularity of the gospel message makes me feel discouraged. Help me to understand that hatred for your message is not unusual, or restricted to me. You “called it” 2000 years ago, and told me to expect this. And you will strengthen me and protect me, because I am worth a great deal to you–worth the very life of your Son, Jesus.

Our reading for Monday, January 12, is Genesis 25:1 – 26:35, Matthew 10:1-31, and Proverbs 1:20-33.

Header image based on "Fishers" by McCaffrey, CC by 2.0

Gut Reaction

Sometimes people think that God doesn’t care. They feel like people don’t really matter to God. Thoughts like this begin with natural questions…

Why is there so much suffering in the world? Why such great poverty? Why the illnesses and the natural disasters? Surely, if God is real, and truly as powerful as the Bible claims he is, he could cure all this.

And since he hasn’t cured it all, the only logical alternative seems to be that he doesn’t care. So the argument goes.

It’s a big problem for us when God doesn’t keep himself within reach of our logic.

That’s why it’s so important to meet the real God, instead of the one we logic out in our own minds. Because if there’s one thing that’s made clear over and over again in the Bible it’s that people matter greatly to God. Our hurts, our suffering, our heart-aches and our struggles, they all matter to God.

He cares. Deeply.

Jesus, who was sent to reveal the mind and heart of God (because he is the Son of God, and true God himself), demonstrates this many times over. He shows it in both big ways and small. And those who followed him saw that caring heart.

Matthew was one of those. A person rejected by his own people, he was chosen by Jesus to be loved. Matthew also witnessed it with others. He saw Jesus’ gut reaction to suffering. In fact, he saw it so vividly and clearly, he wrote to tell us about it.

“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field'” (Matthew 9:36-38, NIV).

You need to know something about the verbs in this passage. The verb for “he had compassion” means to be moved to the deepest part of one’s gut. “Harassed and helpless,” when taken in a physical rather than emotional sense, means “all skinned up and thrown to the ground.”

That gives us some insight into Jesus’ heart. Jesus saw their hearts were all “skinned up and thrown to the ground” and he had a visceral reaction. And that was, “We’ve got to do something about this pain. We need to get these people some help. Ask God to call in more workers! Let’s get this taken care of!”

A gut reaction is a pretty good indicator of where someone’s heart is. Right here, Jesus shows us his heart clearly.

People matter to God. You matter to God.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, January 11, is Genesis 24:1-67, Matthew 9:14-38 and Psalm 8:1-9.

Header image based on "Mending a Broken Heart" by Raymond, CC by 2.0

Birds of a Feather

“Birds of a feather flock together.” At least, that’s what my Mom used to tell me. She had all sorts of proverbs like that. Such wisdom came from her Kentucky upbringing.

The only problem is that the proverb doesn’t work at all for Jesus. The one who was tempted like us in every way, except without sin, had not come to “flock together” with other spiritually pure and sinless people.

Good thing. Because those people don’t exist. At least not in the real world. And Jesus came into this very real world for real people like us.

He came for sinners. The spiritually sick. Those who are not in a healthy relationship with God. That’s who he came for.

People like me.

People like you.

Praise God for that!

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:12-13, NIV).

Lord Jesus, thank you for coming for a sinful person like me. I am sorry for the unrighteous and sinful things I do every day. Please forgive me. Call me to be your disciple as you once called Matthew. Show me the same mercy you once showed him.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, January 10, is Genesis 21:1 – 23:20, Matthew 8:23 – 9:13 and Psalm 7:10-17.

Header image based on "Birds of a Feather?" by McCullough, CC by 2.0

Rock Solid

I don’t know about you, but I wish I could stop being so shaky. I don’t always make good decisions. I sometimes choose my next steps based on fear and avoidance of pain, rather than faith and fulfillment of my life’s purpose. And when it comes to my faith, I find it far more convenient to rely on myself than depend on Jesus. It’s just easier that way. Or so my sinful mind tells me. I wish I could be rock solid. I want to feel confident in my mind, my heart and my actions. I want to be a man of faith and courage. I want to be fully dependent on my all-powerful and always-loving God for every good thing. And Jesus shows me the way to grow and mature into that man. It starts with listening to his word. Reading and meditating on my Bible. Attending church. Participating in a growth group. Subscribing to my church’s podcast. But it certainly doesn’t end there. Did you realize that there is only one difference between the wise and foolish builders in Jesus’ parable at the conclusion of his Sermon on the Mount? Both builders listened to the words of Jesus, but only the wise builder actually put Jesus’ words into practice. Maturity as a man or woman of God comes when we listen to Jesus’ words and then actually live the way he instructs us to. But to build our house on the rock, we must begin by building our house on the Rock. We will build, as Paul writes to the Corinthians, when we eat and drink from the spiritual rock that accompanies us, and that Rock is Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4, NIV). When we build our faith on this Rock, we discover that there is massive good news for us. Through his life, death and resurrection, Jesus has given us a new identity, a new destiny, a new purpose, a new community, and new possibilities. And therein lies the motivation to change our lives. In this good news is the “Why?” for listening to Jesus, and for putting his words into practice in our lives, so that we too become rock solid. “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matthew 7:24, NIV). Lord Jesus, my Savior, thank you for living and dying for me to give me so many rich spiritual blessings. Help me by your Spirit’s power to become rock solid, by depending fully on you, listening to your words, and putting them into practice in my life. Our reading for Friday, January 9, is Genesis 19:1 – 20:18, Matthew 7:24 – 8:22 and Psalm 7:1-9.

Header image based on "The Rock Harbor Light House" by Ross, CC by 2.0

How to Stay in the Day (and Stop Worrying So Much!)

Have you ever noticed that when you’re busy and active, you have less time to worry? Well, Jesus takes this one step further.

He says that if we correctly identify, and then stay busy with, our highest priority, then we will have far less time and opportunity to worry about tomorrow. It will be far easier for us to stop worrying about tomorrow, because the little things we tend to worry about will fade into the background.

We’ll have an important truth running through our mind: “Let tomorrow worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own.”

So, what is our highest priority? Jesus gives that one to us. Our highest priority is to seek God’s kingdom and his righteousness.

This means we start taking time to connect with God through word and sacrament, and asking God to rule in our hearts and minds, as Paul says, “…and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5, NIV).

It also means we stop thinking that a restored relationship with God is about what we do, and realize that Jesus has arranged for us to receive his holiness and righteousness as a gift (and how great that moment of realization is!).

Once we’re busy and active seeking these every day, then the worries about what we’re going to eat, or drink, or wear, or what kind of home we’re going to live in, or what kind of car we’re going to drive, etc. will fade into the background. We will commit ourselves to seeking Jesus in this day and stop worrying so much about the next day.

So, busy your mind, your heart and your hands! Worry will fade, and God’s kingdom will come.

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:33-34, NIV).

Lord, I repent of seeking to please everyone and obtain everything except you. Forgive me. Give me Jesus’ righteous record of seeking you. Make his obedient record my record. Help me to change and invest my life in seeking your kingdom and your righteousness above all else. As I do this, help me to stay in the day. I submit all my plans to you, and I commit myself to not worrying about tomorrow.

Our Bible reading for Thursday, January 8, is Genesis 17:1 – 18:33, Matthew 6:25 – 7:23 and Proverbs 1:8-19.

Header image based on "Worried!" by Alon, CC by 2.0

Broadcasting Repentance

Once Jesus settled into a base of operations in Capernaum, he began to do what he came to do: broadcast the news. And the news that he came to broadcast was not the evening news. (Thank goodness. Have you ever noticed how relentlessly bad the evening news can be?)

The news Jesus came to announce was very good news. The news was that he is the Light of the world and Life to those living under the shadow of death (Matthew 4:16).

As the light and life of the world, Jesus had wisdom that needed to be heard. But to be received this wisdom would require a change of mind on the part of people.

By nature, people’s minds are not on a receptive track, as Moses clearly indicates in the book of Genesis: “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5, NIV).  

Jesus wants to get people back on track, receptive to God and to God’s loving plans for them. And he knows that getting on track begins with the fear of the Lord: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7, NIV).

So what’s the best characterization of Jesus’ teaching? Matthew tells us what it is: Changed minds. Changed hearts. Changed lives.

Repentance, in other words. Receptiveness. Because when Jesus comes near, his kingdom comes near, too. That’s why wise people tune in when Jesus is broadcasting.

“From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near'” (Matthew 4:17, NIV). 

Lord, change my mind and heart. Make me receptive to you and your wisdom. Get me back on track by shining the great light of your salvation into every corner of my mind and heart. May listening to you give me a repentant mind and heart. You are my Savior. You are my Lord. You are my light and my life.

Our reading for Sunday, January 4, is Genesis 7:1 – 9:17, Matthew 4:1-22 and Proverbs 1:1-7.

Header image based on "Radio" by Godber, CC by-SA 2.0

Life In a Bubble

Christian, did you know you live in a bubble? Well, at least according to what King David says, you do.

It’s an interesting bubble because we still sometimes feel anxiety and worry, even though the bubble shields us from harm. The bubble may even at times allow some pain in, just to remind us of what life is like without the bubble.

The promise of the bubble is great, however. Even if tens of thousands of people or problems attack us, we have no reason to fear.

The most interesting fact about the bubble is that it is not a thing. It’s not a force, either. It’s a person. And the person’s name is Jesus, the Son of God.

As you’ll see from what David says about him, he’s certainly no ordinary person. And as a result, his protection is no ordinary protection.

“But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high. I call out to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy mountain. I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me. I will not fear though tens of thousands assail me on every side” (Psalm 3:3-6, NIV).

Thank you, Jesus, for being the “bubble” around me. It’s good to know that I have a constant shield to protect me every day. I can rest easy. And wake with confidence to go about my business each day. No fear. Because I live in the bubble—and that bubble is you, Jesus!

Our reading for Saturday, January 3, 2015 is Genesis 4:17 – 6:22, Matthew 2:19 – 3:17 and Psalm 3:1-8.

Header image based on "Yume-no-Shima Tropical Greenhouse Dome" by Vellut, CC by 2.0

How to Be a Wise Man (or Woman) in 3 Easy Steps

What in the world are “magi”? Strong’s Concordance defines the word this way: a magus; the name given by the Babylonians (Chaldeans), Medes, Persians, and others, to the wise men, teachers, priests, physicians, astrologers, seers, interpreters of dreams, augers, soothsayers, sorcerers etc.

It’s a pretty broad job description, isn’t it?

Matthew, one of Jesus’ disciples, writes about the wise men: After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him'” (Matthew 2:1-2, NIV).

Something in their education and experience told the wise men that this particular star was unusual, and the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy about the birth of a king.

Whatever it was that told them this, they dropped everything—their schedules, their jobs, their families, their friends, their familiar places of living—and went together to find Jesus.

Why? Because they knew the most important thing they could do in this moment of their lives was just that. Find Jesus, the king, and then worship him. But they also knew that their destination was far. And as the old saying goes, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Wise men, indeed!

What if you grabbed another person or two this year and did the same? You’re just three steps away!

Step 1: Commit to someone. Ask your spouse to pray and read the Bible together with you in 2015. In my humble opinion, way too few marriages feature spouses that pray and read the Bible together daily. Just saying. Alternatively, you could do the same with your children, or a buddy from church or your growth group. If you’re feeling particularly outreach-minded in 2015, you could even select someone from work, or school, or your neighborhood.

Step 2: Commit verbally. Say to the person(s) you have selected “Let’s do this! Let’s go search for Jesus, the King, together. We’ll pray with each other each day, share our SOAP journals, and go together to worship Jesus every day this year.”

Step 3: Commit the time. Put it on your calendar. Block out a daily opportunity with your fellow “wise man” when you can meet (even over the phone or via text) and share your thoughts about the King. Don’t forget to clear a space for prayer together daily, too.

Lord, help me to find you daily in the gospel. Help me to find someone with whom I can share this daily journey. And then, put your Spirit in my heart so that we may respond—mind, body, heart and soul—with worship.

Our reading for Friday, January 2, is Genesis 2:18 – 4:16, Matthew 2:1-18 and Psalm 2:1-12.

Header image based on "Orion Nebula" by Familiar, 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.

A heart of worship. A song of joy.

Today is Christmas! And you know what that means, don’t you?

Our Salvation has come! Jesus, the Chosen One—whose arrival was prophesied for millennia—has made his way into our world.

The most wonderful thing ever is God becoming man so that he could demonstrate to us the full extent of his love! Our redemption draws near!

And that fact cries out for worship in our hearts and a song on our lips!

“And they were singing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb: ‘Great and marvelous are your works, O Lord God, the Almighty. Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations. Who will not fear you, Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous deeds have been revealed'” (Revelations 15:3-4, NLT).

Our reading for today, Christmas Day, is Haggai 1:1 – 2:23, Psalm 147:7-11, Proverbs 30:20 and Revelation 15:1-8.