A Passing Breeze

God gives us a brief time here on planet earth. Because our life is so short, he calls us “a passing breeze.”

But this little span of time we call a lifetime, though it’s only a blip in the eyes of the eternal God, is a supremely valuable gift from him. That’s because it’s our “time of grace,” the time God has given us so that the Holy Spirit has opportunities to call us to faith in Jesus, enlighten our hearts with the gospel, and gather us into the church.

And for God, there is no more highly valued goal than to see us in heaven, enjoying eternity in his presence.

This earthly life is the time we’ve been given to experience God’s mercy and forgiveness in Christ. It’s amazing — but God does not immediately destroy us for our sins. He does not get anywhere close to as angry as he could.

All of us have experienced this. It’s like the time when I put a big dent in the back of my Mom’s car. Of course, I thought she would be furious. But instead, she wasn’t very upset at all. Just the opposite! She was understanding and patient with me.

But far more importantly, all of us have experienced this with God, too. It’s just as the Psalmist Asaph wrote:

“Yet he was merciful; he forgave their iniquities and did not destroy them. Time after time he restrained his anger and did not stir up his full wrath. He remembered that they were but flesh, a passing breeze that does not return” (Psalm 78:38-39, NIV).

Lord, thank you for the mercy and grace you show me every day. Remind me that I am but a “passing breeze” and to wisely use every day to draw close to your word, so that your Holy Spirit will draw me close to Jesus.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, June 28, is 1 Kings 20:1 – 21:29, Acts 18:9 – 19:13 and Psalm 78:32-39.

Header image based on "Catch the Breeze" by Duncan Harris, 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

The Last Word

Near the end of his life, David went against God’s explicit wishes and counted his fighting men. It’s clear that David had slipped into thinking that he should rely on human power, rather than God’s strength. Even David’s leadership team knew that this was a hugely bad move, and they told him so.

David pressed on anyway with the count. God then became angry with David’s sinful actions, and especially his prideful heart. In response, the Lord sent a plague on Israel. The plague actually progressed to the point where 70,000 people ended up dying.

But then the Lord suddenly relented from his anger. He withdrew the angel who was bringing this disaster on the people. With some irony, the place where the plague ceased became the place that David purchased for a temple, so he could demonstrate his repentance and honor God.

Not all bad stretches in our life are brought about as a result of God’s discipline. But when this does happen, we need to remember that God’s anger lasts only a short while. God’s true nature is not to display anger but love.

In other words, displaying love is what God most loves to display. Look throughout the entire Bible. Yes, God gets angry at times. But grace and forgiveness always get the last word!

So, if it’s your “night of weeping,” remember these words always and know that rejoicing will come in the morning.

“Sing the praises of the Lord, you his faithful people; praise his holy name. For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:4-5, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, March 4, is Leviticus 11:1 – 12:8, Mark 12:13-27 and Psalm 30:1-7.

Lord, I pray with David: “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. Now, Lord, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing” (2 Samuel 24:10, NIV). Thank you for forgiving me. Let rejoicing return quickly. Show me your favor, and lead my heart to find joy in your grace.

Header image based on "Sunrise" by Grassi, CC By-SA 2.0

Hidden Faults and Willful Sins

David speaks in Psalm 19 about his “hidden faults” and “willful sins.”

Hidden faults are the sins that we tend to keep secret. If sin is “missing the mark,” these are the times we miss the mark so badly, we don’t want anyone else to know. That’s typically because we are so ashamed of how far off-target we were! We don’t want people seeing what crawls around in our dark hearts.

Willful sins are the times we miss the mark because we were intentionally shooting at a completely different target. We stopped caring (at least for a while) about God’s target, set up our own, and took aim at that. We knew the wrong we were doing, and we chose to do it anyway.

David tackles these two types of sin head on.

He starts with confession. He gets authentic and transparent before the Lord. He gets real with himself and God. He identifies the sin and then confesses it, seeking forgiveness.

He continues with a commitment to guard his heart. He asks for the Lord’s help to put safeguards up. He prays for strength to watch where he aims his eyes. He asks for vigilance to catch himself when his thoughts drift. He prayerfully seeks a spirit of self-discipline to avoid willful sins.

Finally, he focuses his eyes forward and thinks about how beautiful a clear conscience is. There’s peace in knowing that he has confessed and been forgiven of his sins. There’s joy in seeking God’s strength and help in living more obediently. The little voice of guilt and shame is silenced and stilled for a time.

“But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression” (Psalm 19:12-13, NIV).

Lord, grant me these three things: 1) Forgive me for my hidden faults and willful sins; 2) Help me guard my heart. In your strength and grace keep me vigilant to ward off sin; and 3) Help me to envision and enjoy what it is like to experience the beauty of a clear conscience, washed clean in the blood of Jesus.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, February 10, is Exodus 6:13 – 8:32, Matthew 26:47-68 and Psalm 19:7-14.

Header image based on "Project 366: Stay on Target" by Pete, CC By 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

No daggers. Simply grace.

Jacob had problems. And they were of his own making. He had deceived his father, Isaac, and stolen his brother Esau’s blessing.

This did not make Esau happy. In fact, he was murderously unhappy with Jacob. So, on his mother’s recommendation, Jacob decided that it was time to beat a hasty retreat from his home.

What follows shows us how merciful and gracious our God can be. On the very first night of Jacob’s escape, God came to him with a message. It was not a message of anger, though Jacob had sinfully and faithlessly taken matters into his own hands. It contained no warnings of a desire to punish Jacob, despite his refusal to simply trust God for his blessing.

No wrath-daggers would be thrown. Not by Esau. Not by God either. Instead, God gives Jacob promises of sheer grace. He will be present with Jacob. He will bring Jacob back home again. He will not fail to keep his promises.

“I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (Genesis 28:15, NIV).

Do you need a message like this? Maybe you suspect that God has every right to be angry with you, turn his back on you, and let you hang out there with no hope of rescue or return. You’re all set to dodge the wrath daggers.

After all, you are a sinner.

But God’s grace that he displayed to Jacob, is the same grace that he has displayed (and will display) to you.

He is with you, present every day in your life. He wants to bring you home to himself. He will not fail to keep his promises to you.

How do you know this? Because Jesus–God with us–is the most perfect evidence of the fact that God is present, longs to bring us home, and will not fail to keep his promises to us.

Lord Jesus, be merciful to me. Be present with me and demonstrate your grace to me. I do not deserve it. I deserve your wrath and anger. I deserve your punishment because I too, have been faithless. But treat me as you treated your servant Jacob.

Our reading for Tuesday, January 13, is Genesis 27:1 – 28:22, Matthew 10:32 – 11:15 and Psalm 9:1-6.

Header image based on "Knife" by Blume, CC by-SA 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