Assailed on Every Side

Living with fellow sinners is never easy.

And sometimes it goes way beyond “not easy.” Sometimes it goes to the point of enduring attacks that surprise us by coming completely without reason or cause.

That’s when it becomes super-tough. In the end, though, one can only put such attacks in the hands of God. That’s the only sane, spiritual move, because such hatred is often far beyond our control or influence.

David faced such opposition many times during his life. And quite possibly that’s why he wrote so many Psalms. Like this one, Psalm 35:

But when I stumbled, they gathered in glee; assailants gathered against me without my knowledge. They slandered me without ceasing. Like the ungodly they maliciously mocked; they gnashed their teeth at me. How long, Lord, will you look on? Rescue me from their ravages, my precious life from these lions. I will give you thanks in the great assembly; among the throngs I will praise you. (Psalm 35:15-18, NIV).

It’s interesting to compare these words from the Psalms with what we read about Jesus in Mark 15:

The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him. (Mark 15:16-20, NIV).

Jesus, like David, was assailed on every side. He faced the same attacks and challenges as David, but ratcheted up by the fact that Jesus’ purpose was infinitesimally more critical than David’s. As the Son of God and the Savior of the world, all the forces of evil arrayed against him.

Unwittingly, their attacks fell right into the plan. That’s why Jesus could put these attacks in the hands of God. Because he knew this was all part of him being the Lamb of God led to the slaughter as the perfect sacrifice for our sins.

David, or Jesus, the pain of the attacks was great. The purpose was greater still.

Our Bible reading for Thursday, March 19, is Numbers 7:66 – 9:14, Luke 2:41-52 and Psalm 35:11-18.

Lord, protect me from the attacks of others. Thank you for willingly taking on the attacks of sinful men so that you could win forgiveness and salvation for me. May I always trust that your purpose will prevail, no matter how harsh the attacks of others hurt me.

Header image based on "Crown of Thorns" by Waiting for the Word, CC By 2.0

When Are You Going to Get Your Act Together?

Jesus hung out with a strange crowd for someone who made claims to be the son of God. One’s expectation would be that, since God is holy, he would only want to be around people who have their act together spiritually.

Not so. Not even close, actually.

The Son of God most loved to hang out with people who did not have their act together. People like tax collectors who were best known as government-sponsored rip-off artists, and sinners so notorious that they couldn’t hide the fact from anyone — those were Jesus’ dinner partners.

“While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him” (Mark 2:15, NIV).

When Jesus overheard the religious people of his day questioning his disciples about this, he told them plainly that these were the very people he had actually come to be with. These spiritually-broken people are the people he had come to serve and heal.

“On hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners'” (Mark 2:17, NIV).

The real problem is not that you don’t have your act together.

No one does.

The actual damage is done when you refuse to recognize (or simply fail to realize) that you don’t have it all together. Arrogant denial was the hallmark of those religious folk — the teachers of the law and the Pharisees — who never really got what Jesus was about. Jesus’ harshest words were reserved for people like this.

Jesus came for hopeless sinners. People who carry a lot of guilt. Those who are ashamed of the things they’ve done. Men and women who feel like they just can’t stick on a godly path in life because, try as they might, they’re constantly sliding off the path. Folks who feel weak and burdened, beaten down and alone.

Broken people like me and broken people like you.

Our reading for Monday, February 16, is Exodus 19:1 – 20:26, Mark 1:29 – 2:17, and Psalm 22:12-21.

Jesus, thank you for coming to heal me from my sins. I do not have my act together. I need you. I ask for your forgiveness for my sins against you and others. I ask for your Spirit’s strength to change and make those changes stick so I can have the same heart you have.

Header image based on "The Sinner in Me" by Johnston, CC By 2.0

Substitution

For those with some experience in the sports world, the word “substitution” is a double-edged sword. If you’re the kind of person who spent a reasonable amount of time on the bench (like me) then you love the word, because that’s the moment you waited for: the substitution.

A substitution was great! It meant you–the substitute–were going into the game to get some minutes. Maybe, just maybe, you could spark something with those minutes. You knew it was best to maximize your minutes, no matter what.

On the other hand, if you were a starter, the substitution was something you dreaded a bit. First of all, someone not as good as you (wouldn’t he be the starter, otherwise?) was going in the game. Secondly, the substitute was costing you minutes. He was snagging your opportunity to make a game-changing impact.

But in the Biblical world (as opposed to the sports world), the substitution is always a matter of wonder and joy. Just like in the story of Jesus and Barabbas. Barabbas was a notorious criminal. Jesus was innocent.

In the ultimate irony, Barabbas is released and given his freedom. Jesus is crucified.

It’s the perfect metaphor. I deserve to receive God’s wrath because of my constant idolatry, unbelief and disobedience of God. The one who is condemned should be me.

But Jesus took my condemnation for me. He is my substitute. And that’s why I can take this beautiful promise and apply it to myself: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1, NIV).

So can you. Because he’s your substitute too.

And that’s why there’s no more beautiful word than the word “substitution.”

“But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed. ‘Which of the two do you want me to release to you?’ asked the governor. ‘Barabbas,’ they answered. ‘What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?’ Pilate asked. They all answered, ‘Crucify him!'” (‭Matthew‬ ‭27‬:‭20-22‬ NIV).

Our Bible reading for Thursday, February 12, is Exodus 11:1 – 12:51, Matthew 27:11-44 and Psalm 21:1-7.

Header image based on "It Is Finished" by abcdz2000, 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

Better Broken than Crushed

What would your decision be if you were presented with the following choice: “Would you rather be broken or crushed?”

Mine would be “option C.”

I mean, really?! Broken or crushed. What kind of choice is that?

Well… actually…

It was the choice Jesus presented to the chief priests and the elders in Jerusalem as he was completing his ministry.

Those priests and elders were not in a particularly receptive mood as Jesus entered Jerusalem. Though the crowds sung praises, and spread their cloaks on the road for Jesus, the religious leaders refused to believe.

While the children sang “Hosanna to the Son of David,” the priests and elders simply got angry. Up in arms, they took Jesus to task. And Jesus responded with the choice.

“Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the Scriptures:

The stone the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
the Lord has done this,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

‘Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed'” (Matthew 21:42-44, NIV).

So what about you? After hearing that, wouldn’t you agree it would be much better to be broken than crushed?

Fall on Jesus in faith, broken by your sins, and he will heal you.

Don’t fall on Jesus, because you’re too proud, or too busy, or too preoccupied, or simply determined to remain unbroken… then, please, please hear Jesus’ clear warning.

Lord, Jesus, my sinful nature is so strong. In my own heart, I’m often just like the priests and elders. Instead of trusting you and embracing your promises of healing and forgiveness, in pride or in fear I reject them. I don’t want to be crushed, even though that’s what I deserve. I am broken by my sins. Send your Spirit, so that my cold heart becomes a heart willing to fall on you in faith, and be healed.

Our Bible reading for Monday, February 2, is Job 25:1 – 29:25, Matthew 21:33 – 22:14 and Psalm 18:7-15.

Header image based on "Glass" by Belli, CC by 2.0

Brother or Sister of Jesus? Outrageous.

Wouldn’t it be great if God could be family? Jesus tells us it’s not nearly as far-fetched as it might sound.

The disciples were humans just like us–just regular folks. Fishermen. A tax collector. And other no-name jobs. Nothing spectacular, it seems. No one was getting ready to be declared “Man of the Year” for Time magazine. No one was about to be elected to the Hall of Fame.

More importantly, the disciples were sinners just like us. They broke God’s laws. They deserved God’s punishment. They fell short of God’s glory.

Just like us.

Yet, Jesus points them out as his brothers. And he doesn’t stop there. Anyone who trusts in Jesus the way the disciples did, he says, and shows this by the fruit they produce in their lives, will be known as the brothers and sisters of the Son of God.

You see, it’s like Jesus said on another occasion. “What’s impossible with man is possible with God!”

In other words, not outrageous at all!

He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:48-50, NIV).

Jesus, thank you for making me your family by faith. Your Holy Spirit is responsible for drawing by dead heart to faith. Please send the Spirit every day through your word to keep my faith alive, and my family relationship with you strong and solid. Because only you could make such outrageous things happen to me.

Our reading for Saturday, January 17, is Genesis 34:1 – 35:29, Matthew 12:46 – 13:17 and Psalm 10:1-11.

Header image based on "i love you and i care for you brother", 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