“You Gotta Have Faith”

(1 Kings 17: 10-15)  When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?” 11 As she was going to get it, he called, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.”

12 “As surely as the Lord your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.” 13 Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. 14 For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’” 15 She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. 16 For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah.


Choosing to obey when it’s difficult is putting your faith into action.  I’ve always wondered why the widow in this account chose to believe what Elijah was telling her… promises that must have seemed lofty and somewhat sketchy at best.  But she did it.  I wonder, did she give up the last of her food because of the strength of her faith, or was it more of a gamble at seeing if this God would be true to His promises?  Maybe she said to herself, “It’s our last meal anyway.  We are going to starve either way, so I may as well feed this fellow too.”  However, it is also possible that something within her organically and innately just believed.

In our own lives, our faith often mirrors this widow…on both ends of the spectrum.  Sometimes our faith is strong and we jump right off of the cliff, KNOWING that we’ll be cushioned and held.  Yet at other times, it really is just a gamble.  We want to believe, but circumstance has brought us to a place of insecurity and doubt…yet off we go, over the edge, because we have nothing left to lose. 

Whether you act out of excitement or because of desperation, it’s all faith.  The faith is there, because movement and action…obedience…they require faith.  So don’t worry that when you jumped you were desperate or afraid, questioning even.  YOU JUMPED.  That’s what matters.  Moving forward in obedience…that’s faith.  When you’re still just standing there on the edge, questioning…pondering…trying to figure it all out…deciding…that’s when you should be worried about the measure of your faith.  Big faith isn’t always believing for the miraculous.  Sometimes big faith is making the sacrifices that are necessary.  Big faith is active.  So even when it hurts, move.  Even when you’re afraid, just jump.  Step over the edge and revel in the freedom that comes when you just obey.


Prayer:  Heavenly Father, I recognize that weakness comes from being sedentary.  Give me faith to continue on, no matter the sacrifice, regardless of how I feel.  My strength comes from You alone, and I am made stronger in my faith by moving forward at all times.  I trust You, Lord, in all things.  Amen.

“I’d Rather Have Jesus”

(Luke 23: 18-21) 18 Then a mighty roar rose from the crowd, and with one voice they shouted, “Kill him, and release Barabbas to us!” 19 (Barabbas was in prison for taking part in an insurrection in Jerusalem against the government, and for murder.) 20 Pilate argued with them, because he wanted to release Jesus. 21 But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

What is your Barabbas?  What’s the thing in your life that represents your willingness to trade just about anything to replace Jesus?  What do you continually release into your life that pushes Him into the corners of your heart and mind?  What is it…the thing that crucifies Him time and again?   

You already know what it is.  I am guessing it popped up in your mind almost immediately.  That’s the thing about sin…it’s a problem that we know we have in our lives.  Everyone has a Barabbas or two.  We’ve all compromised at some point.  Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  All.  That means every person — you…me…your parents and grandparents…even Mother Teresa and the Pope!  By our very nature, humankind has a sin problem. 

Jesus said (in Luke 9:23-25), “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.  And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed?”  He hadn’t even been crucified yet, but Jesus knew what was to come, and He also knew the burden that would sometimes come upon us as a result of following Him.  He knew the weight of the cross before He ever carried it, and He knew that in our human weakness we would at times get sick of that weight and drop the cross in the middle of the road.  That’s why He said to take it up daily.  Every day is a fresh start. 

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,  for his compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3: 22-23)

We don’t have to start over from the beginning.  God is merciful.  We are able to pick up where we left off, never looking back at what we left behind.  His mercies are new every morning.  Each time the sun rises, both literally and figuratively, we have a clean piece of paper on which to begin writing the next chapter…brand new…but we still have to carry that cross.  Serving Christ requires a sacrifice of self…of sinful nature and the desires of our flesh.  We have to start crucifying our own selves…putting that “Barabbas” on the cross where it belongs…and stop sending Jesus back to His cross.  He’s already made that sacrifice, and once was enough to cover every sin…ever.  We have to stop trading Him in for what we desire in the moment.  Romans 12: 1-2 tells us, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” 

The choice is completely in our hands.  Because of God’s love and grace, we have been given the freedom to choose Him, or to keep Him at arm’s length with our sin.  So think about your own Barabbas, and you decide. 

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, when my cross gets heavy, I know that you will help me carry it.  When I drop it, You will right there beside me…to help me pick it back up and keep moving forward.  I see my “Barabbas” for what it is.  Give me the strength and courage to choose You every single time.  Amen. 

“You Only Get What You Give”

(James 2: 14-17, NLT) 14 What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? 15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, 16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? 17 So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.

Recently, I saw a need within a family that was far greater than what I could supply, yet their situation would not leave my heart and mind, so I decided to take action.  I began to reach out to people, and I was absolutely stunned by the response that I got on behalf of this family who had captured my heart.  I had become anxious — worrying about “how” and the Lord kindly urged me, “Just ask.”  So that’s what I did…and He did not disappoint.  Money and donations came absolutely flooding in, and I am still overwhelmed when I think of it all.  People were steadily asking me what they could do to help out, and I know that this was a direct response to the leading of the Holy Spirit.  The need was quickly supplied — exceedingly and OVER-abundantly!   God did that, and He was able to do so because of His children putting their faith into action. 

You may see a need, have compassion in your heart for the situation, and even consider the ways that you could help, but without the actual administration of care and concern — by ministering to the physical needs through provision, shelter, resources and attention — your compassion is a farce.  Fake.  Phony.  …it is dead and useless.

Compassion is that compound emotion that should move our hearts so deeply that we have no choice but to take action.  An extension of love, compassion will set our minds, our hearts, and our lives into motion — moving forward in our faith, knowing that through our own sacrifice there is a greater reward for all who are a part of the activation of faith and love. 

(1 John 3: 16-19, NLT) 16 We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person? 18 Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. 19 Our actions will show that we belong to the truth, so we will be confident when we stand before God.

As children of God who are devoted to our faith in and love for Him, we must be so in tune with His heart that the things which grieve and move Him, are the same things that break our own hearts and push us face first into the busy, sometimes messy, yet always joyful activity that is true, sacrificial compassion.  And when we do respond, doing so together — as a unified body that represents Christ to the world — miraculous things take place.  We are never left wanting when we put our faith into action. 

Luke 6:38 says, “Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.”

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, thank you for this reminder today that simply noticing a need and mentioning it to you is not always enough.  Help me to be more aware of the ways in which I can make sacrifices in order to help lift the burdens of the poor and oppressed people that I encounter.  Let me always be a light in the darkness, representing You with love and compassion that comes directly from Your heart.  Amen. 

Welcome to Grace, Everyone

Numbers 28 & 29

28:1- The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Command the people of Israel and say to them, … ‘You shall be careful to offer to me (offerings) at its appointed time.’…” 29:39-40- “These you shall offer to the Lord at your appointed feasts, in addition to your vow offerings and your freewill offerings, for your burnt offerings, and for your grain offerings, and for your drink offerings, and for your peace offerings.” So Moses told the people of Israel everything just as the Lord had commanded Moses.

 

Reading over these two chapters exhausted my flesh and wearied my mind… but then thrilled my soul!

The people of Israel were commanded to provide specific offerings on the Sabbath, throughout the month, and during the Passover and Feast of Weeks. More were required during the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and during the Feast of Booths. And these offerings didn’t just consist of one item that was walked up an aisle and laid in a basket. Oh no. There was quite a drastic number of requirements that accompanied each one. I honestly don’t see how they had much time to do anything other than prepare for these times. And don’t get me wrong… I am fully aware that God truly deserves everything we could ever offer and a million times more… but I also understand that we humans are entirely too insolvent to provide even a fraction of that. Trying to work for our salvation or earn a life of peace is a tiresome and impossible feat.

Could you imagine how different life would be if we had those same kind of expectations placed on us? Would it even be possible for us to make it through life and please God? He still deserves the same kind of sacrifices as He did back then, so why aren’t we required to do as they did?

Because Jesus paid the ultimate price that we owed. (Romans 6:23, 1 Timothy 2:6) He was the purely perfect sacrifice for us all. (Romans 5:6, Romans 5:8, Hebrews 10:12) He gave Himself up as the only offering ever truly worthy of God’s acceptance. He so wanted a relationship with us, that He made it entirely attainable by preparing the way for us in advance. (1 John 4:10, Ephesians 1:7)

Welcome to Grace, everyone. We live in it every single day. That pressure, that obligation… they’ve now been replaced with relationship. A personal, one-on-one, precious partnership. I don’t have to work for His approval, but I want to please Him. He doesn’t have a checklist for me to complete every day, but because I love Him, certain activities have become a part of my daily routine. There’s no set of rules, per se, that I have to abide by, but knowing Him and walking with Him closely have caused me to take on characteristics that are indicative of Him. Simply acknowledging and accepting His sacrifice, and appreciating Its significance in my life, put me in good standing with the Most High.

If you’ve been a Christ-follower for any amount of time, thank Him this morning for doing all the work and providing you the benefits. If you’re not quite sure you’re qualified to be one of His, let me assure you… you’re not. But none of us are! That’s the whole reason Christ laid down His life as an offering for us all.  He took our place and pleads on our behalf for God’s favor. All we have to do is accept His sacrifice and trust Him to lead our lives. It’s that simple!

“Jesus paid it all! All to Him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain, but He washed me white as snow.”

 

Prayer: Lord, I just want to take a moment to thank You for what You sacrificed for me. I know I don’t even remotely comprehend the magnitude of Your love, but I know it’s deep and unconditional. You made a way for me when I was unable to do so on my own. You clothed me in Your righteousness, took away all my shame, and walk next to me daily to bestow  favor and mercy. Help me to never forget the greatness of Your love and grace. In Your name, amen.

“I Give Myself Away”

(Psalm 43: 3-4, NLT)

3 Send out your light and your truth;

    let them guide me.

Let them lead me to your holy mountain,

    to the place where you live.

4 There I will go to the altar of God,

    to God—the source of all my joy.

I will praise you with my harp,

    O God, my God!

Looking back on the early days of my experience with motherhood — the pregnancy, the birth, bringing home a helpless infant and having no idea what to do with him or how to care for him, potty training, learning to discipline…just the newness of it ALL — the common denominator…the thing that governed my every waking moment…was sacrifice.  I sacrificed my body, my mind, my rest, and even my individuality.  I lost myself in this tiny human being, because becoming a mother meant that I must lay down my life in surrender to this gift — motherhood.  Those early days were hard ones.  I was learning so much…and I felt like I was failing every day in different ways.  Yet somewhere amid the loss of sleep, the crying (both my son’s tears as well as my own), the mistakes, and the endless amount of poop (soooo much poop), I found joy that filled me to the brim.  My sacrifices for my son were the source of what felt like the greatest joy of my life.  I had been given this extraordinary treasure, and because I felt endlessly unworthy to receive such a blessing, I willingly paid each price that this baby boy required of me. 

This is the great mystery of sacrifice — while inconvenient, and often painful, it has this odd way of producing joy.  It feels good to give.  It makes our hearts sing and and our spirits soar.  It is in the act of sacrifice that we find our greatest joys, our every freedom, and the fullness of peace and restoration that we seek. 

The fabric of who we are, what makes us human and sets us apart from the rest of creation, is that we are the image of God Himself.  He breathed into us His own breath of life.  He created us to love Him, to honor Him, to be like Him.  It is the natural inclination of our spirits to desire closeness with our Heavenly Father, and it is only through the mutual sacrifice of God and His children that this intimacy is fulfilled.  Sin is what separates us from God, but because of the blood of Christ (the greatest sacrifice) we have full and complete access to the throne of God — all of His love, grace, provision, and peace belongs to us.  We have only to kneel at the altar of God, in His holy place — His presence, and sacrifice our lives (every hope, every plan, every part of who we are).   When we offer ourselves to Him, in spirit and in truth, we become a living sacrifice, and that sacrifice is what unlocks the door to all that He has to offer us. 

So we must find within ourselves that sacrificial love, so often freely given to our friends and family, and we must be willing to pour it out on onto Jesus.  Like the oil from that alabaster box so treasured by Mary, we must break open our hearts and yield our everything, the most precious parts of who we are and what we hold dear, to the Lord. 

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for this reminder today that a life without sacrifice is a joyless one.  Help me have the devotion and strength to lay down my life fully, for others as well as for You — and when I start to get weary of the pain and struggle that sometimes comes with it, help me find the joy that comes from pleasing You.  Amen.

Mercy and Sacrifice

(Matthew 9:10-13 ESV) And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”


Have you ever been criticized for having non-Christian friends? Have you ever wondered whether or not you should “hang” with people that do not share your passion for Christianity? That is exactly the picture that is painted in this passage of Scripture. Jesus had gone to Matthew’s house and was reclining at the dinner table as was the custom of the day. It caused quite a stir among the religious elite who questioned whether or not He should be associating with tax-collectors and sinners. It should be noted that the tax-collectors and sinners were pursuing Jesus trying to discover the truth that He was declaring.

Jesus response was three-fold. First, He did not discount the condition of those with whom he was dining. He categorized them as being “sick” and in need of a physician. He was not putting them down. Rather, He was trying to raise them up.

Secondly, He realized that the religious zealots were lacking adequate knowledge of what Jesus was trying to accomplish. Jesus was not “hanging” with them in the sense that he wanted to be buddies with them. He was there so they could experience life-changing mercy.

Jesus wanted these religious legalists to understand that mercy was more valuable in this environment than outward sacrifices. “Sacrifices” were offerings made to God on account of sin, or as an expression of thanksgiving. In this instance, mercy means benevolence or kindness toward others. Jesus was saying, “I prefer mercy to sacrifice;” or, “I am more pleased with acts of benevolence and kindness than with a mere external compliance with the duties of religion.”

Finally, Jesus was not suggesting that He had no interest in the already righteous. He loved them very much and wanted them to obtain the spiritual revelation that would allow them to see this situation through His eyes. The message that He was trying to convey was that in this environment, when interacting with those outside of the faith, the priority was to help the sick people get well.

Listen, if we as Christians do not interact with unbelievers in a positive way, they may never be exposed to the victory that could be theirs. Just a word of caution. Be strong enough to maintain your integrity at all times. Jesus was never in danger of compromising His character. It was His faithfulness to a life of righteousness that attracted so many that He interacted with. You have that same power abiding in you!


PRAYER: Father, my purpose in life is to represent you to a dark world in a positive light. Fortunately, I have your spirit living in me, which enables me to be successful in this endeavor. Let my light shine so that others may see it and be attracted to You. Amen.