This Way of Life

S (Scripture) – Matthew 28:16-20 “But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated.  When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful.  And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.'” NASB

“Meanwhile, the eleven disciples were on their way to Galilee, headed for the mountain Jesus had set for their reunion.  The moment they saw him they worshiped him.  Some, though, held back, not sure about worship, about risking themselves totally.  Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: ‘God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you.  I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.'” The Message

O (Observation) – Lord, You have completely transformed the hearts and lives of those who have truly encountered You.  It is impossible to experience Your presence, forgiveness, and Your heart and remain the same.  We experience grace for our pasts (forgiveness), grace for our present (empowerment by Your Spirit), and grace for our future (eternal life with You).  During our time on earth, You are growing us, developing us, and preparing us for eternity in Your presence.  How is it possible to keep something so transformative a secret from those around us who are lost and broken?  People in our immediate spheres of influence and around the world are desperate for answers to life’s questions that only Jesus can answer.

A (Application) – When we go and train those we meet in Your way of life, we are not teaching rules to follow; rather, we are helping the created understand how to restore fellowship with the Creator.  We are helping men and women make sense of this dysfunctional world with the truth of Your word.  We are helping families put together the broken pieces of their lives by understanding Your principles and living out Your design by Your grace and Your Spirit.  No one is born having all of this figured out.  Your word is amazing, inerrant, and has everything we need to know in there, but You use Your children to help other children understand and apply Your truth to their unique situations.  We don’t all need to go on a mission trip around the world to disciple others – we merely need to look around us and ask who it is that You have for us right here and now.  Within our own families, neighborhoods, workplaces, children’s organizations, ladies groups, etc. are so many people that we have relationships with already – who can we go deeper with, mentor, train, develop, pray for and with, and instruct?

P (Prayer) – Heavenly Father, You’ve called us to “go,” not sit.  You’ve called us to train, not mindlessly watch television for hours a day.  You’ve promised to be with us as we instruct, and not asked us to come up with our own curriculum.  Our agenda is Your kingdom agenda, and our training material is Your word.  So many people open their bibles and just have no clue where to start; they give up before they even get through one chapter – it can seem so overwhelming.  Show us those people, Lord.  Show us the people You have placed in our lives for such a time as this for us to come alongside and partner with You for their growth and maturity.  Thank You for Your promise to be with us always, and may we never rely on our own strength to do Your work.

Let Him Now Come Down from the Cross

S (Scripture) – Matthew 27:37-43  “And above His head they put up the charge against Him which read, ‘THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.’  At that time two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and one on the left.  And those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads and saying, ‘You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself!  If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.’  In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him and saying, ‘He saved others; He cannot save Himself.  He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him.  He trusts in God; let God rescue Him now, if He delights in Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.'”

O (Observation) – Lord Jesus, when You were in the Garden of Gethsemane crying out in prayer to Your Father, You were asking Him to take this cup of suffering from You, but then yielded to His plan of redemption by saying, “Not My will, but Yours be done.”  When the guards came to seize You by force, Peter took out his sword to defend You.  Your response to him was “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.  Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?  How then will the Scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen this way (26:52-54)?”  You were more than capable of coming down off of that cross if You wanted to, and it probably would have been enjoyable to watch all of those mockers fall prostrate to the ground in shock and awe if You did.  But You knew better.  You knew that in order to save humanity and defeat the enemy once and for all, You would have to endure the horrific mockery and abuse of the very ones created in Your image.

A (Application) – The point I hear ringing through loud and clear with this reminder is that You don’t always do what we think You should do.  You have a greater plan than any of us could fully understand, and our finite minds cannot comprehend it.  When tragedy happens, when our world is collapsing, and when we doubt Your ability to intervene, may we remember that Your ability is never in jeopardy.  In Your sovereignty, decisions are made that we cannot possibly understand.  May we trust that nothing comes as a surprise to You, nothing catches You off-guard, and whether or not we fully understand Your plan doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that we trust Your heart and know that You see the end from the beginning and work together all things for those who love You and are called according to Your purpose (Romans 8:28).

P (Prayer) – Thank You, Lord, for not coming down from that cross.  Victory was won there, our enemy was defeated, and You made a way for us to enter into the holy of holies in order to experience the constant presence of Almighty God.  What seemed ridiculous at the time (You being crucified and humiliated) ended up being the greatest act of redemption ever known.  When things happen in this life that we don’t understand, may we remember that You don’t always seem to make human sense and do what we think is best.  You have a far greater perspective than any of us could ever imagine, and we need to trust that You alone are in control.

Don’t Play Games with Me

S (Scripture) – Matthew 26:14-16, 20-25 “Then one of the twelve, named Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What are you willing to give me to betray Him to you?’  And they weighed out thirty pieces of silver to him.  From them on he began looking for a good opportunity to betray Jesus…Now when evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the twelve disciples.  As they were eating, He said, ‘Truly I say to you that one of you will betray Me.’  Being deeply grieved, they each one began to say to Him, ‘Surely not I, Lord?’  And He answered, ‘He who dipped his hand with Me in the bowl is the one who will betray Me.  The Son of Man is to go, just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed!  It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.’  And Judas, who was betraying Him, said, ‘Surely it is not I, Rabbi?’  Jesus said to him, ‘You have said it yourself.'”  NASB

v. 25 “Then Judas, already turned traitor, said, ‘It isn’t me, is it, Rabbi?’  Jesus said, ‘Don’t play games with me, Judas.” The Message

O (Observation) – Lord, You know our hearts.  How can someone who has already decided to betray You look You in the eye and ask that question?  As if You didn’t already know?  Did he think that God the Father forgot to mention it to You during Your morning prayer time?  Did he all of a sudden doubt Your deity and ability to know the end from the beginning?  Did he think he could just pretend that he wasn’t going to turn You over and that You would let it slide?

A (Application) – As ridiculous as these questions sound about this traitor’s interaction with You, we have all been there.  We claim You as Lord over every area of our lives, yet we each have our own top secret files that are conveniently not discussed with You openly.  Maybe we think that You don’t see them.  Maybe we think You couldn’t possibly care about that.  Maybe in our own sinful hearts we just aren’t ready to have You deal with it yet.  Despite our intentions to keep certain matters hidden from You, it really is quite silly to think that You don’t see them.  You lovingly hold our faces in Your hands and tell us, “Don’t play games with me.”  It is because You love us that You want to have dominion over every area of our lives.  Without Your light shining into every corner, there are opportunities for darkness to deceive us, hold us captive, and keep us from Your healing.  What have we been hiding from You?  Or rather, what have we thought we’ve been hiding from You?  What hidden thoughts, intentions, habits, words, choices, or actions have we been choosing to keep secret, and refusing to allow You in?  May we choose today to stop playing games with You.  Instead, may we open our hearts in order to let You in and have Your way with us.  May nothing be off limits for You.

P (Prayer) – Heavenly Father, You love us so much.  We can trust Your heart that You only want what is good, righteous, and true.  Search my heart, search my mind, search my soul, and reveal to me anything that I am harboring in my heart that I am attempting to keep hidden from You.  Shine Your light into my life and root out anything that is not of You – bitterness, resentment, anger, envy, hatred, irritability, corrupt speech – gone and done.  May I never find myself looking at You and hiding something in my heart.  Life is too short for playing games like that.  If I have an issue – I want it dealt with, and quickly.  Thank You, Lord, that You want us to live our lives healed, restored, and set free instead of bogged down with the baggage of hidden secrets.

YOLO Indeed

S (Scripture) – Matthew 25:1-13 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.  Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent.  For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps.  Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep.  But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Behold, the bridegroom!  Come out to meet him.’  Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps.  The foolish said to the prudent, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’  But the prudent answered, ‘No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’  And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut.  Later the other virgins also came, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open up for us.’  But he answered, ‘Truly I say to you, I do not know you.’  Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.”

O (Observation) –  Lord, You shared this parable with us in order to illustrate the importance of readiness for Your return, and the foresight to prepare for it.  If we think it will be acceptable to wait until after Your return to prepare, it will be too late.  If we wait until the start of an exam to study, it will be too late.  If we wait to buy food and water until the hurricane has made landfall two miles from our home, it will be too late.  If we wait until our children graduate from high school before we tell them we love them, it will be too late.  These blindingly obvious examples make perfect sense to the rest of the world, yet when it comes to preparing for Your return, everyone seems to think it is either not going to happen or that there is still plenty of time left.

A (Application) – Lord, there are no do-overs in this life.  When You come back, we will either be ready or we will not.  We do not know the day nor the hour, but we shouldn’t have to in order to follow after You.  The fact that one day soon You will be returning for Your bride (the fellowship of believers, a.k.a. the church) should stir our hearts to want nothing more than to be ready for You.  What does it even mean to be ready for You?  Our hearts take time to be healed from our brokenness and restored by Your Spirit.  As we grow closer to You, You continue to shape us and grow us into the men and women we were destined to become.  May we not miss out on Your best for us.  So many people walk around in this life screaming “YOLO!” before doing something risky, as if it justifies their daring actions in light of the fact that we don’t live on this earth forever.  I stand today proclaiming that, indeed, YOLO!  (You Only Live Once)  If we only live once, we have no time to waste.  May we focus our thoughts on You, drown out the noise of ever-present distractions, and get serious about what it means to be ready for You.

P (Prayer) – Precious Jesus, thank You for reminding me that despite what the world pushes on us, what ultimately matters is how we will spend eternity.  The twenty, forty, eighty or so years that we are given on this earth are merely a warm-up.  This is our chance to get up to speed with You and Your kingdom.  This is our training ground for our roles in eternity.  You have gifted each of us and plan to use us for Your purposes.  We can either squander those gifts on our own selfish gain in this world, or we can spend our lives developing our spiritual gifts and be ready to use them when You call us home and thereafter.  May we not be shortsighted as we go through this life, and may we not wait until it is too late to prepare for Your return.

This Day is Coming

S (Scripture) – Matthew 24:29-31, 42 “But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory.  And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other…Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming.”

O (Observation) – Almighty Lord Jesus, this day is coming.  This day when the world as we know it will come to a screeching halt.  Reality as we perceive it will be re-calibrated and aligned with what is true.  There will be no mistaking this day.  No one will miss it and read about it later.  This will not be just one more event on the evening news.  It will be a day of reckoning.  A day where everything we have ever endured, every ounce of suffering, every victorious moment will all seem so insignificant in light of Your glory crashing into time and space once more.  We just finished celebrating Your first coming as an infant; humble, human, and our Savior who suffered in our place.  But on this coming day, it will be different.  You will be returning as our risen Savior, glorified King, and every knee shall bow and every tongue will confess You as Lord (Philippians 2:10).

A (Application) – What a day this will be!  For some, this will be a day of great joy, hope, answered prayer, and indescribable peace.  For others, this will be a day of mourning, regret, sorrow, and surprise.  Everyone will feel awe and wonder.  You admonish us to be on the alert, as we do not know which day You are coming.  As we ponder this evening what our resolutions will be for this coming year, may we be mindful of the fact that one day soon, the only things that will ultimately have any eternal significance are what we have done for Your kingdom.  Everything else will fade away, and may we not have any regret that we missed out on what You had planned to accomplish through us during our time here.

P (Prayer) – We are all here for such a time as this.  Lord, may we seek You first, crave Your presence, yield to Your Spirit, and watch with wonder all that You are able to accomplish through our surrendered hearts.  I pray that 2017 would be a year of order – where each of us seeks to truly understand what is means to be in alignment with Your word in all areas of our lives, and as a result, we experience Your unprecedented favor.  If this is the year of Your return, may we find ourselves ready.

House of Cards

S (Scripture) – Matthew 23:23-26 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.  You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!  Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence.  You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.”

O (Observation) – Lord, I remember when I first read this passage many years ago.  I was very involved in various aspects of church service as a teenager but didn’t know You or have any type of relationship with You.  You were not Lord of my life back then.  Instead of having the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as the three and only members of the boardroom of my life, instead I was sitting at the head of that table calling all the shots based on what I thought was best.  My outward appearance of church service gave the impression that I was a “good” Christian, but my heart was rotting from the inside out based on my inward turmoil.  When I read this passage back then, it struck a nerve in me.  You were talking to me in that moment, and I knew it.  It was the first time I felt that You were calling me out for my hypocrisy.  I was more concerned with how to properly serve at the altar and follow all of the appropriate steps for disposing of unused communion wine after a service than I was about how to “seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God (Micah 6:8).”  I would teach and train others how to serve You in a church service by properly following the rules, but was so far from You in every possible way.  These Pharisees were very much the same – they knew the Scriptures, they studied them, memorized them, taught them, even practiced most of them (e.g. tithing on every possible aspect of life, even spices), but completely missed You in the process.  They were quick to point out the errors of others not properly following the letter of the Law (straining out the gnat), while being completely devoid of the Spirit of the Law.

A (Application) – I’m so thankful that I am not that person anymore.  I look back and wonder how that could have ever been me, but I remember vividly what it was like to live only for myself.  I remember how wonderful and awful it felt to be called out by You for what was going on in my heart.  Acknowledging the sin we harbor is the first step toward repentance.  When we realize how far we have strayed from You and finally see ourselves in Your light, life is so much more clear.  You do not stutter, and you do not waver on Your standard of righteousness.  Thankfully, that’s the whole reason You came for us – because You knew we wouldn’t be able to do it without You.  You are with us every step of the way, and fully committed to redeeming our stories and purifying our hearts.  “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).”  May each of us pause – even in this moment – close our eyes, and listen to You as we ask the question…is there anything in our hearts that is displeasing to You, Lord?

P (Prayer) – Lord, I pray for my heart to never become dull, for my ears to always hear Your voice, for my eyes to always see Your path, and for a hunger for Your presence that can never get enough.  May I never become calloused by this life and comfortable with a mediocre version of Christianity.  I want more of You, Lord.  I want Your unmistakable fingerprints throughout my day, I want Your Spirit to guide each step I take, and I want to experience Your favor and Your power as I go about doing Your work.

The Wedding is Ready

S (Scripture) – Matthew 22:1-14  Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son.  And he sent out his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast, and they were unwilling to come.  Again he sent out other slaves saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited, “Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fattened livestock are all butchered and everything is ready; come to the wedding feast.”’  But they paid no attention and went their way, one to his own farm, another to his business, and the rest seized his slaves and mistreated them and killed them.  But the king was enraged, and he sent his armies and destroyed those murderers and set their city on fire.  Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy.  Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast.’  Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered together all they found, both evil and good; and the wedding hall was filled with dinner guests.  But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed in wedding clothes, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?’ And the man was speechless.  Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’  For many are called, but few are chosen.”

O (Observation) – Lord Jesus, You were speaking to these religious leaders and trying to get them to understand what was happening to their inheritance due to the stubbornness of their hearts.  These Jewish Rabbis and leaders had been invited to partake in Your kingdom, yet were unwilling to come.  Despite their rejection, You continued to provide opportunities for them to repent and follow after You.  Still, they paid no attention, and instead, decided to walk away from You in pursuit of their own desires.  Not only did they walk away from You and Your truth, but they mistreated and killed Your prophets, and eventually, You.  Setting the city of Jerusalem on fire was prophetic of what would eventually happen to it in A.D. 70 during the years of the early church.  You then instructed Your slaves to go out and invite as many people as possible to the wedding feast, both good and evil.  It was not up to those inviting the others to decide who was worthy.  It was simply their job to invite everyone, and let them know that the feast was ready.  Ultimately, only those abiding in a relationship with You are welcome at Your table.  When the man without the proper clothing was found inside the banquet, he was commanded to leave, and he had nothing to say.  Jesus, YOU are the proper clothing.  Wedding clothes for this banquet cannot be bought or earned, but must be accepted as a free gift from You.  Many are called (invited), but few are chosen.

A (Application) – As Your servants, it is our duty to proclaim Your truth, Your promises, and Your invitation to everyone, regardless of whether we perceive that person to be good or evil.  It is not up to us to judge the heart of another.  Ultimately, everyone has to face You at some point in eternity.  Whether or not they will, in fact, be able to partake in Your wedding feast depends solely on whether or not You know them.  Just because You know what someone is going to do before he or she does it, does not make it any less of a choice for that person.  Each person is given the opportunity to respond to Your invitation, and those that accept it are chosen.  You have always known from before the foundation of the world exactly who would and who would not trust in You – You are God, and You are sovereign.  We are merely men and women going about Your business here on earth, and it is not for us to know whether or not someone will accept Your invitation.  It is up to us to obey Your command and be used by You to do the inviting.

P (Prayer) – Thank You, Most Holy Jesus, for passionately pursuing Your people.  Thank You for Your heart for the lost.  Give us Your eyes to see and Your ears to hear – all around us are brokenhearted people desperately in need of Your presence, but have no idea how to approach You.  May we be Your hands and feet to a lost and hurting world, and may the sweet words of Your invitation be met with ears that are glad and hearts that are hungry for truth.