February 23rd, 2018
So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.
Matthew 5.23-24 (NLT)
Today we come to another moment where Jesus doesn’t mince words and says something ridiculously difficult. We saw Him saying we were forgiven as we forgive, but today’s Scripture puts that in relief against the religious practices of Jesus’ Jewish peers.
To a Jew, nothing was more important than offering the sacrifice for their sin. It was what made them right with God. It was forgiveness. It was being clean and holy. It was the closest they could ever get to God’s presence because of their unrighteousness, because in that moment they were holy, blameless, and righteous. Their sin was transferred from them to the animal. The goat, sheep, or bull bore their bloodguilt and they were counted as blameless. Jesus comes and says something a good Jew could not understand, that they needed to be reconciled to the person that has something against them before they could be reconciled to God. It was a step too far, but illustrates the seriousness of our forgiving (or lack of forgiving). In simple words, Jesus is saying our forgiving someone else is be done before we get right with God.
When we understand that our being forgiven is dependent on our forgiving, it makes more sense, but it still seems extreme! To think that I influence how I am forgiven is scary. To think that my forgiving influences God’s forgiveness is downright terrifying. But Jesus is not backing down and He gives us a good guideline for entering into worship. Not worship, then be reconciled and forgive, but forgive and be reconciled, then come and worship. This Saturday, is there someone who has something against you or that you have something against? Go and seek reconciliation. You cannot control someone else, but as far as it depends on you, seek forgiveness, offer forgiveness, and make relationship whole before we enter into God’s presence as a body this Sunday.
Remember, your sin, my sin, and anyone else’s sin has been nailed to the cross so that we bear it no more. It is gone and done- why keep it around? Forgive as you have been forgiven and live in the freedom that is knowing your sin has been forgiven and you are free at the foot of the cross!
Father, give me a heart of compassion to seek reconciliation and forgive as freely as you have forgiven me. Thank you for taking my sin and nailing it to the cross so that I would bear it no more. I praise you for your grace and forgiveness, may I live and love that way today! Amen.
It Is Well (Austin Stone Worship) http://bit.ly/Lent2018Day9
February 22nd, 2018
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Ephesians 4.32 (NLT)
The overarching, singular goal of every Christian should be to imitate Christ. To become like Him is the literal meaning of the word, Christian. Paul brings several traits of Christ to the forefront leading to the simple reminder:
He forgave us, which means we can forgive others.
If you’re anything like me, forgiving others is not a natural extension of who you are. We’re much more likely to be vindictive than forgiving, it’s human nature. But human nature is not who we are in Christ. In Christ, the old has passed away and behold, all things have become new! Think for a moment: I cannot, would not, will not forgive freely on my own, but if I am being remade like Christ, I can forgive others as Christ forgave me! All of that begins with a confession of my absolute inability and incapability. The knowledge that I wouldn’t be who I am or even here, without Christ. That I need Him every hour of every day and every breath I take must be saturated in Him. If not for Christ, where would I be?
It is the certain knowledge that Jesus took my place that allows me to forgive. Knowing that His righteousness is imparted to me is not merely a comfort, but the starting place for my mission. 2 Corinthians says, “God made Him who knew no sin to become sin on MY behalf, so that I might BECOME the righteousness of God in Him.” When Jesus forgave us, it was a singular transaction. We received forgiveness, but were not so much forgiven as replaced. We became righteousness because of Christ. Our lost became His found. Our blind became His seeing. His death became our living. His forgiving us became our forgiving others.
Is His righteousness who you are? Is His death your life? Is His forgiving you your forgiving others? Remember, you have life because His life was laid down. He forgave you, which means you can forgive others.
Righteous God, forgive me. Forgive me the times I have not forgiven. Forgive me the ways I have not been conformed into the image of Your son. Today I remember that you made your Son to become my sin, so that I might become your righteousness. May I forgive as I have been forgiven because I am made new. May I become more and more like you as I imitate Your son. Amen.
Where Would I Be (Patrick Ryan Clark) http://bit.ly/Lent2018Day8
February 21, 2018
You are the people of God; he loved you and chose you for his own. So then, you must clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Be tolerant with one another and forgive one another whenever any of you has a complaint against someone else. You must forgive one another just as the Lord has forgiven you.
Colossians 3.12-13 (NLT)
Paul is echoing Jesus, but specifically speaking to the church. You’d imagine being part of the body of Christ would mean, we are forgiving people, but it is often where unforgiving spirits seem to reign! To put it into modern medical terminology, when we don’t forgive we give the church an autoimmune disease. Like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, we literally become the part of the body that is attacking other parts of the body when we choose not to forgive!
So, Paul gives a prescription for dealing with the autoimmune disease and strengthening the body to avoid future outbreaks. The cure is simply said, “forgive one another whenever any of you has a complaint against someone else. You must forgive one another just as the Lord has forgiven you,” (emphasis added) but harder practiced. Notice the timing he gives, whenever. Not when we are ready to or we have been convinced of their repentance, but whenever. And he also doesn’t quantify the sin needing forgiveness, it’s any complaint against someone else. The only person who quantifies and ranks a sin, is one who is holding onto a sin of their own they place further down the ladder. Paul says that’s out, because we are to forgive whenever, for any complaint, as God has forgiven us. That’s a tall order, but the only thing that keeps the body whole and free of autoimmune diseases. Forgiving whenever, for any complaint, as God forgave us is the daily dose of prednisone someone suffering from lupus has to take to stay alive. However, in the body of Christ it isn’t daily maintenance for survival, but the final cure.
To further our strength as the body of Christ, Paul offers six practices that build up the body and make us more like Christ and able to forgive. Those practices are: choosing to live with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and tolerance. If you think about those six practices, each is about how we choose to interact with others. If I live with compassion, it means affections are stirred into action for someone else’s plight like Jesus was. If I live with kindness, it means I am choosing to extend loving affection in every situation as Jesus did. If I live with humility, it means I mirror Jesus in thinking of others more than myself. If I live with gentleness, it means my interactions with people are mirroring Jesus’ in love instead of manmade power and authority. If I live with patience, it means I give people the same infinite number of chances Jesus gives me. If I live with tolerance, it means that like Jesus I am giving every person a chance, not just those I agree with.
Today is there someone you need to forgive, right now? Do it. Are you living with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and tolerance? Start now.
Father of Love, help me to forgive as you have forgiven. May I be part of the cure, not the problem in Your body. Clothe me with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and tolerance so that I can show people Jesus today. Amen
King of Mercy (Justin McRoberts) http://bit.ly/LENT2018Day7
February 20th, 2018
Forgive us the wrongs we have done, as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us…. For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
Matthew 6:12, 14-15 (NLT)
As disciples of the Son of God, you’d imagine we’d know how to pray, right? But Jesus’ disciples didn’t know what they were supposed to pray for or how, so He taught them. Jesus gave us what we know as “The Lord’s Prayer” with some simple words of instruction: “Pray like this.” (Matthew 6.9) Not, “Pray this,” but “Pray like this.” There is a world of distinction between the two, because Jesus in offering us a model prayer isn’t telling us to completely mimic His words, but the heart behind the words. The principle, not the practice.
Which leads us to today’s Scripture, part from the Lord’s Prayer, part Jesus’ follow up. As Jesus shows us how to pray He says, “Forgive us the wrongs we have done, as we forgive the wrongs others have done to us.” Read that again. Did you catch that? He is praying that we would be forgiven AS we forgive. Then to make sure we caught that, He follows up the model with the statement, “If you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. If you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (emphasis added). If you thought Jesus misspoke or the idea in the Lord’s Prayer wasn’t what He really meant, Jesus just took it up a notch to make the point. Notice the if/then statement He set up that we emphasized with the bolded text: IF you forgive, you WILL be forgiven; IF you do NOT forgive, you WILL NOT be forgiven. Did you ever imagine your forgiveness hinged on forgiving others? The promise we read yesterday from 1st John is sure, but the question you have to ask today is, which standard of forgiveness am I asking for when I confess?
Jesus said plainly- if you want to be forgiven you must forgive. Period. No ifs, ands, or buts. Your being forgiven by God the Father hinges on your willingness to forgive others. Understand, this is a tough thing to hear and see, but Jesus said it and included it very purposefully! When Jesus said that if you cannot forgive others, God cannot forgive you, He meant it! It’s not a limiting of the efficacy of the cross, it’s a limiting of God’s power in our lives by our own hearts. Which begs the question- how forgiven are you today? Are you partially forgiven because you have partially forgiven others? Are you unforgiven because you are unforgiving to others? Or are you forgiven because you have forgiven others? Ponder the meaning of Jesus words in your life today and then take steps to make it right. Forgive the people you have trouble forgiving so that you can be forgiven and free. Because Jesus’ prayer and words are not a legalistic demand, but the way to freedom. If you cannot forgive, you cannot ever be free, which is part of being forgiven by the God who made you. Be set free by forgiving and experience the freedom that comes from being forgiven as we forgive.
Forgiving God, point out the people and things I need to forgive today. Bring them to my mind and help me to extend forgiveness. Then set me free from my unforgiving spirit to live as you desire- free and forgiven. Amen.
Forgiveness (Matthew West) http://bit.ly/Lent2018Day6
February 19th, 2018
If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.
1 John 1.9 (NLT)
When we talk forgiveness, often the first place we hit is our need to forgive others, but the truth is forgiving like Jesus did starts with our own hearts. The encouraging bit is the promise God has given us that we see in today’s Scripture. IF we confess our sin, we WILL be forgiven and cleansed. That is an amazing bit of good news!
Do you beat yourself up over your sin? Those myriad failures to live like Christ? Those myriad times you choose your selfish desires over what God has taught us? That has a place and a time, but the time and place end as soon as we take them to the cross. At the cross, where Jesus asked for our forgiveness, there is infinite grace to transform, renew, and rebirth. All it takes is our honest confession. There are no other requirements for being forgiven, renewed, and righteous. Only confession. However, I do believe true confession only comes from a place of remorse, guilt, and anguish at choosing the way we did. There is no room for a flippant, “Forgive me for I have sinned,” and on with our life as scheduled. Confession that changes us begins with the anguished knowledge of how our sin has affected others, God, and ourselves. Make sure you notice here, there is no sin that is private and personal, all sin reverberates in community creating ripples we never could have anticipated.
Those ripples in community, the painful nails we’ve again driven into the hands and feet of the God who died for us, the death in our hearts we’ve caused- each of these should cause a profound sense of grief in us. When that grief is overwhelming, it drives us to the only place we can ever go, the cross. There we kneel in our absolute insufficiency and abject despair, to be met only with grace. To hear the words, “You are forgiven.” To know with absolute certainty that our sin is separated from us as far as the east from the west, that we are forgiven and cleansed from all unrighteousness. Today, set aside time to go to the cross. Go and unload the sin that has entangled you, be set free. Go and know the grace that is too good to be true. Go and know the grace that freely forgives, renews, and restores. Go and know the countless second chances we have at the cross are never exhausted. Go and let the assurance of God wash over your broken heart, healing you from the inside out. Go and confess, so that you will be forgiven and cleansed from all unrighteousness.
Perfect and holy God, I come to you a sinner in need of grace. I have sinned against you in so many ways and am in deep despair. Forgive me. Cleanse me. Restore to me the joy of my salvation. Please, don’t take Your spirit from me. I praise you for the promise that my confession leads me to forgiveness and cleansing- forgive and cleanse me today! Amen.
Forgiven (Crowder) http://bit.ly/Lent2018Day5
February 18th, 2018
Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”
Luke 23.34 (NLT)
It shouldn’t come as any surprise to us, but Jesus’ first words from the cross are dripping with grace. He asks God to forgive us. There’s no angry words of reprisal, no requests for divine judgment, nothing that remotely resembles the normal human condition. Instead we see unmatched grace, mercy, and the absolute depth of His concern for those He came to save.
Consider for a moment the scene: Jesus beaten, bruised, bleeding, and in unspeakable agony; the thieves mocking Jesus while in the same predicament for a valid reason; Roman soldiers gambling for Jesus’ clothing and joining the mockery while overseeing this execution; the Jewish leaders celebrating their victory over this upstart Messiah, scoffing, mocking, and berating; a crowd watching the spectacle, mixed emotions and ideas; Jesus’ mother and a few followers, weeping, hurting, grieving, hoping that something would change. This is what we see as Jesus utters these words. It’s a blanket of grace thrown out for all present- those doing their job, those rejoicing in their victory, those mocking, those enjoying, those grieving, those weeping. In all of that pain and suffering, for each of them present, Jesus’ concern was the eternal soul of each human being present.
Had you ever really considered everything in Jesus’ words? The agony, the grace, the mercy- for those who were ignorant of the full import of their actions. The soldiers who had mocked Him, spit on Him, beat Him, yanked out His beard, whipped Him, put a crown of thorns on His head, and nailed Him to the cross. The crowd who chose to free a murderer, called for His death, and then shouted abuse at Him on the cross. The religious leaders who had plotted His demise and now gloated over His dying body. These are who Jesus was asking God to forgive with one of His last, anguished breaths. If you ever wondered what mission-centric living looks like- look no further! To His last breath, Jesus was laser focused on His mission of reconciliation.
The question we have to ask is, “How focused am I on reconciliation?” Would asking God to forgive those tormenting you be on your top 10 list for your last breaths? If you’re like me, it’s definitely not. The convicting part is realizing that what Jesus did was a template for us and that forgiving others has to be at the top of our list if we aim to emulate Jesus and live into the name “Christian.” So today, start by forgiving yourself for your failures to forgive. Ask God to forgive you for your unforgiving spirit. Ask for a forgiving heart to be kindled within you (because that can only happen by the Spirit of God!). Then begin extending forgiveness for the wrongs practiced against you. See what kind of change a forgiving heart & spirit creates in your relationships, your work, your family, and your self. This Lenten season follow Jesus’ example and make forgiving one of the things that lives at the top of your list.
Loving & merciful God, thank you for the example of forgiveness You gave us on the cross. May I forgive others as you have forgiven me. Please kindle a forgiving heart and spirit within me as I attempt to emulate You. Change me as I live Your forgiveness this week. Amen.
Forgiven Forever (Glenn Packiam) http://bit.ly/Lent2018Day4
February 17th, 2018
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
Psalm 19.14 (NLT)
Herbert Lockyer, pastor & author, thought deeply about the power of last words. In his examination he came to the conclusion that, “The last words of both saints and sinners about to enter eternity, what they had to say before their stammering tongues lay silent in the grave, demands our deepest attention and most earnest concern. If, when the soul is face to face with eternal realities, true character is almost invariably manifest, then we can expect the lips to express glorious certainty or terror concerning the future.” In other words- what we consider and say in our final moments is an acute reflection of our heart and soul. The focus we bring in those last moments is intimately tied to our hearts deepest desires, fears, and passion.
With that in mind, this Lent we are going to be examining Jesus’ last words on the cross. The last anguished words that Jesus uttered on this earth were not accidental or pain induced ravings, but some of the most important things ever said. In fact, just to speak from the cross required Jesus to physically pull & push Himself up on the nails in his hands & feet causing intense pain. I cannot believe He would seek pain just to jabber, but rather He knew we needed so desperately to hear what He alone could say.
As you think about it, what would your last words look like? What passion of your heart would guide those final breaths turned into words? Regardless of what you think- let this psalm be your prayer this season:
May the words of my mouth
and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing to you,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
The rest of this Lenten season we’ll be starting with the text we’ll be reading/preaching from each Sunday then focusing on that idea through out the week, closing with a journal space (in the print version) to give you the opportunity to clarify your thoughts and work through what God is telling you that week. Each day will continue to have four elements: Scripture, devotional thoughts, a prayer, and a song to listen to. Prayerfully join us on this journey towards the final victorious word from the cross- tetelestai.
Almighty Father, you are my rock and redeemer, the reason that my heart and lips sing. Let every hour and every moment, every word I speak and thought I think, be pleasing to You. Bring my heart to a deeper focus on You and Your desires today and everyday. Amen
May the Words of My Mouth (Shane Barnard) http://bit.ly/2Lent2018Day3
February 16th, 2018
When you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you.
Jeremiah 29.12b-14a (NLT)
Have you ever started something and not seen the results you were expecting? Maybe it was a diet that started great, but you plateaued. Did you quit or stick with it? Or worse yet- have you ever started a diet and exercise regimen and instead of losing weight, you gained weight? Interestingly enough, in many long-term diet and fitness plans, the goal is to lose fat and gain muscle- which then fuels long-term health. However, muscle weighs more than fat, giving the false impression that hard work and discipline put into fitness is failing! Our spiritual lives are often no different!
If you start a Bible reading plan or try a new spiritual discipline and see no change in the temptations that assault you or the depth of your spiritual life- do you stop? If you have experienced the discouragement of feeling like you are making no progress or have grown distant from God, what have you thought the root cause was? If you’re anything like me, you’ve blamed God for being distant or failing to show up. However, nothing could be further from the truth than assuming God is distant or is choosing not to show up in your life! God promised that, “When we pray, He will listen. If we look for Him wholeheartedly, we will find Him. He will be found by us.” That isn’t distant, removed, or uninvolved- it’s the God who put on flesh and lived with us. It’s the loving Father who is waiting to meet with us.
This Lenten season we want to encourage you to try something new- whether it’s just sticking with this devotional guide daily, adding an additional spiritual discipline to your life, or fasting from something through this season. God has promised that He is listening, waiting, and wanting to meet with you. Can you make space and time to seek Him and find Him? Are you willing to invest into your spiritual growth and make the commitment to grow?
Pray: God, I come to you seeking to find you. Please meet with me and reveal more of Yourself to me. This Lent I commit to seeking you and trust the promise that You will be found. Change me as we meet so I can be change in the world around me. Amen.
Listen: The More I Seek You (Kari Job) http://bit.ly/Lent2018Day2
February 15th, 2018
Lent. It was a foreign concept to me growing up, unless we were talking about that stuff in my jeans pockets! I knew vague bits and pieces- lots of fish, crosses of ash on foreheads, and giving things up for “Lent,” but none of the actual substance of Lent. But, at Sterling College my ignorance came to a screeching halt. I discovered that Lent wasn’t a Catholic thing and that there was a lot more to it than I’d ever known.
Lent is the season before Easter (technically it’s the 46 days before Easter, minus the Sundays, landing at 40 days) and is celebrated by many churches across a plethora of denominations and traditions- not just Catholics! It is a time of self-reflection, penitence, and spiritual preparation for the celebration of Easter. Traditionally, this spiritual preparation involved a Lenten fast, the giving up of something special to create space for a deeper focus on God.
The fasting portion of Lent is not meant to be a spiritual transaction or obligation, but rather should spring out of a deep desire to especially seek God during this season. If you do choose to give something up for Lent, to fast from it for this season, remember Jesus’ words to the Pharisees:
When you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.
Matthew 6.16-18 NLT
Lenten discipline isn’t about making people think you’re spiritual- it’s a time when you choose to be more spiritually minded for your own sake. To paraphrase Dallas Willard- if choosing this spiritual discipline will help you grow in God’s grace, do it! But if it won’t, don’t feel like you must. Which leads to the other side of Lenten discipline- what you choose to fill in the space made by fasting. For some this means adding in times of prayer, for others adding in extra (or starting!) Bible readings, for more it means intentional reflection.
That’s the point of these devotionals- to give you a tool for spiritual growth this season, not something you HAVE to do. It’s an attempt to give you opportunities to engage God in a different way. Our prayer is that in listening to God, seeking His heart, and examining yourself this season you will experience change. Change in your family, change in your life with others, change in your relationship with God, and a deeper understanding & appreciation for the presence of God.
Is God calling you to “fast” or is He simply calling you to be more intentional in your spiritual disciplines this season? What are you hoping to gain from your Lenten discipline? Write down anything you plan on fasting from or adding in as a Lenten discipline somewhere you’ll see it daily (like a post-it note on the bathroom mirror or refrigerator).
God, please take this time I’m offering to you and use it to change my heart- mold and conform it to Yours. Be above me & below me, before me & behind me, all around me in such a way that I cannot ignore You this Lent. Amen.
Christ Be All Around Me (All Sons & Daughters) http://bit.ly/Lent2018Day1
Everyone has an opinion on who Jesus was. In fact, I’d venture to guess that people have assigned more identities to Jesus than any other human being to have ever walked this planet! Part of that has to do with the supreme importance Jesus has to history- as Yale historian Jaroslav Pelican said,
“Regardless of what someone may personally think or believe about Him, Jesus of Nazareth has been the dominant figure in Western Culture for almost twenty centuries.”
In easier terms, we even divided time as BC (before Christ) and AD (anno domini or the year of our Lord if you aren’t up on your Latin). Virtually every field of study bears marks of Christ- from art to music to literature to science- there isn’t a realm of our world that hasn’t been influenced by Jesus’ life, even if only indirectly through His passionate followers pursuing truth. That makes it extraordinarily important that we know who Jesus was and is. As He asked Peter, the all important question is, “Who do you say I am?” That is the question we are all looking to answer- and the question that ought to be informed more by what He said than what someone else says!
That’s why we’re picking up the gospel of John to read what Jesus had to say about Himself. Discovering who He said He was should inform our opinion and belief about who He is to us. In John’s gospel, Jesus says the words, “I am…” frequently. “I am..” seems innocuous enough, but we also need to understand the implications that phrase has culturally in first century Judaism. I am is a simple translation of the Jewish tetragrammaton- יהוה- or Yaweh, the name of God Himself. I am who I am, I am who I have been, and I am who I will be are all wrapped up in that one simple word. In Jewish culture the name of God was so holy they never said it, they didn’t even write it completely! Instead you’d see Y-H or another variation, with modern Jewish writers going so far as to write G-d instead of God because of their reverence for the name. Yet, throughout John we see Jesus saying, “I am…” frequently. This had to be on purpose- so it falls on us to figure out why. Jesus says He is the light of the world, the bread of life, the door, the good shepherd, the resurrection & the life, the way, the truth, and the life, and the true vine. Do you know what He meant when He said those things? Want to find out what Jesus meant by all those names He said He was?
Join us as we take a deep dive into Jesus’ own words about Himself and discover for yourself who Jesus is- because that’s the answer to the question that matters. When it all comes down, who do you say He is?