Posted in Devotion

A Servant’s Heart

Let me tell y’all, I’m tired. Between teaching, volleyball, speech team, grad school, and attempting to maintain relationships with people, I go pretty non-stop. A lot of times I love it, but sometimes I get into a pity party and just want to be noticed. You ever been there? You just want someone to recognize how hard you’re working to do the good work.

As I read a quick passage tonight before bed, I was hit with some truth. Talking to his disciples, Jesus tells a story of a master and a servant. After working in the field, the servant is still asked to serve his master in the evening. The servant isn’t thanked for simply doing his job. Jesus says, “so you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say ‘we are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'” (Luke 17:10).

A servant’s heart doesn’t need recognition for doing her job. As tired as I am and as tempting as it may be to grumble about not being recognized, I can rest knowing that I am doing God’s work here. That is enough recognition, knowing that God is pleased with my sacrifice and that I have the opportunity to do his work.

Posted in Devotion

Seeing Through God’s Lens

I want to see the world through God’s eyes and with the Bible as my point of reference. A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about seeing other people with God’s eyes, but lately I’ve been impressed upon to open my eyes a bit more and see everything and do everything through the lens of the Bible. As a Christian, God calls me to act, think, and speak differently. Everything I do must reflect God appropriately. That means that wherever I go, whomever I come in contact with, and whatever social or career roles I serve become a means for sharing the Gospel message.

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Romans 12:2

Why is this necessary for a Christian? Why can’t I simply go to church on Sunday, maybe serve in some kind of ministry, and read my Bible in the morning? The answer is found in that verse: be transformed. To transform is to change entirely. The kind of change God wants from me is the kind of change that requires me to think about everything from a Biblical standpoint. When I read, I should ponder if the text supports or disagrees with what I know about the Bible. When I speak to people, I should try to be a loving example of Christ. When I pick out clothes, I should remember that God always sees what I wear. When I teach, I must remember that everything I say or do is being filtered by the young minds in front of me as truth; I want to be sure I’m speaking and acting in God’s truth.

The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of the evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. Luke 5:45

In order to do this, I must study the Bible and spend time with God in order to discern how his truth guides me. Without God, I am nothing but a feeble attempt at being good. With God, I can be a light that shines brighter than the closest star. I want all parts of my life to reflect God. That means I must examine my heart and ask God to make me clean and pure in thought, deed, and word.

Posted in Devotion

God of Second Chances

The passage chosen for our message during chapel today inspired, challenged, and blessed me.

And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'”
Luke 13:6‭-‬9 ESV

The Fruits

Firstly, to understand this passage, we must understand the symbols in this parable. Luckily my students and I have been working on symbolism this week. The fruits, or lack thereof, on this fig tree represent the good qualities God expects us to manifest in our lives. God knows we can be dumb sheep sometimes, so he spells out those qualities very clearly in Galatians 5:22-23. They are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Uh-oh, no fruit

How perfect is it that this is the third year that the owner has come back looking for fruit in his vineyard? I don’t know a whole lot about vineyards, so I did a quick Google search. Depending on the conditions, it seems people agree it may take a few years to see fruit in a vineyard. It’s perfectly believable that he’d have been patient this long. Likewise, God is patient with us when it takes us some time to start acting like his followers. He knows we have to grow into it as new Christians.

There will come a time, though, when God comes back to inspect and expects to see some fruit. That’s when we get to the part of the parable where the owner wants to chop down the tree because there still isn’t fruit.

Second, Third, and Fourth Chances

Can’t you just imagine the gardener saying, “no, wait! Let me try just a little longer”? I picture this role as Jesus saying to the Father, “give me just a little longer with this one”. Notice the gardener references the work he’s going to do with this plant: dig around it and put on manure. That’s what Jesus does for us when he works through the Holy Spirit to nudge us in the right direction. He nurtures us in hopes that we’ll start producing fruit.

An Unfinished Story

The parable ends without letting us know the outcome of the fig tree. The owner agrees to one more year of waiting, and then Luke moves on to another event. It’s left up to the reader to imagine if the tree produces or not. That’s on purpose. Jesus wants us to then examine our own lives. Are we producing fruit or do we need to be nurtured?

Posted in Bible Study

God always provides

“and behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the such month with her who was called barren…. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Luke 1:36, 41-42).

I can imagine that when Mary found out about her pregnancy she was scared, not only of being pregnant outside of marriage but simply of having her first child. I wonder if God provided Elizabeth a child not only for the fact that this child would proclaim about Jesus but also because God knew Mary would need a confidant. Mary would need someone who believed her claim about this baby being God and someone to share the pains and joys of having a child. 

This passage reminds me that God always provides exactly what we need when we need it. He’s given me friends when I’m lonely, rest when I’m weary, and reassurance when I’m feeling insecure. Notice though God provides what we need not what we want. Mary may have wanted everyone to believe her, but God only gave her one because that’s how his perfect plan worked. 

Posted in Bible Study

Peter’s Lesson

54 Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house, and Peter was following at a distance. 55 And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them. 56 Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, “This man also was with him.” 57 But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” 58 And a little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not.” 59 And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.” 60 But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” 62 And he went out and wept bitterly. 
Luke 22:54-62

The Denial
It was so easy for Peter to deny knowing Christ. He didn’t plan to do it, and I wonder if he even realized what he was doing in each of the three circumstances. He was acting out of fear for his life. For just a moment, his eyes were focused on his fears instead of focused on Jesus. Our fears reveal where we trust God the least and where we don’t understand God’s character. Peter’s fear showed that he didn’t trust God to take care of him and he didn’t understand that God had a plan for good in his life. Lately many of my fears have centered around being alone in the future, physically or emotionally. Those fears show me that I need to lean more on God and learn to trust that God will always be with me.

The Moment of Realization

Verse 61 says the Lord turned and looked at Peter, but it doesn’t say that Jesus said anything. It doesn’t even give any indication how close Peter was to Jesus. Words weren’t necessary, though. Because Peter had spent time with Jesus, Peter knew what that glance meant. He realized where he had gone wrong, and it caused him much sorrow to know what he had done. Hebrews 12:11 reminds us that “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” I didn’t enjoy the moment when I looked at my life and realized I was letting my fear of the future hinder me from trusting God. My fear of being lonely led to lashing out mentally at others for “abandoning me”, but God reminded me that I shouldn’t look to other people to satisfy my loneliness. God is the only one that can fill that need within me; He gives me friends and family as an addition to the joy He supplies not a substitute.

The Lesson Learned

Peter learns his lesson about being bold about his faith in Jesus and God. Instead of staying mired down in his failure, accounts in Acts show Peter speaking boldly. In Acts 4:8-12, Peter speaks to the officials about the power of Christ to heal. He put aside all of his fears and openly gave all credit to Jesus and fully claimed to know Christ. Later when he writes his first letter to the churches, he tells them to “always be ready to give a defense” (1 Peter 3:15). Reading this in the context of the earlier passage shows that Peter was speaking from experience. Be ready to defend your faith and to claim your faith because the discipline when you don’t is painful. Whatever lesson God is trying to reveal to you, be ready to learn it.

Posted in Bible Study

Temptations

Sometimes when temptations come our way, we tend to think something is terribly wrong with us or with our relationship with God. Based on the time when Jesus was tempted, this is not necessarily true. Luke 4:1 says that Jesus was “full of the Holy Spirit” when he was “led by the Spirit in the wilderness where he was tempted by the devil for forty days.” Matthew’s telling says that Jesus was “led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Now let’s clarify one thing before going any farther. God or the Holy Spirit are not doing the tempting here. The scripture only says that the Spirit led Jesus to the wilderness. In fact, James reminds us that God does not tempt us because “temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away” (James 1:14).

The first thing to notice here about the temptation of Jesus is that it comes immediately after Jesus is completely obedient to God’s will through baptism. Jesus knew he needed to be baptized, and even though John protested, Jesus insisted. God said that he was well pleased with his Son. I was young when I accepted Christ, so I don’t remember all of my feelings, but I do remember occasionally thinking that I should be automatically able to overcome any fear. Of course that didn’t happen. Likewise I also wasn’t able to overcome every temptation, nor did the temptations stop coming. Temptations don’t even always come when we’re spiritually empty, though that’s not to say that they won’t come then; temptations can also come when we’re spiritually full. The difference is that when we’re spiritually empty, the temptations seem grander because they’re harder to fight. Jesus was spiritually full, yet he was tempted for 40 days and 40 nights. God used this time of temptation to bring glory to himself. Luke tells us that immediately following this time of temptation, Jesus returned to Galilee, where people were curious and praising of him (Luke 4:14-15).

Now let’s turn to the three ways that Jesus was tempted. All of these are temptations of the flesh. 1 John 2:15-17 reminds us that we should not love the world and what it has to offer.

“For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions.” (vs 16).

  1. The first thing Satan says to Jesus is, “Tell these stones to become loaves of bread” This is a temptation for physical pleasures. Jesus had been fasting so food probably sounded really good. His response was that people don’t live by bread alone. He knew that God’s will is greater than our natural needs. When we’re tempted to want the next big gadget or a bigger house or car or whatever earthly possession tempts us, we should stop to consider how we can use that thing as a tool to bring glory to God or to share God’s love. That should always be our primary goal when acquiring more “stuff.”
  2. Secondly, Satan told Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, jump,” This is the temptation to take pride in our achievements and possessions. Satan tempted Jesus to do something miraculous and call on the angels. It was true that angels would protect him if he called on them, but Jesus knew that Satan wasn’t doing this to bring glory to God. By doing this feat, Jesus would only be showing off and thus falling prey to the temptation of pride. It’s okay to acknowledge that we have done something or are able to do something, but we need to be sure that we firstly acknowledge that God gave us that ability. God has to receive the glory first or it’s prideful.
  3. Finally Satan shows all the kingdoms to Jesus and says, “I will give it all to you if you will kneel and worship me.” This is the craving for everything we see. This is a Lion King moment when everything is shown to the Son, except this time it’s not the Father showing it to the Son. Jesus knew that he already had all of the kingdoms and did not need to worship Satan in order to gain glory. Likewise, we have so much through our relationship with God and don’t need to give in to the world’s offer of riches and wealth.

In all of these, Satan always began by questioning Jesus’ identity by saying “if you are the Son of God.” Satan does this to us as well when he puts lies in our heads about our relationship with God. He makes us wonder if God is even real or if God cares about us. Satan knows that if he can get us to question our security and identity, we will be Play-doh in his hands. This is why we must be grounded in the truths that God says about us.

Also in each of these temptations, Satan uses God’s Word to tempt Jesus. He twists the scriptures very subtly so say what he wants them to say. Jesus knew enough about God’s Words to refute Satan. Our strongest tool to resists Satan’s temptations is scripture. We must make sure we know the Words of God well enough so that when scripture is used to try to convince us to sin, we can point out the flaws in that thinking.

Temptations are meant to humble us and test us. They remind us that we are fragile and easily persuaded without the strength of God. They also prove our commitment to God by proving our obedience to his commands even in tough situations. James 4:7 reminds us to “humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” On the contrary, the next verse says to “come close to God, and God will come close to you.” We choose who we’ll follow, so next time temptations come your way, resist the devil and come close to God.

Posted in Bible Study, Life

He Paid It All

Recently I began living in the house of a lady I didn’t know. When I visited before moving in, I volunteered to help with the cost of keeping the house up, but she shushed me and said she wouldn’t let me do that. She explained that she’s blessed to be living in the house for free and that she wanted to share that blessing with me. Beyond being extremely grateful for this blessing, there are two lessons I see here.

The first lesson comes from Luke 3:10-11 when John is preaching to the crowd about Jesus’ coming.

The crowds asked, “What should we do? 

John replied, “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.

This lady I’m staying with lives that sort of life. She has an open wallet and an open heart. It’s exactly what Jesus came to show us about living. Nothing here belongs to you or me. Our blessings, however small, come from God, so we should use those blessings to point others toward Him. What better way to point someone to Christ than to share our blessing? I’ve been blessed with rent-free accommodations. That means I must strive to bless others in whatever way I can. This blessing chain gives me the opportunity to share God’s love and grace with people who might not otherwise make the connection.

That leads me to the second lesson. The lady I’m staying with had every right to ask for some sort of rent, especially when I offered. Instead she gave me something I didn’t deserve- a free bedroom and community. In the grander scheme of things, I owe so much to God for His forgiveness, mercy, and love that he shows. Yet, since He knows that I’ll never be able to repay him, he waived the cost. He sent his Son to pay the cost, and his Son was willing to do so because of love. I owe Christ everything for what he did on the cross, but he won’t let me pay anything.

So if you’re out there somewhere on the Internet and you feel like you’ve been blessed, pass along that blessing. It’s an opportunity to share Jesus’ love with someone else. Recently in my studies, I been learning about how the most effective way to share the Gospel message is to meet people where they are. This means that by providing something that someone needs, a door may be opened for a conversation about Jesus that might not have occurred otherwise. Therefore, don’t hoard your blessings– they won’t last here one Earth anyway– share those blessings with others because you remember that God chose to bless you first. He didn’t make you pay, so let someone else’s “payment” slide.