August 28 – It’s Hard to be Humble

Proverbs 25:6-7; Psalm 112; Hebrews 13:1-8 15-16; Luke 14:1 7-14

There is the story told of a man with two heads. Each head was extremely annoying as they both bragged about what a great man he was and how he was friends with practically everybody who was anybody. One day while he was bragging about his friendships, he mentioned the time he had dinner with the President at the White House. One of the onlookers called him out and noted that the President would be visiting the city in the next week. After the discussion was over it was agreed that the whole group would gather outside the hotel where the President would be staying to greet him as he entered the hotel. The big day arrived. The President saw the crowd and, as the ultimate politician, shook hands with everyone in the group, but gave no special recognition to the two-headed man. When his friends gave him a bad time about that, he shook his heads and sighed, “He must not have recognized me with my sunglasses on.”

We all want others to recognize that there is something special about us. We might have pictures on the wall with celebrities that we happened to meet. We might brag about our exploits hoping that others will love us as much as we love ourselves. We want others to honor us because, by golly, we’re pretty special. Jesus told a parable that must have been based on today’s passage from Proverbs. It’s a wedding feast and some guy goes and grabs the seat next to the bride’s father. He figures that they’ve known each other for a while so that he can look good by sitting next to an old friend. The bride’s father comes in a bit later with the people he wants to sit with and he sees the guy who has taken that prime spot. The bride’s father looks at the guy and says, “Hey man, I’m so sorry. I need to talk with these guys. Can you find another seat?” The poor guy, humiliated, has to find a seat at the last table with the crazy uncle that almost didn’t get invited. Jesus remarked, “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11)

It’s easy to look at others who tend to go a bit overboard when they are describing their own great qualities and shake our heads. No one likes a braggart. We like to see people like that get their comeuppance. At the same time, these words of Jesus speak not only of the person who brags incessantly, they speak also of those of us who quietly think that we are better than others. We belong to the right church. We have the right kind of job. My kids would never do that. We may not make those statements audible to others, but they are running around in the backs of our heads. Rather than seeing people who are different from us, or are having troubles as people who need the love of Jesus that we can show, we silently put them down so that we can exalt ourselves by comparison.

We must see those people as Jesus sees them: as sinners in need of God’s love. We should be able to do that because we should be able to remember how Jesus sees us: as sinners in need of God’s love. In the eyes of God, there is only one kind of person: sinners in need of God’s love. Oh, we may have turned to Jesus and accepted His offer to become children of God through faith in Christ, but we are still sinners and still need God’s love. Jesus didn’t die more for that person because they are worse than us. His blood was spent for all people because we all needed the salvation that can only come through faith in Him. That is how we receive grace. That is why we should extend God’s grace to others.

Oh Lord, it is hard to be humble. I like to think that I am better than others or even better than whatever is happening. Remind me that I have no cause to exalt myself in Your kingdom. Remind me that Your grace is the only reason I can be in fellowship with You.

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August 27 – On Greatness

Psalm 112; Proverbs 21:1-4 24-26; Matthew 20:20-28

My wife and I joke about my position as I help her through her recovery from surgery. Since I am, in essence, waiting on her hand and foot, we have joked about me being her slave. If she needs to go anywhere, I am her “slave driver.” Of course, when she needs to exercise and I remind her about it when she doesn’t want to exercise, I am her “slave driver.”

When you think about America’s history with slavery, that may seem insensitive. Slavery as practiced prior to the Civil War was brutal and inhumane. Slavery continues to be practiced today in ways that are invisible to most people.  There is a  dark, hidden part of society where human beings are bought and sold to be used for the worst purposes imaginable. How, then, can I make a light-hearted reference to slavery? How can a follower of Christ see slavery as anything but horrible? And it’s in that vein that the words of Jesus shock us into thought. “Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—“ (Matthew 20:26-27)

It was said that once in the Roman Senate a Senator proposed a special kind of clothing to denote people who were slaves so that freedmen would know who they were dealing with. The proposal died because they suddenly realized that all the slaves would realize how many of them actually were slaves and it might cause trouble. Slavery during the days of Jesus was much different than slavery in the Americas before the Civil War, and much different from current forms of slavery. Nevertheless, the words of Jesus shock our sensibilities. The shock is even more intense when we understand that Jesus was talking about being seen as great. When we think of great people we think of CEOs, entertainment stars, sports stars, members of the military, or teachers. We don’t put custodians, dishwashers, waiters/waitresses, or gardeners on that list, let alone anyone that might be considered a slave. Yet, that is the call of Jesus for each of us if we seek to be considered great. I don’t imagine that becoming a slave will make us seem great to world leaders, or even our friends. They’ll take advantage of us. They’ll talk about us behind our back. And if we focus on what others think, we will avoid anything that smacks of subservience towards others. We don’t want to lose face. On the other hand, if we see things through God’s eyes, we will realize that we are serving God by serving others.

If you’re reading this, you may be a product of “the American Dream.” You may have fought the rat race to get to the head of your profession. You have gained the respect of those you respect. And then, the words of Jesus break through your world. “Become a servant. Even more so, become a slave.” It is the most unfathomable advice you could imagine. There is a meme going around that people can tell what kind of a person you are by the way you treat those who would be considered “beneath” you. Jesus would amend that thought by reminding you that there is no one beneath you. It is only as you serve others; it is only as you become a slave to others that you actually live as if you believe that.

Oh Lord, why didn’t You tell me that I could achieve greatness by controlling others? Why couldn’t my greatness be measured by the number of people who served me? Your words are hard, Lord, but I want my relationship with You to grow more and more each day. Help me to serve others as You would. Help me to humble myself to become like a slave so that as I serve others, they would see Your grace.

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August 26 – Covering Sins

Psalm 112; Proverbs 18:6-12; 1 Peter 4:7-11

Sometimes people who claim to be Christians can be very “helpful.” Have you noticed how many so-called Christians know just how terrible your sin is and make a point of highlighting not only your sin, but also how much God hates you because of that sin. I think that is so helpful because most people caught in their sin have no idea that they are doing wrong and need people who claim to be Christians to point out that sin and how angry God is with them. I find it interesting, though, that those who think they are better than others never protest against the sin of pride. I wonder why it is that we don’t see more people picketing restaurants decrying the sin of gluttony in a country where people tend to be overweight, rather than having to worry about their next meal. In fact, very few people ever seem to find a time to protest against the sin that is in them.

Ironic isn’t it. We have no problem accepting God’s grace, almost as if it were our due. Our sin is so small, so insignificant, that we have no problem understanding why God’s grace is given to us. God is lucky to have us. But when it comes to THEIR sin, well, that’s different. Their sin is different from ours so obviously it is much worse in God’s eyes. That is why we are doing THEM a favor by pointing out their sins and letting them know how much God hates them. THEY are so bad that God not only hates THEIR sin, He hates THEM. Just ask any of the self-proclaimed spokesmen for God. Peter, however, had a different approach. I think he may have learned it from following and observing Jesus. “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8)

Love. But surely Peter didn’t understand how bad THEIR sins are, did he? Do you really think he would tell Christians to love each other no matter what? Peter was a good guy. He didn’t do anything wrong. Well, ok, he spoke up a lot and usually ended up putting his foot in his mouth. Oh, and wait. When you think about it…maybe we shouldn’t listen to Peter. Do you know that when given a chance to stand up for Jesus, he disowned Him, three times? Who could forgive that betrayal? If only I could find where Jesus condemned Peter for doing that we would have the example on how to deal with the worst kinds of sins. Except…Jesus didn’t condemn Peter. He forgave him. He loved him. He called Peter’s sin to Peter’s attention more to show Peter how much He loved Peter than to condemn him. Maybe, just maybe, that’s the example followers of Christ should use. Maybe that’s why Peter reminded us that love covers a multitude of sins; he recognized what the love of Jesus had done for him.

I have a sneaking suspicion that most of my friends who are sinners recognize that they sin. They may even recognize the most prevalent sin in their lives. They don’t need me to point it out. Ok, let me tell you how you can know if you are a sinner. Put your hand over your heart. Do you feel it beating? If so, you’re a sinner. There, I’ve called out all my friends who are sinners. That being said, the words of Peter and the actions of Jesus remind us of this truth: we are to love each other. Love does cover a multitude of sins. My wife is married to a sinner. She loves me, though, and she lets God take care of my sins. I have so much to deal with God regarding my sins, that I really don’t have time to tell you all about your sins. I have time to tell you about God’s grace and mercy that covers you and your sins as long as you allow me to.

Lord God, let me love others like Jesus did. Let me show them Your love and mercy that covers their sins. Let Your love flow through me that I may have fellowship with others – their sins covered by Your love.

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August 25 – Someone DID Pay

Psalm 112; Proverbs 15:13-17; 1 Peter 3:8-12

It’s happened again. It’s happening more often as the days go by. My friend lost their job because they wouldn’t do something unethical at work. When they invoked their faith in Christ, they were mocked and belittled. Then came the notice to look for another job. Perhaps it was different for you. Perhaps you mentioned your faith in a discussion and everyone else took exception. You were excluded from the group. Those are the kinds of things that make our blood boil as Christians. They make us see red, and then we mutter under our breath something like, “Someone has to pay for this.”

Over the last 2000 years of the Christian Era those who follow Christ have been attacked and insulted for their faith far more than they have been commended. In the early church especially Christians were disowned by family members, persecuted to the point of death, kicked out of jobs or careers, and mocked and insulted by those in power. Many say that the cure for the Church is to become more like the early Church – but they sure aren’t asking for the persecution. The worst part about all of this? God’s solution. “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” (1 Peter 3:9)

That, of course, is not the reaction Christians normally have in the US. Here we are going to fight for our rights as individuals. Here we are going to find the responsible party and sue them. We will be vindicated and gain victory over our opponents no matter what the cost. Usually the cost is our relationship with God. That takes back seat to winning the battle. We are going to show them. They can’t get away with doing that to me….er…to all Christians. These words of Peter, though, haunt us as we make our plans to gain vengeance. “Don’t repay evil with evil or insult with insult.” Obviously Peter didn’t understand how this stuff works! What did he ever go through? In case you’ve forgotten, tradition holds that he was crucified, likely in an upside down position, in Rome. He also saw the example of Jesus, who, when He was crucified, sought God’s forgiveness for those who were crucifying Him. Our goal as followers of Christ is not fair treatment, or equal treatment, or even just treatment; our goal is to glorify Jesus Christ. When being attacked by people with evil intentions, or being insulted, the command is clear: repay evil with blessing. This is our calling.

There is a great example of Paul demanding rights in the Bible he was let out of the Philippian jail in Acts 16. When the Philippian authorities sought to release Paul, Paul demanded his rights as a Roman. He was not doing so for personal gain. He sought to show people that following Christ was acceptable for Roman citizens. In most instances when Christians today fight for their rights, they are seeking to right a wrong done to them, not one that affects the ability of all Christians to share the gospel. Our ultimate goal is not preferential treatment. Our ultimate goal is not equal treatment. Our ultimate goal is to be obedient to Jesus not matter what comes our way. When we are obedient, we may suffer for our faith. When that happens, we are to bless those causing us the trouble and share God’s grace and mercy with them. Yes, you may have been wronged. Yes, it may be hard to show grace and return blessing for cursing. The only way to be able to do that is to share the grace that God has given us. I can guarantee that you will never give more grace to others than God has given you. It’s easy to give grace to the person who bumps into us. It’s not so easy to give grace to the person who puts us on the cross.

Lord God, it’s not easy responding to insults or wrongs with grace. Still, Jesus did it from the cross. Help me to share grace with those who wrong me. Remind me of how much grace You have given me.

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August 24 – Who Did It?

Psalm 109:21-31; Ezekiel 20:33-44; Luke 6:6-11

This year has been “interesting” so far to say the least. My wife got a diagnosis of breast cancer, her second in the same breast, and most of our year has been consumed with the fight against this cancer. We have dealt with delays, chemotherapy, and surgery. We have been blessed with the love and support of friends, great doctors, and family throughout the battle. Overseeing all of this battle though, has been the hand of the Lord. We have felt His comforting presence in the lowest emotional valleys; we have experienced His joy during times of great news. He has revealed Himself to us through friends, family, and doctors. The great results we have experienced ultimately are due to His presence, His love, and His grace.

David went through many difficulties in his life. He had a mighty army to protect him. He was wise and resourceful himself. He was a great warrior, and also a man of compassion. Still, he was obedient to the Lord. When he had opportunity to take the kingship to which he had been anointed by killing Saul, he refrained, lest he lift his hand against one who had been anointed by God. He recognized God’s presence and protection in His life, and always wanted to do things in God’s timing. When he could have boasted of his own greatness, he wanted others to know that God was the one who did the work. “Help me, Lord my God; save me according to your unfailing love. Let them know that it is your hand, that you, Lord, have done it.” (Psalm 109:26-27)

How easy it is to leave God out of the picture when things are going well. We get so wrapped up in the good things happening that we begin to think that it’s all due to our own cleverness or hard work. The minute things change and something goes wrong, we look to God and wonder why. We immediately want to blame God. David’s example was to recognize God’s hand in everything, especially the good things. For most of us, our ego gets in the way. We forget that it was God who gave us the abilities. It was God who gave us the strength to do the hard work. It was God who helped us develop those relationships. God has given all of us different gifts and strength. When we use those gifts and strengths and are “successful” in life, we need to remember to honor God. Ultimately, it all comes back to Him.

The question needs to be raised about those who are not “successful” in life. Why did God “forget” them. For the first part of that question I would say that many did not take advantage of the gifts and strengths that God gave them. Troubles came and rather than depending on God, they depended on themselves and things spiraled downward. For others I would say that maybe we need to rethink the definition of success. Who is more successful? The CEO of a company who got there clawing and scratching, and stepping on others on the way up; who has two or three failed marriages and kids he doesn’t really know or a simple family man who is barely making it financially but has a loving family around him. Too often we define success in financial terms. God defines success in terms of relationship: relationship with Him and with others. As you look at your own life would you define yourself as a self-made person, or would you give glory to God by recognizing His hand in your life through the ages?

Lord God, I do recognize that You are the one who did the work in this battle we have had against cancer. I praise You for the results so far and I pray for continued good results. I pray for Your people in this world. Help us to be successful in Your eyes. Help us model that success to a world that would exchange a good relationship with You for mere financial success.

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August 23 – The Danger of Tolerance

Psalm 109:21-31; Ezekiel 20:18-32; Revelation 3:7-13

Tolerance is one of the greatest virtues in our society today. We are to tolerate people’s life choices, profane language, and any other difference we may have. In some cases, people are very intolerant if you do anything less than celebrate a life choice that someone makes even if it stands directly opposed to Scriptural principles. We even have churches that will celebrate other religions so much that they will invite them in to participate with them in worship. Those other religions are treated as co-equal with Christianity because, after all, it doesn’t matter what you believe, just so long as you believe.

I have no problem seeking to understand the beliefs of other people. We need to understand each other. We need to show love to each other. When people make bad life choices we still need to love them. That being said what each of these people need is exactly what I need – the grace of God. When we accept, celebrate even, lifestyles that are contrary to Scripture do we not anger God? When we celebrate other religions as having beliefs equal to Christianity do we not cause anger also? Ezekiel recounted the words of God talking about the Israelites as they entered the Promised Land. They too were open to the beliefs and alternate life styles of others. “When I brought them into the land I had sworn to give them and they saw any high hill or any leafy tree, there they offered their sacrifices, made offerings that aroused my anger, presented their fragrant incense and poured out their drink offerings.” (Ezekiel 3:28)

The sons of Israel entered the Promised Land and we see in these words some actions that may not have been mentioned directly in the historical writings. They immediately sought after the gods of the land. They didn’t hesitate to worship those other gods with their sacrifice and offerings. They, in fact, angered God. They celebrated the religions of the land that they came into rather than celebrating the God who had seen them through all the difficulties they had coming into the Promised Land. They failed to honor the God who had brought them into the Promised Land, or at least failed to honor Him exclusively. That’s the thing about God: there is no “I believe in God and…” anything. We are called to commit to Him, and Him alone. We are called to love people as He loves them. That doesn’t mean loving their sin, though. It means loving them and showing them the grace God has to forgive their sins. I don’t think it means beating people over the head with their sins, standing around with big signs condemning those sins, or attacking people with certain sins. I think it means showing them the love of God who forgives them because of the sacrifice of Jesus.

Too often people feel the weight of condemnation for their sins. As Christians, we have been great about making people feel separated from God by emphasizing the terrible nature of their sins. Often, we do that so well that people think there is no hope; that God couldn’t love them because their sin is so bad. The key to helping people know the love of God is not showing tolerance and acceptance; the key is showing God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness no matter what the sin may be. When we tolerate others, we leave them wallowing in life just like they were wallowing before. When we love them and show them the mercy of God that can forgive any sin, we give them the opportunity to get things right with God. Isn’t that what it means to bring the gospel of Jesus to others.

Oh Lord, I live in a splintered society that too often ignores Your mercy and grace. I know that because too often I am more willing to tolerate others than to love them and show them Your mercy. Give me the grace to be the witness You need me to be. Help me to love others as You love them.

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August 22 – Encouragement

Psalm 109:21-31; Ezekiel 20:1-17; Hebrews 3:7—4:11

If you have ever been to an area famous for its night life you may have been overwhelmed by the neon, the glitz, and the glitter. The finest cars in the city show up for a night that will likely include lots of drinking, perhaps some gambling, and many people trying to “get lucky.” (to put it delicately) There are going to be deals going down somewhere close by that involve illegal drugs. On the fringes, where the neon doesn’t reach, people will be robbed. Were you to wake up the next morning and visit that same area in the early sunlight that was all glitz and glamour the night before you would find an ugly, dirty, messy street. You might even wonder why you were so enamored the night before.

Sin has a way of disguising itself. When we look straight at sin, it often appears glamourous. It is enticing. It is fun. It appears to be freedom. When you get beyond the glitz of sin and see the effects it has on yourself or on others, it is disgusting. Often, we don’t recognize that truth until we are trapped in our sin and rather than repent and let God’s grace and mercy forgive us, we begin justifying our sinful actions. After all, if we can feel good about our sin, it must be ok, right? And the more we justify our sins to the outside world, the more our inner conscience reminds us of the truth. The key to righteous living, then, is to avoid getting ensnared by sin. The author of Hebrews helps us in our quest to live lives that bring honor to God. “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” (Hebrews 3:13)

We are reminded to encourage each other today. The author makes that point that our encouragement must happen today. Many people after attending a funeral wonder why the person honored at the funeral never got that applause in life. It’s a good point. God’s word reminds us to encourage each other daily. Sometimes that encouragement may mean that we remind someone of God’s grace when they begin traveling down the road that leads to the entanglements of sin. That kind of encouragement is rarely welcomed, but it is so necessary. The usual response is “Don’t judge me! What about your sin?” So rather than emulate the person we are seeking to encourage, perhaps the best response is, “You’re right. I do have that sin in my life. Will you pray right now that God will give me the grace to overcome it and I will pray that God will give you the grace to overcome your sin.”

Part of sin’s deceitfulness is that we often begin to think that sin is what the other person has. We don’t recognize it on ourselves. Too often we get defensive when our own sins are mentioned. Perhaps we need to remember that when we see that sin in others. The key, then, is to approach life simply. Encourage each other daily. When you see someone struggling with sin, encourage them to gain strength to overcome that sin. When you see someone ensnared by sin, encourage them by offering to pray for them and be willing to accept it when someone calls out your sin. Most importantly, do all this showing the grace and love of Jesus to other people in a spirit of humility. I’ve even heard of people who will encourage others by asking those friends to pray that they might overcome a sin similar to the one they recognize in others. Whatever you do, encourage each other daily…today.

Lord God, I need Your encouragement each and every day. Encourage me by Your word. Convict me of my need to repent. Give me the grace to live each day in Your love. Then, help me to be an encouragement to others.

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August 21 – No Good Deed

Isaiah 58:9b-14; Psalm 103:1-8; Hebrews 12:18-29; Luke 13:10-17

We’ve all heard the statement that “no good deed goes unpunished.” In fact, we’ve all probably thought that as we’ve tried to help people in difficult circumstances only to have something happen that makes us regret helping them. I believe that it is human nature to want to help others; at the same time, it is human nature to take advantage of those who are helping. And so, even though we have negative consequences for helping, when someone else needs help, we respond. Often we suffer the consequences of our helping attitude but we don’t give up. Why do we do it?

There is a lot of talk about helping others throughout the Bible. In all the times that God speaks about helping others, He never calls on us to expect our good deeds to be praised. In fact, Jesus pointed out that if you seek men’s praise for your good deeds, you will get that reward, but miss a far greater reward. God wants to be the one who rewards us when we do good. “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.” (Isaiah 58:9b-10)

God’s rewards are not always tangible. In this passage, God talks about our deeds causing us to become light in a dark area. I believe that this talks about our stature among people and our ability to spread God’s grace to others. God’s word speaks to getting rid of oppression. This is a theme that comes up again and again throughout the Bible. It is so easy to become an oppressor. We gain a position of power and we forget those who aren’t in our social group. We forget that people judge our character more by how we treat the custodians and the waiters in our lives than in how we treat the CEOs. God obviously didn’t understand political campaigns since we are called to get rid of finger-pointing and malicious talk. Imagine what would happen if people campaigned on their own ideas instead of telling us how rotten the other guy is! We are called personally to care for the hungry. We are called personally to take care of those who are oppressed by our culture or our religious leaders. The reward we gain will probably not be financial. We may go broke caring for others. We may be swindled. Still, God calls us to care for the hungry and the oppressed.

Our reward for following God here won’t come in the form of cash, most likely. Our reward comes in who we become as a person. Our reward comes in the form of credibility as we share the gospel. Ultimately our reward comes in knowing that we are obedient to our Heavenly Father and the feeling of gratitude we gain in serving Him. Some people make this service to others a full time lifestyle. Others serve as God gives opportunity. Whatever your situation may be check your life and your actions. Do you free others from oppression or do you aid in the oppression? Do you help feed the hungry or do you ignore those in need? Our joy as followers of Christ is not found in material things; our joy as followers of Christ is found in following Him without reservation. While it seems to be true that no good deed goes unpunished in life; all good deeds bring joy as we celebrate our relationship with God serving others.

Oh Lord, how easy it is to become discouraged as we help others. I realize that I can never give enough; I run into ingratitude or am overwhelmed by the needs of others. Give me Your heart to care for the needs of others. Let me understand that faithfulness to You is my calling.

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August 20 – Sabbath

Psalm 103:1-8; Nehemiah 13:15-22; Luke 6:1-5

As the school year gets ready to start, with me not doing so for the first time in 25 years, I look back nostalgically and think about some of the things I used to do. I loved planning fun activities/projects for kids to do where they would have to learn the techniques they were supposed to use along the way. To me, that made learning more real. It got frustrating for me when students immediately announced that this was “boring.” (I used to take it personally until I started seeing some kids on social media, kids with computers, cell phones, video games, cable TV, post something like “Text me, I’m bored.”) I tried to encourage those students who “knew” that this was going to be boring to try it out because it would be fun. Finally, in exasperation, when all else failed I would look at them menacingly and say something like, “Do it! You’re going to have fun whether you like it or not!” Whereupon we would laugh and the students would reluctantly have a great time.

I think we approach a lot of God’s commands like my students approached my lessons. God tells us to “Do this,” and we roll our eyes and think to ourselves, “Bore–ring.” God tries to show us why His way is best for us and we stare off into the sky, patting our feet waiting for the “lecture” to finish. One of the most important concepts God has designed to make life better is the Sabbath. He commanded a day of rest for His people. Our bodies need rest. We function better with a day of rest. The Pharisees understood this, but they squeezed the enjoyment out of this rest by dictating all sorts of rules and regulations that people needed to obey so that they could keep the Sabbath properly; sort of like a rubric for the Sabbath to put it in words my educator friends could understand. One Sabbath, the disciples of Jesus ran afoul of the rules and there were Pharisees around to call Jesus on His improper teaching. “Then Jesus said to them, ‘The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.’” (Luke 6:5)

In making their rubric for the Sabbath, the Pharisees sucked the joy and the purpose out of God’s plan for rest. Their attitude wasn’t “sit back, relax, and enjoy your day of rest.” Their attitude was “You’re going to enjoy this Sabbath whether you like it or not.” If you happened to be hungry on the Sabbath, don’t fix any food. Jesus was admonished for healing on the Sabbath because that was work. The Sabbath police were even stricter than the Grammar police on the internet. The Sabbath rules, instead of inducing rest, created anxiety. People worried so much about following the rules to keep the Sabbath properly, according to the Pharisees, that they didn’t experience the benefits of the Sabbath that God had planned for His people.

Many, but not all Christians, myself included, observe the Lord’s Day (Sunday) as our day of rest. We celebrate the resurrection each Sunday by making that day our day of rest and worship. The concept remains the same: we need a sabbath from the rat race of life. We need a day to pull back where we aren’t focused on trying to get ahead or make a buck. We need that time of relaxation because it is physically impossible to keep going 110% of the time, focused on our goals to succeed. Our bodies need rest. God set that example of resting so that we would see how important it is to rest and recharge. If you are one of those people who is always going 110%, 8 days a week, take a sabbath and see how much more alert you are to do all those things you need to.

Lord, You give rest to Your beloved. Help me to take a day of rest, to recharge my physical batteries and, through worship, my spiritual batteries. Remind me that Your Sabbath was made for me to enjoy life and not meant as a law to produce guilt. Let me rest in You.

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August 19 – Messin’ with Power

Psalm 103:1-8; 2 Chronicles 8:12-15; Acts 17:1-9

“Jim” was the man, in the Jim Croce song, “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim.” He ruled the town – at least 42nd street. Messing around with him was like tugging at Superman’s cape. No one went crosswise with him, until “Slim” came around and turned the power structure of 42nd Street upside down by taking Jim out and ruling the roost himself.

People in power are very protective of their power. We notice that in business and government especially. It’s been that way for a long time. Paul and his companions discovered that in Thessalonica. Paul went there, preached in the synagogue for a few weeks, and many people came to Christ. He upset two power structures: the power in the synagogue and the power in the town. So, a mob came looking for Paul and company. “But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city officials, shouting: ‘These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.’” (Acts 17:6-7)

The King James translates this with the words “These that have turned the world upside down…” In other words, the Thessalonicans were saying, “These guys messed everything up in other places, but they aren’t going to do it now. We aren’t going to let them turn our world upside down.” The gospel does that, you know. It sets the captives free. Those in slavery to their sin and held captive by those who profit from that slavery throw off the shackles of their sin. Once that happens, those who profit from keeping people in their current condition lose out. The leaders of the synagogue didn’t like it. The leaders in the town didn’t like it. The Jewish leaders joined in that now familiar scare tactic designed to root out groups like those led by Paul: “they say that there’s a king other than Caesar, one called Jesus.” Yes, even those Jewish leaders who had probably proclaimed that there was no King but God; they too joined in the attacks on Christians. Their world was turning upside down and they placed the blame on Paul and his companions.

I joke with my friends from Australia occasionally and talk about them walking upside down. They will retort that WE are the ones walking upside down. The truth is that we are all walking upside down until we develop a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Paul and his companions didn’t turn the world upside down, they turned it right-side up. When we are lost in our sins without Jesus Christ in our lives nothing is right. We live each day wondering why something is missing. We wander around wondering what’s wrong. The truth is that we don’t have a sense of direction in life because we are upside down in our relationship with God. It is only when we realize that there is only one king, called Jesus, and we ask Him to control our lives that our world is turned right-side-up. Once we are right side up, it changes our outlook on the world. We recognize God’s hand in all parts of life. We also feel the weight of the responsibility to share His grace and love with others. Paul lived with that responsibility and privilege each day. It didn’t bring him financial success; it brought him joy in His relationship with God. For that joy, he gladly endured the pain of persecution.

Lord God, it’s so easy to claim to follow You, but walk on my hands. When I get turned upside down in my relationship with You, turn me right side up. Let all my relationships be right side up because You are in the center of them.

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