REDEEMED: The Unfamily Becomes Family

Last week, I invited you to think about your faith story and how you are different because of the grace of Jesus Christ. If it wasn’t for his mercy and his grace, we would not be able to experience hope, joy, love, and peace in this world. We would constantly shift from emotion to emotion. That kind of rollercoaster emotional ride is challenging. But because of the firm foundation Christ’s grace can and does offer, we are able to experience the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth.

As you think about your life before and after Jesus Christ, think about how powerful it is to have gone from not knowing the family of God to coming into full knowledge of what it means to be part of the family of God. We really go from not feeling like we belong to realizing that through God’s grace we can become his children and have a Father in heaven we belong to (John 1:12).

The story of Ruth is a great story of redemption. Throughout this season of Lent, we have been examining and discussing our redemption through Jesus Christ. I invite you to read this week’s passage, Ruth 4:13-17. To put this passage into context, feel free to read the entire book (it’s only 4 chapters long).

Ruth decided she was not going to leave Naomi, her mother in law, as she was going back to her home land. Naomi had lost her husband and her sons, so she had no more family ties where she was living. Naomi was lost. Ruth, a Moabite (foreigner), her daughter in law, said she was not going to leave her. Naomi told Ruth to stay and get a new husband. Ruth did not listen to the request, and went on with Naomi.

I wonder if you have ever felt like Naomi at times. Walked through times when it seems like no one else would be there for you. Even wondered whether or not you belonged. In times like this, we would try to turn down the offer of our friends and family to be with us because we would not want to burden them.

But, aren’t you eventually glad there are people who stick by us even when we don’t want them to, or ask them to? We should be joyful we have people that want to be with us in times of grief, despair, loneliness. However, there are times when it just feels like we don’t belong.

I am sure there are people who might read this blog post today who find themselves in this situation. I am sure there are people who are wanting and are trying to show their friends they are loved, they belong. These are people we should keep in our lives.

See, when we read the story of Ruth, we can see how Naomi lost her family and Ruth was not part of a family (after her husband died). This can leave us in a pit of despair. But God. Those two words change everything about our lives and our circumstance. But God used Naomi’s one of relatives (Boaz) to restore their position in society and put them back in relationship with a family. Ruth bore a son. It is through her lineage that came our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Just like Naomi and Ruth finding a new place in a family, we find that Jesus Christ brings us into his family. We are grafted into the family of the King of kings. We belong. As we look at the cross, we see just how much Jesus wanted to have us know the love and grace of God.

You belong. Trust and know that God loves you.

If there has been someone who has walked with you through hard times, I invite you to find a way to say “thank you.”

May the joy of the Living God continue to fill you life with a sense of joy and of belonging.

NOTE: This is based upon a sermon series concept posted on www.seedbed.com called “Redemption.”

REDEEMED: Out of Egypt

This week, I want you to think about what your defining story. This would be a story that defines your life journey from where you were to where you are, and are going.

The defining story of the Hebrew people is the Exodus, the escape from Egypt. I invite you to read the passage for this week, Exodus 12.

Now if you had a story like the Hebrew people, you would definitely remember what happened and how your past changed you into the person you are today. This is one of the things we should reflect upon during the season of Lent. When we remember where we have been, we keep in focus who we are being formed into. The question we need to keep thinking about is, “what are we being transformed into?”

The Israelites moved to Egypt as a family of 70 people (see Genesis 47-50) and grew into millions of people in the next 400 or so years (Exodus 1). There came a time when the Pharaoh of Egypt forgot about Joseph, the son of Jacob (Israel), and enslaved the Hebrew people for fear become too numerous and too powerful and they would take over the country of Egypt.

So, the Israelites were praying for deliverance from the oppression they lived in each and every day. There were times, I am sure, the people lost hope at times because their situation had not improved.

But God did not forget the people of Israel, and raised up a man of power to deliver the people of Israel out of the slavery of Egypt. This man was Moses. Moses was not who the Hebrews thought would be their deliverer; but God showed otherwise. God used Moses, who was raised as Egyptian royalty by Pharaoh’s daughter, and knew how to move through the governmental system to get to the right person, Pharaoh himself.

Moses was still not the right person in the Hebrew people’s eyes because he murdered and Egyptian for beating one of the Hebrew people. He had to flee because he was going to get found out. Moses ended up spending the next forty years in the desert as a shepherd.

When the time was right, God called to Moses and had him go back to Egypt. The unlikely person of Moses, now 80 years old, was going to lead millions of Hebrew people out of Egypt.

Whenever the Exodus story is told, they remember the faithfulness and power of the God who delivered them from slavery and lead them into freedom.

Now, what about your defining story? What was it you were enslaved to before you met Jesus Christ and lead into freedom and salvation (the presence of God). Or, what is holding you back from entering into the freedom God gives? What are you enslaved to? Addiction? Porn? Alcohol? Money? Fame? Pride? News? Self?

There are many things that can and do enslave us, especially when we allow ourselves to stay in that state of being. It can get so bad that we can lose hope that everything will not get better.

God constantly showed His people his faithfulness and His power throughout the Exodus redemption story. He does so today to. My friends, God has placed the right people in our lives to help us hear and experience His grace and His presence. He has been right there with you your whole life.

Because of the grace of God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit we have the opportunity to fully experience and embrace love, mercy, grace, God himself. We are different after an encounter with God.

This week, as you take time to reflect on who you were before you met Jesus Christ personally, thank Him for changing your life and bringing your freedom. If you have not yet experienced grace, why not? Why would we allow ourselves, or other people in a state of life that is not joyful?

The story of God is written all through your life. How will you remember it? How will you tell it?

NOTE: This is based upon a sermon series concept posted on www.seedbed.com called “Redemption.”

Lacking One Thing

Mark 10:17-22 CEB “As Jesus continued down the road, a man ran up, knelt before him, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to obtain eternal life?” Jesus replied, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except the one God. You know the commandments: Don’t commit murder. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t steal. Don’t give false testimony. Don’t cheat. Honor your father and mother.” “Teacher,” he responded, “I’ve kept all of these things since I was a boy.” Jesus looked at him carefully and loved him. He said, “You are lacking one thing. Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me.” But the man was dismayed at this statement and went away saddened, because he had many possessions.”

This is a story I am sure we are very familiar with. Most of us, my guess is, have heard this in relation to sacrificing ourselves and our possessions to follow Christ. But, what if there is another layer we should look at? What is there is a deep truth here about the human condition and about us? Let’s look at what’s going on here.

A rich young man comes along to Jesus, kneels down, and asked what is necessary for eternal life. We have to pause here and see what “eternal life” is. We hear it mainly as a place and state of being we will be after we pass on from this life into life eternal – being in the eternal presence of God. This is partly true; but there is also the aspect of eternal life here and now which is the quality of life we can have and live in knowing the presence and Kingdom of God all around us.

After this, he goes on to say that he has kept all of the commandments from when he was a little boy. Jesus then tells the man, “you lack one thing.” If we’re paying attention to the commandments listed, we can see they only refer to the last 6, the ones that deal with human interactions with each other. He has completely left out one thing – God!

When Jesus doesn’t mention the first four commandments, we shouldn’t assume those didn’t matter. Instead, Jesus asks the man to do something that relates to his heart. Jesus asks the man to give up his possessions and then follow Christ. The man goes away sad because he had many possessions.

Have you felt this way? Are you in a position to understand the feelings of the man? Jesus doesn’t tell everyone to sell their possessions, but he does ask the man about his heart, about who his “god” really is.

We all can hold on to possessions or worldly honors. Possessions in and of themselves are not necessarily bad; but we can miss out on the Kingdom of God by holding on to something too tight. What do you think you’re holding on to that needs to be released so you can experience the Kingdom of God here and now?

Pride?

Arrogance?

Money?

Particular views?

Status?

Through this interaction, Jesus still loved the man. Jesus loves you and is with you too!

I invite you right now to pray and ask God what you’re holding on to and see what He says. We may want to walk away sad. It can be painful; but life in the Kingdom is incredible.

Click here for Sunday’s sermon “Where’s Your Heart” (Mark 10:17-31)

Stories

James 5:17-18 “Elijah was a person just like us. When he earnestly prayed that it wouldn’t rain, no rain fell for three and a half years. He prayed again, God sent rain, and the earth produced its fruit.”

There are incredible stories of God answering prayers throughout the Bible. Sometimes I think we do not think that God answers prayers in the same way as recorded in scripture; or we may believe that we are not as good as the people who had the answers to prayers.

One thing is for certain, the people mentioned in the Bible are real people who did their best to keep their hearts in tune with God. We do not have to worry about them being better than we are. They made mistakes as well; yet they still stayed faithful to God and hearing from Him.

There are people who have incredible stories of prayer and God’s answer to them. We can praise God for any answer He give: yes, no, not yet. Often times we hear of how a person prayed and God miraculously stepped in to deliver them from several kinds of situations (health failing, finances, work, etc). But what about those stories that do not get as much press or media attention?

Think for a moment about the times you know God has answered your prayers. Were they always the way you wanted them answered? Most likely not. Yet, we still have stories of how God answered prayers, even when we didn’t like the answer, to be an example of faithfulness to our Creator.

Jesus prayed for the cup of suffering to be taken away from Him; but He still followed through. You and I can be examples to show how we keep communication open with God, through our prayers, in all aspects of our lives.

What kinds of stories can you tell about God’s answers to your prayers? If this is something challenging to think of, I invite you to begin a Prayer Journal. In this journal, record the date, time, prayer you prayed and leave a space for answer. Every now and then go through this Prayer Journal to recall your prayers and see how many answers you received. This will be an incredible story of faithfulness that will make an impact not only on your life, but on the lives of your family and friends that will be able to help them in their walk with Jesus Christ.

God is Near

James 4:7-10 “Therefore, submit to God. Resist the devil, and he will run away from you. Come near to God, and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners. Purify your hearts, you double-minded. Cry out in sorrow, mourn, and weep! Let your laughter become mourning and your joy become sadness. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

Do you ever have those days where the scripture seems to beat you down? We can personalize scripture and, if we’re not careful, we’ll make it all about us and feel like it’s telling us what a bad person we are. Even throughout the Old Testament, I read grace. Specifically grace from God.

There is always hope. God has not abandoned. Jesus will not forsake. The Holy Spirit is with us and guiding us. This is where we are today with the passage. All week long, there have been times in the scripture (James 3:13-4:6) where it can seem like we have to have our lives perfect. Arrogance, pride, jealousy, selfish ambition, etc have all been talked about and discussed. I pray this is not where you are left, dwelling on any negative aspect you may view about yourself.

Today, we see something amazing. God is saying, “come near.” This doesn’t mean that God is far off and He is wanting us to go up to Him to be in His presence. God is already near to us. There are times when we feel like we are distant from God or that God is distant from us. God’s proximity to us is always the same. Our proximity to God is always the same. We will still feel distant because of a number of reasons: we know we sinned, how much sleep we got, how hungry we are, having a rough day or a rough week.

These are all reasons we feel distant from God, and I’m sure there are more. God says “come near.” When we realize He is already present among us, all we have to do is acknowledge His presence.

I invite you right now to pause, close your eyes, and thank God for His presence with you at this moment.

It is through these times when we realize we can still come close to God, even though we messed up, even though we feel low, that we can experience and live into the grace He gives. We have this opportunity to confess, repent, and allow God to purify us.

God will “lift you up.” I don’t take this to mean that He will automatically make everything better, or that He will wipe away consequences from our actions. He does make His presence known, and somehow gives us the strength and the power to endure the situation and allow Him to shine through us.

Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” What an incredible verse in scripture! The Apostle Paul is showing that he can handle and still live joyfully in every situation. He wasn’t saying that he can do anything he wants because Jesus said he could. Paul is saying that because of the power of Jesus Christ working through him, he is able to handle what comes his way.

I believe God does the same for you and for me. So, draw near to God, confess, repent, purify, humble yourself and see how God is working in you and through you.

We all need the power of Jesus Christ in our lives. It is through grace that we are able to be lifted up and brought to a place of knowing who and whose we are.

Lord God, you are close to us. Help us see you and experience your presence. We confess the ways We have gone against you….We pray for the strength to handle the situations in life and for your power and grace to shine through us. In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.

Faithful

James 4:4-6 “You unfaithful people! Don’t you know that friendship with the world means hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy. Or do you suppose that scripture is meaningless? Doesn’t God long for our faithfulness in the life he has given to us? But he gives us more grace. This is why it says, God stands against the proud, but favors the humble.”

Ouch! This is a tough passage for today. It could be easy to take this in the negative and run with it. I have known many people who use a scripture like this to degrade another person.

One of the questions we have to ask is, “what does it mean to be a friend of God?” David was (and is) classified as a man after God’s own heart. Moses and Abraham were considered “friends of God.” This is showing that we do not have to have perfect lives to be considered a “friend of God.”

So what does this phrase mean? The New Interpreters Bible commentary says, “For the ancients, to be friends with another person meant to see things the same way, to share the same outlook.” I think this is important. There are times in our life where our actions does not match the words we say, but we can still be considered a “friend of God” because we come back to God and see the world through His eyes. Being transformed in the image of Christ should mean that we begin to develop the eyes and the heart of Jesus Christ for the world.

We will not always see things the exact same way. In fact, I am okay with people disagreeing with anything I say or write. This is a chance to develop relationships and learn where people are. One of the things that seems to get us in trouble is when we stick to one point of view and not even allow people the opportunity to express how they came to their understanding.

The Proverb quoted is Proverb 3:34. A better word instead of proud might be “arrogant.” Arrogant means, “having or revealing an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities.” When we elevate ourselves above people, we are essentially devaluing them.

There are days this Proverb hits me right between the eyes. Those days, like today, I have to be careful. It could be easy to flat out say that I am right and you are wrong; but then where is the grace in that? I believe God wants us to have a humble, teachable spirit so we can be the people who allow Him to transform our lives to work with Him to transform the world.

It is the times when we believe, yet live a different standard than our faith says, that we are “unfaithful to God.” “You unfaithful people!” In other translations, the word “Adulterers!” is used. This is how serious the scriptures are showing God takes our relationship with Him. When we profess belief in Him and go another path, we are essentially “cheating” on Him with other ideologies and worldly living.

To be “friends with God,” is a way to show we are moving in His direction. Our lives point to Him. Even in the messed up parts of our life, we can still show people the grace that has been bestowed on us. Do we always get it right? No. But we can be humble and keep seeking to see life, the world and people as God sees them and have a heart that breaks when His heart breaks.

Lord, show us, through your eyes, the hurting and brokenness in this world so we can respond with grace and lead people to you. In Christ’s name, Amen.

Favortism

We have now begun our second week in our look into the book of James. This week, we look at verses that, on the surface, seem harsh; but in reality help us see an alternative way of living and thinking so we can truly live in freedom: freedom to love, freedom to serve, freedom to share God’s grace.

James 2:1-4 CEB “My brothers and sisters, when you show favoritism you deny the faithfulness of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has been resurrected in glory. Imagine two people coming into your meeting. One has a gold ring and fine clothes, while the other is poor, dressed in filthy rags. Then suppose that you were to take special notice of the one wearing fine clothes, saying, “Here’s an excellent place. Sit here.” But to the poor person you say, “Stand over there”; or, “Here, sit at my feet.” Wouldn’t you have shown favoritism among yourselves and become evil-minded judges? 

Our devotional time this week begins with favoritism. Who would you consider to be a favorite person to you? Who are your favorite people? If we look at it closely, our favorite people really fall into three categories: people who are just like us, people we aspire to be like/imitate, people who can do stuff for us. I believe it is okay to be drawn to people, especially when they help us draw closer to Christ.

We have favorite places to eat, favorite destinations, favorite times of year, favorite Bible verses. Since we have favorites, this also means that we have least favorite things or people we encounter. James warns us not to treat people better than others. Why should we not have “favorite” people or types of people?

I remember when I was younger, I had a desire to want to be part of some groups. But for some reason, I did not feel like I was part of the group. I wanted to bad to be part of their inner circle because I thought it would help be be a cooler and more interesting person. I was looking for favor from people and being drawn to those who I thought would have the best influence over my life and help me become a happier person by becoming more popular.

The flip side of being someone’s favorite is that, to some people, we are their least favorite. This does not feel good emotionally, and we can place our faith in people which means we forget who we are in Christ.

Instead of looking for qualities or certain personalities that we would want; what would it look like to be around the kind of people that God is calling us to? This means we’ll hang out with and be present (physically, mentally, emotionally) with those whom Jesus would. We’ll help people see that God created them and looks at them as a favorite. We get to extend God’s grace to all people we encounter.

Our challenge today is to talk with another person we may not consider as a favorite and help them see God’s grace in them.

Lord, you have created us and chosen us. Help us to be the people to shine with you and help others experience your love and grace. Amen.