A Kernel of Wheat

Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. John 12:23-26

A Grain of Wheat

A Grain of Wheat

This short parable from Jesus is about the cost of salvation and followship. What did it cost God to rescue humanity from the power, penalty, and problem of sin? EVERYTHING! He sacrificed Himself by stepping out of heaven and into flesh in the person of Jesus Christ to die on the cross to provide forgiveness and life for humanity. Philippians 2 tells us that God emptied Himself by taking on the form of a man, humbling Himself by becoming obedient to death on a cross… Simply stated, our life required His death.

As a result of His gracious act of mercy, the cross now requires something of each of us – EVERYTHING! Just as Christ died to sin to give us life, now we must die to self and to the ambitions of this world to lay hold of Him by faith. His death provides life eternal, but our faith response requires our surrender to His death. Galatians 2:20 explains that when I by faith embrace the grace of God unto salvation that a wonderful and miraculous miracle takes place – “I become crucified with Christ…” In Luke 9:23-26, Jesus said that if a person would desire to follow Him, he must deny himself and take up his cross… He then concludes, what does it profit a man to gain the world but forfeit his soul. Meaning, my faith in His death requires my surrender.

In John 12, Jesus simply says, “True life can only come through death – so let me show you the way!” Jesus is the only way, the only truth, and the only life – no person can come into a relationship with God except through Him.

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Courage Matters

Benaiah son of Jehoiada, a valiant fighter from Kabzeel, performed great exploits. He struck down Moab’s two mightiest warriors. He also went down into a pit on a snowy day and killed a lion. And he struck down a huge Egyptian. Although the Egyptian had a spear in his hand, Benaiah went against him with a club. He snatched the spear from the Egyptian’s hand and killed him with his own spear. Such were the exploits of Benaiah son of Jehoiada; he too was as famous as the three mighty warriors. He was held in greater honor than any of the Thirty, but he was not included among the Three. And David put him in charge of his bodyguard.

2 Samuel 20:20-23

Lion Chaser

Lion Chaser

Benaiah was the man. He was bold. He was obviously cunning. He was the definition of courageous. After all, who in their right mind chases after lions? Those who have the spirit of Benaiah. In Benaiah we discover that the path to a person’s greatest potential is often directly through their great fears. Let me state it another way. That which appeared to Benaiah as a scary lion turned out to be the basis of his reputation and success. Chasing his lion, his fears, was one of the key events God used to define his life. That’s because life’s greatest opportunities often come disguised as God-sized challenges.

To me, one of the big questions of 2 Samuel 23 is — how big is your God? This might be one of the most important questions we ever ask ourselves. How big is your God? A.W. Tozier once said, “A low view of God is the cause of a hundred lesser evils. but a person with a high (or large) view of God is relieved of ten thousand temporal problems.” In other words, a small view of God leads to significant problems while a large view of God solves them. This is the difference between lion chasers and scaredy-cats. Scaredy-cats try to avoid any and all situations where the odds are against them while lion chasers understand that impossible odds simply set the stage for God to show up and act like God. IT Matters — we never allow human odds to dictate or determine our Divine calling or conviction.

God is bigger than our problems. He is bigger than our worst fears and failures. He is bigger than our greatest fears. He is bigger! And IT Matters!

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The Power of a Pregnant Pause

Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, “I gave birth to him in pain.” Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request. 1 Chronicles 4:8-9

Pregnant Pause

Pregnant Pause

A pregnant pause. There is always something to note in a pregnant pause. In 1 Chronicles 4:8-9, we find such a pause. In the midst of sharing the roll call of the family tree of Israel, God pauses to point out a person of significance. This is no small thing. After all, this is not God’s typical modus operandi – He is making an important point – a point we would do well to consider.

In Jabez we discover a man whose life journey began in pain. Pain was the banner written over his life from birth; but pain was not to be his destiny. For instead of accepting his plight in life, he determined to discover God’s plan. He didn’t settle for the ordinary when he could experience the power and blessing of an extraordinary God.

As a result of his faith in God, Jabez surrendered his life and sought the heart and will of God for his life. He wanted God’s best instead of the least and leftovers. He was not willing to live contently with what he could achieve in his own ingenuity and ability – he wanted more. He wanted the God- more! So he did the only thing he could do to experience God’s best. He abandoned himself completely to the glory and will of God. We discover this in his short, yet amazing prayer. And as a result, he has been distinctly remembered in the pages of Scripture not for what he did but for what he prayed – and for how God responded to his earnest prayer. I wonder… would your prayer life be the distinction of your life or the extinction of your life? Is your life defined by your pursuit of God or your pursuits of gods?

The prayer Jabez lifted to the Father was simple: (1) Will You BLESS me so that my life will count for eternity; (2) Will You ENLARGE me so that I can live outside my comfort zone for a greater reach for Your glory; (3) Will You WALK with me so that I might experience Your guidance, Your power, and Your provision; and (4) Will You PROTECT me so that my life can accomplish everything according to Your will.

And God did! Thank God for those life lessons that occur in the midst of a pregnant pause. IT Matters!

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The Courage to Confront

The Lord sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him. “Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.” David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.” Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! 2 Samuel 12:1-7

Courage

Courage

The story of Nathan confronting King David is one of the more powerful and profound moments in the Old Testament. In speaking on the text, J. Vernon McGee said, “In my judgment, Nathan is the bravest man in the Bible. I know of no one who can be compared to him.” When you consider what was asked of him and what was at stake, I would most certainly agree with McGee. Just how much courage does it take to confront a brother in sin? Even more, just how much courage does it take to confront the King who is in sin and has to power to extinguish your life? This is what Nathan faced when God called him to go to David.

Now it is important to note from Scripture that we are all called as followers of Christ to spur one another along towards love and good deeds. Galatians 6:1-2 reminds us we all need people in our lives who are willing to hold us accountable to following Christ and walking in holiness. Simply stated, we all need people in our lives who care whether or not we are living in righteousness or in sin — and they are willing to speak up and into our lives to encourage us in the pursuit of Christ. We need both accountability and editability.

Here is the simple reality — holiness matters. And to walk in holiness requires accountability. It requires having someone who is willing to speak into your life to spur you on to faithfulness. And should we stumble, we need someone to speak up so that we don’t believe the lies we are employing to justify our position. Not only do we need such people in our lives, we must be such a person for others. Secret sin can never be our friend. I think this is why Spurgeon once said, “You say that you can handle your secret sins, that there is no one hurt by them. But you may as well ask the lion to let you put your head into his mouth. You cannot regulate his jaws; neither can you regulate sin. Once done, you cannot tell when you will be destroyed. You may put your head in and out a great many times; but one of these days it will be a costly venture.” Costly indeed. And also bloody,embarrassing, and devastating.

We all need a Nathan in our life. And we all need to become a Nathan to others for their well-being too. We need people who will love us enough that they will have the courage and calling to confront us when we need them — and we need to have the courage and calling to help our brother who is in need. IT Matters!

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Achan for a Break’in

But keep away from the devoted things, so that you will not bring about your own destruction by taking any of them. Otherwise you will make the camp of Israel liable to destruction and bring trouble on it. All the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron are sacred to the Lord and must go into his treasury. Joshua 6:18-19

Holy to God

Holy to God

I have to wonder if Achan was asleep when God issued this order. Surely he didn’t just defy a direct command from God? Could it be he was outside the camp feeding the camels or that he arrived to the battle late because he over slept? Even still, did no one tell him what Joshua declared as a command of God or did he simply defy a direct declaration from God?

There is something inside of me that wants to give Achan the benefit of the doubt, but clearly his decision to take those items devoted to God didn’t happen by accident or because he missed the memo – he deliberately defied the command of God. And the result of his actions had a terrific ripple effect throughout a nation.

Now before we jump on Achan and smear his name for his actions, might we take a gander at our own actions and attitudes first?  Truth is there is a little Achan in all of us. There is a small part of us that thinks the rules don’t apply to us. There is a tiny belief that we’re special and God will let us slip by because of His grace. There is that small part in us that just doesn’t quite believe that our disobedience to God’s Word is really that significant. There is a small part of us that thinks no one will notice the sin we are harboring and that it is not really that big a deal. We think what we are doing isn’t hurting anyone and that it is no big deal in our own lives. BUT IT IS A BIG DEAL. All sin is a big deal to a holy God who desires holiness for His people and intimacy with His people. Consider the words of the apostle Peter:

Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy. 1 Peter 1:13-15

I wonder what kinds of things each of us might be harboring in our lives today that are hurting ourselves and others. I wonder what things we have tapped as insignificant that are significantly impacting our relationship with God and others. As we discover in the story of Achan, God doesn’t miss anything. And in His jealousy for intimacy and holiness, He will not tolerate our rebellion but will work to uphold righteousness for our sake and for His glory.

Take record today and consider your thoughts and actions. And should you have stumbled, then follow the prescription set forth in 1 John:

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:8-9

It matters.

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Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  Romans 12:14-21

As I reflect on this passage I am reminded that possibly the greatest deterrent to people coming to know Christ as their Savior is the behavior of those who call themselves Christians.  Let’s face it, sometimes it is really hard to be like Christ in the face of all the sin and injustice in our world. Sometimes it would be nice to have a little bit of justice this side of heaven – or so it would seem. And while we all understand that Christians are far from perfect, there does seem to be a higher expectation on those who profess Christ than on those who don’t.  

I think Paul is reminding us of our responsibility to represent Christ in this world and is reminding us of the essential of surrender.  Paul is testifying to the characteristics of a surrendered soul in ministering Jesus to a lost and dying world. Notice that our behavior doesn’t look like the flesh. Instead, our actions and attitudes look more like Christ. Such activity can only be derived by one’s surrender.  This is the manifestation of Christ in you living through you to ministry Jesus to those who do not know Him.  And once again, it all goes back to Romans 12:1-2 – because of the mercy and grace of God experienced in salvation, a believer is compelled to offer his body to God as a living sacrifice so that he might know and experience God’s will. This requires that a believer not conform to the patterns of this world, but instead, that he allows God’s Word, will, and Spirit to transform and sculpt his life for His good pleasure. Before this can occur, a person must recognize the truth of his personhood in light of the majesty of God which affords a fantastic collision of our surrender and humility which generates the love of God both within and outside the church. 

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Compelled by His Love

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Romans 12:9-13

Loving god

Loving god

When I read this passage in light of the previous few verses that includes spiritual gifts, it reminded me of Paul’s words to the believers in Corinth (see 1 Corinthians 13). Paul concludes – it is wonderful and amazing that God has given every believer a spiritual gift to accompany His Divine calling, but if our primary motivation is not the love of God, then we have missed the point (for the love of Christ compels us2 Corinthians 5:14). This means that it is Christ in us living through us as evidence by the agape love of God which supersedes everything. If we are not genuinely moved by the love of God, then we are a just a clanging cowbell that the world is either annoyed by or never hears. It is His love in me shining through me that matters most. This does not mean that our gifting and calling are not important – they are. Instead, it means there is a higher calling of surrender and intimacy with God that manifests itself in the expression of His love through our lives that ultimately defines the quality and vitality of our faith and His grace. Let me say it in another way. While our gifting and calling might have influence upon another person’s life; it is the love of God in me living through me that will have the greater impact on others for the cause of Christ. It is His love in me and not my gift that makes the difference.

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Thinking of Self Correctly

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. Romans 12:3-8

Think Right

Think Right

In Romans 12:3-8, we discover that God has granted every believer the wonderful blessing of participating in something greater and more important than himself – the body of Christ. God has even provided special gifts to make us inter-dependent upon one another and together dependent upon Him – that we may spur one another along toward love and Great Commission acts of service. To participate in such a grand community of faith requires two items – a willingness to be engaged in the life of the faith community and an accurate perspective of who we are.

In verse 3, Paul gently reminds us to neither think too highly or too lowly of our selves – but to think accurately of ourselves. This is true humility. Humility is never conceited, and yet it can have confidence. Humility is never arrogant, and yet, it most certainly can possess competence. So to rightly understand who we are (and whose we are) can breed us the ability to be steadfast, immoveable, and always abounding in the work of the Lord with great faithfulness while never allowing our God-given talents and abilities to get the big-head thinking it is all about us. As one surrendered on the altar of God as a living sacrifice (see Romans 12:1-2), it is only reasonable to embrace that my life is not just for God’s purposes, but also for God’s people. And yet, so long as I have an inaccurate view (not God’s view) of my life – thinking either too much or too little of myself – I will find that I will not serve others thinking I’m too good for such a role,  or I will never allow others to serve me thinking I am not good enough to be served.

So take a step back and take in a deep spiritual breath this day to consider that no matter who you are, what you have or have not achieved, whether you think you are good or bad – you are nothing more and nothing less than a person in desperate need of the grace and favor of God.  Your worth is not found in anything other than the amazing grace of God – all else is folly.  And suppose that along life’s journey you have discovered and embraced His grace, then consider that He has now called you to be His hands, His feet, and His voice to others as you seek first His kingdom and righteousness. You are not your own.

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