21 Day Challenge – Day 6

The Beatitudes    Josh Kiser

Scripture: Matthew 5:3-12 (NIV)

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.  Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.  Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Observation

After a little research, I learned that the word “Beatitudes” comes from the Latin beatitudo, meaning “blessedness.” The phrase “blessed are” in each of the beatitudes implies a current state of well-being. To the people in Jesus’ day, the expression would have held the powerful meaning of “divine joy and perfect happiness”. So, literally,  each beatitude begins “Divinely happy and fortunate are”….

Now, As poetic and beautiful as the beatitudes read, I can surely tell you that the natural, human reaction to some of them does not line up with the way that Jesus closes each phrase. For example, do you feel “divine joy and perfect happiness” when you are being persecuted and feeling judged? When you feel as if you are “poor in spirit”, or lacking in your own ability and acknowledge the need for Godly help, do you feel divine joy? Do you have an overwhelming feeling of “perfect happiness” when you feel as if you are meek, or humble and submissive to something greater than you and your understanding? How difficult are those last to examples to live out in a culture and society where there is great importance placed on being strong, striving for independence, taking care of “me first”,  achievements…. and on an on?

Some of the beatitudes are easy to understand how they can play out as Jesus describes. Especially when you are looking at them in the context of God as the facilitator of the resulting reward. For instance, it is readily acceptable to believe that those who are “pure in heart” will see God or that those who are “peacemakers” will be called children of God. It makes sense that God would comfort those who mourn, especially in the context of the sorrow we feel for our own sin. And, of course, God would be merciful to those who show mercy!

Application

The challenge that sometimes arises, at least for me, is to take God’s entire word as truth and live it out accordingly. It’s easy to just take the things that we understand or can readily apply to our lives and call it our “faith”, hanging  our spiritual hat on those things and those things alone. I believe that we sometimes do that as a church (meaning the body of Christian believers as a whole) as well. We can tend to focus on the things that are easy for others to understand and apply to “win them” and then never really focus on the “deep” or difficult things that God asks of us and calls us to do.

The challenge for all of us is to approach the difficult things in the same way that we do the easy things. Let’s pursue the things that we don’t quite understand so that we can experience ALL that God has for us. Speaking specifically to the beatitudes, let’s all try to understand to the fullest what it means to be “meek”, “poor in spirit”, “merciful” and “pure in heart” in the eyes of God. Let’s allow ourselves to be in a position to be “persecuted for our righteousness” without bailing when the going gets tough or it effects our social status or merit in the work place. Let’s hunger and thirst for a life that looks like what God has always intended for us so that we can be filled in a way that only He can fill.

Today, I challenge you to join me in an effort to take ALL of His word as truth, not just what we find easy to believe, accept or live out. Let’s dig deeper to find a greater understanding. Let’s no longer “skim read” the Word of God, taking away only the “usual suspects” of verses that even some unbelievers have heard. Putting an end to the act of glossing over the verses and commands that we have difficulty understanding will only grant us the opportunity to truly experience the fullness of God’s plan and allow us to feel  “divine joy and perfect happiness”. Then, we all can say, “Blessed are we…”

Prayer

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your Word.  Give us the strength necessary to be honest with ourselves when we look in the mirror.  Help us find the desire to do more than just live a life with the label of a ‘Christian’ and do what is necessary to dig deeper into what Your Word says that should look like.  Help us see the commands, both easy and difficult, throughout the scriptures and reveal to us the importance of living out all of them; not just the convenient ones.

Father, we do know that we are blessed in so many ways.  We acknowledge the many blessings that come with simply living in this country.  But help us take a more proactive, rather than passive, approach to our faith.  Help us have a desire to live out the life that you have called us to live.  Thank you for Your love, Your passion and Your plan for us.  We desire to do more, because it is required and You are deserving!  In Your precious name, the mighty name of Jesus, Amen!

21 Day Challenge – Day 5

Jesus Heals a Paralytic  |  Matt Dawson

Scripture: Mark 2:1-5

When Jesus returned to Capernaum several days later, the news spread quickly that he was back home.  Soon the house where he was staying was so packed with visitors that there was no more room, even outside the door.  While he was preaching God’s word to them, four men arrived carrying a paralyzed man on a mat. 

They couldn’t bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, so they dug a hole through the roof above his head. Then they lowered the man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus.  Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “My child, your sins are forgiven.”

Observation

This has always been one of my favorite stories.  I’m not sure why I love it so much, but I always tend to notice when I read this story just how much this guys friends are willing to do to get him to Jesus.

I know it just says “4 guys” and they could be servants.  They could be employees.  They could be family members.  However, I like to think of these guys as friends.  We have reason to believe that this man was not always paralyzed.  I like to imagine that he was a guy full of life and vigor – able to do for his friends as they are doing for him know.  I picture a small group of men who have served together…. through thick and thin  – and now there buddy is hurt.  Now, he’s experiencing pain and a life of suffering if they can’t do something about it.

I think servants would have stopped when they realized that they couldn’t get in.  I think employees would have probably just parked outside of the house and waited with him until folks started to clear out of the house.  NOT HIS FRIENDS.  Not his brothers in life… they didn’t let the crowded place stop them from reaching Jesus. They wouldn’t stop until their friend had the opportunity to be healed… to get his life back.  So with incredible effort and creativity – they scaled a house, ripped through the roof and got him to Jesus.

Application

Am I this kind of friend?  I wonder this sometimes.  I think I am, but then again I’m kind  of selfish.  I like doing “my” thing and struggle to put my friends needs ahead of mine.    Would I have done EVERYTHING I COULD DO in that moment to help a friend get what he needed most?  Or would I let obstacles slow me down and make me feel like “we gave it our best effort” or “we sure did try” attitude that make us stop short of going the extra mile.

I want to be this kind of friend.  One that doesn’t take no for an answer.  I want to be someone who is willing to RISK for my friends.   To do things that others might think are crazy.   I want to be one who is willing to scale a wall – rip through a guys roof and do what others are unwilling to do to help a friend in need.  That’s the kind of friend I want to be!

Let’s face it – that’s the kind of friend that Jesus is described as in the NT.   A friend that sticks closer than a brother – one that is willing to give up his life… for His friends.

Prayer

Dear Jesus, you are a friend that sticks closer than a brother.  Help me be that kind of friend to others.  Give me a discerning spirit that knows when my friends are in need, and give me the courage to boldly ask others for help when I’m in need. 

Help me put others needs above my own, and give me the strength to RISK for my brothers when the time comes. 

It’s only by your power and grace that I will overcome my selfishness and be one of those guys on the roof – Jesus help me be a better friend.

Amen.

21 Day Challenge – Day 4

The Children Come to Jesus    Don Gentry

Scripture: Matthew 19:13-15 (NIV)

Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.  Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”  When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.

Observation

In this passage we see Jesus as our first children’s ministry worker.  At this point and time in his ministry he was considered a Rabbi. Unlike being a pastor in America, if you were a Rabbi in Jewish culture you were highly respected. Your opinion, time, and presence was highly valued, and it was an honor just to be around you.  Jesus took time to not just interact with the children and pat them on the head,  but also protect them and give them extreme value.

“The Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” would have been a very controversial statement.  Children were not valued.  There was a strong Roman influence upon the culture at this time as well. In the Roman world if you had more then one girl, or if your child had a weakness or disease, it was customary and socially acceptable to discard your child as if he/she were trash.  If it would be financially beneficial it was also acceptable to sell your child.

Jesus stands against the culture in so many ways in this short little passage that we often overlook the significance.  He is once again standing up for those who had no voice.  He used his influence to stand in the face of a culture that was very antagonistic to his teaching.  Not only did he confront the culture but he also chastised his followers for their behavior and gave value to an extremely vulnerable segment of society.

Application

I am so glad that we don’t live in a culture that devalues children.  In fact our culture might even give our children a little too much control over our society.  Regardless of our opinion on the matter, we can be challenged by this passage.

I encourage you to think through your attitude towards children.  Do they matter to you?  Do you just pat them on the head or do you take time to show them their value to you?  If so, what have you done to be an influence in their world today, this week, this month?

Children mattered to Jesus and they should matter to us too.  Will you take the time to figure out how you can use your influence to make a difference in the life of a child?

Prayer

Thank you Jesus for your amazing example of love and compassion.  As you always defended the weak and vulnerable, you showed us the value of all life.  Forgive me for not always viewing others as you view them.  Help me to not just value children, but help me to have a desire to want to make a difference in their world.  Amen.

21 Day Challenge – Day 3

The Lost Sheep    Joel McNelly

Scripture: Luke 15:1-7

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus.  But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”  Then Jesus told them this parable:  “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?  

And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’  I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

Observation

There is clear and prevailing advice for hikers and hunters, that if you are lost in the wilderness, you stay where you are and allow yourself to be found. Wandering makes it more difficult to be found, but staying put and signaling for help significantly increases your chances of being found. Seeking God is the same way. When we wander, we wonder where He is, when all along He is actively looking for us. When we stop trying to rescue ourselves, we can allow ourselves to be rescued by the only one who can truly rescue us from ourselves.

This story starts off with Jesus hanging out with “tax collector and sinners.” There is no right standing that we can achieve on our own that makes us worthy to be with Jesus. He meets us exactly where we are when we are willing to be found. The beautiful thing about this is that once you are found and established in Jesus’ flock, he can then leave you “in the open country” while he goes off to find the one who is lost. But first, you must be found by him yourself. This is a labor of love for Jesus. He calls those who have been found to rejoice WITH HIM when he finds each one. It brings Christ the utmost joy to rescue us.

Application

God’s love for you is so strong that he chases after you. He is actively seeking you! Whether you are allowing yourself to hang out with Him or you are running, there is nothing you can do to make yourself worthy of his love. He just loves you and wants to find you so that you can be with him and led be Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Your only response is to stop and submit to being found.

If you have wandered, call out to Jesus. He is actively looking for you. Don’t run! Stay put and signal to Christ that you want to be found and He will find you and rescue you.

If you count yourself among those who have been found, then live for Him in “the open country,” join the search party by praying for the lost and seeking out ways to share the redemption found in Christ with them. And be ready to rejoice when the one is found. It is His greatest joy that we get to share in.

Prayer

Christ our Shepherd,

Thank you that you desire me so much that you welcome me into your flock. Please forgive my tendency to run from you, thinking that I can find the way myself. Today, I submit and ask you to find me and rescue me from my own wandering. Pick me up Jesus, take me upon your shoulder, and bring me back to the place where you can lead me and care for me in the good pastures that you desire me to be in.

Amen (I’m in!)

21 Day Challenge – Day 2

Follow Me   |   Zack DeBerry

Scripture: Luke 9:23-25 (NLT)

Then he said to the crowd, If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.  If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.  And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed?

Observation

The cross in our day has become more of a symbol than what it represented 2000 years ago.  Just a few verses before this call to take up your cross daily, Peter declared that Jesus was the Messiah.  The one everyone was looking to for Hope and Freedom.  Here, Jesus declares that to follow him is not just a symbolic gesture.  Jesus reveals a way of living that demands dying to selfish ways and personal agendas. 

The path to follow Jesus begins in death, death to our own desires and plans.  Our call is to follow Jesus moment by moment, day by day.  Our self-interest must not dominate our lives.  Instead, we must be willing to suffer and deny ourselves every day, just as Jesus did.

Application

Are we following Jesus this way? 

Is our walk with God a symbolic gesture in our lives marked by our own interests and desires.? 

This passage tells us that we can live for ourselves and gain everything we may desire, but miss the fruit that comes from a sacrificial way of life.  What are we pursuing in our day to day life that gets in the way of our dying to selfish pursuits and ambitions?

Prayer

God, I pray that as You laid down everything to connect me in relationship to You that I would have the faith and courage to give up everything to follow You.  Help me to realize that nothing I can pursue will ever equal following You with all my heart and life. 

Amen.

21 Day Challenge – Day 1

Washing the Disciples Feet  |  Matt Dawson

Scripture: John 13:1-7

“Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father.  He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end.  It was time for supper, and the devil had already prompted Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 

Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God.  So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him. 

When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?  Jesus replied,“You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.”

Observation

The first thing that pops out to me in this passage is that as John observes Jesus, he sees something very special and different in this moment.  This is the moment, as John describes it, that Jesus fully reflects on the power and authority given to Him by God and decides to give us the best example of leadership that we can ever have.  Jesus washes their feet… he takes on the form of a servant and serves the men He loves.  Peter doesn’t get it and even questions this moment – Jesus simply says “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will”.

Jesus was the most important person in the room.  If anyone deserved to BE SERVED, it was Him.  Yet, he leveraged that position, that authority, that influence – to serve others.  He did not allow this moment to pass by and take advantage – He used that was given to Him to set others up for success in the future.

As a husband, dad, pastor, employer, leader – I often wonder if I’m leveraging the influence and authority given to me to serve others.  I am thankful to have many men and women in my life who gave me great examples of servant leadership.  But it’s too easy to slip into that place of feeling that we deserve to BE SERVED (by our spouse, our kids, our employees, those we lead).  This is not what Jesus did, and IN THIS MOMENT He wanted all of us to see that there is a BETTER way to use what has been given to us – to serve others.

Application

What do you do when you walk into a room and you are the one with the most authority?  Or the most influence?  Or the most respected?  Is this a time in which you allow yourself to slowly drift towards a place of being served?  Do you come up with excuses as to why others should serve you (just this once) because you’re tired, or worn out, or just don’t feel like you have it in you to do it again?

What would happen if we consistently leveraged all that was given to us (love, authority, opportunity, empowerment, influence), and we used it to serve others, to place their needs and wants ahead of our own?  To show them respect they might not have earned, or grace they don’t deserve.  What if we could use those moments in our lives to set this same example of servant leadership?

Prayer

Jesus, thank you.  Thank you for loving me so much that even in this moment – you have leveraged everything, YOUR LIFE, to show how much you love me.  Thank you for showing me this example of how to be the best husband, dad, friend, boss, pastor, and leader I can be. 

Please help me remember to leverage all that you have given me to bless others and serve them everyday.  It’s only by Your grace and power that I will be able to die to my own selfish desires and place others ahead of me. 

Thank you Jesus for loving us more than we can possibly know.

Amen.