21 Day Challenge – Day 21

Doubting Thomas   |   Joel McNelly

Scripture: John 20:24-29

Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”  But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”  A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. 

Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands.  Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”  Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”  Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Observation

Thomas gets a bad reputation in the Bible for being the guy who is always doubting. Most people start out more like him than those who believe without seeing. Despite the fact that Thomas’ friends had seen the Lord, he had to see him with his own eyes to believe that he had been raised from the dead. The Bible records that a little over 500 people saw Jesus after he had been raised from the dead, but millions and millions of others have believed in him anyway. If you doubt like Thomas, you may be wondering how to overcome this.

Romans 10:9 says that “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” When they first followed Jesus, the original disciples did not have the basis to do this yet, because the resurrection had not yet happened. They decided to follow him anyway. And through that time Jesus showed them through his example, many miracles, and healings that he was indeed who he said he was. For Jesus to be able to show them who he was, they had to agree to at least go on the journey.

If you have never believed this, or you are one who still has doubts, Jesus is just asking you to follow him. He is saying “walk with me and I will show you who I am.” Be willing to read the credible accounts of who Jesus was and then look into lives of all the people around you who have been radically transformed by Jesus. The Holy Spirit will reveal to you that Jesus is who he said he was, and that he did rise from the dead just like he said he would. If you ask God to reveal himself to you he will do just that through his Holy Spirit. The Bible is an inspired factual historical record that testifies to who he was, what he said, and what he did. The testimony of others who believe in him also serves as proof in this day in age that he still works in us and he still transforms lives.

Application

When we decide to follow Christ as the Lord (the supreme ruler of our lives, who welcomes us into His perfect kingdom and has only our best interest in mind), the Holy Spirit, God himself, lives inside of us and continues to reveal truth to us.

Prayer

Father, I want to believe, but sometimes I doubt. Please reveal your truth to me as I walk beside you and learn from you. I ask you to remove the hardness of my heart so that I can be fully yours and come to a place of fully trusting in you.

Amen.

21 Day Challenge – Day 20

Jesus Cleanses the Temple    Don Gentry

Scripture: Matthew 21:12-13 (HCSB)

Jesus went into the temple complex and drove out all those buying and selling in the temple. He overturned the money changers’ tables and the chairs of those selling doves.  And He said to them, “It is written, My house will be called a house of prayer. But you are making it a den of thieves!”

Observation

I would have loved to be there when Jesus cleaned house.  So many people in today’s culture picture Jesus as this weak, mild mannered, doormat type of guy.  How many guys like that do you know can go into the most important place of societal influence and start throwing things around and get away with it?

I am not suggesting that Jesus was a crazy man; however, I am suggesting that we understand the real physical and human strength that Jesus had.  His presence commanded respect.  That is not done by a “wuss.”  That said, we very seldom see him using his physical might.  A little side note, the only time we ever see Jesus using harsh words or angry actions it is always directed towards religious leaders or his disciples.  In other words it is directed to those who should know better.

Jesus was confronting and addressing the first church scandal of misappropriated funds.  He was infuriated by the sin that religious leaders were allowing in the temple.  Thousands and thousand of travelers would come from long distances and foreign lands to come to the temple and worship.  Some travelers would be poor, some would have only foreign currency, (which was not allowed in the temple treasury), and most travelers would not have been able to bring their animal sacrifice with them so they would have to buy their sacrifice on the spot.  To the entrepreneur, this was a prime market.

They then set up money exchange tables and at this time coins weren’t perfectly minted so they had to use scales to weigh the value.  The moneychangers used dishonest scales and weights to benefit themselves and they also charged outlandish exchange rates.  This was not acceptable.  Those who had animals recognized a sellers’ market too.  These people could not worship and offer a sacrifice without an animal so they started charging outlandish prices for their birds and animals.  Jesus was ticked off and he went “temple” on those that were violating his house.

We also need to understand that this is the second time he has had to “clean house.”  John 2 records the first temple cleansing.  The people knew better, but they took advantage of the system.   Jesus does not like unjust gain and He takes sin very seriously.

Application

Does your view of Jesus allow him to get angry at sin, or more specifically your sin?  Does your view of Jesus allow you to understand righteous anger?

I wonder what God sees when he looks down upon His church today?  The real issue in this story wasn’t that travelers needed to exchange their currency; it wasn’t that they even needed to buy an animal.  The issue was the people’s desire to capitalize and take advantage of another human beings need.  This especially makes God angry when church leaders take advantage of this.

We are fortunate to live in a capitalistic country but capitalism is heavily influenced by greed.  Many people who call themselves Christians work in environments where greed is often rewarded.  Is God honored by this?  We need to learn how to conduct business, make money, and not be corrupted by greed and money.

Prayer

Dear Jesus, thank you for being a savior who displays strength when strength is needed.  Convict me of any greed that may exist in my life, or any way that may be unclean in your eyes.  Help me to be sensitive to what you view as sin.  Forgive me for the times that I have capitalized unjustly on another person’s need. Help me to be aware of the times when I need to be strong and take a stand against sin either in my life or in society.  Help me to understand the difference between “anger and righteous anger.” Thank you for helping to guide me in all my ways. 

Amen.

21 Day Challenge – Day 19

The First Miracle  |  Matt Dawson

Scripture: John 2:1-11

The next day there was a wedding celebration in the village of Cana in Galilee.  Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the celebration.  The wine supply ran out during the festivities, so Jesus’ mother told him, “They have no more wine.”  “Dear woman, that’s not our problem,” Jesus replied.  “My time has not yet come.”  But his mother told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”  Standing nearby were six stone water jars, used for Jewish ceremonial washing.  Each could hold twenty to thirty gallons.  Jesus told the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” 

When the jars had been filled, he said, “Now dip some out, and take it to the master of ceremonies.”  So the servants followed his instructions.  When the master of ceremonies tasted the water that was now wine, not knowing where it had come from (though, of course, the servants knew), he called the bridegroom over.  “A host always serves the best wine first,” he said.  “Then, when everyone has had a lot to drink, he brings out the less expensive wine.  But you have kept the best until now!”  This miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee was the first time Jesus revealed his glory.  And his disciples believed in him.

Observation

It’s the first miracle.  Wine.

The wine is gone.  Everyone panics, and Jesus’ mother says ‘I got this”.  Jesus says it’s not yet my time WOMAN (this was not disrespectful like we think of it today). He tells them to fill the jars (160 gallons total) with water.  He performs his first miracle and the party is back on.

I love when the master of ceremonies says “most host will serve the cheap stuff later after everyone is drunk – but you’ve saved the BEST until now”.  WOW.  What a message to those at the wedding – that Jesus doesn’t slouch at the end of the party when people might not have even noticed – he brings the BEST even at the end.

It’s a story about a wedding.  Jesus.  Marriage. The Best at the END.

Application

Personally – this application applies to my own marriage.   I believe my wife and I brought wine into our marriage.  We brought as much as we had with us (all our love, expectations, and hopes) and we were convinced it was never going to run out.  I’ve had friends run out of “their wine” after 5 years of marriage, some 10, some 15 and crisis hits.  When we run out of wine, we get frantic, we stray, we get angry, we start looking for ways to compensate.  This is were we have the option of asking Jesus to step in.

When Jesus steps in, he takes what we have (water – the life giver that we take for granted) and turns it into MORE than we could even imagine in our lives. NEW WINE.  When Jesus gets involved in our marriages – our love doesn’t have to get old, stale, and cheap versions of the real thing.  Those things we take for granted everyday can become something new as He brings out the BEST even towards the end when we are at our most desperate.

Man… I love some of the new wine I’ve had in the last 20 years of marriage.  Here’s to knowing that even when I run short on what I have to offer – Jesus is there to bring out something BETTER!

Prayer

Jesus, show us where we need some new wine in our lives.  Don’t allow us to settle for cheap imitations or worse – hop from wedding to wedding trying to sustain ourselves on the wine we bring to the table.  Help us know you are there… just waiting for the invitation to step in and deliver a miracle.  Fill us with wonder as we taste what you can do in our lives if we simply ask for your help.

Amen.

21 Day Challenge – Day 18

Parable of the Talents   |   Tracie Dawson

Scripture: Matthew 25:24-30

“Again, the Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a long trip. He called together his servants and entrusted his money to them while he was gone.  He gave five bags of silver to one, two bags of silver to another, and one bag of silver to the last—dividing it in proportion to their abilities. He then left on his trip.  “The servant who received the five bags of silver began to invest the money and earned five more.  The servant with two bags of silver also went to work and earned two more.  But the servant who received the one bag of silver dug a hole in the ground and hid the master’s money.  

“After a long time their master returned from his trip and called them to give an account of how they had used his money.  The servant to whom he had entrusted the five bags of silver came forward with five more and said, ‘Master, you gave me five bags of silver to invest, and I have earned five more.’  “The master was full of praise. ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’  “The servant who had received the two bags of silver came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two bags of silver to invest, and I have earned two more.’ 

“The master said, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’

  “Then the servant with the one bag of silver came and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a harsh man, harvesting crops you didn’t plant and gathering crops you didn’t cultivate.  I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth. Look, here is your money back.’  “But the master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy servant! If you knew I harvested crops I didn’t plant and gathered crops I didn’t cultivate, why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it.’  “Then he ordered, ‘Take the money from this servant, and give it to the one with the ten bags of silver.  To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away.  Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Observations

This parable told by Jesus may be encouraging or troublesome depending on who we identify with most in the story!  He starts with a master who is going on a journey and the servants that he entrusts his property to in his absence.  Right off the bat, it is clear that this is a message of service and stewardship as the assets belong first to the master, not his servants.

As he delegates responsibilities to the servants, he gives five bags of silver (the equivalent today would be millions of dollars!) to one servant, two bags of silver to another, and one bag of silver to the last.  He did this in proportion to their abilities.

Let’s not miss that part.  The master knew his servants, knew their capabilities, and distributed his resources to them based on their abilities.  Then he left on his journey.

When the master returned, the first two servants happily reported their success having doubled the master’s wealth.  His response to each of them was the same, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!”

But the third servant was not joyful at the master’s return.  He was actually insulting and accusatory.  “Master, I knew you were a harsh man, harvesting crops you didn’t plant and gathering crops you didn’t cultivate. I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth. Look, here is your money back.”

The master’s response is what makes this parable very troublesome.  He called the servant worthless, took his allotment, and gave it over to the first.  Then the master sentenced him to a torturous destiny.

As I stated earlier, this parable may be either encouraging or troubling depending on who we most identify with in the story.

You have probably surmised that this is a picture of God, the master, creator and owner of all things.  And he longs to entrust his kingdom to faithful servants- that’s us!  He does not ask of the servants what they cannot do—he gave to each according to their abilities.

He does not set his servants up for failure, but SUCCESS!  But how do we know the master is good and desires to see us succeed?

By his response to the faithful servants, “Well done, you’ve been faithful with this little bit, I’m going to give you MORE.  Now, let’s go celebrate!”

We will find success if our understanding of Him is correct – if we recognize His goodness and generosity, viewing ourselves as stewards of His things.

However, to those who misjudge and mischaracterize the master, believing Him to be harsh, demanding, or even unethical, they become fearful, expecting he has set them up for failure.  Not only do they not use the gifts, the resources granted by the master, but they bury them deep, ultimately rejecting the master and everything he represents.

This is frightening as ultimately, what little had been entrusted to the third servant was taken from him and given to the others.  I don’t mean to sound trite, but it’s a “use it or lose it” situation.  But there is great hope!

Did you notice that servants one and two both doubled their allotments?  It didn’t matter what methods they used, how they invested, or where.  We just know that they immediately set out to work doing the best they knew how.  And their outcomes were both favorable, doubling the master’s investments, setting the stage for even greater responsibilities and joyful celebration!

Application

Many of us would ask, but what has he entrusted to me?  I am not “rich,” according to Forbes, but compared to nearly every other country on the face of this earth, in America, we live like royalty!  One trip to our partners in Peru and Kenya will confirm that truth immediately.

I must admit, I often forget there are the other things He has entrusted to me besides monetary wealth…things like my home and vehicle, a garage filled to capacity with tools and random yard equipment, a “music room” filled with instruments that are rarely touched (much to my chagrin,) books upon books, iphones, ipads, ipods, and so much technology that it makes me want to take up skeet shooting just to see what buckshot can do to an ipad encased in an “indestructable” otter box.  But I digress.

He has also entrusted children to me.  They are His children—on loan to me to raise and  teach to know Him and live according to His way.

What other things can you think of that God has entrusted to you?  A career?  An extraordinary mind?  The ability to communicate effectively to large groups?

Paul asked the Corinthians, “For who makes you different from anyone else?  What do you have that you did not receive?”   (I Cor 4:7)

Ouch.

It is beginning to sound like everything we have, each competency, every capacity—even our resourcefulness are gifts from God!

The question we must ask is what am I doing with what He has given me?  Am I leveraging everything I can for His Kingdom or have I buried it all in fear of failure?  Do I trust that He already knows what I am and am not capable of and that He wants to see me succeed?

Can I look forward to hearing, “Well done my good and faithful servant!  You have been faithful with little, so now I will give you more!  Let’s celebrate!”

Prayer

Father God,

Thank you for your goodness and generosity!  Please help me to see myself as steward over the countless blessings I enjoy in life.  Help me to not be fearful in using them for your Kingdom, but bold and confident that you long to see me succeed so that I can grow into greater responsibilities and opportunities to serve you!

Forgive me for thinking that what I have has been earned or is deserved or results from anything I have done.  It is all from you and I long to use it for your glory!

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

21 Day Challenge – Day 17

Parable of the Sower   |   Zack DeBerry

Scripture: Matthew 13:1-9

Later that same day Jesus left the house and sat beside the lake.  A large crowd soon gathered around him, so he got into a boat. Then he sat there and taught as the people stood on the shore.  He told many stories in the form of parables, such as this one: Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seeds.  As he scattered them across his field, some seeds fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate them.  Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock.

The seeds sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow.  But the plants soon wilted under the hot sun, and since they didn’t have deep roots, they died.  Other seeds fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants.  Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted!  Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.

Observation

In today’€™s text we hear what has become known as the Parable of the Sower.  In Jesus’ day sowing seeds was generally the way that wheat was planted.  The sower would broadcast the seeds in a sweeping left to right swing of the arm.  As the seeds are thrown from the sower’s hand, they cover a larger area, so not every seed ends up exactly where it should be. Everyone in Jesus’ audience knew that seeds thus scattered would end up in very different places.

Even though the sower is the first thing mentioned in the parable, he is not the main character; he is only the catalyst to get the seeds and the various soils together. The parable is actually more about the seed and soil than the sower, who is not mentioned again after the planting. Some of the seeds fell on the path, where some alert birds saw them and ate them. Some fell in rocky soil, sprang up quickly and succumbed to the heat of the sun. Some seeds were choked out by the thorns and weeds as they grew. However, some fell on good soil and did exactly what it was supposed to do, produce abundantly.

Application

As a parable of the kingdom, the meaning has to do with how the kingdom is received by various groups and individuals. If we are anywhere to be found in this parable, we as hearers of the word are the soil. It is a little humbling for us to be dirt, but there you are. As soil, the question that the parable asks us is, “€œHow have you responded to the good news message of the kingdom of God?” Have we allowed it to be snatched away from us and eaten? Did we not allow the roots to sink deep, so that it has withered and dried up in our lives? Have we allowed the worries and cares of the world to choke out the joy of the kingdom? Are we producing as good soil should, spreading the good news and enabling growth for ourselves and others?

These are not easy questions to answer, even if we know the answers. We need to be honest in looking at what kind of soil we actually are. My father was a nurseryman and in his greenhouse, when he seeded plants, he used his own soil mixture. He knew exactly what each plant would need, so he put those elements together in a modified cement mixer and produced the perfect soil to match the seed.

Likewise, God knows exactly what kind of soil you need to be for the seed he has placed in you. Though it may sound old fashioned to some folk, I think that the best place to get the right mixture is in God’s greenhouse, the Church. It is in the Church that we find the right nutrients that will bring the seed within us to full maturity.

Each one of us needs to take a soil sample and analyze what is going on in our lives. We do not have to be county agricultural agents to know whether or not we are producing. What do you need to become the “good soil” that God intended? Get in there, get dirty and find out.

Prayer

God, may we accurately and honestly look at our lives and look at what we are producing and sowing.   I pray that we would be mindful as we daily scatter seeds that will point people either to You or to something or someone else.  I pray that we would be people that Humbly point others to You. 

Amen.

21 Day Challenge – Day 16

The Good Samaritan    Christina McConnell

Scripture: Luke 10:25-37

“One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: ‘Teacher, what must I do to receive eternal life?’ Jesus replied, ‘What does the law of Moses say?  How do you read it?’  The man answered, ”You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’  And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”  “Right!” Jesus told him.  “Do this and you will live!”  The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”  Jesus replied with an illustration: “A Jewish man was traveling on a trip from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits.  They stripped him of his clothes and money, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road.” 

By chance a Jewish priest came along; but when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by.  A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side.  “Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt deep pity.  Kneeling beside him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with medicine and bandaged them.  Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him.  The next day he handed the innkeeper two pieces of silver and told him to take care of the man.  ‘If his bill runs higher than that,’ he said, ‘I’ll pay the difference the next time I am here.’  “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked.  The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.”  Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”

Observation

When I think about this illustration of loving others, I see three principles:

  1. We often justify our lack of love for certain people.   It is actually pretty easy to do most of the time but it is never right.  Every person in this world was created by God, in His image, and deserves to be loved;
  2. Our neighbor is anyone of any race, creed, culture, religion, or social background who is in need.  We cannot discriminate; and
  3. Real love means doing something to meet that other person’s need.

The Samaritan could have felt justified in walking away from the Jewish man, who very likely may have walked away from him if roles were reversed.  Jews and Samaritans didn’t get along any better than most ultra-conservative “Christians” and extremist “Muslims” of today.  He could have told himself he would help only if it turned out the man was another Samaritan.

And even still, he could have simply tended to his wounds and left; or even just taken him to another Jew to be helped.  But he took it upon himself to soothe his wounds with medicine and bandages, gave up his own ride so the guy didn’t have to walk, spent the evening with him helping him feel better, and then gave his own money so the guy would continue to be cared for in his absence.  He gave of himself with abundance, holding nothing back.

The Samaritan in this parable shows me God’s boundless mercy for me and illustrates so well how I am supposed to love and serve other people.

Application

I can sometimes easily justify not helping someone who has a need.  I’m too busy.  I have other commitments.  My kids need this or that.  I already do enough other things, surely God doesn’t want me to try to do everything!

We should consider this story when we are presented with an opportunity to help someone.  I don’t think God wants us to over-commit, but I do believe he puts people in our path for a reason.  Whether its the guy in the cubicle next to us whose complaining drives you nuts, or the other mom at school who is constantly bragging about her kids, or the homeless dude holding the sign on the street corner.  Perhaps its the kid in the picture who desperately needs a sponsor or a forever family, or the old lady who just wants someone to spend some time with her, or a whole family on the other side of the world who just needs access to clean water.  If we feel a tug on our heart to do something that could show others that they are loved, we need to take action and trust that God is doing the real work in us and through us.  He is making himself known through our love.

Sometimes we can be the legal expert, asking Jesus to justify how we love, or don’t love, other people.  Sometimes we are the priest who is knowledgeable about the “law”, reading our Bible, going to church, doing all the right things, but still walking away from the opportunities he gives us to serve others.  And sometimes we are the Jew, desperately hoping for mercy from the people around us.  I think Jesus just wants us to see that if we truly love Him, He can give us the capacity to be the good Samaritan and to love others no matter what.  He helps us to also see how much we need His love and the love of others.

Prayer

Father God,

Thank you for always showing mercy to me.  Thank you for teaching me how to love others.  Your amazing love for me has no boundaries, no discrimination, no restrictions.  Help me to love my neighbors, my co-workers, my family, my friends; people who are different from me, strangers who seem weird, folks who rub me the wrong way.  Give me a capacity to love and serve and do for others as you would.

Gently nudge me when I am prone to walk away.  Lovingly remind me that I could easily be the one who has been robbed and beaten, and that the mercy and love I crave is what I should freely give.

Help me to be who you want me to be.  Use me to serve your children, no matter who and no matter where.

Fill me with your grace, so that I may offer it freely to others.

In Jesus Name,

Amen

21 Day Challenge – Day 15

The Prodigal Son   |   Chris Denning

Scripture: Luke 15:11-32

“And he said, “There was a man who had two sons.  And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’   And he divided his property between them.  Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living.  And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need.  So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs.  And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!  I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’  And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.  And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’  But the father said to his servants,‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.  And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate.  For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing.  And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant.  And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’  But he was angry and refused to go in.  His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends.  But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’  And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.  It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”

Observation

When I consider my relationship with God, I tend to focus more easily on how I feel about God or, more simply, my perspective in the relationship.  I’ll focus on how I want to love God more or how I need to be better about the time I spend with him.

However, I easily forget the other side of the relationship: how God feels about me.  When I read this parable about the Prodigal Son, I see myself in both sons, but I also see God in the father’s reaction.

With the son that ran away only to return, the father expresses extreme joy and excitement at his return. I see this in verse 24, where the father says, “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.”

With the son that faithfully stayed and felt slighted by the celebration, the father responds with gentleness, reminding him of what truly matters.  I see this in verse 31-22, where the father speaks to the second son, saying, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is your. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.”

The father in this story reveals part of God’s heart for me.  He finds great joy when I turn back to him after I turn away, but he also responds gently to refocus my perspective when I lose my way.

Application

As I said earlier, I have a hard time remembering God’s perspective of my relationship with Him.  I can easily get down on myself when I don’t feel that I’m doing enough or have been falling short in my walk with Him.  However, His perspective of me is just as important.

We need to take time everyday to remember how God sees us: as his sons and daughters, that He finds great joy in and wants to gently help.

I want to challenge you today to think of an area in your walk with God where you’re especially hard on yourself.  It could be consistently spending time with him, taking time to pray, serving others, or anything else.

Then, remind yourself that even though you will fail, fall, and turn from him, he finds great joy in you and only wants to gently help you correct your perspective.

Lets use that truth to be encouraged to follow him more closely today.

Prayer

Father, 

Thank for being just that: a loving father.  Your great love for me is hard to accept sometimes, but it always present and never–changing.  Help me today to remember that even though I will fail, fall, and turn from you, that you will always welcome me with open arms.  

Remind me of the joy you find in me being your son or daughter.  

Help me to grow by gently correcting my perspective in life.  

Give me grace to follow you more closely today.  In your name I ask and pray, 

Amen.

21 Day Challenge – Day 14

Jesus & the Blind Man  |  Matt Dawson

Scripture: John 9:1-7

“As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth.  “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?”  “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered.  “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.  We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us.  The night is coming, and then no one can work.  But while I am here in the world, I am the light of the world.” 

Then he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and spread the mud over the blind man’s eyes.   He told him, “Go wash yourself in the pool of Siloam” (Siloam means “sent”). So the man went and washed and came back seeing!”

Observation

I know most people see this as another miracle story, but I see it differently.  I think the most important part of this story is the question that the disciples ask.   The question they ask tells us so much about their perspective on life, and what expectations that have for Jesus.  They didn’t ask Jesus to heal him. They just asked why did this “bad thing” happen… and whose fault was it?

I’ve spent a good part of my Christians life asking very similar question. WHY?  Why did this bad thing happen – WHO is to blame?  I ask that about myself, and others in my life.  I don’t immediately ask for healing or strength or even a miracle.  I guess I think if I “understand” something that somehow it will be better for ME.

Jesus says the words we don’t like to hear when trying to understand something… He says it’s no ones fault but God’s.  It’s on opportunity for God to show up in the brokenness of this world and display His love through the people that He has sent.  Jesus says – right now that person is me.  Soon it will be others.

And then He heals him. He tells a blind man to “make his way” to the pool called SENT.  He does, and comes back seeing!

Application

I’m not sure how this applies to me because I still find myself asking those same questions.  I still struggle to see things the way God does and so I guess part of this devotion for me is to keep asking God to reveal more of Himself and His love to me.

What if every time we saw someone hurting, or broken, or we witnessed struggle in this world – we didn’t rush to figure out WHY it is happening – but we rushed in to show the LOVE OF GOD to those in the midst.  That the reason may not be known, but maybe it’s just one more opportunity for God to show up through HIS PEOPLE who are SENT to love those that are struggling today.

Prayer

God, may you open up my eyes and allow me to see those hurting around me everyday.  Help me stop trying to “figure it out” by asking why or trying to find out who to cast the blame on.  Show me the opportunities to share your love with a hopeless world. 

SEND me.

Amen.

21 Day Challenge – Day 13

Feeding the Five Thousand  |  Kayla Beverage

Scripture: Matthew 14:13-21

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself.  But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.  When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.  Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 

But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”  They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.”  And he said, “Bring them here to me.”  Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing.  Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.  And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over.  And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Observation

Thousands of people came from miles away to see this man called Jesus. I’m sure many of them were His followers and even more where just curious to see the man that they had heard so much about. When he sees all these people gathered and notices that it is getting late, he could have just sent them away. It really wasn’t his responsibility to feed all of those people. Instead, he shows them compassion. He uses the opportunity to serve them and to demonstrate the character of God. All the disciples and the people had to do was trust that He would provide for them.

I’m sure that many of the men and women were worried. With families to feed and children to care for, how could they not be? Some were probably devising a plan to find food and figure out what they were going to do. That’s human nature. We see problems and then we do everything we can to fix. 5,000 plus people and all they had was 5 loaves and 2 fish. That is a major problem. They simply needed more food then what they had available to them, but Jesus blessed what had been given and God provided.

Application

When we read about Jesus and this miracle he performs, how can we not be in awe of God greatness. He fed 5,000 men plus all of those men’s women and children off 5 loaves and 2 fishes. They even had leftovers!

If they could trust Jesus with such an insurmountable task, why can’t we trust Him with our own lives and our own problems? Through this story Jesus gives us a clear picture that he is trustworthy, that he does what he says he is going to do. Give your worries and trust to God and He will provide for you. Things may not do things according to your plan or in your timeframe, but He is trustworthy to those who are faithful.

Prayer

God,

Please help me to trust you with my worries and problems. Help me to know that you will provide for me. You are worthy of my faith. You are worthy of my love. Thank you so much for everything that you have already given me. 

Amen.

21 Day Challenge – Day 12

The Ten Lepers    Don Gentry

Scripture: Luke 17:11-19 (HCSB)

While traveling to Jerusalem, He passed between Samaria and Galilee.  As He entered a village, ten men with serious skin diseases met Him. They stood at a distance and raised their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”  When He saw them, He told them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”  And while they were going, they were healed.  But one of them, seeing that he was healed, returned and, with a loud voice, gave glory to God.  He fell facedown at His feet, thanking Him. And he was a Samaritan.  Then Jesus said, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine?  Didn’t any return to give glory to God except this foreigner?”  And He told him, “Get up and go on your way. Your faith has made you well.”

Observation

I love how Jesus is just walking along the road going about his daily business and he comes upon a group of diseased men and changes their lives.  Here we have a group of ten men most likely plagued with leprosy but it could have been some other type of disease.   Back in the day if you had a skin disease you had to walk around calling out “unclean, unclean” wherever you went.  This was to let everyone know you had a contagious disease.  It was a very lonely life so they would often find others with the same disease and walk together.  Misery does love company.

This group of men saw Jesus and recognized their opportunity for healing.  Jesus looked at them and knew they needed His healing touch.  He told them to go the local priest because he was the only one that could sign off on the fact that they were truly clean.  The priest was like a doctor and could officially declare they no longer had to yell out unclean.  All ten men were cleansed on their way to the priest.  It took a step of faith on their part to trust that by the time they got to the priest their disease would be healed.

Of the ten a Samaritan was the only one that returned to show praise and gratitude.  It is interesting that the outcast of outcasts was the only one to say thank you.  Back in the day, Jews and Samaritans didn’t mix.  Samaritans were hated.  A good Jew would avoid all contact with a Samaritan, and the Samaritans didn’t really like the Jews either.  Yet this Samaritan returned and was rewarded with an even greater healing.

Jesus not only took the time to associate with unclean people he took the time to change the life of the most despised people.

Application

Jesus is so amazing.  Healing those who need healed, showing compassion on the outcasts, taking time out of his day for people who were despised.  He brings hope to all who ask for it even if they show no thanks.  Wow, what a savior!

This is such a convicting passage for me.  These are some of the questions that I ask myself after reading this passage.  Do I take time for those I despise?  Did I do anything for the homeless man I passed the other day?  Did I pray for the Muslim terrorist today?  Have I trusted Jesus to help heal me from…?  Have I taken a step of faith believing God at His word?  Have I thanked God for what He has done in my life? Do I show compassion to the marginalized and vulnerable? Do I still care for those who are ungrateful?

I challenge you to take a few moments and answer each one of these questions and create your own questions from this passage.  God so worthy of our praise and His model for life is so worth following!

Prayer

Thank you Jesus for taking time to show me love and forgiveness.  Thank you for being an example of how I should treat and care for others and the “outcasts” of society.  Forgive me for all the times I have failed to treat others the way that you would want me to treat them, and forgive me for not taking the time to thank you for all that you have done in my life.  You have given me so much more than I deserve, help me to be to be aware of my surroundings so that I can be that type of a blessing to others.

Amen.