One day, there was a religious leader who wanted to trap Jesus. He asked Him which of the commandments was the most important. Jesus knew what was in his heart and replied that we must love God with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength. What the leader wasn’t prepared for was what Jesus said next. He said, “A second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself” (NLT). He knew if we could do these two things, we could fulfill the law.
The first one seems easy enough. We are to love a perfect God with everything in us. The second one, that’s equally important, is the tough one because people are imperfect. People do things that make us mad, offend us, hurt us and drive us nuts. Yet Jesus is telling us to love them with everything in us as much as we love God. Why would He put that pressure on us? Why can’t we just love God and go to Heaven?
I believe God wanted us to learn to look past each other’s faults to see what He sees in them. Genesis 1:27 tells us what to look for. “So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Each of us are made in God’s image, even the people you can’t stand. God put His likeness in each one of us and it’s up to us to learn to see it the way He does.
If you look for the best in others, they will look for the best in you. If you can see God’s image in them, you can learn to love them because we can easily love God. It’s tough sometimes to dig through their layers to find it deep inside them, but His image is in there. When we learn to see Him in others, and to help them see His image in themselves, we begin to see the world through different lenses. We begin to know as we are known and also to fulfill that second, but equally important commandment. Look deeper into to others today to find God’s image and fulfill the law of Christ.
To me, one of the coolest miracles is the miracle of a seed. I have packets of them sitting around. Some are for flowers, some are for vegetables and some are for trees. They can sit inside their packet for years and nothing will happen. However, when I plant them at the right time of year, the miracle begins. In the dark, wet earth, something in the seed wakes up and it begins to come apart as a small shoot makes its way out of it. That shoot pushes back the ground all around it and somehow knows to go upward in search for light. It continues growing in the proper conditions until it replicates in some form the plant or tree that produced it. Then, it produces its own seeds so that another generation can grow.
When I look at an acorn next to an oak, I can’t help but look up and ask God, “How do you fit an entire tree in this little nut?” When I think about it, He does the same thing with us. Each of us have an incredible potential inside of us waiting for the right conditions in order to grow and develop into something incredible. We all have hidden potential that is waiting to be discovered, but it needs the right conditions in order to start growing. Those conditions are usually dark times in our lives where we’re in over our heads and aren’t quite sure which way is up. The world around us seems to be pressing in on ever side, yet out of that, God births things in us that we didn’t know were there.
2 Peter 1:3 says, “Everything we could ever need for life and godliness has already been deposited in us by his divine power” (TPT). Just like every sin lives in you waiting for the right conditions to come out, every good thing lives in you waiting on the right conditions to come out. Don’t run from the pressures of hard times in your life because those are the places where God grows these deposits in your life. You have an incredible potential beyond what you can imagine. Just like a giant tree begins with a small seed, there is a giant in you waiting to come out. As you mature and grow, you will begin to reproduce other people in the faith. You will provide shade for them to grow in, when you have roots that go down deep into God’s Word. Isaiah 61:3 says, “In their righteousness, they (you) will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory” (NLT). There is a tree inside of you waiting to grow.
Nearly twenty years ago, I found myself sitting on the edge of my bed with a shotgun on my lap. Thoughts were racing through my head. I had been hurt badly and wanted revenge. I knew that the people were meeting at Target in about an hour. My heart was racing as I played out the scenario in my head. I thought about where I could run to or where I could hide out. Then I started thinking about what it would be like to spend the rest of my life in prison. I started to put the gun back up, but all those thoughts of pain came rushing back. “They deserve it,” I reasoned with myself. The argument went back and forth. In a split second, I put the gun in the closet, ran to my car and drove an hour away. I called a friend to meet me, gave him my keys and told him not to give them back no matter what I said.
That night scared me to death. It’s the night I realized that every sin lies within me dormant waiting for the right circumstances to bring it out. I never thought I was capable of such a thing, but that mental battle was real and it was all I could do to keep from committing it. That night I began to pay more attention to my thoughts and where I let them go. I also started to keep myself from certain situations that I thought I was immune to. Guarding my heart became something I did rather than just something I read about in the Bible. If every sin was hiding in my heart, waiting for the right moment and circumstances to align, I needed to be more cautious.
David must have had one of those moments too. In Psalm 19:12, he prayed, “How can I know all the sins lurking in my heart? Cleanse me from these hidden faults” (NLT). He found out that every one of us are capable of any sin, but he also knew that the remedy was knowing God’s Word and seeking Him for help. In verse 11, referencing God’s Word, he wrote, “They are a warning to your servant, a great reward for those who obey them.” The Bible is a lamp and a light (Psalm 119:105). It exposes hidden sins, faults and thoughts, as well as it shows you what to do. Jesus used the Word of God to keep from sinning as He was tempted. It’s a powerful weapon in our arsenal against sin, but you can only be equipped with it if you know it. Don’t fall prey to the hidden sins in your heart. Be proactive by putting God’s Word in your heart so that you won’t sin against Him (Psalm 119:11).
A book on spiritual growth that I’m reading discusses the different stages we go through as believers. There are two different places that mature believers fall into. Both look very similar on paper and in actions, but there is a huge gap between them. In both stages the believer has the spiritual disciplines of reading the Bible, praying, fasting, sharing their faith, serving others, seeking God and hearing His voice. However, the thing that creates the biggest gap between a person who is close to Christ and Christlike is how they run their life. A person who is close to Christ seeks God for direction in their life, but is still at the steering wheel determining to obey or not. The person who is Christ-like gets out of the driver’s seat and fully trusts God to guide their life. On paper it looks like a minimal difference, but in reality, it’s a huge gap.
In Mark 8:34 Jesus said, “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am” (MSG). It’s a pretty serious statement He made to us, but it’s what He desires from each of us. He’s not going to come in and wreck your life, but He is going to want full control of it. He made this statement immediately after having to rebuke Peter. A few verses before, Peter famously declared that he understood Jesus was the Messiah and savior. He was a believer, but then when Jesus talked about being killed, Peter took Him aside and reprimanded Jesus because that’s not the way he thought things should go. Peter is representative of those who are close to Christ in this incident. We argue with Jesus when His plan doesn’t make sense and then choose to do our own thing. Think about that. He knew Jesus was God the Messiah, yet he reprimanded Him.
Just like a Peter, you and I must get to the place where we quit trying to call the shots for our lives. We can’t be the ones who reprimand and argue with a God when we don’t like what He’s asking of us. If we find ourselves in that position, we haven’t fully let Jesus get in the driver’s seat. It doesn’t mean we’re not moving in that direction or we’re bad people. It just means there’s room for growth. Each one of us are called to continue moving and growing into a person that fully trusts God with our lives. It’s a hard thing to do, but it’s also what He’s asking of us. Don’t let fear of the unknown keep you from knowing God more. When we accept Jesus, we begin the process of letting go of what’s important to us and begin to embrace what’s important to God. Just like Peter, we’re going to experience some bumps along the road, but if we keep moving closer to Jesus, we will become more and more Christlike.
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been a person on the go. I didn’t like naps then, and I don’t like them now. Instead of forcing me to take a nap, my mom would have me come inside each day between 1-3. It was her way of getting me out of the heat and forcing me to sit down. These days, that’s my wife’s job. She tells me when I’m too busy or when I need to take a break. I giver her push back like i gave it to my mom. Taking breaks and naps just seem so unproductive and and feel like a waste of time to me. The truth is that they are probably the most productive because they reenergize, refresh and refocus me. In the moment I can’t see that, but it’s true.
When I take what John wrote about Jesus saying that all the books in the world couldn’t contain all the things He did during those three years of ministry, and I read how the crowds constantly followed Him seeking healing, I know He was busy about His Father’s business. From sun up to sun down, day in and day out, Jesus was followed by crowds seeking something from Him. They followed Him in boats, walked miles around the Sea of Galilee just to meet Him on the other side. He was busy, busy, busy, but He also took time to rest. Even when the disciples came back after being sent out to preach, He made them rest. Mark 6:31 says, “There was such a swirl of activity around Jesus, with so many people coming and going, that they were unable to even eat a meal. So Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Come, let’s take a break and find a secluded place where you can rest a while’” (TPT).
When’s the last time you took a break? I mean a real break where you stepped aside, quit thinking and worrying about everything and just rested? If you can’t think of it, that’s been too long. God designed your body and your brain to need a break. Jesus constantly took them and He was still productive. God took a break after creating everything just to show us we need one. The word “Sabbath” means “to stop”. It’s not that the things you’re doing aren’t important. It’s that it’s more important to stop often. Your life and health are more important than the things you’re doing. If you’re busy like me, you’ll need to schedule your break and put it on your calendar. Taking a break is just as godly as being busy.
People will often ask me, “Why would you drive six hours one way to go to the doctor?” It’s a legitimate question. My answer is always the same, “He is interested in curing me instead of treating me.” There’s a big difference between the two. Most of the American system of healthcare is designed to treat the symptoms of a disease instead of attacking it at its root because the money is in treating it rather than curing it. Think of all the over the counter medicine we buy. We’re reading the symptoms on the box that it treats so that we can be relieved of them for about four hours. Then, we have to take that medicine again just to get rid of the symptoms again. We go back and buy a new bottle when we run out. What if there was a medicine that stopped what was causing the symptoms with one dose? Would you rather take that? That’s the difference in treating diseases versus curing them.
That same line of thinking that treats the symptoms creeps into our Christianity. We look at the symptoms of our brokenness and try to treat them. Each of us have certain propensities to sin based on the way we’re broken inside. We get mad at ourselves for falling for the same temptations over and over and vow not to commit that particular sin again. We try to remove the triggers, we try to make sure we’re not in those situations again or we think we somehow have the willpower to beat it. None of those work because they’re dealing with the fruit of the sin rather than the root of it. As long as we do that, we will continue to commit the same sins over and over. We’re been conditioned to think our salvation is based on our behavior rather than God’s grace.
In Mark 2, Jesus was addressing the same thinking in the Pharisees. Some friends lowered a guy through a ceiling to be healed by Jesus. The first thing Jesus told him was that his sins were forgiven. Why? Because that was his greatest need. His physical condition was a result of the fall of man. He then healed the man, but the Pharisees got angry. Jesus later called Matthew and then went to his house for dinner. The Pharisees couldn’t believe Jesus’ behavior because their relationship with God was based on symptoms and behaviors rather than grace. I’m verse 17, Jesus replied, “Who goes to the doctor for a cure? Those who are well or those who are sick? I have not come to call the ‘righteous,’ but to call those who are sinners and bring them to repentance” (TPT). Jesus didn’t die to relieve the symptoms of a fallen world. He died to make you whole and to cure the disease of sin within you.
I’ve been thinking of an old poem by Myra Brooks Welch turned into song and sung by Wayne Watson. It’s called, “The Old Violin: The Touch Of The Master’s Hand”. It starts off, “’Twas battered and scarred, and the auctioneer thought it hardly worth his while, to waste his time on the old violin, but he held it up with a smile.” He asked for a dollar for it, maybe two. Then an old man came up, tuned it and played a beautiful melody. The auctioneer then asked for $1,000. It then switches and says, “And many a man with life out of tune, all battered and bruised with hardship, is auctioned cheap to a thoughtless crowd, much like that old violin…But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd never can understand, the worth of a soul and the change that is wrought by the touch of the Master’s hand.”
In Matthew 14, Jesus is grieving John the Baptist’s death and just wants to be alone. He gets in a boat and sails to the middle of the Sea of Galilee, but the crowds follow His every move from the shore. He goes to the shore and heals the sick all day long. By late afternoon, the disciples catch up and presume to tell Jesus what to do. “You should send the crowds away to the nearby villages to buy themselves some food.” But Jesus has other plans and told them to feed the crowd. They answered in verse 17, “But all we have is five barley loaves and two fish.” “Let me have them,” Jesus replied” (TPT). He then fed the 5,000+ crowd with so little.
If you’re like me, you look at your life and say, “God, how can use you me? I have so little to offer.” But going back to the poem and the story in the Bible, value is measured based on whose hands something is in. You and I can only do so much with what I have to maximize our potential. The exponential change and growth happens when we surrender our lives to Him and place them in His hands. Your background, past and brokenness limit you in your own hands, but becomes limitless in His. Where you disqualify yourself, He tunes up and plays a beautiful melody that touches others. Submitting our life to Him is the greatest thing any one of us can do because that’s when we place it in the Master’s Hands.
In one of the sales psychology courses I took and later trained, there was an assessment you had to take beforehand. In the class, we read through 12 types of individuals and their accompanying behaviors, then we got our results. Mine said I was a Hyper Pro. I took it as a badge of honor when I saw the title. Who wouldn’t want to be hyper professional? Then I started reading the description, the behaviors and how it was holding me back. One of the things it said was that I project success in order to attain success, meaning I care more about my outward appearance hoping it would influence the buyer. In my mind, it was questioning my motives and I took offense to the assessment. That night I was discussing the results with my wife and how upset it made me. She listened to me vent, then simply asked, “But is it true?”
No one likes to have their motives questioned, but it’s something good to examine constantly. The answer to her question changed my life and how I live it. I realized I needed other people’s approval and it was driving so many areas of my life. My motives for how I dressed, what I drove, where I lived were for others. God challenged me that night to get to the root of my need in doing things. While man looks at outward appearances, God looks at our heart and motives. Are we doing things so that we look good and get the accolades? Are we trying to impress others, influence them, get “likes” or shares so that our name is magnified? Those are tough questions to sit down and answer as you look in the mirror.
Matthew 6:1 says, “Examine your motives to make sure you’re not showing off when you do your good deeds, only to be admired by others; otherwise, you will lose the reward of your Heavenly Father” (TPT). Each of us are to examine our motives in all areas of our lives, but especially those where we are representing God. If we’re doing it so people will think better of us, we’ve got our reward. Verse 3 tells us how to keep things in check. “But when you demonstrate generosity, do it with pure motives and without drawing attention to yourself.” Can you give, help or represent God without trying to show the world to garner “likes” or accolades? I’m not saying we shouldn’t record, post or promote what we’re doing. I’m saying, we need to check our motives first. Motives matter to God.
Thanks to @styleanthropy for making this photo available freely on @unsplash
One of the things we love to do is to sit at our table and watch the birds eat out of our feeders. There’s something mesmerizing about watching the different birds fly up, get a couple of seeds, then fly off into the trees. Recently my son asked me, “Why do you have to take down the feeders every year?” I explained, “Our feeders are an unnatural source of food for the birds. God designed them to find their own food. Normally, when their natural source of food dries up, the migrate south for the winter. If I keep this food out, they possibly won’t migrate like they’re supposed to and could die here.” My son was satisfied with the answer, but my wife said, “Did you hear the deep spiritual truth in there?”
In 1 Kings 17, Elijah declared there would be no rain in Israel until he said so. Then the Lord told him to go east to a certain brook where he would give him water from the brook and have ravens feed him. Verse 7 then tells us that the brook he had been drinking from dried up due to lack of rain. In verse 9, the Lord said to Elijah, “Now go to the town of Zarephath, near Sidon, and stay there. I have commanded a widow who lives there to feed you” (GNT). When he arrived, he found a widow collecting sticks so she could build a fire and have her last meal. Instead, she gave it to Elijah and God blessed her with a supernatural source of flour and oil.
I believe God is constantly migrating us from one place to another. We’ve all been through dry seasons where we seem to search for God and can’t find Him. I believe those are migration season where God is calling us into a deeper relationship with Him. We have a choice in those times. Are we going to stay put looking for unnatural food sources or are we going to follow where God is leading us? The Christian life is not a stagnant one. There’s always more for us to find and grow into. Even Paul said he had not yet attained perfection in Philippians 3. He followed that up with verse 14 saying, “So I run straight toward the goal in order to win the prize, which is God’s call through Christ Jesus to the life above.” He kept moving, and so should we. Where is God migrating you to next? It’s time to leave the unnatural sources of food.
Thanks to @inuetc for making this photo available freely on @unsplash
I believe it was Coach Wooden who said, “When opportunity knocks, it’s too late to prepare.” The window for an opportunity that shows up in our life is usually very brief. You won’t have time to do all the prep work necessary and seize the opportunity in most cases. We should always be ready by doing the prep work ahead of time. The problem is that human nature doesn’t want to put in the work when there’s not even an opportunity on the horizon. Those who have done the work ahead of time are the ones who make the most of every opportunity that comes their way.
I believe that God presents every one of us with opportunities that we should be prepared for. How can we give to a need if we haven’t saved any money? How can we answer spiritual questions if we haven’t studied the Bible? How can we tear down strongholds if we haven’t fasted? How can we be prepared for His return if we don’t have enough oil in our lamps? There are so many things that I believe God can do through us if only we would spend the time laying the groundwork of preparation.
Proverbs 24:27 says, “First plant your fields; then build your barn” (MSG). We need to make sure we are doing things in the proper order in our life. Too many times we want the barn without taking time to til the soil and plant. That’s not how things work. If you want God to use you in a certain way, there are things you need to be doing today to prepare for it. Be faithful in the preparation and God will trust you with the opportunities that He has for you. Don’t delay. Start today.
Thanks to @JestNinja for making this photo available freely on @unsplash
Throwback Thursday is a feature I’m using to help build some margin into my schedule to pursue other writing ventures. Each Thursday I’ll be bringing you a previously written devotional that still speaks encouragement to us from God’s Word.