I grew up seeing things very black and white. I believed I had a firm grasp on all the rules in the Bible. The way I interpreted those rules was simple, if you broke any of them, you were going straight to Hell. There was no room for mercy or grace in my mind because those things don’t follow the rules very well. They aren’t easily definable and didn’t fit into my black and white world. It wasn’t until I got older that I began to make room for those in my mind and in my life. The more I looked at the things Jesus did, the more I saw that He wasn’t about the rules as much as the Pharisees were.
One of the stories that helps me to see differently is in Luke 13:10-17. Jesus was teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath. There was a woman listening who had arthritis so bad that her body was twisted and she couldn’t look up. Jesus saw her, laid hands on her and healed her. The head person was furious with Jesus. He said, “Six days have been defined as work days. Come on one of the six if you want to be healed, but not on the seventh, the Sabbath.” But Jesus shot back, “You frauds! Each Sabbath every one of you regularly unties your cow or donkey from its stall, leads it out for water, and thinks nothing of it. So why isn’t it all right for me to untie this daughter of Abraham and lead her from the stall where Satan has had her tied these eighteen years?” (MSG).
Jesus was telling them and us that it’s not just about the rules. We’ve got to have compassion, mercy, love and grace too. As I said, those don’t always fit into our predefined understanding of the rules, but Jesus constantly showed us that those things trumped the rules we try to force people to live by. Jesus was constantly at odds with the legalism of the Jewish leaders and did things like this to help open their eyes to what God really wants from us. A life led by God’s love for others will always yield more fruit than one bound by legalistic thinking. Yes, we need the rules, but without compassion we miss the point.
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In 2 Chronicles 14, the Ethiopians brought a million man army up against Israel. King Asa only had about half of that. He didn’t wait for the Battle to come to them either. He rallied his troops and went out to meet the Ethiopian army. After he got to the battlefield, he prayed, “O GOD, you aren’t impressed by numbers or intimidated by a show of force once you decide to help: Help us, O GOD; we have come out to meet this huge army because we trust in you and who you are. Don’t let mere mortals stand against you!” (MSG) The next verse says that the Lord defeated the Ethiopian army right in front of Asa.
As I read this story, I was reminded that many times when we look at the battles we face, we are outnumbered, outgunned, and often surrounded with seemingly no way out. I’m sure Asa’s scouts told him how big the Ethiopian army was, but he still showed up for battle. Half of any your victory is simply showing up for the battle. When everything inside screams run, we’ve got to show up or we’ll miss seeing what God can and will do. If we want to be victorious, we can’t run from our problems. We’ve got to face them head on.
The other thing I was reminded of is that our battles are not our own. Asa fully trusted God to bring the victory. He didn’t look at the battlefield through his eyes. He saw it through God’s eyes. When he prayed, he already saw the victory because he trusted in what God would do. You and I need to change the lenses that we look at things through. Victory isn’t brought about by our might or our power, but by God’s Spirit. You shouldn’t be intimidated by how big your problems are. They should be intimidated by how big our God is. Show up, pray and watch God fight for you.
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As Paul was wrapping up his first letter to the church in Thessalonica, he quit expounding on things and started rapid firing commands. Pray for and honor your spiritual leaders. Be joyful always. Test all things. Avoid evil. He puts one right in the middle that to me is one of the hardest commands. He says, “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NLT). What? How can I be thankful in all circumstances? Why doesn’t he expound on this and tell us how? I’ve wrestled with these questions and this verse my whole life.
As I was pondering this recently, I remembered the words of a British Bible scholar from the 1600’s, Matthew Henry, when someone stole his wallet. He said, “Let me be thankful, first, because he never robbed me before; second, because although he took my purse, he did not take my life; third, because although he took all I possessed, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.“ Wow! That’s someone who chose to be thankful in all circumstances. He understood that you don’t have to be thankful for your circumstances, but you can find ways to be thankful in them.
It comes down to a matter of our heart. Are we choosing to blame God for our problems or are we finding ways to be thankful despite them? God’s desire for each of us is to learn thankfulness because it changes our perspective. When circumstances arise in our life, we can choose to become bitter or better. That outcome is dependent on what we focus on when we don’t like our present situation. Choosing to be thankful in all circumstances is definitely the more difficult choice, but it produces much better results in our life.
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Recently my wife and the Lord have told me that it’s time to start saying no to things. When life gets so busy that you’re double booking, forgetting things you’ve agreed to and are living exhausted all the time, you’re doing too much. Life has lots of demands by itself, then we start complicating it by adding things to it. If we’re not careful, we can get so caught up in doing things for our families, our friends, our churches and others that we forget to stop and rest. Worse yet, we can miss our quiet time with God.
Busyness is not necessarily a sign of Godliness. In our minds, it’s easy to equate the two, but there is a point where we just need to stop, sit down and feed ourselves mentally, spiritually and emotionally. When Jesus went to the house of Martha, Mary and Lazarus, Martha was busy preparing food and serving her guests. She was doing what was necessary because she had guests, but she was stressing herself out too. That’s when she noticed her sister wasn’t even helping her. Instead, she was just sitting there listening to Jesus.
When Martha complained to Jesus, His reply to her was also to us. In Luke 10:41 He said, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered and anxious about so many things” (AMP). Each one of us should substitute our name for hers right there and know that God is ok with you slowing down, clearing your calendar and removing the things from your life that distract you from Him. Life isn’t about being busy all the time. It’s preparation for eternity. When you get to Heaven, you’re not going to be asked how busy you were or how much you accomplished. You’re going to be asked how well you knew Jesus and how well He knew you.
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In our world, there is so much emphasis on leading and so little on following. Even my young son wants to lead wherever we go. He wants to be out front leading the way. The problem is that He has no clue where we are going most of the time. That doesn’t change the fact that he wants to be out front. What he has to learn is that before he, or anyone, can be a good leader, they have to be a good follower first. If everyone is trying to lead, and no one is following, it creates chaos.
No one knows where your life is going better than God, yet for most of our life we are out front like my son trying to beat Him there. Thankfully God is patient with us as we learn to follow Him. As we get better at following Him, our prayers often change from “God, where are you taking me” to “God, would you please lead me?” If we want to know where He’s taking us, we’ll try to get out front again. If we want Him to lead us, then it doesn’t matter because we fully trust in His timing and destination for our lives.
Here are some Bible verses on following and leading.
1. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.
Psalms 139:24 NLT
2. I follow faithfully the road he chooses, and never wander to either side.
Job 23:11 GNT
3. The sheep that are My own hear My voice and listen to Me; I know them, and they follow Me.
JOHN 10:27 AMP
4. He leads the humble in the right way and teaches them his will.
Psalm 25:9 GNT
5. Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”
John 8:12 NLT
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In sports, there are always arguments over who is the greatest of all time. In football, the question is if Tom Brady is greater than Joe Montana. In basketball, it’s if LeBron James is greater than Michael Jordan. There’s even debate over who the single greatest sports figure is across all sports. People will always have opinions and will argue over who the greatest is when it comes to sports or just about anything really. I believe it’s because God put something in us that wants to be great and fights against mediocrity.
Even the disciples argued over who was the greatest. Luke 9:46 says, “An argument broke out among the disciples as to which one of them was the greatest” (GNT). I can hear their arguments now. John probably said, “I’m the greatest because He loves me most.” Peter argued, “But I walked on water!” What’s funny is you don’t hear Jesus rebuke them for wanting to be great. Instead, He says, “For the one who is least among all of you [that is, the one who is genuinely humble–the one with a realistic self-view]– he is the one who is [truly] great” (AMP).
Jesus’ desire is that each of us would be great, and He told us how. In God’s Kingdom, the greatest isn’t the person who wins the most souls, heals the most people, has the most famous ministry or goes to third world countries. To be great is to be humble and to serve others. It’s understanding who we are on Christ and that we are only great through Him. He is the potter and we are the clay. If you want to be great, then let Him do what He wants with your life. Your greatest potential lies in being who He created you to be.
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