A HUMBLE EXALTATION

READ: Luke 18:9-14

The Christian life is marked by a realization that we are in desperate, daily need of a Savior. While we are all made in the image of God (Gen.1:27), we are permanently marked by sin and thus separated from God (Rom. 3:23). In our brokenness, and distance from our loving God, it becomes easy to seek out approval, recognition and validation in the world. We see this nearly every day in nearly every one.

In this parable, Jesus paints a stark dichotomy of two hearts, two men and two very different expressions of faith toward the Lord amidst a broken society. The Pharisee’s heart is one marked by personal pride, and mistaken faith that he had favor in the Lord based solely upon his own spiritual discipline. Perhaps it would be easy to see this as warranted. He was favored amongst his worldly peers, and likely validated as such. Yet, ironically, this quickly poisoned his heart with pride, and ultimately love, toward
the world — not God.

As Jesus shows, the raw plea for mercy towards God is the purest expression of love. The tax collector, even in the midst of his own self-evident sin, maintained his reverence towards the Lord. He looked up, not down. He recognized his own distance from justification. This, Jesus says, leads to exaltation, righteousness, and reward in the form of salvation.

As Christians, trusting Jesus Christ as Savior of our lives is an act of humility, and our continued daily dependence on Him for our salvation is a testimony that we have found a savior. After all, a humble heart before the Lord and a desperate dependence upon His own act of love and mercy is the very deepest expression of love we can offer to God.

God isn’t interested in us presenting any form of validation towards Him. He already presented the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf in the form of his Son – Jesus. We are to lay down our life to Him.

PRAY: God, may You be glorified in me, just as I am. MayI trust in You always.

THE POWER IN PRAYER

READ: Psalm 116:2

As I sat down to write this devotional, I did what probably any of us would do when we are struggling with where to start something. I turned to Google. I quickly realized 2 things:

First, there are a lot of
‘experts’ and information out there on prayer. From quotes, to examples of prayers, instructions on how to pray, even the ways God answers prayers. It all was quite overwhelming.

Second, the only place I should be looking for inspiration on writing a devotional on prayer is God’s word.

Max Lucado said “Our prayers may be awkward. Our attempts may be feeble. But since the power of prayer is in the One who hears it and not in the one who says it, our prayers do make a difference.”

The power of prayer is in the One who hears it and not in the one who says it.

So many times I feel like we have to ‘say the right words.' That our prayers have to be some perfectly thought out work of literature, or they’re just not quite good enough. But in reality, the words we say and how we say them are not what’s important. He knows what we need before we even ask, remember Matt 6:8?

We need to just simply be spending time in conversation with God. I have numerous conversations throughout the day – with my family, with the children I teach, with coworkers. None of these conversations are difficult to have. Our prayers with God should be that simple - a conversation.

PRAY: Almighty Father, thank You for knowing my heart and knowing my needs even before I do. Help me to worry less about the words I say and focus more on spending time daily in conversation with You.

A PURE HEART

READ: Isaiah 29:13

The Lord says: "These people come near to Me with their mouth and honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of Me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.

We all want to do the “right thing.” And, if we’re really honest, we all want others to see or notice that we are doing the “right thing.”

It’s even better when others praise us for our “right” actions. As a people pleaser, this gets me every time.

God does not just require “right” actions, though. Any worship of God, whether it’s fasting, praying, serving, giving, etc., must be done with a pure heart or it’s just hypocrisy.

An extravagant offering given to show off wealth is meaningless to Him. A beautiful song sung for the praises of men is just noise in His ears. In Psalm 139 God warns His people that He will always test our hearts to find our true motivations.

What does God want, what does He require?

Micah 6:8 tells us what God really wants from us is a humble and pure heart. There’s nothing wrong with “right” actions, but we must always make sure those actions come from a pure heart.

PRAY:

Just as Psalm 139 says, search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way of everlasting. Help me to live out of a pure heart of worship for You, and not for the praises of others. Make my motivations be pure and pleasing to You.

JESUS SAYS, PRAYER IS...

READ: Matthew 6:1-18

Is any of you good at prayer? Are you a good prayer? Any prayer warriors?

I am not a great prayer. I have tried lots of different prayer forms and practices over the years. My prayer life is pretty hot and cold —and by hot and cold, I mean at times I’ve used an orthodox Jewish prayer rope, praying with repetition...ACTS prayer, open- ended prayers, guided prayer-books, etc.

And with each of these, I fizzle out and end up going on for periods without good communication with God... I go weeks without intentionally praying to God.

2 Major reasons people don’t pray:

-Not knowing what to do in prayer -Not have a sound theology of prayer

Often when we pray, we focus on praying instead of focusing on God. Is this familiar? “God, I’m here today to avoid the guilt of not praying today.” Maybe not the words...but at least the sentiment...

The syntax of prayer has less to do (not nothing...) with its forms (posture, what, how, when) and more to do with your relationship with God. AND SO: Love, honesty, and relationship is the true syntax of prayer because it is speaking and listening to the God who is love.

Why should we have confidence that God hears our prayers? Christ was the true Son of God...perfect in relationship, perfect in Image...And at the point in which He raised Lazarus from the dead, He prayed: “Father, I thank You that You have heard me. I knew

that You always hear me,”. Christology is the vital basis of our confidence that God is “UP THERE” listening. What belongs to Christ, now belongs to all who trust in Him. If the Father always hears the Son, then He always hears those who, in Christ, are sons. Galatians 4:6 agrees: “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba Father! ”

PRAY:

God, I’m here. [Spend a moment communicating to God what you appreciate and love about Him.

Offer Him your praises of His character and activity.]

[Now, spend a moment talking with God about the condition of your heart and mind on this day.

What worries you? What do you care about?]

[Close your prayer with 3-5 minutes (or more) of silence. When you feel distracted, say: “I’m listening God.]

WHAT'S INTEGRITY

READ: Psalm 15

[in-teg-ri-tee] – The quality of being of sound moral principle; uprightness; honesty, and sincerity

What would you do if your boss asked you to put untrue information on a report? What do you do if you are taking a test that determines your admission to a university? How would you respond to someone who is harassing you or your children? These and many more situations are faced almost daily. What situation last challenged your integrity?

How can a person gain INTEGRITY?

Psalm 15:2 tells us how:

-He/She whose walk is blameless
-He/She who does what is righteous
-He/She who speaks the truth from his/her heart -He/She who has no slander on his/her tongue -He/She who does his/her neighbor no wrong -He/She who despises a vile man but honors those who fear the LORD

Why should a person desire INTEGRITY?

-God UPHOLDS them – Psalm 41:12 In my INTEGRITY You uphold me and set me in Your presence forever.
-VICTORY over enemies – Proverbs 2:7 He holds victory in store for the upright and a shield for those whose walk is blameless. -God GUARDS them – Proverbs 2:8 He guards the course of the just and protects the way of His faithful ones.

-PEACE – Proverb 16:7 When a man’s ways are pleasing to the LORD He makes even his enemies live at peace with Him.
-REWARDS – Proverbs 11:18 The wicked man earns deceptive wages, but he who sows righteousness reaps a sure reward.

PRAY: Heavenly Father, I love You. Help me keep my eyes on You and forgive me when I don’t. I can do nothing without You, so live through me today and my words will be Your words and my actions will be Your actions. That is the only way I can have INTEGRITY.

STUBBORN YET DEARLY LOVED

READ: Ephesians 2:4-8

Parenting is tough. There are days when I tell my son "no" and right in front of me he carries on as if he didn’t hear me. The worst is when he looks directly in my eyes while a sly grin spreads across his face and immediately does what he knows he was not supposed to do!

Stubborn. Yes- The seed of sin grew in me and was planted in him at birth.

And yet I can't help but think of how God must look out on His creation and see our rebellion much the same way... His children whom He created and loves, taking His law and tossing it aside. My child’s faults are merely a reflection of a broken world that he merely inherited. But there’s good news for our broken world. 

God had a redemption plan that was established from the beginning of the Fall. It led to the reason why we celebrate Easter today. Jesus’deathpaidforoursinsandHis resurrection defeated those sins once and for all. No matter how many times we rebel against God, He loves us and wants us to experience true victory through Him.

PRAY: Dear Lord, We thank You for loving us despite our many failures. We celebrate You and the redeeming work You accomplished on the cross. Remind us to live in faith because of that victory.

AT EVERY OPPORTUNITY

READ: Acts 16:22-30

Wow. Did you read what I just read? Paul and Silas are brutally beaten for sharing the gospel and thrown into jail where a jailor is placed in charge of keeping them secure. The jailor probably takes a few swings himself, and then throws them into the deepest, darkest corner of the prison and shackles their feet in the stocks. Then, the unthinkable happens – while the jailor is sleeping, an earthquake shakes the prison so violently that all the doors break open and the shackles on their feet crack in two. The jailor is awoken and in an instant, he realizes that all of his prison doors are open and assumes that all the prisoners have fled the scene. Now, let’s be honest. If you were Paul in this situation, and your chains had been broken and your cell door swung open – would you wait around to see what happened to your captor? You’d be hard pressed to find a time where I was running any faster if I were in this situation. However, Paul waits and sees his captor about to take his own life in fear of the retribution he’d face for losing all of his captives. Paul steps in and saves his life, shortly after which God saves his soul. You see, Matthew tells us that it’s easy to love your brethren and hate your enemy, but Jesus’ way is much different from the easy way. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Matthew Henry says of this passage “These gifts of common providence are dispensed indifferently to good and evil, just and unjust; so that we cannot know love and hatred by what is before us, but by what is within us; not by the shining of the sun on our heads, but by the rising of the Son of Righteousness in our hearts.”

God may have a purpose for you today that you know nothing about, and it may be with someone you don’t even like. Will you allow the Son of Righteousness to rise up in your heart? How could God use you today?

PRAY: God, we need Your help to treat our enemies the way You treat them. Would we not overlook the opportunities You’ve placed in our lives to show love and compassion to those we don’t agree with. Would You allow us to be used in mighty and profound ways – like Paul – to save the lives of those around us.

HOLY LOVE

READ: 1 Peter 1:13-25

Recently, we introduced our children to the movie, The Lion King. It’s a humorous story with endearing characters and catchy songs. One scene, however, has left quite an impression on me. It’s where a lion named Scar causes the King of the Pride, Mufasa, to plummet to his death. Although it is a disturbing scene, the king’s death isn’t the part that haunts me. Scar and Mufasa are brothers! Jealousy has taken such a visceral hold of Scar’s heart that their blood connection means nothing to him.

As we read this passage from Peter, there’s a common theme throughout: HOLINESS. He urges us to set our minds on holiness. How do we do this?

When we keep our minds on Christ. “Okay. I can do that! “

Also, when we keep Jesus in everything we do.

“Sure, no problem!”

There’s one more very important act. LOVE. Sincere, brotherly love.

“Oh...”

This is hard. The examples in our everyday lives do not always show this deep abiding sibling love. Just look at Scar and Mufasa! Verse 14 tells us to leave behind our evil ways that were present before Jesus invaded our lives. When we walk in the holiness that comes because of what Jesus did on the cross, we find love. Sincere and deep love for others. Even our enemies. It’s not natural. And yet, the more we pursue Christ, the more holy we become, and the more we find we can love from a place of sincere esteem for others.

PRAYJesus, We are so glad that You love us. Help us to regard others with the same sacred love. Help us to love others not out of obligation but out of the overflow of the abundant life taking up residence within our hearts. To be a true follower of Christ, we must be holy. To be holy we must love others. And we can’t love without the holiness that comes through Christ. Bring us back to the Cross. May we linger a while longer as we treasure the gift of love given to us in spite of our sins. And may we love others as extravagantly as we have been loved by You.