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.

UPSIDE DOWN KINGDOM

READ: 1 Peter 3:10-12

“For the one who wants to love life and to see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit, and he must turn away from evil and do what is good. He must seek peace and pursue it, because the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are open to their request. But the face of the Lord is against those who do what is evil.” (1 Peter 3:10-12 HCSB)

The world is very sure of some things, and one of those things is that people deserve back what they have dished out. If someone insults a person, the expected thing is an insult back. If someone hurts another person, there must be recompense of the like! This is the world we live in–an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.

I want you to hear Peter speak to the church, who lived in this same cultural reality, and consider the spirit with which he speaks. He says that we must seek peace and pursue it. This goes beyond not fighting or gossiping about another, this implies a necessity to even “turn the other cheek” for the sake of those whom Christ’s image is marked on. The crazy thing is that this is how people who want to love life and see good days must live! I don’t know about you but I want to love my life, I want my days to be incredible and yet too often I can lose sight of the fact that I must live differently altogether than the way the world operates.

PRAY: Lord help us to live as members of Your Kingdom, not caught up in the affairs we are surrounded with every day and not caught up in the way the world operates. Help us to be Kingdom people that pursue peace with those around us in every way possible.

MEAN WHAT YOU SAY

READ: Mt. 5:37 & Titus 2:7-8

“In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.”

The passage in Matthew speaks to our integrity. In this time it seems to be all we have that someone cannot take from us. The late Supreme Court Justice, Antonin Scalia said that brains and learning are articles of commerce but, “The only thing in the world not for sale is character.“

Jesus called us to make disciples. The more we try to accomplish this and lead our friends, family members, co-workers and others to Him, the more we will be challenged, questioned and judged as to the truth of what we believe and stand for.

The best way to lead another to Christ is to build a relationship with them. In doing so trust must be established. That is followed by examples of a life well lived in obedience and then the blessing of grace and salvation.

The difference between “happiness” and the joy of the Lord becomes something a person begins to hunger and thirst for.

Just mean what you say and say what you mean. Let God’s Word be your guide and pray in His Son’s Name that your words would be His words.

PRAY: Heavenly Father, the desire of my heart is to lead others to a relationship with You and to live out the Great Commission given me by Christ. Please help me keep to Your Word and truth and be a blessing and guide to those I encounter for You. In Your Son’s blessed and holy Name.

JESUS SAYS: INTEGRITY IS...

READ: Matthew 5:33-48

I WANT WHAT I WANT!

Jesus was pretty much laying it out what it meant to truly have life the way God intended for us to have. Man had constantly pushed towards what he wanted. Jesus was now telling the crowd how to have life in the most complete and fulfilling way possible.

Be truthful and take a stand; let what you say mean something. Quit being so selfish; give more of yourself. Start loving those who are hard to love; you might want to even pray for them.

Stuff is going to happen; quit thinking about yourself all the time. Make a difference by getting your eyes off of yourself and on to others who are around you.

Jesus was shooting straight with the people He loved and came to give His life for. You know what? Nothing has changed since then.

God offers unconditional love and forgiveness to everyone ...no exceptions.

He desires for everyone to get their eyes off of themselves by trusting all that they are and have to His son, Jesus. We’re the ones who make it difficult. We want our stuff, our calendar, our friends, our way. Let’s face it, we’re pretty selfish and our egos are usually not worth writing home about. What if we let God begin to remold us, change our hearts and give us compassion for a non-believing world? Things will truly start to take off. Is it worth the price we need to pay? He did!

PRAY: Dear Jesus, help us realize how self-centered we can be. Please give us the understanding and desire to yield ourselves totally to You. Help us to be vessels for change, not for deterioration. God, help us be different. Help us be difference makers.

YOU MAD BRO?

READ: Genesis 37:12-28

I have an older sister. Now that we are both grown up, we have a great relationship and love to be around each other. Growing up, though, we were often at odds. I was the pesky little brother who liked to bug his sister. She was the older sister who used to pick on this little brother. With all that said, not once did I ever believe my sister didn’t love me. Not once was I ever scared she would throw me in the car, drive me to an abandoned truck stop, and kick me out with no way home. This is essentially what happened to Joseph.

Joseph was loved deeply by his father. Jacob left no question as to how much he cared for his son. He had a lot of sons, but only one got the infamous coat of many colors (they even made a movie about it; he was that important). His brothers hated him for that. They kidnapped him, sold him into slavery, and told everyone that he was dead.

They didn’t take the time to make things right with Joseph; they just got rid of him. Thankfully (spoiler alert), in the long run, God used Joseph’s ordeal to save his family from ruin.

We should take a lesson from Joseph’s playbook. His brothers hated him and literally sold him as a slave. When he had the opportunity to get them back for their hate, what did he do? He loved them. He treated them with kindness and provided for their needs. He took his brothers in and showed them compassion. Love those around you this week. Don’t let hatred or disagreements affect the bonds God has built.

PRAY: God, who do I need to get right with this week? Who do I need to forgive? Who do I need to love? What relationship do I need to rebuild?

RECONCILED TO RECONCILE

READ: 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

In Matthew 5 Jesus tells us to "agree quickly with our adversary." Jesus calls for us to seek reconciliation quickly, and He warns, "Whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment." The good news for us is, through Jesus, and by faith, we can have victory over this evil.

Paul speaks about this victory clearly in 2 Corinthians chapter 5: "therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer." This is beautiful news!

So many things happen in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. First, there is a personal reconciliation to God. Second, the body of Christ is established, as we are reconciled to each other. Third, our missional stance as the church is born.

It enables us to equip each other to mobilize and proclaim the fullness of reconciliation in the gospel. Or as I have heard it so eloquently preached, "In essence, we are reconciled to reconcile." This is what the gospel has done for us, it has declared we are free, and it has also declared that we now get to participate in the perfect story of gospel reconciliation.

PRAY: Lord help us take steps as Your ambassadors, making much of You in all we do and say. That we would live a life not according to personal satisfaction of the flesh, but to Your holy and acceptable ways. Help us to press forward as a reconciled people, and take part in Your reconciling work. May we be unashamed of the freedoms we have because of the Gospel, and operating as doers of Your word Lord.

REMOTE CONTROL

READ: Ephesians 4:26-31

Before I got into rock climbing I always assumed that only folks with superhuman strength qualified for the sport. Once I got into it, however, I learned that great climbers are marked more by the deftness of their footwork than some overabundance of upper body strength. They learn to use and trust their feet without a platform. They know that even the smallest footholds make it easy to climb up a cliff.

Anger isn’t always loud. It doesn’t always need a major catalyst. It’s easy to cross the line from safe to sin, and controlled to chaos.

We can't always control our circumstances, but we can always control how we respond to them. If you’re anything like me, that ‘r’ word was the toughest of my dad’s oft-repeated wisdom for me to heed. Reacting is far simpler. It’s immediate. It’s our gut instinct. Just give into impulse, without thought. But, as my dad labored so long to teach me, Jesus calls us to respond.

Turn the other cheek. Resist the urge to react. Our enemy is powerful, but even he needs sure footing in order to impact the way we walk with Christ. When we lose control, even slightly, the enemy gains the advantage he needs. His foothold may be small, but like a world-class climber, he doesn’t need much to climb the cliff.

So, the next time you find your buttons being pushed just ask yourself -

Am I reacting to instinct, or responding as a follower of Christ?

PRAY: Jesus, thank you for your unending grace and the patience with which you always respond to me. Help me to embody that same grace when I find myself prone to anger. Help me trust that You are always in control so I may respond like You when I feel like I’ve lost it.