Devotions

More Precious to God

Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!’ He replied, ‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. –Matthew 8:24-25

I have often heard this passage spiritualized in some way, using the word “storm” figuratively, as in “the storms of life,” or any stressful event we go through. This is all well and good, but keep in mind that the disciples were afraid to the point they believed they were all going to die. Have you ever been that afraid? I have, and at that point in my faith walk I can’t report that I handled it much better than Jesus’ disciples here.

But listen to what Jesus tells these twelve men when he sends them out to preach and teach and perform miracles in his name: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.  And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:6-7) It’s comforting to believe God’s love for us is so deep and faithful that he knows even the smallest detail about us, especially when we face life’s hardships, and especially when those hardships are because we follow Jesus.

Anxiety, fear, and worry are the common denominators for a lack of trust. A small child trusts her loving parents. Our heavenly Father wants us to trust him the same way. He knows even each sparrow, of which there must be many millions, of which God does not consider too insignificant for his tender care. For me, when I face a crisis and feel all alone, the temptation is to feel like no one cares, and therefore God does not care. Not true! We have God’s word on it.

When I consider Jesus’ final days on this earth–the agony in the garden of Gethsemane, Judas’ betrayal, the arrest, the disciple’s desertion, the flogging, the mocking, the crucifixion–none of these things caused Jesus to lose his focus. It wasn’t until his last few breaths, his last dozen heartbeats, that he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

The next time you are tempted to feel that God doesn’t care, remember that Jesus can relate to our struggles: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15)

PRAYER: Dear heavenly Father, help us know you, love you, and trust you more each day. May your Holy Spirit calm and strengthen us when we worry to excess or fear to the extreme, and remind us of your ever-present care. In Jesus precious name, Amen.

 

 

 

Should We Be Angry With Sinners?

About twenty years ago, when I was a baby Christian, I remember getting angry about a rather well-known person’s sin. She happened to be in the media spotlight, had just come to Christ, and the Christian community was rejoicing over this victory (touchdown for team Jesus!). Then this woman said something very offhand and disrespectful of Jesus (most likely out of sheer ignorance–what does a brand spanking new baby know?). Anyway, I recall feeling angry and became offended at how ungrateful she seemed for God’s goodness. Then the Lord broke into my thoughts. Pray for her.

The idea of doing something good for her took me aback. She doesn’t deserve it, Lord! But grudgingly I prayed for her correction and true conversion. A few days later, she was in the news apologizing for her earlier comments. I was overcome with joy, because the Lord not only corrected her, but also fixed my own attitude as well.

I can’t say that I never get angry at sin anymore, but the good Lord does not tire of reminding me when I need to have my heart more tender toward people. After all, Paul tells the Ephesians that unbelievers are  “darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.” (Ephesians 4:18) It should not surprise us when non-Christians say or do things that are offensive, because it is only the glorious light of the gospel message that frees us from spiritual darkness.

As a matter of fact, it should not surprise us even when fellow Christians say or do things that are offensive. I love the apostle Peter. He blurts out what is on his mind. When Jesus talked to his disciples about sin and how to handle it, Peter wanted to know how many times he had to forgive his brother or sister. The fact that he wanted an exact number so he could keep a running tally is so human. But Jesus tells him “not seven times, but seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:22) He then proceeds to tell a parable that illustrates God’s generous mercy towards each of us, and how we must imitate that mercy among ourselves.

When I think about it, Jesus did not get angry with sinners. The only times we read in scripture that Jesus became indignant was when the religious leaders showed no mercy. Jesus, on the other hand, reached out to sinners to help them, teach them, forgive them. When the Jews caught a woman in the act of adultery and dragged her out to be stoned, Jesus was not angry with her. In the parable of the prodigal son, the father (who depicts God) is not angry with his wayward son–he is grieving for his lost child. When Jesus is dying on the cross between two criminals who mock him, he is not angry with them! He actually used that opportunity to do what he came to do, “to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10) He still does. Let us “go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:37)

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, even when you hung on the cross and the thieves mocked you, the people mocked you, and the religious leaders mocked you, you did not get angry. You said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Help us recognize opportunities to pray, not condemn. Amen.

 

Love, the First Commandment

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” –Luke 10:27

I recently read the parable of the good Samaritan, and couldn’t help but notice the first commandment that God gave the Israelites was to love him. And it wasn’t to be a casual love, but a whole-hearted, deep-in-your-soul, to-your-last-breath, wholly-conscious love. This must have been a unique concept of God at the time, for I can’t imagine people who worshipped pagan gods felt any affection for their idols. It is the only true God who initiates relationship with his creation. And while the Israelites were making their golden calf, God penned this first commandment: love. The same kind of love that Jesus had for his Father, that empowered him to walk, talk, eat, and breathe his Father’s will. The same kind of love that was poured out on the early church and created leaders like Paul who left all for the sake of Christ, or like Peter who, although he denied knowing Jesus three times, ultimately died a martyr. After the resurrection, what did Jesus ask Peter three times? Do you love me?

I felt the Holy Spirit asking me the same question. After some thoughtful consideration, I said, “Yes, BUT not as passionately as I should.” I think about the times I say no to God, and realize that it is those very times that are an opportunity to deny myself and follow Jesus. I think what our Heavenly Father was trying to tell me was that at the point of my “no” there is a false god or something that I love more hindering me. God did not make love the first commandment by mistake. It is out of love for Him that all things flow. It is out of love for the Father that the Son left his glory and became like us, yet obedient to death, even death on the cross. It is out of this kind of love that Jesus was able to say, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)

PRAYER: Dear Father, pour out in our hearts your Holy Spirit, that he may fan the love in our hearts into a holy love for you that is steadfast and without reserve. In the precious name of Jesus, Amen!