For those that have chosen to follow along over the last 40 days, it's been my hope and prayer that you've drawn closer to Jesus. As much as I myself have enjoyed writing and have certainly enjoyed the writing of those on the team, I realize that it's only through the Holy Spirit's work in our individual hearts that we are able to be drawn closer towards God desire for our lives. The words you've read over the last 40 days of devotionals are merely words, without the prompting of the Spirit of God they surely fall short and serve no purpose for our lives.
My encouragement to you on this final day of the "40 Days Towards Jesus" journey is to not stop. Perhaps you feel as though God has given you some new revelation or challenged you in some area where you've often struggled. He's done this because you've given Him opportunity to do so. It's not that He's not capable of getting through our thick skulls without our permission or willingness but because of His love for us and His desire to have relationship with us He often chooses to stay side-lined until we are ready. After all, that's the very nature of a healthy relationship. Two parties, ready and willing to enter into something deeper. God has made clear from the beginning that He has already chosen us as His own. John 15:16 says, "You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit..." God made His desire for us abundantly clear when He sent Jesus to walk among us and to die as the ultimate sacrifice so that we could be made right with Him. God's love for humanity is no secret.
Perhaps over these last 40 days you have allowed your heart to be somewhat more receptive to God's advances. Often our hearts become more reflective around times like Easter and Christmas. Maybe it's tradition or us falling into the current of endless social media post regarding the power of Easter and the hope that the resurrected Jesus brings. Regardless, He longs to continue what's been started.
Maybe for you this on again, off again relationship was started long ago, you've gone through many seasons of waning and waxing love and intimacy with God. Maybe for you, it's a more recent development, nevertheless God desires that the relationship continue. He won't force it, that defeats His greatest desire, for you to willingly enter in to something deeper with Him but He will be waiting. He'll be waiting to meet you.
I'm reminded of the old hymn entitled, "In the Garden" or "I Come to Garden Alone". Originally written by American song writer, C. Austin Miles in 1912 it has since been recorded by countless artists including Johnny Cash, Rosemary Clooney, Elvis Presley and Roy Rogers. While I'm confident that every version is unique and powerful in its own right I am partial to the Merle Haggard rendition for its' simplicity.
Do you recoil at the thought of being commanded to do something? Maybe you are more compliant than I am, but I don’t really like receiving commands. And yet, as Christians we are commanded to follow Jesus. Today is Maundy Thursday when we remember the foot-washing and Last Supper. The Latin word "mandatum" gives us the English word mandatory. During this meal, Jesus gave his followers a command which carries weight for us today.
“Love one another as I have loved you.”
It’s such a simple, beautiful idea. We should love one another just as Jesus loved us. This should be our primary identifier to the world. Our love for one another should be readily apparent to all people. However, we have a problem in carrying out this command. In most churches, it does not take long to see strife and division instead of love. If nothing else, the number and variety of churches points to the division within the church of Christ around the world. It’s easy to see the disobedience to the command here, but Maundy Thursday presents an opportunity for unity.
The rite of foot-washing and communion will bring many Christians together in remembrance today. Foot-washing should show us the humbleness of our Savior as He prepared to die. As His disciples worried about things like tradition, places of honor, and filling their stomachs with food, He took the place of a servant and washed their feet.
I have participated in foot-washing services, and although some people mock the act as pure religious symbolism, I know the ceremony can have a properly humiliating effect for all participants. It has a way of showing how silly many other things are that we do. Have you tried washing other adults’ feet? It isn’t comfortable, and it isn’t easy.
Why would this be important to remember today?
Serving others is hard. Love is hard. Many people have written about the significance of agape love. It is no coincidence John used it to convey Jesus’ message in John 13:34. It’s the same love John uses in 15:12-17 where he remembers Jesus’ description of His coming death- “No greater love has a man than to lay down his life for his friends.” This love is self-sacrificial and giving.
In the context of what Jesus was doing, one author (Strachan) notes that,
“this divine self-consciousness of Jesus, confronted by the final assault of the devil directed through his instrument Judas, manifested itself not in a sovereign display of omnipotence, but in an amazing act of self-humiliation.”
Jesus did not use his power and authority to show who He was, He showed it through humility. Love works itself out through humility. If we want to be known, we must be known through our humble acts of love. This is the message of Maundy Thursday.
In some Christian groups today is also known as a day of Mystery. We celebrate while also knowing that the cross is coming, in this way we are united with Christ. The symbols and practices of our faith, like taking communion, washing feet, or changing the symbols of cloth from celebration to black remind us to participate in the life of Christ. Again, our externals bring us to the mysteries of faith. We are invited to think and feel as Christ when He was betrayed and about to be humiliated and killed. The mystery comes in our union with Him.
As we approach Easter, let’s be united in our love. We will be knowingly humiliated, scorned, and rejected. In this death of self, let us rise again in Christ. Self-sacrificial love leads us into new life together. -Christopher
A few weeks ago my eyes were glued to the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. I streamed games, kept up with the ever developing bracket and usually rooted for the underdog. The Masters Golf Tournament just wrapped up a few days ago and I for one couldn't get enough. Tiger's comeback was crazy to watch and even more enthralling was the crowd's insatiable appetite for his victory. The NBA finals are getting underway, over the next few months teams and coaches will be fighting for their professional lives.
We love the idea of competition don't we? Competition is everywhere. It obviously embedded into the world of sports at both a professional level as well as an amateur level. Most parents are quick to get their kids involved in something competitive at a young age. We like to think that it builds character and teaches them the value of hard work and how to win with class and lose with dignity. I personally enjoy a good competition as well. It's seldom that my grown friends and I are together and some sort of competition or challenge doesn't take place. We can turn just about anything into a competition. I'm in competition's corner for sure. I love it.
I'll admit that competition has its place. I'll also admit that our love affair with competition has some nasty side effects that we should be cautious of, especially as Christ followers. In our world of constant comparison we can quickly fall into the trap of grading our spirituality against that of those around us. This is dangerous stuff.
The book of Matthew records for us a parable that Jesus shares regarding this very idea. Jesus says, “For the Kingdom of Heaven is like the landowner who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay the normal daily wage and sent them out to work. “At nine o’clock in the morning he was passing through the marketplace and saw some people standing around doing nothing. So he hired them, telling them he would pay them whatever was right at the end of the day. So they went to work in the vineyard. At noon and again at three o’clock he did the same thing. “At five o’clock that afternoon he was in town again and saw some more people standing around. He asked them, ‘Why haven’t you been working today?’ “They replied, ‘Because no one hired us.’ “The landowner told them, ‘Then go out and join the others in my vineyard.’ “That evening he told the foreman to call the workers in and pay them, beginning with the last workers first. When those hired at five o’clock were paid, each received a full day’s wage. When those hired first came to get their pay, they assumed they would receive more. But they, too, were paid a day’s wage. When they received their pay, they protested to the owner, ‘Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us who worked all day in the scorching heat.’ “He answered one of them, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage? Take your money and go. I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you. Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?’ “So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last.” Matthew 20:1-16 (NLT)
Why do we worry ourselves with what God is doing in the life of another versus what He's doing in our lives? Does God not have a plan for us? Is He not mapping out a journey that's specifically for us? Has God not already spoken to us as to what we're supposed to be doing? Is God somehow short changing us when He chooses to show up in someone else's life in a way that He hasn't shown up in our lives?
I love Matthew Henry's commentary on this passage when he says, "See here the nature of envy. It is an evil eye, which is displeased at the good of others, and desires their hurt. It is a grief to ourselves, displeasing to God, and hurtful to our neighbours: it is a sin that has neither pleasure, profit, nor honour. Let us forego every proud claim, and seek for salvation as a free gift. Let us never envy or grudge, but rejoice and praise God for his mercy to others as well as to ourselves."
Be encouraged and keep moving forward. -Andy
If you follow me on any social media platform, or have had even one in-person conversation with me, it is probable (definite) that you know about my dog. I've grown up in a household of dog-people, and since the early age of 7, I've had a pair of floppy paws running across the hardwood floors of my house.
And like pets tend to do, each little furry boy has taught me lessons no lecture or self-care manual could even attempt. I've learned responsibility, knowing that if said dog isn't periodically given the chance to go outside, it will inevitably choose the room with the newest carpet to take care of some business. I've learned what it means to truly grieve, as I've had to give my final cuddles and last kisses to two sickly pups. And what I believe to be the greatest lesson of all? Unconditional love.
However...I've also learned that animals are clueless. We tend to really hype up their abilities, them mastering a new trick or sleeping through the night (both major victories at my house...) but at the end of the day? They still chew up the socks and they still get into the trash.
Don't let this question shake you, but are we maybe a bit like dogs?
Giving in to impulses, intentionally disobeying commands that we know are only for our good, seeking attention from literally anyone willing to notice us?
This isn't some new idea, either. We've been referred to as worse animals before. Jesus himself straight up labeled us as sheep.
The Gospels and Old Testament prophecies alike use this (borderline insulting, yet completely accurate) metaphor to explain our relationship with Jesus. Jesus is the Good Shepherd. We are the stupid sheep.
Now of course, as the writers of Scripture often did, much more eloquent and professional sounding descriptions were used for our lack of competence, but if you've ever spent a good deal of time on a farm (I have not, but I do have Google), you can attest to the questionable decisions some sheep make. For instance, they literally will just jump off cliffs without thinking twice or once. The lack of direction seemingly embedded within their DNA will lead one or two sheep to the edge and the rest follow. Morbid, yes. Relatable? Maybe more than you think.
Sheep need their shepherd. When left to their own devices, the blinding absence of their own devices becomes apparent. One farmer-turned-writer told of the time one of his ewes decided to fend for themselves. While the sheep did manage to find a sustainable source of food, it also managed to get its head stuck in a fence while reaching for it.
When it comes down to it, I think we often forget how directionless we are as well. How many fences we've gotten our heads stuck in. We forget that our very existence is entirely dependent on the providence of our Good Shepherd. And friends, our Shepherd is a shepherd who loves his flock.
Psalm 23 is an oldie and a goodie in most churches, homes, and hearts. This idea of the Shepherd and sheep is the very nature of the psalmist David's words.
David reminds us that as the Lord is our Good Shepherd...
1.) We shall not want. Our every need is provided for.
2.) He longs to bring us rest. Our God is in the restoration business. Whether a radical lifestyle change, or recovering from a demanding day, He will bring us rest.
3.) We have no reason to fear. Our reality in this world is that we will walk through the valley, but our Shepherd has a strong rod, and a ready staff. Just as a shepherd wards off threats against his flock, God wards off threats against his Beloved.
4.) We have all the reason to be grateful. Our souls are living and breathing examples of the goodness of God. We are overflowing with this goodness, and there is no where we can run from it.
Find peace in this today. You may feel discouraged, constantly getting stuck in sticky situations or running after a flock headed towards destruction. But we can never go to far from the goodness of our Shepherd. He cherishes us, as he sees it as his duty to provide for us. Remember who is filling the troughs, and who is leading you to safety. -Taylor
Prayer changes things. I am confident of this fact because I've seen it with my own eyes. I have witnessed answered prayer for myself. I have seen firsthand a hardened heart become softened to God's leading. I have seen addicts break free from the chains of drugs and alcohol through the power of prayer. I have seen parent/child relationships restored through the faithful prayers of parents and children alike. I have heard the first hand testimonies of countless folks whose doctors can't explain the sudden disappearance of an abnormality on a scan or the complete reversal of troubling numbers other than through the supernatural working of prayer. Perhaps you too could attest to such answered prayers.
We know that God is not only listening but we know that He cares. We're familiar with passages in the Bible like Matthew 7:7 that tells us to not relent in our pursuit of God's intervention in our lives. We've experienced it for ourselves, we've heard the accounts of others, we know that prayer changes things and yet perhaps we still struggle to make prayer a daily, intimate part of our relationships with God.
Why is it so difficult for us to still ourselves and to quiet our spirits to spend time in prayer? I was chatting with someone just the other day who was lamenting their lack of focus in human to human conversations. They attributed this inability to focus directly to their time spent on social media scrolling through the endless news feeds and personal updates of friends and not-so friends. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snap Chat and whatever other social media platform you use are great for keeping up with friends and the latest news but they severely handicap us when it comes to the discipline of focus. When human to human conversations don't move at the speed of a Twitter or Facebook scroll we struggle to stay committed to the conversation. The same can be said of our human to God and God to human interactions. We've lost the ability to still ourselves, to listen and wait for a response. We've allowed our prayer lives to turn into a divine social media scroll. We quickly scroll through our list of needs at the speed of light. In turn we expect God to unveil His answers in a similar progression. We want the instant download of what to do about this, how to handle that and where the money is coming from for that. When God's answers don't come in rapid succession like our news feeds do we become impatient and lose focus even more quickly.
If we want a deeper faith we have to wait for deeper answers. The complexity of God and His full desires for your life can't be ascertained in a social media scroll type of prayer life. Slow yourself down. Give your spirit a chance to become quieted.
Be encouraged and keep moving forward. -Andy
This morning I am reminded of the tremendous opportunity that every day affords me.
Today I have the opportunity to lean in to God more than ever before through prayer and study.
Today I have the opportunity to become a better father.
Today I have the opportunity to do better than I did yesterday leaning on God for wisdom.
Today I have the opportunity to live in the fullness of Christ.
None of these opportunities are dependent on anyone else bringing anything to the table other than me. I don't need anyone else to do their part for me to make the most of these opportunities. Too often we become victims to our circumstances. We wait for the stars to align for us to get ourselves together. If so and so will just __________________ then I'll be able to ___________________. Stop waiting on everyone else and lean in to what God is calling YOU to do and then DO IT.
These opportunities are not unique to me. You have these same opportunities, yours may look different if you're not a spouse or a parent but I challenge you to make today about taking action with what God has laid before you. Be encouraged and keep moving forward. -Andy
Recently God has been dealing with me in the area of my critical spirit. I hate to let down the masses, and by masses I really just mean my mom, who has hoisted me onto a spiritual pedestal but this is where God has been challenging me lately. As I study the Scripture relative to this topic I'm challenged and reminded of a biblical truth that I offer to you.
We shouldn't be critical of others when we're guilty of doing the same thing. Paul paints this picture pretty clearly as he write to the church gathered in Rome.
Romans 2:1-3 (NLT) says, "You may think you can condemn such people, but you are just as bad, and you have no excuse! When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you who judge others do these very same things. And we know that God, in his justice, will punish anyone who does such things. Since you judge others for doing these things, why do you think you can avoid God’s judgment when you do the same things?"
To get the full picture of what Paul is getting at here you have to flip back to the end of Romans 1. He's telling the church to stop condemning others for greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, gossip, being back stabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, boastful, being disobedient to parents, breaking promises, refusing to understand, and being heartless and merciless.
Paul was chastising the church in Rome for condemning people for these things while they themselves were guilty of doing the same things. Jesus communicated the same idea in John 8 when He said to the religious leaders who brought the woman caught in adultery, "All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!”
Jesus is abundantly clear in John 10:10 when He says, "The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life." The flip side of a critical spirit that often goes unnoticed is the negative effect it has on the criticizer. When we adopt a critical spirit as a way of life we not only destroy the spirits of those around us, we destroys our spirits as well. There is a heaviness that comes with being critical. Often associated with a knot in the stomach, a feeling of regret lingers over us when we're constantly critical of those around us. This is not how God has designed that we live and function. We were created to bring life as He has brought life to us. The prophet Micah says is like this,
"No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God." -Micah 6:8 (NLT)
Can all of your interactions with those around you be classified according to the terms, "Righteousness, Mercy and Humility"? Here's a truth that you and I are both aware of but we tend to forget sometimes, "We're not perfect". Let's spend less time evaluating others and more time evaluating ourselves. Be encouraged and keep moving forward. -Andy
As weird as this sounds, this is one of my favorite things to see on a Wednesday night after our students gather each week. Empty chairs, sometimes chairs are flipped over (not even sure why that happens), a few pieces of garbage and/or wrappers laying around, things are messy, the room communicating a general sense of disarray. As I walked through our student center last night this scene caught my eye again as it does every week and I felt prompted to stop and snap a photo with my phone because I sensed that God was trying to speak something to me. I wasn't sure what exactly but I knew that I had always appreciated this scene so I quickly snapped a few photos, proceeded to shut the room down and headed for home.
As I arrived back at the church this morning for another day's adventures, it suddenly occurred to me why I appreciated that empty room scene so much. For me it communicates a sense of accomplishment. Not a prideful, arrogant, "look what I did" kind of accomplishment but rather a sense of "mission accomplished". What happens in this room each week is vital to the development of Christ followers. Seeds are planted. Thoughts are prompted. Life directions are initiated. Principles are communicated that for some have never been heard. Ideas are shared that bring new life. Exposure to the Word of God is brought to the forefront.
What I appreciate most about this scene is not so much what happens in the room but what I hope and pray is happening when the people leave this room. As much as we like to emphasize that growth and development happens here, it's when people leave this room that the rubber meets the road and ideas and commitments are tested. Growth happens not so much on the mountaintop of church, surrounded by friends and those who believe as you believe. Real growth happens in the valleys when you have to decide of what you experienced on the mountaintop is going to carry you through the darkness.
The Psalmist David said it this way, "The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me."
I like to think that what we provide is an opportunity for people to lie down in green pastures, to be led beside the quiet water and to have their souls refreshed by the Lord. I'm no shepherd but I would imagine that it's obvious when a flock of sheep have passed through an area and have mowed down the surrounding landscape. The grass is likely trampled, perhaps a few dung piles laying around, a general sense of disarray in the area. As the shepherd (small s) guides his flock into a new area he probably feels satisfied at a job well done.
The Good Shepherd (Big S) offers this same opportunity to each of us as well. He's willing to guide us, tend to us, feed us, water us and lead us. Those are the sweet moments on the mountaintop but let us not forget that when we leave the mountaintop, He is still with us. The Good Shepherd never leaves our side. Take courage as you head into the valley, walk with boldness, trust that in those moments you will be growing into the fullness of Christ. Be encouraged and keep moving forward. -Andy
Being in my twenties in 2019 is a challenge. The trends, styles, latest memes, and fads are changing at a rapid pace that quite frankly, I can't keep up with. Just when I finally feel that I've managed to swim my way to the shore of Society Island, a tidal wave of yet another new viral sensation I must familiarize myself with catches me with its all-consuming force.
All I'm trying to do is fit in. Why is it so hard?
The brutally honest answer, that which I've continually wrestled with while swimming toward the said island of notoriety and acceptance, is that I'm not supposed to fit in here. That's not even the island I should be headed to.
One of the most challenging aspects of my walk with Jesus, reaching back to the day of my salvation through the very moment I type these words, is that while I've been given this physical, earthly life, this isn't my final destination.
Some within Christian circles will refer to this as our "dual-citizenship", meaning that while we are very much citizens of this temporary world, we also have an assured home with our name on it waiting for us in Heaven. However you chose to label it, I'm going to chose to label it as confusing.
Even while I know that a final destination filled with the presence of God, face-to-face conversations with Jesus, and a cornucopia overflowing with the Fruits of the Spirit is awaiting me, I still have a good chunk of time here on Earth. And let's face it, this world isn't always the easiest to live in. Knowing that one day soon I'll be resting peacefully on the shore of Heaven doesn't seem to stop me from swimming like a blind fish towards a deserted island of empty promises.
One of my favorite quotes, that I share with basically anyone I come in contact with, helps me process this conflicting citizenship.
"A boat is made to be in the water, but once the water gets in the boat, it drowns."
I find this to be a beautiful metaphor for our time here on Earth.
Boats have a purpose. I don't know much about boats but I do know that some boats carry supplies to other parts of the world. Others may carry families to and from Caribbean docks and have on-ship amenities to create a joyful vacation atmosphere. And yet, other boats are the very workplaces of some individuals who have dedicated their lives to the tedious vocation of fishing. Regardless of the make or model, each boat was created intentionally, placed in the water with a purpose.
We are boats, friends. Sometimes it feels as though we were plopped in a swirling sea with no destination in sight. This world does that to us. The waves of popularity, politics, and peer pressure can make it easy to lose sight of where we are going and what we need to accomplish before we get there. Let's look at some encouragement from God's word...
In John 15:19, Jesus Christ himself explains why this is such a hard concept to master. "If you belonged to the world, it would love you as it's own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you."
In other words, this is why the tide keeps pulling us under, we don't belong to this world. This is a temporary sailing, if we want to keep this boat picture alive.
The comfort in these words from the gospel of John is the assurance that God has "chose us out of the world." Although we are here right now and must navigate the evil and suffering floating all around us, we can have confidence knowing he will not leave us here. He has placed us here with a purpose, perhaps to deliver the supply of the gospel, create peaceful atmospheres for others to enjoy, or dedicate ourselves to jobs of serving others, just like fishermen.
We have an exciting task at hand, as those who know the truth and saving grace of Jesus Christ. We have the opportunity, the obligation, to make this truth and saving grace known in this swirling sea, so everyone has the chance to join us in our eternal rest.
So I challenge you with this today, and perhaps the rest of your time here on this broken planet. It is easy to become engulfed (I truly cannot stop this metaphor if my life depended on it...) with the pain of this world and forget the pleasure of where we are headed. And don't misinterpret my heart here, I don't want us to become naive to the pain. But let's begin to sail intently, steering as many other boats as we can in the direction of Jesus. Decide today to no longer dedicate your time here on Earth to fitting in, but doing your part to fit others into the Kingdom. -Taylor