Imagine the crowds Jesus could have had during His ministry if He had promoted and advertised His miracles. Let’s say one of His disciples passed out flyers that read, “Come to the meeting tomorrow, and you will see Jesus walk on water, move a building, and pick up a mountain!” Let’s understand that Jesus did His miracles to help people and to reveal His power as the Son of God. They were never to “show off.” He knew that if people followed Him only for entertainment or for personal gain, they would quickly fall away. In John 6 we read of Jesus feeding 5,000 interested followers. From five small loaves and two fish, Jesus multiplied the food to meet all the needs…with plenty left over! Immediately following this, the crowds followed Him to the other side of the lake. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill” (John 6:26). Considering life today, we see that times have changed, but the human heart remains the same. How many people want to follow Jesus only for what He can do for them? How many people only want to hear about His blessings—but never His commands. Jesus refused to fall into the trap of being the chief benevolence provider. Yes, He is willing to bless and to provide, but He did not come to give us an easy carefree life. He came to save us and give us His Spirit so that we might follow Him. After Jesus’ hard sayings about the need to “feed” on Him rather than pursue material things, many in the crowd left Him. Their thinking was, Jesus is supposed to make me happy, and, if he doesn’t, I’m out of here. At the end of this encounter, only the most dedicated believers stayed with Jesus. Peter, speaking for the rest of them, said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69). Motivation is critical. Will we still love the Lord when the blessings are not visible? Will we still follow when others go their own way? Jesus is Lord…and He is worthy of our total allegiance. Are you totally in—no matter what happens?
Sometime last year I started a new morning habit. Around 7:15 every day, I cut up pieces of bread and scatter them on the sidewalk for the birds. Because of my consistency, a group of “feathered friends” await me…poised and ready to swoop down on their daily breakfast. Now, even though I like to help birds in this way, I am under no illusion that they could not survive without me. While reading Luke this week, I was reminded of Jesus’ teaching concerning the ravens. He said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?” (Luke 12:22-26). Birds teach us about God! If we could get inside a bird’s brain, we would discover a few things. First, they don’t awake in the morning plagued with anxiety. They are not thinking, What if God does not provide today and I starve? In fact, most mornings I hear the birds singing! It’s as if they are simply praising God for giving them another day…knowing that all they need will be provided. Birds also teach us the uselessness of worry. Instead of worrying, birds instinctively trust God and put action to their desires. They believe their food will be provided, and they go after it! God is faithful. He takes care of them. Jesus challenges all of us to learn from the birds. We don’t have to lose our peace and use up our limited energy imagining all the “worst case scenarios.” We can exercise faith, believing that God values us more than the birds! Life’s challenges present us with much that is beyond our control. Let’s push back against worry and praise the Lord for His faithful, daily provision. God will take care of you!
This past week in my devotions I read through the Book of Daniel. This short book of 12 chapters is full of prophecy, visions, prayer, and amazing stories! While reading, I was inspired not only by the book itself but also by the man Daniel. As a young man he was captured by the Chaldeans (when they invaded Judah) and was brought to Babylon. Instead of fading into isolation and obscurity, Daniel continued to live for God and make the best of a difficult situation. Those around Daniel noticed his godly character. He, along with other promising Jewish candidates, were chosen for the “leadership fast track” in the king’s service. The Babylonians could not understand why Daniel was so trustworthy and wise. On different occasions, they explained Daniel in their own way as one “who has the spirit of the holy gods in him” (Daniel 5:9). Of course, they were simply trying to describe the beautiful presence of God’s Holy Spirit in Daniel. As followers of Jesus, we know Daniel’s true success did not come by self-help or pride in his own abilities. Over and over, we read of Daniel’s humility as he deflected honor and praise to the only One worthy…the Lord God Almighty! Even the angelic beings recognized Daniel and called him “highly esteemed” (10:11). Also, while reading this book, you discover a roller coaster of events. Sometimes Daniel is elevated to great heights of leadership and other times he is despised and persecuted (remember the lion’s den!). Through it all, Daniel remains steadfast and faithful. A few verses from chapter six summarize for me Daniel’s amazing character: “Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom…. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt not negligent” (Daniel 6:3-4b). Daniel is described as “exceptional!” May we realize the truth that Daniel stood out because he consistently yielded himself totally to the Lord. Rather than living a life of carnality and compromise (“when in Babylon do as the Babylonians”), Daniel continued to walk with God. I hope you read the Book of Daniel! Yes, the prophesies and stories are outstanding, but let Daniel himself inspire you. Keep living for Jesus…and be exceptional!
I’m reading through the Book of Ezekiel. Ezekiel is in the land of Babylon and prophesying about what will happen to the remnant still left in the land of Israel. It’s not a positive outlook. The people in Israel are determined to continue in their sins, totally disregarding God. I came across some verses that stopped me in my tracks. I thought to myself, These are among the scariest verses in the Bible. Here is what Ezekiel wrote: “Therefore, son of man, say to your people, ‘If someone who is righteous disobeys, that person’s former righteousness will count for nothing. And if someone who is wicked repents, that person’s former wickedness will not bring condemnation. The righteous person who sins will not be allowed to live even though they were formerly righteous.’ If I tell a righteous person that they will surely live, but then they trust in their righteousness and do evil, none of the righteous things that person has done will be remembered; they will die for the evil they have done” (Ezekiel 33:12-13). So, God is speaking to the Israelites of impending judgment due to prolonged and present wickedness. Some were trusting in their own previous righteousness. Maybe they had served God for many years and done many good deeds. However, the warning is clear. Just because you have served God in the past gives you no assurance if you abandon the Lord and give yourself to doing evil. For me personally, this gives me a healthy sense of the fear of God. Even though I have served the Lord since I was a teenager, I cannot trust in my past ministry or good deeds as a “license” to do my own thing. In other words, the challenge here is to live for the Lord in the present and to end well. I suppose some would say this kind of thinking leads to a lack of assurance of salvation. However, I absolutely believe in the assurance of salvation rooted in our trust in the Lord Jesus. But, to abandon this trust and to place our trust in ourselves and our “righteousness” puts us in a dangerous place. Let’s take God at His Word and continue to persevere in our faith in Christ…demonstrating this faith through trust and obedience!
“Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” (Psalm 32:11). September has the feel of a “new year”—not just a new month. As the summer days fade, a new season of refreshing takes its place. I think it’s fitting for us to reflect on Labor Day as the official beginning of this new time and to consider the role of work in our lives. People I talk to often express extreme views about their work. They usually tell me they really like their work or…they hate it and can’t wait to leave. Have you noticed that, if you don’t like something, it’s hard to hide your feelings day by day? Those who work with a negative attitude influence others. What’s in the heart eventually comes out. Before you know it, a “toxic” work environment grows and stifles creativity and productivity. Now, let’s think about this in relation to serving the Lord. Are there times when serving the Lord sputters into mere “robotic activity.” We know the drill…just do enough to get by in our relationship with God. Sometimes our attitude sinks into I don’t like this, but I’m still on the job. Through my studies and preaching on “Summer Psalms,” my attitude has been challenged by David’s attitude toward serving the Lord. Over and over, he speaks about the joy of living in the presence of God. He rejoices in the great blessings and benefits of sins forgiven and a clear conscience. For David, following the Lord was not a “obligation grudgingly performed” but a delight to his soul. If your relationship with the Lord has slipped into more of a duty than delight, I encourage you to follow the footsteps of David. He focused on the Lord himself and worshiped in His presence. David took time to wait on the Lord, allowing Him to stir the embers of his heart until the flames grew hot. Let’s remember that living for Jesus is not a difficulty to endure but, rather, the greatest delight we can ever know! Allow the Lord to renew your joy in Him! David declared, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). Enjoy the Lord!