The Origin of Work

Here is a devotional from the Lead Like Jesus group, for April 20, 2018.

From the world’s perspective, work is often viewed as a curse, something to get done so that we can get on to relaxing and having fun. In contrast, from God’s perspective, work is a gift that reflects His creativity and energy and life-giving nature. By inviting us to join Him in His work of caring for creation in all its facets, God gave human beings purpose and significance and an opportunity to experience the satisfaction He experienced in creation. What work has God given you to do?

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. — Genesis 2:15

Prayer: Creator God, giver of every good gift and the one who orders the days of our lives, thank You for inviting me into the work of caring for the world You created. Whatever You have given me to do, may I do it to honor You and join You in what You are doing. In Jesus’ name, amen.

The Thief on the Cross

Passion week is almost upon us. Luke 23:39-43 records the familiar death-bed conversion of the thief on the cross. I recently studied on this topic and discovered seven truths that the repentant thief understood. These truths must be embraced in order to gain peace with God. Here’s the passage:

One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? “And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”

So, here are the seven observations:

  1. The repentant thief recognized the brevity of this life: He understood the temporary nature of life because he knew he was dying. There is biblical support for this knowledge (Psalm 103:15-16; James 4:14). We also should be concerned about what happens to us when this life ends.
  2. The repentant thief understood the reality of the afterlife: He understood that life after death was just as real as this present earthly life. This explains why he spoke with such confidence about Christ’s coming kingdom (Luke 23:42). Scripture teaches the reality of the afterlife, because God has designed part of man to live forever (Ecclesiastes 3:11). All people will exist forever, either with God in his kingdom or forever separated from him in a place of conscious torment (Daniel 12:2; Matthew 25:46).
  3. The repentant thief understood his guilt before God: He understood this fact when he said, “And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds” (Luke 23:41). While he was a criminal being punished for his crimes, the Bible is clear that we all are sinners, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
  4. The repentant thief understood the uniqueness of Jesus Christ: He understood Jesus to be God, according to Luke 23:40, “But the other answered, and rebuking him said, ‘Do you not even fear God?'” He further understands Jesus by saying, “but this man has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:41). Christ was sinless perfection and was different than any man he had ever encountered. Jesus is not one among equals, but the unique God-Man (John 8:58-59; 20:30-31; Revelation 19:16).
  5. The repentant thief understood that Christ had the power to save him: He understood his own guilt, but he also understood that this extraordinary man, Jesus, could do something to save him. “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom!” (Luke 23:42). Jesus had the ability to help people with their primary problem: their guilt and sin before a Holy God. The solution to this sin problem is found in Christ alone (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Timothy 2:5).
  6. The repentant thief understood that he could not be saved through his own good works or any act of self-righteousness: Since this thief was nailed to a cross, he understood there were no acts of self-righteousness he could perform. He could not join a church, do good deeds, or even be baptized. He was in a helpless position; just like us. We cannot do anything to merit God’s favor. God sees our acts of self-righteousness as filthy rags, if we are using them to gain favor from Him (Isaiah 64:6).
  7. The repentant thief understood that it is never too late to ask God for salvation: He knew his death was imminent, yet he still believed it was not too late to cry out for mercy and receive the divine grace the Jesus offers. Jesus gave him immediate assurance of salvation, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).

No matter what you have done, or how long you have lived, or how close you are to death, it is never too late to ask God for salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2b). However, once you die and you pass into the eternal realm, then it is too late (Luke 16:19-31; Hebrews 9:27).

Here is the challenge for all of us today:

  • Do you know these spiritual realities?
  • Do you understand the brevity of this life?
  • Do you understand the reality of the afterlife?
  • Do you understand your personal guilt before God?
  • Do you understand Christ’s uniqueness and power to save you?
  • Do you understand the ineffectiveness of self-righteousness?
  • Do you understand that it is not too late to trust Christ for salvation?

If so, do what the repentant thief did and trust in Christ alone for your salvation.

[print_link] [email_link] [adapted from Dr. Andy Woods]

The Monster in the Manger

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… you can’t read those words without adding the tune, at least in your mind. Christmas is a wonderful time because it is the time of celebration of the coming of the long-awaited Messiah. He was to be born in Bethlehem of Judea (Micah 5:2). Christians recognize the Messiah to be the baby born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14). The sign to the shepherds was finding the baby lying in a manger (Luke 2:12). So, much of Old Testament prophecy pointed to this great event in the life of the community.

In America, we have removed the Messiah in the manger and replaced him with the monster in the manger. To a few people, it appears to be offensive to make any reference to Jesus during Christmas, preferring to emphasize Santa, reindeer and good old fashioned consumerism (dare I say, materialism). In a lot of places we have to remove the word “Christmas” and insert “holidays.” Hey, if this is the only persecution the church receives, it is pretty mild compared to what believers are enduring around the world, just for professing faith in Jesus Christ.

Today I want to remind you of an over-used story in the Bible (although never to my knowledge is it in the context of Christmas). It is used often in the context of choices, women’s roles, discipleship, service, or the need to spend more time with Jesus (Luke 10:38-42).

38 As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. 40 But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”

41 But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! 42 There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”

This was a family whom Jesus loved very much. It was sort of like family coming home for the holidays. The first thing I notice is that Martha spent so much time serving Jesus that she had no time to enjoy his company. As a pastor, I fear this happening in my life and must constantly be on my guard against it. After all, Jesus called his disciples to first BE WITH him (Mark 3:14) before he sent them out to serve him.

Frustration apparently arose over Mary not doing her part to help out. Everything had to be perfect for the guest who were coming over. That which started out as gladness and celebration ended up in resentment and envy.

Christmas is a special time when we want everything to be perfect… the right thoughtful gift that expresses our feelings for someone; the party plans require cleaning, and shopping, and invitations, and cooking, and decorations, and all of this leads to exhaustion. If it is not perfect, then we are just a failure. How many times have you been so spent physically and emotionally that you are unable to enjoy the Christmas season?

We must keep the baby in the manger as our primary focus during Christmas, because we can be all about being so busy during Christmas that we forget what the nativity is all about. If the Messiah is being diminished, we are replacing him with a monster!

Even if what you are doing is for the glory of God, God will not ask you to do something that will hinder your relationship with him! Spend time with him rather than just serve him. Sometimes we actively serve him and at other times we quietly sit at his feet.

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God’s Requirement of Us

It’s the question that many ask… sometimes on a regular basis. What does God want from us?

And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you? He requires only that you fear the LORD your God, and live in a way that pleases him, and love him and serve him with all your heart and soul. (Deuteronomy 10:12)

So, who says the Old Testament is hard to understand or is irrelevant to our lives today? Well, there are some parts but overall the message is as relevant today as it was thousands of years ago.

When it comes down to it, God is asking that we LOVE HIM. Many people think they have to get their life all straightened out or in order before they can become a Christian. But in reality, God isn’t asking all that much of us… except that we love him with all our heart.

When you align your heart towards God, you naturally change your life because you begin to love HIM, his WAYS and his WORK. Changing your life isn’t a requirement to love God, rather it is a result of your love for God.

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The Blessing of Weakness

It has been said, never show your weaknesses, mainly because it will be used against you. The fact is, everybody has weaknesses. We have physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual weaknesses, so the question is, what do you do with your weaknesses?

While most people deny, defend, or excuse their weaknesses, Christians can embrace them and ask God to use them! When God works through weak people, His power is shown more clearly (2 Corinthians 12:5, 9, 1 Corinthians 9:22, Hebrews 4:15, 11:34).

When I use the word weakness, I’m not talking about a character flaw that can and should be changed. A weakness is any limitation in my life I inherited or can’t change. How do you lead your small group through weaknesses that you didn’t ask for and don’t have the ability to change?

1. Admit Your Weaknesses: In other words, stop pretending to have it all together, stop hoping the weaknesses will go away, stop ignoring them, and stop making excuses and blaming others (which only hurts my credibility in the end).

2. Be Grateful for Your Weaknesses: The limitations God allows in our lives are actually blessings in disguise (remember that Laura Story song on K-Love). Our limitations guarantee that God will show up to help. If I can do things in my own strength, the ultimate conclusion is, “Who needs God?”

Weaknesses also prevent me from becoming arrogant, and nothing will limit my effectiveness in leading a small group more than arrogance.

3. Openly Share Your Weaknesses: This is what is called being vulnerable. By sharing my weaknesses I am admitting that there are limits to my knowledge, my ability, and my energy.

Being open is also very risky (which is why we seek to avoid it at all cost). There will be people in your small group or the church at large who don’t want you to be human. They think a teacher is some super Christian and can’t handle knowing about any weaknesses. They’d rather put a halo on you and pretend you are never tempted and that you’re above the negative realities of life.

Refusing to be vulnerable is dishonest and hypocritical, but even worse, it sets up a scenario in which people become disillusioned with Christians when one’s humanness eventually shows – and it always will.

Why is it so important to reveal your feelings? Here are seven reasons:

  1. It liberates you from the stress of keeping up a false image.
  2. Some faults won’t be dealt with until you confess them to others.
  3. You can’t experience grace without weaknesses and you can’t minister and teach others without grace.
  4. It’s the fastest way to endear yourself to others. People will seek to support you and pray for you.
  5. Honesty supports your credibility, and people only follow leaders they trust.
  6. It’s good for the group. It encourages others to throw away their masks, deal with their own weaknesses.
  7. It helps your teaching to speak to others with transparency.

When you share your strengths, you create competition.
When you share your weaknesses, you create community.

So what do you share? As you think about how you will relate and communicate to others this week, think about how you will share these five things:

  • Failures.
  • Feelings.
  • Faults.
  • Frustrations.
  • Fears.

Your humanity is actually one of your greatest assets in your teaching ministry. To deny your humanity is not only dumb, it decreases your effectiveness. Do you want to be used by God? Do you want his blessing on your ministry? Do you want people to give the glory to God? Walk in total dependence on God and embrace your weaknesses!

[print_link] [email_link] Modified from Rick Warren