The Danger of Plenty

“When the LORD your God brings you into the land He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you – a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant – then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” Deuteronomy 6:10-12

“As Americans, we are rich. In fact, the poorest among us are wealthy by global standards. According to the World Bank, just under 80 percent of the world’s population live on less than $10/day. Lots of us spent more than that on a meal today. This observation is not intended to stir up guilt but to acknowledge responsibility. God has blessed us in abundance, and Jesus commands us in the Gospels to be generous, sacrificial and cheerful givers.” ~ Tony Merida in his book, Orphanology.

Prosperity can be a dangerous thing. Wealth, in and of itself, is not sinful. However, material blessing often leaves us vulnerable to worshiping the gifts instead of the Giver.  Whether in 1400 BC or 2012, Moses’ warning in Deuteronomy 6 rings true…”Be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” The Israelites were delivered from a literal land of slavery.  But all Christians have been delivered from slavery to sin.

Moses’ concern was for the hearts of God’s people. They had been slaves for more than 400 years. They had to depend on God for everything during that time. All the while, He was preparing a place for them to live – a land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob where all of their needs, both physically and spiritually, would be met. Moses feared that when there were trees and vines rich with fruit and wells full of clean water waiting for them, they would not remember from Whom these provisions came. And that is exactly what happened.

Aren’t we just the same? How often when we turn on the shower or faucet do we give thanks to the Giver of clean water? How often when we fill our grocery cart do we thank God for food to eat, and for the money to buy it? How often when we go to the ATM or drive through the bank do we lift up a shout of praise to God for His provision? Yes, some have more than others. But if you are reading this, you have electricity and access to a computer. You have enough education to be literate. These are precious gifts that many do not have…and we would be wise to remember the Giver and not forget Him in our prosperity. What we have been given is not a right; it is a blessing. And the Giver deserves all of the glory. Because in Christ, we are all gloriously rich!

Dear God, Please forgive me for taking Your gifts for granted and for forgetting You in my land of plenty. Please help me to be generous with all that You entrust to me, and to remember that it is all Yours. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

The Word of God

 “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”  Deuteronomy 6:6-9

An integral part of loving God is knowing His Word. By “knowing” I don’t mean just an intellectual knowledge, but also a respect for Scripture and obedience to Scripture. A biblical love for God will result in obedience to His Word. This is why Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love Me, obey My commands.” Love for God and obedience to God are inseparable.

The Jews of Moses’ time took God’s Word literally. In Deuteronomy 6:8-9 when He told them to, “Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads,” they did. Devout Jews to this day still wear Phylacteryies, which are small black leather pouches containing the words of the Torah (first 5 books of the Old Testament). They tie Phylacteries to their wrists and foreheads and base this tradition on God’s words through Moses in Deuteronomy 6.

While Christians today do not take these verses quite so literally, there is still much to be gleaned from this passage. God may not have meant that we must literally wear Scripture on our bodies and write it on our doors. But, He did mean that Scripture should permeate our lives on every level. God’s Word should be laid up in our heart. We should meditate, ponder, and memorize it (Psalm 1). It was Jesus who said, “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). We should also teach Scripture as a way of life. The discussions around our dinner tables, lunch breaks, phone calls, and routine duties with our children and family should be seasoned with God’s truth. Our speech should communicate a reverence and love for the plain truths about God.

To sum up, God’s Word should be regularly read in our homes so that it becomes familiar to us. We should be ready to share its truth on all occasions…not because we have taken a class at church, but because God’s Word is an integral part of life seven days a week – not just on Sunday.

Dear God, Thank You for Your Word. I am humbled to think that there are millions of people who have no access to a Bible in their languages. Please forgive me for taking Your Word for granted. Please deepen my desire to know You through Your Word. Help me to be consistently reading Your Word and obeying what it says. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Loving God

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’”  Mark 12:30

We all have priorities, don’t we? As Christians, we are taught from a young age to “put God first” in our lives. We are taught to invest our energy and time in the things that matter most, like our relationship with God, with family, and with other people. And while this is indeed great wisdom, often times the semantics of “put God first” can lead to a works-based, weary and discouraged life for believers.

Jesus did not say to “put God first” in Mark 12:30. He said to love God, “with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” God is not another item on a long list of daily priorities, according to Scripture. He is not merely of supreme importance in our lives – He is our life. He is to be the center of all that we do, say, think, believe, and feel. He is the hub of life’s wheel around which all other priorities revolve like spokes.

This is an important distinction. There is a great difference in putting Christ at the top of a perpetual list, and Him being the list. It helps to understand what the words heart, soul, mind and strength mean in the original language of the New Testament: 1) heart: the center of all physical and spiritual life, the inmost part of a person; 2) soul: the seat of feelings, desires and affections; 3) mind: the faculty of understanding and the way of thinking and feeling; and 4) strength: one’s ability, force and might.

The commandment that is of utmost importance, Jesus says, is that we love God fully and completely with every part of who we are. We are to love Him from our core all the way out. He determines what we feel, desire, and have affection for. He controls the way we think and how we understand things. He is the source of our abilities, force and might.  He is not a priority. He is much more than that, and cannot be compared to anything else in life. This is what it means to love God.

Dear God, I know that I have been guilty of ranking You on my life’s to-do list. Please forgive me for equating You with daily duties. You are so much more than that. I truly desire to love You the way You deserve to be loved – with all of my heart, soul, mind and strength. Only You can enable me to love like that. Please continue to work in my life and change my heart. Deepen my love and devotion to You. Thank You for saving me from my sins and giving me abundant life in Your Son Jesus. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Love Is Just A Word

“’The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’”  Mark 12:29-30

“I love that movie!”  “I love Italian food!” “Don’t you just love those shoes?”  I love college football!”  “I love you.” To say the word “love” is overused and misused in our culture is an understatement. In fact, it is so common that it has, in large part, lost its meaning. It is no longer a sacred word, reserved for only the deepest and most lasting emotions. It no longer carries with it a commitment to another person. It has been diluted and stripped of the power it once represented.

In the Greek language of the New Testament, there were several different words used for the word we translate in English as simply “love.” Here in Mark 12, Jesus is quoting Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 6:4-5. It is interesting that Jesus is commanding that His followers “love” God with everything in their being. He is not asking them to love God…He is demanding it. How can you command love? Over and over again I have heard the phrase, “You cannot help who you fall in love with.” If that is true, how can love be demanded?

The love that God commands in this passage is not a feeling. It is a verb, and it describes love as an act of the will…a choice we can make. The love that we have for God should not be based on feelings or circumstances. It is a choice to surrender everything we are to everything that He is. The natural way to love is based on feelings and on the behavior of someone else. This is not Christ honoring because it does not require the presence and power of God. Anyone can love when it is easy…when it feels right and benefits self.

If our love for God is based on how we feel, or on what we see Him doing, it is superficial and will not withstand the storms of life. God’s ways are higher than ours; and His thoughts outnumber the grains of sand. What we see and understand, even as growing Christians, is finite. God is infinite. We must refuse to let circumstances dictate our devotion and faith in an all-knowing and wise God.

This is why God commands that believers love Him with full devotion. He knows that such love is an act of the will, and is only possible through the power of the Holy Spirit living in us. So, the next time you say, “I love God,” take a moment and examine your heart. Do you love Him by His standards, or by your own?

Dear God, I am so grateful that Your love for me is not based on my actions, but is a choice You have made and will remain faithful to at all times. Please help me to love You in both word and deed, fully and fiercely. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Training to Finish

“I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.”  Acts 20:24

Have you ever attempted to run a marathon? Running 26.2 miles is not my idea of fun; but successful marathon runners say that it is one of the most rewarding feats they have ever accomplished. One thing I know for sure about running a marathon is that you don’t just show up on race day and try to run such a long distance. In fact, the training is perhaps the most important part of successfully finishing the race.

Half of the battle isn’t the running of the race itself, but finding the resolve to run day after day to train. There are many training techniques for long-distance running. But, there are a few key elements that most coaches would agree on. It’s important to remember that coaches measure success not by how many runners line up on the start line, but by how many finish the race. Most successful coaches agree on these three things: 1) Running partners make the journey easier and more fun; 2) You must fuel up your body with proper nutrition and hydration; and 3) Rest is a crucial component of training.

In Acts 20:24, Paul summed up the purpose of his life. The only thing that mattered to him was to finish the race and complete his assigned task as a follower of Christ. The gospel was his focus; and he was intentional about living out his purpose. Life with Christ, in many ways, is like a marathon. We cannot just “show up” for life each day and expect to finish strong and complete our God-given task. The Christ-life, like running, requires fuel. God’s Word and His Spirit nourish our souls and give us what we need to be a minister of His grace. Rest is also necessary. We must learn to rest in His power, relying on His strength and not our own. We must learn to not overload our lives with the “good” at the expense of His best. This requires self-discipline.

It is no wonder that Paul compared Christian living to running. Both require endurance, self-discipline and training. Both are easier when done in community. And both begin with a choice…a resolve to keep at it, day after day, even when it is grueling. How do you finish a marathon? One mile at a time. And how do you complete the task God has given you to be a witness of the gospel? One day at a time.

Dear God, I want to finish the race strong, like Jesus did. I know that requires great resolve and sacrifice. Please forgive me for allowing my focus to shift to the temporary things that surround me. Please help me to remember daily the task You have entrusted to me, and to make choices that keep me in the center of Your will for my life.    In Jesus’ Name, Amen.