Monthly Archives: December 2012
Reading: Philippians 3-4
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death… Philippians 3:10 (NIV)
“…Becoming like him in his death…” What was Jesus like in his death? Sapped of all human strength, mocked, tortured, tormented by the agony of crucifixion, and carrying upon himself the weight of all our sin – how did Jesus respond?
He had already committed himself to his Father's will: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42). Still, when it came to it, there was no protest, no pleading for mercy or shrinking back from the atrocity he was suffering. Instead, there was submission.
“He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” Isaiah 53:7-8
Nor did he show resentment, but rather, grace. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34). In Hebrews 2:10, Paul tells us that Jesus was made “perfect through suffering”. Indeed, though he suffered terribly, Jesus responded with enormous courage, with humility and with continuing obedience to his Father, demonstrating for all time the depths of his love for both the Father and for us.
That's what Jesus was like in his death.
“If anyone would come after me,” Jesus says, “he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24). In this verse, it seems like Jesus is offering me a burden, but actually, I think he is offering me a secret, the key to becoming like him in his death. And that is, to put my life completely and utterly into God's hands – to “lose it”, as it were, to him.
But although I offer him my life, I suspect it will not be until I find myself in the 'crucible of suffering' that my submission to him will become complete, and I will, as Jesus was, be made perfect through suffering. And in the meantime, with any suffering that comes my way, I can follow Jesus' example by lifting up my eyes from the suffering at my feet, and instead fixing them on the joy set before me.
Your example Jesus is inspiring. Please open the eyes of my heart to see you, and to understand more deeply the joy that is set before me. May I live my life with courage, humility and obedience as with your help I commit myself daily into your hands.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV)
See also Joy, Suffering and the Fragrance of Life.
Reading: Matthew 1
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” —which means, “God with us.”
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. Matthew 1:18-25 (NIV)
Joseph and Mary are such an inspirational couple. Having each received the most profound of revelations, and facing as a couple the certainty of public humiliation because of the circumstances of Mary’s pregnancy, they each responded with a humility that is breath-taking.
In effect, by accepting God’s will for their lives, they were also accepting the promise of both humiliation – for a time – and glory. The same went for Jesus himself, who would accept not just humiliation, but also death on a cross, knowing that glory was coming (and joy!) And yet I wonder, were they humiliated? Is it possible for the truly humble to be humiliated by others?
There is something essentially different between humiliation and humility. Humiliation is a feeling, a feeling of shame and foolishness which comes when my pride and dignity is injured. The attitude of my heart determines how vulnerable I am to being humiliated, and perhaps also what is hidden in my heart. When I’m vulnerable, I open myself up to the possibility of being humiliated either by others, or simply as the result of my own actions. It might come as the result of being ‘exposed’.
Humility is not a feeling, but rather is an attitude of the heart. It comes from within, and is under the control of my will. As humility grows, pride diminishes, and I become less and less vulnerable to humiliation, which means that the way I feel about myself is no longer at the mercy of others. Instead, it is my core beliefs about what is true that set the tone for how I feel.
As a Christian I will feel less need to justify myself to others, because having God’s approval has become the most important thing. That may in fact define what humility is: The state of heart where I value the approval of God more highly than I value the approval of anyone else.
What strength of character humility brings! It enables me to endure much, and is the perfect partner for courage. In fact, I wonder if true courage may in its very essence be simply godly humility in action.
Thank you Lord God for the inspiring humility of Mary and Joseph. Their courage and their willingness to obey you in everything is something that I want in my own life. Please help me to be humble and brave, and to follow their example. I offer myself to you and ask that you would create in me a heart that is pure and trusting, and that you would work humility in me for your glory.
Reading: Joshua 14
So on that day Moses swore to me, ‘The land on which your feet have walked will be your inheritance and that of your children forever, because you have followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly. Joshua 14:9 (NIV)
The land on which Caleb's feet had walked was the very land God had promised to Abraham and his descendants hundreds of years earlier. Twelve men were sent out by Moses to spy out that land – Caleb, Joshua and ten others. Two of them had seen a land of opportunity, “flowing with milk and honey”. But the other ten had seen men like giants living in fortified cities, and their report made the hearts of the people “melt with fear”.
Whereas Joshua and Caleb viewed everything in the light of God's promise, their colleagues' eyes were darkened by fear and doubt. Perhaps they just didn't know God well enough to trust him. Perhaps they hadn't truly yielded themselves to God despite the amazing miracles they had seen him perform.
Nonetheless, the same promise of God was made to them all. Joshua and Caleb took the promise to heart, and prepared to take it in hand. They acted on their wholehearted belief that God was faithful, and their faith was richly rewarded. But the half-hearted were left empty-handed.
What a difference it makes to view the world in the light of God's promises! It changes my perspective completely, like a new pair of glasses, bringing a confidence and hope that draws me out of my comfort zone, out beyond what I can achieve in my own strength, and into all the plans and purposes that God has for my life.
As I write this, I am aware of how quickly I jumped to condemn the ten fearful men, from the comfort of my armchair… Would I have acted differently? How am I responding myself to the promises of God as revealed in his Word? I suspect there is much “promise land” I have yet to walk on. And yet my strong desire is to walk there. Lead me on, Lord!
Yes Lord, lead me on! Cut me loose from my fears and insecurity, and help me to live my life on the strength of your promises. Thank you for your written Word the Bible, and for all the promises it contains. Infuse my heart with the truth those promises contain, and may they be fulfilled in my life.
“The land on which your feet have walked will be your inheritance…”
Reading: Mark 7-9
…on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” Mark 9:34-37
On learning that his disciples were discussing who was the greatest among them, it's interesting that Jesus doesn't rebuke them for this. Rather he explains to them what constitutes greatness in the kingdom of God, and it is clearly not what they were thinking. Greatness in the Kingdom allows no room for pride; rather, it stems from humility. It takes the opportunity to serve and delights in allowing others to go first. It is not self-promoting, but instead leaves God to promote as he sees fit. It seeks not the adoration of men, but rather, the approval of God.
Some of the greatest people in the Kingdom of God may be those whose deeds are unknown by the world, but, “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.” Matthew 10:26
I enjoy being recognised for doing something well. But being able to enjoy the moment with my Father in heaven, and then “chew the fat” with him afterwards – that is a very great privilege. Enjoying the warmth of his approval frees me from the need to have the approval and affirmation of others. To please him in everything I do, knowing that he sees all I do, and knows what is in my heart – this should be my number one priority. Whatever job he has for me is the job I will put my heart and soul into, whether that job be great or small.
Thank you Jesus for your wonderful example. Help me to delight in serving others, and in knowing that as I serve, I am bringing pleasure to you, my King. I look forward to the reward you have for me. My life is in your hands.
Yes, the title of this SOAP was rather grandiose, wasn't it! “Simon the Great!” I had a good laugh with God about this one. Have you tried using SOAP in your own times with God? It's a great way to listen to God as you read his Word. You can learn more about SOAP here: What is SOAP?
Reading: Luke 5:1-16
While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him. Luke 5:12-13 (NIV)
The law of Moses contained various rules and regulations about skin diseases, and how these affected a person's “cleanness”. (See Leviticus 13). Being ceremonially unclean meant a person could neither touch nor be touched by another person, or that person would also become unclean. Neither could they “touch” God, because nothing unholy can stand in the presence of our holy God. Effectively, to be unclean meant to be cut off.
The picture was really a representation of the effect of sin in my life: it makes me unclean, and it cuts me off from the presence of God. Like an infectious disease, sin taints and infects everything it comes into contact with.
But in this story of the man with leprosy, something wonderful happens. Everything gets reversed! Jesus touches the man (that would have been a surprise in itself), but his holiness is not tainted. And instead of the unclean man making Jesus unclean, he himself is made clean by Jesus! Holiness has come, and the power of his uncleanness has been broken.
No longer is sin flowing out from me and causing damage. Instead, grace is flowing into me bringing holiness and restoration. In fact, everything is flowing in a new direction, and all because Jesus has reached out and touched me. The power of my uncleanness has been broken. Instead of being cut off, I am free now to enter and enjoy the very presence of God. I need to do this! I need every day to open my life to him to receive all that he has for me.
I am also free to reach out and touch others! God's grace flows not just to me but also through me. I need to open the penstocks and freely share with others the goodness that is flowing my way. The more that flows through, the more capacity I will develop to be able to share God's grace.
Jesus, thank you for your incredible gift. Thank you that everything now is flowing in a new direction – from you to me to others. Help me to know more of your grace, and to share it generously with those you bring across my path.
Reading: Leviticus 16 and Hebrews 10
The Lord said to Moses: “Tell your brother Aaron not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die, because I appear in the cloud over the atonement cover. Leviticus 16:2 (NIV)
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body… …let us draw near to God…” Hebrews 10:19-22 (NIV)
What a contrast between Leviticus 16 and Hebrews 10. It's so inspiring to read the two chapters side by side. Both highlight the holiness of our God, and the perils of approaching him in an unholy state. Aaron could enter the Most Holy Place just once a year, on the Day of Atonement, when sacrifices of bulls and goats were made, and strict protocol needed to be followed.
But that day, which continued to come around year after year, was just a shadow of a day that was to come. On the real Day of Atonement, my unholiness was dealt with once and for all. No longer would God warn me against entering his holy Presence, lest I die.
Now, a new and living way had been opened up “through the curtain”, so that not just the high priest, but every man, woman and child – including me – could enter freely into the very Presence of God, the Most Holy Place. It's what God wants for me, and Jesus has made it possible, “…because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” (Hebrews 10:14)
What amazing words those are: I have been “made perfect forever”. That truth needs to permeate my entire being:
I have been made perfect forever…
God is perfecting holiness in me…
How can I now entertain fear or feelings of inadequacy? How can I remain conceited or self-righteous? I can't. But what I can do is embrace the wholeness and confidence that true holiness brings. I am acceptable! I can come into the very presence of our holy God without shame, not as one who is inadequate, but with joy, as one who has been made perfect forever!
This makes me feel so differently about myself. In the way I relate to other people, it gives me confidence and opens the way for love. And in the way I relate to God, it invites a relationship that is almost indescribable. Jesus has changed everything! Closeness with God is now attainable, and I can have it!
Thank you Lord Jesus for your indescribable gift. I accept! Please open my eyes to see you more clearly and know you more closely. I want to know more of your holiness. Please remove from me all that is false, and may the truth that is found in Jesus permeate every part of me, to the very core of my being.
“…because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” Hebrews 10:14
Reading: Mark 10:17-31
You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honour your father and mother.’ ” “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Mark 10:19-21 (NIV)
“Jesus looked at him and loved him.” I like that sentence. Of course, Jesus loves each one of us. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” (1 John 3:16). But something in this man aroused Jesus' particular affection. Perhaps Jesus saw in him a devotion and desire to please God that made him smile.
But Jesus could also see something else – something in the man's heart that was holding him back from complete devotion. He was held captive by love – not love for God, but love for his earthly treasure. To make room for spiritual treasure, he would first have to let go of his precious earthly stash. The one was displacing the other. “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” (Matthew 6:24).
I notice that Jesus didn't condemn the man for his wealth. Instead he showed him what was missing, the key that for him would unlock the riches of heaven. And though the man went away sad, I think Jesus held hope that after grappling with his choice, the man would indeed lay aside all that held him, and return to follow him.
Jesus loves my devotion. He enjoys my delight in knowing him. In him there is treasure beyond anything this world has to offer. In him “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Col 2:3). Nothing can be allowed to take the place that God has in my heart. I want to be able to say, “I have kept to his way without turning aside. I have not departed from the commands of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread.” Job 23:11-12
Jesus, I so want the treasure you have to offer. And though nothing can surpass the love you have for me, I long for you to delight in me and be pleased with me. Please show me how I can bring you pleasure, and allow me to know you more closely, and to know your presence with me.