The Ordinary Growth Of The Kingdom

Highlight:

Mark 4:26-29

And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

Explain:

Jesus is explaining to the disciples the reality of the kingdom of God.  The parable of the growing seed follows closely with the parable of the sower.  The seed that falls on the good soil are the ones who hear the word, accept it, bear fruit, and grow.

The parable of the growing seed is then a further explanation of how God’s people grow. The seed sprouts, it produces a blade, the ear, then the full grain until it is ready to be harvested.  The reality is that like God’s people, the kingdom of God grows slowly until a harvest is ready to be reaped.  This is a great reminder that God’s kingdom, like His people will always endure, and that God works in a way to produce slow and steady growth until His kingdom and people each full maturity.

Apply:

As we apply this passage in a personal way we can have the confidence that, despite what we may see at times, God’s kingdom is growing and advancing.  Not only that, but He is doing a slow and steady work within His people and us that will bring us to full maturity for the day that Christ returns.

This means that we must always be thinking about the Christian life more as a marathon  than a sprint.  Through slow and steady growth and discipline, God will transform us, little by little, into the image and likeness of His son Jesus Christ.  This speaks to the reality that we as God’s people need to not lose heart, and must remember that His kingdom purposes will endure.  Also, we must seek to be faithful on a moment by moment basis, knowing that God is using the small moments of God honoring faithfulness to bring us to full maturity.

Respond:

Since the Christian life is a moment by moment marathon we must realize that the little moments of our lives matter and we need to seek faithfulness in all areas of our lives big and small.  Every area of our lives including school, jobs, kids, and relationships are used by God to make us more like Christ, and bring glory to God.  This means that their must be a daily pursuit to always think of our moments as something that God wants to use for our good and our glory.  Also, that the ordinary means of life are meant to be used by God to create extraordinary results as we are faithful with what we have been given in Christ.

H.E.A.R. Devotional: The Daily Pursuit To Serve And Not Be Served

Highlight:

Matthew 20-25-28

But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Explain:

In today’s society the fight for power and authority is something that looms large in the hearts of the American mindset.  We are constantly striving for power, authority, and status so that we can feel like we have accomplished something or somehow have arrived at a desired end that will now make us complete.  This was not that different in the first century.

Jesus, in this passage, was responding to the reality that the mother of James and John had come to Jesus to ask that her boys sit on the right and left side of Jesus in the kingdom of heaven.  When you look at this for what it is, she is really asking that they be set in places of power and honor.  In a sense they were power hungry and wanted places of status in God’s kingdom.  And the rest of the disciples were not any better; they become indignant which means that they were angry because it seemed unfair to them for James and John to have those positions.  So the rest of the disciples got mad because they want those positions of authority themselves.

Jesus, at this point, could have rebuked James, John, their mother, and the disciples for being so power hungry, but instead he points to how the gentiles are the ones who fight for power and authority and that in the kingdom of God things are different.  Instead of lording authority over people Jesus tells the disciples that whoever would be great must become a servant and a slave.  Just as the Son of Man (Jesus) came to serve so must his people be about serving one another, even unto death.

This is a great picture of how the gospel is so counter cultural.  Jesus came and could have wielded His authority on earth as God and in a instant had everyone on earth bow before Him; yet, instead, He came humbly and served His people to the point of death on a cross.  He become nothing so that His people could spend forever with Him and would receive the greatest gift of all, new and eternal life.

Apply:

This cuts at the core of my American mindset.  Often I find myself unknowingly striving for power.  Whether it is fighting for my own opinion or it is trying to put myself in a place of authority I see at work within me a mindset that is at times less about serving and is more about personal gain.

Yet, I need to constantly be asking myself how I can serve my brothers.  How can I serve my family and the people that God has put around me?  How can I become less so Christ can become more?  Now this does not mean that I don’t wield any authority, because practically I have to within the ministries that God has given me.  However, my desire in all things must be to serve God and His people and to shine the light of Christ in such a way where people are looking at me and seeing Christ.  Meaning, they see someone who serves and is not seeking to be served or honored.

The desire for power and authority is a real struggle for all people in all places.  As we struggle with living in a fallen world we are confronted with sinful desires for power everyday.  We must continually check our motives and ask on a daily basis if our pursuits are godly.  We must look beneath the surface of what we do to see if we are looking to serve God’s people and His kingdom for His glory, or if we are looking to serve our own selfish desire.

Respond:

So how do we respond to something like this?  If I go back to the passage I think it requires us to become servants.  This means that we must seek daily to humbly serve God’s people.  This puts the focus not on us, but on what is good for God’s people and for His kingdom.  Also, it requires a daily examination of our hearts before God and men to make sure that our motives are not glory hungry.  This will keep us from falsely exalting ourselves because our focus will no longer be on the position, but on building up the sheep and bringing glory of the Shepherd.

H.E.A.R. Devotional: Where Are My Affections?

Highlight:

Matthew 19:21-23

Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

Explain:

This passage comes within the context of the rich young ruler coming to Jesus.  Right before this ruler had come, Jesus told the disciples to let the little children come to Him because the kingdom of heaven belongs to ones such as them.  What Jesus is saying is that those who come to Him like a child (humbly) will belong to the kingdom and will inherit eternal life.

The point of the rich young ruler is very similar.  A rich ruler comes to Jesus asking what he must do to inherit eternal life.  Jesus tells him that he must keep the commandments, and in his pride the man says that he has keep them.  Yet, Jesus has a way of getting at the heart of the issue and tells the man that he must sell everything that he owns and give it to the poor in order to inherit the kingdom of heaven.

This is a devastating blow for this man, and as a result he goes away sad.  This man went away sad because he was putting his hope and pride in his possessions.  He valued his status and money more than he really valued Jesus and his desire was to gain heaven through his good works and status instead of really loving Jesus more than anything else in His life.

This is a reminder to us and these disciples that the gospel calls us to come and die to ourselves.  Meaning that when we believe in Jesus and follow Him, we are called to believe, trust, and love Him above everything else in the world.  This includes our own personal status and pride.

Apply:

As I ponder the story of the rich young ruler I can see similarities between the ruler and myself.  His biggest issue was not that he was rich but that he loved his money and status more than he loved God.  I see this idea playing out at times in my life, where, in my pride, I love my status, intellect, or just myself more than I really love and value Jesus in my life.

But the gospel calls me to die to myself daily.  This means that I need to continually come to the Lord with my prideful tendencies and I need to pray for Him to change my affections.  I need Him to bring me from a place of self reliance to a place where I am coming to Jesus humbly like a little child.

May we all see the gospel as more valuable than anything else in this life, and may we be willing to lay down our pride and the things that we cling to that become more important the living and everlasting God.

Respond:

This is something that requires a daily reorienting of my thoughts.  As I examine my life, what are the things that I spend my time and energy on?  Are they Christ-centered things or are they things that continually reinforce my trust and hope in other things besides Jesus?  Also, this is where accountability comes in; men who can see the traces of pride and can point out the things within my life that I am holding onto besides Jesus.

What does getting rid of your riches look like in your life?  What are the things that you are holding onto besides Jesus and how might you seek to eliminate those things?

Note: I hope the process of working through this H.E.A.R. acronym is getting easier.  If you continue to have questions please either email or message me and I would be glad help.

H.E.A.R. Devotional: The Grace That The Unforgiving Servant Forgot

Highlight:

Matthew 18:32-33

Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’

Explain:

Peter has just asked Jesus how many times he is supposed to forgive his brother when he sins against him, and Jesus replies with seventy times seven to point to the reality that we should always forgive our brother.  Then Jesus goes on to tell the parable of the unforgiving servant.  He had been forgiven a large debt by the king, and instead of going out and having mercy on those who had debts against him he went out and was harsh with them.

This is indicative of a man who has not understood the mercy that he has really received.  He was forgiven of such a large debt yet he refuses to extend that same mercy because he does not understand really how large that debt was.  As a result, the king reminds him that he should have shown mercy to this man who had a lesser debt against him, but because he did not, the kind threw him in jail to repay the entire original debt.

He did not understand the weight of his debt and did not fully receive the pardon and forgiveness that was extended to him.  This parable is meant to point us to the gospel.  We have been forgiven such a great debt by Christ; yet, if we do not extend to others the same mercy and forgiveness that has been given to us then we have not fully understood our need for forgiveness and have not full received the pardon that was freely given to us.

The reality is that Jesus equates this man with unbelievers and says that he is thrown in jail in the same way that unbelievers, apart from the forgiveness of the gospel will spend an eternity in hell.

Apply:

As I read these words I am confronted with so many questions.  Do I extend forgiveness to those in the church, in the world, and in my home?  Am I quick to let something go, or do I hold a grudge against a person when I believe that I have been wronged?  Do I truly understand the grace, mercy and forgiveness that have been given to me in Christ?

As I answer these questions I realize that there are people in my life that it is easy to extend grace to and there are people that I find it hard to do this with.  More specifically, it is hard at time to extend grace to my family and especially to my kids.  I need to extend the same forgiveness and mercy to them that Christ has freely extended to me.

How about you? Are you a forgiving person?  Are you able to extend to others the same mercy that Christ has given you?  Do you truly understand the forgiveness that you have received in Christ?  Do you understand the weight and grotesque nature of your sin?  What does it say about your belief in the gospel  if you are unable to forgive?

Respond:

What does this need to look like in my life today? I am not sure that I have a perfect answer for this except to say that I need to remember the forgiveness that has been applied to me through Christ as I am dealing with my kids.  I need to keep the grace applied to me in Christ always in my mind as I speak to my children in moments of disobedience and discipline.  Also, I need to always be asking myself how my actions toward my children are reflecting the truth of the cross to them.

How can you apply this today?  What might be a tangible way that you can extend mercy and forgiveness to someone today?  How might the gospel be at the forefront of all your interactions so that people see the truth of the gospel flowing from you?

H.E.A.R. Devotional: The Struggle To Believe The Gospel

Highlight:

Matthew 17:19-22

Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

Explain:

Jesus has just come down from the mountain after transfiguring Himself before Peter, James, and John.  As they came upon a crowd a man came up to Jesus asking if He could heal this man’s boy who is an epileptic.  The man says that the disciples had already tried to do it but were unsuccessful.  Jesus in turn heals the boy and the disciples ask why they could not.  Jesus tells them that it was because of their little faith, and if they have the faith of a mustard seed they will do great things.

Jesus is trying to tell the disciples that the Christian life is so dependent upon how they believe and trust God.  When we trust God little we will see little fruit in our lives and we will see God do very little through us, but when we seek to daily put our trust and faith in Him, He will bear great fruit through us.

The New Testament talks so much about faith which points to the reality that the Christian life is really, in its simplest form, a struggle to believe the gospel and apply it to our lives.  We have been saved by grace through faith and that is completely of God, but the reality is that, by God’s grace, we are called to walk in that faith and grow in it.  This of course is completely dependent on the working of the Holy Spirit within us; yet we, by that same Spirit, must walk and grow in faith.

Apply:

This makes me as the question, where am I really when it comes to believing the gospel?  Do I really believe Jesus and can I see the evidence of that in my life?  When I examine these questions I come to the conclusion that there are many times where my faith is weak, and instead of trusting in the promises of the gospel I trusting in myself.  I know that my daily battle is to believe God’ promises and walk in them and this needs to be something that I actively pursue and pray about instead of just thinking about it during my time with the Lord in the morning.

Respond:

By God’s grace I need to continue to ask God to help my unbelief so that I can walk in and trust His promises on a moment by moment basis.  Also, I need to keep God’s promises in front of me and actively walk in them and pray through them during my day so that I am walking in the Spirit’s power instead of my own.

God’s Covenant Faithfulness to Abram And To Us

I recently just taught through a basic method of Bible study that I got from the book “Growing Up” by Robby Gallaty.  It is called the H.E.A.R method of Bible study.  H.E.A.R stands for Highlight, Explain, Apply, and Respond.  As a way to help my students apply this method I will be writing all of my future devotional posts using this method.  Even though I am specifically using this for the benefit of my students I hope some of you who are not my students will find it helpful as well.

Highlight: This is about identifying the verses that stuck out to you while you were reading your Bible.

Genesis 15:12-21

 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”

When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.”

Explain: This is where we ask questions about what the text means in its context and how it points to Christ.

God had called Abram out of his home country in Genesis 12 to the land of Canaan where he was going to become a great nation.  God affirms this in Genesis 15 by making a covenant with Abram and reminding him that his descendants are going to be as numerous as the stars in the sky.  However, the miraculous part of this is that Abram’s wife Sarai was barren and without child, but instead of looking at his physical circumstances, Abram believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness.

This is all part of God’s plan that would lead to the people of Israel being enslaved, becoming a nation, and backsliding, all while God is being faithful to them and pointing to the fulfilment of His plans for them, and for Abram, that came in the form of Christ.  This is a reminder that God not only promised to do this, but He is also the one who made it happen.  This is seen in the covenant with Abram as the smoking pot passed between the animals.  God passed between the animals and confirmed His covenant with Abram which means that He was the one who had every intention of fulfilling it.

Apply: This is where we go from the head to the heart.  God how does this apply to my life today?

There are times in my life where my circumstances seem to hard for me to bear.  Often instead of turning to God in those times I try to put my trust in people or even my own strength.  However, Abram trusted God even as the circumstances of his life where telling him otherwise, and God blesse him as a result.

Not only did God bless him, but God remained faithful to His covenant and he showed Abram that He was going to fulfill His covenant.  In the same way God, through Christ, has made a New Covenant which I am part of.  It is not that I earned it but it is something that God freely gave to me.  So I need to believe that God will keep His covenant promises to me even when my circumstances are hard.  Instead of turning to other people or to my own strength for guidance I need to bring those things before God and put my trust in Him.

Respond: What is the action plan.

I think that I need to spend time memorizing God’s promises to me as a member of the New Covenant of Christ.  This will help me to recall them and pray through them when the troubles of life surround me.  I also need to spend time in prayer confessing my need for God and asking Him to expose areas where I am trusting in myself instead of the finished work of Christ.

I hope this process makes sense.  If you have any questions either email or message me and I would be glad to help.

The Grace Of God Given To Cain And Us

Genesis 4:16

Then Cain went away from the presence of the LORD and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.

Have you ever asked yourself, “what do I usually do after I have committed sin?”  Do you quickly run to God and confess your sin or do you often decide to forget about it and eat a bowl of ice cream instead?  Though we may not all eat the ice cream I think that for many of us our natural tendency is to forget about it, and in so doing, we don’t bring it before the Lord.

This is exactly what happened to Cain in Genesis 4.  He was jealous of his brother Abel because God had accepted Abel’s sacrifice and not Cain’s.  As a result, Cain lured Abel into a field and killed him.  After that it was business as usual for Cain.  The text doesn’t say that he came to God in confession or that he was so overwhelmed with the reality of his sin that he ran to God to weep over the death of his brother.  No, Cain, like many of us, decided that he wouldn’t say anything in the hopes that he could get away with his sin.

The truth of the matter is that Cain was a man whose heart was not set to glorifying God or loving his brother.  In fact, earlier in Genesis 4 when God accepts Abel’s offering over Cain’s we see that Cain’s real motives are self fulfillment.  His desire was not to glorify God with his offering, but he wanted to feel good about bringing a right offering to God.  When that doesn’t work He ultimately becomes angry with God.

Finally God confronts Cain about his sin, and one would think that when the God of the universe confronts someone face to face about their sin that they would repent.  However, that is not what Cain did.  Instead he selfishly says that his punishment is to great to bear.  Cain is not focused on what he has done or how he has sinned against God, he is focused on himself and how he is affected.

Sin in our lives can lead us down the same path.  Instead of truly being repentant for our sin we are only concerned with how the consequences are going to affect us.  Never mind that it is an assault on the God of the universe or that we have hurt the body of Christ, we more often than not only concerned with whether or not we are going to get caught and if there are going to be consequences for our actions.

This was Cain’s problem.  He felt his punishment was to great to bear, and instead of repenting of his sin he went away from the presence of God.  Yet, let us not stop there.  Also, realize the magnificent mercy of God in this passage as well.  Cain became worried that since he was a fugitive that someone would eventually kill him.  But God in His great mercy protects Cain and seals him with a mark that lets people know that he is protected by God.

The man who killed his brother and in so many ways is unrepentant is now being protected by God.  Is that not extravagant grace?  God could have killed Cain on the spot, but instead of doing that He gives him grace by allowing him to live and protecting him so no one else will kill him.  And even though Cain is not a man that will probably spend an eternity with God this becomes to us a great picture of the gospel.

We all like sheep have gone astray and have not sought after God; yet, God in His great mercy has come and shown us mercy.  He took our sin even when we were like Jonah trying to escape Him, and He put it upon His Son Jesus Christ instead.  And in doing so He called us out of darkness and into the light of eternal life with Him.  Most of us as believers were not looking for Christ, but God, because of the great love He has for us, freely and graciously opened our eyes to the truth of the gospel and in doing so amazingly transferred us into His kingdom for eternity.

So then Cain is not only a picture of who we were apart from Christ, but is also a picture of who we often still are.  We walk away and try to hide from God, and at times our hearts are not desiring to love God our His people, but ourselves.  However, God in His mercy still loves us and pursues us because of the free grace of the gospel given to us in Jesus Christ.

My hope for you and for me is that this extravagant grace will be what drives us continually back to Jesus.  That it will be what changes us from self-centered people to those who value Christ and His kingdom more than we value our sin.  And that we will see that we are accepted by God because of the finished work of Christ and not because of our own merit or works.

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