Thursday, March 17, 2016

Day 70 - Preparations

Day 70
Leviticus 13, Matthew 24

As we read through the powerful, words of Matthew 24 (our primary focus for today), we can see why knowing the Word is a big deal to a Christ-follower. Jesus warns us to be prepared at any time to face the trials of being His follower, and to be prepared for Christ's coming again. How can we be so sure and ready for when He comes?

Know the Word! Read it. Listen to it. Learn from it. Apply it. God gave us this book we call the Bible for a greater reason than an indicator of you being a Christian. He wants us to study it and know Him through it. Knowing the Word will help us to distinguish from false teachings and know how to do life in general. There is much to read there, and it sure can be daunting, but reading something - a verse, chapter, passage- can surely help than not reading anything at all.

Stand Firm. This world is a tough place to be in as a Christian. We can fold so easily to the temptations and ways of this place, but knowing Christ's ways and alternatives will show you how much better life can be. God wants the best for us. When we stop living on our feelings and start standing firm on His Truths, we will be unshakable indeed.

Stop Worrying. There are so many things to worry about in this life. We worry about getting good grades, making a team, finding a spouse... only to turn around and start worrying about our spouse when we're married, worry about our kids making the team, getting good grades. We worry about money, things, keeping up with the riches around us, what we'll do after we do what we're doing now...STOP! Those things aren't bad, but worrying about them shows you that your trust in God needs some work. If you are worrying about these things more than you are concerned about your relationship with Christ and praying to Him about it, you need to revisit your priorities. Be prepared for Him to come. The things of this world will be gone and our lives are but a wisp of vapor.

We prepare for many things in this life. We get insurance to protect our stuff and ourselves. We get locks on our doors. We have fire extinguishers. Why don't we prepare to meet Christ? He is most important in our lives (or should be), but we spend our lives worrying about things that will soon be gone. Look to Him and His Word to stand firm, and set your priorities straight in this world.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Day 69 - From the Inside Out

Day 69
Leviticus 11-12, Matthew 23

The rules and processes we read in Leviticus were a way of setting God's people apart from the rest of the world. It was more than about what they ate or the way they compensated for sin, but it was a way to be different and show total devotion and obedience to God. When we bring ourselves before God, we should come with a heart open to Him, with no other distractions, whether it be a TV or the wrong attitude in approaching Him.

Jesus sure fires at the Pharisees in our Matthew reading today. We are to take a lesson from this though. The Pharisees who were known for being "religious leaders" of the time didn't have the heart that reflected what they preached. While holding people to daunting standards and demanding respect, rather than being loving people who try to help others. The leadership qualities that Jesus shares the lack of among the Pharisees should show us the one we should strive for as Christ-followers, including humility, integrity, compassion, vision, focus, generosity, and authenticity.

If you really think about having these qualities, you can see why they are important in being a true example and leader for Christ. When you are a genuine follower from the inside out, you put off a much better picture of Christ. But when you only live it on the outside or only act like a Christian on Sundays, you will be labeled a hypocrite, just like those Pharisees. Be careful of the picture you are painting and be sure that your heart is in it as much as your appearance.

Jesus longs for us to turn to Him with all our heart. We get a great a picture of this throughout His ministry and in the prayer He puts out at the tail end of Matthew 23. He has compassion on those in need, including those in need of a Savior. Are you doing all of it for show and to impress people? Or do you longingly pursue Christ with your all, wanting the best relationship and picture of Him?

Come before Him with a heart open and focused. We never have to clean up our lives before coming to Christ, but allow Him to cleanse you of the mess. Don't be a showy follower, trying to impress the people around you and dictating what is right and wrong. Lead with humility, integrity, compassion, vision, focus, generosity and authenticity. Be completely genuine from the inside out.  

Monday, March 14, 2016

Day 68 - All-Knowing

Day 68
Psalm 31-32

You may feel ignored by the people around you, or even the people who are close to you, but you should know that God always sees you and hears you. He keeps tabs on you and knows your heart. He will protect you and provide for you in the just the right ways. He will place you in just the right situations to help you grow and be more faithful to Him. He knows your desires and what you long for. He knows.

On the flip side, He also knows all of our bad thoughts. He knows about the person we lied to, the things we thought about that girl's dress or hair. He knows what we do when we are alone. He knows when our motives are not good.

However, we are living for a forgiving and compassionate God Who longs for us to come to Him. When we mess up and need to ask for His hand, He will give it to us. Holding in our sin and downfalls can create a guilt that is bubbling over to near-insanity. Letting those go to God and allowing Him to forgive you will take the burden away from you. He knows your situation, why not be open about it from your point of view to Him.

He knows all! He knows what we do when we are alone. He knows our thoughts and our motives. Come to Him with confession and be free from your guilt and from the pains that drive you down. He will offer you His hand and forgiveness if you just confess and ask! He knows what you need right now.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Day 67- Roles

Day 67
Leviticus 8-10, Matthew 22

Aaron and his sons had very important roles as priests. We read about the tasks and procedures they needed to carry out and the consequences of not fulfilling those roles well. We all have a role to fill. We are all called to live for Christ (if you are a Christ-follower) and fall into the roles He calls us to to carry out His ministry. When we are called to our roles, it is best to obey and use them for God's purposes so that we may carry out the mission in bringing others to Christ.

As priests, Aaron and his sons had to carry out some daunting and detailed tasks. But God called them to that role because He had faith in them. When Aaron's sons didn't fully obey and fully respect what God had called them to do, we read that there were deep consequences, because the role they filled was one that required careful respect.

Jesus talks about different types of roles and callings through Matthew. The parable about the wedding tells us that many are called or invited to the kingdom, but few accept the invitation. This invitation is open to anyone, but only few choose it. Again, being called to God's kingdom requires respect as you are displaying Who He is.

Jesus also brings up Caesar's role in taxing him, as well as how our roles in heaven will be different than what we have come to know as our roles here on earth. But one important element of being a follower of Christ is to carry out a role of love. This is our greatest commandment. Love God first. Love others second. Simple as that. All of the laws are based on these two commandments. Love is a huge piece of showing others Who Christ is. When we react out of hatefulness and shun those we don't agree with, what makes you think they will ever come to Christ? We must love all. We don't have to agree or waste our efforts over and over again on someone who isn't going to follow Christ, but at least treat them like a human being, created by Christ.

We have roles as friends, siblings, children, spouses, workers, etc. But our role in God's plan is by far the greatest, and encompasses all of these other roles. When we are content being in the roles He calls us to, and use those roles to further His kingdom, we will feel blessed and ultimately experience our rewards in heaven. Respect the roles He has put you in, and use them for Him.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Day 66 - Authentic Hearts

Day 66
Leviticus 6-7, Matthew 21:23-46

As followers of Christ, we all hit those slopes in life where we have a hard time being on fire for Christ. The meaning of what we're called to do and be fizzles low, and you kind of stop caring. That is what happened with the people who followed the rules of sacrifices throughout their lives. The meaning behind what they did with the sacrifices became monotonous and duty-driven, rather than a heart change. 

Sometimes, we hit these ruts. We face the duties of being a Christ-follower rather than the bottom line. Christ didn't intend for us to burn out and to feel doused in our flames. He came so that we may have life and have it to the full. The sacrifices offered in Moses' time was a form of worship. When our worship doesn't feel authentic and driven by the leading of the change in our hearts, it is time for a heart to heart with God, and some reflection on what He has done for us. Our worship to God comes in all shapes and sizes, but having the authenticity is key.

Christ dealt with some task-driven leaders. They talk a good game, but underneath, they are fakers, simply trying to say the right things to look good, and maintain control of others. The parables Jesus shares here hits them straight between the eyes, and causes them to be more angered. They wanted to play by their rules and the traditional rules they knew without having the heart change for why the rules were even in place. We can be guilty of this too. Perhaps you go to church each week, read your Bible when you can, and do everything right when it comes to serving and volunteering. These things, however, don't get you to heaven, and are not far off from the standards the Pharasees had. 

Authenticity. A heart that pounds and yearns for Jesus. Doing these things because of the passion you have for your Creator is where it is at. Never do things to gain or earn heaven; do things because heaven has been given to you by a wonderful Savior long ago and you just can't help but respond in love and worship. 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Day 65 - Shutting the Back Door

Day 65
Leviticus 4-5, Matthew 21:1-22

It is so easy to pass a sin off as a "mistake". It is so easy to say "I swear" to do something when all you have to say is "I'll do it." Christ could have easily gotten out of the suffering He was about to face, but He jumped in with no return, as we read today.

We read about compensating for sins that weren't known were committed. I think it is fair to say that as we grow, there are some things we don't realize are sins until after we commit them. Perhaps you've hurt someone you didn't realize you hurt. It is important to listen to God's Word and the Holy Spirit in the proddings of our hearts. When we call a sin a simple "mistake" we can have the tendency to "mistaken" again. But when we own it as a sin, we have to face it head on.

Making a foolish vow to someone, and not realizing it was dumb until later seems to happen from time to time (at least to me). It is usually at that point I'm left doing something that I never wanted to do, or I'm bailing and hurting others in the process. God tells us to own our vows and simply say yes or no, telling the truth each time. Saying "yes" to someone, when really we know we don't have time, is telling a lie to that person. Consider your words before saying them.

In Matthew, we read about Christ's entry into the city on Palm Sunday. My pastor actually taught on this a couple of Sundays ago, and it wasn't until I heard his message that I realized the significance in Christ's timing here. Once Jesus rode into the city, He had begun the process of shutting the backdoor to escaping from the cross. People shouted praise and slander at Him as He rode in. This was the busiest time in the city, as it was Passover, so people from all over had come and witnessed Jesus riding in. For His entire ministry, Jesus had said "My time has not yet come", and told people to keep quiet about His miracles. But now, He put Himself out there for all to see. There was no going back as He rode into His final week on earth.

I encourage you to take a listen to the sermon Pastor Todd taught on this passage. It is great and helped me realize how much deeper this section of the Gospel goes.

We can put a backdoor on everything in our lives. Our marriages, our jobs...Jesus could have put a backdoor on going to the cross for us. We can call a sin a mistake, rather than owning it. We can make a vow to someone, then just ditch it. But we are commanded to own what we say and do. Be a stronger person and own it!  

Monday, March 7, 2016

Day 64 - Count the Cost

Day 64
Leviticus 1-3, Matthew 20

There is a cost for our sins that we don't realize too often in this world. It is so easy to pass off the "bad things" in our lives because "everyone does it". But as we read about the different rituals of sacrifice in the beginning of Leviticus, we can get a better idea of what the people used to go through to be cleansed.

Today, we have Jesus, Who died as our ultimate sacrifice for our sins, so we no longer needed to offer sacrifices. He has made it very possible and easy to come to Him now as opposed to Moses' time. This can cause us to forget what He has done for us though, as we go about life. We'll continue to read about the different sacrifices over the next day or two, but there were many of them that meant different things at that time. Each one covered a different type of sin or profession to God. Jesus did all of that for us, however.

Jesus goes into what the value of the Kingdom of Heaven is like, as He compares it to workers who get a day of pay no matter what time they started. I don't know about you, but I'm sure I would have raised an eyebrow if I worked from 9-5 and was paid the same amount as someone who worked 4-5. But we learn from this that the Kingdom is open to all who put their trust in Christ, whether it be at the beginning of life or at the end. We never know when this life will end, but if you trust in Christ, you will be rewarded the Kingdom!

As the mother of James and John asks if her sons could sit at Christ's left and right in the Kingdom, Jesus reminds her of the bitter cup He will have to partake to gain the Kingdom. The definition of a leader in heaven is so much different than ones here on earth. While here on earth, leaders have lots of success, get honored everywhere they go, have people working for them, and get what is first at all times, in Christ's definition they are humble and go last, serving others and act as slaves. Jesus is our example of this. "For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve others and to give His life as a ransom for many."

The blind men didn't care what others thought of them as they shouted for Christ from the side of the road. They wanted Christ. We should be like those men, shouting and yearning for Him, no matter what others in this world think of us. You can count the cost of your sin, of what it means to follow Him, and what it looks like to be a ruler for Him. Is it worth it to you? Do you want Christ bad enough that you are willing to sacrifice life for His direction? Count the cost, and find that He is worth it all.

Day 63 - Dwelling Place

Day 63
Exodus 39-40, Matthew 19

Jesus turned the tables on what it means to have an expectation in what faith is about. As you'll read here today, the Jewish people (and we) have made it about a check list and our own expectation of Who God is and what we need to do to come to Him. We make it about what we do and what we need to do, rather than what He has done.

As we wrap up Exodus, we read that the Tabernacle was completed and that God was with the people there. We recall how hopeless the Israelites were at the beginning of Exodus, but how God had delivered them and dwelt among them as they moved about the wilderness. Now, at the completion of the Tabernacle, they can keep God at the forefront of their journey, as they move when He tells them to through the cloud. Through their complaining and sinfulness, God still stuck with them and led them along the path that they were meant to take. It was about what He did for them, no longer what they had to do.

Jesus is continually leading the example of what it means to come to Him. As the little children were brought to Him to be blessed and the disciples tried to turn the parents away, Jesus contradicts them and says to allow the little children to come to Him. The disciples probably pictured Jesus as too busy and too great to care about children, who were to be seen and not heard. But Jesus uses them to make a comparison to who will indeed inherit the Kingdom, as it is those with faith like the children. They simply believe and have awe, without worrying about what they must do.

The Rich Man who approaches Jesus gets a wake-up call as Jesus tells him how to have eternal life. We read that it is not about what we know and how much we know, but where our hearts belong. This man obviously knew the commandments and was ready to check off another part of his list. But when Jesus tells him to sell all of his belonging, he is stuck. Not because he has the stuff, but because he loves his stuff. It is the one thing on earth that he cares about more then Christ.

We can try and try to earn our way to heaven and into God's favoritism, but that isn't how it works. It is about a heart of Christ and allowing Him to essentially "destroy" your ideas of a happy life and happy dreams and allowing Him to show you what He has in store. Giving up our checklists, our hopes, our dreams, our hope for a spouse, our relationships, our jobs, etc. will show us His heart. It is not about what we do, but what He has done! When we allow Him to live and dwell in our lives, we will experience His Kingdom indeed. 

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Day 62 - Being a Team Player

Day 62
Exodus 36-38, Matthew 18

As a family in Christ, it is important we play as a team. I can't tell you how many times I see Christians fighting among each other and turn non-Christians off to being a part of that family. When did we as Christians along the way lose the purpose of love and teamwork?

In Exodus today, we read how the people came together with their gifts and sacrifices to build the tabernacle. This is something that sounds incredibly easy to do in today's world, but in Moses' time, it took hours and hours of work every day for months. Even though we have read about a community that bickered throughout the journey and probably didn't see eye to eye on a daily basis, we see how they came together to work under the common purpose of God's plan. This is an example to how we are to work together. Just because we don't agree on everything, doesn't mean we don't agree that Jesus is our Lord and God's purpose is number 1 in our lives.

Matthew really speaks on humility and teamwork as Jesus responds to the question His disciples ask, about who is the greatest in the Kingdom. Jesus points out that those like the children, humble and honest, wondering about His greatness, will be first in the Kingdom. When we cause someone of pure faith to stumble, or a child to lose their wonder in Christ, we might as well drown. We will face temptations, but those who tempt will face the wrath.

Working with other Christians when we face disagreements is laid out in this chapter of Matthew as well. We can disagree and that is ok, but to handle it in a healthy, constructive way is the best way, and it is all in print right here. The interesting thing about this is that a powerful section about forgiveness follows it. When we fail to forgive others, why would God forgive us?

Are you being a team player in the family of Christ? You have been given gifts, skills, passions and capabilities for a reason - are you using them in the church or to further God's Kingdom? And when you disagree with someone, do you direct them out of love, or do you guilt and shame them to the point of not wanting to return/be a part of God's family? Jesus says that if we turn someone away from the faith, we will be judged indeed. Stop being on your own team, doing your own agenda, and loving what your thoughts and opinions are, and start working together as a family of Christ, making others want that family. You don't have to be a pushover, but you can be loving and guide by example, allowing God to take care of the judging part of it.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Day 61 - Encounters with God

Day 61
Exodus 34-35, Matthew 17

We read about two very significant encounters with God today, and the effects that come with encountering God.

Moses, went up onto the mountain for 40 days to inscribe the covenant he and God made for the people into stone tablets. During this encounter, Moses had no food and no water, as the Lord provided all he needed in that time. One of the covenants that was brought up was that of only working 6 days and spending the 7th resting in God. While this is a very hard thing to do in today's culture, it is still extremely important. I can't even begin to tell you how valuable and necessary my personal time with God is. While it He doesn't only encounter us in the quiet times, those are some of the best times I've shared with Him.

Moses comes down from the mountain, glowing, after his encounter with God. I can see so much truth to how we "glow" after encountering God. I find myself longing for those moments again and again. My day gets off to a much better start when I have those times and I tend to "glow" more brightly in my attitude and demeanor throughout the day.

In Matthew, we see how Peter, James and John up to the mountain to be alone and again, encounter God. This powerful experience leaves the disciples trembling and in awe of the power of God. God gives huge credibility to Jesus, His Son, telling the disciples to listen to Him. We can take from this to also listen to what Jesus tells us through the Word and in His example for us.

We don't have to have a HUGE encounter with God like Moses and the disciples had. He can move in mighty, mighty ways in our circumstances and in the quietness of our souls. Jesus tells the disciples that faith as small as a mustard seed can move mountains! It is interesting to me that this comes after this huge encounter on the mountain. God works in the big things and the tiniest of details.

Having those opportunities for encountering God is a necessary and powerful thing. It is so hard to do in today's culture and with the busyness of our lives, but when you allow that time, He actually makes life less complicated because you are in His Word and have Him in your mind. Allowing God to help you plan the steps of your day and being open to His encounter is a major relief. Life will still come with the problems, heartaches and pain, but when you have God in your day, you can face it more readily.

Day 60 - Fakers

Day 60
Psalm 28-30
David struggled a lot. I'm sure we can agree to this by now. Today, we read about the false securities and how they affected him. Whether that be his "friends" or the things he had.

As we get from David's cries in Psalm 28, he had a lot of "friends" who weren't actually his friends. People who play the game of being friendly simply to get information out of you or use you to gain for their own agendas aren't friends. But they do need grace and humility shown back to them. This doesn't mean you give in and give them what they want, but you show them Who Jesus is in your life. This needs to be spun the other way. Are you a good friend? Take a look at your relationships and ask yourself about them. Sometimes we can have blinders on that blur our vision of who we truly are being in a relationship.

The things we have can give us a false sense of security and also blur our vision. When we are relying on achievements, money, houses, etc. to provide us with that comfortable position in life, we are deeply mistaken in our view of what life is about. Things that can disappear in an instant will never fully satisfy. We will be left wanting more and more, and the cycle will carry on until we finally rest in the arms of Jesus, realizing we don't need anything in this world but Him. David had to learn this as he fled from his enemies and had to cry out for his life. Nothing could spare him but God.

When we rely too heavily on people and things, we can lose our dependence on God quickly because we are not focused on Him and what He has done for us. People will disappoint. Things will go away. The high of your feelings will come down, and you'll be left wanting more. Don't let these impostors send you on a false sense of who Christ is. He is a forever sort of satisfaction, unlike anything else. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Day 59 - Losing it All

Day 59
Exodus 31-32, Matthew 16

When you give all that you are to the movement of Christ, you gain so much more than you can ever gain from the world. People came together with their individual gifts to help build the tabernacle. God has equipped each one of us in a way to give back to Him. We can choose where we use our gifts, but the ultimate reward comes when we use it for Christ's mission.

We see how quickly people can turn from God and give up what He has given to us by turning to other things and idols. (Idols being anything from a golden calf, as we read about in Exodus, or the things in our lives that we put before Christ.) We see the wrath of God threaten to pour out on the sinful people, giving their worship to this thing, rather than to the God Who rescued them out of Egypt. Are you placing something else before the God Who redeemed you? He has done so much for us, and yet we can bat an eyelash and cling to the things we think will matter, rather than the One that has and will and does.

This is played out as well in our Matthew reading for the day too, as we read about leaders looking for a miraculous sign from Jesus to prove He is the Messiah. While Jesus could easily do this, He knows that their hearts aren't right as they are approaching Him on their own terms and basing their belief on themselves. Jesus has given us enough reason to have faith in Him. Why do we insist on seeing more? What we put into our hearts is what matter and when we lose what we desire, our desires will be met beyond our imagination when we give them up.

Peter declares Jesus as Messiah and the living God, then refuses to allow Jesus to go in order to save us all. Jesus points out:

 "If any of you wants to be My follower, you must turn away from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow Me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for My sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your soul?" - Matthew 16:24-26

Everyday, we must make a decision to take up our crosses and follow Him. By taking up the cross, we face death daily - death in our hopes, dreams, desires - for the following of Christ's plans in us. When we try to cling to our lives and the things we put before Christ, we will lose what matters most. Losing is gain when it comes to Christ. We can have everything in this world, but in the end it is entirely meaningless in comparison to the eternal rewards that Christ gives us in this life and in the life to come.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Day 58- Heart Focus

Day 58
Exodus 29-30, Matthew 15

Our hearts can be focused on many things in this world, but focusing it on our relationship with Jesus is the most important. Because of His sacrifice, and because of His blood, we don't need to carry out the meticulous rituals of the Old Testament times. The details of the Exodus reading sure shows how serious it was to cleanse oneself of their sins. It also shows just how seriously we take our relationship with God and in coming to Him with pure hearts.

Jesus is our Savior. He restores, forgives and redeems. Accepting a relationship with Him is accepting the redemption, forgiveness and cleansing of our sins. The most important relationship you can say "yes" to is one with Him.

We read in Matthew how traditions and rules can be a heart issue. We are a people of routine, comforts, traditions, but these are the things that Jesus teaches against. These are the things that stunt growth. We cling to those things so much, that we miss the true meaning of our faith, of church, and of Christianity. Think about this in the perspective of the church. We cling to our buildings, things, traditions and routines. What happens to the mission? What happens when people who are unfamiliar with church walk in for the first time and see people more worried about structure, traditions and the things around them to notice a life that is in dire need of a Savior?  Or maybe they feel welcomed at first, but after awhile, the true colors come out. The rituals become more important than the mission. Where does your heart lie? In programs, in newsletters, in the things of the church? Or in the bottom line of the Great Commission? Jesus makes it pretty clear here.

The struggles faced in this reading are physical struggles. Jesus heals many sick people as they show Him faith and worship Him. When Jesus sees the crowd of 4,000 hungry people, He has compassion on them, showing us that His heart is in the needs of people, rather than the things and traditions of the religious leaders. When we are hungry for Christ, and seek Him, we will be shown compassion.

This is an example for us to show compassion on the poor and hungry ourselves. We can go through life in physical pain and struggles, but the same concept goes with having faith and asking God to heal us. Rejoice during the good days, ask Him for help on the hard days. Jesus shows us compassion as long as we seek Him and His will. As we can see when Jesus feeds the crowds of the hungry, He can take very little and make it overflow with greatness. We just need to trust in Him and have sincere hearts that have faith and that cry out to Him to do His will in our lives.

Is your heart focused on what YOU care about and want out of this life, or on the mission and greatest relationship you can ever have in Jesus Christ? We need to learn to let go of the things we put in the way of loving others and giving us focus on what truly matters. Take some time to realize what is holding you back from fully embracing God with your entire heart today.