I’m working

Jesus took a lot of flack for the things that he did on the Sabbath day. Those that would seek to destroy him looked for any and every opportunity to see him come to ruin. It is interesting to think how often Jesus was “caught in the act” by the Pharisees. How did they know what he was up to unless they were following him? If Jesus told a man to get up and pick up his mat because he’d been healed, that was considered work? If getting up was considered work, getting dressed was surely work and we don’t read stories of the Pharisees walking around naked on the Sabbath.

It is true that God rested on the seventh day after spending six days creating the universe. He also instituted the Sabbath as a day of rest and reflection on Him. Work was to be set aside and the focus of the people was to be on God. The Pharisees, for all their not working, certainly set their focus on something—someone—else.

Let’s work this out, shall we? God created the Sabbath—a day of rest. Jesus is God. Jesus created the Sabbath. Jesus was sent to walk the earth. Jesus did stuff on the Sabbath. Jesus never went against God’s word. So was what Jesus did on the Sabbath to be considered work or not?

Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.”

John 5:17 (NIV)

Well, how does Jesus get around this then? He’s working on a day where no one self-respecting Jew is supposed to work!

God rested on the seventh day from His work of Creation. But Jesus pointed to the continuous work of God as justification for His Sabbath activity. God sustains the universe, begets life, and visits judgments. It is not wrong for His Son to do works of grace and mercy on the Sabbath.

The Bible Knowledge Commentary

Just because God rested on the seventh day didn’t mean that His work stopped. God is always working on our behalf, even Sundays (or Saturdays, depending on which day you recognise as the Sabbath). Despite what religious leaders may think, God’s work cannot be put on pause or stopped. Because God’s work is never truly done, Jesus’ work was never done. No matter what we need or when we need it, God is ready and able to fulfill our needs, uninterrupted and without fail. A day of the week can’t stop Him if He’s working.

Read: 2 Kings 9-11, John 5:1-24

The seventh day

Read: Exodus 31-33, Matthew 22:23-46

When you think of something as being holy, what comes to mind? A certain place? The empty tomb. Jerusalem. A church or temple. A specific thing? The Bible. Communion elements—bread and wine. The ark of the covenant. Things that are holy usually generate a picture in our minds. But the very first thing that God set aside as holy was neither a place nor a thing.

And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

Genesis 2:3 (NIV)

According to our religious way of thinking, once God had completed creation, we would expect that He would create a dwelling for Himself, a holy sanctuary where He could reside. But He didn’t. No such thing was made.

Things are only temporary. Out of sight, out of mind. Had God set aside a place or a thing, it could (and probably would) be easily forgotten. Instead, He set aside time, a regular occurrence at which point humanity was to set aside all else so that our focus could be on our Creator alone.

Exodus 31:13

We can set aside places and things to be considered holy, but unless we actually take time, God will not be glorified or worshiped. Even though western Christian tradition sets aside Sunday—the first day of the week—as the Sabbath. I don’t believe God is so concerned with which day or time we set aside as He is with the fact that we actually take the time to turn our focus off of everything but Him.

Our holiness is entirely dependent on God’s holiness. And we cannot be made holy if we do not know the One who makes us holy. Whether you take the first day, the seventh day, or the fourth day, take a day. Consider it holy. Don’t just abstain from work, but use that time to pursue God. Let it continue to stand as a reminder for the generations to come that He is the Lord, who makes us holy.

Let’s strip

You don’t have to be an Olympian to know that, if you’re running a race, any extra weight you carry is to your detriment. One might train with resistance, but when you step up to the starting line, you want to approach it with as little on you as possible. Every ounce can make a difference. When you have a crowd of people cheering you on, you want to do your very best. Keep your eyes on the prize and run for all you’re worth.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily hinders our progress. And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish.

Hebrews 12:1-2a (NLT)

The term strip here means more than just taking off some clothing. It means to pull or tear off, to cast off, to separate from something connected. It means to sever yourself from anything that might hold you back. The implication is that, once that hindrance has been taken off, you don’t look back. You don’t think twice about picking it up again. You take it off and you run away from it as fast as you can.

When was the last time you saw a runner say, “Oops, I dropped something!” and go back to pick something off the track before continuing the race? Once you start running, the finish line needs to become your only focus. No matter what other distractions may pop up, your eyes need to stay fixed on the prize—Jesus.

Our race may be a sprint or it may be a marathon. Either way, we cannot afford to carry extra weight, nor can we afford to be distracted. That great crowd of witnesses—other believers past and present—are there to cheer us on offering guidance and encouragement. You are not the first to run this race of faith, nor will you be the last. But if any of us are to finish, it will be because we’ve kept our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish.

So let’s strip off everything and anything that may slow us down. Let’s help each other and cheer each other on. We’re all in this race together.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 16, Hebrews 12

New strength

As many of us age, we may find ourselves longing for the strength of our youth. Our bodies no longer recover like they used to. Definition and tone has been lost to obscurity and perhaps a spare tire around the midsection. Once, hefting an entire load of groceries from the trunk and into the house seemed to take minimal effort. Now three trips are needed to make the haul. We want our old strength back. But until someone finally finds the legendary Fountain of Youth, that’s just not going to happen.

But what if, instead of regaining our old strength, we could gain an entirely new strength?

But those who wait on the Lord will find new strength. They will fly high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:31 (NLT)

I don’t think that Isaiah is talking about heading back to the gym with newfound energy, but when we wait on God, He will give us not only more strength, but new strength—one we never had before.

For I can do everything with the help of Christ, who gives me the strength I need.

Philippians 4:13 (NLT)

God doesn’t just give us the strength we want, He gives us the strength we need—the strength we need to accomplish His work and His will. He gives us the strength to put our focus on Him.

Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned from me and heard from me and saw me doing, and the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:8b-9 (NLT)

This new strength that is found when we wait on the Lord gives us the ability to do the things that Paul talks about in these verses. Our new strength give us the ability to set our minds on the things of Christ and resist those things that are not of him.

Daily Bible reading: Isaiah 39-40, Philippians 4

Through the wilderness

In order to get to the place where God wants or needs you to be, He may lead you through the wilderness. When God led Israel out of Egypt, the final destination was never the wilderness. They should have only been passing through for a couple of weeks. Instead, they took their eyes off the prize and ended up wandering for forty years in a place they were never meant to stay.

Give thanks to him who led his people through the wilderness.
His faithful love endures forever.

Psalm 136:16 (NLT)

Was God unfaithful because Israel stayed in the wilderness? Did His love not endure through that time of trial, grief, and wandering? No. God didn’t fail in that situation, Israel did. God brought them to the place He promised and it was Israel who failed to take hold of the promise.

We may look at Israel and scoff, yet we ourselves may be caught in the wilderness. We may find ourselves in a place where we don’t see or feel God. We allow ourselves to get stuck on the way to the promise and lose sight of where we were headed in the first place. Paul tells us that we are in a race. No one ever won a race by pausing on the path. Even in the story of the tortoise and the hare, the quick rabbit who paused lost the race because he took a rest in the middle of his journey. He forgot his purpose. He became too sure of himself and his own abilities. It wasn’t talent that won the race, it was persistence and purpose.

So I run straight to the goal with purpose in every step. I am not like a boxer who misses his punches.

1 Corinthians 9:26 (NLT)

Are we running straight toward the goal God has set before us or are we wandering along the way? Remember that God never leads us to the wilderness, but He may lead us through.

If you find yourself in a spiritually dry place, remember that’s not where God wants you to be. Seek Him. Look for direction. Refocus your sight on the promises God has made. Then run. Run straight to the goal with purpose in every step. Don’t stop. Don’t hesitate. Keep your eyes on God, not the situation around you.

He will lead you through the wilderness.

Daily Bible reading: Psalm 136-138, 1 Corinthians 9

A word of encouragement

Who doesn’t need or want a little encouragement every once in a while (or all the time)? We feel good when someone gives us a pat on the back, tells us we’re doing a good job, or sends a text just to say they’re thinking about us. But what about those days when those things don’t happen? What about the days when we could really use that encouraging word and it doesn’t come? What then?

It sure would be nice if our frame of mind wasn’t so dependant on outside reassurance.

I will praise the Lord at all times.
I will constantly speak his praises.
I will boast only in the Lord;
let all who are discouraged take heart.
Come, let us tell of the Lord’s greatness;
let us exalt his name together.

Psalm 34:1-3 (NLT)

It’s interesting that, in all these lines about praising God, David inserts something about the discouraged. He saw a relationship between praising God and a happy heart.

What if, when we’re feeling a little down and tend to focus more inwardly, we turned it around? What if we took the focus completely off of ourselves? Think about this, when you’re worshipping God, praising Him, speaking about His greatness, what’s your mental state like? Do you feel burdened, in need of a pick-me-up? No. It’s pretty difficult to stay down when you’re lifting God up.

When we turn our focus on to God and His greatness, first of all, our troubles become very small. Second, we allow our spirits to commune with His Spirit—our helper and comforter. Our affirmation doesn’t need to come from outside sources—it shouldn’t come from outside sources. We have the ability to lift ourselves out of the gloom and into the glorious light of God.

How can we be anything but encouraged when we shift our focus from our inward troubles and outwardly praise the Lord, speak His praises, boast in Him, tell of His greatness, and exalt His name?

Daily Bible reading: Psalm 34-35, Acts 22

Blind

When I read through the passages leading up to Jesus’ death, I am always baffled at how the very men who should have been first to recognise who Jesus was were the ones who put him to death.

Jesus is standing before the high priest and the priest demands to know if Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus, of course, says that he is. No problem, right?

Big problem!

Then the high priest tore his clothing to show his horror and said, “Blasphemy! Why do we need other witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your verdict.”

Matthew 26:65 (NLT)

I’m not sure why the priest got so upset when Jesus told him exactly what he wanted to hear. The priest should have been thrilled to finally meet the promised Messiah. Instead, he is enraged because the Messiah doesn’t look like expected. Jesus didn’t come to promote the law, but rather to fulfil it. This went beyond what the priests were able to comprehend.

I wonder if we don’t sometimes act like the high priest at this time. Do we get so caught up in doing church that we forget why we do anything at all? If Jesus were standing in front of us proclaiming himself, would we see him for who he is or would we, like the priest, cry, “Blasphemy!”?

Let us not let the how blind us to the why. Rather than being so concerned about the rule book, let us instead focus on the fact that we’ve been invited to join in action.

Daily Bible reading: Leviticus 14, Matthew  26:55-75

At once

I love reading the accounts of Jesus’ miracles. He did a lot and I’m sure not everything even made into written records. In fact, Jesus said we’d see even greater things.

I tell you the truth, whoever believes in me will do the same things that I do. Those who believe will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.

John 14:12 (NCV)

That’s good stuff, but it will have to wait until next month to take a deeper look at it when it comes up in our daily reading.

What I want to focus on is the response to Jesus’ commands. Miracles didn’t just happen because Jesus was there, they happened because people believed and they were obedient. In John 5, we read the account of a lame man at the pool at Bethesda. He wanted to get into the healing waters, but no one was around to help him. He’d been lame for 38 years.

When you live your life resigned to something for nearly four decades, it’s nearly impossible to imagine life any other way. I would think that many people might argue if someone told them to pick up their things and move along. But that’s exactly what happened.

Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.

John 5:8-9 (ESV)

I wonder if the man would have still been healed if he refused to get up. He’d been lame most of his life and then some stranger came and tells him to get up. Who did this guy think he was? But he got up anyway. If he’d stayed down, he may have lived another 38 years acting like a lame man when he’d already been healed.

I wonder then, how much we’ve actually been given and don’t even realise it. How much of our lives do we spend too afraid to get up because we’ve always been down? The lame man got up immediately. There was no hesitation.

I wonder if we’d see more of the greater things promised in John 14 if we stopped hesitating.

Daily Bible reading: 2 Kings 9-11; John 5:1-24

The Lowest Place

My Connect Group recently finished a three-month-long series on Submission and Authority. Three months is a long time! Just ask those in my group. Why that long? I’ve noticed, especially on the West Coast, that there is a massive gap in Christian education when it comes to the topic. I was raised to respect and obey the authority of the office of the pastor, but most people I’ve met since coming west find the concept foreign.

As a part of our lessons, we not only covered submission and authority, but honour and humility. Once we determined that humility and humiliation were not the same thing, we discussed what it looked like to be humble.

But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

Luke 14:10-11 (ESV)

In a culture that is overwhelmingly focused on self, Jesus’ words seem counter-intuitive. Bring yourself down low so that you can be raised up. The world would have us place ourselves in the highest possible position, but what does that really get us other than the possibility of fifteen minutes of fame?

Be confident in who you are in Christ and who He has made you to be. Be confident in His promises for you. When you know who you are and what you’ve been promised, taking the low place will not be a chore nor will it seem too far below you. Because in lowering yourself, you’ve raised someone else up. Not only have you displayed humility, but you’ve honoured others and earned their respect.

The lowest place is a much better place to be.

Daily Bible reading: 1 Samuel 13-14; Luke 14:1-24

See

Sometimes… okay, a lot of the time… most of the time, I have trouble seeing God’s promises and provision through my situation. I’ve even taken a Sharpie to my arm to remind myself that God is greater than my circumstance and He is able to see me through. In my frustration, I ask God to send me His provision. I remind Him of His promise (like He’s forgotten what He said).

My line of questioning should not be whether or not God has sent the answer, but rather, whether or not I have seen His answer.

There is a great Old Testament account that brings this to light. Here is some back story: Elisha has been helping the kings of Israel and they’ve been kicking butt with all the information that God has been providing through Elisha. All of the other kings are getting tired of having their butts kicked and decide to gang up on Elisha once they realise he’s the reason behind it all. Elisha and his servant are camped out in a city and, one morning, the servant heads outside the tent and sees a massive army surrounding the city. He tells Elisha they’re in trouble.

So he [Elisha] answered, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”

II Kings 6:16

At this point, I’m sure that the servant is sure Elisha has gone mad overnight. But Elisha sticks with his observation.

And Elisha prayed, and said, “Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

II Kings 6:17 (NKJV)

In this case, it wasn’t that God had not sent the provision, it was that the servant couldn’t see it.

I know that, in my life, I need to focus more on what God has provided for me rather than looking for all that I think He hasn’t. His promise is sure. He hasn’t failed me yet, why would I think that He ever would?