A new hope

Read: Genesis 36-37, Matthew 12:1-21

A look at any news outlet these days will let you know that there are an awful lot of people who have no hope. Even those who think they do, don’t. This is nothing new. Hopelessness has plagued the human race since the very first humans walked the earth. Our own weaknesses and insecurities often overshadow anything or anyone who may be able to shine a little light into our lives.

This is what the Jews were feeling in the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry. The Pharisees had interpreted the law to a point that there was absolutely no hope in ever being able to keep it. In the first few verses of Matthew 12, we find Jesus and his disciples accused of breaking the law simply because they were hungry. If the need for a midday meal was enough to break the law, how much more did the Jews struggle in their daily life to keep up with the strict parameters the Pharisees put on them?

Yet Jesus fought against these man-made restrictions. While still keeping the law, he explained the freedom in it. Certain exceptions could be made within the boundaries of the law. Jesus emphasized his point by healing a man with a withered hand. The Pharisees considered healing work and thus, decided it was unlawful to do so on the Sabbath. Jesus, on the other hand established that it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:12).

Matthew 12:21

Jesus’ ministry was not to publicly put the Pharisees in their place, but rather to show the average person that there was hope beyond what they’d been taught. Their faith wasn’t all about the rules, but the freedom that could be found in them. The law was not given to stifle humanity, but to benefit them. And Jesus, in fulfilling the law, came to do the same.

It is in Jesus’ name that our greatest hope is found. It is in his name that demons must flee and sickness must vanish. It is in his name that we are set free and in his name that we find life everlasting.

Where there is no hope, there is Jesus. Where hope has faded, he brings a new hope.

Return

In Canada, today is Boxing Day. Not unlike Black Friday in the United States, today is the day of sales and deals and everyone goes out to get what they wanted for Christmas, but no one saw fit to give them. It’s also a day where many may try to return the gifts they got, but never wanted or needed, and exchange them for something they really want.

Life is full of exchanges. We want something and we go after it. Sometimes, once we get it, we may decide that we never really wanted it in the first place. But we keep it since it took so much effort to get it, or we may decide to give it up after all and go after something else.

All through the the Old Testament, Israel is chasing after something. Sometimes it’s God. Most of the time, it’s not. But, unlike Canadian stores on Boxing Day, God will take returns at any time from any vendor. You don’t have to bring something back to the place you got it from. You can take it to place you want to get something from.

I, the Lord, was very angry with your ancestors. Therefore, say to the people, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord Almighty.’

Zechariah 1:2-3 (NLT)

Israel was always out searching for the next best thing. Going out like Black Friday shoppers and making purchases for no other reason than it was a really good deal. Then they got home and realised they had absolutely no need for their acquisition. Instead of immediately returning it, they decided to make use of it. They borrowed gods and idols from other nations and, when they realised that those gods could do nothing for them, instead of tossing them in the hearth for firewood, they kept them. The effort to make the exchange was too great.

And then God comes along and makes a better offer than anyone or anything else could give them. Return to me, and I will return to you. Give me your useless things and I’ll give you what you really need.

It doesn’t matter what you’ve managed to bring into your life, God’s exchange policy will cover it. You can bring it to Him, lay it at His feet and He will give you what you truly desire and need. We don’t have to live our lives full of all the junk we’ve managed to pick up along the way because it seemed like a good idea at the time. God will take it all.

So if you’re holding on to some things that you don’t need, jump to the front of the line and go straight to God. He’ll take it all without any proof of purchase. Return it to Him and He’ll replace it with something worthwhile.

Daily Bible reading: Zechariah 1-3, Revelation 17

Everyone else was doing it

Who never used the excuse that “everyone else was doing it” when you were a kid? It was a pretty simple go-to reason for why you did something your parents explicitly told you not to to. But did it ever work? If you tried it, you may have received “if they all went and jumped off a bridge, would you jump off, too?” as a response. Of course you wouldn’t. You’re smarter than that. Yet you did do something for which your only reason for doing it was because everyone else was.

John warns against following evil influence. The influence he’s talking about has far greater repercussions than getting your bicycle taken away or being grounded from the internet for a week. It’s your eternal soul at stake.

Dear friend, don’t let this bad example influence you. Follow only what is good. Remember that those who do good prove that they are God’s children, and those who do evil prove that they do not know God.

3 John 1:11 (NLT)

The evil influence John is talking about here is that a man, Diotrephes, is going around telling the church that they don’t need to welcome or care for travelling ministers—a teaching that is completely contrary to the example Jesus set. But we can take this word of advice and apply it to far more than just travelling ministers. It is advice for life.

Influence comes at us from all directions—all day, every day. It’s unavoidable. It comes from Christians as well as unbelievers. It is up to us as individuals to determine how we let it affect us. In this passage, John gives us a pretty simple answer—know God. When we know and love God, good deeds will be the visible byproduct. If we don’t know God, evil deeds will be the byproduct. And we cannot assume that everyone who calls himself a Christian knows God (John’s warning here was against someone in the church).

It’s all so confusing! How am I supposed to know what’s what?

It’s a good thing that God doesn’t expect us to know it all. And it’s a good thing that He does know it all. And it’s an even better thing that He gave us His Holy Spirit to guide us in that regard. The closer we are to God, the more in tune we will be with His Spirit and can allow ourselves to be influenced by Him rather than those around us. And the stronger God’s influence is in our lives, the more of a good influence we will be on those around us.

If you need an influence to follow, Jesus is your prime example. Get to know him. Don’t do something just because everyone else is doing it (even Christians), do it because Jesus did it.

Daily Bible reading: Daniel 11-12, 3 John 1

Be happy

Be happy if you are insulted for being a Christian, for then the glorious Spirit of God will come upon you.

1 Peter 4:14 (NLT)

Happy probably isn’t the first, or even second, or third, word I’d use to describe how I feel when I’m insulted.

HAPPY: Lucky; fortunate; successful.

It may seem more than a little counterintuitive, but in order to be counted as a successful Christian, you will have to be insulted for it.

It’s not that we should go looking for persecution, but if you are living the life God has called all of His children to, it will find you. If you’ve never been insulted or persecuted because of your faith you either live in a very small bubble, or you’re not really living your faith to the extent you should be.

There is something about Christianity that rubs the rest of the world the wrong way—and they usually aren’t afraid to let you know about it. And when those those insults come flying your way, they are nothing to shy away from. We should be boldly facing them head on.

But it is no shame to suffer for being a Christian. Praise God for the privilege of being called by his wonderful name!

1 Peter 4:16 (NLT)

It is to our benefit to be called out for our faith. If we endure, we become stronger for it. And though the world would try to bring us shame, they only bring us further glory through our association with God the Father.

So even in the trials and the insults, be happy. Put the world behind you and focus on God before you.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 38-39, 1 Peter 4

The walking dead

There is far more to the Christian life than a simple confession. If you’ve been reading along, by now you know that. But not all those who call themselves Christians do. Churches around the world are filled with the walking dead—those who profess faith, but display no proof of it at all.

So you see, it isn’t enough just to have faith. Faith that doesn’t show itself by good deeds is no faith at all—it is dead and useless.

James 2:17 (NLT)

How do you know someone is alive? This seems like a pretty stupid question, but go along with me for a minute. You know someone is alive because something is happening. A heart is beating. Lungs are drawing in breath. The brain is active. There are indicators of life—all of which are measureable.

I recently spent a day in the emergency room with my younger sister. Her doctor’s office called her in a near panic because some measurements in her blood were alarmingly low. All day long, hospital staff were coming and going taking measurement after measurement of an assortment of different things. Temperature. Blood pressure. And, before we could leave, they had to draw blood (which seemed a little counterintuitive since we were there because she needed blood) so that more measurements could be taken. All of the things that prove whether a person is healthy or unfit, alive or dead can be measured.

How can your faith be measured?

[Abraham’s] faith was made complete by what he did—by his actions.

James 2:22b (NLT)

Because Abraham did what God told him to do, when He told him to do it, and how he was told, God declared Abraham to be righteous. He was even called a friend of God (verse 23).

Life, in any form is tangible. It can be measured in various ways—faith included.

Dear brothers and sisters, what’s the use of saying you have faith if you don’t prove it by your actions? That kind of faith can’t save anyone.

James 2:14 (NLT)

We can be the walking dead—saying we have faith, but doing nothing to prove it. Or we can have living faith—proving it by our actions and obedience.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 22-23, James 2

I insist

When we insist on something, we’re usually polite about it. Let me get the bill, I insist. We’re just being nice.

INSIST: Literally, to stand or rest on. To press or urge for any thing with immovable firmness; to persist in demands.

Not so polite now, is it? To insist on something is to stand firm, without moving or wavering. Paul, in his letter to Titus insists that he stand on the truth of the message of Christ.

But then God our Savior showed us his kindness and love. He saved us, not because of the good things we did, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins and gave us a new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us because of what Jesus Christ our Savior did. He declared us not guilty because of his great kindness. And now we know that we will inherit eternal life. These things I have told you are all true. I want you to insist on them so that everyone who trust in God will be careful to do good deeds all the time. These things are good and beneficial to everyone.

Titus 3:4-8 (NLT)

Not only should we insist on the Truth, but we should insist on it for a reason—so that we will all be careful to do good deeds all the time.

Look at one who’s received a heart transplant. Someone had to die in order for that person to live. Now that they have a new heart, they will not—they cannot—go back to living the way they lived before. They must live a life worthy of the gift they received. The same goes for us. While we’re not going to drop dead if we don’t do good deeds, to live a life without change is hardly living a life worthy of the price Jesus paid so that we could be free from those things that tie us down.

We have been called to so much more than just a simple belief in Christ. Believing that Jesus is the Son of God and that he died and rose again to pay the price for our sins is only the beginning. God, the creator of the universe, has a plan for each of us. He, in His infinite grace and mercy, has far greater things in mind for us than we could ever comprehend. To keep on living the way we always lived is an insult to the price that Jesus paid.

Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God.

Ephesians 4:1 (NLT)

Let’s think about our lives. Think about the gift of grace we have been given. And think about the ways that we can live worthy of that gift one day at a time. Start with one good deed. Then another. Then another.

I insist.

Daily Bible reading: Jeremiah 33-35, Titus 3

Living knowledge

[God] saves men because He loves them individually, and desires to make them blessed; but He also saves them because He desires that through them other shall be brought into the living knowledge of His love. It is most especially true about great religious teachers and guides.

MacLaren’s Expositions

In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he tells his son in the faith to stop letting people waste time in endless speculation. Many in the church had begun to spend more time in discussion over fruitless facts rather than actually bearing fruit. They lost sight of the purpose of their salvation.

Our salvation is not only for our own personal good, but for the good of everyone. As stated in the quote above, God saves us because He loves us, but He also saves us so that we can share His love and be brought into the living knowledge of it.

Facts are great. I love facts. I love statistics. I like knowing things. But those things bear no fruit. Facts have no life to them. This is why Paul directed Timothy to keep the church from spending all their time arguing over these things. While genealogies may be important to an extent, when compared to eternity, it’s a bit of a waste of time. Because God wants to save everyone—not just a specific few.

This is a true saying, and everyone should believe it. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—and I was the worst of them all. But that is why God had mercy on me, so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life.

1 Timothy 1:15-16 (NLT)

The greater the fall, the greater the story of salvation. (Please don’t take this as an invitation to go on a sinning spree just so you can say you’ve been saved from all of that.) If Paul, a man who spent his life pursuing and killing Christians, could be saved, we can all be saved. And, if that same man can spread the Gospel, we can all spread the Gospel. This is the point he was making.

In the Kingdom of God, your earthy pedigree means nothing. The very same grace saves us all. Let’s not lose sight of that fact and let us not lose sight of the fact that we are saved so that others might be saved.

The purpose of my instruction is that all Christians there would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and sincere faith.

1 Timothy 1:5 (NLT)

Love is what we should be filled with, not fruitless arguments. Look for that living knowledge of God, that which edifies the soul and strengthens the spirit. Those are the thoughts that should be consuming us.

Daily Bible reading: Jeremiah 5-6, 1 Timothy 1