THE ROAD: Scripture and Prayer Guide – Day Three

INTRODUCTION

THE ROAD to and from the Cross was a brutal and beautiful journey. Jesus willingly chose to lay down his life. His life was not taken from him; his life was given by Him. This week I challenge you to consider the truths of the Gospel imparted to us because of Christ’s willingness to travel this road. This Scripture guide is adapted from A Gospel Primer by Milton Vincent. It is a good read and I recommend it.

God’s gifts are all of grace, and there is nothing we can do to earn them. However, the wise believer (follower of Christ) will live in a position where God’s gracious gifts are rightly and regularly experienced.

I pray this guide will help you position yourself this week before the Lord with a right heart, spirit, mind, and body. Please take the time to look up the Scriptures and ponder them. Meditate on the Word of God.

DEVOTIONAL

I never have to do a moment’s labor to gain or maintain my justified status before God. Freed from this burden, I now can put my energies into enjoying God, pursuing holiness, and ministering God’s amazing grace to others. The Gospel reminds me that my righteous standing with God always holds firm regardless of my performance, because my standing is based solely on the work of Jesus and not mine.

Romans 5:18-19

Lord, may I never take for granted nor may I never forget that I am truly forgiven. Encourage and empower me to live out this truth. Thank you that you took upon yourself every bit of the burden of my sin. I humbly give it all to you. Help me to walk in the freedom you have given me through your death and resurrection. I am humbled by your love and in return, I love you above all else. Amen.

When God does not save the day

thedayDo you trust God even when he does not “save the day?” My favorite verse in the Bible is Daniel 3 when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are about to be thrown into a fiery furnace for not worshiping a false idol. They tell the king, “we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand.  But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

I love this quote. These 3 young men trust God, whether he saves the day or not. Now, God, in this situation, does save the day and deliver them. However, these 3 men trusted God whatever happened. It is easy to say we trust God when he saves the day. But God does not always save the day. Ask the friends of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Ask the followers of John the Baptist.

Today I want you to consider two very different points of one story. It is the story of Jesus’ journey through Jerusalem during the week leading up to his death. On Sunday, he rides into town and the crowds worship him and cry, “Hosanna, blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord.” On Friday, the crowds yell out “Crucify him, Crucify him!”

Jesus walked the Narrow Road before us. He travelled the road that is small before he invited us to follow him down it. He had to face the tough realities of life firs. We learn a great principle from Jesus in his handling of these issues. Keep Walking! On the road to Jerusalem, Jesus received what he deserved (when people praised him.) On the road to Calvary, Jesus received what we deserve (when people mocked t killed him).

God is at work in every situation. God is at work in the good, but God often does his greatest work in the bad. It is when we go through the days God does not save that he works mightily within our lives. God did not save the day for Jesus on Good Friday. Jesus was not spared the brutality and hatred. Jesus trusted the Father. He trusted him so much that the night before he prayed so hard he sweat blood and asked “If there be any other way, take this cup from me, but not my will your will be done.” He trusted God. Do not stop when it all seems right, because staying still will cause it to begin to go wrong. Do not stop when it all seems wrong, because you miss out what God will do next.

Jesus knew the truth of what he was doing. Jesus could save himself or us, but not both. The choice to die, to give up his life, was Jesus’ choice. It was a decision of love. God did not save that day because in it God redeemed all the days. Our road is much like Jesus’ in that we have to make a choice between our way and the Father’s will. We can serve Jesus or ourselves, but not both.

Who are you serving? Keep walking!

THE ROAD – Scripture and Prayer Guide: Day Two

INTRO:

THE ROAD to and from the Cross was a brutal and beautiful journey. Jesus willingly chose to lay down his life. His life was not taken from him; his life was given by Him. This week I challenge you to consider the truths of the Gospel imparted to us because of Christ’s willingness to travel this road. This Scripture guide is adapted from A Gospel Primer by Milton Vincent. It is a good read and I recommend it.

God’s gifts are all of grace, and there is nothing we can do to earn them. However, the wise believer (follower of Christ) will live in a position where God’s gracious gifts are rightly and regularly experienced.

I pray this guide will help you position yourself this week before the Lord with a right heart, spirit, mind, and body. Please take the time to look up the Scriptures and ponder them. Meditate on the Word of God.

DEVOTIONAL:

As long as I am stricken with the guilt of my sins, I will be captive to them, and I will often find myself re-committing the very sins about which I feel most guilty. The Gospel, however, slays sin at this root point and nullifies sin’s power over me. The forgiveness of God, made know to me through the Gospel, sets me free.

2 Peter 1:3, Romans 6:14

Lord, empower me today to believe the truth of the freedom found in you (and in you alone). Empower me today to believe that you have conquered sin. May I live in this truth and in this truth alone. Thank you for facing my condemnation and conquering it. Thank you for bearing my guilt and paying my ransom. Empower me to live like that work is finished. Amen.

THE ROAD: Scripture and Prayer Guide – Day One

THE ROAD to and from the Cross was a brutal and beautiful journey. Jesus willingly chose to lay down his life. His life was not taken from him; his life was given by Him. This week I challenge you to consider the truths of the Gospel imparted to us because of Christ’s willingness to travel this road. This Scripture guide is adapted from A Gospel Primer by Milton Vincent. It is a good read and I recommend it.

God’s gifts are all of grace, and there is nothing we can do to earn them. However, the wise believer (follower of Christ) will live in a position where God’s gracious gifts are rightly and regularly experienced.

I pray this guide will help you position yourself this week before the Lord with a right heart, spirit, mind, and body. Please take the time to look up the Scriptures and ponder them. Meditate on the Word of God.

Sunday:
The Bible twice describes the Gospel (The Gospel is the message of the Good News that Jesus died and was raised from the dead so that we – all of us – who had rebelled against God might believe in him, trust in him, and follow him. This gift of Christ was God’s grace for us and our salvation from ourselves and our sin. The Gospel declares that all who believe in Jesus and confess Him as Lord will be saved.) Nothing else in all of Scripture is ever described as the power of God except the person of Jesus Christ.

Romans 1:16, 1 Corinthians 1:18, and 1 Corinthians 1:24

Lord, I believe this Gospel. Provide in me the desire and the passion to speak it and to live it. Thank you for dying on the cross for me. Thank you for saving me. I believe that your Gospel is the power of salvation. There is no salvation except you. I trust you and you alone. Empower me today to set all other false securities to the side and trust in you and in you alone with my life. Amen.

Just Say Yes

Finish Line

I remember Mrs. Florence looking Nancy and I in the eyes one day and confidently saying, “God’s going to use you two in a big way some day.”  This encouragement came at a time in our lives when we were learning to say, “Yes” whenever we felt like God was leading us to do one thing or another.  I don’t really know what big looks like, but I know we have had the opportunity and ability to say, “Yes” to a lot of things in the 15 years that followed.  It was not until I was recently asked to speak about how I made the transition from Brian Robert the Chemical Engineer to Brian Robert the Family Pastor that I connected some dots that I hope are an encouragement to you today.  I’ll save the why I made the jump for another post; today I want to share how I think it happened.

Learning to let God define the finish line:  My finish line has become the desire to hear, “Well done good and faithful servant…Enter into the joy of your master” [Matt 25:21] when I stand before Jesus.
Read any How-To book including the old and the new testament of the Bible and you will quickly encounter the wisdom that any successful endeavor starts with the end in mind.  Investment of time, money, or resources of any kind without a plan will rarely end well.  However, making decisions based on a desired outcome will set you up for the best possible outcome.

Setting the pace today for the race you will run tomorrow:  A wise friend taught me this principle with the encouragement that if I wanted to impact the world in any significant in the future, I had to be willing to impact the world in the seemingly insignificant opportunities of today.  Over the years I have grown to appreciate that just as a runner might train for a marathon, there is an intentional conditioning of the heart that is necessary to foster obedience in the long run to the call of Christ. “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”[Matt 6:33]  Rarely will a runner complete 26.2 miles without conditioning their heart with many runs at shorter distances.  Similarly, a Christian will more often seek God first in the major crossroads of life when he has trained himself to say yes in less significant decisions.

Being prepared to sprint:  I’m not a runner, but I have played enough sports through the years to know that you have to be ready to get out in front, or get into position, or get out of the way quickly when the right time comes.  If you are too tired, or too weighted down, or too distracted at best you will miss your chance at worst somebody will get hurt.  There is a spiritual parallel. If you are too distracted by the world around you, if you are too weighted down by debt or inappropriate relationships, or you find yourself too tired to make a move in the direction that God is leading, then you may miss an opportunity to win.

Put the finish line in focus and imagine hearing “well done thy good and faithful servant”.  Start conditioning your heart to run tomorrow’s pace by saying yes to God today.  And be prepared to sprint when the time is right, because “God is going to use you in a big way someday.”  Whatever big looks like, I can promise you will have lots of opportunities to say yes.

The Burning, Inescapable Question Of Faith

I nearly died when I was seven years old.

Alright, so maybe that’s a tad bit dramatic. But to be fair, I did think for a few terrifying moments in my seven year old life that I had indeed seen my final day on this earth.

Let me paint the picture for you- My family and I had traveled to Astroworld in Houston, Texas for a day of fun, as we often did. On this particular day, I suppose my Dad decided it was high time to begin making his boy into a man, and as a result, invited me to join him on the Texas Cyclone, the park’s massive wooden roller coaster.

While I had never ridden a coaster before, and this particular structure was pretty intimidating to look at, I obliged my Dad and joined him on the ride. Though some of the details of that day are fuzzy now, I vividly remember almost immediately believing that I had made one of the greatest mistakes of my life.

The ride was high…and fast…and incredibly rough. For the majority of the ride, I was hanging on for dear life, fully expecting my skinny, seven year old frame to be launched off the side of the track at any moment. Fortunately, that didn’t happen, but what did happen is that I said to my young self, “I don’t think I will ever do that again.”

In the couple years that followed, I kept that promise to myself, and avoided roller coasters like the plague. In due time, though, Dad asked again if I would accompany him on another thrill ride- not the same one, mercifully, but another that he thought may suit me better. I did, and while it was still pretty scary, I found myself enjoying it just a little bit.

More time went by, and I began to grow more and more comfortable in my coaster riding skin. Eventually, as I matured, I realized that Dad was really on to something here. Sure, these rides may test the limits of my sanity at points, but in the end, they are a ton of fun. To avoid them, as I had originally promised myself I would, would have meant missing out on some great thrills and great memories with family and friends.

Ultimately, I realized that in making that very first request those many years ago, Dad was inviting into something with him- something that he believed I would genuinely enjoy. His heart toward me was good, even if I had a hard time seeing and experiencing that initially. In time, as I pushed myself to “follow him” in this really simple way, I gained something that otherwise- by playing it safe- I never would have known.

So what does this childhood lesson have to do with following Jesus? Based on what Jesus Himself has to say about it, I’d say everything.

In inviting people to enter into a relationship with Him, Jesus pulls no punches about what to expect. In Matthew 7:13-14, for example, he makes it clear that the road after Him is a “narrow” one that is often “hard.” But even as He reveals the challenges of that road, He makes a promise- This, He says, is the one and only road to “life.”

Jesus also tells us that there is another choice we can make- We can travel the “wide” road, one that is easy and quite popular, one that is paved and directed by self. Jesus admits that initially, this seems like the way to go, but in the end, it’s a deception, a massive miss leading to death and destruction apart from Him.

Now let’s face it- That’s a pretty hard sell for most of us. We like life our way. We like being our own boss. We like calling our own shots. To give all that up to follow Him on a harder road- even if it does lead to “life”- is a pretty scary proposition. Which leads us to the question that I believe we must all eventually grapple with when it comes to where we stand in relationship with Jesus. It’s the burning, inescapable question of faith.

Can I really trust Jesus?

I mean, is Jesus really shooting straight with us here? Are we sure that He knows what He’s talking about? If your answer to those questions is no, then there’s no way you’re ramping off the “wide” road and following Him down the “narrow.” But if you believe Him- even in the face of some real fears and questions- then you’ll make the leap, and go after Him.

The only reason I got on the Texas Cyclone that afternoon 23 years ago is because I trusted my Dad. And the only reason that I got back on another coaster after that horrific experience is because I trusted my Dad enough to try again. Looking back, I can see that He was on to something, but without the benefit of hindsight, all I had was trust in His heart toward me, and the reality that He actually knew what He was talking about.

Similarly, on the front end of following Jesus, facing down the uncertainty of what a life with Him might look like, all you have is trust or distrust in His heart toward you, and in the fact that He is speaking the truth in what He says, however hard it might be to hear. And let me tell you- The fact that He was willing to walk the “narrow” road to death on a Cross for you and for me, undeserving rebels that we are, gives me a clue that trusting Him is well worth it.

I don’t know where you are in your journey of faith, but I know that this is the ultimate issue you must settle in your heart, the ultimate question you must answer. If you’re considering the claims of Jesus, I implore you to ask it, and to rigorously evaluate your answer. If you’re already following Jesus and facing a difficult time in your life, and perhaps wondering if this whole thing is worth it, I encourage you to go back to the question, and likewise thoroughly examine your response to it.

I, for one, believe that Jesus can be trusted far more than anyone or anything else in this life, including (perhaps especially) my own sinful heart. Do you believe that? Your answer will determine your response to His invitation to follow down the “narrow” road to real life.

Retreat

“But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.” Luke 5:16

I love my alone time. No one believes me when I tell them I am an introvert, because of my energy and interactions with people. I am an introverted person with extraverted tendencies. But if I weren’t able to be alone, reflect, and rest, I would be snappy, irritated, and less-energetic and probably make some people mad with wit and sarcasm. I love ministry, but people wear me out. My kryptonite is people who never shut up. Just being real. Often times when I am around people for an extended period of time, I check out and I can no longer be there mentally while at the same time being there physically. Don’t miss this though, I absolutely love people. I love engaging people, ministering to people, challenging people, shepherding people, and leading people towards the truth of Christ. But I must retreat…a lot. However, this retreat, moving back or withdrawing, isn’t just necessary for people who are more quiet and secluded, it’s for everyone! In fact, according to this passage in Luke 5, it was also for Jesus. Key in on that, even our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ benefited from? a retreat. But not just a retreat, a retreat alone with the Father. “But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.”
Jesus had just gotten done showing the disciples how to snatch up fish the right way, which was another teachable moment for our scholarly disciples. Jesus healed a man with leprosy, and then crowds sought him out for their own benefit. They wanted healing. But right after this moment, the verse says Jesus withdrew to a private place to pray. These people wanted Jesus for healing, but Jesus wanted God for true spiritual rest and communion. Our Lord and Savior needed this time. If the gospel of Luke isn’t enough proof check out another gospel. Mark 1:35 says, “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place and there he prayed. Or Matthew 14:23, “And after he had dismissed the crowds he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.” There seems to a pattern here in Jesus’ life. Jesus retreated often! Jesus prayed fluidly to the father. Jesus in his humanity needed this time alone, as do I, as do you.
James 4:8 says, “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you…” That’s a FACT! This verse isn’t saying you have to work your way up to God or earn a spot for him to meet you. It’s saying when you approach God in your fractured state, in all humility, declaring yourself in need of time with Him and restorative action, He will indeed invade! Verse 6 before this says God gives more grace! He is a generous God who wants to know you and meet with you! I love what Charles Spurgeon says “When we discover more of our weaknesses, God gives more grace.” In our times of solitude and intimacy with Jesus, we are declaring seven things:
Delight in His goodness
Need for His grace
Joy in his presence
Repentance of your sins
Desire to hear from Him
Dependence on His power over ours
Thankfulness for Jesus’ death and resurrection

The question is, what are you doing to avoid this encounter? Why is it so hard prioritizing being in the quiet? Time for reflection and quiet is needed to really grow as a follower of Christ. Some of our greatest encounters with the Lord will be when we get alone with Him and His word. Yes, there is power and challenge through preaching, ministers, blogs, conference speakers, worship music, and community, but there is nothing like being in a desolate place, just Jesus and you. When we want God above all things, we get God above all things. I truly believe if our Lord in his humanity often retreated to get alone with God, we finite human beings in our
fractured lives absolutely need the presence of Him “who called us according to his good purpose.”
Retreat is necessary, so bask in God’s presence!