“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”
And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”Isaiah 6:3b-5
Holy, holy, holy. There is a reason for the repetition in this chant of praise. Our God is not one to be flippantly referred to as “holy.” He is to be feared and praised for He is not just holy but perfectly holy. All glory and honor rightfully belong to Him. So often as we go through life, we simply walk through the motions of worship. We go to church on Sundays because that is what we do. We worship through song, because there is a certain time for this. We read God’s Word because it’s just part of our routine. What would our life be like if we regularly sought God out of an outpouring of adoration and worship? If we regularly realized God’s greatness and our need of His saving grace and mercy?
Isaiah is encountering God and being commissioned to a task that will be excruciating and exhausting. As he begins his encounter, I am shaken by his reverent fear of the Lord and his awareness of his sinful state. We may not have the same call as Isaiah, and we may not have had the same intense interaction with the Lord, but we too have been commissioned for a task that is of great importance. We are called to go and share the gospel to all the nations and bring glory to our Father in heaven. We may feel as though we do a fairly decent job of living for Christ and glorifying His name . . . but this passage spurs some questions in my heart: what if I lived every day with a true posture of reverence toward our God? What if the mantra of my spirit was “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is filled with His glory!”? What if I had a keen awareness every day of my ultimate lacking and His ultimate provision? I challenge you, my friends, to ponder these questions with me as we embrace our commission as believers to live on mission.
Extravagant love. The kind of love where you are willing to sacrifice more than what seems logical or reasonable to show your love. The kind of love that is manifested through actions and not simply words. The kind of love not marred with hidden agendas and selfish motives. The kind of love that was on display the night Mary anointed the feet of Jesus. Every time I read this account of Mary’s devotion and love, I find myself reading it aloud and with a with a sense of reverence. It’s not a just a picture of Mary’s deep love for Jesus, which is powerful enough on its own, but rather it points me toward the picture of Jesus’ love for us. The beautiful picture of God’s provision and Jesus’ sacrificial gift. Yet, even in the midst of this magnificent scene mirroring Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice of love, present still is the image of Judas’ disingenuous concern for the poor–the picture of a sinful heart separated from God and the reason such a sacrifice is needed.
The people around the table that night may not have had a full understanding of what was to come or the gravity of the situation into which they were immersed. Yet we have the opportunity as we read this passage to peek in the window and watch it unfold with a full picture of what was to come in the weeks to follow. My hope is that we don’t squander this perspective but rather we take the opportunity to slow down and really lean in to Mary’s example. That we would grow in our own love for Jesus, so much so that we are willing to set aside our own desires, comforts, and plans to love him with this type of extravagant love. A love that points not to our own worth, but to the One in whom our worth is found. That we would look at Judas’ seemingly loving objections, understanding the selfish and sinful motives from which they came. What areas of our own sinful hearts are we clinging to and needing to turn over to Him? Are our motives for service and love pure as are Mary’s or are they entangled in our sinful desires?
Our kids at church have been slowly traveling through the accounts of the Old Testament judges, kings, and prophets. A major theme of our conversations throughout our study has been trusting God’s plans and living in obedience to the one true King. This week in class we discussed the fact that sometimes God’s plan doesn’t seem to line up with our own or seems to bring more hardship than we’d like to endure. Sometimes His plan seems messy and confusing. But really we are looking through the lens of our own hearts not His. God’s plan is always best even when it means traveling a difficult road, showing mercy to people we’d rather despise, and walking in a posture of faith and obedience. This particular passage presents a character who is the epitome of this type of faith–the young girl who continues in faith and obedience even in exile. She points her leprous master, Naaman, to Israel and the prophet of God who could heal him. I’ll let you read the account for yourself to glean all the exciting details of Naaman’s journey, but ultimately, this girl’s willingness to point to the one true God, led not only to Naaman’s physical healing but also his spiritual conversion. God had called the Israelites to be set apart and to live in faith…even when their earthly kings were making the tragic choice to worship false gods and bring chaos on their nation…this girl did exactly that. She lived in a way that brought glory to God.
Now in contrast, we also are given a sneak peek into the heart of Gehazi, Elisha’s servant. Unlike the young girl in exile, his heart was askew and given to pursuing his own desires. He saw an opportunity to reap some material benefits for himself from Elisha’s healing of Naaman. His own lust and selfishness sent him down a path of sinning against God, lying to Elisha, and ultimately paying the price for his sin by receiving the infliction of leprosy. I’m only guessing, but based on my own experience, Gehazi probably started down that path justifying his actions and thinking that they were of no harm to anyone. What he failed to understand was that God desires full and true obedience. When he made this sinful choice he was showing a lack of trust and faith in God’s plan and a greedy heart that desired more than God had provided.
I’ll leave you with a few questions that our kids have been learning and pondering that apply to our passage today. How can we glorify God? Is anyone or anything greater than God? How is Jesus the perfect King? I encourage you to take stock of this account, these questions, and your own life and motives. Remember that as children of God we are called to be set apart and pointing to Him with our every word, thought, and deed…not for our own gain and glory, but with a heart that truly desires to follow Him. And…if you have a kid that comes to Sunday School weekly, try asking them one of these questions and see what they say.
We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.Romans 6:4
Newness of life. That feeling when a new season bursts forth changing the temperature and the landscape around us. The cooling relief from the heat of summer or the soothing warmth after a long frigid winter. The sounds of leaves crunching or the sight of bright flowers blooming. The sense that great things are to come and the struggles of the past season can be laid to rest. This is imagery that comes to mind as I read this passage of Scripture. The fact God has provided a way for us even as we were engulfed in our own sin is truly beautiful and breathtaking. As new believers, we are often full of that “new season” anticipation…wondering what God will do in our newness of life, what opportunities He has in store for us to serve Him. Our excitement and desire to bring Him glory is overwhelming. However, over time we have the tendency to lean into the monotony of our day to day lives, letting that sweet anticipation fade. It is replaced with worries, struggles, anger, and frustration. We allow ourselves to ruminate in the troubles of our lives and push away the rest and peace which He so graciously provides.
For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.Romans 6:10-11
If you are a Christ follower who has been raised to walk in newness of life, I encourage you to take a moment to reflect on your life. As you walk through life, are you walking with a posture of teachability and growth? Are you filled with excitement for the kingdom work all around you? Are you willing to consider yourself dead to sin? Or have you allowed yourself to enter a season of complacency, overwhelmed by burdens only our Savior is equipped to carry? Wherever you are in your walk today, be refreshed with the knowledge that Jesus has given us the grace to walk in newness of life and has called us to live in Him. He has already conquered sin and death so go forth and live in the excitement for that newness of life and meditate on His Words as your heart is transformed by His Spirit.
The Scriptural accounts of Daniel are always a source of encouragement. Though many of Daniel’s accounts are far beyond anything we can imagine, we can all identify with the struggles of living through hard things, making difficult choices, and facing obstacles. Looking at this passage in particular…Daniel was a young man, taken from his home and family, and made to go through a pagan king’s training in order to be of service in a foreign land. Immediately he and his friends were bombarded with choices. Would they blend in and just get by? Would they keep their heads down and obey orders even when they didn’t glorify the one true God? Would they make unpopular decisions that might bring unwanted attention, disappointment, and even physical harm? As Daniel and his friends navigated these new waters in captivity they were wise and did their best to listen to the Lord’s leading and live according to His ways.
The choice they made in this passage, to ask for veggies and water in lieu of the king’s food, seemed ridiculous. I can only imagine what the other young men must have thought of their decision to risk judgement and punishment over food…right out of the gate. Even the chief of the eunuchs was taken aback and feared the king’s reaction to this choice. However, Daniel pushed on and was granted his request. The men ate their special diet and God had favor on them. To many, this decision made and still makes no sense, but it reminds us of God’s greatness!
There is no one and nothing greater than God. This choice to follow God’s leading even when it made no sense to those around them, shows just how much trust Daniel and his friends put in their God. They understood that God is in control and has a plan. He works for His glory and our good. Sometimes His plans or the decisions He leads us to make don’t seem to make sense. As we encounter these times in our lives, let’s take comfort knowing that God’s plan is better than ours. Let’s remember Daniel’s faithfulness and be encouraged as we make hard choices to follow Him…because our God is worthy even in our discomfort.
Have you ever watched someone do something that you thought was simply incomprehensible? Have you stared, unable to tear your eyes away, as the insanity unfolded while poor choices were made and inevitable consequences were subsequently doled out? That is the same level of shock and awe that I receive every single time I walk through this account of Scripture with kids. It doesn’t matter if it’s the first time they’ve studied the account or the hundredth time. It’s always the same response…wide eyes, face palms, exasperated sighs, and comments like, “Why do those Israelites have to be so dumb?!”, “Don’t they know better by now?!”, “How did they already forget how God has always provided for them?!” or “Don’t they know God is going to punish them?!” After the kids have had a chance to ruminate in their feelings of shock, judgement, and frustration for a few minutes, I gently remind them of our own cycles of sinful choices.
Moses had the difficult job of being the mediator between God and the rebellious Israelites. A job that I certainly don’t envy. He did a great job of it as he pleaded with God on behalf of His people, remembering God’s promise of blessings and provision. Moses knew firsthand how terrible the Israelites could be to live with, and he burned with anger toward them even as he interceded for them. In the words of one kid, “Boy, I’d have just told God to take those crazy people out if I were Moses!” But that’s not what Moses did. Moses was a great leader and a fantastic mediator; however, Jesus was even better! As easy as it is to sit and scoff at those cyclicly sinning Israelites, it’s imperative for not only the befuddled kids, but also our grown-up selves to walk away from this passage with the appreciation for the solution God has provided for our own looming sin problem. Jesus is the ultimate mediator who intercedes on our behalf. Without His sacrifice and mediation, we’d have no place in God’s family. So today let’s remember the great blessing of the gospel. When we are tempted to walk in our own way and trust our own understanding over God, let’s rehearse the gospel and draw near to Jesus so that our thoughts, words, and actions reflect his glory!
Be ready. Two simple and yet very powerful words. There are plenty of things to “be ready” for in this life. We have to be ready to fulfill the commitments we make, be ready to have dinner prepared, be ready to go to work each day, be ready to take a vacation. Really most things that we do, whether simple or complex, require us to be ready…to be prepared, have our head in the game, and to have made appropriate accommodations. Most of us take actions to be ready on a daily basis without much thought. Some of us get an unseemly amount of joy from being ready. For some, it’s more difficult than others to plan ahead. Sometimes that’s ok, and other times it means things fall apart. Really it depends on the thing you are trying to be ready for!
. . . preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.2 Timothy 4:2
However, when Paul uses these two simple words they are toward a task of utmost importance. He’s reminding Timothy of the necessity of being prepared to preach the Word—encouraging, rebuking, and teaching those around him. Paul had spent decades in selfless ministry and service. He had seen the best and the worst of people. He had lived through seasons of happiness and seasons of sorrow. And he learned to count it all joy. If we are ready for nothing else, let us be ready to serve our God and to preach His Word joyfully, following Paul’s example of steadfast endurance and preparedness. Maybe we need to take a minute and ask ourselves if we are ready. Are we ready to encourage our brothers and sisters? Are we ready to hold one another accountable? Are we ready to make disciples?
In this letter, Paul reminds the people of their responsibility to work hard, support themselves, and to avoid the trap of idleness. Obviously, the Thessalonian church was having some difficulty in this area as Paul was stern in his reminder that they were not to be taking advantage of one another or wasting their time as busybodies. He had set a solid example for them to follow with his exemplary work ethic. This is one of those passages of Scripture that is really quite straight forward as we know that we are to be glorifying God through the work of our hands, the words of our mouths, and the thoughts of our minds. It seems that we should read this passage and simply follow the instructions Paul sets forth. Some might even read this and think to themselves that they’ve mastered this issue…they can’t think of the last day they spent in idleness. However, more than just telling the people of the church to work hard and take responsibility, Paul also encourages them to watch out for one another in love and not enable their brothers and sisters to fall into sin.
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.Galations 6:1-2
Paul speaks in this passage of holding one another accountable in brotherly love. When the people witnessed a brother living in idleness, they were not to simply go on about their day, but rather to warn him of the dangerous path he was treading. As we go about our days, let’s not spend time quietly judging our brothers and sisters over differing opinions or treating them as an enemy as we see them heading toward a sinful path. Instead let’s take the time to encourage our family in the ways of the Lord, loving our brothers and sisters enough to bear their burdens and gently hold them accountable. Let’s not only watch our neighbor’s choices, but let’s also keep an eye on our own hearts, that we may bring glory to our Father.
If you’ve spent any amount of time tending a garden or in my case tending the weeds, you know the importance of roots. Roots are what hold your plants steady in the ground and absorb nutrients for robust growth. Without roots, our plants would be feeble and prone to destruction with the slightest gust of wind or shower of rain. I love the word picture provided in this passage as Paul encourages the church in their walk with Christ and warned them of the dangers of false philosophies and teachings. Take a minute to let these words soak in. Realize what it means to be rooted and established in the faith.
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.Colossians 2:6-7 (ESV)
I often talk with kids about the serious nature of becoming a Christ-follower, as it’s not something to be done lightly and it certainly won’t make our life easier. If we have chosen to follow Christ and die to self, we begin our walk with Him as the boss of our lives. He begins to transform us from the inside out and we begin to bare the fruit of our faith. Walking with Christ is active not passive. We must actively strive to grow in our understanding of God’s Word, to share the gospel with others, and to live with a posture of praise and thanksgiving, even when we don’t understand the plans God has for us. Just as physical roots are of utmost importance to our plants, spiritual roots are of even greater value to the follower of Christ. Our biblical literacy, discipleship relationships, and active participation in the body of Christ are the things that help us stay grounded in the storms. They are the things that guard our hearts when presented with false teachings. So as we take in this powerful word picture, let’s take a minute to evaluate our walk. Are we actively pursuing Christ? Are continually growing in our understanding of His Word? Are we living with an attitude of thanksgiving?
As a kid I had the coolest scooter in all the neighborhood. It was a classic style scooter with the six inch tires and wide foot board. My brother and I gave it a magnificent paint job, and I was beyond proud! Really, it was just an old scooter that came out of someone’s yard sale, but none of my friends had ever seen anything like it. I rode that thing day and night. I practiced doing all sorts of little tricks as I soared through the streets. I was so proud of myself that any time I jumped on it I instantly felt ten feet tall! I had put in the work to rescue that scooter, helped with the paint job, and spent so much time practicing my fancy footwork that I just knew I was amazing and everyone should know it. I may also have been a little obnoxious with my boastful behavior as I swooped into my friends’ driveways daily. My friends were surprisingly gracious and let me have my fun, but looking back, I don’t know how they kept from knocking me down a notch or two!
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.Ephesians 2:8-10 (ESV)
This passage is one of my favorite passages in Scripture because it keeps me grounded. Every gift I have is a gift from God given with His plans and purposes in mind. I’m not responsible for my salvation, and I could never do enough good to bridge that vast gap between my sin nature and my perfect God. Yes, I’m overcome with gratitude and joy because I have received the gift of salvation, but I’m also left standing in awe that He would choose to love me enough to send His own Son take the punishment for my sins. So when I start to feel that familiar pride over my “good choices” I’m reminded that I am only saved by His grace. I can’t brag or boast about the solution to my sin problem, because I could never make enough good choices to level the field. However, I CAN brag on His greatness and love. I SHOULD brag on His saving grace. That grace should make me feel even more excited than my 10 year old self felt showing off my scooter skills. So let’s go boast about his love and share the good news of the gospel with those around us. Let’s remember that we were made just for that purpose, not for our own glory but for His. Let’s rejoice in the knowledge that His plan is best.