Read Hebrews 8-9.
Do you remember dial-up internet access? It was loud. It was slow. We had to reconnect each time. Free trails were given to us on CDs at Walmart for some reason. It was good enough, even though we weren’t able to use our landline phones while we were checking our email. If you don’t remember dial-up, I’m sure you can look it up online. Dial-up, with all of its flaws and limitations, connected us to the internet and was the best we had until the 2000s when something better came along.
13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.
Hebrews 9:13-14, ESV
Before Jesus, our sins could only be paid through sacrificial blood. In fact, death is still the only acceptable payment for sin. In Hebrews 8 and 9 we see a description of the way priests used to enter holy places and offer the blood of animals to sanctify the people. It was a slow, complicated process that had to be repeated over and over. It was all we had until the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Not only is the new covenant in Christ something better, it’s the best we could ever hope to get. He paid our debt once and for all, giving us a way to restore our connection to God forever. We were on dial-up, and the salvation we now have in Jesus is so much better that the same metaphor doesn’t event seem fitting.
Read Acts 22-23.
What’s your story?
If you are a Christian, you have a story of how you became a Christian. This testimony might include what your life was like before or how you felt at key moments or how you feel the Holy Spirit guiding you now. Some people have testimonies that seem like epic tales of struggle and redemption, and some people have stories about one time when they were at summer camp. The reality of this is that however “exciting” your testimony may seem to you, it is worth celebrating and sharing.
“Brothers and fathers, hear the defense that I now make before you.”Acts 22:1, ESV
In Acts 22, we see a situation where the outcome seems to be dependent on Paul’s story, and he shares boldly and truthfully about specific parts of his life. What we can pull from this text is that Paul’s life was exactly what it needed to be to get him to that moment. Paul’s life is tremendously exciting to read about, but it’s not for our entertainment 2000 years later. Paul, through his obedience to God, lived a life that served God’s plan. Paul’s story was the exact story that it needed to be to glorify God.
So, whether you find your story interesting or entertaining or powerful or not, it is the exact story that sets you up to live for God in the way that He desires. If you get a chance to share, don’t hesitate. Your story has power.
Read 2 Corinthians 11-13.
What’s bothering you?
We can find a lot to be upset about, especially if we make habit of thinking about reasons we should be upset. Maybe our problems or the world’s problems weigh heavy on us. Maybe it’s just all of the small stuff that adds up to a pile of trouble. Why doesn’t God just take away all of this bothersome stuff?
9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.2 Corinthians 12:9-10, ESV
Paul shares in 2 Corinthians about a “thorn in the flesh” that was given to him. We don’t know what it was, but we know from his words that it bothered him enough to plead with the Lord to take it away. Paul keeps his thorn and is redirected to the sufficiency of God’s grace.
We often find ourselves in the exact same situation as Paul. We ask God to take away our problems, but He doesn’t always do that for us. We could be disappointed, but Paul offers the choice of a different response. We can choose to boast of our weaknesses and be content with our hardships, because God’s grace is sufficient.
Read 1 Corinthians 7-8.
Several years ago, when my wife was just my fiancée, we were trying to figure out which year we should get married. She wanted to plan for 2018, but I wanted to wait an additional year to “get my life together.” She settled it once and for all: “You won’t have your life together in a year.” She was correct, and I still haven’t gotten my life together after nearly four years. The main point of her reality-checking statement was that she wanted to marry me, and that wasn’t contingent on me becoming some other version of myself that I thought I could become in a year. I didn’t have to change.
So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.1 Corinthians 7:24, ESV
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians about the desire some may have to change themselves. The reality is that we can live for God from exactly where we are. We are placed in a specific place and time for a reason, and God wants us for who we are now. He wants us, and that isn’t contingent on us becoming some other version of ourselves. He will shape us into the people we need to be, but after accepting the salvation found in Jesus and choosing to live for Him, there is no change we need to make.
Read Galatians 1-3.
I think a lot about the things that we are supposed to do. Whether they are laws or just strong suggestions, I am preoccupied quite frequently with the actions that I should or should not be taking. Should I be going the exact speed limit or the widely-accepted five to ten over? Should I return my shopping cart to the corral? Sometimes I ask these questions because I feel like I’m the only one following the rules; sometimes I ask because I want to know how bad it would be if I broke the rules just this once. What good is it to be a good person and do what we are supposed to do?
15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.Galatians 2:15-16, ESV
Paul’s words in Galatians remind us that what we do does nothing for our standing as sinners. We can and should do the right and lawful thing, but we are all the same in that we are solely justified through faith in Jesus Christ. So, instead of being worried about whether we should be following the rules or if doing so is paying off or how our level of commitment to the law compares to our neighbors, we should be focused on what it means for us to have faith in Jesus Christ. What does that faith call us to do?
Read Acts 4-5.
Sometimes we get to see results. We do the work; we finish the race; we get to see the positive benefits of our efforts. Sometimes, though, we do everything we can but don’t get to see it pay off. Sometimes it even seems that we get punished for our good deeds.
4 And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, 2 greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. 3 And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. 4 But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.Acts 4:1-4, ESV
In Acts 4 we read about Peter and John sharing the truth of Jesus’ resurrection, only to spend the night in the slammer for their efforts. Could you imagine sharing the good news of Jesus and immediately being taken into custody? Would you still share if you knew that would be the result? While the text doesn’t specifically say if Peter and John know, it does say that “many of those who had heard the word believed…” (v. 4).
As believers, we are gifted with so many opportunities to show love to others and to share about the salvation that can be found in Jesus. When we seize those opportunities, we have no guarantee that we will see results or even that our efforts will elicit positive reactions, but we do the work because we are called to do it.
How is God calling you to do the work today?
Read John 17.
Did you know that Jesus prayed for you? In John 17, we see the longest recorded prayer of Jesus in the gospels and a moment in which He specifically prays for future believers.
20 I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.John 17:20-21, ESV
What is the significance of this ? It shows us that Jesus didn’t come just for the people of that time or just for the twelve guys he spent a lot of time with back then. He came for all of us, and he prayed specifically for all who would believe in Him through the work of His followers. Jesus is also showing us the importance of prayer, a great example of how to pray, and the significance of praying for others. Let’s take time today to respond with our own intentional prayer.
Read Matthew 19:16-30.
This year my wife and I have been working to pay off our student loan debt. We sold a lot of our stuff, downsized our living situation, and started throwing every extra dollar at the balance. Through this experience, I have had some good thoughts and bad thoughts about what my future holds. I know that once my debts are paid, I will be able to give more generously to the church and to others. But on the negative side, I have spent this year thinking a lot about how much money I would like to have and ways to make even more money.
23 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”Matthew 19:23-26, ESV
Money is tricky. The world runs on money. You have to have at least some of it to take care of your basic needs, and there are a lot of worldly problems that can seemingly be solved by having more. You can do a lot of good by giving money to good causes, and you can also get caught up in the pursuit of more money. The point that I want to make today is that chasing after money or any other stuff is pointless. It is through our faith in Jesus that we are able to enter the kingdom of heaven, and it is God’s plan for our lives that we should be chasing.
Read Matthew 5.
If you look through the ingredients list on just about any given recipe, you will find salt. I am not an experienced chef, but I know that any tasty dish that comes out of my kitchen contains at least a pinch of salt. But what does salt do? Make things salty? Salt is a nutrient source that can serve as a preservative or a flavor enhancer. It highlights the best parts of other foods.
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.Matthew 5:13, ESV
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells the crowds that they are the salt of the earth. There are a lot of ways to read into this. Salt at that time was more valuable than it is now, but it served the same purposes as a nutrient source or preservative or flavor enhancer. The main takeaway is that salt is good. Jesus is telling the people present (and us) that we have the power to enhance and preserve what God has created. When we live for Him, we are highlighting the best parts of His creation.
Read Malachi 1.
When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the Lord of hosts.Malachi 1:8, ESV
In Malachi 1, we see God calling out the priests of Israel for their shortcomings. They have not honored Him with the quality of their sacrifices, and they have disgraced God and His altar.
Are you giving God your best?
Sometimes we are guilty of giving the Lord our worst hours. We spend time with Him once we’ve checked everything else off the list. Sometimes we give him the least of our earnings, that last couple of dollars once the bills have been paid. There are times when a few moments at the end of the day or a few pennies at the end of the week are genuinely all that we can give, but there are other times when we find ourselves holding back. God gives us our everything, so let us strive to give our best back to Him.