A special request

What do you want? What are you after?

In the Gospels, there is a story of a mom and two sons who want something. While it isn’t particularly clear whose initial idea it is, ultimately, the trio make their way to Jesus.

The mother… came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. (Matthew 20:20)

Sounds beautiful. This mother and sons are silently confessing to Jesus: we know you are powerful, approachable, generous, and kind. And we believe you can help us. 

“What is it you want?” (Jesus) asked. 
She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” (Matthew 20:21)

Oh. 
In many ways, the mom and sons are “doing the right things” and hold right beliefs on who Jesus is. But the nature of their request is revealed. They came to Jesus because they believed he was good and powerful. And they wanted to be too.

The text doesn’t indicate how the other 10 disciples found out about their little petition, but it does say that they are indignant. Ticked. Why? Because they are so offended on behalf of Jesus? Or perhaps because they all wanted that special rank in his kingdom, as well?

This is the heart of Jesus’ closest followers. 

And I’m not sure it’s that different from his followers today. We go to church, do Bible studies, and listen to Christian music. But ultimately, our hearts still go after our own stuff. 

Our job is not to fix our own hearts. It’s the point of the whole Gospel – that Jesus accomplishes what we could never do. He is the one who gives us a new heart and who makes us a new creation (Ezekiel 36:26-27, John 1:12-13, 2 Corinthians 5:17).

But Jesus does give us some straightforward invitations, including: come to him, know him, remain in him (John 6:35, 10:14, 15:5).

Just before the conversation with the mama, Jesus said he was about to be betrayed. He said he would be mocked, flogged, and crucified. And “on the third day… raised to life!” (Matthew 20:19). 

Why did anyone want a right-hand spot in the kingdom of a man who just said he would be crucified? Were they only focused on the resurrection? Or, maybe, were they not even listening, because they were just waiting for the opportunity to ask a favor?

It can be so easy for us to gloss over complicated or hard teachings in our Bibles. And it can be so natural to pray for selfish things, like this mom and sons came to Jesus for. But these three came to the right person, the same person we are invited to know today. And instead of running away, instead of publicly shaming the request, that person leans in. 

Jesus calls his disciples together, correcting them all with incomparable patience and tenderness. 

You guys don’t understand who I am or what I’m about. Does anyone want to really be great? Be a servant. Anyone want to be first? Be a slave.

Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:28)

The message we tend to highlight from this passage is an application point to go serve. And that’s great but not entirely complete. Primarily, Jesus is revealing who he is. He is a King that serves. He is a King that is generous. And He is a King so holy and unique that only his life would count as a payment sufficient to redeem mankind. 

For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:19)

The danger in life apart from Christ is that there is no life apart from him. If our affections and treasure stay anchored in anything else, we will never be satisfied. 

Jesus has already fulfilled our deepest need: He has made us right with God. He has given us a spot in his kingdom, under the rule and reign of his care, generosity and holiness. And it’s a position that will last for all time. 

We can come to Jesus for anything, and we are instructed throughout Scripture to pray continually (1 Thessalonians 5:17). But I think part of Jesus’ shepherding over us is a perpetual reminder of who he is, and what he has done. Because it seems to be just what we need most. While we trust God to be faithful in every way he has promised, may we be consistent in responding to his call, simply coming to him, knowing him, and remaining at his side. And ultimately, may He be the one we desire most. 

—–

Read: Matthew 20:20-28
Psalm 139:23-24
Hebrews 4:14-16
Psalm 27:4

What stands out to you in these passages? What are some things they teach you about who God is? How do they point to the Gospel?

Spend some time in prayer as you reflect.

—–

Related: Eyes to See

What is good about this Friday?

Friday, April 3rd, 2015
As I sat down for my devotions this morning, I found myself less-than confident in knowing what Good Friday even was. Is today when Jesus rode in on the donkey? When he was risen? When he was crucified?? If it is when Jesus was crucified, then how is that good?

What is good about this Friday? 

In John 3, Jesus tells the Jewish leader Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life… whoever believes in the Son is not condemned” (John 3:16, 18). World, whoever. This is all-encompassing. Every tribe, every nation, every class, every culture, every religion, every sexual orientation, every race, every age, every generation. God loved his people so much that he gave his Son to take their place and endure the consequence for their sin.

A handful of verses later, in John 4, Jesus is at a well and speaks to someone of completely different social status from Nicodemus. A woman, an adultress filled with shame, fetching water in the heat of the day when no one else would be around. One-on-one with her, Jesus tells her about a different kind of water, a “living” water that is available to her, and she will never be thirsty again.

“Sir, give me this water” (John 4:15) she replies. 

Jesus instead exposes her. “Go, call your husband…” (John 4:16). 

But there was no one to call. She had five prior husbands, and the man she was with now wasn’t even her husband. The secret was out, but for some reason, the woman didn’t leave yet. Jesus continued on to reveal that He was the Messiah. He was the Savior who came to take her place and endure the consequence of her sin, and grant her eternal life. “Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, ‘Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?’” (John 4:28-29).

She left her water jar and went back into the crowd of people she had originally sought to avoid. She believed the man she met was who he claimed to be. The Messiah. The Christ. The One who exposed her, but instead of condemning her, set her free. Forever.

This man Jesus, this God Yahweh, He loves the world. More than we could ever understand. And he loves each one of us. Individually. More than we could ever dare imagine. 

The Good News of Jesus isn’t just that he loves everyone, but that he loves me. You. He can free us from our sin and shame, take away our “guilty” sentence, and give us true life. We don’t have to clean ourselves up, He will take care of that. We don’t have to get it all right, He already did. We have to believe, to receive the gift for “whoever. ” Because when Jesus said “It is finished” (John 19:30), it counted for me, it counted for you. 

That is why this Friday is Good.

—–

“The soldier would use a whip of braided leather thongs with metal balls woven into them. When the whip would strike the flesh, these balls would cause deep bruises or contusions, which would break open with further blows. And the whip had pieces of sharp bone as well, which would cut the flesh severely. The back would be so shredded that part of the spine was sometimes exposed by the deep, deep cuts. The whipping would have gone all the way from the shoulders down to the back, the buttocks, and the back of the legs… One physician who has studied Roman beatings said, ‘As the flogging continued, the lacerations would tear into the underlying skeletal muscles and produce quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh.’” – The Case for Easter, Lee Strobel

—–

Read: John 3:16-21
What do you learn about belief? Condemnation? Light?
Additional reference: Romans 8:1
Contrast the kingdoms of darkness and light. What things fall into each category? Is there any overlap?

Read: John 4:1-26
What does this text tell you about Jesus?

Read: John 7:38-39
What is the living water?

Read: John 19:30
On the cross, what does Jesus give up?

Respond: Spend time in prayer, praising Jesus for who He is and his ability and generosity to transfer us from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light, and for giving us living water despite what it cost him.

And if you’ve never received the living water, you can pray something like this:

Jesus, would you welcome me into your kingdom? I believe that you are the Messiah, the Savior, not just for the whole world but for me. I’m sorry for my sins, and I want to follow you. I want your living water. Amen

There is nothing magic in the words, but there is absolutely something supernatural in the repentance of heart and surrender to the Savior, the lover of our souls.


Sing: King of Kings
Living Hope
Reckless Love

Identity – A Personal Response

When I know all the “right things”, and have all the Bible verses on hand, and have listened to sermons, and have read books and still can’t seem to get it together… I’m finding that my overwhelm is generally rooted in an embarrassingly low view of God’s love for me. I believe it for everyone else, 150 million percent. But I can’t get my heart to believe it for me. Because it just doesn’t make any sense. How could all these things that he declares be true of me when I am still such a mess and still such a wretched sinner?

And further – how could I possibly believe God’s fierce limitless love for me if I don’t even love myself? 

But this is who he is.

The deepest, most natural, most reflexive piece of his character. He loves his people. He loves to love his people and loves to pour out his mercy and loves to come in and embrace.

God loves us. Collectively, yes. But individually – as if we were the only one.

As I read “Gentle and Lowly”, by Dane Ortlund, I realized, I will never be able to overestimate God’s love for me. I will never stand before him in Heaven and regress, “I guess you didn’t love me as much as I thought you did.” It will be so wildly the opposite. Where we will stand before God, entirely undone by his goodness and beauty, and be completely exasperated by the uncapped measure of his love. 

And that is precisely what I mean when I say that “nothing has given me more confidence in my position in Christ than learning more and more about who He is”. Because the more I learn about how good and generous and merciful he is, the more I realize he just might mean it when he says he loves me. He chose me. He makes me holy. And the more I can’t help but declare his praises with all my might.

—–

Sing it: Reckless Love, Cory Asbury – It’s so worth the 11 minutes, but he shares his story behind the song at minute 7. “His love bankrupted Heaven for you, for me.”

Scripture: Luke 15:1-7

To those who are hurting, to those who are doubting: spend time with Jesus. Pour out your heart to him – tell him everything you’re believing about who he is and how he sees you. And listen. Open up his word, use scripture included in these posts, linger over Psalms, or turn to any story that the Spirit reminds you of. And then, stay there, with Him. Stay with Jesus for as long as it takes to start believing the things he has said. And continue by his side, trusting as he leads you along.

—–

We couldn’t have cared less. We were weak. Sinners. Enemies.
It was only after the fact, only once the Holy Spirit came flooding into our hearts, that the realization swept over us: (Jesus) walked through
my death. And he didn’t simply die. He was condemned. He didn’t simply leave heaven for me; he endured hell for me. He, not deserving to be condemned, absorbed it in my place – I, who alone deserved it. That is his heart. And into our empty souls, like a glass of cold water to a thirsty mouth, God poured his Holy Spirit to internalize the actual experience of God’s love…God’s love is as expansive as God himself. – Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly

Identity.

I once heard Tim Keller say that at the root of every sin is an identity issue.

I haven’t found an exception.

When I get upset and defensive toward my husband for not liking the less-than-average dinner I serve – it’s because I feel like a “bad wife”. When I become so worried about the health and safety of my children – it’s because I don’t believe I am a “good mom” if I let something bad happen.  When I don’t do the good I know I should do (James 4:17) – it’s because I’m believing that I’m above it, or maybe I’m too worried about what others will think of me. 

I’m constantly looking to defend myself. To prove myself. To validate myself.

Which reveals my true object of worship: me.

While certain seasons of life were stressful, sad or exhausting by nature, the hardest, most difficult seasons have been when I was least secure in my identity. When my identity was shattered – by someone’s perception of me or by a fault of my own, perhaps both. 

Why? Because when my identity was shattered, my object of worship was shattered.

Identity matters. For everyone. Every season, every age. I think all of us want a purpose and a unique space to display our talents and passions. And maybe that’s why it can be so hard, even as believers, to find security and life in our position within Christ. What if I’m not really known?

Although, ironically, I’ve never actually felt more secure in my identity by working harder. My efforts have never sustained me. But I suppose that’s because it’s how I was created. That’s how we were all created – to know and be known by our Father, the Lord God, maker of Heaven and earth. 

As I’ve grown in understanding my position in Christ, nothing has given me more confidence than learning more and more about who He is. Somehow, when my eyes are on him, the more I see him, and the more I see him seeing me. And the more convinced I am that I am known. 

When we lean into Christ, and only when we lean into Christ, we begin to experience who we really are. Because Jesus doesn’t just give us an identity, he becomes our identity. Everything that is true of the Son becomes true of us when we become a believer. We are robed in his righteousness, clothed with his holiness. Not because of our good deeds or Bible knowledge, but because of his character.

Yet, if we are tied up in self glorification, how do we change our object of worship?
We don’t. 

Despite all our amazing efforts, we could never do it on our own. We could never produce truly pure worship to the One whom worship is due, the One who is truly pure. We need someone to come get us. We need someone to change us. 

Jesus. 

He gets us and makes us new. With new desires. And a new heart. 

For I will take you out of the nations… I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws… you will be my people, and I will be your God. – Ezekiel 36:24-28

And it’s exactly what he did. After Jesus’s resurrection, on the day of Pentecost, “They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak…” (Acts 2:3-4). And what did they speak about? Themselves? No. “We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” (Acts 2:11).

When our Father gives us a new identity it isn’t about us anymore – it is about him, it is within him. We reflect who He is and bring glory to his name through our worship of Him. It continues to be a process this side of Heaven, but while we grow in sanctification or holiness, we also stand sanctified, holy and right before God because of Christ. 

For me, at the heart of wanting to be known, I really just want to matter. I want my life to count. And in Christ, those things are satisfied and beyond. I matter because I am loved more than I will ever understand. And my life counts because now it has eternal value. 

If all my sin is rooted in identity and a love of myself over a love of God, then what really floors me is the whole idea that the one I’m sinning against is also the one who takes my punishment. The one who credits me with honor. And the one who declares, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God.” And then he assigns a new purpose. Instead of spending our lives defending, proving and validating ourselves, now our worship and allegiance have been redeemed, rightfully restored where they belong in Christ. That now, as the verse continues, we “may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9).

—–

Consider: What is it for you? What are some of the things you do against God, and how do those things correlate to your identity?

Read: John 1:12, 3:16
Romans 8:1-11
1 Cor 1:30
2 Cor 5:17
Ephesians 1:1-14, 2:4-10, 2:19-22
Colossians 1:14, 22
1 Peter 2:9
1 John 1:9, 3:1

Make a list – what are some of the things that God says is true of you in Christ? How does this affect your relationship with God? 

—–

Podcast: Freedom in Christ

Book: Gentle and Lowly, Dane Ortland

Related: In Christ and In Airplanes
Conversations With God
Believe Me

Salvation.

It’s the Gospel, the Good News that we can have life in Christ. Not because we loved him enough or had enough faith or did enough good things. But rather because He is sufficient. He loved us, so he came down. 

Whether the circumstances of life are good or bad, I think we can all get so distracted with ourselves, to the point that we value our performance and obedience to God over God himself. If I have enough faith, then XYZ will or will not happen… But that’s not the Gospel. The promise of salvation and the gift of a Savior is that Jesus did it. He paid our debt, and he completed the good work from the Father. This is great news. 

And it’s a tremendous blow to our pride. Because when things go well, we can’t puff up our chest and assume extra righteousness by our own brilliance and morality. And when things fail or someone points out our faults, we can’t battle it indefinitely to prove ourselves or sit and wallow in self-pity, because our reputation no longer defines us. 

When we surrender our judgment to Jesus, we surrender our glory to him, too. 

I think one of the reasons the concept of the Gospel is so difficult to grasp is because we want to contribute. It’s as if to say, “ok Jesus, you wipe away my sins, and I’ll fill up the resume with my good works.” But Jesus does both. He wipes the slate clean by paying our debt on the cross, and he submits the perfect resume of performance by living a guiltless life. 

Which means, salvation is never beyond us. We are never too good to not need the saving grace of Jesus. And equally, we are never too bad to be disqualified. Because either way, salvation was never ours to obtain. We were never meant to save ourselves.

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love, he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will. – Ephesians 1:4-5

Before the creation of the world… The plan was always Jesus.

We are invited into a relationship with the Lord God, with this Savior Jesus Christ, through this Savior Jesus Christ. We are invited into his family, his kingdom, and into a part of his story. But God is not dependent on us. He is not let down when we fail, and he is not lifted up when we succeed. He is who He Is. He stands alone. And yet he saw us. And He loved us. So he sent his son to do for us what we could never do for ourselves. Jesus stood in our place. He sufficed as the sacrifice and made right what we had made wrong. And he achieved salvation for all people.

When we accept his invitation, we receive everything he has promised. And we never risk losing it, because we weren’t the ones who earned it. 

The work is finished. And the work is secure. We can have life in Christ, not because of anything we have done, but because of everything he did.


When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. – John 19:30

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved. – Acts 4:12

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. – Ephesians 2:8-9

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. – Titus 3:4

I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals. – Revelation 5:5

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Additional Scripture: Isaiah 59:16; Romans 3:23-24, 8:23; Galatians 2:20-21; 2 Corinthians 5:21

Process: Take time with these verses. Journal, jot notes, write a favorite verse on your mirror with a dry-erase marker. Let God’s truth seep in and override anything contrary to what the world teaches. And spend some time in prayer – Repent over the ways you attempt to glorify your own name, and worship God for who he is and what he’s done. 

Related: The Sufficiency of Insufficiency
The Bible Isn’t About Me

Sing It: The Rock Won’t Move

Who Jesus Is.

I mentioned in my last post that “The majority of people thought they were entirely good enough (for heaven) on their own.” 

This has been the most difficult thing about evangelism – apathy towards Jesus. Not a lot of people care. 

Hence, we have a problem – We live in a society that is so casual about Jesus but so committed to themselves. 

And it’s a problem because there exists a God who reigns. He holds all power and all authority, and he created us. He knows us and wants us to know him. And he has revealed himself. 

God revealed himself to us through his word, and that Word appeared in flesh and lived among men. His name is Jesus. 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. – John 1:1, 14

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. – Hebrews 1:3 

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created… – Colossians 1:15-16a

Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. – 1 John 2:1b-2

He declares:

  • I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. – John 6:35
  • I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. – John 8:12
  • I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. – John 10:9
  • I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – John 10:11
  • I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies – John 11:25 
  • I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. – John 14:6 
  • I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. – John 15:5

Of course there is significantly more to Jesus than would ever fit into a short blog post. The entire Bible is about him, and that’s why it’s so important for us to be reading the whole thing.

But I’ve heard from a lot of people lately, this idea that God is who they want to believe him to be. Except our understanding of him has no actual bearing on who his character really is. “I Am who I am” God told Moses in the wilderness (Exodus 3:14). 

We can know the truth of who this God actually is, because he told us. And he offers us a response – to come to him. To believe in him, follow him, enter through him, and remain in him. (John 6:35, 8:12, 10:9, 11:25, 14:6, 15:5)

I also realize it isn’t always so simple. God is complex, holy, supernatural. We will never be able to fully grasp the supremacy of who he is. But I was so convicted myself by a sermon recently that our primary issue isn’t knowledge or resource. Our issue is our treasure. We simply do not value Jesus as much as we value ourselves. 

Yet if these last two posts are a highlight reel, illuminating our sinful condition against a God of endless glory, then we should see a tremendous gap. And if that gap reflected the whole story, then I’m not sure our response would matter much. We may as well stay casual about Jesus and committed to ourselves, because we’d never be able to reach him anyways.

Except he reached us. He loved his people so much that he chose to come down, chose to take the consequence of our sin and chose to credit us with his righteousness. 

Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – John 1:12

And that changes everything. 

We will never begin to see Jesus for the beauty and majesty that he is until we first respond to his invitation. Come. Believe. Follow. Enter through. Remain. He is the one worth our commitment to.

When we put our faith in Christ, he lifts us out of death and darkness and brings us into an eternity of life and light in himself. He brings us into his family. And he brings us into his kingdom, where he will reign forever and ever. 

And that – that is not something for us to be casual about.

—–

“A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” – C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity 


Jesus is:

  • Immanuel (Matthew 1:23)
  • Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6)
  • The Son of God (Luke 1:35)
  • Teacher (John 1:38)
  • The Cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20)
  • Brother (Hebrews 2:11)
  • Friend (John 15:14)
  • Messiah/Christ (John 1:41)
  • Servant (Isaiah 42:1)
  • Savior (Titus 1:4)
  • Lord (Romans 6:23)
  • God (John 1:1)
  • King (John 18:37, Hebrews 1:8, Revelation 17:14)
  • The Sacrifice (John 1:29, Hebrews 10:10, 1 John 1:2)
  • Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5)
  • Priest (Hebrews 4:14, 7:24)

Read: John – The whole book. It details who Jesus is and his seven “I Am” statements. Specifically John 1:1-18, 1:29-34, 18:36-37, 19:11 also point to who he is.

Philippians 2:9-11, Hebrews 1, 4:14-16, 1 John 1:1-4

Process: There is a lot of scripture included in this post! Take some time with it. 

And be honest. Make a quick list of maybe 10 things that come to mind when you think of who Jesus is. Then, go through some scripture and write down 10 things about who Jesus says he is. How do the lists compare? Spend some time in prayer, asking God to continually correct your view of him, to help you overcome any unbelief. 


Sing: Worthy of your name
What a beautiful name

Resources: Kid’s Devotional, I Am – 40 Reasons to Trust God

Sermon, Joby Martin – The Word Became Flesh (also available on Podcast)
Sermon, Tim Keller – The Word Made Flesh
Sermon, Cam Triggs – The Model Prayer

Related: A Challenge to Dig Deeper
Why We Should Know God

Did Jesus Really Exist?
Who Is Jesus

Who We Are.

Especially as we enter a new year, a lot of people are filled with hope for a fresh start. We want to better ourselves, to become the “best version” of us, to lean into our purpose and to find fulfillment. And I think one of the most practical ways for us to begin any of that is to have a right view of ourselves. 

I did a mission trip one summer and spent day after day talking with people on the boardwalk about life and spirituality. And the most common theme that I heard was a belief that people would go to heaven if they hadn’t killed anyone. That was it. The majority of people thought they were entirely good enough on their own.

We all want to be good enough. We all want to be accepted. I think we were made for that. I also think that at some point, when we try to do life our own way, it stops working. We become exhausted, we’re filled with shame and regret we didn’t expect, we sense a conviction for something different… somehow we find disappointment. And we face a choice. We can keep pressing and continue striving, or we can sink into the truth of God.

But what does that mean? Where is an anchor? In a world that is overflowing with ideas and individual truths, how do we navigate?

We can look to the one who made us, who made all things. We can look to the Word of God, the Word who became flesh and lived among us. Jesus. We look at the things He has said.

What does the Bible say? Who are we? 

  • For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. – Romans 3:23
  • Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. – Colossians 1:21
  • Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. – 1 Corinthians 6:9-11
  • As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air… we were by nature objects of wrath. – Ephesians 2:1-3
  • Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. – Ephesians 2:12
  • At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. – Titus 3:3
  • For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. – James 2:10

Stay with me – Because, I know, these are the verses that no one highlights, the ones I don’t ever see on coffee mugs or t-shirts. And still, these are exactly the kind of verses and foundation that we need to start with to understand the magnitude of beauty and compassion of our God. 

In America, the culture is that we feed this over-inflated view of ourselves: we are all good people who have within us what it takes to be great. 

But it’s completely opposite to the Bible that categorizes us all as sinners and declares an outcome of death and wrath.

Part of the reason I write is to remind us that Satan is a liar. Sin and self amplification seem great a lot of the time. A lot of sin is fun and feels good and seems to be rewarding. But if the Bible is true, then in the end, anything apart from God leads to death. 

But I also write because an accurate view of ourselves and our sin amplifies our view of God by exposing the depth of his love and sacrifice for us. We are all wicked, hopeless sinners. And we all need a savior. We need someone to take away the bad for us. And we need someone to fill up the good works for us. And that someone is Jesus. He takes our place and erases all the bad things so those verses can now describe the old us. And He, in his goodness and generosity – makes us new.

Upcoming posts will describe in greater detail the character and salvation of Jesus, the eternal identity we find in Him, and the purpose and confidence that gives us as believers. There is hope, and there is real encouragement. There is life available, for all people, for all eternity.

But for now – I challenge you to lean into these verses. Whether they are new or familiar, take some time to read over them, to consider the reality of our original position before the Almighty God, to repent of our sins, and to praise Him for his greatness and for still choosing us. 

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Process: What are some initial thoughts or feelings that came up when you read through the verses? Write a few things down. How does your view of life and morality compare to what the Bible says? What is difficult to digest or understand? Talk with someone this week about it.

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Read: Exodus 20
Matthew 5:17-37, part of Jesus’ famous “Sermon on the Mount”

What comes to mind when you read some of the law and commands of Jesus? What do you think about the height of the bar that is set?

How does it affect your view of bettering yourself?

What are your thoughts around being “made new”?

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Ironically, I think most people could all agree that Moses, King David, Paul who had been Saul and wrote most of the New Testament… that these people are all in Heaven. Except they were all murderers. 

All lives are created equal by the same God and of the same insurmountable value. But the point is that the greatness of God far surpasses the greatness of our sin. We are never outside his reach.

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There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death. – Proverbs 14:12

“The gospel says that you are more sinful and flawed than you ever dared believe, but more accepted and loved than you ever dared hoped.” – Tim Keller

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Sing: King of Kings – Hands down, this is the most played song in my home and car. And running. With my eyes closed and arms raised. Yep. It’s just such a powerful presentation of the Gospel and the authority of Jesus.

Related: Sinners, The Gospel, and a Charge for the Church

New Years for All Year – Encouragement to read through the whole Bible

I never opened my Bible on Christmas. 

I wasn’t impressed with my priorities, but as I put my kids to bed that night, I snuggled up with my daughter for a bit by the tree lights. And as I laid there with her, I thought, this girl’s understanding of the Christmas story didn’t hinge on this one day. 

While I hope that we can have some better traditions going forward, I can’t help but think it’s so important, so necessary to build lives rooted in the Word – year round. The celebration of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus should never be reduced to a holiday. Because a relationship with someone could never be sustained with such scarce attention.

Several years ago, I read the book Radical, by David Platt. It’s both powerful and intense. And at the end, he had several challenges for his readers. One of those challenges was to read the whole Bible. So I took his challenge. And this is my challenge for readers today: read the whole Bible.

In all honesty, it took me five years to read through the Bible in a year my first time. But every time I go through it, I learn new things. And every time I go through it, I add more question marks. It’s a journey, and it’s a relationship, and it is so wildly worth the attention. Jesus is so wildly worth the attention, because, for some reason, he thinks we are so wildly worth his attention.

Personally, I’ve made a decision to read through the Bible every other year, so I can dig deeper into passages in the interim years.

You make time for the things that matter to you. Sometimes it’s a greater sacrifice, and sometimes things fall into place better. Sometimes it’s choppy, and sometimes you’re able to do all the reading in one sitting. Sometimes you get behind, sometimes you get more behind, and sometimes you can catch up a bit. It’s not about being perfect, it’s about being present. It’s about being available to our heavenly Father, who knows us and wants us to know him.

In general, it takes about 15-20 minutes of reading per day. There are a whole host of plans and resources available, and I have a few favorites linked below. 

However it works for you, whichever method or combination is most practical, my encouragement for the new year is to read the whole Bible. Get to know the God who made you. Dive deeper in your understanding of context – to specific passages and to the Bible as a whole. And, “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen,” (2 Peter 3:18).


Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law. – Psalm 119:18
I love praying this every time I open my Bible, asking God to reveal whatever he wants me to know or see.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. – Deuteronomy 6:4-9
I’m a mother of 3 littles. I get it. Sometimes you simply can not talk to your kids about Jesus when you’re walking down the road. Because the walk is more like a sprint, panting as you chase after those racing bike wheels. Or the walk is more of a painful drag, carrying home a screaming, melting down child. But God is Sovereign. He is Lord over time. He is Lord over moments. And if we ask him for opportunities to chat with our kids or spouses or friends or neighbors… He can give it to us. 

For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks. – Luke 6:45


Resources:
NLT One Year Study BibleOption 1 or Option 2
Personally, I think this is a great start for someone who is more new to reading the Bible. This was the first one I read through. The NLT translation is more readable and easier to understand. You get some Old Testament, some New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs each day. And there are commentary/devotional notes.

NIV Chronological Bible
This is actually the book I am just finishing. It’s been amazing. I’ve never read the Bible chronologically, and this has helped to piece so much together. It also includes commentary and historical context.

Multiple plans on the Holy Bible app. (Find plans – Search – Bible in one year)

Podcast – 1 Year Daily Audio Bible, Brian Hardin

5-Day Bible Reading Plan
I love that this plan allows you to read in your own Bible. This will probably be the next one I do.

Try to do this with someone! Grab a family member, a friend, a co-worker, and read it together. And then talk about it! What are you learning? What don’t you understand?

And just for fun… pens and highlighters.

Please, please, feel free to reach out with any questions or if it isn’t in your end-of-year budget to purchase a new Bible! 


Additional Reading: Objections to reading the Bible
Comparing Bible Translations

The greatest gift

There is a God and his name is Yahweh. He is I Am. He is Creator. He is Most High. He is All-Sufficient. He is Lord. He is Holy and Righteous, Just and Love. He created the world and all that is in it. And it was good. It was good until the first two people he created turned from him to themselves. They chose to disobey God and instead follow their own desires, and sin entered the world. So a curse was put over man, and they were separated from God. And that curse and that separation have fallen over every man since. 

Every person sins. Every person ever created turns from God to themselves. And God’s punishment for sin is death, separation from his own pure holiness. Since God is Just, sin has to be punished. But by his abounding grace, God offers the guilty a gift. Instead of leaving us to our own deserved damnation, the Judge sent an appointed one to be judged. 

Jesus. God in flesh. Fully man, fully God. He came down from Heaven to live the perfect life that no man could. And he died the death that every man deserves. He became sin so we could be right with God. He completed the good works, and he satisfied the conditions of the punishment. And anyone who would believe in this man Jesus, who would confess his name and trust his Lordship, can be saved. He can be made right with God. He can trade the sin and the shame for righteousness and holiness. He can be spared the punishment and can be adopted into the family of God. Forever. For as a member of God’s family, we are promised an inheritance and a kingdom that will never perish, spoil or fade.


God said to Moses, “I Am who I Am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: I Am has sent me to you.” – Exodus 3:14

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. – Genesis 1:1

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. – Genesis 1:31

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” – Genesis 2:16-17

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. – Genesis 3:6

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God – Romans 3:23

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 6:23

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will. – Ephesians 1:4-5

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. – 1 Peter 1:3-5


Spend some time in prayer and reflect on these verses or any others that point to the greatness of God and the mercy and compassion he chose to pour out over his people who would believe and confess his name. Praise and thank him for the greatest gift ever given – Jesus.

If you haven’t made a decision to follow Christ and want to do so – you can pray something like this:

Lord, I want in. I want you to be my Father. I want to be welcomed into your family. I want to be in Christ. I’m sorry for my sins, sorry for the times I’ve done life my own way. I want that to change – I want to follow you. I trust you, Jesus, to cover my sins and to take over my life. Please lead me and guide me. Amen

There is nothing magic in the words, but there is absolutely something supernatural in the repentance of heart and surrender to the Savior, the lover of our souls. 


Sing: He Has Come For Us
Born in Bethlehem
Behold the Savior
O Come O Come Emmanuel


Related Posts: The Sufficiency of Insufficiency
The Gospel
The Gospel of El Roi
The Sale of the Gospel
In Christ and In Airplanes

No word will fail.

Independent of our relationship with God, He Is. He is All-Sufficient, All-Knowing, All-Powerful. He is Most High, and he is Lord.

And his word is true. 

He is truth. Not my truth, not your truth, not all our truths. He alone is truth. 

It has brought so much peace and stability lately to reflect on these verses and the foundational principle that God’s Word is true. Even if I think I’m spiraling, even if I’m questioning my theology, even if I don’t understand it all – His word is true. It is true because he said so. He declared it. And he has the greatest authority. He created life, he died, and three days later he was raised back to life again. He is living, and he reigns. And he will continue to reign for all eternity.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. – Deuteronomy 6:4

I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God. – Isaiah 45:5

Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. – Isaiah 45:23b

“…my words, which will come true at their appointed time… For no word from God will ever fail… Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” – Luke 1:20, 37, 45

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” – John 14:6a

This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. – John 21:24

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17

That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:10-11

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” – Revelation 21:5

“God will invade. But I wonder whether people who ask God to interfere openly and directly in our world quite realise what it will be like when He does. When that happens, it is the end of the world. When the author walks on to the stage the play is over. God is going to invade, all right: but what is the good of saying you are on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else – something it never entered your head to conceive – comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left? For this time it will be God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time for choosing; it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realised it before or not. Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us that chance. It will not last for ever. We must take it or leave it.”
― C.S. Lewis

Related posts: Credibility of the Bible, A Challenge to Dig Deeper