Me and Dad

A friend once spent a day installing large stone steps in his backyard. When his 5-year-old daughter begged to help, he suggested she just sing to encourage him in his work. She said no. She wanted to help. Carefully, when it would not endanger her, he let her place her hands on the rocks as he moved them.

He could have built the steps in less time without her. At the end of the day, though, he not only had new steps but also a daughter bursting with pride. “Me and Dad made steps,” she announced at dinner that night.

From the beginning, God has relied on people to advance His work. After equipping Adam to cultivate the land and supervise the animals, God left the work of the garden in his hands (Gen. 2:15-20).

The pattern has continued. When God wanted a dwelling place on earth, a tabernacle and temple did not descend from the sky; thousands of artists and craftsmen worked to fashion them (Ex. 35–38; 1 Kings 6). When Jesus proclaimed the new reign of God’s kingdom on earth, He invited human beings to help. He told His disciples, “Pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (Matt. 9:38).

As a father does with his children, so does God welcome us as His kingdom partners.

Heavenly Father, thank You that in Your love
and wisdom, You invite us to accomplish Your acts
of love, service, and kindness here on earth.
Thank You for the privilege of “helping” You.
God uses humble servants to accomplish His great work.
INSIGHT: As we read in today’s text Jesus’ response to the multitudes, we see three distinct elements to that response. First of all, Jesus saw something. He saw the crowds of people “weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd” (Matt. 9:36). Additionally, He feltsomething because, as verse 36 tells us, He was “moved with compassion for them.” Finally, the Master did something by calling for laborers to join in the work with Him (v.38). Christ’s example gives us a powerful model for engaging people with the heart of Christ.


No More Prejudice

Read: James 2:1-10 | Bible in a Year: Numbers 31-33; Mark 9:1-29

A 2010 survey by Newsweek contained some startling statistics: 57 percent of hiring managers believe an unattractive (but qualified) job candidate would have a harder time getting hired; 84 percent of managers said their bosses would hesitate before hiring a qualified older candidate; 64 percent of hiring managers said they believe companies should be allowed to hire people based on appearance. All are clear examples of unacceptable prejudice.

Prejudice is not new. It had crept into the early church, and James confronted it head-on. With prophetic grit and a pastor’s heart, he wrote: “My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality” (James 2:1). James gave an example of this type of prejudice—favoring the rich and ignoring the poor (vv.2-4). This was inconsistent with holding faith in Jesus without partiality (v.1), betrayed the grace of God (vv.5-7), violated the law of love (v.8), and was sinful (v.9). The answer to partiality is following the example of Jesus: loving your neighbor as yourself.

We fight the sin of prejudice when we let God’s love for us find full expression in the way we love and treat each other.

Thinking It Over
Who helped you determine what is the right way to
treat people? Was it based on external things?
What are some ways you can love people as Jesus did?
Looking up to Jesus prevents us from looking down on others.
INSIGHT: In James 2:8, we see a guiding principle of Scripture—our responsibility and privilege to love our neighbors as ourselves. This theme was established in the ancient law of Israel (Lev. 19:18) and was the life principle illustrated by Jesus in the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:27). In addition to James’s words here, it is affirmed by Paul in Galatians 5:14.


Instant Gratification

When the Polaroid SX-70 camera was introduced in 1972, it revolutionized photography. An article by Owen Edward in Smithsonian magazine described the camera as “a miracle of physics, optics and electronics.” When a photo was snapped, “a blank square would emerge from the front of the camera and develop before our eyes.” People were sold on speedy, immediate results.

Oswald Chambers saw a strong connection between our desire for the immediate and lust: “Lust simply means, ‘I must have this at once’; it may be a bodily appetite or a spiritual possession. . . . I cannot wait for God’s time, God is too indifferent; that is the way lust works.”

In Psalm 27, David wrote of his waiting on God during a time of great trouble when there was no solution in sight. Instead of giving in to despair, he maintained his confidence that he would “see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (v.13).

We live in a world that worships the immediate. When it seems there is no sign of our deepest longings being fulfilled, the psalmist urges us to cling to the eternal God. “Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the Lord!” (v.14).

Help me, O Lord, to be content! My lips to seal,
To every vain desire, each whim—instead to kneel,
Acknowledging Thee, Lord and King, and in that place
To kneel, to pray, to wait until I see Thy face! —Adams
The answer to our craving for the immediate is to focus on the eternal.
INSIGHT: One of the main focuses of this psalm is the Lord’s “house” (v.4). At the time of David’s writing, the temple had not yet been built. The place of worship (the tabernacle) was regarded as a symbol of the presence of God among His people.


Jesus’ Love for All

Read: John 19:17-24 | Bible in a Year: Numbers 26-27; Mark 8:1-21

It was a bit unusual, but three times in one day I heard the same song. In the early afternoon, I attended a hymnsing at a home for the elderly. As part of her prayer at the end of our time together, Willie, one of the residents, said, “Sing with me, ‘Jesus Loves Me.’” In the evening, I attended a gathering with young people who sang it while pounding out the beat with their hands and feet. Later that evening, I received a text message on my phone with an audio recording of my 2 1/2-year-old grandniece with a sweet little voice, singing, “I am weak, but He is strong.” People in their nineties, teenagers, and a toddler all sang that song that day.

After hearing that simple song three times, I began to think the Lord might be telling me something. Actually, He gave us all this message long ago: “I love you.” We read in John 19 that He allowed people to put a crown of thorns on His head, mock Him, strike Him, strip Him, and crucify Him (vv.1-6). He had the power to stop them, but He said very little (v.11). He did it all for love’s sake to pay for our sins and to rescue us from punishment.

How much does God love us? Jesus spread out His arms and was nailed to the cross. He died for us, then rose again. That’s a precious fact for young and old.

Jesus loves me! This I know,
For the Bible tells me so;
Little ones to Him belong;
They are weak but He is strong. —Warner
The truest measure of God’s love is that He loves without measure! —Bernard of Clairvaux
INSIGHT: Although history is obscure about many details of Pontius Pilate’s life and death, we do know that he served as the prefect, or governor, of Judea for 10 years from ad 26 to 36. An artifact discovered in 1961 verifies his existence and underscores once again that the Bible can be trusted.


Sunrise

There was a magnificent sunrise this morning, but I was too busy to enjoy it. I turned away and became preoccupied with other things. I thought about that sunrise a few moments ago, and I realize I lost an opportunity for worship this morning.

In the midst of the busyness and stresses of our days, there are patches of beauty all around us, glimpses of God’s goodness that we catch here and there along the way. These are the places in the walls of the universe where heaven is breaking through—if only we will take the time to stop and to reflect upon God’s love for us.

What if Moses had taken only a fleeting glance at the bush that was burning but “was not consumed”? (Ex. 3:2). What if he had ignored it and hurried on to other things? (He had those sheep to take care of, you know, and important work to do.) He would have missed an epic, life-changing encounter with the living God (vv.4-12).

Sometimes in life we must hurry. But overall, life should be less hurrying and more noticing. Life is the present. Life is being aware; it is seeing God’s love breaking through. It is turning aside to the miracle of something like a sunrise. Something transitory, yet symbolic of the eternity that awaits us.

Open my eyes, that I may see
Glimpses of truth Thou hast for me;
Place in my hands the wonderful key
That shall unclasp and set me free. —Scott
Lord, open our eyes that we may see.
INSIGHT: Psalm 119, the longest “chapter” in the Bible, is David’s great anthem about the Word of God. In it, he calls us to honor that Word in order to honor God. He has given us His Word so that we might know Him.


Child’s Play

After a surprise storm blanketed the Middle East with snow, a newspaper photo showed four armed men smiling as they built a snowman outside the battered walls of a military headquarters. The wintry weather also caused a protest to be canceled and delayed a debate over parliamentary matters of pressing importance. Men wearing long robes and women in traditional black dresses and headscarves were seen playing in the snow. There’s something about snow that brings out the child in all of us.

And there’s something about the gospel that beckons us to abandon our deep hostilities and feelings of self-importance in favor of a childlike humility and faith. When Jesus was asked, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matthew 18:1), He called a little child to come to Him and said, “Unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (v.3).

It has been said that age diminishes our imagination, hopes, and possibilities. The older we get, the more easily we say, “That could never happen.” But in a child’s mind, God can do anything. A childlike faith filled with wonder and confidence in God unlocks the door to the kingdom of heaven.

God, give me the faith of a little child!
A faith that will look to Thee—
That never will falter and never fail,
But follow Thee trustingly. —Showerman

Faith shines brightest in a childlike heart.


Our Creator

Read: Genesis 1 | Bible in a Year: Numbers 17-19; Mark 6:30-56

 The Bible’s first chapter addresses the most fundamental issues of life. It declares that God brought all things into existence. This should affect the way we live.

The writer of Genesis made the radical declaration that there is one God. That truth stood in sharp contrast to the polytheism and idolatry of the ancient world. The description of each creation day denounced the various gods worshiped by the pagans of Moses’ day and declared that they were not gods at all—just creations of the one and only true and living God.

On day 1, gods of light and darkness are dismissed; day 2, gods of sea and sky; day 3, gods of earth and vegetation; day 4, sun, moon, and star gods; days 5 and 6, animal gods. And finally, humans. Even though all people are granted a divine likeness, they too are only created beings and must never be worshiped.

This account gives the foundation for Israel’s covenant with God. For example, why do the Ten Commandments prohibit the worship of other gods? Because God alone is the maker of heaven and earth. Why is murder wrong? Because human beings are created in God’s image.

Let’s make it our goal to get to know the true and living God.

So many gods have all come and gone,
Gods of earth, of sky, and of sea;
But God the Creator alone will stand
Tests of time and eternity. —Carbaugh

In the beginning—God.


Well-Known

Arctic sea birds called guillemots live on rocky coastal cliffs, where thousands of them come together in small areas. Because of the crowded conditions, the females lay their eggs side by side in a long row. It’s incredible that a mother bird can identify the eggs that belong to her. Studies show that even when one is moved some distance away, she finds it and carries it back to its original location.

Our heavenly Father is far more intimately acquainted with each of His children. He is aware of every thought, emotion, and decision we make. From morning till night He gives personal attention to our daily affairs. Overwhelmed by this glorious reality, the psalmist exclaimed in amazement, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it” (Psalm 139:6).

Not only does this evoke our praise, but it should also bring great comfort to our hearts. Jesus told His disciples that the Father knows when a single sparrow falls to the ground. Because people are of so much greater value than the birds, God’s children can be assured of His constant care.

How wonderful it is to be such a well-loved, “well-known” person!

The Savior knows our deepest need,
He knows our every care;
Our Lord has promised to be near
And all our burdens share. —Anon.

With God, you’re never lost in a crowd.


Anger Management

Read: James 4:1-6 | Bible in a Year: Numbers 12-14; Mark 5:21-43

In James 4, the writer swung his axe at the root of one of our deepest problems: a smothering absorption with our own desires—getting our own way and having our own needs met. When that passion is frustrated, it can quickly become blind rage that demeans others and debases us. Though we may get what we want, we’re left feeling unsatisfied.

It’s better to ask God to meet our needs with His hands, in His time, in His way; to yield our will to His control, and pray as Jesus did, “Not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).

It does no good to brood over injustices, to try to set things right on our own, or to let our lustful desires determine our decisions. Submitting to our own desire for pleasure will lead to “wars and fights” inside us and with those around us (James 4:1).

Before our anger peaks, we can call for a “time out” and take a walk with the One who understands us better than we understand ourselves—who cares for us more than we can ever know. We can tell Him about our anger and mull things over with Him.

We can ask God to meet our needs His way, for as James said, He gives “more grace” (v.6)—a gift far greater than anything we can manage on our own.

When anger lingers in our hearts,
It poisons all we think and do;
But faith seeks ways to show God’s love
And keeps our spirit strong and true. —D. De Haan

For every minute you are angry, you lose 60 seconds of happiness.