Do You Love Jesus More Than Anything?

This week, I once again read a scripture that changed my life years ago. It’s the story of the rich young ruler found in Matthew 19:16-22.

If you aren’t familiar with the story, this rich young ruler approaches Jesus and asks Him what he must do to receive eternal life. Jesus responds by telling him to keep the commandments. He even names a few of them.

The rich young ruler quickly responds, saying, “All these I have kept, what do I still lack?” Jesus then responds saying, “go, sell your possessions and give to the poor….then come, follow me.”

And after Jesus said these things the Bible says the man “went away sad, because he had great wealth.” This rich young ruler walked away because he loved his money more than Jesus.

When I read this scripture years ago, I remember thinking: Is there anything Jesus could ask me to give up that would cause me to walk away sad? Is there anything in my life that I have come to love more than Jesus?

The interesting thing is that this rich young ruler failed to realize he wasn’t even keeping the first commandment. “You shall have no other gods before me (God)” is the first commandment. Money had become this man’s god and he had put it before the Lord.

Are there things that we have allowed to become our gods? Are there things in our lives that we love more than Jesus? God’s desire is that He would be first in our lives. As I mentioned earlier, this section of scripture changed my life. It forced me to think about my love for Jesus and ask those difficult questions. What about you? Do these scriptures challenge you? Do you love Jesus more than anything?

Approaching People With Love and Humility

This past week, I drove down to my parent’s house in Eugene. It’s a nice little drive that takes me through some beautiful farming country here in Oregon. As I was driving, I was actually praying about my devotion for this week.

Then on a yard sign in front of one of the houses was a scripture—James 4:6, which says: “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

This is one of those scriptures that stirs up a lot of emotions for me because it seems like we have a lot of people in our world who come off prideful and arrogant, many of whom identify as Christians.

We often take on this mentality that, because we’re Christians, we know how everyone else should live their lives. And we’re not afraid to let them know it. The problem is that this kind of pride is not God’s desire for His people.

We are seeing more and more division in our world and in the Christian community because of pride. But God’s desire is for us to walk in love and humility.

Jesus was born into the world in a time that wasn’t really much different than our world today. The Romans were prideful, arrogant people. Sin and corruption that completely went against God’s Word and desire for His creation were running rampant.

But He didn’t come into the world with a prideful, arrogant attitude, trying to put everyone else in their place. He knew that the world was broken and He knew that it would be His kindness that led people to repentance.

Jesus, the God of the universe who knew everything, approached people with love and humility. And I believe we are called to follow in His footsteps because “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

Radiating His Light

In Exodus 34, we read about Moses coming down from Mount Sinai after spending 40 days and 40 nights in the presence of the Lord. And at the end of verse 29 it says: “He was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the LORD.”

His face was literally glowing after spending so much time in the presence of God. It was something that was visible to Aaron and the other Israelites. Have you ever met someone or known someone that seems to glow or radiate the love of Jesus in a way that’s recognizable like we see here with Moses?

I had the pleasure of getting to spend some time with someone like this once. His name was Pastor Jerry Cook. He actually wrote a book called Love, Acceptance & Forgiveness that I read early in ministry. And he came and spoke at a youth pastors/youth leaders retreat that I attended several years ago.

At this retreat there were a handful of youth pastors who had the privilege of sitting down with Pastor Jerry and asking him questions. It was such an amazing experience, because he seemed to just ooze the love of Jesus.

It felt like we were sitting down with Peter or Paul as he shared his wisdom and amazing stories of life and ministry. It was obvious that he had spent a lot of time in the presence of Jesus.

Pastor Jerry was a very special man, but the truth is he was no different than you and me. The love and light that radiated from his life wasn’t his own, it was Christ in him. We all have the ability to shine in this way. As a matter of fact, Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:16 to let our light so shine.

We are called to be the light of Jesus to world. We need to be people who are radiating light. But this won’t happen if we aren’t plugged into the source. Jesus is our source and the more time we spend in His presence, the brighter we shine. Let’s seek to spend more time in His presence and let’s be people who let our light shine for those around us to see!

Waiting Quietly Before God

In my church I’ve talked frequently about taking time to pause. It is so important to take time in the busyness of our lives and days to stop and allow the Lord to be our strength and rest. I know my times of pause are life-giving and I realize that these simple times are helpful in ways that I don’t even understand.

In a “Pray As You Go” devotional I listened to this week, it talked about this reality. It said, “Waiting in silence for God can be very prayerful. It is our whole self that prays not just our lips, or our words. To want to be there with God is prayer.”

Do we want to be with God? I know that He wants to be with us. He wants us to make time in our busy schedules to pray, seek Him and to rest in His goodness.

Psalm 62:1-2 says: “I wait quietly before God, for my victory comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will never be shaken.”

It’s important for us to take time to pause and to wait quietly before the Lord, because He is our rock and our strength in the midst of the challenges we face in this world. Are you stressed? Are you worn down and frustrated? Are you feeling like you want to give up? My encouragement to you is to stop and spend some time with the Lord. Be silent and let Him meet you in that place. He is your rock, your salvation, your fortress. Let Him be all of these things as you pause and rest in His silence.

A Mysterious and Complex God

I spent some time this week reflecting on the story of Thomas in John 20, where he didn’t believe that Jesus had risen from the dead even after the other disciples had seen Him. In verse 25 he says, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” 

We are a people who often need hard physical evidence before we’re willing to believe something. And like Thomas, if we don’t see it for ourselves, we won’t believe.

The problem is, if this is how we live our lives, how can we relate to such a mysterious and complex God? God has given us His Word to help us grow in our knowledge of Him, but the reality is: We can spend every day of our life reading His Word and still know very little about the mysteries of His vastness.

And one of the greatest dangers is when we try to fit Him into our own idea and understanding of who we think He is. We want this provable, easily comprehendible version of a God that fits into our construct.

How often do we actually try to comprehend God as He is: A God and Creator that is beyond our human understanding and knowledge; A God that loves us so deeply and in ways we will never understand this side of eternity. My prayer for all of us is that we can be people who simply trust in the Lord with all of our heart and that we wouldn’t lean on our simple, finite understanding of this mysterious and complex God—who simply desires for us to return His love.

The Power of Forgiveness

In Mark chapter 2, Jesus heals a man who’s been paralyzed for years with a few simple but powerful words: “Son, your sins are forgiven.” His choice of words bothered the religious leaders, because they didn’t believe Jesus had the power to forgive sins.

The fact is: Jesus did have the power to forgive sins. And yet, I still find His choice of words interesting. Why would He say “your sins are forgiven” instead of just saying “you’re healed.” We don’t know the answer to this question for sure, but I’ve found that the words of Jesus that we read in the Bible often transcend the moment and time.

We believe that the Word of God is living and active, meaning that it continues to speak to each of us and He continues to reveal His truth to us through it.

I find His choice of words here interesting because feeling unforgiven can sometimes feel like paralysis. When we feel shame and guilt from sin, it can keep us from moving forward.

Are you carrying the weight of failures or struggles from your past? Do you have unforgiven sin in your life that is paralyzing you and keeping you from moving forward? I believe Jesus wants to utter these same words to each of us: “Son (or Daughter), your sins are forgiven.” He wants to bring healing to our lives physically and spiritually so that we can stand up and begin to move forward in the fullness of life He has promised to everyone who believes. Our sins are forgiven and it’s time for us to rise up and walk!

Embracing the Opportunities: Take Two

If you read my blog last week, you know that I was able to get away for a week and spend some time with the Lord seeking vision and direction for our church. These times away are always so amazing and life-giving.

The only hard part about these times is coming back and playing catch-up. After being gone, my to do list is generally longer than usual. This can cause me to do exactly what I talked about not doing last week: Being in such a hurry to catch up that I miss the opportunities the Lord puts in front of me.

I returned to the church Saturday night to find that the air conditioner wasn’t working—just one more thing to add to my to do list. With the heat wave we were experiencing, we were fortunate to have a repairman come out on Wednesday.

Of course, the timing of his phone call wasn’t the best as I was in the middle of a few things I was trying to check off my list. But I figured I would let him in and allow him to do his thing, while I did mine. It was a nice thought, but not the way things went.

It was a new repairman who wasn’t familiar with our system. So I had to take some extra time to walk him down and show him where everything was. Right away we discovered that one of the units was iced over and he said he would have to shut things down and wait for it to melt.

As I was trying to figure out how I could get back to my work, I once again sensed that this was a divine opportunity that I needed to embrace. So I grabbed a couple bottles of cold water and pulled out a few chairs in the basement to sit on as we waited for the ice to melt.

In a matter of minutes, this repairman was asking me all sorts of questions about the Bible and God. I found out that he had become a Christian in prison but hadn’t been to church in awhile. By the end of the conversation, he was talking about how he needed to start reading the Bible and focusing on his relationship with the Lord again. Afterwards, I realized how easily I could have missed this opportunity. And it made me wonder how many opportunities I’ve missed. How many times have I been in a hurry and failed to embrace the opportunities that God was putting right in my path? I’m continuing to learn how important it is to stop and look at what appear to be distractions and make sure they’re not actually an opportunity that God has given us to share His love. Let’s seek to be people who do a better job of embracing the opportunities God sets before us!

Embracing the Opportunities Set Before Us

This week I’m away, spending some time praying and seeking to hear the Lord for our church. It’s something I do every year but, with COVID and all the craziness of this year, I am doing it much later than normal. It’s a time that I try to be very focused and take advantage of every minute I have away from my regular routine.

This morning I sat in a coffee shop and read and typed some things that the Lord had put on my heart. As I was sitting there, an older lady asked me if it was ok if she sat there at the table next to me. I told her “Absolutely!” But, if I’m being honest, what was really going through my head was: “There are numerous other seats throughout the cafe—why this one?”

She asked me if I was working and I explained that I was on a work getaway of sorts. I realized at that moment that the work I was currently doing was about to come to a halt. It’s interesting because, as I realized this, the thought that went through my head was, “Am I going to view this as a distraction or as an opportunity to show love to this lady who is obviously desiring some human contact?”

I decided to embrace the moment, close my computer and engage in conversation with this sweet lady. It didn’t take long before she found out that I’m a pastor, which created some interesting conversations. I discovered that my new friend Benita was raised Catholic but didn’t believe in God or organized religion herself.

However, she was very interested in my church and my views as a pastor. We had some wonderful conversations about Jesus and life. And I realized very quickly that this moment was not a distraction keeping me from my work. Rather, it was a beautiful opportunity to show Benita the love of Jesus.

As she got up to leave about 30 to 40 minutes later, she told me it was a blessing to meet such a caring and enlightened pastor. It was a great reminder of how important it is for us to embrace the opportunities that the Lord sets before us. I don’t know if my time spent with Benita will change her views on God or life, but it reminded me that we are called to love people. We live in a time and day where human contact can be somewhat rare and I’m learning that we need to take advantage of every moment we’re given. Because we never know how that moment will impact someone else’s life, or even our own!

Praying Persistently

This week I was replacing an old drinking fountain outside my office that had probably been installed in the 50’s or 60’s. I found a new one online and it seemed like an easy enough job, so I decided to take it on myself.

A job that I thought would take half an hour or so ended up consuming a good portion of my time this week. I took numerous trips to the local hardware store trying to find the right parts. I even drove into Salem (15 miles east of us) to go to an actual plumbing store.

After all my hard work and trips for parts, I thought I was done, only to find out that I needed one more part. Everything in me wanted to just say forget it and put it off until next week, but there was something in me that couldn’t. I needed to keep going and see this little project accomplished.

As I tightened up the last fitting and saw the water begin to flow from the fountain, I reflected a little on how my persistence paid off. As that word persistence popped into my head, I couldn’t help but think about the parable of the persistent widow found in Luke 18.

If you aren’t familiar with the story, this widow continued to come before a judge that really didn’t care about her problems. But she continued to go before the judge pleading for justice. Her persistence caused the judge to finally give in and grant her justice.

Jesus used this parable to encourage His disciples to continue to bring their prayers to God, who does care about their problems. Often times we pray once and hope God answers our prayer. But Jesus encourages us to be persistent in our prayer. Just because God didn’t answer your prayer today, doesn’t mean He isn’t going to answer it tomorrow. We must continue to pray.

I’ve heard numerous stories as a pastor from people who have prayed for loved ones for years and years and then, suddenly, one day their prayer is answered. We must be persistent in our prayers. And when we pray we need to say, Lord I don’t know how and I don’t know when, but I know that your will will be accomplished. And I will continue to faithfully and persistently pray with expectation as I wait for that day to come.

Converting Our Sacrifice Into Worship

Earlier this week I was reflecting on the post I shared last week about the sacrifice of others. This got me thinking about my own sacrifices. As followers of Christ we are called to live a life of sacrifice.

This, then, reminded me of something I learned years ago as a young youth pastor from a senior pastor that I have always admired and looked up to. I was with a group of youth pastors at a monthly get together when this senior pastor popped his head in the door to say hello. The youth pastor from his church asked him if he had any words of wisdom to share with us.

He began telling us how he had recently read in the Bible where God told Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice. Then he read to us part of that scripture, Genesis 22:5, which says: He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

He highlighted the part where Abraham said: “We will worship and then we will come back.” And then he said something that has impacted my life greatly over the years. He said, “We need to be people who learn to convert our sacrifice into worship.”

When sacrifice is simply sacrifice, we tend to focus on the cost, we focus on what we’re giving up. But when we convert our sacrifice into worship, we’re able to focus on why we’re doing what we’re doing: bringing glory and honor to the Lord. We are created to glorify the Lord in all that we do, but God doesn’t want it to be a burden for us to serve Him. His desire is that our worship would be a delight, and that our love for Him would enable us to convert our sacrifice into joyful worship!