HS Students 40 Days

WEEK 6 - DAY 6: BEAUTIFUL VARIETY

Revelation 7:9-10

 

9 After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

 

When we look around at God’s creation, it’s obvious that He loves variety. He could have made just one kind of bird. Instead we have robins, doves, chickadees, blue jays, and eagles. Even a cursory understanding of human DNA reveals every single human being that has ever lived, and that ever will live, is unique. We even have unique fingerprints.

 

The internet and accessibility to travel has made the world seem like a much smaller place and we are increasingly brought into contact with people from many different ethnicities, languages, cultures and belief systems. And yet, these differences can cause division, prejudice, and even wars.

 

We see from the passage in Revelation that heaven will be filled with people from all over the globe. As Christians, we know that every person was created in the image of God, including those who are very different from us. As our world continues to merge and grow smaller, we must make it our goal to love and accept people the way Jesus did.

Jesus’ final words before ascending to heaven is our mission, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).

 

Because of technology, we have more opportunity than ever before to make disciples of all nations. But this can only be accomplished when we let down our preconceived notions about other cultures and people different than us. There are people in every ethnicity on earth that hunger and yearn to know their Creator and how they can truly be part of His forever family. The love of God in the gospel can transcend all peoples and all cultures, and today’s verses show that this will happen because of this glimpse we have to a worship scene in Heaven and who is there!

 

Have you ever had the opportunity to share God’s love with people from another culture? Was it difficult? Did you know that when you give to a local church like HDC, that a portion of the offerings that come in each week are used to support missionaries all over the world who are bringing the gospel to various people groups?        

WEEK 6 - DAY 5: IMAGE BEARERS

Acts17:24-28

 

 24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

 

The idea that God created us is a concept we like to embrace. Being made in His image seems to elevate our personal confidence and value. We each think of ourselves as His child and bask in His fatherly love. But something gets lost in translation when we apply this thought to our neighbor. We sometimes fail to realize that each person everywhere has been created the same way.

 

We are not only created the same way; we are also from the same family line. In this passage we are reminded, “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth.” (v. 26) But here’s the kicker—God also made us different or with diversity. Our culture and history sets us apart, which would make it hard for us to identify with each other. Why did He do it that way?

 

He tells us it was so we would realize our need of Him and turn to Him. His hope was we “would seek him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him” (v. 27). Our differences are supposed to reveal God to us.

 

Humanity is much like a quilt where no piece of fabric is more important than another. All are needed to give contrast and interest. Under the skillful hand of the Creator, we are set in place to create a harmonious beauty. When we grasp hold of the concept that the world is diverse by God’s design, it allows us to see His creativity and His image in all the people around us.

 

How does the idea that we are all created in God’s image affect the way you interact with others?

WEEK 6 - DAY 4: UNACCEPTABLE?

Romans 15:5-7

 

5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, 6 so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

 

The command here is to accept others the way Christ Jesus accepted us. He accepted people unconditionally and indiscriminately. It didn’t matter what their gender was, it didn’t matter their race, and it didn’t matter their political position. He was a magnet. Why was He a magnet? Why did everyone want to be around Jesus? Jesus didn’t judge them. He didn’t condemn them. He didn’t shun sinners. In fact, He warmly welcomed sinners, letting them know that they mattered and yet telling them in truth with love and grace, “Your sin is not acceptable” (see John 8:1-11 for a beautiful example of this).

 

The meaning of the word “to accept,” literally means “to receive and grant one access to one's heart. To take and receive into one’s home (oikos).” If we want to learn how to accept people, we need to study the life of Jesus and seek to accept people just as He did. Now, did He approve of all types of behavior? No. Did He agree with what people were saying and doing? No. But He was always accepting. He welcomed them, warmly, into relationship with Him and then He spoke the truth in love.

 

That’s what we are to do. Now, accepting a person does not mean we accept, tolerate or condone their sinful behavior. That is not what Christ did. He loved them and so must we. “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8)

We can’t love, we can’t be connected, we can’t be a supernatural community, we can’t be a testimony of the reality of Christ, unless we accept one another—differences and all.

 

On a scale from one to ten (ten being the highest), how would you score yourself on the acceptance of others? If your score is fairly low, how can you improve on that?

WEEK 6 - DAY 3: EVERY TRIBE, NATION, AND TONGUE

 Acts 10:34-35

 

34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 

 

The language was foreign but the tune was completely recognizable. “How Great Thou Art,” rang out in Thai and was joined in English. The combination was beautiful. I have seen this played out in many countries and it always touches my heart to hear the combination of languages worshipping God.

 

In this story found in Acts 10, Peter comes to realize that God was interested in this very thing. He wanted people from all nations and cultures to know Him. Peter, who was accustomed to the idea that the Jews were to keep themselves separate from those Gentiles, was going to have to do some changing. But this wasn’t news to Peter. Jesus had instructed His followers just before going to heaven to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15). Whether Peter was being resistant or he just needed a little push away from the peer pressure of other Jewish people, God’s message was clear. Everybody everywhere is included.

 

Perhaps we may be a little like Peter. We may have a roadblock when it comes to being inclusive with the good news. We may even think that some people deserve compassion while others do not. But this scene in Heaven from Revelation 7:9 shows that there will be people from every ethnicity on earth worshipping together: 9 And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.

This beautiful scene should realign our thoughts to His plan and purpose—showing love and compassion to all people throughout the world! Just think how it sounds to God now when a symphony of languages reaches His ears as they lift their hearts in praise. It is a reflection of what is to come!

 

Is there favoritism or discrimination in your life right now? If so, ask God to help you repent of this sinful attitude and be filled with His love for all people.

WEEK 6 - DAY 2: FIGHTING FAVORITISM

James 2:1-4

 

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,”4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

 

Discrimination and prejudice are the evil cousins of favoritism. All three of these ugly sins are rampant in our society. Our culture elevates people based on appearance, wealth, age, and social status. But the Bible is clear, favoritism is not God’s will for Christians. We are to be holy as God is holy. And God does not show favoritism (Romans 2:11).

 

It is difficult for today’s Christians not to show favoritism and we aren’t alone. Even Christ’s closest followers struggled with bias against people different from them. When the apostle Peter was first called to minister to non-Jewish people, he was reluctant. He later admitted, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” The fact that James addresses the sin of favoritism, shows it was a common problem then, much like today.

 

So, how do we move away from favoritism and toward God’s desire for us? First, we admit when we have sinned. Second, we ask God to forgive us. Third, we ask God to help us love our neighbors as ourselves. It is as simple as John 3:16,  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. Jesus died for all people (whoever)—there was no favoritism at the cross and no discrimination in God’s love.

 

 As Christ-followers, we are to put that kind love into practice! We are to reach out to those different than ourselves—different but equal before God!

 

Have you been the recipient of favoritism, prejudice, or discrimination? If so, how can you apply that experience to showing love instead of favoritism?

WEEK 6 - DAY 1: SMALL ACTS OF COMPASSION

2 Corinthians 5:17-21

 

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

 

Tears welled up in the woman’s eyes as she slid her bank card one more time through the card reader. Insufficient funds it said. The milk would have to go back. She would need to make due until the next paycheck, but that was a week away. The man next-in-line handed five dollars over to the cashier to pay the woman’s bill. The woman protested but the man insisted. The purchase was made and a thank you whispered. Much more than a gallon of milk was carried home. A heart touched by kindness went along as well. A simple act of compassion changed the woman’s day. But not only hers, the man’s as well. He would step into his God-given role as Christ’s ambassador and love someone on His behalf.

 

God intends to use us to spread His story of reconciliation to the world. Many times, it will be these small acts of compassion that share His love with others that will make a lasting impact. They will draw their attention to a God who cares about their struggles and sends relief.

But as much as this passage is about God reconciling the world to Himself, there is also a charge to us to get busy in our job of changing the world. “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God” (v. 20).  Implore is a strong word meaning to beg, to admonish, or summon. In a sense, it says hold what Jesus did in high regard—be reconciled through Him—and then, take that message to the rest of the world, so that “in Him we [all] might become the righteousness of God” (v 21). Becoming the “righteousness of God” is God’s gift of salvation in Christ (v.17). It is our sins not being counted against us (v. 19). This is how we are brought into a right relationship with God (reconciliation). What a privilege to be ambassadors of such good news!

 

Have you had an occasion recently when God has called you to be His ambassador? How did you respond?

WEEK 5 - DAY 6: BATTLE OF THE BANDS?

Philippians 2:1-2

 

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.

 

Playing in a band takes a lot of effort and skill. As you know, learning to play an instrument proficiently takes hours of practice. If you’ve ever tried this, or seen a band start up, you know that usually it takes a while before the band starts to sound any good. After a while of practice and dedication though, often things start to come together and the music begins to actually sound good!

 

Paul challenges us to be “like-minded” and “one in spirit and mind.” A literal translation is “be united in spirit and harmonious.” The Greek word used here is sympsychos. Notice the prefix sym, which means “together”. Now think of the word symphony. The Greek root word phon means, “sound”. Do you see (hear)—Sound or music that blends together creating harmony?

 

Christians who are loving, tender, and compassionate toward others are like a harmonious symphony. This is how Christ intended us to be. Now, imagine listening to a symphony playing conflicting notes that clash and clang, reminiscent to fingernails on a chalkboard. This is the epitome of discordant, which means conflicting, disagreeing and quarrelsome.

 

It is of the upmost importance for Christians to demonstrate Christ’s love through our unity. If we are not unified (in truth and love), then we become discordant and our message is like the clanging cymbal Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians 13:1, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”

 

Our world today is full of conflict and division. How will the church reach the world for Christ if its members are quarrelsome, disagreeing, and unloving? Remember, God designed us with differences. The church is not a one-instrument band, but a symphony of many different gifts and personalities that should complement and blend harmoniously.

 

Are you striving to be united with the brothers and sisters Christ has put in your life—even the ones that are “different” from you? What are some practical ways you can be more intentional about being one in spirit and of mind with other Christians? 

WEEK 5 - DAY 5: SITTING ON A MOUSETRAP

 1 John 2:9-10

 

9 Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. 10 Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. 11 But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.

 

Wrapped up in these verses of light, darkness, love and hate is a scandal. Can you see it? We find it right in the middle of our passage and it has to do with stumbling.

 

The Greek word for stumble is skandalon , and its definition gives us a sense of something a little more serious than a skinned knee.  A skandalon is the trigger to a trap. You know, like a mouse trap. The bait is the skandalon. The visual in this verse is great. Trip the bait, the trap drops, and we find ourselves in darkness.

 

If you haven’t detected the connection already, scandal is a derivative of skandalon. In the English, we see its definition as a disgraceful or discreditable action. The scandal comes into play when we say we are living for God (living in the light), but hate our neighbor. Plain and simple, this is God’s people acting very ungodly. If we look back just a few verses, we see John saying, “Whoever says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what [Jesus] commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person.” (1 John 2:4) That’s very scandalous behavior for those who claim to be displaying God’s image to the world.

 

In this passage, John reminds us to not trigger the trap that will land us in scandal and darkness. How? We must love. “Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble” (vs. 10). The alternative is living in darkness, and the darkness will only increase and destroy the life God wants us to experience.

 

Choosing to love all people keeps our hearts united us with Jesus and reflecting the love He has for the world (John 3:16). He loves the people of this world, and so must we if we claim to be in the light (His truth). It may not always be easy, but it is always worth it. Avoid the scandal that living in darkness brings. Live and love like Jesus.

 

What steps must you take to live like Jesus?

WEEK 5 - DAY 4: A BITTER BURDEN

Hebrews 12:14-15

 

14 Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.

 

Cancer is a growth of abnormal cells that spreads uncontrollably with the potential to invade the entire body. Interestingly, the word cancer has a Greek origin, which means crab because of the crab-like tendencies a malignant tumor often shows in grasping the tissue it invades.

 

Did you know you that you can have a spiritual cancer? It’s called bitterness.

 

Bitterness disfigures healthy emotions, obliterates peace and strangles love and compassion. Left untreated, it always metastasizes. It will not only affect us, but our relationship with God and others, prohibiting a Christ-like example and joy in our relationships.

 

Bitterness occurs when we feel someone has taken something from us (such as with hurtful words) that we are powerless to get back. We hold on to the hurt to remind ourselves and others of the injustice. Unfortunately, holding on to bitterness only makes it grow. One writer has insightfully stated, “The acid of bitterness hurts the vessel it is stored in more that the one you want to pour it out on.”

 

Freedom from bitterness is found by embracing Christ’s example of forgiveness. Forgiveness is a choice of obedience, not a mere feeling. This is the holiness we are called to in verse 14. Without this holy behavior of forgiving someone, we won’t see the Lord working in the situation. Our God has provided this remedy of forgiveness—a spiritual chemotherapy that attacks those cells of bitterness leaving behind only healthy ones. When we choose to forgive, rather than be bitter, we experience what another writer stated—“Forgiveness sets the prisoner free, only to realize the prisoner was me!”

 

“I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11). Repeated doses of the reading and application of God’s Word transforms our minds and hearts (Romans 12:2), giving us the ability to forgive and live at peace with ourselves and those around us. This is holiness at work!

 

Is there a root of bitterness growing in your heart that needs God’s spiritual chemotherapy? Will you move forward in forgiveness the way Christ forgave you?

WEEK 5 - DAY 3: FIGHT FIRE WITH FIRE?

Romans 12:17-21

 

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

 

“He hit me first!”

 

If you have siblings, you have probably heard this come from their lips. It is the typical eye for an eye defense that humans quite often fall into. As adults, we may no longer use our fists, but getting even is often in our sights. We want the offender to know he was wrong, so we return with like force. That will show them! The trouble is, God has a different solution to conflict.

 

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil,” Paul tells us. Don’t act like that. “Be careful to do what is right.” Peace and reconciliation are the goal. Repaying evil for evil in relationships is never good conflict resolution. It just keeps the fight going, driving both party’s further apart.

 

Instead, God says, “I’ve got this. Let Me avenge the situation in My time and how I see fit.” His timing often allows plenty of time for people to come to their senses, repent, and make things right. In the meantime, He says,  “I want you to relieve their distress. If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. I want you to not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  Fight back with kindness and compassion.

 

But what about that heaping coals bit? That doesn’t sound too kind or compassionate. There are several explanations, but here is a common one we can consider—kindness offered to the undeserving sometimes acts as a catalyst to their conscience. It contrasts their actions in the light of good, bringing shame and embarrassment.  It’s an ancient saying equal to having egg on your face. Perhaps the hope here, whether by burning coals or an egg-covered face, is that repentance rather than disgrace would happen. What better “revenge” is there against evil than peace and reconciliation brought on by fighting back with love?

 

Has there ever been a time when compassion was your weapon of choice in a conflict?

WEEK 5 - DAY 2: SUFFERING FOR DOING GOOD

1 Peter 2:21-25

 

21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example,

that you should follow in his steps. 22 “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”  23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 25 For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

 

We will face suffering in this life for many reasons. Some suffering is simply because we live in a fallen world; some happens because of foolish choices; some is a direct result of our sin. Our text is referring to suffering that comes because of doing what is good and right in God’s sight, just like Jesus did.

 

I know an accountant who was asked by his boss to falsify some financial statements. In other words, he was asked to lie. When he refused, it resulted in the loss of his job. Now, we’d like to hear that the man got his job back when authorities discovered what his boss had done. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

 

However, the accountant’s family and friends knew the truth and were impacted and influenced by his courage to uphold godly standards even when the cost was so great. Christ paid the greatest price—His own life to save ours. We were once lost in our sin, but Christ reconciled us. Our goal should be to face suffering for doing good as He did, thereby showing others that we believe God is in control. These kind of standards are rare in today’s world, but they often open a door of opportunity to testify of the difference Christ makes in our lives. And then, some of those who observe our testimony may then want Jesus to be the Shepherd and Overseer of their souls as well (v. 25)

 

When was the last time you suffered for doing good? What was your attitude and response? 

WEEK 5 - DAY 1: EYE FOR AN EYE

Matthew 5:38-48

 

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

                       

An eye for an eye refers to a passage in the Old Testament law stating, “But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” (Exodus 21:23-25) This was a legal form of retaliation and only to be administered through the court system.  Jesus is introducing a new idea here. Most scholars agree that Jesus was not talking about serious criminal matters here. Rather, He was talking about personal offenses in every day life. In some of the situations He mentions here, Roman soldiers (Israel was under Roman occupation) were involved. When they were marching through town they could ask you to carry their bags a certain distance. Jesus says to double that! The main purpose of these behaviors was to make God’s children stand out as His peace-making, loving, and caring servants (v. 45). Jesus is after something bigger than just setting things right between people in this temporal world. He is looking to make things better.  God is very good at going that extra mile, giving the shirt off His back, and taking it on the cheek. It’s one aspect of His amazing grace toward a sinful world (sun and rain for the just and unjust-v. 45). Only when we quit keeping track of offences do we start to have that kind of grace in our actions. When that happens, we will start to look a lot like our Father and displaying a kind of love that is beyond the world’s conditional love.  And that will get the world’s attention, making a way for them to discover peace and reconciliation with a God who loves them. Jesus knows living this kind of love is a process, and He sets the goal really high for us (v.48), but as we keep growing toward this we will increasingly reflect His love to the world.

 

Have you ever had a time when you decided to take the bigger and better choice and offered grace and unconditional love to someone? Are you facing a situation like that now? Ask for God’s help to apply the kind of love Jesus talks about here.

WEEK 4 - DAY 6: FACE FORWARD

Philippians 3:13-14

 

“Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

 

There is a time for remembering and a time for forgetting. The Bible gives us examples of both. It is important to consider the verses before the two in our text above to understand what Paul is saying. He states, “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things” (verse 8). Paul is making the point that no earthy accomplishment (his past as an accomplished Pharisee etc.) compares with Christ, His righteousness, and the salvation He had given him. Therefore, he puts his past behind him to strain toward  (pursue with vigor as one following the prize in a race) his relationship with Christ and his work for His kingdom.

 

Regardless of how good or bad we have been, we all come to Christ the same way: with a humble and repentant heart. And we all come with a multitude of memories stored in our brains since birth. But Paul is not saying to completely wipe away those memories when he states, “forgetting what is behind”.  He is saying that we need to leave our failures in the past, know they are forgiven, learn from them, and then move forward in your walk with God. Once we have experienced this reality that Paul points out here, then we are in a position to help others who may be paralyzed with their past. We can help them experience this great freedom so they also can move forward in their walk with Christ. It is a true joy to be used by God in this way!

 

Recall something from your past that you once held in high regard until you came to know Christ.  Is there anything you are holding on to from your past that the Lord wants you to let go of? Is there someone you know who is really struggling with their past and needs your help?

WEEK 4 - DAY 5: WHEN WE DON'T HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS

John 9:25

 

“He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know.

 I was blind but now I see!””

 

Court is in session in John 9 and Jesus is on trial. His charges: Doing good (working) on the Sabbath by healing a blind man. The Pharisees are once again scrutinizing His actions through the lens of legalism. Some surmised Jesus couldn’t possibly be doing God’s work because he broke God’s rules by their definition of working on the Sabbath. Therefore, they wondered how a sinner could do such wonders. Witnesses were called and eventually, the man who was healed takes the stand. When questioned he simply answers, I do not know all the details about the who or how or why this happened. All I know is, it did.

 

Even though we know a lot more about Jesus than this man did because we have the complete New Testament, sometimes answers are difficult to come by about what is going on in our life or the life of a friend. We do not have all the answers to how God works or why certain things are happening. We just know God knows what is going on and we have to rest in that. The science or logic of it all may elude us like it did in this man’s story of being healed with spit and dirt, but we know the result. Jesus touched our life, and that’s all that mattered.

 

Often, we are called upon to bring comfort to others even though we don’t have all the answers. That’s what faith is all about. It’s believing in what we cannot see or sometimes understand (see Hebrews 11:1), but it is grounded in the death and resurrection of Jesus. God will use our trust and reliance in Him to bring comfort to others. We don’t need to try and manufacture answers; we just need to be present and available!

 

Has there been a time you didn’t understand why or how, but you knew it was Jesus at work?

WEEK 4 - DAY 4: WHEN IT HAPPENS...

Luke 22:31-32

 

31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

 

Sometimes smart people do dumb things, wise people do foolish things, and even the godly do ungodly things. Regardless of how we mess up, we share one thing in common: we all make mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes are truly sinful behavior. The Bible says, “Al have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Often we view this statement in regards to a non-believer in need of Christ’s salvation and forgiveness. However, even a mature Christian can blow it at times. When believers go through trials, temptations and difficulties, some lose hope and struggle with their faith, while others gather their bearings and allow Christ to help them grow stronger. The important factor is how we recover when we fall.

 

Jesus knew before his crucifixion that Peter was going to commit a colossal sin— not just once, but three times. He gave Peter a directive, “And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” The Greek word here for “turn back” can mean "turn around” or “go back," but it is often also used to mean "to change one's mind or course of action.” In telling Peter “when” you have turned back, Jesus is saying there is recovery. There is healing. There is restoration.

 

Jesus’ offer to Peter is the same to us. When we mess up, we must turn:

·      Turn to God through confession.

·      Turn away from sinful behavior.

·      Turn to God’s forgiveness and acceptance.

·      Turn to other believers and help them from what we have learned.

 

Our past mistakes/sins will not be used to strengthen others until we have experienced God’s healing and restoration for ourselves. What an encouragement it is to know (like Peter) that our past does not have to define us and we can move on to be greatly used by God!

 

Is there an experience from your past that God wants you to use to strengthen others?

WEEK 4 - DAY 3: READY OR NOT

Luke 8:38-39

 

38 The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.

 

When Jesus comes to town, He certainly leaves an impact. In a story found in Luke 8:26-39, it is no different. Immediately upon arrival in the region of the Gerasenes, Jesus is approached by a demon-possessed man who did a lot of crazy things that disturbed the nearby town. He had a serious problem to which Jesus had the only solution, resulting in the town’s food source running into the sea (swine were unclean animals according to Leviticus). Can you imagine the crazy scene? But, the really crazy thing is—the man was completely healed, but the townspeople didn’t know what to do about Jesus. They were seized with fear due to His unprecedented power, so they asked Him to leave Imagine that!

 

This is an amazing story. But when we consider the town’s response to the man’s healing, it reveals to us that some people aren’t ready to meet Jesus in such a face-to-face way. He actually scares them. They were afraid of what interacting with Him might do to their lives. But Jesus commanded the healed man to remain in his hometown so people could continue to marvel at the change in his life.

 

Your past, like the man in today’s story, and God’s interaction have created an amazing opportunity to share Jesus with others who may be afraid or skeptical. You can offer the proof of God’s goodness in a real-life situation. Yours may be the story that helps them be ready to meet Jesus for themselves.

 

Did someone introduce you to Jesus through their story? How did it help you want to meet Jesus?

WEEK 4 - DAY 2: TO LIVE IS TO GIVE

1 Peter 3:15-18

 

 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. 

 

Mike’s drug addiction landed him on the streets for seven years. He was able to get a weekly shower thanks to a program through his local rescue mission. Often the volunteers from the mission, many themselves recovering addicts, offered to pray for him. He found himself going back to the mission not just for the handouts, but for the love and acceptance he received. His family had long lost hope in him. On the streets, there was no one who truly cared whether he lived or died.

 

After several years, through the leading of a rescue mission volunteer, Mike prayed and asked Jesus to take control of his life. After going through a recovery program, Mike was back on the streets. But this time, he was leading others who were caught in addiction and difficult circumstances to hot meals, showers, and prayer.

 

Mike’s life now demonstrates a new mantra: to live is to give. Rather than hide his past, he humbly shares his story in order to help others. He doesn’t boast about where he’s been or what he’s done. He boasts only about how God saved him.

 

Revelation 12:11 says the enemy is overcome by “the blood of the lamb and the word of our testimony.” The word “testimony” simply means to tell your personal experience of how you came to know Christ and the ways He has changed your life. Like Mike, each of us has a testimony and should be ready to help those who are weaker, in need of compassion, or seeking answers on why we believe what we believe, and why we live the way we live--the hope that we have (verse 15 above). It just may be that God will use our story of how Christ changed us to bring them to God (verse 18 above).

 

Are you prepared to humbly and courageously share your testimony? Practice sharing your testimony with a family member, friend, or someone in your small group.

WEEK 4 - DAY 1: SIMILAR STORIES

 2 Corinthians 1:3-7

 

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 6 If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7 And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.

 

I listened to a friend who was sitting across the table. The story sounded very familiar. As she talked, I could clearly see what had happened. Only a few months earlier, I had experienced a similar event in my life. I knew exactly how my friend was feeling.

 

Perhaps you have been in the same position finding yourself uniquely equipped to give compassion and comfort in a situation. Your past prepared you in advance, giving you wisdom to help others finding their way through a struggle. At the time, you would have rather skipped the painful difficulty, but now you see how God is using it for good.

 

This may be where that very familiar verse comes in: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). Those things in your life you once were convinced had no value, God is now showing you their worth as you use your experience to show compassion to someone who is hurting and needs hope.

 

Paul is talking here about a pay it forward idea. We have had troubles but through those troubles God has provided us comfort. Now, we have what it takes to give our comfort to the next person who needs comfort. The cycle continues as each person passes the comfort to the next, continually pointing back to the Source from which the comfort originated—God, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort.

 

The New Testament is full of stories in which this very thing happened. Jesus meets person; Jesus comforts person; Person tells others; Others meet Jesus. It's a cycle that not only brings comfort and compassion, it also can bring salvation! Today’s passage of Scripture declares that there is definitely redemptive value to the difficult episodes of our lives. We just need to turn them over to God so He can open doors for us to use them to help and encourage others.

 

Have you had an opportunity to show compassion and comfort to someone because you have experienced what they are going through?                     

WEEK 3 - DAY 6: WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? SERIOUSLY!

Romans 10:12-14

 

12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?

 

The plain and simple implication of these verses is huge for understanding how you came to be saved from God’s wrath and power of sin in your life with the resulting blessing of eternal life and joy in God. It is huge for understanding how your children or parents or brothers and sisters or neighbors or colleagues or the unreached peoples of the world will be saved. The process of coming to faith and salvation is laid out here as nowhere else. There is a corporate sense of responsibility, as well as an individual sense of responsibility. The local church as a living and vibrant organization trains and equips people to share their faith in their everyday lives, provides weekly services and occasional events to bring your unsaved friends and family to so they can hear the gospel, and the church supports missionaries (through the generous giving of her people) who are planting churches and sharing the gospel all over the planet!

 

The Apostle Paul’s emphasis here is that God uses people—His people—YOU AND ME—to spread the good news of salvation. It is all about our willingness, intentionality, rejecting excuses, and praying and asking God for the passion and compassion to do exactly what these verses tell us to do. It is an obedience issue as well, because we are commanded and commissioned in several places in the New Testament to do exactly what these verses so clearly point out. Multitudes of believers throughout the world have testified to the fulfilling joy it is to see people come to Christ when we make ourselves available to this great task!

 

What are you (we) waiting for?

WEEK 3 - DAY 5: COMPASSION CARES

Jude 20-23

 

20 But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. 22 Be merciful to those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.

 

            These verses, especially verses 22-23 challenge us to express our compassion to the lost in different ways depending on the people we are dealing with. If some are wavering and just beginning to turn away from the truth due to doubts, we should have compassion on them and try to turn them back by working with them on what may be causing them to doubt their faith. For those who have already started down a path of sinful and evil living, we have to take a more forceful approach. By warning them of God’s coming righteous wrath. If we can, we have to put the fear of God in them. It may be the only thing that can bring them back.

If we find someone caught up in a struggle with fleshly temptation, we should be gentle and attempt to return them to God's way so that we or anyone else is not snared as well.

 

            In all of the situations above, people must sense our loving compassion for them as people we genuinely care about. People are not a “project we are working on” to see how good we are at out trade (gospel sharing), but rather each person has their own story because of experiences (good and bad) they have had in life, and we must relate to each person with care they can sense and feel. Generally speaking, people won’t care about what you have to share with them (the gospel), unless they know you really care about them as a person.  That is quite a challenge in this very busy life and self-pleasing culture we have, especially when we can go weeks without even knowing anything about the people on either side of us in our neighborhood! God help us!

 

Is there someone in your life (oikos) that fits into one of the categories Jude speaks of in verses 22-23? Ask God to give you wisdom on how to approach, care for, and relate to this person in a genuine way.