All In

A hen and a pig were looking at the farmer’s breakfast plate, with toast, grits, eggs, and bacon. The hen strutted around saying, “Look at the hen’s contribution to this fine breakfast – see those eggs there on the plate!” The pig looked at the hen and said, “You hens make a contribution, but for us pigs, it’s an all-or-nothing commitment.”

“Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25). Jesus has very high expectations for His followers. He doesn’t just want contributors, he wants people who will surrender it all to Him. People who will Joyfully “lose their life” for the Kingdom.

What does that really mean? When I study His Word – and look at the world – I realize that Jesus meant exactly what he said. I researched the words Matthew recorded and He said that those who deny Him are more concerned with keeping their earthly lives safe and sound and free from suffering and danger than they are with His Kingdom. (Have you noticed a “suffering” theme in my devotionals lately? That’s not my choice. I believe that God is preparing us for something.) And the life we lose – or destroy according to the Greek – is our souls. When we chose our lives over the Kingdom of God we throw away eternal life with Christ in heaven.

I’ve always heard to lose your life for Christ’s sake means letting go of everything that the world tells us life is all about. Certainly, it’s recognizing that whatever reward this temporal life offers – pleasure, fame, wealth, power, status, or intellect – cannot compare with all Christ offers. But losing our life literally means being willing to die for His Kingdom. We have the examples of the apostles and the martyrs of the faith who died with the name of Jesus on their lips. It’s not only about denying worldly attractions, but it’s being ready to face lions and swords and all manner of suffering – even death. It is trading the small sphere of this world for the much bigger eternal Kingdom of God. So I ask you, Beloved, are you making a contribution to the Kingdom of God or are you all in?

Lead Us Not into Temptation

See the source image

James said, “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone” (1:13).  So why then, did Jesus include in His prayer: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Matthew 6:13)? Isn’t James contradicting Jesus? How are we to understand this? Jesus is teaching us to ask for deliverance from temptation.  He is not in any way implying that God would usher us into tempting situations, although He may, as a step of purification, allow Satan to press us with temptation. Peter can attest to that.  

After the Passover meal, just before His arrest, Jesus announces that all of the disciples will abandon Him in His hour of need. Peter declared: “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will” (Matt. 26:33). What passion! What boldness! What foolishness!  Jesus answered His disciple, “I tell you the truth, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times” (v. 34). Luke noted that Jesus told Peter, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat.  But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31).  Satan wanted access to all of the disciples (the first “you” is plural), but Jesus permitted him to lean only on Simon Peter (the second “you” is singular).  Why? Because He intended for Peter to be a powerhouse in His church, and there were things in him that needed to be sifted out. Things like pride and arrogance and self-sufficiency. By the way, did you catch Jesus’ promise – “I have prayed for you, Simon. And did you also catch His assurance – “when (not if) you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” It’s as if Jesus was telling Peter, “This will be rough, but I am praying for you, and you will win this battle – you have My word on it.”

Beloved, is temptation and struggle pressing hard against you? Perhaps the Lord is using the enemy to sift out something that could hinder you from becoming a mighty servant in His Kingdom. Gold is purified by fire. If it’s hot where you are right now, trust God in the process. As Job declared, “When He has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (Job 23:10).

Life Lessons in the School of Hard Knocks

“It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.”  Psalm 119:71

 I am somewhat hard-headed and tend to learn life lessons in the “School of Hard Knocks.”  I’ve found that the most effective teacher in life is consequence. Or as my Mom used to say “Bought lessons stay with you longer than taught lessons,” and I have paid dearly for some lessons.   I learned to choose more carefully who I hung around when I sat through a police interrogation on prom night.  I learned the value of money when I found myself deep in debt.  I learned to pay attention to my driving when I ran a red light and t-boned a car.   But the most important life lesson I learned wasn’t from my own failure – it came from the life of Peter.

In the Lord’s most vulnerable moments, Peter denied knowing Jesus.  As his Friend stood trial before the High Priest, his boldest disciple was arguing about his association with the one he had previously declared as “the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matthew 16:13).  Peter repeatedly rebuffed accusations that he was one of Jesus’ followers.  And when, as his Friend prophesied, the rooster crowed, Peter realized what he has done and “he went outside and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:62).  He was brokenhearted over his betrayal.

Thankfully the police didn’t lock me up, I paid off my bills, and the DMV allowed me to drive again. And blessedly, Jesus gave Peter another chance.  After Jesus’ resurrection, Peter and the boys went back to fishing, and Jesus showed up on the beach with breakfast and forgiveness.  Three times Peter had denied Jesus.  Three times Jesus gave Peter the opportunity to profess love for his Lord and friend.  Jesus healed Peter’s broken heart with overflowing grace.  He reaffirmed His call on Peter’s life and this formerly unfaithful disciple preached the first evangelistic sermon, and three thousand souls were nourished and saved by the Gospel.

The lesson: God’s not done with me just because I messed up.

Peter’s life shows us that the mistakes we make, our failures and missteps are not the end. God doesn’t write us off, wash His hands of us or give up on us because we are hard-headed. If that were so, mankind would have never made it past Adam and Eve, much less to you and me. All through the Bible God tells us that He is patient, forgiving, compassionate, merciful and full of grace. He loves you, even when your knees are bloody because you fell. He loves me, even when I am covered in the stench of my own choices. Jesus died so you and I can be forgiven; So that we could have a second chance at life. Or a third or a seventeenth.

Have you made a mistake somewhere along the way? Have you run in the wrong direction, played with the wrong people, kept going when you should have stopped? Have you professed Jesus as your Lord then denied Him by your words and actions?  Take heart Beloved, God has not given up on you. Take your mistakes, your failures, your denials, and your sins and place them before your loving Heavenly Father. Then take the nail-scarred hand of Jesus and start walking, a little wiser, in the right direction.