1. “If I straighten up, God might find me worthy of saving.”
2. “I make sure my good outweighs my bad, so I’ll probably make it to heaven.”
3. “I try to follow all the rules, be a good person, and go to church. So I think God considers me a Christian.”
Which of these statements is true? None of them. But we hear versions of them all the time, so let’s consider why they’re false.
1. If God waited until we straightened up, He’d still be waiting. 2. If our good could outweigh our bad, we wouldn’t need Jesus. 3. It’s impossible to follow all the rules (613 in the Jewish law). And whose standard are we using when we call ourselves “good?” One sin mars perfection. Going to church doesn’t make us Christians any more than going to the lake makes us fish. The scripture makes it clear that “…while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” In other words, God met us where we are. He knows we can’t be good enough. He gave the law to show us how far off the mark we are. Until we realize and admit we’re doomed, we can’t appreciate what Jesus did for us. We don’t appreciate a fireman until we’re trapped in a burning building or a policeman until we’re being assaulted. And we don’t appreciate Jesus until we realize just how lost we are without Him.
Final Thought: When we could do nothing to save ourselves, God met us where we were and He did the rest.
Prayer: Lord God, thank you that you didn’t wait for me to straighten up before you rescued me from my sin. Thank you for sending your Son to die in my place. I couldn’t save myself, but you did and I am forever grateful. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Tuesday— Jesus looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, hurry down, for I must stay at your house today.” Luke 19:5
If a famous person walked up to you and called you by name, how would you respond? Would you be shocked? The first words Jesus spoke to this man He’d never met was to call him by name. Since Zach was in a literal tree, he had to climb down before he could meet Jesus. We may not be camped in trees, but we have to come down from our own lofty perches before we can meet Jesus. First, He calls us by name. Next, He gives us instructions. Third depends on how well we followed 1 & 2..
“Hurry down,” He says to us. “I have a plan for you. I want to make my home with you and save you from foolish decisions that will wreck your life.” He looks at us perched on our pride, our addictions, our ungodly relationships, our self-rule and says, “Come down.” But we cling more tightly to the branches. “God doesn’t know how much I need this,” we say. “I can see Him from up here. I can be a good Christian without coming down.” What if Zach had refused to come down? After all, he would lose his vantage point. People might laugh. He’d never be able to climb back up there again. But Jesus had called his name and he realized he didn’t need that lofty perch anymore. We can only know God doing it His way. He will reach us where we are, but He won’t let us stay there. Instead, He invites us to go with Him. And that’s the only way we will get to know Him.
Final Thought: Are you insisting that Jesus meet you on your lofty perch, or are you willing to come down to know Him?
Prayer: Jesus, if I’d been in that tree, would I have hurried down because you told me to? Where am I camped now that is keeping me from whole-heartedly following you? Help me to see where I am and where I need to be to know you. Amen.
Let’s do a Zoom call with first-century Israel so we understand the significance of Zacchaeus’ words. He was a chief tax collector. Top of the Ponzi scheme. He was the mob boss. The War Lord. The Godfather. Imagine watching Vladimir Putin on Fox News saying, “I just met Jesus! So I’m giving the Ukrainians their land back and I will pay from my own pocket to help them rebuild. I’ll lift all oil restrictions and set the Russian people free to make their own decisions.” Mind-blowing! The world would sit up and take notice. And if he said it was because he’d met Jesus, people who’d had no use for God might reconsider.
That’s what people thought in Zach’s day. Chief tax collectors never admitted their thievery and they certainly never paid anyone back. But when Zach did, people sat up and took notice. They still do. When Jesus moves into a repentant heart, things change. Liars become honest. Perverts become pure-hearted. Thieves stop stealing, and haters start to love. No one cares about our spiritual claims if no life change follows it. Jesus told Zach, “Salvation has come today” because Zach’s changes were costly to him. There was no profit in turning honest. No health-and-wealth promises for refunding stolen money. But following Jesus was worth everything. Following Jesus is costly for us too, but heart change always results in life change.
Final Thought: Do your life changes prove to the world that “Salvation has come to your house?”
Prayer: Lord, I know someone’s claim to follow you is real when I see them making costly sacrifices to follow you. Do others see that in me? I want to obey you in everything, even if it costs me a lot. Show me where to start. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Thursday— As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. Acts 9:3
Saul headlined Who’s Who of first-century Judea. An overachiever, he was passionate about his role on God’s team and part of that role was to rid the land of cults and idolaters. He was headed to Damascus to arrest more Christians when Jesus met him right where he was in a blinding encounter. A lightening flash knocked him to the ground and a voice said, “Knock it off!” Jesus used this drastic method with Saul (later Paul) because religious zealots are some of the hardest people to reach.
The 21st-century has its own Who’s Who and many of them are religious zealots. They don’t consider themselves as such, yet we are preached at by the Climate Changers, the Vaccine Worshipers, the Progressives, the Science Worshipers, LBGTQ+ enthusiasts, and Pro-choice activists. “Keep your religion out of my life!” they scream while forcing their own down our throats. Like Saul, many Christians think it their duty to correct the error by name-calling and arguing. Jesus has a better way. We meet religious zealots right where they are when we respond with kindness, forgiveness, humility, and steadfast allegiance to the word of God—even when it costs us popularity, reputation, or friends. Meeting the real Jesus is blinding for those who thought they were on God’s team. But His word is a bright light that says, “Knock it off!” We must know that word and let it speak for us.
Final Thought: We reach religious zealots with steadfast commitment to the authority of God’s word.
Prayer: Father, I’ve often tried to rely on my own persuasiveness to convince zealots they’re wrong, but that’s not your way. Your way is to obey you in everything so that your word speaks through my life and my responses. In Jesus name, amen.
Friday— The Holy Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and walk along beside the carriage.” Acts 8:29
“Go sit by that new girl and befriend her.” “Go talk to your boss about coming to church with you.” “Go next door and invite the new neighbors to your Bible study.” We receive Spirit nudges like that all the time, but if we’re not used to obeying them, we may not recognize them for what they are. Philip had a thriving ministry when God interrupted it with new instructions. Philip had no idea why he had to walk beside a foreigner’s chariot, but God did. Chariot Man was the treasurer for the queen of Ethiopia. Philip led him to Jesus and then that man took the gospel home and a whole nation heard the Good News.
One amazing truth about God is that He knows exactly where each person is in each moment of our lives. He is always working behind the scenes to create what we call “coincidences.” Isaiah 46:11 says in part, “I summon a bird of prey from the east, a man for My purpose from a far-off land.” If God tells a bird where and when to fly, then He is closely monitoring every event in our lives too. He knew exactly when the Ethiopian treasurer would be passing through Judea and had already prepared his heart to receive what Philip told him. But even if the man rejected Philip’s words, Philip had done all God required of him. We reach people where they are when we walk closely with the Holy Spirit so that we recognize His voice with a heart set to obey. We may never know until heaven all the people God used us to reach. But what an awesome surprise is waiting!
Final Thought: We’re only responsible for our obedience to God’s gentle nudges, not the results of that obedience.
Prayer: Father, I want to be as sensitive to your voice as Philip was. I want you to use me to reach people in hundreds of ways. All I am and all I have is yours. Use it for your glory and your purposes. I’ll wait for heaven for the surprise. Amen.