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Bible Scriptures, Ministry

Devotional 9: God’s Grace to the Sinner & the Saint

The story of the prodigal son, which is found in Luke 15: 11-32, tells of a young man who squanders his inheritance through wild partying and reckless spending.

But after losing everything, he resorts to taking a job feeding pigs. He’s so poor when a famine hits that he steals chow from the pigs in order to quiet the rumblings in his own stomach.

Hitting rock bottom, the story indicates that this young man finally “came to his senses,” realizing that even the hired hands on his father’s farm were in a better position than he was in that moment.

He set out to go back to his father, and on his way plans what he will say to him: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.”

But before the young man could even get the words out, his father, seeing his son approaching in the distance, starts to sprint, embraces and welcomes his child home.

Imagine the look on his young son’s face when he felt his father’s arms wrap around his frail body.

The parable is such a beautiful metaphor for the redemption and reconciliation that awaits anyone who turns away from wrongdoing and seeks a relationship with God.

It serves as a great reminder that the almighty God always, always meets us where we are.

Anger after years of devotion

Meanwhile, in verses 25-32, the eldest son — the one who committed his life and made the choice to doing his father’s work — is fuming, becoming angrier as he witnessed his younger brother receiving the royal treatment.

I can just hear the disgruntlement begin to percolate.

Who does he think he is showing up after all this time?
He thinks he’s so special.
What about me? Look at everything I’ve done for Father!

The older son, like a petty child, refused to take part in the festivities to celebrate his little brother’s homecoming.

Seething, I’m sure, the Bible says he “refuses to go in.”

In another surprising act, the father leaves the party and goes outside to reason with the older son.

Bible scholars believe that ancient hearers might have expected the father to discipline the elder son; instead, the father listens to his son, and in a loving and understanding tone attempts to impart wisdom as the sounds of revelry reverberate in the background.

The elder son laments:

Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!

Was the older son hurt? It sure sounds like it.

Was the older son bitter? You bet.

In his mind, he had devoted himself to doing what the father wanted, and wasn’t so much as thanked for his devotion. He believed he was entitled to the better treatment. He was superior, he thought. But, in fact, he was wrong.

The father, gracious and all-knowing, saw otherwise. Because the younger son was “dead and is alive again” and “lost and is found” this warranted a celebration.

The parable teaches us what is important to our Father in heaven — and that is, when a lost soul comes home. Commitment and devotion are pleasing in the Lord’s sight, too. But when our motives are self-centered, as is shown by the elder son,  this bothers God. And it should also bother us.

Which ‘son’ are you?

At times we are that lost child as is the prodigal son, the one who strays. The one who squanders everything. The one who then grovels back to God for forgiveness and reconciliation.

On the other hand, especially for those who’ve walked faithfully with the Lord for some time, it’s easy to follow the pattern of the elder son, who grew bitter, jealous and prideful after years of dedication.

Which one are you?

I believe the older son could have prevented his unrighteous response.

At least, I’d like to think he could.

And here’s how I believe those in ministry and in other leadership roles can avoid resentment while in service to others:

  • Be open about your shortcomings and confess your sins. No one is perfect. Not even the most devoted Christian. Routinely humble yourself before God, and a trusted spiritual mentor, as you examine your heart and actions. Romans 3:23 NIV says “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Moreover, no one “should claim to be without sin,” according to 1 John 1:8 NIV.
  • Show compassion. God is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness, according to 2 Chronicles 30:9 and Psalm 86:15. Throughout the Bible, God rescues and forgives his people when they turn back to Him. In the same way, Jesus showed compassion “when he saw the crowds… because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36 NIV) What this world absolutely needs from those who are faithful to God, is more compassion, more love and more grace. After all, that is what God showed us because “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8 NIV)
  • Share your testimony and minister to others. If you’re a believer, then the Great Commission in Matthew 28:16-20 applies to you. We are called to baptize and to teach others. Holding a pastoral role, in whatever capacity in your local church, puts you in a position to regularly share how God has changed you and is currently shaping you. Don’t miss out on that opportunity by using your leadership role to talk only about how “great” your life is or what blessings God is bestowing on your life or barking orders about what other church members “need” to do. Rather, use it is a platform to elevate the love and mercy God extends to anyone who becomes a disciple of Jesus. Share your story. As a result, I pray, as the Apostle Paul writes in Philemon 6, that your partnership in the faith “may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ.”
  • Stop thinking you’re better than someone else. The Apostle Paul urges believers in Romans 12:3 (NIV): “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” He is referring in this passage to roles in the church, but the advice is appropriate for any situation. The statement could’ve certainly helped knock some sense into the elder brother in an ancient parable that continues to teach modern-day believers the value of right-sized thinking in times when all seems ….”unfair.”

Share your thoughts! How do you guard against disgruntlement, discontent and bitterness while serving in ministry or other leadership roles in and outside the church?

Christian Lifestyle, Devotionals, Faith

Devotional 8: Has Your Love Grown Cold?

Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold... Matthew 24:12

This was the scripture that led the discussion at a recent midweek service. It was a topic that immediately struck a cord because I had been thinking about disobedience and sin — the things that can separate us from God.

The scriptures and questions that followed probed my heart, and I’m sure others in the room.

They were the kind of questions that I think were meant to make you stop and think about whether you were in right standing with the Lord.

The pastor comfortingly urged us to explore the questions, honestly and with intentionality.

You see, what keeps us in communion with God is our heart. We can be doing and saying all the “right” things, the religious things, but if our heart’s not really focused on the Lord and His will for our lives, then it’s all just facade.

A heart for God follows the pattern of 2 Corinthians 7:10 NIV

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.

Indeed, there is an urgency to get right with God. You’re alarmed by unrighteous behavior. And you’re concerned that a misalignment with God leads to disconnection with Him.

For this reason, I want to share my notes with you from that night, in hopes that you, too, will allow your heart to be pierced.

Thanks for stopping by, dear friend. It’s time to reclaim your First Love.

Let’s explore…

  1. If the Bible did a quick body scan of your thoughts and heart, would it register as ‘devoted’?
  2. When was the last time you had a deep dive in God’s word, the Holy Bible?
  3. When we read the Bible does it ‘read’ you back? The Word of God should be a mirror. James 1 says, “Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror.” In other words, are you letting the Bible change you, or are you walking away having no sense of your condition before God? Just like a woman checks her appearance before walking out the door, so should the Bible govern your attitudes and behaviors at all times and help you “course correct” before you get off track.
  4. Are you reading the Bible simply for information — or transformation?
  5. Don’t violate the boundaries that God has set for your protection, or you will succumb to evil desires. You will eventually lose your identity in Christ and start to reflect the world.
  6. Love grows cold when there is an increase in obscenity, debauchery, perversion, laziness, selfishness, pride, and disobedience to God’s Word.
  7. When there is an increase of man there is an decrease of God. In other words, if you’re constantly putting your needs and desires before God’s expect a lesser degree of holy living and God’s blessings to follow.
  8. When your spirituality is compromised, one’s love for God grows cold.
  9. Even as a self-proclaimed Christian/disciple of Christ, you can be physically present in church even though your heart has departed from God a while ago. Is your heart still aligned with pursuing righteousness?
  10. Is Satan ‘doing’ you in? Sin can make you feel weighed down, “spiritually fat,” and out of shape. According to John 10:10, the enemy’s only intent is on stealing, killing and destroying you. However, the good news is that Jesus, our Lord and Savior, is here to give you life in abundance!
  11. Are you obedient?
  12. Do you weigh your life on a righteous scale? Or do you weigh your life on a worldly scale?
  13. Are you spiritually able to keep in step with the Holy Spirit? Or are you falling behind? What’s holding you back?
  14. What are some habits of Godly living? Daily time with God, meditation on the scriptures, exhibiting fruits of the Spirit, sharing your faith, etc.
  15. Is your spiritual life a bestseller?
  16. Do you add light or darkness in your relationships? Is your inner spirit dead or alive?

I certainly hope you have found these questions and insights into God’s word heart-probing and that they help you reach higher spiritual ground!

Any questions or insight on staying close to God despite the increased wickedness in the world? Weigh in in the comments section below. Remember this: There is always hope in Jesus Christ! So please don’t despair. Blessing to you, my friend!

Devotionals, Faith, Family

Devotional 5: The Summer We Unintentionally Lived Minimally

2016 was the year we sold our first “family” home.

It was the house my husband and I brought our two children to after leaving the hospital. It was where we struggled financially to make ends meet after I decided to become a stay-at-home mom. It was also where I studied the Bible with a number of women, had house church with fellow disciples and prayed over countless situations.

But it was time for a change, preferably one that was a little bigger than the 2-bedroom, 1 bath, 800-square-foot row house our family had outgrown.

Like most life situations, this change did not come easy and was a long time coming.

After living in that home for nearly 8 years, we put our house on the market in August of 2016.

Though we got an offer the first week, we actually didn’t sell the house until the following year in June.

Because of the timing of the sell, we had to move into a hotel for a week as we waited to close on a house that we put an offer on. We put an offer on a house, but it appeared the seller was having second thoughts.

This is the part of the story where God’s sovereignty really shines.

That week of “homelessness” (I use that term lightly) turned into two weeks.

During this time, I started praying fervently. I told God about my hesitation in buying that particular house because it needed a lot of work. I let Him know that I didn’t feel right about it. Our goal was to move to a safer, more family-friendly neighborhood, I said, not to find ourselves in a situation that would frustrate us and lead to mounting debt in trying to modernize this fixer upper.

Finally, I asked and petitioned God to make it clear. Make it clear he did.

A day after that prayer, we got a call from our realtor saying the seller was withdrawing the contract because they found a better buyer.

God answers prayers, y’all!!

Minimalist life

The story doesn’t end there, however.

We proceeded to move from that hotel to another hotel. From one Airbnb to another Airbnb, and finally to a friend’s house and rental by the end of summer. We moved 9 times the summer of 2016!

We lived out of two suitcases during that entire time. We were living the Minimalist life!

Ironically, my kids were unfazed by all the moving. Quite frankly, if it were not for having to move so often, it was actually quite liberating not having a mortgage or utility bills.

I learned some things about myself during that time that has proved invaluable.

  1. I need a lot less “stuff” than I have. (This isn’t the first time I’ve lived with next to nothing in my possession, so this wasn’t especially new.)
  2. God wants to renew your faith during times of  wilderness (and bewilderment). When you’re not sure what’s happening, it’s a great time to simply be still.

As we were waiting for someone to buy our home, and as we looked to buy a new one ourselves, so many scenarios were playing through my mind. Doubt. Fear. Even a little bitterness.

Bible Application

Thankfully, I did a deep Bible study leading up to the Summer of 2016 that reminded me of God’s sovereignty during that time.

I studied the early days of the Israelites and their pilgrimage to the Promised Land, I see a God who is gracious and just, devoted and faithful — despite our lack of faith and obedience.

He desires dependence, trust and faith in Him — not faith in our ability to please Him.

Romans 8:28 says, “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.” NIV

Despite the uncertainty, I recalled times past.

God has never failed me. And I’m sure if you look back on your life, He has never failed you either.

As for me, I only needed to trust in Him and his divine purpose for my life, my family’s life.

As I surrendered, gradually at first, I began to rest in God’s holiness and grew confident in the direction he was ushering us in. I knew he wouldn’t leave us without a place to land.

I also knew that it was no coincidence that the offer on the original house we offered to purchase fell through!

We eventually did find our ideal home at the price point we could afford.

Do I need to say it again? God answers prayers, y’all!!

If you’re struggling in your faith, just remember what God has already brought you through. Live and walk in righteousness and obedience to Him, and he will give you rest.

“Abraham believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” Genesis 15:6 NIV

Is God testing you? In what areas of your life do you need more faith and/or obedience? Share in the comments section below!

Christian Life, Faith, Prayer

Devotional 3: Let’s Get Real

One reason we struggle w/ insecurity: we’re comparing our behind the scenes to everyone else’s highlight reel. Steven Furtick

Seven months ago, we moved into a new home.

My husband came home and said one of his supervisors suggested he host a get-together at our house as a kick-off and team building effort. He immediately quipped, saying “I don’t have a big house. I don’t have much furniture. Have you seen what I drive? It’s a beat-up, 10 year-old Toyota Forerunner. People would not be impressed with our home.”

It’s not that he was opposed to hosting something, but he knew from this supervisor’s request that she assumed we lived in well-off. To an extent, we do. But probably not in a way that was percolating in her mind’s eye.

The fact of the matter is, there’s a tendency in the DC, Maryland and Virginia area to live up to other people’s expectations and to use an old phrase, “Keep up with the Jones’.”

I’ll be honest, that desire sometimes hits me, too. And I fight it. I fight it hard!

I’ve grown to appreciate and seek God’s approval over others. So if someone doesn’t appreciate my house for what it is? It doesn’t matter because it’s beautiful to me. (At least, that’s what I tell myself, even when I only half believe it.)

But I’ll be honest, the suggestion from my husband’s colleague did bring up some insecurities. And I wondered where my confidence truly lies.

Are you an effective witness for Christ online?

Like I said, I struggle with trying to give the appearance that I’ve got it all together and that my house, and my life, is picture perfect. But that wouldn’t be true. And when you think about it, what’s so wrong being imperfect, authentic and honest?

We live during a time where people, even Christians, crave attention, acquiring it through more “likes,” “followers,” and accolades. 

When did disciples of Jesus become such attention-seekers and spotlight hoggers? (Is that a word?)

It’s a tricky thing when you’re a Christian, too. Because there’s a temptation to play up your Christiandom. An update might read: “Wow. I’m so humbled to serve the poor today. #servingtheneedy”

Do humble people really need to announce on social networks what they’ve accomplished for the Lord?

I tell you, no. In fact, the Bible offers instructions on how to behave in situations such as this. Check this out:

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing… Matt. 6

If Jesus doesn’t want one hand to know what the other hand is doing, how much more would he disapprove of behavior that publicly showcases what are supposed to be humble acts of service?

When is it okay to ‘brag’?

Do you think there’s a way to share about these things without it being borderline or outright boastful? Perhaps.

How about inviting others to join you? What about sharing of a time when you weren’t so focused on other people, and because of Christ, you are able to help others today?

How about including scriptures on why it’s important to serve the poor? How about sharing about those acts of kindness as a way to persuade more people to follow Jesus, not follow you?

Let’s see what the Bible says about this…

But let the one who boasts boast about this:
that they have the understanding to know me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight,
declares the Lord. Jeremiah 9:24 NIV

And again…

Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 1:31 NIV

I recently wrote about the work that I’ve put into our little fixer-upper of a house. And when I reflect on that work,  it keeps me humble.

It reminds me of what it means to be frugal and wise with the money the Lord has blessed us with. And it reminds me that your house doesn’t necessarily be a masterpiece and impeccably designed in order for it to be a “home.” That what really matters is the presence of love inside those walls.

Similarly, as Christians, we don’t have to be perfect, or appear perfect, to be an effective witness for Christ.

In fact, authenticity and humility should rule our hearts — not the prospect for more likes, followers and high-fives from others, the onlookers and lurkers of the internet (as tempting as they may be).

What about you? How are you an effective witness for Christ on social media and in life in general?

Wisdom’s instruction is to fear the Lord, and humility comes before honor. Proverbs 15:33