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This Daily Readings book serves as the...
This Daily Readings book serves as the devotional companion for the entire three-part Journey 101 Series, with a total of ninety devotions focusing on the topics of knowing, loving, and serving God.
PURSUING THE HIGHEST GOOD
This is what the LORD says: "Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, 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 9:23-24
One of the great passions of my life is the game of basketball. I love to play, watch, and study the game. I've spent a great deal of energy obtaining knowledge of the history, technique, and strategy of basketball. And like most who gain mastery over a subject, I like to show off what I know.
Your great love might be something else. As Jeremiah writes, it might be wisdom or strength or wealth. It might be family or career or education. I would bet there is something in your life you have worked hard to attain, and that you'd name as your highest good. You might be said to "boast" in it. It may be a good thing.
But it is not the ultimate thing.
God is the ultimate thing. And we're called to know him.
Think carefully: If there is a God, and God wishes to be in relationship with us, would it not be of highest value to discover and pursue that relationship to its fullest? And if God is the highest good, is it not true that intelligence, physical strength, and wealth pale in comparison to the reward of knowing the one who is the fount of all wisdom, giver of all strength, and provider of all wealth?
Jeremiah also tells us that God "exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth." If this were so, would it not be true that God would work toward these purposes in our lives? Perhaps we should get to know this God, so that we might humbly discover how to pursue his ways in all our endeavors.
Seek knowledge of God. Then everything else takes on a new significance.
Lord, you have brought me to a place in my journey where I desire to know you. May I take hold of your great love as you have taken hold of me. May I stake my identity solely upon you and live accordingly. Amen.CHAPTER 2
A NEW IDENTITY
But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: "Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord." 1 Corinthians 1:27-31
My friend Mike is a brilliant man, a good husband and father, and an excellent teacher. He is also a songwriter and musician, and leads worship at his church. He is someone I really admire and respect.
But on more than one occasion when I have lifted up his strengths, Mike has quoted to me these words from 1 Corinthians. Mike does so with a wry smile—he's small of stature—but he also wishes to remind us both that the good I see in his life is rooted in another source. Mike is aware of the power of God, who has changed his life in Christ Jesus. He wishes to give glory to God for every good thing he does.
One of the great discoveries that comes in knowing God is a renewed understanding of the world around you. In Paul's words above, he suggests that in Christ, God has turned everything upside down. The foolish shame the wise. The weak shame the strong. The lowly and "things that are not" are given favor. A great leveling has taken place. It's knowing God that matters, not our merits.
Knowledge of God also brings about a new understanding of our self. Many of our shortcomings, personality flaws, and personal failings are rooted in human sinfulness. Our strengths and talents are, of course, things we have worked diligently to improve and refine, but we can ultimately see them anew as God's gifts. God redeems us from our sinfulness, one expression of which is our own self-righteousness. We've been given a new life.
It is Christ who is our life—his wisdom, righteousness, holiness, and redemption—for we are in him. Knowing this changes our outlook.
Christ Jesus, you are my wisdom, righteousness, holiness, and redemption. May I worship and serve you today. Amen.CHAPTER 3
THE SCOPE OF KNOWLEDGE
Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom. One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts. They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty— and I will meditate on your wonderful works. They tell of the power of your awesome works— and I will proclaim your great deeds. They celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness. Psalm 145:3-7
While human beings cannot know God exhaustively, we can know enough to have confidence in God.
Consider an automobile. Vehicles are designed by engineers. Each design is carefully examined and evaluated by executives, safety officials, and assembly specialists. Each car is then produced, shipped to a dealership, and sold.
Most people who buy a car do not ask for blueprints or extensive readouts from roadway testing. Most do not carefully consider the engine housing, the frame's ability to withstand collisions, or electrical wiring. Most consult popular consumer guides or other roadway safety resources, talk with friends and family, and make a purchase, trusting that the vehicle will be in good working order.
Much of what we believe is accepted on the basis of authority. We don't have to know everything to accept a general truth, only enough to believe that those in authority can be trusted. Oftentimes, trusting is a first step on the path to greater knowledge. For example, before taking an automobile for a test drive, we must trust that the engine will start when we turn the ignition. If it does not, we may lose faith that the car is worth the investment. But if it cranks and handles smoothly, we will grow in confidence and knowledge of the car.
Christians have long confessed that God is great, good, loving, and just—beyond what we can know. But while we cannot know everything, we can know enough to put our faith in God. Like the psalmist, our confidence is built on what God has done in the past, both in the stories of Scripture, and, on occasion, in our own lives. Once we take a step, trusting that God will work for our good as he has worked for the good of others in the past, we grow in knowledge of him.
Lord, please take my faith and give it increase. May my belief grow to a sure knowledge of your grace. Amen.CHAPTER 4
RESCUED FROM SIN
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23
The great theologian Reinhold Niebuhr once observed, "The doctrine of original sin is the only empirically verifiable doctrine of the Christian faith." One does not have to look long and hard to find assurance that Niebuhr was right. Turn on the news. Open the newspaper. Look in the mirror.
Some may find this notion disconcerting, that all people have an inclination to sin, deny knowledge of God, and act accordingly. It is more comforting to think of our neighbors and ourselves as flawed or broken rather than sinful. We all make mistakes, we all blunder into hurting others, right? But why are we often convinced that we not only have been wounded, but wronged? Sin is not simply a matter of hurt feelings but of justice, and the ultimate standard for justice is found in God's very being, God's perfect glory.
This has implications for knowing God. We will consider two. First, acknowledging our sinful condition should humble us, not through guilt but greater self-knowledge. People who understand sin as the common plight of human beings can never believe they are better than anyone else. They are humble. Understanding sin leads to a deeper and more complete understanding of how we demonstrate grace.
Second, as Paul noted in 2 Corinthians 7:10, knowing ourselves as sinful should lead us to repentance and cause us to seek healing and restoration. This healing cannot come from within but must come from God. In Romans 3:24, Paul writes that "all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." Despite the fact we are sinners, Christ died to reconcile all people to God (Romans 5:8). As foretold so powerfully in Isaiah 53:5, "By his wounds we are healed."
The gospel is simply this: You are loved more than you ever have dared hope. God's work on the cross in the person of Jesus Christ is the assurance and confirmation of that love. Christ laid down his life to redeem you from sin, restore you to health, and guide you to fullness of life.
You can know God's powerful love. Once you encounter it, you will be changed. Grace, not sin, has the last word. Rejoice.
Father, help me to live by your grace, to repent of my sin, and to look to you for a new heart, a new life. Amen.CHAPTER 5
A NEW UNDERSTANDING
"'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'" Luke 15:31-32
The parable of the prodigal son, also known as the parable of the two sons, is one of Jesus' most beloved teachings. In it, a son leaves home, squanders his inheritance, hits rock bottom, and returns home to a loving embrace from his father. A second son, who obeys his father carefully, also distances himself from his parent, only to be beckoned back to fellowship. Start to finish, this parable is a compelling tale. We can easily place ourselves in the story. If you are not familiar with the story, read it. As you read, think carefully about what Jesus communicates about God's grace.
In Luke 15, Jesus was surrounded by "sinners and tax collectors." This fact caused the religious leaders around Jesus to grumble and say, "Look who this man associates with." Jesus then tells three stories, inviting the riffraff to see God's love for them and challenging the righteous to reconsider their understanding of God.
Why did Jesus teach in parables? Oftentimes, Jesus' parables help us discover a new understanding of God and God's action in the world. These stories can leave us exposed, challenging some of our notions of God. They can also fill a gap, bringing us into an encounter with God in which we come to know him better.
How do you understand God? Where does your understanding align with sound teaching that is grounded in Scripture and the Christian tradition? Which of your beliefs are well developed and strong?
Where might you have a false view of God? Disciples who are wise will be open to correction. It may be that some of your assumptions about God are not well reasoned or simply false.
As you embark on this study, it might be worthwhile to think through your beliefs about God. Write them down on a piece of paper. What is God like? Whom does God love? What kind of life does God call us to live?
Now ask Jesus to teach you throughout this study. Receive him, and be open to his direction.
Jesus, your teachings are profound and challenging. May I remain open to instruction, so that I can experience you as you truly are. Amen.CHAPTER 6
ENCOUNTERING THE CHRIST
Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water's edge. He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: "Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed." Mark 4:1-3
I live in the state of Kansas, where Jayhawk basketball is incredibly popular. Graduates of the university are passionate about their team. The coaches and players are constantly being evaluated against the greats of the past, and on game day Allen Fieldhouse is sold out. I've been at games where the decibel reading has exceeded 120, comparable to the sound of a sandblaster or a loud rock show; 125 decibels is where pain begins.
Jesus created a similar stir in his time. When he visited a community, it would have been like a politician arriving to deliver a stump speech, or a once-in-a-lifetime performance by a musical virtuoso. Often, when we think of Jesus we picture him picking dandelions or quietly contemplating peace. We do not think of an unparalleled intellect preaching a revolutionary message, accompanied by signs and wonders. Healings were reported. Demons were cast out. Outcasts were being restored, the dead raised, and those thought "unclean" were welcomed. Controversy followed Jesus because of what he was saying and doing.
Can we take Jesus this seriously today? He leaves us little choice, if we truly understand who he is. C. S. Lewis famously argued that we cannot consider Jesus only a good man or a great teacher—either he is a liar or lunatic, or he is Lord. If our reaction to Jesus is tepid, we have not yet beheld him. But if we experience either strong rejection or profound attraction, we are beginning to see.
In Mark 4, we read that people eagerly waited to hear what Jesus had to say, and we can imagine that they matched or exceeded the fervor of the most passionate Kansas basketball fan. Do you pay Jesus that much attention? Are you challenged by his words? Have you become his disciple?
Jesus incites us. He is good, and he knows best. Learn from him.
God who reigns in the heavens, may I learn from you how to live. May I take your words seriously and tend to them, that they might transform and change my life. Amen.CHAPTER 7
A TEACHER WITH AUTHORITY
When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law. Matthew 7:28-29
During my college years, I was privileged to work as a personal assistant to a retired history professor who had received a "master teacher" distinction from the university administration. I picked up his laundry, shopped for his groceries, drove his car, and spent time watching him interact with former students, school officials, and dignitaries. Watching this man in action changed my life.
Though his specialty was the ancient Greek and Roman era, this professor had taken a special interest in the history of the university. He was often called to speak to alumni groups and historical societies, and he was a master storyteller. He could situate the listener on the old campus, depict with precision the personalities of past university presidents, and bring school history to life as though the listener was experiencing the moment as a student or bystander. No one spoke with a greater degree of authority on the history of the university. This inspired others to know more about the school and to love it.
Our reading today is found at the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 5–7. The people listening were amazed. Jesus told them to "love their enemies," to put away anger, contempt, and condemnation. He taught against the evils of lust and hatred and adultery. He gave instruction on generosity and prayer and service. He finished with a powerful analogy: "Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock" (Matthew 7:24). When storms hit, nothing would sweep them away.
When we understand Jesus' teachings and begin applying them to our lives, our character is strengthened. During Jesus' time, the people observed that he possessed an authority that "the teachers of the law" did not. Jesus' words offered an immediate challenge to the status quo. To a degree greater than my college mentor, Jesus inspired his hearers to know more about God, to love God, and to live differently after an encounter with him.
Is there an area of your life that you would like Jesus to revolutionize? Write it in the space below. Pray for greater knowledge of God.
Lord, help me apply your teachings in the service of others. Amen.CHAPTER 8
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their lifewill lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?" Mark 8:34-37
Not everyone watches the Super Bowl for the football game. Some watch for the commercials. During Super Bowl XLVII, an advertisement for a popular luxury automobile debuted. A young man sat down with Satan, who offered him a car. In his mind's eye, the young man was shown all the glories that would come with the car, all for the small price of his soul. The usual temptations dangled: beautiful women, wealth, and fame. The commercial ended humorously when a billboard was unveiled showing the cost of the automobile, which was well within his price range. The message to the consumer was plain: You can have this car, and all these things besides, and still retain your soul.
Or can you?
Excerpted from Journey 101: Daily Readings by Carol Cartmill, Jeff Kirby, Michelle Kirby. Copyright © 2013 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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