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Becoming a Saved People

August 29: Becoming a Saved People
Isaiah 60:1–62:12; Luke 22:63–23:25
For Luke, Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophet Isaiah’s message. At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, according to Luke, Jesus opened the Isaiah scroll in a synagogue and proclaimed that the words in Isa 61 are about Him (Luke 4:17–19): “The Spirit of the Lord Yahweh is upon me, because Yahweh has anointed me, he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim release to the captives and liberation to those who are bound, to proclaim the year of Yahweh’s favor, and our God’s day of vengeance, to comfort all those in mourning” (Isa 61:1–2). This moment defines what Jesus’ life would mean—and He was immediately persecuted for claiming the authority rightfully given to Him by God (Luke 4:20–30).
Luke’s message—an extension of Isaiah—is played out further near the end of Jesus’ life. Jesus’ claim to authority resulted in His being sentenced to death (Luke 23). It is easy to view the events of Jesus’ life as proof that He was the figure that Isaiah prophesied—that He was exactly who He said He was. But if we stop there, we miss the larger picture. Luke has an agenda: He draws on Isaiah and uses the story of Jesus reading in the synagogue because he intends for our lives to be changed by Jesus. We are the oppressed receiving the good news. We are the captives being liberated. We are meant to be a people called out to follow Him (Isa 40:1–2; 53:10–12).
When we look upon Jesus—the Suffering Servant, Messiah, prophet, and savior—we should be confronted with the reality that we’re still so far from what He has called us to be. We should be prompted to put Him at the center of our lives. We should be prompted to change. We must realize our place as the people He has saved and respond with gratitude.
How is Jesus’ sacrifice changing your life?
John D. Barry

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What Ferguson Has Done for One White Family

What Ferguson Has Done for One White Family
August 28, 2014 by Melissa Parnell and Jonathan Parnell Topics: Racial Harmony

Michael Brown’s funeral on Monday isn’t sufficient closure for the tragedy that’s taken place in Ferguson, Missouri, or the tensions felt across America. Though the news coverage may have run its cycle in mainstream outlets, there are still so many unanswered questions, still open wounds, still deep confusion.

For some of us, it has felt like traveling back in time to a scene from the 1960s. The angry masses, the talk of police brutality, the divisions based on race — all seeming like some interactive history lesson from our parents’ generation. But then we realized that it wasn’t that at all, that actually, the horrors of the heart that fueled the violence of days past have only been swept under the rug. Racism and inequality are alive and well, even if the forms aren’t the same as fifty years ago, and their influence on our society is toxic — and especially heartbreaking for me as a mom.

What Can We Do?

No mother wants to see their children experience the kind of hopelessness that lies behind the death of Kajieme Powell, or the shockwaves of pain rumbling through Ferguson and beyond. We see today that in some places what Martin Luther King, Jr. said more than forty years ago still applies, that the black community is still inhibited by “the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.” And we all — whether we know it or not — suffer for it. For as King also said, “my destiny is tied up in your destiny” and “my freedom is inextricably bound to your freedom.”

Haven’t we learned that the destitution of any of our neighbors also means our destitution, too? Zoning codes can’t change that. Don’t we understand that the command of Jesus to love our neighbors is as much for our good as theirs? Can we ever understand this? Will we ever wake up to see that a society so gluttonous for “shared prosperity” has been starving itself by its own subconscious hate? Will it ever be truly different?

King asked such questions, and we must keep asking them, even though we know that we’ll never do the magnitude of the work that he did. His influence was momentous. He was a watershed figure in a world-shifting epoch. But who are we? What can we do?

We’ve been discussing these things as a family for the last couple of weeks, and after lifting our hands in the air and asking What can we do?, it has become clear to us, at least for us, that the way forward is small. Small, but intentional. Our little lives won’t shape a country like King’s did, but we can shape the little hearts we tuck in bed each night. Our family may not make a big dent in the atmosphere of racial tensions in America, but we can make the air breathed in our home to have the aroma of love, empathy, and respect. And that’s where we must start.

“Our little lives won’t shape a country like King’s did, but we can shape the little hearts we tuck in bed each night.” Tweet
A Deeper Dignity

How do we create a culture in our home that values and respects people who look different than us? It starts, we think, by turning the flawed logic of depraved humans upside down. We have tried, as long as our children have paid attention to people’s appearances, to explain the differences of others as features of dignity, not distrust. It is too easy, and silly, to think highly of ourselves. That is especially the case as part of majority culture where we’re so often propped up as the “standard.” There is this subtle take on the world that if someone doesn’t look like me, something is deficient in them.

But that isn’t the case in Scripture, not when we have a God who looks at the heart — not when the worth of a person is measured by their Creator’s glory.

The ethnic diversity of our world is one part that makes it beautiful, and rather than oppose it (which is our instinct in our pride), or try to ignore it (a wrong solution), we want to celebrate it. That starts with our hearts being shaped by Scripture, and then in the vision of life that we pass on to our children.

We’ll never be free at last as a nation until we are freed from the hopelessness that plagues so many of its people. And we’ll never be freed from that hopelessness until little white boys and girls not only join hands with little black boys and girls, but also see the people who look different from them to be a people of deeper dignity — people made in the image of God, people who make this world beautiful.

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God the Innovator

August 23: God the Innovator
Isaiah 45:14–47:15
Innovators often say they learn more from their failures than their successes. The successes come as a result of repeated failures, whether in business or in life. We must learn from our mistakes if we are to expect a different, brighter future.
God expects us to learn from our failures—the depths of which we can best understand in comparison to the glory of His successes. God speaks about Himself not only to remind people of His abilities, but also to explain where His authority begins and theirs ends.
In Isaiah 45:1–2, God gave Cyrus a lesson in these boundaries—both by what He said and by what He did not say. Like other kings of the time, Cyrus would have thought himself godlike, but God’s detailed description of what He was about to do left Cyrus with no doubt about who was in charge:
“And I will give you the treasures of darkness and treasures of secret places so that you may know that I am Yahweh, the one who calls you by your name, the God of Israel, for the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen one. And I call you by your name; I give you a name of honor, though you do not know me” (Isa 45:3–4).
From Cyrus’ perspective, he had all authority and could accomplish all things. He did not yet know the Master Innovator who can reverse any situation and honor any person as an instrument in accomplishing His larger plan—to restore His people. God blessed Cyrus with wealth so that it would be easy for him to help God’s people. God exercised authority over the economy to create a new spiritual economy. Cyrus may have pointed to his achievements, but God had enabled them all. As God created the circumstances for Cyrus to succeed—and for His people to be blessed—He also showed the Israelites His perspective on failure and success. In His power and compassion, He could work in difficult and unexpected ways to bring about their redemption, despite their many failures. The Israelites may have gotten themselves into a horrible situation, but God could make a way to get them out.
What innovations is God making in your life story? In the process, is He teaching you to completely depend on Him?
John D. Barry

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August 22: Complaints
Job 10:1–10
Complaining can be automatic. We complain about the weather, our children, our jobs. And we might do it for any number of reasons—even something as trivial as to keep a conversation going. Although we might complain lightly, we still betray something about our hearts. We assume that we are owed something—that we are entitled.
We might readily admit this. We might freely say that this should not be our posture before people or before God. But Job challenges our stereotype of the complainer. What can we learn from his complaints? In his outcries, we find someone struggling to understand his situation before God. He prays, “My inner self loathes my life; I want to give vent to my complaint; I want to speak out of the bitterness of my inner self. I will say to God, ‘You should not condemn me; let me know why you contend against me’ ” (Job 10:1–2). He repeats and recasts his elevated and prolonged complaints in surprising similes: “Did you not pour me out like milk and curdle me like cheese?” (Job 10:10).

Although his boldness and forcefulness might be shocking to us, we also understand how someone dealing with pain and grief might wrestle with these thoughts.
The book of Job ends with God silencing Job and his friends. Job’s demeanor changes when God sets everyone’s perspective right. But how should we understand these passages? Should we complain like Job when we feel frustrated by the disappointments in life?
Job’s complaints stemmed from a sense of loss—a realization that something was not right with the current state of affairs. This doesn’t mean that all complaints are motivated by complete ingratitude. Sin, loss, injustice, hurt, and evil in the world are not reasons to dismiss our cares. Indeed, God is concerned about our cares, and He wants to know them.
But the things we wrestle with should first be brought to God. We should bring our complaints to Him, ready to have our hearts and minds examined by His Word. Not only is He very concerned about our circumstances, but He also knows our hearts and can judge our complaints rightly. He can comfort us in sorrow and provide us with all that we need. Jesus died to set right the things that are wrong with the world, so we can be completely assured of His love and care for us.
How are you responding to events in your life? How can you bring your complaints to Him?
Rebecca Kruyswijk

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Serving the Glory of God

July 20: Serving the Glory of God
1 Peter 4:1–11
When we avoid community, we may develop an inflated opinion of our own character. It’s easy to think we’re kind people when we’re not held accountable to others. It’s easy to think we’re always right when no one disagrees with us. Conversely, it’s in our relationships that our true selves are often revealed. When we’re actively involved in a community, we face hundreds of instances where we need to make choices. These choices either serve others, or they serve our own desires.
When Peter states, “Above all, keep your love for one another constant, because love covers a large number of sins” (1 Pet 4:8), he’s saying that choosing to love often sets all motives in the right place. It dispels our own pride and puts issues into perspective. When we are truly loving others, it’s not about our pride or “being right.” It’s about helping others grow in faith by using our God-given gifts.
Peter goes on to show just what this looks like: “Be hospitable without complaining. Just as each one has received a gift, use it for serving one another, as good stewards of the varied grace of God. If anyone speaks, let it be as the oracles of God; if anyone serves, let it be as by the strength that God provides, so that in all things God will be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 4:9–11). When we love others and use our gifts for their benefit, our actions do more than serve the other. Since they find their origin in Christ’s love, they serve to honor and glorify Christ.
Living in community with others may often be difficult. We’ll meet with challenging people and situations that will require us to continually pray to the giver of gifts for renewed strength and the abilability to serve. We’ll face conflict that needs to be met with wisdom and love. Through prayer and the work of God in our lives, we can love and serve others with the love of Christ.
How are you exerting your own pride in your relationships with others? How can you serve them with your unique, God-given gifts?
Rebecca Kruyswijk

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The Pursuit of Failures

August 20: The Pursuit of Failures
Luke 15:1–32
Often, when we focus too much on our own failures, we don’t reach the point where grace changes us. That’s why the parable of the Prodigal Son is so comforting for people who are caught up and brought down by their failures. In this parable it’s not the younger son’s humility or the elder brother’s jealousy in the limelight. It’s the father’s pursuit of both his sons.
After living selfishly and squandering his inheritance, the younger son realized how foolish his actions had been. He realized that even his father’s hired hands received more love and attention than he had received after leaving his father’s house. Deciding to plead for mercy, the younger son rehearsed his request to the father: “I will set out and go to my father and will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight! I am no longer worthy to be called your son! Make me like one of your hired workers.’ ” (Luke 15:18–19).
But his plan was interrupted. Before the son even finished his request, his father kissed him, put a robe around his neck, and ordered the fattened calf to be killed. And then the father repeated this action. When the elder son refused to attend the party in his brother’s honor, the father again went out to meet his son, imploring him to rejoice as well (Luke 15:28, 31–32).
God pursues failures of all types. It’s His grace extended to us that works in our hearts to prompt change in us. Even when we neglect Him, He pursues us. Even when we don’t return His attentions, He pursues us. Instead of focusing on our failures, then, we should focus on His love.
How do you take joy in God’s grace to you through His Son? How does His love change.

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Choosing Optimism

Originally posted on iwanttobelieveingod:

Today I choose to be optimistic. I accept life at life’s terms and am grateful for another day of being alive. Through optimism I find gratitude and through gratitude I find love – a love of life, myself and those around me. Through love I find God, for God is love. Life is a journey, not a destination. Happiness is found as we embrace every step as a new experience and opportunity to grow.

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