Daily Devotional

Week Five, Day Three

sbaker : October 22, 2014 4:00 am

There are a handful of classic movies that we’ve introduced to our children. Among the greats is Raiders of the Lost Ark. It was quite an experience to watch this nearly-memorized film from 1981 with our kids, observing their reactions to the unfamiliar flick! You can probably recall the scene where the pilot of a little float plane is calmly fishing off one of the pontoons, nestled in the bend of a jungle river while awaiting Indy’s return. Shortly after hooking a fish that turned his fishing pole into a wet noodle, the pilot heard his passenger scream from a distance, “Jacque! Start the engine! Get it up!” In just a few seconds, the inner turmoil of the pilot is visibly painful. There becomes a hilarious tension between landing the lunker or launching the plane. Jacque has to choose. He could not say “yes” to his prized pursuit and save his life and the life of Indiana Jones (who was running from an entire tribe of people who were trying to kill him). Eventually, the pole was dropped, and the rescue began

In Luke 5:1-11, we read of a call to surrender by setting aside the fish and picking up the cross. After a night of fruitless fishing, Jesus called out to the not-yet disciples to give it one more try. I’m not sure why they even bothered to listen, but in doing so, they had the catch of a lifetime. Bursting nets ushered in bursting hearts as Peter cried, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (vs. 8). The next words in this incredible exchange come from Jesus to the weary and bewildered fishermen. “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men ”(vs. 10).. The scripture then notes that “they left everything and followed him” (vs. 11).

This is where you and I enter the story. We are often found “fishing” when we should be “following.” This world is tantalizing and alluring. Our hearts get ensnared in the trappings of temporal pursuits that distract and dissuade us from the life of a follower. “Prosperity knits a man to the World,” and the clamoring and calling of every commercial compels us to forsake followership. We lay down our nets only to pick them up in a season of uncertainty, just like Peter.

Let’s face it. A ridiculous love for Christ is incompatible with a relentless want for everything else this life has to offer. Saying “yes” to Christ is synonymously saying “no” to the nets in which we’ve found security and familiarity. If we are honest, we’ll examine our lives and find that we are often found adding Jesus to our boat rather than going overboard to abandon ship and follow Him. Today is a new day. If you’ve found a familiar net in your hands and the Savior off in the distance, jump ship! Jettison the past. Swim to the shores of grace. He’s eager to re-commission you.

This reading in its entirety can be found in the “Ridiculous” book and study guide.

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Week Five, Day Two

sbaker : October 21, 2014 4:00 am

I want to be a Jesus-follower completely in love with him and not the world. Sunday’s sermon and yesterday’s reading was a reminder that ridiculous love has a cautionary side. Scripture clearly warns us not to love the world. Six hundred years before the time of Jesus, Daniel and his three godly friends understood the prohibition of not loving the world. How is that possible? The answer is rather simple. These young men understood the timeless character of God.

Our choices matter. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah grasped that truth. In spite of the fall of Jerusalem, in spite of the victory of Babylon over Israel, in spite of the exile from the Promised Land into a pagan culture, and in spite of all the evidence that seemed to support the conclusion that the gods of Babylon were superior to the God of Israel, there remained an unshakeable confidence on the part of these four young men in the sovereign God of the universe. Daniel and his friends were persuaded that “the Lord gave” Israel into the hands of Babylon (Daniel 1:2). King Nebuchadnezzar did not take Judah from King Jehoiakim. God alone did that. Because four fearless men believed in God, they made choices that supported their convictions. What non-world-loving choices did they make? Let me identify two.

First, they chose not to allow their name change to alter their character. The four brave-hearts of Judah chose to remain faithful to who they were. Notice with me that each of the four inherits a new name. Daniel becomes Belteshazzar, Hananiah becomes Shadrach, Mishael becomes Meshach, and Azariah becomes Abednego. Each name shift was intended to seduce and to brainwash these young men. Daniel means “God is my judge,” but Belteshazzar means “Bel protects the king.” Bel, obviously, is a reference to a pagan god. Hananiah means “the Lord is gracious,” but Shadrach means “Aku is in command.” That is another reference to a pagan god. Mishael means “Who is like the Lord?” but Meshach means, “Who is like Aku?” Lastly, Azariah means “the Lord is my helper,” but Abednego means “servant of Nego,” a Babylonian god of vegetation. There is not the slightest hint in the narrative that the changing of their names shrank their faithfulness to the God of gods and the Lord of lords.

Second, they chose to honor God with their everyday choices. In this specific case, they chose not to indulge in foods that the Old Testament Law clearly prohibited (Leviticus 11). We don’t know the specific foods the four rejected, but what we do know is that God blessed their faith and obedience by moving favorably in the heart of those pagan leaders who were entrusted to care for all the captives (Daniel 1:9).

Choices matter. Ask William Wilberforce. His father died when young William was only nine years old, and his mother became seriously ill. Wilberforce was sent to live with an aunt and uncle who were Jesus-followers. Seeds of faith were planted in his heart, but soon he returned home and backslid into a life that embraced the world and all of its seductions. Providentially, William met several people who were marked with faith in Christ, including John Newton, the former slave trader and now apprentice to Jesus Christ. Slowly but steadily, Wilberforce became motivated by love for God and love for others, especially love for the oppressed. His long and courageous fight on the floor of the British Parliament ended slavery in the British Empire. He dared to be a Daniel and dared to stand alone. Ridiculous love is like that when it embraces the cross and not the world.

This reading in its entirety can be found in the “Ridiculous” book and study guide.

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Week Five, Day One

sbaker : October 20, 2014 4:00 am

In the end, they chose the tree. And why not? It was so accessible, and they were hungry. Besides, the tree offered a variety of fruit that they had never tasted before. Further still, this tree was unlike any other, located as it was in the middle of the garden with the biggest branches and most appealing fruit. Then, there was the testimony of the snake. He said that anyone who ate the fruit of this particular tree would be as smart as God and as good as God. So Adam and Eve loved the tree, ate the fruit, and lost it all!

Why does the Bible tell us not to fall in love with the world or the things of the world (I John 2:15a)? It teaches this because Satan hasn’t changed his strategy much since our first created ancestors inhabited this globe. His goal is to get us to fall in love with the world because, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father in not in him.” (I John 2:15b). Jesus would later say, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Matthew 6:24) In other words, you have to choose who you are going to love: God or the world. It can’t be both.

Enter Satan and let the seduction begin. Let’s get this clear, the devil is doing everything within his power (which is limited, but strong) to make us choose the world. As we said, his strategy hasn’t changed; it just manifests itself in different ways. Primarily, our enemy uses our appetite, our sight, and our pride to lure us into an adulterous relationship of loving the world. Or, as the apostle says, we are lured into “…the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life…” (I John 2:16).

God is calling us to have a “ridiculous” non-love of the world and things in it. College students who love the Father will likely get ridiculed for not feeding the worldly appetite of drinking, sex, and thrill seeking. Executives who love the Father more than promotions and fancy cars may get ridiculed for how out of touch they are. Church goers who love God by serving behind the scenes, without the need for recognition, may get ridiculed for being plain and boring. But this rejecting of worldly things is ridiculous only if you have not embraced the ridiculous love of Jesus. For those who have, there is nothing in this world that can compete with the love of God in Christ Jesus. As it turns out, Jesus is not only our Savior, but our example in loving God.

In the end, He chose the Father. And why not? He had the power to make stones into bread, but He was truly nourished only through relationship with the Father. He clearly saw the riches of the world for what they were, cheap imitations of the glory of heaven. He knew He could have caused a spectacular scene by jumping from the temple’s corner, but He lived to bring glory to God. Yes, the snake was there, telling his same old snake lies. But, in the end, Jesus loved God more than the world, and He gained it all.

This reading in its entirety can be found in the “Ridiculous” book and study guide.

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Week Four, Day Six

sbaker : October 18, 2014 4:00 am

It is spiritual-exercise-Saturday. Today’s Christian discipline is confession. The primary word in the New Testament for this practice is “homologia.” It literally means to “say the same thing.” It involves taking what is hidden in us and declaring it publicly. In other words, there is something good and right about the practice of confessing our sins. Confession means to agree with what God has already said about us—that we are broken, sinful, and in need of the kind of repair that only He can give. Confession involves saying it aloud to someone. For example, when those large crowds came out to John the Baptist in the wilderness to hear him proclaim the Kingdom of God, they confessed their sins to him as they were being baptized (Matthew 3:6; Mark 1:5).

Admittedly, there are two other kinds of confessions in the Scriptures. First, there is the kind of confession that declares faith in Christ. (Matthew 10:32; Luke 12:38; I John 4:15) There is, also a third kind of confession that we don’t often consider. There is something we would call a confession of praise. (Matthew 11:25; Luke 10:21)

The kind of confession we are talking about on this Saturday sets us free from the overwhelming burden of hiding anger, resentment, hate, and other self-destructive, sinful behavior. Our video teaching this week on Elisha’s response to the Syrians (II Kings 6) who wished him harm is at the heart of our exercise today. So, let’s work up a holy sweat.

1. Who are your Syrians? Who has hurt you? Who has pestered and provoked you? Who, in return, have you harmed and been Syrian-like toward? Don’t hurry this. Name them. Who have you thought of as an enemy? Speak that name or names aloud to God.

2. If you have a trusted friend in whom you can speak confidentially, confess to them these feelings of anger and hurt. Anger and hurt are not sinful, but can lead to sin. The real enemy, Satan, can twist them and use them to his advantage. Confession is the way out.

3. Most of us do not forgive easily or quickly. To put it in Jesus-like terms, “It is hard to bless those who curse you.” It is hard to love our enemies. Spend some time reflecting on what has made this particular person or persons hard for you to forgive. Why do you continue to carry this in your heart?

4. Give careful reflection to I John 1:8-10. What part have we played in harboring ill-will toward another? Again, there is a way out of that spiritual quicksand. It is called confession.

5. Remember that the main plot line of the center Gospel narrative from Genesis to Revelation is God’s defeat of evil and the establishment of a new heaven and a new earth. Our enemy is Satan, mortally wounded at the cross and ultimately defeated at Christ’s final consummation. Our enemy is not the dad who may have abused us or the mother who was incapable of showing affection, or the uncle who did unspeakable things, etc. Our enemy is the devil and his forces (Ephesians 6:12ff).

6. Perhaps a prayerful reading of Proverbs 25:21-22 would help us on this Saturday’s workout routine. Paul quotes this in Romans 12:20 while the insane and demonic Nero was on the throne. Don’t miss this. The wise person finds in himself what he condemns in others and confesses it openly. That’s how ridiculous love is shared with an enemy.

This reading in its entirety can be found in the “Ridiculous” book and study guide.

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Week Four, Day Five

sbaker : October 17, 2014 4:00 am

Many years ago, I was on a flight home from a great mission trip. I was in that sweet spot of exhaustion and exhilaration, reminiscing about God’s work in and through me. In a quick glance across the aisle, I locked eyes with a man in his late fifties who had a similar countenance about him. After a cordial “hello” and a few pleasantries, he began to tell me about his family and the son he “once had.” My inquisitive look propelled him into a story of loss that he us both in tears.

This man was a pastor in a small town. On a regular study day in his office, his two boys were heading home from school on their bus route. When let off at their stop, the brothers bounded out of the bus toward home. The older crossed in front of the bus while the younger stopped in front of the bus to tie his shoe. Then…the unthinkable happened. The bus driver closed the door and lurched forward to the next drop-off, unaware of the boy hunkered down next to the front bumper. In a flash, the bus crushed the little boy to death.

Wiping the tears from my eyes, I could see the father was eager to continue his story with an incredible mixture of grief and joy. He explained that he was only blocks from the accident and was the first to embrace the bloody little body of his baby boy. Kneeling down in the street, he was overcome with emotion and cried out to God. In a moment of sweet surrender, he began to worship God! Oblivious to what was happening around him, he sang praises to God and spoke of His character and love. As he did, the crowds gathered around in astonishment.

That very day before the bus driver could be ridiculed, shamed, and plagued with guilt, the father sent her a bouquet of flowers with a kind note of forgiveness and grace. Instead of a lawsuit, she was offered mercy. Instead of receiving hate, she was overcome with a wave of unexpected love. The father privately and publicly expressed grace to the very woman who took the life of his son. And the people responded by the hundreds to the grace of God as He used a hope-filled funeral to draw people to Himself.

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” (Romans 12:14)

“Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.” (Romans 12:17)

“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God…if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink…” (Romans 12:19-20)

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)

Let’s bring this home to where you and I live. This section of Scripture is an astonishing assault to the “get mad and get even” mentality of our society. The very contrast highlights a kingdom value that is demonstrated best by the King Himself! God the Father leads by example both then and now. He continues to beckon us to resemble Him and represent Him as we ridiculously love even those who don’t love us. As you continue to wrestle with the concepts of this chapter, look for opportunities to love those that threaten, oppose, and harm you. Your reaction to their aggression might be their first glance at our Glorious God.

This reading in its entirety can be found in the “Ridiculous” book and study guide.

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Week Four, Day Four

sbaker : October 16, 2014 4:00 am

“And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and He wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels. Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting, you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out” (Ephesians 6:10-18 from The Message).

Our life as followers of Christ is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels. Do we really believe this is for eternity? Gary Witherall came face to face with that question in 2002 as a missionary in Lebanon with his wife Bonnie. Gary received a frantic call from a friend to come quickly to the local medical clinic. Bonnie had just been shot. When Gary arrived, he tried to get into the room where Bonnie was being attended. Dozens of soldiers pushed him back and eventually wrestled him down to the ground in order to keep him from seeing his beloved wife. He was then told that a Muslim extremist had shot and killed her.

Gary was placed in another room in order to give him some time to absorb Bonnie’s death. Anger and frustration stirred inside of him. As Gary was crying his heart out in the room, he heard a still, small voice very clearly saying, “Gary, there’s a seed planted in your heart today. That seed can grow into hatred or bitterness, or it can grow into love and forgiveness. Choose!” At the memorial for his wife, he told the world press, “I forgive this man because Jesus has forgiven me.” Gary, because of the ridiculous love shown to him by Jesus, chose to forgive and to show that same ridiculous love to his wife’s murderer. The Gospel was preached powerfully in Lebanon and throughout the world that day because of the ridiculous love Gary shared.

Spend a couple of minutes going back through the Ephesians 6 passage. Let’s allow the Word of truth to remind us who our real enemy is. Those in strategic opposition to us are not made of flesh and blood. Make some space for interceding on behalf of those who live in opposition to Jesus. Find creative ways to BLESS them this week. The acrostic will help us. Begin by praying for them. Listen to their stories and their needs. Eat with them. Jesus often ate with those were in opposition to Him. Serve them. This is where the ridiculous love of Christ can make all the difference. Share your story and the Story of Good News with them. Spiritual warfare doesn’t have to lead to hate and resentment. It can be the way into authentically sharing the ridiculous love of Jesus.

This devotion in its entirety can be found in the “Ridiculous” book and study guide.

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Week Four, Day Three

sbaker : October 15, 2014 4:00 am

On a road trip this past spring, I read an obscure and remarkable story from the seventh chapter of II Kings to my family. Imagine the scene as I pleaded with our teens to unplug from the familiarity of their i-Pods in order to read an entire chapter of the Old Testament!

Imagine the intensity of famine that would lead a couple of mothers to discuss which of their kids would be boiled and eaten first (see II Kings 6:24-33)! To be inside the gates of a city ravaged by this level of scarcity would be the second scariest place I can think of…the first is to be banished to the wrong side of that city’s gate. This is where the lepers of the city found themselves. In good times, those suffering souls would survive on the scraps from those inside the city. But how few scraps would have been offered to those outcasts when those inside the gates were talking of eating children? In II Kings 7:3-4, we read of their plight and their plan: “Why are we sitting here until we die? If we say, ‘Let us enter the city, the famine is in the city, and we shall die there.’ And if we sit here, we die also. So now come, let us go over to the camp of the Syrians. If they spare our lives we shall live, and if they kill us, we shall but die.’” Gathering their courage and strength, the four lepers set out for the enemy territory of the Syrians with a glimmer of hope for survival.

What the lepers didn’t know was that Elisha had already prophesied that the famine would turn to feasting within a day (II Kings 7:1-3). They were completely unaware that they would be used to bring good news to those who had ostracized and discarded them. Desperation drove them to pursue the improbable rather than awaiting the inevitable.

When they had come to the outskirts of the Syrian camp, they were shocked to find that camp abandoned, “For the Lord had made the army of the Syrians hear the sound of chariots and of horses, the sound of a great army, so that they said to one another, ‘Behold, the king of Israel has hired against us the kings of the Hittites and the kings of Egypt to come against us.’ So they fled away in the twilight and abandoned their tents, their horses, and their donkeys, leaving the camp as it was, and fled for their lives.’” (II Kings 7:6-7) This left an abundance of food, drink, and valuables for the lepers to devour and stockpile. Everything the people of Samaria needed was just outside the walls they had built up around them, but they were completely unaware. The walls that were built for self-preservation became a self-imposed prison as they slowly starved. While it was still night, the lepers returned to the gate with the good news of provision beyond measure. Ultimately, the prophecy was fulfilled, and the famine turned to feasting in a single day!

We have an inexhaustible supply of everything we need in Jesus Christ. And if we are subject to our selfish nature, we’ll seek to hoard it while people go hungry. But we have been changed by the love of Christ. By God’s grace, we’ll even take the good news to those who have rejected us, in hopes that they will not reject Christ. The famine has turned into a feast. Get the word out!

This reading in its entirety can be found in the “Ridiculous” book and study guide.

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