How could the ones who spent three years living with Jesus not realize He was standing right in front of them? In John 20, when Mary arrived at the tomb, she couldn’t recognize the true Jesus because she had her mind set on a lifeless version. Our expectations of what we think God will look like, what He will do, as well as when and how he will work and move can cloud our vision so that even when we are in His presence, we are “ever seeing but never perceiving…” (Mark 4:12) who He really is.
Mary wasn’t alone in missing the real Jesus because she was busy looking for an expected one.
Herod was looking for a Jesus that would impress him (Luke 23:8).
Pilate looked for a Jesus that would explain himself (John 18:35).
The crowd looked for a Jesus that would wield political power (Matt 27:18).
The Pharisees and Sadducees looked for a Jesus that would do what they told him (Matt 12:38).
Nicodemus looked for a Jesus that would fit into his religious tradition (John 3:4).
The disciples on the road to Emmaus looked for a Jesus they could understand (Luke 24:21)
And, like Mary, I’ve often looked for a Jesus that looked the same as He did last time I saw Him (John 20:15). If I’m honest, I can think of a few different ways I, too, have asked the Living God for a dead one.
The only person in these chapters that recognized Jesus for who He truly is, was the centurion who declared “Surely he was the Son of God” (Matt 27:54). Unlike everyone else, he had no expectation and wasn’t looking for Jesus at all. Rather than looking for Jesus as He imagined Him to be, this man looked directly at him, and saw Him as He was. Unlike everyone chasing a counterfeit Jesus, this man saw the real thing and wasn’t disappointed.
The nature of our God is the same yesterday, today and forever, but that doesn’t mean He’s predictable. We can depend on His unchanging faithfulness, but we’ll miss Him entirely if we expect Him to always show up the way we assume He will. If you’re struggling to see God’s hand in your life, ask Him to reveal to you any expectations that may subtly be sketching a counterfeit savior that conceals the real One. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we can surrender these expectations and simply gaze at Jesus as He is with no imposed filter. When we no longer look for God to fit conveniently into a predictable image like Waldo, we’ll find He’s more alive and infinitely closer than we ever thought possible. Let’s surrender our expectations, and be ready for God to reveal who He truly is.
Memory Verse: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13 NIV
I tend to want to serve God in ways that would bless me if I were Him, maybe you do, too. But we are not Him. Our thoughts aren’t His thoughts, and our ways are definitely not His ways.
In reading Exodus 40 and the detailed account of what God desired in the tabernacle’s construction, I’m sure it didn’t all make sense to Moses. Building and setting up the lampstand, altar, courtyard, and other utensils required huge amounts of time, resources and attention to detail. Moses carried out all of these commands, including hanging the massive, ornate curtain that would shield God’s presence from the people.
Through faithful obedience, he unknowingly constructed an earthly picture of the throne room of heaven. Hanging a curtain that would one day be torn in two was not a waste of Moses’ time or material, it was preparation for heaven’s grand declaration of love to humanity through the cross. Moses obediently hung a curtain that Jesus would obediently tear in two. Keeping the commands of God with this kind of trust and surrender is how we declare to God our love for Him. It’s a physical representation of our faith in His sovereignty, goodness, and promises.
Following instructions we understand requires logic, but following instructions we don’t understand requires faith. God isn’t pleased when we carry out our own ideas of what His plan for us should be. He simply asks us to do what He says. When we trust Him over our own understanding, it blesses Him and deepens our relationship with Him.
Turns out, it wasn’t a photo backdrop God was after, it was His daughter’s heart. He desired her willingness to construct it just because He asked her to. And Him revealing more of who He is to me made the experience more than worth it.
If you’re facing a task today that has you scratching your head, be encouraged. We may not understand the assignment, but obediently doing the work needed to finish it will surely result in a deeper understanding of our loving Instructor. He isn’t after what we can do for Him, He is after our hearts.
Memory Verse: “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” John 14:21 NIV
We don’t truly know something until we experience it and it becomes part of us. 1 John emphasizes the means by which we can know what love is, and knowing when it’s become who we are. He wrote to believers who were surrounded by false teaching, who had begun to lose sight of what, and Who, they believed; their confusion was evident in how they acted. He repeatedly used the phrase “This is how we know…” followed by actions done either by God or us.
Until we truly know and experience God’s love, the world around us will never learn it through us. Here are just a few of his examples of knowing that come from doing:
“This is how we know we are in him...” 1 John 2:5
“This is how we know what love is…” 1 John 3:16
“This is how we know that we belong to the truth…” 1 John 3:19
“This is how we know that He lives in us…” 1 John 3:24
“This is how we know that we love the children of God…” 1 John 5:2
“This is how God showed his love…” 1 John 4:9
I encourage you to pause and re-read the second half of each of these statements. Each one describes the means by which we can know a truth about God and ourselves. And each “how” phrase is followed by an action. Not once does this knowing come by what God said or what we say.
We know who God is by what He has done and is doing, not just by what He said. We know who we are by what we do and how we obey. This knowledge isn’t intellectual, but experiential.
Jesus said the world would know us by our love. Not by what we know about love, say about love, or what we post about love, but by how we actually love.
What God says about His love for us is only the tip of the iceberg of what He does to show us. His words have weight and depth because of His acts of sending His son, walking this earth, and dwelling and working in us.
What do your actions say about your love? Anyone can talk about love, but only the Spirit of God in us can teach us and enable us to demonstrate true and active love. The shallow love we offer others in our own strength is a false one. Ask Him to teach you how you are loved and how to love those around you. And be ready for each lecture to be accompanied by a lab session that changes who you are.
This is how they will know love: when we move from being clanging symbols, clattering about it with our mouths and social media accounts, to actually becoming it. Spirit, teach us to love, we want to truly know.
Memory Verse: “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3:18 (NIV)
The Acts of the apostles were acts of obedience in the midst of uncertainty. Since we know the endings of these famous followers’ stories, we can forget it wasn’t easy for them to trust God in the middle. Peter wasn’t a “yes man”; in fact, he had a bad habit of arguing with Jesus.
“No, you’ll never wash my feet,”
“I’ll never let that happen to you,”
“I’ll never deny you,” and
“I’ll never eat that”
These were just a few of his headstrong responses to Jesus’ directions. Yet by Acts 12, we find him wholly obedient despite being half awake. Each experience taught him that however unclear the reason for the request is, saying yes to Jesus is always worth it.
I’m so glad we said yes before we understood how or why. Ours is a God who reveals Himself gradually. He builds our faith by requesting obedience before offering an explanation or guaranteeing an outcome. This method requires trust and a closeness that ushers us into a deeper relationship with Him.
In hindsight, Peter could tell you that abandoning his religious traditions was worth learning the truth of God’s heart for all people, and that he’s glad he formed a habit of obedience so strong that he could do it in his sleep. In my own story, I can tell you that God moved us here because there was a non-profit organization He planned to start through us, as well as providing an amazing church family we didn’t even know we needed— and a level of trusting I didn’t realize was possible. But two years ago, the only reason to say yes was because He asked us to. And that was enough because He is trustworthy.
I’m convinced people with great faith don’t understand God’s plan better than anyone else, they’ve just learned that understanding isn’t a prerequisite to walking it out. If we wait to move until everything makes sense, we’ll never do anything.
We walk by faith, not by hindsight.
If we wait until the fog lifts, we’ll miss the growth that comes from clinging to the hand of the One who sees past it. Tomorrow we’ll have hindsight; today we have His hand. And that’s enough and infinitely better.
When God tore the curtain, He ripped through every social circle layer and hierarchy of people preference, leaving nothing but complete access to Himself to everyone who believes. And He doesn’t just allow us to come close because He’s nice and feels sorry for us. Before you were born, God intentionally carved out a place not just near Him, but in Him, and He in you. He has the scars to prove it.
Did you notice that on Jesus’ last day on earth He surrounded Himself with previously distant people? You’d expect the needs of His darkest hours to be met by His best friends and family, but on the road to the cross, it was a complete stranger, not Peter, who helped Him carry it. And as He hung there, a criminal, not James or John, would be by His side, sharing His last conversation and encouraging Him with his last-minute faith. And it wasn’t his family who carefully took His body down and buried it. That role was filled by two men He’d once called whitewashed tombs themselves.
He didn’t allow these people to draw near and touch Him just because they happened to be around. Those interactions were planned since the beginning of time. Isaiah 53 prophesied that Jesus would die with the wicked and be buried with the rich. He loved that criminal and those rich, religiously elite men. He allowed distant people to minister to Him because He wanted them close. He didn’t want fear, guilt, shame, or pride to keep them from drawing near. He gave them their strength, words, spices, and tomb so they could come close enough to hand them back to Him.
The same is true for us. We’ve been entrusted with the resources and gifts we have on purpose and were chosen to live in this time on purpose. You are essential to the body of Christ. There’s a place for you. Not on the street admiring from afar, but in a seat next to Him.
This is the good news. Jesus doesn’t have an “inner circle only” policy because He only has an inner circle. He’s the same yesterday, today, and forever. And since He paid what it cost to demolish the barriers between Himself and every human heart 2,000 years ago, He doesn’t want anything to keep you from Him today.
If you’ve been allowing other people’s gifts and abilities to intimidate you and paralyze you in fear, recognize that their proximity to Him doesn’t exclude you. He’s made you worthy and wants you close, so pull up your seat at His table.
Here the blacksmith painstakingly uses his God-given abilities and resources to construct a godless image and then bows down to it in utter blindness. The people worshipped figures of fake gods, then in chapter 52 would reject and disfigure the Real One.
It’s easy to look down on Israel’s clinging to little statues until I realize how tight my own grip is on that relationship I formed, or the reputation I so painstakingly built. We create and worship our appearance, jobs, bank accounts, reputations, bodies, relationships, status, and possessions, calling it “The American Dream” instead of the idolatry that it is. Idols are rarely as obvious as a household shrine or statue. In fact, the most dangerous ones are subtle and virtually undetectable. Like the blacksmith, we’re blind to the fact that we’ve become slaves to the things we created, serving them rather than using them to serve the true God.
Isaiah 44:20 says the idolater feeds on ashes, misled by his deluded heart. He can’t save himself or even tell that what he is worshipping is counterfeit. But this chapter is tucked between others describing the coming One who would free us from the bondage of clinging to fake gods. He alone is able to search our hearts when we’re too blind to search them ourselves and can reveal where we’ve exchanged His truth for lies. He’s the God who answers by fire, consuming the idols that stand between us and Him if only we call out and invite Him.
God has created us with the capacity to serve only one master, and the freedom to choose who that master will be. One of the best ways to distinguish an instrument from an idol is to assess our reaction upon its removal. When an instrumentis taken away I can still sing an acapella song of praise. When an idolis removed, it causes distress because my made-to-worship heart is lost without its object of adoration.
Jesus wants to set you free today from anything holding you in bondage. Allow Him to show you any created things in your life that have become idols.
If the throne of our hearts is not intentionally and daily reserved for Jesus alone, we will allow the things we’ve built with our own hands to sneak in, absorbing all of our misplaced worship. But if we use this sacred ability to create for its intended purpose of glorifying God, we will hold in our hands instruments of praise. Works that give melody to our song of faith and intensify lives of praise and worship of the One True God.
But it wasn’t just the food they despised— the Israelites complained about the leadership and land God provided for them also. Their desires caused them to look back fondly on Egypt as their source of provision, until they craved Egypt itself...forgetting they were slaves there.
The craving for “other food” wasn’t just the whining of spoiled children. It was the all out rejection of the Provider Himself, and led straight to death. In their flesh they craved flesh. And God answered their gluttonous complaints by providing so much quail they could swim in it. But with their indulgence came a deadly plague, followed by a burial ground they named “graves of craving.”
It isn’t wrong to crave good things, we were created to do that. The trouble is that apart from God, our taste buds completely misidentify what good even tastes like. The manna God blessed Israel with was intended to nourish and create an appetite for the One who gave it. Instead, their cravings were skewed, and they mistakenly identified slavery in Egypt as something to be desired, and loathed dependence on God’s faithful daily provision.
You and I? We’re not that different. I hate that the longings of my flesh have the potential to cloud my judgement until a life of oppression sounds delicious.
Like Eve reaching for the wrong tree, Israel begging for the wrong menu, and the crowd shouting “Barabbas,” in my flesh I’m prone to reject divine goodness. When our perspective has gotten that far off, and our taste that bad, only God himself can realign our appetites and remind us that He alone is good.
Thank God He has given us Himself, through Jesus, and offered freedom from our own “graves of cravings.” Through His power, we can choose to set our minds on what the Spirit desires, gaining victory over the rotten cravings of our flesh.
Every longing presents an opportunity to draw near to God and welcome His transforming work. We can’t desire God apart from the help of the Holy Spirit, but we can ask Him (daily and even hourly!) to give us an appetite for Him and for His Word.
He is the Bread of Life and the Living Water, and He promises not only to satisfy, but to accomplish in us the transformation necessary to savor Him above all else.
God saw every one of those tears and heard every one of the cries of His people, including Jochebed’s. God held Moses securely before his mother’s arms ever wrapped around him, and He never loosened his grip on Moses even when she was forced to loosen hers. When she placed her boy into that basket she had no idea that he would be miraculously drawn out of the Nile. She had no idea that he would be the one to lead all of Israel miraculously out of slavery as well.
No, she didn’t know the details, but she knew her God. So, she trusted Him despite her gut-wrenching loss. He rewarded her by placing Moses right back into her arms to raise duringthose early years, and even included her in the Hebrews 11 “Faith Hall of Fame.” He also used her son’s story to point to another baby, born into similar oppressive circumstances, who would also save His people— Jesus.
The truth is, our children were never meant to stay in our hands. As temporary caregivers, we’ve been chosen and entrusted with them to point them back to their Heavenly Father.
This gift of motherhood is wrapped with a million different opportunities to place both our children and our trust into the hands of the One in whom they belong. And every time we do, we develop a deeper understanding of the grace, love, and character of God. It’s the knowing of the One we trust that assures us that what is placed in His hands will be secure.
As a parent who has experienced the most painful separation from their child, He’s familiar with our struggle. Don’t forget that the Father’s heart was pierced right along with the hands of the Son. He knows what the weight of our surrender feels like. It’s His compassionate love that makes it possible for us to hold our children with open hands, exposing them to a river of grace. And in the process, we experience the freedom that comes with knowing that their security was never dependent on us.
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