The warning didn’t stop there. She told us that a teddy bear cactus could actually leap toward us if we moved too close to it. My mind was spinning trying to envision this man-eating cactus that might attempt to chase me up the path. Apparently, this type of cactus has stems that disconnect quite easily. The spines have barbs that burrow into the muscle fiber and make it painfully difficult to remove. Needless to say, we spent our hike looking more closely for a loose teddy bear cactus stem than we did watching for rattlesnakes.
I’m grateful for the warning about the cactus and even more grateful for the warnings we find in scripture: “Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: ‘Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs’” (Luke 12:1-3).
The danger of hypocrisy is how it can lead people astray. It can fool and blind those who are unable to discern. The teddy bear cactus appears to be soft and cuddly, but in reality, it is harmful to us. The Pharisees Jesus warned about were guilty of hypocrisy, and in His kindness, Jesus warned His followers.
Warnings found throughout scripture are there to guide and protect us. They are filled with God’s love, mercy, kindness, compassion, and blessing. Sometimes we hear warnings and choose to ignore them. Sometimes we disbelieve there’s true danger. But when we believe we are hearing a warning from God, we can focus on His nature and character. He loves and cares for us. He desires us to follow truth and not find ourselves at the hands of deception or a prickly, barbed cactus.
In order to strengthen our discernment muscles we can do two things: pray and read the Bible regularly. God delights in answering our requests to become greater discerners in a culture filled with competing ideas to Biblical truth. The more time we spend soaking in God’s Word, the more equipped we are to spot hypocrisy when it presents itself to us. We must be on our guard as Jesus warned us.
As I reflected back to our hike among the prickly teddy bear cacti, I found myself overwhelmed with gratitude for God’s faithful warning and protection. He kept me safe from a plant that appeared soft and cuddly but in reality would pierce my skin and cause severe pain. His heart is to keep us on the safe path. His “word is a lamp for our feet, a light on our path” (Psalm 119:105). On His safe path, we can trust that little by little we will see growth.
Memory Verse: “Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position.” 2 Peter 3:17 NIV
After hours of feasting and good-natured family friendly competition the evening came to a close and we found ourselves exhausted and happily cleaning up leftovers. How could leftovers be possible when I had not purchased enough food for our hungry crowd?
Have you ever found yourself in a position where you had little to give but God turned it into exactly what was needed?
Luke 9:10-17 reminds us of a time when Jesus did just that. Jesus and his apostles had spent some time in the villages of Galilee preaching the Good News and healing the sick. They were tired and were in need of rest so they slipped away toward the town of Bethsaida seeking solace. As the apostles were telling Jesus of their adventures in ministry they noticed a crowd following him.
Despite his need for rest and rejuvenation, Jesus welcomed the crowd and continued teaching and healing. As the afternoon faded into evening the apostles begged for Jesus to send the crowd away so the masses could get food and lodging before nightfall. At this point Jesus stunned the disciples with three simple words, “You feed them” (Lk 9:13 NLT). Collectively they came up with a decent excuse to offer the Lord—we don’t have enough food!
Luke 9:13 explains that there were only five loaves and two fish. Clearly this measly amount would not be enough to feed the crowd of over 5,000 who were gathered. As Jesus organized the people into small groups and gave thanks for the small picnic, he made sure that every person there was not only fed, but fully satisfied. After the meal, the disciples filled twelve baskets of leftovers!
God takes the little we have to offer Him and increases it to fulfill his purposes.
Are you feeling tired, weary or drained but the day hasn't even started yet? Or maybe the weekend is too far away to think about? Offer what you have to the Lord. He can take the meager bits that you hold in your hands and turn it into something more useful and productive than you could have imagined. Is there an area in your life when you feel like there is never enough money, time, focus, energy, effort, appreciation or compassion?
Ask God to take your sparse supply and supernaturally upsize it! When we offer God the little that we have and trust him with it, he does the miraculous! And don’t be surprised if you have baskets of leftovers; He specializes in abundance!
Memory verse: “And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” 2 Corinthians 9:8 NIV
Would my weary head ever hit the pillow?
My heart was so overwhelmed and my thoughts couldn’t keep quiet any longer. I surprised myself when I heard my tired confession. “I have nothing left to give you, Jesus!” I blurted out. That deep frustration bubbled up to the surface and forced its way out of my mouth.
In my moment of overwhelming defeat, I felt incredibly vulnerable. I didn’t realize how hard I had been trying to manage my day. I didn’t realize how helpless I felt on the inside. I didn’t realize how tired I was. It wasn’t the end of my day yet, but it felt like the end of something. Like the woman at the well in the city of Sychar, which translates to “end,” I had come to the end of myself.
The Samaritan woman went to the well at the hottest part of the day to avoid seeing other people. And yet Jesus went out of His way to meet her. Jews did not associate with Samaritans. But still the Messiah spoke straight to her heart. In a moment when she least expected grace and mercy, she received both in abundance.
In my own “woman at the well” moment, God spoke to my heart. He reminded me that I don’t have to muster up strength to meet with him. I simply offer my heart and he meets me in my mess. He knows my weaknesses and shortcomings. And just like Jesus visited the woman at the well at noontime, He visited me at lunchtime when I didn’t know how I was going to get through my day or put food on plates. When I had nothing left, Jesus reminded me that his strength is sufficient in my weakness. His love and forgiveness for the woman at the well shows me that his love and forgiveness for me not only redeems me, but gives me the strength to keep going.
Jesus’ invitation to drink from the living water extends to every tired mother in the noontime hour or any other hour of need. Have you ever felt stuck in a cycle of sin or shame? Maybe your burden was so heavy that you went out of your way to avoid others? When we receive the living water, the Holy Spirit, we can be filled to overflow for our people. But it all starts with Jesus. Nothing inside of me is strong enough to make it to 5’oclock. It is only from His living water, the Holy Spirit (John 7:37-39), that I can drink and not become thirsty.
Jesus knows us at our most vulnerable; He sees the secret parts and loves us more than we can fathom, just like the Samaritan woman. Not only does He see us, but He offers His Holy Spirit to fill us up. Do you need encouragement? Are you weary? Remind yourself of this powerful truth today. Jesus meets us right where we are! Yes, He meets us in our sin, shame, and self-defeat. He meets us at the end of ourselves, whether in the noontime or midnight hour, and offers the living water to sustain us.
The next time you feel like throwing your hands up in defeat, lift them just a little higher, look up to where your help comes from, and ask Jesus to give you a drink of living water.
Memory Verse: “Jesus answered, ‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’” John 4:13-14 NIV
I ran to get the ruby necklace and put it on. The little necklace helped me get my bearings and remember not only who I am but who I am created to be. It gave me the courage to go to God and ask for forgiveness. Simply remembering changed the course of the entire day. Knowing who we are changes how we live.
Even Jesus’ ministry started with God declaring Jesus’ identity.
In Matthew 3:16, immediately before beginning His ministry, Jesus approached John to be baptized. When Jesus came up out of the water, God the Father declared, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased” (Matthew 3:17).
Immediately after God’s declaration, Matthew 4 tells us Jesus was led into the desert to be tempted. After forty days of fasting, the devil came to him and questioned Jesus’ identity saying, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread” (Matthew 4:3). That statement was an attempt to get Jesus to question His identity and then feel the need to prove who He was. Jesus was so firmly established in who He was, He felt no need to prove Himself. Instead Jesus replied in verse 4, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Bringing Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple, Satan once again tempted him to prove Himself in verse 6 saying, “If you are the Son of God... throw yourself down.” Jesus answered, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” (Mt 4:7). He again did not succumb to the temptation to prove Himself because His identity was firmly established. The Father’s truth was stronger than the fleshly need.
That little necklace reminded me of who I am and helped me resist the temptation to act like who I am not. Whenever I get a bit testy, I have found I am often trying to protect a piece of my threatened identity, but when I remember who I am to God, that need dissipates.
You may not have a little necklace to remind you of what is true, but remembering who we are has the power to change us. We will act like who we believe we are. Because of Jesus’ death on the cross, through Him we are:
We do not need to prove who we are because God has already declared it. As His children, we get to live in the identity HE has given us.
Memory Verse: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” I Peter 2:9 NIV
My husband had been so gentle and patient with me, even after I had come down on him like a ton of bricks. I knew I had to apologize. As I drove into the parking lot, I saw him standing there, propped up against his car. He had already dropped off my girls in their Sunday school classrooms but he had come back for me. I was pleasantly surprised to see him. Stepping out of the car, I apologized and I asked him, “Why did you wait on me?” Taking my hand, he looked me in the eyes and said, “I thought maybe you needed me.”
As the people came to understand what Ezra was preaching, they also understood they had sinned. They were ashamed, but their remorse was a promising sign. Ezra then tells them to get up, and celebrate. Yes, you read that correctly.
These are Jesus’ words: “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” (Luke 15:7)
Heaven celebrates when you repent! Jesus is telling us that repentance is an act of humbling ourselves, and admitting a desperate need for a savior. If God never shed light on our sin, how would we be able to fix it? If you don’t know what there is to be sorry for, you can’t deliver a proper apology. When we are able to acknowledge our sin, and bring it to God, the Holy Spirit works on our hearts, bringing us into a deeper relationship with Him.
This is what Ezra wanted the people to understand. Not only was the wall accomplished, but when they acknowledged their sins, it showed God had been up to something bigger. He had worked on their hearts.
Why did he say not to mourn? Didn’t they need to feel sorry for what they had done? Yes, and they did! But there is a difference between repenting and dwelling. When we dwell on our sin, we can become discouraged. Repentance is not just about our sins, it is more so about our need for Jesus Christ, who indeed paid for all sin.
To dwell means to “live in.” We were not meant to live in our past mistake. We are told by Jesus Himself to live in Him: “Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me” (John 15:4).
Repentance is a sure sign that the Holy Spirit has not left you, sister; it means that the Spirit is working in you! Come to Jesus, the one who has the power to take away all sin. He is waiting for you and He is glad to see you. You are never too far gone for His love. Dwell in Jesus and celebrate with Him!
Memory Verse: “For the Lord your God is gracious and compassionate. He will not turn his face from you if you return to him.” 2 Chronicles 30:9b NIV