Seven Days of Devotion
Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me."
I like the cartoon strip where Charlie Brown is doing woodwork in a shop when Lucy comes by and asks, "How's the birdhouse coming, Charlie Brown?" "Well," he sighs, "I'm a lousy carpenter, I can't nail straight, I can't saw straight, and I always split the wood. I'm nervous, I lack confidence, I'm stupid, I have poor taste, and absolutely no sense of design. So, all things considered… it's coming along okay."
You know, we're all a little like Charlie Brown. We fiddle with life, but at the end of the day, we see our frailties; we have insecurities. And marketers today know it. Entire industries thrive on exploiting our insecurities. Self-help authors promise to help you become the "champion within you." Skin products are promised to make you look and feel "younger," and exercise products will make you more "attractive." Everyone seems to be after that priceless gem of "self-esteem." But Jesus says that "if anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself." It's not self-esteem that the Lord requires -- it's self-denial.
The apostle Paul was quick to admit that when it came to self-denial, he was the worst. "If anyone thinks he may have confidence in the flesh," he wrote, "I more so" (Philippians 3:4). That's coming from a man who was stoned, imprisoned and persecuted for his unyielding faith in Christ. No doubt, self-denial does not come naturally. As humans, we tend to value "self" more than anything -- otherwise, self-denial would be easy! But how can we follow Christ if our eyes are fixed on ourselves? How can we be obedient to His will if we put value in our own?
You see, our insecurities and our frailties are not caused by a lack of self-esteem. We esteem ourselves naturally. And the longer you look at yourself, the more insecure you will become. The higher the pedestal you build for yourself, the less stable your footing will become, and the further you will fall. No, our frailties are caused by our lack of self-denial to the One by whom all things were created, and in whom is all power, wisdom, and strength! (Revelation 5:12) Jesus is able to do "exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think," according to His "power that works in us" (Ephesians 3:20) -- but we must give Him full control. We must deny ourselves.
Today, don't fall for the myth that says you need more "self-esteem." Esteem the Lord in your life, and He will "supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:19).
Why does God allow us to suffer?
Therefore the Egyptians set taskmasters over the Hebrews to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh supply cities, Pithom and Raamses. But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew. And they were in dread of the children of Israel. Exodus 1:11-12
Doesn't He have the power to prevent suffering in our lives? As a pastor, I've heard questions like these many times from wonderful people who are enduring incredible hardships. No doubt, these questions must have been common amongst the Hebrews as the Egyptians afflicted them, setting taskmasters over them to build supply cities for Pharaoh. But the greater the affliction, the stronger the Hebrews grew. The more the Egyptians tormented the Hebrews, the more the Hebrews multiplied. You see, God didn't cause their suffering, but He used it to strengthen them. Instead of granting them a time of peace as slaves, He prepared them for a lifetime of freedom.
Today, God is preparing us, as believers, for an eternity of freedom in Him. God allows us to endure tough times because they force us to rely on Him. They force us to finally let go of our self-reliance, our pride, and our stubbornness, and let Him do a work in our lives. No, adversity is not fun, and if you are experiencing tough times right now, my heart goes out to you. "In the world you will have tribulation," Jesus said, "but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33b).
Our hope as followers of Jesus Christ lies in that simple fact: He has overcome this world. Yes, we will struggle here on earth, but this is not our home, just as Egypt was not the Hebrews' home. We have the promise of eternal life with Christ, through His death and resurrection. He purposefully chose to endure some of the worst adversity anyone can imagine, not for His sake, but for ours -- and He overcame it. But He didn't die so that we might live prosperous, unhindered lives here on earth. There's nothing necessarily wrong with living a prosperous life, but Jesus died to give you something much greater: eternal life.
Does God have the power to prevent suffering in our lives? Yes -- He has the power to save us from an eternity of suffering. We must see the big picture as He sees it. In Him, we have hope that one day, we will live with Him where there is "no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying," and "there shall be no more pain" (Revelation 21:4). This world today, however, is broken because of sin. God didn't cause the sin -- we did -- but God, in His unknowable love, overcame that sin so that we might have hope.
When those moments of adversity seem unbearable, know that God is at work. Let Him strengthen you. Let Him be your hope. A better day is coming.
But Moses said to God, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?" So He said, "I will certainly be with you."
Have you ever faced a task so daunting, so overwhelming, that it paralyzed you with fear? Moses must have felt that way here. This was a man living in exile -- he had murdered an Egyptian and fled the land of Egypt; he didn't have the greatest reputation, to say the least. But this day, while tending his father-in-law's sheep in the desert, minding his own business, the Lord appeared to Moses in a burning bush and gave him an historic, monumental task: "Bring the children of Israel out of Egypt."
"What? Me?" he must have thought. Surely there were more spiritual people, more qualified people, and more respected people who could do the task. "Who am I?" he asks in Exodus 3:11, but the Lord would not be swayed. "Who shall I tell them sent me?" (3:13). "What if they don't believe me? What if they don't listen to me?" (4:1). Still, the Lord is not changing His mind. "But I am not eloquent!" (4:10). Moses pulls out every excuse he can think of, but they're not working. Finally, in desperation, Moses ditches the excuses and simply pleads for God to "please send someone else!" (4:13). But the Lord simply says to Moses, "I will certainly be with you."
You see, God's decision to use a slow-of-tongue, insecure, out-of-touch fugitive to deliver an entire nation might have been a surprise to Moses, but it shouldn't be a surprise to us. 1 Corinthians 1:27 says that "God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty." He uses insignificant people to do truly significant things. The Lord used a down-and-out man like Moses, rather than a great orator or spiritual leader, because at the end of the day, there would be no doubt who deserved the glory: God alone.
When God gives us a challenge that's over-the-top and outside our comfort zone, we shouldn't be surprised. We can make excuses the way Moses did, or we can choose to rely on the awesome power of God to be with us. Isaiah 41:10 says, "Fear not, for I am with you.... I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you; I will uphold you with My righteous right hand." God loves you more than you will ever comprehend, and when He gives you a challenge, He will not abandon you -- He will "certainly be with you."
Let me encourage you today to be obedient to the calling of God. Where He says go, be faithful to go. It may be a big step of faith, or a small one. But don't make excuses. Don't be overwhelmed or paralyzed by fear. Don't worry if you're "qualified," or "spiritual enough." God will do amazing things in and through your life -- if you will let Him!
Then Peter came to Jesus and said, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven."
Peter was the kind of guy who wore his heart on his sleeve. When Jesus walked on water, Peter was the only disciple gutsy enough to step out of the boat and join Him. When Jesus predicted His own death, Peter actually took Him aside and rebuked Him, saying, "This shall not happen to You!" (Matthew 16:22).
And when Jesus was about to die, Peter boldly stood up and proclaimed, "Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!" (Matthew 26:35). No doubt, he liked to make a big impression -- but as was the case in each of these instances, he often fell flat on his face.
You can imagine, then, what must have been going through Peter's mind when he asked Jesus how often he should forgive a brother who had sinned against him. "Up to seven times?" he proposed, half to Jesus and half to the disciples, whom he surely knew would be impressed by such a selfless recommendation on his part.
After all, it's not easy to forgive someone even once, much less seven times. Peter likely expected to hear Jesus say, "That's right, Peter. Very good." But not only was Jesus unimpressed; He shattered the disciples' very idea of forgiveness: "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven."
You see, Jesus was showing His disciples that forgiveness is not something you do, it's something by which you live. It's not a one-time good deed, or a seven-time good deed -- it is a lifelong pursuit. It is a constant commitment to "take up your cross" and follow Jesus; to deny yourself.
Jesus said, "Forgive, and you will be forgiven" (Luke 6:37b). Forgiveness is not easy, especially when you have been deeply hurt by someone. But you and I will never forgive anyone as much as Christ has forgiven us. We will never know the extent of His mercy to "forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9), much less His grace in making us "heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him" (James 2:5). If Christ can forgive us, we can forgive others.
Today, if someone in your life has caused you pain, let me encourage you to forgive them. Show them the mercy God has shown you. And if you have wronged someone, take the chance to ask forgiveness. May we become people who live to forgive, and who live forgiven.
And the LORD said to Moses,
"Why do you cry to Me?
Tell the children of Israel to go forward."
Leadership is never easy. If you've ever been in a place of leadership, you probably know what it feels like to have people second-guess your every decision, complain behind your back, and talk negatively about you. Can you imagine, then, how Moses must have felt, tasked to lead 1-2 million Israelites through the wilderness? And can you imagine the sheer panic that must have broken loose amongst the Israelites as they realized they were being pursued by the entire Egyptian army? Here they were, the Red Sea ahead of them, and Pharaoh's armies behind them. They feared for their lives; they were trapped.
Having spent the past 430 years in slavery, the Israelites had no experience in warfare. In fact, they probably possessed not a single sword, arrow, or combat weapon. And with so much at stake, not only did they complain to Moses, they actually accused him of wanting them killed. "Have you taken us away to die in the wilderness?" they cried to Moses (Exodus 14:11). Moses must have felt the weight of the world on his shoulders, but when he cried out to the Lord for direction, God said, "Why do you cry to Me? Go forward" (Exodus 14:15).
Moses simply needed a reminder: It was God who had "led the people by way...of the Red Sea" (Exodus 13:18). And it was God who "went before them...in a pillar of cloud...and a pillar of fire" (Exodus 13:21). Moses had embarked on a journey without even a map to follow -- his only task was, literally, to follow God. Each day, he pursued the pillar of cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night. His destination each day was not a city, landmark, or border -- it was the pillar, itself.
You see, not only does God lead us; He goes ahead of us. He doesn't just point us towards our destination -- He is our destination. When we live a life in pursuit of God, His will becomes our only aim, and His provision becomes our only need. When our eyes are fixed on the Lord Jesus Christ, we realize that we have no need to fear -- even when we feel trapped on all sides, because His "perfect love casts out fear" (1 John 4:18).
Sometimes we make following Christ more difficult than it needs to be, especially when we feel pressed on all sides. "How will I accomplish this? How will I pay for that?" Sometimes we complain about, and like the Israelites, even accuse others for our problems. And sometimes we are the ones, like Moses, being blamed. But just as the Lord led the Israelites across the Red Sea, so He wants to lead you through the trials you face in your life today. You must take your eyes off the oceans of problems before you, and make Him your only focus. Today, make Christ your destination, and, like Moses, "go forward."
Jesus said to [the Pharisees], "Have you never read in the Scriptures: 'The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the LORD's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes'?"
If someone you loved were in grave danger, wouldn't you rush to help them? Before even blinking an eye, you'd probably drop everything to rescue them from losing their life -- even if it meant losing your own. I think we all have people we love for whom we'd lay down our own lives to save. But would you do the same for someone who hated you? Would you stop at nothing to lay down your life for someone who had rejected, despised, and even tried to kill you? That's the sacrifice Jesus made.
In Matthew 21, we see Jesus talking with the very people who would be responsible for plotting His death -- the religious establishment; the Pharisees. Jesus knew their motives. He knew they despised Him because He spoke with the authority of God, and He knew they "sought to lay hands on Him" (Matthew 21:46). Here were men who had spent their whole lives building up a religious construct -- a pious institution over which they reigned unchallenged -- and along comes Jesus, threatening not only to tear down their empire, but to build something totally new in its place. It would be a new kingdom -- a heavenly kingdom whose boundaries only exist in the hearts of its people, and where the only requirement for citizenship is a simple acceptance of the grace of God. And of this new kingdom, the very person the religious leaders hated and rejected -- Jesus Himself -- would be the "chief cornerstone" (Matthew 21:42).
Jesus, then, was too big a threat. The Pharisees wanted Him dead. And Jesus, the Son of God, could have thwarted their plans, or even sought revenge. After all, the Pharisees were hypocrites! They were self-righteous cowards! But Jesus didn't seek revenge; He warned them of the mistake they would make -- the mistake of rejecting Him -- that they might avoid it. He wasn't out for blood -- He came to shed His blood, that even those who put Him to death might be forgiven.
You see, we are the Pharisees. We are the hypocrites whose sin put Jesus to death. Romans 3:10 says, "There is none righteous, no, not one." Our sin made us haters of God. And still, Jesus chose to die for us. Even though it was our sin that caused Him to be rejected, despised, and even killed, He chose to sacrifice His life for our sake. And today, even though you may love your sin and hate God, He chose to die for you, that you might turn from your sin and be forgiven.
Jesus died for all of us -- those who love Him, and those who hate Him. His love is that amazing! If you've never experienced the awesome love of God, and the freedom from sin that it brings, let today be the day.
"If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10:9).
Stand before God for the people, so that you may bring the difficulties to God. And you shall teach them the statutes and the laws, and show them the way in which they must walk and the work they must do."
My father-in-law was a man for whom I held deep respect. He walked with God, and always demonstrated such great wisdom. Just before he passed away, he told me something that I've never forgotten: "Mike, don't wear yourself out." It sounds simple enough, doesn't it? But he knew my workload at the time, and that I was taking on a lot, especially as we were starting a new church ministry here in San Diego. His words were not a recommendation that I take a vacation, but an encouragement for me, as a leader, to share the burden of leadership -- to delegate. He knew that a good leader doesn't hoard control -- he empowers others with it.
Moses' father-in-law, Jethro, gave Moses similar advice. Moses was spending every hour of every day addressing the Israelites' quarrels, questions, and concerns that inevitably arose as they journeyed through the wilderness. And with 1-2 million people on the journey, it was no small task. Something had to change, or Moses would not only wear himself out -- he would cripple the people he was leading. So Jethro told Moses to delegate -- to find "able men, such as fear God," and place them as rulers over the people (Exodus 18:21). Moses, then, would only be concerned with the issues too big for the rulers to handle. This way, the rulers would "bear the burden" with Moses (Exodus 18:22).
You see, when Moses delegated power, not only did it ease his burden; it empowered the people. As he became free to "show them the way in which they must walk and the work they must do" (Exodus 18:20); the people became empowered by his guidance. Instead of receiving only analyses and verdicts, they received purpose.
What makes a good leader? Volumes have been written on the topic. But a good leader is not so concerned with being recognized by the people he leads as he is with empowering them. Often, as leaders, we fail to delegate power because we fear losing control. We fear the very empowerment of others that will make us effective leaders! But if we fail to empower, we fail to lead.
Today, as followers of Christ, we have purpose because He has empowered us. He does not hoard control over us like a dictator -- He gives us free will to serve Him and walk with Him. And He didn't have to. Do you realize that the very people to whom Moses delegated power would become the Sanhedrin -- the court body that would, centuries later, deliver Jesus to Pontius Pilate to be crucified? No doubt, God knew from the beginning that by empowering His people, they would make mistakes -- even the ultimate mistake of rejecting Him. But His love is so great for us, that He was willing to pay the ultimate price. He was willing to give us free will, even if it meant He must die to fix our mistakes. That's true leadership.
May we become people who lead others to the God who has forgiven and empowered us, that they, too, would be forgiven and empowered!
Can be found here: