Luke 23:18 NIV
The Bible says: “With one voice they cried out, ‘Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!’ (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder)” (vv.18-19 NIV). And just like Barabbas, we deserve to die for our sins. Four prison walls, thickened with fear, hurt, and hate, surround us. We’re incarcerated by our past, our low-road choices, and our high-minded pride. We’ve been found guilty. We sit on the floor of a dusty cell awaiting the final moment. Our executioner’s footsteps echo against stone walls. Head between knees, we don’t look up as he opens the door; we don’t lift our eyes as he begins to speak. We know what he’s going to say: “Time to pay for your sins.” But then you hear something else: “You’re free to go. They took Jesus instead of you.” The door swings open, the guard barks, “Get out!” and we find ourselves in the light of the morning sun, shackles gone, crimes pardoned, wondering, “What just happened?” Grace happened! Christ took away your sins. All of them. Where did He take them? To the top of a hill called Calvary. “God in his gracious kindness declared us not guilty…through Christ Jesus, who has freed us by taking away our sins. For God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to satisfy God’s anger against us. We are made right with God when we believe that Jesus shed His blood, sacrificing His life for us” (See Romans 3:24-25 NLT). Jesus loves and forgives you, and He has a wonderful plan for your life. So come to Him today.
Soul food: Deut 30:1-32:28; Mark 8:27-38; Ps 57; Prov 12:15-17
1 Chronicles 4:10 NKJV
In the book of First Chronicles the Bible tells us about a man named Jabez. The first nine chapters consist of genealogies, listing more than six hundred names. And right there in the middle of all those names, God singles out one man for special recognition, and his name is Jabez. There are only two verses in the entire Bible about this man, yet he’s given honorable mention above the six hundred other people mentioned in the chapter. Why did God single him out? What did Jabez do that caused his name to be preserved for over four thousand years? What made him above average? For the next few days, let’s see what we can learn about him. “Now Jabez was more honorable than his brothers” (v. 9 NKJV). So, what set him apart? He dared to ask and believe God for great things: “Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, ‘Oh, that You would bless me indeed, that You would enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!’ So God granted him what he requested.” God wants you to ask Him for great things! He told Jeremiah, “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know” (Jeremiah 33:3 NIV). Paul tells us that God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20 NIV). You can’t out-ask or out-dream God, so start asking Him for what you want – and believe He will give it to you!
Soul food: Acts 27-28; Mark 5:31-43; Ps 94:12-23; Prov 11:16-18
Deuteronomy 28:8 ESV
Vocation. It’s your day-to-day, your job, your life’s work. The word comes from the Latin word vocare, which means ‘spiritual calling.’ Every vocation, regardless of what it is, is a calling from God. The work of God is for all the people of God, no matter where you work. Even if your job makes you feel stuck or closed-off, with God there’s always more of a way forward than you think there is. And once you start to see your job in that light, you’ll find it easier to believe God wants to bless you on the job. How do you find that way forward? First up: pursue work compatible with your gifts. ‘If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised’ (1 Peter 4:11 NIV). Then, learn everything possible about your job. ‘Let the wise listen and add to their learning’ (Proverbs 1:5 NIV). And always keep God as your true employer. ‘Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does’ (Ephesians 6:7-8 NIV). Then you’ll see work as God’s gift, not punishment. ‘When God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work – this is a gift of God’ (Ecclesiastes 5:19 NIV). Do more than what’s expected. ‘If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles’ (Matthew 5:41 NIV). See the Lord as your work colleague. Stay Christ-conscious throughout the day as you work through your to-do list, and ‘the Lord shall command blessing on you…and in all to which you set your hand.’
Acts 24-26; Mark 5:21-30; Ps 94:1-11; Prov 11:14-15
Ephesians 2:8 NLT
Celebrations often involve gift-giving. We get presents on our birthday. Our parents might give us a gift when we graduate. When we get married, family and friends give us gifts to help us begin a new chapter of life. And when we make the decision to believe and accept salvation, God celebrates with us by giving us the gift of grace. In Ephesians 2:8, Paul wrote, ‘God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God’ (NLT). The word ‘grace’ comes from the Greek word charis, meaning ‘pure joy.’ Although none of us deserve God’s grace, He considers saving us to be a ‘pure joy’. In John’s Gospel, the Pharisees caught a woman in the act of adultery. The law of Moses was clear; she had to be stoned. And the Pharisees were ready to do it. She didn’t have anyone to defend her or to be a character witness. The woman probably thought that Jesus, being righteous, would agree with the Pharisees. But suddenly Jesus stooped down and began to write in the sand. We don’t know what He wrote, but when He looked up, the woman’s accusers had gone. There was nobody left to condemn her. He said to her, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more’ (John 8:11 NKJV). That day Jesus lifted her from a position of undeniable guilt to one of unconditional pardon. She didn’t deserve that grace; she probably didn’t even know it was possible. We could all say something similar about ourselves. We’ve all done things that deserve condemnation and punishment, but God’s amazing gift of grace means that we’re lifted up and receive love and forgiveness instead.
Acts 10-11; Mark 4:1-9; Ps 103:1-12; Prov 10:27-29
Deuteronomy 31:6 NKJV
Any time you attempt something for the first time, or something you’ve failed at before, or something you think is too big for you, you’ll experience both fear and faith. They go together. One will win out over the other, but they never go away. Because Israel had no idea what challenges awaited them or what life would be like in the Promised Land, God told them, “Be strong and of good courage…for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.” And today that’s His promise to you too! It’s fear of failure that stops us most of the time. Yet as you look back, you realize that most times failure doesn’t do permanent damage at all; you actually grow through it. Dr. Joan Borysenko writes: “When I was admitted to Harvard, I was sure there had been a computer error and I’d be exposed as a fraud. A lawyer friend of mine stops short of terror every time she has to give a final argument before a jury. Even when you’re an expert, fear doesn’t necessarily go away. It’s accepting fear as part of the journey instead of running from it, that helps you to conquer it.” To go anywhere, you must launch out from somewhere, or you’ll get nowhere. American essayist Hamilton Wright Mabie said, “The question for each man to settle is not what he would do if he had the means, time, influence, and educational advantages, but what he will do with the things he has.” So confront your fear, step out in faith, and believe God for success.
Soul food: Acts 6-7; Mark 3:20-27; Ps 75; Prov 10:22-23