Who me?
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When Moses learned that God was going to send him to King Pharaoh in Egypt, Moses had some real reservations, to say the least (See Exodus 3: 11-12). He made excuses and tried to wiggle out of what God wanted him to do.

Has God ever asked you to do something that made you want to wiggle? Maybe He’s asked you to befriend an ex-offender recently released from prison or to lovingly confront someone about a sin. What was your response? Did you say yes? Or did you brush off God’s call?

Many of us are like Moses. When we sense God calling us to do something for Him, we respond with a long list of excuses. When God spoke to Moses at the burning bush in the wilderness and asked him to lead the Israelites out of slavery, Moses did not eagerly answer “Yes, Lord.” Instead, he argued with God: “But, Lord, who am I?” “But, Lord, they won’t believe me.” “But, Lord, I am not a very good speaker.”

How did God respond to these “buts”? He said to Moses, “I will be with you.” That is enough.

Are we at burning bushes in our lives? Is God calling us to do something for Him? It’s natural for us to be aware of our inadequacies and our lack of experience. Like Moses, we may ask, “Who am I?” God will be patient to hear our reservations. But in the end, He will ask us to trust Him. When Moses reminded God that he was not a very good speaker, God asked him, “Who made your mouth?”

When God gives us a task, He promises two things: “I will be with you. I will give you what you need to do the task.”

In the face of those two strong promises, our only response should be, “Yes, Lord. I will do what You want me to do. I trust you to be with me.”

Are we ready to say these words to God?

 

Jim Vogelzang
Working Together Through the Power of One
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1 Kings 19:10 tells the tale of Elijah having a bad day and throwing a massive pity party.  He thought he was the only follower of God left in Israel. How could Israel be reclaimed for God if he was the only good guy left?

We look around our neighborhoods and maybe our offices  and wonder the same thing. We check out Internet news sites and watch video posts showing vivid footage of children separated from parents, massive flooding and wars going on around the world. We ask ourselves how a small minority of Christians in the world can ever hope to have any positive influence? Is there realistic hope for changing the world, our country or our neighborhoods with so few followers of Christ? The answer is a resounding YES!

Look back on other small groups that accomplished great things. After the Israelites left Egypt and wandered around the desert for forty years, only a small group of people remained to conquer the Promised Land. Esther and her uncle Mordecai, the only two godly people in a powerful but corrupt king’s household, saved the Jewish population from destruction (see Esther 1–10). Later on, twelve uneducated men were entrusted with bringing the Gospel of Christ to the world. Each of these groups was small, but each had a powerful impact.

Take courage from these men and women who influenced their world for good. They were not hindered by the enormity of the task. Instead they trusted the One who could give them the supernatural strength to overcome the odds.

We can take strength from each other. Together, we can resolve to continue the struggle, knowing that other small bands of believers and churches are fighting next to us. Always remember that salvation for all of us came from only one person: Jesus Christ (see 1 Timothy 2:5-6). One person can make an incredible difference. Stay strong in that knowledge, and trust God for strength.

Emily Vogelzang
Living Sacrifices
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Some people loved God so much that they were killed for their beliefs. The first martyr, Stephen, spoke out against the Jewish leadership and was stoned to death. Ironically, the future apostle Paul was a member of the killing party (see Acts 7:54-60).

 Jim Elliot, a missionary, gave his life in Christ’s service. Jim, along with four other missionaries, was killed by the very people God called him to serve in Ecuador. He wrote these memorable words in his journal, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” These words have inspired many people to become missionaries.

 Does God require us to become martyrs? Must we die for the sake of His kingdom? Usually not. But He does ask something much more difficult and daring of us—that we live for the sake of His Kingdom.

 Living as faithful witnesses to the love of God takes more courage on a daily basis than making one split-second decision to give our lives for His sake. In one quick moment, we might decide to die for Jesus, but what about waking up every day in a depressing marriage or dead-end job and deciding to be a “living sacrifice” for Him? The reality of talking and acting our faith at work or in a loveless marriage is a difficult thing to do. Yet that is what Jesus calls us to. We are challenged to heal the suffering with a listening ear. We are commissioned to banish the fear in someone else’s heart with a kind word and encouraging friendship. We are commanded to be patient and forgiving with those around us who are the opposite…always a challenging task!

 Die for Jesus? Yes—if He asks us to. Live for Jesus? We already have those orders.

Jim Vogelzang
Resistance
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When we run against the wind on a jog around the neighborhood, we feel the wind’s resistance. In the gym, we lift weights to gain strength. When we lift more than the day before, it is the resistance of the weight that builds the muscles in us up.

So, too, it is in our daily Christian lives. If we take a stand against a sexual harassment at work, we, most likely, will face hostility from the corporate structure. When we attempt to speak truth to power, we will almost certainly, meet opposition. In our spiritual walk, anytime we oppose the evil in any form, we make the devil angry. We can expect spiritual attacks, for he will attempt to remove any opposition to his evil schemes.

Jesus confronted evil within the Jewish religious leadership and was mocked, unjustly arrested and then, tried, tortured, beaten and killed for His efforts. We can expect opposition! We need to stand our ground in the face of wickedness, refusing to go along with the forces of evil in the world. We must avoid policies that promise quick promotion if it means compromising our love of God.

However, this should not cause for concern or fear. Consider the attacks from Satan as confirmation that we are serving our Lord and infuriating Satan. It should concern us if we do not get hassled by the devil. If our spiritual lives are lukewarm, the devil doesn’t even have to bother with us. He is angry only when we get in the way of his wicked ideas. Confront evil. Wear resistance as a badge of honor and trust god to be at your side, always!

Jim Vogelzang
Loneliness: God Won’t Forget
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Sometimes the agony of loneliness feels like a switchblade penetrating our souls as it slices up the last bit of hope in the secret places of our hearts. Sometimes the craving for the taste of our mamma’s burritos makes us cry. We wonder if God has forgotten us. We cry out to God like the psalmist who wrote, “Has God forgotten to be kind? Has he slammed the door on his compassion?” (Psalm 77:9).

     When these feelings and thoughts overwhelm us, we can remember Noah during the Flood. Noah felt alone. All he saw was water. God promised him safety, but He never told him the timetable. Noah’s days of waiting were long and excruciating. He must have cried out, as we do, for God to reappear and remember him. Then, the dove returned to the ark with an olive branch in its beak as the sign that God had not forgotten Noah. It was proof God can be trusted (see Genesis 8:6-11).

     This story of Noah offers hope because the floodwaters receded and the mountaintops reappeared. God did not forget Noah, and God does not forget us when we are overwhelmed by the floodwaters of loneliness. God may seem to have vanished, but He is only in the background, working on our behalf. Just because we don’t hear Him doesn’t mean He is not there. And, just because God’s actions don’t fit our plan does not mean that He does not have a plan for us.

     During the darkest moments in our ark of hopelessness, God gives signals that He is faithful. Is it the unexpected gift of a new study Bible? Is it perhaps an unanticipated letter from a forgotten friend or a crayon drawing from a four-year-old neighbor? The signs will be there. God remembers us. He will not forget!

 

Jim Vogelzang
Worship Unites Us
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To many people, the suggestion that worship and religion unite us is absurd. They point out that millions have been killed in the name of God through religious wars, the Crusades, and the Inquisition. They argue that religion has been a great source of division and suffering in the world—and in some ways they are correct.

Religion focusing on “do’s and don’ts” kills the spirit. It is a set of rules and regulations that people use to show God that they are acceptable to Him. By keeping a set of rules and regulations, they mistakenly feel they have done something good—and God is obligated to accept them. They count on their performance to earn God’s love. Jesus had harsh words for rule-keepers—people like the Pharisees—because they missed the Gospel message: God loves and accepts us, even though we are sinners who offend Him. Jesus paid the penalty for our sin. While we were still sinners, Jesus came to die for us (see Romans 5:8). When we fully understand this undeserved gift, we respond by doing good things and avoiding sinful acts. Religion tied to regulations leads to arrogant self-righteousness. However, a relationship with Jesus leads to a life of service to others in love.

When we worship together, knowing that our sin has been covered, our worship unites us. It deepens our sense of brotherhood and sisterhood by pointing out our common needs. True worship reminds us that we are all sinners, making it difficult to point a finger of accusation at someone else. The fruit of the Spirit grows in each one of us, resulting in unity and loving attitudes.

Jesus came to abolish religion and replace it with a relationship.

 

Jim Vogelzang
Friendship with the World
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James 4:4 warns us against “friendship with the world.” This can be a confusing verse, even though it seems pretty straightforward. Does it mean that as followers of Jesus we must separate ourselves from all the pleasures and wonderful things that Creation offers? Are we denied permission to participate and enjoy the good things of earth? No! It doesn’t mean that at all. This is not what James is talking about.

God created the heavens and the earth and pronounced them good (see Genesis 1). He is a very loving, creative God, and He desires that we, His children, enjoy what He has made for us. He feels the same way about giving pleasure to His children as we did when we took our kids to see a major league baseball game or baked chocolate brownies for them. God is delighted when we’re happy.

What James means in today’s passage by “the world” is everything that lies outside the community of God’s people. A list of those things— including adultery, greed, pride, and anger—are listed in Galatians 5. When we indulge this worldly frame of mind, we are at odds with what God wants for us. The Bible instructs us to imitate the humble character of Jesus and to live unselfish lives of service to others. When we choose the way of the world, we lead self-centered lives that often abuse others. We indulge in drugs, sex, and booze, and don’t give a rip about others. When we live by the world’s standards, it’s all about getting more money, more power to boss others around, greater status and prestige. Those things identify us and define us.

There is no accommodation of these two world views. There is no compromise available. We delude ourselves if we think we can have both. We cannot. It is our personal responsibility to make a choice between them.

 

Jim Vogelzang
Many Kinds of Grace
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Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:42-43

 Devotional writer Henry Drummond tells the story of two saints who argued about which of them was the “greatest monument of God’s saving grace.” The first man told of his wicked life of drugs, lies, and vicious behavior. God saved him on his deathbed. The second man was brought to Christ when he was a young boy. He’d led a quiet Christian life. He loved his wife and went to church regularly. He had anticipated going to heaven for a long time.

Who benefitted more from God’s grace? Most would vote for the first saint, the lifetime sinner. But, no! The man who lived a long Christian life was granted the largest portion of God’s special merit. God’s grace saved him from reckless sins in his early years, steered him clear of the sins of adult life, and kept his feet on the right road as he grew old. This lifetime of God’s favor was the greater portion of grace.

It took a truckload of grace to pluck the first man out of sin and into heaven. Just like the thief on the cross next to Jesus (see Luke 23:42-43), the first man was given saving grace and was freed from the guilt of his sin. The second man in the story was given restraining grace. The thief on the cross and the first saint were given dying grace; the second received living grace.

So it is with us. Without God’s many graces on a daily basis, our lives resemble cars whose wheels need alignment. If we take God’s hands off the steering wheel of our lives, our uneven tires run us into life’s ditch every time. We rightly celebrate God’s saving grace. It is a gift beyond measure. But never forget to appreciate and thank Him everyday for His living and restraining grace!

Jim Vogelzang
How Do We Pray?
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When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. James 4:3, NIV

We all have a need to feel connected to another human being. Good marriages thrive on communication. Without daily sharing, one partner feels disconnected and alone. Suicides occur when people lose all loving contact with another human being. In our daily friendships, we require connection to each other. The people with whom we walk to lunch with or car pool with offer us a sense of community that’s vital to mental health and happiness.

But sometimes spouses or friends abuse that connection by using us for their own selfish, personal advantage. Some of us have been ripped off by a “friend” who stole from us to feed her habit. Perhaps we’ve done it to someone else. Any betrayal damages trust, but it also makes it less likely that we’ll offer that gift of connection again. Think about how we treat God and the connection He offers us through the intimacy of prayer. Don’t we often bring our own selfish wish list to our prayers? Don’t we often consider God a sort of Santa Claus and try to make deals with Him? And then we wonder why our prayers never seem to get an answer! James 4:3 offers some insight into the reason!

Prayer is not a way to get our wish list completed. Rather, and more important, prayer is a direct link to the Creator of the universe. He has a plan for our lives, but like most plans, He needs to share them with us. Without our willingness to put aside our selfish concerns and really be quiet and listen to God speaking to us, we’ll never learn what He wants to say to us.

When we pray, let’s connect to God by using our ears first and our mouths second. Let’s keep our motives pure and ask God for the things we need so that we can serve Him.

 

 

 

Jim Vogelzang
The Devil Smiles
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The devil smiles when there’s quarreling and arguing within our churches. Nothing makes him happier than to hear one sister or brother in Christ trash another. The results of this behavior are conflict and hurt feelings. It’s hard to demonstrate a loving attitude towards those people we know who are not Christians when the Christians themselves can’t get along with each other.

     This type of fighting is sin! It must stop if the church is to be an effective witness to Christ’s love. But why do we divide the body of Christ? 1 Corinthians 3:3, tells us that we’re controlled by our sinful natures. Almost every divisive argument in the body of Christ is rooted in selfish motivations that seek power over the direction of the church. We who yell the loudest sometimes use God’s Word as a cover-up to hide our desire for power.

Our sinful natures want to control others. Before some of us met Jesus, in our former “street lives” we would manipulate people with our charms, or position or our money. Let’s not use God’s Word to bend people to our way of thinking. This is wrong and sinful.

The Bible offers us the blueprint for daily interactions.  We must imitate the humility of Christ, considering others to be better than ourselves and loving others with patience and kindness (see Philippians 2 and 1 Corinthians 13). If these traits are part of our character, we can discuss differences of opinion without damaging our relationships. Humility and love will prevail. Disunity will fade away. We will unite and be a strong, integrated Christian front to society and the non-believers in our circle of influence. Only then will we get on with the task of representing Jesus to the world in a loving and effective manner.

Jim Vogelzang
Making Peace
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Remember those hot summer afternoons when all the relatives would come together, have a barbecue, and visit? But if two family groups were divided and angry at one another, the reunion could become hostile and unpleasant. The groups needed to be brought together for the family to live in harmony. Unfortunately, pride often kept fighting family members from admitting fault and making peace. It’s pretty much the same situation with God and us.

God created a perfect world. Adam and Eve brought sin into the world through disobedience and pride (see Genesis 1–3). There was a disruption in the harmonious relationship between God and mankind, and that disruption still exists. It needs to be repaired because the deepest need all humans have is reconciliation with God. When we are at odds with God, we have no harmony in our lives. Our family relationships suffer. Our dealings with authority inside the walls deteriorate. We require peace with God. But, our pride, anger, and self-will keep us from making peace with Him.

The good news is that God pursues us, even when we ignore Him. He sends His Holy Spirit to follow us around, knocking at the door to our hearts. (See Ephesians 2:16)

When we respond to His call and make peace, our lives change. In place of stubborn arrogance, the Holy Spirit gives us loving spirits that are patient and kind. Rather than a cruel, heartless attitude toward the other people in the pod, we reach out with compassion, empathy, and a listening ear. When we are reconciled to God, we experience tranquility, perhaps for the first time in our lives. It is a major step on the road to becoming sons and daughters of God.

Jim Vogelzang
Don't Worry!
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Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. -Philippians 4:6-7

For some of us, telling us not to worry is like telling us not to breathe. It’s impossible. Our minds are full of worries. We worry about who’s taking care of our kids. We worry about our safety. We worry about how we will endure years of low wages, ungrateful bosses and dead-end jobs.

The Apostle Paul writes in Philippians 4:6-6 that, as believers, we should NOT worry. Is Paul in touch with reality, telling us not to worry? He is not suggesting that the things we worry about are not real. Remember he suffered lots of abuses too. He is also not instructing us just to pretend that things don’t bother us. No, he’s telling us that when we are tempted to worry, we should pray instead. Again, these are not suggestions; these are commands. He doesn’t say, “Maybe you should consider not worrying so much.” He says, “Stop it! Don’t worry about anything.” Not one thing.

Instead—and that’s a key word in this verse—pray. Not occasionally. Not when we feel like it. Pray about everything.

Why does Paul use such strong language? He knows that worry leads to evil and eats away at us—literally. It gives us ulcers. It gives us searing headaches. It robs us of sleep. So he suggests another way: Tell God what you need. Pray about everything. Picture God with His hands stretched out, waiting for you to place your worries in His hands. Then take each worry and give it to Him. Remember, He’s strong. He can hold a heavy load.

Then after praying and giving your worries to God, thank Him for all He has done. All day long, thank Him. What will happen? Paul tells us that we will experience a peace that is beyond our imagining. Try it…see what happens!

Jim Vogelzang
What We Need, Not What We Want
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A great story of friends helping a friend is found in Mark 2:2-5. A man’s friends want their paralyzed buddy to get to see Jesus and get healed. So they dig a hole in the roof of the house where Jesus is teaching. Isn’t it strange that instead of immediately reaching out and healing the paralyzed man, Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven”? Didn’t He see the man’s obvious need, the need for which his friends brought him to Jesus?

Of course Jesus recognized that the man was paralyzed. But He also saw the man’s deeper need: to have his sins forgiven. Jesus healed the need, which was not what the man’s friends had wanted.

In a way, we are all paralyzed—by guilt, anger, greed, despair, loneliness. We tell ourselves, “What I need is a new job, more money or a better spouse. Then my life would be perfect.” We trust those things to save us. In a sense they are our “gods.” We pray and ask Him to give us what we want, not what we need.

But Jesus loves us so much that He will not simply give us what we want. He knows that many of the things we want will not satisfy. They might even ruin us. Lotto winners, for example, have a history of bankruptcy, wasting their wealth on drugs and gambling.

In Jesus’ wisdom and love, He gives us what we need, not necessarily what we want. He gives us spiritual restoration through the One who satisfies and who forgives when we fail Him. When we look to Jesus, let’s appreciate His gifts in this light…

This biblical story does has a happy ending. Mark 2:10-11 tells us, “Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, ‘Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!’ ”

Jim Vogelzang
Harmony Out of Chaos
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Many of us like to excuse or rationalize inappropriate behavior by saying we “all have our personal demons.” As if somehow that justifies our coarseness and rebellion. It’s really just a way of giving us cover to act out in a way we’ve already decided to do.

In the account recorded in Mark 5:7, Jesus confronts a man who is filled with actual demons. These demons recognize Jesus and ask Him a question we often ask, “Why are you interfering with me, Jesus?” When Jesus asks the demons for their names, they reply cleverly with a fake name to conceal their identity. But Jesus is never fooled. He throws out the demons.

Our smoke screens never fool Jesus either. He sees our real identities. Our smoke screens take the form of paralyzing fear, inner insecurity, restlessness, self-loathing, anger, sexual immorality, drugs, and unsettled minds. We are consumed by racial hatred and love of power, and we are tormented by conflicted spirits. We deny and cling to these demons because we believe we cannot live without them. Yet, Jesus looks into our lives, “interferes” with them, and brings harmony out of our chaos.

How?

He delivers genuine peace by assuring us that we can trust His will for our lives. How many of us would welcome the peace of knowing that a powerful God has our backs? Jesus gives us true sleep-through-the-night rest by demonstrating love that is relentless and unconditional. We can rest in a love that died for us! He anoints our hearts with joy when we serve others in His name.

Jim Vogelzang
Building Spiritual Muscles
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Now Joseph was a very handsome and well-built young man. Potiphar’s wife began to desire him and invited him to sleep with her. But Joseph refused. “Look,” he told her, “my master trusts me with everything in his entire household. . . . How could I ever do such a wicked thing? It would be a great sin against God.” Genesis 39:6-9

 

The Biblical narrative of Joseph is rich (Read Genesis 39:6-9). Spoiled by his father, hated by his brothers, sold into slavery in Egypt and then making it BIG as the head servant in a powerful man’s (Potiphar) household. But, Potiphar’s wife had eyes for this strapping, handsome young man.

As Joseph worked in Potiphar’s house, the master’s wife repeatedly demanded that he have sex with her. This was a tremendous temptation for Joseph. By seeing how Joseph handled it—what he did not do—we can conquer our own sexual temptation.

Joseph did not cave in to lust by deceiving himself into thinking it was the natural thing to do. He did not rationalize that she needed him because Potiphar was not “takin’ care of business” at home. Joseph did not give in to self-pity. He could have fooled himself into believing he deserved a little comfort to compensate for the unjust treatment by his brothers. And, he did not give in to ambition. She was the powerful wife of a powerful man. Joseph could have powered up his career by having an influential woman whispering good things about him to her husband. Giving in to sexual temptation might have even helped Joseph gain his freedom!

Joseph found the strength to fight off this sexual temptation by having something stronger in his life—a more powerful attraction than sex: a relationship with God that transcended human pleasure. Joseph understood his sin would be a sin against God. Joseph’s walk with God undoubtedly involved daily prayer and worship. He worked “God’s free weights” to build up his spiritual strength.  To defeat sexual sin, Joseph shows us we need to have a strong relationship with God in place—before sexual temptation strikes.

 

Jim Vogelzang
Stop Complaining and Arguing
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Like it or not, people watch us. When we confess loyalty to Jesus, people are watching. They can tell who we are by how we act. If we have chosen to follow Christ, people can also tell who He is by how we act. We are a reflection of our Father.

What does that mean? Look below at what Paul wrote to the Church at Philippi. Paul wants us to be pure reflections of God’s character. He wants us to live clean, innocent lives so that when others look at us, they have a clear, unclouded picture of who God is. In everything you do, stay away from complaining and arguing, so that no one can speak a word of blame against you. You are to live clean, innocent lives as children of God in a dark world full of crooked and perverse people. Let your lives shine brightly before them. Philippians 2:14-15

Interestingly, the behavior that Paul focuses on here is complaining and arguing. He could have chosen any number of other negative behaviors, but he chose complaining and arguing. Why do you think he did that? After all, complaining and arguing aren’t that bad.

But maybe that’s the point. We don’t see them as such destructive behaviors; in fact, if we were honest, we would admit that we indulge ourselves in them all the time. We whine about work. We grumble that our husband is lazy. We find fault with the cable TV people and the car never works right!

But when we complain, when we argue, we smudge the reflection of God’s character in us. We give Christ a bad name. Paul wants us to be blameless so that no one can reject Christ because they saw a poor picture of Him in our lives.

If that seems hard, that’s because it is. But it is hard only if we think it’s completely up to us to live clean, innocent lives. We need to remember that only when Christ lives in our hearts, when we have given Him full access to our hearts, can He live His life through us. When that happens, our lives are like lights that shine in a dark and perverse world.

 

 

Jim Vogelzang
The Anger of Jesus
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[Jesus] looked around at [the religious leaders] angrily and was deeply saddened by their hard hearts. Then he said to the man [with the deformed hand], “Hold out your hand.” So the man held out his hand, and it was restored!” Mark 3:5

Anger and conflict are dance partners. On the street, anger waltzed us into divorce. Our anger-fueled, hip-hop dance gets us busting’ moves toward our ex-wives, lying business colleagues, incompetent lawyers, maybe even ourselves. Our anger dance is usually sinful, destructive, and bent on revenge. But not all anger is destructive.

Jesus became angry. This fact alone should get our attention. We understandably focus on His unconditional love, but we should also note the things that angered our Savior. Re-read Mark 3:5 where Jesus was angry with the established church leaders. Jesus’ anger was directed at their injustice, lack of mercy, unfruitfulness, harm to children, and hard hearts. In today’s passage, Jesus expressed His anger vehemently towards the self-righteous, hard-hearted religious leaders. These leaders were bound to tradition and to preserving their own power. Their stubborn self-importance blinded them to real human need.

Today’s lessons from Jesus center not only on what made Him furious but also on how to avoid being the target of His anger. Our lives must be guided by kindness, mercy, and compassion. Are we so fussy and focused on the form of Sunday worship that we forget the genuine needs in our cities? Any self-satisfaction in our walk with God or any concern about our status in our local church or among others must be brought low in humility to avoid the angry look of Jesus.

There is a place for “angry men and women.” It must be righteous anger, fueled by our hearts being broken and angered by the same things that broke and angered the heart of Jesus.

 

 

 

Jim Vogelzang
Is Bigger Better?
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“Bigger is better” is the world’s slogan. Cities compete to claim the world’s tallest buildings. Sporting events and stadiums boast about being the biggest and most expensive in history.

But that’s not how Jesus rolls. He compared the Kingdom of God to an insignificant mustard seed, the smallest of all the seeds (See Mark 4:30-32). Jesus never confused size with importance.

Jesus entrusted His world-changing mission to a group of largely unskilled men. When Jesus rose from the dead, He appeared first to the least significant people on the planet at the time: women. Today, Jesus is still using small seeds—us!

As ordinary people, we often feel powerless, isolated, and worthless. We are usually not eloquent. Many of us speak with fractured grammar. We are afraid and not well educated.

We must throw off that mindset. Jesus certainly does. When we have “the mind of Christ” (see 1 Corinthians 2:16), we will see significant results from our work. But we need credibility. The growth of the mustard seed depends on an authentic walk with Jesus and on a witness that has integrity. If we have that, planting a kind word or being a help to someone in His name will produce a harvest of eternal consequences. When we bring a brother or sister to church or when we share a favorite Scripture verse, we cannot calculate the size of the result that may come from that seed. Our responsibility is to sow the seeds. We leave the results up to God.

Jim Vogelzang
A Delicate Balance
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One of the most familiar and often quoted passage in the Gospels is Luke 5:29-32. There it tells the story of Jesus going to Levi, the tax collector’s house for dinner. At this dinner were other despised tax officials, prostitutes and other people considered rift-raft. This familiar passage’s obvious lesson is that Jesus loves sinners . . . scum! Christian societies often consider sinners to be scum, and sometimes we feel that way about ourselves. However, this encouraging story says the opposite.

There is another lesson buried in this passage. Jesus teaches in such a loving manner that sinners feel comfortable eating with Him. The “scum” at Levi’s dinner do not scurry away for fear of disapproval. They do not cringe under a withering eye of judgment. They sit with Jesus, share dinner, and listen to His whole message of love and repentance.

Jesus teaches unconditional love. But, as loving as He is, He also teaches the need for repentance. He does not separate His love for us from our need to turn away from our sin. In Christian communities today that separation seems to be growing. We concentrate on being tolerant and inclusive, but we shrink away from the whole truth by neglecting to preach the Gospel of spiritual revolution! Jesus does not short-change His listeners.

Are we too focused in our church on love and acceptance at the expense of neglecting the need to repent from our sin? Or, are we so focused on sin that sinners do not attend for fear of disapproval and judgment? We must be loving in our approach but firm in the fundamentals. It is a delicate balance.

 

Jim Vogelzang
Prayer for Seekers of Salvation
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Jesus, why would You die for me?

That is the hardest question I ask when I come close to asking You into my heart and taking Your free gift of grace.

How could You love me?

Yet, Jesus, I have read how You loved David even when he committed adultery and first-degree murder. In my heart, I have done worse!

You loved Saul when he was terrorizing Christians, and You turned him into Paul… someone valuable.

I long to be of value to someone. I have abused drugs, had an abortion, cheated on my wife and I have let You down. But no more! Today, I commit to You and accept Your free gift—Your grace—for me.

Thank You for loving me so much that You would die for me.

As I speak these words, my spirit lifts.

I feel Your presence and the power of the Holy Spirit coming over me.

Thank You, Jesus.

Amen.

Jim Vogelzang