Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Crisis

The question is the same now as it was in the Bethlehem stable: Where do we put the baby? The answer is also the same: Put Him in front of you—wherever you are now. Mary wrapped Him in cloths and tucked Him into the feeding trough in front of her. It wasn’t the ideal crib. It was practical, not pretty. It was rough. It didn’t smell like baby powder and freshly washed sheets. But it worked. It held the Savior for the common people—the shepherds—to see. Put the Christ, the Messiah, God’s Son, in front of you now—wherever you are. Let your ordinary life hold the Baby. Let everyone see Him. Isn’t that what Christmas is all about, after all?
Copyright © 2010 Sherrie Lorance. All rights reserved.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Perfect Match (1 Samuel 16:1-13)

Like the prince’s servant searching for Cinderella, Samuel searches for God’s chosen king. He knows only that God seeks a man after His own heart. The heart, not the glass slipper, must fit.

Jesse’s oldest son, Eliab, steps forward. He looks promising. He looks like a king. But looks can be deceiving. Eliab’s name means “God of his father.” He represents those who rely on ancestry, tradition, rituals or family heritage. Like the Pharisees in Jesus’ day, these hearts are inflated with pride. God does not call Eliab “a man after my own heart.”

God says to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. . . . Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7 NIV).

“Next,” Samuel says.

Abinadab bows his head and smiles. With a name that means “father of generosity,” it’s no surprise to see receipts peeking from his pocket, evidence of his good deeds. He buys food for the hungry. He builds shelters for the homeless. He’s a pillar in the community. But the foundation of his life is built on sand. He trusts in his own works. He thinks that what he does earns him favor with God. It doesn’t.

“The Lord has not chosen this one either,” Samuel says.

Shammah wipes his nose on his sleeve. Shammah—“ruin, desolate, waste”—the name fits. The heart doesn’t. Shammah cares only about himself. He lives for pleasure. He squanders resources and buries talents. Jesus calls him an unprofitable servant. Samuel calls him to move along.

“Nor has the Lord chosen this one,” Samuel says. He squints at the seven sons. He smoothes his beard and sighs. “Are these all your sons?”

“There’s one more,” Jesse says, “His name is David.”

Like Cinderella stepping into her own glass slipper, David steps into the group of would-be kings. God confirms what no one suspected: “He’s the one. Rise and anoint him. His heart matches mine.” David—“loving, beloved”—has a heart that loves as God loves, that wants to love God most. The oil warms David’s hair as Samuel anoints him king of Israel.

How can David, a soon-to-be adulterer and murderer, wear the label “man after God’s own heart”? The same way we can—by letting God change our hearts. David’s heart wasn’t perfect, but he was willing to let God perfect it. When we fail, we can pray with David, “Create in me a pure heart, O God” (Psalm 51:10 NIV). God will transform our hearts to fit His. He’ll make us men and women after His own heart. And that’s no fairy tale.

Copyright © 2010 Sherrie Lorance. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

It's Time to Stop Doing Time (Genesis 39-41; 50:15-21)

Have you ever been in prison? If your answer is no, think again. Think carefully. Have you ever been imprisoned by resentment or by a refusal to forgive? Are you in prison now?

Joseph was in prison literally, yet he was free spiritually. He had been hurt by what people had done to him and by what they had failed to do for him. But even though he’d been wronged, he chose to have a right attitude—a God-focused mindset that refused to let resentment shackle his spirit. By forgiving, Joseph freed those who had hurt him. He released them from his debt—from what they owed him. And in extending freedom to others, he experienced freedom himself.

When we free others through forgiveness, we free ourselves. It’s not always easy to forgive, though, is it? Sometimes the things people have done, or have left undone, hurt us so badly that everything inside us cries out for revenge, or at least for restitution. We want the offenders to pay for how they’ve injured us, or at least to apologize. But regardless of what they choose to do, we have a choice to make ourselves. We can choose to relive the pain by focusing on it, or we can choose to release the pain by forgiving. It would be nice if we could make the choice once, and never feel the pain again. But it doesn’t work that way. We must choose to forgive again and again—each time we feel resentment wrapping its cold chains around our hearts. How can we find the strength to forgive in a way that truly sets us—and others—free? The strength to forgive lies in remembering the truth. The truth will set us free.

The truth is—we’re guilty before God, for what we’ve done and for what we’ve failed to do. We deserve the death penalty. But He paid it for us. He releases us from our debt—from what we owe Him, freeing us to release others from their debts to us. As we thank Him for forgiving us, we can take from Him the strength to forgive others.

Unlike Joseph, you don’t have to wait two years to be released from your prison. The King of all the earth is calling you out . . . now. Are you ready to leave?

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other,
just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32 NIV).

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32 NIV).

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36 NIV).

Copyright © 2010 Sherrie Lorance. All rights reserved.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Are You Settling for Better? (John 5:1-15)

At first glance, Jesus’ question to the sick man sounds strange. “Do you want to get well?” Of course the invalid wants to get well. But maybe he hasn’t thought about it in a while. After all, thirty-eight years is a long time to be sick. Has he stopped imagining what it’s like to be well—to walk on his own—to move without being carried by someone else?

The longer we are disabled—by fear, anxiety or anything else that cripples us—the harder it is to believe that things can be different. At some level, we hold onto a thread of hope, but we don’t put the weight of our future on that thread. As time passes, our situation becomes familiar. It may not be pleasant, but it doesn’t always seem as bad as it really is.

Notice that Jesus did not ask, “Do you want to get better?” or “Do you want to improve the quality of your life?” Getting a bit better was all the sick man hoped for. He didn’t expect perfect and permanent healing; he just hoped for improvement. If only I had someone to put me into the therapeutic water, he thought. That was the only solution he could imagine. It may have helped, but it would never be enough.

When we’ve been crippled for a long time, we begin lowering our expectations. A little improvement, we think, and we can cope. But Jesus offers us more—much more.

Jesus asks us the same question he asked the man at the pool of Bethesda. He looks us in the eye and asks, “Do you want to get well?”

We’re afraid to say yes. If we don’t hope, we can’t be disappointed. But Jesus waits for an answer, an honest answer. Even while we’re listing reasons why we can’t get well, Jesus moves us to action. “Get up!” He says. “Pick up your mat—what you’ve been resting on and relying on—and walk.” Suddenly we realize that we can.

We can walk, one step at a time, because Jesus walks with us—even through the valley of the shadow of death. Our healing may not happen instantly, as it did for the man at Bethesda, but it will happen. One day, we will stand before Jesus completely well.

“Now may the God of peace himself make you holy in every way, and may your whole being—spirit, soul, and body—be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 ISV).

Copyright © 2010 Sherrie Lorance. All rights reserved.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Father’s Approval

Some of us received it as children. Some of us didn’t. All of us are affected by it to some extent. What our fathers thought of us, or what we think they thought of us, often influences how we see ourselves and relate to others. A father’s approval is a powerful thing. Jesus understood this.

As a pre-teen, Jesus had trekked off to the temple without permission, craving time with His Father. He spent at least three days soaking up His Father’s words. When Mary and Joseph found Him, Jesus felt their disapproval. They didn’t understand why He had to be in His Father’s house. Although Mary may have been a good mother and Joseph may have been a good stepfather, no one but Jesus’ true Father could give Him what He needed. The same is true for us.

Our earthly fathers can’t give us all we need. At their best, they dimly reflect the character of our heavenly Father. At their worst, they remind us how desperately we all need a Savior. All earthly fathers, the good, the bad and the indifferent, ultimately point us toward the perfect Father. His approval is what we really want. It’s what Jesus wanted, too.

Imagine Jesus after His baptism. His hair drips water. His bare feet press the sand as He steps out of the Jordan River. Suddenly, He is flooded with pleasure—His Father’s pleasure. He sees Heaven opened, feels the Holy Spirit’s touch as the dove lands. And then, He hears the words, His Father’s words: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). Jesus had His Father’s approval.

Was the Father pleased because Jesus had been baptized, setting a good example for others? Was the Father pleased that Jesus identified with sinful humanity and that He would take our sins upon Himself on the cross? Yes. But, unlike some earthly fathers, God the Father didn’t bestow His approval on Jesus because He had earned it. The Greek verb tense of the Father’s statement expresses constant, uniform delight and pleasure in His Son. The Father gave Jesus the unconditional approval each of us longs for. And because of Jesus, each of us can have it too.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26), and “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). When the Father looks at us, in Christ, He approves. Even when we sin, He doesn’t reject us. He welcomes our confession, and continues to conform us to the likeness of His perfect Son. The security we have in Him enables us to triumph over temptation, as Jesus did after His baptism. And the knowledge of the Father’s ultimate approval helps us extend true love and acceptance to others. The Father’s approval is a powerful thing.

Copyright © 2010 Sherrie Lorance. All rights reserved.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Living Up to Your Name—Or Not (Luke 19:1-10)

Have you ever felt that you weren’t living up to someone else’s expectations of you? Zacchaeus, a corrupt businessperson, may have felt that way every time he heard his name, which means “pure.” He was a chief tax collector—a big name in the big world of big rip-offs. He and his cohorts regularly inflated citizens’ tax bills, then pocketed the extra cash before giving the payments to their Roman bosses. The name that Zacchaeus had made for himself seemed entirely inconsistent with the name his parents had given him . . . until Zacchaeus met Jesus.

Before he met Jesus, Zacchaeus was completely committed to the life he’d chosen, a life of one hundred percent selfishness. His zeal was undiluted. He wanted all he could get—and was used to getting it. He wasn’t just a tax collector; he was a chief tax collector. He wasn’t content to wait patiently for a turn to see Jesus; he ran ahead of the crowd. He wasn’t happy with being part of the crowd; he raised himself above the others by climbing a sycamore fig tree.

His all-or-nothing mentality eventually served him well, though, when channeled in the right direction. When Jesus showed Zacchaeus how empty his life really was, Zacchaeus wanted all Jesus had to offer. Zacchaeus gave himself wholeheartedly to Jesus and showed true repentance by a radical change in lifestyle. Instead of taking from the poor, he gave to them. Rather than cheating people, he restored what he’d previously taken, with interest. After his encounter with Jesus, Zacchaeus could tell a wonderful, true story about how Jesus enabled him to be pure—and not in name only.

What about us? Our Father has called us, “children of God” (1 John 3:1), but we don’t always behave as His children. The good news is this: He’ll do for us what He did for Zacchaeus. He will transform us into what He created us to be. He’ll help us live up to the name He’s given us.

“Dear friends, now we are children of God,
and what we will be has not yet been made known.
But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him,
for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2 NIV).

Copyright © 2010 Sherrie Lorance. All rights reserved.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Do I LOOK Like a Builder? (Nehemiah 3)

If you teach a children’s Bible class, do you ever ask yourself, “What am I doing here?” If so, you’re not alone. Many people who work in children’s ministries wonder the same thing. Many are not teachers by profession and don’t feel qualified. Yet, there they are teaching children. Nehemiah 3 provides helpful perspective for vocational and non-vocational teachers alike.

God devotes an entire chapter in the book of Nehemiah to listing the names of people who helped rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. The interesting thing is—most of the builders were not architects, engineers or construction workers by trade. They were everyday people who worked in fields vastly different from where they were serving right then.

Nehemiah’s building crew consisted of the high priest, his fellow priests, several goldsmiths, a perfume-maker, several district rulers, ordinary citizens, temple servants, a security guard, several merchants, women (long before the days of equal opportunity) and many others. God didn’t criticize any of these helpers for not working as fast as others, or for lacking the skills others had, or for not being as strong. God reproved only one group of people, the nobles of Tekoa, because “their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors” (Nehemiah 3:5 NIV).

Like everyone in ministry, Nehemiah’s workers experienced opposition, frustration and discouragement (chapter 4). But they kept working, heeding Nehemiah’s advice not to focus on their feelings, but on the greatness of their God (Nehemiah 4:14). And God blessed their work.

If Nehemiah’s crew had been professionals, they may have congratulated themselves on the success of the building project. But they were unqualified, unlikely builders. So when they finally completed the wall—in record time—GOD received the credit. Nehemiah wrote, “So the wall was completed . . . in fifty-two days. When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God" (Nehemiah 6:15-16 NIV, emphasis added).

You may feel out of place teaching kids, but God can use unlikely people to do His work. Just ask Nehemiah’s building crew.

Copyright © 2010 Sherrie Lorance. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

What’s Your Metaphor? (Matthew 4:18-22)

As their fishing net splashed into the lake, Peter and Andrew heard Jesus call, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” The metaphor fit. Although all disciples essentially would “fish” and help bring people into God’s kingdom, Jesus did not recite the same invitation to each new disciple. Why?

Jesus’ use of the fishing metaphor with Peter and Andrew illustrated how He wanted them to use their existing talents and interests in a new way. They already knew how to fish. They were familiar with techniques and tools of the trade. They enjoyed fishing. Jesus would transform their lives and help them use their abilities and passions to advance His kingdom.

We don’t know everything Jesus said to the other disciples. It’s possible that He shared metaphors with each of them. Imagine Jesus whispering to tax collector Matthew, “You think it’s exciting to make a profit. Follow me and I’ll make you an investor of people. Seeing thousands come into the kingdom will thrill you even more than counting your cash.” Or maybe Jesus said to politically minded Simon the Zealot, “Follow me, and I’ll make you an activist for the greatest cause on earth. Come campaign for me, Simon.”

When Jesus calls you to follow Him, He does not expect you to ignore your passions and abilities. He invites you to maximize them. Jesus promises to take what you are and make you far better than you can ever hope to be. When you follow Him, He’ll transform you. He’ll make you a _________________ for His kingdom. What metaphor might He use to fill in the blank?

“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10 NIV).

Copyright © 2010 Sherrie Lorance. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Deep Water (Luke 5:1-11)

Have you ever felt like you were in deep water—overwhelmed by a situation or responsibility that God directed you toward? Deep water was the last place Peter wanted to be. He was about to discover, though, that it could be the very best place.

When Jesus said, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch,” Peter did what humans often do. He focused on what he’d already experienced—and how he’d previously failed. “Master,” Peter said, “we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.” If he’d stopped with the memory of his failure, Peter might have missed the biggest success of his fishing career. But he didn’t stop there. He continued, “But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” And he moved into deep water.

Peter obeyed dutifully, because Jesus asked him to. That’s admirable. But Peter could have obeyed eagerly, in anticipation of what Jesus would do. Jesus’ instructions held a promise: “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Jesus’ instructions always hold a promise. When Jesus calls you to move into a challenging situation, He has a plan for your being there. The plan inevitably involves your good and His glory.

Peter moved into deep water, and Jesus moved fish into Peter’s net—more fish than he’d ever seen at one time! The miracle pointed people to Jesus. And Jesus promoted Peter to a higher task—catching people for God’s kingdom. Deep water may be the last place you want to be, but it may be the best place to experience Jesus’ abundant provision for you and through you.

What deep-water situation is God directing you toward?

Copyright © 2010 Sherrie Lorance. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

When Giving Up Is Good (Exodus 2:1-10)

Some people will do anything to keep from giving up. After all, giving up shows weakness, doesn’t it? Or does it? Sometimes, giving up is the greatest thing you can do. Just ask Jochebed.

When her baby was born, Jochebed and her husband Amram “saw that he was no ordinary child” (Hebrews 11:23). Maybe Moses was especially cute, or maybe his parents sensed a divine call on his life. One thing’s for sure—they did not want to lose him. So they hid him for three months, defying a royal command to kill all baby boys.

As Jochebed nursed Moses and rocked him to sleep, she likely prayed for his safety. She held Moses close to her heart and appealed to the heart of God. But when God put an idea into her mind—a plan that could save Moses’ life—Jochebed risked giving up a big part of her own life. Even though it hurt, Jochebed was willing to give Moses up. She could do it because although she cared deeply about Moses, she did not cling desperately to him. She clung only to God.

The source of Jochebed’s strength is implied in the meaning of her name, “Jehovah is her glory”. Jochebed knew that the greatest joy comes not from clutching good things to ourselves, but from giving everything to God and watching Him use it to draw attention to Himself. Long before “kingdom perspective” was a catchphrase, Jochebed embraced God’s far-reaching plan for His world—a plan that involved her son, a plan that would point all nations toward God’s Son.

Jochebed may have had no idea of the magnitude or specifics of God’s plan. She may not have imagined that her son would be the deliverer who would foreshadow the ultimate Deliverer. She may not have dreamed that Moses would talk face to face with Almighty God, receive the Law and prepare God’s people for the Promised Land. But she did realize that to cling to Moses would not bring ultimate good—for her or for him. To cling to God, though, and to pursue His glory, would bring nothing but good, ultimately.

Jochebed’s greatest legacy is not that she was Moses’ mother, but that she was willing to give up being Moses’ mother. She was willing to embrace God’s plan—whatever it involved. She trusted that God knew what was best, could do what was best and would do what was best. He did! And God’s best was better than Jochebed could have dreamed. It always is.

Copyright © 2010 Sherrie Lorance. All rights reserved.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Would You Eat THAT? (I Kings 17:1-6)

The “raven room service” God provided for Elijah probably caused Elijah to feel heartened and humbled at the same time. By ordering ravens to bring Elijah breakfast and supper every day, God demonstrated His sovereignty over nature and His care for His servant. Meals in Bills may not have been what Elijah had in mind, though, especially when the bills belonged to ravens—birds that mainly eat dead and putrefying flesh. God had declared ravens unclean, abominable, detestable for Jews (Leviticus 11:13). Sure, Elijah was grateful for the blessing of food, but he had to be pretty hungry to eat bread and meat covered in raven germs. Maybe that was the point. Maybe Elijah’s hunger prepared Him to receive God’s help—in God’s way.

As long as we’re full of ourselves—full of our wisdom, our abilities, our plans—we’re unlikely to receive what God graciously offers. But when we reach the end of ourselves, when we realize that we are empty and powerless, we’ll recognize God’s provision for what it is—our only hope, our only life. God makes us hungry; then He feeds us with the Bread of Life—with Christ Himself.

Like the ravens, Christ was cursed. God’s law declared, “Anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse” (Deuteronomy 21:23). Yet God turned the curse of the cross into a blessing. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13).

Cursed birds brought life to Elijah; cursed Christ brings life to all who receive Him. Have you been hungry enough to receive Him? Are you hungry enough to feed on Him every day? If you’re hungry for Him, He’ll fill you with Himself (Matthew 5:6). It’s an all-you-can-eat buffet. How hungry are you?

Copyright © 2010 Sherrie Lorance. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Whose Psalm Is It, Anyway?

Psalm 23 should not be called simply “a psalm of David”. Yes, he did write it, and it does illustrate his experience with the divine shepherd. But if we have the same shepherd David had, it can be our psalm, too. So . . . do we have the same shepherd?

We say, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” but sometimes we envision a different shepherd than the one whom David praised. Sometimes we think of the Lord not as the Good Shepherd, but as the Good Enough Shepherd.

Unlike David’s picture of himself as a beloved sheep who has no worries because his shepherd provides the very best of everything and gives him more than he needs, we sometimes see ourselves as scraggly strays on the outskirts of the flock. We know that the shepherd will provide for our needs, but we subconsciously interpret that to mean, “He will give me enough to get by. He’ll ration out blessings, giving me just enough to sustain me.”

Jesus invites us to experience the same shepherd-sheep relationship that David enjoyed. Jesus identifies Himself as the Good Shepherd, and each believer as a beloved sheep whom He will protect at the cost of His life. He offers us not just enough to get by, but says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10 NIV). Life to the full—to the maximum—the “good life” with the Good Shepherd—that’s what Jesus offers us!

Our Good Shepherd cares for us out of delight, not duty. He gives us not rationed blessings, but so many we can’t hold them, not “treats” to reward us for good behavior, but a feast—just because we’re His. He gives us not only His abundant provisions, but His abiding presence as well. He does not simply put up with us. He wants us. He loves us.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd, not the Good Enough Shepherd. He offers you the opportunity to call David’s psalm your psalm. Will you do it?

“Because the Lord is my Shepherd, I have everything I need!” (Psalms 23:1 TLB).

“You prepare a feast for me . . . my cup overflows with blessings” (Psalms 23:5 NLT).

“You give me more than I can hold” (Psalms 23:5 ICB).

Copyright © 2010 Sherrie Lorance. All rights reserved.

Monday, July 5, 2010

A Test of Faith (Acts 12:1-19)

After “earnestly praying” for Peter to be released from prison, why did the church struggle to believe God’s answer when Peter knocked at the door? After all, many people at the prayer meeting had witnessed Jesus’ resurrection—and an empty jail cell is nothing compared to an empty tomb. Perhaps they hesitated to believe the news of Peter’s release because between Jesus’ resurrection and Peter’s incarceration had come James’ execution. Their faith was being tested.

Unexpected tragedy will test our faith. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If something we considered valuable were actually a worthless counterfeit, wouldn’t we want to know? If our faith is phony—based on positive thinking, emotionalism, or confidence in getting our way (instead of confidence in God Himself)—it’s good for us to find that out. Nothing reveals the true nature of faith like severe trials. And nothing engenders and strengthens true faith like experiencing God’s provision in the midst of our trials.

New Testament believers who celebrated Peter’s rescue and grieved James’ death had much in common with their Old Testament counterparts. Some “escaped the edge of the sword,” some “were put to death by the sword,” but “these were all commended for their faith”
(Hebrews 11:34-39 NIV). We can relate, too. Sometimes God provides what we need to escape suffering; sometimes He provides what we need to endure it. But always, always, He provides. When our faith rests in God’s faithfulness, and not in what He’ll do to prove it, our faith will pass the test—any test.

“So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world”  (1 Peter 1:6-7, NLT).

Copyright © 2010 Sherrie Lorance. All rights reserved.

Welcome to My Blog!

Thank you for stopping by. I’ll be posting content weekly—some new material and some that I wrote as part of a curriculum-writing project. (Thank you, Jayne George, for granting permission to post those devotions here.) I welcome your comments!