Follow Me

Health clubs offer many different programs for those who want to lose weight and stay healthy. One fitness center caters only to those who want to lose at least 50 pounds and develop a healthy lifestyle. One member says that she quit her previous fitness club because she felt the slim and fit people were staring at her and judging her out-of-shape body. She now works out 5 days a week and is achieving healthy weight loss in a positive and welcoming environment.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus came to call the spiritually unfit to follow Him. Levi was one such person. Jesus saw him sitting in his tax collector’s booth and said, “Follow me” (Mark 2:14). His words captured Levi’s heart, and he followed Jesus. Tax collectors were often greedy and dishonest in their dealings and were considered religiously unclean. When the religious leaders saw Jesus having dinner at Levi’s house with other tax collectors, they asked, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (2:16). Jesus replied, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (2:17).

Jesus came to save sinners, which includes all of us. He loves us, welcomes us into His presence, and calls us to follow Him. As we walk with Him, we grow more and more spiritually fit.

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Surprised by Grace

A woman from Grand Rapids, Michigan, fell asleep on the couch after her husband had gone to bed. An intruder sneaked in through the sliding door, which the couple had forgotten to lock, and crept through the house. He entered the bedroom where the husband was sleeping and picked up the television set. The sleeping man woke up, saw a figure standing there, and whispered, “Honey, come to bed.” The burglar panicked, put down the TV, grabbed a stack of money from the dresser, and ran out.

The thief was in for a big surprise! The money turned out to be a stack of Christian pamphlets with a likeness of a $20 bill on one side and an explanation of the love and forgiveness God offers to people on the other side. Instead of the cash he expected, the intruder got the story of God’s love for him.

I wonder what Saul expected when he realized it was Jesus appearing to him on the road to Damascus, since he had been persecuting and even killing Jesus’ followers? (Acts 9:1-9). Saul, later called Paul, must have been surprised by God’s grace toward him, which he called “a gift”: “I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power” (Eph. 3:7).

Have you been surprised by God’s gift of grace in your life as He shows you His love and forgiveness?

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God of My Strength

No one could have mistaken the ancient Babylonian soldiers for gentlemen. They were ruthless, resilient, and vicious, and they attacked other nations the way an eagle overtakes its prey. Not only were they powerful, they were prideful as well. They practically worshiped their own combat abilities. In fact, the Bible says that their “strength [was] their god” (Hab. 1:11).

God did not want this kind of self-reliance to infect Israel’s forces as they prepared to battle the Midianites. So He told Gideon, Israel’s army commander, “You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, ‘My own strength has saved me’ ” (Judg. 7:2). As a result, Gideon discharged anyone who was fearful. Twenty-two thousand men hightailed it home, while 10,000 fighters stayed. God continued to downsize the army until only 300 men remained (vv. 3-7).

Having fewer troops meant that Israel was dramatically outnumbered—their enemies, who populated a nearby valley, were as “thick as locusts” (v. 12). Despite this, God gave Gideon’s forces victory.

At times, God may allow our resources to dwindle so that we rely on His strength to keep going. Our needs showcase His power, but He is the One who says, “I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isa. 41:10).

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Surprised!

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571–1610), an Italian artist, was known for his fiery temperament and unconventional technique. He used ordinary working people as models for his saints and was able to make viewers of his paintings feel they were a part of the scene. The Supper at Emmaus shows an innkeeper standing while Jesus and two of His followers are seated at a table when they recognize Him as the risen Lord (Luke 24:31). One disciple is pushing himself to a standing position while the other’s arms are outstretched and his hands open in astonishment.

Luke, who records these events in his gospel, tells us that the two men immediately returned to Jerusalem where they found the eleven disciples and others assembled together and saying, “ ‘It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.’ Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread” (vv. 33-35).

Oswald Chambers said, “Jesus rarely comes where we expect Him; He appears where we least expect Him, and always in the most illogical connections. The only way a worker can keep true to God is by being ready for the Lord’s surprise visits.”

Whatever road we are on today, may we be ready for Jesus to make Himself known to us in new and surprising ways.

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Easter Start

One detail in the Easter story has always intrigued me. Why did Jesus keep the scars from His crucifixion? Presumably He could have had any resurrected body He wanted, and yet He chose one identifiable mainly by scars that could be seen and touched. Why?

I believe the story of Easter would be incomplete without those scars on the hands, the feet, and the side of Jesus (John 20:27). Human beings dream of pearly straight teeth and wrinkle-free skin and ideal body shapes. We dream of an unnatural state: the perfect body. But for Jesus, being confined in a skeleton and human skin was the unnatural state. The scars are a permanent reminder of His days of confinement and suffering on our planet.

From the perspective of heaven, those scars represent the most horrible event that has ever happened in the history of the universe. Even that event, though, turned into a memory. Because of Easter, we can hope that the tears we shed, the struggles we endure, the emotional pain, the heartache over lost friends and loved ones—all these will become memories, like Jesus’ scars. Scars never completely go away, but neither do they hurt any longer. Someday we will have re-created bodies and a re-created heaven and earth (Rev. 21:4). We will have a new start, an Easter start.

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Never Forsaken

Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky said, “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” With that in mind, I read an online article describing “The Top 8 Deadliest Prisons in the World.” In one of these prisons every prisoner is held in solitary confinement.

We are intended to live and relate in relationships and community, not in isolation. This is what makes solitary confinement such a harsh punishment.

Isolation is the agony Christ suffered when His eternal relationship with the Father was broken on the cross. We hear this in His cry captured in Matthew 27:46: “About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ (which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’).” As He suffered and died under the burden of our sins, Christ was suddenly alone, forsaken, isolated, cut off from His relationship with the Father. Yet His suffering in isolation secured for us the promise of the Father: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Heb. 13:5).

Christ endured the agony and abandonment of the cross for us so that we would never be alone or abandoned by our God. Ever.

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Three-Word Obituary

Before Stig Kernell died, he told the local funeral home that he didn’t want a traditional obituary. Instead, the Swedish man instructed them to publish only three words noting his passing: “I am dead.” When Mr. Kernell died at age 92, that’s exactly what appeared. The audacity and simplicity of his unusual death notice captured the attention of newspapers around the world. In a strange twist, the international curiosity about the man with the three-word obituary caused more attention to his death than he intended.

When Jesus was crucified, the Lord’s obituary could have read, “He is dead.” But after 3 days, it would have been changed to front-page news saying, “He is risen!” Much of the New Testament is devoted to proclaiming and explaining the results of Christ’s resurrection. “Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? . . . We are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Rom. 8:34-37).

The three-word obituary of Jesus, “He is dead,” has been transformed into an eternal anthem of praise to our Savior. He is risen! He is risen indeed!

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The Olive Press

If you visit the village of Capernaum beside the Sea of Galilee, you will find an exhibit of ancient olive presses. Formed from basalt rock, the olive press consists of two parts: a base and a grinding wheel. The base is large, round, and has a trough carved out of it. The olives were placed in this trough, and then the wheel, also made from heavy stone, was rolled over the olives to extract the oil.

On the night before His death, Jesus went to the Mount of Olives overlooking the city of Jerusalem. There, in the garden called Gethsemane, He prayed to the Father, knowing what lay ahead of Him.

The word Gethsemane means “place of the olive press”—and that perfectly describes those first crushing hours of Christ’s suffering on our behalf. There, “in anguish, he prayed . . . and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44).

Jesus the Son suffered and died to take away “the sin of the world” (John 1:29) and restore our broken relationship with God the Father. “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering . . . . He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isa. 53:4-5).

Our hearts cry out in worship and gratitude.

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Stories in a Cabin

The vintage cabin, expertly constructed from hand-hewn logs, was worthy of a magazine cover. But the structure itself was only half the treasure. Inside, family heirlooms clung to the walls, infusing the home with memories. On the table sat a hand-woven egg basket, an ancient biscuit board, and an oil lamp. A weathered pork pie hat perched over the front door. “There’s a story behind everything,” the proud owner said. 

When God gave Moses instructions for constructing the tabernacle, there was a “story” behind everything (Ex. 25–27). The tabernacle had only one entrance, just as we have only one way to God (see Acts 4:12). The thick inner curtain separated the people from the Most Holy Place where God’s presence dwelt: Our sin separates us from God. Inside the Most Holy Place was the ark of the covenant, which symbolized God’s presence. The high priest was a forerunner of the greater Priest to come—Jesus Himself. The blood of the sacrifices foreshadowed Christ’s perfect sacrifice: “He entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption” (Heb. 9:12).

All these things told the story of Christ and the work He would accomplish on our behalf. He did it so that “those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance” (v. 15). Jesus invites us to be a part of His story. 

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The Best Is Yet to Come

In our family, March means more than the end of winter. It means that the college basketball extravaganza called “March Madness” has arrived. As avid fans, we watch the tournament and enthusiastically root for our favorite teams. If we tune in early we get a chance to listen to the broadcasters talk about the upcoming game and to enjoy some of the pre-game drills where players shoot practice shots and warm up with teammates.

Our life on earth is like the pre-game in basketball. Life is interesting and full of promise, but it doesn’t compare to what lies ahead. Just think of the pleasure of knowing that even when life is good, the best is yet to come! Or that when we give cheerfully to those in need, it’s an investment in heavenly treasure. In times of suffering and sorrow, we can find hope as we reflect on the truth that a pain-free, tearless eternity awaits us. It’s no wonder that Paul exhorts: “Set your minds on things above” (Col. 3:2).

The future God has promised us enables us to see all of life in new dimensions. While this may be a great life, the best life is still to come. It is a wonderful privilege to live here in the light of there.

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