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“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rustdestroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:19-21, ESV)

 

COSTLY

Chad Karger

This is Holy Week. For Jesus’s disciples, it is the week that we follow him to the cross. It is the week we recall his burial. It is the week that ends in celebration of our victorious King! Yet, some who claim the name of Jesus want to arrive at Easter morning without going through Good Friday.

The twelve disciples became the eleven disciples on the way to the cross. Instead of counting the cost, Judas used Jesus for personal gain. Of course, whatever he gained wasn’t enough to keep him from a tragic ending.

To follow Jesus requires us to count the cost. Jesus took away the penalty of sin; we offer our life out of gratitude for His salvation. 

No sooner had Stephen been made a deacon in the church than he was being arrested and facing the death penalty. His day in court would end, not with the angry executioners, but with him following to sleep in the arms of Jesus.

While Jesus’s death means I no longer have to pay for the penalty of my sin, His grace means that I’m overcoming the power sin in my life. Overcoming the power of sin will cost me in very real and personal ways. In that struggle, we’ll be tempted to reach for quick fixes.

To be sure, genuine rest, peace, comfort, and strength come grace through faith in Jesus alone. When we meet Jesus on Good Friday, we are reminded that sin’s power has been shattered at the cross! Let us count the cost, then, of taking hold of that Christ’s power:

It costs the fleeting pleasure of addictions to follow real satisfaction in Jesus.

It costs the false security in riches to follow the treasure of heaven in Jesus.

It costs the world’s applause to follow the grace of God in Jesus.

It costs the satisfaction of revenge to follow the justice of Jesus.

It costs self-condemnation to follow love of Jesus.

It costs….

On Good Friday we will lay down the burden of making life work on our own terms. We will take up the life found only in Jesus. While costly, the benefits of Jesus are, as the old hymn says, “ten thousand charms.”

It cost Stephen his life. In the end, he was resting in the arms of Jesus when his executioners stoned him.

What does it cost you to follow Jesus? What does resting in the arms of Jesus mean for you? 

Close out Lent with a prayer of thanksgiving this Friday when you meet God’s gift at the cross.

GOD WITH US

Chad Karger

God is near.
God is powerful.
God is abundant.

These are three simple and profound confessions about God. As we come to know God in these three ways through Jesus, our eyes are opened to who we are apart from Him.

Distracted.
Weak.
Poor.

When Israel was making their way through the desert wilderness on their way to the Promised Land, God was powerfully and abundantly present every step of the way. Among other things, His presence was represented by the Tabernacle, which was called the "tent of witness.” It was a constant reminder of God in their midst. They would set it up in the wilderness and worship God.

For the church, God's presence is seen and experienced by the presence of the Holy Spirit who has been given to Jesus’s followers. Paul goes so far as to call our bodies “temples of the Holy Spirit,” (1 Corinthians 3:16; 2 Corinthians 6:16). We experience God’s powerful and abundant presence personally and as a community. BOTH!

In Christ, we aren't striving to get close to God. God is near to us.
In Christ, we aren’t trying to be strong. God is strong given to us.
In Christ, we aren’t scraping by a meager existence. God is the abundant life.

God with us!

Lent is a time to be reminded of God's presence, even if we have to get honest about our distractions; be reminded of His power, even if we have to be honest about weakness; reminded of His abundance, even if we have to be honest about our weaknesses.

You don’t rush through God’s presence. You don’t presume upon God’s presence. You dwell with God. It’s a relationships, not religious ritual.

As Stephen reminds the religious leaders in his speech, “The Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands,” but in His creation made by His Word, and saved by His Word!

Next Sunday is Palm Sunday. As Jesus enters Jerusalem, so He enters our hearts and communities. He has come to be powerfully and abundantly near to us. 

He is God’s promise fulfilled!

Leaving Egypt

Chad Karger

What started out to be a good thing, over time and before I really knew it, turned out to be a deadly and dark prison. How did that happen?

By God’s grace, you and I have said or will say these words. We’ll ask this question as we try to retrace our steps that led to our captivity. They have the sound of regret and sadness. There’s even some confusion in the questioning. 

I say, “By God’s grace,” because it is by God’s grace that we are saved from our sin. Being saved from our sin means grappling with and understanding our sin. It’s recognizing it as sin; and it is seeing, by God’s grace, what led us to disobey God.

In his speech before the religious leaders, Stephen recounts the all-important story of how God raised up Moses and used him to lead the entire nation of Israel through the desert wilderness to the edge of the Jordan River.

How did Israel end up in Egypt? Not by chance! In fact, if you read Stephen’s speech in Acts 7:9-19, he tells you in short summary how the Hebrews became the slaves of the Egyptians. Freedom from a famine in one generation became the prison of the people in the next generation.

The fast that is associated with Lent serves many purposes and can be helpful on many levels. To be sure, one of those benefits is realizing that something good in my life has become a god. The very best version of myself is a lousy substitute for God!

“A counterfeit god is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living,” (Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods).

Joseph blessed his family with the riches of Egypt in a time of need. Over time, that blessing became a curse. As thankful as they were to rid themselves of that curse and follow Moses out of Egypt, at some point in the unforgiving wilderness and in their worry, they wished they had never left Egypt. 

That’s how sin and idolatry work. It becomes a familiar and manageable source of pleasure. It’s an impoverished mindset, but it’s something. When we are prisoners to sin’s Pharaohs, we barely have the faith or imagination to dream of something better. We can’t see the Promised Land. 

Nevertheless, it is there! 

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” (Hebrews 11:1). Like Abraham, people of the promise “desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city,” (Hebrews 11:16).

To be people of the promise is to be the people of God. Keeping the promise requires our faith in God, not our best efforts. He alone will lead us out of prisons of our sin and shame.