November 28 | Intense Joy

Text: Luke 15.3-7

Many things in this life cause great joy: the miracle of new birth, a marriage, the reunion of loved ones, and when lost things are found. However, joy is not only experienced here on earth. The song in Revelation 19 speaks of ultimate joy in heaven when justice and salvation are complete and of the abundant hallelujahs when the Church is presented as a pure bride before Christ.

Still, there is a joy which connects our earthly joy with heavenly joy. In Luke 15.7, Jesus describes the rejoicing in heaven when “one sinner” repents. Just as the shepherd after finding the lost sheep invites others to celebrate with him, so our Heavenly Father invites all of heaven to rejoice when one spiritually lost person is found.

While we’re happy when we find something we lost, imagine the intense joy God feels when we return to him. Today, reflect on the joy our Heavenly Father experiences when we are found, by watching the love soldiers experience when they return home: here.

November 27 | The Road Home

Text: Psalm 32

Both David (the writer of Psalm 32) and the younger brother recognize the challenging road of examining the heaviness and utter despair of their present circumstances. Both realize they’re lost and can’t take the easy road home. However, when the psalmist acknowledges and confesses his sin to the Lord, his trespass is forgiven (Psalm 32.5). Likewise the younger brother in the parable, when he realizes his folly and returns with a contrite heart, his father runs out to forgive him (Luke 15.18-22).

But the parable of the prodigal doesn’t end with the younger brother. It ends in suspense as we’re unsure if the older brother remains callus and never attends the party, if he honors his father by attending but does so begrudgingly, or if he forgives his younger brother and celebrates his return. No genuine examination, confession, or repentance seems to take place and all signs point to a resentful and stone cold heart.

Forgiveness and reconciliation with God require we acknowledge our need to be “found” as we head down the road called repentance. We must swallow our pride and confess where we went wrong.

As you welcome the Lord into your day, use the next few minutes to sit in silence allowing God to reveal where you recently went wrong. Confess your sin to God and then reread Psalm 32.5 as you celebrate his forgiveness.

November 26 | Lost-ness

Text: Ephesians 5.5-16

Being human means we all find ourselves lost at times. As Jeff Manion, senior teaching pastor, says, we all have an infinite capacity to lose our way. Even after receiving Jesus’ gift of salvation, we may find ourselves doing the wrong things or doing the right things but for the wrong reasons. Yes, even as upstanding Christians, we can drift into darkness and lose sight of our true position as children of God.

The parable of the prodigal offers two examples of how we lose our way and how the father goes looking for both sons. The younger brother clearly insults his father, takes his inheritance for granted, and lives for his own pleasure. The older brother remains outwardly faithful, does nothing to bring shame on his family, and sacrifices himself to serve in every way.

Although the older brother appears to be doing the “right things,” he is deeply angry and jealous—refusing to celebrate with his father. In his anger, he hardens his heart.

“Today, if you hear [God’s] voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 3.7-8). Instead, “live as children of the light… and find out what pleases the Lord” (Ephesians 5.8b-10).

Be prepared to discuss this week’s One Big Question in your small group. . . When your heart drifts, do you tend to resemble the elder brother in his lost-ness or the younger brother in his lost-ness?

November 25 | Two Lost Men

Text: Luke 18.9-14

You can rebel against God and be alienated from him either by breaking his rules or by keeping them diligently” (The Prodigal God, Timothy Keller).

Not long after Jesus relays the parable of the prodigal son, he finds himself in a similar group of men confidently discussing their own righteousness and patronizing everyone else. Like the comparison of the two sons, Jesus’ story revolves around two attitudes toward God as evidenced in their prayers.

The Pharisee, knowing he had diligently kept all the rules, puffs up his chest, walks up the temple stairs and offers a well-spoken prayer. However, his prayer orbits around him: thankfulness for his good works, how he is different, obedient, and even sacrificial. Jesus contrasts this prayer with that of a “sinner.” The tax collector, known by everyone as corrupt, didn’t approach the temple and wouldn’t even look up toward heaven, but beat his chest pleading for mercy.

Both parables depict two men—both alienated from God, but for different reasons. But only one man returns justified and exalted: the sinner. “For we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3.23). But we all get to choose: we can remain ignorant of our sin (like the older brother and the Pharisee) or we can admit our “right” living cannot save us.

If you’ve been living “rightly” out of your own efforts and have never cried out to Jesus for mercy, do so today. To start a conversation about how to cry out for God’s mercy, connect with someone at Ada Bible Church here.

November 24 | The Father

Text: Luke 15.11-31

As Luke 15 opens, Jesus walks over and sits down next to the despised tax collectors and “sinners.” All the while the “good,” law-abiding Pharisees are muttering to themselves, “this man welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15.2). As Jesus tells this “Parable of the Lost Son,” he recognizes his audience: law-abiding citizens, who not only need to understand the extravagant, boundary-crossing love of the Heavenly Father, but who’d be shocked by the scandalous actions of the father in this story.

No father in such an intensely patriarchal society, after being harshly disrespected, would divide his estate and offer his youngest son an early inheritance (15.12). Not only did the father pacify a deep insult, he went further and actually gave his son a portion of himself: what he had worked for all his life. Likely suspecting immaturity and self-seeking folly, the father remains hopeful of his son’s return.

At the first sight of his beloved son, overflowing with compassion, he exposes his legs as he runs to meet his son (this was never done!). He greets him with kisses, robes him with high honor, feeds him fine foods, and celebrates his miraculous return.

As you welcome God into your week and day, put yourself in the position of the older son watching as your father defies all societal boundaries to welcome your rebellious brother and eat with him. Identify and praise God for ways he has spilled over with compassion and love (acts of mercy, gracious gifts, and forgiveness) toward someone you know.

November 21 | Light

Text: Matthew 5.14-16

Once we’re found by Jesus, “fishing” with him for lost people becomes part of our job description. In Luke 5 Jesus calls Peter to be his follower and fisherman. One way we “fish” is by being “light.”  When Jesus called his followers to be “the light of the world,” he recognized the truth that we don’t hide a light under a basket, but let it shine in such a way so God is glorified.

We’re to be a light on many levels: behaviors, actions, reactions, habits, social life, relationships, choices, and conversations. Being a light means I’m so excited about God finding me and covering me with his grace, that I want others to experience being found.

We resonate with the psalmist who writes, “Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, LORD. They rejoice in your name all day long; they celebrate your righteousness” (Psalm 89.15-16).

Today pray about how you can light the way for others to be found by God through your actions and words. Identify an area in your life where you need to be a light and begin to shine there; invite someone to church for the first time and ask them what they thought, or tell someone the story of how Jesus found you.

November 20 | Discipleship

Text: Isaiah 6.1-5
The story in Luke 5.1-11 concludes with the conversation going from Peter declaring he’s an unworthy sinner, to Jesus telling him not to fear because he will equip Peter to “catch” people. Jesus sees Peter’s repentant heart and recruits him to be a part of his “fishing team.” Being on the team means Jesus is going to equip and grow him.

We become candidates for discipleship, not by embellishing our good behavior, nor polishing our ethical resume, but by recognizing our deep spiritual need for a Savior. Both Peter and the Old Testament prophet Isaiah began their ministries by perceiving their own sinfulness in the presence of a Holy God.

When we recognize our sin and place our faith in Jesus, we become his disciples.  He saves us, calls us to follow him, and equips and grows us to be on his “fishing team.” Seeing God’s holiness is the beginning of being used by him. When we feel the most unqualified is when we are the most qualified.

As you welcome God into your day, read Isaiah 6.1-5 and see how Isaiah, standing in the holy presence of God, comprehends his uncleanliness before he can serve. Then memorize Psalm 29.2, “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness.” Perceiving God’s holiness is where your ministry begins.

November 19 | Sin

Text: Romans 3.9-20

Simply put, sin is turning away from God to serve our own selfish desires. The Bible says everyone does it: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3.23). Because we don’t want to see ourselves as sinners, we suffer under the delusion of: I’m not as bad as that guy.

Our standard of sin tends to be the worst person we can think of: If I’m not as bad as her, then I’m okay. But the standard isn’t their holiness, its God’s holiness. Compared to him, our efforts always fall short.

Following Jesus is a power struggle between us and God. Being his disciple means saying to God, “You’re the boss, I’ll do what you say even if doesn’t make sense to me.” It’s what Peter demonstrates in Luke 5.5 when he says, “But because you say so, I will let down the nets,” when he thought there were no fish. When God asks me to forgive, obey my parents, or not gossip, I need to do it because God is the boss, and I’ll obey his command, because he says so.

Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sin. Your understanding of what he did for you is only as big as your understanding of your own sin.

Consider this week’s One Big Question. . . When was a time you felt unworthy to receive God’s affection and company? The degree to which you are bothered by your sin is the key to needing and receiving his forgiveness.

November 18 | Holiness

Text: Psalm 103
“Holiness is one of the most important ideas that a Christian can ever grapple with. It is basic to our whole understanding of God and of Christianity,” The Holiness of God, R.C. Sproul, (p.12).

To be a true disciple our perception of God needs to begin with a clear understanding of his holiness. “Holy” is from the Hebrew word “qodesh” and means “set apart.” God is separated from his fallen creation by his perfection. In all aspects he’s perfect, and all of his characteristics are in perfect balance.  He himself says, “I am God, and there is none like me” (Isaiah 46.9c). To experience God fully we need to recognize we are not worthy to even be in his presence.

People like to believe in their own God, made up to suit their own wants and desires. Jeff Manion, senior teaching pastor, calls this “the cartoon Jesus” (God). The only way we can destroy false images of God, is to know him through his written Word. The God of the Bible is the true God. It is there we see his holiness and how we compare.

Take some time today to get to know God better. Read Psalm 103 and write down everything you see about him that sets him apart. Then praise and thank him in prayer for each thing you see.

November 17 | Perceptions

Text: Luke 5.1-11
The Apostle Peter was no stranger to Jesus’ power: Jesus had just healed Peter’s sick mother-in-law and others in his city. What he hadn’t seen yet was Jesus’ power over the deeper concerns of his own life.

When Jesus gives Peter the command, “Let down the nets for a catch,” he and his companions have been up all night fishing with absolutely no success. The likelihood of catching any fish is ridiculous. But Peter obeys and the catch is so huge the nets break and the boats begin to sink! The power of Jesus over Peter’s arrogance and pride brings him to his knees.

Most of us would be thanking Jesus for the great catch. But Peter’s perception of Jesus had drastically changed. Jesus knew what he was thinking. Compared to Jesus’  holiness, he is completely undone. Peter feels unworthy to even be in his presence saying, “Go away from me Lord; I am a sinful man!”

You may know of Jesus’ power but, like Peter, need to honestly evaluate who he is compared to who you are. We can’t change until our perceptions change to the truth of the sin separating us from a Holy God.

As you welcome God into your day and week, listen to “Our Great God” by Fernando Ortega and Mac Powell and consider who God is compared to yourself.