Sam checks his retirement account twice each day. He saved for thirty years, and with the boost of a rising stock market, finally has enough to retire. As long as stocks don’t plunge. This fear keeps Sam fretting over his balance.
Jeremiah warned about this: “You, Judah, have as many gods as you have towns; and the altars you have set up to burn incense to that shameful god Baal are as many as the streets of Jerusalem” (11:13).
Judah’s idolatry is remarkable. They knew the Lord was God. How could they worship anyone else? They were hedging their bets. They needed the Lord for the afterlife, because only the true God could raise them from the dead. But what about now? Pagan gods promised health, wealth, and fertility, so why not pray to them too, just in case?
Can you see how Judah’s idolatry is also our temptation? It’s good to have talent, education, and money. But if we’re not careful, we might shift our confidence to them. We know we’ll need God when we die, and we’ll ask Him to bless us now. But we’ll also lean on these lesser gods, just in case.
Where is your trust? Back-up idols are still idols. Thank God for His many gifts, and tell Him you’re not relying on any of them. Your faith is riding entirely on Him.
When my pastor asked our class a difficult question about the life of Jesus, my hand shot up. I had just read the story, so I knew this one. And I wanted the others in the room to know that I knew it too. After all, I’m a Bible teacher. How embarrassing it would be to be stumped in front of them! Now I was embarrassed by my fear of embarrassment. So I lowered my hand. Am I this insecure?
John the Baptist shows a better way. When his disciples complained that people were beginning to leave him and follow Jesus, John said he was glad to hear it. He was merely the messenger. “I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him. . . . He must become greater; I must become less” (vv. 28–30). John realized the point of his existence was Jesus. He is “the one who comes from heaven” and “is above all” (v. 31)—the divine Son who gave His life for us. He must receive all the glory and fame.
Any attention drawn to ourselves distracts from our Lord. And since He is our only Savior and the only hope for the world, any credit we steal from Him ends up hurting us.
Let’s resolve to step out of the picture—to stop photobombing Jesus. It’s best for Him, for the world, and for us.
Tom chased the young men who were stealing his poor friend’s rickety bike. He didn’t have a plan. He only knew he needed to get that bike. To his surprise, the three thieves looked his way, dropped the bike and backed away. Tom was both relieved and impressed with himself as he picked up the bike and turned around. That’s when he saw Jeff, his tall and muscular friend who had been trailing close behind.
Elisha’s servant panicked when he saw his town surrounded by an enemy army. He ran to Elisha, “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” Elisha told him to relax. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then God opened the servant’s eyes, and he “saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all round Elisha” (vv. 15–17).
If you strive to follow Jesus, you may find yourself in some dicey situations. You may risk your reputation, and perhaps even your security, because you’re determined to do what’s right. You may lose sleep wondering how it will all turn out. Remember you’re not alone. You don’t have to be stronger or smarter than the challenge before you. Jesus is with you, and His power is greater than all rivals. Ask yourself Paul’s question, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). Really, who? No one. Run toward your challenge, with God.
Dusk fell as I followed Li Bao along the tops of terraced walls cut into the mountains of central China. I had never been this way before, and I couldn’t see more than one step ahead or how steep the ground dropped off to our left. I gulped and stuck close to Li. I didn’t know where we were going or how long it would take, but I trusted my friend.
I was in the same position as Thomas, the disciple who always seemed to need reassurance. Jesus told His disciples that He must leave to prepare a place for them, and that they knew “the way to the place where I am going” (v. 4). Thomas asked a logical follow-up question: “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (v. 5).
Jesus didn’t quench Thomas’s doubt by explaining where He was taking them. He simply assured Thomas that He was the way there. And that was enough.
We too have questions about our future. None of us know the details of what lies ahead. Life is full of twists we don’t see coming. That’s okay. It’s enough to know Jesus, who is “the way and the truth and the life” (v. 6).
Jesus knows what’s next. He only asks that we walk close to Him.
Jose pastored a church known for its programs and theatrical productions. They were great, yet he worried the church’s busyness had slipped into a business. Was the church growing for the right reasons or because of its activities? Jose wanted to find out, so he canceled all extra church events for one year. His congregation would focus on being a living temple where people worshiped God.
Jose’s decision seems extreme, until you notice what Jesus did when He entered the temple’s outer courts. The holy space that should have been full of simple prayers had become a flurry of worship business. “Get your doves here! Lily white, as God requires!” Jesus overturned the merchant’s tables and stopped those who bought their merchandise. What are you doing? He quoted Isaiah 56 and Jeremiah 7, “ ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.’ But you have made it ‘a den of robbers’” (Mark 11:17). The court of the Gentiles, the place for outsiders to worship God, had been turned into a mundane marketplace for making money.
There’s nothing wrong with business or staying busy. But that’s not the point of church. We’re the living temple of God, and our main task is to worship Jesus. We likely won’t need to flip over any tables as Jesus did, but He may be calling us to do something equally drastic.
You can generally tell where a map was drawn by what lies in its middle. We tend to think our home is the center of the world, so we put a dot in the middle and sketch out from there. Nearby towns might be fifty kilometers to the north or half a day’s drive to the south, but all are described in relation to where we are. The Psalms draw their map from God’s earthly home in the Old Testament, so the center of biblical geography is Jerusalem.
Psalm 48 is one of many psalms that praises Jerusalem. This “city of our God, his holy mountain” is “beautiful in its loftiness, the joy of the whole earth” (vv. 1–2). Because “God is in her citadels” He “makes her secure forever” (vv. 3, 8). God’s fame begins in Jerusalem’s temple and spreads outward until it reaches “the ends of the earth” (vv. 9–10).
Unless you are reading this in Jerusalem, your home is not in the center of the biblical world. You live on the edges, in the frontier. Your region matters immensely, because God will not rest until His praise reaches “to the ends of the earth” (v.10). Would you like to be part of the way God reaches His goal? Worship each week with God’s people, and openly live each day for His glory. God’s fame extends “to the ends of the earth” when we devote all that we are and all that we have to Him.
The mischievous artist Banksy pulled off another practical joke. His painting Girl with Balloon sold for one million pounds at Sotheby’s auction house in London. Moments after the auctioneer yelled “Sold,” an alarm sounded and the painting slipped halfway through a shredder mounted inside the bottom of the frame. Banksy tweeted a picture of bidders gasping at his ruined masterpiece, with the caption, “Going, going, gone.”
Banksy relished pulling one over on the wealthy, but he need not have bothered. Wealth itself has plenty of pranks up its sleeve. God says, “Do not wear yourself out to get rich . . . . Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle” (v. 5).
Few things are less secure than money. We work hard to earn it, yet there are many ways to lose it. Investments go sour, inflation erodes, bills come, thieves steal, and fire and flood destroy. Even if we manage to keep our money, the time we have to spend it continually flies. Blink, and your life is going, going, gone.
What to do? God tells us a few verses later: “always be zealous for the fear of the
In northern Thailand, the Wild Boars youth soccer team decided to explore a cave together. After an hour they turned to go back, and found that the entrance to the cave was flooded. Rising water pushed them deeper into the cave, day after day, until they were finally trapped four kilometers inside. When they were heroically rescued two weeks later, many wondered how they had become so hopelessly trapped. Answer: one step at a time.
In Israel, Nathan confronted David for killing his loyal soldier, Uriah. How did the man “after [God’s] own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14) become guilty of murder? One step at a time. David did not go from zero to murder in one afternoon. He warmed up to it, over time, as one bad decision bled into other, worse decisions. It started with a second glance that turned into a lustful stare. He abused his kingly power by sending for Bathsheba, then tried to cover up her pregnancy by calling her husband home from the front. When Uriah refused to visit his wife while his comrades were at war, David decided he would have to die.
We may not be guilty of murder or trapped in a cave of our own making, but we are either moving toward Jesus or toward trouble. Big problems don’t develop overnight. They break upon us gradually, one step at a time. Where are you headed?
Now an accomplished writer, Caitlin describes the depression she battled after fighting off an assault. The emotional violence cut deeper than her physical struggle, for she felt it proved “how undesirable I was. I was not the kind of girl you wanted to get to know.” She felt unworthy of love, the kind of person others use and toss aside.
God understands. He lovingly shepherded Israel, but when He asked them what He was worth, “they paid me thirty pieces of silver” (Zechariah 11:12). This was the price of a slave; what masters must be reimbursed should their slave be accidentally killed (Exodus 21:32). God was insulted to be offered the lowest possible value—look at “the handsome price at which they valued me!” He said sarcastically (Zechariah 11:13). And He threw the money away.
Jesus understands. He wasn’t merely betrayed by His friend; He was betrayed with contempt. The Jewish leaders despised Jesus, so they offered Judas thirty pieces of silver—the lowest price you could put on a person—and he took it (Matthew 26:14–15; 27:9). Judas thought so little of Jesus he sold Him for nearly nothing.
If people undervalued Jesus, don’t be surprised when they undervalue you. Your value is not what others say. It’s not even what you say. It’s entirely and only what God says. He thinks you are worth dying for.