Weeding the Heart’s Garden

Gardening season is upon us. I’ve already been out surveying the damage from both winter and the previous summer, when I could not give my vegetable garden the care and maintenance it needed. Weeds abound in the raised beds, and the wood is rotting away as the decomposers God has created are doing their work. It’s not a pretty sight and very disheartening. The problems in my garden are very apparent, and with time and effort, I will work with my husband to pull out the plants I did not plant, repair or replace the disintegrating wood, and attempt to restore order to this little corner of my life. In some places, it is apparent that there is chaos and disorder; however, there are also places where the problems are not so visible.

Every Sunday I can dress myself and my family for church in our best clothes. I can brush their hair, pack them all into my sparkling mini-van, arrive at church right on time, and deliver them to their respective classrooms. I can smile at the greeters, sing out worship songs, and clap my hands. I can look great on the outside yet be a hot angry mess on the inside. Sin can be rotting away my insides. The greeters cannot see the angry words that erupted from my mouth when the kids did not wash their hands after using the bathroom or before dinner. They cannot see the bitterness lurking beneath the surface when you see someone who has the life you always dreamed of. Sin is like that: it’s easy to hide, but far more destructive to our hearts than the weeds and rotting wood are to my garden.

In today’s passage Jesus is speaking to this issue. His disciples had just been accused of breaking the laws created by the religious leaders. Apparently, they thought it was good to wash their hands before they ate, too. Jesus was quick to point out that while his disciples may have broken man’s laws, the Pharisees were breaking God’s laws. He made them angry and it bothered his disciples. They wondered why Jesus would intentionally upset the religious leaders of their time. He got frustrated with their lack of understanding and reminded them that it’s what is inside a person that matters. We can hide a multitude of sins, but Jesus can see it all. He could see that, inside, the Pharisees did not care about what the law really said. They were more concerned with upholding the laws they’d created. They wanted to look good outside for the world to see and would do whatever it took to maintain their image.

We are often like the Pharisees. We maintain an image that the world respects and upholds but are unwilling to allow Jesus access to our hearts, to see the sins that lurk in the hidden places of our souls. We don’t want to deal with the mess of our hearts; don’t want to deal with the anger that is simmering beneath the surface, which causes us to explode at those whom we love; or the greed that causes us to work long hours, ignoring our families to obtain the newest car or hottest thing. Our hearts are dirty places and can only be cleansed when we allow Jesus access to all of the dark crevices. What is in your heart that you need to bring into the light that Jesus provides?

 

Matthew 15:10-20

10Then Jesus called to the crowd to come and hear. “Listen,” he said, “and try to understand. 11It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth.”

12Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you realize you offended the Pharisees by what you just said?”

13Jesus replied, “Every plant not planted by my heavenly Father will be uprooted, 14so ignore them. They are blind guides leading the blind, and if one blind person guides another, they will both fall into a ditch.”

15Then Peter said to Jesus, “Explain to us the parable that says people aren’t defiled by what they eat.”

16“Don’t you understand yet?” Jesus asked. 17“Anything you eat passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer. 18But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. 19For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. 20These are what defile you. Eating with unwashed hands will never defile you.”

 

Why do you think the disciples were concerned with how the Pharisees felt?

 

Jesus was referring to the Pharisees when he was speaking about the plants that were going to be uprooted. Their traditions and rules were not implemented by the Father. Are there any areas of your life that you have allowed to grow that were not planted by the Father?

 

Think about an area of your life that causes you to sin. Is it a harsh tongue, a prideful spirit, lust, envy? What does this sin say about what is inside your heart? What do you need to do to allow this sin to be transformed by Jesus?

 

Prayer:

Ask God to reveal areas of your heart that are causing you to sin. Pray for clear direction on how to address this sin and move toward purity of heart. Thank God that he is always willing to help you overcome sin and gives you the strength to defeat temptation.


This post was written by Julie Mabus. Julie has a passion for thinking about big ideas, art, reading and seeing God reveal himself through creation. She is married and is homeschooling her four young children.


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The Holy Spirit: The Mentor of the Christian

Have you ever wanted to be good at something? I mean really good. Let’s say you wanted to excel at a sport, a musical instrument, or a profession. Seeking out an experienced coach, teacher, or mentor would be a great place to start in acquiring the skills to perfect your craft.

Such a mentor would be able to show you the ins and outs of becoming proficient at your chosen activity. They could challenge you and show you skills to practice to become a true master. But what would you have to do? You would have to put in the work to become skilled. You would have to actually do what your teacher or coach told you to do. You would ask questions, research answers, and put into practice what you learned. You may have to do the same things over and over again until they become second nature. You would meet regularly with and listen to your coach. You would have to imitate your mentor and follow their lead if you wanted to develop the skills and attributes in you that you sought to perfect.

That is the message of today’s scripture. If we try to go about our own way of creating godly qualities in our lives, we will fall flat on our faces. Likewise, we will fail if we feel everything depends on our own efforts. Today’s scripture tells us that only the Holy Spirit can develop godly qualities in us. However, it also tells us to live by the Spirit and follow his leading. We can only do that if we meet with him regularly in prayer, study his teachings in the Bible daily, and imitate his personal qualities. Living in the Spirit means sticking close by God, imitating him, learning about him through his word and connecting with him regularly.

A great teacher can only help you excel if you fully give yourself over to his or her program or method of teaching. You may feel you know better than your mentor at times, but you are not the expert. They are. Likewise, we need to fully commit and yield our wills to God’s plans. Just as a great teacher cannot impart his or her qualities upon us if we only have a half-hearted commitment, God requires that we go “all in.” Only then will he bring about the godly qualities that signify a true follower of Christ. Is our stubbornness or self-will holding us back from God producing his qualities in us? Do we need to give up the reins and allow him to lead? I guess that depends on how badly we want his finished product in our lives.

Galatians 5:22-26

22But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

24Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. 25Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. 26Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another.

 

What do you think Paul means when he writes, “there is no law” against the fruits listed in verse 22?

 

What does it mean that those who follow Christ have nailed the characteristics of their sinful nature to the cross and crucified those attributes?

 

What does it mean to “follow the Spirit’s leading”?

 

Prayer

Let God know how grateful you are for giving us access to his Spirit. Ask God to help you understand what he is trying to tell you through the above Scripture passage. Ask him to show you where you are blocking the Holy Spirit and pray for the wisdom and strength to yield your whole will to his.


This post was written by David Vernier, a regular contributor to the LivingItOut Daily Bible Study.


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The Kingdom of God: How We Miss Out

When thinking about our sins and evaluating our areas of struggle, we often focus on the actual act of sin. Usually, we concentrate on a particular sin and take steps to rid ourselves of the habit. These are good things. It’s healthy to reflect on the not-so-Christ-like areas of our lives so we can make adjustments and change our circumstances to avoid temptation for our particular problem areas. But we should recognize, too that the real villain here isn’t our sin. Our sins are merely a symptom of the villain inside that is keeping us from living in the Kingdom of God. With each temptation to sin, we can give in to our villainous, sinful nature, or we can use the opportunity to be heroic and allow the Holy Spirit to produce fruit in our lives. The way we produce fruit is by attacking the things that are causing our “symptoms.”

Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, we no longer have to abide by the Old Testament laws. We have the Holy Spirit to guide us, and the gift of grace through Jesus. But this isn’t a free pass to go on sinning. If we put God first and allow the Holy Spirit to guide us, the rest will fall into place.

Galatians 19-21

19When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

Paul tells us in the verses above what results from following our sinful desires. Someone living this sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God, not because of the things they’re doing, but because of a greater problem: not submitting to and trusting God. Simply put, the Kingdom of God is a spiritual rule over the hearts and lives of people who submit to God’s authority. It is those who gladly surrender to God’s rule who are part of the Kingdom of God. If we are still holding onto our sins, we are not surrendering to God. We need to trust God and attack the negative things. Then the Holy Spirit can produce fruit in our lives and we can become full of joy and peace.

What sin(s) came to mind as you read today’s study? Are you willing to submit to God and give up this sin?

How might you rid yourself of this sinful desire?

What fruit do you see coming from being heroic, stepping away from this sin and allowing the Holy Spirit to work?

 

Prayer:

Dear God, help me to allow the Holy Spirit to work in me. Help me to run from sin and eliminate temptations from my life. Thank you for giving us the Holy Spirit to guide us, and grace for when we fail to listen. Amen.


This post was written by Ashlee Grosjean. Ashlee loves anything arts-related, and really enjoys writing for the LivingItOut. She is married with a little girl and boy.


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Can We Have Superpowers?

Over the past several decades, the superhero movie genre has grown into a box office juggernaut. Beginning with Christopher Reeve’s portrayal of Superman in 1978, audiences have flocked to movie theaters through the years to experience the adventures of characters such as Spider-Man, Batman, Iron Man, and Captain America.

From the Avengers to the X-Men, these characters and their stories have struck a popular chord with moviegoers. But what is it that makes these characters and stories so compelling to so many?

On some level, I believe we enjoy witnessing characters – bestowed with strengths we can only dream of – fighting for good in a quest to emphatically defeat the forces of evil. It’s inherently satisfying to see the villain get his comeuppance in dramatic fashion.

When we think of these superheroes on the silver screen, the first images that typically come to mind involve their superpowers: superhuman strength, lightning-fast speed, and the ability to fly, spring razor-sharp claws, or sling webs from their wrists.

What many of us may not appreciate is that we too have access to superpowers as we wrestle with our own villains. Now before you scoff at this suggestion, consider Galatians 5:22-23, which speaks to the qualities produced by the Holy Spirit. Among these fruits are love, joy, patience, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Have you ever considered these attributes as superpowers? Strange as it may seem, I believe there is great power wrapped within the beauty that love, goodness, faithfulness, and the other attributes of the Holy Spirit represent. When we walk with the Spirit, we are endowed with superpowers that strengthen our minds and steel our souls, creating a powerful weapon against the villains of sin in our lives.

Of course, real life is rarely as dramatic as the tales depicted at the cinema, but the villains in our lives are real, and every bit as dangerous. In kicking off the Heroic series, lead pastor Ben Snyder spoke of how we all struggle with villains in our lives. But within every struggle, he noted, is an opportunity – an invitation – to be heroic.

In Galatians 5:16-18, we read about the warring desires of our sinful nature and the Spirit:

Galatians 5:16-18

16So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. 17The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. 18But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.

When we follow our sinful nature, rather than the Holy Spirit, the inner villains gain a foothold. These villains, which are as considerable as they are varied, include anger, jealousy, selfish ambition, lust, immorality, and other sins (Galatians 5:19-21).

But the Holy Spirit offers us invaluable help – superpowers, if you will – to contend with these villains.

In his commentary on Galatians, pastor and author David Guzik says, “There is no way anyone can fulfill the lust of the flesh as they walk in the Spirit. The two simply don’t go together. The Holy Spirit doesn’t move in us to gratify our fallen desires and passions, but to teach us about Jesus and to guide us in the path of Jesus. This is the key to righteous living – walking in the Spirit, not living under the domination of the law.”

There are a couple of distinctions here that are worthy of our consideration. First, the “lust of the flesh” extends beyond mere carnal lust. As Martin Luther wrote, the lust of the flesh “takes in all the corrupt desires with which the believers are more or less infected, as pride, hatred, covetousness, (and) impatience.”

The second distinction to consider is how vital it is to live in the Spirit, rather than simply obeying the law of Moses. New Testament scholar Kenneth Wuest wrote, “The Holy Spirit strove with men before the Mosaic law was given. He still continues to do so … no preacher ever enables the Christians to whom he ministers to live a better Christian life by putting them under the Ten Words from Sinai and by letting them smell the brimstone of the Lake of Fire.”

The mistake we can make, Wuest suggests, is in substituting Mosaic law for the restraint of the Holy Spirit. “A policeman on the street corner is a far more efficient deterrent of law-breaking than any number of city ordinances placarded for public notice,” he concludes.

We may not often feel “heroic,” particularly when considering our susceptibility to sin. But allowing the Holy Spirit to guide our lives provides the confidence to bring our villains into the light and the strength to contend with them from the front foot.

In a cruel twist of fate, actor Christopher Reeve, who famously portrayed Superman, suffered a catastrophic spinal injury in 1995. The debilitating nature of the injury, which left him paralyzed from the neck down, provided a stark and sad contrast to the hero he had once portrayed. After the accident, Reeve reasoned that his life, though forever changed, had been spared because God still had something for him to do. Indeed, he became an inspirational and influential advocate for spinal cord injury research.

By virtue of playing Superman, Reeve had often been asked about his definition of a hero. Before his injury, he commonly responded by saying that a hero was “someone who commits a courageous action without considering the consequences.” With this newfound perspective of life after his injury, he significantly altered his definition of a hero. “I think a hero is an ordinary individual who finds strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles,” he said.

When we attempt to live life on our own terms, or worse yet to follow our sinful nature, our villains can represent overwhelming obstacles. But when we embrace – and walk in – the Holy Spirit, we are effectively donning our cape, which wraps us in the powers to combat the villains of sin. And in doing so, we can indeed become heroic.

What does it look like to let the Holy Spirit guide your life?

 

What villains do you need to bring into the light?

 

How can we enable the Spirit to give us the desire to do as he wants?

 

Prayer

Heavenly Father, I thank you for the abundant love and other gifts you have bestowed on me. I pray that you grant me the wisdom to appreciate the fruits of the Holy Spirit, to recognize the powers they represent in battling the villains in my life, and to know that by walking with you, I am on the path to living a righteous life. Amen.


This post was written by Todd Romain. Todd is a regular contributor to and editor of the LivingItOut Bible Study.


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When Struggling is Okay

It’s no secret that our country loves superhero-themed movies. They are, time and time again, some of the highest grossing movies at the box office. These movies rake in billions of dollars world-wide time after time. Why do we have such a fascination with superhero stories?

There are probably endless answers to this question, however, when we examine most these superhero stories, we see a theme.

Some sort of out-of-the-ordinary event happens to a regular person (radioactive spider bites Peter Parker, the military does an experiment on Steve Rogers, Bruce Wayne’s parents are gunned down by a robber, etc.) and after the event, they do extraordinary things.

Part of what draws us en masse to these stories is that the heroes typically start out as normal people. These normal people struggle with being bullied (Peter Parker) or not having the right physicality to join the military. We identify with some of the struggles they have as normal people and as we follow the story, part of us wishes that we could conquer our struggles the way that they do. What we don’t realize, however, is that in our lives, and in our relationship with Christ, we are offered a similar choice that these superheroes are offered. Unfortunately, we typically miss it.

This weekend, we kicked off a new series, Heroic, in which we are going to talk about how we need to identify the villains in our lives in order to live the life God has for us.

We all struggle with something and our struggles are very real. However, if we simply accept the fact that we’re struggling, we’ll find ourselves stuck in a never-ending cycle of struggle. This is not how we were meant to live. This is not how we experience love, joy, and peace.

How do we solve this problem? What is the antidote? First, we must admit that the struggle is real. Everyone struggles, but not everyone admits it. Instead, we’d rather live hypocritically than authentically. Essentially, this is when you do everything you can to convince everyone around you that everything is alright and that you’re living a God-honoring life, even when you know that your secret practices reveal the opposite. Hypocrisy isn’t when you say one thing and do another. Instead, it is when you pretend to live one way and actually live another.

All of us know that we want to live God-honoring lives. We want God to produce the fruit of the spirit that he promises. For some reason, however, we find ourselves stuck in a rut. We want to do good things to honor God, but we find ourselves living a different way.

So what do we do? How do we fix this problem?

We have to know that however this problem manifests itself (whether it be lust, anger, greed, bitterness, idolatry, etc.), the sinful action in which we are engaging isn’t the real problem. As Ben said this past weekend,

The struggle is not the villain.

Just like the superheroes in some of our favorite movies, the mere fact that we are struggling with something is not the real issue. The real issue is something deeper. Like a runny nose is a symptom of a cold virus, our outward struggles are symptoms of a different virus.

How do we identify the real villain? If it’s not, ultimately, the struggle, then what is it?

Ben gave us a technique to help us identify our villains this past weekend: Ask why five times. When we know that we’re struggling – when there’s something we are doing that doesn’t align with our claimed faith – then we need to ask why five times. When we ask ourselves why, we are getting to the root of the issue. We are identifying the real villain.

Today, we’re going to take a look at two verses from Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Often, we can read right through a passage and not take time to reflect on it. However, sometimes the answers to some of our deepest issues are contained in just a verse or two. Before you read these verses, take time to pray to God and ask him to bless the reading of his word.

Prayer: Father, help me to understand your word today. Give me the wisdom, humility, and intellect I need to take in the verses before me. Finally, help me to live them out today. I ask all of this in the name of Jesus, amen.

 

Galatians 5:16, 24

16So, I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves.

24Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there.

 

What is Paul’s answer to our problem of living a sort of “double life?”

Though listed later, the first thing we need to do is found in verse 24. We are called to “nail the passions and desires of [our] sinful nature to [Jesus’] cross.”

We do this by bringing our villains to the light. When we ask why five times, we can identify the real villain, and once we do that, we can then bring it into the light. When this happens, the Holy Spirit produces the fruit we desire. He then guides us into a life that is consistent and non-hypocritical. The heroic choice we can make is to identify the villain.

In verse 16, he writes that we need to “let the Holy Spirit guide our lives.”

Let’s first start by having the Holy Spirit. Only believers in Jesus Christ have the Holy Spirit. We aren’t peaceful, patient, loving, merciful, or caring enough, because we aren’t letting the Holy Spirit produce these things. The life we’re pretending to live isn’t the life that we’re really living and we just feel stuck. This is why we need the Holy Spirit. It is his job to produce these things in our lives, it is our job to yield to him so that he can do his work. The first step in living the life that God wants for you is to know the struggle is real, so you can identify the real villain and bring it to the light.

To live the life God wants for you, you need to bring your villains to the light. What is a villain that you have been trying to hide?

 

Confession is a gift God gives us, but we have to use it. Is there someone you trust enough to confess your struggles? Confess them to God first and, if it helps, confide in one other person.

 

Prayer: God, you know my struggles. You know the weight that I’ve carried secretly. Please, help me to identify the real villains in my life and bring them to the light so that I can live the life you have for me. I ask all this in Jesus’ name, amen.


This post was written by Andy Rectenwald. Andy is the Director of the LivingItOut Bible Study. He has a passion for bringing the Bible to life for people and for Christian Apologetics. He is married with two young children. You can follow him on twitter @andyrectenwald.


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People Don’t Come Back to Life

Belief in the resurrection of Jesus is essential to being saved from your sins. Theologian and Philosopher William Lane Craig writes,

Most people are happy to agree that God exists; but in our pluralistic society it has become politically incorrect to claim that God has revealed himself decisively in Jesus. What justification can Christians offer, in contrast to Hindus, Jews, and Muslims, for thinking that the Christian God is real? The answer of the New Testament is the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection is God’s vindication of Jesus’ radical personal claims to divine authority.

As Christians, the only thing we have to believe in is the resurrection of Christ, not the entire Bible or any of its stories, for salvation. Therefore, the only thing we have to communicate to the world is that Jesus died for our sins and was brought back to life three days later. Easy, right??

Actually… it’s not as hard as it may seem if we are properly prepared with indisputable historical facts about the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Here is some ammo to help you, broken down into four points.

#1 – Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea. The grave site is known to everyone, Jew and Christian. Joseph was also an enemy of Jesus, one of the Jewish high court members who had condemned him to death but later honored Jesus with a proper burial instead of a common criminal’s disposal. Given the strong resentment against the Jews who played a role in the death of Jesus, it is highly unlikely that it would be a fabricated part of the burial story. If it were, in fact, a false claim, there would be many conflicting stories about what happened to Jesus’ body, where he’d been buried, and in what fashion. There is no competing legend!

#2 – Jesus’ tomb was found empty on the Sunday following his death. If the tomb weren’t empty, wouldn’t Jesus’ opponents have pointed it out! They could’ve very easily gone to Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb and pointed out the body, but they didn’t. They claimed the body was stolen.

#3 – There is a long list of eyewitnesses who interacted with Jesus after his death. More importantly is who he visited after death – his younger brother (among several other individuals and groups), someone who did not believe Jesus was the Messiah during his lifetime, but rather after he died. James, Jesus’ brother, was eventually martyred for his faith 60 years after Jesus died. William Lane Craig points out, “what would it take to make your siblings believe you are God?”

#4 – The disciples believed Jesus rose from the dead when they had every reason not to. Jewish religion regarding death and the afterlife have nothing to do with rising again to walk the earth. They would have done their best to preserve the tomb and Jesus’ bones until they died, but this group of followers was so passionate about interacting with Jesus after his death that they were willing to be tortured and killed for it. There was no body to protect or tomb to preserve. A historian could not explain their drastic behavior unless Jesus had risen and left an empty tomb.

The people referenced above and throughout the life of Jesus were real, documented by Jews and Christians alike. The geographical landmarks can be identified on a map. Every war and personal altercation in history has conflicting opinions for blame and triumph except for the story of Jesus Christ. How remarkable is that?!

Romans 10:9-10

9If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved.

This is the message that the early church preached. With all the darkness and sin in the world, we need to bring the hope of the resurrection. We don’t need to convince people to believe that the entire Bible is completely true (though it is). We don’t have to try to convince people to believe in any specific part of the Bible to be true, other than the resurrection. That’s what the early disciples preached and that is how the church started. That’s the message of the Gospel.

How might you engage with a non-believer after today’s message?

 

Is your belief more solid?

 

Prayer

Dear God, thank you for allowing us to receive the Living God that is Jesus! Thank you for making it so clear, so certain, that he not only died for our sins but rose again from the dead to prove the prophecies and covenants he preached in his lifetime, which sets Christianity apart from all other belief systems. Amen.


This post was written by Aviva Hufford. Aviva has been married to Dustin Hufford for eight years, has a 2-year-old son, Desmond, and is expecting another child in May! Aviva is a stay at home mom and has an RN, BSN, and worked in pediatric surgery for years. She was raised Jewish and began going to CedarCreek Church in the winter of 2013. After consistently attending both the weekend service and LifeGroup, she gave her life to Christ and was baptized in 2014.


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God’s Plan

While Tuesday’s verse from Isaiah and Wednesday’s verse from the Psalms are ancient prophecies indeed, this one is the oldest by far! In this, the account of the fall, the first glimmer of the coming Messiah is given. Now, I have read this before, and quite honestly, I thought they got the reference wrong! Where does it say anything about the Messiah in this passage? I didn’t get it.

That is what is so fascinating about digging deeper into the Scriptures. Often, we need to look at the original text to get the whole picture. I love that we have resources like YouVersion where we can go to look at lots of different translations to get a fuller, richer understanding of the texts, but sometimes we might have to go a bit deeper still. The Hebrew or Greek words used in the original texts are far more complex than many of our English words can exactly relay. Therefore, we need to delve a little further to see what is going on here, particularly in Genesis 3:15b.

This is where God is punishing the snake for talking Eve into eating the apple. In the first part of the verse, God says that the serpent’s offspring and the woman’s offspring will be hostile toward each other. Then God says, “He will strike your head and you will strike his heel.” This is what theologians call the “protevangelium.” That is a big fancy word for the very first gospel. The interpretation of the Hebrew pronouns for “He” refers to one particular man, Jesus, and the “you” of the serpent to Satan. So here God is saying that Satan will strike Jesus’ heel, meaning the crucifixion, but Jesus will strike Satan’s head, having the ultimate victory.

Whew! Ok, so what does that mean for us? It’s just another reminder of how God has had this plan in place from the very beginning. It’s the very first reminder! The first of many, as we have seen throughout this week. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, which we can now see was God’s plan all along, he has made a way for us to return to him, even from the moments directly after the fall. All through history, through the prophets, God has been telling us that Jesus will come to save us! Even though we turned away from him time and time again, he has always been right there saying “come back to me.” That is incredible, extravagant love. We can look at these passages and be reassured over and over that our God loves us and wants to have a relationship with us. All we have to do is believe in his most precious gift that he foretold to us so many years ago.

Genesis 3:14-15

14Then the Lord God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this, you are cursed

        more than all animals, domestic and wild.

You will crawl on your belly,

        groveling in the dust as long as you live.

15And I will cause hostility between you and the woman,

         and between your offspring and her offspring.

He will strike your head,

        and you will strike his heel.”

Take some time to look at a different translation in tandem with the one you usually use or read some commentary about the passage you’re reading. Download YouVersion for translations and look at several commentaries Here.

How does doing so make the meaning of the passage clearer?

 

How can having clarification and a deeper understanding of this passage bolster your faith?

 

Prayer

Dear God, thank you for giving me so many ways in which to get to know you and your Word. Thank you for the various and incessant ways in which you have shown your love to me throughout time. Help me to always thirst for a deeper understanding and a richer relationship with you through your Son. Amen.


This post was written by Kelda Strasbourg, Kelda is a grateful member of the LivingItOut writing team. She has a love for Jesus and the desire to help others find that same love. She has her own business and a border collie named Emily.


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Predicted Betrayal?

While David wrote Psalm 22 about 1,000 years before Jesus was crucified, it sure seemed as though he was there. “My enemies surround me like a pack of dogs; an evil gang closes in on me.” Judas directed possibly hundreds, maybe even a thousand Roman soldiers to Jesus and his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night Jesus was betrayed. Not only were the Roman soldiers there to arrest him, but some Jewish officials, chief priests, and Pharisees went along carrying torches, lanterns, and weapons. These Jewish officials had conspired to kill Jesus before. They reasoned that “If we let him go on like this (performing many signs including raising Lazarus from the dead), everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation” (John 11:48). The high priest, Caiaphas, even prophesied the importance of Jesus’ death (albeit for selfish reasons and without comprehending exactly how true those words were). John records him as saying, “You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish” (John 11:50). The Jews were ganging up on Jesus at this point and continued to plot his arrest and death until it was accomplished. They didn’t want to lose control of the people, the temple, or the nation. Their hearts were hardened to the truth that Jesus was the one that they had been waiting for.

Psalm 22 continues, “They have pierced my hands and feet.” This description causes the reader to immediately think of the crucifixion and how Jesus’ hands and feet were nailed to the cross. “I can count all my bones.” Not being much of a science geek, I had to look up how many bones are in a human. The answer is 206. Unlike the other criminals who were crucified on each side of Jesus, Jesus’ bones in his legs were not broken to speed up his demise. Jesus gave up his spirit willingly for you and me. “My enemies stare at me and gloat.” Matthew says, “The people passing by shouted abuse, shaking their heads in mockery” (27:29). In the Gospel of Mark, the people yelled “Ha! Look at you now! You said you were going to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days. Well then, save yourself and come down from the cross!” (15:29).

These verses in Psalm 22 conclude with “They divide my garments among themselves and throw dice for my clothing.” In John 19, “When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they divided his clothes among the four of them. They also took his robe, but it was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. So they said, ‘Rather than tearing it apart, let’s throw dice for it.’” These soldiers who didn’t even know about Jesus or his message were used to fulfill this Scripture. Luke 23 describes this fulfillment of Scripture also, “And the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice.” I’m pretty sure my clothes are not worth gambling for because I don’t have any designer items, but in Jesus’ time, a garment that was woven in one piece was valuable. Every piece of clothing we wear tends to make a statement about us. My jeans and t-shirt usually say I’m casual and comfortable. A wedding dress, on the other hand, makes the statement that this woman is making a commitment and is celebrating a new life built together with her husband. Jesus’ seamless garment gives us another glimpse at Jesus’ perfect, sinless life. A garment like this that was made with such special care was worth not tearing apart. It was worth taking a risk and rolling the dice to gain possession of this unique piece of fabric. His other garments, which may have been his sandals, belt, and headpiece, were worth something to the soldiers also. They were a perk of the job that the Roman soldiers had to do. As we see how these verses from Psalm 22 are fulfilled during Jesus’ crucifixion, we are reminded that God’s plan all along was to send his son to suffer and die so that we could be in a relationship with him. He did this so that you would remember “you matter” to him. But it didn’t end with the crucifixion; Jesus rose from the dead!

Psalm 22:16-18

16My enemies surround me like a pack of dogs;

   an evil gang closes in on me.

   They have pierced my hands and feet.

17I can count all my bones.

   My enemies stare at me and gloat.

18They divide my garments among themselves

   and throw dice for my clothing.

 

What emotions do you think Jesus felt, knowing that he would have to suffer all these things from Psalm 22? What emotions do you feel when you think about Jesus’ sufferings? Have you suffered in similar ways? Have you been surrounded by enemies? Have they stared at you and mocked you?

 

Prayer

Jesus, thank you for suffering at the hands of your enemies. Thank you for dying on the cross for my sins. Please help me to remember that you did this so that I could be in a relationship with you. Help me to come to you daily in prayer and Bible study so I can grow closer to you. Thank you for telling me “you matter.” Amen.


This post was written by Stephanie Coil. Stephanie has been happily married for 25 years. With two kids in college, she spends her time teaching piano, working at the library, reading, and crafting. She’s been a member of CedarCreek since 1999 and has been on the LivingItOut writing team for as long as she can remember!


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I Am Not a Sheep

5But he was pierced for our rebellion,

  crushed for our sins.

He was beaten so we could be whole.

  He was whipped so we could be healed.

6All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.

  We have left God’s paths to follow our own.

Yet the Lord laid on him

  the sins of us all.

 

Who is this passage about?

Of course, most would say that it is about Jesus. It always amazes me, however, when I think that this passage is from the Old Testament book of Isaiah and was written 700 years before Jesus’ birth! Although there are more than 300 Old Testament prophecies about Jesus, this is probably the most well-known. There are five very specific pieces of prophecy in these verses that came true, as we later learn from Peter, Matthew, and Mark in the New Testament, centuries later. This is often referred to as the “Suffering Servant” prophecy, and it helps to prove that Jesus’ death was always part of God’s plan.

Look at each line and try to picture the scene. I will never forget the first time I watched “The Passion of the Christ”; I was literally ill. I am not a very visual person, so that movie brought it home for me. Looking at these verses now, I have the visual firmly in mind. It makes me think about the ways in which we take his sacrifice for granted. How we stray every day despite knowing that God’s path is the better way. He has already taken steps to bring us back to health and wholeness; and yet, how often do we turn away?

Before I became a Christian, I used to say, “Who allows himself to be called a sheep?? I’m not a sheep!” Ironically, as it turns out, I am. If you have ever read anything about the behavior of sheep, you will see the similarities between them and us immediately. They are stubborn, they stray, and they get themselves into all kinds of trouble. We are so like them it is crazy. For a great little read about this topic, I highly recommend A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, by Phillip Keller.

At this time of year, we usually stop and reflect on what that sacrifice means for us, but I wonder, why do I only really think about it now? What would my life be like if I considered it every day and lived my life in absolute gratitude because of it? Of course, we are not perfect, and that is the whole point! God knew this far in advance and tried to tell us that he loves us anyway, and he has provided a way for us to come back to him. That is good news!! All those years of striving and fighting…

Even though he knew that we would remain rebellious, just as we have for thousands of years, God made a way for us to return to him. Jesus was our sacrificial lamb, and because of his death, we can be healed. We just have to accept the message of his resurrection. Hallelujah!

Isaiah 53:5-6

5But he was pierced for our rebellion,

  crushed for our sins.

He was beaten so we could be whole.

  He was whipped so we could be healed.

6All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.

  We have left God’s paths to follow our own.

Yet the Lord laid on him

  the sins of us all.

 

What can you do to keep Jesus’ sacrifice as your daily focus?

 

How would your life be different if you lived in constant gratitude for the healing and wholeness that God has already provided?

 

Prayer

Dear Father, thank you for giving your Son, the Suffering Servant, to take my sin and make me whole again. Help me live in absolute gratitude for the healing that was made possible by Jesus’ resurrection. Thank you for being my Good Shepherd! Amen.


This post was written by Kelda Strasbourg, Kelda is a grateful member of the LivingItOut writing team. She has a love for Jesus and the desire to help others find that same love. She has her own business and a border collie named Emily.


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Easter is Never Over

He is risen.

On Easter Sunday, we saw those three words all over social media, and we heard the phrase frequently in conversation. Not only did these words permeate our world, but also these:

You Matter.

It’s such a simple phrase, but also one we neglect to use. Those two words, whether seen on a billboard or a yard sign, spoken to someone directly, heard in church, or shown through action, are two very powerful words.

Why do we say them? Why, as a church, have we made this a focal point of our ministry?

Because we believe it.

We believe that roughly 2,000 years ago, an event took place that essentially screamed, “You Matter!” There has not been an event like it since. We’re clearly talking about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Two thousand years ago, the Son of God came to our world as a human, lived a perfect life, and then died.

We’ve heard the story. The vast majority of people in Western civilization know at least a little bit about the Christian story, but many don’t know why it applies to them. Why should an event 2,000 years ago matter to us? What relevance does it have for us? Why does it matter?

It matters because God – the sovereign creator of the universe – came as a man to die, to tell us that we matter, even when we think he doesn’t matter to us.

That’s what sin is, isn’t it – living and acting like God doesn’t matter? Of course, sin is something that is deep-seated and a part of us on this side of heaven. It is like a cancer that has infected us and then manifests itself in symptoms of sinful action. When we commit an act of sin, we are living like God doesn’t matter. When we sin, we pretend that we can do it – whatever it is – without God.

The majesty of the gospel is that even when God didn’t matter to us, we mattered to him (Romans 5:8). Jesus resurrected from the dead and conquered our sin once and for all. In this incredibly miraculous event in history, God told us:

You Matter.

This is the message of the gospel – that Jesus died for our sins and then rose from the dead to give us freedom from them. In fact, the first thing the disciples of Jesus were preaching was this simple message. Today’s passage is from 1 Corinthians 15:1-8. Virtually all New Testament scholars (skeptic and Christian alike) date the creed written in verses 3-7 to within 1-5 years of the death of Jesus! This is what the followers of Jesus first preached.

1 Corinthians 15:1-8

1 Let me now remind you, dear brothers and sisters, of the Good News I preached to you before. You welcomed it then, and you still stand firm in it. 2 It is this Good News that saves you if you continue to believe the message I told you—unless, of course, you believed something that was never true in the first place.

3 I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. 4 He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. 5 He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. 6 After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. 7 Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him.

You’ll notice the creed, here is in bold. This is what they preached:

That Jesus died for our sins and was buried.

That he was raised from the dead on the third day.

That he appeared to the disciples and 500 other people.

This was the original “You Matter” message. Christ died for your sins and then rose from the dead to free you from them. This is the message we have been charged to carry to other people. We show people they matter by telling them, doing nice things for them, and treating them kindly. However, we show people they matter when we tell them that Jesus showed them they matter by dying on the cross for them. When we tell people this simple message, we introduce them to the God who wants to show them…

You Matter

When was the first time you understood that Jesus died for you and you accepted him as your savior? Explain.

 

How does the resurrection of Jesus show you that you matter?

 

How can you tell people about Jesus’ love for them today?

 

Prayer

Father, thank you for loving me. Thank you for sending your Son, Jesus, to die for me. I know that he stood in my place. I know that I was guilty and that even when I lived like you didn’t matter, you loved me like I did. Thank you for all of this. Help me to share this message with others. I ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.


This post was written by Andy Rectenwald. Andy is the Director of the LivingItOut Bible Study. He has a passion for bringing the Bible to life for people and for Christian Apologetics. He is married with two young children. You can follow him on twitter @andyrectenwald.


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