Rams and Oil or Mercy?

Pray | Lord, where I am critical or maybe standing back from you, may I know you are merciful and kind and come closer in response. 

The Pharisees were out to discredit Jesus, and their work to test and trap him seemed endless. In their eyes, everything came down to the law. Jesus responds by acknowledging and respecting the law but replaces malice with mercy. Jesus doesn’t just see the law; he sees the people. 

Read | Matthew 12:10-14; Micah 6:6-8
Matthew 12:10-14

Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”

He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.

Micah 6:6-8
With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God?Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Reflection |

Hey Jesus, is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath? Should this adulterous woman be stoned? Your disciples unlawfully picked that grain on the Sabbath! You healed a crippled man on the Sabbath?! These are just some of the questions and accusations thrown at Jesus. The response to his compassion was constant criticism and eventually death. The Pharisees didn’t care about hunger, shriveled hands, invalids, and the like. They focused on rules and violations, thus missing miracles and restoration.

Though God gave the Law, he consistently also spoke of mercy. In fact, he delights in showing mercy (Micah 7:18). Through Jesus, God continued to show kindness and compassion, rendered aid and healing, and offered forgiveness and our own salvation. Ultimately, he closes the gap between the law and our sin.

We can bring our rams, oils, calves, tithes, offerings, volunteering and more yet still miss the mark of what God desires from us. Our questions might be: How do we respond to Jesus? Do we isolate and pick apart what we don’t like about him, or do we take in the whole of who he is, trusting him and coming near to him? Are we ever as blind as the Pharisees, sometimes missing miracles and restorations?

Today’s devotion was written for and originally published in DailyLife Devotionals for Five Oaks Church

Is this really about the Sabbath?

Pray |Lord, as I read your word, help me to really know it so that I can walk it out as I interact with others.

In the story of the disciples picking wheat on the Sabbath, at first glance it might seem the tension is about keeping the Sabbath; but maybe it’s not. Sometimes real issues are clouded beneath frustrations felt and words said. There are times we just don’t say what we really mean.

Read |Matthew 12:1-8

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”

He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests.  Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

Reflection 

When Jesus responds to the Pharisees, you can kind of feel the tension in his response. Haven’t you read? Aren’t you aware that David ate the consecrated bread? Haven’t you read about the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple? And you know these words: “I desire mercy not sacrifice.” Jesus knows his audience. He knows the Pharisees know what David did. They know that priests have work to do even on the Sabbath, and he knows they have ignored God’s word on desiring mercy, not sacrifice.

Maybe the Pharisees had been so long in looking for violations of the law that the intent of the law was no longer within sight. Perhaps this response to Jesus was less about the Sabbath and more about them looking to bring him down and take him out – his upside down kingdom was certainly messing with the established rank and order of the day.

One of our takeaways from these verses might be to examine our hearts and check our vision. When something inside wants to sling words, accusations, or our own (perceived) righteousness, could we instead take a breath, inhale grace, and offer mercy? The reality is, sometimes that’s difficult. But we are not alone in this journey, Jesus is with us walking through the office and sitting at family tables. He’s in our hearts as we peruse and comment on all manner of things we see and hear on that world wide web. If we pause, we might just hear him ask, “Hey, child of mine, haven’t you read. . . ?”

Does our response to Jesus impact our response to others?

Today’s devotion was written for and originally published in DailyLife Devotionals for Five Oaks Church

So many rules . . .

Pray | Father, help me to know your law, understand the intent, and respond well.

As we consider the verses below, we see the disciples picking wheat on the Sabbath because they’re hungry. The Pharisees see this and pounce, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath!” It’s almost as if they’re following Jesus around just to watch, judge, and challenge him.

The Pharisees were highly concerned about following the law – right down to the letter – as well as every other letter they had added. For perspective, the fourth commandment, Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it Holy, had been given 39 types of prohibited work, creating more laws around the law. These were called fence laws. In fact, 1,500 of these laws were created around the Ten Commandments (maybe originally out of concern for the people), attempting to create a wide berth around sin.

Read |Matthew 12:1-8

At that time, Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began picking some grain heads and eating them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”

He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.  For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

Reflection | 

In response to the law, extra laws and heavy burdens had been put on the people. Then along came Jesus, who said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30. Jesus cares deeply about people, which doesn’t mean he dismisses the law, though he does lean into the intent of the law.

It seems that somewhere along the line, the original concern for people to follow the law got complicated and out of focus. Rules, regulations, expectations, and judgment reigned; maybe pride came near, and mercy was squeezed out. However it happened, people of faith started hurting people of faith. Unfortunately, we still do that today.

The challenge for us is to question ourselves: Are we watching for and pointing out what other Christians say and do that we interpret as wrong? Do we approach (or post) from places of pride and pouncing, or do we draw near with mercy and grace? As we walk out this life alongside others, do we truly desire mercy over sacrifice?

Today’s devotion was written for and originally published in DailyLife Devotionals for Five Oaks Church

Hello NEW YEAR – Day 3

Pray | 

Lord, you know the number of hairs on my head, have seen my days, and have made a way for me. May I truly trust you this year.  

If you have left the previous year with joy in your heart and contentment in your soul, then rejoice and be glad in that! Or maybe you find yourself walking a new path this year that’s difficult, lonely, has traces of regret, or looks uncertain; maybe joy just isn’t coming easily. In our jobs, churches, and daily living we are shoulder to shoulder with ones who are in really good places as well as ones who carry heavy weights and shed quiet tears. If the latter is you, take heart because splashed all over the Bible are good and true words that call us to lift up our face.
Read |

Isaiah 43:18-19
Forget the former things, do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up, do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the dry land.

Lamentations 3: 22-24
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”

Revelation 21:5
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

We have a tendency to ruminate on regret, anger and frustration, and no one’s better at beating ourselves up over the former things than our own selves. But God tells us not to dwell on the past, his word says to put our eyes forward to look for the new thing he is doing. If we’re lost in a wilderness or walking in a dry land, God says he’s making a way and creating streams. Do we perceive it? And God loves us so much, has such compassion that even when it feels like we are, we cannot be consumed by grief, anger, heartache, disappointment, or fill in the blank. In addition to all of that, believe it or not, his compassions never fail, his mercies are new, waiting each and every morning; we can hang on, he is indeed faithful to make everything new.

Consider pausing to assess how you’re really doing before pushing through this first month of the year. What do you believe you need from God and others to move through these days?

Hello NEW YEAR – day 2

Pray | 
Father, as I consider the days before me, help me to establish my plans in your wisdom. 

There’s just something about a new year and a fresh calendar with big empty squares. There are birthdays and anniversaries to mark, possibly vacations to plan. Meetings will creep in, events, gatherings, and on and on until before we know it the days are full, our minds are busy, and the months can feel cluttered. In our busy and full lives, in a culture that values doing more, it can be a challenge to stay intentional with our time. It can be even more difficult to leave some blank squares to create breathing space, rest, and quiet to listen for the still, small voice of God. 
Read | 
Proverbs 16:3, 9; James 4:13-15; Proverbs 27:1

Proverbs 16:3
Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.

Proverbs 16:9
In their heart’s humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.

James 4:13-15
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

Proverbs 27:1
Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring. 
Reflection | 

There are many good things, places, and certainly people that need our time, and planning is good, for if we’re simply blown around by the wind, waves, and whims, not much is accomplished. So, in planning our days, we should consider wisdom, balance, and intention. Even then, there is a call to hold loosely to our calendar and schedules, because we do not know what will happen tomorrow, despite what is written in our planners.

The truth of this life is that our days simply don’t always go as we think they will – plans get scratched off and new ones penciled in an instant. This year I’ve witnessed a dear friend walking through a vey difficult diagnosis, there have been unwanted and unwelcome struggles in the lives of people I love, and still triumphs and new paths for others. You likely find your own circles are similar. The reminder here as we begin anew is to be intentional with our days – to work, serve, and play, to both show up and slow down. Let us be – or get – comfortable with spending time with the Lord and his Word, to be quiet, and also to listen. This new year, let us establish our plans with wisdom as we fill our calendars, and may we not be in a hurry to leave the King’s presence ~ Ecclesiastes 8:3.

Consider the past year, do parts of it feel like it slipped through your hands? Could you be more intentional or wise with your days this year? 

Today’s lesson was written for DailyLife Devotionals for Five Oaks Church.

Hello NEW YEAR

Pray | 
Father, as I walk into this new year, may I seek you with all my heart, trust your plans for me, and walk in wisdom.

The new year has arrived! As we switch our calendars to 2024, some of us are sensing a refreshing and new beginning. Some of us feel loose ends, scuff marks, family strife, illness, loss, and unknowns leading the march into the new year, so flipping the calendar doesn’t necessarily feel refreshing. And just maybe it’s a mix of both anticipation and apprehension, wondering what these next 365 days will – or will not – hold.
Read | 
Psalm 139:16; Jeremiah 29:11-13; Psalm 90:12

Psalm 139:16
Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

Jeremiah 29:11-13
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

Psalm 90:12
Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. 
Reflection | 
One thing we can know for sure is that God has seen these upcoming days, and they are ordained. Nothing will take his breath away even as we gasp with joy or bend in heartache. If promise is looming large in front of you, if your toes have been pointed to a new land, if a new day is showing itself to you, then call on the Lord as you go on your way. Come, pray, and seek him with all your heart, for he has plans to give you hope and a future. If job loss, family struggles, health concerns, or a busy mind and heavy heart is your current lot, then call on the Lord as you go through your days. Come, pray and seek him with all your heart, for he has plans to give you hope and a future. No matter our circumstances, whether light and abundant, or scarce and heavy, may we ask the Lord to teach us this year to seek him with all our heart and to number our days so that we may indeed gain a heart of wisdom.

As you enter this new year, are you feeling promise and a refreshing, or weariness? If all of your days are ordained and written in a book, do you trust the Lord to meet you where you need him?  

Today’s lesson was written for DailyLife Devotions for Five Oaks Church

Don’t Forget

Pray | Lord, you have done so many good things for me. May I not forget but remember the countless ways you have provided for, led and loved me.

It seems so easy for us to remember and keep track of the things that don’t go well. We can quickly recall words or actions that have left us feeling ignored, hurt angry, forgotten. But how often do we count the good? How do we keep an eye on, or even better, our heart focused on, the countless things that have been done for us, that are a blessing, that revive and refresh us? How do we not forget the good that has been done?

Read | Deuteronomy 8:15-18

He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you.You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.

Reflect |

I love the story in Joshua 4 in which the Lord instructs Joshua to have twelve stones picked up from the middle of the Jordan River. They are to set them up to serve as a sign of what the Lord did that day – dry up the river so the whole nation of Israel could cross over to the Promised Land. The purpose was to remember and pass on what the Lord had done, for one day their children would see those stones and ask about them, and the story of what God did in that place would be remembered and told. In Exodus 17:14 God tells Moses to write on a scroll how the Amalekites were defeated. God wanted to make sure Joshua heard how this battle was won, and he wanted that deliverance remembered.

God seems clear that he wants to prepare us before we head into the best places. When our spiritual disciplines are in place, and the road invariably gets hard, our disciplines will lead us straight to our Father. And when our bellies are full and we lock the doors to our fine houses, we will praise the Lord for what He has done. And we must find ways to remember what the Lord has done. Stack your stones, write in your journal, do what you will, but we must remember and pass on what the Lord has done, and that He is good.

What dreadful wilderness have you traversed with God leading the way? When was a time he brought you refreshing water when all you saw was parched land? How do you remember what the Lord has done for you?

Beware . . .

Pray | God is great, God is good. Let us thank him for this food. By his hands we are fed, give us Lord our daily bread. Amen

Many of us say some sort of prayer before a meal – sometimes deeply meaningful, occasionally uttered in a rush, at times with no real heart. I confess in our mealtime prayer my heart sometimes drifts, is distracted or disrupted. But in reading the scripture for today I might just try having a post-meal prayer once in a while – after I have eaten and am satisfied, praising God for the goodness he has given.

Read | Deuteronomy 8:10-14; James 1:17-18

When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

James 1:17-18
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

Reflect | Spend some time reflecting on the following:

When it’s all going well, when we snag the apartment we wanted, the house, the camper, the new couch, job, the 401K, the land, the car or whatever else you can think of to insert, when we are satisfied, when the cupboards are full – we need to be careful. Blessing, oddly enough, can be our downfall. It is in plenty that our thoughts might more easily slip into places of pride, independence, selfishness.

If you are living in plenty, if your herds and flocks and bank account are growing, be happy, absolutely enjoy it! But enjoy it and beware. Maybe we are indeed smart, hardworking, wise, diligent, and responsible, but let’s not let that lead us to pride, opening even a slight separation from God. I have, and likely you have, people I love who are suffering, and I am watching them seek the Lord and lean in in ways that leave no doubt of their need of, and trust in, the Lord. Being aware of the circumstances and posture of these friends is both difficult and beautiful.

In Nothing to Prove, author Jennie Allen says, “When we get comfortable for too long, we start to miss our need for God.” I absolutely need the Lord as much as my suffering friends, but am I as aware of that need when I’m comfortable? Engaging in the discipline of thanking and praising God, maybe even especially when we are satisfied would close that gap.

What season are you currently in? Do you find yourself inclined more toward what you’ve been given or toward the giver of what you have?

Written for Five Oaks Church Daily Life Devotional

Get Ready . . .

Pray | Thank you, God, for reminders to be prepared for plenty, not just burnout, for abundance as well as sparse

When our kids were little, I sometimes took them on the weekly grocery run. Before we got out of the car I would turn around and give some instructions: we’re sticking to our list, stay near, hang onto the cart, and such. These expectations were given to help them navigate aisles filled with items that looked good (but weren’t necessarily healthy), always placed on shelves where little eyes could see and small hands could reach. Those trips always went better when I took the time to prepare them for what was ahead. And so it is with Moses and the Israelites, they’re about to enter a very good and plentiful land, carts to be filled to overflowing, but before they go in, Moses begins with a reminder about commands, obedience and reverence.

Read | Deuteronomy 8:6-9

Observe the commands of the Lord your God, walking in obedience to him and revering him. For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land0 where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.

We understand preparing for difficult or lean seasons, and we grasp leaning deeply into the Lord and his Word when times are very hard, when grief, confusion, heartache, and darkness seem all around. But in Deuteronomy 8:6-9 Moses says to observe the commands, walk in obedience and revere God, not because a tough season or darkness is coming, but because so much goodness is about to be in front of the people. Figs to capture eyes and pomegranates for hands to grasp, so much so that they are about to lack nothing; the cupboards and more are about to be filled to beyond overflowing. But first comes the instruction so that it will go well for them: observe the commands, walk in obedience, and revere God. It was time to gird up not for hard, but for good.

Have you seen a season of plenty before you? If so, did you prepare for it in any deliberate or disciplined way?

Written for Five Oaks Church Daily Life Devotional

Don’t bother, she’s dead.

Pray | God, with a grateful heart I thank you that you are the giver and source of restoration of life.

Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell the story of a synagogue leader coming to plead for his young daughter’s life, and in each account it’s proclaimed that her life is over. A father is desperate, there is wailing and mourning, hope has ended. But in all three gospels Jesus takes the girl by the hand and life is restored. 

Read |Matthew 9:18-19, 23-26; Mark 5:35-42

Matthew 9:18-19, 23-26
While he was saying this, a synagogue leader came and knelt before him and said, “My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live.”  Jesus got up and went with him, and so did his disciples.  

When Jesus entered the synagogue leader’s house and saw the noisy crowd and people playing pipes, he said, “Go away. The girl is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him.  After the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took the girl by the hand, and she got up. News of this spread through all that region.

Mark 5:35-42
While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jarius, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said, “Why bother the teacher anymore?” Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him.

After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him and went in where the child was.  He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”).  Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished.

Reflect | Spend some time reflecting on the following:

Have you ever heard someone say, or even thought to yourself, “Why bother, there’s no hope for her.” Or something along the lines of “He’s so far off track, don’t waste your breath.” How often might we deem a life over, that there’s no coming back from something. Do we push through the voices around us to get in front of Jesus and earnestly plead for a life? Do believe he is the one who can change it all?

Jesus didn’t turn away when the crowd declared the daughter dead and  the woman unclean. He went toward them. They were both dead to their community, but he took one by the hand and she came to life and the other he healed. We may not always see an immediate turnaround in a life, or the healing we craved, but we can take heart at the words of Jesus, to not be afraid; to still believe.

Is there someone coming to mind for which you could earnestly plead to Jesus for life to be restored? It’s possible they’re not dead, but asleep. Bring them before the giver of life.

Written for Five Oaks Church Daily Life Devotional