Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.  You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
This passage is a familiar one for many who have been exposed to the Bible for a good amount of their lives. The Hebrew term for this particular section of Scripture is “The Shema”, which to this day is a daily prayer of devotion for practicing Jews. It is named thusly for its opening word, which is correctly translated as “hear”. Further translated, the command is meant to produce obedience through what is audibly heard.
Although many times this particular passage is taught with the intention of instilling within us the importance of being trained up in the knowledge of Scripture, I believe there is more than meets the eye through this instruction.
Read it again. What is constant?
Throughout these verses, you find that Moses was beckoning the people to REMEMBER the words of God. He longs for each person to internalize God’s commandments (verse 6). I believe the psalmist similarly understood the importance of allowing Scripture to root itself in one’s heart when he declared, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11, NIV). It’s hard to remove something when it’s hidden, right? When we are consumed with God’s Word and allow it to fill us, it will be so deeply ingrained in us that it cannot easily be removed. It becomes a part of our very essence….something that cannot be forgotten.
Moses encourages Israel to constantly surround themselves with the Scriptures. He instructs the people to keep the law ever before them. “Talk about it. Write about it. Hang it in your homes. Do whatever it takes to keep from forgetting what God has spoken.”
Why do you think he was so insistent? I submit that he, based on personal experience, understood that the sinner’s heart is innately prone to forget God in the hustle and bustle of life.
Flip back a couple of chapters to Deuteronomy 4 and you will find Moses demanding obedience from the people in response to the words that God gave him. While speaking to them he warns, “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life” (verse 9, emphasis added).
Let’s not overlook the fact that he is speaking to people who had, with their very eyes, seen God miraculously rescue them from the land of Egypt and lead them through the wilderness. Even with physical evidence of God’s faithfulness they were spiritual nomads, wandering from the God who lovingly intervened in their lives time and time again.
If the Israelites, who could physically sense God’s presence in their midst, needed reminders, it should go without saying that we desperately need to be reminded of what God’s Word says to us as well. We are commanded to “love the LORD [our] God with all [our] heart and with all [our] soul and all [our] might” (6:5). How can we express our love if we allow ourselves to forget who He is and what He has done for us (especially through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ)?
We need daily reminders of the gospel. It’s good for our souls to be reminded of the depth of our sin and the glorious rescue mission of Jesus Christ, who ransomed us from the death we had earned by substituting Himself in our place. THAT is something that is worth remembering!
We’re a forgetful people, so we must train ourselves to daily experience the Word of God in order to cling to the Savior and put aside our fleshly tendency to run away from Him. The grace He has for us is too costly to neglect, and we must constantly put ourselves in a position to think upon His goodness towards us.
Talk about it. Write it down. Do whatever it takes to remind yourself of the beautiful gospel message, for it is our everything.
“A man’s steps are established by the LORD, and He takes pleasure in his way.” (Psalm 37:23)
“He will pray to God, and God will delight in him. That man will behold His face with a shout of joy, and God will restore His righteousness to him.” (Job 33:26)
The Lord God has a plan for each of our lives. It is he who establishes our way by that plan. That plan is not completed apart from our knowing Him. Most time we see this plan as doing something. And yet, over and over again, it is more in obeying and seeing Him work through our obedience. It is then that we begin to understand His pleasure in the way in which we live. How much pleasure do you take in your child that is disobedient and has no interest in what you want as a father or mother.
And then, when we have conversations initiated by our children, it is an absolute delight. How are we any different than the One that created us? We’re not. That is the point; we are created in His image. What kind of a relationship do you have with your Children? Does it resemble the relationship that you have with the Father? In the right relationship there are shouts of joy, there is always restoration of what was lost.
Today, let’s live for the pleasure of our Lord, and give Him cause for delighting in us.
On Saturday, I was driving one of our new buses through the mountains of New Mexico. We took lot of winding, out of the way roads that took us through beautiful mountains, lovely fall trees, and by a gorgeous river. As we drove through the mountains, every once in a while someone would ask me what road we were on or where we were. I would have to answer truthfully that I had no idea. I was simply following the bus in front of me. I knew that I didn’t have to worry about what road we were on, where we were, or where we were going because I knew that Jimmy was driving the bus in front and that he knew exactly where we were and where we were going. I could trust his leading and simply follow. I knew that if I stayed right behind him, I wouldn’t get lost and we would arrive at our destination.
In the first chapter of Mark, he tells us that Jesus came up on Peter and Andrew’s boat and called out to him, “Follow me.” He did the same thing when he reached James and John. All four men left everything and followed Jesus. And they continued to follow him for about three years. All this time, they didn’t know where he was leading them (even though he tried to tell them). A lot of the time, they didn’t know exactly what was going on, but they knew that they could trust Jesus. They simply followed where he led. It wasn’t an easy road and they didn’t always understand why he was leading them to the places they were going, but they kept following anyway.
Jesus asks the same thing of us. Even though we may not know where he is leading us, we can trust his leading. It’s not always easy to follow him. In fact, most of the time, it’s pretty difficult. And a lot of the time, we want to ask those same people that the passengers on the bus were asking me. Where are we? What road are we on? Where are we going? What time will we get there? But even though we want to ask all of those questions, and often do, we can always trust that the direction Jesus is leading us is what is best. We may not understand it at the moment, but we can still trust Jesus and keep following wherever he leads, because when we reach the destination, it will always be worth it.
 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!  Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.”  But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.  Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.  Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own,  for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:15-20)
Sex. It’s one of those words you hope doesn’t get brought up in a church setting all that often (unless, of course, you’re a husband and the pastor is encouraging spouses to have more of it). I don’t know how we got to this place, but it is often so taboo, and honestly quite awkward, to explicitly discuss the topic of sex in our services, small groups, and one-on-one conversations. Across the board, there seems to be a lack of healthy, honest, and sanctifying conversation around this exceedingly important issue. This is not good…at all.
We are sexual beings. Don’t believe me? Go turn on any channel on your television and you will find sex used as a primary marketing tool (even if the context doesn’t make one bit of sense). We live in a sex-craved world. With today’s advancement in technology, people don’t have to even try very hard to “fulfill” their sexual desires.
For those of us in Christ, we know that sex was created by God as an intimate gift to be shared between one man and one woman in the confines of a marital covenant. God gave humanity this gift to be enjoyed in this manner alone. However, as sin entered the world, this ever so important establishment was perverted along with the rest of creation. The misuse of sex has been prevalent from the Fall, and many have found the results of such sin to be devastatingly destructive.
I wish I could say that Christ-followers were immune from the sin of sexual impurity. It would bring me great joy to write this with the assurance that this is one area of sin we would no longer have to endure. However, a statement resembling either of those statements would be misleading (to say the least).
The sad reality is that the greatest arena for Satan to make a mockery of the beautiful union set forth by God is within our churches. Our enemy comes at us hard with sexual temptations in hopes of ruining lives, marriages, and homes. And sadly, he succeeds more than we would like to admit.
I am not foolish enough to think that our rows on Sunday mornings are full of unblemished people, especially as it relates to sexual impurity. If you think you are doing well in this area, think again. In fact, let’s remember what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount:
 You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. (Matthew 5:27-30)
Jesus sets an unattainable precedent that most likely deflated the ego of anyone who wasn’t having a “physical affair” and somehow thought they were doing well. He demolishes their idea of the standard for sexual purity, and sets the bar higher. This isn’t to be cruel, but to make it crystal clear that what is unseen is just as destructive as the outward sin. In fact, many times these “unseen sins” can be the breadcrumbs from which you trace physical acts of adultery.
It is not unlikely that in almost any church you would find people who are addicted to sex in various forms. Some may have a porn addiction. Others might struggle with masturbation. There could even be people who are in the middle of an ongoing extramarital affair, or meddling with the idea of one. Still, some may just “innocently” find themselves anxiously catching glances of others they find attractive. Regardless of the circumstance or extent, sexual sin is real and in our midst.
This is a constant battle that we must fight to win. Our churches must raise up men and women who would be discontent with anything less than magnifying Christ in their bodies, because (as the passage in 1 Corinthians mentions) they are temples of the Holy Spirit. Christ has claimed victory over sin and death, and He has given us that same Spirit that we may overcome our fleshly desire to sin sexually. It is possible, but only through complete and total surrender to Christ. Opportunities abound for us to sin in this area, but we must discipline ourselves for holiness.
By abstaining from sexual sin, we prove that our treasure is in Christ. The world may not physically see you setting yourself apart from sexual exploitation, but I guarantee that you, in turn, will be a more effective witness to the grace of God in your life.
Sex sells in our world. And it is going at a cheap rate. May we count it as magnificently costly, that we might display the worth of the gospel in our lives.
I love the story of Zacchaeus. If you grew up in church, you know this story, complete with song and motions. We all know that Zacchaeus was a wee little man who climbed a tree one day so he could see Jesus. The gospel writers aren’t typically free with detail in their telling of all that Jesus did. In fact, in most cases, we’re lucky when we get a name. Most of the time we only know gender, nationality if it makes an important point, maybe occupation, and not much else. Luke breaks the mold with Zacchaeus. He’s probably the only person in the Gospels for whom we know anything about physical appearance. He was short. He was short enough that he couldn’t see over or around the crowds lining the street the day Jesus came to town. So he climbed a tree.
We know something else about Zacchaeus. He was a tax collector. And not only was he a tax collector, but he was the chief tax collector and very wealthy. There were few people in Jesus’ day who were looked down on more than the tax collectors. They were crooks. Rome required them to take a certain amount from everyone. But not only did they collect the heavy taxes required by the government, they added a bit to the total. An unseen handling fee that they put straight into their own pockets that everyone knew about but couldn’t fight. So everyone thought the tax collectors were thieves. And they were traitors. They were Jews that chose to work for Rome and robbed their brothers and sisters. They weren’t allowed into the synagogues. They were shunned from their community. So this short guy, Zacchaeus, made up for it by taking as much as he could and becoming incredibly wealthy in the process.
So why did a sawed-off thief like this want to see Jesus so much that he climbed a tree? I imagine that a story had been circulating through the tax collector world, so preposterous that they just kept telling it. One day, this tax collector named Matthew just left his booth and all of his money, all because a dude named Jesus said, “Follow me.” To a guy like Zacchaeus, this would have been worth sitting on a tree branch. Another story was spreading like wildfire throughout Jericho that day. The blind guy that sat outside the city wasn’t begging anymore. He’d called out to this Jesus guy and now he could see. Other stories were whispered as people came to his booth each day. Word of Jesus was everywhere. And now he was walking into town. I’m sure Zacchaeus couldn’t help but climb that tree if it was the only way he could catch a glimpse at a man who was causing the blind to see and the tax collectors to walk away.
We already know that Zacchaeus climbed the tree because he was short and couldn‘t see over the crowds. You also have to remember that since he was probably considered the worst person in all of Jericho, people weren’t likely to let him push through the crowd. So he climbed a tree. He just had to see this guy that all the stories were about. And I’m guess that he nearly fell out of the tree when Jesus said, “Zacchaeus, get out of that tree. We’re having lunch at your place.”
Imagine the shock on the faces of all those people who wouldn’t let him through the crowd a few minutes earlier. I would guess the crowd parted like the Red Sea as Jesus and the biggest crook in town walked arm in arm down the street. I would also put money on it that their jaws nearly fell out of their faces a little while later when Zacchaeus started handing them money. The man who had been taking the cash out of their hands for years was now passing it out like it grew on that tree he’d been sitting in.
Jesus has the power to change lives. The same Jesus who took a wee little traitor and loved him and brought him back into the community can do the same thing for each of us and wants to do it. He can walk into our lives and turn our attitudes upside down. He can take pained and broken relationships and make them whole and sweet. The only question is this: Are you willing to jump out of your tree and let him?
 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.  And all who believed were together and had all things in common.  And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.  And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,  praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47)
Our current culture intrigues me. For at least a handful of years, social media has been on an exponential rise (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, etc). We easily live in the most connected era in history. I can instantly connect with my friends, family, and even my favorite musicians, actors, authors, pastors, etc. on any smart device I have at my disposal at any time I want and anywhere I want.
It was ingenious for the founders and designers of these mediums to hone in on humanity’s deepest, most desperate desire to be connected to others. I found a statistic, based on a poll taken in 2012, which suggests there are approximately 1.4 billion Facebook users worldwide, 700 billion minutes spent per month on Facebook, 190 million average amount of tweets per day, etc.
We are a people hungry for connection and attention. The sad reality is that so many of us feel as though we’re genuinely connected with our “friends” and family via social networking when the fact of the matter is the status of these relationships, like many of our posts, is exaggerated. Instead of partaking in actual relationships that require time, energy, and commitment, we fool ourselves into thinking that if we stalk our closest acquaintances and know every detail of their lives they share with the world it will sufficiently fulfill our relational needs.
It is a clever ploy to create something termed “social media” that actually is its antithesis. What has been perpetuated is a false sense of community and companionship within millions of seemingly anti-social people, too lazy and insecure to seek out authentic friendships.
From Genesis to the present, God designed mankind to be a relational being. This is evidenced as he pronounced, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Going back even further, before the beginning of time, we find that God even existed in community with Himself. John 1:1-2 reads, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” The God of the Bible is the everlasting Triune (or “Three-in-One”) God; and, since we know that connectedness is in His very nature, it is natural that He would create in a way that reflects this quality.
As the “Age of Grace” was ushered in by Jesus’ death and resurrection, we get a glimpse into the New Testament church’s life in the passage above (Acts 2:42-47). What you find is a group of people gathered together in unity (spiritually and physically). Their main aim was to magnify the God of the gospel, which enabled them to find “favor with all the people” (v. 47). Not only that, but God was also using this fellowship of believers to bring about salvation in the lives of many. They were being taught the gospel, living life with one another, and giving of their resources to those in need. Sounds like a great church, huh? When life is lived together around the commonality of a relationship with Jesus Christ, this is what you find.
Jesus actually prayed for this type of community during His time on earth. “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me…I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:20-21, 23)
What He was asking for was a people united under the banner of the good news that He brought, woven together like a beautiful tapestry. Like the materials used to form them, on our own we can indeed function (sometimes quite well); however, together we are always better and capable of creating something extraordinary and breathtaking.
In the economy that Jesus desires for His Church, isolated Christians are not the norm (and, frankly, should not exist). Unfortunately, if you look closely, you will find that the majority of us are cut off from other believers. This is unacceptable, and must be remedied. We cannot allow for our churches to be filled with “Facebook Christians”, who on the surface look as though they have all they need, when in actuality they are devastatingly lonely.
God intended for us to be in community with one another. It demonstrates who He is in relationship to Himself, and what He desires us to find in Him. I know it’s difficult to admit that you need other people, but you do. You can’t help it. You were created that way. To live without community is to miss out on the fullness of following Christ.
I wholeheartedly believe that community is a MUST in the life of a Christ-follower. Genuine community reminds us that we’re human. It gives us an outlet for casual conversation (because shared interests and stories help us connect on a deeper level), authentic confession (because none of us is perfect), and spiritual encouragement (because walking with Jesus can be tough and we can’t do it alone).
To sum it up, if you don’t have a group of people you regularly are in community with, find one TODAY! Do not isolate yourself from the body of Christ. Do not be the anti-social Christian. (It’s fine if you are an introvert, but do not neglect fellowship with others due to a personality trait.)
We need actual friends and fellowship. Facebook can be a great tool for networking, but we cannot allow cyber interactions to be our main source of communication and connection with others because oftentimes these exchanges are shallow, disingenuous, and sometimes misleading. I know that opening yourself up to others can be a scary thing, and there is a very real possibility that you will get hurt somewhere along the line, BUT it is so worth the risk.
Be united with Christ. Likewise, be united with one another. God can do great things in and through us when we gather together with like minds and hearts to follow Jesus well. Do not settle for surface-level relationships. You need more than that. Go find it!