The Eye of God

ye of GodFrom Open Up Your Heart by jeff Syverson

August 7

The Eye of God

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 84:5-8 | Ezra 5:1 – 6:22 | 1 Corinthians 3:5-23 | Proverbs 20: 26-27

Today’s Scripture Focus: Ezra 5:1 – 6:22

“But the eye of their God was watching over the elders of the Jews, and they were not stopped” (Ezra 5:5 NIV).

God has been watching his people. As they have begun to turn to him, he has turned toward them; he is watching out for them.

The story of Ezra is the story of God turning his face of blessing toward his people after a time of judgment. The people had been idolatrous and rebellious under the kings of Judah and had been taken into exile by Nebuchadnezzar, the wicked king of Babylon.   

Prophets like Jeremiah and Habakkuk saw it coming, and lamented and wept that the people of God could fall so low that God would remove his hand of blessing, and allow them to come under the judgment of exile in Babylon. The story of Daniel and his three brave friends takes place during this exile in Babylon.  It was a hard time for the people of Judah. But as the 70 years of exile were coming near to an end, Daniel (and presumably others) began to pray and seek God for the fulfillment of the promise that God would turn his face toward them again, and bring them back to the land of the promise.

The Kings of Babylon were eventually overthrown by the Medo-Persian empire (as God had predicted through his prophets); God was watching and he was acting on behalf of his people.  He would prove faithful to his covenant, and his promise by moving on the heart of a pagan King (isn’t he amazing?).

One of those kings, Cyrus, ordered that the walls of Jerusalem and the temple be rebuilt.  He allowed some of the people to go back to begin the job. He also sent along helpers and supplies.

Of course it didn’t take long for opposition to arise. When God is at work, the enemy does what he can to cause confusion, division and frustration. No exception here.

But once again, we see the sovereign hand of God ruling over even the hearts of evil kings. His eye was watching over Judah to protect them, to care for them, to bless them. His eye was watching to strengthen them to accomplish the task of rebuilding the temple. That is the story of Ezra: The story of God watching over his people, remembering his promises to them, seeking to bless them so they can be a blessing.

But his eye is watching you too.  He wants to strengthen you today to accomplish the tasks he has given you. He hasn’t forgotten about you.  He’s there to care, to protect, to provide and to bless.

“For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him” (2 Chronicles 16:9).

Father, thank you for watching over me, protecting me, strengthening me for the tasks of the day. I give myself wholly to you today that I might be used for your glory. Amen.

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Nursery Duty

From Open Up Your Heart

August 6

Nursery Duty

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 84:1:4 | Ezra 3:1 – 4:24 | 1 Cor. 2:6 – 3:4 | Proverbs 20:24-25

Today’s Scripture Focus: 1 Corinthians 2:6- 3:4

“But as for right now, friends, I’m completely frustrated by your unspiritual dealing with each other and with God. You’re acting like infants in relation to Christ, capable of nothing much more than nursing at the breast. Well, then I’ll nurse you since you don’t seem capable of anything more. As long as you grab for what makes you feel good or makes you look important, are you really much different than a babe at the breast, content only when everything’s going your way?” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3 The Message).

I love kids, but I have often been glad that my preaching and teaching schedule conflicts with the nursery schedule—because I’d be horrible in the nursery. Once they can walk and talk and are out of diapers, I’m fine. But before that I’m clueless.

Nevertheless, I’ve found that there is plenty of “Nursery Duty” in serving as a pastor. But spiritual infancy is not a matter of age—it’s a matter of maturity (the lack of it). It is quite possible to grow old in the Lord without growing up in the Lord. It is very easy for any pastor to relate to Paul’s frustration. Yet I’m challenged to realize that while he calls them to a new level of maturity, he doesn’t spank them—and he doesn’t run from nursery duty. He mothers and nurses them (spiritually speaking, obviously). We must do the same, as difficult as that may be. The “babes” are given to us to develop maturity and character—theirs and ours. We need to learn from them as much as they need to learn from us.

“But as for right now, friends, I’m completely frustrated by your unspiritual dealing with each other and with God. You’re acting like infants in relation to Christ, capable of nothing much more than nursing at the breast. Well, then I’ll nurse you since you don’t seem capable of anything more. As long as you grab for what makes you feel good or makes you look important, are you really much different than a babe at the breast, content only when everything’s going your way?” (The Message, 1 Cor. 3:1-3)

It’s not terribly surprising that a consumer culture produces so many spoiled spiritual babes, but it is sad. Growing up requires taking up the cross and dying to our selfish immaturity, moving beyond our comfort zone and our need to always have it our way.

Learn to walk, to eat solid food, to explore, to follow God on adventures of faith that will cause you to mature and grow. There’s so much to learn, so much to do, so much to experience, so much of life yet to be lived, so much to accomplish for Him.

“In a broad stroke of the brush, I would say, paraphrasing Thoreau, that as the hour of my particular sunset approaches, I would be appalled to discover that I had died without having lived.” (Brennan Manning, Reflections for Ragamuffins, 219)

To live life in it’s fullness requires getting out of our rut and moving on to maturity. Let’s move ahead together. Don’t get too frustrated by the fact that we walk at different paces—God teaches us patience through that. We are all at different places in the journey, and that’s OK so long as we are moving ahead together—we need to help each other out on this journey of faith. Then soon we can all join together in nursery duty to a whole bunch of new babes in Christ—and that kind of nursery duty is a joy.

Heavenly Father, keep me child-like but not childish. Help me to continue growing in maturity. Give me a push when I get stuck in a rut. Enable me to live life to the full  and one day stand before you fully mature. Amen.

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The Foolishness of Brilliance

August 5

The Foolishness of Brilliance

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 83:9-16 | Ezra 1:1 – 2:70 | 

1 Corinthians 1:18 – 2:5 |  Proverbs 20:22-23

Today’s Scripture Focus: 1 Corinthians 1

“I know very well how foolish the message of the cross sounds to those who are on the road to destruction. But we who are being saved recognize this message as the very power of God. As the Scriptures say, “I will destroy human wisdom and discard their most brilliant ideas” (1 Corinthians 1:18-19  NLT).

I was invited to the home of two college professors to fellowship with one of their colleagues. They all had advanced degrees in science. Often the conversation moved toward advanced topics in chemistry. I’m sure the conversation was brilliant. But to me it seemed like foolishness. It was over my head. I didn’t get it.    

Many of the greatest minds of history have found their revolutionary ideas to be rejected initially because they seemed to be foolishness. People just couldn’t understand.

Imagine trying to understand the wisdom of the most brilliant being in the universe—the creator of the universe. Is it any wonder that Paul tells us that the message of the cross is foolishness to many?

It does seem foolish that God would love us so much that he would send his Son to die for us in the most cruel, shameful way possible: a cross. That which was an instrument of death became an instrument of life to all who would believe. That which was meant for defeat revealed God’s great triumphant victory. What others had meant for evil, God used for the ultimate good.

We will never be able to completely comprehend the brilliance of God’s plan—his wisdom is beyond ours. But what we do know is that God loves foolish people like you and me and seems to delight in transforming the foolish, to frustrate the wisdom of this world.  How does he do that?  He accomplishes his plan by the foolishness of preaching the foolish message of the cross to the foolish people of the world (like you and me). Does that seem foolish to you? I think it’s brilliant!

Lord, thank you for the cross. Thank you for loving me and making a way for me to enter into eternal life. Give me your wisdom today and empower me to put your truths into practice. Amen.

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Plastic Prayers Make Plastic Churchgoers

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

August 4

Plastic Prayers Make Plastic Churchgoers

Today’s Scripture Readings:  Psalm 83:1-8 | 2 Chronicles 35:1 – 36:23 | 1 Corinthians 1:1-17 | Proverbs 20:20-21

Today’s Scripture Focus: Psalm 83

“God, don’t shut me out; don’t give me the silent treatment, O God. Your enemies are out there whooping it up, the God-haters are living it up; They’re plotting to do your people in, conspiring to rob you of your precious ones.” (Psalm 83:1-2 The Message)

Ron Mortoia, in his book Morph! tells of a conversation on the golf course with an unchurched man.  The man’s observation:

“People who go to church just aren’t real. I don’t think they’re trying to be deceptive, they just seem fake and act like their lives are better than I know they really are.”   

Ron comments: “The charge against the church used to be that it was ‘full of hypocrites’. The charge today is subtler but no less indicting. Now we’re just called ‘plastic and fake’” (Morph!, 64-65).

I think the man on the golf course made a valid point. Much of what passes for Christianity today does seem “plastic and fake.” But the Bible is not. The pages are filled with very real, human characters. It’s painfully honest about their struggles and failures (and the successes, of course).

The Psalms are like that too. Painfully honest, the psalmist pours out his heart to God. He doesn’t hold anything back.  He doesn’t put on any masks; he doesn’t pretend. He just tells God what is on his heart and hopes that God will help him sort through his questions, his pain and his problems.

What about your prayers? Are they as honest and authentic? Or are they plastic and fake? A lot of prayers are—especially public prayers. God knows what is in your heart—and he delights in the man or woman who will put down their mask to pour out their heart to him.

My suspicion is that plastic prayers make plastic churchgoers and that authentic, honest prayers make men and women “after God’s own heart.” My chief witness: David.

Open up your heart to God, just like David did. Get it all “out on the table,” then allow God to deal with the questions, the fears, the pain, the problems, the doubts. He patiently waits on us to clean out the closets of our heart. He delights in meeting with us when we do. Honesty is the road to transformation. We trade in our plastic religiosity to become authentic Christ followers.

Father, I once again open my heart to you. I share my hurts, my pains, my concerns, my wounds, my fears, my doubts, my dreams, my hopes. Thank you for listening, for caring, for acting. Amen.

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Amazing Grace

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

August 3

Amazing Grace!

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 82:1-8 | 2 Chronicles 33:14 – 34:33 | Romans 16:8-27 | Proverbs 20:19

Today’s Scripture Focus: 2 Chronicles 33:1 – 34:33

“In his distress he sought the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. And when he prayed to him, the Lord was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea.  So he brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord is God.” (2 Chronicles 33:13 NIV)

Grace always amazes me—especially when I find it’s sweet sound in unexpected places. There was a day when I was surprised to find grace in the Old Testament at all, but now I see it all the time. But this story of Manasseh is more unexpected than most—I’m still amazed by it. Here is one of the most evil Kings of the whole bunch—could grace save a wretch like Manasseh?

Here is the description of his reign: “He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, following the detestable practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites. He rebuilt the high places his father Hezekiah had demolished; he also erected altars to the Baals and made Asherah poles. He bowed down to all the starry hosts and worshiped them. In both courts to the Temple, he built altars to all the starry hosts. He sacrifices his sons in the fire in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, practiced sorcery, divination and witchcraft and consulted mediums and spiritists.  He did much evil in the eyes of the Lord, provoking him to anger.” 

Here is a man who undid all the good done by Hezekiah. He totally reversed it and made it even worse.  He even erected altars to Baal and defiled the temple with altars to all the starry hosts.  He was even willing to sacrifice his sons in pagan rituals.  He took the term “Evil King” to a new low.

For years, the Lord tried to get his attention (and the attention of the people). They wouldn’t listen. Then one day, judgment came. Put into shackles, he was carried off to Babylon by the hook they placed in his nose. Then listen to this verse: it’s amazing grace for sure!

“In his distress he sought the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. And when he prayed to him, the Lord was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea.  So he brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord is God” (33:13).

Just as amazing to me, is that the people of Judah, didn’t see it and didn’t get it. They were so quick to turn back to the idols and rebuild the high places. How amazing is that? But then again, don’t we often take grace for granted?

Grace truly is amazing. If it can find and change a man like Manasseh, there might be hope yet for you and me.

Heavenly Father, thank you for your amazing grace. I stand amazed at how willing you are to forgive and give another chance. Continue to pour out your grace and mercy in my life this day and in the days to come. Amen.

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The Mountaintop

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

August 2

The Mountaintop

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 81:8-16 | 2 Chronicles 32:1 – 33:13 | Romans 15:23 – 16:7 | Proverbs 20:16-18

Today’s Scripture Focus: 2 Chronicles 32:1 – 33:13

“In everything that he undertook in the service of God’s temple and in obedience to the law and the commands, he sought his God and worked wholeheartedly. And so he prospered” (2 Chronicles 31:21 NIV).

The crisp, cool air blows through your hair as you as gaze upon the majestic beauty of other mountain peaks. You are above them all. You are on the mountaintop. It’s an exhilarating place to be, a dangerous place. It was quite an adventure to get there and even more difficult to stay there.

Hezekiah found the way to the mountaintop. “In everything that he undertook in the service of God’s temple and in obedience to the law and the commands, he sought his God and worked wholeheartedly. And so he prospered” (31:21).

The list of Good kings in Israel and Judah was a pretty short list, but Hezekiah made the list.  He did something very few had done before.  He actually dealt with the idolatry of Judah; he smashed the Asherah poles and got rid of the high places.  He listened and obeyed.  When he prayed, God listened. And the people of Judah were praying too. . . and the prayers were getting through. Revival was beginning to take place in the Land (30:20, 27). Because of Hezekiah’s obedience, God answered his prayers, and the nation of Judah was on a mountaintop!

But it’s tough to stay on a mountaintop. When others see your success, they criticize, they attack, they envy. Sennacherib, the mighty King of Assyria fell prey to those temptations. He mocked, he attacked and when God showed up, he ran back to Assyria like a puppy with his tail between his legs, devastated and put in his place. There is always someone trying to knock you from your place of blessing. But it’s not just the attack of other humans; there are also the attacks of the “evil one” and his armies. They too, try to knock us down from our mountaintop—the place of God’s blessing. Stand firm and resist his attacks!

Sometimes the tougher opposition comes from within. Success breeds pride which leads to a fall. Good King Hezekiah began to slip because of his pride. The success began to go to his head (32:25). Remember where the blessings come from. Remember the reason for your success. “Every good and perfect gift comes from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights” (James 1:17). Hezekiah recognized the problem and he prayed through it (32:26). The blessings of the mountaintop are wonderful, but can become a temptation to pride. That is one foothold that you don’t want to even try—it leads to a quick and devastating slide to the bottom.

Repentance, prayer and obedience brought blessing. They always do. They also help to keep us from slipping. Look to God for the fullness of his blessing (Romans 15:29) and for the humility to enjoy each and every blessing and any success he brings.

Lord, help me to walk in the fullness of the blessing of Christ. Help me to live from a place of humility. Help me to seek you and work wholeheartedly. Amen.

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Blessing Instead of Bleeping

August 1

Blessing Instead of Bleeping

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 81:1-17 | 2 Chronicles 30:1 – 31:21 | Romans 15:1-22 | Proverbs 20:13-15

Today’s  Scripture Focus: Romans 15

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13 NIV). 

There seems to be a whole lot of bleeping going on these days. You know that high-pitched bleep that somehow tries to cover over certain words—curses, mostly (but you don’t have to be a lip reader to know what is being covered over).  In the movies or on cable, we get the full effect of the curse in all of it’s glory (or lack thereof). Of course, what should we expect from the mouths of a world that is living under the curse? 

There’s a lot of cursing going on in the church too, but we don’t bleep ours.  Our cursing is more sophisticated and less crass.  But it is just as hurtful (maybe even more so).  Instead of blessing one another, we curse when our lips wound and hurt one another—It may be more subtle, but it is still a curse. 

Every malicious word, every tasty snippet of gossip, every venomous, sarcastic comment (humor is great, but even some humor wounds), every word that is judgmental, every hasty, angry word: each one, a curse. Sometimes the wound comes not from what is said, but how it is said.  Even the way we handle a prayer request can become a curse instead of a blessing (don’t allow those prayer chain calls to turn into opportunities for gossip). Instead of blessing people with encouraging, helpful words, we are so quick to demean and criticize. James says this is hypocrisy at it’s worst and has no place in the life of a Christian: “From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so” (James 3:10).

Our social media feeds are filled with it too. Words filled with contempt. Angry words. Slanderous, malicious, untruthful words. Name calling. Words that seek to divide and conquer–to tear down rather than build up. This is not the way of Christ. These things, too, ought not to be so.

Paul knew the debilitating effects of curses and he made a point of blessing the people he was ministering to. It’s a wonderful part of ministry—a ministry we can all be a part of. We see two of his blessings in this passage. You might want to make them part of your prayer language. I often use them in praying for others. They always bring a blessing:

“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:5-6, NIV).

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13, NIV).

I am praying these blessings for you today, Receive them (meditate on them and pray them for yourself. Receive them in faith)… I trust that the God of hope will give you a joyful, peaceful, hope-filled day!  Now that you’ve been blessed…go bless somebody else.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Amen. (Romans 15:13, NIV).

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Thank God for Broccoli

Thank God for Broccoli

July 31

Thank God For Broccoli

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 80:8-19 | 2 Chronicles 29:1-36 | Romans 14:1-23 | Proverbs 20:12

Today’s Scripture Focus: Romans 14:1-23

“If you eat meat, eat it to the glory of God and thank God for prime rib, if you’re a vegetarian, eat vegetables and thank God for broccoli.” (Romans 14:6 The Message)

I met a man in India whose first words after baptism were, “Does this mean I now have to eat beef?” The thought was utterly repulsive to him. Years of believing that eating beef was a sinful act—perhaps the most sinful act in his system of belief—meant that this young believer had a very sensitive conscience and many scruples when it came to his diet.  It seems to me that this is exactly the kind of believer Paul has in mind in the text. If you were to invite him into your home, I’d suggest you serve broccoli (or better yet: lentil soup).

Our freedom in Christ may lead to differing convictions on some issues. These should not be a source of disunity in the body of Christ. Flaunting our freedom before someone with differing convictions would also be wrong. For the sake of the other believer, keep your conviction to yourself. When your weaker brother leaves you can serve the meat, “and thank God for prime rib,” but don’t violate his conscience and don’t put a stumbling block in his way.

When it comes to sharing the gospel, we also often raise barriers that become stumbling blocks. Don’t invite your vegetarian friend to a steak dinner. That would be very insensitive—a stumbling block to faith. There are some people groups that need to see that Christianity can be vegetarian. The scruples raised by non-vegetarian diets might keep them from ever seriously considering the Christian faith. Whether you eat or don’t eat meat need not be an issue for us, but it could be a stumbling block to them ever really hearing the gospel.

Those who are more mature in Christ, must not use their freedom unwisely—it can be misunderstood and cause another to stumble.  Nor should they become “professional weaker brothers.”  P.W.B.’s are those who have been around a while, but never seem to grow up—those who are easily offended. Self-centered and always wanting their way, they impose their “convictions” on everyone else and judge those who don’t live up to their personal list of taboos. They need to grow up. They cause disunity in the body of Christ and place stumbling blocks in the way of those who are legitimately younger and weaker in their faith.

Eugene Peterson in his paraphrase sums the passage up well: 

“Cultivate your own relationship with God, but don’t impose it on others. You’re fortunate if your behavior and your belief are coherent, but if you’re not sure, if you notice that you are acting in ways inconsistent with what you believe—some days trying to impose you opinions on others, other days just trying to please them—then you know that you’re out of line. If the way you live isn’t consistent with what you believe, then it’s wrong.” (Romans 14:22-23, The Message)

As for me, I’m thanking God for both prime rib and broccoli, but not in front of my broccoli-loving friends.

Heavenly Father, thank you for the freedom we have in Christ. Help me to live out of that freedom without flaunting it before others who may not understand, others who might stumble. Amen.

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Starting and Finishing Well

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

July 30

Starting and Finishing Well

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 80:1-7 | 2 Chronicles 26:1 – 28:27 | Romans 13:1-14 |  Proverbs 20:11

Today’s Scripture Focus: 2 Chronicles 26:1 – 28:27

“He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father Amaziah had done. He sought God during the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God. As long as he sought the Lord, God gave him success” (2 Chronicles 26:4-5, NIV).

Uzziah was off to a great start. Things were going extremely well, maybe too well. Then he crashed and had a hard time finishing the race. He had good intentions and a great start, but lost his way near the end of the race.

Uzziah, the King of Judah,  started out young—he started out well.  One of the keys to the race is finding the right advisors. He had a great one: Zechariah. “He sought God during the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God. As long as he sought the Lord, God gave him success.” 

Don’t underestimate the importance of spiritual advisors in your life, people who will guide you on the path of “reverent obedience” to “live a godly life” (The Message, 26:5). Apparently, Uzziah’s “crash and burn” came after Zechariah had left the scene.  But as he was instructed and guided by his chief “spiritual director,” Zechariah, he was successful. Uzziah’s good start also points out the importance of a good theology of God. 

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 9:10).  A.W. Tozer said: “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” (The Knowledge of the Holy, p. 7).  He taught that our understanding of God affects our every action.  Uzziah is a good example of that, both positively and negatively.  When he feared God (reverent awe, not cowering fear), he obeyed and was successful. When he lost the rightful reverence of God, he grew arrogant and proud and careless.

 Uzziah’s “crash and burn” came because of his pride.  Eugene Peterson paraphrases it well: “Everything seemed to go his way. But then the strength and success went to his head. Arrogant and proud, he fell” (The Message, 15, 16). Lofty thoughts of God led to his success. Lofty thoughts about himself led to his downfall.

Knowing God deeply and intimately is the key to life lived to the full—having right attitudes toward him is the beginning of wisdom. When we become the object of our worship, instead of the God who created us and is the source of all our blessings, we set ourselves up for the same tragic end. Keep your eyes on Jesus the author and finisher or your faith, and everything else is kept in its right perspective. That gets us on the right path, and keeps us there all the way to the finish line.

Holy God, help me to fear you rightly: not in a cowering, servile fear, but in reverent awe that leads to worship and wisdom. Root out the pride and selfishness that will only lead to a fall. Help me to lean on you and walk in the power of your Spirit. Amen.

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Medium Rare or Well Done?

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

July 29

Medium Rare or Well Done?

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 79:9-13 | 2 Chronicles 24:1 – 25:28 | Romans 12:1–21 | Proverbs 20:8-10

Today’s Scripture Focus: Romans 12:1-21

“Therefore I urge you brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:1-2a NIV).

Regardless of how you like your steak, we all want to hear the words, “well done” when we stand before Jesus some day. I guess that’s the way God likes his living sacrifices well done. But if he were to check on his living sacrifice today, where would you be in the process? Medium-rare? Medium-well?

I believe Paul gives us some indications of how well we are doing in offering ourselves as living sacrifices. Here are a few of them:

Being a living sacrifice is demonstrated by our humble service (3-8). God has given you gifts. A living sacrifice demonstrates his or her humility by willingly using those gifts to build up other believers and to share the love of Christ with those who need the good news.  

For too many Christians, their commitment to Christ and his church is demonstrated only by their willingness to warm a pew. One who is living a life surrendered to God, will be serving others willingly and using their gifts diligently.

Being a living sacrifice is demonstrated by our devotion to one another in love (9-13, 15-16). A living sacrifice demonstrates love practically and constantly: “Be devoted in brotherly love,” “Honor one another above yourselves,” “Share with God’s people who are in need,” “Practice hospitality”.

Being a living sacrifice is demonstrated by our devotion to the Lord (11, 12). Our faithfulness in prayer and zeal to serve him show the reality of our spiritual fervor.

Being a living sacrifice is demonstrated by our reaction to trials, suffering, persecution, and curses (12, 14-21).  Here is advice for a living sacrifice dealing with difficult times: “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Trials demonstrate how “well done” you are as a living sacrifice.  Do they make you better or bitter? A living sacrifice is patient, joyful, hopeful, and prayerful as he perseveres through trials.

An even more difficult test is your reaction to someone who curses you. Will you lash back at them? Take revenge? The living sacrifice follows the example of Christ and leaves the issue of “payback” to God (see 1 Peter 2:20-23). The tongue of a living sacrifice has died to cursing and is reborn to bless—even those who’ve hurt you most.

It’s not easy. In fact, it’s impossible without his help. That is why you have to die to yourself, so that you can be raised to new life—Jesus’ life in you.

Open your heart to Jesus today, give yourself fully to him—all of you—don’t hold anything back.  Then someday you’ll hear those words we all want to hear: “Well done.”

Father, continue your work in me preparing me for “that day” when I hope to hear you say, “Well done.” Fill me with your Spirit, guide me into your truth, help me to walk with you into maturity.  Amen.

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