The Test (Pass or Fail)

by BJ Richardson at The River Walk

For the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s laws. (James 2:10)

find x

Relate: In college, unless I was the curve wrecker, I hated them. You know who I’m talking about. Lets say you have twenty students in the class and everybody is about average… except for that one girl who has no life. All she does is study every day from the moment she gets home until the moment she leaves in the morning. Everybody else gets a 70 or worse on a test. She gets a 98. The girl is wrecking the curve.

On the flip side are the curve helpers. I love these guys. Once upon a time they showed up for a class. Somehow, they score worse on multiple choice tests than they would if they filled in the answers randomly. When it comes to true or false questions, they flip a coin. Their coin isn’t very lucky. I love these guys. Did I say that already? There is nothing like scoring a 58% on a test and then finding out that is an B-. There must have been a lot of curve fodder in the room.

When it comes to our spiritual life, some people look at those like Mother Theresa and Billy Graham as curve wreckers and Adolf Hitler or Charles Manson as curve helpers. When it comes time to the judgment, I don’t want to be the one right in line after Mother Theresa. I don’t care how god I try to be, she’s gonna make my outlook pretty rough. On the flip side, if Bin Laden’s right in front of me, I think I’ll dance a jig right on the spot.

React: Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work that way. Making the grade into heaven is pass fail. Even worse, the test is incredibly hard. Life is made up of an infinite number of choices. There are hundreds, no thousands of moral questions presented to us each day. We are faced with opportunity after opportunity, choice after choice, decision after decision with how we will live our life. A skipped question counts as a wrong answer so we aren’t just graded on what we did. We are also graded on what we should have done. It gets even worse. According to James, according to God writing through James, the only passing grade is 100%. If we fail on even one question, we have failed them all.

The fact is, passing this test, the most crucial test in all eternity is the next thing to impossible. There is a curve wrecker, it can be done, but only once in all of history. Only one person has ever answered every question right. The rest of us seem to mess up over and over again. I might say, “Oh look I got 52% right and my neighbor Joe only got 49% so I must be doing pretty good.” It’s fun to compare ourselves with the Stalins in the world who are shooting in the low 30′s, not as much with the saints who are hitting in the mid to high 60′s. It doesn’t matter. Even if I were to answer only one of the 33 million questions wrong, I’ve failed. Perfection can be achieved, but I didn’t do it. No amount of correct answers from here on out will change that fact.

But here’s the good news. Right before it was time to turn in our tests, the curve wrecker came to me with an offer. He said we could switch names. He would take my failure, the wrong answers that I’ve earned, and the judgment I deserve and in return He would give me His perfect score. All I have to do is write His name on my life and in return surrender my name (life) to Him. Considering what is riding on this test, I’d be a fool not to take Him up on the offer. What about you? He’s making you the same proposal.

Respond: 

God, I thank You for Your Name. I am a failure. I have messed up time and time again. Holiness is required and I am covered in sin. Perfection is required and I have fallen short time and time again. I’m so sorry for this. I am so sorry and willfully chose to do evil over and over again. Forgive me. I give You my name. I give You my failures and mistakes. In their place I accept Your grace. I accept Your perfection. When people look at me, let them see Your Name shining through.

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A voice Crying Out (John 1.6-8)

A VOICE CRYING OUT (JOHN 1:6-8)

by  from The River Walk

Read: Genesis 15:1 – 17:27

God sent a man, John the Baptist, to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony.
John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light.
 (John 1:6-8)

voice crying out

Relate: When we speak of John we use words like: “witness”, “forerunner”, and “prophet”. He came to proclaim witness to the coming Messiah. He was a forerunner of Christ sent to prepare the way. He is the last of the Old Testament style prophets. But when John spoke about himself he denied the rightful titles on prophet and Elijah. He called himself only a “voice crying out in the darkness, prepare the way for the Lord.” When his disciples wanted to compare him to Jesus John told them point blank, “He must become greater and I must become less.” When Jesus came to him to be baptized John humbly and sincerely said, “I am not even worthy to tie your shoes.” John’s whole life, his lifestyle, and his message were as narrowly focused as a laser beam on one single point, and that point was the coming of the Christ.

React: Because of this narrow and single minded focus, when Jesus spoke about John he said, “I tell you, among men born of women there is none greater than John.” That’s a pretty inclusive list… and he’s tops. It makes me wonder what He will say about me. When others speak of me, what words will they use? Am I a witness to One greater? When others ask me who I am, will my identity be found as a voice proclaiming the greatness of another? Will I be called a reflection of His glory? Or will I try to lay hold of my own? When others begin to make comparisons will I put an end to it by declaring, “Let me become less that God might be glorified”? When I come before God, will I have a laundry list of demands or will I simply say to Him, “I am Your unworthy servant”? When everything is all said and done, will He in turn say of me, “Well done thy good and faithful servant.”

Respond: 

God, give me focus. Help me to stop being distracted by the trivialities of this life. I want more and more to become lost in You that You might be found in me. I surrender my needs, my wants, my dreams, and my ambitions to Your will. Through my life be glorified. In my life be everything.

I died, but look — I am alive

by  on The River Walk

Read: Joel 1:1-3:21, Revelation 1:1-20, Psalm 128:1-6, Proverbs 29:18

I am the First and the Last. I am the living one. I died, but look—I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave. (Revelation 1:17-18)

empty

Relate: He is the First (Alpha, al’Awwat) and He is the Last (Omega, al’Akhir). He is the Living One (Hechai, al’Hayy). Once dead, He now lives forever. He holds the keys of death and the grave.

There have been others who have died to be raised back to life. In the Bible, there is Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter, the son of the widow from Nain, Eutycus, the man who fell onto Elisha’s bones, and so forth. In modern times there is Jeff Markin, the 16 dead in Caleme Brazil, the boy who was dead for over a day in Africa, and Daniel Ekechukwu. Even if some or all of these are false or sensationalized, I know it is still possible. It is possible to pray for someone and for God to raise them from the grave. 

React: What is not possible is for someone to raise himself  from the grave. Yet this is exactly what Jesus did. Crucified on the cross, he took our sins and carried them to the grave. But that is where He left them. Death tried to hold on. Hell tried to lock Him in. But Jesus, as God, was greater by far than both. He stole the keys of death and kicked down the gates of hell. He rolled away the stone and now His grave stands empty. He died so that we can live. And now He lives so that, one day, we can live forever with Him. From first to last, Jesus is our victorious God.

 Respond: 

Revelation 4

by  from The River Walk

Read: Obadiah 1:1-21, Revelation 4:1-11, Psalm 132:1-18, Proverbs 29:24-25

Then as I looked, I saw a door standing open in heaven, and the same voice I had heard before spoke to me like a trumpet blast. The voice said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must happen after this.” And instantly I was in the Spirit, and I saw a throne in heaven and someone sitting on it. The one sitting on the throne was as brilliant as gemstones—like jasper and carnelian. And the glow of an emerald circled his throne like a rainbow. Twenty-four thrones surrounded him, and twenty-four elders sat on them. They were all clothed in white and had gold crowns on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning and the rumble of thunder. And in front of the throne were seven torches with burning flames. This is the sevenfold Spirit of God. In front of the throne was a shiny sea of glass, sparkling like crystal.

In the center and around the throne were four living beings, each covered with eyes, front and back. The first of these living beings was like a lion; the second was like an ox; the third had a human face; and the fourth was like an eagle in flight. Each of these living beings had six wings, and their wings were covered all over with eyes, inside and out. Day after day and night after night they keep on saying,

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty—  the one who always was, who is, and who is still to come.”

Whenever the living beings give glory and honor and thanks to the one sitting on the throne (the one who lives forever and ever), the twenty-four elders fall down and worship the one sitting on the throne (the one who lives forever and ever). And they lay their crowns before the throne and say,

“You are worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honor and power. For you created all things, and they exist because you created what you pleased.” (Revelation 4)

My Black Friday Prayer

by BJ at The River Walk

This Christmas help us to spend less money…
But more time.

Let us not give to those who expect…
But rather to those who need.

Let us not buy presents…
But rather be Your presence,
to a world lost and dying.

Let us incarnate You.

Trust

by  of The River Walk

Read: Ezekiel 44:1-45:12. 1 Peter 1:1-12, Psalm 119:17-32, Proverbs 28:8-10

You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8-9)

Aladdin

Relate: “You’re right. You aren’t just some prize to be one. You should be free to make your own choice.” That is Aladdin’s response when Jasmine tells, “Just go jump off a balcony.” After responding with that he does, literally, jump off a balcony. That is when Jasmine first sees the potential for something miraculous. He doesn’t just jump off, the magic carpet catches him. After reappearing just above the balcony Aladdin offers her a ride. When she shows a bit of hesitation he holds out his hand and asks, “Do you trust me?”

At that moment Jasmine has a choice. She has seen what the magic carpet has done for Aladdin. She has been offered to be shown a different perspective. But it is much safer to keep her feet planted in this world. The offer is there. The hand is outstretched. The question has been asked, “Do you trust me?” It is up to her to respond or reject.

React: Jasmine cannot fly through the city on her own. She has nothing in her, that can give her this ability. She also has no merit of her own to step up on that carpet. It is Aladdin who extends the invitation. It is he, who holds the cards. All she can do is accept or reject the offer.

That is what salvation is for us. We don’t have the ability to raise ourselves from the dead. We don’t have any innate potential in ourselves to live forever. We can’t even earn or wheedle or trick God into letting us on board. It is He who flies above this earth. It is He who offers to us the ride of our lives. He holds all the cards.

But Aladdin was right. We aren’t just a prize to be one. We are free to make our own choice. There are those who will try and claim that eventually everyone will get to heaven. There is this ridiculous notion that all of us are glory bound. That heresy is demeaning. If it were true then, in reality, none of us have free will. Those who have chosen to reject God… too bad. Guess what? You’re getting Him anyways. Your choices don’t count. Oh, and God, speaking through Peter, must have been a liar. Because the reward for trusting Him must not really be the salvation of our souls if even those who chose not to do so end up getting the same ticket. If Jasmine said no but Aladdin snatched her up and said, “too bad, you’re riding anyways” he would be an evil man. If God said, “too bad” to those who have rejected Him, He would be guilty of the same. His hand is out, the question has been asked, “Do you trust Me?” It is not our choice how we respond.

Respond: 

God, I trust You. Though my doubts and my fears want to keep me grounded in this world, I know You have so much more for me. There is so much more You have for me then this mundane life I have been living. Nothing else can offer me anything close to what You have to offer. Let me take Your hand and step up. I chose You. I trust You. 

Eat The Words

by  from The River Walk

Read: Ezekiel 1:1-3:15, Hebrews 3:1-19, Psalm 104:1-23, Proverbs 26:24-26

“Son of man, let all my words sink deep into your own heart first. Listen to them carefully for yourself. Then go…” (Ezekiel 3:10-11)

Tony the Tiger

Relate: There’s a boy who is afraid to ride a horse against some real cowboys. There’s a kid in soccer who wonders if anyone can score against the goalie named “The Wall”. Lets not forget the skateboarder who is challenged by his competition to “top that”. These kids face insurmountable odds. Then Tony shows up with a bowl of frosted flakes. “You can do it if you start your day off with a good breakfast. And frosted flakes aren’t just good. They’re great!” In thirty seconds or less you get a motivating message, a catchy little jingle, and the fiction that somehow frosted flakes constitutes a healthy breakfast.

As cute as these commercials are, Tony the Tiger, that cheerio’s bee, and Tucan Sam are all right. Before we can interact well with others, we need to be ready. We need to be prepared. We need to eat our breakfast (spiritually). God says basically the same thing to Ezekiel. He is warning the prophet that God is sending him out to preach to a stubborn and hard hearted people who will not listen. It is going to be a difficult journey. So before he even begins to speak, God hands him a scroll filled with prophesies front and back. Ezekiel is told to eat the scroll. He must first eat, he must first digest the words of the Lord himself before he can speak them out. They must become a part of who he is before he can begin to give them to others.

React: What did my breakfast consist of today? What did I eat? I had a bowl of peaches and cream oatmeal. What else? A banana. Anything more? Some coffee. As important as all that is, it was followed by my real breakfast. I ate a few chapters from Matthew while listening to a little Jesus Culture. Then I prayed my way through some of the needs and people on prayer list. After that, the music went off and I spent some time listening. It was time to internalize, to digest. If I want to have a good day, I need to be ready for it. I need to eat the words before I can share them with others.

Respond: 

God, help me to always be dependent on You. Help me to always be aware that I am desperate for You. I am nothing without You. Help me to treasure the time I spend with You. Meet me there. Let me not walk out that door in the morning until I have met with You. The world needs what You have to offer. Help me to find it, help me to eat it, so that I will be ready to share it.