March 5th – “Shema”
[Bible reading: Numbers 4:1-5:31; Mark 12:18-37; Psalm 48:1-14; Proverbs 10:26]
“Jesus answered him, ‘The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.'” – Mark 12:29-31
This passage of Scripture is very well-known. It has been a sort of “pledge of allegiance” for Jewish people for a very long time. They call this pledge the “Shema“, which is the first word of the first line, “Hear (Shema), O Israel…“. Jesus is quoting from Deuteronomy 6:4-5. By repeating the ‘Shema‘, a person reminds themselves of their commitment to love God in a radical way, with everything they have. Some Jews teach their children the Shema at such an early age it is, literally, the first words they can put together. The word ‘shema‘ in Hebrew simply means to “listen and obey“. Listening, in our culture, is basically a mental activity. When we think of “hearing”, what we mean is that our ears pick up sounds. But in Hebrew, the word shema describes hearing and also its effects – taking heed, being obedient, doing what is asked. Any time Jesus would say “He who has ears to hear, let him hear“, He was basically telling those around Him that they shouldn’t just hear the sounds coming out of His mouth, but they should be putting His teachings into practice. As a matter of fact, almost every place we see the word “obey” in the Bible, it is translated from the word “shema.”
Once again I am reminded that loving Jesus in an authentic and radical way is much more than simply something I ‘say’, something I ‘wear’ on a T-shirt, or something I have on a bumper-sticker. It is something that I ‘live’. My actions of obedience to the words of Christ, the way I live-out Jesus’ teachings, are the ways that I truly follow Him.
“Father, I love You with all my heart, soul (emotions), mind (my thoughts), and strength. I also want to love all those I come in contact with, just as You would love them. I read about You and I listen to Your teachings, and I want to be transformed by them. Fill me up with Your Spirit today that I might walk in obedience to Your teaching, and live radically for You.” – Michael
March 6th – “The Joy of the Lord”
[Bible reading: Numbers 6:1-7:89; Mark 12:38-13:13; Psalm 49:1-20; Proverbs 10:27-28]
“…This is the way you shall bless the children of Israel. Say to them: ‘ The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.” – Numbers 6:23-26
The “priestly blessing“, sometimes referred to as the “Mosaic blessing“, is something that the priests said over the people every single morning after the sacrifice at the Temple. Today many synagogues, and even the church I attend, end the services with this blessing over the people. The entire “blessing” is beautiful, but there is one line that really catches my attention; “The Lord lift up His countenance upon you“. The word ‘countenance‘ is the Hebrew word, ‘panav‘, which is the same word used earlier in the blessing, “The Lord make His face (‘panav‘) to shine upon you“. So, to have it translated as “countenance” is a bit odd. Some translations don’t do this, they simply translate it “face“, which is a bit clearer to me. When understood this way, it reads: “The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His FACE upon you and give you peace.”
Maybe you’re thinking, “Michael, who really cares?” I’m a father of five children. They’re pretty much grown now, but I can recall with joy the many times, when they were babies, I would play with them and toss them up in the air. Holding them high over my head would always cause them to giggle and laugh. I LOVED those moments. Well, it’s been understood by Jews for a very long time that this line is a neat picture of how God delights in His children. The idea of “lift up His face upon you” is the idea of a daddy holding his child up in the air, playing with it, smiling, laughing. The word picture is literally God holding you up in His arms as a delighted father might hold up his young child in joy… God lifts up His face as He holds you and I up in divine joy.
“Father, You are my God and my Abba (Daddy). It blows me away to think that You delight in me and find joy in me! I love You, Papa.” – Michael
March 7th – “Being Fake is Being Wicked”
[Bible reading: Numbers 8:1-9:23; Mark 13:14-37; Psalm 50:1-23; Proverbs 10:29-30]
“But to the wicked God says: ‘What right have you to declare My statutes, or take My covenant in your mouth, seeing you hate instruction and cast My words behind you?'” – Psalm 50:16-17
The person God declares to be ‘wicked’ is one who declares the statutes (commands/teachings/covenant) of the Lord, yet truthfully, they themselves don’t listen and obey God’s instructions. They consider God’s Word something that was important in the past (“cast My words behind you“), but not something that is relevant for THEM today.
How dangerous it is when a person knows all the right things, but doesn’t live them out. Even worse, when that person stands in front of others and tells them how they should be living, what they should be believing… and they themselves are not following the very things they are declaring! To ‘know’ God’s Word is one thing, to walk it out in our daily lives is quite another.
“Father, forgive me for the times I’ve declared Your Word to others, but have not lived the very thing I was declaring. I’ve told others not to be anxious, when all the while I was sweating. I’ve told others to pray, when I’ve been prayerless. I’ve told others to treasure Your Word, when I’ve left it dusty on the shelf. Forgive me, Father. I desire to be a man that lives what I believe, and what I have read and learned about You from Your Word. Thank You that Your mercies are new every morning. I love You.” – Michael
March 8th – “An Inconvenient Truth”
[Bible reading: Numbers 10:1-11:23; Mark 14:1-21; Psalm 51:1-19; Proverbs 10:31-32]
“Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Him to them. And when they heard it, they were glad, and promised to give him money. So he sought how he might conveniently betray Him.” – Mark 14:10-11
There were many people that were interested in Jesus and wanted to be near Him. Some because He was the ‘newest thing‘, others because they ‘wanted something‘ from Him. The point is, Jesus was popular. To get to Him, or to arrest Him, might have proved a difficult thing for His enemies to do (see Mark 14:1-2 and Luke 22:6). Here, we’re told that, Judas was looking for a ‘convenient‘ way to betray Him. I find that interesting.
My tendency is to find ‘convenient‘ ways to still look like I’m a close disciple, while behind the scenes I live as one who is betraying the One I say I love. “Where can I go to not be seen by others, so that my betrayal will stay secret?” “How can I look like I’m a disciple, but still work things out behind the scenes to my own advantage?” When I care more about what I want, than what Jesus wants, I am following in the footsteps of Judas Iscariot. However, the truth is, I would never come right out and admit that. It wouldn’t be convenient.
“Father, my actions often betray my heart. Please forgive me when my heart betrays You. Again I pray, help me be the man You’ve called me to be… at all times. I love You.” – Michael
March 9th – “EGO”
[Bible reading: Numbers 11:24-13:33; Mark 14:22=52; Psalm 52:1-9: Proverbs 11:1-3]
“When pride comes, then comes shame; But with the humble is wisdom.” – Proverbs 11:2
Everyone has an ‘ego’. Ego is defined as, “a person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance“. The biggest barrier to being an authentic follower of Jesus Christ is a heart that is motivated by self-importance. This is opposite of what the Word teaches; “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4). A heart that is motivated by selfish interests looks at life as an “give as little as possible, while taking as much as possible” endeavor. When we are full of pride we are not those who are trusting in God and submitting to His will, we are desiring our own agenda and confident in doing things in our own strength. This prideful way of living our lives ultimately leads to shame. Wisdom comes from living our lives with humility and a reliance upon God to call the shots.
I’ve heard it said that EGO can stand for either Edge God Out, or Exalt God Only. Am I a man who strives to do things on my own, have the spotlight, receive the glory? Or do I live my life in such a way as to point others to Jesus Christ, make Him famous, give Him all the credit? I, like everyone else, have an ego… but am I driven to promote myself or Jesus?
“Father, I absolutely do not wish to edge You out of my life today. Please be the One that people are attracted and drawn to when I am with them. When I finish speaking, or leave the room, I want others to have a taste of Jesus lingering in their mouths… not a taste of Michael. I submit to Your Lordship and authority today, and I want to see You receive the honor that You’re due. I love You.” – Michael
March 10th – “Life Sentence”
[Bible reading: Numbers 14:1-15:16; Mark 14:53-72; Psalm 53:1-6; Proverbs 11:4]
“Then he began to curse and swear, ‘I do not know this Man of whom you speak!'” – Mark 14:71
Peter was a disciple of Jesus. He had walked with Him and lived with Him for a few years at this time. Of course he knew Jesus! A disciple was supposed to be utterly devoted to his rabbi, to love him like his own father. He was a student who learned from his rabbi, but he was also to be a servant to his rabbi. A disciple and his rabbi were very close. We see this in 1 Kings 19:21, when Elisha became Elijah’s “attendant” and then later in 2 Kings 2, when Elisha refused to walk away from Elijah and even called him ‘father’ as Elijah was being taken away in a fiery chariot. When Peter said, “If I have to die with You, I will not deny You!“, in Mark 14:31, that would have been a completely reasonable thing for a disciple to say to the rabbi he followed and loved. And when Peter later denied Jesus three times, it would have been an unthinkable thing for him to do. He would have felt terrible because of the fact that a disciple would never betray or abandon his master… and that’s exactly what he had done.
In the story of my life the Main Character should be Jesus Christ. I would consider myself a ‘disciple‘ of Jesus. I desire to be a man that is very close to Jesus and, I too, see Him as a Teacher, a Father, and One that I should serve. If someone were reading my story, I’d want every sentence of my life to reflect Him. It would seem to be an unthinkable thing for me to deny even knowing Him,… yet at times is this exactly something that I do? When I’m in the world (at the store, at the gym, in the coffee shop) am I so quiet and polite about my faith, that I might as well be denying Him? Can others look at me and see that I “know this Man“?
“Father, I am honored to follow You. I love it! But help me show this world, proudly, that I am a disciple of Jesus. Forgive me for the times I’ve acted as though I do not know You. You are the best thing going on in my life, You are the Main Character in my story, and I want the world to know it! I love You.” – Michael
March 11th – “No Wannabes”
[Bible reading: Numbers 15:17-16:40; Mark 15:1-47; Psalm 54:1-7; Proverbs 11:5-6]
“The righteousness of the upright will deliver them, but the unfaithful will be caught by their lust.'” – Proverbs 11:6
When a person wakes up each morning and decides to live for Christ, rather than live according to their own fleshly desires, they are choosing righteousness. This choice will help them escape many of the snares and traps of this sinful world. Conversely, when a person chooses to live according to their flesh, they will absolutely be caught up in, and in bondage to, their sin.
For years, Christians have created excuses to justify living with secret sin and lust in their hearts. Gone are the days of passionately pursing God with the way they actually live their lives. Jesus followers should constantly assess and ask ourselves if we are living day to day with a head full of Christ and a heart full of sin. Are we a wannabe disciple, but truthfully a secret phony? When we do this, it can be a dangerous trap. The Word cautions us to live authentically and righteously. There are just too many stories of well-meaning, seemingly radical Christians who have given into the lusts of their flesh. Their witness become a blight on Christianity and an embarrassment to the Lord and His Bride, besides all the damage it can do to those looking at them. Numbers 32:23 declares, “…you have sinned against the Lord; and be sure your sin will find you out“.
“Father, continue to convict me, each and every day, to be authentic and to not harbor secret sin. I want to be holy, as You are holy. I want to live my life as a sacrifice to You today, dying to myself and my lusts and living for Your will and Your glory. I love You.” – Michael