THE WAY HOME: WEEKLY DEVOTIONS

Written by Greg Steggerda

ONCE

November 10, 2019
Once there was a man, a Jewish carpenter who became a rabbi. This man was also God, immaculately conceived and perfect in every way. He lived, and then he died. Once.

But that wasn’t an ordinary death – not even close. When Jesus died, he paid for every sin that ever was; he covered every sinner who ever lived. After tens of generations of faithful priests who killed millions of animals to temporarily atone for peoples’ sins, Jesus did it for all time by dying once.

Because of that, I’ll die once and be judged once, but on judgment day God will see me spotless. When I show up in my grimy sinner-clothes, Jesus will say, “He’s one of mine,” and cover me with a stainless robe of salvation, one just like he wears. When God looks to judge me, he’ll see instead the perfection of Jesus, and instead of recounting my sins he’ll recall Jesus on the cross.
Hebrews 9:27-28: “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.”

Hallelujah, what a Savior!

NOT TRYING

November 11, 2019

“You’re not even trying!” I wonder how often I’ve said that to one of my kids, or grandkids, or employees. I wonder how often it’s been said to me.

Sometimes, when people don’t care very much, they don’t try very hard. Sometimes, when they perceive that they already have the benefits, they no longer want to do the work.
Sometimes, “they” becomes “we,” as in we long-term Christians. Look at this, from Hebrews 5:11-12: “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again.”

If we were really trying to have a growing relationship with God, and were trying hard to understand what he wants, then by this time we’d be teachers. Yet there we are, sitting in the pew Sunday after Sunday, still not always able to follow what the pastor is saying. Sometimes, not even trying, but instead thinking through the rest of the day, or yesterday’s game.

It’s hard for even the best teacher to explain if we aren’t trying. But if we aren’t trying, why not? Is it because we think we already have the benefits, and Bible study seems like hard work? Devotions seems like they take too much time? Taking sermon notes seems like a hassle?

My wife teaches piano, and can tell within minutes how much effort a student put in since the last lesson. Pastors can tell from the pulpit how much effort people put in to listening. But God knows immediately how hard we’re trying to know him and understand his revelation. And he cares the most.


JULIUS

November 12, 2019
Often in scripture I encounter people I wish I could have met in real life. One of those, Julius the centurion, is a player in Paul’s story at the ends of Acts. A centurion was a man who commanded 100 soldiers (hence “centurion”). To me, that makes him a company commander – I immediately relate, because I was one once. There’s a lot of responsibility with that job, and some power. He would have been one of 5 to 10 men of his rank in a Roman regiment.

Julius was given a mission that happens to Army officers sometimes – prisoner transport. Honestly, it’s really a sucky job. Nobody wants it, but it’s given only to trusted, humane officers because there’s too much potential for abuse. That tells me Julius was a stand-up guy.

And he proved it already in the first three verses of Acts 27: “When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, Paul and some other prisoners were handed over to a centurion named Julius, who belonged to the Imperial Regiment. We boarded a ship from Adramyttium about to sail for ports along the coast of the province of Asia, and we put out to sea. Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica, was with us.”

“The next day we landed at Sidon; and Julius, in kindness to Paul, allowed him to go to his friends so they might provide for his needs.”

Through the drama of Acts 27, Julius rolls the dice on a judgment call, choosing to set sail in clear weather but during a risky time of year. That decision didn’t pan out, and Julius, his soldiers, the sailors and prisoners would all be shipwrecked. Even in that, Julius heeded Paul and protected him. Like I said, a stand-up guy.

Julius makes me think of all the non-believers I’ve worked with and served with and rubbed up against over the years. Most are decent people. Most helped me more than hindered. Most were doing the best they could. And all had one thing in common: most of what they know about Jesus they learned from watching me and other Christians.

Paul’s life was a powerful witness to the gospel, and I’d like to think Julius met Jesus through him. Maybe one day Julius and I can discuss prisoner transport missions in heaven. But maybe not – odds are Julius didn’t convert.

Still, there will be more Juliuses in my life. Maybe I can work a little harder to make sure they get to meet Jesus.

FLINGING DUST

November 13, 2019
Despite being arrested and hauled away because of a riot, Paul had the mob in the palm of his hand. With the permission of the office of the Roman guard, he spoke to them. Because he spoke in Aramaic, their language, they calmed down and listened. And as he recited his pedigree and history, they became more and more settled.

And then this, from Acts 22:21-23: “‘Then the Lord said to me, “Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.”’
“The crowd listened to Paul until he said this. Then they raised their voices and shouted, ‘Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!’”
“As they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, the commander ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks.”

Just the thought that God might reach out to other people made that crowd nuts. Once again, if it wasn’t so serious, it would be funny: look at them, throwing their coats off and flinging dust in the air, getting it all over themselves and everything else.

Flinging dust. All of a sudden, I have a new phrase for what we do with our disagreements. We grab our rage in both hands and toss it all over everyone in reach. We take great fistfuls of deceit and use them to obscure the truth. With our handfuls of outrage, we stoke everyone around us. All because someone we don’t like might get something we already have.

That’s bad enough when it’s politics or business, but when in matters of faith this is horrible. God wants everyone to hear what he has to say; when we think one group or another shouldn’t belong, we’re assuming God’s rightful role of judge.

I want to be done with flinging dust. I want to love all my neighbors the way God loved the Gentiles. It would do me good to remember that, as a Gentile, in this matter of the covenant I was one of those others the faithful wanted to exclude. And all the dust-flinging was over the idea that I might be included.

INTRODUCTIONS

November 14, 2019
I introduce myself in a variety of ways. Sometimes it’s professional – I’m Greg Steggerda, Operations Manager at Vogel Paint. Sometimes I’m Dawn’s husband or Amber or Brandon’s dad. Sometimes I’m LTC Gregory A. Steggerda (Ret.).

I don’t think I’ve ever introduced myself the way Paul does to start the book of Romans. In Romans 1:1 he starts this way: “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God . . . .”

For Paul, being a servant of Jesus was the important thing. Not Roman citizen or tentmaker or former Pharisee. Not the guy who planted all those churches. He was a servant and apostle.

This is a short sentence with a ton of good theology packed into it. Called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel. That’s what following God is like – he calls us first to a relationship with him and then to work alongside him. And by that calling we are set apart.

That’s temple language. In the Old Testament bronze bowls and tent curtains and linen shifts and first-born animals and Levites were all set apart for God’s service. The words used then were “consecrated” and “holy”, but both of those can be translated as set apart. Like them, once chosen by God Paul belonged to God, he existed for God’s purposes.

Me too, and you, if you believe. We were called to this faith we try to live, so we too are set apart. We need to think of ourselves that way, like Paul does – like it’s the single most important thing about us, the first thing that other people should know.

Word and Testimony

November 15, 2019

I wonder, do I really dare to ask God for an important mission? Do I really want what might come if I make myself fully and freely available for him to use?

The Apostle John wrote Revelation as a testimony; in fact, he starts it this way, in Revelation 1:1-2: “The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.”
That’s pretty standard stuff for the New Testament. But, remembering that John was exiled as punishment for evangelizing, I was struck later on, in verse 9, by a repeated phrase: “I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.”

The word of God and the testimony of Jesus were at once the reason for John’s hope and the passion that drove him, but they were also the cause of his persecution. Following Jesus had gained him, in his words, suffering and patient endurance. What’s more, his readers were living the same things.

Is that what it means to be a Jesus-follower? When I live for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus, do I have to be ready to suffer for it too? The answer is, of course. That’s something I learned in catechism classes and from sermons ever since. Jesus said his followers would be persecuted.

So why, after all these decades of faithful following, do I still hope it never happens to me?
And, if I’m a true disciple of Jesus, why hasn’t it yet?

NOT HEAVY

November 16, 2019

You know the biggest mistake people who don’t know Jesus make about Jesus? That’s he’s a hard Lord to follow. That he’s all about demands and sacrifice and just wants to forbid anything fun. That ultimately he judges and condemns.

John knew better. Look what he wrote in 1 John 5:2-5: “This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.”
Anyone who has lived with Jesus for any amount of time knows better. We know, as John knew, that even though obedience is hard sometimes, obeying never makes life harder. Life always gets easier and better when we follow God’s commands.

There’s a good reason for that, an obvious one. God made this world and he made me. He knows how life works. He is very aware of what will make things go smoothly and what will bring pain. And so he gives us, the ones he loves, instructions in how to life a joyful, productive, meaningful life.

There are a lot of liars in this world, people who repeat the propaganda of the Father of Lies. They tell us that God has it wrong, that casual and variable sex is more fun than marriage, and drunkenness is necessary to have a good time, and cheating is an advantage as long as you don’t get caught. But that kind of disobedience is, unlike obedience, extremely burdensome. That life brings addictions and diseases and loneliness and broken relationships and guilt. That’s a heavy load.

God’s commands aren’t burdensome. Someone once said, “God only tells us to do what we would do anyway if we knew everything God knows.” Obeying God gives us clear consciences and wonderful relationships and true joy. Where Satan would hand us a backpack full of bricks, God picks up the load for us, and let’s us walk through life unburdened.

What John is telling us is Jesus makes us winners at life. Over-comers. His requirements aren’t heavy at all.

About THE AUTHOR

GREG STEGGERDA

Servant, steward, friend. Operations Manager by day, writer and photographer by night, student of life always. Experience: company and battalion command, 15 years in manufacturing operations. Education: BA in English, military history Masters, Combined Arms and Services Staff School, Command and General Staff College. Greg and his wife Dawn are active members of FIrst Reformed Church.