Author Archives: Justin Dean

His Towel • Devotion #6: The Significance of a Final Meal

One of the questions students seem to ask me a lot is, “If you had to pick your last meal, what would it be?” I do not know if the reason they ask me this is because I look like I enjoy food too much or if they think I am going to end up on death row, but it seems to be a common icebreaker question. Honestly, for me, it is fairly standard, “Steak and lobster.”

What would be your last meal?

I think we talk about our last meal because it is interesting to think about what we would eat if we knew we would never eat anything else. Most people are fascinated by what people eat, think, say, and do with the knowledge they will not be around much longer. As we take a look into the upper room, we get a picture of what Jesus made a priority during His final meal with His disciples. We can see what Jesus felt the disciples had to know as He broke bread with them one last time.

Read Luke 22:15-20.

Jesus wants them to remember what is about to happen. Though the disciples are clueless to the events that are about to unfold, Jesus knows the purpose of His death. He wants to make sure that the disciples know and do not ever forget, who His death was for and why He did it. He wanted to establish a tradition, not for tradition’s sake, but so that His followers would take time to remember that He died to save them. His body was broken and He shed His blood so that believers could be free from condemnation.

Why do you think Jesus wanted to establish a practice of remembering through communion?

Why is it so important that we take time to remember what Jesus did for us?

Communion for many people has become an impersonal and uninteresting ritual in the church. They have forgotten the significance, and fail to take the time and intentionality to reflect on what it truly means. It becomes the “grape juice and cracker time” and not the piece of a gathering where we truly look back to what Jesus did on the cross. Jesus’ death on the cross is the ultimate sacrifice. It cleared us of our conviction. He took the punishment that we rightfully deserve. His body was broken and His blood poured out for us. The thought of this should spur us to love. It should remind us of our freedom from sin. Reflecting on this has to become part of our regular lives. You do not need to wait for Sunday morning to reflect on what Jesus did on the cross. Set aside time to remember what Christ did for you on the cross. This week, take time to consider what Christ did for you on the cross and let it spur you to love and remind you of your freedom from sin.

Reach • Devotional #2: “Where True Power Comes From”

Superheroes are now a huge part of our culture. Loving superheroes is now the cool thing to do rather than something only comic book nerds love. Everywhere you go you can find Marvel shirts, Avenger’s memorabilia, and Batman posters. Everyone loves to fantasize about having some sort of superpower. Everyone wants to have power, super or normal power that comes from money, respect, or wisdom. In 1 Thessalonians 1:5, we see that Paul references the powers he has through the Gospel and tells us where that power comes from, “Because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.”

Too often we forget where true power comes from. We think that the words we say and what we do are what changes and affects people, but really that power comes from the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit’s power changes hearts, it moves the Gospel. His power is unstoppable. After His resurrection from the dead and before He ascended into Heaven, He spoke to the disciples in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Jesus felt the necessity to emphasize what was to come in His final moments on Earth. Jesus tells us of the power that we receive when we become believers, and the necessity to live in and use that power every day. Unfortunately, many of us live by our own empty efforts and not the power that comes from obedience to the Holy Spirit. We try to do everything ourselves and live according to our own strength when we should seek the Holy Spirit’s power in our lives. This is seeking His will for our lives through prayer, loving our neighbors, trusting Him with our anxieties, giving our sin to Him, and much more. Francis Chan wrote a book entitled Forgotten God. It is about living according to the Holy Spirit’s power, and to close I wanted to include a quote that really impacted my desire to live according to the Holy Spirit’s power.

Francis Chan wrote, “The world is not moved by love or actions that are of human creation. And the church is not empowered to live differently from any other gathering of people without the Holy Spirit. But when believers live in the power of the Spirit, the evidence in their lives is supernatural. The church cannot help but be different, and the world cannot help but notice.”

Mercy • Devotion #6: Mercy because of Mercy

Growing up, mercy was the constant focus of my prayers. I felt like I was constantly asking God to make people in my world show me mercy. Be it my parents, my teachers, or older kids who I was a smart-aleck to, I was always trying to dodge the bullet of punishment. I wanted for everyone in my world to show me mercy, but when it came to anyone else, namely my sister, I wanted the hammer of justice brought down. It is always funny how that works. When we speed or accidentally run a red light, we hope there is no cop around or that we get let off with a warning, but if someone else does the same, we wish that they would get the biggest fine possible.

I was reading through the Beatitudes in Matthew chapter 5 and I came across this in verse 7, “Blessed the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” The first thing that came to my mind as a kid seeing this verse was, “See, if everyone was merciful to me, they would get mercy too.” It is easy for us to view this as a transaction statement, or worse, a transaction that applies to others before ourselves. Our lives are constant testimonies to the mercy of God. Every breath we breathe is a mercy from God because He is withholding the punishment which we are due for our sins. Every time we sin and He does not erase us from existence, He relents, showing us mercy rather than justice. Yet we expect justice for those around us rather than seeking mercy for them also.

This is a statement that should produce heart change in us. We should see the mercy we have received and seek to show mercy to others. In Luke 6:36, it says, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” We should see the mercy of God and seek to emulate it rather than expect it from others. The mercy we receive should soften our hearts so that instead of wishing punishment on those who wrong us, we should show them mercy and seek mercy for them, just as Christ sought mercy and grace for us.

This is also a statement that should erase fear within us. We see in James 2:13, it says, “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” The mercy we show and have been shown triumphs over the judgment and punishment for our sins. We do not have to worry about receiving the punishment we are due, because the mercy we have received is enough. We can be confident in He who has shown us mercy. That confidence should be the reason you show mercy to others.

Lesson Seventeen • Devotion #3: Losing at Christianity

Growing up, if you spent any length of time around my family you would learn one thing fairly quickly, we are unyieldingly competitive. You could not measure the amount of blood, sweat, and mostly tears, my family shed in the name of winning in our home. It was not until I went to college that I realized that the competitive drive I had affected more than just games. I remember at the end of my first semester in college feeling so frustrated and defeated because I was not the best. It was not just when I was on the ultimate frisbee team or in playing basketball with the guys on my dorm floor, but also in my relationship with Christ. 

I remember sitting and having conversations with people in the student dining room or in my room and trying to assert my dominance as a Christian, trying to prove why I was a big fish in the pond of Christ-followers. I remember feeling so crushed when I realized how little I knew. Eventually, my frustration got the best of me, and because I was so busy comparing my own spiritual life to the lives of those around me I gave up trying to deepen my walk with Christ. Eventually, one of my professors really convicted me and I learned of this passage in 2 Corinthians chapter 11:21b-28, “But whatever anyone else dares to boast of – I am speaking as a fool – I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one – I am talking like a madman – with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.” 

Paul saw the Church in Corinth was playing the comparison game, and he wanted to show them why it was unimportant. He takes a second and essentially says “It is foolishness to play this game, but if you want to play I will win every time.” He wanted to show them how little value a competitive spiritual life has to offer. Someone else is always going to have the “greater” testimony, and so you will always be left feeling cheated and defeated. To feel that way about your walk with Christ is foolishness. It is so easy in our culture to hear stories and see others, and it lends itself to comparison, both outwardly and inwardly. Often times, rather than being caught up in the pride of being the best, we become depressed and paralyzed at the thought of being less than. That is not what Christ has for us. 

How does Paul follow this up? In verse 30, he says, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” He is saying, I endure all these things in the name of Christ, but what I really boast in is my weakness. Though you see all this strength as I am enduring hardships that make me such a “great Christian,” honestly, I am just a loser, and at my loss and weakness, you all see Christ’s strength win the day. We cannot let ourselves be consumed by competition to prove our “spiritual strength” but rather we should accept our weakness that we may be strengthened by Christ. We want to be the losers so that His win can be made evident and put on display. Sometimes it is better to lose.

Relapse • Devotion #5: Apathy

Growing up in my house there were a number of words added to the curse word list we were not allowed to say. We were not allowed to say “shut up,” “fart,” or things which may be on the edge of inappropriate but most of my friends growing up would not have considered that bad. I remember getting made fun of for it a lot, but there was always one word I was never allowed to say that would not lead to teasing, but would instead just lead to confusion. Growing up I was banned from saying the word “whatever.” To my mom, saying “whatever” communicated you did not care and to her, that was never okay. If I answered with whatever, be it to “what do you want for dinner” or to an apology, it was never okay for me to communicate that I did not care. To not care meant indifference and apathy, and my mom wanted me to understand that we as a family were not going to be indifferent to anything. My mom always warned me about the dangers of not caring and becoming “lukewarm.” 

Constantly I am reminded about God’s rebuke to the church of Laodicea. We see what He says in Revelation 3:15-16, “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”

I am sure of one thing, the last thing I want is to be spit out of the mouth of God. Yet I know, for my wife and I, apathy, specifically in me, has been one of the single leading causes for strife between us. I may not say the word “whatever” but my actions can just as easily communicate that is how I feel. Be it Bible reading as a family, to doing the dishes, apathy can really drive a wedge between the members of your family. The trouble is diagnosing apathy, because of it being an action that is done and seen by others, it is much easier to mask and excuse. We tell ourselves, “I just had a hard day of work, I will hear about my spouse’s day tomorrow” or “My kids have wiped me out, and honestly I would love to just eat in front of the TV rather than pray together and talk over a meal.” Apathy can easily creep its way in and then become the norm.

We have to fight our apathy, seeking to be fervent followers of Christ. Romans 12:11 has always shifted me into gear when apathy begins to creep into my life, “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.”

We are called to be a fervent people. That means being fervent for our families, fervent in serving God, fervent in loving those around us, and fervent for our relationship with the Lord. When we let apathy creep in it is only a matter of time until something breaks in our lives. However, when we make ourselves care, and push through even when it is difficult, we combat that apathy. 

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