Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Watching Our Words...

33 Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12)
Jesus is not talking to some wild bikers walking out of a bar, hoodlums hanging out on the streets, or jocks joking around in the locker room.  He is talking to religious people who think they've got it right.  Judgment day is coming when the rewind button is pushed. What have we said - be it in cold, calculated words, or words carelessly spoken? What do they reveal about what is really in our hearts?  Jesus hits home.  As the passage goes on, his opponents then demand Him to do something - they change the subject; they do not want to talk about their speech, or what it reveals about the state of their hearts. But speak about our speech we must; search our hearts we should. We need to make the tree good on the inside, and that we cannot do, apart from Him. May he change our hearts, our thoughts, our speech today. 

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Being perfect...

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5)
We tend to show partiality. Yes, we do.  Jesus points that out clearly. Most of us, most of the time, are not moved with Christlike compassion.  We look at people for how we can mutually benefit one another.  God is not like that. He sends the rain on both those who are right with Him and those that are not. This is not to say that He does not give special blessings to His own people, but that He at least starts with a level playing field.  We should always love - do what is best for others - no matter what it cost us (Jesus did!)  We should be respectful of others as fellow human beings (sinful, just like us!).  We should be... perfect? Holy???  Impossible?!?  What Jesus is saying is that we need to look to God for our example of how to respond to others - not them. Stop being partial. Treat others with love like God. Treat them with respect. Give them a chance. Let Jesus take over and shine through you.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Watch Out for Worms!

II Timothy 3: 1 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy,heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.
Often we forget.  We forget that Paul is talking to those in the church about things in the church.  The "people" to whom he is referring are not those "out there in the world", but within the fellowship of believers.  The Grace of God attracts: it draws sincere seekers, but it is also fertile ground for worms - those who wiggle their way in seeking self-assurance, acceptance and power, without coming to repentance and faith. They infiltrate and irritate, but we are not called upon to retaliate, but avoid.  Don't let them pull you into the muck. Be everything they are not.  Pray that they will come to the knowledge of the truth and come to love and trust God instead of themselves.  

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Getting a Glimpse of Grace...

Titus 2:11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people,12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
People have tried to get the concept of "grace" into all sorts of concise statements, but the picture is so big we find ourselves taking snap shots of it when we can understand what God has done in Christ. It is by His grace we are saved.  But how can we "see" that? But the changes He makes - turning us in our resolve and our lives to live for God, focusing not on the pleasures of today but the promise of tomorrow, being God's possession instead of living for the possessions of this world.  It is so big, such a "package deal", you could almost miss it, even if it is right in front of you. So step back, try to take it all in, stand amazed at the Grace of God, realizing all we see is a snapshot in time that is just a glimpse of an eternal 4D video that is too big to fathom. 

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Pleasing God...

I Timothy 2:1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
God does not want to be impressed.  In fact, He cannot be impressed. But He can and ought to be pleased by our hearts, words and actions.  What pleases Him most is when we talk to Him and ask for Him to bless others. It shows that we trust Him fully.  When we pray for leaders, it demonstrates that we know and believe He is King over all.  When we pray for the salvation of others, even those who mistreat is, it shows that we trust Him as righteous judge. When we pray for ourselves, for our needs, for wisdom and strength, it shows that we trust Him with our very lives. When we pray this way, we have a peace that draws others to Him too, which really is pleasing in His sight. What can I do to please Him today? 

Friday, January 26, 2018

Worth Crying Over...

17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3)
When we think about Paul's letter to the Philippian Church, the first work we often think of is "Joy".   It is a major theme. So this passage sticks out like a sort thumb, because Paul is crying. He is crying over those who may profess Christ, but do not walk as His followers.  They are self-centered, sensual, and shameless in what they do with their bodies.  This is inconsistent with what Christ will be doing with our bodies. Like our mind and spirit, Christ will transform our bodies.  If that His intent and plan, why in the world would we drag our bodies through the dung of sinful living?  It's a crying shame, bringing tears to Paul's eyes, Jesus' eyes, and hopefully to our own. 

Thursday, January 25, 2018

A Prayer for Power

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3)
Power. We all want it. We all need it.  But what kind of power do we want and why? It is the power that bullies others around, making us feel better, bigger, and more important? Paul prays here that as followers of Christ we will receive the power we really need: Power that comes from God; power that is evidenced by faith; power to step back and see the Sovereign Power of God and love of Christ, that brings us to our knees in worship and thanksgiving.  It is a power of perspective - seeing God as He really is, so that we can see ourselves and our situation as we and they really are, so that we have the wisdom and strength to do what we need to do, assured of His love, confident in His ability to do beyond what we could ever imagine.  We need this kind of power. May we bow down, step back, and receive it today.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

A Heap of Hope from the Head!

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. (Colossians 1)
One of the most outstanding truths of this little letter is Paul's picture of Christ as the Head of the Body, Who gives every part it's directives. Here, Pual gives thanks for the faith and love we have and exercise BECAUSE OF the hope we have in Christ.  It is our hope in Him that makes the difference.  That emphasis on hope is seen elsewhere in this chapter: 21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister, and then in verse 27 he talks about "Christ in you, the hope of Glory." So questions abound: Am I connected to the Head? Am I exercising faith and love in my life?  Am I accepting the hope I have in Christ?  Have a hopeful day!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Not Worth Fighting About...

Romans 14:1 As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
Often we argue about the smallest things. The history of the Body of Christ is full of divisions and disagreements that headline our story. People watch and shake their heads: "can't they just get along?" Paul's point is this: "Who am I to pass judgment on someone He accepts.  This does not mean we do not point out when a brother/sister blatantly sins, bringing shame to the name of Christ and His church. But it does mean that we do not go around with the "attitude" - the mindset that we always have to be right, and that anyone who thinks differently has to be wrong.  Often the concepts of fact and opinion are much too personalized.  Before saying anything, or even going through the mental discussion with yourself, ask: "Is this really worthy fighting about, or even mentioning?"

Monday, January 22, 2018

Condensed Christianity...

Romans 12:9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
Sometimes it seems to take a long time for Paul to say things - like his deep discussion in chapters 9 through 11. But then he gets to practical exhortations like this and he unloads them rapid-fire. Simple imperatives with serious implications.  What a compilation of challenges for self-examination, which we need to unpack and investigate.  Am I in any way being fake? How committed am I?  Am i complaining about or growing through life's challenges?  Does my generosity demonstrate my understanding of the Grace God has shown me?  May we not rush through such condensed lists, but like a can of soup, take it out - mix it around, stirring it up and letting it simmer - look and smell.  This is what read faith looks like, smells like, tastes like. 

Sunday, January 21, 2018

A New Standing

Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Having taken us through the process of what Christ has done for us, Paul outlines the blessings we have when we trust in Him as Savior. We stand before God justified, declared righteous. We stand before Him in a peaceful place, a place of grace, a place of joy.  And we can see the purpose - sufferings are no longer places of doubt as to whether God is punishing us - they are places for us to grow in our character. And we do not stand alone. God has given us His Holy Spirit, who helps us in so many ways - comforting us in our sorrows, giving us hope, helping us overcome those doubts that the enemy tries to use on us.  We stand in a much better place, the only place we want to be.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

There You Have It!

Romans 4 What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:
“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
    and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

Paul is taking us through the mental/spiritual process of understanding salvation by Grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  As He does so, he takes us back to the Old Testament greats - often Moses and Isaiah, but here the double-barrel witnesses of Abraham and David.  Both believed in the promises of God.  Abraham preceded Moses as the father of the faith, and in a sense, trumps Moses.  The classic statement concerning him is not about what He did, but what He believed, and allowed God to do.  David, the high point of Jewish history, was also the picture of hope.  This psalm is the parallel to the well-known Psalm 51, written after the Bathsheba incident. It is his first-hand count of forgiveness.  The "Man after God's Own Heart", found his acceptance by God not in his perfect lifestyle, but in his accepting the forgiveness God offered through repentance and faith.  Both greats - David and Abraham - tell the same story: We cannot impress God enough to earn His favor; all we can do is humbly admit our failure, our need of Him, and the forgiveness and life He offers us. There you have it. 

Friday, January 19, 2018

Foolishly Falling Back into the Flesh

 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?
(Galatians 3)
Before we jump on the bandwagon bashing these believers, let's remember that Paul was not doubting their faith.  He was questioning their actions, their lifestyle.  It's a temptation we all have.  On the one extreme is legalism, where we fall back into our dependence on the flesh - trying to please God by our "doing", even when we know He accepts us by our faith.  The other is libertinism, whereby we fall back into the desires of the flesh, as if our faith really does not matter in everyday life. When we live by faith, and the power of the Spirit, the flesh "stays in line", instead of taking over again.  Both are foolish, because true wisdom says "I need God, I trust Christ, and Greater is He that is in me!"  Let us live by the Spirit, and not by and for the flesh.