Freshness

Today’s readings are Genesis 47-48, Psalm 25, and Galatians 3.

While the new year starting can sometimes bring anxiety about what the coming year may hold, most of us get excited about the calendar turning over and the opportunity to hit the reset button on some things in our life. This year will be better we believe…better discipline on our workouts and diet, sticking to our budget, new business goals we plan to accomplish, being in the Word more, and an increased focus on our blessings and living with gratitude to name a few. So now that we are just over 3 weeks in…how are you doing?

Personally, I would say there has been some good and some bad for me, but in transparency I’ve failed in my patience, and I’ve been a little short tempered at times with those I love the most. I feel terrible about it. While many may say my actions have been very minor and just a quick overreaction, it makes my heart ache that I have caused hurt in any way…even if for just a moment…to those I love the most. I’ve asked for forgiveness similar to what we read in Psalm 25 in prayer and have apologized to Shannon and promised to do better. Why I have been this way? I don’t know..I wish I could say.  I have so much to be grateful and happy for.

Reading Galatians 3 today makes thankful and is a good reminder that we are justified and saved by our faith, not the Law or our works. I want to do better, and I must do better..but I’m not perfect and am destined to fail again…if not in this way…then in another way.

For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law and do them.”

Galatians 3:10

No one is capable of doing “all things” of the Law and not making a mistake as we are also told in Romans 3:23. But we can be grateful for more clarity on how we justified in the following verses in Galatians 3.

Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”

Galatians 3:11

And then a few verses later..

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us- for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree-“

Galatians 3:13

We are fully redeemed and can be with God when our life here on Earth ends because of what Jesus did for you and for me. He took on the curse of death that should have been mine and yours.

Does this give us an excuse to sin and do what we want? No..absolutely not. We are told in Romans 8:9 and 1 Corinthians 6:19 that the Holy Spirit is in us when we believe.

This year I’m reading through the devotional My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers. On January 20th it reads the following, “Freshness is not the result of obedience; it comes from the Holy Spirit. Obedience keeps us ‘in the light as He is in the light’ (1 John 1:7).”  A little bit later it also reads, “Being born of the Spirit means much more than we usually think. It gives us new vision and keeps us absolutely fresh for everything through the never-ending supply of the life of God.”

This serves as a reminder for me, and I hope for some reading this, to stay close to Him so that we can find forgiveness, peace, joy, life, and “freshness” from the Holy Spirit who lives in us to start over today and everyday…regardless of what we’ve done or what day it is on the calendar.

Thy Will Be Done

Today’s reading is Job 4-7, Psalm 99, and Revelation 11.

I am someone who writes in my Bible. There are many times I’m thankful I do because it allows me to be reminded of a takeaway I had in the past or something a pastor said which impactful related to verses or a chapter.  When reading Revelation 11, I had underlined in the past the last part of Revelation 11:15 and written down next to it, “Matthew 6:10.”

15 Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.”

Revelation 11:15

When I flipped back in my Bible to Matthew 6..I found Matthew 6:10 is part of the Lord’s Prayer and reads….

10 Your kingdom come,
your will be done,[a]
on earth as it is in heaven.

Matthew 6:10

When I say the Lord’s Prayer, I think of this part in the context of that I’m wanting and asking Him for His will to be done. However, when I read Revelation 11:15 and I say the Lord’s Prayer with it in mind…I’m reminded this part could really be said in the context of a statement. It is not necessarily asking, but a reminder that is what actually will happen. He’s in control. “His will” in fact will happen. And He will in fact make Earth as it is in Heaven. As I say the Lord Prayer the next time, it can remind me to go forth with my day in confidence and faith. I don’t have to be nervous or wonder about the future at all. He wins. It’s for certain. This can give us a peace that passes human understanding to live life differently.

 

Faith in Action

Today’s readings are Ezekiel 25-27, Psalm 82, and John 9.

The story is told of a man who was watching the news and heard a flood was coming from an approaching storm, and he needed to evacuate his home. However, he thought to himself that he didn’t need to because God would save him. Shortly thereafter the flood waters approached his house and a neighbor knocked on his door telling him he needed to leave, but he told the neighbor he didn’t need to and he’d be fine because God would save him. As the flood waters overtook his house and he fled to the roof, a rescue crew came by boat and asked him to get onboard. He declined again saying God would save him, and he didn’t need their help. Finally, he climbed up on his antenna on his house as the waters now covered the roof. A helicopter flew up and dropped a rescue ladder, but his answer was the same in that he didn’t need the help because God would save him. This ultimately led to his demise.

We read in John 9 today where Jesus spit on the ground creating mud, rubbed it on a blind man’s eyes, and told him in John 9:7 to “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.” The man followed Jesus’ prompting and was able to see after doing so. Let’s unpack the craziness of this a little more for a second. John 9:1 tells us this man had been blind from birth so him believing anything could help him see is far-fetched to say the least. We don’t know if he had ever even heard of Jesus prior and in any event, he might find it a little weird when a guy hawks up a loogey and rubs mud from it all over his eyes. Jesus then doesn’t just tell the man to open his eyes. The man must walk to the pool of Siloam. We aren’t told how far it is away, but it doesn’t seem like it’s right there by him and remember the man is blind. So that means it’s going to take quite a bit of work for him to get there. He’s going to have to get a friend (if he has any) to take him there or ask quite a few people for directions along the way. This man has plenty of opportunities for excuses to not only think this wouldn’t lead him to see because he was blind for his entire life, but also now he must go through some extra steps and challenges to make it happen. However, he follows Jesus’ steps, and we all know the miracle is complete and he’s able to see.

Well known pastor Mark Batterson says there is a human element to most all the miracles Jesus performed. Each person had to take a step in faith for God to perform a work in or on them and for them to see the completion of it. You can’t get the job or change careers like you’ve been praying for if you don’t send out your resume or apply to college to get your degree in the field you want to go into. You can’t save your marriage if you don’t work on it and take actions to heal it through conversations, counseling, and putting God first through going to church and studying His Word and praying together. You can’t fix financial challenges of overspending without creating a budget and sticking to it. You can’t fix your addiction problem if you don’t admit you have a a problem and get some help from others. He wants to see that you will take a step with faith in Him to help you complete the rest.

My question today for all of us is…what miracle are you asking God for? And from there…what is He laying on your heart for you to do first in faith trusting Him so that He will then complete His work in you?

Chicken or the Egg?

Today’s readings are Jeremiah 22,23, and 26, Psalm 77, and James 2.

What comes first..the chicken or the egg? Most of us have probably heard this saying implying that you can’t have a chicken without an egg, but you can’t have an egg without the chicken. So, which comes first? James 2 digs into a similar question but with the topic of faith and works.

Christians believe that you go to Heaven by believing, or having faith, that Jesus died on the cross for the forgiveness of your confessed sins and rose again on Easter (Romans 10:9-11). “Good deeds” don’t get you into Heaven and “good people” don’t go to Heaven if they don’t believe in Jesus. So, some can struggle with James 2:24 which says, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” James 2:17 also says similar, “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” Are these verses saying just faith in Jesus doesn’t get you to Heaven? Is this saying works get you into Heaven?

I believe Scripture can often best be interpreted by cross referencing other Scripture, and I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that our all-church study verses last week came from 1 John 4 which can provide some more context when paired with James 2.

What compels us to do good works? Put simply…love. 1 John 4:16 says, “God is love.” Reading on in 1 John 4, we see verse 20 states..

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother, whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”

1 John 4:21 follows up verse 20 also stating…

And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

If you truly have faith and love God, then it will show up in your actions. If you say you have faith and love God, but your works don’t show it…then do you really have faith and love God? James is telling us you can’t have one without the other..chicken or egg concept. Your faith in God is made complete by your actions just as in Abraham and Rahab who James references in James 2:23 and James 2:25.

Jesus gives us a great example of this when in John 13 He washed his disciples’ feet which was thought to be such a lowly task that Jews wouldn’t even let their Jewish servants do this for them, only Gentile servants. And of course, Jesus showed us the ultimate act of service when the next day He, the God of the universe in the flesh, gave himself up suffering one of the most gruesome and painful deaths possible through his scourging and Crucifixion on the cross, all so we could be forgiven and live with Him in Heaven.

We love because He first loved us.

1 John 4:19

Let us reflect personally.

  • How am I serving my family?
  • How am I serving my church?
  • How am I serving my neighbors or community?
  • How am I serving my friends?
  • How am I serving those who can do nothing for me in return?

Pick one you can improve on and let us complete our faith in action.

Aligning Actions with Values

Today’s readings are 2 Kings 22-23, Psalm 73, and 2 Corinthians 5.

The local financial planning firm I represent used to have part of our mission statement which said, “aligning actions with values.” We all have certain values, whether they be in our mind or we’ve written them out. As Christ followers, I would assume and hope some, if not all, of those values line up with our Christian faith. The questions for us today is, are we actually living those out? Would others who you know well or others who meet you for the first time know you are a Christ follower? 2 Corinthians 5 discusses how we should live life differently as a follower of Jesus. It challenged me to ask myself, am I?

2 Corinthians 5 talks about how our body is a tent, a temporary dwelling for our eternal soul. As result of knowing our citizenship is really in Heaven, there are some things we should be doing to live life differently which others would recognize and possibly cause them to turn to Christ as well.

  • Live by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7)
  • Allow the love of Christ to control us (2 Corinthians 5:14)
  • Live for Him and not for ourselves (2 Corinthians 5:15)
  • Do not regard others by their flesh which is weak (2 Corinthians 5:16)
  • Be an ambassador for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20)

Jesus’ last words, which must be important since they were his last, in Matthew 28:18-21 instructed us to go and make disciples of others. This sounds a lot like 2 Corinthians 5:20 which tells us to be ambassadors for Christ.

This again challenges me to ask myself if I’m being an ambassador for Christ based on my actions through living by faith, showing Christ’s love in my actions, living for Him and not myself, and regarding others by their soul and not their outward physical appearance and actions (seeing them how God sees them).

The great news is that although I’m sinful and have a lot of work to do in these areas, God tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:21…

“For our sake He made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

For more reflection on these areas, check out 2 Kings 22-23 where we see King Josiah of Judah aligning his actions with his values and leading his people to follow God, as well as Psalm 73.

My flesh and my heart may fail,

but God is the strength of

my heart and my portion

forever.

Psalm 73:26

It’s Not How You Start..It’s How You Finish!

Today’s reading is 2 Chronicles 15 and 16, 1 Kings 16, and Philemon.

In 2 Chronicles 15 and 16, we learn about the life of King Asa of Judah.

King Asa turned to the Lord after Azariah, the son of Obed, spoke truth to Asa saying in 2 Chronicles 15:2.

and he went out to meet Asa and said to him, “Hear me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin: The Lord is with you while you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.

Azarariah went on in 2 Chronicles 15:4 to describe how Israel was without God but when they turned to Him, He found them. King Asa responded with courage by turning to God putting away all the detestable idols (2 Chronicles 15:8). He was on fire for the Lord following God for many years.

However, in his last years, something changed. He turned away from God for an unknow reason in his 36th year of his reign. He took the treasures from the house of the Lord and gave them to the king of Syria as a covenant to get them to break their covenant with Baasha who was the king of Israel and it backfired. Syria did not support them.

Then, Hanani, the seer, delivered the famous verse in 2 Chronicles 15:9…

For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless towards him. You have done foolishly in this, for from now on you will have wars.”

I wish the story of Asa had a happy ending, but it doesn’t. In the 39th year of his reign, he got a disease in his feet and even then did not turn to the Lord. In the 41st year of his reign, he died without turning to God.

Unfortunately, Asa did not finish well. As with most things in this life on Earth, it’s not how you start but how you finish.

The criminal on the cross next to Jesus in Luke 23:49-43 may not have started well, but he gave his life to Jesus and Jesus said they would be together in Heaven. He finished well!

Have you not started well with this life on Earth? That’s ok…we can learn from the man on the cross next to Jesus…it’s how you finish that matters!

Have you started this life pretty well following Jesus? Let’s learn from Asa and continue to stay close to Jesus throughout all of our lives and finish well!

The Story

Today’s reading is Joshua 5-8, Psalm 14, and Luke 15.

Despite the fact that I like to think that I’m a “good person” (and I have to believe most are like me and think they are), I know I sin if not through actions or word, through thought, probably ever hour of every day. Sin is not in God’s nature whatsoever. It is exactly the opposite of His being and who He is. Today’s readings are a humbling reminder of what God thinks about sin, and yet also a reminder of his grace and love. It is also a reminder of how pleasing it is to Him when we show faith and trust in Him and turn back to Him after we fall away. Obeying Him does not mean immediate gratification like a dog shaking and getting a treat, but a continued path living a life of filled with intentional sin and disobeying Him will surely lead to destruction. And turning back to Him will lead to grace, forgiveness, and ultimate victory through eternal life no matter how far we have fallen away.

Early on in today’s readings we are reminded that God freed the Israelites from slavery and kept His word to lead them to the Promised Land. But, we also learn in Joshua 5:6 He let them wander in the desert for 40 years and did not let the generation He freed go into the Promised Land (including Moses who God thought highly enough to have attend Jesus’ transfiguration in Matthew 17) because “they did not obey the voice of the Lord.” Yet, we see it is pleasing to the Lord and He “rolled away the reproach of Egypt” when the next generation obeys His instructions to Joshua that all the men be circumcised (Joshua 5:9). They keep the Passover, God sends a commander of His army to speak to Joshua (Joshua 5:14), and God instructs Joshua in Joshua 6 how he and his army are to march around Jericho for 6 days quietly and on the 7th day they are to march around the city 7 times. On the 7th time of the 7th day, they are to blow the horns and shout and the walls of Jericho would fall down before God would give them victory in battle. The Israelites could have said to Joshua, “yeah right…these walls are just going to fall when we blow our horn and yell…give me a break?!” However, this time they obeyed, and God gave them victory. What great faith and belief they showed! As promised in Joshua 6, the only family God protects in Jericho is Rahab’s because she helped the Israelite spies in Joshua 2.

As we read on in Joshua 7, we see going against God’s word leads to a path of destruction. God gave specific instructions in the conquering of Jericho that the gold and devoted things be given to the Lord (Joshua 6:18-19). But Achan took some for himself and hid it which was displeasing to God resulting in him being stoned and thus the Lord let Israel first be defeated at Ai before later giving them victory (Joshua 8). We read later in Joshua 8 where Israel turns back to God by building an altar to Him on Mount Ebal just as Moses commanded be done. Joshua honored God by also writing the law of Moses on the stones (Joshua 8:32) and by reading all the words of the law, every single one, to all the people of Israel (Joshua 8:35) which was no doubt pleasing to God.

I love the parallels of our verses each day from the Old Testament, including the Psalms, and the New Testament. Psalm 14 speaks of the corruption of man God sees as He looks down and sin which displeases Him (Psalm 14:2-3), yet promises Jesus’ coming to give salvation in Psalm 14:7. Then, we read in Luke 15 where Jesus tells how God seeks out sinners to give them a chance to repent and turn to Him through the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and of course the amazing story of grace in the story of the prodigal son.

Think of some of your favorite movies and books. What is a common theme in most all of them, especially the ones that really tug on your heart strings? Most all have a story of redemption from someone who has either done wrong in the past or just didn’t have things go their way for a while. Why do you think those stories get to us, and why do we love them so much? Maybe that’s because it’s our story. It’s the story God has laid on all of our hearts because we are all part of God’s story and plan to save us from our sin (Romans 5:8) when we turn to Him. And while we read today how much God hates sin, we see in Luke 15 how much more joy He has when a sinner turns to Him for grace and forgiveness. Do you remember Rahab, the prostitute we mentioned earlier who decided to turn from her sinful ways and help the Israelites? She was not only spared in the destruction of Jericho, but ultimately became part of the bloodline of Jesus (Matthew 1:5)!

Please watch this short video from Spread Truth and pray for God to lay on your heart someone who needs to hear it and know God’s love and that they are part of His greater Story.

https://youtu.be/f0gfIvN9zv4

Here is the children’s version as well.

https://youtu.be/XbrsAF2_BOk

Looking to Jesus

Today’s reading is Numbers 3-5 and Hebrews 12.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and all sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12:1-2

As a kid, I remember it being said I “idolized” Michael Jordan. While he just gave an awesome gift to Make-A-Wish Foundation of $10 Million in the last few weeks, it has become well known over recent years that Michael, like many of us, has made some mistakes throughout the years. I would say in general, it is a natural tendency of mine to look up to and admire other humans who may be celebrities or even people I know personally and respect greatly. As we found out with Michael, we usually find out with most celebrities eventually that they’ve made their share of mistakes and often times what I’ve learned is that as I’ve grown closer to people I admire who I have a personal relationship with, they are not perfect either.

This week, it has greatly saddened me that the church we attend and some pastors have been accused of some serious wrongdoings, some of which have been confirmed. My heart aches for so many, and I’m praying for everyone involved. Maybe that’s why in reading these verses, the following parts of Hebrews 12:1-2 stuck out, ‘looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith,” and speaking about Jesus later it says He “is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

I’ve been reminded this week through these events and through these verses that we are not to put our full faith in any person or even one church who are not blameless…our full faith must be in one person and one person only, Jesus. We can even read and know our “heroes of the Bible” such as Moses, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, David, and Paul just to name a few made many mistakes despite their faith and trust in God. Jesus did not. He is the only one who was perfect that could be the perfect sacrifice on the cross and who now is the only one that sits at the right hand of the Father as verse 2 tells us.

As I reflect on this, I hope to teach our children this. I don’t want them to put their full faith in anyone other than Jesus, not even me. I promise to do my absolute best to not do anything that would bring disgrace to them or our family and work to live in a way that will make them proud, but I do mess up. They already know this at very young ages because when I realize I messed up I do my best to apologize which happens far too often. Jesus does not mess up though. He did not sin. He will NEVER let them down.

He will not let you down.

He is good. He’s the only one who’s truly good…all the time.

He should be the king of our heart.

He’s the one we should look to and put our full faith in as we run the race with endurance.

https://youtu.be/EpqSbKYxd9Y

 

 

Here Be Dragons

Leviticus 26-27, Psalm 112, Hebrews 10

Long, long ago, world maps were incomplete. This was a real problem for people who were traveling long distances. Many were not willing to face the uncertainty. But, a few adventurous souls would throw caution to the wind and set out into the unknown. When they failed to return home, friends and loved ones could only guess their fate, fabricating awful and spurious stories. To warn future travelers of the dangers, they highlighted the unknown territories with dangerous creatures, like dragons. In some ways, this practice still lives within us.

Think of your most significant opportunity. Maybe you have been asked to speak publicly. Perhaps it’s confronting a negative situation at work. Hastily, you say, “yes, I am going to accept that challenge.” As time passes, however, your commitment wanes. You consider all the negative possibilities, and fear shows up. Left unchecked, fear builds to the point of capitulation. We call in sick for the public speaking event and avoid our negative work situation. Both are horrible endings. Why? Because God created us for more. To become who we are created to be, we must live by faith.

The church in Hebrews had a similar problem. They lost their confidence and replaced their hope with fear. The writer of Hebrews is encouraging them to endure. “Just a little longer; trust me, everything will turn out well.” (v23)

Don’t you know that medieval sailors had similar situations? Knowing that a shorter trade route was possible, they set sail. Upon entering the unknown, they experienced storm after storm. Their fear builds until they are faced with a choice.  Continue, or quit.

The truth is that we all have these opportunities. It is our choice whether we advance with faith in God’s promises or retreat. Hebrews 10:33 calls it “shrinking back.”  The result of shrinking back is destruction. That’s the same as death.

Responding through faith, however, we are able to press on. Not just once but every day. With faith, we travel into the unknown with full assurance of what we hope for and the things that we cannot see (Hebrews 11:1).

 

Can I Please Have Your Attention?

Today’s reading as part of our journey through the Bible this year is Exodus 10-12 and Ephesians 2.

Who do you most relate to in the story of the Israelites being enslaved in Egypt and their ultimate departure? Do you relate to Moses who did not think he was capable because of his past sin and lack of confidence in his ability to take on a significant leadership role? Do you relate to Aaron who played a key role in the communication with Pharoah on behalf of the Israelites but who maybe didn’t get the credit his brother Moses did? Or do you relate to the Israelites being enslaved for many years?

Most of us probably would not say we are most like Pharoah. However, we may be more like him than we would like to admit. After the 7th plague..yes 7th…Moses and Aaron went and delivered a message from God to Pharoah in Exodus 10:3 asking, “How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me?” He would either refuse to let the Israelites go like God instructed or he would say he would release them but later change his mind or refuse to let them all go along with their property…even after 7 plagues!

Do you feel like nothing is going your way? Do you like you just keep taking right hook after right hook? If so, I think it should really cause us to pause and reflect on if we are humbling ourselves before God and giving our problem(s) and life to Him. Is it possible that He’s just trying to get our attention?

We must ask ourselves…

  • Am I putting God first in my life?
  • Am I giving my problem(s) to Him in prayer?
  • Do I think my problems are too big for God?
  • Or do I think my problems are too small for God to care?
  • What is God trying to teach me through these challenges?
  • Could He be letting things happen in my life to draw me closer to Him?
  • Could He also be using my challenges for His bigger purpose and glory in ways I might not be aware of yet or even ever will be on this side of eternity?

Ultimately, what God wants is our heart. He wants our faith in Him. He wants us to trust and rely on Him. He wants us to put Him first and humble ourselves before Him so that we cannot brag about anything but Him and His provision and grace.

Ephesians 2:8-9 reads…

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”