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.”

Nothing In Return

Today’s reading is James 1-2.

The book of James is usually given credit to being written by Jesus’ brother James. There is so much Godly wisdom in this book…especially about facing challenges and the power of belief and prayers in the first chapter. I highly recommend a small group study by Francis Chan if you are ever wanting to dig in deeply.

At the end of James 1, and throughout the second chapter, James begins to discuss the importance of works to come along with your faith (James 2:14, James 2:17).  Life is about building relationships. The reality is we have to build relationships in the professional world, and often in even in sports, to advance and have the impact God’s called us to have. We should not feel bad about that, but we must also be mindful if we only build relationships and do things for others when we can get something out of it for ourselves. James makes it a point to discuss the problems with partiality (James 2:9), specifically to the rich over the poor (James 2:1-7), and the importance of helping others who can’t return the favor.

In James 1:27. he specifically talks about helping orphans and widows. I have been blessed to see an example of doing so by my father. He cared for both of my great aunts who were widowed with no children, as well as his mother and my Mom’s mother. One example for the care he showed is that while still running his State Farm agency, he would leave to get the mail and stop by to see my maternal grandmother with dementia every single morning before returning to the office. He would not only get her laundry, but do something as simple as clean her glasses everyday..even though she would not have known the difference. Now, he cares for a widow of no relation who has no living relatives after her sister passed. He’s helped her figure out ways to qualify for special assistance and programs so she can stay in her home which is very important to her and also so she can get by financially. When I was home last week, he purchased her a gift for her birthday. There’s nothing she can do in return for him, and I admire him so much for this. I think hardly anyone knows he does this…it comes from the goodness of his heart. Not to mention that he also helps my Mom who has challenges walking after a series of spinal cord issues. The Bible discusses spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12:6-8. I truly believe caring for widows is his. He does not stop there though. A few years ago while they were at Mayo finding out whether my Mom would ever walk again, he befriended a homeless man he met with an addiction to sniffing paint. He bought him a meal, got to know him, and helped lead him to someone an area at the hospital who could get him the help he needed.  He noticed and took action despite the challenges, uncertainty, and stress him and my Mom were facing.  I can’t help but also think of Hebrews 13:2 which we read yesterday. His example challenges me to not only use my spiritual gifts, but most importantly to bless others who can do nothing in return like James 1:27 and James 2 does. James 1:22-24 tells us we should be doers of the Word and not only hearers.

Why should we bless others who can offer nothing in return? Surely, we should not do it because of a feeling of obligation, to get puffed up with pride by the “good deeds” we are doing, or to be noticed by others. We should recognize the sacrifice of Christ on the cross for us when we could offer nothing in return. He did so while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8)…even though we directly and repeatedly continue to disobey him. His heart should cause our heart to change and show the same sacrificial love that He did. Thank you, Dad, for modeling what Christ did for us and for showing a great example of this.

Last Kiss

Today’s reading is Galatians 3.

Some of the most important life lessons we can teach our kids can come in the simplest moments. As a young boy, I can remember riding in the back of my parents’ car and listening to oldies from the 50s and mostly 60s. This is where my Dad taught me the most important life lesson while likely on the 25 minute drive home from Springfield to Auburn, Illinois from the grocery store or some other errand. A big thing for my father, and now me, when a song came on the radio was to ask, “What is the name of the song and who sings it?” It was then typically followed up by some other fun fact about the band or song. Due to this, I know a lot about songs from this era and I wouldn’t admit it growing up, but I love the music now! Many of you may be familiar with the song “Last Kiss” which was originally a one-hit wonder by J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers and re-made by Pearl Jam in more recent years. I’m a Pearl Jam fan, but you just can’t beat the original in my opinion…but I digress. The song is about a boy, who is likely in high school, out on a date with his father’s car when a car is stalled in the road causing him to crash. His girlfriend does not survive, and he gives her a last kiss as she takes her final breaths. The chorus of the song repeats over and over, “Oh where oh where can my baby be? The Lord took her away from me. She’s gone to Heaven, so I got to be good…so I can see my baby when I leave this world.” My Dad loves the song and I can’t help but sing along when it comes on now, but he appropriately taught me at a very young age, “Chet…you know this song is wrong. You don’t get to Heaven by being good. You only get to Heaven by believing in Jesus and that He died on the cross for your sins.” Wow…the most important thing every human being should know taught to me at a very young age while riding in the back seat on a trip we took many times. One of the reasons I also know so much about the music from this era is that the same fun facts and information my Dad would tell me about each song was often told most of the time each song would come on, so this important lesson from the “Last Kiss” was told multiple times and engrained in me, but that’s a good thing. One of my mentors always said, “Repetition is the mother of learning.” This one was definitely worth repeating.

This critical information is what Paul is communicating in Galatians 3. You do not get to Heaven by being a good person or by following the Law.

“For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law and do them.’ Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law for ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”   Galatians 3:10-11

Paul says a similar thing in his letter to the Romans…

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 6:23

A key part of both of these verses is the emphasis that the only way one could be justified and brought together with God by works would be if you did “all things” correctly in Galatians 3:10 and then the singular nature of the word “sin” in Romans 6:23 tells us even one sin permanently separates of from God without Jesus’ loving sacrifice on the cross. No one, and I mean no one, no matter how good of a person they are in this world will receive the crown of righteousness in Heaven without admission of our sin and belief in Jesus because we also know Romans 3:23 tells us that all have sinned and fall short.

Jesus says this himself in John 14:6.

“….I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me….”

My Dad always taught me that believing one can get into Heaven by being a good person is one of the biggest myths of many Christians even and just not true based on the Word. Some may think this is harsh that there is only one way and wonder why the other “good people” don’t get in. Again, one sin separates us for eternity from God, so by God’s definition there are no “good people” without Jesus. Only He can make us holy and righteous. Only the cross provides the bridge of the great divide between man and God with the fiery pit of hell below due to our sin. This is beneficial for us to because it gives us a clear delineation of how to have eternal life with God in Heaven. Otherwise, we would have no idea what it “good enough” to get in and if past sins might forever separate us from God. This could leave us running ragged trying to do enough good and never knowing where we stand feeling anxious and depressed.

I hope that I am teaching our kids this same lesson of Jesus being the only way and more, but our kids can also teach us lessons as well. Our son Deklin is 6 and probably starting at age 2 or 3 he would say in his prayers he wanted “everybody in the city to know about Jesus.” As we’ve lost a few people we know recently, who were without a doubt good people, and one in particular who impacted so many in our community, this really hits home. Sadly, I don’t know if he knew Jesus, but I hope so. Let us follow Deklin’s prayer and Matthew 28:19-20 and not leave it to chance. I absolutely love the song “Last Kiss,” but I’m very glad J. Frank Wilson had his facts wrong on the way to Heaven because none of us could get there if that was the way. However, due to Jesus’ grace on the cross we can all get there through belief in Him…and so can everyone else…we just need to tell them.


What We Cannot Do For Ourselves…

Today’s reading is from Romans 3.

The word grace is defined by as “the freely and unmerited favor and love of God.” I’ve also heard it put that God’s grace means he will love us no matter what. also defines a gift as “something given voluntarily without payment in return.” We learn in Romans 3:24 that we “are justified by his grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ.” Google defines redemption as “clearing a debt.” Romans 3:23 tells us, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:20 says, “For by the works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight.”

Typically a writer should wait until the end to put all the pieces together in a summary, but this is big enough that I feel compelled to do it now. Put plainly, no one is without sin, and no one receives the favor, love, and forgiveness of God by doing good works. We receive God’s love and have all our sins erased though confession of sin and faith in the one who first loved us when we didn’t deserve it, his son Jesus Christ. That’s all we have to do to get right with God? Yep…that’s it. Praise God!

In his Book If, Mark Batterson puts into perspective God’s forgiveness by reminding readers of the story in Matthew 18 when Jesus equivalates God’s forgiveness to a master who forgave his servant 10,000 talents.  One talent was 180 months or 15 years of wages. Therefore, a debt of 10,000 talents was 150,000 years or 2,332 lifetimes of wages of debt forgiven! This puts things into perspective of how no number of good works during our lifetime could make us righteous before God. Thinking of what God has done for us which he did not have to do and the fact that this is something we could not do for ourselves is enough to move me to tears often.

Let’s stick to the definition theme here. Merriam-Webster’s website defines righteous as “free from guilt or sin.” Mark also discusses in If that our sins are transferred into Christ’s account and paid in full when we confess our sins through Jesus’ death on the cross, but that’s only half of it. A second transfer occurs that we often forget. Jesus Christ’s righteousness is then deposited into our account with God calling it even! Not only does God not see our sin, he sees the righteousness of his son Jesus who was without sin in us. This is told to us in 2 Corinthians 5:21. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we may BECOME the righteousness of God.”

How does all this change how we should live today knowing these things?

  1. We don’t do good works and live how God wants us to live to earn God’s grace and love. We do good works in response to God’s love and grace.
  2. We do not boast or brag of anything we do (Romans 3:27). We can only boast of his grace and tell others of our faith in him.
  3. Since no one receives the righteousness of God based on works, family lineage, race, financials status, or social status, but only through faith in Jesus, we view ourselves as better than no one else. We see everyone as a child of God who is loved by God the same as us. We realize that everyone has a desperate need to come to faith in, and have a relationship with, Jesus Christ.
  4. We live different. We live life fearlessly because we have the righteousness of Jesus in God’s eyes through faith in him. We know he’s on our side and wants the best for us no matter what. Subconscious doubts about God’s love can culminate is many fears daily, but when know of God’s abundant love and are absolutely sure of it, we can live life without worries or anxieties about today or the future.

Please say this prayer with me today..

Dear God,

                I’m sorry for my many sins. I thank you for your gift of grace through faith in your son Jesus and his death on the cross. I thank you that your mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:23) and that you see me as righteous like Jesus only through confession and belief in him. Because of what Jesus did, help me to do good so that everyone can know you and see your love through me. Help me to not draw attention to these works, except for so that everyone will know the love you showed on the cross. Help me to remember each day that I can take risks and live a fearless life to be all you have called me to be because you have made me righteous like Jesus through faith in Him. Amen.