Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Grace and Peace

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

Before you read this short eDevotion, I want you to understand that nothing you face today is beyond the purview of God’s grace and peace.

Grace and peace was a benediction in Paul’s writings. It must have touched his heart deeply because he offered it in each of his epistles and wrote about both the words throughout his letters. 

Grace: God’s outpouring of favor on undeserving mankind. Every blessing, every provision, every benefit we receive is by God’s grace. It’s so vast that Peter called it the “manifold grace of God” [1 Peter 1.10]. Since our trials are manifold and multifaceted, God’s grace is all-sufficient, available to sustain us through anything we experience in life.

Peace needs a little explanation. The Greek word for peace is used many ways in the New Testament. In Paul’s benedictions, I think he is using it in the sense of the Hebrew word, Shalom. If that is the case, peace bears the idea of security, safety, prosperity, and joy because peace and harmony make and keeps things safe and prosperous, bringing joy. 

I once read that the Wycliffe translators were seeking a word for “peace” in the language of the Chol Indians of South Mexico. They chose the words quiet heart for peace. How appropriate. Peace protects our soul against worry, anxiety, contention, and strife. It produces consolation and harmony.

Paul wrote, “Let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace” [Colossians 3.15]. And to the Philippian Christ followers he wrote, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” [4.6-7].

The early church had a common greeting, “Grace to you, and peace.” Both grace and peace were common in the church, but uncommon among unbelievers. That was true in Paul’s day and in ours too. Soul saving grace and heart-guarding peace belong only to those who belong to God. That’s you and me — Christ followers! So, let me say it again in another way, nothing you face today is beyond the purview of God's all-sufficient grace and His heart-guarding peace.

May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace. Philippians 1.2

Monday, February 27, 2017

God Will Finish What He Started

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

Christ followers love Jesus and want to be like Him in spiritual perfection and holiness, right? We want to please Him in every respect, right? But have you noticed that your noble pursuit is often interrupted by frustration and discouragement when your humanity and sinfulness blocks the way?

Believe it or not, the Apostle Paul experienced it too. Listen to his cry to the Roman Christ followers: “I don’t always understand what I do. For what I want to do, I don’t do, but what I hate to do, I do… So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me… O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” [Romans 7.15, 21, 24-25].

Aren’t you glad that Jesus delivers us from “this body of death [sin]!” Thankfully, it’s one of the great things about God; He always completes the good work of salvation He begins in every new Christ follower. One day, it will ultimately be complete. In the meantime, it is a progressive work in which He conforms us to the image of His Son, our Savior, Jesus [see 2 Corinthians 3.18]. 

Have you found, at times, that process seems painfully slow? I know I have! But we have every confidence He will complete the task. That’s why Paul told the Romans, “…these whom He has called, He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified [Romans 8.30].

What do we do until our glorification? We keep working out our salvation with fear and trembling [Philippians 2.12]. We discipline ourselves through prayer, reading and studying Scripture, obedience, and accountability to other brothers and sisters in Christ. 

A little rejoicing would be good right here. Why? Because you belong to God and He is conforming you to the image of His dear Son. Take heart even in those discouraging times. God will accomplish His will in you. He always finishes what He starts.

I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1.6

Friday, February 10, 2017

“Hail Mary” Prayers

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

The tension is palpable. It’s the 4th quarter with only a few seconds left on the game clock. The goal line is too far away for a field goal, but you’ve got to get that football into the end zone someway. So you run all your receivers into the end zone and desperately throw the football at a large group of players - receivers and defenders - hoping against hope that one of your guys will come up with the ball to win the game. That play has been given a name used by Protestants, Catholics, and atheists alike: the “Hail Mary Pass.” The rationale behind it is clear, a pass thrown under such desperate circumstances requires divine intervention to be completed.  

That’s the way a lot of people pray because prayer is something they generally associate with desperation. For the majority of time, they rely on their own resources, their humanly devised game plan, and other “teammates” to get by. Then a crisis comes and their human cleverness and mortal strength fail. And when all the earthly options have evaporated, they throw up the “Hail Mary” prayer.

Desperate people pray, and that’s OK because “Hail Mary” prayers have been the start of a spiritual life for some folks. But in and of themselves, “Hail Mary” prayers are not sufficient to sustain a strong spiritual life. 

Christ followers have a different game plan. Rather than throwing up “Hail Mary” prayers, we:
  • Pray without ceasing” [1 Thessalonians 5.17].
  • “… always pray, and not grow weary” of it [Luke 18.1].
  • Pray about everything “by supplication and thanksgiving” [Philippians 4.6].

This kind of game plan reveals what we really think about prayer; in ordinary, and extraordinary times, prayer changes things.

One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up. Luke 18.1

Thursday, February 9, 2017

In Just 10 Seconds

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

I don’t think one can be reminded enough that we are living in the “last days.” Like the songwriter, Andre Crouch, used to sing, “Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King!” I think it’s close enough to stop looking for signs and start listening for trumpet sounds. But, He isn’t here yet, and there are millions of people alive today who won’t be here then either, should He tarry.

If it takes you 10 seconds to read this paragraph, 18 people will have gone into eternity. Every hour, over 6 thousand; every day, over 155 thousand; ever year, over 55 million. These alarming statistic should remind us of these three things:
  • Life is fragile. The Bible says it’s like a vapor; here one moment, gone the next. 
  • Death is inevitable. The Bible says it’s an appointment everyone will meet; it’s unstoppable and inescapable. 
  • Christ is the hope we need. Flu shots can’t save you. The United Nations isn’t any help either. Christ is the Way, “No one comes to the Father except by Me,” He said [John 14.6].
Since God has shown us the conclusion of human history in the Bible, let’s obey Him by following the “Great Commandment” to “make disciples in all the nations…” [Matthew 28.19-20].

Are you a little nervous about this? Or, wondering how to do it? First, ask the Lord to help you; for strength, wisdom, and opportunities to witness. And, maybe you can find inspiration in this old hymn…

Rescue the perishing, Care for the dying,
Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave;
Weep o'er the erring one, Lift up the fallen,
Tell them of Jesus the mighty to save.

Down in the human heart, Crushed by the tempter,
Feelings lie buried that grace can restore;
Touched by a loving heart, Wakened by kindness,
Chords that are broken will vibrate once more.

Rescue the perishing, Duty demands it; 
Strength for thy labor the Lord will provide;
Back to the narrow way patiently win them,
Tell the poor wand'rer a Savior has died.

Rescue the perishing, Care for the dying;
Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.
- Fanny J. Crosby (1820-1915)

You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life… But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life. John 5:39-40

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Take Time to Get Away: Learning from Leviticus

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

I hope it is your practice to read the Bible daily, and to read it in such quantities that you finish it each year. Here are a couple of measures:

Read 3 chapters each day, Monday - Saturday, and 5 chapters on Sunday
If you are the average reader, read 15 minutes each day.

If you only did one of these two things, you will read your Bible through every year. And if you are like most readers, you rush as fast as you can through Leviticus. I’ll admit, Leviticus is a little tough to work through, but it still has valuable insights for Christians today. Take chapter 23, for example. Israel was instructed to reserve certain dates each year for times of national, public worship — “Feasts,” they are called. They ranged in length and could last for several days. These feasts had a purpose: to provide rest, to remember the poor, to remember God’s provision and deliverance, and to express thankfulness for God’s blessings. 

Christians, for the most part, don’t celebrate these particular feasts, but they are instructive. The feasts were a time to break away from their daily routines and focus on the Lord. They offered ample time for praise and worship. They were a great time to get right with God. They provided a time for families to enjoy food and fellowship.

Not only that, but God was right there in the celebrations. He was “taking a break” to be with them too! Think of it, He wanted to be with them. He wants to be with us too. So, here’s an idea, put a few dates on your calendar, other than Sunday morning, to get away and enjoy your heavenly Father, and fellowship with other believers. Schedule times of retreat, relaxation, and fellowship. It’s good to be pried away from our busy lives to reconnect with God and other believers.

The LORD said to Moses, "Speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'These are my appointed festivals, the appointed festivals of the LORD, which you are to proclaim as sacred assemblies.Leviticus 23.1

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Noah Found Grace

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

The Bible contains stories about people who obeyed God. Their stories were not about a life of ease, but rather, confrontation, hardship, and difficulties. One of my favorite stories involves a man named Noah. He lived in a culture marked by corruption, immorality, and violence. In fact, according to the story, the earth was “full” of it.  

The inhabitants of earth were so reprehensible that God regretted making his crowning achievement — these creatures that were the divine image-bearers. So, He decided to remove them, and every living thing (except fish) from the face of the earth. He would sweep them away as a man clears a table with the back of his hand. It would be His way to start all over again. Can you imagine!

But something caught His eye, so to speak. A man in the middle of this debauchery was righteous and blameless, a man of integrity, and so he found favor/grace in the eyes of the Lord.  

It doesn’t take much to etch out a lesson from Noah’s life. Our culture is drowning in immorality and violence, much like his. And like Noah, we can be swallowed up in it, or take a stand against it, that is, to obey God and find His favor, His grace.

One can only imagine the decades of ridicule and prideful obstinance he faced during the construction of the ark. I’m sure there were times of loneliness and doubt. But he stayed the course. Step by step, one day at a time, He stayed on the path that God had laid out for him. Another way of saying it is, he stayed on track. 

Once the project was complete and the rest of humanity had rejected the notion that God would destroy the earth by a flood of water (whatever that was, because they had not known that kind of event at that time), Noah and his family escaped catastrophe. He entered the ark and the Lord shut him safely in.

You may not know this, but the ark became one of the great symbols of safety and refuge in the early church. In fact, many early churches were built to resemble the inside of a boat, a “shelter in the time of storm,” as they say. What a reminder of an obedient servant who went before us and was saved!

But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD. Genesis 6.8

Monday, February 6, 2017

Strong Support

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

Some think that God is indifferent to what goes on in the earth. I’m not one of them. After all, the earth is His to begin with, which, I think, makes Him interested in what happens here. The prophet Zechariah wrote that the eyes of the Lord “scan to and fro throughout the whole earth” [4.10], implying that He’s looking in every direction, or He sees everything, or nothing escapes His attention.

Not only that, but it appears that He is particularly interested in those who seek Him. The Psalmist said, “The LORD looks down from heaven on the entire human race; He looks to see if anyone is truly wise, if anyone seeks God” [14.2]. When He sees them, He takes a specific course of action; He supports them, protects them, supplies them, strengthens them, and lifts them up when they fall.

That display of interest from God is inspired by those who are faithful, whose hearts are right (not perfect) toward Him. When we seek Him, He responds accordingly. He has seen your heart, your loyalty and faithfulness. Therefore, get ready for His support, strength, and help to come your way.

For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is right toward Him. 2 Chronicles 16.9

Friday, February 3, 2017

Stubborn Love

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

I’m going to use a word that typically isn’t combined with love, but I think fits perfectly — stubborn love. That’s how I see King David’s heart, filled with stubborn love. In Psalm 78, we read that David led his people with integrity of heart. The Hebrew word implies that his heart was undivided. We might say today, he wasn’t fickle. His heart was loyal, like a shepherd that loved his sheep even when they were obstinate. 

That kind of stubborn love was demonstrated in his interaction with King Saul. Saul was pathologically jealous of David. He was tormented that David was esteemed more highly than he was. It got so bad that on several occasions, he tried to kill David. What amazes me is that through all of it, David had a stubborn love for Saul. On two different occasions he could have killed Saul, and justifiably so, but he refused to do it. And when Saul eventually died, he lamented, “How the mighty have fallen,” then he wept and fasted for him. 

Where did those tears come from? How could he find the tears for Saul? He, better than anyone, knew Saul’s faults, yet he loved him to the very end. That is stubborn love. 

It was said of David that he was a man after God’s own heart [Acts 13.22]. That is something to ponder as we start the weekend. God loves you more than you know. His is an everlasting love, it endures forever. That’s stubborn love.

So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, and guided them by the skillfulness of his hands. Psalm 78.72

Thursday, February 2, 2017

No Questions Asked

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

The people in Nazareth rejected Jesus’ ministry, so He established a new headquarters at Capernaum, in Galilee. Galilee was a commercial area bordering Syria and Phoenicia. It gave Jesus many opportunities to interact with both Jews and Gentiles. Because it was on the major trade route, the Via Mares, news of His ministry quickly spread outside the area. 

When Jesus began His ministry, His message was the same as John the Baptizer’s, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is in your midst — near or at hand” [Matthew 4.17]. John, an “old covenant” prophet, and Jesus, the first and greatest “new covenant” prophet, preached the same message. Repentance was essential to both covenants.

The first four to follow the Lord were Andrew, Peter, James, and John. What I find so amazing is that they immediately responded to His call to follow Him. In those days, it was customary for the student to choose their Rabbi. But Jesus reversed it and issued a commanding “invitation.” “Follow Me,” He said (Δεῦτε ὀπίσω μου, in Greek - “Come now, follow Me). I call it a “commanding invitation” because obedience is the only proper response to His call. 

The Scripture records their immediate response, “… they immediately… followed Him.” When Jesus called, they did not hesitate. They left everything behind and followed Him. John Chrysostom wrote, “Christ seeks this kind of obedience from us, such that we delay not even for a moment, though something absolutely most necessary should press in on us” (Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew, 14.2).

I’m amazed by the response of those early disciples, and humbled by my response. I want to figure things out, count the cost, so to speak. I want to figure out where I’m going and how to get there. I want to know how much I will have to live on. I want to know how it’s going to turn out. Not those disciples — “Follow Me,” and they did, immediately!

I have to work on that. Perhaps you do too. Let’s follow Him, no questions asked.

And they immediately left the boat and their father, and followed Him. Matthew 4.22

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Keep Walking

Encouragement for your daily walk with God 

When I was a kid, we sang a song in our church titled, Keep Walking. The chorus was:

You’ve got to keep walking, keep walking
Walking in the light of the Lord
You’ll get to heaven someday
Better get in the right way
Walking in the light of the Lord

Walking is a deliberate thing. Seriously, have ever been sitting in your Bark-O-Lounger and all of a sudden your legs carried you to another room, unbidden? I think not, because, as I said, walking is a deliberate thing.

Not only is it a deliberate thing, it is a serious thing, especially our walk with God. Over and over the Bible regards the life of a Christ follower as a walk — one that is to be “worthy of God” [see Ephesians 4.1; Colossians 1.10; 1 Thessalonians 2.12].

The Greek word translated worthy, implies the idea of weight or gravitas. In other words, it’s an awareness of whose presence we are in. You wouldn’t show up in shorts and barefooted at a black tie event, would you? Or purposefully show up late to an appointment with the president at your workplace? Of course not. Walking worthy takes into account the “worth” of your audience.

That’s what keeps a Christ follower from ever being indifferent to the need to walk their talk. When you accepted the call to follow Jesus, you simultaneously signed up to a life — a walk — that pleases God. Sure, you’ll get discouraged along the way. Undoubtedly you will be disappointed in your walk at some time or another. But remember, the Holy Spirit is at work in your believing heart, and He can lead you in a walk that truly delights God.

You can walk worthy of the Lord who saved you. Yes you can! What do you need to do? Just pick up your feet and start walking. And keep walking. Walk in moment-by-moment thoughts of honoring Christ. Keep walking every day. Keep walking after every stumble. Just keep walking.

We exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into His own kingdom and glory. 1 Thessalonians 2.12