Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Basic Hypocrisy

“Then the rest of the Jews joined his hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were deviating from the truth of the gospel, I told Cephas in front of everyone, ‘If you, who are a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel Gentiles to live like Jews?’” (Galatians 2:13-14 CSB)

There comes a time when people must take their stand, especially when a central and fundamental truth is at stake. For Paul that time came at Antioch.

Peter journeyed to Antioch while Barnabas and Paul were there. Peter and Barnabas were old friends. The fellowship at Antioch enjoyed quite a bit of cultural freedom in comparison to the Jewish fellowships in Jerusalem. The Antioch church included Gentiles, and so the Jewish legal system was not so much observed. When Peter arrived, he joined right in with them. Though a Jew, he lived like a Gentile.

Then, a group of Jews who had been sent by James arrived from Jerusalem. Peter then withdrew fellowship from the Gentiles and fellowshipped only with the Jews. Even Barnabas was influenced by Peter’s actions.

Paul, however, saw right through their duplicity. He saw that these actions were, in reality, hypocritical and a denial of one of the basic and indispensable tenets of the gospel – that the grace of God is for everyone. Their actions sent the message that because the Gentile believers were not circumcised and did not follow the Jewish traditions that they were unacceptable. Paul heard that message loud and clear, and on behalf of the Gentile believers and the fundamental truth of the gospel, he opposed Peter publicly and face to face. While undoubtedly an awkward moment for all, it was something that just had to be happen, for the gospel itself was at stake.

When it comes to the truth of the gospel, there is no middle ground. Political correctness, as we call it, has no place. We must take our stand with regard to the truth of the gospel, whatever the cost.

Father, May we maintain the full truth of the gospel at all costs. Amen.

Monday, July 30, 2007

One Gospel Only

“As we have said before, I now say again: if anyone preaches to you a gospel contrary to what you received, a curse be on him!” (Galatians 1:9 CSB)

Strong words. Paul wrote with impact. He wrote that way because his priority interest was in serving Christ and representing Him as His apostle. He viewed himself as a slave of Christ whose first desire was to please Christ. Based on that life value, Paul sought to undo some damage that had been done in the Galatian churches.

Some men had gone to those churches and were preaching a gospel that was different from what Paul preached. Their message was one of legalism, a belief that all new believers were required to observe all the laws of Judaism, including circumcision. They considered this part of the salvation process, a requirement for salvation. So why would they do this? Well, probably because: 1) that is what they believed, 2) they wanted people’s loyalty to them rather than to Paul, 3) they wanted to keep this Christian “movement” under control, 4) all of the above, or 5) other reasons in addition to the above.

The gospel of Jesus Christ, this message of fundamental truth, is central to everything else in our faith, and it is a simple message. God loves us with an indescribable and indestructible love that is without comparison, although we do not deserve it. In love, God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to take the penalty of our sins upon Himself, to die on the cross, to be buried, and to be raised from the dead on the third day, so that all who turn to Him in faith might receive forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Jesus set us free from the domination and power of sin and its dark tyranny. He defeated the power and influence of evil and the evil one in our lives. He completed all of the demands of the law, so that now the full intent of His law is written on our hearts – that we might love Him with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves, and so that we might share that good news message with a lost world. He set us free to live, to really live.

Father, May we each day live the gospel and share it by both word and deed. Help us to fulfill our responsibility to ensure that the message of the gospel is kept pure and simple. Amen.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

A Glorious Outcome

“Finally, brothers, rejoice. Be restored, be encouraged, and be of the same mind, and the God of love and peace will be with you.” (2 Corinthians 13:11 CSB)

Paul suggested four directions that will lead to a glorious outcome for us.

First, he says, “Rejoice.” People who rejoice choose to, so part of the admonition is to be intentional in choosing to rejoice. When we remember all that God has done for us, and how far He has brought us from where we were, choosing to rejoice is not a hard thing to do. We rejoice in any situation because we choose to.

Second, he says, “Be restored.” Something in need of restoration is something that has basically been neglected, with the result that over time it has deteriorated. Whether that be relationships, or commitments, or whatever, we are to take action to restore whatever has been neglected.

Third, Paul says, “Be encouraged.” The fact that God loves us beyond all measure, that he forgives our sins, and that He reconciles us to Himself is extremely encouraging. In reality, God cannot love us any more than He loves us right now. That is because His love is absolute.

Fourth, we are to “be of the same mind.” To be of the same mind people have to share what’s on their minds with each other. They have to communicate. Through that process we are to then come to agreement, to be on the same page, to be of the same mind in our beliefs, thoughts, and attitudes.

These directions lead to a glorious outcome: the God of love and peace will be with us. And that is enough.

Lord, Lead us today in these directions and strengthen us as we make these commitments. Thank You for Your presence with us each day. Amen.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Weakness Paradox

“Therefore, so that I would not exalt myself, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to torment me, so I would not exalt myself. Concerning this, I pleaded with the Lord three times to take it away from me. But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ … So, because of Christ, I am pleased in weaknesses, in insults, in catastrophes, in persecutions, and in pressures. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10 CSB)

This is one of the great paradoxes of the Bible. Another one goes like this, “He who seeks to save his own life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” That puzzles many, and this one from Paul is also somewhat puzzling to the world because it is not what they expect. The world’s view says that weakness is just that – weakness, and many are looking for strength. This paradox says that you can find real strength in weakness. It is a truth that by normal reasoning would seem to not be true, but the Bible says it is.

The reason this is true is that our weakness gives God the opportunity to display His power and strength. Weakness is revealed when we go through problems and struggles we are unable to control or resolve on our own. Paul identifies some of them he experienced: insults, catastrophes, persecutions, and pressures. Then, there are the “thorns in the flesh,” some sort of physical limitation from Satan that God allows only so that His grace may be displayed.

The world sees the ideal as someone being in total control of every aspect of his or her life and able to affect or influence positive outcomes with events or problems that come. Real life is just not that way, though. Sooner or later problems come that someone cannot resolve or control or impact, and that is when the sun rises and the fog lifts to show our true human condition. Weakness, however, is not a cause for despair. The good news is that it is our opportunity to see God’s grace at work, to see His power revealed.

Father, We pray that in this day Your grace and power will be displayed clearly in our weakness. Amen.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Light Show

“And no wonder! For Satan himself is disguised as an angel of light. So it is no great thing if his servants disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their destiny will be according to their works.” (2 Corinthians 11:14-15 CSB)

One species of bird does not build a nest. It doesn’t have to. This bird finds a nest that has freshly laid eggs, and while the mother is away, this one goes to the nest and deposits one egg. This bird is larger than others, so the egg is a little larger, but not much. The baby bird that hatches from that egg will also be bigger than the others. When the other bird returns to the nest, it continues sitting on the eggs until they all hatch, and, “Wow, that’s a big baby bird there!” The larger baby bird ends up getting most or all of the food the mother brings, so usually all of the other baby birds die of starvation.

The church at Corinth had a problem with false teachers and false apostles who had infiltrated the church. These men came with what appeared to be teachings that were right on target. They actually came as self-serving men who taught ideas similar to the gospel, but with fundamental differences. Their teachings appeared just similar enough to be acceptable, but the impact of this was devastating to the church. So, Paul had to confront this development head on.

In doing so, Paul noted an important truth we need to keep aware of. Satan masquerades as an angel of light. He is a deceiver. He represents himself as enlightenment. He seeks to undermine the truth of the gospel of self-serving purposes by acknowledging some portion of truth, but then taking it in a direction that leads away from the truth. His servants appear to be agents of righteousness.

A number of christian-like organizations proclaim teachings that “sound” a lot like the real Christian message. They purposely seek to hook Christians with this "bait" in order to reel them into their self-serving organizations and purposes. Their public advertizing and persona appear genuine and oriented toward serving people’s needs, and undoubtedly they believe that what they teach is correct. In reality, however, they will either take away a central teaching of the Christian faith or add something significant to it in order to proselytize Christians. This is actually nothing more than Satan radiating his “light.”

It is important that we know this, be aware of it, and understand that sometimes Satan is not just a roaring lion looking for someone to devour, but he may also appear to be an angel of light, but with the same purpose as the lion.

Be aware.

Father, Our desire to remain true to You and Your truths, so that we may accurately represent You to the world. Help us to base our beliefs entirely on Your word, nothing more and nothing less. Amen.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Real Weaponry

“For although we are walking in the flesh, we do not wage war in a fleshly way, since the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly, but are powerful through God for the demolition of strongholds. We demolish arguments and every high-minded thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God, taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5 CSB)

We can deduce several basic elements from these verses: 1) there is a war going on, 2) it is not a typical war fought in a physical manner, 3) this war is more subjective and spiritual in nature, 4) the essence of the war is rebellion against God, and 5) the weapons of this war are truth-based.

Satan shakes his bony fist at God. He hates God passionately, and his goal is to extinguish the light of God so that he can rule in the darkness. He uses every person of influence and every strategy possible to achieve his evil ends. Even though totally defeated, he continues to wage war to take as many with him as he can.

As strong as Satan may be, however, he and his followers are no match for God. God’s power and sovereignty is absolute. They cannot stand against God because He is all-powerful, and the last word is always His.

The Lord provides us with weapons for this war. We take “every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” We confront “arguments and every high-sounding thing” that sets itself up in opposition to God, by taking them before the truth of Jesus Christ. The truth judges the darkness of Satan by shining forth its light into the darkness, exposing Satan for who and what he really is. So, we bring every thought before the truth.

The truth of Jesus demolishes strongholds.

Lord, May there be no strongholds of any kind in our lives, no place for Satan to stand, no room for him to work. Rather, may Your truth live in us and shine forth in and through us for Your honor and glory. Amen.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Investment Principle

“Remember this: the person who sows sparingly will reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously.” (2 Corinthians 9:6 CSB)

Money is the context of Paul’s words in this text. He was going to Corinth, and while there he would receive an offering the Corinthians had promised to give him to take to the poor of Jerusalem. He wrote ahead and sent messengers ahead to ensure that the offering would be ready, so that the Corinthians would not be put on the spot.

These words, however, have a much broader application. This is a fundamental life principle: sow sparingly, reap sparingly; sow abundantly, reap abundantly. The meaning is clear: what you get out of something depends on what you put into it.

Consider a few brief examples. How far a car will go depends on how much gasoline is put into the gas tank. Put in a gallon, you get 30 miles. Put in 10, you get 300 miles. How much someone learns in a class depends mainly on how much effort is put forth in study. How good an athlete becomes depends mainly on how much time, effort, and training is put forth. How much harvest is reaped depends mainly on how much see the farmer sowed. Output depends on input.

Whatever endeavor you are part of today, remember this principle: sow sparingly, reap sparingly; sow abundantly, reap abundantly.

Father, Most of us prefer abundance. Help us to understand this principle and apply it today to whatever we are part of, for Your glory. Amen.

Monday, July 23, 2007

A Call to Excellence

“Now as you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all diligence, and in your love for us – excel also in this grace.” (2 Corinthians 8:7 CSB)

Excellence is a great value to have. People who value excellence in one area of life usually value it in other areas as well.

Paul affirmed the Corinthians for their commitment to excellence in faith, speech, knowledge, diligence, and love, and he appealed to this commitment in order to urge them toward excellence in the grace of giving.

Paul used the Macedonian churches as an example of this. He noted that, although the churches of Macedonia were marked by extreme poverty, they went beyond their ability and “begged us insistently for the privilege of sharing in the ministry to the saints, and not just as we had hoped. Indeed they gave themselves especially to the Lord, then to us by God’s will. (verses 4-5)

Genuine giving is a grace. Grace is something given not on the basis of merit but on the basis of character and personhood. God graced us not because we deserved it or out of some kind of obligation toward us but because of who He is. It came from the “character” of God, that is, His nature. Giving at this level goes beyond money to include all of life. Those who excel in this grace give their most precious possession – time, and they give their talent or ability as well. They view this not as some kind of obligation but as a privilege. To excel in the grace of giving is to first give yourself, and everything else flows from that.

Whatever we give, let us give as a grace, and let us aim for excellence. The Lord gave us His best out of love. May we do the same.

Lord, May today see the full expression of excellence in the grace of giving in our lives. May this serve to honor You. Amen.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Good Grief

“For now I am rejoicing, not because you were grieved, but because your grief led to repentance. For you were grieved as God willed, so that you didn’t experience any loss from us. For godly grief produces a repentance not to be regretted and leading to salvation, but worldly grief produces death.” (2 Corinthians 7:9-10 CSB)

Good grief! Is there such a thing? In a word, yes. Not all grief is good. “Worldly grief,” also known as “guilt,” produces death, says Paul. Guilt is destructive, particularly when people just try to live with it, or cope with it, or otherwise rationalize it. Good grief, however, is what happens when the Holy Spirit brings the conviction of sin that produces in us a genuinely godly sorrow. Godly sorrow does nothing for us, though, if it just remains at that level. Godly sorrow turns positive when it then leads to repentance. When we take our godly sorrow to the Lord, when we turn from sin to Him and seek His forgiveness, He then forgives and restores us fully. That is what makes it good grief, and such grief is, in fact, the will of God.

Good grief is cause for rejoicing. It leads to repentance, which leads to forgiveness, which leads to the full restoration of fellowship, which leads to a deeply gratifying joy for all. In today’s vernacular, we would call this a “win-win.”

Father, Today if there is any worldly grief in us, we bring that to You and ask that You turn it into the good grief that will lead us into a deeper walk with You. Amen.

Friday, July 20, 2007

A Service of Integrity

“We give no opportunity for stumbling to anyone, so that the ministry will not be blamed. But in everything as God’s ministers, we commend ourselves.” (2 Corinthians 6:3-4 CSB)

At first glance this verse sounds like bragging, or pride, or arrogance. Actually, just the opposite is true.

The word “stumble” in the New Testament is really a reference to “offend.” A “stumbling block,” for example, is something that is offensive. To cause someone to stumble is to offend them in some way so as to turn them away. What Paul is saying, then, is that he and other Christian servants intentionally serve in ways that will not provide an opportunity for people to be offended and, thus, use that offense as an excuse for rejecting the gospel.

Some may think this sounds like “political correctness,” but not at all. The reality of what these verses are talking about can be encapsulated in one word: integrity.

To paraphrase, what Paul is saying is, “In terms of Christian service and servanthood, we aim for total integrity by enduring whatever is necessary, going through whatever affliction comes our way, by accepting hardship and stress, and so on, and we do this so that no one can accuse us of being self-seeking, or of hypocrisy, or of lacking integrity. We don’t want to let anything like that become someone’s excuse for rejecting the gospel.”

All who engage in Christian service in any form, whether professional or not, should take these words to heart. In America for certain there has been some serious erosion of confidence in the integrity of Christian ministry. That has become some folks’ excuse for rejecting the gospel of Jesus. Anyone involved in Christian service at any level should aim for total integrity in lifestyle, in example, and in relationships. We must ensure that no one can use anything from our lives and service as an excuse for turning away from Jesus.

Father, Help us today to live the life we profess, and to do so in such a way that no question can be raised that would prevent someone from coming to You. Amen.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Down Payment

“Indeed, we who are in this tent groan, burdened as we are, because we do not want to be unclothed but clothed, so that mortality may be swallowed up by life. And the One who prepared us for this very thing is God, who gave us the Spirit as a down payment.” (2 Corinthians 5:4-5 CSB)

What a great thought – God gave us His Spirit as a down payment! He filled us with His spirit, and as great as that is, it is only a portion, a taste, of what is to come. A down payment is a portion of the whole, representing a commitment toward completion. There is so much more ahead.

Scanning the whole of 2 Corinthians 5 reveals some related meanings.

For one thing, God’s Spirit in us means that our mortality has been swallowed up by immortality. We have eternal life. We have a heavenly home that is prepared for us now, and while death still represents an area of real discomfort for us, we do not fear it quite so much as we once did when there was no hope. We have become eternal.

God’s Spirit in us also means that we walk by faith, not by sight (verse 7). Our confidence is in the Lord, and to Him we are committed. We live out our lives on the foundation of faith, trusting God, trusting ourselves to His care, whatever may come.

And then, God’s Spirit in us further means that we have undergone a fundamental change in who we are. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come.” (verse 17) We are not the people we used to be. God’s Spirit has transformed and is transforming us. Everything is new. And there is so much more ahead that is beyond our imagination.

What a great thought! God put His Spirit in us.

Lord, We are forever grateful for what you have done and are doing in us, and we so look forward to what is yet to come. Thank You for filling us with Your Spirit. Amen.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Right Focus

“Therefore, we do not give up; even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen; for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 CSB)

Paul faced multiple problems in his life and work. He describes part of them in verses 8-9, “pressured in every way, but not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair; we are persecuted but not abandoned; we are struck down but not destroyed.” He even felt that death was at work in him. But a “spirit of faith” countered all of that and produced hope. Faith reminded him of the resurrection, of the power of the gospel, and of God’s grace. And on that basis he said, “Therefore, we do not give up.” He realized that all such affliction is only temporary and could not begin to compare with the glory that is coming. He intentionally chose, then, to focus on what is unseen rather than on what is seen.

You also may face many problems in your journey. Your problems may feel quite significant and overwhelming and may even carry with them the aroma of death. But God’s encouragement to you today is that you not give up. Go to your faith place and pitch your tent there. That is where God will meet with you and remind you of the power of His gospel in your life. There He will show you that your struggles are temporary and momentary. And there He will call you to not focus on your problems but to look beyond them and put them in the context of eternity.

Our world does not understand this, but we are called to focus on what is unseen, not on what is seen.

Father, Today help us to keep our eyes focused on that which is unseen and not be deceived or distracted by what appears to be the reality. Amen.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Transforming Freedom

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. We all, with unveiled faces, are reflecting the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:17-18 CSB)

There is nothing quite like freedom. As many definitions and degrees there may be, people everywhere still know what freedom is and when they have it, or not. Those who have basic freedom love it, and those who do not want it.

Freedom has a couple of caveats, though. For one thing, the concept of an absolute freedom is a pipe dream. It does not really exist among human beings. For freedom to be absolute, we would have to get rid of the rule of law. Personal responsibility would have to be jettisoned. The real concept of freedom in this sense is one of “limited” freedom. You may have free speech, for example, but if you libel or slander someone, it could cost you.

A second caveat is that there are different types of freedom that are unequal in importance or priority. For example, political freedom and economic freedom, though possibly related, represent different realities and priorities for people in different countries.

The greatest of all freedom is the freedom that is personal and spiritual. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” This is a transforming freedom. This kind of freedom causes us to flourish on the personal and spiritual levels. We are set free to grow into the person God has created us to be. This is the kind of freedom that cannot be lost or taken away by others, because it is spiritual in nature and, thus, not “containable.” Trying to take away this freedom would be like trying to stop the wind from blowing. Can’t be done. When other kinds of freedom are limited or lost, this one remains, because it is of the Spirit.

If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Jesus leads us to a transforming freedom.

Lord, You are the Creator and the Creator of freedom, and You give us this great gift through Your Spirit who dwells within us. Thank You for setting us free, and thank You for how Your Spirit is transforming us from within. Amen.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Higher Path

“Now to whom you forgive anything, I do too. For what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, it is for you in the presence of Christ, so that we may not be taken advantage of by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his intentions.” (2 Corinthians 2:10-11 CSB)

If you wanted to hinder the work of God’s kingdom, disrupt the fellowship of His people, and keep people from being at peace with one another, how would you do it?

One way Satan does this is through our unforgiveness. Unforgiveness may be Satan’s greatest tool. The people of God are the most dangerous to Satan’s kingdom of darkness when they are united, reconciled, at peace with one another, and focused. They are the least dangerous when they are angry, fighting, and at odds with one another. So, if Satan can keep people from reconciling, that is to his advantage. Thus, Satan is a promoter of unforgiveness. But Paul says that we are not unaware of Satan’s intentions, and in this area we are very aware, or should be. Anyone who refuses to forgive plays into Satan's plans.

Forgiveness is the way to go. In Luke 17:3-4 Jesus says, “Be on your guard. If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he responds, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and comes back to you seven times saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” And again, following the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6:14-15 Jesus says, “For if you forgive people their wrongdoing, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. But if you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing.”

The fact that I forgive someone who has wronged me, is an indicator that I understand what forgiveness is all about. If I do not forgive, then that indicates that I do not understand forgiveness and may, in fact, have never personally experienced it. And if that happens, Satan’s darkness remains. That is something we must not let happen.

The Bible teaches that as God has graced us, so we are to grace one another. Forgiveness is the way to go.

Father, Because we have experienced Your forgiveness, help us to understand in our hearts the requirement of forgiving others. In Your Name. Amen.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Dealing with Affliction

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. He comforts us in our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 CSB)

Affliction comes in a variety of forms, sizes, and colors. It can be more emotional or mental at times, depending on the life situation people happen to be facing. The illness or death of a loved one can become an affliction that results in suffering. Conflict can be an affliction as well. A relationship that turns sour can create suffering and much frustration, particularly if there is little or nothing that can be done to resolve the conflict. Affliction can also take the form of overwhelming obstacles. When someone is trying to progress positively in life, only to encounter one obstacle after another and sometimes multiple obstacles at the same time, it can feel like trying to climb Mt. Everest barefooted. It can be very numbing.

Two responses are critical to this. First, the Lord our God knows in full and minute detail every affliction we experience. He walks with us through each one of them. He is “the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort.” He sends His Holy Spirit to comfort us, encourage us, and enable us to endure. God knows all about affliction.

Second, God allows us to encounter affliction to achieve some end. We may not know what that end is, or we may not understand it even when we do know its end. An affliction may not make much sense to us at all. We often think that affliction is the result of something we have done, but in reality that is not always the case. It may be totally unrelated to something we have done. Whatever the cause, God can still “redeem” the affliction, and turn it into something positive. Remember what Paul wrote in Romans 8:28, “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose.” God may use an affliction or suffering to teach us an important life principle. He may use it to strengthen us, or to prepare us for subsequent events. He can certainly bring comfort to us in the midst of it, so that, in turn, we may also bring comfort to others who are going through some affliction.

Let us take note of some other words God gave to Paul, from Romans 12:12, “Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer.” Approach your afflictions with patience. Literally, the word “patient” means “to continue under the load.” Comfort will come. And then you can pass it on to others.

Father, The afflictions we encounter in this life are often difficult to endure, but we know that You personally understand. We thank You for the comfort You bring to us during these times, and we ask You to help us to also help others and seek to give comfort to them as well. Amen.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Four Daily Routines

“Be alert, stand firm in the faith, be brave and strong. Your every action must be done with love.” (1 Corinthians 16:13 CSB)

Food, water, and air are basics for life. Some daily routines are likewise basic. For example, we get up, eat something, go to work, come home, interact with others, go to sleep, and so on.

There are also some spiritual basics that are important, and we see at least four of them in this brief verse for today.

“Be alert,” says Paul. Peter also writes, “Be sober! Be on the alert! Your adversary the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour.” (1 Peter 5:8 CSB) We need to understand that every day we live on this earth Satan is going to try to disrupt our walk with God by leading us toward sin. So, must be alert to this so that we are not deceived by his tactics. Awareness is a first response to temptation.

Second, we stand firm in our faith. Reading from God’s word and spending time with the Lord in prayer encourages us in our faith. In faith we daily take our stand with the Lord.

A third spiritual basic is to be brave and strong. The Lord told Joshua to be strong and courageous. This is simply a decision of the will. It basically means to commit yourself to God as a personal decision and stay faithful to that commitment throughout the day.

Fourth, in our daily interactions with others and in any action we may take on any given day, we must allow these to flow out of hearts of love, love that is generated by the Holy Spirit within us. As the Lord has loved us, so we are to love one another. As He has forgiven us, so we are to forgive one another. As He has helped us, so we are to help one another.

Lord, Help us today to be alert, to stand firm in our faith, to be brave and strong whatever comes, and to intentionally take all actions throughout the day from hearts of love. Amen.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


“Therefore, my dear brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, knowing that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58 CSB)

The word “therefore” means “because of this,” or “on the basis of what has been said.” So, what is Paul talking about here?

In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul laid out some extensive discussion about the resurrection of Jesus. He showed how essential the resurrection is. Without it, there is no faith. He pointed to the fact of the resurrection of Jesus, attested by hundreds of people, and he taught that Jesus is our guarantee of resurrection, and, thus, victory over death. He showed how we will receive a resurrection body that is far superior to the one we have now, and he emphasized our victory over death, provided to us by the resurrection of Jesus.

Some of the believers at Corinth had their faith devastated by false teachers who claimed that there is no resurrection or that it was already past. Those teachings gave their fear of death new life. Paul’s point, though, was that the resurrection is real, a guaranteed, take-to-the-bank reality, and that the resurrection of Jesus had ripped the fangs of death right out of its venomous mouth. It has no more sting.

THEREFORE, says Paul, we need to move forward in our faith, steadfast and immovable. We need to understand that the work we do in the Lord is in no way in vain, and we need to focus on abundance and excellence in our kingdom work. We aim for the best, we seek the best, and we give our best efforts for the Lord and for His work.

Father, We thank You for the reality of the resurrection, and the ability that this truth gives us to not allow concerns about death to derail us. Help us today to move forward in faith, steadfast and immovable. Amen.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Beyond Imagination

“If we have placed our hope in Christ Jesus for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone.” (1 Corinthians 15:19 CSB)

The “good life” is what many seek. Definitions vary, but nearly all of them center on this world and refer to land, houses, cars, food, sex and so on. These are by no means “bad” in and of themselves. The problem comes when they become THE focus of what is called "the good life."

The good folks of the Corinth Church had lots of problems, not the least of which was some odd teachings about the resurrection. Some in their midst were teaching that there is no resurrection, or, that if there is one it already happened, so that “what you see is what you get.” In other words, some of the church members were unsettling others by teaching that this life is all there is.

Is there nothing more? Is this all there is? Those questions are the heart of the issue, not just then but now as well.

Here is Paul’s answer: “If we have placed our hope in Christ Jesus for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone.”

What you see is not what you get. We have a heavenly home that is prepared for us. It is as far superior to anything we could possibly imagine on this earth as the complexity of the human body is to an amoeba. We have placed our hope for a heavenly home in Jesus Christ, who was raised from the dead, and as He was, so we will be.

A thrilling life beyond our imagination awaits us in heaven.

“Dear friends, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself just as He is pure.” (1 John 3:2-3 CSB)

Lord, All our hope is in You. We thank You for Your promise of heaven to us, and we thank You how that enables us to live the truly “good life” now in You. Amen.

Monday, July 9, 2007

By Grace Alone

“But by God’s grace I am what I am, but His grace toward me was not ineffective.” (1 Corinthians 15:10 CSB)

Some folks tend to think of themselves as “a good person” basically, or at least we would like to see ourselves that way.

Paul undoubtedly saw himself as a good person who was trying to live life rightly in the years when he was known as Saul. He kept the law scrupulously. He even sought perfection in law-keeping. No one exceeded his zeal. He was so convinced of his own goodness that he believed he was fully justified in the imprisonment and destruction of Christians. One day on the Damascus Road, however, Saul came to understand two truths: 1) how not good he really was, and 2) how really good is the grace of God. Saul went on to discover the power and effectiveness of the grace of God in transforming a life from what it is to what it can be.

The reality is that it is no different for us. In spite of any level of goodness we may have achieved in our lives, apart from the grace of God it is worthless. We can never of our own merits achieve a “good enough” status before the God who is Absolute Holiness. That simply cannot happen.

The only hope we have for being considered “good” is the grace of God. We are considered right and good only when our sins are covered over or wiped out by the blood of Christ. Then, His grace goes to work in our lives transforming us day by day into something of great beauty. There is no beauty that can compare to the beauty of a life transformed by the powerful grace of God. It is only by God’s grace that we are what we are now and what we will ultimately become.

Father, Today may Your grace transform us more and more into the image of Christ. Amen.

Saturday, July 7, 2007


“Be angry and sin not. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger, and don’t give the Devil an opportunity.” (Ephesians 4:26-27 CSB)

Anger is a natural human emotion, and as such it was created by God. That means it is not necessarily the negative and destructive emotion we often consider it to be. It can be a very justifiable response in certain situations. It can serve God’s purposes when handled rightly. It is much like a fire. Fire that is contained and controlled can be useful and helpful, but a wildfire is widely destructive of everything in its path. It destroys indiscriminately.

Anger that is left unchecked can be one of the most destructive forces in existence. If acted out as rage it can hurt or even destroy others. If ignored or otherwise not addressed, it will destroy, and that especially includes the one who is angry. Unresolved anger can poison the soul of the one who is angry.

We should note that this happens, of course, to the gleeful delight of Satan. Our anger can actually become his opportunity to gain destructive influence when we fail to deal with it adequately. He uses our anger as a vehicle for spreading his poison. We must not let him win, for if he does, he does so at our expense.

To keep this from happening, we must deal with anger by recognizing as best we can what caused it and by deciding to keep it controlled – like fire – until we can find resolution. If we seek the Lord with our anger, He will ultimately help us get to the resolution we need.

Lord, Help us to understand the potential of anger to either create good or become destructive, and help us through Your Spirit within us to choose to deal with anger as You lead us. Amen.

Friday, July 6, 2007

The Best Way

“Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13 CSB)

The kind of love that represents God’s kind of love (agape) is beyond human reach. It is 100% God’s kind of love. It is as far beyond our understanding and reach as the end of the universe is beyond our imagination. Human beings are incapable of love at this level. We are capable of loving, of course, but nowhere near to the extent that God is. Sounds a little hopeless, doesn’t it?

The reality is that God gives His kind of love to us as a spiritual gift. He shares with us through His Holy Spirit within us the capability of demonstrating this kind of love. When you think about this a bit, it becomes an astounding truth.

This kind of love exceeds human experience and turns all that we know, or think we know, into transparency. It is greater than anything that can be produced by language or knowledge or even faith. There is no fear in this kind of love, and no attempt to display “shock and awe.” It is completely unassuming.

God’s kind of love enables us to focus fully on the needs of another person or persons. Consistently. There is no self-seeking in it.

Whereas other human experience ultimately ends, God’s kind of love is eternal in nature. Everything else passes but this. That is because “God is love.” That does not mean that love is God. It just means that God is love, and because He is eternal, so is His love.

Father, Help us today to demonstrate Your kind of love through our lives. Consistently. Amen.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

All for One, One for All

“Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different ministries, but the same Lord. And there are different activities, but the same God is active in everyone and everything.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6 CSB)

From the human standpoint we tend to evaluate ability, ministry, and activity on the basis of perceived worthy, or on how they may contribute to the larger task. Business is founded on this concept. A trained and competent manager, for example, is valued and compensated differently than a clerk. That is simply the world we live in and the way things work in business.

In the life of the church we see a somewhat different reality at work. The reality is expressed in the phrase “unity from diversity.” There are different gifts, ministries, and activities in the church, but they are all part of the whole and all important to the whole. The Author of them all is the Holy Spirit. Whatever gift, ministry, or activity the Holy Spirit thus gives each of us He gives for the benefit of the whole, and what that means is that we each should rejoice over everything the Holy Spirit gives us to do, whether it may be considered crucial or ordinary. Paul said, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gives the growth.”

What God has asked of you in terms of spiritual gift, ministry, or activity should be received with great joy and carried out with excellence.

Lord, Today we rejoice in the fact that You have called each of us, gifted each of us, and use each of us in the work of Your kingdom. We rejoice in all that You give us to do in this day. Amen.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

The Greatest Freedom

“Christ has liberated us into freedom. Therefore stand firm and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1 CSB)

“July the Fourth” is a very special day in the hearts of most Americans. This is our Independence Day; it marks the beginning of our nation’s political independence. It represents freedom and liberty. Our forefathers had to fight to earn it, and many have had to fight since then to preserve it. Our liberty has cost many lives. Each year on this day we celebrate freedom, and we remember and express gratitude for those who gave their lives that we might have it.

As precious as this freedom is, there is another kind of freedom that is even greater. This is freedom in Christ, which was “purchased” for us with His blood. This freedom has at least three major areas of importance.

First, it is freedom from “the law,” that is, the Mosaic law of the Old Testament. That means we are no longer slaves to the law, in the sense that Christ was the completion of the law.

Second, this freedom is freedom from “the works of the flesh.” Galatians 5:19 lists many of these. We are led by the Spirit, not by law, and the Spirit frees us from the tyranny of sin and the flesh. We are no longer subject to sin.

Third, this freedom is freedom to express the fruit of the Spirit. The Spirit frees us to express love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control.

The greatest of all freedoms is the freedom to walk with the Spirit.

Lord, We thank You for this freedom You have given us by Your grace. Help us to understand the responsibility that freedom requires, and help us to live great lives in the freedom Your Spirit gives us. Amen.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Whatever You Do

“Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for God’s glory. Give no offense to the Jews or the Greeks or the church of God, just as I also try to please all people in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.” (1 Corinthians 10:31-33 CSB)

Principles are often generalizations derived from specific situations. The principle stated above is the result of Paul’s discussion about eating food offered to idols and how that relates to the idea of Christian freedom.

In those days, meat that had been offered to a pagan idol was then cooked and sold in the market. Discussions arose in the church as to whether they should eat meat sold in the public market that had been offered to idols, so they wrote to Paul with their question. Paul’s response was that an idol is nothing in reality, so it is irrelevant whether meat was offered to it or not. However, because some found it offensive, he suggested that they not eat this meat. The objection, however, was that this was an infringement on their freedom as Christians.

From all this, Paul saw a huge principle, stated in verse 24: “No one should seek his own good, but the good of the other person.” And at the end of the discussion he spelled out the principle clearly: Avoid any activity that might hinder someone from being saved, so that God may be glorified. The salvation of a lost soul should be a higher priority to us than our freedom.

This is simply an implementation of the Great Commandment Jesus taught – love the Lord your God with all that is in you, and love your neighbor as yourself. Christians are indeed free in Christ, but what that means is that we are also free to limit ourselves from engaging in activities that might keep someone from coming to faith in Jesus. Freedom necessitates responsibility, and responsibility emerges from love.

Father, Help us today to give priority to loving You and loving one another, to seek the good of one another before seeking our own good. Amen.

Monday, July 2, 2007

The Soul’s the Thing

“Do you not know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 CSB)

People tend to think of themselves as a physical being, a body. We see ourselves as a body that has a spirit or soul or mind or consciousness. The reality, from a biblical viewpoint, is quite different. We are a soul that has a physical expression created by God called a “body.”

Paul compares the body to a sanctuary, a physical building like the temple, where the Spirit of God resides and people worship God. In fact, the Holy Spirit of God unites with our souls when we come to faith in Jesus and dwells then within us.

The body is God’s temple, and that means it is holy. It is set apart to Him. Paul reminded the Corinthians and us that we are not our own, and that we were bought at a price. The price was the blood of Jesus Christ.

This truth is one of the fundamental guides for how we are to live as believers. Because the body is the holy temple of God, we must not engage in activities with the body that compromise God’s holiness, and, on the positive side, we are called upon to engage in activities that serve to advance the kingdom of God.

Thus, if there is something we are doing or not doing with our bodies that hinders the kingdom of God, then we are called upon to remember the life that was given for us and to then make some changes. This we do to glorify God.

Father, Today may each of us glorify You with our bodies. Use us today as Your vessels to advance Your kingdom. Amen.