Friday, August 31, 2007

The Secret of Contentment

“I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content – whether well-fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-12)

The Philippian church was born out of struggle and pain. In Philippi there was no synagogue that Paul could use for contacts, so he, Luke, Silas, and Timothy went to a small stream just outside the city gates where they heard there might be a prayer meeting, and there was. They spoke the gospel there, and Lydia believed. She invited them to her home, which is where the church began. Paul and Silas, however, were soon arrested for casting a demon out of a young slave girl. Her outraged owners had them thrown in jail and purposely had them put in painful circumstances. As Paul and Silas sang hymns at midnight, an earthquake broke open the chains and doors of all the prisoners. When the panicked jailer saw this, he started to kill himself and save himself from a more painful death, but Paul’s voice stopped him. “We are all here.” The relieved jailer came to faith that night and was baptized. The next day the alarmed city officials, when they discovered that Paul was a Roman citizen, came and begged them to leave Philippi. After greeting the church, they did so.

No mention is made of Lydia when Paul wrote the Philippian church. She was a businesswoman, so it is very possible that she re-located. He did mention several, and one of them was Epaphroditus, who was mentioned twice. Epaphroditus had journeyed to Rome: 1) to see Paul, 2) to help with the situation, and 3) to deliver a gift of money to Paul. The Philippian church was a partner-church for Paul.

In this context, Paul thanked the Philippian believers for their generous gift, and he made the statement in the verses above. Through the years Paul experienced times where there was an abundance of finances and times when they were very slim. He saw times when he was able to eat, and times he was unable to eat.

Sometimes when folks go through difficult times, whatever the circumstances may be, there can be a tendency to wonder where God is, what He is doing, and why He doesn’t help more. Abundance tends to create comfort, but lack tends to create criticism it seems for some. Who knows, Paul may have done some of that himself, but he says, “I have learned the secret of being content.” Through the years he had learned to rely wholly on the strength that Jesus provides, regardless of the circumstances that might exist.

All of us face circumstances that, at times, may be very good and positive, and, at times, may not be so good. They might be relational, financial, medical, educational, or such, but whether the circumstances are good or not so good, this principle applies. In any circumstance, we turn to the Lord, seek Him, and rely on His strength. And we do so consistently, trusting Him to provide direction.

Lord, May our focus always be toward You, whatever the circumstances. Amen.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Don’t Worry?

“Don’t worry about anything, but in everything through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7 CSB)

Do you know of anyone who never worries? Everybody worries, at one time or another, in one form or another. Some worrying is self-centered (“What’s going to happen to me?”), and some focuses on others (“What’s going to happen to her?”). Worry is an experience common to every human being. It is an anxiety that is derived from a problem or predicament that usually involves an uncertain and fearful potential outcome, often one that appears beyond our control. The degree of worry is directly proportional to the degree of a fearful outcome. Illness, money, decisions, directions, and such are simple examples of some of the sources of worry.

Some who read Paul’s words tend to think he is saying that a really spiritual person does not worry. That is not what he is saying. In fact, Paul himself admitted to worrying daily about the welfare of the churches he started. All of them were having problems, and he was fearful that the churches would take negative rather than positive directions. What Paul is saying is that we should not remain in a state of on-going hand-wringing worry, as if there were no hope. We move away from that state of worry when we move to prayer (talking with God), to petition (asking God), thanksgiving, and bringing our requests to the Lord. We entrust our worries to the Lord, and as we do so God’s peace, in ways that are unexplainable, will guard (literally, “build a fort around”) our hearts and our minds in the sovereign and redemptive Christ Jesus.

Worry we will. Inevitably. But the point is that we do not have to stay there. We can move from the discomfort of anxiety to the comfort of peace by taking our worries to the Lord and entrusting the outcomes to Him. He may then point us to a solution. Or, He may provide a solution. And then, He may just say, “Trust me.” Taking our worries to the Lord will help provide us with some perspective.

Lord, We really do not like the feeling and discomfort of worry or the stress it brings to our lives. Sometimes we even worry about worrying. We recognize that the real solution is to turn to You with these heavy concerns, so we bring them now to You. We ask You to point us to solutions or provide solutions. But mainly, we just express our trust in You. Amen.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Focus on the Right Things

“Brothers, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14 CSB)

Everybody has a past. Many events in our past may have been quite positive and good, but all of us have some regrets. There may have been some wrong turns, some wrong directions, some mistakes, some sins. Paul certainly had his regrets. The regret factor seems to have a way of pushing its way to the forefront. We have these events of the past, so how then do we deal with them effectively?

In a word, we “forget” them. So, how is that accomplished? When we just mention “the past” and regrets, those memories pop up quickly, showing us that, in fact, we have not forgotten them. We forget, but yet we do not forget. How then can we engage in “forgetting what is behind” as Paul says, while even he himself did not forget his past?

Obviously, we do not forget, just as Paul did not. Those memories are there. So maybe what that means is that Paul meant something other than a literal forgetting of the past. What Paul is talking about is simply laying down the events of the past. We are to take our regrets and our guilt, and we are to let go of them and just lay them down before the Lord. Two actions are important in doing this.

The first action is very simple, though not easy. It is simply a decision. How do you forget what is behind? You bring your past to the Lord, and you decide that you will leave it with Him. And then second, you pursue the goal, what is ahead. You lay aside what your goals were and what your life was, and you pursue the goals and the life that God has for you. You shift your focus from the past to the present and to the future. You follow God’s call on your life as He leads you into His future for you.

Additional verses in Philippians point us to some practical applications. Verse 16, for example, says to live up to whatever truth you have attained. Verse 17 suggests that you imitate the examples of other godly people. And verses 19 and 20 suggest that we not focus on earthly things but on heavenly things where our true citizenship lies and to which we are going.

We can no more forget the past than we can stop breathing, but we can decide to lay aside the aspects of a life outside of Christ that once had value and choose to shift our focus toward the goals God has for us and pursue them. That is what makes each new day fresh and exciting.

Lord, The power of Your redemption is truly awesome, and we thank You that You give each of us a new day each day, full of opportunity to pursue what You have for us. Help us to choose daily to go in that direction. Amen.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Commitment Costs

“But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ. More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of Him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them filth, so that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:7-8 CSB)

Paul, when he used to be Saul, had every reason to boast. He had all the qualifications and skills for leadership and greatness in the Jewish community. He was a rising superstar. He had a brilliant career ahead of him and much to gain. But following Jesus cost him all of it. Not just that, but following Jesus resulted in the loss of everything he once considered gain. Faith in Jesus became his all-consuming passion, and everything he gave up became like refuse to him. The word “filth” means trash or refuse, but more literally it refers to “off-scourings,” which was a nautical term that referred to the human filth that was washed off of the rowing deck on a Roman ship.

A commitment to follow Jesus is a commitment or it is nothing. Either we commit to Him, or we do not. There is no middle ground. A qualified or quasi-commitment is the same as no commitment. “I will follow You IF,” does not work. Commitment at this level costs us everything we may have once considered “gain.”

It comes down to a question of values. What do you value? What do you value the most? Is your personal relationship with Jesus the supreme value in your life, the one that supersedes everything else?

Only when our commitment and our values are clear can we know what our goals are. Otherwise, any goals are irrelevant. They really don’t matter. Clarity of commitment and values, however, produces clarity of goals. Paul stated his goals clearly in verse 10: 1) to know Jesus, 2) to know the power of His resurrection, 3) to know the fellowship of His sufferings, and 4) to reach the resurrection of the dead.

Commitment costs.

Lord, The grace You lavish on us is free to us, but it comes at great cost to You. Help us to understand the principle of cost as it relates to commitment. May our commitment before You and to You be genuine and solid. Amen.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Real Leadership

“For I have no one else like-minded who will genuinely care for your interests.” “Because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life.” (Philippians 2:20, 30 CSB)

People often view Paul as a “Lone Ranger” type of individual, but in reality he was far more people-oriented than that. He was genuinely team-oriented in fact. He was willing to work without a team if he had to, but he very much preferred working with a team and actually worked more effectively that way.

Leaders sometimes appear to be effective in and of themselves, but behind every leader there is a team. The effectiveness of a leader depends to a great extent on the effectiveness of those he surrounds himself with, and the more effective leaders will surround themselves with other leaders and give themselves to the development of those leaders. That is what Paul did.

The two verses above refer to two such leaders that Paul developed – Timothy and Ephaphroditus. These two men were very different, and Paul developed their leadership according to their spiritual gifting. Timothy was more of a pastoral type of person, gifted by the Spirit to have a genuine concern and care for others. Ephaphroditus was more of a risk-taker type of person, gifted by the Spirit with a passion for the advancement of the kingdom of God.

God gives all of us the opportunity to influence someone. Influence is mainly what leadership is all about. It isn’t about, “How can I keep on being the leader.” It is about influencing and developing others. We would all do well to take a page from Paul’s leadership manual and serve more effectively by influencing and developing those the Lord brings into our lives.

Lord, Enable us today to influence and develop those around us in Your name and for Your glory, so that we and they may all fulfill the potential You have placed in us. Amen.

Friday, August 24, 2007


“For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to will and to act for His good purpose. Do everything without grumbling and arguing, so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among who you shine like stars in the world.” (Philippians 2:13-15 CSB)

Most people in the United States believe that a star is either a little point of light in the sky or someone who lives in Hollywood. The superficiality of our American culture believes that someone who can pretend to be someone they are not, who can tweak imaginations with facial expressions, voice inflections, and carefully scripted and edited films are stars. Indeed, these folks have spent years working on and developing their skills in acting (well, some of them at least), so this is not to denigrate them necessarily. For the huge majority to set those parameters in defining the “stars” of our culture, however, is a testimony to how far our culture has deviated from the intent of the founding fathers.

The true “stars” of our culture are those who are the children of God who stand for the causes of the kingdom. The real stars are those who are willing to cut across the grain of current cultural norms and mores and stand for the truth that is represented in the Bible. Daring to be different, in this sense, is what makes them “stars” in our culture.

We must not minimize the complexity and difficulty of this. There are clear costs involved. If you have not noticed, a star in the sky is one point of light, pretty much isolated for other stars. Taking a stand in our culture can result in isolation and even polarization, and that can create hurt in some folks’ hearts. They therefore need strength to be able to stand, and God is the One who supplies it. He is the One who is in us, enabling us to will and to act according to His purposes.

Taking a stand like this can create a touch of cynicism in us at times, and that is part of the reason Paul says that we should do everything without grumbling or complaining. It would be all too easy to complain and do nothing, but there is a great cost to that in terms of kingdom advance. A testimony to the world is way too easy to lose. So, it is important on a daily basis to practice humility and faith, and to allow God to carry out His daily transformation of us, shaping us further and further into the image of Christ.

Father, We humble ourselves before You this day and each day, and we ask that You continually use us to shine forth Your light, so that our world may come to know You. Amen.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

An Authentic Direction

“If then there is any encouragement in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, sharing the same feelings, focusing on one goal. Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:1-4 CSB)

In an authentic church, how does fellowship get built, and how does it thrive? Paul captured the essence of the answer in these few words. To build an authentic Christian fellowship, each person should look out not only for his or her own interests but the interests of others as well. When everyone in the fellowship is oriented in this direction, building the fellowship is everyone’s joy and focus. Humility is the key.

Several descriptors are in work in getting to this point. Encouragement is certainly one of them. Loving consolation is another, along with affection and mercy. Unity of thought and feeling are also crucial. With these foundations the church is then able to focus on one goal – the salvation, strengthening, and support of people in the growing of the Lord’s church. Negative directions like rivalry and conceit then become out of place an inappropriate.

A church focused in this direction attracts people by its authenticity. What could be more appealing that than?

Lord, Help us each day to focus on "the main thing," and to do whatever it takes to build authentic fellowship. Amen.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


“My eager expectation and hope is that I will not be ashamed about anything, but that now as always, with all boldness, Christ will be highly honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For me, living is Christ and dying is gain.” (Philippians 1:20-21 CSB)

“Why did God allow him to die? I prayed and prayed that God would not let him die, but He did anyway. I’m not sure I can believe in a God like that.”

Questions and statements like this grow out of deep hurt, suffering, and grief. That is to be understood and acknowledged, but it is equally important to understand that they are built on a faulty foundation. The fundamental human belief is that this life is the pinnacle, that it doesn’t get any better than this, that what is achieved in this life is the only historical record that matters, and that death ends it all totally and forever. Those who feel this way assume they know what they are talking about. In reality this is nothing more than argument from the lack of experience. It would be something like a baby not wanting to leave infancy because “it doesn’t get any better than this.”

Paul got it right. Life, and living it to the max, is all about Christ, and dying is gain. There does not appear to us to be any gain in dying, but that is simply because we do not know. We do not have that experience yet. But that is the way of experience, isn’t it? We do not have it until we have it.

Our expectation and hope as Christians is to live life fully, with all joy and peace, and in ways that honor the Lord, and we accept the truth of God’s word in trust that dying is truly gain. That does not mean we like it. It simply means that we see it through God’s eyes rather than our own.

Lord, Open our eyes to see Your perspective. Amen.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Growing Love

“And I pray this: that your love will keep on growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment, so that you can determine what really matters and can be pure and blameless in the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9-11 CSB)

The hope of every believer is that our love will continually grow stronger day by day, year by year.

The product of a growing love is knowledge and discernment. Love is not necessarily instantaneous but normally takes time to grow, and when we love someone we spend countless hours with them learning more and more about them. This growing love produces more and more knowledge of the one we love, and that knowledge then helps us to discern or understand them better. This is true both in human relationships and in our relationship with God. As we grow in our love for God, we will know Him better and will have a greater capacity for discerning His will.

The purpose of a growing love is to determine what really matters. Life sometimes seems filled with extraneous matters, things that really do not matter very much. We somehow make them more important than they are. Life can have a lot of detours and rabbit trails, and we can get entangled in things that do not matter very much. But having a growing love for one another and for God will enable us to better determine what we truly value. Those values then become our guide points that help us to navigate through life and remain pure and blameless before God. They help us to live light rightly and on target. And life rightly lived brings glory and praise to God.

Father, Help us to have a love that is forever growing and producing what You value, and may that result in glory and praise toward You. Amen.

Monday, August 20, 2007


“For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens.” (Ephesians 6:12 CSB)

Christians are engaged in a spiritual warfare. All of us are, like it or not, believe it or not. The Bible says we are, that our battle is not with flesh and blood, and that our fight is with the Devil. Beyond that, Paul spells out very clearly and strongly that this struggle is against rulers, authorities, powers, and spiritual forces of darkness in “the heavenlies.” These are enemies of the kingdom of God and the gospel which we cannot see because they are spiritual in nature. But they are very real, and they influence the thinking, the hearts, and the lives of a lost world. In addition, they intend to oppose and destroy as much of the Lord’s work as possible.

Paul, thus, advises believers to prepare and put on the armor that will enable them both to survive and thrive. The armor itself is spiritual in nature and includes: truth, righteousness, the gospel, faith, salvation, the Word of God, and prayer.

When a fire breaks out in a forest, fire fighters will often start another fire in a nearby place so that the collision of the fires will put out the whole fire. In other words, they fight fire with fire. In a similar way, Satan’s tactics are spiritual in nature, and that tells us the kind of tactics we must use in order to see the progress of the kingdom of light.

So, put on the armor. And then – engage.

Father, Strengthen us each day and help us to be faithful in bearing witness to You and Your glory. May Your light in us shine forth into the darkness. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Basic Relational Training

“…submitting to one another in the fear of Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21 CSB)

The words of this verse are part of a hymn that begins in verse 19 and talks about the fellowship of believers as led by the Holy Spirit. There are three admonitions in this hymn: 1) speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, spiritual songs, and singing, 2) giving thanks to God always, 3) submitting to one another out of reverence and respect for Christ. These admonitions carry over into the next verses which deal with a practical application in a family setting.

Again, there are some admonitions related to the family setting: 1) husbands, love your wives in the same way that Christ loved the church, 2) wives, submit to your husbands, 3) children, obey your parents in the Lord, 4) fathers, instruct your children in the training and instruction of the Lord, 5) workers (slaves), respect your employer (master), and 6) employers (masters), treat your workers fairly and well and with dignity.

These admonitions boil down to at least two applications for relational settings in the family and at work.

First, the only authority that is absolute is God Himself. Husbands, fathers, and employers tend to think that they have absolute authority, but they must remember that they, too, have a Master, and that any authority they have is derived from God. What they really are is a servant leader, not authoritative dictators. They are placed in their role by God to serve Him and His purposes. That leaves no room for pride or arrogance.

Second, the fundamental relational concept involves humility, love, respect, and integrity. These are to be practiced mutually by all, regardless of role. Clearly, there is structure and order in relational settings, and there are roles given to each; but these are built on the foundations of humility, love, respect, and integrity. When we all practice these, it is amazing how well relationships work.

Lord, Help us to practice humility, love, respect, and integrity in all of our relationships this day. Amen.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Light Challenge

“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of the light.” (Ephesians 5:8 CSB)

Darkness tends to hide whatever is in it. The only time it is possible to see even basic shadowy forms in the darkness is where there is the presence of some amount of light, but when it is pitch black you really cannot see anything. We once were of the darkness, engaging in the works of the darkness, but now the light of the Lord has shined in our darkness, exposing the awful truth of sin. That has led us to repentance and to a new birth, and now we are children of the light.

The light of God shows us reality, and it helps us to live and participate in the fruit of the light – goodness, righteousness, and truth. The shining of God’s light in us was thus a “wake-up call,” and now we really do know how to live.

The challenge before us now is to continually live in the light. The temptations of the darkness still abound, but God’s light shows us the way to God. Now, His light in us may be the only opportunity some folks may have to see goodness, righteousness, and truth. Thus, our desire is to walk as children of the light, so those in darkness may see the way to God.

Father, Today may we each response to the challenge to walk in the light. Amen.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

An Opportunity

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

Anger is a God-created emotion. It signals when relationships are less than satisfactory, when an offense is perceived, or when an injustice has taken place. Anger was intended as a corrective, to first communicate that something is not right, for the purpose of putting things back right. It also has the potential in fallen man, however, of becoming destructive to the person who is angry if he or she does not deal with it effectively. That is what Paul meant when he wrote, “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.”

Anger left unresolved actually gives the Devil an opportunity to go to work, literally, a “foothold,” a place for operating. Seething anger thus becomes an infection that hurts the angry person far more than the one he or she is angry toward. It’s ironic, but it’s true.

The most effective method of anger resolution is the one an angry person does not like so much. It involves three actions: kindness, compassion, and forgiveness. People who are angry seem to prefer to hold on to their anger, without realizing that that is like embracing a bear who intends to eat your lunch and then you. We seem to think that maintaining anger is a way to maintain control over the one we are angry with, or otherwise exacting our revenge on them, but what we need to see is that we are, in reality, only contributing to our own stress levels and our own destruction.

Here is the reality: God could have stayed angry toward us because of our sin, but instead He expressed kindness, compassion, and forgiveness toward us through the cross of Jesus, bringing about our redemption. Only by following that same “high road” do we find genuine peace and resolution of anger, and the sooner we do that, the better it will be for everyone.

Father, Help us to not participate in the work of Satan through unresolved anger. Amen.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Unity’s Purpose

“…diligently keeping the unity of the Spirit with the peace that binds you.” (Ephesians 4:3 CSB)

Unity is the focus of some believers, and that is a good thing. It has become a goal of sorts. It certainly is an extremely important aspect of who we are as Christians, and it has full merit in and of itself. Unity is clearly something we would like to see achieved. But to what end?

When unity is achieved, what then do you have? Well, you have unity. So, is that it? Is that as far as it goes? Do we seek unity for unity’s sake, or is there something beyond which is achieved by unity? The reality is that unity is not the end. In fact, it is a means to other ends.

Unity, in reality, is already established. It may not be the functional sort that is the dream of many, but Christians are already united spiritually by the Holy Spirit who dwells in the heart of each believer. The Spirit gives spiritual gifts to each of us, and this great variety of gifts, like unity, serves a larger objective.

Actually, there are several of these larger objectives that are spelled out in Ephesians 4: 1) the training of all believers in the work of ministry, 2) the building up of the body of Christ, 3) the unity of the faith, 4) the knowledge of God’s Son, 5) growing toward maturity, 6) theological stability, and 7) developing in our capacity for loving one another.

In order to achieve those ends, we thus have two responsibilities. First, we are to keep the unity of the Spirit with the bond of peace. It is possible for us to thwart the Spirit’s unity through a contentious spirit. So, we practice peace so that the unity of the Spirit remains solid. Second, we are to exercise our spiritual gifts in the unity of the Spirit for the full development of the body of Christ, the church. Exercising our spiritual gifts keeps us healthy and growing.

Today, let your focus be on keeping the unity of the Spirit and exercising your spiritual gift or gifts so that the Lord’s objectives may be achieved.

Lord, Remind us throughout the day that we serve You and Your purposes. Amen.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Fullness of God

“…so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:19b CSB)

The greatest need of any believer is to be filled with all the fullness of God. Paul recognized this for himself and others, and thus his statement to the Ephesians. His prayer for them identifies at least some portion of what it means to be filled with all the fullness of God.

First, it means “to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man.” (verse 16) The Holy Spirit of God dwells in the centermost area of our being, in the place we call the heart. Our very souls are united with God’s Spirit. Through that union of Spirit and soul, the Holy Spirit then uses His power to strengthen us, to enable us to be strong in the face of adversity, temptation, and fear.

Being filled with all the fullness of God also means to be “rooted and firmly established in love.” (verse 17) Roots penetrate deep into the soil, absorbing minerals, water, and nutrients to support and further the growth of the plant. Roots also provide the foundation that supports the weight of the plant, which further serves the growth of the plant. As the roots sink deeper, the plant grows stronger and higher. So, being rooted and firmly established in the love of God enables us to experience the full “length, and width, and height and depth of God’s love.” (verse 18)

The fullness of God’s love in our hearts is the greatest source of peace, joy, and encouragement we can possibly know. If we seek or desire anything, it should be this, for God’s fullness in us is what makes us complete. His fullness makes us whole.

Lord, Today may we each be filled with ALL of Your fullness, for Your honor and glory. Amen.

Friday, August 10, 2007

A Deeper Meaning of Grace

“But God, who is abundant in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses. By grace you are saved. He also raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavens, in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might display the immeasurable riches of His grace in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:4-7 CSB)

These verses are a fabulous statement of God’s grace and mercy toward us, but they actually go deeper than is immediately apparent. We see this in the verb tenses, of all things. They are all past tense. In fact, in the Greek language in which they were written, the primary verb tenses indicate a one-time action that is fully and finally completed. When the text says that “He raised us up” and “seated us with Him in the heavens,” that means that this is already an accomplished fact. Obviously, in a physical sense we are still here on this earth, but in the spiritual sense we are already raised up and seated with Christ in “the heavenlies.” And the spiritual reality is superior to the physical. Our minds try to tell us otherwise, but the testimony of the Holy Spirit tells us of the superiority of the spiritual. This truth takes the grace of God to a far deeper significance than we could have imagine.

Lord, Your grace truly is beyond our imagination and comprehension. Challenge our minds and hearts today with the implications of what it means to already be raised up and seated with You. Amen.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

It Will Come

“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the richness of His grace that He lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” (Ephesians 1:7-8 CSB)

People don’t talk much about blood these days. In many circles it is referred to as just another “body fluid.” In the Bible, though, blood is a big deal. In the Bible it represents life itself. Leviticus 17:11 reads, “The life of the creature is in the blood.” In their understanding, when blood was drained from a sacrificial animal, the animal died. Therefore, the life is in the blood. Thus, when the New Testament writers speak about the blood of Christ that was shed on the cross, they are referring to the life of Jesus.

Through, or by means of, the blood of Jesus, that is, His life given for us, we have redemption. We were slaves to sin, dominated by it, and condemned for all eternity. Because of our sins, the righteousness and holiness of God demanded our lives. Jesus, the Son of God, took the penalty that was due us upon Himself and gave His life in our stead. He paid the price of redemption in order to purchase our freedom from slavery to sin with its consequences. This redemption yields forgiveness.

Forgiveness of sins is one of the products of God’s grace, but that is just the beginning. His grace further takes us to wisdom and understanding. Before grace came, we were not much different from a sacrificial animal in terms of our understanding of God, but grace turned on the lights, so to speak. Grace brought us into a personal relationship with the God who created us, and that produced wisdom and understanding. And that process continues day after day as our relationship with the Lord deepens. We have only begun to explore the depths of God’s grace. We can only imagine what is yet to come. But come it will.

Father, We thank You for the blood of Christ, His life that was given for us on the cross. We thank You for the grace that has set us free, and for the wisdom and understanding that You have brought to us. Today, may we live in that grace, and may we share it with a lost world. Amen.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

A New Creation

“What matters instead is a new creation.” (Galatians 6:15 CSB)

People have various notions about what is important. We base them on values we either adopt from others we admire or develop on our own. Whatever the source, we all have “what matters” systems we go by, and within these systems we prioritize according to what matters most.

In the churches of Galatia, there were people who were attempting to impose their systems of “what matters” on everyone else. Their systems, however, came into stark contrast with a fundamental truth of the Christian faith. Thus, Paul wrote that “what matters instead is a new creation.”

We are a new creation. Faith has led us into a totally new life, the life of the Spirit, whereby we have a spiritual fellowship with the Holy Spirit of God that overflows into fellowship with other believers. This life is characterized by freshness and newness, where the air we breathe is freedom. We have been set free from what was so that we may live now as a new creation. God brought this about in us when we received Him into our hearts by faith. That is the life He has given to us as His special gift to us, and we are to continue in this life.

We are a new creation in Christ, and that is what matters.

Lord, We thank You for this special gift, and we ask You to help us today to live as a new creation in the freedom You instilled in us. Amen.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Bearing One Another’s Burdens

“Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2 CSB)

Most people are intimately familiar with the concept of “burdens.” We all have them in one form or another. Some burdens are heavier than others. Some are relational, while some are more personal. Some folks may only have a few, while others seem to have way more than their share. But we all have them.

What a terrible tragedy when someone has to bear his or her burdens alone. What a terrible loneliness. What great peace comes, though, in the Christian community when believers practice carrying “one another’s burdens.” To do so is to practice the good, and to fulfill the law of Christ that we love one another as we love ourselves. We focus not just on our own burdens, but on those that other believers have to carry, and when we do that, everyone’s burdens get a little lighter. One proverb says, “Many hands make a heavy load light.”

There is an interesting irony here. We all have our own burdens, and yet, when we begin to practice bearing the burdens of others, our burdens seem to somehow get lighter. Something about focusing our thoughts and concerns on the needs of others causes us to focus less on our concerns and actually enables us to be better able to bear our own burdens.

Bearing one another’s burdens is like sowing good seed. Over time, with proper care, a great harvest of righteousness and peace is reaped. Effort invested in carrying one another’s burdens is ultimately greatly rewarded. This is why Paul writes, “So we must not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity we must work for the good of all, especially for those who belong to the household of faith.”

Today’s challenge is that we carry one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.

Father, Show us how we can help bear the burdens of someone else today, fulfill Your law of love, and actually end up meeting our own needs as well. And when we see that, please remind us that You are the One who accomplishes this in us. Amen.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Walking with the Spirit

“I say, then, walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:16 CSB)

Christians are people who “walk by the spirit.” To “walk” by the Spirit means simply to “live” by the Spirit, and it further means to live a life that is guided by the Holy Spirit. When we come to faith, God puts His Spirit in us to guide us from within, so that we can live a God-honoring life.

There is always within us a tension, however. We are, in fact, physical beings who are of the flesh, and our tendency is to live by the flesh. The works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, promiscuity, selfishness, and a whole host of evils, which Paul enumerated in Galatians 5:19-20. These works of the flesh are in opposition to what the Holy Spirit desires for us, and what He desires for us is: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control.

So, how do we get from living by the flesh to living by the Spirit? It takes the crucifixion of the works of the flesh. Paul wrote, “Now those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” That means that we have made an intentional decision to reject a life that is dominated by the works of the flesh, and that we have asked God’s Spirit to produce in and through us the fruit of the Spirit. The Spirit has made us alive, so we decide to walk with Him. We walk with Him much in the same way we might walk with a friend. We walk at the same pace, in the same direction, and toward the same goal.

In humility before the Lord, may we each make a daily, intentional decision to walk by the Spirit.

Lord, Our desire is for the desires of the Holy Spirit within us to be fulfilled today and each day, for Your glory. Amen.

Friday, August 3, 2007

The Way of Freedom

“For you are called to freedom, brothers; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love.” (Galatians 5:13 CSB)

Freedom in Christ has to be one the truly great truths of the Christian faith. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.

Two extremes can result from this freedom, though. One extreme sounds like this: “I am free. This is an absolute. Therefore, rules are irrelevant, and I can live my life any way I want to.” In this extreme view, the individual thinks that freedom is all about him or her.

The other extreme is at the opposite pole, reacting against what is seen as “free license” to exercise the pursuits of the flesh. This view sounds like this: “Freedom is a pipe dream. The idea is irrelevant, because what really counts is keeping the rules. God does not want people to pursue fleshly interests. He wants people to live rightly. And that can only be done by following the rules, by keeping God’s laws. That is the way to God.”

Both views are extreme, and both miss the target. The truth is between them.

In Christ, we are set free from the domination both of the flesh and of the law. Our lives are to no longer be dominated by simple rules-keeping, and neither are they to be dominated by a lifestyle of “free license.” Whatever dominates your life is your master.

By faith in Jesus, we are free, not to use our freedom as an opportunity for indulging the flesh, since that does not honor Christ, but as an opportunity to serve and to love others. Paul says, “What counts is faith working through love.” (verse 6) We are to serve one another through love.

The true purpose of freedom is to overcome self-centeredness so that we can experience and express God’s love. That is the way of freedom. It is all about the Lord.

Father, Help us to live the true life of freedom You have desired for us, for Your honor and glory. Amen.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

So, What Happened?

“What has happened to this blessedness of yours?” (Galatians 4:15 CSB)

Have you ever had days when it feels like your life is not as blessed as it once was? There may be a hopeful word for you from the example of the Galatian churches. Read on.

The churches of Galatia held a special place in Paul’s heart. He evidently got quite sick during the days he labored among them. His reference that they would have torn out their eyes and given them to him suggests that his illness had to do with his eyes. Whatever the malady, the point is that they enthusiastically ministered to him. Those early days were great times for the churches in Galatia, full of promise and potential, but that blessedness was no longer apparent. Thus, Paul’s question, “What has happened to this blessedness of yours?”

For the Galatian churches, the loss of blessedness came as the result of the introduction of false teachings about legalism that were strangling the life out of the church. We see a similar occurrence today in churches and in individuals. Someone starts out with great promise and potential, with some heady enthusiasm, but the introduction of some source of negative influence leads to the loss of blessedness, wellness, wholeness, and peace. It appears then that God is not blessing as He did previously. This influence can come from a variety of sources.

So, the real question here is: What can be done to restore blessedness?

The solution to this question is simple but not easy. We first need to identify the source of the negative influence and then correct it. Said another way, we have to reject the negative influences we find, turn completely around, and return to the point where we diverged from the path, so that we can then continue on the blessed journey. More simply put, we call this humility and repentance. These are the key items in the restoration of blessedness.

Father, We humble ourselves before You, and we bring before You any and all influences in our lives that may have caused us to veer from the path of blessedness. We return to the path, and we ask You for the restoration of full blessedness, for Your honor and glory. Amen.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Our Father’s Faith

“So those who have faith are blessed with Abraham, who had faith.” (Galatians 3:9 CSB)

Abraham was a man of faith. We do not know at what point he began turning to God, believing in Him, and worshiping Him. We just know that he did. God told him to go to a land He would show him, so in faith Abraham went. God promised to multiply Abraham and his “seed” like the sands of the seashore. Abraham believed God, and God counted that as Abraham being right in relationship with Him.

So, what was it that made Abraham right with God? Was it his obedience? No, it was his faith. His faith put him in right standing with God, and obedience was the expression of his faith and trust in God. And for that, God blessed him greatly.

The Bible teaches us that those who are the true sons, true children, of Abraham are those who hear the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, believe the message, and then believe in and commit to Jesus. These are the true descendants of Abraham who are blessed with Abraham. We are blessed on the basis of our faith. Then, our actions follow our faith. We believe first, and then we act and express our belief. We do not act in order to be blessed, but because we are blessed. The works we do on the basis of faith are evidence of that faith, but they cannot substitute for faith, since that would miss the point altogether.

Faith is the point. Faith is the portal into right relationship with God. Nothing we do can get us in the door. Faith is the only means available to put us in a right relationship with God. Faith, in fact, IS the relationship.

Today, may we each be strengthened in our faith, in our relationship with God, and may we then demonstrate our faith in the actions of our lives.

Father, Enable us this and each day to live out the faith we have in You. Amen.