11/29/16 “For to Me, to Live Is Christ, and to Die Is Gain” (Daily Bible Reading: Ephesians 5-Philippians 1)

“For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” (Philippians 1:21-23).

How do you feel about dying? How often do you think about your own death? Many of us avoid this subject like the plague. From the opening passage above, it is evident that the apostle Paul took some time to contemplate the consequences of his own death (Philippians 1:21-23).

It was certainly appropriate for Paul to consider his own death as he wrote his letter to the church at Philippi because he wrote this letter from a prison cell in Rome. As he wrote he did not know what the outcome of his sentence would be: Would he be sentenced to death or would he be set free?

While Paul did not know what his sentence would be, more importantly, Paul did know what his purpose was regarding the time he had left on this earth. His purpose was to live for Christ and to glorify Him. Paul writes, “For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death” (Philippians 1:19-20).

Paul knew either he would be delivered from prison to go on to serve Christ or he would be delivered from this earthly life to go on to his heavenly home to be with Christ. Furthermore, he says, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). In fact, Paul struggled with having his desire to leave this earthly life be greater, at times, than his desire to stay: “For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” (Philippians 1:23).

How could Paul make such a statement? Did Paul have some kind of death wish or was he suicidal? No! He loved his brethren in the church and knew they needed him (Philippians 1:24-26). However, he loved God and wanted to be with Him too! Paul knew this earth was not his home, but that he was just passing through. Paul understood it was not his place to choose whether he would stay on this earth or go to his heavenly home (Philippians 1:22). Paul would not rob himself of the peace of God by worrying about such things. He determined that while he remained on earth his purpose was to live a Christ-centered life as he looked forward to going home to be with God.

Years ago I met a preacher of the gospel named Garvin Smith. He had been told he had cancer and was going to die soon. He prepared himself for death and told myself and others he was looking forward to going home to be with God. However, his cancer went into remission. After learning this, he said he was actually disappointed to learn of this because he was looking forward to going home.

Would I have reacted this way? Is my desire for heaven so strong that to learn I am being given more days to spend on earth would be a disappointment to me? Brother’s Smith’s cancer eventually did come back and he got to go home to be with God, but his example, like Paul’s, is a great example to me to remember that my “longing” needs to be for my heavenly home, not my earthly tent! Today, I will strive to live by Paul’s words: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain”.

“For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1).

11/28/16 “Walking Worthy of Our Calling” (Daily Bible Reading: Ephesians 2-4)

“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love,  endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).

As Christians we have been called by God to be saved from our sins by being redeemed from our sins by the blood of Christ, can look forward to an inheritance prepared for us by God, and have been sealed by the Holy Spirit as we journey through the remainder of our time in this life on earth (Ephesians 1:4-6, 7, 11, 13-14). As the apostle Paul writes in the opening passage above, he encourages us to “walk worthy of the calling with which you were called” (Ephesians 4:1). What is our response to be to this high calling of God?

First, our response involves a profound appreciation and love for our fellow Christians. Paul describes we should walk “with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:2-3). By our love for one another all the world will know we are Jesus’ disciples (John 13:34-35).

Furthermore, walking worthy of our calling involves a deep gratitude of God’s plan and the church which His Son established: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Ephesians 4:4-6). Walking worthy of our calling leaves no room for one to want to add additional churches (i.e. bodies, Colossians 1:18), baptisms, faiths, etc. to God’s plan!

Moreover, those who walk worthy of God understand they have a role to play and an area in which to serve to build up the Lord’s church. While in Paul’s day, many had miraculous gifts distributed to them by God (Ephesians 4:8-11), nonetheless, to each one of us today, God has given some unique ability or talent that we can use for the edifying or building up of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:7, 12, 16). Walking worthy of our calling involves our discovering our talent and using it to glorify God!

Finally, walking worthy of our calling involves a process of continual transformation on the part of each of us into thinking and conducting ourselves in a way that honors God. This involves our stopping behaving like those in the world. Paul writes, “This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness”. Though we have been saved by God’s grace, we cannot continue to live sinful lifestyles (cf. Romans 6:1). We are called to be transformed (Romans 12:1-2). Paul adds that we should, “be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:23-24). Simply put: Walking worthy of God means living right!

It is interesting that Paul adds that failure to “walk worthy of our calling” results in grieving “the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30). I do not want to grieve God who loved me. I want to please God. Today, I will strive to walk worthy of my calling!

Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32).

11/27/16 “Blessed with Every Spiritual Blessing” (Daily Bible Reading: Galatians 4-Ephesians 1)

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3).

Thanksgiving is a time of the year for us to stop and consider all of our blessings. During this time of year, we often think about how we have been blessed physically with family, our health and with material goods. However, how often do we reflect upon the way we have been spiritually blessed?

As the opening passage above indicates, when the apostle Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus, he begins by reminding them of all the spiritual blessings they had in Christ. It did them good and it does us good to take time to express “thanksgiving” for the spiritual blessings we have as Christians.

First, Paul mentions that God has chosen us to be adopted as His children (Ephesians 1:4-6). He states that God had “predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself…” (Ephesians 1:5). What does this mean? Does it mean that God only chose certain people to be saved and others have no chance? Certainly not! God predestined the plan, not the man. That is, God predetermined that all men would have the opportunity to be saved through Jesus Christ. The Gospel is for all (Mark 16:15-16). As Christians, it is good for us to thank God for the opportunity that has been given to us to have salvation through His Son.

Second, Paul states, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7). Not only have we been given the opportunity to have salvation, but it is God who redeemed us by paying the costly price of the blood of His own Son (cf. 1 Peter 1:18-19). God paid the price that we simply had no means with which to pay.

Moreover, not only do we have the opportunity for salvation, and can rejoice in our redemption, but God has also given us an inheritance. Paul writes, “In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11). Not only did God spare us from an agonizing second death in Hell when He redeemed us through the blood of His Son, at the same time He makes us heirs of a Heavenly inheritance whose grandeur is almost beyond our comprehension (cf. 1 Peter 1:4).

Finally, Paul mentions another spiritual blessing which has been given to us: “In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory (Ephesians 1:13-14). As Christians, we have also been sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise. What does this mean? While I am not altogether sure of everything which this encompasses, I believe it and know this sealing was for the purposes to “guarantee” “our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession”. What I do know is that having saved me, God wants to keep me saved. God is on my side! Nothing can separate me from His love (cf. Romans 8:35-39). This is great encouragement to motivate me to remain faithful to Him!

As we celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, let us remember to be thankful for all the spiritual blessings we have in Christ. Today, I rejoice in the opportunity to have salvation, for being redeemed by the blood of Christ, for my Heavenly inheritance, and for the sealing of the Holy Spirit!

“Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever” (1 Chronicles 16:34

11/26/16 “Setting Aside the Grace of God” (Daily Bible Reading: Galatians 1-3)

“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain” (Galatians 2:20-21).

Do you ever get confused about the proper balance between grace, faith and works? If so, you are not alone. Christians throughout the centuries have struggled with keeping this properly balanced.

Jesus expects us to follow His commands. Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Again, Jesus says, “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you” (John 15:14). Later, James writes, “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only” (James 2:24). Then, James adds, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (James 2:26). There are certainly commands of God which we are to follow.

However, there a difference in following the commands which God has given us, contained within God’s system of grace and faith, and rules which we make up ourselves to follow. This was happening among the churches of Galatia. They were adding to God’s commands and making up their own commands to follow. Paul writes to them, “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:6-7).

Some among these churches were seeking to bind circumcision (i.e. an Old Testament command; Leviticus 12:3), on Christians who were Gentiles. However, for Christians the Old Testament law had been taken away (cf. Romans 7:1-4; Ephesians 2:14-16). The Old Testament Law was to remain in force until Christ came, but then it was to go away. Paul writes, “But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:23-27).

As the opening passage above states, trying to justify oneself by following rules which we make up ourselves, sets “aside the grace of God” (Galatians 2:21). Paul reminded these Christians that we are justified by following the faith of Jesus Christ: “knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified” (Galatians 2:16). In fact, Paul warns them that if they did try to justify themselves by getting circumcised, Christ would profit them nothing and they would fall from grace: “Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:2-4).

Paul writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:8). Today, I will not set aside God’s grace by trying to follow rules which I make up, but I will rejoice in God’s grace and walk by faith and submit myself to the commands which He has given me to follow!

“Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1).

11/25/16 “My Grace Is Sufficient for You” (Daily Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 10-13)

“And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).

How do you react when you are told you cannot be something, do something, or have something? For example, as one who likes to run as an exercise, if someone tells me I cannot run a 5K within in certain time, I would be tempted to want to try very hard to accomplish this task to prove to them and to myself that I can. However, how do we handle it when we discover that no matter how hard we try, we cannot be what we want to be, do what we want to do, or have what we want to have?

As the verses above describe, Paul addresses this subject (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). In the context of this passage, the apostle has been defending himself and his apostleship among those at the church at Corinth who began to doubt him and who he was. As he does this, he reminds them of the various sufferings he had endured for Christ (2 Corinthians 11:22-28). He also describes the revelations he had received from God (2 Corinthians 12:1-6). However, Paul adds that lest he “be exalted beyond measure” and he and others begin to think of himself too highly because of all the revelations he had received, there was something else given to Paul, a thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7).

What was this thorn in the flesh? We don’t know. We only know that it is described as a “messenger of Satan” that was to “buffet” Paul so that he would not “be exalted above measure” (2 Corinthians 12:7). Paul did not like having this. He wanted it to be gone. He “pleaded” with the Lord 3 times to have it depart from him (2 Corinthians 12:8).

What was the Lord’s response to Paul’s pleading? Did the Lord remove Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” so that Paul might have and be everything he desired to be? No, Jesus told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). To Paul’s credit, he accepted and embraced this answer from the Lord. In fact, instead of fighting against having any weaknesses or failings, Paul acknowledged his weaknesses because his weaknesses taught him to rely on the strength and power of Christ (2 Corinthians 12:9; cf. Philippians 4:13). Paul adds, “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

In a day and age where everyone is striving to have the “perfect body”, have the “perfect family”, the “perfect career”, the “perfect mindset”, and the “perfect financial plan” so they enjoy their retirement years, there is a great lesson here. Life isn’t “perfect”. I am not “perfect”. All of us have our weaknesses. Some struggle with their body image. Others battle daily with depression. Moreover, there are others who face great challenges with relationships within their families. Still others struggle with their job and finances even though they give their best efforts.

Do I need to get down because I have not been able to reach perfection in these areas of my life? No! Maybe, I need to realize that all of us are given some kind of “thorn in the flesh” to keep us humble and looking to the Lord to strengthen us in our weaknesses. Today, rather than bemoaning that my life isn’t “perfect”, I will rejoice that God grace is sufficient for me!

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

11/24/16 “Growing in the Grace of Giving” (Daily Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 7-9)

“But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:6-7).

How do you feel when you hear someone speaking about the need to give? Many become defensive as they feel like they are about to be sent on a guilt trip suggesting that they are not giving enough. However, in God’s Word, giving is described as a grace in which we need to grow (2 Corinthians 8:6-7). As Peter speaks about other graces in which we need to grow (2 Peter 1:5-7), he writes, “Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:10-11). Should we all not want to grow in all Christian graces, including the grace of giving, so we may grow in our relationship with God, not stumble in our walk with Him, as we journey to our Heavenly Home?

In the opening passage above, the apostle Paul writes to the church at Corinth about the subject of giving. In his prior letter to the church there Paul had encouraged them to give to help the poor saints who were suffering from famine in Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 16:1-3; cf. Acts 11:27-30). The Corinthians had started towards contributing money to help these needy saints, but, it appears, had become distracted and had not completed this work (2 Corinthians 8:6-8; 9:3-5). Paul had made preparations to make sure that the contribution was taken up in a manner that would prevent any accusations among those collecting these funds (2 Corinthians 8:16-23), but the Corinthians needed to act. They needed to give and complete what they had promised to do (2 Corinthians 9:1-5)!

How does God want me to give? What does He expect out of me when I give? God is not concerned so much with the amount we give, as He is concerned about what is going on in our hearts as we give. Consider from chapters 8 and 9 of 2 Corinthians some principles we learn concerning what God expects of us regarding our giving. First, God wants me to give myself to Him (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:5). In addition, He wants me to give, not grudgingly, but with a willing mind (2 Corinthians 8:12). In fact, God wants me to give cheerfully (2 Corinthians 9:7). Furthermore, the Lord wants me to give generously with purpose and faith in Him and His ability to supply all my needs as I remember that if I sow bountifully, I will reap bountifully (2 Corinthians 9:6-7). God wants me to remember my giving is a proof of my love for others (2 Corinthians 8:8) and of my faith in Him (2 Corinthians 9:8-10).

When the subject of giving is brought before me, I do not have to react as does much of the world. I do not have to become defensive and grudgingly give out of a sense of guilt. Instead, I can look at giving as an opportunity for me to examine my relationship with God. For example, I can examine my faith. Do I trust in God or do I trust in money (cf. Matthew 6:19-21). Furthermore, I can examine my gratitude towards God. Will I give cheerfully as an expression of how grateful I am to God for all that He has given to me and thus I want to give back to Him to support the work of the church and/or to help those in need? Finally, when giving, I can examine my love for God and my fellow man. James writes, “If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?” (James 2:15-16). Will I just say I love my fellow man or will I show I love my fellow man? Today, I will strive to grow in the grace of giving!

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).

11/23/16 “Not Loosing Heart” (Daily Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 4-6)

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

Discouragement is a battle all have faced at different points in our lives. How do we hold up in this battle? How do we fight against becoming so discouraged we lose heart and “throw in the towel”?

Although the apostle Paul faced many challenges which could cause him to want to “throw in the towel” such as being pressured, persecuted, and perplexed, he did not lose heart (2 Corinthians 4:8-11). In the midst of all his trials, how did Paul not become discouraged?

First, Paul realized his ministry. What do I mean by that? Paul understood his place in the big scheme of things. Paul mentions, “…since we have this ministry” (2 Corinthians 4:1). Paul was an apostle sent to preach the gospel. His “success” in God’s eyes was not based on how many people were baptized by him, but by whether or not he was faithfully executing the ministry Christ had given to him by continuing to proclaim Jesus as God’s Son. Therefore, Paul refused to allow the negative reactions by others to the gospel to discourage him (2 Corinthians 4:2-6). He remembered he was blessed to have the ministry he did and to be privileged to be one who had been called to preach the good news of Jesus. Paul writes, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).

Second, Paul recalled he had received mercy. He writes, “…as we have received mercy we do not lose heart” (2 Corinthians 4:1). Paul had viewed himself as the “chief” of sinners because he had persecuted the church (1 Timothy 1:12-16). Paul recalled from where he came. Viewing where he came from (i.e. being the “chief” of sinners) to where he was now (i.e. privileged to serve Christ), because he had received mercy, was a source of encouragement to Paul so he wouldn’t lose heart.

Finally, as the opening verses above describe, Paul understood God was renewing him day by day into all God wanted Paul to become (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). Paul writes, “…Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16). As Christians, not only are we renewed by the transforming of our minds as we apply God’s Word to our lives (cf. Romans 12:1-2), but we are also renewed by the trials we face as we learn to place our faith in God as we go through these challenges (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18; James 1:2-4). As Paul went through the trials he faced, he walked by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7) and remembered the reward that awaited him: “And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, "I believed and therefore I spoke," we also believe and therefore speak, knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you” (2 Corinthians 4:13-14).

I realize the trials of life can cause us to want to “throw in the towel”. However, like Paul, if I realize my ministry, recall I have received mercy, and remember God’s is constantly renewing me to become all He wants me to be, I can walk by faith and trust in Him to see me through all that I face. Today, I will not let the trials of life cause me to lose heart!

“For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1).

11/22/16 “Ignorant of Satan’s Devices” (Daily Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 1-3)

“Now whom you forgive anything, I also forgive. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ, lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices” (2 Corinthians 2:9-11).

How do you view the different challenges or opportunities that come before you? Do you view them from strictly a physical point of view or is there a spiritual aspect to consider? In other words, could this challenge or opportunity before you be a device Satan is using to entrap you or lead you astray?

In the Scriptures we are told that Satan is working against us. Peter wrote, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Before Peter had denied the Lord, Jesus warned him to be aware that Satan was at work against him, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat” (Luke 22:31). Peter had succumbed to that temptation partly because he was ignorant of Satan’s devices.

As the opening passage above indicates, when the apostle Paul wrote his second epistle to the church at Corinth, he speaks that the church should be willing to forgive a particular person to whom he makes reference, “lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices” (2 Corinthians 2:11). What was the situation and who was the person whom they were to forgive?

In his first letter to the Corinthian church Paul speaks of a young man who was a part of the church at Corinth who was having sexual relations with his father’s wife (1 Corinthians 5:1-2). The church had not done anything about this ungodly situation so Paul had urged them to withdraw their fellowship from this young man and “deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Corinthians 5:4-5, 11). They were to stop welcoming this young man into their midst as long as he was determined to engage in this sin.

What was the result of the church of Corinth following these instructions from Paul? From his second letter to the church, it appears this young man had repented of his sin with his father’s wife. However the church had failed to forgive the young man and welcome him back into their fellowship. Paul wrote, “This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man, so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow. Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him” (2 Corinthians 2:6-8).

Paul was concerned that because the church had failed to forgive this man, welcome him back into their fellowship, and reaffirm their love for him, Satan would use this as a “device” or “means” to harm not only the young man who had repented, but the church at Corinth as a whole. The church needed to be “aware”, not ignorant, of what the devil was trying to do regarding this situation!

Am I “aware” or am I “ignorant” of what Satan is trying to do to me in my life? Some opportunities such as a higher paying job may initially appear good, but on closer examination may actually be Satan’s devices to lead me astray because the position may require longer hours or more time away from family. Like Paul, I need to be “aware” not “ignorant of Satan’s efforts against me and those around me in my life. I need to strive to see things not only from a physical point of view, but also from a spiritual point of view. Today, I will not be ignorant of Satan’s devices!

“ ‘Be angry, and do not sin’: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26-27).

11/21/16 “O Victory in Jesus!” (Daily Bible Reading: 1 Corinthians 14-16)

“But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:57-58).

When facing a challenging situation, if you knew the outcome was going to result in a victory would this impact the way you coped with it? For example, if you had cancer and knew you were going to be overcome it, would this motivate you to continue battling knowing that you would win over it?

As the apostle Paul writes to the Corinthian church, he reminds them they had a great victory which belonged to them which had already been won by Christ. It was the victory over death. It had been won by Jesus as He rose from the dead giving them assurance that they too would overcome death through Him. However, these Christians seemed to have forgotten they were assured of this victory!

Why had this happened to them? It appears there were those in the church which began to question whether or not there was a resurrection of the dead. Paul writes, “Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? (1 Corinthians 15:12). Perhaps, part of the reason was because they did not understand all the details of how the resurrection was going to happen. Again, Paul states, “But someone will say, "How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?" (1 Corinthians 15:35). The old saying, “There is no such thing as a dumb question” is not necessarily true. Questions, such as the ones the Christians at Corinth were asking, which undermined their own faith in God, were not healthy questions to be asking.

Paul addresses how doubting the resurrection affected their faith: “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty” (1 Corinthians 15:13-14). Moreover, Paul adds, “And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable” (1 Corinthians 15:17-19). The resurrection of Jesus has a major impact on how we live our lives as Christians!

Paul answers these questions by reminding them of the many witnesses who had seen Jesus resurrected from the grave (1 Corinthians 15:1-8). Furthermore, Paul describes what will happen following our resurrection when Jesus delivers the kingdom (i.e. the church) to His Father having conquered the last enemy which is death (1 Corinthians 15:24-28). Moreover, Paul mentions how our resurrected bodies will be changed into spiritual bodies prepared to enter into our Heavenly Home as He gives us a glimpse of things to come (1 Corinthians 15:36-54).

As the opening verses above described, knowing by faith the victory we have in Christ over death, we can be “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” because we know that our labor in the Lord “is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58). I rejoice in the impact that the resurrection of Jesus has upon my life. When I face the adversities in life, I will not be discouraged and act defeated. Today, I cling to my hope made possible by the resurrection of Jesus and know that no matter what happens to me I will overcome death. I will praise God and sing, “O Victory in Jesus!”

“So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?’ ” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55).

11/20/16 “The Greatest of These is Love” (Daily Bible Reading: 1 Corinthians 11-13)

“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

How well would you say you practice showing love to others? It is a natural tendency for us to think we do a good job in expressing our love to those around us. However, as I read the opening verses above, I am made aware that it is a continual challenge for me to love others the way I should.

The Christians in the church at Corinth had to be reminded of the challenge of love. They had struggled with divisions among themselves (1 Corinthians 1:10-13). They had also begun to argue among themselves as to which miraculous spiritual gifts, which many of them had (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:4-7; 12:7-11), was the greatest. Paul had to remind them that whether they had a spiritual gift like speaking in tongues, the ability to prophesy, great faith that could move mountains, or if they were willing to sacrifice their goods or even their body in service to God, but lacked love, it would profit them nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). These miraculous gifts would soon come to an end when the full revelation of God (i.e. the New Testament Scriptures) were completed or perfected, but love would never go away (1 Corinthians 13:8-13). Therefore, they should not spend their time on fighting about which miraculous gift was the greatest, but their efforts should be spent on developing the kind of love God wanted them to have for each other.

Do we need to be reminded about the challenge of love? I don’t know about you, but I sure do. Like the church at Corinth I often start to focus on things that are not very important and forget the things that are extremely important such as developing the type of love God wants me to show others.

Paul reminds us of things which love does not do: Love does not envy, parade itself, be puffed up, behave rudely, seek its own, be provoked, think evil, or rejoice in iniquity (1 Corinthians 13:4-6). As I examine myself as to whether I am in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5), do I find myself, at times, being arrogant, rude, self-centered, easily angered, having evil thoughts, or laughing at evil jokes?

Moreover, the apostle reminds us of what loves does: Love suffers long, is kind, and rejoices in the truth (1 Corinthians 13:4-6). Am I always long suffering and kind? With regard to rejoicing in the truth do I find myself avoiding certain passages from the Bible or reacting negatively towards certain sermon topics because they make me uncomfortable or I am afraid of how they may offend others?

Finally, Paul tells us the extent to which love acts: Love bears, believes, hopes, and endures ALL THINGS (1 Corinthians 13:7). Love knows no boundaries. Love doesn’t stop loving because it has reached its limit with somebody. No matter what a person has done, I still must treat them with love because love bears, believes, hopes and endures all things.

I want to learn to love as Jesus loved (John 13:34-35). This wonderful passage in 1 Corinthians 13 reminds me that I still have room to grow in the love I show to others. God doesn’t want me to focus on my weakness and failures in the way I practice loving others. He wants me to remember He can strengthen me to grow in my love for others (Philippians 4:13). Today, I rejoice that God is love and I pray that God will help me to continue to grow in this grace of love!

“And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).

11/19/16 “Running to Obtain the Prize” (Daily Bible Reading: 1 Corinthians 7-10)

“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown” (1 Corinthians 9:24-25).

Do you enjoy running? For most of my life I hated it. However, in the past few years I have embraced it and actually enjoy running for both its exercise value and the stress relieving value.

It is interesting that in the opening passage above, Paul compares the Christian life to running a race (1 Corinthians 9:24-25). He describes that at the beginning of a race many people start off, but only one person will win the prize. He encourages us to run in such a way as to be the winner of the race. While we know that there are many faithful Christians who will go to heaven when Christ comes again (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), Paul encourages each of us to run the Christian race with the determination of a runner who is going to be the sole winner of the prize.

To be effective runner involves many things such as breathing techniques, eating properly, and the length of strides one takes as he or she runs. Paul’s analogy of running a race points out the kind of self-control, temperance, and discipline it takes to be successful as a follower of Christ. He describes how a runner is “temperate in all things” (1 Corinthians 9:25), extremely focused running “not with uncertainty” (1 Corinthians 9:26), and must “discipline” his body (1 Corinthians 9:27).

Paul uses ancient Israel as an example. He describes how ancient Israel had passed through the Red Sea as they were led out of Egypt by Moses, fed with manna from heaven, and given water to drink by Christ (1 Corinthians 10:1-4). They had a very promising start to their race to the Promised Land! However, Paul adds, “But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness” (1 Corinthians 10:5). They had failed to have the kind of self-control, temperance, and discipline that it takes to be a successful follower of God. They began to “lust after evil things” (1 Corinthians 10:6), commit sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 10:8), and complain (1 Corinthians 10:10). As a result not only did they not win the prize, but got off course as the roamed in the wilderness for 40 years, and fell short of reaching the finish line, the Promised Land.

The apostle now turns from speaking about Israel to challenging us: “Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Corinthians 10:11). We should learn from ancient Israel that if we are going to be successful in following Christ as He leads us to our Heavenly home, we must not become distracted, undisciplined, and intemperate. Paul then adds: “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:12-13).

What do you think about Paul’s description of using a runner competing for a prize as an analogy for living the Christian life? Some might look at this, become discouraged, and think “I can’t do this”. Let me encourage you to not resist the challenge of running the Christian race, but join me in saying, “Today, I embrace the challenge of running the Christian race as I run to reach my Promised Land!”

“Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:26-27).

11/18/16 “Tolerating Sin in the Church” (Daily Bible Reading: 1 Corinthians 4-6)

“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles--that a man has his father's wife! And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you” (1 Corinthians 5:1-2).

How are we to deal with sin openly committed by those in the church? Are we to just simply tolerate sin happening among us? On the other hand, are we to be so judgmental of one another, that we constantly feel like we are walking on eggshells as we try to live “perfectly” among our brethren?

In his epistle to the church at Corinth, the apostle Paul addresses this question. As the opening verses above indicate, in the church at Corinth there was a young Christian man who was having sexual relations with his father’s wife (1 Corinthians 5:1-2). Instead of the church being upset about this, they were actually “puffed up” about it (1 Corinthians 5:2).

Paul commands that they should have “judged” about this matter, not tolerated it! Since they had failed to judge this matter, he would: “For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Corinthians 5:3-5). They were to withdraw fellowship from this young man until he repented of the sin which he had committed with his father’s wife (1 Corinthians 5:11).

As Christians, does God want us to spend our time constantly making judgments about others? No! Other passages from Scripture clearly warn us about being hasty in judging others (cf. Matthew 7:1-4; Romans 14:13). However, this does not mean that there are never times when we HAVE TO MAKE JUDGMENTS ABOUT OTHERS (cf. John 7:24). In the church at Corinth, this young man was brazenly flaunting his sin before the whole church by bringing his father’s wife, with whom he was having sexual relations, to church services! Paul says that as Christians there are times when we have to make judgments about those who are in the church: “For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore ‘put away from yourselves the evil person’ ” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13).  

Yes, as Christians we all struggle with sin. We always will. However, part of living a faithful Christian life is that when we commit sin, we acknowledge our sin, repent or turn away from having committed it, and ask God to forgive us for having done it: “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:7-9). When we fail to repent of our sin and believe we can flaunt our sin before the church and bring shame upon the body of Christ, those in the church have no choice but to honor God by judging us!

In the age of tolerance in which we live, as Christians we must realize that we cannot tolerate sin in the church, the body of Christ. Today, I acknowledge my own struggle with sin, but when I commit sin, I will confess it to the Lord and repent of it. May God help me to never tolerate it!

“For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's” (1 Corinthians 6:20).

11/17/16 “The Foolishness of the Cross” (Daily Bible Reading: 1 Corinthians 1-3)

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18).

In a world which so often believes that “might makes right”, does the message of Jesus going to the cross make sense to you? Many have a hard time understanding that if God is all powerful, why did He not just destroy Satan so that man would not be tempted to sin? For so many it seems foolish that God would have to send His Son to die on a cross so that man could be saved from his sin.

In his letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul addresses Christians there because they were acting foolish as they were fighting among themselves and being divisive among the church (1 Corinthians 1:10-13). They were acting like the world instead of acting as followers of Christ. In correcting them, Paul reminds them of how as Christians we are to think and act differently from the world. The Christians at Corinth needed to be reminded of the basic message of the cross because they were struggling with putting too much glory in their fellow man, such as elevated one man above another (1 Corinthians 1:12) based on their abilities or on their eloquence (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:1, 4-5).

Paul reminds them it was through the message of the cross that God would save men: “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21). However, to the world the message of the cross made no sense: “For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:22-24). The Jews had expected the Messiah to deliver them from Roman oppression. Jesus became a stumbling block to them when He told them He was not going to do this. For the Greeks it was foolishness to think of someone dying for another person’s sins!

Why did God choose the cross of Jesus to save men instead of a plan that made more sense to men? “But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence” (1 Corinthians 1:27-29). God choose the cross to save men so that no man may glory in His Presence!

The message of Jesus being crucified on the cross is hard for the world to understand. Paul wrote, “For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called” (1 Corinthians 1:26). Again he writes, “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Today, I embrace the message of the cross. I will resist thinking like the world which has a hard time understanding the cross. I will strive to spiritually discern the wonderful message of the cross as it glorifies God and tells of His wonderful love for me!

“For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, ‘He catches the wise in their own craftiness’; and again, ‘The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.’ Therefore let no one boast in men. For all things are yours: whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or things present or things to come--all are yours. And you are Christ's, and Christ is God's” (1 Corinthians 3:19-23).

11/16/16 “The Christian’s View of Governing Authorities” (Daily Bible Reading: Romans 13-16)

“Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves” (Roman 13:1-2).

How do you feel about our current politicians in Washington? Approval rates for those who serve as governing officials show most of the public are displeased with them. Observing some of the posts on social media indicates that many people love to poke fun at, or are irate towards our politicians.

As Christians how are we to respond to those in political office? In the 13th chapter of Romans, Paul addresses how Christians are to view and treat those who serve as our governing officials. It is important to remember that at the time Paul wrote the book of Romans (i.e. approximately 57 A.D.), the Roman emperor Nero was ruling on the throne. Nero had ascended the throne in 54 A.D. and would die in 68 A.D. when he committed suicide. When Rome burned in 64 A.D., it was Nero who falsely blamed the Christians which led to a great persecution of those who follow Christ.

As Paul addresses how Christians are to view the governing authorities, he states that the governing authorities have been appointed by God: “Let every soul by subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God” (Romans 13:1). We may not like who holds the particular political office, but God, in His Providence, has put them in the position they hold. The people of our nation may vote, but it is God who rules the nations and puts people in positions of power (Daniel 4:17). God refers to the person in a governing position as “God’s minister” even though they may not even believe in Him (Romans 13:4, cf. Nero)!

Knowing the governing authorities are appointed by God, as a Christian how should I to treat them? I am told to be “subject” to them (Romans 13:1). Regarding how I am to treat the governing officials, Paul writes, “Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake” (Romans 13:5). As long as those governing are not trying to force me disobey God’s law, which is the Higher law I must always follow (cf. Acts 5:29), I must be subject to them for conscience sake (i.e. because I realize God put them in the position they hold) and because of wrath (i.e. they have the God appointed power to punish me if I refuse to be subject to them, cf. Romans 13:2-3).

What is involved in my being subject to the governing positions? I am to pay taxes, obey customs, show fear or reverence towards them, and to show them honor (Romans 13:7). God doesn’t tell me I have to like those who hold political office, but I do have to respect them. In the film “Band of Brothers”, Captain Sobel had failed to salute Major Winters because he was upset that Winters had been promoted above him. Major Winters notices this, calls Captain Sobel’s attention, and says, “Captain Sobel, we salute the rank, not the man!” We are to “salute” those in governing positions by respecting them, honoring them, and paying taxes to them, even though we may disagree with them!

We are privileged in our nation to have the freedom to voice our opposition and to vote. The Christians in Rome in Paul’s time didn’t have that opportunity. However, in voicing our views about who should govern us, we must act in such a way as glorifies God (Matthew 5:16). Today, I will remember to fear, honor, and pay taxes to those who serve as God’s ministers in government!

“Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (1 Timothy 2:2).

11/15/16 “Seeking To Establish Our Own Righteousness?” (Daily Bible Reading: Romans 10-12)

“Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God” (Romans 10:1-3).

What must I do to be right with God and go to heaven? Many people have asked themselves that question over the centuries. However, the answers people give to that question vary widely.

For example, some believe that if they do enough good works in service to God and their fellow man, they will become right with God and be able to go to heaven. In other words, if their good works outweigh their bad works, God will accept them. Others believe if they adhere to a certain standard of conduct or moral code God will be pleased with them. Still, yet others, believe if they simply practice going to church services on a regular basis, that this will assure their place in heaven. However, what does God say I must do to be right with Him?

In the 10th chapter Romans, Paul addresses the answer to this question as he considers his own beloved brethren of Israel. He mentions how they had a “zeal for God” (Romans 10:2). This was a commendable quality for them to have. Yet, there was a problem. Their zeal for God was “not according to knowledge” (Romans 10:2). Although Paul greatly desired to see his countrymen be saved (Romans 10:1), he knew they could not if they continued “seeking to establish their own righteousness” (Romans 10:3). Paul addresses what they needed to do to become right with God.

First, they needed to stop “being ignorant of God’s righteousness” (Romans 10:3). They needed to understand what God expected them to do to become righteous. Israel had rejected God’s Son Jesus. When Pontius Pilate asked them what he should do with Jesus, the Jewish crowd had said, “Let Him be crucified!” (Matthew 27:23). They had rejected the very One who could save them, redeem them from their sins, and make them right with God. They needed to understand that Christ “in the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4). Embracing Jesus as both our Lord and Savior is the only way we can be made righteous before God.

However, not only did they need to understand that Jesus was the only way for them be made right before God, but they also needed to submit to the righteousness of God (Romans 10:3). It is one thing to know God’s Will; it is another to submit one’s will to God’s Will. Paul tells them how to begin submitting to God’s Will that they may be made righteous before God. He says, “…that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:9-10). Confessing Jesus as our Lord, believing in His atoning sacrifice for our sins (Romans 5:8-10), and expressing our love for Him by submitting to His commandments is how we are made right before God (John 14:15).

I realize I cannot make myself right with God by doing a certain amount of good works, living perfectly by some moral code, or simply by attending church services. I rejoice that God has revealed to me through the Gospel of Christ the news that I can be made right with God by acknowledging Jesus as my Savior and submitting to God’s Will for my life!

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

11/14/16 “Debtors to God” (Daily Bible Reading: Romans 7-9)

“Therefore, brethren, we are debtors--not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (Romans 8:12-14).

Have you ever been in debt? When we think about being in debt, negative images enter our minds as we think about being constantly barraged with notices in the mail and phone calls harassing us to pay our debts. Being in debt is like a dark cloud hanging over you that seems to never go away.

However, as the opening passage above indicates, as Christians, we are told we are debtors. Why are we indebted? We are debtors to God because He paid for us a debt we were unable to pay ourselves. God paid the debt for our sins by sacrificing His own Son: “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8; cf. 1 Peter 1:18-19). What kind of creditor is God towards those who are indebted to Him?

For example, is God upset with us because He paid this debt for us? No, God understands the debt of our sin was too great for us to be able to pay. He paid this debt for us because He loves us! Even though we are greatly indebted to God, the apostle Paul expresses God’s great, inseparable love for us: “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39).

Furthermore, does God want us to continually feel like there is a dark cloud of gloom over us because we are indebted to Him because of our sin? Does He want us to continually feel guilty because of our past mistakes? Again, the answer is no. Although we are indebted to Him, God says there is NO CONDEMNATION for us in Christ: “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:1-3).

Finally, as our Creditor, does God call us up to harass us for not paying our bills? No, instead of calling us to remind us of how much we owe, the Holy Spirit actually pleads with God on our behalf by making intercession for us: “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27).

Yes, I am indebted to God because He paid the price for my sin which I could not. Today I rejoice that, unlike most creditors who want to charge me more interest and take more from me, God continues to give to me and has always has my interests at heart!

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32).

11/13/16 “Justified by Faith” (Daily Bible Reading: Romans 4-6)

“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1-2).

If I do the things which God has commanded me to do in the Scriptures does this necessarily mean that I am trying to “earn my salvation”? What is the proper relationship between faith and works?

Paul makes it perfectly clear that we are justified by faith: “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law” (Romans 3:28). As the opening passage above shows, we have been “justified by faith” (Romans 5:1). Paul warns trying to justify ourselves before God by our works is like trying to nullify God’s grace and make God indebted to us (Romans 4:4-5).

However, are we justified by faith only? There is a big difference in saying one is “justified by faith” and saying one is “justified by faith only”. The word “only” means everything else is excluded including works which God has commanded us to follow.

As Paul uses Abraham as an example of one who was justified by faith, he mentions that “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness (Romans 4:3; cf. Genesis 15:6). Although quite aged and childless at the time, God had promised Abraham that Abraham’s descendants would become as numerous the stars of heaven (Genesis 15:5). Was there any kind of work that Abraham would have to do in order to have a child? Abraham and his wife Sarah would have to engage in sexual relations with each other for this to happen.

Although Abraham and Sarah would do their part to fulfill God’s promise for them, their trust was not in themselves, but fully in God to fulfill this promise: “And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah's womb. He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. And therefore ‘it was accounted to him for righteousness’ ” (Romans 4:19-22).

Later in epistle, Paul makes a practical application for us to consider regarding the relationship between faith and works. After asking the question, of whether we should continue in sin so that grace may abound, Paul says, “Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Romans 6:2). As Christians, when did we die to sin? Paul says, “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4). As Christians, when we were baptized into Christ’s death, were we trying to “earn our salvation”? No, we were following this command of Jesus (Mark 16:15-16; Matthew 28:19-20), but placing our faith in His promise to cleanse us from our past sins by the power of His blood (cf. Matthew 26:28; Acts 2:38; 22:16).

I realize that I have been “justified by faith”, but I have not been “justified by faith only”. There are still commands given to me by God that He expects me to follow. As I follow God’s commands, I do not believe I am earning my salvation, but trusting in God’s ability to fulfill the promise He has made to me! Today, I rejoice that I have peace with God as I have been justified by faith!

“You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only” (James 2:24).

11/12/16 “Questioning the Righteousness of God” (Daily Bible Reading: Acts 28-Romans 3)

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:23-26).

Do you ever question whether God is right in all that He does? Is God right to save some enabling them to enjoy everlasting life as they enter Heaven and condemn others to an eternity of Hell?

Since the beginning, the devil has tempted man to question the righteousness of God. Satan who, when told be Eve that God told her not to eat the forbidden fruit, encouraged her to doubt whether God was right in doing this, when he said, “"You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4-5). Eve gave into this temptation, doubted God’s righteousness, and sin entered the world.

In writing to the Christians at Rome, the apostle Paul addresses the righteousness of God. Paul speaks about how God is filled with wrath regarding the sins of the Gentiles (Romans 1:18-32) and the Jews (Romans 2:1-3:18). Regarding sin, because all have sinned, all have become guilty before God and fall short of His glory (Romans 3:19, 23). For God to be just, sin must be punished!

However, does God swoop down and immediately ban man to an eternity in Hell the moment he sins? No, God has shown forbearance (Romans 3:25; 2:4). He is longsuffering with men, “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). In fact, God provided the way for man to be saved from his own sins, by allowing His Son to pay the price for the sins of men. God set Jesus forth as a “propitiation” (i.e. an appeasing sacrifice) for the sins of men (Romans 3:25). Jesus appeased God’s wrath for those who had once practice a life of sin, but who now place their faith in Christ as the sacrifice for their sins (Romans 3:25).

Paul concludes that God’s forbearance regarding man’s sins and allowing Christ to die for man’s sins, demonstrates the righteousness of God (Romans 3:26). It enables God to still be just by punishing those who refuse to acknowledge the sacrifice of Christ on their behalf by obeying the gospel (Romans 1:16-17), and to justify those who does place their faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26). Considering this, we can clearly see that God is righteous in all that He does!

Why are we tempted to question the righteousness of God? I believe it is because we fail to appreciate what we deserve when we sin. We deserve death (Romans 6:23). We deserved to experience the full measure of God’s wrath. When we question God’s righteousness are we not “despising the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering” towards us in sparing us from His wrath and giving us the opportunity to be saved through Christ (cf. Romans 2:4)?

Rather than question whether God is right in what He does, I will have the humility to remember that God is God and I am not. God is always right in what He does! Today, I will not question the righteousness of God, but I will rejoice in the righteousness of God who saved me through His Son!

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith’ ” (Romans 1:16-17).

11/11/16 “A Convenient Time?” (Daily Bible Reading: Acts 24-27)

“And after some days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and heard him concerning the faith in Christ. Now as he reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and answered, ‘Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you’ ” (Acts 24:24-25).

Do you ever struggle with procrastination? There are some things which don’t hurt to procrastinate over such as starting a home building project or reading a particular book, but there are other things that are not good to procrastinate over such as finding a job or matters which concern our souls.

Following Paul’s return from his third missionary journey, Paul goes to Jerusalem and enters the temple (Acts 21:15-26). While he is in there some Jews from Asia stir up the crowd, lay hands on him, and beat him as they sought to kill him (Acts 21:27-32). He is rescued by some soldiers, questioned, and then eventually sent to the governor Felix (Acts 21:33-23:35).

As Paul is brought before Felix, Ananias the high priest came with some of the Jewish elders and made accusations against Paul (Acts 24:1-9). Then Paul gives his own defense and as he shares with Felix his hope in the resurrection of the dead made possible through Jesus Christ (Acts 24:15-16, 21). Without rendering a verdict Felix adjourns the proceedings (Acts 24:22). Later, Felix and his wife Drusilla send for Paul to hear from him more concerning the faith in Christ (Acts 24:24).

Paul shares with him his hope in Jesus Christ and the good news of the Gospel. As he does so, Paul “reasoned about, self-control, and the judgment to come” (Acts 24:25). When Felix contemplates what Paul has to say, he is afraid (Acts 24:25). Perhaps, in listening to Paul, Felix realized he was not ready for the judgment to come. What does Felix do? Does he obey the gospel so that his fears may be relieved and he may go on rejoicing in his salvation (cf. Acts 8:39)?

Sadly, Felix procrastinates. He tells Paul, “Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you” (Acts 24:25). In fact, for 2 more years Felix will continue to send for Paul and converse with him (Acts 24:26-27), but as far as we know he never obeys the gospel and goes to his grave unprepared for the judgment to come, afraid, and never realizing the joy of salvation in Christ.

As we consider this account of Paul before Felix, we should each ask ourselves, “Are their spiritual matters in my life about which I procrastinate?” For example, for some of you reading this, perhaps you have procrastinated about making the decision to obey the gospel of Christ? For others of you, have you put off restoring a relationship with a brother or sister in Christ who has hurt you by not confronting them and forgiving them (cf. Matthew 18:15-17; Ephesians 4:32)? Moreover, there still may be those reading this, who have put off discovering their unique ministry where they can serve others and help build up church, the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:16).

Why do we put off doing these things? While there are some matters such as putting off going shopping for a gift or starting an exercise program which may not hurt us too much, spiritual procrastination is deadly to our souls. It hurts our relationship with God because it puts off doing those things which draw us closer to God. Today, I resolve not to engage in spiritual procrastination!

“We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For He says: ‘In an acceptable time I have heard you, and in the day of salvation I have helped you.’ Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:1-2).

11/10/16 “Doormat Christianity?” (Daily Bible Reading: Acts 21-23)

“The commander ordered him to be brought into the barracks, and said that he should be examined under scourging, so that he might know why they shouted so against him. And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who stood by, ‘Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman, and uncondemned?’ ” (Acts 22:24-25).

How would you like to be a doormat? Doormats are there so that people can walk all over them and wipe the dirt of their feet on them. Does God want us to let other people treat us like doormats?

Jesus told us we should be willing to endure suffering from others: “But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two” (Matthew 5:38-41). Jesus was speaking about our not taking vengeance on those who harm us. In the prior verse, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ ” (Matthew 5:37). Instead of taking vengeance for ourselves upon our enemies, we should be willing to turn the other cheek, endure being sued, and go the 2nd mile.

However, does our not taking seeking to avenge ourselves mean we should let others treat us like doormats? A principle for us to consider is that all we say and do is to be done with the purpose of glorifying God (Matthew 5:13-16). While it is true as Christians we are told we will suffer persecution (2 Timothy 3:12), not all suffering from the hands of others glorifies God. Does a young Christian man bullied at school by others, glorify God? Does a wife who allows her husband to physically abuse her, glorify God? Is it wrong for such individuals to stand up for themselves and their rights?

Jesus kept silent and did not stand up for his rights as a citizen before those who were trying Him (Matthew 26:62-63; cf. Isaiah 5:37); yet, as the opening passage above shows, Paul did stand up for his rights as a Roman citizen in questioning those who were about to scourge him (Acts 22:25). Is there a contradiction here regarding whether or not we should stand up for our rights as citizens?

No there is not. Jesus knew He must suffer and die in order to glorify God. There was no other way for men to be saved that by His suffering on the cross. In order to accomplish this He must be tried, convicted and put to death. This is why He kept silent. Ultimately, His keeping silent helped Him to achieve the goal of glorifying God by His death (John 12:23-26). Paul knew that his allowing himself to be beaten by the Roman authorities would not glorified God, but probably would have given those who opposed him even greater boldness to persecute Christians.

Paul was willing to die if his doing so would glorify God (cf. Acts 21:13). As it turns out because Paul stood up for his rights as a Roman citizen, Paul’s life was spared and Paul would go on to glorify God as he was able to preach the gospel to the Jewish Council (Acts 23:1-6), the governor Felix (Acts 24:1-25), King Agrippa (Acts 26:1-29), and even in Rome and among those of Caesar’s household (Acts 28:16-31; Philippians 4:22).

God doesn’t expect me to be a doormat, but He does want me to glorify Him. If I must endure persecution in order to glorify God, I will. But I realize it is not wrong for me to stand up for my rights against those who would bully me or abuse me. Today, in all my actions I will seek to glorify God!

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).