12/18/18 “Abiding in Love” (Daily Bible Reading: 1 John 1-4)

“And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him” (1 John 4:16).

The apostle John referred to himself as the disciple “whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23). Jesus had taught John and the other apostles about the importance of their loving one another (John 13:34-35). However, early in his following of Jesus, John did not always practice love towards others such as when he wanted to call fire down heaven to consume the Samaritans for not receiving Jesus (Luke 9:54). No wonder Jesus referred to John and his brother James as “Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17). However, by the time John writes his first epistle he had grown very much in the practice of loving others. As the opening passage above shows, John places much importance of our abiding in love (1 John 4:16). Observing John’s growth in love encourages me as I know I need to grow in love.

How do we show God that we love Him? Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). The apostle John echoes these words as he writes, “But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked” (1 John 2:5-6). One of the ways we show our love for God is by keeping His commandments.

Love is central to the core of Who God is. In fact, John simply states, “…God is love” (1 John 4:8). God did not just “say” He loved us, He “showed” He loved us. How? By the giving of His Son for our sins (cf. John 3:16). John writes, “In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10). Our motive for loving God is to be because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).

Another way we show our love for God is by loving our brethren. John writes, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us” (1 John 4:11-12). Our love for God Whom we cannot observe with our eyes is shown in part by loving our brethren whom we can: “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also” (1 John 4:20-21).

What is the benefit of growing in loving one another over our lifetimes? John tells us: “Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love” (1 John 4:17-18). Those who practice love have no need to fear on the Day of Judgment as they stand before God to give an account of how they have lived on this earth (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:10). In fact, they can have boldness of that day!

I acknowledge that, like John, I know I need to continue to grow in loving God and others. I rejoice that God is love. I love Him because He first loved me. I do not want to be full of fear on the Day of Judgment. I want to have boldness on that day. Today, I will strive to abide in God’s love!

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:7-8). 4

12/17/18 “Making Our Calling and Election Sure” (Daily Bible Reading: 2 Peter 1-3)

“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).

How certain are you about your salvation? Do you doubt it or are you certain that when you pass from this earth or our Lord comes again that your spot in Heaven is reserved for you (cf. John 14:1-4)? Is there anything we can do to contribute to making our calling and election even more sure?

God affords the means by which we can be sure of our salvation. Peter writes, “as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2 Peter 1:3-4). God doesn’t want us to doubt our salvation!

As the verses above indicate, Peter believed there were some things we could work on to make our calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10-11). What are the things we need to do so that we may “never stumble”? Peter writes, “But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love” (2 Peter 1:5-7). Peter then adds the benefit of growing in these godly virtues: “For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:8).

On the other hand, what are the consequences of failing to grow in these godly graces? Peter adds, “For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins” (2 Peter 1:9). Failing to grow and mature in these noble virtues results in our becoming spiritual shortsighted, even blind. Moreover, by becoming spiritually blind, we can be easily led astray by false teachers. As he speaks about the false teachers which have come into the church, Peter notes, “For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error” (2 Peter 2:18). By failing to grow in the Christian graces, false teachers can appeal to our fleshly desires and lead us astray. Tragic costs await those who failure to grow in God’s grace!

Peter knew that death soon awaited him, but he was confident in His salvation and he wanted his readers to enjoy this same confidence. He states, “Yes, I think it is right, as long as I am in this tent, to stir you up by reminding you, knowing that shortly I must put off my tent, just as our Lord Jesus Christ showed me. Moreover, I will be careful to ensure that you always have a reminder of these things after my decease” (2 Peter 1:13-15). Peter was certain of what He believed and of God’s Word which he had followed (2 Peter 1:16-21).

I want to have the confidence of my salvation that Peter did. I rejoice that God has provided me with everything I need to make my redemption a certainty. Today, I will make my calling and election sure by striving to grow in these Christian virtues!

“You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen” (2 Peter 3:17-18). o

12/16/18 “Humbling Ourselves under the Mighty Hand of God” (Daily Bible Reading: I Peter 3-5)

“Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7).

Remember Pharaoh’s words: “Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice…?”? Pharaoh’s pride brought great destruction upon himself and his people as God brought plague upon plague upon the Egyptians to show them His power (cf. Proverbs 16:18). Pride has been the ruin of many men and women over the centuries as they think to highly of themselves and not highly enough of God.

As the opening verses above indicate, Peter calls the Christians of his day to practice lives of humility (1 Peter 5:6). Unlike Pharaoh of old, these Christians were not being boastful, but were actually enduring great trials on behalf of Christ (cf. 1 Peter 1:6-7; 2:19-21; 4:12-13). However, the sin of pride could rear its ugly head and tempt them even in the midst of the trials they were enduring as they might begin to rely on themselves and resort to ungodly tactics to cope with these trials.

Peter reminds them of some important truths as they endure these trials. First, he reminds them of the “mighty hand of God” (1 Peter 5:6). As they faced the great challenges before them, they needed to remember that God is all-powerful. It is He that can deliver them. They were not to give into pride by looking to themselves for deliverance from these trials, but were to trust in God’s “mighty hand”!

Second, as he reminds them of God’s mighty hand, Peter encourages them to “humble yourselves” under God’s powerful hand. That was to be their focus. They were not to worry about HOW they were going to be delivered from these trials. They were to TRUST that God could do it. Their concern was to make sure they were walking humbly before God.

In his letter, Peter describes many areas in which we are to humble ourselves before God. We also humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand by not following after fleshly lusts and living honorably before our fellow man (1 Peter 2:11-12; 4:1-4). We are to humble ourselves before God by practicing love for one another (1 Peter 1:22-23; 1 Peter 4:8). Husbands and wives humble themselves before God by being submissive to one another, considerate of one another, and encouraging one another to follow God’s Will (1 Peter 3:1-7). These Christians were even to humble themselves before God by submitting to the government which was allowing them to be persecuted (1 Peter 2:13-17).

The final truth Peter reminds them about humbling themselves before God was that by doing so God will “exalt you in due time” (1 Peter 5-6). Their humility before God would be rewarded: “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5). As they were walking humbly before God, Peter encourages them to be “casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). God was mindful of their sufferings, cared about their sufferings, and would reward them for the humility they showed by trusting in Him as they endured their sufferings.

I acknowledge that pride can be a temptation not only during times in my life when I am enjoying prosperity, but also during times of trial when I might think to look to myself for all the answers. I rejoice that God’s hand is still “Mighty” and there is nothing He cannot do. I also rejoice that He cares for me. Today, I will humble myself under God’s mighty hand by taking heed to His commandments and looking forward to the day when because of His grace He chooses to exalt me!

“Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up” (James 4:10).

12/15/18 “A Living Hope” (Daily Bible Reading: James 5-1 Peter 2)

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5).

Can you imagine having to endure challenging times such as the death of a loved one, a serious illness, or a broken relationship without any hope for a better future? Hope is vital for us to have!

Remember the disciples’ reaction at the arrest of Jesus? They had all scattered and forsook Jesus (Matthew 26:56). Following the death of Christ, they did not believe the ladies who told them they had seen the resurrected Christ (Luke 24:11). They were acting as though they had no more hope. However, Peter ran to the tomb and saw that it was empty (Luke 24:12). Later, Jesus would appear to His disciples and their hope would be born again (John 20:19-20). They had a living hope!

As the opening verses above indicate, Peter was reminding the Christians to whom he was writing about the significance of the living hope we have. Peter knew the importance of hope because, following the death of Christ, he experienced times of no hope. He had left all to follow Christ (Mark 1:18); and, when Christ died, he thought his hopes for better times for Israel and for his future had died as well. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead had given him a living hope (1 Peter 1:3).

The hope we have as Christians is made possible because of the abundant mercy God has shown to us (1 Peter 1:3). Our hope is for an inheritance that is incorruptible, which can never be defiled, and is reserved in heaven for us (1 Peter 1:4). Our hope will be realized when Christ comes again to take us home, but till then we are kept by God’s power as we place our faith in Him (1 Peter 1:5).

Why is hope so important? Because this life is full of trials and sufferings we must endure. Without hope it is impossible to endure these. The Christians to whom Peter was writing were grieved by the various trials they faced (1 Peter 1:6). God was allowing them to experience these trials so that their faith could be shown to be genuine (1 Peter 1:7). Such faith is precious, even more precious than gold in the eyes of God. Likewise, as Christians, we should esteem the genuine faith of our fellow Christians as something which is very precious as well.

As they endured these trials Peter encourages them to cling to their living hope: “Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13). Clinging to their living hope as they looked forward to the 2nd coming of Christ would enable them to persevere though the trials they were enduring.

Hope is vital for the Christian life. The Hebrew writer describes it as the “anchor of the soul” and, as Christians, we have laid hold of it (Hebrews 6:18-19). I acknowledge that in this life I will face many trials, heartaches, and challenges. However, I praise God that, through the resurrection of His Son from the dead, He has given me a living hope to which to cling. Today, I will rest myself fully upon this living hope!

“For You are my hope, O Lord God; You are my trust from my youth. By You I have been upheld from birth; You are He who took me out of my mother's womb. My praise shall be continually of You” (Psalm 71:5-6).

12/14/18 “The Power of the Tongue” (Daily Bible Reading: James 2-4)

“My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body” (James 3:1-2).

Fire is both helpful and harmful. With fire we cook our food and heat our homes; however, if not probably controlled, fire can ruin the taste our food and burn down our homes! It is essential, therefore, to have a proper respect for fire and its power so that we use it to help and not to harm.

The way we use our tongues is described in a similar manner. Our tongues can be both harmful and helpful. As the opening verses above indicate, our tongues have the potential to be so destructive in nature that we are warned that many of us should not become teachers because being a teacher involves a lot of use of our tongues. James teaches important truths about the power contained in our tongues so we can take heed and make sure we are using our tongues to help and not to hurt.

First, James describes the difficulty of controlling the tongue. He writes about how we are able to control powerful animals like horses by using bridles and huge objects like ships by the use of a rudder (James 3:3-4). Mankind has been able to tame every kind of powerful animal (James 3:7). However, regarding a small object like our tongue such control is not easily obtained: “But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8). In fact, he says if one can control the tongue he is a perfect man who can not only control the tongue, but the whole body! Like fire, once it starts moving, the tongue is difficult to control.

Second, James warns us about the dangerous and deadly nature of the tongue. He states, “Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell” (James 3:5-6). If you are like me, you don’t have to think very hard to remember a time when you said something destructive that you wish you could have taken back. Our tongues are capable of causing great harm whether by cursing, gossiping, speaking evil of others or speaking thoughtlessly. Our tongues are described as fire which can leave a great trail of destruction down the path which it has gone!

Finally, the writer acknowledges the duplicity that can be found in our tongues. James says, “With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so” (James 3:9-10). Our tongues can be used for wonderful things such as praising God, teaching God’s Word, and encouraging and uplifting others; but, like fire that can both help and harm our tongues contain within it the power to destroy and harm.

My tongue is part of my body that God created for His glory (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). I should use it to honor God. However, I am aware that my tongue can be duplicitous as it is with many who both praise God with it and curse others. It also can be very destructive. I rejoice that God has given me a tongue, but, like fire, which must be controlled to be safely used, I must continually watch to keep my tongue under control. Today, I will strive to honor God by the way I use my tongue in my speech.

“But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man” (Matthew 15:18).

12/13/18 “Running with Endurance” (Daily Bible Reading: Hebrews 12- James 1)

“Therefore, we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1).

In some ways wouldn’t it be nice if living the Christian life was like running a 50-yard dash? You could just sprint that short distance, cross the finish line, and be done. However, it is not described as a 50-yard dash or even an 800-yard race. Instead, as the opening verses above describe, the Christian life is compared to a long-distance race and for this one needs to develop endurance.

In writing to the Hebrew Christians, the writer mentions that they were in need of endurance. He states, “For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise” (Hebrews 10:36). These Christians were in danger of giving up on the Christian faith and not finishing the race so the writer warns, “But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul” (Hebrews 10:39).

Keeping faith in God is essential to being able to have endurance (Hebrews 10:38). He defines what faith is: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Furthermore, he describes the essentiality of faith in our relationship with God: “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6). He then gives example upon example of those who endured living godly lives because they maintained faith in God (Hebrews 11:4-39). 

The Hebrew writer then describes the picture of these faithful witnesses encouraging us to continue to press on towards the finish line. They were able to reach the finish line because they were willing to let go of those things which could weigh them down as they ran the godly race and forsook those sins which could ensnare them (Hebrews 12:1). Earlier he describes how they died keeping the faith: “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:13-16).

Not only is this cloud of faithful witnesses encouraging us to keep running with endurance, but so is Jesus. He too is pictured as having crossed the finish line and is waiting for us to do the same. We are encouraged to keep our eyes fixed on Him as we run the Christian race. After Christ ran His race with endurance He sat down at the right hand of God (Hebrews 12:2). To help us run with endurance we need to continually reflect upon Christ: “For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls” (Hebrews 12:3).

I understand that the Christian race is not a sprint, but more like a long-distance marathon. As such, it is tempting to become weary and want to give up. Keeping faith is important to running this race (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:7). However, it is encouraging to have faithful witnesses and my Savior Jesus to spur me on to the finish line. Today, I will strive to run the Christians race with endurance!

“And you will be hated by all for My name's sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22).

12/12/18 “The Power of Blood of the Lamb” (Daily Bible Reading: Hebrews 9-11)

“But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:11-12).

From the very beginning of time, sacrifices to God have involved the shedding of blood. Abel offered an animal sacrifice, which involved the shedding of blood, which pleased God, while his brother Cain offered the fruit of the ground which God did not respect (Genesis 4:3-5; Hebrews 11:4). Throughout the Law of Moses, the priests offered animal sacrifices to God (Hebrews 8:3; 9:6-7). As the opening verses above indicate, eventually, Jesus offered His own blood as a sacrifice to God (Hebrews 9:11-12). What is the significance of Jesus’ blood as compared to the blood of animals and how should knowing this fact impact our lives as Christians?

Jesus’ blood was able to provide the remission of our sins which the blood of animals could not. When He instituted the Lord’s Supper Jesus said, “For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28). The Old Testament sacrifices were offered in faith looking forward to the day when Jesus would come and offer up His blood for the remission of the sins of mankind (Hebrews 10:1-2). However, those animal sacrifices did not have the power to remit sins. The Hebrew writer states: “But in those sacrifices, there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins” (Hebrews 10:3-4).

However, unlike the Old Testament priests who offered many animal sacrifices, Jesus offered His blood just once and accomplished what those sacrifices could not: the forgiveness of sins. The Hebrew writer states, “But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:12-14). There is great power in the blood of Jesus!

How should knowing the power of Jesus’ blood affect our lives as Christians? First, it gives us great boldness. The inspired writer notes, “Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:19-22). Second, it should give us motivation to hold fast the confession of our faith (Hebrews 10:23-25).

We are clearly warned not to consider blood of Christ a common thing (Hebrews 10:26-27, 29). The Hebrew Christians were in danger of doing this as they were considering leaving the Christian faith and returning back to the Jewish religion. The Hebrew writer warns them, “Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward” (Hebrews 10:35).

Remembering the significance of Jesus’ blood gives us great boldness to live the Christian life. I place my confidence in His blood to take away my sins. Today I rejoice that there is wonderful power in the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ!

“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7).

12/11/18 “Going on to Perfection” (Daily Bible Reading: Hebrews 6-8)

“Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits” (Hebrews 6:1-3)

How would you rate your spiritual maturity? Do you feel that you are growing in your understanding of God and His Will for your life or do you feel that your faith has become dull and you feel spiritual sluggish? What are the consequences of one’s failing to mature in the faith?

The Hebrew Christians were struggling with their faith and were considering giving up on Christianity (cf. Hebrews 3:12; 4:11; 10:35). Why? Part of the reason appears that they were enduring persecution for the cause of Christ, which was something they could not control (cf. Hebrews 12:4); but, a much larger reason was something they could control: they had failed to mature as Christians.

As the opening passage above indicates, the Hebrew writer encourages them to move beyond the basic teachings of the faith (e.g. repentance, faith, baptism, etc.) and “go on to perfection” (Hebrews 6:1-2). In the original language the word translated for us as “perfection” is “Teleiotes”. This does not mean “sinless perfection”. Rather “Teleiotes” is defined as “perfection; the state of the more intelligent moral and spiritual perfection”. The same word is translated as “perfection” in another passage in the book of Colossians: “But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection” (Colossians 3:14). The idea behind “perfection” is for one to become spiritually mature.

Though the Hebrew Christians had for some time embraced the faith, they had failed to grow in the faith. The inspired writer states, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:12-14).

The Hebrew writer had much more spiritually deeper things to reveal to them, such as Jesus being called by God as our High Priest after the order of Melchizedek, but could not because these things were “hard to explain” and they had become “dull of hearing” (Hebrews 5:10-11). These more challenging to understand spiritual truths could encourage the Hebrew Christians to have greater faith in God, but the writer had difficulty being able to reveal them because the Hebrew Christians refused to do their part in growing up and were acting as “babes” (Hebrews 5:13). Furthermore, the “solid food” or more challenging to understand spiritual truths could help these Christians to avoid temptation and evil as they exercised their senses to “discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14).

Am I able to handle spiritual “solid food” or do I still need to be spoon fed “spiritual baby food”? No matter how eloquent or dynamic a teacher or preacher may be, they cannot help me grow spiritually and help equip me with the tools I need to fight Satan if I do not do my part to invest the time and effort to grow spiritually. There is no shame in not understanding certain spiritual truths because I am a newer babe in Christ. The shame is when Christians fail to invest the time and effort to grow up. Today, as I seek to “go on to perfection” I will invest the time and effort I need to grow up in Christ!

“And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Hebrews 6:11-12).

12/10/18 “Holding Fast Our Confession” (Daily Bible Reading: Hebrews 3-5)

“Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession” (Hebrews 4:14).

When we became Christians, we made similar confessions as did Peter, who when asked whom he thought Jesus was said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16; cf. Romans 10:9-10). As Christians it is a daily challenge to continue to hold fast to this “good confession”.

God’s people have always struggled to remain faithful to Him. This is because Satan continues to seek to devour us (1 Peter 5:8). The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye and the pride of life are things which we must continue to put to death in our members (cf. 1 John 2:15-17; Romans 6:1-13). As the history of God’s people, who left the bondage of Egypt only to fall in the wilderness because of their unfaithfulness, shows, it is challenging to hold fast to our confession (cf. Hebrews 3:17-19).

What has God done for us to help us to “hold fast” our confession? First, He has given us His Word to guide us (Psalm 119:105). After writing that we should be diligent to enter into the rest which God has provided, the writer of the book of Hebrews states, “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

However, for God’s Word to impact our lives there is a major role we have to play. We have to place our faith in God’s Word to guide us! Regarding ancient Israel’s unfaithfulness to God, the Hebrew writer mentions that a major reason they were unfaithful to God was because they failed to believe God’s Word. He writes, “For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it” (Hebrews 4:2).

In addition, in order to help us “hold fast” our confession, God has given us His Son as our High Priest. In the Old Testament period, the High Priest would make sacrifices to God for the sins of the people (Hebrews 5:1). In this role the High Priest stood between God and the people whom he represented and could relate to with compassion because he understood their sins and weaknesses (Hebrews 5:2). As the opening verses above indicate, the Hebrew writer lists that we should hold fast our confession because Jesus is our High Priest in heaven (Hebrews 4:14).

Why should having Jesus as our High Priest encourage us to “hold fast” our confession? First, He paid the price for our sins by sacrificing Himself (Hebrews 7:27-28). Second, though He was God in the flesh (John 1:1, 14), as our High Priest Jesus can fully relate to our weaknesses. The Hebrew writer says, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). He has compassion on us when we fail (Hebrews 5:2). Finally, He provides aid to us as He continually intercedes on our behalf to God (Hebrews 2:18; 7:25). We should be greatly encouraged knowing that Jesus is on our side urging us to continue pressing on to the Heavenly goal where He is at God’s right hand (Hebrews 1:13; 10:12).

I acknowledge that holding fast to my confession is not easy. It is challenging as Satan and the world constantly seek to discourage me. However, today I rejoice that God is trying to help me as He has given me His Word, in which I choose to believe, to guide Me and His Son, who acts as my High Priest who died for me, and continues to encourage me even with my weaknesses and my failures!

“…Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).

12/9/18 “Being A Peacemaker” (Daily Bible Reading: Philemon 1 – Hebrews 2)

“I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains” (Philemon 10).

Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). Jesus wants us to be peacemakers. However, how does one go about being a peacemaker?

In his letter to a Philemon, we have a good example of how to go about being a peacemaker. Philemon had a slave named Onesimus (cf. Philemon 16) who had escaped from him and, perhaps, also stolen from him (cf. Philemon 18). Onesimus ran away to Paul where he became a Christian (cf. Philemon 10, 16), and began ministering to Paul while Paul was in prison (cf. Philemon 13). Paul did not feel it was right to have Onesimus serving him without Philemon’s consent. Paul acts as a peacemaker as he sends Onesimus back to Philemon with this letter (Philemon 12-14).

First, peacemakers respect the pain others are feeling from the conflict. Paul did not try to “force” peace upon Philemon. Although he could appeal to his authority as an apostle to try to get Philemon to forgive Onesimus, Paul did not (cf. Philemon 8). Paul wanted Philemon to allow Onesimus to keep serving him while he was in prison, but he did not want Philemon to have act out of compulsion, but to act voluntarily (Philemon 13-14). Being a peacemaker involves giving people time and space to sort through the feelings of pain they are experiencing because of the conflict they are having with another. They cannot be compelled to be at peace. They need to voluntarily choose peace.

Second, Paul appealed to Philemon to act out of love. When we are at conflict with others, we often act out of such ill motives as anger, wrath and even hate. Paul encourages Philemon to take the higher road and to be motivated to act out of love. Paul writes, “Therefore, though I might be very bold in Christ to command you what is fitting, yet for love's sake I rather appeal to you--being such a one as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ-- I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains” (Philemon 8-10). Not only do peacemakers not try to force peace, but they encourage the warring parties to be motivated to act out of love.

Third, the apostle helps Philemon to get a proper perspective. Again, when we are having a conflict, sometimes we lose all perspective. We become so focused on the pain we feel with the person with whom we are in conflict that we forget “the big picture”. Paul mentions to Philemon that perhaps God has been at work in this whole situation so that Onesimus may come back to Philemon, not just as a slave, but as a brother in Christ: “For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave--a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord” (Philemon 15-16).

Finally, Paul expresses his belief that Philemon will do the right thing. It is interesting to note that Paul does not chastise Philemon in this letter to him. He doesn’t come across as condemning Philemon for the anger he feels. Instead, he gently encourages Philemon. Paul writes, “Yes, brother, let me have joy from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in the Lord. Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say” (Philemon 1:20-21).

Today, I will learn from this short letter of Paul to Philemon that in being a peacemaker I need to have patience with the feelings of others, encourage them to act out of love, help them to regain a proper perspective, and let them know my belief in them to do the right things as they follow Christ!

“If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18). 2F12

12/8/18 “The Transforming Power of God’s Grace” (Daily Bible Reading: Titus 1-3)

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works” (Titus 2:11-14).

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind, but now I see”. God’s grace is amazing and should transform our lives.

As the opening passage above indicates, the apostle Paul speaks of how God’s grace should transform our lives. It certainly had transformed Paul’s life. Paul had gone from one who was breathing threats and murder as he had persecuted Christ and His church (Acts 9:1; 8:1-3) to one who had given his life for the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ (1 Timothy 1:12-16; Acts 9:15-16; 2 Corinthians 11:23-28). What led to this great transformation in Paul’s life was God’s grace at work in Paul’s life? Regarding his transformation, Paul told Timothy, “And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 1:14).

How should God’s grace transform us? First, the grace of God teaches us that we are to let go of certain practices. His grace teaches us that we are to be “denying ungodliness and worldly lusts” (Titus 1:12). God did not extend to us His grace so that we could use it as a crutch to persist in living like the world in the practice of sin. Paul wrote, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it” (Romans 6:1-2)? While facing temptation and succumbing to occasional sin is something Christians will continue to struggle with on this earthly sojourn (James 1:12-15; 1 John 1:7-9), it is by no means something we should allow ourselves to continue to seek to practice (1 John 2:15-17)! 

Secondly, God’s grace teaches us how to live. Not only does God’s grace teach us to let go of the practice of sin, but also that we “should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age” (Titus 2:12). God’s grace gives meaning to our lives. We are not to live just to have a career, buy a bunch of material goods, or just enjoy a family. God’s grace has called us to a much higher purpose. God’s grace teaches us that we have been asked by God to live lives that take our service to Him seriously as we strive to live godly so that we may glorify Him on our earthly pilgrimage (Matthew 5:13-16).

Finally, the grace of God teaches us as to what we are to look forward. As Christians we are to look forward too much more than our seeing our children graduate college, spending time with our grandchildren, or enjoying the years of retirement from our jobs. God’s grace teaches us that we are to be “looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). We are to keep our eyes focused on going home to be with God!

God’s grace teaches me to let go of sin, live godly in this present age, and to look forward to going home to be with my Savior! I do not want to take God’s grace for granted. Today, I will allow God’s grace to teach me and to transform my life!

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:1-2).

12/7/18 “Sharing in the Sufferings” (Daily Bible Reading: 2 Timothy 1-4)

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. Therefore, do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God” (2 Timothy 1:7-8).

Do you enjoy experiencing suffering? Generally, we do all that we can so we do not have to endure suffering. We take medications to relieve us when we feel pain and often we try to avoid situations such as strenuous work or exercise which will lead us to having sore muscles.

However, how do we feel about having to suffer for the cause of Christ? Do we avoid this like we avoid other types of suffering? Do we fail to stand up for God’s truth as revealed in the Bible because we don’t want to have to endure persecution from others? As the opening passage above describes, Paul was encouraging Timothy to “share with me in the sufferings for the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:8). It appears Timothy struggled with doing this because Paul reminds Timothy that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7).

It is understandable for Timothy to not want to have to suffer. However, enduring suffering is one of the challenges that all soldiers of Christ must face. Paul told Timothy, “You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier” (2 Timothy 2:3-4).

Paul had endured much suffering for the cause of Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:23-28). As he writes to Timothy, he is in a Roman prison cell uncertain if he will be released. He believed the time of his departure from this earthly life was at hand (2 Timothy 4:6). How was he able to endure this suffering? He had committed himself and his care completely to God. Paul states, “For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless, I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day” (2 Timothy 1:12). Paul knew that he had been faithful to Christ and, regardless of what fate awaited him regarding his earthly existence, he knew what was awaiting him in Heaven. He wrote, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

As strong as Paul’s faith in God was, he still needed encouragement from his brethren. He needed them to share in his sufferings (2 Timothy 1:8). One brother in Christ named Onesiphorous had done precisely that. Paul writes, “The Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain; but when he arrived in Rome, he sought me out very zealously and found me” (2 Timothy 1:16-17). Onesiphorous had sought Paul out and did what he could to refresh Paul while he was in chains for the gospel of Christ.

Jesus suffered for us. Part of living the Christian life is experiencing suffering for the cause of Christ. If Jesus faced suffering so must we as His followers (Matthew 10:24-25). However, we do not have to experience suffering alone. Jesus promises to be with us in the midst of our suffering (2 Timothy 4:16-17) and we can be there for one another to “share” “in the sufferings for the gospel”. Today, I am willing to endure sufferings for the cause of Christ and will do what I can to share in the sufferings of those who stand up for the gospel of Christ by upholding them and refreshing them!

“Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12).

12/6/18 “The Love of Money” (Daily Bible Reading: 1 Timothy 3-6)

“But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Timothy 6:9-10).

According to the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries, at the end of the fiscal year 2012, U.S. lottery ticket sales totaled over 78 billion dollars. Why do people purchase lottery tickets? They hope to “strike it rich”.

Is there anything inherently evil about money? No, money is simply a tool. However, the love of money is the problem. As the opening verses above indicate, the love of money creates a lot of problems for us and is a temptation we should acknowledge and of which we should beware.

The apostle Paul speaks about those who desire to be rich “fall into temptation and a snare” (1 Timothy 6:9).  The love of money can entrap us. Furthermore, Paul adds that the love of money will “drown men in destruction and perdition” as they give “into many foolish and harmful lusts” (1 Timothy 6:9). Those who become consumed with greediness will soon find that they harm themselves as the pierce “themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Timothy 6:10). The consuming desire for wealth will cause some to stray from the faith (1 Timothy 6:10).

It is interesting that Paul describes the love of money as “a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10). Normally, the root of a plant grows deep into the ground to get the nourishment the plant needs to thrive and grow. However, in describing the self-destructive desire of greed, Paul describes it as a root growing in the ground that is providing “all kinds of evil” for the owner of it. Instead of providing nourishment for the well-being of its owner, it is providing poison for the destruction of its owner! 

How do we prevent giving into this powerful temptation of “the love of money”? We must learn to be content. In fact, learning contentment is described as “great gain”! Paul writes, “Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content” (1 Timothy 6:6-8). Learning contentment is not easy in a society which measures success in the amount of money one has and constantly bombards us with advertisements telling us we must have the latest gadget!

Is there anything necessarily wrong with having material prosperity? No, there are many Christians, who have learned contentment, but still have been materially blessed by God. They have been given a wonderful opportunity to serve others, but need to understand the temptation that wealth can bring. Paul adds, “Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life” (1 Timothy 6:17-19).

I acknowledge that living in the midst of such a prosperous nation as the United States, the love of money is a powerful temptation. Today, I will fight this temptation by learning to be content!

“Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things, I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need” (Philippians 4:11-12).

12/5/18 “Thankful for My Ministry” (Daily Bible Reading: 2 Thess. 3 – 1 Timothy 2)

“And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 1:12-14).

What is your particular ministry? Have you made the time and effort to discover the particular way you may minister to others in the church and in the world (cf. Ephesians 4:11-16)? Some may be preachers, Bible class teachers, building maintainers, encouragers, gospel sharers, elders or deacons. There are a host of possible ministries in which we may be involved.

If you have discovered your ministry, how do you feel about it? If you have been involved in ministry for a long time it is possible that you are growing weary in carrying it out. The apostle Paul warns, “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (Galatians 6:10). For example, if you have been teaching a Bible class for years, it is possible that you become weary of getting ready every Sunday morning to prepare to teach it.

How do we prevent growing weary in our ministry? In the opening passage above, Paul gives us a key of how to cure this: We can keep a proper perspective on continuing to serve in our particular ministry by remembering to be thankful for our ministry. As a Christians, we are told, “In everything give thanks…” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Our practicing thankfulness helps keep a proper perspective.

Why should we be thankful for our ministry? First, remember from where you came. Paul writes, “although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man…” (1 Timothy 1:13). As Christians, each of us came from a background where we were lost in sin (Romans 3:23; 6:23). God has taken us from that lost position, saved us from our sins through the blood of His Son Jesus Christ (Matthew 26:28), and elevated us to being allowed to serve in our particular ministry!

Furthermore, we should be thankful for our ministry because of what God has given to us. First, he has shown us His mercy by not punishing us for our sins. Paul adds, “…but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief” (1 Timothy 1:13). Second, God has shown each of us and exceedingly abundant measure of His grace. Paul writes, “And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 1:14).

Recalling everything that God has done for us, helps us to be thankful for the privilege of being able to serve God in our particular ministry. Paul concludes by saying, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life” (1 Timothy 1:15-16).

I realize there is a temptation for me to grow weary in carrying out my particular ministry for the Lord. I can get tired of carrying it out and can become discouraged when I feel unappreciated. However, I can combat these negative feelings by practicing the attitude of gratitude. Today, I choose to remember to be thankful that God has enabled me to have my particular ministry because He has overlooked my past failures and shown to me His exceeding mercy and grace!

“Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, And into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name” (Psalm 100:4).

12/4/18 “Looking Forward to Going Home” (Daily Bible Reading: 1 Thess. 5- 2 Thessalonians 2)

“Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2).

There is something special about going home. With my job I travel out of state a couple of days per week and I always look forward to the day I come home to my family. Once a year, I typically make it a point to travel to Georgia where I grew up to see my dad and my siblings. Home is a special place!

As Christians, we should look forward to going to our Heavenly Home to be with God and our fellow saints. Just before He left them, Jesus told His disciples, “In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:2-3). It is fitting for those who follow Christ to look forward to the time when He will come again to take us home!

However, can one spend too much time, energy, and effort in looking forward to going to our Heavenly Home? As strange as it may sound, the answer is “yes”. Perhaps, because of all the persecution they faced (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:6; 2:14), the Christians at the church at Thessalonica placed a heavy emphasis upon going to their Heavenly Home. In fact, some of them had quit their jobs in anticipation of the Lord coming again at any moment to take them home (cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:7-10, 11). Furthermore, there were some that were falsely teaching that the Lord had come already (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2).

With the 2 letters he writes to the church at Thessalonica, the apostle Paul takes time to teach them regarding the Lord’s Second Coming. He teaches them that the Lord’s coming will come suddenly without notice or warning as a thief in the night (1 Thessalonians 5:1-3). Jesus’ coming was not imminent because there would be a falling away first and the son of perdition would be revealed (2 Thessalonians 2:3-10). When Christ comes, the trumpet of the Lord will sound, the dead in Christ will rise first, and those faithful Christians who remain on earth will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. Paul writes, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).

Thinking about going home to be with the Lord is a source of great comfort to Christians (1 Thessalonians 4:18). It is a time when we receive from the Lord the rest which He has promised to us who faithfully follow Him (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10). We are to be watchful and be ready so that the Second Coming of the Lord does not take us by surprise (1 Thessalonians 5:4-8). However, we are not to consume ourselves with looking for “signs” of His coming, but rather are to devote ourselves to faithfully serving Him and glorifying Him by our lives (Mark 10:43-45; Matthew 5:13-16). While others may look for signs of Jesus’ 2nd coming as they look at the latest headlines in the news, I will be watchful of the Lord’s Second Coming by continuing in faithful service to Him. Jesus said, “Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes” (Luke 12:43).

“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23).

12/3/18 “Not Shaken by These Afflictions” (Daily Bible Reading: 1 Thessalonians 1-4)

“Therefore, when we could no longer endure it, we thought it good to be left in Athens alone, and sent Timothy, our brother and minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith, that no one should be shaken by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this” (1 Thessalonians 3:1-3).

Job said, “Man who is born of woman is of few days and full of trouble” (Job 14:1). Troubles are the common lot of everyone who has inhabited this earth. We all face our share of afflictions. How do we handle these challenges? Do they have a negative or positive impact upon our faith in God?

As the opening passage above indicates, when the apostle Paul wrote to the Christians at the church in Thessalonica, he had concerns that the afflictions faced by the Christians there would negatively impact their faith. Why did Paul have these concerns? He understood the power afflictions can have upon turning people away from God. Remember, it was Jesus, Who, when He taught the Parable of the Sower, described the seed which fell among thorns by saying, “But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles” (Matthew 13:20-21).

From its beginning the church at Thessalonica had faced persecution. Shortly after the church was established there, a mob had set the city in an uproar and accused Paul and other Christians saying, “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too” (Acts 17:6). Paul and Silas had to flee for their lives by night and leave the city (Acts 17:10). Before he left Paul had warned the Christians at Thessalonica that they too would suffer tribulation (1 Thessalonians 3:4).

Paul now desperately wants to know how they are holding up under this affliction. Do they have root in themselves or, are they like the stony soil of which Jesus spoke, whose faith withers away under persecution because of the Word (cf. Matthew 13:20-21)? When he can no longer endure waiting for this answer, Paul sends Timothy to see how they are doing (1 Thessalonians 3:1-2, 5).

What does Paul find out from Timothy’s report? Timothy reports to Paul that these Christians are holding up well in their afflictions. Paul writes, “But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always have good remembrance of us, greatly desiring to see us, as we also to see you” (1 Thessalonians 3:6). In fact, this report greatly encourages Paul in his faith: “Therefore, brethren, in all our affliction and distress we were comforted concerning you by your faith. For now, we live, if you stand fast in the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 3:7-8).

All of us will face our share of adversity. The question is, “How will I let these afflictions affect me?” Will I let them cause my faith in God to wither as did the seed which fell among the stony soil or will I persevere through these afflictions and not only allow them to cause me to cling more tightly to my faith in God, but also result in my being an encouragement to the faith of others as well? These Christians at Thessalonica were not shaken by these afflictions and even encouraged Paul in his efforts to keep up the faith as well as he endured his own share of persecutions. Today, like the Christians in Thessalonica I will strive to not be shaken by these afflictions! 

“And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4).

12/2/18 “Delivered from the Power of the Dark Side” (Daily Bible Reading: Colossians 1-4)

“He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14).

My youngest daughter was and is a huge fan of the “Star Wars” movies. She must have watched them over and over again for what seems like a hundred times. Many of us remember hearing James Earl Ray’s powerful voice as Darth Vader as he says to his son Luke Skywalker, “You don’t know the power of the dark side. I must obey my master”.

Jesus spoke about the power of the dark side as he spoke about the power temptation and sin has in our lives. He said, “"The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 5:22-23). Moreover, Jesus adds how the dark side can overtake us and become our master when we let sin dominate our lives: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 5:24).

However, as the opening passage above indicates, as Christians we can rejoice because we have been delivered from the power of the dark side. Paul describes how, through Christ, we have been taken away from the power of darkness and conveyed into the kingdom of God’s Son (Colossians 1:13). We no longer have to say as did Darth Vader, “You don’t know the power of the dark side. I must obey my master” because we have been delivered from the master of sin and darkness.

God is described as being full of light. The apostle John writes, “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). As we follow God, we are described as “walking in the light”. Moreover, John adds, “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” (1 John 1:7). We are richly blessed to not have to grope about in the darkness unsure of where we are going. We have the assurance of knowing God is lighting the way for us to go through our journey of this earthly life.

However, we are warned that the dark side is still pulling at us. Temptation and sin are strong forces which Satan uses to pull us to come back to him. Again, the apostle John uses the sin of hate as an example of the power the dark side can exert in our lives if we give ourselves over to it: “He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 John 2:9-11). The dark side is ever at work seeking to become master once again of our lives!

Paul encourages us to remember to walk as children of light: “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8). I realize I am blessed to be delivered from the power of darkness. Today, I will rejoice and walk as a child of light!

“Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life’” (John 8:12).

12/1/18 “Selfish Ambition” (Daily Bible Reading: Philippians 2-4)

“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).

“What about me?” This was a statement my wife and I often heard from one of our children when one of them got a gift, but the other did not. Eventually, both of them learned to share with each other and be happy when others, beside themselves, got gifts; but, it was interesting to hear them be consumed with their own self-interest at this early stage of their lives.

However, do some of us struggle with never outgrowing this selfish ambition that seems to begin in childhood and permeates throughout our society? Previously, many of us remember the “Me generation” of the 1960’s and 70’s and the focus on “Looking out for #1”. Man has been struggling with selfish ambition since the Garden of Eden. When Eve told Satan, she was not to partake of the forbidden fruit lest she die, Satan appealed to her selfish ambition by saying, “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 allowed her selfish ambition to lead her astray as she succumbed to this temptation by the devil. Our selfish ambition can cause us to sin against God as we trample over others on our way to the top, place our individual wills above God’s Will, and remove any sense of purpose from our lives as we become consumed with pleasing only ourselves.

In the opening verses above, the apostle Paul describes how the Christian life is lived just the opposite. Instead of doing things out of selfish ambition, we are to set aside our ambitions to serve others. Rather than being conceited and consumed with thinking about ourselves, we are to esteem others and be mindful of them. Our focus is not to just be on “looking out for #1”, but rather looking out for the interests of others (Philippians 2:3-4).

Paul then gives us the perfect example for us to follow regarding this way of thinking. Jesus led the way and gave us an example to emulate. Paul writes, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:5-8). Christ did not look out for Himself, He looked out for us. Jesus was not consumed with His own interests, He was consumed with looking out for His Father’s interest and for our interest (John 4:34; Luke 19:10). He was so committed to this that He went to the cross to endure the penalty for our sins (Isaiah 53:5-6).

God rewarded His Son for His selflessness: “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11). I do not want to let selfish ambition ruin my life. Today, I will follow Christ example of selflessness and focus on looking out for others in my service to God!

“And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:44-45). p

11/30/18 “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).

11/29/18 “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). s-.21.724-.78.