Monday, June 28, 2010
On the other hand, only grace can overcome sin. Once one identifies with Christ, it is the constant flow of grace into our lives that teaches us to say no to sin. When we live under grace, God is our master and we desire to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives.
Paul concludes today's reading by stating, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (verse 23) This pretty much sums it all up! The payment for sin is eternal separation from God (i.e., death). However, God has given us a gift (grace). This gift, if we choose to accept it, will allow us to have eternal life with God.
The gift of grace is truly priceless. Friends, please remember the Jesus physically died, and we will physically die. Jesus was resurrected and we will be resurrected. Jesus lives forever in the presence of God and we will live forever in the presence of God. Accept the gift of grace. Accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Let Jesus be your master.
Wishing you the best in your walk with Christ.
Friday, June 25, 2010
Today's reading gives us a great reason to pop out of the black hole of cynicism. In a nutshell, Paul tells us that while Adam's sin took us all down, the grace of God through Jesus Christ has the exponential power of raising all the more of us up. Sin - Bad. God's grace - exponentially better. Pretty simple. Hard to be cynical over that one.
When I think about those I know who are not just social cynics but who seem to be cynical to the core, they are typically not Christians. Or at least not practicing Christians. That is because not believing in the grace of God through Jesus Christ is a life of no hope. That's when you actually live your cynicism. I am just not interested in that kind of life.
Instead, as Paul tells us in today's reading, we have more than hope. We have God's promise of a life without end. He does not promise that our life on earth won't be trouble free. But he promises eternity. That sounds so much better to me than a life moping around the water cooler.
Thursday, June 24, 2010
Of course, none of us have our act together.
So what does that mean for us as Christians, those who would choose to follow in Jesus’s footsteps? Well, Paul writes that since “we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! (10)” So through Jesus’s death, he shows us how to live. And that means that we, as Christians, must die to ourselves, must sacrifice of ourselves, in order to love and serve sinners. We aren’t just serving the men and women who have it all together, who are righteous and good and contribute to society. God calls us to die for jerks, for petty people, for mean people, for selfish people. He calls us to die for the lost, the abandoned, the needy—those whom the rest of the world looks over. God died for all of us, sinners. As Christians, we aren’t serving those whom the rest of the world panders to and looks out for. We are searching out those whom have fallen through the nooks and crannies of society. We are loving the unloveable and the looked over. It will make us uncomfortable. It will push us out of our comfort zones. It isn’t easy. But dying never is, and only out of death can come new life.
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
I knew a person that told me they wouldn’t go to church but that it’s good for other people to go so they could learn to do what’s right. I think that this statement neglects the importance of faith that Romans 4:14 talks about. Our promise in Heaven is only true when we have faith in Christ.
This is something that I really need to be aware of when working at the church. Sometimes I catch myself planning events that don’t really work on developing relationships with Christ. Other times I have to review a talk and realize that the message was more about “doing the right thing” than it was about Christ. When I go about leading this summer my goal will be to help the youth grow in their faith and realize the promise that Christ has for us.
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Criticism has unfortunately become a huge part of our culture. I think that criticism of others usually makes one feel better about their own short comings. Just look at how popular the show "American Idol" is. The most popular episodes of that show are the ones where bad auditionees come on stage and perform HORRIBLY. People LOVE watching it, and people love criticizing them. Even the uplifting TV show “The Biggest Loser” causes American’s to sit on their couch and judge as morbidly obese people attempt to run on the treadmill or hike up a mountain. No one escapes this sink hole—we are all guilty. But people wonder why so many kids are depressed?! Being critical of others is not following in God's footsteps. It is not loving your neighbor as yourself. It is not the way God intended us to exist with each other. I think that the wonders of modern medicine have blinded us to some of the real problems that exist in our society--if we stopped picking on each other and started lifting each other up, there would be no more need for prozac or wellbutrin. If television shows became geared toward human accomplishment and not human shortcomings, the world would be a happier place.
“God pays no attention to what others say (or what you think) about you. He makes up his own mind.” Romans 2:11
When I finished this reading, the above quote brought me a lot of comfort. Yes, people are critical, and yes, people are mean. But God doesn’t care what labels you wear, or what other people place on you. God loves you for the person you are when no one is looking. Because when no one is looking, you have God’s undivided attention.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
I sometimes feel like I have a hard time saying that and being completely honest with myself. There are certain people I’m uncomfortable discussing my faith with. Around them it’s difficult for me to be open with my belief that Jesus Christ made me perfect when He died for my sins.
One example of this is with the guys on my ultimate Frisbee team at school. Of thirty men, I’m the only one that attends church. I enjoy playing ultimate and their company but they are not always eager to hear about “religious things.” When I’m around them then it is sometimes difficult for me to discuss why I act the way I do or why I missed practice because I was leading a middle school Bible study. I think this might be something that other people might struggle with too.
Sometimes I say that I don’t want to turn them away from Christ by appearing judgmental but other times I’m simply too scared to talk about it. I’m afraid that my teammates, friends I see on a regular basis, will judge me because of Christ.
I know this is not what God calls us to do and I think that the beginning of this passage makes it easier to step up and proclaim what Jesus means to us. Paul is not ashamed of the gospel because the gospel has power. Through faith in what the gospel says God grants us salvation. We get to spend the rest of time in perfection with God in heaven because of what the gospel says. Life-everlasting is something that I’m not ashamed of having and is something that I want for my friends. This verse reminds me of the power that God has and encourages me to be open in discussing that with others.
Monday, June 14, 2010
This encouragement is often challenging; oftentimes my friends will tell me things that I do not want to hear. Yet, I am so grateful for my friends who ask me, as a part of everyday conversation—“How are things with God going? What’s new in your faith life?” And although sometimes it irks me, I do appreciate the reminders—“Have you been reading your Bible? What have you found interesting? What have you been learning about God lately?”
I think a lot of Christians feel that they know pretty much all there is to know about God—we’ve been reading our Bibles our whole lives, going to Church, attending Bible studies. We don’t need other people to challenge us and our preconceived notions, our established conceptions of what God is and of what faith looks like. Somehow, God comes to be an ‘easy’, ‘comfortable’ notion.
It’s a trap that’s easy to fall into, and it strikes me as a pretty foolish view. God, after all, is so incredibly BIG- He is so beyond our comprehension, and His goodness and love are so all-encompassing, so infinite… it often seems to me that our little human brains could only ever gain a fraction of understanding in this mortal lifetime.
And that’s one of the reasons mutual encouragement is so important. To encourage us so that we don’t lose heart, yes, that’s important. But also to remind us that God is big and we have much to learn, and to encourage us not to stagnate in our faith and our knowledge, but to be the dynamic, ever-questioning, ever-learning sons and daughters that God created us to be.
Saturday, June 12, 2010
If you haven’t learned how to celebrate you haven’t truly learned to trust God. Those who truly trust in Him take the time to celebrate what He is doing. Believers in Christ should not be unsmiling workaholics. They have learned to accomplish great tasks while still being able to enjoy life. Sometimes we accomplish a task only to find that we have become consumed by it, and so we cannot celebrate it.
Nehemiah was a leader who not only knew how to work, he knew how to celebrate. As he led his people to celebrate after they had finished the wall around Jerusalem he teaches us some important lessons in celebration.
Celebration grows out of worship.
Worship is one of the vital keys to personal joy. In the Old Testament they regularly celebrated in festivals and special Sabbath days. They intentionally built into their lives opportunities to celebrate God.
Celebration should be fun.
Sacred does not equal sad. Enjoyment, after all, is God's idea. And so Nehemiah includes in his celebration a great feast. There should be no one in this world who has a better time celebrating than those who know Jesus as their savior. We have something to REALLY celebrate!
The result of celebration is strength.
The joy of the Lord is our strength. Far from sapping our strength for “more important things,” celebration actually gives us the real strength we need to endure. Some people have the attitude, “Let’s wait until we get to heaven to celebrate. Right now we have work to do.” The problem with that is it doesn’t take into account the way God has made us. We need to celebrate what He has done in order to receive the strength to do what He wants us to do. If you feel like your spiritual gas tank is empty here’s your one word prescription:
Family Discussion Question: What has God done in your lives this last year that you need to celebrate? Personalise this devotion guide by taking time to individually write down your “celebration list” on the last page of this guide. If you have children that cannot write, ask them to tell you what to write for them.
Children’s Activity: Cut up some confetti or get some streamers, read John 3:16 and then throw them into the air to celebrate what God has done.
Friday, June 11, 2010
“When one of them saw that he was healed, he went back to Jesus, praising God in a loud voice. Then he bowed down at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. (And this man was a Samaritan.) Jesus said, ‘Weren’t ten men healed? Where are the other nine?’” Luke 17:15-17 (NCV)
Only one in ten took time to tell Jesus thank you. Jesus asked a striking question, “Where are the other nine.” Indeed, where had they gone. What were they doing that was so important that they did not have time to thank the one that saved them from leprosy? Let’s imagine where the “other nine” might have been for a moment. The purpose is not to condemn them, but to recognise that we might easily have been among them.
One of the “other nine” might have been hurrying to the temple to complete the legal requirements that went along with such a healing. So focused on keeping the rules and getting things done in the right order that he did not have time to stop and say thank you.
Another was just following the crowd. If the majority had turned back to tell Jesus thank you, he would have gladly followed. It would have never occurred to him to do something other than what “the others” were doing. Those who take the time to say thank you are those who stand above the crowd, not simply with the crowd.
One of the nine might have been afraid to go back. Someone with the power to heal his leprosy might also use that power to give him leprosy again. He might have felt that he didn’t really deserve so great a blessing. What if he said or did the wrong thing and Jesus found him out for who he really was.
A few of the nine might have felt embarrassed to go back. As a leper he’d been used to thinking of himself as a useless outcast. What difference would his word of thanks make to a powerful public figure like Jesus.
Odds are that all of us find ourselves amidst “the others” at times. Today take some time to be “the one” who tells Jesus and tells others “thank you for what you’ve done.”
Family Discussion Question: What have you “forgotten” to thank God for?
Thursday, June 10, 2010
“Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” 2 Cor 9:15 (NIV)
Let me call your attention to the most important “thanksgiving” we have to offer. We should give the greatest thanks for our greatest gifts. The Bible reminds us that the gift of Jesus Christ is so great it is beyond description.
Thanks for that great a gift demands more than a card or a few words. Thanks to Jesus is given as we give our lives back to Him. Give Jesus your past, depending on Him for forgiveness and freedom. Give Jesus your present, trusting in His direction for today. Give Jesus your future, count on Him for the hope that you need.
Family Activity: Have each person in the family give a gift of thanks to Jesus.
Wednesday, June 09, 2010
“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his.” Dan 2:20 (NIV)
The Bible tells us that Daniel was one of the wisest men who has ever walked this planet. Even a quick look at his life reveals that one of the secrets to that wisdom was his everyday decision to give praise to God. Intelligence and knowledge without praise add up to pride. It is when we add praise to the mix that God’s wisdom begins to emerge. In Daniel chapter two we see in Daniel’s example three specific ways to praise God:
Praise God for His Character - “Wisdom and Power are Yours”
Tell God, “Your love is great, Your faithfulness is wonderful, Your decisions are perfect.” One of the healthiest things we can do is praise Him for who He is.
Praise God for what He is doing to YOUR Character
“You have given ME wisdom and power!”
Praise God for His Actions in History
Daniel 9:15 says, “Do it again, Lord.” That’s pure praise: rejoicing in God’s power in the past and recognising God’s power in the present.
God’s greatest action in history was the giving of His son. 1 Corinthians 1 calls the crucifixion of Christ foolishness to the world, but to us the wisdom of God. The cross is where God shows His wisdom and power to the world today. We have a picture in our minds of getting wisdom by visiting a holy man on top of some far off hill. As if someone who is detached from the world is the person who has all of the answers? Wisdom IS found on a hill, but the hill is called Calvary. It is not found in someone who is detached from us, but where God identified Himself with all in the world. Want to see wisdom? Look at the cross. Praise God for what He did for you on the cross.
Prayer: Thank You Lord, for the love that you showed for me on the cross. Let the truth that you will love me no matter what guide my decisions and my actions today.
Tuesday, June 08, 2010
We all know how a Christmas turkey fills our stomachs. How does living gratefully fill our lives? What does thanksgiving DO to us? To understand the result of thanksgiving you need only look as far as the objects of thanksgiving. What we’re thankful for becomes the faith focus of our lives. If we’re not thankful at all we end up living a faith without focus. Thanksgiving has the power to bring God’s perspective and focus to our everyday lives!
When I thank God for his blessings it impacts my attitudes.
We all know what it’s like to be around the person who thinks the world “owes them something.” That kind of thinking fills a person with ingratitude and bitterness. What about the person who recognises through thanksgiving the wonderful truth that God has “given them everything.” That’s the person with the truly magnetic personality. The attraction is in their attitude of continuous joy. You cannot find that attitude in our world apart from thanksgiving.
When I thank God for His Character it impacts my character!
Thankful people become holy people. As you thank God for His patience you develop endurance. As you thank Him for his unfailing love you’ll grow an ability to love even the unloveliest, to love even in the worst of times. As you thank Him for His grace you develop a giving attitude. Praise not only pleases God, it changes us!
When I thank God for His Son it gives me a new sense of security and victory.
The results of the gift of Jesus are staggering, truly “indescribable.” Thankfulness is the proclamation of our trust in the truth that Jesus loved us and gave His life for us. When your faith focus becomes Jesus Christ then your life focus becomes victory!
Family Discussion Question: What character quality of God would you like thank God especially for this thanksgiving week?
Monday, June 07, 2010
“Thank you.” Those two words are incredibly significant and deeply spiritual.
One of the greatest skills we can develop in life is the skill of saying thank you. Nehemiah had obviously developed this skill. In chapter 3 of this book there are 3 important lessons about saying a simple “thanks.”
Recognise the person. Say their name when you’re saying thanks. A thank you is a wonderful opportunity to let another person know how important they are to you. Also, be specific about what they have done. It’s one thing to say, “Thanks for dinner.” It’s better to be more specific, “Thanks for cooking the sauerkraut just the way I like it.”
The best words of thanks recognise not only an action but the heart behind the action. Jesus showed this kind of recognition when he noticed a child’s humility, a widow who gave two mites, a woman who poured perfume on his feet. How encouraging it was to people as He looked beyond the bare bones of their actions to see and recognise the valuable attitudes of their hearts.
Find ways to invite your mind to think about those whom you might want to thank. It bothers me that I often rush through life without taking time to thank those who have meant the most to me. Does that also bother you? I have a question written on my weekly schedule to force me to think about thanking people: “What 5 people will I write a note of encouragement to this week?” You might try something like this to help you to mentally search out those whom you want to thank.
Family discussion question: Who do you need to write a note of thanks to today? Take a minute right now to thank each person in your family for something they have done recently? Be specific. Be sensitive.
Sunday, June 06, 2010
Understanding the right ingredients is all important! Heloise wrote in her “hints” column that that best way to cook a moist turkey was to, “Put a cup of water in the cavity of the turkey, cover with tin foil and bake.” A reader wrote back to complain. “The turkey came out fine, but the plastic cup in the turkey melted!” Imagining that person trying to squeeze that cup into that turkey reminds us that directions must be specific! What are God’s specific directions for developing a thankful heart? What are the ingredients that result in thanksgiving?
Here’s your “Thanksgiving recipe.”
Recognize God’s grace
When was the last time you sent your boss a thank you note for that month’s check? Of course you don’t, you don’t generally thank someone for what you earned. That’s why recognition of God’s grace is such an important ingredient of thankfulness. When we recognise that all we have is a gift from Him it makes us into grateful people.
Understand God’s righteousness
“Righteousness” means that God ALWAYS does what is right. Beginning to get a glimmer of how righteousness ties in with thanksgiving? Sometimes life doesn’t feel like a gift - doesn’t look all pretty with a bright bow on top. Thankfulness results from the knowledge that God is righteous. When life seems to have been unfair, when it seems when it seems to have cheated you, remember that God is righteous. His purpose will reign in the end.
Thank God with other people
Of course you can and should give thanks all alone. But the truth is: if you don’t have a place to give thanks with others you’ll soon stop giving thanks at all. You need to hear others give thanks. You need to share what God’s doing in your life with others. Thankfulness is like bananas... it grows best in bunches.
Family Activity: Start making a “Thanksgiving List” today, see how many things you can write down. Try to fill several pages.
Saturday, June 05, 2010
“But remember this--if you give little, you will get little. A farmer who plants just a few seeds will get only a small crop, but if he plants much, he will reap much.” 2 Cor 9:6 (TLB)
I'd like to suggest that we desperately need to give more and grow more in our lives and our families: the give and grow. Paul's advice to us is simple, found in a two word command and a two word promise.
The command? Plant much! The promise? Reap much! It's the simplest addition: few = small, much = much. It's the simplest agriculture: if you plant a lot of seed you can expect a large harvest. How do we sow with our lives? We can give ourselves in hospitality: opening our home in order to meet people's needs. Or how about ministry: going out from your home to meet people's needs. Or what about stewardship: using the resources God has given to us to bless others. The challenge is clear. We need to plant our lives.
Paul says that we are made rich so that we can be generous. That's an eyeopener!! Our riches are given not primarily to encourage our luxury, but our generosity. God's riches are not an invitation to luxury, there are an opportunity for generosity. We should all carry around stickers that say “opportunity.” Stick them on everything that God places into our hands: our paycheck, our car, our house. Each are an opportunity to praise God, love people and express our faith.
Family discussion question: What do you need to put an “opportunity to praise God” sign on in your mind right now?
Children’s activity: Write “opportunity to praise God” on several 3X5 cards. Ask your kids what to put them on today.
Friday, June 04, 2010
Read the story of the widow in Luke 21:1-4.
Two very small coins. Two mites, two cents. What could such a small amount buy? How could such a pittance be of any value to even a poor widow? It wasn’t enough to make a difference; to buy a meal or rent a room or purchase a robe. It was seemingly only enough to remind her of all this widow had lost, all that her life now lacked. Yet, they were all that she had. She lived in a society in which a woman without a husband was not allowed to provide for herself. These two coins had become her only security: all that she had left.
Two very large coins! Two of the most talked about, most adored pieces of money in all of human history. More valuable than the crown jewels of England for their impact. More rare than the rarest of coins for their teaching. What could these two coins buy? They earned the highest praise of Jesus. Jesus looked at this woman and saw not a poor widow, but a woman of wonderful faith. These two coins became her lasting legacy, summing up all that she had done right.
There is a hidden fear for many of us in the reading of this story. If Jesus commended this woman for giving all that she had, might He not also ask the same of us? He does! He asks us to be willing to trust Him with our all. And if He ever challenged us to actually give it all away, be assured that He would not stop meeting our needs. Can you imagine the reward of that kind of genuine generosity?
Jesus is teaching his disciples, then and now, an important lesson as He points to this widow. We tend to be impressed with the amounts that people give. God is impressed with the heart that we give it with.
Family Discussion Question/ Children’s activity: Make up a story together. How do you think God rewarded this poor widow when she got to heaven. Enjoy this by going into the wildest and grandest detail you can imagine.
Thursday, June 03, 2010
“Those who cry as they plant crops will sing at harvest time. Those who cry as they carry out the seeds will return singing and carrying bundles of grain.” Psalm 126:5-6 (NCV)
A missionary tells about understanding the significance of this verse for the first time. During a time of drought the tribe with which he was working saw their supplies of corn stretched to the limit. He recalled seeing a father take one of the last bags of dried corn out of his families store room. This corn could have been pounded into meal to make the cakes that were the staple of the families diet.
But, instead, he took the corn to the field where he sowed the seed into the ground. The missionary saw tears flowing down the man’s cheeks, and he understood. It hurt to put into the ground what might be his families last meal. Yet he knew that without sowing that seed his family would certainly starve the next year. So he sowed with tears knowing that he would one day reap with joy.
What’s the lesson? That we should give away our last meal? Of course not! The lesson is that it’s not always easy to “generate generosity!” When we talk about “giving cheerfully” it can sound as if giving is always an easy thing to do. That simply is not true. For those who give there is often the strange mixture of sacrifice and joy. You know that you’re doing what is right and yet it is often hard to let go. That’s true when we give our time, our money, our talents or ourselves.
But the truth is there is an inevitable law of sowing and reaping at work. It’s a natural law. It’s a spiritual law. Those who sow in tears WILL reap with joy. The result of our sacrificing to meet other’s needs is not just a feeling of satisfaction, well being or “having done the right thing.” It is JOY! What is joy? It is an overflowing sense of God’s perspective on life, an overwhelming experience of God’s presence in life and an overarching knowledge of God’s security for life.
Family discussion question: Can you remember a time when it was difficult for you to give something? (Even preschoolers can think of an answer to this question!)
Wednesday, June 02, 2010
Imagine a grain of wheat talking to itself, admiring itself, noticing how round and brown and fully packed it is. Imagine it thinking about that physiology and psychology of falling into the cold, dark ground. The grain of wheat might say, “I’m feeling a little uncomfortable with this concept. I like myself as I am and think that falling into the ground would be a waste of my life.”
Jesus is not talking about wheat in this verse. He is talking to us! He’s reminding us that a sacrifice given out of a loving heart for Him always results in new life for ourselves and for others. Yet most of us have felt like our mythical grain of wheat. Sacrifice is a great idea... for other people or for some other time.
We all want to do something great with our lives. We think, “I’ll finish those goals and then I’ll have time to make the sacrifices.” Jesus says to us, “Sacrifice comes first!” Jesus led the way for us. He sacrificed His life, literally, so that we could be forgiven. The most significant sacrifice in history brought about the most significant impact upon history.
This sacrifice is not a simplistic “no pain, no gain” philosophy. We’re not talking about working hard. (Although there’s nothing wrong with hard work.) Nor is this an invitation to a “martyr complex” faith. We’re talking about true sacrifice: giving up that which is most important to you. Jesus could not have been clearer. Losing your life comes before finding your life. And find it you will! Someone once said to a group of missionaries serving in a remote area “you have certainly buried yourselves here.” The missionary replied, “We were not buried here, we were planted here.”
Family Discussion Question: How do we get past the “I’m not sure I really want to do this” feeling that goes along with all genuine sacrifices?
Children’s Activity: Plant some seeds and watch them grow.
Tuesday, June 01, 2010
It's not enough for love to just be exciting, it also must be lasting! Teen age romance won't satisfy a middle aged couple. Puppy love won't last through the dog days of life. How can you build a love that lasts longer that a 2 hour movie, or a 210 page paperback novel? Paul writes to the Corinthians amidst their turmoil and tells them the secret of love that makes relationships last. Lets look at I Corinthians 13 together and get some clues to the daily sacrifices that keep love alive.
Love is patient... (1 Cor 13:4)
Love is alive when it has time, it is dying when it is hurried, it is dead when it cannot wait. Waiting together is a part of all of our relationships! But many times love also means that I must wait for someone else . wait for them to grow or to understand . wait for them to heal or to get motivated.
Love is kind... (1 Cor 13:4)
Love is alive when it cares, it is dying when it forgets, it is dead when it ignores.
Kindness is the ability to do the little things well. The love expressed in kindness is learning how to turn those grand vows in a ceremony into washing dishes and dumping trash, how to turn those great hopes in a hospital nursery into changing nappies and staying up with sick children. Do you ever forget to be kind? We all do! Kindness in our families, with those we are closest to, takes real effort.
LOVE does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud I Cor 13:4
Love is alive when it is secure... is dying when it doubts... is dead when it loses trust.
Security is one of the #1 issues in relationships. Add a little insecurity to the best of relationships and love battles to stay alive. This is true even in our relationship with God. What one step could you take to make that relationship where you are struggling more secure? What difference might it make for you to talk to or call someone today and say "No matter what happens, no matter how ill you become or how far apart we are, I will always love you."
Family Activity: Here's your assignment... be kind to someone in your family today in some unusual or new way. See if you can catch each other being kind.
Children's activity: Show your kids how our actions affect our feelings. Have them act sad,. ask if it makes them feel a little sad. Have them act angry, then act like they don't care. Then have them act happy and ask again how their actions affect the way they feel inside.