Wednesday, August 16, 2017

"EneME" August 16 Readings: Ecclesiastes 1-2, Romans 7, Psalm 95, Proverbs 20:16–18

Today's Readings -  Ecclesiastes 1-2, Romans 7, Psalm 95, Proverbs 20:16–18


Hey, who has been reading my diary? That's not right! 

Ever felt that way when you were listening to a preacher and suddenly it's like he is talking directly to you; like he knows your heart and life? That's how I feel when I read Romans 7, especially verses 13-24.
(NOTE: Theologians debate this passage as to who Paul is talking about - many doubt that some of Paul's statements could apply to the redeemed. That is wrong to me. Every Christian I've ever known is both redeemed AND struggling - just like Paul's testimony here. Sometimes theologians perhaps theologize too much for their own good?)
In those verses, Paul describes the inner struggle that Christians go through between the work of God's Spirit within them, drawing them toward righteousness and holiness and the power of the sinful flesh that remains in each of us. Verses 22-23 say, 
For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 
Paul admitted being torn between the inner work of grace and the remaining power of sin. It was a constant and lifelong struggle, even for the redeemed. And Paul often felt trapped in this struggle. He wanted to do what was right, to follow the ways of God, but sin continued to lay its appeal before him. Verses 18-21 explain the conflict. 
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.
That's me in a single paragraph. I want to do right. I want to break bad habits and build new ones. I want to say yes to God and no to sin. I really do want to, but sin is still there. I do not do what I want to do and what I want to do I do. Evil is right there ready to fight against the work of God in me. 

I wish a day would come when the struggle would be over, when my flesh would no longer draw me toward sin, when the Spirit's work in my soul would be complete and my life would only be righteous. I wish. And it will be like that one day. It's called heaven. Glory. But here in this world, we have to live with the struggle. 

But we do not have to lose the struggle. We may lose battles along the way, but Jesus Christ died and rose so that sin would not control us or enslave us. Observe verses 24-25. 
Wretched man I am! (Anyone else feel that way from time to time?) Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Some days I want to give up on myself because of my fleshly failures but thank God, it's not about me! Jesus Christ has delivered me from the penalty of sin. He will one day deliver me from the very presence of sin. And today, day by day, Jesus Christ is working to deliver me in this lifelong, intense, often challenging and discouraging, battle against the power of sin. He strengthens me! Thanks be to God that Jesus does for me what this wretched man cannot do for himself - to battle sin and win. 
I thank you, Father, that through your Son I have hope. I get so frustrated with myself, but you are patient and powerful. Father, fill me with your Spirit today that I may walk in the victory over sin you have given me. 

Think and Pray

Do you use the grace of God as an excuse for careless living? Repent and ask God's strength to walk in the new life God prepared for you.
Remember that Jesus Christ gives us victory as we walk in him and he can and will give us the strength we need in this battle with our own inner, "wretched man." 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

"Saved to Sin? NO!" August 15 Readings: Job 41-42, Romans 6, Psalm 94:20–23, Proverbs 20:14–15

Today's Readings - Job 41-42, Romans 6, Psalm 94:20–23, Proverbs 20:14–15


I've been saved by grace so it really doesn't matter if I sin, right?
Forgiving my sin brings glory to God, so I might as well sin so that he can be glorified in forgiving me, right?
We aren't under the Old Testament Law anymore, right? So I can live any way that I please!

It is amazing how many ways people have found through the years to distort and pervert the teaching of the greatest truth ever - salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. In Romans 6, Paul begins of his teaching on "righteousness by faith" that would continue through chapter 7, dealing with the common objections to the teaching and excuses people might give for living shoddy lives after receiving God's grace.

His basic premise, in Romans 6:1-14, is that the idea of sinning as a result of grace is just ridiculous when you examine the life that God saved us for. He summarizes that in the verse I quote every time I do a baptism, verse 4.

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

I wasn't saved just so I could go to heaven one day when I die. I wasn't saved simply to forgive me of my wins and wipe them away. I was saved for these reasons, but also for more. Jesus died on the cross that I might die with him to my life of sin and be raised with him to a new life that is lived by new standards. A new life in Christ.

Since this is true, verses 12 and 13 explain clearly how we ought to live.

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.

Those who have been given a free salvation, won by Christ's work and not our own works, ought not to use that as an excuse to sin. We ought never allow sin to reign over us - Christ has broken its grip, its mastery over us - but instead, we ought to offer ourselves completely to God and every part of our existence to him for his use.

It is the only fitting response to so great a salvation as ours.

Father, may I never treat your grace as an excuse to sin or an authorization for a spiritually sloppy life. Your son died and rose so that I could live a new life. May I see that more every day. 

Think and Pray

Do you ever use the grace of God and your security in Christ as an excuse for sin, for careless Christian living?
Meditate on this passage and what Paul asserted here about our freedom from sin.

Monday, August 14, 2017

"While a Sinner" August 14 Readings: Job 39-40, Romans 5, Psalm 94:13–19, Proverbs 20:11–13

Today's Readings - Job 39-40, Romans 5, Psalm 94:13–19, Proverbs 20:11–13


I was out working in the yard and I needed badly to get cleaned up. There was my shower - hot water, shampoo, soap - all the things I needed. If only I could find a way to get myself clean enough to be worthy of getting into the shower. It was so clean I just wasn't sure if I would ever find a way to work my way up to shower-readiness.

Absurd, right? You don't clean up to get into the shower, you get in the shower to clean up. We instinctively know that when it comes to getting clean. But when it comes to life and to our relationship with God, we revert to the same absurdity.
"One of these days I'm gonna clean up my life, start going to church, and get my life right with God." 
We have a fundamental tendency to believe that our relationship with God is based on what we do, on our activity and merit. We have to do enough, be enough, become enough to earn God's favor and gain a place in his kingdom.

But Romans 5:8 gives the lie to that idea.
God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
God does not ask us to clean ourselves us, get our lives in order or make something of ourselves. While we are still in our sin - messed up, broken, dirty, and depraved - Christ died for us. That is how God showed us his love. He took the first step, reaching down to sinners who couldn't help themselves. That is an amazing love. 

It is one thing to show love to someone who can help you, who can enrich you, or give you something you desire. That's not what God did. He loved the unlovely, those who were enslaved to sin. You and I do not have to earn God's love, it is a free gift in Christ. 

So, our job is not to live to earn the love of God, but to simply revel in its blessings day by day. 
Thank you, Father, for showing me your love through Jesus Christ, when I didn't deserve it and couldn't earn it. 

Think and Pray

Thank God that he loved you while you could not help yourself and that his love changes you. If you are in Christ, give thanks for your salvation and your eternal standing. If you are in Adam and have never trusted Christ, repent of your sins and believe. 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

"You Can't Handle God's Job" August 13 Readings: Job 37-38, Romans 4, Psalm 94:6–12, Proverbs 20:9–10

Today's Readings -  Job 37-38, Romans 4, Psalm 94:6–12, Proverbs 20:9–10


We live in a seriously messed up world. Sin. Perversion. Racism. A justice system that is often a travesty. War and terrorism. It is a sad, sick, sorrowful world that our sin and rebellion against God has created.

And in the middle of this, many ask the question, "Where is God?" Why does he allow this to happen? Why does he permit that injustice? This tragedy? Why do the evil prosper and the righteous suffer? This world defies explanation.

But sometimes there is an even more personal question we ask. "Where were you, God, when I needed you?" Why did you stop this? Why did you let that happen? We know that God is both sovereign and good, but our circumstances often make it appear impossible for both to be true.

These were the kinds of questions Job was asking throughout his story. After God allowed Satan to take away everything precious in Job's life, he was confused. Why did God let this happen? His friends chimed in and told him it was karma, his own fault. What goes around comes around. Job got increasingly angry at them, and life, and even God, as he protested that view. He had done nothing that would necessitate God stepping in with such extreme judgment. In the middle of their argument, Elihu showed up and proclaimed the truth of God's glory, justice and goodness. He did not try to explain all that God had done, but he did defend the righteousness of God. It helped - the proclamation of truth is always the beginning of healing.

But it is chapter 38 when the real healing begins. That is when God stepped in. God spoke directly to Job and the entire situation changed. It is when we have a direct encounter with God that our lives begin to change. This encounter continues in tomorrow's reading (chapters 39-40) and even into the next day in chapter 41.

What is interesting is that God makes no attempt to explain himself. He has listened as Job has challenged his goodness and his justice. Now, he says, the tables are turned and he is going to ask the questions.
Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.

His message is simple. He questions Job. Can you create? Can you manage creation? Do you know what is going on in this world at all times? What is God saying? He is reminding Job that there is a God and Job isn't him. God has a strength and power we cannot understand.

God is not bullying Job, saying, "I'm bigger than you. Shut up and do as I say." No, God is reminding Job that he is big and strong and powerful, that he knows what Job does not know and can do what Job never could. His message to Job is simple:
I am God. Trust me. I know what I'm doing even when you don't understand my works. 
In chapter 40, he challenges Job, in verses 7-9.
“Dress for action like a man;
    I will question you, and you make it known to me.
Will you even put me in the wrong?
    Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?
Have you an arm like God,
    and can you thunder with a voice like his?

Do not demand to be God if you can't handle the job. And you can't handle the job! This world would be an utter mess if I were in charge. God is God. My job is not to tell him what to do or how to do it. My job is to submit to him, serve him, glorify him and seek him. 

That was the message of God to Job. Job, you can't see it, you don't understand it, but I'm still on the throne. I've got it under control. I'm handling it! I will glorify myself and produce your ultimate spiritual good through this. Just trust me. Don't try to figure out my sovereign plan, just trust me. Don't tell me what to do, just trust me. Don't question my justice, just trust me. 

Father, help me to trust you always, even when I do not understand your actions. 

Think and Pray

Do you insist on understanding everything God is doing, or are you willing to trust him, even when you cannot see what is happening?
We must walk by faith even when our sight fails us.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

"By Faith Alone" August 12 Readings: Job 35-36, Romans 3:21–31, Psalm 93:1–94:5, Proverbs 20:6–8

Today's Readings - Job 35-36, Romans 3:21–31, Psalm 93:1–94:5, Proverbs 20:6–8


I can remember the bumper sticker clearly. "Proud to be a Christian." That is an oxymoron. You can be proud. And you can be Christian, but you cannot be both. A proper understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ absolutely, totally and eternally precludes any boasting on my part. I understand that the person with the bumper sticker may have had something else in mind - that he was not ashamed of his (or her) faith, that he would not apologize for his convictions. Perhaps. But it is a crucial point. Pride is the opposite of Christianity!

Paul made this clear in Romans 3:27.
Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. 
Paul devoted chapters 1-3 to stating our utterly helpless position before God. We have all sinned and are guilty, Jews and Greeks. And in verses 21-26, he spelled out the real theme of the entire book of Romans. Now, God has revealed to us a righteousness that is not based on our works, our ability to keep the Law, or our merit. It is now based on God's grace and comes to us by faith.
But now, apart from the law, the righteousness of God has been revealed, attested by the Law and the Prophets. 22 The righteousness of God is through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe, since there is no distinction. 23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 24 They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. 25 God presented him as an atoning sacrifice in his blood, received through faith, to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. 26 God presented him to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so that he would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus.

And that, Paul concludes, leaves no room for boasting. I am no better, no more worthy, in no better standing before God (on my own) than are the despicable sinners of this world. I am as incapable of saving myself as is the lowest low-life on the planet. Anything I might be, anything I might become, any merit or good in me is a product of the grace of God.

Boasting about it just makes no sense!

There is a great scene in Revelation in which the saints who have earned crowns come and lay them at the feet of Christ. How appropriate. My place in heaven was secured by Christ's death on the Cross, not anything I have done. It is the indwelling Holy Spirit who is at work to make me holy, to conform me to Christ. If anything good happens, it is the work of God and any rewards I might earn belong to him!

So, why wait? One day we will lay our crowns at the feet of Christ. Why not do so, at least symbolically, today? Humble yourself before the God and Heaven and thank him for all he has done for you. Give credit where credit is due. Thank him for everything!

Father, I am nothing without you. My soul is redeemed by the blood of your Son, my destiny is settled by his resurrection, my life is powered by your Spirit. It is all you, God. Forgive me for any moment when I have taken credit myself for the work that you have done. 

Think and Pray

Do you base your relationship with God (even subtly) on your own goodness, on your merit, or do you understand the concept of justification by faith, apart from works? 

Friday, August 11, 2017

"Basically Bad" August 11 Readings: Job 33-34, Romans 3:1–20, Psalm 92:11–15, Proverbs 20:4–5

Today's Readings - Job 33-34, Romans 3:1–20, Psalm 92:11–15, Proverbs 20:4–5


"People are basically good." It is established as truth beyond contestation in popular culture. Politicians flatter people by trumpeting the innate goodness of man. Educational systems are designed around the assumption that people, given the opportunity and resources, will make choice that are wise and good. Parents tell their children over and over again how good they are. Your heart will never lead you astray. Do what you think is right. Trust your feelings!

The problem with all of this is Romans 3! It presents a very different picture of the human condition. It will tell us in tomorrow's reading that all have sinned and fall short of God's glory. Today's reading is the foundation for that conclusion. In verse 9, Paul gives his preliminary conclusion, that Jews and Gentiles are united in sin and are thus equally under the wrath of God. He then, in verses 10-12, gets specific about this sin.
There is no one righteous, not even one.
There is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
All have turned away;
all alike have become worthless.
There is no one who does what is good,
not even one
Doesn't leave much room for debate, does it? If that isn't clear enough, then look at verses 19-20.
Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are subject to the law, so that every mouth may be shut and the whole world may become subject to God’s judgment. For no one will be justified in his sight by the works of the law, because the knowledge of sin comes through the law.
Standing before God, every mouth is shut, because in his presence there is no self-justification, no excuse or explanation, no wiggle room. No one is justified by their own works and all are declared sinful and subject to God's judgment. 

Not a pretty picture!

But that is not the end of the story. We are all under sin, but there is hope. Jesus did not leave us in our sin, but he worked to redeem us through his blood. Where sin abounded, grace super-abounded. We may start our lives in sin and under judgment, but we do not have to end them there. The rest of Romans 3 though chapter 11 describe this righteousness that God brings through faith in Jesus Christ.

But this conclusion, that all are under sin and judgment, is fundamental to a proper view of humanity and of life. We are not, as popular culture says, good on our own. We cannot trust ourselves, our feelings or our own convictions. We must trust Christ. When we follow our hearts they will lead us astray. 

We have been broken by sin and must be fixed by God. You won't get popular in America by preaching this, but it is true nonetheless. Our lives are marred by our general sinful condition and the specific sins we have chosen and we must be corrected, must be restored. First, we need redemption from Christ and his work on the Cross. Then we need the constant ministry and work of the Spirit inside us battling sin and producing the character of Christ. 

The fact is that sin is a reality in all of our lives and that without Christ, it will produce death and hell. But the greater fact is that through Christ, we have redemption and the power of sin is broken. Sin is real but it is not the final reality. The righteousness of Christ is. 

Praise God from whom all blessings flow!
Father, thank you that in Christ my sins have been forgiven and by the Spirit I can walk in victory over sin. 
Think and Pray

Have you bought into the worldly message of the basic goodness of humanity?
How does our approach toward people change if we believe they are sinful?
If the world is sinful, and Jesus is the cure, can we NOT proclaim him? 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

"God's Favorites?" August 10 Readings: Job 31-32, Romans 2, Psalm 92:4–10, Proverbs 20:1–3

Today's Readings -  Job 31-32, Romans 2, Psalm 92:4–10, Proverbs 20:1–3


God chose the Hebrews to be his very own people and he demonstrated his love to them over and over again, by blessing them, by disciplining them as a father would his errant children, by forgiving their sin and restoring and renewing them when they had turned from him to idols. But there was one part of being the chosen people of God that the Jews never quite got. They loved their special place in God's heart and in his plans, but they did not understand one simple truth. 

All of God's blessings are designed to be passed on to others.

God told Abraham that he would bless him (with a nation of descendants) and through that nation he would bless all the nations. Israel chose a different path. They became inwardly focused and thought themselves superior to others. They forgot that God chose them as an act of grace, not because of any merit on their part, and they became convinced of their own moral and spiritual superiority. 

Romans 2 is written to disabuse the Jewish people of the notion of their moral superiority. Paul is, in Romans 1-3, plumbing the depths of human sin. In chapter 1, he delineated all the disgusting sins of the pagan world. But in chapter 2 he turns his attention to the spiritual standing of the Jewish people, who looked down on and judged the pagan sinners Paul mentioned in chapter 1.
Therefore, every one of you who judges is without excuse. For when you judge another, you condemn yourself, since you, the judge, do the same things. 2 We know that God’s judgment on those who do such things is based on the truth. 3 Do you really think—anyone of you who judges those who do such things yet do the same—that you will escape God’s judgment?
These verses, 1-3, make it clear that no one is beyond the judgment of sin. We are sinful people touched by the grace and mercy of God. Jew or Gentile. Male or female. Rich or poor. We are all guilty before God. And none of us is less guilty than anyone else. Look at verse 11.
There is no favoritism with God. 

Too often, we judge people based on outward appearances or other human factors. That is what the Jews did. They thought that because of their heritage, they were better than other people, less guilty before God, favored by him. But there is only one kind of human being in this world - sinners who stand guilty before God and need salvation from Christ. 

Imagine two men walk into the church. One is dressed in smart business attire, clean-shaven, and respectable-looking in the eyes of man. The other is pierced, tattooed, dressed in dirty jeans and biker's gear. If the church treats either differently, then we are falling into the sin that Paul was trying to expose in Romans 2. If we think that we are better, than people who are like us are somehow more acceptable to God, we are missing the point. If we judge and show favoritism based on human differences, we fail to understand Paul's point. 
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God

We are all, alike, under the judgment of sin and we all have only one hope, the work of Jesus Christ. A conservative, white, clean, neatly dressed person is no more worthy, no more righteous, no more free of God's judgment than a person of color, a street person, a criminal, a punk. 

As long as we play favorites based on human factors, we will never truly be the church of Jesus Christ we were meant to be!
Father, forgive me when instead of calling on you for mercy, I have sat in judgment on others. 

Think and Pray

Search your heart for any trace of that subtle sense that God loves "us" more than he loves "them."
Remember that the foundation of the doctrine of grace is that there is no worthiness in us - not in our nationality, our heritage, our culture, or any other human factor.
We are all sinners, guilty before God, needing his grace. Thank God for that grace today.