Monday, October 21, 2019

"Past and Future" October 21 Readings: Jeremiah 45-46, Colossians 3:18–4:18, Psalm 119:17–24, Proverbs 25:23–24

Today's ReadingsJeremiah 45-46, Colossians 3:18–4:18, Psalm 119:17–24, Proverbs 25:23–24

Devotional - Past and Future 

Have you ever known someone who started their Christian life well, with commitment, conviction, and passion, but then fizzled like an Alka Seltzer? Perhaps you've known someone else who failed miserably and fell hard into sin but didn't stay there. This person sought God's forgiveness and restoration and eventually returned to effective service and fellowship. Some surprise you with their growth and some disappoint you with their failure. People surprise us.

Many of Paul's books end with a series of personal greetings and instructions; Colossians is no different. Some of those identified are unknown beyond their mentions in Paul's notes. Others are significant. In Colossians 4:10-17 there are two fascinating stories at work, stories that demonstrate the ebb and flow of Christian ministry. One man with a failure in the past demonstrates he's made a comeback, while another looks promising, but will eventually fall on his face.

In verse 10, Paul references a man named Mark.

Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him)... 
It seems insignificant, but it's not, if you remember reading Acts 15. Mark (also called John) went with Barnabas and Saul on their first journey, but he chickened out. Later, after the Jerusalem Council, as Paul and Barnabas were planning their second trip, they disagreed sharply over whether Mark should come with them. Barnabas wanted to give him a second chance but Paul was having none of it. They ended up going their separate ways because of this disagreement.

But now, Mark is with Paul and is helping him. The bad blood is gone, reconciliation has come and all is well. In fact, in 2 Timothy 4:11, as Paul faces his imminent death, he asks for Mark to be sent to him, because "he is useful to me." Mark may have failed early, but his tide rose and he became a valuable ministry assistant to Paul.

Not so Demas. He is a man we know little about, except that he was a co-worker of Paul's. He is mentioned here, in verse 14, giving his greetings to the Colossians. In Philemon 24, Paul lists him as a coworker. But Demas is also mentioned in 2 Timothy 4, just before Paul's commendation of Mark. But his reference to Demas in verse 10 is anything but a commendation.
For Demas has deserted me, because he loved this present world, and has gone to Thessalonica.
As he sat in the dungeon awaiting his execution, Paul remembered Demas' ministry with sadness, because he had deserted both Paul and the ministry of Christ. His love for Christ waned and his love for the things of the world grew within him. He left serving Christ to seek mammon - he chose the wrong master. Did Demas ever return? No one knows. I hope so. But his faith failed and he abandoned Paul. 

This gives us both encouragement and a warning. Have you failed? A lot of Christians live with sorrow and pain because they have failed the Father and other people. They live with shame. But for the believer, there is always forgiveness and restoration. We ought never to use that as an excuse to sin - there may be consequences that we have to deal with for a long time. But God always forgives and always restores. Don't let your past failures destroy your present or your future. 

But also remember that each of us has within us the tendency to drift from our first love and lose our passion for Christ. You can't live on your previous spiritual successes. God's mercies must be renewed in you daily. You need to seek Christ daily and experience his daily work of grace. Do not rest on your spiritual laurels. Demas never would have believed that he would fall away until he did. 

Your past does not define your future. If your past is full of failure, the grace of Christ can cover it and you can be restored. And just because you have great spiritual victories in your past does not guarantee future success. Ask Jonah. Ask Elijah. Seek Christ daily and rest in his love. 

Father, may I walk with you daily. I cannot live in my past - neither my successes nor my failures. I can only walk daily with you as I face the future - one day at a time. 

Think and Pray

Do you live with the guilt of past sin and failures? Remember Mark, who failed miserably but became a valuable part of Paul's ministry.
But also heed the warning of Demas' life. We all must beware of the dangers of our own hearts, lest the things of this world capture our eye.

Think and Pray

Which of the readings spoke most powerfully to you today?
Is the Spirit of God moving you to repent of something you are doing, to begin something new, or to change something about your life as a result of your readings? What?

Sunday, October 20, 2019

"A Christian Life Primer" October 20 Readings: Jeremiah 43-44, Colossians 3:1–17, Psalm 119:9–16, Proverbs 25:20–22

Today's ReadingsJeremiah 43-44, Colossians 3:1–17, Psalm 119:9–16, Proverbs 25:20–22

Devotional - A Christian Life Primer 

Colossians 3:1-17 may be one of the best descriptions of the necessities of Christian living in the Word of God. In it are twelve dynamics of successful Christian living, presented in a significant sequence.

The first two steps have to do with setting our hearts and minds on the things that matter. Verse 1 tells us to "seek the things that are above," speaking to our hearts, our priorities. Instead of living for the world's pleasures, we must seek the things of God. Then, in verse 2, we must set our minds on things above, not on the things of this earth. These first two dynamics speak of our purpose, our focus, our passions. Are your mind and heart set on the things of God or are you focused on this world?

Once we have set our minds and hearts, the next step is to deal with the negatives of our sinful condition. Some things have to be put to death, just plain killed! We cannot dabble in sexual immorality and impurity or even materialistic covetousness. These are destructive sins that must be dealt with severely - they have no place in the life of a Christian. There are other behaviors that we must put away from ourselves  - anger and all of its cousins. Anger may be among the most common and destructive sins we have in our lives. We must put those things away - anger is spiritual poison. Also, the devil is a liar, God's people should not be. We must put away all forms of lying from our lives. We cannot go forward in Christ until by the Spirit's power we face our dark sides and deal with them. Thank God, through Christ he has given us victory.

As we put away the works of the flesh, we also put on the new clothing of Christ. We must let the clothing of kindness and compassion replace the old, dirty clothing of anger that we put away. We must bear with one another's aggravations, But more than that, we must forgive when offended, in the same way Christ has forgiven us. Love must be the primary motive in all we do.

Paul ends with a series of admonitions about our attitudes and motivations. We are to allow the peace of Christ to rule our hearts instead of stressing out and being worried. We must be thankful in all of life's circumstances. We must let the word of Christ dwell in us, filling us with God's Spirit. Finally, all that we do, we do in the name of Jesus Christ. That means that we access all the resources and power that is ours because of what Jesus does in us. His power and his strength.
Father, may my mind and heart be focused on you. May I deal with my own dark side, letting the grace of Christ overcome the sin in my heart. And may I put on the righteous clothing you have provided for me. 

Think and Pray

Look over these twelve steps and analyze your Christian life.
Are you on track? Are you faltering?
What is the biggest area in which you need to improve?

Think and Pray

Which of the readings spoke most powerfully to you today?
Is the Spirit of God moving you to repent of something you are doing, to begin something new, or to change something about your life as a result of your readings? What?

Saturday, October 19, 2019

'Nothing Trivial" October 19 Readings: Jeremiah 41-42, Colossians 1:24–2:23, Psalm 119:1–8, Proverbs 25:17–19

Today's ReadingsJeremiah 41-42, Colossians 1:24–2:23, Psalm 119:1–8, Proverbs 25:17–19

Devotional - Nothing Trivial 

It is the answer to a commonly asked Bible trivia question: What is the longest chapter of the Bible? If you attended the Sunday Schools or VBSes that I did, you know the answer - Psalm 119. It is 176 verses long. It is very close to the center of the Bible. It is a well-known and wonderful chapter.

But it is much more than the answer to a trivia question!

It is one of the most carefully constructed chapters of scripture. It is an acrostic poem. Have you ever noticed that it is divided up into 22 sections of 8 verses each, and that each of those sections has a strange word at the beginning? Our reading today starts with the word "Aleph." That is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Each of the 8 verses in this second begins with the letter aleph. The next section will be headed by the word, "Beth," and each of the verses in that section begins with the letter beth. You get the picture, I'm sure. Each of the 22 sections has eight verses each of which begins with the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

But there is only one topic. Each of the 22 sections, each of the 176 verses; all of them focus on the same thing - the power and glory of the Word of God. In the days this Psalm was written, the focus was on the Law of God - specifically the Books of Moses, but generally referring to all of the Old Testament writings. The principles here apply to all of scripture, even those that were written a thousand years later.

As you read this chapter for most of the next month, look for what it says about this wonderful and powerful Bible you are reading. It is a light to our feet. When we hide it in our hearts, it helps us not to sin. It is the food that feeds our souls. The longest chapter of the Word is an ode the awesome power of God's word to accomplish God's purposes in God's people.

The first two verses of the psalm set the theme for the entire chapter. While "happy" is a common translation, I prefer the more traditional "blessed." It speaks to our standing under the favor and blessing of God - a result of obedience to God's word.
How happy are those whose way is blameless,
who walk according to the Lord’s instruction!
 Happy are those who keep his decrees
and seek him with all their heart.
God's Word is not just a storybook, a good read meant to entertain us. It is the story of God's plan of redemption and his call to us to repentance, faith and to a life lived under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The Word of God is meant to be obeyed, and it is those who learn and live by all that is revealed in the Word of God who experience God's blessings.

Father, may your word be my law! Thank you for Jesus who is revealed there and the life that he gives. May I walk in obedience to every word. 

Think and Pray

Which of the readings spoke most powerfully to you today?
Is the Spirit of God moving you to repent of something you are doing, to begin something new, or to change something about your life as a result of your readings? What?

Do you walk in obedience to God's word?
Do you seek to know God's word and follow its teachings, or do you walk in the wisdom of the world or in your own "truth?"

Friday, October 18, 2019

"King of the Hill" October 18 Readings: Jeremiah 39-40, Colossians 1:1–23, Psalm 118:25–29, Proverbs 25:15–16

Today's ReadingsJeremiah 39-40, Colossians 1:1–23, Psalm 118:25–29, Proverbs 25:15–16

Devotional - King of the Hill

Did you ever play "King of the Hill" when you were a kid? We'd find a pile of dirt or rocks and one guy would stand on top, declaring himself the king. Everyone else would try to scramble and scrape their way to the top, throwing down anyone who stands in the way.

In this world, this giant hill of dirt, there is a king already established - seated firmly on the throne. There is no threat to that throne, no one who can dislodge him from his place. The one who is king of the hill today will be tomorrow and for all time.

His name is Jesus.

Colossians 1:15-20 describes the greatness and glory of Christ, exalting him as preeminent over all things on this earth - the king of this entire hill. And because he is the king, he is the one our lives are supposed to be about. He is our "hope of glory" (1:27).

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.16 For everything was created by him,in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible,whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through him and for him.17 He is before all things, and by him all things hold together.18 He is also the head of the body, the church;he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,so that he might come to have first place in everything.19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him,20 and through him to reconcile everything to himself,whether things on earth or things in heaven,by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Something had happened in Colossae and people had forgotten that. They were focused on other things - festivals, rituals, myths, arcane teachings. But they'd forgotten Jesus and that was a mistake that Paul did not want anyone to make because everything was about him, the world exists for him, and he is the one who has done everything needed for our lives both eternally and temporally.

He is not only the king of the hill, he is the king of love, mercy, and grace.

Father, thank you for your Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords. He is supreme not only over the entire universe but also over my heart. 

Think and Pray

Which of the readings spoke most powerfully to you today?
Is the Spirit of God moving you to repent of something you are doing, to begin something new, or to change something about your life as a result of your readings? What?

Read through Colossians 1:15-20 and write down all the character qualities and great works of Christ. Spend time in praise of the glory and greatness of our Savior.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

"I Can Do All Things" October 17 Readings: Jeremiah 37-38, Philippians 4:2–23, Psalm 118:18–24, Proverbs 25:12–14

Today's ReadingsJeremiah 37-38, Philippians 4:2–23, Psalm 118:18–24, Proverbs 25:12–14

Devotional - I Can Do All Things

"I am able to do all things through him who strengthens me. " 
What a wonderful verse - and one that is much used in this world. I can hit a home run or score a touchdown through Christ who strengthens me. I can succeed in business through Christ who strengthens me. I can achieve this personal goal through Christ who strengthens me. I can stick to my diet through Christ who strengthens me.

We have turned Philippians 4:13 into a motivational mantra, a motto to be hung on the wall and to be remembered as we go through this world attempting to reach our goals, achieve our potential, find happiness and success and be all that we have hoped to be. And certainly, this verse has a wide application. God can empower us to do all that he calls us to do.

But the common motivational uses of this verse are not exactly what Paul intended when he wrote it (under the Spirit's inspiration).  Verses 11 and 12, which (obviously) immediately precede this favorite verse, provide the context.
 I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I find myself. I know both how to make do with little, and I know how to make do with a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need.
Paul was commending the Philippians for the generosity to him but clarified in these verses that his purpose was not just to seek money from them. He had learned to be content whatever happened to him. Paul had experienced both abundance and lack. Sometimes, he had all that he needed, sometimes he did not. His goal was not the accumulation of possessions, but contentment in Christ.

When he says, "I can do all things through Christ," he is talking about handling anything this world throws at him. If he abounds, he will abound for the glory of God. If he is in need, he will continue to glorify God and serve him. His life was about doing all things for God's glory regardless of what happened to him. Facing plenty or hunger, he could do it all through the strength that Christ gave him.

And that is the key here. Paul was not saying that we should set our goals and appeal to Christ to be our source of strength as we reach them and do as we please. He was living in the will of God and accepting whatever God had for him. This verse is not about getting what I want or achieving my goals, but about living in God's will wherever that takes me.

It is a beautiful verse, of course, but it is a verse that must be set in its appropriate context, not ripped from that context and made to say what it doesn't say.

Father in heaven, may I accept your will and live in the peace that passes understanding and the contentment of Christ no matter what, knowing that whatever comes, I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. 

Think and Pray

Which of the readings spoke most powerfully to you today?
Is the Spirit of God moving you to repent of something you are doing, to begin something new, or to change something about your life as a result of your readings? What?

Do you use your faith as a means of success, or rely on Jesus no matter what comes?
Are you content in Christ and in his power?

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

"Jesus Is Better" October 16 Readings: Jeremiah 35-36, Philippians 3:1–4:1, Psalm 118:11–17, Proverbs 25:10–11

Today's Readings - Jeremiah 35-36, Philippians 3:1–4:1, Psalm 118:11–17, Proverbs 25:10–11

Devotional - Jesus Is Better

"I like myself just the way I am."
"Don't try to change me."
"I am who I am and you shouldn't judge me."
"This is the way I was raised - my heritage."

In America's self-centered and self-affirming culture, we place a greater value on being ourselves than on becoming what God wants us to be.

Paul had no such issue. In Philippians 3:4-6 Paul catalogs his identity before Christ appeared to him on the Damascus Road.
If anyone else thinks he has grounds for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised the eighth day; of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; regarding the law, a Pharisee; regarding zeal, persecuting the church; regarding the righteousness that is in the law, blameless.
Paul was a loyal Hebrew, a Pharisee and one who closely observed the law. He attempted to follow the law as carefully as he could and was so passionate about his faith that he even persecuted the church.

But when Paul came to Christ, he did not cherish his culture, prize his heritage, hold on to traditions or insist on affirming himself the way he was. Instead, he turned his back on all of these things that once made him so proud and considered them loss, even garbage. They no longer meant anything to him because of his passion for Jesus Christ as he makes clear in verses 7 and 8.
But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ. More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. 
Nothing that was part of Paul's past, his culture, his heritage, his former life was of great value to him anymore because of the exceedingly wonderful value of knowing Jesus Christ. 

He had a new goal. It was not to seek his own way or to "be all he can be." No, his new purpose, in verses 9 and 10, was:
and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ—the righteousness from God based on faith. My goal is to know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death.
Now it was all about knowing Christ, experiencing the power of his resurrection and serving him sacrificially in both his life and if necessary, by his death. 
Father, may I be like Paul, who left behind everything to pursue the knowledge of Christ. 

Think and Pray

Which of the readings spoke most powerfully to you today?
Is the Spirit of God moving you to repent of something you are doing, to begin something new, or to change something about your life as a result of your readings? What?

Are you willing to give up everything you are and have and value to gain Christ?
Are you willing to press on, leaving everything else behind?

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

"Like Jesus" October 15 Readings: Jeremiah 33-34, Philippians 2, Psalm 118:1–10, Proverbs 25:7–9

Today's ReadingsJeremiah 33-34, Philippians 2, Psalm 118:1–10, Proverbs 25:7–9

Devotional - Like Jesus

Paul cared about the glory of God, the proclamation of the gospel, the power of the resurrected Christ and the fullness of the Spirit. But one of the things he cared most about, as a result of those truths, was the unity of the Body of Christ. It glorified God, it was one purpose of the gospel - to redeem ONE Body, and it was a work of the Holy Spirit. It was one of the most common themes of his writings.

We see that in Philippians 2:1-11. Because of the mercies and comfort of God and because of the work of the Spirit, he called on the church to:
"...make my joy complete by thinking the same way, having the same love,united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more importantthan yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others." Philippians 2:2-4 
What would bring Paul bliss would be if the church were of the same mind (that doesn't mean they always have to agree, but that they agree to put Christ first), unite in love for God and for one another and to live in one accord. Again, that does not imply any kind of forced uniformity or suppression of various opinions. It means a united will to make Christ known and to encourage one another in the Body of Christ.

The second phrase, in verse 3, is a shocking one. We are not to act out of selfishness of any form, but are to "count others more significant than yourselves." That runs directly contrary to the "you have to love yourself first" mentality that predominates in this world. We are not to assert ourselves or put ourselves first, but to honor one another. Each of us should see ourselves as servants among royalty, humble and devoted to the other's success. That is what verse 4 says, that we ought to see the interests of others, not just our own.

Paul makes it clear (1 Corinthians 3, Romans 14) that we will stand before God to have our lives as believers reviewed. I believe that the basis of that review will primarily be our obedience to that verse. Jesus' life and ministry were all about serving others. Who is a spiritual success as a result of my ministry in his or her life? Who have I encouraged? Helped to lift up when they were fallen? Led to walk with Christ? Instructed in the full counsel of God? Our lives are measured in the lives of those we serve in the name and by the power of Christ.

Verses 6-11, thought by some to be the remnants of an early hymn sung in the NT church, describe Jesus as the model of this selflessness. He left heaven and sacrificed his lofty position to come to earth in humility and die for the redemption of sinners. God then exalted him to the highest place which he occupies today and bestowed on him that Name he always deserved.

We must, by the Spirit's power, follow the example of Jesus and give up our status, our ambitions, our goals, hopes and dreams to serve others as Jesus did. We must have the mind of Christ.

Father, may I be like Jesus Christ, who gave up his own glory and served others in your name. 

Think and Pray

Which of the readings spoke most powerfully to you today?
Is the Spirit of God moving you to repent of something you are doing, to begin something new, or to change something about your life as a result of your readings? What?

Self-centeredness is directly contrary to the way of Christ. 
Do you live for self or for Christ and others? 
Think through your life and consider this question carefully.