Learning to Live Free from Doubt
The recent fires bring back memories...
The blaring siren coming from my cell phone startled me as it yanked me out of a deep sleep. Tired and confused, I checked my phone to see an alert and noticed it was 3:00 a.m. The alert told me a fire was fast approaching and evacuations were underway. I was living in California, it was 2018, and my journey to Cascade Christian had not yet begun.
There was a surprising calmness in the house as we confidently grabbed our emergency bags, locked the doors, and loaded our cars with what belongings we were able to grab. It didn’t feel real yet, so it was hard to know how to act or what to say.
The streets were filled with encouraging energy as neighbors acknowledged each other, made sure everyone had a place to go, and offered help where they could. It was an amazing illustration of our supportive community and God’s work at hand.
Smoke and ash started to burn our eyes, and the urgency to get out of the neighborhood hit us a little harder. We piled into one car and made our way out of the fire zone. We knew we could take both cars, but in the moment, being together was far more important that having both cars with us. We traveled down the freeway toward my grandmother’s house, and I watched as the flames lit up the night sky. Nothing felt real, I found it hard to fully comprehend what was taking place, and feelings of doubt crept into my mind.
The news on TV focused our attention on the magnitude of the fire, bringing even more doubt—doubt that our house would survive, doubt that our neighbors would be okay, doubt that our community would recover from the recent events. The news became exhausting, and I turned away to spend time with God instead. Those moments with the Lord turned into prayers of hope, reflection, and gratitude. I was hopeful our house would be okay. I was hopeful my friends and neighbors were safe, and I was grateful for everything the Lord had already done to protect us, keep us safe, and watch over us. Turning to God took my attention away from doubt.
When we returned to our home a couple of days later, we were relieved and grateful to see it standing. Praise God, He took care of it! The amount of emotions that ran through me during this time is difficult to express, but the one emotion I can hold onto is the overwhelming love and protection our God has over us. There is no room for doubt when our eyes are set on God.
The fires in Washington bring back some of these emotions. I pray for those families who have been evacuated or impacted one way or another by these fires, power outages, and COVID-19. Because there are so many unknowns, we may be tempted to doubt. But one thing I do know is that we are a part of Cascade Christian. This is a community that has each other’s back. Most of all, we have Jesus, and truly that’s all we need.
We would like to take a moment to recognize Joyce Blum who has been writing our CCS Weekly Devotions for the past 9 years! Thank you Joyce, for pouring your heart out every week to our families. We appreciate your dedication and we are looking forward to future devotions from Joshua Stines, CCS Spiritual Formation Director!
See a note below from Joyce Blum.
It has been my honor and privilege to share these devotional thoughts with our Cascade Christian Schools family for the past nine years. I have personally grown in this process and my prayer has been that you have grown as well as you have looked deeper into the Word of God. As we finish this year and prepare for our next school year, Joshua Stines, Director of Spiritual Formation, is taking the lead on our spiritual theme and will be authoring our weekly devotions. If you have been following his blogs this year, you have certainly been blessed by his amazing insight into what God is doing in us and in our community. Thank you, Joshua, for leading us all and for your commitment to the spiritual growth and well-being of our CCS community.
June 7, 2020
I am all in, committed to go where God is sending me.
Read it: Romans 10:14-15
Think on it: This entire school year we have explored the concept of what it means to be “All In” in our relationship with Christ, and how that impacts who we are and what we do. This final devotion for the year comes from Romans 10:14-15. Paul is writing to the church in Rome, urging them to not just be committed in what we say, but also urging that commitment needs to be acted out in what we do. In our Scripture this week, Paul lays out a logical argument for us to be “all in, committed to go where God is sending me.”
Paul argues that the ultimate goal is that everyone would believe in the salvation provided by Christ. He lays out a very logical thought process for those who would be reading or hearing his words.
1. How can a person call on Jesus to save them if they have not believed in Jesus? (verse 14)
2. How can a person believe in Jesus if they have never heard about Jesus? (verse 14)
3. How can a person hear about Jesus unless someone tells them? (verse 14)
4. How can someone tell about the Gospel unless they are called to share? (verse 15)
Simple answers to all of these questions is, “They can’t.” People cannot be saved if they have no understanding of God’s plan of salvation. God, in His mysterious wisdom, chose you and me to be those people who share the Good News of the Gospel to others. I don’t know why God chose people to be His voice and share His Word – but He did. Someone once said, “His chosen method of saving people is for the sacred words of His book, the Bible, to be passed on to lost ears by our trembling, imperfect, nervous lips. It is a deeply mysterious, beautiful task to carry the good news of the Gospel to the lost.” The primary way God has chosen to reach those who need a Savior is through people sharing the Gospel. That means you and me. We don’t have to be eloquent speakers. We don’t have to have a theological education. We don’t have to have a three-point sermon. We just need to tell people that Jesus came to save the lost.
Sharing this message is our responsibility and our privilege. We should do so knowing that it is God who works in someone’s heart to receive that message. Our task is simply to share. Reflect on your own spiritual journey. Where would you be if no one shared the Gospel with you? I am thankful for the people in my life that helped me have a clear understanding of salvation. I thank God for them. Do you recall who that person was in your life? What if they had not acted on God’s call for them to be His voice? I am sure you are thankful for them and their obedience. In verse 15, Paul quotes Scripture from the book of Isaiah, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” In my heart, these people in my life are “beautiful!” It is interesting that this verse does not say, “How beautiful are the lips of those who bring good news!” Sharing the Gospel is putting our faith and our call into action. We are to go and share. We are to be active. The focus is on the obedient call to action. God will take your words and cause them to work in a person’s life. But you have to go and share.
So I ask you this, “What condition are your feet in?” Are your feet resting on a foot stool, while your lips do all the work? Or are your feet worn and calloused from going and doing what God has called you to do? Your call may be as simple as sharing with your family, or your neighbors. Or the call you are hearing may be to go to distant lands and share. We are all called. The question is, are you all in and committed to act on that call? Ask God to make it clear to you how you can have those beautiful feet. Prayerfully take some time and listen to this song. “Father, take me and use me as your instrument in a world that needs you. Make my feet beautiful.”
Pray about it: “Father, I do not know why You chose me to spread Your Gospel to those around me. I am humbled. Help me to act on that call. Help me to boldly share the amazing message of Your plan of salvation. I know it is Your work that will bring fruit out of my feeble efforts. Use me. Make my feet beautiful. Amen.”
Act on it:Focus your devotions this week on the amazing call to share the Gospel that each of us has received. Here are some verses to get you started:
Isaiah 12:4; Isaiah 6:8; Psalm 105:1; Ezekiel 3:17-19; Matthew 5:15-16; Matthew 9:37-38; Matthew 28:19-20; Luke 12:8; Luke 12:11-12; Acts 1:8; Acts 13:47; Acts 20:24; Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 2:1-2; 1 Corinthians 3:6-9; 2 Corinthians 5:20; Colossians 4:2-6; 2 Timothy 4:5; 1 Peter 3:15; 2 Peter 3:9
Parenting Tips: Children are really good at simplifying complex things. They take what we adults make complex and put it in such a way that the key message is heard. As you help your child understand the Gospel, keep it simple. John 3:16 is a favorite verse for those who share the Gospel. It is simple and to the point. Memorize this with your child. It will be a verse that stays with them.
May 31, 2020
I am all in, committed to go where God is sending me.
Commitment to Enact God’s Call
Read it: Isaiah 6:8
Think on it: In the time of Isaiah the prophet, turmoil was the norm for the kingdom of Judah. The kings that ruled this nation were mixed – they were avid followers of God, or they were not followers of God, or they started out one way and ended up the other way. God used prophets at this time to get the His message to the people (since the kings likely would not do so). Isaiah was one of those prophets. He did not go to school to become a prophet. He did not come from a long line of prophets. But God chose him to be His spokesperson.
There is much we can learn from Isaiah’s call, and his obedience to that call, if we are to be committed to go where and do what God has called us to do.
- Focus on God and His majesty. Isaiah was able to hear God’s call because he saw God. In Isaiah’s case, he had a vision. That vision was a realization of the awesomeness of God’s splendor and majesty. It gave Isaiah perspective on Who was calling him to do a particular task. You and I may not have visions or literally hear God speak (although I am not saying that does not happen to some) but we have God’s written Word to help us understand what an amazing God we serve. Isaiah had perspective. He knew that God was everything. Today, we are constantly hearing the message that we are enough; the answers lie within us; we can do anything we put our minds to. We need a reality check, to begin to understand that, without God, we are nothing and cannot accomplish our call on our own.
- Approach the call with humility. Isaiah confessed that he was not worthy of what God was calling him to do. He realized he was a sinner and not worthy to be that “spokesperson” for God’s message. If we begin to fulfill our call based in our own talents and abilities, we will not rely on God, we will find our strength in ourselves. The bad thing about that is our own strength will run out eventually – God’s strength will not. We need to humbly admit that we cannot do the task on our own.
- Accept God’s terms. Isaiah knew he was not worthy or able to fulfill the task, so God stepped in and took away what was hindering and made him worthy and able to do what he was called to do. God will do the same for us. He uses the simple and the foolish to accomplish what He wants – because He works in spite of those things (1 Corinthians 1:27-31). We are not to say, “Not me, Lord, because I don’t have the ability or gifting to do what You want.” We should say, “I am willing, but You will have to use me as You will and work through me in spite of my weaknesses.”
- Listen to God. Isaiah finally heard God’s call. God asked, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” (Isaiah 6:8). I believe that Isaiah might not have even heard the call from God if he had not taken care of the first three things on this list. But because he was focused on God, aware that it was something he could not accomplish under his own power and realized that God would work in spite of his weaknesses, he heard God – very clearly. For us, clarity is sometimes hard to come by. There are so many things that speak to us, that interfere with our minds and hearts, we may not even hear God attempting to get our attention. We need to be ready to hear His promptings and call.
- Answer God’s call. Isaiah’s response to God’s question of who will go was not complex, it was not lengthy, it was simply, “And I said, ‘Here I am. Send me.’” Our answer to what God is asking us to do is simple. It is not about negotiating with Him. It is not requiring that He answer all the questions we might have or the complete plan for carrying out our call. It is a simple “yes” or “no.” God will take care of the rest in His perfect timing.
- GO! Obedience is not just with words – it is with action. We know that Isaiah brought God’s Word to the people of Judah as God directed. If he had said “yes” to God and then did not act upon that, God would have moved on to someone else who would enact His plan. It is easy for us to give lip service to God, but He expects obedience and action more than words. “To obey is better than sacrifice (or lip service)…” I Samuel 15:22-23.
Where are you on this list? What area do you need to focus on so that the path to obedience to God’s call is clear and unobstructed? Take time this week to make sure you have done all you can to clearly hear God’s call to action.
“God’s voice is still and quiet and easily buried under an avalanche of clamor.” – Charles Stanley
Pray about it: “Father, there are so many voices in my life – all distracting me from hearing You. Help me to put those aside, to sit quietly at Your feet and listen to what You so want to lovingly say to me. When I hear, help me to be obedient – not just in words but in action. I’ll need Your help and strength to accomplish what You are asking of me. And I thank You for providing whatever I need to accomplish the task before me. Amen.”
Act on it: As suggested in the devotion, take time this week to do an analysis of what is keeping you from going and doing God’s bidding on your life. In order to do that, you will need to make time to do this. That is the first step to active obedience to God’s call. Take that first step and then be obedient to the next steps revealed to you by God’s guidance.
Parenting Tips: For children, knowing someone and developing a trust in them is the first and most important step in being obedient to that person. If your desire is for your child to be obedient to God’s call on their life, they need to get to know Him. Help them do that. Read to them from the Word of God. Pray with them, so they see how they can talk to God. Set the example for them, so they see how it works and how trustworthy God is.
May 24, 2020
I am all in, committed to listen to God’s call on my life.
Running Our Race
Read it: Hebrews 12:1-3
Think on it: Running is not my thing. I used to run when I was much younger – because it was a popular thing to do. I had a running suit (matching sweatpants and jacket) – which was not very practical, and I had running shoes. But the “proper” attire does not make a runner. Most of my runs started out as runs and ended up as walks. I cannot remember the last time I ran. However, I have great respect for runners – especially those who run no matter what – rain, shine, sleet or snow. I also admire people who enter races – especially marathons. They definitely have a drive in them that either I don’t possess or have never brought to the surface. And in case you were wondering – I probably will just leave it alone.
Our passage this week, Hebrews 12:1-3, compares our calling to a running race. In the previous chapter (Hebrews 11), the author gives multiple examples of people who took to heart the calling that God placed on their lives, and in spite of obstacles and hardships, were true to that calling and completed the race set out before them. Why list all these examples? I believe there are a couple of reasons. One might be to show the reader that following the call God has placed on you is not new or unrealistic. Many who have gone before you have done it and done it well. I also think the reader can see in all those examples that a person’s call is unique to them. We are not all called to the same task, the same race. How we run that race, however, is the same.
That is where Hebrews 12:1-3 comes in. We learn some important things about being faithful to our call and how to be successful as we run its course.
- “Throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” (verse 1) – Just as a runner will do all they can to rid themselves of extra weight, constricting clothing, etc., as Christians, we are to do the same in a spiritual sense. Any sin or distractions that threatens our relationship with God; anything that will slow us down or trip us up must be cast off. With the encouraging examples of those who have gone before us, we need to rid ourselves of thoughts, attitudes, and habits that impede our progress in our own race.
- “Run with perseverance” (verse 1) – Don’t give up. Just as a marathon runner paces themselves out and pushes through all the phases of their race, we are to do the same. We are to be committed to finishing the race – to completing our calling to the very end. Daily time in prayer and reading God’s Word will fuel us spiritually for each phase of our race.
- “The race marked out for us” (verse 1) – We did not choose the racecourse, or the call on our lives. God established it. He is the One who set our work and our prize before us. We can be thankful that He made that choice, because He knows what is best for us. He is the One who will equip us for success in the race and in its completion.
- “Fixing our eyes on Jesus…consider Him” (verse 2-3) – When we fix our eyes on Christ, we are looking away from all those things that would be a distraction to us. He is also the supreme example of Someone who successfully ran and complete His race – and He did so with joy and great endurance. Hebrews 12:2 in the Amplified Bible puts it beautifully, “Looking away [from all that will distract] to Jesus, Who is the Leader and the Source of our faith [giving the first incentive for our belief] and is also its Finisher [bringing it to maturity and perfection]. He, for the joy [of obtaining the prize] that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising and ignoring the shame, and is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” When we focus on the example set by Jesus and fix our eyes steadfastly on Him, we will be greatly encouraged to faithfully continue to move forward in our calling, in our race, until we complete it.
How are you running the race of life? Understanding that our calling is lifelong, we need to run our race as a marathon – committing to the very end. Daily time in prayer, worship, reading God’s Word and examining our lives for those things that would hinder us will help. We have the example that Jesus set, as well as others who have gone on before us. Those should be sources of encouragement as we navigate our own journey.
Pray about it: “Father, thank you for the example set by Jesus. Thank you for the calling you have placed on my life. Sometimes my race is hard, and I want to quit. Help me to have the endurance I need to finish. I know you will give me what I need to complete my calling. Thank you. Amen.”
Act on it: How is your race going these days? Take time this week to examine things that might be hindering or weighing you down. Be sure your daily routine includes spending time with Jesus – who is the supreme example for us. Ask close friends to be encouragement for you and you for them.
Parenting Tips: Help prepare your child for their race. Teach them now to look to Jesus as the best example. Help walk them through tough things, and don’t let them quit. Giving them a long-term vision will help them as they become more independent (from you) in their Christian walk.
May 17, 2020
I am all in, committed to listen to God’s call on my life.
Brag About This
Read it:1 Corinthians 1:26-31
Think on it:
“Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential, not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised thing – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29)
Before the beginning of time, God called us. He called us to become His, and He called us to live as His while on this earth. When Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth, he was writing to the “ordinary” folks who lived there. Most of the believers in that church were not scholars, or noblemen, or wealthy individuals. They were artisans, tradesmen, slaves – the “insignificant” people of the world. Many times, we tend to think that God needs great men and women in order to do great things. Paul wrote the words in 1 Corinthians to let you and I know what God is looking for in people.
In a nutshell, this passage is telling us that God works His plan in spite of you, not because of you. Who you are and what you bring to the table doesn’t really help God out. According to these verses, here’s who we are – foolish, weak, lowly, and despised. Remember your junior high days? Most of us felt these things – and we had classmates that would go out of their way to remind us just how foolish, weak, lowly, and despised they saw us. If you look around the world these days, we, as Christians, are still viewed that way by many in the world. They believe that Christians are foolish, ignorant, haters, bigots, and uneducated. We are despised and hated as Christians, and if we truly believe what Scripture says, that is not going away. Paul is clearly reminding us that God called us – not because of who we are or what we do – but because of His purpose and grace. 1 Timothy 1:9 states it clearly: “He has saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace…”
Most of us identify with the “nothings” of this world. We are not part of the super-rich, the internet popular, the politicians. We are the artisans and the tradesmen of our day. What Paul is telling us, is that most of the people God has called into His family are those very people. He delights in using the ordinary to accomplish extraordinary His work. He delights in using the plain and simple to accomplish His amazing plan. God chose you and me despite who we are, and He called us for a particular purpose. Verses 27-28 tell us what that purpose is. God will use the fools to shame the wise. He will use the weak to shame the strong. He will use the low and despised to shame the powerful. The “nothings” that God chooses will nullify – render completely ineffective – those who the world looks at as “somethings.”
Friends, you might stay quiet about your Christianity because you feel like you won’t have all the answers. Or you feel you will appear foolish in others’ eyes. You may not want others to categorize you as a bigot or a hater. This is exactly where God wants you. He has allowed us to appear foolish and weak for a reason. Our humanity drives us to improve our self-image. We want to brag, to boast of what we have done. We want others to appreciate and even respect us. However, our real purpose in this life is to bring glory to God – to have others see us point to God. Verse 31 says, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” So how do we reset our thinking? Think about the things you have that are good, such as your family, your friends, your home, etc. You don’t have those things because of how great you are, or how carefully you have been faithful to God, or because God is pleased with you, or because of your wise choices, or because of who you married. You are blessed despite who you are, not because of it. God gave you your family, your friends, your home, and so on, so that you would boast about Him.
Jeremiah 9:23-24 tells us what to brag about. “’Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know Me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,’ declares the Lord.” God has chosen you and called you to something far greater than talking about yourself. He called you to brag about Him.
Pray about it: “Father, thank you for calling me. Thank you for all that You have done for me. I know that without You, I am nothing, I have nothing, and I can accomplish nothing. Please help me to not brag about me – but to brag about You and all You have done. Amen.”
Act on it: This week, take time in your daily devotions to read about how God works, in spite of people. There are many people in the Bible who exemplify this attitude. John the Baptist; Moses; David; Isaiah; Joseph – these are just a few. Take time to read about their lives and how God called these “simple” people to work His plan – and how they did not brag about what they had done, but they bragged about God.
Parenting Tips: This week, read the stories of the above mentioned people with your child. Learning about these amazing stories of God’s incredible work through those humble examples gives your child a real taste of how God chooses to use the humble and weak.
May 10, 2020
I am all in, committed to listen to God’s call on my life.
Jesus – Our Example
Read it: John 6:38-40
Think on it: As we look at understanding God’s call on our lives this month, it will help to look at the best example we have, Jesus. Through our calling, God chooses us to accomplish His plan on this earth. Christ was sent to this earth for the very same reason. He had a calling, a mission, that had been directed by God. He could have chosen to ignore that calling, but instead He chose to follow God’s will for His life, “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38).
This verse in John 6 comes right after two amazing miracles – the feeding of the five thousand and, afterwards, walking on the water in the Sea of Galilee. The crowds wanted Jesus to be their king, to set up a kingdom on earth to unseat the Roman rule in their homeland. Jesus certainly had the support to do that. Yet He knew that this was not His calling. God had given Him a specific task to accomplish in His time on earth: “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life…” (John 6:40). Jesus had one call and one purpose. He was committed to that call and kept His eyes focused on that call – even to His death on the cross.
A great example to me, on understanding God’s call and then fulfilling it, was my parents. My mom and dad were called to full-time Christian work with the Navigators in the late 1940s. They were committed to working with military personnel, sharing the Gospel with them, and discipling them, so that those people, in turn, would do the same with others. They were in that ministry “officially” until my dad was in his late 80s, but he was still discipling until he mentally declined in his mid-90s. These precious servants of God were “all in,” committed to fulfilling God’s call on their life. As one of their children, I lived that calling with them. I saw the commitment, the struggles, and the victories they faced as they walked the path laid for them by God. All of us children, all the people that were around my parents, even their own parents and brothers and sisters, saw this commitment. Not everyone understood it, and some even spoke against it. But my parents were faithful to God’s call on their lives. On their grave marker we had this verse engraved, as it speaks to this “all in” commitment to following God’s call, “…steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord…” (1 Corinthians 15:58 KJV).
I count it a blessing that I had that living example in my life. My parents helped instill in me a commitment to follow God’s call on my life, and I have tried to do just that. Jesus set the best example for us. We can only attempt to be committed as He was. That is what is being asked of us. We have been saved, and we have been called. These two things go hand-in-hand, as we discovered last week. Are you committed to God’s call on your life? Are there things that are distracting you from being committed? Jesus was all in. Are you?
Pray about it: “Father, I thank you for my salvation. I thank you that You have placed a calling on my life. I am trying to be committed to my call, just as Jesus was. It is easy to let other things distract me from that call. Please continue to walk with me in my journey, giving me the strength I need to stay the course. Amen.”
Act on it: What is distracting you on your journey? Jesus could have easily been distracted while He journeyed here, but He knew what God’s plan was and He was committed to that. What is your call? Are other things getting in the way, or are those things helping you fill the plan God has for your life? You don’t need to be in full-time Christian work. God’s call works anywhere and anytime. Pray this week for God to reveal to you where you are being distracted and ask for His help to get you back on track.
Parenting Tips: Just as my parents were a great living example to me, you can be a great living example to your children. When they are adults, will they look back on you as an example of being all in, committed to God’s call on your life? It’s never too late to check your priorities.
May 3, 2020
I am all in, committed to listen to God’s call on my life.
Read it: 2 Timothy 1:9
Think on it:
“He saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.” 2 Timothy 1:9
Last month we took time to look at what it means to be a new creation in Christ. Because of His grace and mercy, we are free from the enslavement of sin and death. It is not because of what we have done, but because of what He has done (Ephesians 2:8-9). This is the first point in our verse for this week: “He saved us…” In every way, Christ is our Savior – in the past providing us with salvation, in the present as we live each day and, in the future, when God completes His work in us when we are in heaven (Philippians 1:6; Romans 8:28-30).
In this week’s verse, we see that we were not only saved, but we have been called to a “holy life.” As believers, we have a divine call from God. This calling on our lives is beautifully unfolded throughout Scripture.
- We are called to fellowship with the Son – 1 Corinthians 1:9
- We are called to inherit a blessing – 1 Peter 3:9
- We are called to freedom – Galatians 5:13
- We are called to peace – 1 Corinthians 7:15
- We are called to holiness – 1 Peter 1:15-16
- We are called to walk worthy – Ephesians 4:1
- We are called to one hope – Ephesians 4:4
- We are called to eternal life – 1 Timothy 6:12
Paul reminds his readers that we have been invited by God Himself, welcomed into a relationship with Him and set apart for Him. This is a holy calling (1 Peter 1:15), this is a high calling (Philippians 3:14). This is a heavenly calling (Hebrews 3:11). When we were saved, we were called to live this holy life for God. Our life should result in obedience to Christ and holiness to God. We no longer live for ourselves but rather for the God who has called us.
Just as our salvation is given to us by grace, so is our calling. Our works, our performance, our actions, are a result of our salvation and not a means of our salvation. We are called, not according to human merit in any way, but only by the grace of God. God has called us to His purpose, resolve, and design – not ours. We have been called in accordance with His boundless grace to fulfill that purpose. The definition of the word “purpose” is, a “plan or will that involves purpose, resolve and design with intent, desire or will with the power to execute that will.” We have been called according to His purpose, not ours. We have also been called in accordance with His boundless grace to fulfill that purpose. This divine grace and purpose to which we are called did not just happen. Since the beginning, God had this plan and this call on our life. Ephesians 1:4-5 reminds us that before the world was ever created or we were ever conceived, we were in the heart and plan of the sovereign God. We are not alone and powerless in the calling God has for us. He began it and will complete it.
As a believer in Christ, you have a divine call from God Himself. He has welcomed you, invited you, and appointed you to be a viable part of His plan. Is that how you view your relationship with Christ? Does your life demonstrate this call from God to a specific purpose? Are you living according to God’s purpose or your own? Where are you in this journey of working out the calling God has given you?
Pray about it: “Father, I am so thankful for the salvation I have received from You. I am also thankful for the call You have on my life to work Your purpose here on earth. I am not sure I live every day with that call on the forefront of my mind. I am sorry. I desire to rise every morning and go to sleep every night knowing that I have lived my life that day according to Your purpose and not mine. I need help from the Holy Spirit in me. Thank you for that help. Amen.”
Act on it: In the last paragraph of this devotion, there were some questions laid out. Prayerfully go over each question and honestly answer them. If you find yourself not believing that God has called you – start there. If you know that God has called you, but you are not living your life to answer that call – confess it before God and follow what He has designed for your life. Everything you do can be a working out of God’s call on your life (Colossians 3:17).
Parenting Tips: Living a life of example for your child is the best way to show them how to live according to God’s call on their life. Helping your child see how they can “do all for the glory of God” (Colossians 3:17) in their everyday activities is a start. Help them see that bigger picture and how they can begin to see God’s call on their own life.
April 26, 2020
I am all in, committed to live as a new creation.
Renewal – the Struggle is Real
Read it: 2 Peter 1:3-11
Think on it: All believers are new creations. We have been learning this during the month of April. We know that once we have received Christ, we become a new creation. The struggle, however, is that the old self wants to interfere with the new self. Thus, we are in a constant battle, and will be, until we are with Christ and the new creation happening in us is complete. We have the choice to help or hinder this process. In 2 Peter, we are guided in learning how we can partner with the Holy Spirit at work within us to be those new creations for “life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). When we become that new creation, Christ supplies all the resources we will need, instead of calling on us to do it by ourselves.
What are these resources that are promised to every believer?
- The Holy Spirit. Philippians 2:13 says, “For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” The Holy Spirit in us motivates and empowers us to become that new creation.
- That process happens no matter the circumstances. Romans 8:28-29 tells us that it is God who works all things for good, if we are partnered with Him in this process of becoming that new creation.
- God will never give up on His new creation. “Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion…” (Philippians 1:6).
What’s the lesson to be learned here? We need to work with Christ in the process of becoming that new creation. God will not force His character into our lives in spite of our cooperation – rather, He works with our resolve to be transformed into the new creation He intends for us to become.
This transformation requires a certain attitude on our part. In 2 Peter 1:5, Peter tells us to “make every effort.” The Greek word used here, spoude, is typically applied to Olympic athletes, who “give it all they have” as they are about to finish the race. In other words, Peter tells us that we need to be “all in” in this process. It is not a passive dabbling we are to participate in, but an all-out effort to work with Christ in becoming the new creation. For some of us, we may not be seeing any progress in our life-changing process because we are simply working with a passive attitude. We might say, “If God really wants me to change, He can do it with or without my help.” That attitude needs to change to, “God, I want You to change me more than anything. I will work with You in whatever ways you show me.”
In 2 Peter 1, he goes on to describe the areas in which God is working on this new creation. He has a definite plan, chosen just for you. These areas listed are common to all believers, but how they are manifested in you is unique to who you were created to be. God wants to do this amazing work in you – designed just for you. As you read through this list, prayerfully ask God to speak to you about what this looks like now, and what it can look like as you partner with Him to become new.
- Goodness – moral excellence, virtue.
- Knowledge – thinking and discernment based on the truth found in God’s Word. This allows us to have “the mind of Christ.”
- Self-control – a will that is trained and able to say “no” to those things that are inappropriate and will deter us from our renewal in Christ.
- Perseverance – being willing to pursue God’s will in spite of adversity and hardship. The only way to accomplish that is through the strength from the Holy Spirit in us to fulfill His mission for our life.
- Godliness – desiring to live a life pleasing to God – not in bondage in a life that would rather please people. Knowing that God is involved in every area of our life and making choices that are pleasing to Him.
- Brotherly kindness – all of the above listed things will show themselves in how we treat others. The inside needs to change before the outward life displays this type of relationship with others.
- Love – sacrificial love – this is the type of love that Christ has for us. With the work of the Holy Spirit in us to make us a new creation, this type of love should be evidenced in all that we do.
This path of becoming the new creation is not an easy one. The world around us would have us be complacent to this process. After all, we are believers and we are promised eternity. The world would tell you it is too hard, too much work, progress is too slow. But Peter reassures his readers that there is good reason to persevere in becoming that new creation:
- Your life will be useful and fruitful for Christ (verse 8).
- Your life will not fail because of the circumstances you face (verse 10).
- You will be richly welcomed when you enter into His kingdom (verse 11).
What area(s) is Christ working on in your life right now? Are you cooperating with Him in this process? Ask God to show you the next steps in your journey on becoming the new creation He designed you to be.
Pray about it: “Father, thank you for the work You have already done in my life. Thank you for making me a new creation. I know I struggle with the old, and it gets in the way of who You designed me to be. I desire to work with You in whatever ways You show me. I want You to be evident in me, inside and out. Amen.”
Act on it: Going through the list in the devotion, did you identify an area where God is currently working? Are you working with Him in the process? If not, start with you attitude. Then, ask for ways to work with Him every day so that you see progress in becoming that new creation.
Parenting Tips: As you pray for your child, is there something God is bringing to your mind that you can help them with, to become that new creation? If so, make it a priority to pray over your child for this. Then help them begin to understand how God desires them to grow in this area. Identify the wrong, and replace it with the new, as describe in God’s Word. The change will not happen overnight, so your patience is needed in this process. Keep them accountable and be their encourager in the journey.
April 19, 2020
I am a new creation.
Instruments of Righteousness
Read it: Romans 6:11-14
Think on it:
I am a new creation! You are a new creation! What blessed words those are for all who have entered into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. As believers, we are reborn, from sin and its resulting death, to righteousness and eternal life. Wow! What amazing grace! So why do we still struggle with sin? Romans 6:11-12 says, “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore, do not let sin reign in your mortal body…” So, if we are dead to sin, how can it still control us? Why do we still struggle? When sin is in control, a person has no choice but to give in to it because it enslaves that person. As long as we are in our mortal bodies, we will have the compulsion to sin. But it no longer has the right to enslave us because, through salvation, we have died to sin. Sin no longer has the power to control us, so each day we must reject our old sinful ways. Paul emphasizes that, in verses 12-13, “…do not let sin reign in your mortal body, so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God…” We have a choice. We are to refuse sin and be wholly committed to living for God. We make these choices every day, moment by moment.
Our passage for this week tells us that we are to do three things:
Believe. We are to “count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God” (verse 11). This is important. One cannot go through life just pretending that sin doesn’t have any effect on them. Paul is clearly saying that sin doesn’t have any effect on a believer. It doesn’t matter what you feel. God has said that we, as believers, are no longer slaves to sin. Start acting the way God says. Sin has no power over us! Agree with God. You may not know how it all works or have exhaustive understanding of it all. But believe what God has said and ask Him for understanding.
Resist. Verse 12 says, “…do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin as instruments of wickedness.” In other words, don’t let sin go unchallenged in your life. You have no right to say, “I just can’t help it.” According to God, you can. Becoming a Christian allows us to have a new power to live our lives as new creations. Galatians 5:16 says, “So now I say, live by the spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” We have the Holy Spirit in us, guiding us, so that we can resist the sin that so easily comes to tempt us. As Christians, we don’t have to be intimidated by our old nature, or Satan, or ourselves, any longer. Christ died for sins, once and for all. All sins, past, present, and future. This does not mean that we can go ahead and sin, knowing that God will forgive us. It means that we can successfully resist – and live in victory over sin!
Offer. “…offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness” (verse 13). We are either serving God or serving sin. Simple as that. We have a choice. Romans 12:1-2 says this: “Therefore, I urge you brothers, in view of God’s mercy to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.” It is our choice to offer ourselves voluntarily as instruments of righteousness.
Becoming a new creation is a daily surrendering of our will, and resistance to giving in to the temptation of the sinful nature. It is a process. We live in a fallen world, we have mortal bodies, and there is a constant struggle to be used as instruments of righteousness. But we have the God’s promise that sin no longer has power over us! “For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14).
Pray about it:
“Father, the struggle is real. Each day I am faced with temptation. I know that this is part of living in this broken world. However, I thank You that I am no longer a slave to sin. It has no power over me because of what You did on the cross. Thank you for freeing me from the power of sin. I truly want to be used by You as an instrument of righteousness. Amen.”
Act on it:
Struggling with sin? Feel like you are losing the battle? Take time this week to put in to practice the three things laid out in the devotion.
1. Believe that sin has no power over you. Read about it in the Bible. State it as fact. Act out the truth of what God has said.
2. Resist temptations that come your way. They will come. How will you stand against it? Use verses that have power and quote them out loud when you are faced with temptation. Pray immediately for help from the Holy Spirit. Walk away, if you can. Declare the victory God promises to His children.
3. Occupy your time with partnering with God in His business. When you find your thoughts straying – turn it into a time of prayer. Things you do should be done as if God were looking over your shoulder – because He is. All that you do can reflect God or it can reflect sin. You choose.
The struggle of the sinful nature in children is sometimes very obvious – because they are not as expert at “hiding” their sinful nature we adults can be. When you see them struggling, help them with their choices. Of course, they need to stop doing the wrong thing, but you need to direct them to the right thing – so they are making choices to be instruments of righteousness rather than instruments of wickedness.
April 12, 2020
I am a new creation.
Abide in Christ
Read it: John 15:1-8
Think on it:
This past winter, we had several severe windstorms. One thing that typically happens is that a branch will be broken off from the tree. The tree still stands, but that branch is now separated from the tree and has no life in it. We cannot plant it and hope it will grow into a tree. We cannot hope to see it produce the new leaves of spring. It is lifeless. My husband will gather these broken branches, cut them up, and eventually use them for our wood stove or our fire pit. That is all they are good for.
In our Scripture this week, Jesus made a similar comparison. He talked with His disciples about a vine and its branches. He told them that the branches are getting their life and nourishment from the vine. If the branch was separated from the vine, it would die and only be useful as firewood. Jesus used this analogy to describe the relationship between Himself and the believer. Jesus is the Vine. He is the source of nourishment and growth for each believer. When we become a new creation, a Christian, we become a branch. In a vineyard, the purpose of the branch is to bear grapes. It is able to do so only as it remains attached to the vine. Jesus told His disciples that they would not be able to bear fruit if they were separated from the Vine. “Remain in Me, as I also remain in you. No branch can hear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me” (John 15:4). How do we, as Christians, “remain in the vine?” We are to remain connected to Jesus. When we became believers, we received the Holy Spirit. He is in us – to guide us, to speak to us, to help us understand the things of God. He has also given us His Word. The Bible is a critical source of understanding and nourishment to help us grow and be fruitful. John 15:7-8 says, “If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit…”
What fruit will we produce? Notice that the command for us is to abide in Jesus and let His Word abide in us. There is no command to produce fruit. Just as the grapes are produced as the branch remains attached to the vine, the fruit we will produce as believers will be a natural outpouring of our nourishing relationship with Christ and His Word. The Holy Spirit working in us through His Word makes us into vibrant fruit-producing people. So, what fruit? Galatians 5:22-25 clearly lists the fruit that will come when a person is “abiding” in Christ. Notice that this fruit becomes evident as we interact with others. In our relationships with people, we get to show our faith, to be Jesus’ witnesses, to share the life He has given us with those around us. The fruit is not the harvesting of souls for Christ – although that may be a result of the fruit a Christian shows. The fruit is Christlikeness.
Our task as a new creation is relatively simple. Abide in Christ and allow His Word to abide in us. Satan does not want us to abide here. He wants us to isolate and distance ourselves from the life-giving Vine. If we do that, our “fruit” becomes very different – a fruit that is self-focused and turns others away from God. The result is that the branch will be cut off and only be useful for firewood. Are you abiding in Christ? Are you connected to the life-giving Vine and allowing His Word to dwell in you? What kind of fruit are you seeing in your life? Don’t be firewood – be fruitful and allow others to see the work of God in your life.
Pray about it: “Father, thank you for making me a new creation. Thank you for the life-giving nourishment of Your Holy Spirit and the Word. Help me to allow that nourishment to be a daily part of my life – that I remain connected to You as I go through my day. Allow Your Word to speak to me and guide me. Help my thoughts be connected to You. I want your fruit to be evident in my life to those around me. Amen.”
Act on it: What kind of fruit are you seeing produced in your life? The fruit of the flesh are ”… Galatians 5:19-21. Are any of these fleshly fruit, things you are currently struggling with? Check your connection to the Vine. Are you spending daily time with God? Are you praying throughout the day? Are you in His Word – listening to His voice to you? Stay attached to the Vine. You will see His fruit become more and more evident in your life – “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).
Parenting Tips: Help your child become attached to the Vine. When you see the fruit they are bearing, you will know if they are attached or becoming unattached. A child can bear the fruit of the Spirit or the fruit of the flesh. “Even small children are known by their actions, so is their conduct really pure and upright?”
I am a new creation.
You are a new creation.
Read it: 2 Corinthians 5:17
Think on it:
As we begin a new quarter of school, we also begin a new section of our study of “All In.” For the next three months, we will be looking at what it means to be all in, and “Committed to the Mission.” For the month of April, we will look specifically at “I am a new creation.” As believers, we have been transformed – made new. Our old, sinful self is no longer who we are. We no longer have to be enslaved to the nature of our old selves, filled with natural pride, love of sin, reliance on works, and our former opinions, habits, and passions.
What does 2 Corinthians 5:17 say about being a “new creation?” When a person accepts the salvation offered by God, a miracle happens. Just as God created the heavens and the earth, He created in us spiritual life and light. He actually changes the human heart, in its sinful state, so that it can receive Him (Ezekiel 36:26). This regeneration occurs by the Holy Spirit (John 3:5-8) when a person believes and is “in Christ.” It is that relationship with Christ that makes us a new creation. Before our relationship with Christ, we were separated from God (Isaiah 59:2). This was not God’s original design for humans. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve walked and talked with God. But when sin entered the world through them, we became separated from God and lost the original design of being able to have that direct access to God. That chasm between people and God prevented us from the relationship with God that Adam and Eve once had. So, we tried to get back to God on our own abilities by being good people, or through religion, money, morality, philosophy, education, or any number of other ways. However, none of these worked (Proverbs 14:12). In order to regenerate our hearts, Jesus came into this world, lived a perfect life and offered Himself as the bridge to God (Romans 5:8). Believing and accepting that solution is how we are reborn into a new creation.
However, there are challenges to becoming this new creation. Our earthly bodies are easily influenced by Satan, and by the world, and by the old habits we have built up over time. This “old self” fights with the “new creation.” Both are wanting control of the believer. This battle causes conflict within us, but we are promised that God will deliver us over time from the “old self,” and He does not condemn us when we fail (Romans 7:14-8:1). God is constantly working on our regeneration to help us fully become that “new creation” (Romans 10:14), which will not be complete until we are in heaven, totally separated from our struggle with sin.
As we go through this re-programming, we start to love and crave the things of the Holy Spirit. We also begin to reject those things that are not from Him. Galatians 5:16-25 clearly contrasts the things that the old self craves compared to what the “new creation” craves – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It is a journey – one where we may stumble and fall – but one in which God faithfully walks with us. In the meantime, we and all of creation wait eagerly for the time we are freed from the bondage of the old to the revealing of the new.
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to the sonship, the redemptions of our bodies.” Romans 8:18-23
Pray about it: “Father, thank you for freeing me from the bondage of the old. Thank you for making me a new creation. I do struggle with the old nature, but I thank you for Your forgiveness and the help and strength You give me to be that new creation. I do eagerly wait for the time I will be totally transformed. Amen.”
Act on it: Do you find yourself struggling with the old self? It is easy to feel defeated in the battle of the old versus the new. Remember that God has put in you His Holy Spirit to transform you. Do not try to become the new creation on your own. Daily ask God to transform you to become a little more like that final new creation you will become when your life on the earth is over. When you stumble, ask for forgiveness, and keep moving forward. Satan wants you to live in a spirit of defeat – God wants you to live in a spirit of victory. If you need specifics to guide you, review the Fruit of the Sprit found in Galatians 5:16-25. This is a great list of the things that are of the Spirit and the new creation and what is not. Choose one area you are struggling in and pray about that specifically, and then see all the opportunities God will give you to allow His Spirit to work this in and through you. Remember, it is a journey – but one we must take as new creations.
Parenting Tips: Helping your child to identify the difference between the old and the new in their own lives will help them understand what the new creation looks like. When their behavior demonstrates the old self, correct them, but also help them see how they can replace it with one of the fruit of the Spirit.
I am all in, committed to serve others.
Even Now – Serve Others
Read it: 1 Peter 4:10-11
Think on it: Who would have thought, just a few short weeks ago, that we would be talking about social distancing and isolating ourselves on such a wide scale? It certainly doesn’t take much to change our “old normal” to a “new normal.” Face-to-face connections are limited, and even discouraged. As believers, we know we are called to serve, but in this era of isolation and minimal contact, how do we do that? We are still the church. Nowhere in the Bible does it tell us to stop serving others when things are hard and times are uncertain.
When Peter wrote this letter, he was writing to a church that was scattered because of intense persecution. They were suffering unbelievable things and were living day-to-day with uncertainty. Rather than telling these believers to lay low and take care of themselves during this hard time, he wrote these verses: “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 4:10-11).
Peter was telling these Christians to serve, in whatever capacity was given to them. Two examples he uses here are speaking and doing acts of service. This is so amazingly appropriate for now. We can serve others by words and by deeds. What we say to others – whether in person, on social media, in emails, in text messages – the message of those words should be as if they are from God Himself. Do the words you speak measure up to this criteria? If not, stop! Let your words be ones that build others up, words that bring hope and joy to those that hear them, words that leave others feeling encouraged, empowered and inspired. There are already enough words out there that tear others down, that bring fear and discouragement. Serve other with your words.
Peter also told his readers to perform acts of service, using the strength God provides. These persecuted believers who were living day-to-day looked for ways to help those around them. If we are to do this, we have to remember that you cannot serve when you are so focused on your own situation that you are blind to the needs around you. These early Christians put others’ needs above their own and then acted on them. In this time of hoarding toilet paper and clearing the store shelves of bread, we become blind to that one senior citizen who is unable to stand in line for over an hour just to buy a few desperately needed items while others are there to grab all the supplies “just in case.” We become blind to those who are physically vulnerable and unable to go to the pharmacy and get their much-needed prescriptions, because they are told to “shelter in place” by the government. We are so focused on ourselves, that we place a higher priority on things than on people. We are told to serve others. It is difficult to serve others if you are not around people. But there are things you can do, even in this time of isolation, to help those in need. Yardwork needs to be done – even in this COVID-19 era. Maybe your neighbor needs their lawn mowed. You can do that easily without violating social distancing. You might know someone who is alone and should be checked on to make sure they are okay. How about doing a grocery run for someone? How about inviting them to a “watch party” through social media to your church’s weekly service? How about writing notes of appreciation to those overworked personnel in the medical profession, police, and fire, and grocery store workers? Keep tithing to your church even though services are online and events are cancelled. Take your focus off yourself and reach out in love and service to others.
This is what we do as Christ’s church on earth. This is what we are called to do. In doing this, we are the face of God here on earth, and others will come to a personal relationship with Him because of what we do to serve. We are Christ’s light in this dark time. Poet Amanda Torroni put it beautifully: “What are you going to do with all that dark?” “Find a way to glow in it!”
Pray about it: “Father, I am so thankful that You are God. I am thankful that, even in this confused and scary time, You are in charge and You are still the same. Your call to us to be servants is still the same today as it was yesterday. Help me to be aware and think outside of the box in serving others today. You have given me what I need to reach out to others with my words and by my actions. Thank you. Amen.”
Act on it:
• Pray for God to clearly show you things you can do to serve others, especially during these unique times
• As God brings people to mind, pray for them
• Make a list of people you can reach out to, such as extended family members, neighbors, the elderly in your church, etc.
• Make phone calls, Facetime, or Skype connections
• Write notes and mail them
• Offer to do a grocery or pharmacy run for someone
• Do outside chores for those who can’t
• Brainstorm with your child who they can help during this time
• Have them write notes, draw pictures, etc., for those who need contact at this time
• Include them on those outside chores they can do for their neighbors – weeding, mowing, etc.
• Have your child do extra things in your own house as acts of service to your family
I am all in, committed to serve others.
Made Free to Serve
Read it: Galatians 5:13-14
Think on it: The definition of freedom, according to the Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary is: “the condition of being able or allowed to do, say, think, etc., whatever you want to, without being controlled or limited.” In our western culture, we take that definition pretty seriously, especially when others tell us what we have to do. But even in our “freedom” as citizens of the United States, we have to decide if we will obey authorities and their rules, or not. So, in a sense, we are free to choose, but we are not free from the consequences of our choices.
Our scripture this week, Galatians 5:13-15, speaks about freedom. When Paul wrote this, there were arguments among the believers about Gentiles becoming Christians. The argument centered around the assumption by some that they should also follow Jewish law, or they would not be “real” Christians. It was under this premise that Paul writes his letter. In the verses we are studying this week, Paul speaks to the freedom that a relationship with Christ brings to the lives of the believers. The core verse, 13, seems to almost be contradictory in nature, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” What is a Christian freed from? It could take weeks to truly give justice to the answer to this question! But to put it in a nutshell, we are free from the penalty of sin, we are free from the power of sin, we are free from the Law’s oppressive system. Without Christ, we were under the slavery of sin – we lived, ate, breathed, and were motivated by sin. We were powerless to separate ourselves from its hold on us. Jesus’ death and resurrection freed us from that enslavement.
So, what are we to do with this freedom? John 8:36 says, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” What does that look like for believers, in a practical sense? What are we free to do and to not do? Are there limits to Christian freedom? Paul did not give a list of do’s and don’ts. Instead, he took a practical approach in 1 Corinthians 10:23-24, stating that everything is permissible, but not everything is constructive. In Romans, Paul writes, “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:17-18, ESV). In Galatians, he talked about a practical thing for freed believers to focus on – serving others! He tells his readers they are no longer enslaved, but they should willingly commit to being a servant (slave) to others. How and why should believers be willing to become servants to others? The Holy Spirit, in us, produces an overflow of love toward others, when we allow Him to work in us. And that love is demonstrated in how we treat others.
As we are transformed inwardly to become more like Christ, we are freed to treat others in the way He would. Mark 10:45 says, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” Jesus purposefully lived to serve others. He gave up His freedom to become a servant. Truly allowing the Holy Spirit to work in us, means we will also become a servant to others. If you are struggling with using your freedom to indulge your own selfish desires, you are not allowing the work of the Holy Spirit to pour out of you to others. Being truly free means we make choices to treat others like Christ would treat them. Being truly free means we willingly put ourselves in the position of being a servant to others. What an amazing community would grow if all Christians freely chose to serve one another. What a joyous existence that would be!
Pray about it: “Father, thank you for the freedom I have in what Christ did for me. Thank you that I have the choice to allow You to work through me. Keep reminding me when I am stifling the Holy Spirit in me. I want Your love to pour out of me so that those around me will know that it is You and Your love – and that I am Your humble servant, and theirs, as well. Amen.”
Act on it: Serving begins with allowing the transforming work of Christ to impact you from the inside out. If you are struggling with serving others, maybe you need to be introspective about your heart. God is in the business of changing hearts, and He will willingly work through you as you allow Him to work. You are free to choose – free to choose to live for yourself, or to live for Him by serving others. Allow the Holy Spirit to prompt you for serving opportunities as your walk through each day this week. Serving will bring true joy.
Parenting Tips: The best way children learn to serve is by watching you. Involve your children in serving opportunities as appropriate. Find ways they can help. Start with things in the home and in your church community. They will have creative ideas, as well. Encourage them to participate in school outreach opportunities or programs, when they’re available. Train them now, and they will grow up as servants.
I am all in, committed to serve others.
Be Great in God’s Kingdom
Read it: Matthew 20:25-28
Think on it:
“The world tells us to seek success, power, and money; God tells us to seek humility, service, and love.” ~ Pope Francis
We live in a world where greatness is measured by a number of things, such as riches, power, fame, adoration, and so on. This world, of which we are a part, is not our permanent residence. We are told that it is only temporary. Any greatness achieved here will not last because it is based on a false and dying premise. Jesus spoke of His kingdom where the right things will live on in eternity. In His kingdom, love, humility, and service are the things that will have eternal impact. In His kingdom, greatness is not measured by the same things as in this world. Our problem is that we live in this world, and we are continually pulled into believing that those things, such as success and power, are important. Our focus needs to be on what is great, which is the kingdom of God.
The Bible is clear about what God honors and what God hates. God honors humility (James 4:6; Micah 6:8; Psalm 138:6; Proverbs 15:33) and God hates pride (Proverbs 16:5; Proverbs 21:4; Romans 1:30; 1 Timothy 3:6). When we are humble, we are available for God to work in and through us. When we are prideful, our focus is on ourselves and we are not available to do what God wants. Pride is the gateway to all sins, because sin is based on self-gratification. It is based on a sense of fulfilling something in you, on satisfying a personal desire. Sin is justified by each person, by declaring that sin is the right to do what you want, which is nothing more than an expression of pride and self-love. In this world, pride and greatness go hand-in-hand. In God’s kingdom, humility and greatness are the proper partners.
Throughout His time on earth, Jesus taught about understanding that the Kingdom of God was the opposite of the kingdoms of this world. In our scripture for the week, Matthew 20:25-28, Jesus is responding to a request by the mother of James and John. She came to Jesus and asked that her sons be seated at His right hand and His left hand in His kingdom. This caused indignation among the other disciples, because they, too, wanted to be great according to the world’s definition. Jesus takes time to explain, once again, what greatness is in God’s kingdom. He clearly lays out for His disciples how this world measures greatness. Then He contrasts how His kingdom works, “…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave…” (verses 26-27). To drive the point home more soundly, He lets them know that, even He (the King of Kings!) was following God’s design for greatness – “…just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (verse 28).
In his book, Spiritual Leadership, J. Oswald Sanders said “Let every day be a day of humility; condescend to all the weaknesses and infirmities of your fellow creatures, cover their frailties, love their excellencies, encourage their virtues, relieve their wants, rejoice in their prosperities, compassionate their distress, receive their friendship, overlook their unkindness, forgive their malice, be a servant of servants, condescend to do the lowliest offices of the lowest of mankind.”
Our call is to serve others. It is not a suggestion. It is not optional. If we want to be like Christ, if we want to be in line with God’s kingdom, serving others is required. Greatness in God’s kingdom is serving. My prayer is that I can claim for myself what Paul claimed in his letter to the church at Corinth – “For we do not preach ourselves, by Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves, your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5).
Pray about it: “Father, I am part of Your kingdom. I want to be able to function in Your kingdom as You have designed it. Help me to learn to sacrificially serve others. Help me learn from the example that Jesus gave us. I want my definition of greatness to match Yours. Thank you for Your patience as I walk this journey. Amen.”
Act on it: This week, examine ways you are pushing the wrong definition of greatness in what motivates you as you walk through your day. Ask questions like these:
- Am I seeking position in others’ eyes?
- Am I motivated by self-satisfaction or is there a deeper purpose for what I am doing?
- Am I motivated by the opportunity to serve others or am I motivated by pride?
In your various roles, look for ways to serve others. Go out of your way to meet the needs of those around you. It may be by helping them physically with something; or by taking time to be a better listener; or by really praying for them. There are a number of ways we can serve those around us.
Parenting Tips: Children love to be validated. When you offer praise to your child, be sure you are promoting God’s kingdom and His priorities. What you elevate in your interactions with your child, they will learn to elevate in their own lives. These include humility, serving others, a good attitude, etc.
I am all in, committed to serve others.
Serving Others – It’s Not About Me
Read it: 2 Corinthians 4:5
Think on it:
“If I am not a servant to others, by process of elimination I am a servant to myself. And that serves no one.” - Craig Lounsbrough
As we move into a new month, we are focusing on being all in – committed to – serving others. The above quote says quite a bit in just a few words. Serving others is not about ourselves. A servant doesn’t evaluate the cost to themselves before they serve someone. They see a need and do their best to meet that need. There is not a debate about how much time or resources it will cost. A servant who spends time contemplating the impact to themselves is serving themselves and not others. Jesus is the perfect example of how we are to serve others, and we will look at His ministry of serving others next week.
Our Bible verse for this week is found in 2 Corinthians 4:5, “For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” At first glance, some may take this verse as only applying to those that preach. I would suggest it is for all believers, since we “preach” Jesus, not just with words, but with our attitudes and actions (Colossians 4:5-6). Paul is telling his readers that self should not be what is heard or seen in our lives. Jesus should be the focus – so that others will hear and see Him.
In Galatians 5:13, Paul shows us great insight about serving others. The verse says, “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather serve one another in love.” Paul tells us that serving others does not save us. However, we were saved through the sacrifice of Christ in order to serve others. He makes three important points in this verse:
If we are still enslaved to sin, then we are not free to serve others. We might try to serve others, but our motives will be for all the wrong reasons – approval from man or God; hiding from what is truly bothering us; erasing our sin. The freedom found in salvation takes care of all these wrong motives and frees us up to focus on those we are serving. Selfishness gets in the way of serving. The major reasons we do not serve are because we lack time or energy. What is really going on is that we are so preoccupied with our own activities, dreams, or desires that we don’t have time for anything else. We are reminded in Mark 8:35 that we have to give up our selfish desires to truly live. •Serving must be done out of love for Jesus and with a thankfulness for all He has done for us. Jesus loved us and gave up His life for us. We are to follow His example and do that for others.
So how do we go about serving others? What do we do? Many things have been written about serving others, so there are many ideas floating around out there. Here are a few that I think are helpful to get started:
• Ask for a change of heart – ask God to help you love others.
• Listen to God – follow His lead and prompting through the Holy Spirit, and then act on that prompting.
• Place others first in your day-to-day – start with your household, then your work, your church, your community.
• Look at your schedule – does it reflect your selfishness? Can you get rid of some things, so you have time to serve?
• Start with simple acts of kindness.
Truthfully, serving is not always easy and one can get discouraged in the process. As you work on serving others, it helps to remember a couple of things. First, when you serve others, God notices. Hebrews 6:10 tells us that God will not forget how hard we have worked for Him as we serve others. Second, God uses every little act of service. Nothing you do out of love for others is insignificant. We are reminded of this very thing in 1 Corinthians 15:58.
As you walk through your week, do it with a mindset of “it’s not about me – it’s about serving God by serving others.” God will use your acts – large or small – to accomplish things greater that we can know.
Pray about it: “Father, I desire that my love for You will compel me to serve others. I don’t want to be selfish about serving, I want to have the right motivation. Help change my heart and attitudes as needed. Help me to listen to Your promptings for opportunities to serve others, in great or in small ways. Amen.”
Act on it: This week, ask God to help you truly serve others. If you are struggling, do some inventory of what may be getting in the way of being a servant to others. Ask God to prompt you to opportunities as the week goes on. Then be obedient to that prompting.
Parenting Tips: As you engage in acts of service, include your children, when you can. Children typically like to help others. Doing things with them will be impacting to them for many years. Get ideas for serving others from your children. They are creative and their ideas can be a lot of fun. Doing this empowers them to understand that, even as young people, they are capable of serving others.
I am all in, committed to pray for others.
Powerful and Effective Prayer
Read it: James 5: 13-16
Think on it: As you read through the passage for this week (James 5:13-16), you will notice a common word throughout these verses – PRAY! You get the impression that James felt it was an important thing to emphasize. James was writing to Jewish Christians who were living outside of Palestine. They were being persecuted and living in poverty. They were struggling with living in the world and not giving into the temptations the world offered them. In this part of his letter, James emphasized to them the power found in prayer.
It does not matter what you are going through – trouble or suffering (verse 13), illness or weakness (verse 14), even happiness (verse 13) – James tells us to pray. That may not be our first inclination, but it should be. Here’s why. If we are suffering or facing troubling times, turning to God will bring comfort. The troubles or the suffering may not be taken away, but God’s comfort is promised to those who ask for it (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). In that passage, verse 13 even tells us to pray when things are going well – when we are happy. How do we pray at those times? With joyful singing.
If we are going through weaknesses – physically or spiritually – we are to turn to prayer (verses 14-15). At those times, we may not feel we can pray as needed, so James tells us to get help from those who are spiritually strong and have them pray over us. Prayer brings restoration and healing. Prayer needs to be a partnership – we share our struggles with others, and they share their struggles with us. But it doesn’t stop there – it is a time that leads to prayer for each other (verse 16). Prayer thrives in fellowship among believers.
Prayer is powerful (verse 16). Weak prayers come from spiritually weak people. This verse tells us that the energetic prayer of a person living in righteousness is powerful and effective. Prayer brings comfort, restoration, and healing, and strengthens fellowship. Prayer can be weak, or it can be powerful. It depends on the one praying. We have the amazing power of prayer available to us as believers. Let’s live righteous lives so that our prayers for others is powerful and effective.
Pray about it: “Father, I know that my prayers are not always very strong, which reflects my walk with You. I desire for my prayers to be both powerful and effective. Convict me when I turn to prayer as a last resort. Help me to walk in a righteous manner, so that when I pray, it makes a difference. Amen.”
Act on it: Go through each of the reasons to pray mentioned in this devotional:
• Troubled times, suffering
• Weakness – physical or spiritual
• Sharing another’s burden
Pray! If you need to, ask other believers to partner with you in prayer for these things. Examine your spiritual walk to see if you are offering up powerful prayers or weak prayers.
Parenting Tips: When your child is facing hard things or is struggling with physical or spiritual weakness, is your first inclination to turn to prayer? Do you elicit the prayers of others who can surround and support you? If your first reaction to things is to pray, you will be setting a life-long example for your child.
I am all in, committed to pray for others.
Pray with Thanksgiving
Read it: Philippians 4:6-7
Think on it: Anxiety and worry – it seems to be part of our society. We worry about our children. We worry about our future. We worry about politics. We worry about impending disease. There is no end to all the things we face that can cause worry. Our scripture for this week tells us “Do not be anxious about anything…” (verse 6). It is not a suggestion. It is a command. Jesus Himself commanded us to not worry about things: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life…about what you will eat or drink…about clothes…” (Matthew 6:25-34). “What does this have to do with prayer?” you might ask. When we worry, we are talking to ourselves. When we pray, we are talking to God.
In our scripture this week, Paul tells us to do three things instead of worrying. The first is to pray – that means coming before God to have a conversation with Him. Prayer is an expression of our dependence on Him and on His promises. It is a time where we can lean into the Father and know that Abba (Dad) will take care of us completely. The second thing we are told to do is to petition. That means to keep bringing our requests to God over and over, as needed. God does not need the repetition, but we certainly need to continually bring things to the Father, so that we do not talk to ourselves about it but, rather, we talk to God. The third thing we are told to do is to be thankful.
Let’s take some time examining thankfulness. Prayer and petition, we understand. It is natural to go to God with requests. We also come to Him with thankfulness – mainly for what He has so generously and abundantly given us. But how are we supposed to be thankful for an outcome that we have yet to see? This means we are to thank God for His answers before we even know what they are. This demonstrates faith and trust that He will provide for us in a way that is far better than our expectations. This step of faith delivers freedom from worry and fear. It is resting in the fact that the future is in God’s hands – even when we can’t see past the here and now. It is praying, “Father, hear the prayer I would have prayed, if I had all Your information!” Believing this way allows us to pray for all things with that attitude of gratefulness. That is what Paul is telling us to do.
Steve Furtick, pastor of Elevation Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, puts it this way: “Gratitude is thanking God in advance for what will only make sense in reverse.” So, my friends, pray with gratitude and thanksgiving. We have a God who answers the prayers of His children.
Pray about it: “Father, thank you for taking care of me. Thank you for Your answers – ones I’ve seen and experienced, and ones I have yet to see. It is not easy to walk in faith and trust, but I know You love me more than I will ever know, and that I need to lean into that and not worry about things. Amen.”
Act on it: What are you worrying about? Are you talking to yourself about what is going on or are you talking to God? This week make a list of those things that are weighing heavily on you. Go before your heavenly Father and thank Him for taking care of these things for you. Whenever you find yourself worrying about them, stop and thank God for His answers – even if you don’t yet know what they look like. Practice this all throughout the week and beyond, until it becomes the way you respond to worry.
Parenting Tips: As you see your child worrying about something – and they do – stop and pray with them. Teach them that God has a solution, and we are thankful for that and can trust Him to take care of it. We don’t need to worry (talk to ourselves about it). We need to pray – talk to our Father!
I am all in, committed to pray for others.
Pray Like Jesus
Read it: John 17
Think on it: If you knew you would die in a couple of days, what would you do with your time? Where would your focus be? Some people might try to finish off their “bucket list.” Others might want to spend time with loved ones. Yet others might choose to be left alone. The Bible tells us how Jesus chose to live the last few days He had before He was crucified. One of those things was to have one last meal with the disciples. During that meal, Jesus spoke about His death, the work of the Holy Spirit, and the importance of abiding in Him (John 13-16). At the end of the meal, Jesus prayed. You might think that the prayer would focus on His approaching death. But Jesus decided to pray for others in that moment. He prayed that God would be glorified. He prayed for His disciples, whom He knew would be tasked with keeping His work on earth going forward. He also prayed for future believers – that is you and me – because we are also tasked with kingdom work.
So, what did He pray for His disciples, and for you and me?
• For protection from Satan (verses 11 and 15)
• To have the joy of Christ (verse 13)
• To be purified through God’s Word (verse 17)
• For unity (verses 20 and 23)
• To be witnesses to the world (verse 22)
Jesus realized how important it is to pray for others. Rather than being focused on Himself and the ordeal of His arrest, trial, and crucifixion, He focused on God being glorified, on His disciples, and on us. He demonstrated that He was “all in, committed to praying for others.” His overwhelming desire was to keep God’s work alive and growing once He was gone. He was committed to making sure His followers were protected, unified, purified, and joyful.
Are you “all in” when it comes to praying for others? I know it is much easier to pray for ourselves and for our own needs. There is nothing wrong with praying for ourselves, but when it gets in the way of praying for others, we are obviously not committed in our prayers. Maybe you struggle with what to pray for others. Jesus gave us a great example of what we can pray for those around us – protection, joy, purity, unity, and being a witness. This is a great starting point in praying for others. I challenge you this week to pray daily for others – those you know and even those you don’t know. Put aside what you are facing and make praying for others a priority, just as Jesus did.
Pray about it: “Father, I realize that I am selfish in my prayers. They tend to focus on me and my needs. Help me to follow the example that Christ set when He prayed for others – even when He was facing His death. I desire to be others-focused, like He was. Amen.”
Act on it: As was suggested in the devotion, make it a point, every day this week, to pray for others. Take the focus off of your needs and bring others before the Lord. If you are not sure of what to pray for, follow the way Jesus prayed in John 17.
Parenting Tips: When I was growing up, one thing my parents did was to help us learn to pray for others. In our morning devotions as a family, we had 3”x5” cards with the names of friends and family. We would spend time praying for the people listed on these cards. We didn’t pray for everyone every day, but we did pray for all those people every week. If your child is old enough, this is a great way to help them focus on praying for others.
“I am all in, committed to pray for others.”
Pray for All People
Read it: 1 Timothy 2:1
Think on it:
“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people…”
As we move into a new month, we will look at how we can be “all in” when it comes to our relationships with others through prayer. In our world, it is easy to fall into the trap of “sound bite” prayer. By that I mean, praying little snippets here and there as we walk through our day. Now there is nothing wrong with those prayers, but there is so much more to prayer that just thanking God for the food at mealtime and praying for that prime parking spot. Prayer is a privilege afforded to the believer because of what Christ accomplished through His death and resurrection. Because of Him, we can boldly come before the throne of grace with confidence that we will be heard by the Creator of the universe (Hebrews 4:16)! It is amazing – we have access to God through prayer! I know I don’t always look at prayer that way. Sometimes I feel like I am leaving a voice message, hoping that it will be listened to – but God has promised to hear us!
In 1 Timothy 2:1, Paul talks about four types of prayer. The first is the prayer of petition. These are the prayers where we reverently plead with God for something very specific. It might be for healing, for a job opportunity, for protection, etc. The second prayer is simply referred to as “prayers.” This could be referring to prayer in general or just a reminder of the privilege we have to approach God in prayer. The third type of prayer is that of intercession. These are prayers where we mediate on behalf of others – where we bring their needs before God and plead on their behalf. It could be that they are not believers. It could be that you are partnering with them in their prayers before God. The fourth type of prayer is the prayer of thanksgiving. Prayers of thanksgiving put us in the mindset of abundance. They remind us that we are conversing with a generous God, Who owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10)! We are to constantly be in the attitude of thankfulness when we pray because it is an attitude-changer as we talk with God.
For me, the difficult part of this verse is the last part. I am to pray for all people. I have no excuse to exclude someone from my prayers. I am to pray for my family (all members – even the tough ones), my friends, my enemies, those in places of authority (even if I disagree with their politics and policies), those in my church, in my neighborhood – everyone. I cannot be biased in my prayers for others. I am told to pray for everyone. Can you imagine the change in our hearts and attitudes if all of us would bring to the Lord in prayer all those with whom we come in contact or whom we hear about? It is hard to have a bad attitude toward someone when we pray for them. I can think of a couple of people right now for whom I need to begin praying. How about you? Who popped into your head? Are you praying for them – are you willing to pray for them?
This week, my challenge to you is to pray. Really talk with God this week. Spend time with Him and bring prayers for others before Him. He is ready to hear! And when we don’t really know what to pray for someone, we have an Interpreter that will translate our thoughts and emotions to prayer before the throne of God (Romans 8:26). All we are asked to do is to simply pray.
Pray about it: “Father, I come before You with a thankful heart. I also come before You with needs for myself and for others. I thank you that You are a God of abundance and can meet any need that I have or others around me might have. I desire to spend time talking with You about my life, my family, my friends, even my enemies. Thank you for listening to me. Amen.”
Act on it: This week, put aside time for genuine prayer, a time to have a real conversation with God. Don’t make it a time all about you and your needs. Pray for others, for those you love as well as for those you are struggling to love. Begin to do this on a regular basis, setting aside that time for you to communicate to the Creator of the universe.
Parenting Tips: One thing children struggle with, as well as parents, is praying for other children that hurt them. As parents, it is our natural desire to circle the wagons and declare that “mean” child the enemy. But we are clearly told to pray for our “enemies,” even those who would do us harm. You can help them to pray for those that are mean to them. To pray with thankful hearts. Those children need prayer, and who better to pray for them than your son or daughter. Be that example to them, and pray for them, as well.
“I am all in, committed to love others.”
Read it: Romans 12:9-21
Think on it: As I sit down to write this devotional, I realize that I am struggling right now to love someone in my circle. Something happened and I took offense. I allowed that incident to roll through my head and now I am really having a difficult time loving this person. My flesh says to not worry about it – they are inconsiderate and selfish. They don’t deserve my love. But the Holy Spirit in me tells me something very different. Nothing like a great passage of Scripture and the voice of the Holy Spirit to get me back on track!
The Scripture for the week, Romans 12:9-21, has a lot to say about loving everyone. I believe these verses include everyone in our circle – fellow believers, other people in general, and even our enemies. We start out with verse 9, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” This verse says it all – genuine love hates evil and desperately holds on to what is good. So, in practicality, how is this supposed to work? Let’s take a look at the three groups of people this passage addresses.
Genuine Love for Fellow Believers – (verses 10-13)
• Love with love – love with actions, acts of kindness
• Outdo each other in showing honor – don’t seek honor for yourselves; in humility allow honor to be given to others
• Love with zeal – this is a way we serve God
• Love because of hope; no one is hopeless – in this we can rejoice
• Show hospitality – what’s mine is yours
Genuine Love for Humanity in General – (verses 14-16)
• Bless others – even those who are against you
• Be engaged with others – rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep
• Live a life of unity – don’t be adversarial with others
• Live a life of humility – don’t look down on others, puffing yourself up with your “righteous ways”
Genuine Love for our Enemies – (verses 17-21)
• Pay back evil with good – allow God to avenge you when evil comes at you from others
• Do what is right – for everyone – not just your friends
• Live at peace with others – quit looking for faults and shortcomings in others
• Do the opposite of what your enemy does to you
So, in light of my own situation, what am I supposed to do about my “friend” with whom I am struggling? I am to hate what is evil – like my bad attitude and my pride in being “offended.” I am to hold on to what is good – act in kindness, love with zeal, bless them, don’t find reason to fault them. Reflecting back on a devotional earlier this month, I am to allow the love that God pours into me, pour out of me toward others – even this person. The Holy Spirit is there to help me do just this. I cannot do it on my own!
Pray about it: “Father, You know I am struggling right now. I truly believe that You put this passage of verses in front of me to help me learn from it. Help me to love this person. Help me to act out of sincere love that can only come from You. Amen.”
Act on it: Did God bring anyone to your mind as you contemplated these verses? Sometimes it’s not obvious; it just pops up unexpectedly, like it did for me. Dealing with it is critical. It is hard to be an instrument of the love of God to others, when we have an area of hate in our hearts. Pray for God to reveal to you anyone in your life you need to deal with, so that your can show genuine love to all you encounter.
Parenting Tips: There are great teachable moments in the life of your child. All kinds of things happen at school with friends and other students. Are you teaching your child to love others the way God wants them to? Take time to walk with your child through lessons on learning to love others, no matter what. There is not an age requirement on what God wants us to do.
“I am all in, committed to love others.”
Read it: 1 Corinthians 13:1-7
Think on it: Ever been to a wedding where this Scripture was read? I know I sure have. This week’s scripture, 1 Corinthians 13:1-7, is commonly used at weddings. However, I doubt Paul was envisioning weddings when the Holy Spirit directed him to write this letter to the Corinthians. He was writing to all the believers in the church in Corinth. He was addressing a number of issues the church was having, such as jealousy, rivalry, immoral behavior, and other things. In the previous chapter (chapter 12), Paul was expounding on the gifts of the Spirit and how these are used to strength the whole body of believers. He was telling his readers that one gift was not better or more important than another, and each believer’s role in the church was critical for it to function in a healthy manner. The Corinthians were not understanding the true purpose of spiritual gifts and were jealous of others. After Paul explained about spiritual gifts, he wrote one last sentence in chapter 12, “And yet I will show you the most excellent way.” Paul was telling his readers that gifts are very important, but there was something that was even more important.
This is where chapter 13 comes in. Paul begins by telling the Corinthians that even if they had the amazing gifts of heavenly languages, prophecy, mountain-moving faith, or self-sacrificing giving, “but do not have love, I am nothing” (verse 2). Love is key. In last week’s devotional, we looked at the fact that God’s love is in us and is ready to pour out of us into the lives of others (Romans 5:5). The type of love Paul is referring to is agape, which is “a commitment of the will to cherish and uphold another person.” This is speaking of a decision you make to be committed to treat another person “with concern, with care, with thoughtfulness, and to work for his or her best interest.”
What is interesting about this kind of love is that it first has to begin with your love for God. In our theme verse for the year, Mark 12:30-31, Jesus said that there were two commands that were of utmost importance. The first is to “love the Lord you God.” Agape must begin with your love of God. You cannot love others truly until you first love God. The second command is to love others. When you love God, the ability to love or agape others is awakened, and you are empowered by the Holy Spirit to love others the way God desires you to do so.
Paul goes on in verses 4-7 to simply define love as three things – it is patient, it is kind, and it is honest. He then lists things that hinder the ability to be patient, kind and honest. It is those things we must put aside in order to allow God’s love to work through us. Let’s take a look at these:
• Jealousy (envy) – we struggle with others having or being what we want for ourselves.
• Boastfulness – we don’t truly listen to or appreciate others because we are too busy promoting ourselves and our accomplishments.
• Pride (arrogance) – we can harbor disdain or lack of respect for others and pushing ourselves to the forefront.
• Dishonoring (rude) – we ignore others’ rights, are cutting or sarcastic.
• Self-seeking – we can often be stubborn, inflexible, insisting that everyone else adjusts to us, rather than the other way around.
• Easily angered – we can become irritated or resentful of others.
• Keeps track of wrongs – we hang on to how others have faulted us, or how they have failed in the past.
In verse 7, he summarizes how agape manifests itself. Love “…always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” As we love others, these are the things that should guide us. We need to protect others – not run around telling others of a person’s shortcomings and failures. We need to trust and believe that people can change and not hold the past against them. We need to hope, knowing that, through the love of Christ and His work in others, no one is hopeless – so we should never give up hope.
Are you struggling to love others, or someone in particular? Maybe you need to examine your love relationship with God. When you truly love God and accept His love for you, the Holy Spirit will work through you to love others. The Holy Spirit will teach us to be “loving, patient, kind, forgiving, understanding, giving others a chance, trying over again, open to correction and instruction ourselves, easy to be entreated.” Take time this week to find out why loving that particular person is so difficult for you. Confess it to the Lord, determine to do the right thing with the help of the Holy Spirit, and then do it.
Pray about it: “Father, I love You! I accept Your love for me. I know that the Holy Spirit is ready to work through me so I can love others. Reveal to me what is getting in the way of those I struggle to truly love. Then help me to turn that around so I can love as You love. Amen.”
Act on it: This week reflect on someone in your life you are struggling to love. Go through the characteristics of love – what it is, what it is not, how it is supposed to act. When one or two of those resonate with you, confess it as sin – for that is what it is. Then ask the Holy Spirit to work through you to love that person as you are designed to do. Pray for this person and for yourself each day.
Parenting Tips: It is easy to spot when your child is not acting in a loving way toward others. When you see that happening, let them know – but also help them understand and practice how they should be demonstrating love toward others. Also, help them know that the Holy Spirit is in them and will help them love others.
“I am all in, committed to love others.”
God Demonstrates His Love
Read it: Romans 5:8
Think on it: Have you ever read something countless times and then read it once again and thought, “I never noticed that before!” That happened to me this week while reading Romans 5:8. There are two different verb tenses in this verse. “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners Christ died for us.” If you look closely it does not say, “But God demonstrated His own love…” It clearly says “…God demonstrates His own love…” – present tense. That means it is happening even now. God demonstrates His love every day, every moment, all the time. Just as important is the past tense used for the word “died.” “…Christ died for us.” When Christ died, He only had to die once to take care of our sins. 1 Peter 3:18 clearly states, “For Christ died for sins once for all…”
Christ’s sacrifice on the cross only needed to happen once, so that we might enter into a relationship with God. But Christ’s love is demonstrated every day toward us because of that one-time sacrifice. Early in Romans 5, Paul writes about how God’s love has been “poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us” (verse 5). Christ’s love was poured into our hearts in the past (when we received His salvation) and is still present and active. We are saved and continue to be saved through the active love of Christ. Our salvation is not stagnant – we should be actively growing in our salvation through the love that Christ has for us.
Christ acted out of love when He came to earth to be the propitiation for our sins. Christ still acts out of love for us as we walk the path of being a Christ-follower every minute of every day. He gave us what we needed the moment we accepted Him into our lives. What He gave us then – His love – is available and ready for action. His one-time act of sacrificial love allows for us to experience His love every day. He does this by opening our eyes to “taste and see” (Psalm 34:8) the amazing thing that happened on the cross and the assurance that nothing can “separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:38-39).
Pray about it: “Father, thank you for the love of Christ and the demonstration of His love on the cross. Thank you that Christ’s love is active and available for me every moment of every day. Help me to walk in that love and have it pour out of me toward others as You have poured it into me. Amen.”
Act on it: Are you “stuck” in your initial decision for salvation? Do you feel you are actively working out your journey as a Christ-follower each day – based on Christ’s love? Take time this week to reflect on the demonstration of love by Christ and how that should impact you daily. Is His love for you propelling you forward in your walk? The Holy Spirit is there, ready to help you pour out love to others as He has poured His love into you.
Parenting Tips: Children find accepting Christ’s offer of salvation an easy and natural thing to do. Help them understand that that is the first step and that life is filled with reminders of how Christ is still demonstrating His love for us. Be an active example of this for your child. They learn lots by watching you!
I am ALL IN, committed to love others.
Do You Reflect God’s Love?
Read it: 1 John 4:7-12
Think on it:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no greater commandment than these.”
In our journey of “All In” this year, we are turning our focus on being all in, committed to others. We live in a world surrounded by people. We interact with others every day. As followers of Christ, we are told – commanded! – to interact with others in love. Our scripture for the year (Mark 12:30-31) tells us specifically to, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Our scripture for this week says it this way: “…let us love one another…” (1 John 4:7). Sounds simple enough, right? Love one another. The actual practice of loving others can be harder than we think, yet we are told by Christ in Mark 12, and by John in 1 John 4, that we are to do just that.
What is the reasoning behind this concept of loving others?
• We love because God is love (verses 7, 8). Love is the character of God. Love comes from God. Verse 8 says that “God is love.” You cannot separate the two. The origin of love is God. If you love others, that love originated from God. Love demonstrates that a person is born of God. If you have God living in you, the Holy Spirit, then it makes sense that you would love others and act accordingly. God’s indwelling changes the heart. Where there was a struggle to love others, it now becomes possible because of the life-changing work of God. If you are saved through grace, then loving others is evidence of that. You have the God of love dwelling in you; it makes sense that His love will come through you toward others. Loving others is a way to demonstrate that you know the God of love.
• We love because God loved us (verses 9-11). God loved us first. He demonstrated His love toward us first. When He “sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him,” (verse 9) God gave us the best example and a full explanation of the characteristics of love. Love is giving—God gave the world His Son. Love is selfless—God gave up His one and only Son. Love is personal—His action was directed to the world, to us. Love is purposeful—God did all of this so that we might live. Love is consistent—God did all of this so that we would live through a relationship with Him. God, not us, set the standard for love. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us…” (verse 10). The world defines love by what others do; we define love by what God as done.
• We love to show God to the world (verse 12). No one has seen God, but the love we demonstrate toward others gives others a glimpse of the loving God. Someone once said that we may be the only Jesus others see. Our loving attitude and actions will draw others to seek out the God of love.
Are you “all in, committed to love others?” Do your thoughts, words, and actions reflect the loving God Who is living in you? “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.”
Pray about it: “Father, thank you for Your love. Thank you that You gave us the standard of how to love others. I don’t always demonstrate Your love toward others. My selfish attitude gets in the way, and I pass judgment on whom I should love or not love. I have no right to do that. You have simply told me to love my neighbor as myself. Let me allow Your love to come through in my daily contact with others. I know You will help me to reflect Your love. Amen.”
Act on it: Breaking down the standard of love set by God, take time this week to examine each area of love and see which one or two that God wants you to allow His work to be done through you. Here are the ways God loves: by giving selflessly, personally, purposefully, consistently. Which of these do you need to focus on in your love toward others?
Parenting tips: Children see God through you. How you love others is how they will love others. What kind of example do you set for them? Demonstrate God’s love every day, so they are seeing Jesus in you.
December 8, 2019
“Jesus Was ALL IN”
We Are Children of God – So Start Acting Like It!
Read it: 1 John 3:1-3
Think on it:
“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God. And that is what we are!”
1 John 3:1
This month we have been looking at how Jesus was “ALL IN.” Because He was all in, we are not just called “children of God,” we are “children of God!” This so impacted John, the author of our Scripture this week, that he began this passage with “See!” “Behold!” “Look at!” the great love God has given us – we are His children! It is as if he is reaching out to the reader and pulling them into the wondrous truth of what God has done – “Look at this! Wonder at it! Be Amazed!” God’s love was so great, that He came to earth and took on flesh – He gave up the splendor of heaven and became a mere human. Why? So we could become sons and daughters of God! It is amazing, when you take time to think about it. Christmas should be a time when we stand in awe of that very thing.
Yet, there is another response we should give as a result of this amazing gift. John writes that we don’t know exactly what being a child of God means, when we enter into eternity, but, we do know that being a child of God here on earth should motivate us to live lives that reflect who Christ is, because one day, we are told, “when Christ appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). This is our hope, that at the end of this life of ours, we will finally be as we are intended to be – like Christ. This hope that we have should lead us to action. Even though we won’t be exactly like Christ while we are here on earth, we can strive to reflect Him in who we are, in what we think, in what we say, in what we do. One thing that John says we should do is live pure lives. “All who have hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure” (1 John 3:3). It is a tough struggle in this world to not give in to those things that would take our hearts and minds off of Christ. It is a struggle to live a life that truly reflects Him. It is too easy to give in to temptations – to give in to anger, selfishness, envy, idolizing things and people, passivity – and so many more things that would make us impure. John is urging the reader to work at becoming what we will eventually be when we meet Christ face to face.
So, practically speaking, what does this look like? Galatians 5:22-25 tells us just that. Verse 25 says, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Allowing the Holy Spirit to rule in our lives results in the “fruit of the Spirit…love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…” (Galatians 5:22-23). What does purity look like? All of the above. How do we do it? Allow the Holy Spirit to rule in our life – keep in step with the Spirit – just as children of God should do.
Look at this! Wonder at this! Be amazed at this! We are children of God – so start acting like it!
Pray about it: “Father, thank you for making me Your child! Thank you that one day I will be like Christ. However, in the meantime, I do struggle to live a pure life – one that is in step with the Holy Spirit. Please keep reminding me when I am out of step and when the fruit I am producing is not the fruit You want from me. Amen.”
Act on it: Spend time this week reviewing the “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:22-25 and identify one or two areas you’d like to work on. Take time studying what they would look like. Spend the next week or two deliberately focusing on them and beginning to make a habit of those things in your life. Ask the Holy Spirit to let you know when you are out of step. Ask a trusted friend to hold you accountable.
Parenting tips: Speak into your child’s life at a young age about being a child of God. When I was a teacher, I was constantly reminding my students that they were the prince and princess of the King of Kings, and that they needed to act like it. Help your child understand the fruit of the Sprit and what that looks like for them. Hold them accountable to live a life that reflects their relationship with Christ.
December 1, 2019
“Jesus Was ALL IN”
Merry Christmas! Love, Dad
Read it: Galatians 4:4-7
Think on it: Christmas – the time we celebrate the birth of Jesus. We set up mangers to remind us of the tiny baby born in a lowly stable. We think of Mary – exhausted from traveling to Bethlehem; exhausted from giving birth to a child she had not planned on, in a filthy, smelly stable. We think of Joseph, who became a father to a child that was not his and was now tasked with the responsibility of raising God’s Son. We think of the shepherds crowded around, trying to catch a glimpse of this marvelous Child the angels told them about. We think of the kings of the east seeking out the royal Child whose birth had been announced by a wondrous new star. Do you think of the impact His coming has had on you?
Our Scripture this week is not the “typical” Christmas passage. However, when Paul wrote this letter to the church in Galatia, he wanted to remind them what was accomplished because Jesus came to this earth. He told them, because of Christ, they were sons of God – adopted, but with all the rights and privileges of sons by birth. He even told them they could call God “Abba, Father.” That is to say, “Daddy!” This church in Galatia, like you and me, had been slaves – slaves to sin, slaves to trying to do good works in hopes that they would be saved, slaves to following a list of do’s and don’ts. Now, these believers who were freed from that life, were returning to the enslavement of living a life of rules and forgetting the freedom found in being children of God. Paul was telling them to stop returning to that life and that way of thinking. They had been given a wonderful gift. “Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ”Abba, Father.” So, you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.” (Galatians 4:6-7) That same gift is for us. We are His children, and He is our “Abba, Father.” Like our earthly father, He is there to comfort us when we are sad, scared, or hurt. Like our earthly father, He loves us unconditionally and is always accessible to us. Like our earthly father, He takes time to correct us and set us in the right direction. He is Abba – Dad.
Martin Luther wrote, “‘Abba’ is only a little word and yet contains everything. It is not the mouth but the heart’s affection which speaks like this. Even if I am oppressed with anguish and terror on every side and seem to be forsaken and utterly cast away from your presence, yet am I your child, and You are my Father. For Christ’s sake: I am loved because of the Beloved. So, this little word, ‘Abba, Father,’ deeply felt in the heart, surpasses all the eloquence of the most eloquent seekers that ever lived. This matter is not expressed with words, but with groanings, and these groanings cannot be uttered with any words of eloquence, for no tongue can express them.” Do you feel enslaved today by your past? Do you feel you have to work at earning God’s love and acceptance? Friend, we have been adopted by the Creator of the universe. He has become “Dad” to us. We have been given that gift because of Christmas, because of what that tiny Baby accomplished when He came to this earth. When you feel lost, alone, enslaved, call out to your Dad! He is there for you, always.
Pray about it: “Dad, thank you for adopting me! Thank you for making me Your child! You sent Your one and only Child to this earth so that You could adopt many sons and daughters. Help me to remember that this Christmas. Help me to live in the freedom of being Your child. Help me to live in the security of being Your child. Thank you! Amen.”
Act on it: Spend time this Christmas season reflecting about being a child of God. Here are some verses to help you: Ephesians 1:5; Philippians 2:15; 1 John 2:28-29; 1 John 3:1-3; 1 John 5:1-2; Galatians 3:26; Romans 8:16; 2 Corinthians 6:18
Parenting tips: Our children’s first understanding of a father (or a mother) is from their parents. Some adults struggle with the concept of God as a father because they had such negative experiences with their own fathers. You are your children’s example. You are their first glimpse of a parent, who loves unconditionally, who they can approach at any time, who comforts them when they are sad or hurt, who disciplines them when necessary. What impression are you leaving with your child? Is it one that will help them understand the concept of “Abba, Father,” or will it make them mistrust this concept? Be the example they need, to draw them to the loving Father.
November 24, 2019
Jesus Was ALL IN
Read it: Philippians 2:5-8; Luke 2:1-20
Think on it: As we enter into the Christmas season, it is easy to get caught up in the festivities, to push aside the real reason we celebrate this time of year and have it become an afterthought, once all the decorations are up and the gifts are purchased. I enjoy all of those things as much as the next person, and I, too, find myself thinking of the gifts to buy, the meals to cook, and the decorations to put up more often than I do about Jesus coming to earth as a baby. Why is it so easy to be “all in” in the celebrations of the season, and not so much in the focusing on the “reason for the season?” Let’s take a few minutes now and focus on what Christmas is truly all about.
Many people are familiar with the Christmas story recorded in Luke 2:1-20. Take some time to read this passage. In your mind’s eye, try to visualize the events that took place leading up to and after the birth of Christ. It is truly an amazing story, as it tells of the birth of God’s Son. The other Scripture for this week is Philippians 2:5-8. This passage is believed to be a hymn that the early church sang about the coming of Christ.
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
I refer to this as “the story behind the story.” As you read through these verses, you get the real sense that Jesus was “all in” when He took on human form. Jesus was “all in” when He died on the cross. He did not come to earth for us to put up a Christmas tree and give presents to one another. He came for our salvation.
In order to be “all in,” Jesus had to give up many things. He stepped down from His glorious existence in heaven, where He shared the very nature of God the Father. He gave up His “rights” to being God in order to take on the shame of being human. Then He humbled Himself even more and was willing to endure a most horrendous type of death – death on a cross. Jim Boucher describes it this way: “Christ Jesus descended treacherously, diving into the portal from Heaven to crucifixion, leaving His divine rights behind, leaving His power and glory, and becoming a man, obedient to the worst form of torture imaginable.” Jesus was “ALL IN” for you and for me. And because He was “ALL IN,” you and I are offered the gift of eternal life. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
As you walk through this season, take time, take a lot of time, and reflect on the gift of Jesus.
Pray about it: “Father, thank you for the amazing gift of Jesus! Thank you, Jesus, for being all in – for my sake. Your love for me is beyond understanding.”
Act on it: In order to keep your focus this season on the coming of Jesus to the earth, it would be good to saturate your mind with the truth contained in the Bible. Here are some verses to help you get started: John 1:14; Matthew 1:18-2:23; Galatians 4:4-5; 1 Timothy 1:15-17; Titus 3:3-7; Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 40:1-11; John 3:16
Parenting tips: To children, Christmas is a magical time. It is important to constantly keep the real reason for Christmas in front of them. Reading the Christmas story from the Bible or from a children’s Bible story book is a great way to remind them of what Christmas really is all about. There are also Christmas movies that tell the true meaning of Christmas. Here are some titles that you could explore: “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” “The Nativity Story,” from Veggie Tales – “It’s a Meaningful Life,” “The Toy that Saved Christmas,” and “Saint Nicholas: A Story of Joyful Giving.” There are other offerings on RightNow Media that are specifically for children. Take a look. Login using the information on the email that was recently sent to you for lots of Christmas videos for the whole family!
November 17, 2019
“I am all in, committed to a God Who is trustworthy.”
Read it: 2 Timothy 2:1-2
Think on it: Charles Blondin was a famous daredevil who, in 1859, was known for tightrope-walking 160 feet above Niagara Falls. He walked several times back and forth between Canada and the United States. Once he crossed in a sack, once on stilts, another time on a bicycle, and once he even carried a stove and cooked an omelet! People would come from all over to watch this man perform his amazing feats. On July 15 of that year, Blondin walked across to Canada and returned pushing a wheelbarrow. He proceeded to push it back to the Canadian side, but this time he was blindfolded. When he returned to the U.S. side of the falls, the audience was ecstatic about what this man was able to do. They felt he could do anything on that tightrope. He asked the audience, “Do you believe I could cross again this time, with a person in the wheelbarrow?” The audience, almost in unison, replied, “Yes! We believe you could do it!” When the enthusiastic crowd quieted down to see what would happen, Blondin asked, “Which of you will get in the wheelbarrow?” There was stunned silence, as no one was willing to trust him with their life.
Do you trust others? Do others trust you? We have looked this month at how trustworthy God is and how we need to be “all in” in our trust in Him. Our trust in God cannot be built with an “on-again, off-again” relationship. Either we trust Him, or we don’t. That is what our faith journey is all about – trusting God because of Who He is and letting Him take care of whatever we are facing. When He asks us to “get into the wheelbarrow” our trust compels us to do so.
But did you know we are called to trust others, as well? We do not live isolated in this world. We are called to be in fellowship with other believers. The relationships we develop and live with are important to our health – spiritually, emotionally, and even physically. Those relationships need to be built on trust. In our Scripture for this week, 2 Timothy 2:1-2, Paul talks about trust. When he wrote this letter to Timothy, Paul was imprisoned in Rome and knew that he would soon be killed. The letter is addressed to Timothy, someone he poured his life into, and who was now pastoring his own group of believers. Knowing this, the content of this letter, carried the weight and the importance of Paul’s “last words.”
In these verses, Paul talks about the trust relationship he built with Timothy, and the trust relationship Timothy needed to build with others. In verse 1, Paul reminded Timothy to first of all “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” Having Christ at the center of your relationships is very important. Also important is to build those relationships on the grace that comes from Jesus. We have been graciously given all the riches of Christ as heirs. These riches contain promises and truths. This is where we stand firm and anchor our hearts and lives. This is where we build our relationships. This is where we can begin to trust others. Timothy and Paul clearly had a trust relationship. Paul had poured his life into Timothy. He had trusted Timothy with the riches of Christ – the promises and the truths. Now he was asking Timothy to trust others with these promises and truths, so they could, in turn, trust others with these same riches. “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (verse 2). This design is how God has chosen to spread the Good News. He has chosen to use people. He has entrusted His truths to us, so that we will entrust those truths to others, and so that they will entrust the truths to others. It is all about trust. Pouring our lives, time, gifts, and talents into the lives of others requires that we trust those people, and that we trust God to bring the results of that trust to fruition.
So, friends, do you trust others? Do others trust you? Your Christian walk depends on trust. To not have trust in Christ or in others will spiritually stagnate your growth. Are you willing to “get into the wheelbarrow?”
Pray about it: “Father, sometimes, I confess, trust is hard for me. People have let me down and I don’t want to be hurt again. But I know You are calling me to trust You first, and then to trust others – because You are the One who does the work in the lives of people. I need to invest in others with my time, finances, gifts, talent – because that is Your design. I desire to be part of that amazing plan. Thank you for trusting me! Amen.”
Act on it: Examine your life this week and take inventory of those people around you whom you trust. Are you living in your relationships the way God designed them to be lived? Are you investing in others, trusting that they will grow as God works in them? Ask God to show you all the opportunities around you that He has designed for you, and then live a life of trust.
Parenting tips: Do your children trust you? Are you a good demonstration to them of a trusting relationship? They will learn about trust from you first. This week be purposeful about how you trust others – so they can see your positive example.
November 10, 2019
“I am all in, committed to a God Who is trustworthy.”
I am ALL IN as a Trustworthy Steward
Read it: 1 Corinthians 4:1-4
Think on it: Most people who are out in the working world have a title that describes their job. It could be “account manager,” “sales representative,” “counselor,” or any other such title. When you see it, that title evokes some sort of definition of what that person does for a living. Titles can be helpful for understanding the position. But what really counts in the working world is not the title, it is an individual’s actual job performance. A person can have a fancy title, but if they are not fulfilling the duties of that title, it means nothing. In our Scripture for this week, Paul was telling others that our titles, as believers, are servant and steward. But, like any other title, if we are not fulfilling the duties of those titles, it means nothing.
Paul wrote this letter to the church in Corinth to address some concerns they were having. There were debates among the Corinthians as to where their loyalties should lie – with Paul or with Apollos. They were disappointed that Paul was not an eloquent speaker and did not possess a charismatic personality. Those were things the Christians in Corinth valued. Paul wrote this book to answer their criticism. He wrote to remind them that their focus must be on the real work they were called to do and not on the superficial packaging. Hence, he told them that Christians are servants and stewards (I Corinthians 4:1) and put it into perspective for them. A steward, he reminded them, is entrusted with something that belongs to the master they are serving. A steward takes charge and very good care of that which is entrusted to them. Not only can the steward be entrusted with the master’s worldly goods, the steward can also be responsible for the perceived reputation of the master. What the world knows of the master can be largely based on the steward’s character and behavior. They are the ones that carry the face of the master to the outside world. The master can be judged by the actions of the steward. The steward also is a “go-between” for the master and the people. Paul tells his readers that Christian stewards are also “go-betweens,” having been entrusted with the “secret things of God.” These are the truths of God. As stewards, we are to share these with others. They are not meant to be hoarded and hidden from people. I love the way The Message puts it: we are to be “guides into God’s most sublime secrets, not security guards posted to protect them.” This, Paul tells us, is the task with which we have been entrusted. And, as stewards, we are responsible to God for this important task. It does not matter what others think about our delivery.
As servants, we are called to do whatever our Master asks us to do. It is done without question and without hesitation. As stewards, we take care of what has been given to us, the “secrets of God,” our abilities, our provisions – ready to dispense to those around us as needed. A faithful steward is reliable, always available and present. Trustworthiness is the quality above all others that is required by the Master. 1 Corinthians 4:2 says, “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.” One who is trustworthy or faithful does not need to be eloquent in speech, have a charismatic personality, or other special gifts.
To the world, we are the face of the Master. We are charged with the responsibility to guide others to the hidden treasures of a relationship with Christ. We serve a God who is trustworthy. We have committed our lives to following a Savior who is trustworthy. As stewards, we are also to be trustworthy. We are to reflect that characteristic of God and Christ to the world. Can you be trusted? Are you consistent? Can you be counted upon to deliver the goods? Trustworthiness, faithfulness, these are what our Lord requires.
Pray about it: “Father, above all else I want to be trustworthy. I want to reflect that characteristic of You to the world. What You have given me to do, I pray that I do it to the best of my ability, and for Your glory. It does not matter what others think, or what their expectations of me are. I serve the King of Kings, and my desire is to serve You with faithfulness. Amen.”
Act on it: Where do you fall on the spectrum of trustworthiness in your walk with Christ and in your relationship with others? Are you more concerned with fancy words and strong personality? What kind of Christ do others see when looking at you and what you do? Take time this week to reflect on what you see as valuable, and then compare that to what God wants from us.
Parenting tips: What are you stressing to your children in their lives? Are you pushing them to excel in things that are not as important as being trustworthy? We tend to stress performance in our children – academically, athletically, artistically – and don’t always focus on what God has deemed most important for those who would serve Him – faithfulness, trustworthiness. These other things are not bad, but don’t place their importance above what really is God’s desire.
November 3, 2019
“I am all in, committed to a God Who is trustworthy.”
Read it: Hebrews 4:14-16
Think on it: Where do you place your confidence and trust? Do you place it in yourself and in a select few people around you? Trusting people is not an easy thing to do. It can be difficult to find people we can confidently call “trustworthy.” Trustworthiness is simply defined as, “ability to be trusted and depended on.” In our lives, we probably have a few people we would consider “trustworthy.” However, none of those people are perfectly trustworthy. They either have or will let you down at some point. We deem them as trustworthy because they are more so than the others we have classified as not trustworthy. The good news is, if you are a believer, then you need to know that we have One who is perfectly trustworthy. One in Whom we can be confident that He will never let us down and can always be depended upon – Jesus.
The passage for this week refers to Jesus as the “great high priest” who is in heaven enabling us to enter into God’s presence with boldness, in order to find grace and mercy. Here are some reasons we can confidently place our trust in Jesus.
• He is accessible. Because He “has gone through the heavens” (verse 14), Jesus has access to God. Because He was human and “tempted in every way, just as we are” (verse 15), He knows humanity and, as such, has access to us.
• He is great (verse 14). No one else can earn our trust like Jesus. He is capable of greater things than we can imagine. He is deserving of our trust – this Great High Priest.
• He is supernatural (verse 14). He was human, now He is supernatural. He moved from His earthly existence and is now “seated at (God’s) right hand in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 1:20). In that position, He presents our prayers before the throne of God.
• He is relatable (verse 15). Because He is supernatural and is God, He can relate to God – thinking, feeling, acting as God would. Because He was also human, He can relate to us. He knows both sides of the conversation – and who better to trust to bring our conversation to God?
• He is tested (verse 15). He has been tempted just like us. Because of that He knows how to help us.
• He is sinless (verse 15). We have a hard time trusting people, because they fail us. They, like us, are sinful, and can become untrustworthy at any time. Jesus’ sinless character does not allow Him to become untrustworthy.
• He is sympathetic (verse 15). Because He’s been in our shoes, He knows exactly what it feels like – and that makes Him the perfect One to pray for us.
All of this information is important to have. It is important to understand why Jesus is so trustworthy and why we can have confidence in Him. But what do we do with this understanding? Verse 16 tells us exactly what we are to do: “Let us then approach the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace with confidence, so that that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Because Jesus is trustworthy, we are enabled to boldly come before God in prayer.
Verse 16 clearly shows us how we should approach prayer because we have Jesus, our “Great High Priest”:
• Be willing to pray – “Let us then approach…” Jesus is there, ready to speak on our behalf and help us. God is there, ready to hear. But if we don’t approach God in prayer, then all of this does not matter.
• Believe that God desires to act for my good when I pray – “the throne of grace…” Grace has been defined as God’s riches given to us, even when we don’t deserve them. That is what is waiting for us when we pray. God is waiting for us to ask, so He can give us good things.
• Be honest and straightforward – “…with confidence…” Knowing that God is working for my good, I need to be open and honest when I pray. I don’t need to be afraid or have a scarcity mentality. Be bold and ask God.
• Know that the answer to your prayer is for your good – “…so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us…” Because of our relationship to Jesus, God chooses to show mercy – to withhold the deserved punishment from our wrongdoing.
• Patiently wait for God’s timing – “…in our time of need.” Other translations read, “in due time; at the proper time; in good time.” Answers to what we ask are not necessarily on our timeline. God will and always does answer. But answers are, and should be, on His timeline.
We can be confident in our trustworthy Savior. He wants us to have confidence in Him. He is waiting for us to boldly come before God’s throne in prayer. This week, pray with confidence and boldness. Our Great High Priest awaits.
Pray about it: “Father, I come before You boldly, because that is how You want us to approach You. You are the God of mercy and grace, ready to lavish us with grace and mercy. I ask for patience to wait for Your timing on my requests. Thank you that Jesus sits beside You and is able to speak on my behalf. You are a good, good Father. Amen.”
Act on it: Need more confidence when you pray? Here are some verses to focus on this week that speak to the trustworthiness of God: Psalm 28:7, Psalm 37:4-6, Proverbs 3:5-6, Isaiah 26:3, Isaiah 41:10, Matthew 6:25, Romans 8:28, Romans 15:13, Philippians 4:6-7, and Hebrews 11:6.
Parenting tips: Do you pray on a regular basis with your child? I’m not talking about saying grace before meals – I mean a separate time to pray with them. This is a great opportunity to learn from you on how to approach the “throne of grace.” This week set aside time to pray with your child, maybe at breakfast, or before bedtime at night. They will learn to pray by doing this with you. You are their closest and most important example of a pray-er.
October 27, 2019
“I am all in, committed to a God Who is trustworthy.”
Great Is Your Faithfulness – Every Single Day!
Read it: Lamentations 3:22-23
Think on it: What’s the worst thing that has ever happened to you? For Jeremiah, the author of the book of Lamentations, perhaps it was watching the destruction of the city he loved – Jerusalem – because of the wickedness of its people. Jeremiah is often referred to as the “weeping prophet” because he was given the task of warning his people that their sinful ways would bring destruction and captivity. During this time, he likely felt it was the worst thing he had ever endured. He could have given up in his despair and sadness. Yet, in all of this, he wrote the verses we are looking at this week:
“Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed, For his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is your faithfulness.”
So, I ask again, “What’s the worst thing that has ever happened to you?” Even in the midst of that horrible thing, we, like Jeremiah, need to cling to the truth contained in these verses.
The truth here is stated clearly, “Great is your faithfulness.” This truth tells us a lot about the faithfulness and the trustworthiness of God. Here’s what we know:
Great is Your faithfulness – even when it doesn’t feel like it. In the verses preceding these, Jeremiah says, “I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me” (verses 19-20). When going through really hard things, we will feel it. We will experience sadness, discouragement, and despair. Jeremiah certainly did, as seen in these verses. But he also wrote verse 21, “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope.” He then goes on to say that God’s faithfulness is great. He does not wallow in his dark journey – he does not choose to stay there. He raises up his head and sees God – “Great is your faithfulness.” Every single day – God’s compassion does not change; it does not diminish. God does not wake up one day and decide He doesn’t feel like loving us or acting out of compassion for us. He is trustworthy, faithful. He will do what He has promised, every single day. When the sun rises on each day, so do His compassions and mercies – without fail.
So how are we to act on this promise? What do we need to do differently to really experience the truth of these verses? Let’s follow what Jeremiah did in the midst of his hardships.
• We are to tell ourselves, “Don’t forget, God is faithful!” Jeremiah had to remind himself (verse 21) that God’s faithfulness is great!
• We are to tell God that His faithfulness is great – even when it doesn’t feel like it. Jeremiah speaks that truth directly to God in verse 22. This becomes a praise/prayer to God and a real reminder that He is trustworthy and faithful. Verbalizing makes it more real than just thinking it.
• We need to tell others about God’s faithfulness. Jeremiah declared this to those around him, anyone who would listen, even those who had forsaken God. The truth in these verses is too amazing and wonderful to keep to ourselves. We should be declaring it from the mountaintops!
What’s the worst thing that has ever happened to you? You may be going through it right now. Maybe you just came out of it. Maybe it is about to happen to you. Wherever you are in your life, we know that living in a fallen world, a world that has been invaded by Satan, we will face hard things. Some more difficult than we could ever imagine. Even in the midst of that, or even in the times that seem to be going well – declare to God, declare to yourself, declare to others, “Great is Your faithfulness!”
Pray about it: “Father, Great is Your faithfulness – every single day! Thank you, thank you, thank you! Even as I am walking through a hard thing right now, help me to remember this truth and declare it to You, to myself and others. You are trustworthy, You are faithful. Amen.”
Act on it: As you are going through this week, take time every day to tell God, out loud, that He is faithful. Tell it to yourself, tell it to others! Doing this will make it more real and it will become embedded in your heart and mind.
Parenting tips: Teach your child to declare God’s faithfulness. Point out to them evidence of God’s faithfulness and trustworthiness. Read them the Bible stories that proclaim this. Read stories about Christians throughout history who have experienced this. Tell them about how you have experienced God’s faithfulness in your own life.
October 20, 2019
“I am all in, committed to a God Who is good.”
No Good Deed …
Read it: Galatians 6:7-10
Think on it: “No good deed goes unpunished.” This familiar quote carries an obvious cynical meaning: “Don’t expect anything good to come from doing good.” Even though I don’t agree with this quote, I can understand why some people believe it to be true. Sometimes, when you act for the good of another, they are not appreciative, or things can seem to backfire, or you don’t see the good results for which you were hoping. At the heart of those thoughts is the real motivation a person has for doing good for another. We may think that if we do good for someone, they will thank us, like us, appreciate us. Sometimes we fall into the world’s way of thinking about “karma” – “what goes around comes around” – so we do good for someone in hopes that some of that good will visit us. Sometimes the result of that good act is not what we were hoping for – it doesn’t fit our plans. If we fall into that way of thinking about doing good for others, we are missing the whole point spoken of in Galatians 6:7-10. We are exhorted, “as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people.”
The passage reminds us of the “why” and “how” of doing good for others – not from the human perspective of “no good deed goes unpunished,” but from the Holy Spirit’s perspective of “let us do good to all people.”
• Verse 7-8 – What is your motivation for doing good? God knows your heart. He knows your true motivation. If you are doing good for selfish reasons, He knows that. God is a God Who does good out of love. Even when we were at our worst, His Son came to earth to bring salvation for all. He did not do good so that “karma” would bring good back to Him. Sending His Son at times looked like it brought Him pain and sorrow. His motivation was His love – with no expectations other than that we were to receive that good gift. Are you doing good out of love, with no expectation for receiving anything in return for yourself? Or are there underlying selfish reasons for doing that good?
• Verse 8 – When we do good and allow the Holy Spirit to work that good for His purposes, then He will take it and make it count – for eternity! It is the Holy Spirit’s job to do the work of growing that good thing. Ours is just to “plant” that good seed.
• Verse 9 – If we allow the Holy Spirit to work that good into what He wants, then we are guaranteed good results. Now, we may not see those results, but we can be assured that they will happen, because it is a promise to us.
• Verse 10 – Knowing all of this, we are to use every opportunity we can to do good to all. There are opportunities all around us to do good. We don’t have to look very hard. But we need to be looking with our eyes wide open to all the opportunities, not be picky about what that might be. “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”
Remember this week that God does notice when we perform good works, even when others don’t. Keep an eternal perspective on what you are doing, that in God’s timing, good will result from that good work, because God has promised it. God works for good, because He is good. Are you weary of trying to do good? Don’t be. We have the Holy Spirit in us to work in and through us. If we allow Him to do just that, then much reaping will come from our sowing.
For the past few weeks, the story of a young man who acted out of the goodness of the Holy Spirit in his life has been in the news. He did not do what he did out of selfish reasons, but out of love for the person who really “deserved” his hate. Take a minute to watch this short video to see what living out Galatians 6:7-10 is really like.
Pray about it: “Father, I am thankful for Your goodness to me. I am thankful that You love me and that all You do for me is for my good. I know that I do grow weary in doing good because my motives are wrong, as well as my expectations. Help me to allow the Holy Spirit to work in me and through me to do good to all. Amen.”
Act on it: Begin each day this week asking for the help of the Holy Spirit to work in and through you for doing good to all around you. Ask the Holy Spirit to open your eyes for all the opportunities around you to do good. Thank God for those opportunities and thank Him for the fruit that He will make happen as a result.
Parenting tips: Children love to do good for others. Include them in your acts of doing good when you are able. Be the example they need. Help them understand that they may not see the results of their efforts, but to persevere in doing good to all, because God will cause the good to happen.
October 13, 2019
“I am all in, committed to a God Who is Good.”
Craving God’s Goodness
Read it: 1 Peter 2:1-3
Think on it: We have spent the last two weeks beginning to understand about the goodness of God. One of the first verses we looked at was Psalm 34:8, “Taste and see that the Lord is good…” We also explored a bit about how Jesus is the Good Shepherd. We were reminded that He is the one Who owns us and calls us by name. We are His sheep – loved and protected by Him. This is where we will begin today. We are His. 1 Peter 1:23 reminds us of this fact, “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” With that thought in mind, we walk into the second chapter in 1 Peter, and see this word, “Therefore…” What follows are two things we are to do, because we belong to the Good Shepherd, and because we have tasted and seen that the Lord is good.
The first thing Peter tells us to do is to put off certain things (verse 1). The concept of “putting off” is similar to taking off one’s old clothes and discarding them, as if preparing to put on new ones. It is as if he is saying, “These five attitudes and behaviors went out of style when you were born again, so get rid of them.” What are these things he is telling us to get rid of?
• Malice – this is the intention or desire to do evil. It can be caused by a smoldering resentment that causes a person to lash out at others.
• Deceit – this is speaking or acting with a motive for deception. It really is just a clever form of dishonesty.
• Hypocrisy – pretending to be something you’re not. It is taken from the Greek word for hypocrite, which was given to an actor in a play who had two roles and would have to change their mask when they switched roles.
• Envy – jealousy and the success of others or happiness at their misfortune. Envy will turn someone into a resentful, angry, grouchy, miserable, critical person.
• Slander – making false statements about someone. It is usually a result of envy.
When we allow any of these attitudes or behaviors to be present in our lives it is because we have forgotten the goodness of God. When you first received forgiveness for your sins, do you remember how that felt? Do you remember the burden that was lifted from your shoulders? Do you remember what it felt like to be finally freed from the enslavement of your sin and your past? If you forget about God’s goodness, it becomes easy to become critical and judgmental of others. That is why Peter reminds his readers in verse 3, “…you have tasted that the Lord is good.” He knew that if we allow the bitterness of these attitudes to take over, all we will taste is that bitterness. But, if we taste the goodness of God, we will not taste that bitterness.
The second thing Peter tells us is to “crave pure spiritual milk” just as newborn babies do (verse 2). Babies crave milk because they are hungry. Their bodies cry out to be nourished. Peter tells his readers to be like that, craving and hungering for the Word of God, so they can gain the nourishment they need to be satisfied and grow up in their Christian walk. So how does one crave God’s Word? Here are some thoughts. First, understand your utter dependence on His Word for nourishment and growth. You need the Word of God in order to grow in your Christian walk. If you didn’t feed a baby for a couple of days, that baby would definitely feel it and be desperate for milk. Is that how you feel when you have not been in the Word for a few days? If not, that is an indicator that something is wrong. The second thing is to realize that craving is closely related to tasting. Have you ever tasted something that is so good that at times you crave it? We all have experienced that. But, if you never tasted that thing, you would not crave it. That is how it is with God’s Word. You have to taste it, experience it, let it roll around your “tongue” and “taste buds.” If you taste God’s Word, you will begin to notice a deep desire for more of God’s Word. The more you read it, the more you want to read it. The more your study it, the more you want to study it. If you don’t have that hunger for God’s Word, perhaps you’ve never really tasted it, or it’s been so long you forgot how good it is.
If you examine your heart, do you see some of the attitudes that we are told have no place in our lives as believers? Are you tasting the bitter fruit of these things? If so, “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). See what He has done in your life. See what His Word says about His goodness. Taste the Word of God – for nourishment and growth. Crave it – so that you cannot live without it!
Pray about it: “Father, I have to confess that I am guilty of some of these attitudes. I need Your help to take those filthy rags off. I need to remember to taste and see Your goodness. As I am in Your Word, help me taste the sweetness of what You have there for me – so much so, that I will crave it and realize I cannot live without it. You are good. I will dress in that goodness. Amen.”
Act on it: Are you craving God’s Word? Are there attitudes or habits that you need to put off? Are you spending time in God’s Word, to develop your taste buds for what will nourish and sustain you? Pray about those things this week, see what you need to work on, and then do it.
Parenting tips: Are you developing a craving in your child for God’s Word? There are many ways to pour God’s Word into their lives. Family devotions, reading Bible stories at night before they go to bed, listening to music that speaks Scripture, memorizing verses together, going to church, watching Bible-based movies or shows together. They need you, as their parent, to guide them – to help them “taste and see that the Lord is good.” Get them hooked on God’s Word and His goodness, so they have no choice but to crave it!
October 6, 2019
“I am all in, committed to a God who is Good.”
The Good Shepherd
Read it: John 10:1-18
Think on it:
The concept of being compared to sheep in the Bible is not unfamiliar to most believers. A favorite passage many are familiar with is Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want…” Psalm 100:3 says, “It is He who has made us…We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.” And Isaiah 53:6 writes, “All we like sheep have gone astray.” Sheep by nature are considered unintelligent and helpless. They require meticulous care. They have a “mob instinct” – if you can get a couple of sheep to do something, the rest will follow along. They are stubborn – if they are used to doing something one way, it is almost impossible to teach them to do it differently. Sheep are timid and filled with fear. They will run from anything that seems to be a danger – which is most things. God calls us sheep in Scripture because He knows human nature. With our mob mentality, our fears and timidity, our stubbornness and stupidity, and our rebellious nature, we’re very similar to sheep. Knowing this about sheep, it is obvious why they need shepherding. They cannot survive on their own. They require constant attention, rescue, and care from their shepherd, or they will die.
In John 10, Jesus identifies Himself, not just as a shepherd, but as “The Good Shepherd” (verse 11). Just as we are learning about how good God is, Jesus is a living, visible example of how good God really is. Here are the characteristics of a good shepherd – and in particular characteristics of Jesus as our Good Shepherd.
The Good Shepherd is committed to us (John 10:11, 17-18). Jesus was so completely committed to us that He laid down His life for us. He also takes responsibility to continually be with us, through the Holy Spirit (John 14:18); intercedes on our behalf (Luke 22:31-32); and is preparing a place for us in heaven (John 14:2).
The Good Shepherd owns us. We are Jesus’ precious possession. He paid for us with His life and we belong to Him. He is responsible to provide what we need, if we let Him. The Good Shepherd owns us, and He will take care of us.
The Good Shepherd’s purpose is to look out for our welfare (John 10:10). Unlike others who pretend to look out for your good, Jesus truly wants what is best for you. As our Shepherd, all He does is for our good, so that we can experience the abundance He has for us.
The Good Shepherd is the only source of our salvation (John 10:9). Jesus describes Himself as the door – the only way into the fold. John 14:6 clearly states, I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
The Good Shepherd calls us. Jesus calls us by name, and when we hear Him call, we will follow Him. It takes training for the sheep to know the voice of the shepherd. That happens when the sheep are close to the shepherd for a long time. They are able to distinguish his voice over the voices of the false shepherds.
Isn’t God good? He came to earth to be our Good Shepherd – totally committed to our salvation and our well-being. Does “abundance” describe your life? Do others see in you a satisfaction in life, real joy in Jesus? If so, they would be lining up to become part of the Good Shepherd’s flock. However, if others hear you constantly complaining about life and living with an attitude of scarcity, rather than abundance, it will serve as a warning to others – “don’t become part of this flock of sheep or you’ll end up just like me.” There is a solution to be a “happy” sheep. Those sheep who are living the abundant life are the ones living close to the Shepherd, because the closer they are, the more they will be nourished, cared for and protected by Him. “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me” (John 10:14). How well do you know your Shepherd? If the life you are living is not abundant, that means you are not allowing the Good Shepherd to take care of you, to provide for you. You are not hanging out with the Shepherd.
Pray about it: “Father, thank you for providing Your Son to be the Good Shepherd. Thank you for being so, so good to me! I desire to get to know You more as I draw closer to You. Thank you for providing all I need to have an abundant life. Amen.”
Act on it: Take time this week to get close to the Shepherd. Get to know His voice and recognize the abundant life He has prepared for you. Spend time listening to His voice as you read your Bible. Spend time talking with Him in prayer. The closer you become to Him, the more you will see His goodness.
Parenting tips: Does your attitude reflect the provision of the Good Shepherd, or does it reflect scarcity? Teaching your children that the Good Shepherd provides for us out of His goodness and for our own good is something important to model for your children. Having the right attitude is one way to teach this important character of God to your children.
September 29, 2019
“I am all in, committed to a God who is love.”
Read it: Psalm 34:8
Think on it:
“Taste and see that the Lord is good…” Psalm 34:8
I think that most of us have experienced the goodness of God in our lives. It is easiest to see God’s goodness when things are going well and life is looking bright. It is not so easy to see the goodness of God when we are faced with troubles and life seems to be falling apart. But does that mean, in those times, that God is not good? You have heard people declare, “God is good – all the time.” If this is a true statement, and I believe it is, we need to understand a little about this statement, “God is good.”
There are three ways to look at this statement made by the Psalmist.
The first way is to understand that goodness is one of God’s attributes. God has many attributes, and goodness is just one of them. This means that He does good things, not bad or mediocre things. All He does is out of this characteristic of goodness. With this understanding, the statement could read, “God does good things.”
The second way to look deeper at this declaration is to understand it more definitively. God is good by definition. Anywhere you find goodness, there is God, and vice versa. You cannot have God without goodness, and you cannot have goodness without God. All of Scripture backs this up. All that God made was very good (Genesis 1:31). No one is good except God (Mark 10:18). All things work together for good for those who love God (Romans 8:28). Those who seek God will lack no good thing (Psalm 34:10). Time after time, the Bible declares “God is good.”
The third way we can look at this statement is through our own experiences. It is easy to see and declare that “God is good” when life is going smoothly for us. In those times, we are stating an opinion based on our experience. But to say that “God is good” when things are not going as planned, can only happen when you believe that goodness is an attribute of God and is perfectly defined by God. The Psalmist was able to declare that “God is good” because he had “tasted and seen” the goodness of God. When David declared that God is good, it was done at a time of great suffering. He was in exile, hiding in a cave, fearing for his life from King Saul. Because he had tasted and seen the goodness of God in many of his experiences, he could confidently declare, at this seemingly dark time, that God’s goodness is always present. Even with a good God, Who is sovereign over all things and has unlimited power to do whatever He wants, good people still suffer – “A righteous man may have many troubles,” (Psalm 34:19). What David knew, because he had “tasted and seen” that God is good, is stated later in that same verse, “but the Lord delivers him from them all.”
The year 2013 was one I would not like to repeat. It was a year that could easily have challenged my belief that God is good. I was in a position at work that was highly stressful and made me question if I would return the following year. I was diagnosed with A-Fib, put on all sorts of medication, none of which worked, and would later that year have surgery to correct the erratic beating of my heart. Earlier that year, my mom unexpectedly passed away. My husband and I were audited by the IRS and the state of Washington, based on their error, not ours. My brother-in-law had a stroke. I changed jobs to a different position. And in December of that year, my dad passed away. Needless to say, it was a hard year. As I look back, I know the only way I was able to traverse through all those things, was because I knew that God is good. Because I was grounded in what the Bible told me about the goodness of God, I knew that He was walking all those paths with me. I knew that all of those things would work for good – because I have a God Who is good. The year was hard – very hard – but I did taste and see that God is good through all of those circumstances. I did not doubt His goodness.
We may not understand why God has allowed something to happen to us which is seemingly not good. But we can be confident that, based on Who God is and what God does, and from our own experience, that God is good. We just need to “taste and see.”
Pray about it: “Father, thank you for Your goodness. Thank you that all You do is out of goodness. As I read Your Word, I ask that You have the Holy Spirit point out to me evidence that You are good, that You do good things. Help me to store these things in my heart, so that when hard things happen, I can declare, ‘You are good – all the time.’ Amen.”
Act on it: Are you “tasting and seeing” the goodness of God? Maybe you need to get into the Bible to search out evidence of the goodness of God. Gaining a head knowledge that “God is good” is one step to seeing things through that lens. Journaling what you discover about God will be an amazing resource when you are going through things that could cause you to doubt the goodness of God.
Parenting tips: Children, like adults, go through hard things. They have bad things happen to them. As parents, you can help them navigate through those hard things by having them “taste and see” the goodness of God. Giving them the firm foundation of knowing that God is good, through the many stories in the Bible, is the best way to set the base understanding in their lives. Spend time with them daily, reading about the God Who is good.
September 22, 2019
“I am all in, committed to a God who is love.”
Love with Action and in Truth
Read it: 1 John 3:16-18
Think on it:
“Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3:18
John, the disciple of Jesus known as “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” wrote these words over 2,000 years ago. In this week’s Scripture, John describes the love Christians are to have toward others. The world will tell us that anyone is capable of love – not just Christians. This is true, as there are many definitions of love. The unbeliever does and can love, but that love is different than the love we should have toward others because of the work of Christ’s love in our lives. An unbeliever cannot demonstrate the highest quality of love, love in its true aspect, because it can only flow out of a person through the Christian experience. Christ’s love in us enables us to love those we would not ordinarily love. To love others apart from the reality of Christ’s love in us is to see them as friend or foe; as helpers or rivals; as those who partner with us or who are obstacles. We look at people for what they can or can’t do for us – how they can fulfill us or help make our lives more complete. When we love others with the love of Christ in us, we begin to see people as people just like us – needing love, having problems, experiencing hardships, being afraid, and consumed with worry. We are able to empathize, to sympathize, to understand what is happening with them, and desire to act on their behalf. This is how Jesus loves us. He saw us in our helpless and sinful state. He loved us and put that love into action. He became flesh – He experienced human existence and what we face every day. He acted on that love by sacrificing Himself on our behalf (verse 16).
Verse 18 tells us that this kind of love is not to be demonstrated in words. It is in words alone that love becomes phony. Phony love talks about compassion; real love does something to express that compassion. John tells us to love in actions and in truth. The love we have because of God’s presence in our lives obligates us to a love that is more than feelings and emotion. It obligates us to a love that is active. Love without action is not love at all – it is false. In John 21, Jesus appears to His disciples after His resurrection. They had been fishing, unsuccessfully, until Jesus called to them from the shore and told them where to cast their nets. At that point they realized it was Jesus and went to meet Him. At that meeting, Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Peter answered that question three times, telling Jesus, “Yes, Lord, You know that I love You.” Peter expressed his love of Jesus with words. Jesus, however, demanded that Peter needed to love, not with words, but with actions, “Feed My lambs…Take care of My sheep…Feed My sheep.”
The love that God wants us to show toward others should be an outflow of the life-changing power of our faith in Christ. Our acts of love should happen because the love of Jesus has invaded and filled our hearts. Here is an example of what I mean. Suppose I was walking down the road and saw you lying there, hurting, broken, and in need. As a response I performed the “deeds” of love to you – bandaging your wounds, giving you water and food, and taking you to the hospital. You respond to me, thanking me for helping you, and ask, “Why are you doing this for me?” I answer, “I’m doing this because it’s my duty as a Christian. Jesus has commanded that we are to show love toward others. I’m doing this because I’ve been commanded to do it.” This is certainly showing love in action – but simply obeying the instructions of Jesus is not the kind of love John is talking about. What would your response be? It certainly would not draw you closer to Christ. Let’s change the scenario a bit. What if I answered your question this way, “I’m doing this because not long ago I was laying flat on my back on the road of life. I was broken and banged up because of sin. But Jesus saw my condition, my hurt, and loved me and saved me. He made me whole again. I didn’t deserve His love, but He loved me anyway and I will never understand or cease to be amazed that He loved me even in that condition. His love has transformed my heart. Did you know that He loves you, too? When I saw your need, how could I not help but love you as Jesus loves you?” That response shows love in action and in truth. It is all about what Christ’s love in me helps me to do for others. It is not about doing my duty. Your response, then, would be very different and likely would make you want to know more about Jesus, because the truth is being shown by love in action.
I’ll repeat here what I stated at the beginning of this paragraph – The love that God wants us to show towards others should be an outflow of the life-changing power of our faith in Christ. Our acts of love should happen because the love of Jesus has invaded and filled our hearts.
This love of Christ can only fill you up as you gain a better understanding of what it is. The Word of God – the Bible – is the source of all truth. If you feel you need to better understand Christ’s love for you, you have to spend time learning what the Bible teaches about it. I have been a Christian for almost sixty years, and I feel that I have so much more to learn about the love God has for me. I desire to always be learning about this love so that others are impacted by it. As you allow the Holy Spirit to fill you up with the truth of Christ’s love, it will overflow to those around you by your actions.
Pray about it: “Father, thank you for Your love. I ask that I don’t love someone just because they love me. Help me to love others because I am loved by You. Fill me continuously with the truth of Your love, so that it will flow out of me to those I am around. Amen.”
Act on it: A couple weeks ago, I shared some Scriptures about God’s love. I am sharing them here again so you can focus this week on the truth of that love. There are many more passages in the Bible that speak of the truth of God’s love, but these will get you started: Deuteronomy 7:9; Psalm 86:5; Psalm 86:15; Psalm 36:7; Psalm 136; Zephaniah 3:17; John 3:16; John 15:9-17; Romans 5:8; Romans 5:2-5; Romans 8:37-39; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 2:4-5; 1 John 3:1.
Parenting tips: Most children are, by nature, loving. They genuinely love others. As they grow up, they are confronted with the world’s perverted view of love, which is focused on self. Help them learn about the power of the love of Christ and how it will empower them to love others in a truthful way. Pray for it in their lives, talk about it, model it for them, point to examples of it seen in the lives of other Christians. Instilling the truth into a child when they are young will arm them to combat the falsehoods of this world that will certainly confront them as they grow up.
September 15, 2019
“I am all in, committed to a God Who is love.”
O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus
Read it: Romans 8:28-39
Think on it: As you read through the passage for this week, Romans 8:28-29, you can see there are many truths contained in these twelve verses. I love this passage, and when I spend time reading through it and meditating on what it is saying to me, I inevitably learn something new, or am reminded in a poignant way, about some amazing truth about our God, and what that means for me.
In verses 28-30, certain things about God’s love are laid out for us.
Because God loves us we know…
- … that God will work through all things for our own good. God’s love causes all events, circumstances, etc., in our lives to grow us in to the image of Christ.
- …that God “foreknew” us. With all the billions of people who have walked this earth, He knows you and me, personally. He knew us before the creation of this universe.
- …that God “predestined” us to be Christ-like in our character. God’s predetermined plan for us – from before time began – was to become like Christ.
- …that God called us. He pursued, and still pursues, us with everlasting kindness.
- …that God justifies us – that He has given us the gift of worth, without any cause on our part.
- …that God glorifies us. He has already begun this work in us and will complete it. He pulls back the curtain on what He has been doing all along.
I am reminded of the lyrics of an old hymn, O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus, when I think about the love that God has for me, and what that love has done for me. Here are the words of the first verse of this great hymn:
O the deep, deep love of Jesus
Vast, unmeasured, boundless, free
Rolling as a mighty ocean
In its fullness over me
Underneath me, all around me
Is the current of Your love
Leading onward, leading homeward
To Your glorious rest above
I stand in awe of this amazing love so freely given to me. That God would offer this to you and to me, is beyond comprehension! But there is more truth to be grasped as we continue looking at the following verses in our Scripture for this week. Verses 31-39 help me see how I should respond to this amazing love. They show me the right belief I should treasure up in my heart. Here are the truths I took away as I read and thought about these verses:
Verse 31 – if God is for me, then who can be against me? No one can stand up to God – no person, no power – no one; and if God loves me as much as Scripture tells me, then I am able to be protected and kept safe by God!
Verse 32 – if God gave His only Son to die for me – the absolute sacrifice – why would He withhold from me any need that I have? He will graciously give me what I need, not reluctantly, but graciously!
Verses 33-34 – if I have been justified by God, then who has the right or the ability to accuse or condemn me? Rather than condemn, I have an advocate, Jesus, who is at God’s right hand, interceding for me!
Verses 35-39 – if the God of the universe loves me, how could anything or anyone, separate me from this amazing love? Nothing, no one, no circumstance, absolutely nothing can prevent the love of God from surrounding and enveloping me! That love is so powerfully for me, at all times, without fail, that it turns every circumstance, situation, etc., into a victory! I am more than a conqueror – I am a super-conqueror!
Walk through this week knowing that Jesus came to earth, lived, died, and rose from the dead so that you and I would know that God sticks up for us, He provides for us, He justifies us, His purpose for us will not fail, He loves us, His love is loyal, generous, just, and eternal.
Christian author, Ruth Harms Calkin, wrote the following prayer. May you grasp the truth contained here and apply it this week.
“God, I may fall flat on my face; I may fall until I feel old and beaten and done in. Yet Your love for me is changeless. All the music may go out of my life, my private world may shatter to dust. Even so, You will hold me in the palm of Your steady hand. No turn in the affairs of my fractured life can baffle You. Satan with all his braggadocio cannot distract You. Nothing can separate me from Your measureless love – pain can’t, disappointment can’t, anguish can’t. Yesterday, today, tomorrow can’t. The loss of my dearest love can’t. Death can’t. Life can’t. Riots, war, insanity, unidentity, hunger, neurosis, disease – none of these things, nor all of them heaped together, can budge the fact that I am dearly loved, completely forgiven, and forever free through Jesus Christ Your beloved Son. Amen.”
Pray about it: “Father, I echo the prayer above. May I begin to grasp Your amazing love for me, and live life in the truth of that love. Amen.”
Act on it: Spend time this week examining all the areas of your life where God’s ever-present love is obvious. Thank Him for that. Then spend time identifying where His love is not as obvious and thank Him that even in those areas, He loves you. Take time each day, throughout the day, to say out loud, “He loves me.” Do it in the morning before your feet hit the floor, “He loves me.” Do it midmorning, “He loves me.” Do it at noon, “He loves me.” Do it mid-afternoon, “He loves me.” Do it at supper, “He loves me.” Do it before you close your eyes to sleep, “He loves me.”
Parenting tips: As you walk through life with your children, identify for them how God’s love is always there – not just when things are going well, but even when hard things happen. I was raised in a strong Christian home, and because of the way my parents taught me about God, I have gone through life with this truth – God loves me and that love never fails. Your children will grasp that truth easier than an adult and will be equipped to carry it with them through their life.
September 5, 2019
“I am all in, committed to a God who is love.”
God Is Love
Think on it:
As we begin a new school year, we also begin a new journey with our spiritual theme, “All In.” Our theme verse is Mark 12:30-31. It says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” As we walk through our school year, we will tackle topics related to the concept of being “all in” – totally committed. For this month, we will examine how we are to be “all in” – committed to a God who is love.
In this world, our definition of “love” is typically not the type of love defined here. If we were to look up the definition of love, here is a common definition found in The American Heritage Dictionary, “Love is an intense affection for another person based on familial or personal ties.” We love other people, or we say we love others, when we are attracted to them and when they make us feel good – this is the basis of the phrase intense affection in the above definition. We love conditionally, meaning we love someone because they fulfill a condition to make them loveable. We also love mercurially. That is to say we love based on emotions and feelings that can change from one day to the next. We fall “in love,” and then we fall “out of love.”
1 John 4:8 says that “God is love.” There is more to this divine love than just the fact that God loves us unconditionally – that He loves us regardless of the circumstances. It carries the idea that love is the essence of God’s character. Theologian A.W. Tozer put it this way: “Nothing God ever does, or ever did, or ever will do, is separate from the love of God.” Everything He has ever done is out of love. He created this world out of love. He flooded this earth out of love. He saved Noah and his family out of love. He allowed the Israelites to be enslaved in Egypt out of love. He brought them to the Promised Land out of love. He allowed Daniel to be thrown into the lion’s den out of love. He sent His Son to this earth out of love. He allowed Jesus to be crucified out of love. He pursues a personal relationship with you and me out of love (I John 4:9-11). God’s love is incomprehensible, just as God is incomprehensible.
What does this mean for you and me? If God’s love is so immense and incomprehensible, how in the world do I begin to understand it? Here are some things that we can know about God’s love.
• God’s love is trustworthy. In 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, Paul describes the qualities of love, and at the core of those qualities is the fact that love is unfailing and unwavering. All throughout the Bible, we see time and time again how His love is unwavering and constant. This is the same God that loves you and me. His love for us is unfailing and, therefore, we can trust in God’s love.
• The offer of salvation to us is an expression of God’s love. John 3:16 reminds us that God so loved us that He sent His Son and gave Him up as a sacrifice for us. This offer of salvation is not because we have earned it. As a matter of fact, He gave His Son “while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8). This salvation is for all who would believe in Jesus. God’s love does not discriminate.
• God’s love enables our ability to love others. In Mark 12:30-31, we are told to love others as we love ourselves. We cannot love others out of ourselves. Remember, our love is conditional and mercurial. Through the Holy Spirit, we have the ability to love (Galatians 5:22). As we allow God’s love to saturate us, we cannot help but love others (1 John 4:7).
• We can rest in God’s love. Nothing we have done or will do is a surprise to God – yet He chooses to keep loving us, unconditionally. We have hope because God loves us enough to have a plan and purpose for us (Ephesians 1:3-14).
• We can have confidence in God’s love. We are constantly reminded about the faithfulness of God in Scripture. From the very beginning, God’s love has been at work, and will continue to be at work. In this we can have confidence. In Psalm 136 we are reassured twenty-six times that God’s love “endures forever.”
In his article, “10 Things You Should Know about the Love of God,” Garry Williams sums up our response to the concept of “God is love.” He says, “God’s love truly perceived always draws out from us a response of love. The contemplation of divine love in its biblical fullness is never something that ends in itself. Our rest in God never finds its fulfillment in ourselves but always leads us out of ourselves toward him and toward others. The love of God is to be lived as well as learned. The love of God for us begets love in us for him and for others. The true Word of love that we have in the Bible, if we have it truly, will abide in us, and will not return empty as, by miracles of grace, we make glancing reflections of the immeasurable love of God visible to others in our own lives.”
My prayer for you this week is that you allow this immeasurable divine love of God to soak into your heart, soul, mind and strength – so much so that it oozes out into your daily relationships and others catch a glimpse of God’s love through you.
Pray about it: “Father, just to tell You, ‘thank you’ for Your love seems so inadequate for what Your love truly is. But thank you for being love – for loving us so much. I find peace in Your love, and reassurance that, like You, it is constant. This week I want to abide in Your love. I want it to penetrate all areas of my life. That is the only way I will be able to love those around me with the kind of love that is divine. Thank you again for Your love. Amen.”
Act on it: This week for your devotional time, spend time understanding the love of God. There were multiple Scriptures shared in this devotional that would be a good place to begin. Here are a few more: Deuteronomy 7:9; Psalm 86:5; Psalm 86:15; Psalm 36:7; Psalm 136; Zephaniah 3:17; John 3:16; John 15:9-17; Romans 5:8; Romans 5:2-5; Romans 8:37-39; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 2:4-5; 1 John 3:1.
Parenting Tips: The first glimpse of God’s love that a child has is the love they receive from their parents. As you learn about God’s love, you will see that His love is always acted out in what is best for His people – not necessarily what His people think they want. Love seeks out the best for the other person. What kind of love are you demonstrating for your children? Is it a reflection of the love God has for us? Is your love conditional and mercurial – ever-changing with the circumstances or your moods? Ask God to help your love for your child become a reflection of His love.