“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.”
~ 1 Peter 5:8-9
As I read these two verses, what I hear old Peter saying is this: “Don’t be naive, brother. Don’t be gullible, Sister.” Don’t think your faith will somehow exempt you from trials and temptations and invoking the name of Jesus is a sure-fire devil repellant. Dealing with difficulties is a road all will travel at one point or another in life. Perhaps this is why the apostle writes in the preceding chapter:
“Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you.”
~ 1 Peter 4:12 NLT
There are so many difficulties out there making your navigating life a difficulty in and of itself: Sickness and disease, pain and loss, addictions, bad habits, obsessions, compulsive behaviors, mental anguish, anxieties and much much more. In our faith journey, every believer will face opposition, count on it. There will always be something or someone rising up to challenge your resolve, to hinder your spiritual growth and cause you to sometimes miss the mark. But let’s not make the mistake of assessing our spiritual progress, or worth to God based on performance. You will never be more righteous, more redeemed, or more valued by God than you were on the very first day you believed. Or perhaps better said: You cannot be any more or any less saved tomorrow than you are now. “How is that possible,” you ask:
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
~ Romans 8:1
Regardless of how difficult the struggle you at any time may be going through or how defiant the stronghold in your life appears to be, continue to resist the temptation to give in or give up. “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you,” James 5:7 tells us. Believe me, if it were not possible, it would not have been written.
>We pray that God has used this devotional to encourage and challenge you. If you would like to speak to someone about a spiritual decision or engage in a spiritual discussion, please email email@example.com.<
“For now we see in a mirror dimly. . .”
—1 Corinthians 13:12
Sometimes looking back makes things clearer, but not always. Having gone through times of difficulty and struggle. It is helpful to (in review) see that big and obvious moment of breakthrough when Jesus stepped into your storm to say, “Peace, be still.” It makes the next difficulty not look so much like the tightrope stretched over Niagara Falls we thought the previous issue was and gives us the confidence to move forward in faith.
But there are times when in hindsight we reflect to see that defining moment when the curtain rolls back, and God comes on stage to part the seas of our perilous moment, but it isn’t quite so dramatic. There comes a calm, but we don’t see how he makes it happen, we don’t see him. Be assured of this, however, see or not see, God is there else you wouldn’t be here.
In business, a rate of growth that is too fast is dangerous often leading to loss and failure. A slower intentionally paced growth rate will allow a new company to adapt to changes in the economy and other unseen events and is much more likely to experience success and prosperity. The same can be true of believers in the spiritual sense.
God understands our eagerness to know but sometimes sees it best to pull in the reins revealing a little at a time rather than everything at once. Better it is to go wobbling across the floor of life in baby steps glancing back to know only that Jesus is there. It is enough.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,
— Ephesians 5:25
My younger brother was at the Revere Beach Sandcastle Building Festival and Competition in Boston a few months back, admiring the incredible craftsmanship of the artisans whose work was on public display. The pictures he took were stunning. Mind-boggling, actually.
One work was of a fairy-tale like castle, reminiscent of Disney’s Magic Kingdom, complete with well-known storybook characters like Sleeping Beauty, Humpty Dumpty and the Cat in the Hat. Nothing at all ambiguous about the sculptor’s work either. The details were given such meticulous attention, every component of the sculpture was vividly clear and easily identifiable. You didn’t have to look twice to recognize that an oval figure seated atop the castle wall was Humpty Dumpty.
A successful marriage requires attention to details as much as prize-winning sandcastles do. I pray the love I have for my wife to be so clear that no one would have to take a second look to recognize it. However, that will happen only as I model the same honest, self-sacrificing love Christ has for his bride, the Church. Not just a “till death do we part” kind of love. But a love that is willing to part with one’s own life for the sake of his wife, as did Christ for the Church.
That is the standard Jesus set that marriage might always be rock solid, rather than on the rocks.
To be a husband is a responsibility.
Thursday, July 26, 2018
Early this morning reading excerpts from the book of Romans through just then opening eyes. My mind got stuck on the depth of meaning there is to be found in 3:10-12. Not reading any further, I just stopped and started typing. Although by no means exhaustive or an attempted exposition of the text my thoughts were these:
As it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” — Rom. 3:10–12 ESV
Wow! Such a potent statement, I thought. A real eye-opener.
Not only can none be found righteous, or good. Not only is there no one who understands, there is not a single soul who truly looks to find God. Why? We don’t want to. Why don’t we want to? Because we can’t.
Until we are awakened by the Holy Spirit to our need for God (an act of regeneration) we can see no need for him – our desire is to satisfy self only. We are spiritually dead creatures without an understanding of things spiritual or the capacity to understand them.
Slaves to what appeals to the senses, the cravings of our fleshly nature; we cannot break free from our earthly shackles and reach up to God “because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so” (Romans 8:7 NASB). He must first reach down to us. Thus, we find John to say, “We love him because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19 KJV).
Backing up to verse 10 John explains,
“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” —1 John 4:10 ESV
Man’s ability to love and have fellowship with God is God’s gracious gift to man made possible by the atoning sacrifice of his son on the cross. In Jesus’ offering of himself as the substitute for our sin, he absorbed fully the prescribed penalty for sin thereby satisfying God’s justice and “canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. . .” (Colossians 2:14 ESV). In so doing God imputed (ascribed in a real and literal sense) our sin to Jesus and his righteousness to us. In other words, He took my death and gave me his life.
I cannot help but sing. I must sing:
“How marvelous! How wonderful! And my song shall ever be: How marvelous! How wonderful! Is my Savior’s love for me!”
Have A Blessed Day Everyone,
The other day I gave my answer to a question asked in our church Community Group Discussion Guide which read: “How does knowing you are adopted by God change your view of yourself and of God? How does this give a new answer to your identity?”
My honest response was:
“Knowing God has chosen and adopted me as his son brings me to my knees in highest praise. Unfortunately, the overwhelming sense of guilt and shame past sin often reminds me of competes for my ability to see myself as the forgiven, regenerate, and redeemed child of God he tells me I am, and walk confidently of my ability to each day be everything he says I am.”
Dear Christian friend, I wonder, might our lives sometimes run along a parallel path? Knowing what God says to be true but haunted by yesteryear’s sin, perhaps yesterdays? Instead of seeing the person God declares you are in Christ today, the image you see in the mirror is definitely not the Imago Dei (image of God) and the story being told by that person staring back at you is very different. One of a shameful, sinfully dark past that any fair and reasonable self-examination will find a despairing case of hopelessness. A story that from your vantage point trumps the new story God wants to write into your life; the story he has in fact already written.
The bible I read in Numbers 23:19 tells me “God is not man, that he should lie,” and in Hebrews 6:18 I found it to say that “it is impossible for God to lie.” That being true, and it is, the questions I then should ask become who I will believe him or me? Whose word is most reliable, his or mine? That’s a no-brainer, right? It should be, yes. But in spite of my best effort to go all-in with God’s divine assessment of who I am in Christ, there are still times I find myself wrestling with that vile man sneering at me in the mirror each morning. His rap sheet is just too long to be considered for a heavenly pardon, I sometimes think. How then can it be? I lack understanding. It’s too deep.
Then this morning while reading Calvin’s Institutes I ran across these waking words of encouragement*:
“We have come into the way of faith,” says Augustine: “let us constantly adhere to it. It leads to the chambers of the king, in which are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. For our Lord Jesus Christ did not speak invidiously to his great and most select disciples when he said, ‘I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now,’ (John 16:12). We must walk, advance, increase, that our hearts may be able to comprehend those things which they cannot now comprehend. But if the last day shall find us making progress, we shall there learn what here we could not,” (August. Hom. in Joann).”
I like that. I’m good with that.
*Calvin, John. The Institutes of the Christian Religion – Enhanced Version (p. 130). Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Kindle Edition.
This past weekend hundreds of students packed into the c|Life Sunnyvale campus participating in the WKND event. Pictures posted to Facebook were thrilling, causing me to wish the church I attended growing up would have offered a not to be forgotten experience as I am certain this was. Things were different then, though. Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s was a challenge; some would say the most rebellious decades ever among the youth population of America.
Having recovered from World War II, unlike their parents (many who had to work to help support their families in the decade before), teens in the 50’s were staying in school, getting jobs at the neighborhood supermarkets and soda shops. Making their own money to spend on themselves, going to the movies and listening to Rock ‘n’ Roll – life was grand, a life entirely different from mom and dad’s. Charting new courses, they carved out roads different from the ones traveled by their parent’s; roads distancing their generation from the hardships that characterized the life of their fathers.
With the dawning of the 1960’s, Civil Rights was a major issue prompting violent riots, protests, marches, sit-ins and other acts of civil disobedience troubling young souls. Involvement in the Vietnam conflict sent even more spine-tingling chills throughout the country, more protests, more marches, more sit-ins. The louder the sound of gunfire pouring through the television set became – the louder the voices of protest would become. Perhaps it was fear of reliving the horror stories so often heard concerning WWII that fanned the flames of the anti-war rebellion blanketing the American landscape then.
Remembering the days I grew up in is a reason why my heart leaps with joy at the sight of any number of young people reaching out to touch Jesus. This past Sunday we heard of how a woman whose ruinous life was completely restored when she did the same (see Luke 8:43-44).
The exciting thought for me is this: Our students will carry the WKND event with them inciting, igniting and fanning the flame of God’s love in their homes and schools that others may come to discover the change reaching out to touch Jesus brings.
Do you remember the change he brought in your life when you reached out to touch him? Did you make the connection? Have you?
Every church should have such an event.
Billy Graham once shared the following story with a crowd of Christian leaders and businessmen who had gathered to honor him in Charlotte, North Carolina. Standing at the lectern, he begins,
“I’m reminded today of Albert Einstein, the great physicist who was honored by Time magazine as the Man of the Century.
“Einstein was once traveling from Princeton on a train, when the conductor came down the aisle, punching the tickets of every passenger. When he came to Einstein, Einstein reached in his vest pocket. He couldn’t find his ticket, so he reached into his trouser pockets.
“It wasn’t there. He looked in his briefcase but couldn’t find it. Then he looked in the seat beside him. He still couldn’t find it.
“The conductor said, ‘Dr. Einstein, I know who you are. We all know who you are. I’m sure you bought a ticket. Don’t worry about it.’
“Einstein nodded appreciatively. The conductor continued down the aisle punching tickets. As he was ready to move to the next car, he turned around and saw the great physicist down on his hands and knees looking under his seat for his ticket.
“The conductor rushed back and said, ‘Dr. Einstein, Dr. Einstein, don’t worry, I know who you are; no problem. You don’t need a ticket. I’m sure you bought one.’
Einstein looked at him and said, “Young man, I too, know who I am. What I don’t know is where I’m going.”
Who you are is who you are, the hand genetics has dealt you. Your physical features and cognitive capacity all determined by your ancestry. How then can it be said, “all men are created equal”? I would love to play basketball like Michael Jordan, write like Max Lucado, sing like Elvis and have the intelligence of Einstein – but the story DNA told never said a word about my being anyone other than who I am, who God made me be.
The biblical idea of equality is not that I can be or do anything anyone else can, that is, of course, not true. Scripturally expressed, the equal ground we share is two-fold; our treatment of one another (to be impartial and fair towards all), and our opportunity to know and have a relationship with God.
“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
– Matthew 7:12
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
– John 3:16
I’m 5’5” not 6’6”, Michael Jordan I could never be, but both he and I can treat others as we would want to be treated. I will never be an Einstein; I’m good with that. But unlike the good doctor that day, I do know where I am going, do you?
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
– John 14:1-6
I am not sure who writes the discussion guides we use to review and talk about the Sunday sermon in our community groups each week, but this week’s sure got my attention. Right out of the batter’s box, they stepped up to the plate swinging their pen with this question: “Do you struggle to be consistent in a particular spiritual discipline or habit?” Gulp!
Since I would probably need more space than I’m allowed to answer that question, I will limit my response to where I stink worst: my prayer life. How about you? Actually, before you go there, let’s start here. The word discipline is a derivative of the Latin disciplus, meaning pupil, which (per Merriam-Webster’s website) also provided the source of the word disciple, in later Latin being associated with a follower of Jesus Christ in his lifetime (that’s us). So then, when asked to identify “a particular spiritual discipline” you struggle with, the real question is this: where do you keep missing the mark following Jesus’ example? Gulp! Gulp!
Made abundantly clear in Sunday’s message, despite their best efforts, Israel habitually blew it; like a senseless dog, always returning to his vomit to be made sick again, and again, and again — and we are no different.
For those of us who are members of the older-than-dirt generation, you may recall The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, a show that starred the real-life Nelson family and aired on television from 1952 to 1966. Each episode would begin with a pleasant family time at the table. Ozzie, Harriet, David and Ricky were all happy, and everything was good. But no sooner than they got away from the table, dishes barely dried and put away, something had gone wrong. Someone had messed up. The remainder of the episode was about how they get back to the table. Sound familiar? In a nutshell, that’s the story the Bible tells.
Should you read the book of Judges, it looks and sounds like ancient episodes of Ozzie and Harriet. By way of comparison, this is how it always went:
- The story begins. Israel is seated at the table, serving God. All is well.
- Israel leaves the table, tumbling into sin.
- They fall into the hands of their enemies and are overcome by them.
- They cry out to God in repentance, wanting to get back to the table.
- God hears and raises up a leader — a judge — who defeats the enemy, restoring Israel to the table.
You’d think that by the time we got to Nehemiah they would have learned. They didn’t. 2,500 years later, the story remains the same, both for Israel and for me. I still blow it. I still miss the mark. I still commit sin. I spend more time away from the table than I do sitting at it. But there is good news:
God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
— Romans 5:8
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
— 1 John 1:9
In Christ, God has raised up a leader who has made a way back to the table. One day, all those who believe will take a permanent seat and enjoy, never again to leave. Then, as Jackie Gleason might say looking forward, “How sweet it is.”