Tuesday, November 30, 2010

God's Good Creation (1 Tim. 4:4-5)

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.
(1 Timothy 4:4-5, NASB)

We’ve had some high winds over the last couple of days, and although I don’t like them at all, they’ve made the sky a crystal-clear blue. They’ve also given me a wonderful view of the snow-topped mountains standing majestically in the distance.

And then I read verses like these, and I’m reminded—yet again—that “everything created by God is good …” Even those things that may not be my favorites—like high wind—I can accept with gratitude.

This also ties in well with one of the best-known and oft-quoted verses in the New Testament: Romans 8:28. God really does work all things for good. All things.

I read a quote lately (I can’t recall where) that said something like, “God causes all things or allows all things.” We live in an ongoing and an escalating battle with the enemy, and our world becomes darker each day.

Yet even so, we can be confident that God is in control, and He will work through all circumstances. If we trust Him, if we know the promises in His word, if we pray to Him at all times, then we can live with the knowledge that all things created by Him will work out for our good.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Falling Away (1 Tim. 4:1-3)

But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth.
(1 Timothy 4:1-3, NASB)

I know how easy it is to believe things contrary to God’s word.

I made some really unwise decisions when I was young, decisions that allowed me to “fall away from the faith.” I listened to the lies of the enemy, and spent twenty years on a journey that led me, as I titled a book I wrote, away from and back to the arms of the Father.

I see this same “falling away” in many people today. Young people raised to know God are making choices to follow the world. Older people, disillusioned because of loss or difficulty, claim God is unfair—or because of their pain—doesn’t exist at all.

A large part of the problem is that many Christians don’t really know why they believe what they believe. They go to church on Sunday, and then never touch their Bibles or talk to God the other six days and 22 hours of the week. And since they really don’t know truth, it’s very, very easy for them to believe the lies whispered in their ears.

That’s why I pray regularly for my brothers and sisters in Christ. I pray they’ll ground themselves in God’s word. Study it. Meditate on it. Investigate its truths. I pray they’ll spend time talking with and listening to God. I pray they’ll be protected by the Spirit.

And I pray that those who have “fallen away” will repent and recommit their lives to God. Just as I did.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension. Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness.
(1 Timothy 2:8-10, NASB)

I’m going to take some literary license with these verses. Forgive me, those of you who are Bible scholars, but I’m not going back to the original language and interpret “men” and “women.” Rather, I’m going to look at these three verses as being instructions to all children of God. And yes, there is a method to my madness.

Taking out the gender-specific nouns, I see four things that all followers of Christ can obey.

Lift up holy hands. We are made to worship our Lord God. And whether or not we literally lift our hands, our hearts and minds should have a worship mindset at all times.

Avoid wrath and dissension. Anger is a poison that can destroy one’s soul, and the Bible calls it a deed of the flesh (Galatians 5:19). The light of love and the darkness of hate cannot abide together. We are called to love each other, so we must put all anger out of our hearts.

Adorn properly. These verses speak of women’s dressing modestly, but I see this pertaining to proper dress for everyone. And I don’t just mean the clothes we wear. Does our behavior mirror Christ? Or do both our external and our internal selves distract people from seeing God’s truth in us?

Do good works. Each of us as a child of God should strive to serve Him and others at all times. You’ve probably heard the saying, “People don’t care what you say until they see that you care” (or something like that). If we sincerely and faithfully serve others—our neighbors, our community—people will see godliness in action. And they will be attracted to the One who works through us.

Sometimes it’s good to read God’s word and ask, “What can I learn?” No matter my age, my gender, my background. Pray for the Spirit to speak to you through all of the Bible.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

One God (1 Tim. 2:5-7)

For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying) as a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
(1 Timothy 2:5-7, NASB)

Believe in the God of the Bible or don’t. You have a choice. But if you say you believe in the God of the Bible, Yahweh of the Old Testament’s people of Israel, the Christ of Christianity, then you must, by definition, believe He is the only God.

Paul, inspired by the very Spirit of God, wrote there is one God, and one alone. You cannot believe in the God of the Bible and say that other gods may be valid. It isn’t possible.

And not only is there one God, but there is also only one way to Him. Jesus Himself said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 4:16).

Jesus is our mediator, and our acceptance of His payment of our penalty allows us to be in relationship with our Father.

Make your choice.

Friday, November 26, 2010

God's Desire (1 Tim. 2:3-4)

This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
(1 Timothy 2:3-4, NASB)

On Wednesday, we talked about how we, as children of God, should pray for everyone, including our leaders. Today, Paul reminds us of why: because doing so is “good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior.” Doing so pleases our Lord God.

But I want to focus on the second of today’s verses. God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

I’m part of a small group at my church of women who are “spiritually mismatched.” Our husbands are either unbelievers or are not on the same faith journey as we are (e.g., they’re of another faith or new Christians or backslidden). We’re going through a study the Lord inspired me to write that has us meditate on verses to encourage or convict women in our situation.

We recently meditated on 2 Peter 3:9, which is very much like the above verse. God’s heart is for all men to come into relationship with Him.

So why are there comparatively so few who choose to follow Him? If it’s God’s desire for all to be saved, why do we have so many friends and family members who aren’t?

Because our loving Father gave us the choice to follow Him. Some don’t want to give up control of their lives. Some are too enamored with the world’s temptations. And some have never really heard the truth.

What can we do? Well, we can certainly pray as we’re commanded. But we can also be Christ’s light to those around us. We can share God’s truth to everyone in our circle of influence. And some of us can even answer God’s call to go out into the world to minister to others.

Just as it is our Father’s heart that all should come to salvation, so should our hearts desire the same.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

What are you grateful for?

Take some quiet time today to thank God for everything ... the good, the bad, the ugly.

Because everything you've experienced, every relationship, every heartache, every blessing ... they've all refined you and molded you into who you are ...

An adored son or daughter of the Most High King!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Pray for All Men (1 Tim. 2:1-2)

First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.
(1 Timothy 2:1-2, NASB)

We complain—a lot—about our world. The immorality. The lack of caring and compassion. The selfishness.

And even more so, we in the U.S. tend to whine—a lot—about our leadership. The corruption. The poor decisions. The seemingly all-about-me mentality.

I have to wonder. How much is this our fault?

Do we do what we’re called to do? Pray for “all men, for kings and all who are in authority”? I wonder.

In the Old Testament, God made an if-then promise to His people. He said, “If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among My people, and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:13-15).

If we experience difficult situations and still humble ourselves, if we pray and seek His face, and if we turn from our wicked ways, then He’ll hear us and forgive us … and He’ll heal our land.

He promises the same thing through the words of Paul. If we pray for “all men, for kings and all who are in authority,” then we’ll “lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.”

But do we? Do we, as a nation, do any of these? No.

Do we, as Christians? Certainly not like we should. And if we’re not keeping our end of the bargain, why should we expect God to keep His?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Good Counsel (1 Tim. 1:18-19)

This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. (1 Timothy 1:18-19, NASB)

Paul gave good counsel to Timothy—counsel we should heed ourselves.

We need to fight the good fight. And whom are we fighting? In another letter, Paul wrote that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12, NASB). We’re fighting against the devil and his forces, and in order to combat them, we need to daily put on our “armor.” (See Eph. 6:16-17.)

We need to keep the faith. As we deepen our relationships with God, our faith grows stronger and less vulnerable to the lies of the enemy. We need to spend time with God every day. Reading, studying, and meditating on the Bible. Praying. Spending time in quiet solitude, just listening to His voice. Learning about Him through corporate worship.

We need to keep a good conscience. If we seek God’s will and do what He’s called us to do, we will grow more and more like Christ. Sin will be abhorrent to us, and we will strive to live righteously.

If we live for God, if we keep Him the priority of our lives, we won’t reject our faith and “suffer shipwreck.”

Monday, November 22, 2010

All Glory and Honor (1 Tim. 1:17)

Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
(1 Timothy 1:17, NASB)

In one short verse, Paul exalts his God with highly descriptive adjectives. His words offer praise and worship. And a clear love and devotion.

God is eternal. He has always been and will always be. It’s difficult for our human minds to grasp this. We are bound by time, and the idea of timelessness is beyond our comprehension.

God is immortal. He is infinite, unchanging. He doesn’t sleep or hunger. He doesn’t need shelter or clothing. He is always on alert, hearing our prayers, meeting our needs.

God is invisible. He is not bound by a tangible form, and as such, He is omnipresent—everywhere at once. He is with me when I’m in pain, and He’s with you when you’re grieving. We can’t go anywhere in heaven or on earth where our God is not.

God is the only God. False gods are everywhere. Whether personified like those of ancient Rome or modern Hinduism, or self-made like fame or money, they are rampant. Some even say we can be our own gods. But there is only one God. One Creator. One Redeemer. One Savior.

And to this God, to the one true God, we should give all honor, all glory, all praise.

Forever and ever.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Abundant Mercy (1 Tim. 1:15-16)

It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.
(1 Timothy 1:15-16, NASB)

Yesterday, we talked about how we can find forgiveness and mercy and grace in a relationship with our heavenly Father.

Today, Paul tells us how: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”

We’ll soon be entering into the advent season (although stores would say we’re already there …). In just over a month, we’ll be celebrating the birth of our Savior. He came to this world for one reason only: to offer redemption to mankind and a way back into fellowship with God.

He came to grant mercy and grace. He came so that we might joyfully anticipate eternity with Him

Jesus can redeem the heart of the lowest of the low. There is nothing you have done that cannot be wiped away by our Savior’s blood. You can be cleansed of every sin you ever committed.

It just takes admitting you’re a sinner and that you need a Savior. It just takes belief in Jesus as that Savior and acceptance of His sacrifice. And then it takes surrender to God the Father’s will.

You cannot save yourself. You cannot hope that the good you do somehow outweighs the bad. You can’t give more money or more time or more effort to good causes.

Only one way to salvation and eternal life with God—Father, Son, and Spirit—is available to you. Believe in Jesus. Accept the gift of His payment for your sin. Give your life completely over to Him

And accept His amazing grace and abundant mercy.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Abundant Grace (1 Tim. 1:12-14)

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus.
(1Timothy 1:12-14 NASB)

Have you thought that your past was too sinful, too rebellious, too awful to ever be in a relationship with God? Do you think you’ve done too many bad things that God would ever forgive you?

In tomorrow’s verses, Paul will describe himself as the “foremost” of sinners. And in today’s, he spelled out some of his worst sins, including his persecution of Christ-followers.

Yet he experience God’s grace and forgiveness of sins. He was shown mercy even when he had deliberately chased down and arrested Christians. He was used by God after having approved the execution of Stephen.

When he met Jesus on the Damascus road, all of his past was wiped away. He was forgiven. He was showered with God’s grace and mercy.

And that’s how God forgives us. That’s how He gives grace and mercy. That’s how He uses us.

In spite of our pasts. Our rebellion. Our ignorance. Our sin.

If we come to Him and surrender our lives to Him, the past no longer matters. We can be pure and righteous in our Father’s eyes. And we can gladly, joyfully, and gratefully follow Him. And serve Him with all our hearts.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Purpose of the Law (1 Tim. 1:8-11)

But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane … according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted.
(1 Timothy 1:8-11, NASB)

The law was written to guide us, to let us know how God wants us to live. When we study and meditate on God’s word, we learn to live rightly. Loving others. Serving God. Being kind and good. Gentle and patient.

And we learn how He does not want us to live. Don’t be wrathful or immoral. Or jealous. Or cause disputes. Or be drunk or carouse.

So why is there so much immorality? And jealousy? And fighting? And anger? And war? Because the majority of the world doesn’t know God’s word. They’ve never even heard God’s commands. They have no idea of how God desires they live.

The only way we can instruct others is to live out God’s commands. If we serve our community with joy, if we are kind and gentle, if we refuse to respond in anger, the world will be attracted to us. And then we can share God’s truth.

On the other hand, if we judge and point fingers and yell at our children and cheat on our tax, the world will, at best, think we’re just like them so why should they change. And at worst, their suspicions—that Christians are just hypocrites—will be confirmed.

Yes, the law was written to let the sinner know he sins. But it was also written so that, when we follow it, the sinner will see a difference in us. And will want that difference for himself.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Fruitful, Not Fruitless (1 Tim. 1:6-7)

For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions.
(1 Timothy 1:6-7, NASB)

Oh my goodness … I read these verses, and I thought, “Yes! This is so true!” So much “fruitless discussion” takes place in religious circles because so many “do not understand what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions.”

They’ve heard someone say sometime that, for example, there’s a verse in the Bible that says “God helps those who help themselves.” Well, we are definitely called to do the work God has called us to do, but there is no such verse.

Or they argue about traditions that aren’t spelled out clearly in the Bible, but they’re sure they’re right. Sprinkling versus immersion. Bread and wine versus crackers and juice. My way is right, and yours is not … although I’m not quite sure why.

Again, it comes down to one key thing: Do you know God’s word through diligent study and meditation, or are you just repeating what you’ve heard—or what you’d like to be true? When someone asks you about what you believe, are you able to answer with biblical support? And if you don’t know the answer to a question, do you stop to find it? Or confidently assert something about which you know little?

Think of it this way: You wouldn’t teach French if you didn’t speak it. You wouldn’t teach biology if you didn’t have a firm foundation in the science. You wouldn’t teach math if you hadn’t learned math from the very basics to calculus.

So why would you instruct others in biblical faith if you weren’t fully grounded in God’s word? Only then can you truly be confident in your assertions and have fruitful discussions.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Instruct in Love (1 Tim. 1:5)

But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
(1 Timothy 1:5, NASB)

It’s not just preachers and teachers who instruct. Anyone who has committed his life to God—Father, Son, and Spirit—often has opportunities to instruct others in the gospel. And we need to instruct in love.

We cannot force our beliefs on others. We cannot guilt them into believing. We cannot save them ourselves.

Rather, we must have a pure heart, one that desires more than anything that others find the peace and joy that comes with a relationship with Jesus. No other motive exists except wanting their salvation.

We must have a good conscience. I interpret this as we need to be cleansed of our own sins. In order to be an instructor of the gospel, we must confess any sins we commit, and we must strive to live as sinless as we possibly can. If we don’t, how can we expect others to be attracted to Christ?

We must have a sincere faith. We can’t put on a show; others will see right through. We can’t say one thing and do another; others will rightly claim our hypocrisy. We must be so in love with Jesus that our faith shines brightly.

Whom can you instruct? Your children? Your neighbor? Your fellow committee member? Your colleagues?

Have a pure heart with right motives. Keep your conscience clean. And grow in your own faith through prayer and study of God’s word.

And instruct in love.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Strange Doctrines (1 Tim. 1:3-4)

As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith.
(1 Timothy 1:3-4, NASB)

“… strange doctrines … myths and endless genealogies … speculation …”

Any of these words sound familiar when you think of our “spiritual” world? The pure truth of the Bible has been distorted and watered down and misinterpreted for so long, people seem to believe just about anything.

And since so many so-called Christians don’t read and study God’s word themselves, they’re easily convinced by false teaching. They’ve become so much a part of the world that they have created a sort of Christianity that allows them to live pretty much however they choose.

I’ve written in other devotionals how some who call themselves Christians don’t believe that Jesus lived a sinless life. They don’t believe the Bible is God’s inspired word. They don’t believe in absolute truth.

They’ve bought into the “pick and choose your religion” hype. Why? Because it allows them to think their eternity is set, but while here on earth, anything goes.

They look at those of us who believe in the inerrancy of God’s word as naïve. When we assert that Jesus—God the Son—came to earth, lived a sinless life, died to pay the penalty for our sin, and then rose again …well, we’re childish. And worst of all, when we call out sin, we’re intolerant or judgmental.

All because so many have been instructed in “strange doctrines” and have “speculated” about truth.

And how God’s heart must break.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Jesus Is Our Hope (1 Tim. 1:1-2)

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus according to the commandment of God our Savior, and of Christ Jesus, who is our hope, to Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
(1 Timothy 1:1-2, NASB)

“Jesus Christ, who is our hope …”

Webster’s Dictionary defines hope as a “desire accompanied by expectation of or belief in fulfillment.” When we think of Jesus as being our “hope,” what expectation do we have? What do we believe in? What fulfillment do we desire?

I can only answer for myself, but my hope in Jesus is what makes me get out of bed each morning. If I didn’t have hope in Him, I’d simply give up.

My hope in Jesus reminds me that God has a purpose for my life. When I accepted Jesus’ gift of salvation and invited Him into my life, I became a child of the Father. And my Father loves me and has a plan for my life, one that gives me a “future and a hope” (Jer. 29:11).

I believe in God’s purpose for my life here on earth, and I live in expectation of eternity in His presence. I desire to be exactly who He’s created me to be now, and I desire even more the time when I'll praise Him and serve Him forever.

Without this hope, my life would be meaningless. There would be no purpose for my pain. No value for my ministry. No significance for my relationships.

Ah, but I do have hope. I know beyond doubt that God does have a plan for my life. I believe with all my heart that His plan is good (Rom. 8:28).

And that hope gives me a reason to push back my covers and, with Jesus holding my hand, face another day.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Father's Heartbreak (Ps. 53:2-3)

God looks down from heaven upon the children of men,
To see if there are any who understand, who seek God.
Every one of them has turned aside;
They have together become corrupt;
There is none who does good,
No, not one.

(Psalm 53:2-3, NKJV)

I imagine God, sitting upon His throne looking down on earth. I imagine Him, longing to see His created children seeking Him. I imagine Him, heartbreaking as He watches His beloved choosing to follow their own ways.

We’re breaking His heart. Because we have “turned aside.” We have “become corrupt.” We don’t do “good.”

None of us.

On our own, each of us is destined to eternal separation from our heavenly Father. We can’t do anything to save ourselves from the corruption that permeates our very beings.

On our own, we choose to allow our flesh to rule. We choose to break the heart of our Creator, our sovereign Lord.

But even when He knew the choices His created children would make, He had a plan of redemption. Sacrifice of a perfect lamb. Then the ultimate sacrifice of the perfect Lamb.

When He looks down upon those who’ve chosen life in Christ, He doesn’t see corruption. He sees righteousness.

However, I believe His heart still breaks—even for those who’ve committed their lives to Him. Because we still allow our flesh to rule sometimes. We still make choices to sin.

Do you know Creator God? Have you given your life to Him? Have you accepted the gift of the ultimate sacrifice? Do you know where you’re spending eternity?

Then don’t break your Father’s heart. Surrender your life and your will to Him each day. Strive to bring joy to Him as you do His work.

And if there’s any sin in your life? Ask Him to help you conquer whatever you do that still breaks His heart.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Fool and His Heart (Ps. 53:1)

The fool has said in his heart,
“There is no God.”
They are corrupt, and have done abominable iniquity;
There is none who does good.

(Psalm 53:1, NKJV)

So many people today say there is no God. They cite science or the “fact” of evolution. They point to pain and suffering throughout the world. They decry natural disasters. If there is a God, they say, He certainly isn’t a God of love and compassion. So there must not be a God.

And if there isn’t a God, well then, anything goes. I can live exactly how I choose. Do exactly what I want. Eat, drink, and be merry. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Whatever. Whenever. With whomever.

Such a description of our world today. As long as it doesn’t hurt anyone, it’s okay. As long as I don’t get caught, it’s okay. Even worse, as long as it doesn’t hurt me, it’s okay.

No absolute truth exists. Moral ambiguity abounds. No black and white.

And where has “there is no God’ brought us? Babies murdered in the womb. Children abused and neglected and abandoned. Teens cutting and purging and starving. Families disintegrating.

Corrupt politicians. Deceitful leaders. Self-serving. Selfish.


Friday, November 12, 2010

The Lord Blesses with Peace (Ps. 29:11)

The Lord will give strength to His people;
the Lord will bless His people with peace.

(Psalm 29:11, NKJV)

Often, I feel very, very weak—emotionally, mentally, spiritually. The world seems to be closing in, and I can’t seem to dodge the boulders being tossed at me, right and left.

Often, I try to take on the world and its challenges on my own, and I feel the weight crushing me, pushing me down until I lie prostrate on the ground.

I can’t do this, I think.

And I’m right. I can’t do this—on my own, that is.

We humans are fleshly, fallen, frail creatures, and we don’t have the strength to combat what this world throws at us. We truly are incapable.

But we do have Someone who can give us all the strength we need: our heavenly Father. He promises strength to us. In fact, as the apostle Paul wrote, we “can do all things through Christ who strengthens” us. (Philippians 4:13)

And along with that strength, He promises peace. He will bless us with peace.

Yes, we may be incapable, but He is more than capable. We can trust in His strength; we can trust in His peace.

(Peace: Devotions to Lead to God’s Peace © 2006 Sauni Rinehart. All rights reserved.)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Brand-Marks of Jesus (Gal. 6:17-18)

From now on let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brethren. Amen.
(Galatians 6:17-18, NASB)

As we end our journey in Galatians today, let’s focus on Paul’s last words to his fellow believers.

First, he states that he has the “brand-marks of Jesus” on his body. We know of the physical suffering Paul withstood for preaching. He was whipped and beaten several times, and he certainly would have scars. Scars he proudly wore as “brand-marks of Jesus.”

When I think of brand-marks, my thoughts go to cattle (not very romantic, but that’s the vision …). When calves are branded, they’re branded for life. Paul’s brand-marks were evident to any who saw him.

What “brand-marks” do you have? Do I have? Perhaps our brand-marks are physical, as Paul’s were. But perhaps they’re emotional or spiritual. Perhaps we’ve been “branded” as a troublemaker at work because of our faith. Or a friend has turned her back. Or fellow students have ridiculed us.

Can we wear them as proudly as Paul did his?

Second, Paul prays that the grace of the Lord Jesus be with the spirits of his readers. As we wrap up this book, with all its God-inspired wisdom, I pray the same for you.

May you experience abundant grace and love from our Savior and Redeemer, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Boast in the Lord Jesus Christ (Gal. 6:11-16)

Those who desire to make a good showing in the flesh try to compel you to be circumcised, simply so that they will not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. For those who are circumcised do not even keep the Law themselves, but they desire to have you circumcised so that they may boast in your flesh. But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.
(Galatians 6:11-16, NASB)

Some of us boast in our accomplishments. “Look at what I did,” we say. We take pride in the number of committees we’re on or the ministries we belong to. We love that our plate is full of the things we do for God.

Others boast in relationships. We’re proud of the number of friends we have or who we know. We love to tell others how we’ve encouraged our friends or helped them in times of need.

Still others boast in how well we follow God’s word. We memorize scriptures and diligently study God’s word—and make sure others know we do.

Doing good things for God, nurturing our relationships, or spending time in God’s word aren’t wrong. In fact, they’re wonderful—if done with a right heart.

However, we cannot boast in anything we do or are. We can only boast in the “cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In other words, everything we do should point to our Lord. Never should we desire the eyes of others to be on us. They should gaze directly on the face of our Savior.

He is the only one about whom we can boast. For He is the only one who truly deserves our praise.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Do Good to All ... (Gal. 6:9-10)

Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.
(Galatians 6:9-10, NASB)

“… do good to all people …”

We try, really try, to do as Paul commands. But sometimes it’s easy to lose heart. We smile and wish a good morning to that cranky checker, and she sneers. We write a nice note to our child’s teacher, and all we get is a “can’t you keep your child under control” call in return.

We cook our spouse’s favorite dinner, the one that takes hours to prepare, and he wolfs it down before plopping down to watch the game—not a “thank you” to be heard. We patiently listen to our parent’s weekly tirade, and then even more patiently listen to her complaints about us.

Or we volunteer to work on that church committee, and the first twenty minutes of the weekly meeting is spent sharing the latest gossip.

Oh, yes, it’s easy to lose heart and grow weary.

When I was a child, my mom would always tell me that if I didn’t let people’s meanness or selfishness get to me, often they’d stop what they were doing—at least to me. It took me a while, but I finally got that old adage: It’s easier to attract flies with honey than with vinegar.

Kindness—doing good—really does impact people. And I'm not saying we're to play the martyr or sigh in self-pity. If we genuinely strive to do good to all people, sometimes they’ll be influenced to do good to us.

Eventually, that checker might smile back. That teacher may say, “Thank you.” That spouse may cook for us. That parent may say, “I’m proud of you.”

But even if they don’t, we can be assured of one thing: Our heavenly Father is smiling—and He’s very proud.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Reap What You Sow (Gal. 6:7-8)

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.
(Galatians 6:7-8, NASB)

Sometimes, we know some Scriptures so well, they become clichés rather than truths. How often do we say or hear “You reap what you sow”? Sometimes we even joke about it.

But this is no joking matter.

“God is not mocked,” Paul asserts. What we do on earth has eternal repercussions. We can’t do our own thing and satisfy the flesh, and then expect to show up in heaven. Yet that’s exactly what the world thinks.

You ask the average American if they believe in God and heaven, and some 80 percent will say they do. You ask them how to get to heaven, and most will say, “Be a good person.”

And what defines “good”? Most would say if the good things they do outweigh the bad.

That is not what God says. He demands and deserves our total surrender to Him. We cannot receive eternal life with Him just by trying to do good things or be a good person. We are to “sow to the Spirit.”

But what does that really mean? Sow to the Spirit?

When we believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, when we accept His sacrificial death for our sins, and when serve Him as our living Savior, we are part of God’s family. We have the Spirit residing in us. And we begin to live according to the Spirit’s leading and the Father’s will.

Then we sow to the Spirit. We manifest His fruit. We strive to do, not just “good” things, but godly things. We love our neighbor as ourselves. We become burden-bearers. We use our God-given gifts to serve our heavenly Father.

And we’ll reap eternal life with God—Father, Son, and Spirit!

If we’re only living for ourselves and hoping that our good outweighs our bad, we’re actually sowing to our flesh. And what will we reap? Corruption. And eternal life separated from God—Father, Son, and Spirit.

What are you sowing? And, even more, what will you reap?

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Share All Good Things (Gal. 6:6)

The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him.
(Galatians 6:6, NASB)

I had to really meditate on today’s verse to understand its true meaning. At first, I thought Paul was saying that those of us who have been taught the word are to share the word with others.

Then I read it again, and that’s not what this verse says. Of course, we are to share the good news of salvation through Jesus’ death and resurrection with others, but read this particular verse again.

It’s telling us that we’re to be sharing “all good things with the one who teaches” us.

Paul’s telling us that we’re to share what we have with our pastors, our teachers, our priests. I believe this means we’re to support those who instruct us. And that means through our treasures and our time.

When you put your tithe in the offering basket, do you do so joyfully knowing that part of your gift supports the basic living needs of your pastor and his family? Have you ever invited your pastor and his family for a summer bbq? Or offered to babysit his kids so he and his wife could have a much-needed evening alone?

Those who teach us have devoted their lives to learn about the Bible, about faith, about God. And they work hard. They study. They write. They counsel. They visit the infirm.

And they deserve our support—financially and otherwise.

Do you share all good things with your pastor/teacher? Your prayers. Your time. Your money. Your gratitude.

Something to think about.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Examine Your Work (Gal. 6:3-5)

For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. For each one will bear his own load.
(Galatians 6:3-5, NASB)

Have you ever done something or said something that made you stop and think to yourself, “I’m pretty talented or smart or clever”? Your chest expands with pride. You stand just a little taller. You may even compare yourself to others and think, “I’m better than they are.”

That’s pride. When we think we can do something great, we’re being prideful. In fact, we are nothing without the gifts and talents God has blessed us with. We are nothing even when we think we’re something. And we’re deceiving ourselves.

Each of us has been given work to do by our Father, and we must focus on completing that work. At the beginning of each day (and I so often fail to do this), we should ask God to use us, just that day. We should strive do to His assigned work. Then at the end of each day, we can look over that day’s work and be content with what He’s done through us.

Not comparing ourselves to others. Not preening about what we have done.

Rather, delighting in the knowledge that we’ve followed His will, done His work, helped to build His kingdom.

We aren’t responsible for anyone else’s load. We are only to complete the tasks He’s given us, and complete them with joyful hearts.

And be thankful He’s chosen to use us at all.

Then we can boast in our heavenly Father and what He’s done through us—not what we think we’ve done on our own.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Burden-bearers (Gal. 6:2)

Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.
(Galatians 6:2, NASB)

How grateful I am for the burden-bearers in my life. Those people who pray for me, who care for me, who love me. If it weren’t for them, I sometimes wonder how I’d survive. Oh, I know my strength comes from my heavenly Father, and I know it’s His grace that covers me.

But sometimes we need to see Jesus “in the flesh.” Know what I mean? Sometimes we need a hug or a shoulder or an ear. We need to be embraced, not only by the love of our Father, but also by arms of flesh.

And I’m so blessed to have people in my life who, just with a request, pray for me and support me. Most of all, my wonderful husband, who isn’t a follower of Christ … He is my greatest burden-bearer. His love and care and support are irreplaceable—and I am so very grateful for him.

Not only do I have my own burden-bearers, but I’ve also been blessed to bear a few burdens for my friends. And that too is such a blessing.

I pray you have burden-bearers in your life. And I pray you’re a burden-bearer for someone else.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Restoring the Brethren (Gal. 6:1)

Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.
(Galatians 6:1, NASB)

We Christians tend to be judgmental. Sorry to be so blunt, but it’s true.

We love to point out that speck in someone else’s eye, and we feel somehow superior when someone is “caught in any trespass.”

That’s not the way it’s supposed to be. We should grieve when a brother or sister sins, and we should seek their restoration.

Rather than point fingers or—even worse—gossip about someone’s failings, we should quietly and gently walk alongside her to bring her back to a right relationship with the Lord. And as we do, we need to be extra alert so we aren’t tempted to fall into the same sin.

Righteousness, not sinfulness.

Gentleness, not ridicule.

Restoration, not condemnation.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Living the Fruit (Gal. 5:26)

Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.
(Galatians 5:26, NASB)

Yesterday, we were reminded of the fruit of the Spirit—those attributes that demonstrate the difference we in Christ should manifest.

And perhaps, to attract believers to our Lord and Savior, we do show love and kindness and patience to the world. And yet, with those we should love most—our family, our friends … our brothers and sisters in Christ—we aren’t so loving or gentle.

Instead of humbly following God’s call, we boast about what God’s doing in us.

Instead of praying for and supporting our leadership, we challenge them to do things our way.

Instead of celebrating the gifts and talents of others, we envy them when they’re doing what we want.

Oh, if only we really loved that way, served that way. With humility. Genuinely supporting one another. Rejoicing with each other.

Just think about how our local churches could serve the community—if we positively focused on others instead of ourselves.

Just think about it …

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Talk the Talk and Walk the Walk (Gal. 4:24-25)

Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.
(Galatians 5:24-25, NASB)

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Talk the talk AND walk the walk.” As followers of Christ, this should be how we choose to live.

We should know God’s word well so we can tell people about Him. We should have scripture memorized so we can share the hope that comes in knowing God (1 Peter 3:15). We should hide God’s word in our hearts to combat the lies of the enemy, just as Jesus Himself did. (See Matt. 4:1-11.)

But knowing God’s word isn’t enough. We can speak about God all we want—talk the talk—but if we don’t walk the walk, no one is going to listen to us. In fact, we’ll repel them.

How often has the cause of Christ suffered because of a professed Christian who publicly falls? The pastor who embezzles. The priest who abuses. The church leader who has an affair.

Believe me, the world is watching us. Unbelievers are looking at us to see if we live as we speak.

I think a lot of unbelievers are seeking the peace and hope that comes from knowing Christ. I really do. And they want to see a difference in us. They want to see Christ in us.

The only way they’ll do so is if we walk according to God’s word and His will.

They need to hear us share God’s word, certainly. But they also need to see us being gentle and kind, joyful and patient, loving and peaceful.

They need to see us talking the talk AND walking the walk.

Then they’ll be attracted to the hope in us.

Monday, November 01, 2010

The Fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
(Galatians 5:22-23, NASB)

How I long to be an illustration of the fruit of the Spirit! I so want to be loving and joyful and peaceful. Oh, to be patient and kind and good. And how wonderful it would be to be faithful and gentle and have self-control. All the time. To everyone.

Now I do pretty well with some of these. I do have God-given peace. And I’m fiercely faithful to my God and those I love. And I strive to find joy in every circumstance, as James taught (1:2).

But patience? I’ve struggled with that for years. As much as I surrender my life to God, I still want what I want when I want it … And self-control? I know I need to exercise. It’s a key component for keeping my chronic conditions somewhat under control. I know I need to eat well for the same reason. But do I exercise every day as I should? Do I diligently watch what I eat? No. Not always.

And then I have to ask myself: When others watch me, do they see anything different in me? Anything that attracts them to my Lord?

I pray that I’ll more and more be a shining light to others, that they’ll see the fruit of the Spirit in me. I pray God will give me patience and self-control. That I’ll be kind and good. And faithful. Always faithful to my heavenly Father.

And I pray the same for you.