Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Grace and Mercy (James 2:8-13)

Today’s scripture: James 2:8-13

Many belief systems or religions believe that if your good outweighs your bad, you’ll get to heaven or some kind of an eternal realm of peace or nirvana. What that percentage of good over bad no one quite knows.

The Bible tells us something very different. All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory (Rom. 3:23). There is none righteous (Rom. 3:10). Or as James puts it, if we “stumble in one point, we have become guilty of all.” And each of us has stumbled … at least once.

We are all deserving of judgment, and if it were up to us, we wouldn’t get anywhere near heaven. But God is merciful. He, through His love and grace, offers freedom from our sin. He offers liberty. He offers forgiveness. To everyone:

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life” (John 3:16).

“If we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). 

We are sinners. We do deserve judgment. We do deserve eternal separation from our God. We don’t deserve mercy. We don’t deserve grace.

But when we accept God’s gift of salvation, we don’t receive judgment or eternal separation from God. Instead, we receive His mercy and grace.

What an amazing God we serve!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Personal Favorites ... (James 2:1-7)

Today’s scripture: James 2:1-7

In God’s eyes, everyone is equal. Gender. Age. Cultural background. Wealth. He doesn’t care about any of that. He just cares about the heart.

But us? Not so much.

We look at the outside. We admire the beautiful. The young. We want to be around those who are like us.

And we especially hold those with all the “stuff” in high esteem. For some reason, we think those with lots of money are somehow more important. We’d rather hang out with the rich and famous than spend time in the soup kitchen.

But think about it. Where do you often find the most faithful? In the palaces? No, you find them in the slums. Friends of mine who have had the privilege of going on short or long term missions  to “third world” countries have told stories of the generosity of the “least of these.” And of their love for Jesus. They live with nothing, but they praise the name of their Lord and Savior.

These are the people we should hold in highest esteem. These are the people whose faith we should emulate.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Your Sermon (James 1:26-27)

Today’s scripture: James 1:26-27

Statistics would tell us that there are many, many “religious” people in our world. They are “spiritual.” They believe in a “higher power.” Some even call themselves Christians.

I can’t speak to those of other religions or belief systems. But I can speak to those who call themselves Christians yet don’t live anything like Christ. With their words and actions, they show hate and intolerance and anger. They put down others. They despise the sin and the sinner.

Tragically, this is often all the world sees of so-called Christians. And indeed Christianity that is not like Christ is “worthless.”

You know what kind of behavior attracts the world? That makes them look at our religion as worthy rather than worthless? When we act as Christ did. When we serve others. When we speak love. When we “visit orphans and widows in their distress.”

St. Francis of Assisi said,
"The deeds you do may be the only sermon some persons will hear today.”

What sermon will you give today?


Friday, November 25, 2016

Just Do It (James 1:21-25)

Today’s scripture: James 1:21-25

How many of us are guilty of being “hearers” but not “doers”? How many of us go to church on Sunday, listen to a wonderful message about being the light of Christ, and then just go about our weeks? Or a podcast about serving the less fortunate, and ignore the needs of those around us? Or read a passage about helping the widow and orphan, and hope someone else does the work?

You can’t see me, but my hand is raised …

I do try to live those “greatest commandments”: Love the Lord, heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love others. I truly try to show love, kindness, patience, and gentleness. I want to “judge not.”

But I know I could do more to serve others as Christ did. I could figuratively (or perhaps literally) wash the feet of those around me. We were just talking about this in my small group ... I know there are needs right in my community. 


What more could I do? What more could you do?

Let’s be doers of God’s word. Let’s shine Christ’s light and be so sincerely caring of those around us that they’ll be attracted to our Lord.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Listen More. Talk Less. (James 1:19-20)

Today’s scripture: James 1:19-20

Oh, if we could only live by these words. If we would listen more and speak less. If we would take time to think before reacting … what a difference it would make.

I used to facilitate Seven Habits for Highly Effective people, and this verse reminds me of two of the habits.

The first is Be Proactive. It’s the habit of choosing how you respond. You may have been told as a kid to count to ten before reacting? That’s that this is about. Being “slow to anger.” Instead of having a knee-jerk reaction, you stop and think. Then you respond based on what you value. In other words, if you value your relationship with your child, then instead of yelling at him when he accidentally spills grape juice on your new white linen tablecloth, you take a deep breath and respond with gentleness.

The fifth habit is Seek First to Understand. In this habit, you listen, really listen, to what the other is saying. You don’t judge. You don’t think about what you’re going to say. You don’t interrupt. You just listen. The other person is your focus. Not you.

Try this today: When your spouse or your friend or your child wants to talk to you, put everything else aside. Look them in the eye. And listen.

And if someone does something that upsets you? Count to ten. And respond in love.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

No Shadow of Turning ... (James 1:17-18)

Today’s scripture: James 1:17-18

One of my favorite all-time hymns is “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” The chorus comes from Lamentations 3:22-23: "Great is Thy Faithfulness, Lord, unto me."

But there’s also a hint of James 1:17 in the first verse:

Great is Thy Faithfulness, O God My Father, There is no shadow of turning with Thee. Thou changest not. Thy compassions they fail not. As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.
God was, is, and forever will be. We can have be confident of that.

And our never-changing God, our Father of lights, showers us with “every good thing … and every perfect gift.”

He carries us through the difficult times. He provides for our every need. He works through us to tell the world His truth.

I don’t know about you, but I feel tremendously blessed to know that God is the same loving, compassionate, righteous, and faithful God He’s always been … and always will be. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Don't Let the Enemy Win (James 1:13-16)

Today’s scripture: James 1:13-16

For reasons beyond my comprehension, God has allowed evil to exist since Adam and Eve. And He’s allowed this continual battle between those who follow Him and the “spiritual hosts of wickedness” (Eph. 6:12).


But He Himself does not tempt us. Rather, we allow circumstances or other people to infiltrate our hearts and minds. We make poor choices. We listen to the voice of the enemy.

And when we open ourselves to those things not of God, we are enveloped by sin. And unrepentant sin leads to death—eternal separation from God.

I spent many years with my back turned firmly away from God. I let myself think that, because I’d been abused and hurt as a child, I had an excuse. If God allowed these things to happen, I thought, then I would make my own decisions, chart my own course.

I was deceived.

It wasn’t until I realized that I was indeed in a battle, and I was letting the enemy win, that I came back to the One who will be ultimately victorious.

Don’t let the enemy win. If you’re struggling with sin, turn it over to the Lord. Ask Him to forgive you and to help you overcome whatever temptation the enemy of your soul sends.

Do not be deceived, my friend.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Crown of Life (James 1:12)

Today’s scripture: James 1:12

This is one of those verses that we Christians should commit to memory. It’s a wonderful reminder of why we can find joy in our trials.

One day, each of us will stand before our Lord God, and He will place on our heads the crown of life. He will look at what we did to serve Him and others. He will review how we stood strong through trials and sufferings.

And He will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:14-30).

When I think of seeing my God face-to-face and hearing those words, anything that happens to me here on earth is worth it. The abuse I experienced as a child. My struggle with infertility. My daily pain.

Every trial has refined me and made me stronger. God has used—and continues to use—me and my stories to encourage others.

And one day, I’ll wear that crown of life.

If you’re struggling, remember that God loves you and will help you through whatever storm you’re going through. Persevere and know one day you, too, will wear that crown.

Friday, November 18, 2016

If I Were a Rich ... Person (James 1:9-11)

Today’s scripture: James 1:9-11

I love musicals, especially the old classics like “Fiddler on the Roof.” It’s a wonderful musical with a great story. The main character, Tevye, is a poor milk man, and at one point, he asks God why He couldn’t have given him riches (singing the iconic “If I were a rich man …”). Tevye thinks that having money, being rich, would take care of all his problems.


And the same is true for many of us today. If I were rich, I’d have a perfect life, we think.

So we work too hard, trying to earn just one more dollar or get just one more promotion. We fudge on our taxes. We gamble.

We seem to forget one thing: Riches do not necessarily equal happiness. Think of the rich and famous who have spiraled out of control due to drug or alcohol use. Think of the lottery winners who are bankrupt in just months. Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes that wealth is futile: “behold all was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun” (2:11).

Instead of focusing on wealth, perhaps we would be wise to focus on contentment, on being satisfied with whatever God gives us. Or as the apostle Paul wrote:

“Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.” (Phil. 4:11-12) 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Wisdom ... Just Ask ... (James 1:5-8)

Today’s scripture: James 1:5-8

I like the first part of today’s scriptures. I’d certainly like a bit more (well, a lot more) wisdom, and I’m assured I can ask God, and He’ll give generously to me.

But then comes that phrase that breaks my heart: “… he must ask in faith without any doubting …”

Without any doubting? Is that humanly possible?

Because there are still times when I doubt, when I question—even after walking with the Lord for years. There are times when I feel “driven and tossed by the wind.” So does this mean that I shouldn’t “expect that [I] will receive anything from the Lord”? Am I “double-minded, unstable in all [my] ways”?

Praise God, I believe the answer is “no.”

Just as the Bible convicts those who live in habitual sin, I believe these verses speak about a state of mind. A constant doubting. A continual double-mindedness.

The Adam Clarke Commentary gives some insight:

The man who is not thoroughly persuaded that if he ask of God he shall receive, resembles a wave of the sea; he is in a state of continual agitation; driven by the wind, and tossed: now rising by hope, then sinking by despair … The man whose mind is divided, who is not properly persuaded either of his own wants or God's sufficiency. Such persons may pray, but having no faith, they can get no answer … The man of two souls, who has one for earth, and another for heaven; who wishes to secure both worlds; he will not give up earth, and he is loth to let heaven go. (http://www.studylight.org/com/acc/view.cgi?book=jas&chapter=001
I know God is in loving control. I know He has a perfect plan for me. I may not always understand. And doubt may sometimes make me question why things happen the way they do. But then I am reminded how faithful God has been and how faithful He will be.

And so I know I can ask for wisdom to know His will. And the strength to do it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Consider It All Joy? (James 1:1-4)

Today’s scripture: James 1:1-4

Almost two years ago, I decided to focus on most of Paul’s epistles. Since I was on a roll with letters, I moved onto Peter’s. And since so much of the New Testament is made up of letters, I’m now looking at James’. This is especially appropriate because my small group is in the middle of a study of this very book!

Many Christians know and quote verses 3 and 4 often. We know we’re to find “joy” in our trials because those of us who have walked with Christ for a while know that trials do, indeed, test and grow our faith.

I believe this with all my heart. I believe each and every trial or test I’ve gone through has made me stronger, both in mind and spirit. I know when I faced adversity or difficulty, I have two choices: I can whine and complain and roll up into a little ball, or I can seek God’s strength to get me through.

I’d rather do the latter.

But I do know that there are those whose struggles have been so much greater than mine. How do you find the joy when you lose your dearly-loved child? Or the job you’ve faithfully served for 20 years lays you off? Or your spouse tells you he just doesn’t love you anymore? How do you find the joy then?

The only thing I can tell you is take your pain to God. I know that sounds clich├ęd, but it’s true. I spend too many years suffering alone. I turned my back on God as a teenager because I couldn’t understand why He’d allowed very painful things to happen to me. When I finally made my way back to Him in my late-twenties, my suffering didn’t end. But I know now that I can truly find joy in knowing God has a plan beyond my understanding. And that plan is surrounded by His love.

A woman of faith I greatly admired said it this way:

I have learned that all things fit together into a pattern for my good and God’s glory. Hardships have forced me to make decisions about God.  Ah, this wheelchair has made muscular my faith.
You know who said these words? Joni Earekson Tada who’s been in a wheelchair as a quadriplegic for 50 years.

Yes, we will all suffer at one time or another. Yes, we will face trials and temptations. But we can find joy if we just trust God. Trust Him and His plan.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Be On Guard (2 Peter 3:17-18)

Today’s scripture: 2 Peter 3:17-18

Peter ends his second letter with a final exhortation. Since we know some will distort the truth, we need to be on guard. We need to be so saturated with God’s word and its truth that no one or nothing can cause us to fall away.

Instead, we need to continually “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

Every day should find us eager to discover what God wants us to know of Him. We should read and study and dig deeper into His word. We should pray and ask for wisdom and discernment. We should be on alert against those who would try to pull our eyes and heart from our Lord.

And in all things and all ways we should glorify our God—Father, Son, and Spirit. Now on earth, and then eagerly awaiting the day when we will have the privilege of glorifying Him for eternity. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

Fully Prepared (2 Peter 3:13-16)

Today’s scripture: 2 Peter 3:13-16

We are looking forward to that new heavens and a new earth. Well, I guess I should speak only for myself, but I’m really looking forward to being with my Lord for eternity. And as we learned on Friday, we need to be diligent about our behavior. How will Jesus find you when He returns? Will you be “spotless and blameless”—or as close to these as possible? Will He find you sharing His truth or reading His word or loving others?

What can we do to be fully prepared for Christ’s return?

We need to wisely study God’s word. Pray for the Spirit’s discernment as we read. We can’t rely on the teachings of those who are “untaught and unstable,” for they will distort His truth. That distortion will destroy them … don’t let it destroy you as well.

The bottom line: Know God. Know His word. Live as Christ-like as possible. Not easy. Not simple. But well worth it. For as I wrote on Friday, don’t you want to hear the Father say to you, with love and pride in His voice, “Well done, My good and faithful servant”?

I know I do.

Friday, November 11, 2016

How Will You Live? (2 Peter 3:10-12)

Today’s scripture: 2 Peter 3:10-12

Our Lord Jesus will return. He “will come like a thief” when we least expect Him. The old heavens and earth will pass away, and the new heaven and earth will be prepared for His followers (see Rev. 21).

Since we know this earth will soon “be burned up,” we should be very, very careful of how we live. Think about it. If Jesus were to return at any time, what do you want Him to find you doing? Gossiping? Lying? Stealing? Disregarding the needy?

Or do you want Him to find you praying? Reading God’s word? Volunteering at a shelter? Encouraging someone?

Pretty convicting, isn’t it?

I don’t know about you, but when I think in terms of Jesus coming back this day, it makes me want to live as closely to how He did as possible. It makes me want to manifest the fruit of the spirit rather than the sins of the flesh. I want to be loving, patient, and kind, not angry, immoral or jealous.

I want to know when I stand before the throne one day, I’ll hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

What about you? How will you live this day?  

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Patience of God (2 Peter 3:8-9)

Today’s scripture: 2 Peter 3:8-9

Ahh. Two of my most favorite verses. And wonderful words of encouragement for any of us who have family or friends who aren’t believers.

Many of us live by the calendar or by the clock. I confess: I’m one of them. I plan. I organize. I keep “to do” lists. And each day seems to fly. Seems like one day you’re graduating high school, and then the next, you’re 52 writing a daily blog … But as fast as time seems to soar by, it’s nothing to God.

He’s not hampered by time as we are. He can be as patient as He wants. Which is why this earth still exists. Which is why He hasn’t fulfilled His promise of Christ’s return. Because it His desire that everyone—everyone—“come to repentance.” He wants to give each and every person a chance to find Him.

So we who know Him can be encouraged. God still has His heart set on your friend, your family member’s coming to know Him. And He’s given us the chance to be Jesus to that friend, that family member. He’s allowed us time to tell truth.

But remember: One day, time as we know it will end. God’s patience will end. Jesus will return.

Don’t waste time. Make each moment count. And continue to share God’s truth. Each and every day.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Mockers ... Then and Now (2 Peter 3:3-7)

Today’s scripture: 2 Peter 3:3-7

I’ve probably written this before, but anyone who reads the Bible—really reads it—cannot deny its truth. Prophecy upon prophecy fulfilled. Prophecy upon prophecy to be fulfilled. Both Peter and Paul prophesied how it would be in the “last days.”

In these verses, Peter predicted that many will mock the God of Christianity by saying, “You say Jesus is coming again. They’ve been saying that for generations, and nothing.” And isn’t true? Mockers right and left. The earth just “happened.” There is no truth, no morality.

“It escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago …” God created heavens and earth. He created the first man and woman and gave them the choice to follow Him. When they chose their own way, mankind separated from its Creator. God had a plan to reconcile with His created. First through sacrifice of a spotless lamb; then through the sacrifice of the Lamb of God. Isaiah prophesied Christ’s first coming. And it happened. Paul and John prophesied of His second coming. It will happen.

Let the mockers say what they will. The Bible is truth. Christ will return. So what should we who do know truth do? Take every opportunity to tell others exactly what the Bible says—about the past and what has happened, and about the future and what will happen. 

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Remember (2 Peter 3:1-2)

Today’s scripture: 2 Peter 3:1-2

Remember.

Throughout the Bible, God’s people are encouraged to remember. How God guided Abraham and named him the father of His own people. How, even through incredible adversity, Joseph was the key to saving countless people. How the Israelites were saved from slavery, walked through the Red Sea on dry land, and were fed each day.

Remember.

We too are encouraged to remember. “Do this in remembrance of me,” Jesus said as He broke bread with His disciples (Luke 22:19). “He is not here, but He is risen! Remember how He spoke to you …” (Luke 24:6). We must “… remember the words of the Lord Jesus …” (Acts 20:35).

Remember.

Paul exhorted his readers, then and now: “Remember that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, was raised from the dead …” (2 Timothy 2:8). And we’re told to “… remember the words which were spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ …” (Jude 1:17, NKJV).

Remember.

The only way to remember God’s commandments, His encouragements, His provision, is to spend time—quality time—in His word. And the best way to remember His blessings in your own life is to write things down. Journal. Have a blessings notebook. Keep a calendar where you can jot down what God has taught you or done for you.

And remember how much God loves you.

Monday, November 07, 2016

Head ... But No Heart (2 Peter 2:20-22)

Today’s scripture: 2 Peter 2:20-22

What about those who’ve learned of Jesus and have heard God’s truth? And they’ve gained “knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Maybe they’ve gone to church. Maybe they’ve even joined a small group. But somehow, the world entices them yet again.

I experienced this when, after asking Jesus to come into my heart at six, I allowed the abuse I endured to take me away from my faith. While it wasn’t exactly the world that pulled me away, I fell into its grasping claws for a while. For about 20 years, in fact. Praise God, this prodigal daughter found her way back to truth, and the last 23 years have been an amazing journey of seeking and finding God’s will.

But there are those who turn completely away from that truth. For whatever reason, they have found the attraction of the world so seductive, they fall into a “state worse for them than the first.” They, as Peter illustrated with graphic words, embrace the world like a “dog returns to its own vomit.” Gross, but true.

I have to wonder at the state of their heart. And I have to pray they’ll find their way out of the muck and recognize the world really has nothing of worth to offer.

Absolutely nothing.

Friday, November 04, 2016

It's Your Choice ... Choose Wisely (2 Peter 2:17-19)

Today’s scripture: 2 Peter 2:17-19

Peter used such descriptive language to describe those who choose not to follow God’s truth.

They are “springs without water …” They’re dry, useless, even harmful as others are drawn to their shores with the hope of quenching thirst—and there’s no water to be found.

They are “mists drive by a storm …” They themselves have no real influence, but the storm that drives them—sin—is powerful and enticing. They are shrouded in “black darkness.”

In their arrogance and vanity, they entice others, who are drawn in to the lure of flesh and sensuality. And this doesn’t just mean sexual sin. It means addictions to food or drugs or alcohol. It means being totally absorbed by media or television or the internet. Anything that pulls a person away from truth.

And then the sad part: Those who choose the attraction of sin think they’re free. They can do whatever they want whenever they want with whomever they want. But they’re really slaves. They’re tied and bound by whatever has entrapped them.

Because it’s very true: “… for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved.”

What “enslaves” you? Your flesh? Or the truth of God’s grace, mercy, and love. In history, slaves didn’t have a choice of who or what enslaved them. You do.

Choose wisely.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Heartbreaking ... (2 Peter 2:12-16)

Today’s scripture: 2 Peter 2:12-16

My goodness … I think Peter had some pretty strong opinions about false prophets and willful sinners!

It would be easy to say, “Well, they’ll get what they deserve.” But really? Verses like these should break our hearts. Generation after generation of sin and corruption have so infiltrated the hearts of men and women, they don’t know how far they have fallen from God’s ideal. And like “unreasoning animals,” they follow their baser instincts and “revel” in their sin.

They don’t know truth.

This should make those of us who know truth want to share it wherever and with whomever we can. We should boldly and lovingly proclaim God’s grace and mercy. We should joyfully tell how God has blessed us. We should shine the love of Jesus—not judging, not criticizing, not thinking we’re any better than anyone else.

Does your heart break for the lost? For those who seek something, and try to fill the empty spaces of their hearts with drugs or alcohol or sensuality? Oh, pray for God to break your heart and to give you boldness and love to share Him and the amazing grace He offers.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Nothing New ... (2 Peter 2:4-11)

Today’s scripture: 2 Peter 2:4-11

King Solomon wrote, “…there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecc. 1:9), and it’s so very true. Sometimes we think we live in the vilest, most corrupt time in history, but truly? This world has seen some really vile, corrupt stuff. Just read those last verses again. There have always been those who “indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires” or those who “despise authority” or those who are “self-willed.” And seriously, twice God destroyed all but a handful of people because of their depravity—once the entire earthly population in Noah’s day, and once two cities in Abraham’s.

So why should we be surprised at the actions of those living today? The only real difference is mass media puts all the “yuck” of the world right in our faces. You can’t even check your email without seeing the latest headline about abuse, murder, sexual sin, moral decline … It’s all around us.

And it can be a bit depressing to see wickedness seemingly prevail.

Ah, but we can’t forget the most important thing. Our holy God is in absolute control. He will judge the sinner and rescue the saint. One day—and only the Father knows when—God the Son will return to earth and gather up those who chose to follow Him. Then our God will judge all who chose not to follow Him. And every knee shall bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ, God the Son, is Lord. And God the Father will be glorified. (See Phil. 2:10-11.)

One day, all the “yuck” will be forever gone. And we’ll live eternally praising and glorifying our holy God.

And all I can say? “Lord Jesus, come quickly!”

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Peter's Words ... Our World (2 Peter 2:1-3)

Today’s scripture: 2 Peter 2:1-3

I read these words, and it’s as though Peter had a view into our world today. False prophets and teachers introducing “destructive heresies.” Many who call themselves Christians say that Jesus is just one way (of many) to heaven. Or that the Bible was inspired by God, yes, but with so many copies and translations, it’s certainly not infallible; therefore, you can pick and choose what you want to believe.

Then there are the “religions” who deny Christ as Messiah. He was merely a good man or a wise teacher. But not the Savior. And if Jesus isn’t Savior and if the Bible is open for interpretation, then anything goes. And again, even those who call them Christians see nothing wrong with “sensual” behavior that goes against the Bible because the “truth [is] maligned.”

Finally, so many people are being “exploited with false words.” They’re asked to give to a cause or invest in a plan … and find out later they’ve been scammed. Church leaders live in mansions and drive Mercedes when their congregants are still striving for “prosperity.”

It can be quite painful to watch how God’s word is being relegated to just a nice book with some good sayings, and our Savior is just a good man. But we know that God will judge those who have willfully skewed His word. And we pray that those who are sincerely seeking the one true God will find Him, that they will look beyond the misguided and downright liars and find truth. Real truth.