November 11 – Kindness, Love, and Mercy

Titus 3; Jeremiah 17-18; Psalm 127

Alright, I’ll admit it. Sometimes I begin to think about how lucky God is to have me as one of His followers. I start thinking pretty highly of myself. I wonder what God would do without me. Oh, and people like me – not that there are many. Then I read His word and my fantasy world comes crashing down.

Paul wrote to Titus and talked about how we used to be enslaved to foolish passions and pleasures. He talked about the hate in our life. Then, he explained what God did. “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” (Titus 3:4-5a) In the midst of my hatred, god showed me kindness and love.

As followers of Christ, we are often reminded that the ground at the foot of the cross is level. Sometimes people will ask me what that means when I remind myself of that saying. The meaning is very simple: everyone comes to saving faith in Jesus Christ the same way – through the kindness and love of God. We come to that saving faith when we realize that instead of thinking God is lucky to have us on His team, we are blessed beyond measure to be able to be in God’s family.

I am a sinner, saved by the mercy of God. Because I have received that mercy, I have the responsibility to show that same love, kindness, and mercy to others. And, just as God sought me out to show that mercy, so too am I to seek out others to whom I should show my mercy.

Oh Lord, as I think of my own sin, my own attitudes, and my own issues I am struck with my need for You. Continue to work in me so that I no longer consider my own concerns, but am consumed with Your concerns for a lost and dying world.

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November 10 – Turning

Titus 2; Jeremiah 15-16; Psalm 126

Jeremiah was a prophet with a tough job. His job was to be God’s spokesman to a people that were about to undergo catastrophic loss. Israel was about to be destroyed as a nation, overrun by the Babylonians, and scattered around the Babylonian Empire. Jeremiah had the duty to tell the nation that this disaster was coming. The only hope in the message was that someday, in the far future, their descendants would return.

Jeremiah suffered because of that. People who didn’t want to hear the message of their own doom abused him. He was imprisoned and abandoned. Still, God protected him. As Jeremiah called for God’s protection, he got this answer from God. “Therefore this is what the LORD says: ‘If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me; if you utter worthy, not worthless, words, you will be my spokesman. Let this people turn to you, but you must not turn to them.’” (Jeremiah 15:19)

God had strong words for His prophet. Perhaps he had strayed from God’s message in some small way. Perhaps he had tried to fit in with the people to avoid the continuous attacks against him. God warned him to repent and say worthwhile things. This last phrase, however is what really struck me today: “let this people turn to you, but you must not turn to them.”

As followers of Christ we live in an age where it seems like we no longer want to make a difference in this world, we want to get along with this world. We shy back from the truth for fear of offending others. We should, of course, not seek to be offensive. The truth is, though, that God’s word is offensive to all of us at times. It calls us back from our sinful ways that we so enjoy. His word calls us to repent, just as it did to that spiritual giant, Jeremiah. We are called to turn to God, and then our lives should lead people to turn to us. We are not to turn away from God to follow others. All I can say is “God help us” because it’s a lot easier said than done.

God, we call on You to help us. Help us repent and turn to You. Make us witnesses and examples of Your love and grace. Help us not to be tempted by the things this world offers – rather let us turn to You in all things.

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November 9 – On the Road Again

Titus 1; Jeremiah 13-14; Psalm 125

The old saying was that “all roads lead to Rome.” During the days of the Roman Empire, as they sought to solidify their rule, they created the roads and pathways they needed to transport men and materials to and from Rome. So, all roads led to Rome.

There was a purpose for the Roman roads. There is a purpose for Christian faith. “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness– a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time” (Titus 1:1-2) That purpose is to come to godliness and experience the hope of eternal life.

We deal with different circumstances every day. God has a purpose in each and every circumstance. His plan, His purpose is that we might grow in godliness and gain more of the hope of eternal life. Every circumstance is designed to draw us closer to God. Just as all roads lead to Rome, though, they also lead away from Rome, depending on your direction. So even if every circumstance is designed to draw us closer to God, if we are going the wrong direction, every circumstance will lead us away from God.

That may be a good test of our spiritual condition. How do we react in the different circumstances of life that we face? If we react in a way that draws us closer to God, we are on the right path. If we always react in ways that seem to be leading away from our fellowship with God, then we may need to look at our purpose in life and get back to realizing the God loves us and does have a plan for us.

Lord, I don’t always react the way that I should when facing difficulties in life. I get mad; I say things I regret; I take things personally. Give me the grace to see how everything I endure can make me stronger as Your follower.

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November 8 – Blaming God

2 Timothy 4; Jeremiah 11-12; Psalm 124

Let’s come out into the open and admit what we are all thinking, but would never dare to say. Sometimes God gets it wrong. There I said it. If you haven’t at least thought that, then you really haven’t examined your faith in light of the world around you. If you did, you would see great injustice in this world. You would see those who are wicked getting ahead while people of faith keep going through difficult times. God must have gotten something wrong.

Lest you accuse me of blasphemy, let’s get something straight: I’m not the first person to talk to God like that. Better, more faithful men than me have said that very thing. Jeremiah would be one example. “You are always righteous, O LORD, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?” (Jeremiah 12:1)

When Jeremiah asked this question, perhaps he thought he would get a nice soothing answer from God. He didn’t. God basically told Jeremiah that things were going to get worse. God doesn’t dictate to each man how they will live, He gives us instructions on righteous living and then we have the choice of whether or not to follow Him. In Jeremiah’s time the majority of the people of God chose evil over righteousness.

In the same way today, I might want to speak to God about his justice. The truth is, though, that when so many people choose evil, our church and our world is going to be in trouble. We have the opportunity to change that by helping mold people in God’s ways in the church. We also can share the love and grace of Jesus Christ with those outside the church so that God can begin working on them as well. The key to solving the problems we have today lies not in accusing God of injustice; it lies in us getting our hearts right with God and showing that joyous life to others.

O Lord, I see the injustice in this world and I want to cry out and blame You. Remind me that You already have a plan to deal with that, and that Your plan involve me living according to Your words and sharing Your love and grace with others. Help my life be an example of the joys of living with You.

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November 7 – Persecution

2 Timothy 3; Jeremiah 9-10; Psalm 123

Well, the great persecution of Christians has truly begun. In the days after October 31, the (gasp) “holiday displays” are going up in the stores. The employees will harass us by saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” A major coffee company is brewing up some trouble because their holiday cup is plain red instead of being festooned with the biblical symbols of snowflakes and reindeer. Surely this must be a sign of the end times.

Perhaps I’m being a little heavy on the sarcasm there, but as I read Paul’s letter to Timothy, I couldn’t help but laugh as I thought about the way that some Christians react to how secular companies are handling the holiday season. This is not persecution. We can expect persecution, but this is not persecution. “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” (2 Timothy 3:12)

Persecution will come to Christians as we hold up the standards of godliness in our lives and live them out as compared to the standards of this world. Perhaps we’ve become too acclimated to the things of this world. As one of my professors once said, “The problem with Christians is that no one wants to kill them anymore.” We avoid persecution by blending in with the crowd and living like them.

We avoid persecution by not speaking of things like justice for the poor, and speaking out against the greed, abusiveness, and brutality that is endemic to our society. We don’t want to rock the boat on these issues, we just want our piece of the pie. True persecution is happening in some parts of the world and we watch it silently and protest with a “tsk, tsk, tsk, isn’t that horrible,” while doing nothing more. O, that our lives would be so godly that people would really want to persecute us.

Dear Lord, today as You speak to and about me, I pray that I would recognize the need to become more like You. Move in my heart to make my life more godly and make me ready to endure the persecution. If others read this and see this same need, give them the grace to be so godly that they are able to endure the persecution also.

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November 6 – We’ve Got the Power!

2 Timothy 2; Jeremiah 7-8; Psalm 122

There are some who treat God as the granter of magical wishes. They seem to act as if saying the right magical words will automatically cover all their previous offenses and suddenly make things right with God. The ancient Jews had that problem during Jeremiah’s time. They would engage in all kinds of detestable acts that involved worship of false gods, and then say something like, “…but, The Temple of the Lord!”

Ah, that magical incantation. They got you there, God. Or so they thought. God’s reaction, through Jeremiah, clears things up.  “If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever.” (Jeremiah 7:5-7)

God has a special affinity for the powerless. He called Israel because they were so powerless. He sent Jesus to die at the hands of the powerful, to redeem the lives of the powerless. His message here is clear: a relationship with Him results in a changed life. And that changed life will cause you to treat each other justly and to stop oppressing the powerless. As those who claim to be followers of Christ this same message applies to us. Compassion for the powerless strikes against the powers that be in this country. If you really think about it, no law is written for the benefit of those who are powerless – someone else always benefits. We need to break that cycle.

As followers of Christ, we need to make sure that our lives are in line with God’s purposes. Here in the United States it has been so easy for us to align with the powerful in times past because of our belief that we are a Christian nation and aligning with the powers that be meant aligning with Christ. And so, like the ancient Jews we relied on our magical formulas to proclaim our faith in God while living in ways that caused oppression to the powerless. We must show God’s heart in our lives and show compassion for the powerless.

Lord God, I confess that I have benefitted from being part of the power structure and have overlooked the needs of the powerless. Grant me forgiveness and give me Your heart to care for others.

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November 5 – Amazing Grace

2 Timothy 1; Jeremiah 5-6; Psalm 121

People love to search for their past. The book and movie “Roots” was well received in part because it was a story of that search. In the Bible, you will read a lot of the genealogies of various people. Ok, maybe you skim through those like I do, but for the Israelites, those genealogies established the credibility of the people involved. We love discovering the past.

When we think of how God deals with us, how far back do we go? Some think that there’s a line between living under the law and living under grace. They will go back no farther. “This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” (2 Timothy 1:9b-10)

The grace we have now in Jesus Christ has been around since the beginning of time. When you look at the history of Israel you see a pattern of God’s grace in choosing them, in delivering them, and in maintaining them. Grace is not the new kid on the block, grace has always been the plan of God. It was in the appearing of Jesus Christ that the full nature of God’s grace was revealed. It is this grace that has destroyed death and its power over us and brings us into true life with God.

Living in grace is freeing. We no longer live in fear that we are going to do something to make God send His judgment against us. Many people who do not have Christ live in fear that they are going to do something wrong and that God will punish them. As followers of Christ, we live in the joy that when we do something wrong we receive grace and forgiveness and that God will still love us. This is why we speak of such amazing grace.

Lord, how amazing is Your grace! You have shown us great love not because of who we are, but because of who You are. Let my life reflect Your grace to others.

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November 4 – Our Pursuit

1 Timothy 5:23-6:21; Jeremiah 3-4; Psalm 120

Success is an elusive concept. Everyone seems to have their own idea of what it means to be successful. If you are a sports figure, you used to compare statistics; now you compare the size of your contract with others. I thought about that because I recently saw a story about the DOD paying football teams to have patriotic days. They paid one team about $700,000 for privileges like “Military Appreciation Day.” In the news article, they mentioned that this amount of money was enough to pay that team’s quarterback for almost three quarters of play.

As Christians we have often seen people make the distinction that it is not money that is at the root of all evil, it is the LOVE of money that is the root of all evil. That makes sense, because some people will commit any kind of sin in order to gain money. It also seems to me that many of those who emphasize this point are often justifying their pursuit of money. The verse that follows immediately puts things in perspective for a Christian: “But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.” (1 Timothy 6:11)

The “all this” Paul notes includes a pursuit of wealth, false doctrines, controversy, and arguments. There are so many ways for followers of Christ to stray from the path God has set before us. The message here is simple: we should pursue godly qualities, not earthly success. Is it best to always win arguments or is it better to open the door for people to turn to Christ? Do my attitudes show faith and love or do they reflect a life that would step over other people to succeed?

I’m going to be honest here. So much of what Paul said here is antithetical to how I want to live. I want to gain wealth, honestly of course; I want to be right, ALL the time. I want to get in people’s faces when they are wrong (according to me). My call, though, is to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. God help me live up to that calling.

Oh Lord, You have changed me in so many ways and I thank You for that change. I read this verse and realize how much work You still have to do in me. Help me be open and willing for You to change me and mold me to Your will.

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November 3 – Family First

1 Timothy 5:1-22; Jeremiah 1-2; Psalm 119:145-176

At one time people who moved to a new community were advised to join a church because you could make good, important connections there. It would look good on your unofficial resume. That has changed, and this advice is no longer automatically given. When you hear about the decline in church membership and attendance, this might be one of the reasons. I don’t think it’s a bad thing, either.

Early Christians did not have this luxury. Often, if their commitment to Jesus became known, they would lose jobs. They would be persecuted at work and have to leave their work. People would stop patronizing their shops and places of business. The church set up a system of caring for believers who couldn’t work. Paul placed a provision on that system that reminded people of their obligations: “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1Timothy 5:8)

This statement was made in the midst of caring for widows which was a special concern of the church. Still it applies in a more general sense as well. We must take care of family first. Why should we expect others to care for our family when we won’t do it? It’s far too easy to expect people to get help from others these days and we forget our obligations to care for family. While there are limits to what we can do, while we have those who run off and refuse to be a part of the family, we are still called to care for family first.

It’s called responsibility. We are our brother’s keeper. Do you remember that the one who asked the question seeking to deny that responsibility had just killed his brother? There are levels of care. First, immediate family needs to provide care. When that is not enough, the church needs to help. (In today’s world, crowd funding is an option for special times.) If that doesn’t provide enough help, then and only then should government help be considered. Take care of the family!

Lord God, how easy it is to get caught up in our desires and wishes and not realize the needs of family members. Remind me to care for my family and find ways to take care of them.

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November 2 – Godliness

1 Timothy 4; Isaiah 38-39; Psalm 119:121-144

We have become obsessed with physical fitness. While our jobs have become office bound and sedentary, we use our off time to go to the gym, to walk or jog in the park or in the streets, or ride our bikes to get exercise. If you don’t believe me, just look around: look at the streets any time of day, drive by the gym, or look at a Facebook feed.

This isn’t a bad thing, mind you. Our bodies need that activity. We need physical training. Even more so, though, we need training in godliness. “Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:7-8)

As our society has moved away from God’s standards in some areas, we have seen problems crop up. A major reason for this move, though, can be attributed to Christians who have failed to live their faith on a daily basis. We are called to live quiet, godly lives. Instead, we are either loud – especially about other people’s sins, or we live our faith on Sunday, but then go along to get along the rest of the week.

Society has changed their tune as they look at us, too. It used to be that they, rightly, attacked a faith that was lived to the fullest on Sundays, but didn’t affect lives the rest of the week. Now they demand that we keep our faith confined to Sundays. God still calls us to be examples of His love and grace each and every day. Godliness influences a society for good in quiet, subtle ways. If we want to change society for the better, we need to look at our own lives and focus on godly living.

Lord, it’s so easy to look at others and condemn, or complain about our society as a whole. Remind Your followers of who You have called us to be. Help us to live quiet, godly lives and be a positive influence on our world.

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