November 27 – Enough! No More; No Less

As I began to write today’s devotional, I realized that while I had prepared to write yesterday’s I got distracted and never did. Today is a two for one.

Galatians 1; Jeremiah 47-48; Psalm 142; Galatians 2; Jeremiah 49-50; Psalm 143

The gospel. It means so many different things, apparently. Literally it means a good message. As Christians we believe that the gospel is the good message that Jesus Christ died on the cross to bring forgiveness for our sins and that He rose again to prove His power over death. Because of that resurrection, Christ lives in us and gives us the strength for daily living. Paul shared that message with the Galatian church and then he had to come back and deal with those who would pervert the gospel. “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.” (Galatians 1:6-7) In Galatia some were coming in and troubling the Church. They began teaching that as good as the cross was, they needed to do a few other things. They needed to be circumcised. They needed to follow the dietary laws. They needed to follow the old Jewish Law: the Law that Jesus Christ had fulfilled at the cross. Paul noted that this was not another “gospel” that was the same as the gospel that he had preached. This was not a welcome addition to the gospel. This was a perversion of the gospel that destroyed the meaning and the message of the cross.

We still see that today in the Christian Church. There are always those who will seek to pervert the gospel and let people know that a relationship with God comes from following Jesus Christ and ____________ . (You fill in the blank.) Anyone who would pervert the gospel would tell you that God demands baptism, or sending money into the right person (usually themselves), circumcision, following the Law, following the dietary laws, wearing the right clothes, or anything like that. Anyone who would teach that a relationship with God comes from following Jesus Christ AND anything else is preaching a completely different gospel – a perversion of the gospel of Christ. A relationship with God based on the gospel message that Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead to prove His power over death and live in us will change a person’s life. Paul talked about caring for the poor in the two passages that are part of today’s readings. But even caring for the poor will not establish a relationship with God. A relationship with God will make us want to care for the poor.

There are those who are “Torah-observant” Christians. Does this mean they don’t have a relationship with God based on what has been said? No. If their relationship with God means that they feel led to observe the Torah, may God grant them the grace to do that. If their attempts to observe the Torah, knowing that the reason Christ came is because no one could follow God’s Laws well enough to establish that relationship because of their own righteousness, cause them to compel others to follow the Torah in order to establish a relationship with God, it is a perversion of the gospel. On a personal note, I am a Baptist. We believe that the first step of obedience in the Christian life is baptism by immersion. If we were to teach that baptism is necessary to establish a relationship with God, we would be perverting the gospel. In short, any attempts we make to establish a relationship with God will fall short. Our relationship with God depends on nothing less than Jesus Christ and the Cross. Our relationship with God depends on nothing more than Jesus Christ and the Cross. Finishing with Paul’s words as a remind of what that means: “For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Galatians 2:19-20)

Lord God, how easy it is to make my understanding of how to live the Christian life a prerequisite to following You. Remind me that Your death on the Cross is enough. Remind me that when people turn to You based on the death and resurrection of Jesus, it is enough. May I continue to grow in my relationship with You in ways that bring honor to You. Let me be accepting of those who have turned to You who still need to grow.

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November 25 – Beliefs Have Consequences

2 Peter 3; Jeremiah 45-46; Psalm 141

Actions have consequences. The Bible often talks about suffering. We are warned to make sure that our suffering is because we follow Jesus, not because we did something wrong. Peter also reminds us that our beliefs should have consequences also. “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness…” (2 Peter 3:10-11) From the ancient Israelites to modern day Christians, the belief in the Day of the Lord has evoked mixed reactions. Prophets of old warned the Jews not to be too excited because the Day of the Lord would be coming for them also. The Israelites were warned to get their lives in order. Peter deals with the same issue: the coming of the Day of the Lord is not a time to gloat about how God will destroy others, it’s a reminder to get our lives in such perfect tune with God that people should see us living holy and godly lives. We should remember also that “holy and godly” lives are not lives where we look at others and say, “I’m better than you.” The call to holy living is not a call to “holier-than-thou” living. It’s a call to a simple lifestyle that is focused on being true and faithful to God and to His word. If we do that, we may endure ridicule. (See 1 Peter 4) If we are true and faithful to God’s word, though, we will suffer not as those who do wrong, but as those who do right. It is said that Ralph Waldo Emerson chided Henry David Thoreau and asked why he was in jail. Thoreau is said to have asked Emerson why he wasn’t. Staying true to God may cause us to suffer, but it would then be better to suffer than not. It should never cause us to attack the people that Jesus loved and died for.

Dear Lord, let my belief in You show in my life. Let me live a holy life that draws others to You. Let me live a godly life that shows others the joy of following You without drawing attention to myself. Let my life reflect Your glory; let my attitude recognize how great Your salvation had to be for me.

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November 24 – Considering God’s Will

Note: After resting my hand for a week, it’s back to sharing. I think it helped!

2 Peter 2; Jeremiah 43-44; Psalm 140

It’s a saying among many in the church that many people seek the will of God only to consider whether or not they will do it. Jeremiah experienced people like that again and again. It’s a truism, but perhaps the only reason Jeremiah was still alive after Nebuchadnezzar conquered Judah was that everything he said came true. The Babylonians wouldn’t kill him because of what he prophesied. Those in Judah were afraid to kill a prophet of the Lord. More amazing is that the remnant of Judah still sought God’s word from Jeremiah. When they sought guidance on whether they should stay in Judah or flee in exile to Egypt, Jeremiah gave them the word of the Lord that they should stay in Judah and prosper. They promptly left for Egypt. When he confronted them about their adulterous worship practices, they went into a real tizzy. “As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we will not listen to you!” (Jeremiah 44:16) They sought the word of the Lord; when it contradicted their own ideas or their own desires, they threw it on the ash heap. Yet Jeremiah stayed faithful to his call and continued to proclaim God’s word to these rebellious people. We look on these people with incredulity that they would so deliberately reject God’s word. Imagine knowing God’s will so clearly and yet rejecting it. Yet, we have God’s word provided for us very clearly and could easily be accused of the same thing. God tells us to proclaim the gospel and we are silent even when presented with golden opportunities. We are told to care for the widows and the orphans and we indulge ourselves with luxuries while looking down our noses at those in need. Rather than extending grace and mercy, we look on them with judgment and derision. God’s plan includes the idea that we are all to minister to others. As we begin this week of Thanksgiving, take time to give thanks to God for His blessings; then look for an individual or a family that you can minister too. Find a way to use the blessings that God has given to you to help others. You will probably find that God blesses you more that way than when you focus on the material blessings in life.

Lord, it’s so easy for me to focus on myself and ignore the needs of others. Remind me when I covet my neighbor’s car that many don’t have cars and need dependable transportation. Remind me when I can’t find the snack I want that others are going hungry. Give me a heart to see the needs of others and to be Your minister to them.

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Just a Note – Hiatus Coming

I have been having some major wrist and arm problems. I will not be using the computer for discretionary purposes for at least a week. My arm hurts too much when I type. I’m hoping that giving my arm rest that the pain will go away.  Nothing major, I hope, but giving the arm needed rest.

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November 16 – Popularity

James 4; Jeremiah 27-28; Psalm 132

Who doesn’t want to be popular? We all love it when people praise us and talk about how good we are or how well we fit in. We want to have a “good witness” so we are very careful about the words we speak and where we speak them. We are proud of that good reputation. We read the book of Jeremiah and wonder how he would dare speak like he did. Jeremiah didn’t know anything about being popular. He disrupted services at the Temple and contradicted other speakers. He called out the king. He did not have a good reputation among God’s people. Yet he was following God’s call on his life. James reminds us that we must stay focused on God, and not accommodate ourselves to this world. “Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4) James is very blunt in his assessment. The truth is that we talk about our faith as being a marriage with God. If we would be unfaithful in our relationship with God in order to get the people of this world to like us, we have then become adulterers. Our job is to stay true to the call of God. We are to speak God’s truth to our world. That may mean that people won’t like us. That’s ok – God still loves us. That may mean we lose the popularity contests. That’s ok – God still loves us. We may get a reputation that isn’t very good with those who oppose God. That’s ok – God still loves us. The key is not that we are intentionally unpleasant; the key is that we are always faithful to God. When that happens we will make a positive difference in the world as a friend of God and not an enemy.

Dear God, it’s so hard to focus on You when so many people in this world seek to draw me away. It’s easy to run to the praise of this world instead of seeking to be faithful to You. Give me the strength to be faithful to You, loving others the way You have loved them, and showing them Your way.

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November 15 – The Power of the Tongue

James 3; Jeremiah 25-26; Psalm 131

We more often regret the things we say than the things we left unsaid. Words have an amazing power over us and over others. We take what people say in anger, for instance and believe that reflects their true feelings; rather than recognizing those words to be the result of an emotional outburst. Too often in the news politicians or their consultants are having to deal with the results of untamed words. James points out what we all know in chapter 3 of his epistle. “For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.” (James 3:7-8) What we say affects everything we do; it affects our relationships with others and it shows a lot about our relationship with God. It would be nice if somewhere in the Bible, especially here in James, there was a list of “Top Ten things you can do to tame the tongue.” James points out the problems we have and reminds us that speaking evil of our brother or sister is a bad thing but there’s no real solution to the problem. What he does point out, though is that the closer we draw to God, the more likely we are to hold our tongues. Even still, it’s fair to say that more people who follow Christ have said something like, “I wish I hadn’t said that!” than not. So what’s the solution? We begin with our relationship with Jesus. We see other people as Jesus saw them. We resolve to speak to others and of others as Jesus would. We seek God’s help and we speak blessings over others, not curses. Then we remember these important words for those times that we still say the wrong things: I was wrong. I’m sorry, I apologize.

Lord, how true it is that we can’t tame the tongue. I mean to speak well of others, and the emotions rise up in me and I say what I don’t want to say. I speak curses against others and not blessing. Work in my heart. Work in my mind to make me the kind of person who only speaks under Your authority.

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November 14 – Faith That Makes a Difference

James 2; Jeremiah 23-24; Psalm 130

It is a continuous struggle among Christians. Is our relationship with God based on our faith or is it based on our works: doing the good things that make God like us. James reminds us that our faith should lead to a changed life. Our faith should lead us to a life that serves others and ministers in amazing ways. Our faith should lead to those good works. “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?” (James 2:14) He also said that the way to show that you have faith is through your works. True faith in God will result in a changed life. That changed life should show evidence of our faith. There are some who seem to think that to have faith means that God has been focusing all that He has done on us so that we can accept His grace and then sit back and not let it change us. If we truly have faith that God has come into our lives; if we truly have faith that God wants a relationship with us; if we truly have faith that Jesus paid the price for our sins; can we really think that God did all that so that we could sit around and watch TV or surf the internet in peace? No! A thousand times No! Most of us would at least pay lip service to the idea that we are to be the hands and feet of Jesus on this earth today. Jesus, when He walked this earth, worked and ministered every where He went. If we truly have faith, it will make a difference in how we live; if we truly have faith, the change in our lives should cause us to minister to and care for the people that Jesus would if He were walking this earth today. The challenge that James issued when he wrote his letter still applies today: you show me your faith without your works; I’ll show you my faith by my works.

Lord, continue to change me. Give me a heart to work in this world that You love just like Jesus would be working today. Help me to see the needs of those around me and then let me be Your hands and feet.

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November 13 – Meeting Needs

James 1; Jeremiah 21-22; Psalm 129

There is a theme throughout the Bible that is so easy to overlook on most occasions. There are times, though, that we have to work hard to overlook it. That theme is the call to care for those who can’t care for themselves. The Bible throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament calls on God’s people to care for widows and orphans. The Bible condemns Judah for failing to do so and, in fact, oppressing those who were helpless. In the book of James he puts it quite bluntly: “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” (James 1:27) In those days, widows and orphans were especially vulnerable since women didn’t normally hold jobs. There were no orphanages or places to care for children without either parent and so they often depended on others to care for them. Today women tend to have their own careers. Today, there are ways that orphans are helped financially. Perhaps if we were to redefine the Biblical passage based on meaning we would recognize a call to help those single mothers who may not have learned the skills to support themselves. It may mean that we find ways to support those children who have never known their father. It also may mean more than writing a check to support them. If we don’t find ways to welcome them spiritually, to let them be part of our community, or help them embrace their position in God’s creation, we won’t have dealt with them at all the levels God loves and cares for them. If we are to be God’s hands and feet, the restoration process has to be based on the whole person, not just their financial needs.

Lord, it’s so easy to overlook people in need. It’s so easy to leave their financial needs to the government. You have called me to minister to people in need – not with a check, but with all of my being. Give me the strength to show your love and minister to people at all points of their needs.

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November 12 – Charity

Philemon 1:1-25; Jeremiah 19-20; Psalm 128

Onesimus visited Paul in jail and soon became a follower of Christ. There was only one problem: Onesimus was a slave – a runaway slave. Without getting into the evils of slavery, Paul knew that if he harbored Onesimus as he headed to face Roman justice, it would be more difficult for Paul and for Onesimus. So Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon with a request: “treat him no longer as a slave, but as a brother. Release him from his bonds and put it on my account. Oh and by the way, you owe me your life.” (Ok, those aren’t the exact words from Scripture, but you get the idea.) Notice though, that this was a request – it was not a demand. Paul explained why it was a request. “But without your consent I wanted to do nothing, that your good deed might not be by compulsion, as it were, but voluntary.” (Philemon 14) Charity is always voluntary. We in the church should be leaders in charity, even suffering hardship if necessary to help others in real need. But true help does not create dependency. As we help others we should find that people are growing out of the need to be helped and soon become the people who help others as well. When we create dependency with out help, soon the “charity” becomes compulsory and we have to continue supporting the dependent person no matter what because we created the situation; at least in the eyes of others. So, just as Philemon received Paul’s appeal to help, we also hear these same words. We must be willing to sacrifice voluntarily to help people in need and guide them into a situation where they become not just takers of charity, but givers of charity as well. That is not only our responsibility under God, it is a joy and a privilege to help others.

Dear Lord, help me to see the true needs of others. Give me a heart that is willing to give of myself sacrificially to help meet those needs. Let all that I do be true help that lifts people out of their needy state, brings them into a positive relationship with You, and helps them respond to the needs of others themselves.

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November 11 – Depending on God

Titus 3; Jeremiah 17-18; Psalm 127

How easily we get fooled into thinking that we can set things up and prosper without God. We make our plans, maybe paying lip service to God. We develop our schemes. Everything is put in order and we execute our plans. Things seem to go well for a while, but then, everything falls apart. We rehash the situation trying to discover what went wrong. In most cases the problem was that God and His ways were not considered; in most cases that problem was not considered. As Solomon said in this Psalm: “Unless the Lord builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the Lord guards the city, The watchman stays awake in vain.” (Psalm 127:1) In a world dominated by powerful people; by politicians bent on exalting themselves; this message strikes at the heart of our problems. Too many focus on their legacy or their thirst for power and forget that they are called to lead under the guidance and direction of the Lord. Yes, we live in a country with freedom of religion. It’s true that our leaders are not required to follow the Lord. In the long run, though, those who seek to lead, those who seek to accumulate personal power without depending on the Lord will fail. They will find that all they have done soon vanishes like the morning mist. That thought doesn’t just apply to politicians and powerful people, though. It applies to each and every person. Whether it be our professional lives, or our family lives – if we do not depend on God to build it, we labor in vain. Businesses fail that should seemingly prosper. Perfect marriages end. Too late do those involved learn the truth of this message that unless the Lord builds it, all the work they have done is vanity.

Oh Lord, how easily I make my plans not only without consulting You but without even considering being obedient to You. Teach me how to seek You first. Teach me how to depend on You as I labor so that my work, my marriage and all parts of my life will have a positive affect on me and on others as they learn about You.

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