December 20 – It Begins With Love

Colossians 2:20-3:17; Ezekiel 29-30; Isaiah 55

While no change we make ourselves can restore our relationship with God, the truth is that once God restores our relationship with Him through Jesus Christ, our lives should change in many ways. Paul talks about those changes in today’s reading in Colossians. He spends time dwelling on what we must “put to death” in our life: things that are evil that we used to embrace. He talks about those character qualities we should have as Christ changes us. Then, just as he does in 1 Corinthians, he reminds us that we should love others. “But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.” (Colossians 3:14-15) As Christians, our call is to love God and to show God’s love to those who need to see it. That love binds us perfectly first to God and then to others. Love truly is a bond of perfection. It is those other things that get in the way of our relationship with God and with others: jealousy, anger, rage, covetousness…. When we love God and we love others, we gain the peace of God. How often do we act out of anxiety or fear? How easy is it to try to rush things to get them done rather than waiting on God. When we truly love God and others, the peace of God will rule in our hearts and anxiety and fear disappear. Truly perfect love, then, is obviously a long way away for most of us. Don’t get anxious about that, though, just keep loving God and loving others.

Lord, I so easily get anxious about things. I try to rush You and others to accomplish certain results. Remind me daily that life isn’t about things and results; life is about loving You and loving people. Let me love You more each day and let my love for You show in the way I love people.

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December 19 – Remember Your Roots

Colossians 1:24-2:19; Ezekiel 27-28; Isaiah 54

The saying among Christians is that all the ground at the foot of the cross is level. It seems like a strange saying, especially when we think of the crucifixion happening on a mountain. Nevertheless that statement has a deeper theological truth. It means that everyone comes to Christ the same way. We come to Christ because we recognize that our sin has broken our relationship with God. We come as little children, seeking our Heavenly Father. We come wounded by the weight of our sin, knowing that we need redemption. A new chorus to an old song, Just as I am, says it this way: “I come broken to be mended, I come wounded to be healed. I come desperate to be rescued; I come empty to be filled. I come guilty to be pardoned by the blood of Christ the Lamb; and I’m welcomed with open arms, praise God, just as I am.” Why quote this? Paul reminds us that we are always at that point in our lives: “As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving.” (Colossians 2:6-7) No matter how much we may grow in our faith, we come to Jesus Christ daily as broken sinners needing redemption. We do grow in our faith. We are victorious in our daily walk. Nevertheless, it all begins with this understanding; this truth still holds true. We are sinners saved by the grace of a loving God. There are those who will claim that they are not sinners or that they aren’t that bad. Jesus spoke to people like that when He said that it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. Our lives are to grow in faith but we can never forget that we are sin-sick sinners who need the grace of the Great Physician to restore us to spiritual health and our relationship with God.

Lord, I need You. Remind me when I think that I am above others that I am a sin-sick person who needs Your grace daily. Help me to remember my roots, but give me the grace and strength to live victoriously in Your power every day.

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December 18 – Blinded by the Light

Colossians 1:1-23; Ezekiel 25-26; Isaiah 53

There’s a funny thing about darkness: when people are used to it, the light almost hurts. When people are in a dark room, turning on the lights will be a sudden change and you’ll hear people getting mad that you didn’t warn them. We become comfortable with darkness. When Paul speaks of darkness, he speaks of the realm of sin; the world of evil; a life without God. Life isn’t perfect in the dark, but we’re used to it. Then, we get exposed to the light of Jesus. The light breaks through the darkness, perhaps hurting our eyes. We put our hands in front of our faces to shield them from the light. At that point in life, we have two choices: we can run from the light and seek to hide in the darkness, or we can embrace life in the light and experience the joy of a restored relationship with God. “He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:3-14) There is no greater joy than to live in fellowship with God. It begins uncomfortably as the light breaks through the comfort of our darkness. Then we slowly become accustomed to the light – the light of God breaking into our lives. As we live in the light we experience that redemption; we experience the forgiveness of sins; and we experience a new feeling of joy. Those who reject the light often talk about the benefits of darkness. That’s understandable. We who live in the light, though, have experienced both dark and light. We know what it’s like to live in the dark and can testify that living in the light of Christ is far better. At the same time, we should treat those living in the dark with tenderness, empathy and compassion. They haven’t experienced the joy of Christ and need to see that in our lives.

Lord, there are people that I see each day that are living in darkness. Help me be the light of Christ to them each and every day. Let the life I live in the light show those living in darkness that there is a better way. Let me share the joy of living in a restored relationship with You.

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December 17 – Think About It

Philippians 4; Ezekiel 24; Isaiah 52

James reminds us that the tongue is rogue agent that is out of control. Perhaps the reason for that is that our thoughts are out of control. Rarely does our tongue say something without the thought being there in the first place. When people blurt things out “without thinking” usually that means that they weren’t thinking of the consequences; in reality, they didn’t filter what they were really thinking. Paul gives us the cure for this problem. “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy–meditate on these things.” (Philippians 4:8) It is the brain that processes the information that we get every second. Too often it’s easy to dwell on the negatives in life. Someone offends us; someone says something we disagree with; we are overcome with the evil in this world. So we begin focusing on the negatives in life. Our words become bitter and hateful. Paul reminds us to let our thoughts dwell on the positives. What is good in this creation of God? What positive things are happening? Focus on those good things; meditate on how God is dealing with our world through Jesus Christ; think about the beauty of Creation. There is a phrase that we should remember when we see the results of evil in our world. Paul uses it often after describing problems from his time: “But God.” Our God is rich in mercy and continues to show His love. He continues to renew His Creation. In the midst of the evil of this world, God continues to redeem people from their sin and restore relationships with them. We are a world undeserving of God’s grace and mercy, but God, being rich in mercy showed His love for us by sending His Son to take our punishment and restore right relationships with Him.

Lord, so often I dwell on the negatives in life. When I do, I become bitter and hateful. I become angry and vengeful. As I see the evil, that’s a natural reaction. Give me the strength and the grace not to dwell on the evil of life, but to focus on Your love, grace and forgiveness in the midst of evil.

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December 16 – Born to Die

Philippians 3; Ezekiel 23; Isaiah 51

How can anyone resist the scene of a little child born among the animals because there was no other room for him? The irony of wise men and shepherds worshiping a babe in the manger is a story that all can love. Well, most people can, anyway. Yet few like to take time away from the celebration of the birth of Jesus to focus on the purpose of His birth. The hard truth is that this baby, worshiped at the manger, was born to die a cruel, humiliating death. That death, though, however cruel and humiliating it was, would restore our relationship with God. That death would not be final either as He would rise from the dead in glory. And so it is that Paul reminds us of our commitment as followers of Christ: “…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death…” (Philippians 3:10) Death is not our enemy anymore. In fact, Paul also said in this passage that to die is gain; death brings us into the physical presence of God. While we live, though, we are called to know Jesus and to live in the power of His resurrection. What an amazing power that is! As feared as death may be; we need not fear the grave because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. What power that gives us over those who would seek to take our lives. We are to live in the fellowship of His sufferings. That may be harder than being ready to die for the sake of the gospel. Most followers of Christ would admit that they can handle death; they know the final outcome. It’s the process of dying that’s frightening. Paul calls us to embrace the suffering that leads to death. Even the process of dying – especially if it happens in our service for Christ – is redemptive. It is said of Christians that we die well. Let that always be true of the followers of Christ. Let us live well, let us face the sufferings of dying, especially when done for our faith, well, and then let us die well knowing that our God will take care of us and use all these things for His glory.

Lord, no one can see the future. I don’t fear death, but I don’t really like the idea of the dying process. Still, I know that You hold the future. Give me the grace to trust You through each stage of life and let my life, my dying, and my death show Your love and grace to others.

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December 15 – Being the Light

Philippians 2:12-30; Ezekiel 21-22; Isaiah 50

If there is a specific company or person that you want to work for, it would be foolish to start a blog dedicated to complaints about that company or person. If you had a job with that company or person, it would be even more foolish to spend all your time complaining about the work situation, the people you work with or the demands of your job. As followers of Christ we are called to do God’s work, and yet, how often do we complain about our working conditions: we complain because the weather’s too hot or too cold; fellow Christians are the sorriest lot of people we know. We have disputes with God about the right way to do things. Paul reminds us to “Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world…” (Philippians 2:14-15) We have a call from God. Our job is to show His love, His grace, His forgiveness to the world in which we live. We are to be the light of Christ in a world darkened by the crooked and perverse nature of this world. The bad working conditions we deal with are not a problem to complain about; they are the job we are called to do. We can’t complain when those who don’t follow Christ act like those who don’t follow Christ. We shouldn’t even complain when those who DO follow Christ act like they don’t. Our job is to follow, without grumbling or complaint and without disputing God’s ways so that our lives would reflect His glory. We can’t force people to follow our God. We can make our lives so in tune with Him that the joy we exhibit is irresistible to those outside the faith. We can be the light to them.

Lord, how easy it is for me to complain about the little things. Remind me of my calling. Remind me of my need to follow You without disputing Your ways. Let me be a light to those living in the darkness of this crooked and perverse generation.

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December 14 – All Year Long

Philippians 2:1-11; Ezekiel 20; Isaiah 49

The call of Christ; the call of the Savior is a call that begins in the Old Testament. Too often those in ancient times thought of gods being in charge of their little fiefdoms. The strength of the god was shown in how much territory they conquered. While the Jewish people were in exile God made it clear that He was The One and Only God and that His reign was to be for all people. “Indeed He says, ‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob, And to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, That You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.’” (Isaiah 49:6) During this time of year we focus a lot on the birth of the Savior. One of the promises fulfilled in Jesus is this verse here. It was a truth of God that most Jews did not want to hear in the days of Jesus and it got Paul arrested during his ministry. God’s plan though, from the beginning, was that all people would see His light and turn to Him. He was planning on restoring relationships with Him from the beginning. Inevitably you will see calls to “Keep Christ in Christmas.” Perhaps we could paraphrase this verse so that we not only look at who God is seeking to reconcile, but when: “Indeed He says, ‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob during one short season of the year…You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth each and every day.’” The message of Christ is not confined to Christmas. The message of reconciliation is a message that changes lives every day. Our God is in charge of all creation. Our God reigns at all times. Let us show that restoration; let us be that light all year round.

Dear Lord, it is so easy to share Your love during this short season. People seem to be receptive to the story of the little babe born in a manger. Help me to live in Your message of reconciliation every day. Let me show others the power that has come because You restored my relationship with You all year long.

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December 13 – Granted to Suffer

Philippians 1:12-30; Ezekiel 19; Isaiah 48

The “vicar of Baghdad” has related the story of four Christian children, all under the age of 15, who were faced with a choice. They could either convert to Islam or be killed. Their response was that they have loved Jesus and would continue to love Jesus. They were beheaded. Paul wrote the letter to the Philippians from jail, having been imprisoned because of his work in spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. The result of Paul’s imprisonment was that the gospel spread. Paul reminded the Philippians that they had a unique gift: “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake…” (Philippians 1:29) As followers of Christ in the western world, we have the believe part down pretty well. We can say the right words. We can sing the right songs. Sometimes we don’t do too well on the “let Jesus take control of your life” part. If we were to really follow Jesus, that would make radical difference in our lives. There are actions we’d have to change; there are people we’d have to love. The idea that we are granted the opportunity to suffer for Him; we don’t like that too much. If we get inconvenienced, we scream about our rights. In truth, the message of the gospel has always gone against the prevailing culture. We should expect to be inconvenienced. We should be ready for ridicule from those opposed to the gospel. And as our culture changes and becomes more opposed to the gospel, we should expect some form of suffering. The key to living the Christian life isn’t that we find everything happens our way. The key to the Christian life is that we react to any and all circumstances in ways that bring honor to God. May we never endure real suffering for the gospel, but may we embrace the name of Jesus to death if necessary.

Oh Lord, I have things so good when compared to Christians down through the ages and in other cultures today. I have freedoms and privileges that my brothers and sisters living in other parts of the world don’t have – and yet I often don’t take advantage of them to share Your word. Give me the strength to follow and bring honor to Your name in any and all situations.

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December 12 – God Keeps Working

Philippians 1:1-11; Ezekiel 18; Isaiah 47

Ever get so tired that you want to give up? Maybe it was at a job that wearied you. Maybe it involved a family situation that was troubling. Maybe it was after a great spiritual victory when you used up all your strength. Paul reminded the Philippians of two things: first that he was praying for them and second that God continued to work in their lives. “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you … being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ…” (Philippians 1:3,6) His prayers for the Philippians included a lot of thanksgiving. Paul wasn’t always so gracious to the churches he wrote to. (See Galatians) But he began with thanksgiving for the church because of their faith and commitment. His prayer also included a reminder that no matter how weary they might be; no matter how imperfect they might feel; God is still working in them. In fact, the truth for the Philippians was that God would continue working in them until their death or until Jesus came again. That truth holds true for all of us. No matter how discouraged, tired, weary or upset we may be – God is still working in us. At the same time, no matter how much we rejoice, no matter how proud we are, no matter how great our accomplishments – we still need God to work in us. We are an unfinished work. We can’t sit back and rest on our laurels, nor can we give up. No matter how bad or good things may be in our relationship with God, it can become better. God doesn’t give up on us. He continues molding us and forming us. He uses circumstances and people to keep making us the people we need to be. And were Paul here today, he would say “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you…”

Lord, remind me that no matter how terrible things may be You continue loving and working in me. No matter how good things may be I still need to grow closer to You. Let me life be one that continuously grows and changes so that I might experience all the joy of my relationship with You.

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December 11 – The Battles We Face

Ephesians 6; Ezekiel 17; Isaiah 46

It’s not the driver who speeds to cut in front of us on the freeway only to slow down to ten miles an hour under the limit. It’s not the person in the express lane who has thirteen items when the limit is supposed to be ten. It’s not the boss who yells at us unfairly. No, none of these people are the real enemy we face as Christians, although those are the kinds of people that may make us forget we are followers of Christ for awhile. Our battle is a much deeper battle. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12) All those people that irritate us are not really a problem. Our battle in life ultimately is spiritual. Our ultimate battle in life is to maintain our relationship with God. The “spiritual hosts of wickedness” will do what they can to disrupt that relationship. They may even use people that are dealing with difficult situations to annoy us: the parent who cuts in front of us on the freeway, and then has to keep on driving while dealing with a child throwing up in the back seat; the mother who got a few minutes away from the hospital and chose to get a few thing for her child who might have had to wait thirty minutes in the regular checkout lane; the boss who was just told that if things don’t improve, he’ll be looking for a new job soon. We don’t always know what other people are going through and we can’t change them even if they are as bad as we think they are. What we can do is recognize the source of our battle: the rulers of darkness of this age and remember that the source of our strength is the God of all Creation who conquered the forces of evil. Our victory is sure. The war is over. So when the battles still keep coming, we must turn our focus back on God to finish the battles for us.

Lord, how easily I judge others and let what they do affect my relationship with You. Remind me that the battles I face are the last desperate gasps of a defeated foe. Give me the strength, protect me with Your might as I face the daily trials of life. Let my life reflect Your victory each and every day.

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