Bible Versions and Permissions

Up until January 1, 2018, verses used in each devotional were from the New International Version of the Bible.

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

I will be going back and adding this passage to each page that used an NIV quotation per their website

I will be using the New Century Version in 2018.

Scripture taken from the New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved

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September 22 – There Is No Christianity 1.1 or 2.0

Ecclesiastes 10-12 Galatians 1

“God, by his grace through Christ, called you to become his people. So I am amazed that you are turning away so quickly and believing something different than the Good News. Really, there is no other Good News. But some people are confusing you; they want to change the Good News of Christ.” (Galatians 1:6-7 NCV)

Early in church history, there were people who taught “another gospel” to draw people into their circle and make money. I’d guess that false preachers would compliment Christians on knowing the truth of Jesus, but them saying something like, “Let me show you the deeper truths.” In today’s world, the first class would be offered for $19.95. Paul saw believers that he has first taught and nurtured falling for this other gospel, which wasn’t another teaching of the same kind, but a completely different teaching and became indignant. The gospel Paul preached, the Good News of grace and mercy, was being reformulated into a system of following laws, like Judaism, only with the name of Christ attached to the system. Paul recognized that this wasn’t a deeper form of the Good News, it was the old slavery of legalism.

Christianity 1.0 proclaims the Good News – that Christ died for our sins, was resurrected, and will come again; that God offers us forgiveness and grace because of Christ’s sacrifice if we’ll turn to Him; that we can do nothing to earn God’s grace. There’s no other message of Good News. We don’t look for Christianity 1.1 or 2.0. Some would talk about growing in Christ and give you some very good activities that would help you grow: Bible study, reading devotionals (like this one), church attendance, helping others, giving money, and more. These are wonderful activities and I believe that in the long run, most Christians will do these things. They don’t earn more grace from God. They don’t guarantee spiritual growth. They don’t make God love you more. We come to Jesus through God’s grace. We grow because of God’s grace. We persevere in the faith because of God’s grace. We respond to His grace and His leadership by loving and caring for others, and by engaging in spiritual disciplines and formation. We don’t do those things to earn grace or more love from God; we do those things because we’re responding to His love. God saved us. God sustains us. God leads us in our growth. When you follow Christ, everything comes from His grace. Respond to His love and leadership in faith knowing that He loves you so much that He wouldn’t lead you the wrong way.

Oh Lord, there are so many good things I can do hoping to draw closer to You. Remind me that You’ve already drawn me as close to You as possible through Your grace. Lead me in other areas of life so that my faith will grow stronger.

Scripture taken from the New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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September 21 – The Truth, The Whole Truth, and Nothing But The Truth

Ecclesiastes 7-9 2 Corinthians 13

“We cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth.” (2 Corinthians 13:8 NCV)

As Paul wrapped up his defense of the gospel he left the Corinthians with two things to consider. The first was that he wasn’t concerned about winning for himself, but that the Corinthians would be seen to be doing the right thing. The second was that no matter what people might say about him and his companions, they would always work for truth. Paul didn’t just say that they were compelled to do the truth, he said that they couldn’t do anything against the truth. He didn’t use the words “even if we tried,” but he could have. When God is leading someone, they can’t work against Him. When God isn’t guiding, it’s easy to work against the truth.

That’s the razor’s edge to determine if a ministry is really of God or not. If God is guiding the work, it will work in truth and lead people to the truth. The truth, of course, being the gospel message, that Jesus died for us, according to the Scriptures, He rose again, and He was seen by many who believed and a few who didn’t until after they saw Him. If a ministry or church is pointing you towards the gospel, and growing in grace, they are living truth. On the other hand, if a ministry or church changes the message even slightly, it isn’t truth. Anything or anyone that teaches “Jesus plus…” is teaching untruth. They are, in fact proclaiming falsehoods. Usually, organizations that proclaim a “Jesus plus…” approach to life have an answer to that “plus” that brings them extra money. Maybe it’s a course that they teach; maybe it’s “holy gear” that you have to buy; maybe that plus is a certain level of offering that you have to meet. If you want to establish a relationship with God, turn to Jesus. If you want to grow in your relationship with God, trust Jesus. There are things God may lead you to do because you’re living in His grace. For instance, we may start reading God’s word. We may recognize that following Christ is best done in community and not individually. We should recognize that when we are living in the grace of God, things aren’t as important as people and we should be finding ways to help others. All of these things, and more, should be done either to live the truth in our own lives or help other people see the joy of living in truth. If you can do something that’s contrary to the message of the gospel, you aren’t being led by God. Live each day in the truth and help change the world as they see the joy of living in God’s truth.

Lord, let my life proclaim truth to a world that seeks advantage in any way possible. Draw people to Yourself as those who are already following You live Your truth joyfully.

Scripture taken from the New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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September 20 – When You Can’t Stop the Message, Stop the Messenger

Ecclesiastes 4-6 2 Corinthians 12

“Do you think we have been defending ourselves to you all this time? We have been speaking in Christ and before God. You are our dear friends, and everything we do is to make you stronger.” (2 Corinthians 12:19 NCV)

Paul’s defense of his ministry to the Corinthians might seem strange at first. He didn’t care, in general what people thought about him. What he realized was that as people exalted these false apostles, and, at the same time, belittled Paul’s ministry, they were attacking the faith of those who had come to Christ under Paul’s ministry. It was a clever tactic by Paul’s opponents because if they could undercut their faith, they could draw them to their own perversion of the gospel. And, they’d milk them for all the money they could. For these false teachers, it really was “all about the Caesars” (to coin a phrase.)

It’s a common tactic that’s still being used today. If you can discount the messenger, you can discount the message. As Christians, we make it all too easy for people to discount us, and the message of God’s love by our behavior. We claim that God is love, but show hatred towards people around us who are different. We say that God forgives sins, but show no grace to non-Christians because their sins are different from ours. We claim that God calls us to be holy, but are more willing to forgive a Christian’s sinful behavior than the same behavior from a non-Christian – even though we should expect Christians to know the right thing to do, while we can’t expect that from non-Christians. Paul lived an exemplary life and did amazing work as an apostle. When critics attacked him, he could respond. If we want people to listen to the message we have of God’s amazing love and forgiveness, our lives should reflect that as well so that when people attack us for our faith, we can show how we lived according to God’s grace.

Lord, if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do? The foundation of our message is Your love and grace. We will never see them destroyed. The world looks at us as the foundation of the message, though, so help us to live so that our lives honor You.

Scripture taken from the New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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September 19 – God’s Strength Shows Through My Weakness

Ecclesiastes 1-3 2 Corinthians 11:16-33

“If I must brag, I will brag about the things that show I am weak.” (2 Corinthians 11:30 NCV)

In modern terms, we’d probably describe this section of 2 Corinthians as Paul’s “humble brag.” In the verses prior to this verse he listed his “Christian creds” as well as his Jewish background. The only other time we see Paul talking about his credentials was when he shared his testimony in the book of Acts, if I remember correctly. So what brought this braggadocio on? If we remember that Paul’s comments come in the middle of a discussion about some of the false teachers, it begins to make sense. I’m sure that word got back to Paul about the “accomplishments” of these teachers. They raised so much money. So many people showed up when they preached. Perhaps they even listed the number of people who were healed. These false preachers had great, worldly victories with huge numbers to show for their work. Paul’s response was to remind the Corinthians of how much he had suffered in the proclamation of the gospel, and how God had sustained him in his weaknesses.

Our world admires strength. People are willing to pay a lot of money to watch sporting events involving strength. Pay per view makes millions when they have a big-name boxing match. Football is one of the most watched sports on regular broadcast TV, and in baseball – we all love the guy who can hit long home runs. The ancient Romans had their gladiator fights, and other sports where only the strong survived. In the face of this cultural tradition, and, in the face of the bragging of those false teachers, Paul bragged about his weaknesses. The point was that if he accomplished something because of his weakness, then God was the one who did the work. The same is true for us today. If we do great things and brag about doing them in our own power, God doesn’t get credit. On the other hand, when God works through us in areas that would normally be considered weak areas, He gets the credit. And that’s the way it should be. God does amazing work in the “I can’t do that’s” of life. The old saying is that God doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called. God uses us in many different ways. Sometimes, He takes the gifts and talents we already have and puts us to work for His glory. At other times, He puts us in situations that are beyond our abilities and gives us the strength to work for Him so that we’ll know, without a doubt, that He worked through us. The key to all of that is being open to God working in us.

Lord, You’ve done some amazing things with my weaknesses and I ask that You keep working through me. Remind me, though, that You’re the one working and all I did was make myself available to You.

Scripture taken from the New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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September 18 – There Is No “New and Improved” Gospel Message

Proverbs 30-31 2 Corinthians 11:1-15

“Such men are not true apostles but are workers who lie. They change themselves to look like apostles of Christ. This does not surprise us. Even Satan changes himself to look like an angel of light.” (2 Corinthians 11:13-14 NCV)

It’s amazing, but Paul had to defend his ministry to the very people who had come to Christ under his ministry. Perhaps the message going around the Corinthian Church was that Paul wasn’t all that and a bag of chips. He wasn’t forceful in person, he didn’t raise money for his needs from them, and, compared to some of those other speakers, Paul wasn’t much of a speaker. Paul reminded the Corinthians that whatever others said, he spoke the truth. He didn’t take money for personal expenses from the Corinthians because of his love for the Corinthians. It’s hard to believe, but the fact that he didn’t raise money to support himself from the Corinthians caused them to think that he wasn’t much of a preacher. Paul made the point that he wanted to cut off the bragging of the false preachers who came just for the money. The false preachers did all they could to make it look like they were God’s men, preaching the truth of the gospel, but they were fake messengers who thought of nothing but the money they could gather for themselves.

There have always been those who perverted the gospel for the sake of riches. Paul dealt with it in the Corinthian Church. He also dealt with in the Philippian church, although he mentioned that in Philippi, the gospel was being preached. It’s easy to make small changes to the gospel, to say things the right way, and to make people think they’re proclaiming the gospel when all they’re doing is lining their own pockets with the offerings from those whose trust they betray. They use the words of the gospel to attain what they really want: money. Money is their god and they act as if they believe that he (or she) who dies with the most toys wins. They measure the success of their activity by how much money they take in, while those who preach the true gospel look at how many lives have been changed as people leave their sins behind and live in the grace of Jesus Christ. Among those who preach the true gospel, money is used meet the needs of the people they serve, while those who would use the gospel for personal gain take the money and use it for self-indulgence. The message of the gospel hasn’t changed since the days of Jesus. There is no new and improved gospel that should cause us to discard our faith and follow the new ways. Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for sin. He rose from the dead to show His power over death. He appeared to many of those who had followed Him after His resurrection.  He offers forgiveness of sins and a relationship with God through His grace – there’s nothing we can do to earn it. Anything beyond that as necessary for salvation isn’t a new gospel, it’s an old heresy that Paul fought in the early days of the church.

Lord, it’s so easy to give in to the temptation to gain wealth. It’s so easy to believe that we need to do something to earn Your love. Protect me from falling into those temptations. May everyone I contact learn and follow the true gospel.

Scripture taken from the New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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September 17 – Bringing the Right Weapon for the Right Battle

Proverbs 27-29 2 Corinthians 10

“We fight with weapons that are different from those the world uses. Our weapons have power from God that can destroy the enemy’s strong places. We destroy people’s arguments and every proud thing that raises itself against the knowledge of God. We capture every thought and make it give up and obey Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5 NCV)

It’s a tradition for people who are losing the argument on facts to attack the other person. The Corinthians who were causing the problems used that time-honored method by lashing out at Paul, noting that while his letters carried a lot of weight, he was a light-weight in person. They accused him of using strong words, but not being able to back up what he said. Paul’s response was simple: I haven’t had to use strong words in person up to now, but I will if I must. In the middle of that argument, he reminded us of the most important understanding of the battle that all Christians are engaged in: we don’t use the weapons of warfare that the world uses. We don’t use those weapons because they aren’t effective in the spiritual battle that’s taking place. We use weapons that come from our relationship with God that destroy the strongholds the enemy has over us. We proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. We pray for God to work. We follow God in obedience.

Jimmy Malone, Sean Connery’s character in the movie “The Untouchables” criticized his attacker for bringing a knife to a gunfight. He had the better, worldly weapon. What he didn’t realize was that the knife wielder was a decoy who lured him into a deadly trap. It was a better weapon. As Christians, we don’t bring worldly weapons into a spiritual battle – and that’s the war that we’re engaged in. We can destroy other people with our quick wit and heavy sarcasm, but that’s not our ultimate goal. We can gain political power and force people to follow our laws, but that won’t change people’s hearts. We can appeal to our authority in the church if the “battle” is between different groups in the church, but that won’t bring peace. As Christians, we don’t seek a worldly victory over those opposed to us, instead, we seek a spiritual victory over the forces of evil that will open the door for people to see Jesus for who He really is. Our weapons: the gospel, prayer, the love of Christ, changed lives, have been crafted and chosen perfectly by God for this battle. When we “fight” God’s way, our victories lead to a great victory in the lives of those who once were our “enemies.” Keep praying and sharing the gospel in the love of Christ so that we can make the greatest difference in the world today.

Lord, remind me that my battle isn’t against the people who would argue with me. Remind me that You love those people too and that my battle, Your battle, is against the spiritual forces of evil in this world.

Scripture taken from the New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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September 16 – Learning to Give Joyfully and Freely

Proverbs 25-26 2 Corinthians 9

“Each of you should give as you have decided in your heart to give. You should not be sad when you give, and you should not give because you feel forced to give. God loves the person who gives happily.” (2 Corinthians 9:7 NCV)

I think Paul was a little worried about the Corinthian Church fulfilling their promises to give to support fellow Christians. He spent lots of time in this letter talking about their pledge and the need to be ready to give their gift to the right representatives. He let them know that he was coming to collect their gift, and that some of those from other churches in Macedonia would be with him and they didn’t want to be embarrassed because they weren’t ready with their gift. In the midst of Paul’s warnings, there’s an excellent teaching on how the Christian should give to God’s work. Give as you’ve decided in your heart to give. Talk it over with God, and then give joyfully. Don’t be sad, as if you’re waving good-bye to your money. Don’t give because the usher thrusts an offering plate in front of you. God loves the person who gives out of heartfelt joy.

Our local Christian radio station, KBNJ, is listener supported. That means that they take a couple of times a year where they call on the Christian community that listens to their station to give, cheerfully, to support the work that they do. Some of the stories about how people have been affected because of what they do are amazing. It’s easy to support their work cheerfully, knowing that God’s doing something great there. When our pastor preaches about giving, he reminds people of a couple of things. First, he reminds people that what we do as a church matters, and that’s why he’s not shy about preaching on giving. Second, he gives out gifts when he preaches on giving to remind us that giving is fun! I believe that my church matters and that’s why I enjoy giving. My wife and I give a percentage of our income. If you want to have real joy in giving, give a set percentage of your income every month – then, if you have a really good month and your gift to the church is extra big, you’ll remember that you were able to do so much because God blessed you even more than usual. What’s really great about that is if you want to, you can give more than your set amount. We should give to God’s work and to support God’s people because we understand that all that we have is a gift from God. When we give, we take a small part of that gift from God and give it back to support the work He’s doing in the world. Take the time to find a ministry that does worthwhile work and find a way to give from what God has given you to support that work. You’ll find great joy when you do that.

Lord, You’ve given me so much more than I deserve. You’ve given me eternal life, a relationship with You, forgiveness, and grace as well as many material things. Give me a heart to give to support Your work with my money and my time.

Scripture taken from the New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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September 15 – If Not Us, Then Who?

Proverbs 22-24 2 Corinthians 8

“At this time you have plenty. What you have can help others who are in need. Then later, when they have plenty, they can help you when you are in need, and all will be equal.” (2 Corinthians 8:14 NCV)

In Israel, the priests took the collections of the tithes and offerings and used them to help those who were poor among the Jews. Those leading the Temple were given that responsibility to distribute food and help take care of other needs of those who were poor. Then, some of the Jews in Jerusalem started following Jesus. This caused a dilemma for those in charge of caring for the poor among the Jews, especially when family members disowned the followers of Christ. It got harder for followers of Christ to find work. Many of them went through difficult financial times. As a result, Paul and many of the churches prepared an offering to meet the needs of their fellow Christians in Jerusalem who were suffering due to the conditions in the city. As Paul wrote this part of the letter, he reminded the Corinthian Church to be ready with their offering.

From the beginning of the Church, followers of Jesus Christ had to take care of each other. Some who followed Christ lost jobs or were disowned by family members. One of the earliest squabbles recorded in the early church dealt with taking care of widows. One of the hallmarks of the Church in the beginning was that it voluntarily took care of its members. We didn’t rely on others to do our job. When Jesus talked about the last judgment, the criteria mentioned involved taking care of others. We don’t do that so much anymore. Instead, we admire those who have great wealth and claim to follow Christ whether they give to help others or not. Accumulation of wealth becomes a goal instead of finding ways to help others. We ask others, including the government, to take on our responsibilities and care for the poor. Paul reminds us that those who have plenty should be finding ways to share with those in need. Sometimes, the table turns and those who are in need now will have overcome their bad situations and be able to help those who gave to others before. Even if that doesn’t happen, the words that I want to hear from Jesus on this subject are “whatever you did to the least of these, you did unto me.”

Lord, You’ve given me the responsibility to care for others – in fact, You’ve given that responsibility to Your Church. Let each person who claims to follow You find ways to help those in need. Help us to be a caring, loving church in an uncaring world.

Scripture taken from the New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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September 14 – Going On the Offensive

Proverbs 19-21 2 Corinthians 7

“The kind of sorrow God wants makes people change their hearts and lives. This leads to salvation, and you cannot be sorry for that. But the kind of sorrow the world has brings death.” (2 Corinthians 7:10 NCV)

If hashtags were around in Paul’s day, this section of the letter would be his #sorrynotsorry moment. He’d written some harsh words to the Corinthian Church, and while he had a few pangs of regret over how they would react, he knew he’d said the right thing. The Corinthians, for all their faults, responded to Paul’s rebuke the right way. The repented of their sins. They were sorrowful and changed their ways. When Paul got the news that his letter had the desired effect, he rejoiced and made the distinction between godly sorrow and worldly sorrow. Godly sorrow happens when someone admits that they did something wrong and, with God’s help, commits to do the right thing. (That’s repentance, by the way.) Worldly sorrow happens when people are sorry for getting caught, and they work to avoid getting caught in the future. Worldly sorrow puts the blame on the offended when the apology is “I’m sorry if anyone was offended by this.”

When I offend someone, I take stock. Did I do something wrong, or did I call someone’s attention to their own sin? When I’m wrong, I try to admit it in a way that makes the offended person realize that I’m actually apologizing for doing wrong, and not trying to shift the blame in an underhanded way. That’s easy to do. “I’m sorry if you were offended.” Because most people wouldn’t have been. “I’m sorry I reacted that way when you did your thing.”  Because you did what you did, I had no choice. On the other hand, it’s possible that sometimes what I write here offends people. I try to stay true to biblical truth and point out what we should be doing instead of attacking specific sins, but sometimes, if people read between the lines and understand my thoughts, they might be offended. If I offend you with my devotional writing, you have a couple of good options: the first is to let me know how I was wrong in my understanding of God’s word and plan; the second is to seek God and see if you need to change your life. A third option is to write me off and never read these again. Doing that, of course, would help no one. If my writing offends you enough that you search for God’s truth, I can truly say that I’m #sorrynotsorry. If I’m wrong based on a true biblical understanding, I’ll change my views. On the other hand, if you discover that you need to get things right with God, I’ll rejoice that God spoke to you as you read. The point of these writings is to share what God taught me as I read His word. He corrects my thoughts and attitudes daily. If these words help you repent, I’ll be grateful that God’s causing you to grow.

Lord, thank You that You correct me when I’m wrong. Thank You for using my friends to draw me back to You. Let me be so close to You that if I offend others, it’s not because I’m wrong, but because You’re using me to draw others back to You.

Scripture taken from the New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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September 13 – How Will People Know That You Follow Christ?

Proverbs 16-18 2 Corinthians 6

“We show we are servants of God by our pure lives, our understanding, patience, and kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by true love, by speaking the truth, and by God’s power. We use our right living to defend ourselves against everything.” (2 Corinthians 6: 6-7 NCV)

How do people know? Seriously, how do people know that you’re a follower of Jesus Christ? Paul noted a couple of ways to look at the proof of his status as a follower of Christ: the hardships he endured in working for Christ, and the purity of his life because of the presence of God in his life. In short, our relationship with God should make a difference. We shouldn’t let the problems that befall us as we live and serve each day deter us from sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, nor should we give in to any form of sinful living because our lives are a testimony to the presence of God in our lives.

The gospel should make us more understanding and patient. It took a long time for God to make that clear to me, but I can testify that as God’s worked on me, I’ve shown a lot more patience. I’m not perfect in that area, but I’m a lot better. One area that most of us can use a lot more work on is showing kindness. There are some who claim the name of Christ who do an amazing job of practicing kindness. On the other hand, we have some who claim to be brothers and sisters in Christ who are the meanest, orneriest cusses in the world. We see those folks featured in the news when they’re attacking others for their sins. We experience that meanness at church when the “holy ones” of the church gossip about the common church folk who aren’t as perfect as they are. There are times to deal with sin, but we need to do so redemptively. We need to draw people back to Jesus if they’re followers of Christ, and we need to make sure people know of His grace and goodness if they aren’t. It’s sad that too often, our efforts to be right about issues make us wrong in dealing with others. If God forgave all that I did without making me endure lightning, the least I can do is show others His mercy and grace without threatening the storm.

Lord, when people look at me and wonder about my relationship with You, may they see my hard work to advance Your kingdom, and a pure life that shows understanding, patience, and kindness.

Scripture taken from the New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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