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

Posted in Administrative Issues | Tagged , , , , , , ,

August 15 – Finding Strength and Fellowship in the Church

Psalm 91-93 Romans 15:1-13

“May the patience and encouragement that come from God allow you to live in harmony with each other the way Christ Jesus wants. Then you will all be joined together, and you will give glory to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 15:5-6 NCV)

Paul was concerned about growth. He wanted more people to enter into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ and he wanted each of these people to grow spiritually. The key to growth is that we must work together. Those who are strong in the faith must build up those who are weaker. True Christian faith is never individualistic. True Christian faith is acted out in relationship with God and with fellow Christians. You may be able to worship God while you’re out on the lake, instead of being in church, but you won’t be growing or contributing to the growth of the church. Individualist Christians seek to please themselves and meet their own desires. True Christians seek to please and build up fellow believers in Christ. When we build each other up, the Church becomes stronger and people are drawn to the gospel.

American Christians have two problems: we’re individualistic of we’re factionalists. We think we can follow God all on our own. We don’t need to go to church to be a Christian. We can worship God on the lake, in the golf course, in the mountains, or anywhere else we observe His amazing creation. All of those things are necessary and partially true, but God calls us to fellowship together. Are you weak in the faith? Fellowship with stronger Christians will help you grow. Are you strong in the faith? God calls the strong to repay the debt of those who built you up by helping to strengthen others. There’s no excuse for claiming to believe in Christ and not going to church. Ah, but which church, right? We’ve become so factional that we aren’t willing to accept truth from any other group. Rather than seeing people who worship Christ together in different ways than we do as brothers and sisters in Christ, we act as if they’re enemies. No denomination has all truth and no error. We have to work together and learn from each other. As a Baptist, I don’t see Methodists, Lutherans, or Catholics as my enemies. I see the distractions in this world that keep people from coming to church, or, even worse, following Christ, as our enemies, our competition. We are to have patience and encouragement from God so that we can live in harmony with each other. The result of living like that will be that we will give glory to God by the way we live and draw people into fellowship with Him.

Lord, help Your people to realize the power we have when we work together as we depend on You. Our world needs changing, and only You can change it for the better. Help us make this world a better place, one person at a time, by sharing the gospel and helping people grow into Your love and fellowship.

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

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

August 14 – When Other Christians Do It Wrong

Psalm 89-90 Romans 14

“In the kingdom of God, eating and drinking are not important. The important things are living right with God, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Anyone who serves Christ by living this way is pleasing God and will be accepted by other people.” (Romans 14:17-18 NCV)

Romans 14 is a simple passage, but very convicting. It’s convicting because so many people want to believe that their understanding of how to live as a Christian is the only way to live. Do we eat all meats, because God has created all things for our good pleasure? Do we eat “clean” foods only to honor the Law of God? Do we become vegetarians because it’s the best way to take care of our health? Do we celebrate certain days? Is a Christian supposed to honor the Sabbath or the Lord’s day, for instance? Paul makes our choices simple, though: don’t judge your brother or sister in Christ on what they eat, drink, or the days they choose to worship God. If you know your brother or sister has issues, don’t offend them or cause them to go against their conscience. The important thing is their relationship with God.

There’s an old joke about a Catholic Priest and a Baptist Preacher sitting together on a plane. They were discussing their beliefs when the flight attendant came by and asked what they wanted to drink. The preacher asked for a soda, but when the priest asked for whiskey, the preacher muttered, “I’d rather be caught dead in a house of ill-repute.” The priest lifted his eyebrows and said, “I didn’t know we had that option.” I can tell that joke because I’m one of those tee-totaling Baptists. When I came to Christ, I was on the verge of becoming an alcoholic, and part of the way God worked in me was helping me realize that I couldn’t drink alcohol. When this first happened, I was judgmental on this issue. I was almost certain that you couldn’t follow Christ and drink alcohol. God worked on me using passages like this. I still cringe a bit when I see Christians glorifying alcohol consumption, but then remind myself that God needs to be the one to work on others. What’s important in our Christian life is our relationship with God and the joy we experience as the Holy Spirit works in us. That joy we have because of our relationship with God and the love we show our brothers and sisters in Christ despite our differences is what will make a difference to people who need to know Christ. So, when you see people who claim to follow Christ, even though you have minor differences in belief, accept them, love them, and work together so that the world can see the amazing love and grace of Jesus Christ.

Oh Lord, it’s so easy to be judgmental when other Christians don’t live and believe the same way I do. Convict me when I judge instead of love. Remind me that other Christians might have reason to judge me, and help Your people live together in harmony.

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

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

August 13 – What Do We Owe Other People?

Psalm 87-88 Romans 13

“Do not owe people anything, except always owe love to each other, because the person who loves others has obeyed all the law.” (Romans 13:8 NCV)

Romans 13 begins with a discussion of government. Given the problems and persecution that Paul dealt with from the Romans, it would be easy to imagine Paul saying something like “Not my emperor.” Instead, he counseled believers to obey the government because they were put in place by God. Their job was to keep order, and part of that included punishing evil-doers who didn’t obey the law. Then, Paul made a big shift. As a Christian, there’s an easy way to obey the secular and the religious law: love other people. Paul’s point was simple: everything that the law of God tells us to do could be observed by loving our neighbor.

When you look at most of the crimes committed in this world, many of them would never happen if we all showed God’s love to our neighbors. Theft, violence, murder all are completely contrary to the idea of loving our neighbors. Injustice doesn’t exist if we love our neighbors. You cannot oppress the person you love – if your love is based on God’s love. Paul’s advice was to avoid situations where we would owe people favors, money, or anything that might put us under obligations that would make it difficult to stay in fellowship with God. If we owe other people anything: money, favors, or work, we spend much of our effort to take care of that debt that we don’t take the time to show love – especially to the person that we owe, whatever we might owe. If I owe another person something, we no longer have a relationship built on mutual respect and the love of God; we’re in a relationship where it’s easy to end up resenting the other person because of their claims on our life. We must avoid those situations as much as possible and recognize that our one obligation is to love others with the love of God.

Oh Lord, so many people recognize the need for love in our world, but they don’t even know about Your love. Help me to share Your love and grace with them as I follow Your call to love other people.

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

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

August 12 – Genuine Love For All People

Psalm 84-86 Romans 12

“Your love must be real. Hate what is evil, and hold on to what is good. Love each other like brothers and sisters. Give each other more honor than you want for yourselves.” (Romans 12:9-10 NCV)

The book of Romans moves from the theological underpinnings of our faith into practical application in the twelfth chapter and the advice flows quickly. In this chapter, every bit of his call to action is predicated on Romans 1-11. Because these things are so, you should…. In these two verses we’re admonished to show our faith by showing real love to others, while hating those actions that are evil. We’re to hold on to good things and show more honor to others than we desire for ourselves.

It begins with knowing who to love, and what to hate. I think Paul’s very deliberate with his word choice and modifiers here. Hate is directed towards actions that are wrong. Love is directed towards people. Our love for people needs to be genuine. One of my favorite lines from M*A*S*H was when Hawkeye said, “Sincerity? I can fake that.” As much as I laugh, I know that many people don’t show real love. They may be sweet face to face, but when the backs are turned, the gossip begins. Paul reminded us to love each other like brothers and sisters and to show more honor to others than we want for ourselves. This is where it’s hard to be genuine and many excel in sarcasm when they’re showing honor to others. If our love is real, though, and we humble ourselves to show people honor, those actions will build all people. Hating evil’s even harder to pull off, because too many people define themselves by their actions. If we lead with love of the person and continue to proclaim the right way, God can use that to draw people back to Him. When speaking of evil actions, though, we should never define people by their actions and we need to keep loving them.

Lord, help me to love Your people genuinely. Remind me that although their actions may be evil, Your love for them is genuine, as mine should be. When my actions were evil, You loved me and drew me towards You. Let my love for others draw them to You.

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

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

August 11 – God Put You On That Tree and God Can Take You Off

“So you see that God is kind and also very strict. He punishes those who stop following him. But God is kind to you, if you continue following in his kindness. If you do not, you will be cut off from the tree. And if the Jews will believe in God again, he will accept them back. God is able to put them back where they were.” (Romans 11:22-23 NCV)

Jesus talked about the vine and the branches. Paul talked about a wild and a cultivated olive tree. The Jews, as the chosen people of God, were the cultivated olive tree. When they refused to believe in Jesus, their branches were removed. Branches from the wild olive tree, Gentiles, were then grafted onto the cultivated tree when they believed in Jesus. Then, Paul issued a warning to the Gentiles: God put you on that tree and God can take you off. God is kind, but strict and if you stop believing, you’ll find yourselves cut off from the tree.

That’s frightening and challenging to my theology. While I’ve never had a perfect belief system, other teaching in the New Testament seems to imply that once you have entered into a relationship with God through Jesus, you can’t be taken away. Earlier in this letter, Paul asked, “What can separate us from the love of Christ?” and his answer was, in effect, nothing. I wish I could reconcile these two passages. In the meanwhile, I’m going to stay true to God. At the same time, there is an amazing promise in this passage that Jews who were cut off from the tree when they refused to believe have an ongoing opening to return to God by believing in Jesus. God didn’t change His mind about the Jews. Just as He provided a way for Gentiles to receive mercy, so Jews also have that same opportunity. None of us, Jews or Gentiles, have a reason to brag about who we are because God is the one who chose us, and God is the one who sustains us. As Paul said elsewhere, if I’m going to boast, I’m going to boast in Jesus Christ. Take the time to reflect on the amazing mercy of God and share His grace with someone else today.

Lord, it’s all about You. It’s all about Your love. It’s all about Your grace. Help me to rejoice in You today and to share Your love and grace with others so that they can rejoice in their own experience with You.

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

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

August 10 – God’s Gift of Grace

Psalm 79-80 Romans 11:1-18

“And if he chose them by grace, it is not for the things they have done. If they could be made God’s people by what they did, God’s gift of grace would not really be a gift.” (Romans 11:6 NCV)

Paul makes it clear that God has not rejected His people, it’s that they’ve rejected Him. They’ve been so engrossed in following the Law to discover God’s will that when God the Son showed up on earth, they rejected Him. He used the example of Elijah, though, to remind any Jewish Christian that they were not alone. Just as He’d preserved a remnant then, He’d protected a remnant and showed His grace to them. Paul’s message is clear, though, that whatever they may have thought they needed to do, it was to no avail: they were chosen by His grace. The only way to have a relationship with God is by His grace. If anyone could force God to have a relationship with them because they followed the Law, everyone should be held to those standards and grace, instead of being a gift from God, would be an act of pity.

One of the clichés that Christians share is that all the ground at the foot of the cross is level. That axiom confuses some people. The meaning, though, should be clear: everyone meets God in the same way. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Mother Theresa or a David Berkowitz. (He was the Son of Sam killer in New York City in the late 1970’s who later accepted Christ.) Entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven comes the same way for all: through the grace of God.  Entering into God’s presence through His grace doesn’t preclude anyone from doing good things. Let’s be honest: if you have received God’s grace and if the Holy Spirit is living in you, you’ll begin to see others as God sees them and you’ll want to show them God’s grace as well. In the judgment parable of the sheep and the goats Jesus reminded us that those who are connected to Him will meet the needs of others, and in so doing care for Him. Meanwhile, those who would neglect others in their search for Jesus reveal their lack of connection. It’s not the works that produce salvation, though; it’s the salvation and the development of our relationship with Him that produces a desire to care for others. God’s gift of grace brings us into a relationship with Him and molds us into becoming like Him.

Lord, thank You for Your grace. Let people see my works and realize that I am who I am because of You. Let me never bring shame to Your name or Your reputation by what I do.

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

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

August 9 – What Do We Mean By “Salvation?”

“If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and if you believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, you will be saved. We believe with our hearts, and so we are made right with God. And we declare with our mouths that we believe, and so we are saved. As the Scripture says, ‘Anyone who trusts in him will never be disappointed.’” (Romans 10: 9-11)

One of those “church words” people use a lot is the word “saved” or “salvation.” Non-followers of Christ have been known to mock that idea by asking “saved from what?” Sadly, most followers of Christ will hem and haw, not being sure how to answer. Paul talks about the need for his Jewish brothers and sisters to be saved. The verses I chose to highlight today’s thoughts talk about how someone can be saved. Astute observers will note that there is no “sinner’s prayer” in this example, yet we still use that as part of the process of evangelism. What then is salvation? How do we get it? And, some might even ask, how do we keep it?

One quick note as we look at salvation: the views expressed here are my beliefs based on my study. They should be examined in light of Scripture, because there are probably some things wrong with my understanding. With that disclaimer, what is salvation? Peter compares salvation to the story of Noah in his second epistle. One aspect of Christian salvation is that we’re saved from the domain of sin that’s flooded the world. All people live in this domain of sin until they’re rescued by God – a rescue effected by the death of Jesus on the cross. This domain, as Paul notes, pays death. If you’re trying to get out of this domain by doing good things, or by being religious, the payoff is death. Another aspect of salvation is seen in how Paul describes the Jews. They seek to do religious things to get in good with God. This is the plan of most religions. Whether you improve your karma, as seen in Eastern religions, or you do charitable works to appease God, or you seek to follow God’s Law, all of these religious efforts fail because no one is perfect except for God and we all fall short of His glory. The only path to righteousness is grace: “for by grace are you saved through faith.” God’s plan for people to be saved from the world of sin and its effects is that we come to Him through His forgiveness based on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Faith in Him is God’s way, and it would seem logical that if you want to be in a good relationship with God and He shows you how to do it, you do it His way. I usually use the term “a (good) relationship with God” to show the idea of salvation. When we have that relationship, we don’t live in fear of God, we’re “saved” from that. We cooperate and work together with God to make a difference in this world. Paul tells us the process of establishing that good relationship with Him in the passage that began the study today. If you’ve ever wondered how to get right with God, this is how you do it. Begin developing that good relationship with God today and experience His presence for the rest of Your life. You won’t be disappointed.

Lord God, I thank You that I can be in a good relationship with You, the Creator of all things, because of Jesus Christ. I pray for anyone reading this who might not know You and ask that You draw them unto yourself. For me and for anyone else who knows You, I pray that we would fall deeper in love with You every day.

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

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

August 8 – Your Hard Work Won’t Help You

Psalm 74-76 Romans 9:16-33

“So what does all this mean? Those who are not Jews were not trying to make themselves right with God, but they were made right with God because of their faith. The people of Israel tried to follow a law to make themselves right with God. But they did not succeed, because they tried to make themselves right by the things they did instead of trusting in God to make them right.” (Romans 9:30-32a NCV)

As Paul discussed the sovereignty of God, he dealt with His mercy. How is it that God gives mercy to people? The end result is that human rationality and human effort play no part in how God gives mercy. We can’t figure out a formula that will ensure that we gain mercy. We can’t work hard enough to gain God’s mercy. When it comes to hard work in religious exercises and beliefs, the Pharisees would be among the hardest working. They sought to determine and obey God’s laws in all areas of their lives, and yet, as we saw with their interactions with Jesus, they spurned God’s mercy in favor of taking pride in their hard work. Meanwhile, Gentiles, who may not even have cared about religion, heard the gospel message, believed in Jesus and trusted in God, received mercy.

The problem with the Pharisees is that they trusted themselves and their work more than they trusted God to show mercy. Let’s be honest here, the Pharisees were precursors to the American Dream. They believed that the harder they worked, the more likely God was to bless them. American aphorisms exhort us to work hard to gain wealth and friends. If you aren’t succeeding in life, work even harder. And so many of our religious beliefs borrow from society rather than depend on the Bible. We would accept the claim that we’re saved by grace, but then we talk about working hard to gain more favor from God. If you give more money, God will bless you. If you work in a ministry to help the poor, God will bless you. Like the Pharisees, we make our acts into transactions with God, and we expect Him to deliver. Giving to God’s work is a good thing, but do we give because we expect God to bless us, or do we give out of gratitude that God’s already blessed us? Do we help the poor to manipulate God into a position where we think He’s required to help us in return, or do we help the poor because we are grateful for how much God has helped us? If you want to get right with God, your hard work won’t help. The key to being right with God is having faith and showing trust. Our works should be done out of gratitude, not as a way to force God into doing something He wouldn’t do otherwise.

Lord, remind me how much You already love me. Remind that I could never do enough to repay You or get You obligated to bless me. Help me to live each day in faith, serving You out of gratitude for all You’ve done.

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

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

August 7 – God Doesn’t Teach Us To Hate

Psalm 72-73 Romans 9:1-15

“I wish I could help my Jewish brothers and sisters, my people. I would even wish that I were cursed and cut off from Christ if that would help them. They are the people of Israel, God’s chosen children. They have seen the glory of God, and they have the agreements that God made between himself and his people. God gave them the law of Moses and the right way of worship and his promises. (Romans 9:3-4 NCV)

It would be easy to read what Paul wrote to this point and think that he and God had turned their back on the Jewish people. As this chapter begins, Paul told his listeners an important truth: the Jews are still God’s chosen people and, his love for his brothers and sisters of his people was so great that he would give up his salvation if it meant that they would turn to Jesus. If there was no other reason to love the Jewish people, we should remember that Jesus was born into a Jewish family for His earthly home.

Paul undoubtably knew the curse that the religious leaders had called down upon themselves when they appeared before Pilate. Perhaps he was one of those who shouted “His [Jesus’s] blood be upon us and our children.” There are some Christians, to their shame, who’ve taken those words as reason to hate people because they’re Jewish. They use these words of the Jewish leadership as justification for their anti-Semitism and hatred of all people Jewish, even those who would never have done anything to hurt Jesus. They might quote Paul’s words from any other part of the Bible, especially talking about the grace of God. leaving these words from Romans 9 out of their equation. The truth is that there is never any justification for hating anyone based on God’s word, especially the people chosen by God to receive the Law and be the host to the Messiah. If we believe the words of John 3:16 that God loved the [whole] world that ANYONE who believes in Him might have eternal life and we understand Jesus forgiving those who played a part in His crucifixion, no one, no matter how evil, is beyond the reach of God’s love. There are many actions in this world to become indignant about – actions that arouse our righteous indignation. Sometimes these actions are so reprehensible that the perpetrators must answer for them in a court of law. God still loves even these people. Hate may be a valid human emotion, but if your religious beliefs call for, or allow you to hate any person at any time, it’s not the gospel of grace that Jesus died on the cross to bring.

Lord, let me, let all Your people be an oasis of love and forgiveness in a world of hate and revenge. Only light, only love can drive out darkness and hate.

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

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

August 6 – Wonder of Wonder! Miracle of Miracles!

Psalm 70-71 Romans 8:22-39

“Who can accuse the people God has chosen? No one, because God is the One who makes them right. Who can say God’s people are guilty? No one, because Christ Jesus died, but he was also raised from the dead, and now he is on God’s right side, appealing to God for us.” (Romans 8:33-34 NCV)

As Paul continued to talk about the superiority of the relationship with God we have in Jesus over the belief that some have that we need to follow the Law, he made the strongest point possible. Our relationship with God is so strong that no one and nothing can tear us away from God. People can’t drive a wedge between us and God by accusing us of sin, even if the accusation is accurate. Why? God is the one who’s already forgiven us. He knows all our sins, even the ones we haven’t committed yet and, He still loves us. In these verses, Paul pictures a courtroom scenario with God as the ultimate judge and Jesus, sitting beside Him reminding God that the penalty was already paid whenever one of God’s people is accused.

The hardest thing for me to understand about God is the overflowing abundance of grace and forgiveness He shows. Intellectually, I know that nothing I do has surprised God and that He forgives all my sins out of His love and grace. But when I consider the number of times that I fail Him; when I consider the depth and magnitude of my sins before coming into a relationship with God and after, I can’t imagine that God forgives me then. In my early years as a Christian, I can remember times when I wouldn’t take the Lord’s Supper in church as I thought about how unworthy I was because of my sin. I didn’t deserve to take part in this solemn observance because I was a sinner and had done nothing to get rid of that sin. As I thought about it one day while observing others taking the Lord’s Supper, I realized that was the whole point of the gospel. I not only hadn’t done anything about my sin, I couldn’t. Only God could. Only God could forgive me through grace. He knew me, my heart, and my deeds. Knowing all that about me, He still loves me. Jesus Christ went to the cross to pay the penalty for my sins not because I was good, or worthy of His grace, but because of His love and mercy. There can be no better gospel, good news, than that.

Lord, You know me even better than I know myself. To be honest, Lord, sometimes I think about my flaws and my sins, and I don’t think very highly of myself. I’m amazed at Your love and grace and thank You for loving me more than I can love myself. Help me to love You more, and to love others the way You love me.

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

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment