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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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August 5 – Slaves To Fear or Children of God?

Psalm 68-69 Romans 8:1-21

“The true children of God are those who let God’s Spirit lead them. The Spirit we received does not make us slaves again to fear; it makes us children of God. With that Spirit we cry out, ‘Father.’” (Romans 8:14-15 NCV)

The true follower of Christ is ruled by the Spirit of God. We aren’t under condemnation because while the Law brings judgment and guilt, God’s Spirit brings life. In this section of chapter 8, Paul reminds us that the follower of Christ isn’t ruled by temptations that come from our earthly desires, or even the fear of doing wrong; the true follower of Jesus Christ is ruled by the Spirit. Our goal in life is to please God, not indulge in our earthly passions. The result is that we have a relationship with God that gives life and enjoys freedom. We’re no longer slaves to fear, we’re children of God and we joyously call Him “Father.” The actual term Paul used there was one that showed a close personal relationship with a loving father.

We like to condemn ourselves much more than we condemn others. When my wife hears me call out “Stupid idiot!” she knows me well enough that she wonders what mistake I made. It’s not that she thinks I’m a stupid idiot, it’s that she knows me well enough that, unless I’m driving, I don’t usually call other people that. Then she reminds me that I shouldn’t get down on myself. Perfectionists can be like that. If we aren’t perfect, there’s this nagging voice that reminds us that people will see our mistakes: this is what it means to be a slave to fear. A person who’s a slave to fear will worry about what God thinks about them as well as what other people think about them. They work hard to correct all their mistakes lest others find a way to attack them for their weaknesses and, on a spiritual level, lest God condemn them for their mistakes. When we’re lead by the Spirit of God, our relationship with God becomes so strong that we don’t worry about what we do wrong, we enjoy or relationship no matter what. If my wife wanted to keep a list of what I’ve done wrong as a man, a husband, and a father, she might need a computer with a lot more memory. She loves me, forgives me, and enjoys our relationship. If God kept a list of all my wrongs, the whole world couldn’t contain all the books. He doesn’t condemn me, though, He loves me. He’s my Father who forgives me no matter what and rather than live in fear that God will be mad at me for anything I do wrong, I live in the joy of our relationship. When I do wrong, I know He still loves me and forgives me.

Father, remind me again how much You love me. Remind me that You have forgiven me, You continue to forgive me, and that You’ll always forgive me and show me Your grace. Let my joy in understanding that spill over as I share Your love with others.

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

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August 1 – Overwhelming Grace Overcomes Overwhelming Debt

Note: We’ve been having internet problems and I just discovered that this didn’t post on the appropriate day – when I was checking on why today’s (August 5) didn’t post.

Psalm 57-59 Romans 4

“When people work, their pay is not given as a gift, but as something earned. But people cannot do any work that will make them right with God. So they must trust in him, who makes even evil people right in his sight. Then God accepts their faith, and that makes them right with him.” (Romans 4:4-5 NCV)

Have you ever gotten that “every-two-week-gift” from your boss? You know, the one that comes because you go to your place of employment and work for eight hours a day? If you’ve read this far, you’re probably thinking that I’m a bit crazy. That isn’t a gift, that’s a paycheck and I worked hard to earn that money! You’re right: that pay isn’t a gift, it’s what you’ve earned. Paul notes that while you earn your pay, you can’t earn a relationship with God. We start our relationship with God when we trust Him in faith. Here’s the kicker – even people who are evil can turn to Him in faith and be made right with Him. My understanding of the nature of God is that His Spirit will work in people who are evil to conform them to the image of Christ, just as He does for all people. The key point, though, is that we must have faith to become righteous in God’s eyes.

Trying to establish a relationship with God is like the old song “Sixteen Tons.” We try to do the right things to get and maintain a relationship with God, only to see our sins drag us down even further. We may load our sixteen tons of coal, so to speak, and all we have to show for our efforts is that we’re “another day older and deeper in debt.” Our hope for heaven, our hope for an eternal relationship with God doesn’t rest on our own works and goodness; our hope comes from the grace of God that comes to us by faith. One amazing thing about God’s love and grace is that it will never go bankrupt. God’s grace never goes on holiday. God’s love never shuts down for a vacation. The grace of God never discriminates – He makes His grace available to anyone who would turn to Him, even evil people. If it bothers you that evil people who turn to God won’t get what they deserve, realize that you won’t get what you deserve either. If we got what we deserved from God, we’d keep going deeper and deeper into debt. Thanks be to God for His grace which delivers us from the bondage of the law and allows us to walk with Him in joy and freedom. Choose this day to follow the path of grace and experience God’s love in amazing ways.

Lord, there’s no way I could earn Your friendship or Your love. Thank You for giving Your grace and opening the door to the joy of being Your child.

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

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August 4 – The Answer, Of Course, Is Jesus

Late today because I hit the ground running and haven’t had a chance to write until now.

Psalm 66-67 Romans 7

“You might think I am saying that sin and the law are the same thing. That is not true. But the law was the only way I could learn what sin meant. I would never have known what it means to want to take something belonging to someone else if the law had not said, ‘You must not want to take your neighbor’s things.’” (Romans 7:7 NCV)

Romans 7 has some of the most confusing discussion in the Bible. Paul made the point that once we die to sin, sin no longer has control over us. He used the example of a married woman who became a widow. If she’s a widow, she’s free to marry another man. On the other hand, if she entered into a relationship while her husband was still living, she commits adultery. Once death occurred the former bonds no longer existed. We can’t commit to following Christ until we die to sin. Dying to sin includes dealing with the law, because the law revealed what was sin. The example Paul used related to coveting. He might not have considered wanting someone else’s stuff were it not for the law that told him he couldn’t even have that desire. The rest of the chapter deals with the problem of continued sin: in his spirit, Paul wanted to stay true to God, yet his body was drawn to sin. (This is where it really gets confusing.) His outcry is one that many have used: “What a terrible person I am! Who can free my from my sin?” The answer, of course, is Jesus.

As I read this chapter, I’m reminded of one of the funniest shows ever on TV: The Dick Van Dyck Show. In one of the episodes, Rob and Laura, the two stars of the show, are watching the comedy show that Rob writes for. In it, the star’s TV wife is depicted as being very snoopy and opening her husband’s mail, and then later, a package of an inflatable raft which traps the TV wife in the closet. When Laura’s friend comes over laughing about what Laura did to make Rob write that sketch, she read him the riot act about portraying her like that. Unbeknownst to Laura, and forgotten by Rob, is that he had ordered an inflatable raft that arrived that day. Laura is obsessed with the package. She left it on a table and walked in and out of the room. Then she placed it on the floor and continued watching the package. Finally, realizing it was a temptation, she put it in the closet. Whereupon she gave in to temptation and followed the exact same procedure the TV wife had to open the package and end up trapped in the closet. Sin has a way of drawing us like the package drew Laura. We look at the temptation, knowing that we’d never give in. We flirt with it by skirting past it in our everyday life. Finally, we give in and get trapped in its clutches. The only hope to get out of sin’s grip is Jesus Christ. As wretched as we may be when caught in sin’s deceit, God still loves us, forgives us, and breaks sin’s power. Whatever you may have done, God can and does forgive because He loves You to the end of the world and back.

Lord, it’s so easy to fall to sin’s temptations. Give me the power to resist. Help me to focus on You when temptation comes my way so that I won’t be sucked into sin.

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

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August 3 – Choose Wisely

Psalm 63-65 Romans 6

“We know that our old life died with Christ on the cross so that our sinful selves would have no power over us and we would not be slaves to sin. Anyone who has died is made free from sin’s control.” (Romans 6:6-7 NCV)

Romans 5 leaves us with a big question: since “where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more” it would seem like a good idea to engage in sin, knowing that will trigger more of God’s grace. Paul’s answer, paraphrased, was “Are you out of your freaking mind?” Paul couldn’t imagine people experiencing the love and grace of God as they were forgiven and then turning around and saying, “That was fun, let’s do it again.” He drew a verbal line and noted that one side of the line was for those whose old life had died with Christ on the cross and the other side was for people who were slaves to sin. Many in our world would like to “broaden that perspective” and open the good side of the line to other philosophies and religions. The Christian world view doesn’t allow for that: either your old life died on the cross with Christ and you’re walking in the grace of God, or you’re a slave to sin and your life demonstrates sin’s control, not God’s.

The question Romans 6 leaves us with is “Who is your master?” Either you’re a slave to sin, doing the sinful things you’ve always been doing, or you’re a slave to God, walking in the freedom He provides His children. I know it sounds almost 1984ish when you think about freedom in life coming from being a slave to God. Perhaps the best way to understand that analogy is that when Jesus died on the cross, He bought us from the realm of sin so that we were no longer slaves of sin. He freed us from the shackles of sin and He’s given us the freedom to follow Him. We have two choices: we can accept God’s offer of freedom by following His call on our life, or we can go back to the shackles of sin that enslave us. Walking with God will give us a joyous life this side of heaven and a future home with God forever while living in the shackles of sin promises misery and in the end, sin pays you nothing but death. Choose wisely: it will affect your day to day life and your eternity.

Lord, You’ve offered me the bonds of love to take the place of the shackles of sin. Help me to live in Your love and grace as I resist those shackles. Let my life and my words influence people to leave their shackles behind as they follow You.

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

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August 2 – The Greater The Sin, The More The Grace

Psalm 60-62 Romans 5

“The law came to make sin worse. But when sin grew worse, God’s grace increased. Sin once used death to rule us, but God gave people more of his grace so that grace could rule by making people right with him. And this brings life forever through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:20-21 NCV)

What benefits do we have when we follow God? Paul begins this chapter reminding us of the peace we have with God. He shows the contrast between sin and death versus faith and life or, between law and grace throughout. Romans 5:8 reminds us that God started this whole love fest because Christ died for us while we were still lost in or sin. He compared Adam, and his sin which brought death, to Jesus, whose death and resurrection brought life. The Pharisees focused on following the Law, which came between Adam and Jesus, to grow close to God. But Paul, trained in the pharisaical tradition noted that the law made sin worse. The interesting response to that is that the worse sin got, the more God’s grace increased. Even death, conquered at the resurrection, couldn’t control God’s people who’ve been made right with Him and have a relationship with Him through Jesus Christ because that relationship brings eternal life.

I guess Paul wanted to make sure that the Church in Rome didn’t have the same problem with the “Judaizers” that other churches had, because he paints the problem of the Law and trying to follow the Law throughout the book of Romans. The Law, the list of rules and regulations for life that the Pharisees followed, makes sin even worse. It’s like a “wet paint” sign on a window sill. You might pass that window sill hundreds of times in a year with no desire to look at it, let alone touch it. Put that sign up, though, and you give it a long look when you walk by. You get to the end and you turn around as you ask yourself, “I wonder if it’s really wet?” Then, overwhelmed by temptation, you reach out and touch the windowsill just to be sure only to end up with a paint-stained finger. If the sign hadn’t been there, you wouldn’t have thought twice about the window sill. If the Law hadn’t talked about certain activities as sin, we might not have paid any attention to that particular sin. Instead, the prohibition leads to curiosity and eventually, engagement with the sin. It’s amazing that we still have the problem of people trying to add to our experience with God by trying to throw in some kind of Law. “God wants to have a relationship with you and He will. Turn to Him, ask for forgiveness, and then, <insert your own favorite activity here>.” God didn’t do that. The sacrifice Jesus made on the cross put an end to the idea that following the Law made you right with God.

Why do we think we need to do something else, something more, to develop our relationship with You, Lord? Remind me how much You love me. Remind me that You began our relationship because of how much You loved me, even when I worked against You. Help me to share Your love with others.

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

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