December 3 – Continue Doing Good to All People

This was yesterday’s post. I had it all ready to post when I came home from church and didn’t remember to post it. Sorry! 

Galatians 6; Ezekiel 2-3; Psalm 149

Wedding dresses are expensive and, even though they’re only used once as a general rule, they’re a very important part of a wedding. Imagine the shock, then, of soon-to-be brides when they discovered that the company they had contracted with to make their dresses had gone bankrupt. And they couldn’t get their dresses. That had been paid for. One former employee of the bankrupt company in Glen Burnie, Maryland took it upon herself to do something about it. She took over 80 dresses home and finished them for the brides. Denise Simmons commented that she was just doing her job. Mike Rowe, interviewing her for his Facebook show, noted that this was a job she wasn’t getting paid for. Her reaction was that you don’t start something and not finish it.

As part of the program Rowe has on Facebook, he looks for community heroes like Denise Simmons and finds a way to honor their commitment. He found out that she’d be interested in driving an ice cream truck and the next day at a party with some of the brides she had helped, he had picture of an ice cream truck, because you can’t just overnight those, and a check that she could use to buy her own truck. Sometimes there is a material pay off for doing the right thing. Even when there isn’t a Mike Rowe around to give a check, though, there’s always the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve done what you’re supposed to be doing. Paul reminded the Galatians of that. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Galatians 6:9-10)

In the midst of reminding the Galatians that they needed to live by the Spirit, and not by the law, he reminded them that living by the Spirit should affect their everyday lives. When we live by the Spirit, we should be doing and promoting good things. There’s a problem with that, though. It’s easy to get tired when we keep doing good things. We get burnt out. Often, doing the right thing is a thankless task that no one notices, or, if you are noticed, people attack you because they don’t trust your motives. In the face of that type of opposition, it would be easy to throw our hands up and stop doing the good things we do. Paul reminded them that there would be a harvest for doing right. No, most of us won’t get big checks, or a material payback, but God always reminds us of His presence in those situations and that alone is well worth doing the right thing. That’s why Paul reminds us to do good to all, but especially the family of believers.

If you’re looking for reasons to complain, you can find a lot in today’s world. The porridge is either too hot, or too cold. The chair is either too big, or too small. The bed is either too hard or too soft. We can be like most of the people around and complain about those, and other problems, or we can take the opportunities God gives us to work on fixing the problems and doing good to and for others. There’s an old saying that you never do wrong by doing right. As followers of Christ, we are called to search out that which is wrong, and make it right. We’re called to find those who are hurting, and do good. When you look at something wrong and think that somebody needs to do something, you are that somebody. Do good to all, especially to the family of believers.

Lord, You’ve created me for the good works that You’ve already prepared. Help me to do good, and praise You for the opportunity to do it.

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December 2 – Always Appeal to Higher Instincts

Galatians 5:16-26; Ezekiel 1; Psalm 148

“Don’t throw me in the briar patch!” Most of us have heard and understood the purpose of these words uttered by Br’er Rabbit after Br’er Fox had tricked and caught him. Br’er Fox’s ears pricked up at the plea and wanting to put Br’er Rabbit through the worst for all he had done, throws Br’er Rabbit in the briar patch. Since rabbits naturally live among the briars, Br’er Rabbit escaped. Br’er Rabbit used reverse psychology on Br’er Fox and escaped with his life. How many of us have used that same tool to get our children to do something they didn’t want to do. As you look up the concept of reverse psychology, though it’s easy to see that many people use it as a manipulative tool. Rather than appealing to people’s higher instincts, alleged leaders will make people want to do something by running them down. Even though they know that their followers can do it on their own, they use “revere psychology” to manipulate them into accomplishing what the leader wants.

As followers of Christ, we can’t use manipulation to control people into doing what we want them to do, even if we think it’s best for them. We must always appeal to their highest instincts. So for instance, when we say that no one is, or can be, perfect, we don’t seek to manipulate people to living better lives, we are telling the truth. We don’t say that to spur them to do better; we say that to cause them to seek God as the only solution for their sin. While Paul has shown his anger about those who would seek to lure people to follow their own abilities to become better Christians instead of depending on the Holy Spirit, he makes a point to appeal to their ability to trust God instead of telling them what they can’t do. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

Just before this passage about the fruit of the Spirit, Paul talked about the works of the flesh. The important thing to recognize is that Paul isn’t prohibiting these acts, even though he says, and we all know that they’re bad, he’s talking about their origin. The works of the flesh come about when we are controlled by our desires instead of being controlled by the Spirit. Paul emphasizes the need to allow the Spirit of God to lead and control us so that we can exhibit the fruit of the Spirit because what the Spirit does for us is far better than what the flesh does. When we look at the acts of the flesh, it’s easy to look and recognize something that we see in ourselves. If we’re controlled by the flesh, instead of the Spirit, we may seek to change that wrong behavior. The problem is that if we’re guided by the flesh, our natural desires, getting rid of one bad behavior may last for a while, but it doesn’t take long for us to substitute a different bad behavior. The key is that we don’t focus on the bad, we focus on the good. We seek to follow God’s Holy Spirit and allow Him to work in us. When we do that, our lives will change to reflect those positive behaviors Paul mentioned as the fruit of the Spirit.

This doesn’t happen because of our work or our effort; it happens because God is working in and through us. Paul began this letter talking about how foolish the Galatians were in their striving to make themselves look good in God’s eyes by their own effort. He reminded them that they came to faith in Jesus Christ through the work of the Spirit and that they should grow in their faith in the same way. This passage puts practical results to that statement. How do people know you? I hope they know you for your love, joy, peace, and all the rest of those attributes he calls the fruit of the Spirit. Paul reminds all of us that as we trust God to work in us, we’ll exemplify those characters in our lives.

Let Your Spirit work in me every day. May I always exhibit the fruit of the Spirit because of Your work.

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December 1 – No Double Agents, Just a Dirty Little Kid With a Rock

Galatians 5:1-15; Lamentations 5; Psalm 147

Juan Pujol García, from Barcelona was what many would call a failure in life. He had changed career paths many times: from chicken farming to movie theater owner to owning a rundown hotel – each time the venture failed. When World War II broke out, as a rabid Nazi hater he offered to spy for the British. They turned him down. García, though was creative. He pretended to be a rabid Nazi and offered to spy for the Germans. They agreed and planned to send him to England. Only he stayed in Portugal and built a network of more than two dozen agents, all fabricated, who sent reports to Germany that made it look like he was transmitting from London. He had never been in England. Finally, England decided to add him to their network as a double agent and brought him to London under the code name Garbo – because he was such a good actor. He played a key role in Operation Fortitude which made the Nazis believe that the real D-Day landings would happen at Calais instead of Normandy.

His was a dangerous game. After the war, he moved to Venezuela, but the British protected him by telling his family that he had died of malaria in Africa. Later, the British honored him for his service at Buckingham Palace before he died in 1988. For García, being a double agent was a dangerous game. He wasn’t in it for the money; he hated the very idea of Naziism and found a way to fight against it. Paul was dealing with double agents in Galatia who sought to woo followers of Christ to take on the Jewish law. He was not happy about that. “Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.” (Galatians 5:3-4)

When you read this section of Galatians 5, all you can do is imagine what would have happened if Paul had twitter. He’s livid about these double agents who have infiltrated the ranks of the believers and have sought to change the nature of their beliefs. The double agents in their ranks wanted Christians to follow the Old Testament law, and they wanted these Grecian Christians to acknowledge that commitment by undergoing circumcision. Paul is fighting a desperate battle to maintain the idea that a relationship with God is founded on grace alone. Any step towards Jewish practices as a way of seeking to influence God to love or accept the believer was anathema to Paul. He laid it out quite clearly: you can follow the law, or you can depend on God’s grace. You can’t do both. Paul was so adamant about this that he reminded the Christians that to follow the law was to fall away from grace. Then, in one of the most graphic comments in the whole Bible, suggests that those who practice circumcision to show their dedication to God, should go all the way and emasculate themselves. (v. 12)

Oh, it’s so easy to fall back on the familiar practices. Somehow, we seem to think that if we follow the right practices and do the right things, God will love us more, or better. We don’t say it out loud, but we live as though we understand that we come into a relationship with the God of this universe through grace, but doggone it, we need to clean ourselves up if God’s gonna keep on loving us. We think we need to become sophisticated and powerful for God to want to be around us; but when we offer Him our works so that He can love us, all He sees is the kid with a dirty face and unkempt hair holding out a grimy hand with an ordinary rock. And the amazing thing is, God loves that dirty little kid. He may take the rock, but He makes a bid deal over the fact that the little kid came to Him, because, we must come to Him as a little child. Come to Him on His terms – through His grace – and experience all of His love.

Oh Lord, remind me that no matter how wonderful I think I am, I’m still a grimy little kid that You love.

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November 30 – Choosing To Walk In Freedom

Galatians 4:21-31; Lamentations 3-4; Psalm 146

There are some strange beliefs out in the world these days. I was looking for a joke about choosing your parents and realized that there is a whole group of people who seem to think that children choose their parents before they’re born. I didn’t spend too much time looking at the beliefs, but according to one person, it’s like the prospective child fills out a questionnaire that would help them design their next life and a computer spits out a list of possible families. The child can then choose which of those families will do the best job of helping them achieve their life goals and child and parents are then matched. These people are serious, and they breed…er…are available to be chosen as parents. Would the fact that these parents might be abusive be hidden from them? What about those parents who would abort their child? Who’s hiding this type of information from the kids, or rather, kids to be.

Maybe there’s something to this idea that when a woman says, “I didn’t choose to have kids,” she might be right. Some snot-nosed brat found his mom on sale at “Parents-R-Us” and his life goal was to antagonize some poor woman. And if this is true, moms, no more should we hear, “I brought you into this world and I can take you out of it.” Paul used an analogy of parenthood to talk about our relationship with God. The example he used dealt with Hagar and Sarah and the Abraham fathered with them. Hagar was Sarah’s slave and bore a son on Sarah’s behalf, since Sarah was about 90 when the promise of a child came from God.  Sarah decided that custom and nature demanded this process. God had other plans in mind, and so, old lady Sarah got pregnant and had a kid after she was 90 years old. This was the child of the promise, of the free woman. “Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.” (Galatians 4:31)

Paul’s making a point in this brief passage about our nature as followers of Christ. When we follow Christ, we become, like Isaac, children of the promise. While we can’t choose our physical parents, in this analogy we have a choice between remaining in slavery to sin, by choosing the mother who was a slave, or we can choose freedom in Christ, by choosing the mother who received the promise from God. Paul’s overall point was to talk about the freedom we had because we were in Christ. We aren’t called to follow human rules and regulations slavishly, hoping that God might find a way to love us; we’re called to walk in His love, His grace, His goodness as the children of His promise.

You can’t really choose your parents, but you can choose to walk with God. No one can go to the Father unless the Father calls them, but we have the truth that reminds us that God is not willing for any to perish. That means, He’s calling us all. The choice is set before each person: will you choose to remain in slavery to your sin or will you choose to accept God’s promise in Jesus Christ? There are a lot of circumstances that people go through that they wouldn’t choose on their own, but once you choose to begin walking with Christ, you’ll realize that He stays with you each step of the way. Paul’s message, though, was mainly a call for Christians to stop seeking to follow God using the methods of slavery found in the natural ways of Hagar. No longer are we who are followers of Christ bound to our sin nature. We’ve been freed by the promise of God. That freedom isn’t meant to be freedom to do wrong, but to live better lives as God’s children. When you choose to make God your father, true freedom will guide you in all you do.

Lord, keep me free from the slavery of sin. Let me walk in Your freedom and share that freedom with others.

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November 29 – Who Are You?

Galatians 3:19-4:20; Lamentations 1-2; Psalm 145

If you’ve ever seen the TV show “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” you’ve heard the song by The Who entitled “Who Are You.” The background of the song reveals that it’s a day in the life of Pete Townshend from The Who, but it’s haunting melody and lyrics are perfect for a show that seeks to identify dead bodies and determine the cause of death. It’s a question that can be asked of someone we’ve never met, or, it can be a probing incisive question dealing with our identity and the kind of person we are. Sometimes when I get angry and want to find a way to get satisfaction, it’s a question that rings in the back of my mind – and it calms me down enough to fret and grumble instead of taking action that I would regret. It’s a question that many of us would do well to reflect on as we ponder our character.

We may find our character or our identity in our ethnicity. There’s something to be said about identifying with your heritage – especially if you can be proud of your heritage. Perhaps you identify yourself by your job. Maybe it’s marital status or whether or not you have kids. Maybe you’ve accomplished something great in life and when you think about who you are, or you introduce yourself, you lead with that. “Hi, my name is Bob and I was a state champion in tennis,” for example. As Paul dealt with the Galatians, he reminded them that there was one important factor that united all of them and put them on the same level – and that it should be more important than anything else in their lives. “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26-28)

The Galatians had all kinds of troubles. To be fair, aside from Romans, most of Paul’s letters were written to deal with trouble in the early church. The trouble he was dealing with in this instance was how people identified themselves. Rather than identifying themselves first with Christ, they looked at their religious background, or their status as free or slave, or their gender. Paul reminded them that their most important identity was in Jesus Christ. It astounded him that, for many of the Galatians, this was secondary to other identifying factors. Sadly, it was a theme that had to be dealt with in other parts of the New Testament: slaves were told to glory in their freedom while freemen were reminded that they were servants or slaves of God. Paul reminded them that their background, noble or ignoble as it might be, was secondary compared to the amazing unity they shared by walking with Christ.

Paul made one point that’s especially interesting in today’s world: your identity with Christ is more important than anything else you identify with – even whether you are male of female. Our identity in Christ is more important than anything else we identify with – even our ethnic background. The popular Christian artist, Mandisa, has a song out that reminds us of our unity called “Bleed the Same” that features Toby Mac and Kirk Franklin. In this song she deals with the issue of divisions in society along ethnic lines. We are all members of the human race. Our mechanics might be slightly different; our skin color may not be the same; but that’s fine. Variety is interesting, so isn’t it great that God made us all differently?  While we should celebrate our differences, we can only celebrate them in a way that makes society a better place if we recognize that God sees all of us through the lens of Jesus Christ. Let me ask the question I started with now: “Who are you?” As for me, I am a child of God through faith in Jesus Christ. I hope that we share that identity in common.

Lord God, You are most important in my life. Let my life reflect that and may I always show Your love to others.

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November 28 – Ya Gotta Dance With The One That Brung Ya

Galatians 3:1-18; Jeremiah 51-52; Psalm 144

There’s an old saying that President Reagan used at a meeting of Conservative Activists. Speaking to the Conservative Political Action Committee, he talked about working with them as an opportunity to “dance with the one that brung ya.” President Reagan, whether you agreed with him or not, stayed true to his principles. He didn’t change from conservative principles to liberal principles based on the whims of the polls. He realized who it was and what it was that gave him his political power and he didn’t change. Many politicians today seem prone to changing their “core” beliefs once they get elected. If the polls say that the politician should support a cause, they’ll support it as long as the polls continue to support that cause. If the polls suggest that the cause they once supported has fallen out of favor, they’ll shift to support the new cause.

There is something to be applauded about consistency in behavior and thought. While we must always make allowances for new information that may help someone change their mind, instead of new poll results, we should cheer those people who are consistent in their words, beliefs, and actions in life – whether we agree with them or not. As Paul deals with the Galatians, he’s incredulous that the Galatians seem to have forgotten how it was that they came to know Christ, and are trying to find ways to become better Christians in ways that are completely opposite to how they came to know Christ as Savior. “Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3)

As you read through the whole book of Galatians, Paul is not only incredulous, he’s downright indignant about what’s happening among the Galatians. Paul is looking at those who came to know Jesus by His grace, because of their faith, suddenly turning around and saying, “That’s not good enough to grow.” These people who had been saved from the pit of their sinful lives and were now walking in the glorious grace of Christ were acting as if God couldn’t bring growth and make stronger Christians through faith alone, but that they had to engage in good works. Based on the whole book, it seems clear that the method the Galatians turned to so that they could ensure spiritual growth was the old list of rules and regulations that came from the Pharisees. With that understanding, it’s easy to see why Paul was livid.

There are a lot of good things that we can do as followers of Christ. In some cases those things may help us grow closer to God, but we can never make a list of rules and regulations that will lead to spiritual growth. Repentance flows from God to the believer. The Holy Spirit flows to the believer. Spiritual growth flows from God to the believer. Are we sensing a pattern here? We give back to God our thanksgiving and our offerings knowing that in each case, the source for thanksgiving and the source for the offerings is God Himself. When we do those things that most people equate with causing spiritual growth – things like Bible reading, praying, church attendance, etc., we are really demonstrating the growth that has already happened because of God’s Spirit working in us. No matter how hard we try, we can’t force spiritual growth, we can’t “finish by means of the flesh.” What we can do is focus on God and let Him take control of our lives. As we listen for His voice and speak to Him, He’ll lead us into the growth we need to be the people He called us to be. When it comes to spiritual growth, you really do gotta dance with the one that brung ya.

Lord, remind me that I can’t control my spiritual growth and that all of my Christian walk depends on You working in my life.

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November 27 -Riding the Coattails of Grace

Galatians 2; Jeremiah 49-50; Psalm 143

You can make a lot of money on the internet. You don’t have to be brilliant; you don’t have to be original; you don’t have to be a pioneer. In fact, pioneers have a pretty high failure rate. The key to financial success on the internet is to find a way to ride the coattails of the successful pioneer. For instance, one of the best selling business books on Amazon is “A Dummy’s Guide to eBay.” The author of that book could not have been successful with that book were it not for the wild success of eBay. While they weren’t as financially successful as the creators of eBay, they also didn’t assume the risk that many did who had businesses that failed.

This same phenomenon happens in politics. The best candidates have a coattail effect, causing other candidates in their party to have a strong showing because of the strength at the top of the ticket. It may seem easy to criticize entrepreneurs or politicians who ride the coattails of others to success, but Paul reminds us that Christians do that in a religious sense. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:20-21)

Paul paints a graphic word picture of what it means to be a follower of Christ, here. He told the Galatians to imagine Jesus on the cross, and when they saw Jesus there, they’d also see Paul. Obviously, that isn’t literal truth. If Paul was in Jerusalem at the time of the crucifixion, I have no doubt that he’d have been part of the group clamoring for Jesus to be crucified. The spiritual truth behind Paul’s statement is an amazing statement of faith: “When Jesus died on the cross, He took my sinful nature and put it to death when He died. You see me alive now, but it’s only because of my faith in the Son of God who died on the cross for me.” That’s an amazing statement of faith if you really let it sink in. Even more astounding was his next conclusion. If righteousness, aright standing with God, could be achieved by living according to the law, Christ’s death was meaningless. Until Paul encountered Jesus on the Damascus Road, his whole life was based on achieving righteousness by following the law. Paul’s conversion to grace was complete and thus he was able to see that the Galatians were trying to gain God’s favor by following the law. He wanted to put a stop to that.

While we often make Galatians 2:20 a memory verse, we miss the impact of 2:21. We have our righteousness with God through grace and grace alone. Imagine getting to heaven and seeing a crowd around one man. When you ask why the crowd has gathered, someone tells you, “Oh, that’s John Smith. He’s the only one here who kept the law perfectly and didn’t need God’s grace to get to heaven.” If I experienced that, I can only imagine that everything I did in heaven would be tainted by the fact that John had earned his way into heaven, while I needed God’s grace. If anyone could get to heaven by their own works, then God should expect everyone to get to heaven that way, and the death of Jesus on the cross would be unnecessary. There would be no need for grace. There are some who might worry that if we take such an “extreme position” on grace, then we won’t care how we live, since God will forgive us anyway. While that may seem like a valid concern, perhaps it’s better to understand that since we’ve been given God’s grace we need to respond in gratitude by not only riding His coattails of grace to get to heaven, but to become living examples of His love and grace to others by living a changed life.

Oh Lord, it’s only by Your grace that I can claim a home in heaven and it’s only by Your grace that my life is changed to show others the joy of life in You.

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November 26 – Seeking Genuine Faith Amidst Forgeries

Galatians 1; Jeremiah 47-48; Psalm 142

In 2003 the Bolton Museum, in England, bought an ancient Egyptian statue called the “Amarna Princess” for around $500,000. They did their due diligence and had the British museum authenticate it. It was displayed in the museum with pride. Then, in 2005, the walls tumbled in. The person who sold the statue to them was caught selling forged artwork and he confessed to creating the Amarna Princess in his garage in three weeks. The creator of this work, along with his aging mother and father, had sold almost $11 million worth of fake art over 17 years before being caught. He wasn’t a “bad” artist. He was able to duplicate the styles that great masters had used down through the ages and do it in such a way that the experts were fooled. He probably turned to counterfeiting the styles of the ancients because their paintings were worth so much, and his, as a newcomer in the field, wouldn’t have made a whole lot of money. Artists usually aren’t valued in their own time.

And perhaps, in the story of Sean Greenhalgh, the Bolton forger, we gain an insight into the minds of counterfeiters everywhere. They want to be seen as rich, or famous, but, realizing that it takes too long to become rich or famous through hard work, they either duplicate the works of those who have achieved fame, or else they trade on the name of someone famous while shaping the situation to their own benefit. Peter dealt with that. Paul did too, and it was astonishing to him. “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.” (Galatians 1:6-7)

Paul is beside himself in confusion and anger at the Galatians. In most of the letters he wrote to churches, he said something nice about the church. In this letter, after a short prayer for their welfare, he lit into them. This isn’t just a “different” gospel where “you believe your way and I’ll believe mine and all roads lead to God;” this is another gospel that is so different from the gospel of grace that Jesus taught and died for that they aren’t even on the same continent. False teachers had come and started teaching the “new and improved gospel” message that was not of Christ at all. Oh, they probably used the name of Jesus. There are some groups that do that today. Using the name of Jesus in the teachings of the cult means absolutely nothing if they pervert the gospel of Jesus to gain control over people and enrich themselves in the effort. The gospel of Jesus Christ has nothing to do with legalism and control by others; it has everything to do with grace and surrendering control of our lives to God.

There are lots of groups that claim to be proclaiming a new and improved gospel. If you study their teachings, you will see hints, if not sledgehammers of legalism. Legalism is easy. When you follow legalistic religious beliefs, you don’t have to worry about seeking God – His plan is all laid out for you. You know what you can do and what you can’t. Everything in the world is set into black and white and you know what’s right and what’s wrong. You know what things you can do to incur God’s wrath and what you can do to gain God’s favor. In such a system, every part of our life becomes a transaction with God. Our deeds are weighed on a scale to determine the level of favor we have with God. That’s not the way He works, though. We have a God that loves us so much, He paid the penalty for our sin through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. He gives His grace to all who seek Him. There is nothing we can do to make Him love us more; there is no sin we can commit that will make Him love us less.

Lord, You are the real, one true God. There is no one like You. Thank You for loving me. Help me love You

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November 25 – God is Patient and We are to be Holy

2 Peter 3; Jeremiah 45-46; Psalm 141

Patience is a virtue, or a super power, some people say. Either way, it’s not something I possess in abundance. I don’t pray for patience either. The last time I prayed for patience, God didn’t give me patience, He put me in a situation where I would need to be patient. Apparently, the best way to get patience is to be forced to exercise it. That may be why I am so amazed when I see those nature documentaries where the guy with the British accent tells about the animal being highlighted as being a patient hunter. “He may wait for days for his prey to appear.” Nope, that’s not me. If I wait for more than a few minutes, I’m ready to move on.

Sadly, when I look at our world today, I don’t seem to be that unusual. We live in such a fast-paced world that it seems like patience is more of a hindrance than a virtue. No longer will we wait for the “film at eleven” when watching the news, we want on the spot video, and if the news won’t show it, we check out various video sharing sites. We expect to be at the top of our career within months after graduating from college. And, we don’t want to wait on God’s timing, we want Him to return now! “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives…” (2 Peter 3:9-11)

Perhaps we aren’t so impatient on that issue after all. Peter had to remind first century Christians not to be impatient while they waited for the return of Jesus. It had been less than fifty years since Jesus’ ascension and they were wondering why God was so slow in returning. We’ve seen almost 2000 years pass and we’re beginning to wonder what’s taking God so long to come back. Peter, in another part of this letter noted that a thousand years was like a day to God, so while we worry about how long it seems to us, it’s really been only a couple of days in God’s eyes. Peter also reminded his readers that the return of the Lord would seem cataclysmic end to this world and that because of that, they shouldn’t give up on righteous living, but instead, ought to live holy and godly lives.

Peter wanted his readers to stay true to God, knowing that we’ll all face Him one day. This same admonition applies to us today. When it comes time for the final judgement I’ll stand before God forgiven and not guilty because of the work of Jesus Christ. I want God to be pleased though. I don’t want Him to see my entrance into His presence as a mistake or a fluke. I know that there will be some people who may see me in God’s presence, surprised that I’d be there because of my past, but I pray that those who encounter me from here on out will recognize that my presence with God in Heaven is just a continuation of my presence with Him here on earth. I pray that my life will be so holy and godly that it will draw others into a relationship with God through Jesus.

Oh Lord, I can be so impatient. Teach me patience. In the meanwhile, let me live such a holy and godly life that others are drawn to You.

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November 24 – When the Truth is Distorted

2 Peter 2; Jeremiah 43-44; Psalm 140

During the Spanish Civil War, a nationalist general spoke of the secret force he had in his battle. He told a journalist that he not only had four columns of troops approaching Madrid, he had a fifth column of supporters who were citizens of Madrid. The phrase was popularized in the ensuing World War as people couldn’t believe that France had fallen so quickly to the Germans without a fifth column inside of France. Soon fear of and talk about fifth columns arose in any country threatened by the Germans, and the US had many people who were on the lookout for the fifth columnists that were sure to be in the country. These fifth columnists were supposed to be Americans who engaged in anti-democratic activities that supported Nazis, first, and then Communists. They were people on the inside working against the country.

Now, as the term is used, it appears that fifth columnists are those who claim to be Americans, but espouse a different political viewpoint than the person speaking. The concept, though, isn’t new. In the early days of the church there were people that sought to use the church to gain positions of power, and then use that power to satisfy their desire for material gain or carnal pleasure. Peter described them. “But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute.” (2 Peter2:1-2)

In the early days of the church people started finding ways to pervert the gospel for personal gain. People whose lives were changed by the gospel were eager to help others in need, and some were able to twist that desire people had to give so that they could line their own pockets. If they could pull people away from the church and into their own sphere, they could take full advantage of their adherents, and so they would introduce heretical teaching that made people think that the only truth or perhaps a deeper truth was to be found in their teaching. As they developed their heresies, they soon developed a cult of personality and the leaders were able to exercise complete control over their adherents, involving them, as Peter described it, in depraved conduct that brought the way of truth into disrepute. People would see those who had claimed to be Christians in the past now following one of these false teachers and they would blame the gospel for depraved behavior that occurred because of their heresy.

Whenever a teacher develops a cult of personality, there’s a danger of heresy flourishing. When a preacher is accountable to no one buy himself, it’s easy to go down the wrong road. At times, these heresies turn into cults. These cults maintain an outward veneer of Christianity but rather than living by grace, people in them live by rules established by the leaders. When people leave the truth of living by grace to belong to a group that lives by law, but maintains an outward appearance of Christianity, they become inoculated to the truth of the gospel and, should they leave that cult, they have difficulty accepting the truth and grace of Jesus Christ. I’ve seen this in a number of friends who have escaped from cults that want nothing to do with the gospel. There’s a fear that the message of Christ is almost a come on that will draw them back into their original cult or one like it. When the truth has fallen into disrepute, it’s hard to bring people back to the truth. Watch your ways, oh follower of Christ, and make sure that you stay true to the grace of Christ and show God’s love to everyone.

Oh Lord, there are so may people who need to experience Your true love and grace. Let me show that to all people all the time.

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