December 1 – Using Your Freedom Within God’s Limits

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

“For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Galatians 5:13-14 NKJV) 

Paul was fighting a war in the early church that was an essential part of Christian theology. Were Christians to be involved in following the Jewish Law or were they going to be free from the burden of the law? The Galatian church was one of the battlefronts for this war and Paul was emphatic that Christians were called to liberty. He was equally emphatic that Christians should not live a libertine lifestyle. God didn’t give us this freedom so that we could indulge ourselves, but so that we would serve others in love. For those who were emphasizing the law, and for those who were emphasizing love, Paul called them to fulfill the law by loving their neighbors as much as they did themselves.

Our freedom is Christians isn’t designed for self-indulgence. When God blesses us financially, we should be seeking ways to bless others. When we have extra time, we should be finding ways to serve God by serving others. Need I go on? The freedom we have in Christ has boundaries. We are bound by the call to love our neighbor as ourselves. Our faith should make us care for those around us who are in need. We can’t all help in the same way, but we can all find some ways to help. Our faith should never allow hatred to have a part. There are people who have different beliefs and different lifestyles that we may believe to be wrong. Neither Paul nor Jesus called us to limit our love to those who agree with us, in fact, Jesus’s example of a neighbor was a person repugnant to Jews of that day. And he, the Samaritan, was doing the right thing. I’ve always told people that they are free to hate anyone that Jesus hates. At the same time, that means that we should love (and show that love) to everyone that Jesus loves. 

Oh Lord, help me to love others as You love them. Let me use my liberty as an opportunity to share Your love with those around me.

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November 30 – Finding Hope in God in the Midst of Utter Desolation

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

“This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope. Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘Therefore I hope in Him!’” (Lamentations 3: 21-24 NKJV) 

After Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem, those left behind in the city were without hope. It was during this time that the book we know of as Lamentations was written. The book is attributed to Jeremiah, who was there at the time, and I will consider the author. It reflected the anguish of the people dealing with the fact that God had allowed their beautiful city to be desolated. Even in the midst of their despair, there are indications of hope and trust in God. Jeremiah, in the middle of this Lamentation, began with understanding that God’s mercy could be seen in the truth that they were still alive. Hope existed because they were still alive and God was still faithful. When they had lost everything else, they learned to depend on God. That doesn’t mean that they stopped lamenting their situation, it just meant that they recognized that God was still with them.

There’s a heresy in today’s world that says that if God loves you, He’s going to bless you real good. It’s heresy not because God doesn’t bless His children, but because those who proclaim that only think in terms of financial prosperity. The implication is often that those who don’t gain great wealth somehow aren’t right in their relationship with God. One of the criticisms of the Pope in the middle ages before the Reformation was “The son of Man came into Jerusalem on a lowly donkey while the Pope comes into Rome on a warhorse with an army.” Perhaps we should refine that commentary for today. I always wonder about those who would cheapen the gospel to make it about financial prosperity in light of Christians in areas of the world where people are suffering imprisonment, torture, and death merely for believing in Jesus. My guess is that those Christians see much more of God in the book of Lamentations than in the proclamations of health and wealth. Going through that persecution, they understand that hope begins with life and God’s compassions never fails. They’ve learned to cling to God and put their hope in Him. They understand what it means to be blessed real good in ways that I will never be able to understand. Today would be a good day to pray God’s blessings on the persecuted church 

Lord, my brothers and sisters in other parts of the world are undergoing severe persecution. Many are dying for their faith. Others are undergoing torture and imprisonment. I pray that they would recognize Your presence in the midst of all the persecution. I pray that Your mercy would be real to them and that You would continue to give them hope and an experience of Your presence. 

One article that relates the persecution Christians undergo is here

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November 29 – Living as People Who Are One in Christ

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

“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:27-28 NKJV) 

Too often, when we talk about baptism we get into discussions about the method of baptism. Paul reminds us here that more important than the method of baptism is the purpose of baptism: we’re to be baptized into Christ. That happens when we’re brought into the kingdom of God by the Holy Spirit. If we have come to Christ, we’ve put off the old person that we used to be and put on Jesus Christ. That should show in the way we live. It should also show in the way we relate to other people. As Paul wrote to a class-stratified society in ancient Greece, he taught them that those classes which used to define behaviors and beliefs no longer existed among God’s people. God’s people aren’t Jew or Greek, they’re followers of Christ. The distinction between slave and free dissolves because Jesus died for both. The privileged related to gender no longer exist, we’ve all been privileged to be in a relationship with God through Christ Jesus.

Sadly, we’ve lost the concept of equality in Christ. While we’re getting better than we used to be, we still have color and ethnic barriers. We still make women feel like second class citizens in the church, although many, if not all, churches wouldn’t survive without the work women do. We still show partiality based on financial ability and class. If we’ve been made one in Christ Jesus, then we need to show the world the unity we have in Christ. Let’s learn to uplift and support our brothers and sisters in the faith instead of criticizing them. Even when we disagree on issues, remember that neither of us is perfect and let’s show love to each other so that the world will know that we are Christians by our love.

Lord, I am amazed at how much You love me and forgive me. Help me to work with my brothers and sisters in Christ as equal partners in the proclamation of the gospel. Help me to love them even when we disagree.

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November 28 – Thankful For God’s Great Gift of Salvation and Growth in Him Through the Spirit

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

“This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:2-3 NKJV) 

These verses hit home every time I read them. I’m becoming more and more interested in the process of spiritual growth. I recommend some activities to help you along the process, including reading these devotionals, but none of these activities can take the place of depending on God’s Spirit throughout life. I didn’t come to know Jesus by reading the Bible, by going to church, by doing good works, or any other thing I did, even though I did many of those things before I came to Christ. God’s Spirit worked on me until I realized that I needed to enter into a relationship with Him. It took me a long time to hear His call with a heart of faith. Growth in Christ happened the same way for me. I may have done and still do a lot of the things I mentioned above, but I only grow in my relationship with God through the working of His Spirit in my life. 

Today, especially, I’m thankful for God’s great gift of salvation that He brought to us through the death of Jesus on the cross. All that I am, all that I have, all that I do, is grounded in my belief that Jesus paid the penalty for my sins on the cross and that He continues to work in me to make me grow in Him. Some day, I will be perfect in Him, but while I live on this earth, I will continue to seek growth in the power of His Spirit.

Lord, Thank You for Jesus and His death on the cross that brought me Your great gift of salvation. Continue to work in me to make me grow closer to You. You’ve blessed me beyond measure; let me be a blessing to others out of the overflowing goodness of Your grace.

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November 27 – A Call to Remember the Poor (All Year Long)

Galatians 2; Jeremiah 49-50; Psalm 143

“They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do.” (Galatians 2:10 NKJV) 

It’s interesting when we see different understandings of the same event. It appears that Paul’s dealing with the famous conference in Acts 15 regarding whether or not to accept Gentile believers. According to the book of Acts there were some dietary restrictions and a command to avoid sexual immorality. Paul describes the results here as the need to remember the poor. Is there a contradiction in the two stories? I think not. In my understanding Paul didn’t mention the dietary restrictions and the command to avoid sexual immorality because that was already a given. The Galatian Church may have been messed up, but they were good about keeping this part of the law. What Paul emphasized was another thing that should have gone without saying and that is that the people of the church should remember those in poverty. Perhaps it was mentioned in the conference and the response was “well of course.” Now, though, the Galatians had forgotten the need to care for the poor and were judgmental about people in poverty.

I think it goes without saying that my interpretations may be wrong, so, take my commentary with a grain of salt and do deeper research if you will. Please feel free to let me know if you believe that I’m wrong. That being said, we need to remember these words today. As a church, we’ve abdicated our call to care for the poor to the state which provides financial help, but doesn’t help people in poverty get out of poverty. Our call to remember the poor should include helping to meet financial needs, but also dealing with spiritual needs and training to break the bonds of poverty. We should offer hope, through the power of God that goes beyond survival and enters into the areas of physical and spiritual needs that the government can’t offer. Too often we expect people in poverty to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and we don’t notice that we’ve cut their bootstraps off. We may criticize them for not doing something about their situation without realizing that we’re contributing to the walls they have to climb over to succeed. We should, like Paul, be eager to help people in poverty. We can do that by listening to their concerns and working together to overcome the obstacles the world would place in their way.

Oh Lord, there are so many people in poverty. I repent of the fact that I, with means, would impose my solution for people instead of listening and working together with people in poverty. Work through Your church and empower us to remember and help the poor eagerly. 

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November 26 – The One, True Gospel, There’s Nothing Else Like It

Galatians 1; Jeremiah 47-48; Psalm 142

“I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.” (Galatians 1:6-7 NKJV)

Oh, those foolish Galatians! (vs 3.1) Usually, Paul had kind words for the churches that he wrote to. There were no kind words for the Galatians. He began letting them know what was wrong immediately after his introduction. They were turning away from the gospel. Most people who turn away from the gospel after believing don’t go completely off the “Christian wagon.” Often,much of what they say is true. What happens is that they begin substituting human wisdom for the truth of the gospel. Usually that manifests itself in their understanding of grace. Paul’s comment here that they were called in the grace of Christ is a reminder of how they began. As we read further in the book, we’ll see that the Galatians apparently have sought to mix Jewish legalism with the grace of God. Legalism, in any form, is the belief that God’s grace isn’t enough to either save us or to make us grow, when in truth, it’s the only way of salvation and growth.

We see similar problems understanding grace today. Some move from the good news of Christ saving to a legalistic platform of behavior that looks for ways to judge and condemn others. They are like Puritans of old who were described “Somebody out there is having fun and they don’t like it.” It’s a persistent belief that we should work for what we get, but that belief discounts the amazing grace of God who saved us not because of what we had done, but through His grace as shown in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. The other misunderstanding of grace would discount the cross by saying that God’s grace is all inclusive so that everyone, whether they want to or not, will be in heaven forever with God. Grace is seen as a one time event that encompasses every one for all time. (or so it seems as I read what these people say.) In the long run, Jesus’s crucifixion really wasn’t necessary for people to have a relationship with God according to this kind of teaching. My understanding of grace is that it’s necessary because we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Because of that, Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins. We didn’t do anything to deserve that grace, it came from God’s love for us and He makes it available to anyone who will accept it. Then, having come to fellowship with God because of His grace, we continue to seek Him and we grow because of His grace. I can’t tell you exactly how that happens, which is part of the mystery of God’s amazing grace. Seek Him today and experience His grace for the first time, or experience His grace in a deeper way.

Lord, let me know You and the power of Your grace.

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November 25 -Growing in Grace and Knowledge

2 Peter 3; Jeremiah 45-46; Psalm 141

“… but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:18 NKJV) 

These may not have been Peter’s last words, but they were the last words of his last letter. What beautiful, comforting, and challenging words. Prior to these words he had warned his readers about falling into the traps of the wicked. What we should do is grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus. Since grace comes from God, the only way to grow in grace would be to get ourselves out of God’s way and allow Him to work in us. We grow in knowledge through a variety of methods. We know about God better as we study His word. We experience His presence and grow in personal knowledge of God in prayer and in worship. We also grow in knowledge by recognizing His presence in the everyday activities of life. The more we grow in grace and knowledge, the more we give Him glory for all parts of our lives.

Perhaps the hardest part of the Christian life is that we don’t have a checklist that we can follow to ensure that we grow in grace or knowledge. I mentioned a few things above that will help us grow in knowledge, so it’s not like we do nothing to grow in Christ, but it’s possible to do all those things and still not grow in knowledge. We can read the Bible and not seek God’s message for us, we can make prayer a time to vomit our laundry list of concerns without taking the time to listen to God as He responds to our concerns and our praise and worship. We can say that God’s present in everything that happens, but then use that as an excuse to blame Him. We can even do everything the “right” way and still not grow. Perhaps we ought to turn this verse around. Perhaps, if we give him glory and praise first, we’ll experience more grace. Perhaps, as we experience God’s grace and draw closer to Him, we’ll grow in knowledge. I know, there’s a lot of perhapsing there. What I can say is that if you continue seeking God’s presence, and live in obedience to His call on your life, you won’t regret it in the long run.

Lord, give me the grace I need to grow in knowledge and grace. Let me give you glory in all that I do and all that I experience in life.

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November 24 – Do We Find God’s Will to Consider It or Do It?

2 Peter 2; Jeremiah 43-44; Psalm 140

“Now it happened, when Jeremiah had stopped speaking to all the people all the words of the Lord their God, for which the Lord their God had sent him to them, all these words, that Azariah the son of Hoshaiah, Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the proud men spoke, saying to Jeremiah, ‘You speak falsely! The Lord our God has not sent you to say, “Do not go to Egypt to dwell there.” But Baruch the son of Neriah has set you against us, to deliver us into the hand of the Chaldeans, that they may put us to death or carry us away captive to Babylon.’” (Jeremiah 43:1-3 NKJV)

It seemed to be a simple enough request: pray that God will tell us where we should go and what we should do. (vs 42:3) It took God ten days to respond. That’s when the problem showed up. The message from God, through Jeremiah wasn’t what they wanted to hear. They wanted to run away from the troubles in Jerusalem and Jeremiah told them that God’s word to them was to stay in the land and that He would restore them. (vss. 9-12) That’s when the leaders of the remnant went ballistic. They flat out called Jeremiah a liar. It’s interesting that they wanted to exile themselves to Egypt because they were afraid of being exiled to Babylon. The end result was that they ran away to Egypt, taking Jeremiah and Baruch with them. I wonder if they were prisoners on the journey. Once there, though, Jeremiah prophesied that the doom they thought they were running away from would catch up to them in Egypt.

It’s a running truth joke that there are some people who want to know the will of God so that they can consider doing it. Jeremiah would let all of us know that it won’t work that way. Once we determine the will of God, all of our efforts ought to be directed toward fulfilling it. So how do you determine the will of God. My pastor claims to have stolen this four part method from Henry Blackaby: 1) Scripture, 2) Prayer, 3) Circumstances, and 4) Wise counsel. If all four of those things line up, then God’s will should be clear and your responsibility is to act on it. If all four don’t line up, then you need to investigate more deeply. However this may pan out, you’re called to follow God’s plan for your life by finding and doing His will.

Lord, as I seek Your will, help me to find appropriate Scriptures, pray with an eye to obedience, understand the circumstances I’m dealing with, and find wise counselors who will direct me in Your way.

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November 23 – How Has God Changed Your Life? What Does the Difference Do?

2 Peter 1; Jeremiah 41-42; Psalm 139

“But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love.” (2 Peter 1:5-7 NKJV)

Christian growth results in a virtuous lifestyle. Peter began by talking about our divine nature. Then, he reminded us that’s the reason that we add these virtues to our life and our faith. It’s not that doing good works and adding the human approximation of these qualities will bring us salvation, it’s that as we embrace the divine nature that we have because of the grace of Jesus Christ, it will make a difference . People should see us living with more faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. Some would understand Peter to teach that we add virtue to faith until the virtue cup is filled, then we can work on knowledge until that cup is filled, etc. I don’t understand that way. I see these qualities spiraling into our lives as we allow God to work. We may get lots of brotherly kindness before we get perseverance. It may be that by showing brotherly kindness that we learn perseverance – and so on.

Steven Curtis Chapman wrote a song called The Change. In that song he sings about the people who all the visible stuff that shows that they’re Christians: t-shirts, jewelry, bumper stickers, and welcome mats among other Christian junk. (Yes, I said that. Yes, I have some of that stuff.) In the song, though, he asks the question: where’s the changed life? Where’s the difference? Our lives become different once we stop trying to force change and let God work work that change through us. Notice that I said “different” and not “easier.” As we seek God, as we draw closer to Him, we’ll start seeing these qualities, or rather opportunities to display these qualities more often. I think it’s safe to say that God doesn’t give us these qualities so much as put us into situations where we can live them. That’s how we’re able to add them to our faith. Let God keep making the change in your life and let the world see the difference a relationship with Him makes.

Lord, please keep changing me. Let my life reflect Your love and grace so that other people will want to experience a relationship with You.  

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Free eBook …and Maybe More!

I will be attending Word Fest 2019 at Teas A&M Corpus Christi today from 9-3. I will be giving those who attend a chance to sign up for a free eBook copy of my January-February Devotional series. I will also have a drawing from those who sign up today for a full set of the devotionals in Paperback. If you would like to be a part of that list that gets a free eBook and be in the drawing for the full set of devotionals, sign up today!

https://forms.gle/V8X6JvMucWTR4o9y8

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