Forgiven Much, Loves Much

John 9

April 6

Jesus heals a man born blind with a spit-filled mudpie. Creative. Unexpected. A tiny bit gross.

Totally worth it though, I imagine, to the man who can now see.

What we’re going to focus on, however, is the reaction to this healing by the elite, the ultra-religious, the Pharisees. Because this man’s miraculous healing happened on the Sabbath, they’re a little put out. A lot, actually.

As they drill him for information about the person who healed him, he does pretty good holding his own:

“Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes.We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will.Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind.If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

What they’re really saying is, “Who do you think you are?”

Matthew Poole’s commentary captures the attitude of their statement in this interpretation of their words:

Thou that art such a marked villain from thy mother’s womb, or that art such an ignorant idiot, dost thou think thyself fit to instruct us about true and false prophets, who are of God, and who are not? Surely we are to be thy teachers, and not thou ours.

It’s an indignant attitude, definitely an attitude of pride, wouldn’t you say? But we’ve all been there. We refuse the information because we don’t like the source. Maybe it’s because we feel superior (like the Pharisees). Or perhaps we simply don’t like them.

This passage reminds me of another time we can see the Pharisees’ pride shine a spotlight on their shame.

Luke describes a time that Jesus was dining at a Pharisee’s home and a sinful woman anointed him. In chapter 7 it says that she was “at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment.”

The passage goes on to describe how Jesus puts the shocked and indignant religious crowd in their place. He tells them that her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.””

In both of these cases, we see beautiful examples of how Christ’s mercies are most valued by those who have felt the want of them. (Matthew Henry’s commentary on John 9:34)

There’s a song by Ten Shekel Shirt that captures this, I think. And it’s a good place to pause and reflect after this chapter.

I come to Your feet and weep
Remembering how You changed me
I kneel at Your feet humbly
I pour out my love and my thanks

I am the one who’s been forgiven much
I am the one who loves much

I sit at Your feet in peace
Sensing a smile over me
I’m here at Your feet gladly
Giving my love and my thanks

Listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_VrfvALiE8s

-Susan Landry

Questions for Reflection and Discussion:

  1. Have you ever struggled to accept something as truth just because of the source? Why do you think that is? How can we be better at preventing this attitude?
  2. Do you feel like you are someone who ‘loves much’ or ‘loves little’? If you’re unsure, pay attention to your actions, thoughts, and words for the next week and ask God to show you.
  3. Re-read John 9:40-41. Restate Jesus’ words in a different way. What is he saying? What can we learn from his statement?

Naaman’s Ailment

2 Kings 5

March 17

I have a similar ailment to Naaman’s. No, not leprosy, but a pride that makes me want to be right, even sometimes to the point of thinking God (or the man of God) is doing it wrong if He/they aren’t following the step by step plans I designed. And, sometimes a pride like that leads to a bit of anger when our best laid plans are contradicted by an all-knowing and pretty creative God who also likes to witness our obedience.

So, here we have Naaman – the proud, leprous army commander of the country of Aram at the door of Elisha’s house. He had already humbled himself to listen to the captured Israelite servant girl who was sure Naaman could be healed of his dangerous skin disease if he got to the prophet of God in Samaria (capital city of Israel, Aram’s enemy). He had already secured from the king of Aram a very impressive payment (including 750 pounds of silver and 150 pounds of gold and 10 sets of clothing) for the one who could heal Naaman. He had already travelled by horse and chariot over 100 miles – first to the king of Israel (who was absolutely no help and was scared this was an enemy trap) – and now to the door of the prophet Elisha’s house.

Naaman has rehearsed in his mind how this is all going to go down. His life is about to be changed and the dreaded leprosy will be gone forever. So, he is completely caught off guard when Elisha instead of waving his magic wand (or hand) sends a servant out to him to tell him to go wash 7 times in the Jordan River which is another 30 miles down the road. 2 Kings 5:11 says, “But Naaman went away angry and said, ‘I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. ‘” He went away angry because God’s plans didn’t match up with his. He had envisioned instant and easy healing – the wave of a holy man’s hand. He had faith it could be so – that was good. But he also had prideful arrogance that he should be the one to choose how God worked. And when his plans and God’s plans didn’t match up – then God must be wrong. God desired faith and simple obedience. Naaman had faith and a big helping of pride, arrogance and anger. Faith without obedience (deeds) is dead. He would rather live with his deadly leprosy than humble himself to obey and do it God’s way. And he walked away from the healing God had prepared for him.

Some stories tragically end this way. How devastating if Naaman’s story also ended with him angrily turning his back on the blessings God wanted to pour out on him in the dirty Jordan River. Luckily for Naaman, he had some bold and wise servants who calmly reasoned with him and convinced him to try it God’s way. And, when he had faith and obedience, he received the blessing and new life that he was searching for – because he humbled himself and did it God’s way.

God, please heal me of my pride. I don’t want my stubborn pride to get in the way of receiving your blessings. Help me to faithfully obey you, even if I had a different plan. I don’t have to be right – You are. Always.

-Marcia Railton

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Has there been a time your plans and expectations didn’t match up with God’s? How did you handle it?
  2. Why do you think people tend to get mad at God when they don’t understand or abide by His plan? Have you seen some angrily walk away from God and the blessings He wanted to give? What wise and bold counsel would you offer?
  3. How do you rate your own faith and obedience? How can you improve both your faith and your obedience?
  4. Later in this chapter Gehazi gets into trouble because of his covetousness. Explain what happens to him and why? What other sins did he commit? Has wanting what others have ever gotten you into trouble? How do we avoid the great dangers of covetousness?

Giving Life to Your Faith

James 2

As we consider the second chapter of James today, the writer gives us another easily understood illustration, as he warns about an attitude of personal favoritism.

“My brothers and sisters, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and is dressed in bright clothes, and a poor man in dirty clothes also comes in, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the bright clothes, and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ and you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,’ have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters: did God not choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court?  Do they not blaspheme the good name by which you have been called?” (verses 1-7)

We must note that James is not saying we should ignore the rich in our Christian outreach.  But he is saying rich people should not be elevated above others because of their bank accounts. 

The result of the sin of favoritism is found in verse 9. “But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the Law as violators.”

So what is the solution?  Verse 8– “If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well.”

This is why I love the book of James.  Simple and direct—easily understood. 

A modern-day story I have heard several times fits right in here. 

A Pastor transformed himself into a homeless person and went to the 10,000-member church where he was to be introduced as the head pastor that morning.

He walked around his soon-to-be church for 30 minutes while it was filling with people for service– only 3 people out of the 7-10,000 people said hello to him. He asked people for change to buy food — no one in the church gave him change.

He went into the sanctuary to sit down in the front of the church and was asked by the ushers if he would please sit in the back. He greeted people only to be greeted back with stares, dirty looks, and people looking down on him. As he sat in the back of the church, he listened to the church announcements.

When all that was done, the elders went up and were excited to introduce the new pastor of the church to the congregation. “We would like to introduce to you our new Pastor.” The congregation looked around clapping with joy and anticipation. The homeless man sitting in the back stood up and started walking down the aisle. The clapping stopped with all eyes on him. He walked up to the altar and took the microphone from the elders (who were in on this) and paused for a moment then he recited,

“Then the King will say to those on his right, Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

Then the righteous will answer him, Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you? The King will reply, Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

After he recited this, he looked towards the congregation and told them all that he had experienced that morning. Many began to cry, and many heads were bowed in shame. He then said, “Today I see a gathering of people, not a church of Jesus Christ. The world has enough people, but not enough disciples. When will YOU decide to become disciples?” He then dismissed service until next week.

I hope this story moves you as it moved me.  And James reiterates these thoughts in verses 14-17. 

“What use is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? In the same way, faith also, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.”

Faith without works is dead.  They go hand in hand, like salt and pepper, bread and butter, peanut butter and jelly.  James’ impassioned words teach us that our faith should totally transform our lives and daily actions.  Our faith should be reflected in the life we live.  “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, this person is a new creation; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” II Corinthians 5:17

James sums up his thoughts with two examples from the Old Testament, Abraham and Rahab.  “Was our father Abraham not justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?  You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called a friend of God.” (verses 21-23)

We cannot imagine the agony Abraham faced on that mountain, preparing to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac.  But he had ultimate trust, FAITH, in God and followed through with WORKS, laying Isaac on the altar before the ram was revealed for the burnt offering.  “And as a result of the works, faith was perfected.”

Such an unfathomable example of faith and works, Abraham was called the friend of God, an honor bestowed on no one else in Scripture.

“In the same way, was Rahab the prostitute not justified by works also when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?”  (verse 25) The account of Rahab is found in Joshua 2.  Rahab hid the two spies Joshua sent into Jericho.  This daring deed brought a rewarding outcome for Rahab and her family, as they were saved when Jericho was defeated by the Israelites.  Rahab’s faith and actions blessed her descendants as she is found in the genealogy of Jesus.

James concludes his thoughts with verse 26.  “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.”

Without the breath of life, we are dead.  Without a life of daily ACTIVE Christian living and service to others–our works— our faith is dead.

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”  Matthew 5:16

-Paula Kirkpatrick

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Jeremiah 47-48 and James 2

In That Day

Isaiah 27-28 and 1 Thessalonians 3

The phrase “In that day” is used at least 7o times in the Old Testament – NIV version. Over half of those times (43 times) it is used by the prophet Isaiah – and four of those times is in today’s chapter 27. Clearly, “in that day” is one of Isaiah’s favorite topics and we can’t really discuss today’s reading without knowing a little more about this phrase. It is interesting to look at all the references Isaiah makes to this time period, not a 24 hour day. Simply go to BibleGateway.com (or your favorite Bible study website) and type in “In that day” in the search bar. If you add in the slightly more descriptive phrase, “The day of the Lord” you will get additional passages listed. Out of curiosity I also checked the KJV and found even more “In that day” passages in this version, including several in the New Testament, used by Jesus and Paul (including in the Thessalonians which we are also reading this week). It appears in the NIV New Testament the phrase is often changed to, “ON that day”. So, it’s talked about a lot, throughout Scripture – but, what is it talking about and why does it matter today?

As you look through the list of “In that day” passages, you find a lot of doom and gloom as a result of God’s judgment and punishment. For example, “In that day, the LORD will punish with his sword, his fierce, great and powerful sword.” (Isaiah 27:1 NIV). It also appears that pride is often the culprit that leads to the judgment, “The eyes of the arrogant will be humbled and human pride brought low; the LORD alone will be exalted in that day,” (Isaiah 2:11, and similarly in 2:17). Pride gets in the way and causes all sorts of trouble when we think we know better than God, when we forget about Him and His way and strike out in our own direction – towards destruction. Isaiah says it quite poetically in chapter 28, “You boast, ‘We have entered into a covenant with death, with the grave we have made an agreement…for we have made a lie our refuge and falsehood our hiding place.'” (28:15 NIV) But they continue boasting and bragging, believing their lies as they get closer and closer to death. It seems they don’t even see the danger or care, they are so wrapped up in the lie that has become their false refuge.

Who do you see today who has boastfully made a lie their refuge? I have a few ideas, but what do you think?

I thought first of the movement who boastfully displays pride all over themselves as they try to hijack God’s symbol of hope and His sure promises while blatantly denying the truths of God’s creation: male and female. And, speaking of creation, what of those who make a lie their refuge as they turn from the Creator of heaven and earth and put all their trust in big bangs and chance mutations. There are also those who put great pride in the works of their hands, like the Israelites who were so proud of the capital city Samaria that they had built (and then indulged in the selfish and messy ‘pleasure’ of getting drunk in regularly). (Isaiah 28:1-4, 7-8). And, in their prideful lies they all miss Isaiah’s message that God’s judgment is coming…”in that day”.

And, while it is good to consider how these verses apply in our society, let me never forget to consider how it applies to ME personally TODAY. Where and when do I pridefully put myself and my wishes before God and His will? Do I allow pride in my Christian lifestyle or background to prevent me from loving others? How am I led astray by lies that I have put my trust in, lies about who God is or who He created me to be, what is right and what is wrong? When do I get so caught up in the busy-ness of today that I forget to remember what is coming…”in that day.

Remembering God’s righteous punishment that will be coming in that day can be good motivation to stop doing wrong. It can help me put away the pride and lies and selfish sins. The true threat of coming punishment can be powerful incentive. I know, I am a home-daycare provider. Sometimes it just takes mentioning time-out to make a child stop a moment, consider their actions and stop their misdeeds or tantrum.

But, that’s not all!

Rewards are a beautiful incentive to do what is right. As we look at the list of Isaiah’s use of “In that day” references, we see many exciting and glorious views of the future, following the punishment. Isaiah 27:13 says, “And in that day, a great trumpet will sound. Those who were perishing in Assyria and those who were exiled in Egypt will come and worship the LORD on the holy mountain in Jerusalem.” And in the next chapter, we read, “In that day the LORD Almighty will be a glorious crown, a beautiful wreath for the remnant of his people.” (Isaiah 28:5). It is such an encouragement to read through the passages describing the coming reward – the perfect Kingdom of God when He shall reign. In Isaiah’s “In that Day” passages of hope and a coming perfect joy and peace, he includes references to the coming Messiah and His role in his father’s Kingdom. (When you have time, it would be interesting to create a list of what other names and descriptions Isaiah uses for Jesus the Christ?) Rewards can sometimes do what threats can’t. It’s amazing to see how fast the daycare children focus on the work at hand and get all the toys picked up when there is the promise of a waiting treat.

We can be sure God’s threats are not empty, His punishments are just and the rewards He graciously gives we can’t earn but will be beyond all we can imagine! How will you prepare today for all that will come “in that day”? And, how can we help others to be prepared? Paul had some great ideas for the Thessalonians. “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.   May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.” (1 Thessalonians 3:12,13 NIV)

-Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible reading plan passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com hereIsaiah 27-28 and 1 Thessalonians 3

Which Will You Be?

Isaiah 21-22 and Colossians 4

Today we are going to look at two different groups of God’s people: those in Jerusalem at the time of Isaiah’s writing and those in Colosse at the time of Paul’s writing. Which will you be?

In many of the previous chapters of the book of Isaiah we read about God’s coming judgments on Israel and Judah’s neighbors and sometimes her enemies. It’s not all bad reading what disasters are coming to your wicked neighbors. Yay, God! Go get em! Show em who’s boss! But, it gets downright personal in chapter 22 as the prophecies of judgment and doom now center on Jerusalem, God’s Holy City. What did they do to deserve this? Well, much. Other scriptures tell of Jerusalem’s idol worship and shedding of innocent blood and even sacrificing their own children. But specifically in Isaiah 22 we are told of their pride and arrogance, their celebrations and their disregard for God. When they saw danger on the horizon they did everything in their own power to protect themselves, including tearing down houses to strengthen the wall and building reservoirs. “But, you did not look to the One who made it, or have regard for the One who planned it long ago” (Isaiah 22:11 NIV). What would have changed if they had only called out to God for help?

God was waiting for His people to seek Him, to turn to Him, to cry out to Him, to confess and mourn and repent. But, instead, they were too busy. Busy with their preparations to save themselves. Busy with their sins. Busy with their celebrations and feasting and misplaced joy. Busy in their “town full of commotion…city of tumult and revelry.” (Isaiah 22:2 NIV).

They had abandoned God first. He was still calling out to them on that day (Isaiah 22:12). But, they were busy. They drowned out the sound of God’s voice with their sinful busy-ness and celebrations. So, His holy and righteous judgement was coming.

Contrast this tragic picture with what we read in Colossians 4 as Paul is closing out his letter to the church in Colosse with his final instructions and greetings. He urges the church, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful” (Colossians 4:2 NIV). And, while he’s got the people praying – he says pray for me, too. Paul requests prayers for open doors (not to physically get out of house arrests, but open doors to reach more people), for opportunities to proclaim Christ and for clear communication in his ministry. And further on, I love his description of Epaphras, “a servant of Jesus Christ…He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and and fully assured” (Colossians 4:12 NIV). These people are busy, too – in prayer – in seeking God and in ministry . They are praying for their spiritual leaders and churches and those who will hear God’s message, and asking for prayer. Rather than ignoring God and drowning out His voice, they are seeking God regularly and whole-heartedly, coming to Him in prayer, always desiring to do more for Him and His Son.

Which group are you more like today?

Do you have see any similarities between yourself and God’s people in Jerusalem? Are you surrounded with so much commotion that you miss God’s voice calling out to you? Is he asking you to mourn when you are busy celebrating and feasting? Are you so caught up in your self-preservation preparations that you have neglected to call out to God? Do you rely on yourself instead of on God? When you see trouble coming do you invest time in creating a longer to-do list, throw a party, or fall to your knees before God? What would be different in your life and in your community if you called on Him in prayer instead of trying to do it your own way?

Do you see any similarities between yourself and God’s people in Colosse? Are you devoted to prayer, being watchful and thankful? Are you praying for open doors – not to get ahead or out of a jam – but to advance God’s gospel message? Are you busy praying for your Christian brothers and sisters and leaders and missionaries? Are you asking others to pray for your ministry? What would it look like if you spent time today wrestling in prayer?

Praying for you today – to Stand Firm in God’s Will, mature and fully assured

-Marcia Railton

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan passages at BibleGateway here – Isaiah 21-22 and Colossians 4

The Joy of Overcoming

Philippians 3

Paul is one of the few people who can write “Finally” and continue on writing for the same length that he had just written! He writes two chapters, puts “finally” and writes two more. Inspired as he is, obviously Paul thinks of most of what he writes from Philippians 3:1-4:7 as all one idea. To be fair, as you are reading today, he uses “finally” in chapter 4 as well. It reminds me of a “midwestern goodbye;” he keeps trying to end his conversation but doesn’t want to say goodbye just yet.

While Paul starts his writing in verse one on the happy note of “rejoice” in the Lord, he quickly moves to talk of things that we need to beware of and, I think, overcome. That means we need to live differently, have victory over, and to not be defeated by. 

Overcoming Others

In two places in this chapter, Paul discusses two kinds of unfaithful people and the way they live. First, there are those whom he calls “dogs” and “evil workers”. These are both the Jews and the Judaizing Christians who believe they follow God because they are circumcised on the outside and think all must follow them. However, their pride and focus on the law is actually showing that they have a false circumcision (3:2). Paul says that we are the ones who truly follow God, who follow him with a “circumcised” (or pure) heart. 

Secondly, there are those who have never come to faith of any kind. Instead of even trying to honor God through false rules and regulations, they focus on fulfilling their own desires, whether that is food, drink, or sex. They worship those desires as their god. Even, (maybe especially) in our world there are those who glorify their appetites that they indulge as “healthy”, “not-repressed”, and “liberating”. However, Paul weeps knowing that their end is not life, not joy, but destruction. (3:18-19)

Overcoming Ourselves

We need to not be like either of those groups, but that means overcoming ourselves. True, we need to overcome the teachings of those who say following God is keeping a bunch of rules and regulations, but it is easy to feel good about ourselves because we did keep God’s word. It would be easy for Paul, for example, to glory in who he is. (3:4-6) He fulfilled all the credentials of what a successful Jew would be. But he considers it “dung” (skubala) if he might instead have Christ. He would count all these things rubbish in order to have the far greater, far surpassing righteousness of Christ. (3:7-9)

Once we know that our best attributes are only dung in comparison to Christ, we may say we might as well live terribly because we can never measure up. But Paul encourages us to strive to live rightly. Ever upward into the call of God in Christ. He says, though we will never be perfect, let us keep living by the same standard to which Christ has raised us. (3:12-16)

How to Hupernikao (Overcome)

How are we to overcome? How are we to not fall into the traps of being legalistic or being completely wild with our living? We need to live LIKE CHRIST! That should sound familiar! If we live like Christ, forgetting what lies behind and pressing on ahead (12-16) then we will be conformed to him. We will suffer the way he suffered, being mistreated on both sides. We will sound to0 gracious to the “judgmental” and too judgmental to the “gracious”. We won’t look like those who are legalistic and believe that rule following will save them. But we also won’t look like those who believe that everything is OK and permissible.

But this is the way Jesus lived. He was a friend of tax collectors and sinners and yet told them they needed to stop sinning. If we live like him, we will face the suffering he faced, we may even be conformed to him in death. (3:10) But the GLORIOUS news is that if we are connected to him, believe in him, and live like him, we will ALSO be raised with him. If we die with him, we will also live with him. (3:11, cf. 2 Tim. 2:11-13)

It is because we have a savior who will raise us up, and glorify us as he rules over all things that Paul can say, in Philippians 4:1 “Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.” Because we have a savior who will redeem us, we can rejoice in the Lord and we can be the joy of those who have trained us in the way we should go. 

May you, my brothers and sisters, overcome those who tell you to be more strictly following all the right rules that only they seem to know. 

May you overcome those who say live with abandon and do whatever it is that makes you happy and fulfills you. 

May you overcome the desires in yourself that push in you in those directions. 

May you instead be conformed to the life, suffering, death, and ultimately resurrection of Christ, as you seek to live like him. 

May you forget what lies behind, press on ahead, and retain the standard, while only trusting in Christ’s sacrifice to save you. 

Amen

-Jake Ballard

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan passages at BibleGateway.com here Isaiah 13-14 and Philippians 4

The Best Shape for a Table

Galatians 3

Sometimes when you read a section of the Bible, something in particular sticks out to you. As you think about it, several other thoughts bloom from it. I love Ecclesiastes, but there are 4 verses from Galatians 3 that stole my attention.

“…for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:26-29)

Paul is letting the Galatians know that any lines that divide people do not exist under Christ. Anyone who calls Jesus “Lord” is right there with him as an heir to the promise, as much of a child of God as any other child of God. As much of a child of God as Jesus himself!

Does this seem too good to be true? Is it too radically inclusive? As we’ve explored, some of the early Jewish Christians scoffed at the idea of including the gentiles without making them meet certain conditions. That’s like saying that in order to have access to God, you have to be like me. How would you feel if I expressed that I was part of the “in” crowd that has particular boxes checked, and unless you also have them checked, you’re an outsider without proper access to a relationship with God? Do you sometimes think other Christians are not real Christians because they think differently than you do or have other ways of doing things?

What other categories might Paul have included in his list if he were here today in our culture? Would he have said there is no Republican or Democrat, no conservative or liberal, no boomer or millennial? No black, white, brown, or any other skin shade or culture you can think of? No rich or poor, young or old, dumb or smart? No Catholic, Lutheran, or Pentecostal? No introvert or extrovert? No lawyer or plumber? No young earth, old earth, or evolutionary creationists? No five-point Calvinists or process theologians? I can go all day.

How does it make you feel that everyone belonging to Christ is equally a child of God? Is it a liberating and empowering thought, or does it ruffle your feathers a little? How does it sit with you to know that females and males equally carry the image of God (Gen 1:27)? Can you handle that those with political views different than yours have a place at the table with you? Are you uncomfortable that you are a brother or sister in Christ of someone who doesn’t have the same doctrine as you, or has less money than you, or has a thousand times the money you have? Through Jesus, God extended his promise out to anyone who would accept it. Who are we to try to take that away because of dividing lines that were already erased?

When we think of a round table, we think of King Arthur and Camelot. We think of the Holy Grail, the Bridge of Death, questions about swallows, Tim, witches, and very small rocks. At least I can’t help but think of all those things and so many more. Anyway, it’s a round table because it doesn’t have a head. Nobody has the seat of honor; everyone has equal status. It’s the kind of thing that elevates everyone and excludes no one. Are the Christian circles you are part of really like that?

Paul is saying that under Christ we’re all sitting at a big round table. That’s just how it is. You and I differ in important ways. Being in Christ doesn’t make us all uniform, but it does make us united. Your personality, gifts, and things that make you unique do not disappear under Christ! They are expressive of a beautiful diversity capable of reaching all the dark corners of the world.

We have a lot to talk about, and so many things to do. Will you sit at the table?

-Jay Laurent

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading passages at BibleGateway here – Ecclesiastes 5-6 and Galatians 3

The Overwhelming Compassions of God

Nehemiah 9-10

Everyone needs compassion. Our gracious God, the ultimate source of love and mercy, readily extends compassion to us when we face the great challenges in our life.  But it doesn’t stop there.  God is not “deservingly” showing compassion to us because we have made sacrifices for his namesake.  He overwhelms us with compassion when we deserve it the least.  When our ears have been deaf to his calling, when our back has been turned, when our eyes are glistening with selfish pride, that is when he is most compassionate.  It is pretty simple:  life is best lived in and by the design of God.  Anything else is to be pitied.  But we do not serve a God of overwhelming pity.  He doesn’t stop at, “man, that stinks, wish you would have made some better choices there, bud.” He picks us up in our filth, gives us the full concentration of his blessings, and turns our feet back on the path that leads to him.  Over and over again. Undeservedly. In today’s reading, we get a quick lesson in the history of compassion of Israel from Abraham to Nehemiah.  Draw some (rather easy) parallels to your own life as your study this account of the rich mercies of God.

“But they, our ancestors, were arrogant;  bullheaded, they wouldn’t obey your commands. They turned a deaf ear, they refused to remember the miracles you had done for them;…And you, a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, Incredibly patient, with tons of love – you didn’t dump them.” – Nehemiah 9:16 MSG

  1. God still has compassion for you, even after you have been arrogant.  You can attempt to go it alone.  God doesn’t give up that easily.  When the miracles no longer come, when the blessing subside, and you decide to turn back, he doesn’t merely say, “told you so.” He says “turn around, I’m still here.”

“Yes, even when they cast a sculpted calf and said, “This is your god Who brought you out of Egypt,” and continued from bad to worse,  You in your amazing compassion didn’t walk off and leave them in the desert.”  – Nehemiah 9:18 MSG

  1. God still has compassion for you, even when you don’t give him credit.  Oh, how we like to take credit. How scorned are we when we don’t get the little credit due to us?  And we haven’t really done anything.  It would be simple enough to say, “Good luck in the desert by yourself,” yet God hears the cries of his people and comes rushing in to, again, fight the battles.

But then they mutinied, rebelled against you, threw out your laws and killed your prophets, the very prophets who tried to get them back on your side— and then things went from bad to worse.  And in keeping with your bottomless compassion you gave them saviors: saviors who saved them from the cruel abuse of their enemies.  – Nehemiah 9:27

  1. God still has compassion for you, even when you stab him in the back.  That’s right, literal stabbing of prophets delivering the word of God.  Maybe you are not guilty of such a crime, but openly denying the word of God delivered to you in your life is an equal abuse of the Word of God.  That’s pretty much what sin is.  But guess what?  Those who openly and defiantly deny the gospel, receive sanctification and redemption through Jesus Christ if they make him the Lord and Savior of their life.  Your confession is never rejected, if done so from the heart.

But as soon as they had it easy again they were right back at it—more evil. So you turned away and left them again to their fate, to the enemies who came right back. They cried out to you again; in your great compassion you heard and helped them again.

This went on over and over and over. They turned their backs on you and didn’t listen. – Nehemiah 9: 28, 29 MSG

  1. God still has compassion for you when you return right back to your sin.  That’s right, we are almost cartoonish in our behavior sometimes.  Do the sin.  Ask for forgiveness. <5 min later> Do the sin.  Ask forgiveness.  Thankfully, we have a God of infinite mercies, BUT as Paul says our goal is not to exhaust the grace of God.  If you haven’t figured it out, somewhere in our sinful nature is the habit to turn back to sin, but we must try to actively stop or flee from it.  God is unfatigued with extending his compassions if we truly seek him through repentance.

You put up with them year after year and warned them by your spirit through your prophets; But when they refused to listen you abandoned them to foreigners. Still, because of your great compassion, you didn’t make a total end to them. You didn’t walk out and leave them for good; yes, you are a God of grace and compassion.  – Nehemiah 9:30,31 MSG

  1. If you’re reading this, God still has compassion for you.  You are not abandoned.  It may feel foreign because you have pitched a tent outside the wall, but there is NOTHING that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.  Maybe you’re seemingly satisfied to be out there for now.  Man, that’s awful.  You will not receive even the pity of men if this is where you stand.  But God looks compassionately upon you, and leaves the gate open, giving every opportunity to be a part of his grace, love, forgiveness and hope.  There is a time limit though, an end game. Once you stop breathing, it’s over.  There are no guarantees when this will be.  An even more compelling argument than “no guarantees” is every moment you are not living in the presence of God, you walk around heavily burdened with sin, guilt, doubt, and shame because you don’t know His compassion.  He will take it all from you and cast it as far as the east is from the west.  Stop. Turn. Cry. Listen. Let go. It is time to let His compassion overwhelm you.

–Aaron Winner

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at Bible Gateway – Nehemiah 9-10 NIV or – from The Message Nehemiah 9-10 and 1 Corinthians 11

Overcoming evil with good

Reading for today:

Ezra 5-6 … 1 Corinthians 4

We’re going to hop away from Ezra and the daily readings for a minute here today and turn our focus to the theme passages that the FUEL youth campers will be examining.

I heard once that whenever we read the phrase ‘the flesh’ in Scripture we can plug in ‘what comes naturally’ in its place. So when we read in Galatians that, “the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit” … that makes a lot of sense. What comes naturally to us often (usually, almost always) involves what is contrary to what God’s way is.

For example, Paul gives us this long list of things in Romans 12, that pretty much all fall into that category:

Love must be sincere. 
Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.
 
Be devoted to one another in love. 
Honor one another above yourselves. 
Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 
Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.Live in harmony with one another. 
Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. 
Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.
 
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 
Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:9-21

When you read that list, which ones jump out at you? Which ones most fit that description of not coming naturally to you?

Honor one another above yourself. All of us struggle with selfishness at times, but maybe you really have a difficult time setting your own needs aside. Maybe you would put others first, but you don’t notice their needs. 

Never be lacking in zeal—keep your spiritual fervor.  Is apathy your go to? Are you difficult to motivate? Maybe you just feel kind of … blah… about spiritual things.

Don’t be proud. Pride is a tricky one, and one that trips up a lot of people. Enough that Paul reiterates his instruction again with ‘Do not be conceited.’ Was he writing to you? Do you care more about what people think than what God thinks?

Maybe it’s as basic as hating what is evil. That sounds like it should be a simple one, but the fact is that evil is often attractive. Perhaps you know that you are drawn to things you know God would not want for you.

The answer to all of these is not to try harder, by the way. Christianity is not about behavior modification. That’s why Paul ends with this, “…overcome evil with good.”

Again—sounds simple, and it is. But that doesn’t mean that it’s easy. Because it’s not.

Starting with a prayer asking God to change your heart toward those things that come naturally to you is a good place to start. I tend to believe these are prayers he loves to answer.

Our hearts and our minds are where everything begins. The way that we think will always affect the way we live our life. Always. And if our thoughts are rooted in a lie (even if we don’t know it) we’ll live like it is true.

Think about this. Imagine you are in a room and your friend, who is outside the room, tells you the door is locked. You try the handle and it is indeed locked. So, you go sit down and spend the day sitting in the room, assuming it’s locked all day, never trying the handle again. All the while, the door is actually unlocked because your friend unlocked it right after you tried the handle. You lived like the lie was true.

If you live like a lie is true, it is true for you. Unfortunately, much of the time we don’t even know we are believing a lie. What we do know is that we struggle with pride, or that we are drawn to things we know God says are evil, or that our life just feels like it’s falling apart.

Hidden lies are hard to identify. Problems are easy to identify. That’s why we start there. Start with the problem and backtrack to find the lie.

If you didn’t read yesterday’s devotion, go back and do that…it has some suggestions to help root out lies, and a book that has some great resources to help you with this as well.

I’m encouraged by the end of the Galatians verse, where Paul says, “They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.”  What he doesn’t say is that we should somehow expect to magically stop wanting what comes naturally to us (the flesh). What he does say is that we can learn to control our desires, we can overcome them.

I have heard recovering alcoholics say that “Sobriety is never owned, it’s rented. And rent is due every day.” Overcoming desires that come naturally to us is a battle that we must take up daily. The battle gets easier over time, and with help… but be clear: as long as we are walking in a body of flesh, the desires of our flesh will war against us.

And in case that makes you want to lay down and give up, remember that you’re not in this battle alone. Stay tuned tomorrow to find out about the kind of power you have on your side.

-Susan Landry

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Ezra 5-6 and 1 Corinthians 4

Peace and Building Up

Romans 14

So far this week, I’ve been focusing on the Old Testament reading, since fewer people are as familiar with the Old Testament, and there is a lot to learn from it.  But today, I’d like to point out something from Romans 14.

Romans 14 is written to “strong” Christians, and discussed the topic of doing things that may offend a brother (i.e. cause someone to stumble into sin).  Back in the day, apparently there were some who felt they shouldn’t eat meat, because it may have been sacrificed to an idol.  But since we know idols are nothing, it’s fine to eat meat, as long as we thank God for it.  But here comes the rub, in Romans 14:15, “If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love.  Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died.”

It continues in Romans 14:19 by saying, “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.”  And in Romans 14:21, “It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.”

I share this because it hits me personally.  Years ago, we had someone in our church who thought it was a sin to drink wine.  I happened to drink wine (sparingly, but still…).  Somehow, it came up that I drank, and he came to me to point out my sin.  I was familiar with this passage, and others like it, and knew it wasn’t a sin to drink, but it’s a sin to get drunk.  Of course I thanked him for his concern and for pointing this out, while secretly I was scoffing.

But Beth, my late wife, pointed out 1 Corinthians 8:9, “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.”  In my arrogance, I was quick to point out that he was the weak one here, and I am the strong one.  That was irrelevant.  I was commanded to do things that lead to peace and to not put a stumbling block in front of the weak.  So, with Beth’s persistence, I was able to comply.

This points out a truth I’ve come to understand over the years.  Many times, we may recognize what God has to say, but we don’t necessarily want to do it.  In cases like these, I have found that it really helps to have an accountability partner to help hold us accountable, to do what God demands, even if we don’t necessarily want to obey.  And ultimately, obeying God works out best for everybody.

So if you haven’t considered having an accountability partner before, you may want to consider how this could be used to draw you closer to God.

-Steve Mattison

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 2 Chronicles 29-30 and Romans 14

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