The Highest Fashion

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The saying, “Clothes make the man,” is attributed to Mark Twain. The Bible agrees.  How we dress as representatives of Christ is so important.  No, I’m not talking about suits and ties for men or dresses vs. pants for women, and I’m certainly not saying we should only wear our “Jesus” T-shirts.  And hear me loud and clear – I’m not saying that we should judge others by the clothes they wear.  Paul talks about a different kind of “clothing” that all Christians should wear –“Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14).  If the mission is to make Jesus known to the world, then dressing “in Jesus” is the best way to do it.  He expounded on the idea in his letter to the church in Colosse.

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothes yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12).  This is the kind of “fashion” that never goes out of style.  Every piece is an expression of the character and nature of Jesus Christ.

Compassion is simply a feeling of concern for someone else.  Compassion sees others’ needs.

Kindness does something about that need. Kindness responds to what compassion feels.

Humility sees self as the least important person in the picture.  Hear this carefully, humility is not self-abasement or self-condemnation.  It is simply saying, “I am second – I will put you first.”

Gentleness doesn’t get its feathers ruffled.  Gentleness is meek – but it’s not wimpy.

Patience doesn’t give up on others. It is in it for the long haul. (This is my personal word from God today.)    

In the fashion world, one piece – a belt or scarf – can “pull the whole outfit together.”  Likewise, there is one more item we must not forget, one that Paul says “binds them all together in perfect unity”:  love.  He said, “Over all these, put on love” (v. 14).  The truth is, many people are doing all these good things.  The difference is love.  But it’s more than “love” in the Western understanding of the word.  It is a love that flows from God into our own hearts and spills out on those around us in the form of all these other “garments.”  It is the kind of love that seeks the very best for another, to the point of self-sacrifice.  And like every good fashion show, it throws the spotlight back onto the Designer.

So what will you wear today Beloved?  A striped shirt?  A pair of jeans?  Your favorite sweater?  Don’t forget to put on Christ – the world needs to see Jesus in you.

Pointing Fingers

“I know that nothing good lives in me, that is in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do good, but I cannot carry it out” Romans 7:18
One of the biggest challenges of being a Bible teacher is the tension between expressing what the Bible says about sin and recognizing my own sinful nature. How can I stand before a class or post something I’ve written that tells others “how to live” when I fail so often in my own walk? Who do I think I am?
That’s why I find great comfort in Paul’s letters. Paul addresses every kind of sin we can imagine – sexual sin, lying, stealing, hate, laziness, idolatry, marital unfaithfulness, abuse, self-centeredness, drunkenness, and yes even gluttony (Ouch!). He is very outspoken about sin and points a finger wherever he sees it. But he also points a finger back at himself. Paul frequently admits his own human failure to walk the walk of which he talks. In Romans 7, he laments this all too common push-and-pull of righteousness vs. sin. “What I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (v. 15). “The evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing” (v. 19). From Paul’s words, we realize that the sinful nature we inherited from Adam constantly “wages war” against our new nature in Christ (v. 23).
So what do we – as those called to share the gospel and the truth of righteousness – do with that conflict? First, we stop focusing on ourselves. That’s a guarantee to keep failing. Instead, we follow Paul’s example and shift our focus upward. He wrapped up his lament, by recognizing his failure: “What a wretched man I am!” He admitted his need for a savior: “Who will rescue me from the body of death?” Then he rejoiced in the goodness and faithfulness of God: “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (vv. 24-25).
You and I are part of the fallen human race, and even though we have trusted in Christ as our Savior, we still fall to our sinful nature. Satan would have us languish there in self-hatred. But we are no longer under the sentence of condemnation (Romans 8:1). We have been rescued and redeemed. When we focus on Jesus we live more in the freedom of our new nature and less in the bondage of our sin. Yes, Beloved, you will still fail – but thanks be to God through Christ Jesus our Lord – you don’t have to stay there!

Hebrews: When God Says “No.”

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“We’re going to pray, and God will give us the funds for this new building,” the preacher bellowed, and the crowd, whipped into a frenzy shouted their agreement. “Yes!” “Amen!” “Hallelujah!” I, however, did not. The woman beside me said, “What’s the matter? Don’t you believe God can do it?” “Oh, I believe God can do it, I just don’t believe He’s obligated to do it.”  She looked at me like I had two heads and turned her back to me. Please don’t misunderstand me, I absolutely believe that God answers prayers – He’s answered more than a few of mine recently.  But some of my prayers are still hanging, and for some of my prayers, the answer was “No.” God knew better. God always answers according to what He knows is better – what fits His good, pleasing, and perfect will (Romans 12:2). Sometimes that means we don’t get what we pray for. Even Jesus got a “No” from His Father.

In our last Hebrews devotional, I left you in the Garden of Gethsemane, listening to Jesus plead with His Father, “Take this cup from me . . .” Let’s leave quietly and head back to Hebrews 5 to see how it came out. The writer said, “He was heard.” Jesus’ word did not fall to the ground nor fall on deaf ears. His Father heard His prayers and pleading. So Jesus got what He wanted, right? After all, the Father listened to His Son “because of His reverent submission” (v.7b). Yet you know the rest of the story. God said “No” to Jesus. And He knew He would – the eternal fate of the entire human race hung in the balance. If God had saved Jesus from the cross, you and I would be lost forever.

What do we do with those “Nos?” The same thing Jesus did. “He learned obedience from what He suffered,” (v. 8a). We accept the “No” as coming from the heart of our loving, gracious, all-knowing Father and submit to Him in obedience without grumbling. Are we disappointed? Sure – and we can take that disappointment right back to Him and say, “I’m surrendering this to You because I trust You, but my heart is hurting.” God honors honesty and “He heals the brokenhearted” (Psalm 147:3).  Whether the answer is “Yes,” “No,” or “Wait,” you can trust the heart of your Father, Beloved. It’s the same heart that said “No” to His Son so that He could say “Yes” to you.

Giants

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David and Goliath. One of the best-known stories of the Bible.  A story of good versus evil in the face of impossible odds.  We learn so much from David here. Faith. Determination. Confidence. Preparation. Fearlessness. All very good lessons. But I saw something in this story that I’d never noticed before and I think it’s a very powerful lesson we need to learn.

When David visited the battle site he discovered that the Israelite army was at a standstill. They were paralyzed with fear and he soon saw why. “Goliath, the Philistine champion stepped out from the lines and shouted his usual defiance” (1 Samuel 17:23). His usual defiance was to belittle them, challenge them, threaten them, and thoroughly intimidate them. He said, “This day I defy the ranks of Israel!” (8-10). They were “dismayed and terrified” (v. 11). I imagine so! Goliath was over nine feet tall, wore 125 pounds of armor, and carried a spear with an iron point that weighed 15 pounds (4-7). “When the Israelites saw the man, they all ran from him in great fear” (v. 24). And this went had gone on for forty days – twice a day (16). The Israelites had given up hope.

David saw the same enemy and heard the same schpiel. But he saw it much differently. David demanded, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (26). He realized that the Israelites 1) forgot whose they were, and 2) they were afraid – of words.

You and I have an enemy who looks like a giant in our eyes and all day long he berates us and accuses us and tells us we are worthless. He tells us we’re going down. And we listen – day-after-day-after-day – until we start to believe it.  Because we forget whose we are – that we are the sons and daughters of God and co-heirs with Christ. Because we are afraid – of words.

Here’s what the Lord impressed on my heart: Giants must be defeated – not feared.

If you are in Christ, satan’s only weapon against you is words. That’s it. But you have the righteousness of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. Stand your ground, Beloved. You are more than a conqueror (Romans 8:38).

The Never-Get-Out-of-Debt Payment Plan

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The American economy seems to run on spending more than we earn. The average credit card debt per household in the U.S. is $5,700 – $9,333 with a total outstanding U.S. consumer debt of $4 trillion. Being in debt is one of the most discouraging struggles. I know this struggle well as we have been under the self-made burden of financial debt. The Bible has a great deal to say about financial stewardship, but even more about relational stewardship. The apostle Paul says that we should only have one debt on our balance sheet: “Let no debt remain outstanding except the continuing debt to love one another” (Romans 13:8).

Financial advisors can help you devise a plan to pay off your credit debt, but the Bible says that love for one another is a “continuing debt,” that can never be finished. It is a life-long obligation. Love is more than a “warm fuzzy feeling,” love is a choice we make every day. 1 Corinthians 13 offers us a practical example of choosing to love. You may be very familiar with it, but I want to challenge you to read this passage a little differently. Instead of the word “love,” put your own name in the verse and read it aloud:

_______________ is patient, _____________ is kind. ____________ does not envy, ______________does not boast, _______________ is not proud. ______________ is not rude, ______________ is not self-seeking, _______________ is not easily angered. ______________ keeps no record of wrongs. ______________ does not delight in evil, but ______________ rejoices with the truth. _____________ always protects, _______________ always trusts, _____________ always hopes, _______________ always perseveres (v. 4-7).

So how did you do? I don’t know about you but I started to get uncomfortable early in.

Love, as Paul outlined it in these verses, doesn’t require any money, but it is costly. It will cost you time and attention and patience and ego, but it brings amazing dividends. Every day you and I have the opportunity to share the love of God in this world. When we are patient, kind, humble, considerate, forgiving, honest, and compassionate we are making installments on our never-ending debt of love. Beloved, what would your home, workplace, church, and community look like if you followed the Bible’s payment plan?

The Art of Spiritual Warfare: Know Yourself

A couple of days ago I shared a quote by Sun Tzu, who is credited with writing The Art of War. His premise is that victory in war comes when you know your enemy and know yourself.  From that we explored scripture about knowing our enemy the devil, but more importantly, knowing God. Several of you asked for more on “knowing yourself.” Honestly, I purposely skipped that part of Tzu’s quote because, in the current “Christian” marketplace, there is a glut of music, books, studies, and messages that are heavily self-focused. I believe it is an unhealthy trend. The church has forgotten Jesus’ call.  It’s really hard to “deny yourselves” (Luke 9:23) when you’re always thinking about yourself. But I digress.

There is a biblical directive to “know yourself” – especially in the face of spiritual warfare. The enemy loves to attack your heart. When he says, “God could never love you,” you need to know that He has promised to love you with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3).  When he says you are worthless you need to know that God purchased you at a very high price – not with gold or silver, but with the precious blood of His Son (1 Peter 1:18-19). When satan says God has forgotten you, be assured that you are engraved on the palm of God’s hand (Isaiah 49:16). Your Father says that  “you are precious and honored in my sight” (Isaiah 43:4). You are redeemed (Galatians 3:13). You are sons [and daughters] of God (Galatians 4:6). You are chosen (Ephesians 1:4).

But there’s another kind of war that your enemy wages You need to know who you are when temptation hits – and you need to know who you are not. Paul said you used to be a slave to wickedness, “but now you have been set free from sin (Romans 6:19-22). You once were dead in your sins but now you are alive with Christ (Colossians 2:13). “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” Then he added, “Live as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8).

Over and over Paul drives home the point – you used to love sin – BUT THAT’S NOT WHO YOU ARE NOW. (Yes I’m shouting – I want you to get this.) You are “more than conquerors” in this battle (Romans 8:37). That, Beloved, is what you need to know about yourself.

I’m Sorry

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We’re trying to teach Joy to apologize when she does something wrong, especially when she hurts someone. She’s picking up that lesson pretty well. Tonight during her bath she was playing with finger paints again (it’s a bribe to get her in the tub) and she started to stick her paint-covered finger in her mouth. I said, “No Joy! Don’t put the paint in your mouth!” She looked up at me and said “Sorry, Nana.” “It’s okay,” I said, “You didn’t do anything wrong. Just don’t put the paint in your mouth – it’s yucky.” That was different from the other night when she got mad at me for taking something away from her that she was misusing. She lashed out – literally – and scratched me with her fingernails (that need trimming). Let me tell you – it hurt! Her mommy took her to time out in the other room and told her she had to tell Nana she was sorry. After a few minutes, I came into the room, and she lifted her tear-streaked face and said, “I sorry Nana.” I scooped her up in my arms and this time I said, “Thank you for saying ‘Sorry’ Joy. Nana loves you.” I didn’t tell her it was okay because what she had done was definitely not okay. It was wrong, and she needed to know it was wrong. But she also needed to know that saying “Sorry” was the right thing to do – and that Nana would always love her no matter what.

You and I have done wrong – we have sinned against God (Romans 3:23). We have broken His laws and offended His holiness. What we have done is not okay. Our actions deserve punishment – much more than a time-out. According to the Bible, we deserve death (Romans 6:23).  But God is gracious to us sinners (Romans 3:24) and that grace cost Him everything – “It was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed . . . but with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18, 19).

Beloved, of Jesus, when you and I sin, we can look to God and say “I’m sorry,” and know that, while our actions are not okay, our relationship with God is. Because Jesus paid the highest price to make us okay. Because God loves you – no matter what.

How Jesus Decluttered my Life

MY desk on a good day

The saying goes, “less is more,” meaning the less clutter you have in your home, life, etc. the more home, life, etc. you have.  It’s a lesson I’ve yet to learn as I look around my study, cluttered with books, boxes, toys, sewing stuff, and tons of notebooks.  But, because of Jesus, there are some areas of my life where I am truly grateful that less really is more.

Because of Jesus, I am shameless – Romans 8:1 says, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  I did not always live for God, and my sin caused me tremendous shame.  Even after I became a Christian I still stumbled in many ways, and the enemy heaped shame on me.   But Jesus took all my shame to the cross and the grave.  When He rose to life again, my shame stayed buried forever. Whatever you may have done, no matter how shameful it may be, Jesus can set you free.

Because of Jesus, I am guiltless – Hebrews 10:22 says, “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.”  We’ve all had feelings of guilt—because we are all sinners.  Jesus’ blood falls on all who will come and kneel beneath the cross, washing away all our sin, and with it our guilt.  You can set down that heavy burden and run into your Father’s presence knowing that His arms are open wide to receive you.

Because of Jesus, I am fearless – 1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment.”  God loves you and me perfectly with an everlasting love that will never fail, no matter what we may do.  Because of His perfect love, we no longer have to tip-toe into God’s presence, fearing His anger and wrath. 

Jesus took all our sin and with it all the consequences and the burdens that sin brings. Because of Him you and I can be shameless, guiltless, and fearless.  Beloved, don’t let your life get cluttered with all this stuff.  Grab hold of the “less is more” principle and walk in the freedom Christ won for you.

Hebrews: Perfection

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Many profess Romans 8:28 as their favorite verse: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” But what is God’s purpose? That we would be “conformed to the likeness of His Son” (v. 29). Our purpose is to be like Jesus.

In our ongoing study of Hebrews, we’re looking at several reasons why the Father sent His one and only Son to earth to die for humanity.  One of those reasons also answers the question – “How does God accomplish His purpose?” Hebrews 2:10 says “. . . it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.” Jesus was made perfect through suffering.

Now wait just a minute, you’re thinking, Jesus was always perfect! What does this mean? The word used here is teleioo and it means “to accomplish, bring to a planned end.” Its root word is telos. Another word that shares that root is in Jesus’ last words on the cross: “It is finished!” (John 19:30)  Jesus was “made perfect” in that His purpose for coming to earth was accomplished – it was perfected.

But back to our question: How does God accomplish His purpose? Through suffering. Through the cross. Through beatings and a crown of thorns and nails through His hands and feet. Will be any less for you and me? Suffering is the hammer and chisel He uses to shape us into the very image of His Son. This was important to the Hebrew recipients of this letter who were undergoing intense persecution for the name of Jesus. They were contemplating giving up. The author was encouraging them to stay firm in their faith because their suffering had a purpose to make them perfect. Just like Jesus.

The same is true for you and me Beloved. The “all things” from Romans 8:28 includes suffering. But the teleioo – the perfection is worth it. We will be like Jesus! Beloved, suffering means that God is perfecting you, just as He did His Son. Oh, but when He’s finished you won’t believe how good you’re gonna look!

Independence Day

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“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” Galatians 5:1

Here in the United States, July 4th is our Independence Day – the day when our nation’s founding fathers declared our freedom, vowing that America was no longer subject to the British. They wrote and signed a “Declaration of Independence” to proclaim their right to sovereignly rule themselves. In the spirit of this day, I am declaring my own independence.

I declare that I am no longer subject to the lies of the devil or the world. I will be a wise Berean and take everything I hear and “examine the Scriptures” to see if it is true (Acts 17:11). I will listen only to God’s Word because His Word sets my heart free (Psalm 119:32).

I declare that I am no longer subject to sin. I have been set free from sin through Jesus Christ (Romans 6:18). Sin is not my master (Rom. 6:14). It has no power over me and I will not submit to it anymore.

I declare that I am no longer subject to fear. I am a child of God and He has lavished His great and perfect love on me (1 John 3:1). Perfect love casts out all fear (1 Jn. 4:18).

I declare that I am no longer subject to the opinions of others. “If God is for me, who can be against me?” (Romans 8:31). What does it matter what other people say about me if I am accepted by God through His Son?  I seek only His “Well done!” (Matthew 25:21).

I declare that I am no longer subject to my own emotions.  I will “set my heart at rest in His presence whenever my heart condemns me. For God is greater than my heart” (1 John 3:20). I will bring my emotions under the control of the Holy Spirit and not allow them to control me.

This is my Declaration of Independence. And it is also my Declaration of Dependence on God because He is the sovereign Ruler over my life. He has set me free from all these things and from the punishment I deserve – the punishment His Son bore for me. I am subject only to Him. So, what about you, Beloved? Will you declare this July 4th as your Independence Day?