Thursday, December 25, 2008

Good-bye, Dad

This afternoon, on this bright and mild Christmas day, my father left this world behind and went to be with the Lord. While he was struggling with ever-increasing weakness in his limbs, his heart continued to beat strongly, giving us no indication that the end was so near. Then on Tuesday evening, sudden and severe pain had my sister dialing 911. He was rushed to the hospital and in 48 hours was dead from a blood clot in his lung. Losing him so quickly and in the midst of holiday celebrations has been numbing. I miss him already.

My dad was a wonderful man, a good husband, and one terrific dad. He had a great laugh. One of my favorite childhood memories is of each night when he would come home from work and open the Hartford Times to the funnies and roar right out loud at the jokes. He loved to laugh. You could tell him the same story over and over, and he would still laugh heartily over the punch line.

Our little family went on a vacation every year. We didn’t have too many where things didn’t go wrong at some time or another. At night, we would lay in bed, roaring at our misery. The more miserable we were, the harder we laughed. In retrospect, my best vacation memories are of the worst vacations. Like when we went camping at Virginia Beach and it did nothing but rain the entire time. Two years in a row.

One thing my family taught me was that laughter can get you through a whole lot. I will miss laughing with my dad.

I have many fond memories of spending time with my dad from my younger days. We sailed together, mostly on Bolton Lake, but down at the Connecticut shoreline as well. Every year he took me along to help him shop for my mom’s Christmas present. I loved singing next to him in church, him belting out the bass line while I sang alto. (Dad taught me how to sing parts from a hymn book when I was in fifth grade.) He taught me to ride a bike, plant a garden, and how to wash dishes. We shared a love for music; when I heard a good piece of music I could hardly wait to get home to share it with him. We had great talks about the Lord. His firm conviction in his salvation and the presence of God in our lives was a great influence on me.

Dad was a giver. When my mom died, there were quite a few people that came to me with stories of how my dad sent money to them when it was needed. He was always ready to lend a helping hand or some good advice. He felt responsible for those people he knew. And even for those he didn’t.

One rainy afternoon, as he crept along in traffic on route 84 west, he spotted the reason for the backup. A lady was on the median with a blown out tire. He stopped and changed it for her. Her spare was also flat. So he told her to drive slowly off the highway, and he would follow her to the nearest gas station. The grateful husband called dad the next day and offered to send he and mom out to dinner (he looked Dad up because of the ZINE license plate). My dad was only embarrassed to be recognized for his good deed.

Dad was a happy man. I’ve never known someone to be more content than him. He enjoyed a good meal and always remembered to compliment the cook. We used to sit on the front porch together on summer evenings, enjoying the sunset or watching an approaching storm. He noticed things in nature and enjoyed them. Dad taught me how to smell the roses. Even in his last months, when he was basically bedridden, he told me, “You know, as discouraging as my condition gets, I have never been in pain. I’m so grateful for that.” He was not a complainer.

I am a lucky girl to have had such a great dad. The world is a sadder place without him. But while I grieve my loss, I know he is in a better place. He saw my mom today after a nine year separation. I have been imagining their reunion all day-- how joyful it all must have been. To picture him finally face to face with Jesus, the Lord he loved, brings tears to my eyes. This is not good-bye forever. I will see him again.

“Blessed be the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you.” 1 Peter 1:3-4

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Rearview Mirror

It was dark, and I was late. I was on my way last night to speak at a Christmas Tea just north of Lancaster, PA. Sitting in stop and go traffic in Baltimore had used up all of my smoodge time. There was no time for mistakes. I took a wrong turn.

I didn’t panic until I ran out of civilization and realized something was very wrong. So I stopped at a convenience store to get help. Eight kind people gathered around my set of Google directions, trying to figure out where I was supposed to be headed. No one had heard of the cross street I was seeking. Finally one man in the crowd recognized my destination. He pointed me in the correct direction. I left the store amid warm wishes of good luck.

I found where I made my mistake, and gratefully resumed my course. The tea started at 7:00. It was now 7:10. Turning on to an even smaller rural road, I heard a clunk. My rear view mirror had just fallen off the windshield. Oh, come on.

Once I arrived at the church, my time with the ladies at Cocalico Community Chapel was well worth the trip. They were warm, friendly, and ready for a good time. While in the ladies room I met up with Suzy, who graduated from WBC with my husband and remembered him well. At my table, I sat with Esther, whom we also discovered had an interesting connection with me. Her best friend, Barb, lived with us for six months back in Lanham. I eventually shared with the women about the Light of the World, Jesus, who had come to bring light into a world walking in darkness. I even won a door prize! It was a very nice evening.

But now I faced the long trip home. In the dark. Without a rear view mirror.

Suburban girls like me get a little shook riding on dark country roads. I’m sure I would have enjoyed the scenery immensely if it had been daytime. But at night, the isolation and darkness seemed a little scary. And how would I ever make it home without a rear view mirror??

Yet as I drove my way south, to my surprise I discovered I hardly missed my rear view mirror at all. I really didn’t need it to drive safely. I remembered how much I depended on that mirror in normal circumstances. I began to wonder if I have spent a little too much time looking into my rear view mirror.

The Apostle Paul wasn’t guilty of looking backwards, at least not too often. He wrote the Philippians: “I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus… forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Paul indicates the two directions he has trained his eye toward: forward and upward. Forward to what God has called him to do. Upward toward his power source and promise of reward.

Note the two directions Paul does not allow himself to gaze. Downward, at his own two feet and obvious fallibility. Backward, at his past mistakes and regrets.

If we are to fulfill the purpose God has for our lives, we need to be careful at where we aim our gaze. I have the tendency to gaze into the rear view mirror. I should have done things differently, better than I did. I worry over past conversations and how I might have been offensive, or worse, sounded foolish in what I said. I also like to gaze at my own two feet. How could God use such a faulty individual? Who am I to stand in front of women like I have it all together?

The problem with both directions is that they are all about me. What I did. What I said. What I can do.

Yet what I need to do is continue forward, with arms outstretched, step by purposeful step moving toward the prize which has been promised me. My gaze must remain on Jesus, who has already walked on my path and now sits at the right hand of the throne of God. Resting in Him will provide the power to keep moving. The mistakes and regrets of my past are water under the bridge. Jesus died to release me from the burden of sin. He’s got it covered-- washing me clean in His precious blood.

I really don’t need that rearview mirror as much as I thought.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Expressing Gratitude

From the outside, my friend Peter seemed to have it all together. He was a bright, gifted young man, who became a Christian during his college years. Immediately he began to study and grow, soon discovering he had an incredible gift for teaching. After graduation, Peter spent his first two post-college years in full time work for the Lord, teaching scripture and mentoring students at several local colleges and universities.

Yet as he progressed in his ministry, Peter began to be plagued with doubts. He may have been a dynamic teacher on the outside, but on the inside, he was a mass of conflict. So much of what he preached was coming back empty for him on an emotional level. He began to doubt about even the existence of God. Finally one evening, after much inner turmoil, he decided he could not live with the doubt any longer. He would abandon his faith for good.

A half-hour later, there was a knock on his door. A young college co-ed stood outside with tears in her eyes. As she entered, she explained that she had serious doubts about the existence of God. "I want to believe," she told Peter. "Please help me."

Peter stood in his doorway, uncertain of his response. He knew exactly what this girl was experiencing, since his own struggle had come to a head just that evening. He had already decided he himself could no longer live with the conflict. Yet at the same time, he knew what Jesus said about teachers who lead followers astray. "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea." (Matthew 18:6) Peter knew while he might no longer believe, he did not want to be responsible for another's spiritual demise.

So he sat down and shared with her from God's Word. They looked at the five hundred witnesses who saw the resurrected Christ. In Matthew they saw how over one hundred prophecies written eight hundred years before Christ's birth were fulfilled during His lifetime. Too much evidence was contained in Scripture itself to be denied. It just didn't make sense NOT to believe that Jesus was the Son of God.

As Peter saw his young friend out the door, he knew he had just talked himself back into believing. By teaching the truths he already knew, those truths became even more compelling for him. There is a power that comes in verbally expressing our faith.

Paul tells the Ephesians that they should live lives yielded to the Spirit (Ephesians 5:17-21). What he suggests to foster this is to make verbal expressions of their faith: speaking to one another in psalms, singing hymns and spiritual songs, along with giving thanks for all things. There is something powerful about truth, that when shared aloud with others, it benefits the one speaking as well as the recipient.

Perhaps that is why Paul makes sure to mention giving thanks in many of his letters. We should be faithful to express thanksgiving aloud. And as the words come off our tongues, what they express becomes real to us in a new way. When we remind others about the faithfulness of God, we are encouraged ourselves and enabled to trust Him more fully.

This blog post is an excerpt from my weekly email devotional, The Dogwood Digest. To subscribe to this free newsletter, please use the link provided on the right hand margin of this page.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Broken to Reveal

The small regiment of three hundred men crept silently up the hillside under cover of night, excruciatingly aware of the enormous army camped in the valley below. As per earlier instructions, the men quickly fanned out in three groups, surrounding the camp. In their hands were unlikely weapons for war: each held a trumpet and a clay pot containing a hidden burning torch. They hunkered down and waited for the signal blast of Gideon's trumpet. All was quiet.

Abruptly, the trumpet blast sounded, piercing the quiet of the night. A crashing sound filled the air as each man simultaneously broke the clay vessel surrounding his torch. Suddenly the night was lit with three hundred torches dotting the perimeter of the camp. "A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!" the soldiers cried. The small army then blew their trumpets in loud, short blasts.

The sleeping camp below jolted awake. In terror, the disoriented enemy soldiers wildly looked around the perimeter of the camp and saw they were completely surrounded. Panic ensued. With no hope of surviving the onslaught, they fled the camp. The lights from three hundred torches had fooled a massive army into thinking they were outnumbered.

The clay pots had to be broken to allow the bright light of the torches to accomplish its purpose.

Many years ago, my husband and I were searching for a new church. One Sunday we attended a place which had a beautiful building, yet very few members sat in its pews. We learned they had recently gone through a terrible split when the previous pastor had to be dismissed. What once had been hundreds was now a congregation of no more than fifty.

However, one thing really impressed us during our brief visit. A big banner stretched across the front of the sanctuary. On it one word was boldly emblazoned: Brokenness. It was evidently the church theme for that entire year. We felt assured that only good things could come for them with that particular desire. If they wanted to be used to spread the gospel and reflect the glory of God to their community, they could not have picked a better emphasis.

Brokenness is key to our walk with God. Paul wrote the Corinthians: "God . . . is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves." Like the torches hidden inside clay pots by Gideon's men, we contain the flame and bright light of the Holy Spirit residing within us. The most effective means to exposing the world to that hidden glory is to metaphorically break the container.

What is brokenness? It is a dying to self. It is a determination to put aside our self-interest for servanthood and our love for God. We are broken when we determine to live obedient lives in imitation of Christ. After all, it was through His brokenness, the willing surrender of His life for ours, that Jesus ultimately redeemed us.

Jesus put it this way: "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." (John 12:24)

While largely dependent on our attitudes and resulting actions, these are not the only means to brokenness. God brings circumstances into our lives to accomplish our brokenness as well. Pain frequently accompanies this process. Paul warns that we may be afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, or struck down. These are the circumstances that God uses to produce a broken vessel. Yet we are also reassured by Paul that this process, while it may destroy our pride, self-sufficiency, or selfish desires, will not destroy us.

Like a piñata, which must be bruised, battered, and finally broken to allow its desirable contents to spill out onto the ground, our struggle will allow the treasure we hold within to pour out into the lives of those who surround us. Brokenness is the means to this important end. God will receive the honor and glory due Him. He chooses to do this though broken, earthly vessels.

This article is an excerpt from my weekly newsletter, The Dogwood Digest. You can subscribe to receive this free Tuesday morning devotional by using the link in the right hand margin of this page.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Forgetting the One Who Can Calm the Storm

And He said to them, "Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?" Mark 4:40

The disciples had not seen a storm like this one. As the Sea of Galilee was positioned in a mountainous funnel of sorts, wind could surge without warning down the narrow gorge from the north and whip the sea’s waters into a frenzy without warning. When they left the shore, the sea was calm. Now they feared the boat would be swamped.

Being experienced fishermen, the disciples knew how to handle a boat. But even the most experienced ones had begun to panic. The wind would not let up. The boat was filling with water, despite their attempts at bailing it out. They had tried everything they knew to keep themselves safe. All attempts had failed. They knew if their hope rested on their own resources, they were doomed.

So what did they do? They woke up Jesus, who was sleeping peacefully through the calamity in the bow of the boat. “Jesus! Don’t you care that we are about to go down with the ship?”

In stark contrast to their panic, Jesus calmly sat up. He spoke to the wind and the water with the authority He knew was His. “Be still,” He commanded. Immediately the wind stopped. The waves became calm water. Nature itself had obeyed the voice of the Lord.

The disciples were wide eyed as they sat in awed silence. Who was this guy? Even the wind and waves obeyed Him! If they were scared during the storm, now they were terrified.

We shake our heads at the disciples, who seemed so clueless. They had watched Jesus heal the sick, the lame, and cast out demons. Did they not realize that power like that could only come from God Himself? And why did they wait so long to wake Jesus? After seeing His compassion for others, how could they accuse Him of not caring?

We might shake our heads at the 12, yet we are too often guilty of the same mistakes. We have the benefit of looking back at the life of Christ. We are aware of His resurrection and ascension. We understand His mission in full, purposed to save the world from its sin. We are kind of like Monday morning quarterbacks. It is so easy to judge those who made foolish decisions while in the heat of the game after the game has been played out! So we, in our post-game wisdom, wonder at the dim-witted disciples. Yet even knowing what we know that they did not, we still make the same mistake.

When a crisis comes, all too often our first response is to rely on our own resources. Like the experienced fishermen bailing out the boat and barking commands to the other passengers, we depend on what we know to do in the heat of the moment. It is only when we come to the end of our own strength that we finally turn to the Lord, who has been present in our boat all along. We are helpless, out of ideas, out of hope. Now we are ready to listen to what He has for us. And when we see His hand at work in our lives, we wonder anew at who He is. When we turn to Him in trouble, we understand His power and compassion for us a little more. And we wonder that we did not turn to Him in our first moments of despair.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Deposit before Withdrawl

It was a miscommunication. I wrote a check for the house mortgage payment. So did my husband, Steve. We both dutifully mailed them off, assuming the other had forgotten. A few days later, checks started to bounce. Realizing our mistake, we immediately called the mortgage company to get back our desperately needed funds. They assured us that the mortgage had been paid for the coming month as well. No, they could not refund our payment. Bottom line: we were overdrawn with no funds coming in until the end of the month.

So we ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on our trip north rather than stop for fast food. My meal plans became centered on what we already had in the pantry. Wherever we could save a dime, we did. Our meager savings got us through the crisis, and by the end of the month, we were on stable ground once more.

You can't withdraw money you haven't put into an account. This is a lesson most of us learned in our first year of college or work, usually the hard way, when receiving notification that several checks had bounced. Worse yet, a hefty fee is applied for each check written on insufficient funds. Hard knocks lesson #1: You have to deposit before you can withdraw.

Jesus illustrated this point at a banquet held in his honor by Simon the Pharisee. A woman had come, uninvited, to express her love for Jesus. She knelt by him, her tears falling onto his dusty feet. Wiping the tears with her hair, she poured perfumed oil onto his feet. Each one of her actions was an expression of her devotion and gratitude to Jesus. Simon was not impressed. "If this man were truly a prophet, he would know just what kind of woman is touching him," he thought.

In the next moment, Jesus proved he was no ordinary man by responding out loud to Simon's silent thoughts. He told a story of two debtors who owed large sums of money. The first owed 50 denarii, which is equivalent to approximately a year's wages. The second owed 500 denarii, a debt unimaginable to a first century Jewish peasant. In an act of mercy, the money lender, seeing that they were unable to repay his loan, decided to forgive both men for their debts. They were free and clear. Jesus posed a question to Simon: "Now which one of them will love him more?"

What was Jesus getting at? The woman was a sinner, fallen from acceptable society, rejected and scorned by her own townspeople. Yet she had been given the gift of forgiveness. Now her cup overflowed. She had much love to give because she had been given much love. The bigger the bank account, the greater the possibility for withdrawal.

Zaccheus, chief tax collector, famous for his climb up a sycamore tree in order to see the Lord, was another notorious sinner. He too received acceptance and love from Christ. His immediate response to what he had received: start giving. He presented half of all he owned to the poor. By way of recompense, he promised to give back four times the amount he had defrauded each individual. What prompted him to be suddenly so generous with his resources? His account was filled to overflowing. Because he was unconditionally loved and forgiven, he could give without restraint.

Being generous with our love should be a prominent characteristic that marks us as children of God. Yet loving others is not always easy. In fact, some people are nearly impossible to love! How can God expect us to love the un-lovely? The answer is that He has already provided the resource we need to accomplish this. He loved us first. "We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us," John wrote in his first epistle. "We love, because He first loved us."

We have already received a limitless quantity of love and mercy from God. He could not love us more. He gave everything most precious to Him to redeem and save us from eternal suffering and condemnation. All this he did while we were his enemies. Now, filled with the knowledge of how completely we are loved, we are capable of allowing some of that limitless supply to overflow from our lives into the lives of others. It is like filling buckets from an ocean. There is so much more than enough to go around.

Our bank account is filled to capacity. There is more than enough to give away. We can write those "checks" without fear of overdrawing.

This was the November 11 article of my devotional newsletter, The Dogwood Digest. To subscribe to this free weekly email, click on the appropriate link located on the right hand column of this blog. Thanks!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Why Do They Leave the Faith?

I have recently been reconnecting with many of my former students through the magic of Facebook. I love reading about their lives, especially those who have continued to live for Christ beyond their years as students in the Christian school. But it is also heartbreaking to see so many who left Jesus behind when they left home for college and beyond. It brings up the age-old question of where we are going wrong in Christian education, as we are losing so many once they leave the fold.

A favorite show of mine comes on A & E and is about companies that buy an old, decrepit house, gut it, and turn it into a modern, beautiful home (then sell it for a huge profit). Of course, the process does not get accomplished without some heartburn on the part of those doing the transformation. But their frustration and the challenging circumstances are what make the show fun to watch.

On one particular episode, a South Carolina company purchased a home that had a renter currently living in it. The man was barely surviving. He was unemployed, drinking too much, and living like an animal. The house was trashed. But rather than evict the renter, the company took it upon themselves to improve his life for the better. They moved him out to a hotel while the work on the house went on. He was taken for a haircut and a shave, given new clothes, and in keeping with his new image, even given a new job. Finally, at the end of the show, the man was given the keys to his newly renovated home. A happy ending, to be sure.

Then a few months later, the same company was again featured on the show. An employee of the company stopped off to check on the man they had worked with months before to collect the rent. She was disgusted to find the man had already trashed the house. He had quit his job and resumed living like an animal. None of their efforts had done a thing to change this man’s life for the better.

In reality, the transformation months before had only been a surface one. We don’t change a person by changing their circumstances. Who we are remains, no matter where we are planted.

I once had a disagreement on this very subject with a fellow faculty member in a Christian school. He was convinced that if we made students tow the line on the uniform rules, it would impact their spiritual lives. “Make them conform on the outside,” he told me, “and they will conform on the inside.” I shook my head at such foolishness. No permanent change happens because of what we impose on another. Change only comes as a result of the work of the Holy Spirit in a life.

And that is what God has provided for those who believe in Christ. Ephesians 4:22-23 tells us, “In reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your new mind, and put on the new self, which has been created in the likeness of God, in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” The change God has accomplished in us is more than a surface change. It involved the creation of a whole new self, created in the likeness of God. We are a new creation.

Our circumstances did change. Yes, there is hope where their previously was none. Yes, every minute of our lives now has meaning and purpose. But God did not just change our circumstances. The biggest change is in who we have become. We have been changed from the inside out. And the change is permanent.

As I ponder over the children who leave their faith along with the Christian school upon graduation, I have to believe that this truth is crucial to understanding the problem. So many who are educated in Christian school have only learned the language and outward actions that made them an acceptable part of the Christian community. They have adapted to their environment. Yet the circumstances imposed upon them will not bring a permanent lifetime change. True transformation is a work of God.

So what can we do as Christian educators and parents desiring to see our children walk with the Lord throughout their lives? We should pray for the Holy Spirit to do His work within their hearts. We also must be careful not to be a stumbling block to this all-important process by talking one way about God and living another. If we are forgiven, recipients of grace, loved unconditionally, then these same qualities must mark our lives. Kids can smell a phony a mile away. We represent Christ to them. We had better make sure their understanding of Him is not warped by our actions. We need to make sure our outward selves reflect the change that has happened on our inside.

But ultimately, God is the One at work in our children’s lives. My son Adam once told me, “Pretty much the kids you knew ‘got it’ while we were in school are the ones who continued on for the Lord.” There were not too many surprises, according to my kids, as to who stood firm and who walked away. It was the ones who had obviously been transformed from the inside out all along.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Confessions of a Spiritual Wannabe

I am subscribed to several online devotionals which seek to minister especially to women. One particular group puts major emphasis on having a daily quiet time. I have a confession to make: I am a devotional failure. Oh, I have tried. I have invested hundreds of dollars in trying to find just the right devotional book. In my desk drawer are numerous prayer notebooks started with the dates carefully noted of when I first made a request. The spirit is willing. I just can’t seem to remain consistent. This week, I think I have discovered why.

I used to think it was because I was NOT a morning person. Anyone who sat with me for two years in early morning Greek class will testify to that one, along with my husband, who IS a morning person and will tell you most definitely I am NOT. And anyone who knows anything about devotions will tell you that the morning is the most appropriate time to spend with the Lord. It will set the tone of your day, and allow you to put priorities in order. For me, devotions in the early morning meant nodding off -- again.

So I tried it in the evening. Snuggling under the covers with my Bible at bedtime sounded like a good plan. The problem with a bedtime devotional was I was physically tired at the end of the day. My mind was tired, too. So as I struggled to stay awake, I found concentration to be at a shameful level. I was definitely not giving the Lord my best.

Spiritual people know if you are going to walk with the Lord, you had better be good at devotions. I was doomed.

This week my twenty-somethings Bible study group discussed Mark 2:23-3:12. Jesus had been walking through the fields with His disciples, and the disciples were picking grain to eat on their way. The Pharisees were indignant, because it was the Sabbath. It was an outright violation of the oral law. And so they confronted Jesus.

First of all, let me assure you, neither Jesus nor His disciples had broken any law in the Torah. They were not working to harvest crops. They were gleaning to eat. The Pharisees in recent centuries had taken the Law in the Pentateuch and written their interpretation of its parameters, known as the Oral Law. There were over 1,000 regulations in place about keeping the Sabbath alone. Picking grain to eat on the Sabbath did violate some of those-- but they were the invention of man, not God-breathed.

Jesus gave the Pharisees a firm response. “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath,” he told them. God had put rules about the Sabbath into place to benefit man. Man would be tempted to work hard, trying to get ahead, for all seven days of the week. You can only operate at that level for a limited time. Life would become all about work and production. God put Sabbath rules into place to insure man would take a day to remove himself from his livelihood. That day was to be set aside to worship the Lord. Reconnect with God. Give man a chance to enter rest, both physically and mentally. It was a foreshadowing picture of the “rest” that God would offer man through belief in His Son-- an eternal rest (Hebrews 4:3-9).

The Sabbath was to benefit man. Yet the Pharisees had taken a gift of refreshment from God and made it into a burden for the people. The Sabbath had become a day where one walked on eggshells for fear of breaking a rule. The Pharisees had turned a simple concept and convoluted it into a system.

My husband says whenever we attempt to add specific rules to a command in Scripture, we end up on a legalistic track. It becomes all about keeping the system, rather than the people whom the system is supposed to be serving.

Back to devotions. We can’t view devotional time with God as a good luck charm, insurance that your day will go well. We also can’t make the effort one more thing to check off on our list to affirm us in our spirituality. The whole idea behind devotions is to spend time in God’s Word and prayer because we love Him, not because it is on a to-do list.

However those two things get accomplished is not important. I do my best praying while walking the dog or driving in my car. I have been a student of God’s word my whole life-- and while the way that I study does not match up to a typical devotional pattern, I am not ashamed of what the Lord has taught me over the years.

We shouldn’t do devotions because it is one more hoop to jump through. We should pray and study because we love Him and we need Him. So while my devotional efforts may not follow the standard expectation or pattern of most Christians, I am content in what the Lord and I have worked out together.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Gifted for the Good of Others

As I scurry around today getting ready for a weekend retreat, I am thankful for what the Lord gave me this morning from Ephesians as I started my day with Him. I am in chapter 4, where Paul is listing the gifts Christ bestowed on those He redeemed. Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers. . . all given for the equipping of the saints. Not the saint who has been gifted, mind you. The saints who will be the recipients of the gifted individuals’ efforts.

Until this point, Paul had been writing about the need for unity within the body of Christ. Jews and Gentiles have everything that matters in common, Paul has told them. We all came to be part of the church from an equal playing field-- sinners saved by the grace and mercy of God. At the beginning of chapter 4, Paul tells the Ephesians to walk in a manner worthy of their calling. He then lists attitudes necessary to do this: gentleness, patience, tolerance, and diligence to preserve unity. It struck me as I read through these a few days ago that each attitude puts others’ needs before my own.

Now as I read the reason for the gifts given to members of the church, that same attitude rings clearly. We are here for each other. God has gifted us to build each other up.

In my line of work, that truth often gets swallowed up as a speaker gains popularity. It becomes all about their ministry rather than about the people that are recipients of their ministry. It is an easy slide into self-importance when you are up in front of a crowd, their faces earnest, writing down every word you say. Yet if we allow ourselves to become the center of what we are trying to do, we will miss the mark. Our ministry will become about self-promotion, rather than about assisting others to maturity.

God, protect me from this!! Make me so aware every time I stand in front of a group of women that you are choosing to use me in order to build your church. It is not about me, nor about building my ministry. It is about bringing others closer to the mark of being mature in Christ.

Every time I speak, the Lord seems to bring a truth like this along to remind me of my dependence on Him. I need it-- my heart so quickly strays from Him and on to my own agenda. My prayer today, as I travel up to the mountains to meet with the women at Grace Presbyterian, is that God will use me, the gifts He has given me, to encourage His people along the right paths.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Wanting to Belong

I have always wondered about the ratings which determine the viability of television shows. Who are these people that named what show they were watching at any given moment? No one has ever called me to find out what I was watching. Then last week we received a postcard from Nielsen TV’s Media Research group inviting us to become a part of the Nielsen Family. They followed up a few days later with a phone call, instructing us how to fill in their booklet for one week’s worth of TV viewing. As the call came to an end, the lady on the other end of the phone told me enthusiastically: “You are going to have fun! Welcome to the Nielsen Family!”

Being included in a group can be a strong motivation, and Nielsen knows it. We used to call it the “bandwagon” technique of advertising in the fifth grade. Don’t be left out! Join everyone else who is doing it! As I finished my call with the Nielsen lady, knowing I was now part of this group which in part determines the success or fall of any given TV series, I have to admit, it did leave a bit of a warm feeling in my heart.

We all have a basic need for significance. We all want to belong. I thought about how people who become believers in Christ benefit in this way-- they suddenly find themselves a part of the church. They are warmly welcomed into the fold and are enthusiastically told of the privileges that come to one whose heart belongs to Him. Sunday mornings become something to look forward to as we meet with those who believe as we do. There is something very powerful about the fellowship aspect of being a Christian.

Yet, while the Nielsen Family may offer a bit of significance, we have been given so much more in Christ. Mr. Nielsen himself did not call me to invite me to join the family. In fact, he knows nothing about me. Not even my name. I was a randomly selected participant. However, the head of the Family of Christ searched me out specifically. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws Him” (John 6:44). The Father drew us, and before doing so knew more about us than we did ourselves. “The very hairs on your head are numbered,” Jesus told His disciples. The psalmist David remarked, “You perceive my thoughts from afar… Before a word is on my tongue, You know it completely, O Lord” (Psalm 139:2, 4).

Mr. Nielsen wanted me to join the family because of what I brought to the table. I would benefit his organization by my small contribution. God draws us into His family not for what we bring, but because He is love. His grace and mercy are an expression of that attribute. We are delusional if we think we deserve anything but condemnation.

Nielsen made no sacrifice in order that I might be declared worthy to be a part of the group. They did not offer compensation for our efforts. They figure our being part of the Nielsen Family is compensation enough, I guess. God, on the other hand, gave everything that mattered most to Him in order to provide the means with which to join His family. He sacrificed what was most dear to His heart-- His only Son-- for us.

So while being a part of the Nielsen Family is an interesting idea, it is no match for the bigger family I have been made a part of thanks to the grace and mercy of God.

“He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will to the praise and glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” Ephesians 1:4-6

Monday, September 22, 2008

Honest in the Struggle

Being engaged is a stressful period for anyone. At least that was the case for me and my man, Steve. As our wedding day approached, I began to struggle with doubt. Was I really ready to promise forever?

We were traveling to CT about a month before the wedding and stopped off for an overnight with friends. The wife of this happily married couple asked how things were between me and Steve. Confessing to my frequent periods of doubt, I confided, “You know, how you see things about the other person and say, ‘Do I want to live the rest of my life with that?’”

She shook her head, puzzled. “Oh no,” she sincerely replied. “I never had one doubt.” Her response shook me more than I cared to admit. Was this a sign that we were making a big mistake? Not knowing what was normal in a healthy engagement, I was afraid that maybe my struggle indicated our incompatibility. So over the next few weeks, I talked with other young couples who were already successfully navigating the waters of marriage. I found to my relief that doubts were a very normal part of the engagement experience.

One of my favorite passages in the Bible is when Paul shares his struggle in living for Christ. “There was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me-- to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9)

The older and wiser I get, the more I understand my own inadequacy for ministry. My weaknesses and shortcomings often threaten to overwhelm me as I stand to address an audience. I am such a sinner. I certainly don’t have it all together. Why should anyone listen to me? The above passage is what I cling to in moments like this. Then I remember: Yes, in my own strength, I am weak and inadequate. That is precisely how God is going to use me. His glory will be revealed through the cracks in my armor.

It would have been a sad thing had Paul not made his struggle public as he did. Millions of Christians would have tried to follow in his apparently perfect footsteps, and they would have failed miserably. The simple reason is there is no perfect Christian. Not even the great apostle Paul! To present a good face is to set up a phantom standard. The worst thing is, as others observe us, they might believe the façade. Then they will look at themselves and lose heart. They will never be as spiritual as that guy.

Jesus shared His struggle with others. In the Garden of Gethsemane, He told Peter, James, and John: “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.” He moved a short distance away from them, fell on His face, and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” Why did Jesus include His friends in that private moment, allowing them to see Him in His agony? Why didn’t He just show them a stiff upper lip and paste on a brave face?

I think the disciples needed to know that this event was going to cost Jesus dearly. They also needed to see it was OK to struggle. Most of all, they needed to understand that in the struggle, our most necessary response is to pray. So Jesus struggled in front of them. It would give them a memorable lesson, more than any teaching He could have verbally imparted to them.

We are grateful when we see we are not alone in the struggle. The perseverance of others against difficult circumstances serves to keep us moving in a positive direction. Only when we determine to be genuine with each other about our struggles, failures, and victories are we able to be an encouragement to the Body of Christ. Conversely, to act as though we never have doubts or problems only feeds our own selfish pride. Putting up a false façade may temporarily boost our own self-image, but we are setting others up for a fall when we do.

“Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” Galatians 6:1-3

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Heeding the Warning

It has been fascinating to watch the aftermath of Hurricane Ike’s direct hit on the Galveston/Houston area. I am especially curious about the people who ignored the evacuation orders for the island of Galveston. As they are rescued off rooftops or come inland after wading through chest-high waters, they all have a harrowing story to tell. Mostly what they seem to say is “I didn’t think it would be that bad.”

Those of us who do not live near to a hurricane evacuation zone do not understand the mentality of staying put when a destructive storm such as Ike sets its sights on a city. We understand that weather forecasting has its problems-- just look at all of the hoopla that went on over Gustav, a storm that fizzled and disappointed all expectations. Several years ago, Houston was told to evacuate as Hurricane Rita bore down on the city. More people died in the resulting traffic gridlock than in the actual storm. In addition, it is expensive to evacuate. Where will you stay? How will your needs for food be met? With an enormous exodus of a major city, it might seem prudent to stay put.

The National Weather Service issued a warning that “certain death may be possible.” While this phrase was somewhat amusing to me-- certain death MAY be possible-- an oxymoron at its finest-- the message is clear. Get out of there. You may not live to tell the tale.

I wonder what Steve and I would have done, but not for too long. I am pretty sure we would pack up the car and head west. Why? Because if the possibility exists that the storm will be enough to take our very lives, any inconvenience seems a small price to pay to avoid “certain death.” If the possibility exists, we should take action.

Peter tells us that a judgment is coming upon the earth. “Mockers will come … saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” … But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and the destruction of ungodly men… But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up… Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless.” (2 Peter 3:3, 4, 7, 10, 14)

The warning has been given. Yet many, like the ones who refused to leave Galveston, hedge their bets. Maybe the Day of the Lord will not happen during their lifetime. Maybe they have 80 some years on this earth-- so there is time to get serious about God later.

Yet the possibility exists that it could be today. Or tomorrow. And if the possibility exists, maybe we should take action.

I once dated a boy who loved to have a good time. When his grandmother died, for a brief time he looked death in the face. Seeing a window of opportunity, I spent hours with him explaining the salvation God offers to all through the death and resurrection of His Son. In the end, he just wasn’t interested. “I’ve got too much life to live. There’s time later to get serious about God,” he told me. I am heartbroken to report he died at 28 of AIDS-related problems. So much for thinking time was on his side.

If there’s even a possibility that we will face judgment, shouldn’t we act?

Monday, September 8, 2008

Colossians 4:14-18

Day 24

Luke, the beloved physician, sends you his greetings, and also Demas. Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea and also Nympha and the church that is in her house. When this letter is read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and you, for your part read my letter that is coming form Laodicea. Say to Archippus, “Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.” I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my imprisonment. Grace be with you.

If you have made it this far, you should be very proud of yourself!! These are the last verses in the Paul’s letter to the Colossians. There will be one concluding post tomorrow which will wrap up what we have studied these weeks in Colossians. I hope this study has been helpful to you-- I have loved doing it and appreciate what God has been teaching me as well.

Luke is with Paul in Rome during his imprisonment there. He is identified as a beloved physician. We know a lot about Luke through other scriptural references. Luke was a gentile who first appears on the scene in Acts 16:10 on Paul’s second missionary journey. He travels with Paul from Troas to Philippi, where he stays after Paul moves on. There was a medical school in Philippi where many believe Luke received his training, and it is likely that he was picked to stay behind since Philippi and its people were familiar ground to Luke. When Paul swings by back through Philippi, Luke joins him once again and stays with Paul all the way back to Jerusalem and ultimately to Rome. There he remains with Paul at least until the writing of Philippians.

Luke wrote two accounts included in the canon of scripture: the Gospel of Luke, and Acts. He got most of his information by carefully interviewing eyewitnesses. When you are reading through Acts, you can tell when he changes to a personal account, because Luke stops saying “they” and begins to say “we”. Luke was especially careful to mention women in his accounts; names and important details that some of the other gospel writers did not mention. For instance, Luke tells about a group of women who followed Jesus and financially supported Him through His three years of ministry (Luke 8:2). This is not recorded in any other gospel. His books are the only books in the Bible not authored by a Jew.

Demas is also with Paul at the time of the writing of this letter. Unfortunately, Demas’s ministry would only last a while longer. In 2 Timothy 2:10, Paul writes of him: “Demas, having loved this present world has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica.” How sad that one dedicated enough to follow Paul, who was in chains, to Rome, eventually lost his desire to remain faithful.

Paul also gives a specific message to Archipus (mentioned again in Philippians as a fellow soldier, son of Philemon, hometown Colossae) about his ministry: Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.” Did you notice that the ministry was not decided on by Archipus himself, but “received”? Ministry isn’t necessarily something one aspires to. Rather it is a responsibility that is handed to us from the Lord Himself. He equips us with gifts for the task and supplies the power for the work involved. Our obedience and effort are all that is required. This is a reassuring thought for me as I stand in front of an audience. God has called me, equipped me, and empowers me. The fruit of any ministry is a result of Him at work. We just need to be obedient.

Laodicea was to receive this letter originally addressed to the Colossians as well. We hear about Laodicea in the book of Revelation (chapter 3), when Christ urges their repentance from self-reliance. They were a wealthy church, and apparently eventually their wealth was a stumbling block to them in the end.

Not everyone who starts off well finishes well. We see the church at Laodicea as well as Demas somehow going sour before the last word is written in the New Testament. What made the difference between that and success? I believe it is where our focus lies. Demas became discouraged, probably with his circumstances. So he abandoned ship. Laodicea became focused on their own possessions and comfort. Suddenly the Lord was not so important in their lives.

Where is your focus drawn that might compromise your determination to finish the race strong? Prayerfully identify the things most important to you-- for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Colossians 4:10-13

Day 23

Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, sends you his greetings; and also Barnabas’s cousin Mark (about whom you received instructions; if he comes to you, welcome him); and also Jesus who is called Justus; there are the only fellow workers for the kingdom of God who are from the circumcision, and they have proved to be an encouragement to me. Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bond slave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God. For I testify for him that he has a deep concern for you and for those who are in Laodicea and Hierapolis.

Paul continues in his personal greetings, which is typical at the end of each of his letters. Some additional things we know about men mentioned here:

Aristarchus is mentioned several times in Acts (19:29, 20:4, 27:2). In Ephesus, Aristarchus was dragged into the theater during a riot which took place in reaction to a silversmith named Demetrius’ tirade. He was worried that so many people were becoming followers of Christ that the silver gods he and others made would no longer be purchased. The group he riled up stormed the city and dragged Aristarchus and Gaius into the theater. The cooler head of a town clerk prevailed and the men’s lives were spared. Aristarchus also traveled with Paul from Macedonia. He was originally from Thessalonica and went with Paul to Rome after his arrest. Paul identifies him as a Jew in this passage.

It is interesting to see that Mark had once again been by Paul’s side. In Acts 15:29, there is a dispute about Mark between Barnabas and Paul. Apparently on the first missionary trip, Mark deserted Paul and Barnabas in Pamphylia. Now planning their second trip, Barnabas wanted to take Mark along (who was Barnabas’s cousin). The feelings about this were so intense, Paul and Barnabas split up and went their separate ways. Paul went with Silas, and Barnabas and Mark sailed off to Cyprus. Yet we know the problem between them was eventually resolved, because in 2 Timothy 4:11, Paul writes of his desire for Mark to come to him. This is not surprising, in view of the intensity with which each of the men viewed their purpose in service-- to see Christ preached.

Epaphras was mentioned at the beginning of this letter as the one who brought news of the church at Colossae to Paul (1:7-8). He is mentioned again in another prison epistle, Philippians 1:23. Epaphras was originally from Colossae, and spend time in Philippi as well. His goal for the Colossians: that they may stand perfect (complete) and fully assured in all the will of God. He was apparently a gentile.

As Christians, we often dispute about doctrine or even less important things. Paul’s bond with each of these men is rooted in their relationship with Jesus Christ and their common goal to see Him preached. How often we let pride or a sense of self-worth interfere with the unity of the body! Paul was a man with strong opinions and a natural leader. Yet even he was able to put his own feelings aside and have unity with those he at times disagreed. Are there people in your church that make you mad? Think back over your relationship and plan for ways to show them love as Paul was able to do with his fellow workers.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Colossians 4:7-9

Day 22

As to all my affairs, Tychicus, our beloved brother and faithful servant and fellow bond-servant in the Lord, will bring you information. For I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts; and with him Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of your number. They will inform you about the whole situation here.

This last part of Paul’s letter is a section in which he expresses personal greetings and information. We know more about some of the people he mentions, as they are mentioned in other portions of scripture.

Tychicus was the bearer of this letter by Paul to the Colossians. He traveled to Colossae with Onesimus. We read about Tychicus in Acts 20:4. He was originally from Asia, and he traveled with Paul on his third missionary journey as Paul returned to Macedonia from Greece. In Ephesians 6:21, Tychicus is again mentioned as a beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord. He was sent to Ephesus by Paul and was there during the writing of 2 Timothy. Paul promises in Titus 3:12 that Tychicus would be sent to Titus with the aim of accompanying Titus to visit Paul.

Onesimus, the one with whom Tychicus traveled to Colossae, has a very interesting story. He was a slave, owned by a Colossian man named Philemon. Philemon was a devout Christian who actually had a church meet in his home. Onesimus escaped, and while in exile, met Paul and became a believer. Paul was sending Onesimus back to Colossae in hopes that he will reconcile with his owner. Paul wrote a separate letter to Philemon, which is included in the Bible just after the letter to Titus. Paul told Philemon, “I am sending you my very heart,” and expressed that he wished he could keep Onesimus with him, since Onesimus was now “more than a slave, but a beloved brother.” Paul offers to make things right for Philemon by having him “charge what he might owe you to my account.”

Both of these men obviously meant a great deal to Paul and had stayed with him for a while as Paul endured house arrest. While Paul had a huge impact on the church during his ministry, he spent much time with individual men and women, carefully teaching them. Paul cared deeply for those with which he ministered.

So did Jesus. He dealt with people on an individual level, winning one heart at a time. And so should we. One person at a time, one heart at a time. Each one is precious in God’s sight. Not one is insignificant.

Who is God placing in your path today? What does He want you to do for them?

Monday, September 1, 2008

Colossians 4:2-6

Day 21

Devote yourself to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; that I might make it clear in the way that I ought to speak. Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.


There are three specific commands in this passage that Paul passes on to the Colossians.

1. Devote yourselves to prayer.
If the Colossians are going to be able to put into action all Paul has told them in this letter, prayer is crucial to their success. Christ expressed this to the disciples in John 15: “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.” The Colossians must go to God frequently and remember that they are not doing anything on their own strength. They have resurrection power available to them-- and to not tap into that source would be foolish.

Paul gives specifics about their prayer:
a. keep alert
b. have an attitude of thanksgiving
c. pray for Paul: for open doors and clarity of expression

2. Conduct yourselves with wisdom.
The wisdom Paul refers to here is wisdom from above (3:2). If we conduct ourselves as the new creatures that we are, we will be acting in line with the image of Christ. Not only should the Colossians do this with fellow believers, as Paul taught in chapter 3, but with outsiders as well. Every interaction with a nonbeliever is an opportunity to show them Jesus Christ.

3. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt.
I was perusing several blogs today and was just floored at the nasty rhetoric that went on in some of the political blog talk. We have a country that is seriously divided along political lines. The venom and hatred expressed so freely is shocking-- on both sides of the debate. The world needs Jesus! They will see Him every time we give grace and forgiveness as we speak. There is no room for hatred or bitterness in a Christian’s self-expression.

All of these general commands are a wrap-up to the teaching Paul has given in his letter. We are to walk worthy of the Lord and please him in all respects. Our lives should bear fruit. Christ is God, and the head of the church. He has already won the victory on our behalf. So stop living in the past! We can live in victory, because He has already won! This should be played out in all of your relationships. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, heartily, as for the Lord.

Is my speech seasoned with grace? Do I give people the benefit of the doubt, or do I stand ready to judge?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Colossians 3:22-25

Sorry I haven’t posted for a few days! I was subbing in fourth grade for a dear friend the first three days of school. It was fun to be back in the classroom for a few days, but I am quite happy to be sitting back in front of my computer once again this morning! I promised to get us through Colossians by the end of the summer. It looks like we will spill a bit into September due to the days I was forced to miss posting. But Monday begins the last chapter-- so hang in there!

Day 20

Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality.


Paul continues to apply his instruction to the specific living situations his readers may have found themselves in. Yesterday we looked at family relationships. This morning we examine the relationship between slaves and their masters. While none of us are technically slaves, if you receive a paycheck, you are answerable to someone as you labor. So all of us can benefit from Paul’s instruction here.

Paul gives several instructions in how slaves are to obey their masters.

1. Not with external service, but with sincerity of heart.

This verse reminds me of whenever my small children had a fight. After hearing both sides of the story, I would bring the children together and require an apology from all sides, since the innocent party was rare. Sometimes the apologies would be almost comical if they weren’t so full of anger. “SORR---YYY,” a child would intone, their voice and facial expression both very clearly conveying that the required apology was less than genuine.

Slaves would be tempted to give a minimum effort, with a bad attitude just below the compliant surface, since the benefit for any effort would go to the master alone. We also might be tempted to give just such a half-hearted effort ourselves, especially if our supervisor appears less than competent or demonstrates other “unforgivable” flaws. Yet Paul warns against this kind of justification.

Key to Paul’s argument is what he stated back at the beginning of the chapter: Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. We no longer walk as though our life is centered on earthly things. We serve a higher power and live for a bigger purpose than pleasing men.

2. Work as for the Lord, rather than for men, knowing you will receive the reward of the inheritance from the Lord.

Paul observes that the people who rule over slaves are their masters, but clarifies they are masters on earth. Slaves are to obey them, but do so for the Lord. For in the end, their reward will be from the Lord and not from men.

Paul’s main point is this: It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. Our salvation touches every part of us. We are wrong if in our thoughts we try to compartmentalize our Christianity into neat little boxes. In reality, who we are in Christ spreads itself through every part of our being. Once saved, every part of our lives belongs to Him. How we act in our jobs and in relationships will all be affected. It is like spaghetti, not waffles!

Should we refuse to please God in this way, it should not surprise us when we suffer ill effects from our less than stellar service. I have seen Christians assume they are being persecuted at work for their beliefs when in reality they suffer because they are incompetent or behave in an obnoxious manner. The consequences Paul is speaking of here are earthly consequences, handed out by an earthly master. Being a Christian does not protect us from the consequences of our own sins against men.

How am I serving in my earthly responsibilities? Am I giving lip service or trying to slide by, excusing my lack of integrity by pointing the finger at my circumstances? Or am I serving the Lord wholeheartedly in whatever situation He has allowed me to be in? Make a set of goals for yourself that will live out the action Paul is commanding in this passage.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Colossians 3:18-21

Day 19

Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them. Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.

Paul continues in his exhortation to “put on the new self . . . according to the image of the One who created him.” Our new identity in Christ should be manifest in our relationships. Earlier Paul made general statements about how all Christians should treat each other-- with forgiveness, humility, and compassion. Unity should mark the church.

Now Paul gets relationally specific. Walking worthy of the Lord means reflecting the character of Christ in all of our relationships. Perhaps the most challenging of these relationships are within our own families. A true test of the extent of someone’s godliness is in how they act at home. There we relax and let our guard down, not worrying about appearances. Yet our new self should affect every aspect and relationship in our lives-- even those at home.

1. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
It is interesting that Paul begins with the wives. The husband is the head of the home, Paul writes elsewhere (1 Cor 11:3). Why wouldn’t he begin with him? I wonder if it is because the wife largely sets the tone in her home. (Remember this one: “When mama ain’t happy, ain’t no one happy”?)

A wife, by her submission, sets the tone in her home. A wise older woman once told me that it was my responsibility to teach my children to respect their father. I took that advice very seriously. I never spoke disparagingly about my husband to my children. The larger part of that instruction, however, occurred as I lived out my commitment to my husband in front of the kids.

Biblical submission is not a synonym for obedience. Otherwise, why would Paul have used a different word when he addresses the children two verses later? Submission is voluntarily putting the needs of the other above our own, with the purpose of enabling them to fulfill their responsibilities. (I did a word study on submission several months ago, which is located in this blog’s archives on February 25, 2008.) Implicit in submission is a respect for God’s purpose for that individual.

2. Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them.
Biblical leadership is not a position of power. Peter makes this clear in his first letter, when he exhorts the elders to exercise oversight, “not lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3). Nowhere in scripture are husbands ever commanded to make anyone submit. Submission is a voluntary act. Biblical leaders lead by example.

Paul urges husbands to love their wives, a command repeated in Ephesians 5:25. That love needs to be sacrificial in nature, as Christ’s love was for the church. This kind of love does not come naturally to anyone. Yet it is possible for us because we have been made new creatures in Christ.

3. Children, be obedient to your parents in all things.
Again, obedience is not a natural instinct!! No one had to teach my children to roll their eyes or shirk responsibility. I had a friend that decided she would never say “no” to her children, so that her children would not shout the word at her like many other toddlers she had observed. She soon discovered no instruction was needed for her son in this little skill-- he shouted no with the best of them.

Yet as believers, our relationship with Christ needs to be displayed in every area of our lives, even as children. No compartmentalizing of this life-changing encounter.

4. Fathers, do not exasperate your children so that they will not lose heart.
This is a great command of which all parents should sit up and take notice. We need to notice every time our children try to do the right thing. They may not do something thoroughly enough by our standards, but we need to see the heart behind the effort. I knew a mother of a little first grader that worked an hour on a take-home paper for school. She carefully chose each color and worked hard to stay in the lines. When she proudly turned the paper in the next morning, the teacher glanced at it and wrote: Messy. Try to be neater. The child was discouraged that her effort had meant nothing to the teacher. The next time she hardly tried at all.

Children want to please. Before we begin to throw around accusations, we need to listen and find out where their heart is in each situation. We need to give them the benefit of the doubt. We don’t want to discourage them from future effort.


All of these relationships are affected by the presence of Jesus Christ in our lives. Just before today’s passage, Paul commanded the Colossians: Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus. Our contribution to a relationship is not based on what the other person does. It is based solely on the fact that we are living for Christ alone. The kind of wife, husband, child, or father you are should be a reflection of this fact.

Think of three ways you can fulfill Paul’s command to you in your own situation. Pray and ask God to help you do these things in obedience to Him.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Colossians 3:17

Day 18

Whatever you do in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.


This one verse is so power-packed, it needed its own special slot in our daily Bible study!

Whatever you do, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus. . . Paul is implying a life-style level of commitment with this single statement. To do or say something “in the name of” someone else is to assume their approval of that action. Peter used this very phrase in Acts 3 when he commanded a lame man: “In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene-- walk!” By invoking the name of Jesus, Peter made two things perfectly clear. First, he demonstrated on whose behalf he was performing the miracle. Second, he leaves no doubt as to the power source behind the miracle. Peter was acting as an ambassador for Christ. Paul also calls himself an ambassador two times in other New Testament letters: 2 Corinthians 5:20, and Ephesians 6:20. To operate in the name of Christ is to operate as an ambassador of Christ.

What does an ambassador do? He first is a representative of his government to the foreign country in which he resides. He delivers or fulfills the messages and wishes of his own head of state and acts purely on his command. An ambassador is not there to expound on his own viewpoint or opinions. He is there to make the desires of his chief known.

When we operate in the name of Jesus, our own feelings and prejudices are to be put aside as we strive to represent the King of Kings. Paul already hinted at this idea when stressing the need for unity within the body.

Whatever we do, whatever we say, we are to be doing all in the name of Jesus Christ. How we treat strangers at the grocery store, the manner with which we speak to our spouses, how diligently we carry out our responsibilities at work, should all be a reflection of our commitment to Christ Jesus. We live for Him, we act because of Him, and any good we accomplish is through His power.

Today as you go about your routine, remember you are an ambassador for the King! May all of your actions and words reflect that fact-- do all in the name of Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Colossians 3:12-16

Day 17

So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just a the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.


Paul has now spent quite a few verses refuting the false teaching present in the church at Colossae. Part of that false teaching involved an idea of elitism, where only a select few would receive the special knowledge necessary for salvation. This invoked disunity among the people. Paul, in reaction, stressed the unity that we have in Christ. The fighting and verbal abuse must end. Harmony should be what marks the people of God.

The Colossians needed to replace their prideful interactions with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. They should bear with one another and forgive what had gone on before. Why? Because Christ had forgiven them of much worse. If we are following Him, we will imitate Him. And forgiveness is a part of that package.

The Colossians were to function as one body. There were two things Paul names that make that kind of unity possible. The first is love. The second is peace.

1. Love
To find a good biblical definition of love, go to 1 Corinthians 13. Love, according to biblical standards, is not an emotion. Rather, it is an action. The actions of love place the other person’s needs above our own agenda. Words Paul uses, like patient, kind, does not seek its own, does not hold an account of wrongs, etc. all paint a picture of selfless devotion to another. Here in Colossians, Paul echoes this idea. Loving actions are described with the additional: compassion, humility, gentleness, and forgiveness.

Imagine what an awesome body of believers we would be if we followed Jesus’ example of love. Philippians 2 gives a thumbnail account of this. Christ emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the most shameful kind of death: crucified on the cross like the worst kind of criminal. He didn’t hold back-- He gave until our needs were satisfied.

2. Peace
How can we love like that? It is not possible unless we are satisfied ourselves. That’s where the peace of God is essential. When we know our every need is met in Christ, we can give with others in mind. We can rest in His promises. We can rest in the fulfillment only He can bring. We can rest in His sovereignty and intimate involvement in our lives.

Knowing that we are filled to abundance, the need to promote ourselves and our agenda becomes a rather meaningless effort. The peace of Christ allows us to love like we should.

What other selfless actions do you associate with love? Make your own list. Check out Ephesians 4 for some ideas.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Colossians 3:9-11

Day 16

Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him-- a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.

Paul has just finished reminding the Colossians that they have died to earthly things. The false teachers were teaching that the Law must still be followed. Paul told the Colossians that this was an earthly solution, which was inadequate at best. Christ gave us a heavenly one. Our salvation came to us through Christ.

Another part of the false teaching was an idea which drove a wedge between God’s people. The false teachers taught that the special knowledge required for salvation was granted to a select few. It would be an elite group that found acceptance with God. Paul blows this idea right out of the water in today’s verses. There is NO distinction between Jew and Greek, slave and free, circumcised and uncircumcised. All we need to know is Christ. All we need to be is in Christ. We all had the same exact problem-- we were sinners in need of a Savior. Christ wiped the slate clean for each believer. This puts us all on an equal playing field: saved by grace. There is no place for disunity within the body of Christ.

Unity of the believers is a strong theme throughout the New Testament. When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he was addressing a plethora of major problems within that body of believers. Things like incest, adultery, abuse of the Lord’s supper, etc. horrified Paul and got a strong reaction from him. Yet what is the most important problem Paul addresses at the onset of his correspondence? Disunity in the body. Jesus prayed for His disciples the night He was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. He knew they faced a tumultuous few decades ahead as God established His church. So what did Jesus pray for? “That they might all be one. . . that the world may believe that You sent Me.” (John 17:21)

Any group of people can have unity when they are united around a common cause. But it takes supernatural power to have unity in the midst of conflict. Undoubtedly, the church through the ages has been a body with diverse opinions on doctrine and theology. Yet in the face of these, we are still commanded to have unity with each other. The basis for this is simple: we are all saved by grace. We are all in Christ Jesus. When we fuss, argue, and judge each other, we have taken our eyes off of the reason for our faith.

Paul is addressing the symptoms of this very problem. Apparently, the Colossians lied to each other, struggled with anger, and abused each other with words. We as Christians can easily succumb to this behavior, and astonishingly enough, often claim we are doing these very things in the name of the Lord! I was once a part of a church split that was ugly and hurtful. Each person held a strong opinion as to the doctrine in dispute. Unfortunately, they allowed their opinions to become more important than their fellow believers. Several people who had been attending the church as seekers turned away in disgust when they saw the behavior of those who had been claiming to live for Christ. I’m pretty sure the Lord was turning away in disgust as well. Pride was the main motivator-- and everyone involved lost. The church eventually dissolved as a result of the cancer which ate away the body from within. Satan had found a foothold in the anger and abuse of believers toward one another.

When have you experienced disunity in the body of Christ? What could you have done to obey Scripture’s command to be unified in Christ?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Colossians 3:5-8

Day 15

Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.

Here is the “therefore” word again—telling us Paul is drawing a conclusion based on what he has just said. In the passage preceding this one, Paul encouraged the Colossians to keep their focus on the things above, because they have died to earthly things. Now Paul gets specific on what the “earthly things” are to which they have died -- immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed. These are all marks of a person who lives for himself. As believers, we no longer live for ourselves, but to God.

These sins were the reason we needed a Savior in the first place—we were living in rebellion against our Creator, as what Paul calls “sons of disobedience”. Now that we have been rescued, to go back and try to live in that former way of life is to make a mockery of what was accomplished on the cross.

In the nineteenth century, girls wore shorter dresses until they came of an age when they were considered a woman. Once that age was reached, the shorter dresses were put aside and floor-length skirts and dresses were then worn, marking them as mature women. For a 21 year old to resort back to wearing the shorter dress of a younger girl would have been silly and inappropriate. Yet that is what we do when we put on the very sins from which we were rescued! We take on the characteristics of the ones who are still living in rebellion. We are to consider ourselves dead to these sins—because we are alive as new creatures in Christ.

Paul tells us to “put them aside”—which is an expectation that we be proactive in avoiding sin. The key strategy to doing this is in the previous passage. We are to keep our eyes trained on Christ, and our mind focused on things above. The battleground for spiritual things is in the mind. Peter tells us to “prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:13)

This is why keeping ourselves immersed in Scripture is so important. We are filling our minds with truth, which is preparation for spiritual warfare with the father of lies. Jesus Himself used Scripture as His weapon when confronted with Satan. He had plenty of power at His disposal, but Scripture was the weapon of choice.

What steps am I taking to prepare my mind? Do I have a strategy to avoid the sins of my old nature?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Colossians 3:1-4

Dear Friends:
I apologize for not posting until Wednesday this week. I am up in CT painting and rearranging rooms in my sister's home, getting ready for my grand-niece that is on her way in October. My computer time is limited! I write with paint-stained hands, but am delighted at this chance to get online and share this vibrant passage with you. Thanks for coming by!

Day 14

Therefore, if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.

Paul continues to address the false teaching that is present in the church at Colossae. Those promoting the heresy taught that keeping the Law, with its dietary restrictions and observances, along with self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, was necessary for salvation. In the previous chapter, Paul addressed the Colossians sternly against this idea. Salvation is through Christ alone. We cannot add to the victory of the cross—it was complete.

But Paul does not leave the Colossians just with what NOT to do—in chapter 3 he now addresses the positive side. Rather than putting our hope in earthly things like what the false teachers were promoting, Paul directs our attention to above the earth, on to the things above. Why? Because we have already died to the earthly means of attempting to win approval from God. We have already found the answer. It is in Jesus alone.

When Paul wrote to the Philippians, he shared the same heavenly vision: “Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3:13, 14) Do you notice the two directions Paul is directing his gaze? Onward and upward. No looking back at the past and the sins we have committed. It was all covered by the blood of the Lamb. No looking downward at our own two feet and what we can do on our own. Our gaze is to be trained on the Savior who has done it all for us. It is to be forward, ready to go where Jesus sends us.

When Peter walked on the water, he remained on the surface as long as his gaze was trained on the Savior. It was when he began to look at the wind, waves, and his own two feet that he began to falter.

And so it is with us. Our gaze must remain on what has been done for us. We are complete in Christ. No amount of religiosity will make us more acceptable to God. The atoning sacrifice was made for once and for all.

How am I continuing to try to win God’s approval? How does pride have a part in my efforts? Give over your efforts to God and rest once again in the Savior. His yoke is easy, and His burden is light.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Colossians 2:20-23

Day 13

If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.

How did we die with Christ? Paul answers this question in Romans 6: “All of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death. . . We have been buried with Him through baptism into death so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. . . our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.”

Our “old self”, the self that was born under the bondage and condemnation of sin, died when we received Jesus as Savior. With that declaration of faith, we were “born from above” (John 3:6), which was a second birth, this time a spiritual one. 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”

With that information in mind, Paul is wondering why the Colossians would think of abiding by the rules and regulations of the former life they had. They had put that life in the grave! They had been reborn. Yet they were being tempted to go back to the same “old things” that they had previously left behind.

The false teachers were advocating a return to earthly pursuits. They were urging the Colossians to keep their focus on themselves and on what they could do to achieve “holiness.” This might produce a product that might look religious on the outside, but in reality was pulling the focus back down to earthly matters rather than being heaven-bound, tearing it away from Christ.

Anything that pulls a focus away from Christ is a journey down the wrong path. It becomes all about us and our accomplishments. Soon we get so wrapped up in doing and saying the right things that our love for Christ takes a back seat to the life we are trying to live for Christ.

What God wants from us is complete dependence on Him. He doesn’t want us to strut around in our self-sufficiency. He wants us at His feet, aware of our need for Him, aware of our shortcomings. Because the truth of the matter is, any sense of sufficiency beyond what Christ has given us is not reality at all, but purely delusional.

What part of your old self do you continue to try to resurrect? Ask God for the wisdom to see those things, as well as the strength to move beyond them.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Colossians 2: 16-19

Day 12

Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.

Paul is once again teaching against the heresy which was making its mark in the church at Colossae. As was said earlier in our study, this heresy eventually evolved into what is known as Gnosticism. False teachers promoted the requirement that the church continue to be under the Law and observe all of its rites, ceremonies, and holidays. Paul is very clear in many of his letters that the Law and its requirements no longer have us under condemnation. Yesterday’s verses said that Jesus took that Law and nailed it to the cross. He fulfilled every requirement on our behalf. The Law was paid in full.

Notice the things Paul points out as no longer a requirement.
1. food and drink restrictions
2. festival, new moon, or Sabbath day observances
3. self-abasement (or self-mutilation)
4. worship of angels
All of these were a part of the pre-Gnostic teaching that was spreading throughout the fledgling churches of the New Testament.

One night when Sasha the Dog was new to our family, I took her out for a brief walk before bedtime. She was still extremely skittish around anyone unfamiliar to her, but other dogs really set her off. As we walked by the neighborhood pool building, headlights from an approaching car shone on us. Our shadows were displayed against the brick of the pool house. Sasha went wild. I tried waving my arms and showing her it was just us, but she didn’t get it. The shadows were just as real to her as the flesh and bones that we were. It was really rather silly.

Paul is demonstrating to the Colossians that all of the requirements of the Law, with its dietary restrictions and observances, were only ever a mere shadow of the real thing. The Law was meant to make a point, sent in our preparation to demonstrate to us our need for a Savior. But the Savior had already come! Why would you dedicate your focus onto the precursor when you have already seen the main attraction?

Paul also speaks to the motivation of the group doing the false teaching. They were defrauding the people by distorting the truth. Why? They were judging people by their own standard. They had become “inflated without cause.” In other words, their finger pointed outward, judging everyone around them and finding them lacking (except, apparently, themselves). They were missing the point of Christianity.

We cannot judge each other because we are all equally guilty. We all stood condemned, we all needed a Savior. We were all saved by grace. Christianity should be the great equalizer. The playing field is level. No one can claim one act as more worthy than another. We all exist because of the grace of God. Legalism cheapens the grace of God and places the responsibility of our salvation back on our shoulders.

What is the remedy for this destructive attitude of legalism? Paul points it out at the end of this passage. Hold fast to the head, Jesus Christ. When Christ is in His proper place, as the head, controlling the whole rest of the body, our perspective is right once again. Legalism takes the focus off of Christ and zooms it in on us.

Becoming legalistic is too easy for us. We delight in judging others because it makes us feel better about our own inadequacies. What false standards do you hold others accountable to in your mind? How does that attitude take the focus off of Christ?

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Colossians 2:13-15

Day 11

When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. When He disarmed the rulers and authorities, he made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.

This is one of my favorite passages in the Bible. In a quick thumbnail sketch, Paul gives us a wonderful picture of what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross. It was a victory unparalleled in the history of the world. Let’s take a look at what He did.

1. He made us alive.
We were dead. Maybe not physically, but spiritually, we were without hope or light. Because of the sin of Adam, the entire human race was condemned. Nothing we could have done could have wiped the slate clean. But Jesus could and did. His perfect atoning sacrifice paid for the sin of Adam and the subsequent sin of his offspring. “So then, as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men” (Romans 5:18).

2. He forgave us all our transgressions.
I wish I could blame it all on Adam. But unfortunately, my sin put Jesus on the cross as well. My voice was among the mockers as He carried his cross down the road to Calvary. When He died for the sin of the world, He was dying for all of the times I rebelled and put myself above the mighty, perfect God.

3. He cancelled the Law, nailing it to the cross.
The Law was given to demonstrate to the Israelites how to live when following a perfect God. Its careful instruction reflected the holiness that was His alone. Our need to be saved from our own evil nature became perfectly clear when we matched our standards against that of a holy God. Paul told the Galatians: “The Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.”

As instructive as the Law was, it was “hostile” to us as well. We couldn’t meet its standards. No matter how hard we tried, failure waited around the corner. It stood in silent condemnation of not only what we had done but of who we were.

When Jesus paid for our sin, He took that Law and metaphorically nailed it to the cross along with our sin. The Law’s terrible, impossible requirements had finally been fulfilled. Our debt was paid in full. The heavenly Judge banged his gavel and set us free.

4. He disarmed and made a public display of the rulers and authorities.
Paul uses this same phrase, “rulers and authorities” to describe Satan and his army of fallen angels in Ephesians 6. Satan’s goal is to bring as much destruction to God’s creation as possible. He pulls out the heavy armory when it comes to people who seek after God. In Ephesians 6:16, Paul tells us to take up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all of the flaming arrows of the evil one. What arrows does he aim in our direction? He reminds us that we are unworthy to be in the presence of God Almighty. He tempts us to move away from God in our own selfish pursuits. His intent is to make us feel we are without hope. Revelation tells us that Satan stands at the throne of God and accuses those who have committed their way to God. I can hear him now: What? You are letting her into heaven? Have you seen the way her heart turns so easily away from you? Watched how she makes a mess of her life? Looked into the dark, ugly parts of her heart?

If I run into Satan at the Throne of God, I will agree with him. Yes, Satan, you are correct. I don’t deserve to be here. I failed God even when I started with the best of intentions. But then I will point to Christ, and with all of the gratitude that is in my heart, look Satan right in the eye. I am here, not because of me. It is because of Him.

Satan lost the war that day that Jesus died for the sin of mankind. Not that there was ever any doubt of the outcome, of course. He still tries to engage us in skirmishes even though the war is already won. He has even had success, on a limited scale. But the outcome has already been determined.

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The cross was an ironic victory on so many levels. It was a victory over the impossible standards of the Law. It was a victory over sin. It was a victory over Satan and his army; his weapons are now powerless against us. We who believe are truly alive, and that life is eternal.

The victory over so much has been handed to us as a free gift. By the grace and mercy of God, we can claim Christ’s victory as our own. Are you living as one who has already claimed victory? Think about the areas in your life that do not reflect the victory that is already yours. Commit them to the Lord and ask for help to live out those things in a way that demonstrates you have already won.