Our Heavenly Father

Daily Readings – Leviticus 21-22, Psalm 36, Romans 10

Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the highest mountains,
your justice like the great deep.
You, Lord, preserve both people and animals.
How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!
People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

Psalm 36:5-7

These brief verses beautifully summarize the many dimensions of our amazing God.

It is easy from time to time to fall into a very narrow view of God. I catch myself frequently thinking about God primarily through the lens of his love and faithfulness. I have seen repeatedly through my life the truth in what David writes; God’s love truly does reach to the heavens and his faithfulness to the skies. And yet I don’t spend as much time contemplating God’s righteousness and justice.

There are many other Christians that have a tendency to do the opposite. They obsess over God’s righteousness and his justice but forget that they also serve a loving and faithful God!

The truth is, conveniently forgetting either of these fundamental truths about God paints a very one-dimensional picture. We serve a God who is endlessly loving and abundant in his faithfulness, but also, whose righteousness is like the highest mountains and whose justice is like the great deep!

For me personally, I love to meditate upon God’s endless love and faithfulness. I try to walk through life with that as my focus. I think this is how God would want it. I believe he would want us to constantly remember his amazing love.

However, at times it is extremely healthy to recognize that God is just and any ramifications we face for choices we make in our lives are fully deserved. If God chooses to give me a free pass from time to time and I escape any serious repercussions for decisions I make that are out of line with his will in my life, I should be extremely thankful. The problem comes when we come to expect that things will always work out fine when we make repeated bad decisions.

I know that I have fallen into that trap previously in my life where I ask God, “Why would you allow this stress, pain, frustration in my life to happen?”

…conveniently forgetting individual decisions, series of decisions, or lifelong habits, that directly lead to these negative outcomes.

Remembering that God is our perfect heavenly Father always helps me to wrap my mind around the two sides of God. As a Father myself I love my kids like crazy. If I thought they would learn lessons without me having to dole out negative consequences, I would lean towards barely ever punishing anything. (Just ask my wife!) Infinite love and grace is more fun!

Being an amazing parent takes a huge amount of love, but also requires a fair amount of discipline. This can be so challenging! None of us here on earth are perfect parents. God is. He is our perfect heavenly Father that knows exactly what we need.

It can be maddening when my kids are in the middle of doing the exact same wrong thing that we have talked about over and over again. Why don’t they just listen?! Then I think about my own life…I can only imagine God’s reaction in Heaven!

I can’t imagine how mad I would be at my kids all day long if I knew every single thought and saw every single action! I am not sure I would be able to muster “love that reaches to the heavens”!

The truth is that we deserve far more justice and far less love, and yet God does the opposite. He loves us so much that he took on human form and sacrificed himself on our behalf. He forgives us and wants us to simply turn back to him. Sometimes that requires consequences in my life that I might not understand or appreciate in the moment.

There is so much beauty in God’s justice and righteousness, as well as his love and faithfulness.

I know that I personally need him for both!

Thought to ponder

Which side of God do I have a tendency to disregard? How can I get to know and appreciate that aspect of God more fully?

Questioning the master potter

Daily Readings – Leviticus 18-20, Psalm 35, Romans 9

What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses,

“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. 

One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?

Romans 9:14-21

Full transparency, this is a passage that I struggle with. I desperately want to take on the mindset of Paul and embrace that God is the master potter and he has the right to do with a lump of clay what he wishes. I badly want to simply accept that God has a master plan much bigger than I can ever conceive and that occasionally he needs to raise up a Pharaoh for the purpose of showing his glory.

But I struggle.

I was tempted to simply throw Romans 9 into the daily readings for yesterday knowing I was going to write about Psalm 34. Then I could skip writing about it! I honestly didn’t have the emotional energy to really dig in and contemplate the full depth of this section in Romans.

I frequently catch myself falling into a common trap we see today in our Western World, where I would rather live in a world where bad things don’t have to happen for God to get the attention of his people. I want to create God in my own image instead of remembering that I was created in his. I want to say things to myself and to others along the lines of, “Well, a loving God would…” and then philosophize about how I would do things if I were God and project those items onto my heavenly father.

Then I remember that God loved us so much that he sent his only son to pay the ultimate price on my behalf. I remember that he loves me so much that, even though he has watched me fall short over and over and over again, he still welcomes me back as a loving father with arms wide open. He still showers me with blessings even when I have been a disobedient son. He loves us more than we ever deserve or could ever earn.

When I recalibrate in this way and take a step back, it is so much easier to trust God with his macro plan and not question every single micro detail. My human nature wants to fully understand every single thing that happens in life and ask God, “Why did it have to be done that way?” I am often so concerned with watching the stone hit the surface of the pond that I miss the ripple effect that goes cascading outwards.

It is so easy to miss the big picture.

And the truth is, Paul is right. God has infinite wisdom. Compared to God, I am a mere lump of clay.

This doesn’t mean that we should never try to dig in deeper and understand God better. God welcomes that. Throughout Psalms we see David going through constant ups and downs. We see him question God, frustrated with God, give praise to God, exalt God, and everything in between. And God called David a man after his own heart.

Our God is big enough to handle our frustrations, hurts, and anger. He wants a fully authentic relationship with us.

Don’t be afraid to dig in. Don’t be afraid to ask hard questions. Don’t skip over that passage you would rather not contemplate. There is beauty in depth. There is beauty in wrestling with God’s truth. There is beauty in coming to our father in Heaven and saying, “God, I don’t understand…but I want to.”

God wants all of us. Not simply the sanitized version. Today I will give it to him.

Thought to ponder

What questions have I avoided digging into and been unwilling to turn to God with?

As always, thank you for your continued support! Your comments and shares mean a great deal to me.

His praise will always be on my lips!

Daily Readings – Leviticus 16-17, Psalm 34

I will extol the Lord at all times;
his praise will always be on my lips.
 

Psalm 34:1

This is the level of thankfulness and adoration I want to have for Jesus and the sacrifice that he made on my behalf. I want to walk through life with a childlike wonder at the fact that the God of the Universe loved me enough to take on human form and pay the ultimate price for my sins knowing that I could never earn it on my own. I want his praise to always be on my lips.

When my daughters are excited about something, it is a reoccurring theme throughout the entire day. Whether it is Grandma and Grandpa coming over, Christmas tomorrow, vacation coming soon, or a birthday party; I am going to be hearing about it constantly. Their excitement is going to be bubbling over.

I want to extol the Lord at all times. I want his praise to always be on my lips. What he has done for us is so much bigger, so much more spectacular, and so much more exciting that a birthday party. I want the posture of my heart to be one of giddy excitement.

When we are remembering what Christ has already accomplished on the cross and that our eternity is already guaranteed, it makes the normal everyday challenges we face in life shrink to their proper size.

However, maintaining this focus is always easier said than done. We may want our heart to maintain this posture throughout the day and yet the enemy is on the prowl as well. He cannot wait to swoop in and steal that childlike wonder away. If we have truly given our lives over to Christ, Satan knows that he will not be able to take that away or convince us that the eternal gift is not worth celebrating. His main weapon is not convincing us we are silly to be thankful. His weapon is distraction.

A thankful Christian is an active Christian. It is a Christian that Satan fears most. It is a Christian that naturally attracts others to learn more about Jesus because they live their faith out and you can visibly see that there is something different about them. When challenges in life come, they still have an inner peace and optimism that is contagious.

Satan may not be able to remove our thankfulness in regards to salvation, but he can certainly work hard to shift our focus.

He works hard each day to replace thankfulness with stress, pride, envy, fear, etc.

Psalm 34 goes on to tackle these challenges that arise in life:

“But what about when I am afraid?”

I sought the Lord, and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears.

“But what if my needs are not met?” 

This poor man called, and the Lord heard him;
he saved him out of all his troubles.

Fear the Lord, you his holy people,
for those who fear him lack nothing.

“But problems keep occurring…I struggle to not lose hope and give in to frustration and stress in this life.”

The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;
he delivers them from all their troubles.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit
.

It is easy at times to want to buy into the modern “Health and Wealth” gospel that preaches that God is going to make us all wealthy beyond belief if we just have enough faith. It is easy to think that material blessings, perfect health, etc. are the results that we should expect to see in our lives if we simply have faith the size of a mustard seed.

This is not what the Bible promises. We are not promised an easy life. In fact, we are frequently promised challenges along the way. We are promised the opportunity to take up our own cross so that we can walk with Jesus. We are promised occasional heartache. And ultimately we are promised that our God will never leave our side and will help us through everything that comes our way if we simply give over the need to have absolute control over our own lives.

Towards the end of Psalm 34 we read, “The righteous person may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all.”

Troubles will always be there in life. How is our thankfulness in the midst of them?

Today, I want to be able to say with full confidence, “I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips.”

Thought to ponder

Spend time this morning thinking through all of the blessings God has put in your life. Don’t stop until you have a smile on your face that shouts to the world. Then walk throughout the day with praise in your heart and praise on your lips!

Thank you for reading! Your comments and shares are always greatly appreciated. If this post speaks to you, please considering sharing it with others!

Remembering Context

Daily Readings: Leviticus 11-15

“‘These are the regulations concerning animals, birds, every living thing that moves about in the water and every creature that moves along the ground. You must distinguish between the unclean and the clean, between living creatures that may be eaten and those that may not be eaten.’” 

Leviticus 11:46-47

A common stumbling block for many people in their early exploration of the Christian faith is plucking a verse or two out of the Bible and then asking a question along the lines of, “Have you read this passage before? How could this possibly make sense and reconcile with the notion of the God you have been telling me about?”

Christians who are trying to defend their faith are frequently at a loss for words other than to give something vague along the lines of, “Well Jesus changed all of that.” or “Well that was the Old Testament.”

When confronted with, “Well, does that mean God changes? Are his promises to us and eternal purpose subject to edit at any time?” it is easy to stumble again. I always want to fall back on, “Well, he is God and I am not. I don’t know why he set it up that way, but it is not my prerogative to question the sovereign will of an almighty God!”

That last answer is certainly true! There have been many times throughout my life where that has needed to be my fall back. However, even if true, it is not incredibly intellectually satisfying to a person who has not yet come to know Jesus.

In these moments, when dealing with specific verses that seem challenging to reconcile with other portions of the Bible, I think it is so incredibly important that we remember to view the Bible as one complete story and not simply a collection of good ideas.

The Bible is the story of God’s love for us. It is the ultimate non-fiction account of an almighty God and his love affair with his creation, mankind. You would never watch one minute of a romantic comedy and try to determine the entire nature of that couple’s relationship from that one-minute clip. How much more sense does it make to read a single passage from the Bible, out of the context, of the entire story and extrapolate eternal truth from it?

In Leviticus we see an amazing example of this. Throughout Leviticus 11-15 we see God lay down a huge number of regulations for the Israelites. These deal with everything from what animals to eat, to how to handle skin diseases, to what to do about mold in a house, etc. If we were to read any single one of them today, some might still make complete sense, and some would leave us scratching our heads. Why would this one seemingly random thing be important to God?

Then we take a step back and look at the context. The Israelites were formally a people living in complete bondage. They were all slaves their entire lives. The generation that was free previously had all died off. Here was a collection of people that had never before needed to think about things like, “Are their any animals that can frequently be hosts for parasites and could make human beings violently ill upon eating? What does mold on the walls of a home look like? Does it do serious damage and pose a health risk? How would I deal with it if I saw it?”

More than anything chunks of Leviticus were God laying out nothing more than public health regulations. At that point in history I have no idea what food born or blood born pathogens were common. Diseases adapt and change over time. This is still true to this day.

Context.

Similarly, when we read every letter from Paul, it is easy to forget that he was writing a letter to a very specific church each time, dealing with very specific issues. When we don’t dig deeper into what was happening in that single church, at that given time, and also compare what Paul is saying to what we see throughout the rest of the Bible, it is easy to jump to conclusions that are, at best, incomplete.

Context.

It is so much simpler, in our meme-centric world, to want nothing more than to take the statement, “The Bible is God’s word and every portion of it infallible.” and take that to mean we can take any passage out of context, throw it over a beautiful picture, post it online, and it will share God’s truth.

In some cases, this is accurate. There are undeniable truths running throughout the Bible. In many cases individual verses or collections of verses reflect these undeniable truths flawlessly. However, in many cases, there is a much deeper level of Biblical research that needs to be done.

God wants us hungry for his truth. He wants us digging into his word and getting to know the entirety of his story, not just a few verses that really speak to us. This takes time, intentionality, patience, and intellectual curiosity.

God wants a relationship with us. The backstory leading up to our scene in this epic love affair has already been written. God wants us to know it well. The Bible is not just the story of Biblical times. It is not just a collection of rules and wise words to live by. It is the story of God’s love for us.

I want to always have a hunger to get to know this story more every single day!

Thought to ponder

What has held me back from diving deeper into God’s word in the past? Who can I reach out to that could partner with me as I dig in and get to know God’s truth?

What governs our mind?

Daily Readings: Leviticus 9-10, Psalm 33, Romans 8

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

Romans 8:5-8

What is my mind set on?

This is a question that is so important for Christians to consistently ask themselves. We are all human and will have moments of weakness. Our inability to be perfect is why Christ had to come on our behalf in the first place!

However, moments of weakness are very different than a conscious decision to live our lives focused on the desires of the flesh as opposed to choosing every day to ask God to help our mind be governed by the Spirit. An intentional decision that we are going to pursue what we desire above the desires of the Spirit, a decision to rationalize sins in our lives, a refusal to accept Jesus as Lord over our lives; these are not the same as a moment of weakness.

These amount to living according to the flesh.

Back in Matthew 7, Jesus encouraged us to observe our own fruit. Do our lives reflect a life truly turned over to Christ? Would we say that we have “our minds set on what the Spirit desires”?

Or are we living the majority of our lives according to the flesh? Are we consumed by greed, pride, lust, envy, and anger?

Paul doesn’t pull any punches today when he says that, “a mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God”. Those are pretty strong terms. He doesn’t say, “A mind governed by the flesh isn’t ideal. That is something you should work on. But just make sure you are in church regularly and God will overlook it.”

He said, “hostile to God”.

He went on to say in Romans 8:9, “You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.

 Wow.

I kind of want to go back to that version of faith that only requires, “praying a prayer” and then living the exact life I want to live and waiting for heaven one day!

The world desperately wants us to live according to the flesh. We are bombarded by stimulus that encourages us to stop worrying so much about loving God and loving others, but instead to focus on our own status, wealth, appearance, social life, material possessions, etc.

Do we buy into consumerism or Christianity? Are we focused on the desires of the Spirit or our own desires of the flesh?

Tough questions.

Now, again, none of us are perfect. One chapter earlier Paul shared that he too is constantly fighting the battle of Spirit vs. Flesh. Paul said he frequently found himself not doing the things he wanted to do for God and instead found himself succumbing to the desires of his flesh. That is going to happen! God does not want us living out of shame, but out of a place of deep appreciation for the sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf knowing that we would fall short over and over again.

The question we need to ask ourselves as Christians is this:

Are these simply moments of weakness because we are still human and still battle these desires of our flesh? Do we then repent and turn back to God to be the Lord over our lives? Is the ultimate focus of our lives on serving God and serving others?

Or…

Is this a conscious decision we have made to put ourselves on the thrown that belongs to God? Are these are not moments of weakness but rather a sign that we are unwilling to give our lives fully over to him? Are we simply living out of the flesh?

Big difference.

These are tough issues to wrestle with, but so critical for us to attack if we truly want to follow Jesus and not simply talk about following Jesus.

Once we truly give our entire lives over to Christ instead of simply dipping our feet in to test the temperature of the pool, I agree wholeheartedly with Paul in the way he wrapped up Romans 8:

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Once we fully give our lives over, there is nothing that can separate you from the love of God. Sign me up for that!

Thought to ponder

If I am being brutally honest with myself, do I have my mind set on the spirit or is my mind set on the desires of my flesh?

Surrounded by unfailing love

Daily Readings: Leviticus 5-8, Psalm 32

The Lord’s unfailing love
surrounds the one who trusts in him.

Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous;
sing, all you who are upright in heart!
 

Psalm 32:10-11

I love these two verses. Over and over again throughout my life I have seen God’s unfailing love surround me throughout the day when I choose to trust him. However, when I look back at times in my life where God’s presence felt farther away throughout the day, they always correlate directly with times where I am not trusting God fully. Sometimes these can be prolonged stretches of weeks, months, or even years. Occasionally it can simply be individual hours or days. Regardless, when I am not trusting in God’s plan for my life, I immediately do not feel surrounded by his love. I immediately have very little peace. Immediately I turn back to trying to do everything out of my own strength.

In these moments where I am not walking closely with God in my actual day-to-day life, when God feels far from me, if you were to ask me if I trusted God, I would probably respond, “Of course!” However, I would really just be referring to salvation. There is a huge difference between having trust in future salvation and complete trust in a loving father in heaven that will have our back here on earth as well. That second form of trust is so much more difficult. Our human nature wants to evaluate that second form of trust in real time, moment to moment, and assess whether God is doing his part! We want to step back at noon and see some fruit from our trust!

It is amazing how fleeting our trust can be.

Our Western world has turned our life into a constant status update. Our brains become almost frantic in the need to assess in real time what is happening in our world. Think about the number of times a day most people touch their cell phones. We get that little rush of dopamine every time we see that we have a new text, someone commented on our Facebook post, someone liked a tweet of ours, a new email came in from someone we have been waiting a while to hear back from, etc. It is so easy to fall into the constant trap of checking, and rechecking, and rechecking again. What is the latest? How is it going?

Unintentionally, this mindset trickles into the way we view God and trusting in his sovereign will in our lives. We pray, “God, I want to walk with you today. Give me peace of mind throughout my day and help me to view people the way you view people. Help me to have an impact through my work today.” Then by 10 AM we are assessing how are day is going so far.

“Why isn’t my day going better? Why can’t I stay focused on God and his will instead of my own? I trust God, but nothing has changed. Today is exactly the same as yesterday…”

2 hours in…

What is the latest? How have my prayers been going? Is God going to provide?

Status update, status update, status update.

God says, “Trust in me fully. See what happens. If you would just turn over your entire day, week, month, and year to me, you would feel my love absolutely surrounding you throughout the entire day. Let me shower you with my love. I just need you to trust me fully and not just with an hour or two before becoming distracted by your normal worries, stresses, and anxieties you have been allowing to control your day. I am right here with you. I just need you to turn and embrace me.”

The only way I have found in my life to walk consistently in this place of absolute trust is to fully embrace the second verse above. Immediately after we are told that God’s love surround us when we trust in him fully we read:

Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous;
sing, all you who are upright in heart!

In my life I have found these take place in the opposite order typically. I first need to rejoice in the Lord and be glad, and then trust follows. Not the other way around.

When I think about the amazing sacrifice Jesus made on my behalf and how we have been promised over and over again throughout the Bible that God will provide if we simply trust him, I am filled with an overwhelming sense of thankfulness. This thankfulness spills over into a deeper level of trust in my day-to-day walk.

It is impossible for your brain to be incredibly thankful and incredibly stressed at the same time.

Today, embrace a spirit of thankfulness! Let your heart absolutely sing out to the Lord! Rejoice! Stop thinking about how your day is going in the moment you are in and accept God’s love that desperately wants to surround you throughout the entire day. When we trust in him fully, he truly does lead us beside quiet waters regardless of the craziness and turmoil we may face. When we trust in him fully, we quickly regain an eternal perspective and the challenge we are facing at 1:30 PM on a Wednesday rapidly melts away to it’s proper size.

God wants to surround you with love today. Go give him a full day of trust and not just a solid two hour chunk. He is there ready and waiting!

Thought to ponder

What habits in my life are contributing to a “status update mindset” towards trusting God with my day-to-day walk? What am I doing to sabotage my own ability to feel God’s love surround me throughout the day?

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Tacking on verse 25

Daily Readings – Leviticus 1-4, Psalm 31, Romans 7

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.

Romans 7:15 

I believe this simple verse is one that every Christian can relate to in a powerful way! There is an intense desire that exists within most Christians to be perfect. When we fall short, shame and self-condemnation comes flooding in.

Why can’t I kick my drug problem? Why do I still get so angry all the time with people I love? Why can’t I seem to avoid gossiping? Why am I so consumed with materialism? Why can’t I get my pride under control? When will I be free of my porn addiction? When will I stop over-eating? When will I be free of my jealousy? When will I stop caring so much about what other people think about me?

I think we all frequently feel like Paul when he cried out, “For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am!”

Unfortunately, most Christians stop our train of thought there. I know I did for the vast majority of my life. I would be doing well for a while in regards to some sin issue in my life, eventually my flesh would wage war against my mind the way Paul described, I would give in to sin once again, and I would be left thinking, “What a wretched man am I!”

I would sincerely pray to God, “Lord, this is the last time! I am done with _______. I want to live for you! I won’t do it again!”

The cycle continued.

Good for a while, sin again, hate myself, confess…good for a while, sin again, hate myself, confess…

Why wasn’t I strong enough? Why couldn’t I get it all together? What was wrong with me?

For so long I wanted to win the war against sin. I wanted to wage that war that Paul described and emerge victorious. If I could somehow put the right systems in place, have the right accountability, form the right habits, read the right books, do all the right things; surely I could conquer this. Surely my spirit could conquer my flesh!

I don’t think I am alone in this approach.

The problem for most Christians is that we never get to verse 25. We never get to the part of this cycle where Paul rejoices and declares, “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

We stop at, “What a wretched man am I!”

Shame is a powerful tool in the hands of the enemy. Satan wants nothing more than you attempting to do it alone. He would love an army of Christians who are looking for the right tactic to conquer the sin in their lives. He rejoices when he sees us broken and defeated, promising God, “This will be the last time…”

Satan trembles when God’s people instead choose to give thanks immediately in these moments. He wants no part of Christians who, immediately after falling short again, have a spirit of profound thankfulness overcome them. He is terrified of us collectively living out of our new identity in Christ and giving immediate thanks to our God who chose to deliver us while we were still broken.

Too many Christians allow sin issues in their lives to keep them on the sidelines. Too many tell themselves, “God could never use me. I need to get my stuff together first.” Too many of us do not walk through our day expecting blessings from God and asking the Holy Spirit to abide in us throughout the entire day because we do not yet feel worthy. Paul did the opposite.

Here was the greatest evangelist of all time and yet, today, we see him struggling with the same challenge we deal with. Why do I keep falling short?

The beautiful difference comes when we tack on verse 25 and choose thankfulness over shame. The beautiful difference comes when we embrace that fundamental truth that Paul understood. We are still human. We will always fall short from time to time. We can never be perfect in our own strength. The war will always rage on.

Today, when you feel those moments coming and you are tempted in some way or another, choose thankfulness. Smile quietly to yourself and acknowledge that the battle is already won. In these moments of temptation in the past, when I have chosen, “I am so sorry Lord…” it is usually followed by me trying to win the battle in my own strength and  eventually falling short. When, in these moments of temptation, I choose to smile and think of the sacrifice made on my behalf and whisper, “Thank you Jesus.” it is far easier to turn away and win that individual battle.

Jesus came in the first place because we are incapable of winning the war on our own. Today, instead of this being a source of shame, make it a source of overwhelming joy and thankfulness! Today, tack on verse 25.

Thought to ponder

What is the most prominent area of sin in my life where I have tried for too long to wage war in my own strength? Am I willing to give that over to God today and give thanks that he has already delivered me?

Stop fixating on your sin!

Daily Readings: Exodus 39-40, Proverbs 6, Romans 6

We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.

Romans 6:2-4, 12-14

 The picture Paul paints in Romans 6 of us being buried with Christ and rising again with him to live a new life is so powerful. It is easy to forget this part of the gospel in today’s world and simply focus on salvation. When we hear the good news of the gospel preached, it is frequently focused on the fact that Jesus came down to earth and willing gave his life for us so that, upon our death, we could have an eternal life with God that we were incapable of earning on our own. This by itself is the best news ever shared! What we frequently overlook is what Paul shares with us today.

Jesus also dies so that we could be reborn and die to our previous sinful ways right now as well!

The mistake I find myself falling into when I think about this portion of God’s promise is continued self-condemnation. Why do I continue to sin? Why do I keep falling short? Have I not fully turned my life over? What more do I need to do to conquer this sin issue or that sin issue in my life? I want to be better!

The problem, when I am stuck in this mindset, is that I am entirely focused on me. When thinking like this I have a tendency to read, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness…” and immediately fall back into frustration towards my lack of ability to be perfect. I fall back into striving. I fall back into wanting to do it under my own power.

My focus immediately is so self-focused that I don’t allow myself to fully internalize the second part of that sentence, “…but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.”

 I have often heard that it is almost impossible to kick a bad habit without replacing it with a good one. If all you are doing is striving so hard to not sin, focusing on developing your will power more and more every day so that you can avoid that stumbling block, you inevitably trip over it again…and again…and again.

Paul tells us instead we should focus on offering every part of ourselves to God as an instrument of righteousness. He didn’t say a picture of righteousness merely to be looked at. He said instrument. Instruments are meant to be used.

This rang incredibly true for me this morning. The only times in my life where I barely struggle with sin are the times where I am entirely focused on serving others. When I am focused on making a difference in other people’s lives, providing for their earthly needs, being a listening ear, and sharing the love of Jesus. In these stretches of time sin has very little power at all over me. I am not really even thinking about it.

When I am focused on me? Oh man…Satan has a very easy foothold in my life at that point.

If we stop at the point in Romans where Paul talks about dying to our sins and just run after that, we end up striving. We end up fixating on sin and putting it on a pedestal. However, when we decide we want to rise again with Christ in a new life focused on serving others, grace comes flooding in.

Jesus came not only to give us eternal life and pay the price for our sins; he came to give us a new life here on earth as well. He came so that we could break free from bondage and walk out of that jail cell of our own creation. He came so that we could be righteous instruments for God to use here on earth.

So stop focusing on conquering your sin today. That work has been done for you already on the cross! Focus instead of being an instrument God can use all day long however he sees fit and watch what happens!

Thought to ponder

How can I be used as a righteous instrument by God today in my everyday walk?

 

Glory in our suffering

Daily Readings: Exodus 37-38, Romans 5

“We boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” 

Romans 5:2-5

I love Paul. He always gives such powerful truth even if it is not always what we want to hear.

It is extremely easy to desire a type of relationship with Christ that is nothing but peace and joy. I know that I frequently wish for the type of relationship with God that results in me simply walk around filled with the spirit and challenges bounce of me. I want to barely even notice hardships because I am so in tune with God!

And yet Paul says there is glory in suffering…

Darn it Paul!

There is so much truth in this. When I look back at hardships and observe the fruit that God put in my life as a result of these challenges, it is easy for me to see the exact path that Paul laid out today in Romans 5. The first phase of this journey usually entails me struggling with the challenge or hardship and typically leaning on my own strength as opposed to truly turning it over to God. Suffering always ensues. At some point I turn it over to God and he gives me the strength to persevere. Suffering produces perseverance. As I persevere with God at the helm instead of myself, character develops. And the more character I see develop in my life the more I am able to quickly find the hope that Paul spoke of.

It used to take me quite a while to be able to find the hope in challenging situations for myself and my mind barely even registered the future hope I would be able to instill in others by coming alongside someone going through the exact same situation I had previously faced. Over time however, the more God develops perseverance, character, and hope in us; the quicker we are able to make that transition to the next step.

My family was watching American Ninja Warrior last night and it is always crazy for me to see what these people are able to do. The physical training required to make those transitions for one obstacle to the next is inspiring.

Spiritual and emotional training is no different. When we see others who bounce back quickly from adversity and wonder how they are able to see God’s hand at work in that challenge; it is easy to forget the hours and hours they probably spent in the “spiritual gym” preparing for that moment. It is easy to forget there was probably a lot of suffering in that spiritual training ground, that resulted in a lot of perseverance being developed, that built a lot of character, that paved the way for that ability to hope.

When watching the end result they make it look so much easier than it actually is. I watch American Ninja Warrior and think to myself, “I bet with some training for a month or two I could do that?” The truth is, I would probably fail miserably after just a month or two. Given enough time and practice, I might be able to not completely embarrass myself.

Spiritual maturity is the same thing. Once someone has given their life over to Christ, there is nothing else they have to do to earn salvation. However, allowing the spirit to live in you and live through you, takes practice. This is not a matter of your salvation, which has already been guaranteed by the cross and which you can do nothing to earn, but a matter of ability to quickly submit to God’s will and to trust in his plan.

That takes practice! And unfortunately the only way to practice turning to God in times of suffering, is to have times of suffering!

But Paul tells us that there is glory in our suffering.

I want limitless perseverance, character, and hope in my life. Because of that, I want God to develop it however he sees fit.

Thought to ponder

When was one time in your life where you can easily trace back the path from suffering to perseverance to character to hope? Have you been willing to allow others to know your story so that they might be helped down that path when dealing with a similar suffering in their own lives?

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