Born Again

Read
John 3:1-15
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”  Verse 3 (NIV)

Reflect
While speaking with some friends in Tanzania I learned that if you were a moderate Hindu you could believe in Jesus. The issue for the missionaries was not that these people believed in Jesus, but would they abandon all the other gods they believed in and embraced Jesus alone?

Faith in Jesus is not an add-on to our lives or an accessory we can just pay attention to once in a while. Our faith in Jesus is meant to transform our entire being so that we are changed and become newly born, newly created.

Nicodemus came to Jesus with questions. And Jesus used the image of being “born again” to help Nicodemus understand how radically we must change to become his followers. Jesus said that the only ones who can experience the kingdom and understand his teaching are those who are born again. To explain further, he said we need to be “born of water and the Spirit.”

Today we tend to associate the idea of being “born again” with a dramatic conversion story. But rebirth in Christ is not a one-time event; discipleship involves a continuous dying and rising with Christ. As we grow in faith, Jesus cleanses us from sin and reshapes us in his own image. Again, and again, we must allow him to reshape our priorities, change our attitudes, and empower us for service.  This is what Paul was challenging us to do in Philippians 2:12, when he wrote to “work out our salvation.”

Pray
Lord, continue to show me how I must be born again. Show me the parts of myself that need to be cleansed and changed and make me new in your perfect image. Amen.

“To the Praise of His Glory”

Read 
Ephesians 1:11-14
In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory.  (NIV) 

Reflect 
As a teenager I was a little less than the perfect child. I did have a very small encounter with the police while in high school. When my dad found out, he made it very clear that I would never again drag the family name through the mud. It was stated in no uncertain terms that all the children in the family would hold to good Christian values and principles “or else.” 

While studying in Bible College this phrase that Paul uses in Ephesians 1 really caught my attention; “to the praise of His glory.” To understand that glory is due to God alone and to hear Paul say that we, the redeemed of the Lord, are intended to be to the praise of His glory certainly helps us to know we are valued by God.  

It is completely the work of God through Jesus Christ that affords us the opportunity to have salvation and the hope of an eternity with Jesus. At the same time scripture is clear that there is an expectation to walk in the way of Jesus and to be like him. As a matter of fact, we are called to be holy as God is holy (1 Peter 1:16).  

As much as we try, we cannot match the holiness of God in our own lives. So how do we possibly meet God’s standard and be “to the praise of His glory.” God’s love is so all encompassing that His grace, His amazing grace covers us. Can you imagine that our sin is forgiven from the past, in the present and even into the future? If we walk in humility and an attitude of repentance, we walk in his grace and we are “to the praise of His Glory.”  

Pray 
God in heaven, let nothing stand between us in praising and worshiping you in your grace and glory. We ask this through the power of the Holy Spirit, in Jesus’ name. Amen. 

Faith and Action

Read 
James 2:14-26
Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.  Verse 17 (NIV) 

Reflect 
My father and older brother regularly quoted this verse to me when they thought my Christianity was too “emotional.” Actually, this is also one of my favorite verses. This verse challenges those who sit on the sidelines and expect God to do everything. They tend to be the people that complain the most when things are not going their way. 

While recognizing that salvation is completely a gift from God, including the faith necessary for believing in Jesus as Savior, the Reformers were sometimes troubled by James’s teaching about faith and actions. 

I was surprised to learn at Bible College that Martin Luther was so adamant about justification through faith alone, that he doubted the book of James even belonged in the Bible because of its emphasis on actions and faith. But other Reformers maintained the importance of grateful actions as an outworking of one’s faith and a proof against hypocrisy. They believed this showed that James delivers a clear and authoritative word from God. 

Some commentators use this phrase, that may help us to grapple with the balance of faith and works; “Faith is the beginning of obedience, and obedience is the completion of faith.” That resonates with Ephesians 2:10, where Paul, after teaching that we are saved by grace through faith, adds that we are “created in Christ Jesus to do good works.” In other words, a natural response to the Spirit’s work to bring us to faith in the loving God is to respond by showing thanks to God through good works and by sharing his love with others. So good works are a natural outcome of faith. 

Proof of our growth as Christ followers is how we use our gifts, talents, and resources to help others. In what ways are you showing God’s love lately? 

Pray 
Father, you have provided our salvation in Jesus. Please help us also to show your love and share your good news with others always. Amen 

 

 

Upside-Down World

Read
Luke 10:1-11; 17-21
Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to little children.” Verse 21 (NIV) 

Reflect
Have you ever struggled with some of the concepts of the Gospel? Something as simple as telling people that you have Good News and part of that is to reveal to them that they are certainly sinners and fall short of God’s standard. Some people have said to me, “Who do you think you are judging me?

Jesus sent out 72 followers to heal the sick and spread the good news that “the kingdom of God has come near.” He warned them that while some people and towns would welcome them with joy, not everyone would understand or receive the good news they brought.

The upside-down nature of God’s kingdom can be hard for people to accept, especially when society values the strong, powerful, and independent over the weak, helpless, and dependent of our world.

When the 72 followers returned, they were pleased and excited that they had been given power to do Jesus’ work. They said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name!” Luke reports that Jesus was also filled with joy. He praised God for the way the kingdom is more readily received by little children than the wise and learned.

Here is some really good news for all of us. If you think you should be further along in your Christian maturity, take comfort. Jesus cherishes all who receive him in humble, trusting faith, like children. If you worry that you don’t know enough or haven’t had enough experience, take comfort. Jesus gives wisdom to his children who don’t have it all figured out. The message Jesus declares is that no matter who you are, “the kingdom of God has come near to you.”

Pray
Thank you, Father, that your kingdom of peace and grace has come near to even me. Amen

Just Keep Going

Read 
Hebrews 10:23 – 25
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.  (NIV) 

Reflect 
In North America and other parts of the world today, we are living in what is called a “post-Christian” culture. More and more people are rejecting Christianity and the church and saying they have no religion. It is discouraging to see people leaving the faith, and the pressures to conform to a faithless culture seems to be increasing all the time. 

The author of Hebrews gives us a different perspective. As we hear about Jesus, what he has accomplished for us, and his superiority over everything, how can we not be encouraged in our faith? But the pressures and challenges of an unbelieving culture remain ours to struggle with. 

Today’s text reminds us and encourages us to “hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful” – or just to keep going! Even if we experience despair and discouragement, we are encouraged to hold tightly to the one who is faithful. All other things may fail us, but Jesus is faithful. His promises are true. Even when we experience discouragement and despair, he is faithful, and we need to just keep going. 

Let us continue to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” Let us continue to encourage each other to keep going, even if times are tough. We do not trust in one who is unreliable; we trust in the one who is faithful. Let us continue to be encouraged and to encourage one another in the Lord 

Pray
Lord God, thank you for being faithful. Help us to “hold unswervingly to the hope we profess” in you. Amen 

Perseverance

Read 
Romans 7:14-25
Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!  Verse 25 (NIV) 

Reflect 
In several recent discussions with family members the common theme was, “I am so tired of the restrictions around COVID-19.” One of my kids said, “We are just not made to be isolated from other people.” Do you ever get the feeling that we will still be here for a long time? Despite reopening phases, we may never really get back to where we were before COVID-19. 

In Romans 7 Paul’s struggle is not with a health disease but a spiritual disease. His struggle is with sin and the requirements of the law. But he is able to end on a joyful note. He exclaims, “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! 

Paul’s spiritual struggle is also our spiritual struggle. Can anyone of us claim that we have not fallen short. Who could claim to go a whole day without stumbling into one sin or another? 

Like Paul we can say honestly, “I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.
Verses 18b-19 (NIV) 

The good news is I don’t have to try do it alone and if I did try, I could not do it.  Paul writes in Philippians 1:6, we can be confident of this, “that he who began a good work in [us] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. 

God does not and will not fail. He has his world in his hands, and he has engraved us on his palms (Isaiah 49:16). This comforting assurance leads believers to shout, “Thanks be to God!”  Let’s make that claim today, in praise to our God, who has redeemed us and loves us with a love that will never die! 

Pray 
Lord Jesus, we come with thanksgiving for the deliverance you have given us. You are worthy of all praise, honor, and glory! In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

God’s Wonderful Decrees

Read 
Psalm 119:25-32
Cause me to understand the way of your precepts, that I may meditate on your wonderful deeds.Verse 27 (NIV) 

Reflect 
The writer of Psalm 119 uses “law,” “ways,” “decrees,” “precepts,” “statutes,” “commands,” and “word” to refer to the same thing. At first glance you might think God’s Word seems like a heavy set of do’s and don’ts weighing on all our actions. 

But that’s not how the psalmist views God’s Word. In his prayer for deeper understanding of God’s precepts, the psalmist connects God’s Word with God’s “wonderful deeds.” We don’t know for sure but the psalmist may be thinking of God’s “mighty hand and . . . outstretched arm” in freeing Israel from slavery in Egypt and bringing them into the promised land (Deuteronomy 26:8-9). Certainly, the psalmist could be referring to all of God’s mighty deeds done on behalf of his chosen people throughout history. 

I believe that God’s Word crowds his mind with memories of God’s faithfulness to his people and to the psalmist personally. God’s goodness and his amazing intervention on behalf of his people stand in stark contrast to his displeasure with Israel for the psalmist.  

That’s what God’s Word does for us too. It teaches us about God’s deep love for us and his power to save us. Such knowledge allows God’s Word to work in our hearts to increase our love for him and to nourish our desire to serve him in gratitude. Look back and see what God has done in your life, the life of your family or even the life of your church and like the psalmist, let you mind fill with God’s faithfulness and intervention in your life. 

Pray 
Lord, help us to choose the way of faithfulness, and set our hearts on your Word. Amen. 

 

 

New Every Morning

Read 
Lamentations 3:19-26
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Verses 22-23 (NIV) 

Reflect
I don’t know about you, but I never thought that I would find the beauty of the words found in verses 22-23 in a book called Lamentations. But the very fact that they are there tells me that our God is anywhere and everywhere we find ourselves. 

Lamentations is a collection of desperate cries from the bottom of a pit. The author laments the suffering of God’s people during their time of captivity, which left them trapped in misery for years. But in the middle of the book, a glimmering light shines through the darkness, as the mournful writer looks up and proclaims hope in the God of love and compassion. We witness the transition from a downcast, bitter soul (in verse 20) to an upright, resolute warrior refusing to be overcome by the troubles of life (verse 22). 

The confident cry is that God will ultimately save his people. 

I went to visit a dear saint in the hospital. He told me there was no cure and he was looking at just days left to live. He asked me to read the scripture that was behind the writing of the hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23). 

“Great is Thy faithfulness, ” O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.
“Great is Thy faithfulness!” “Great is Thy faithfulness!”
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—
“Great is Thy faithfulness, ” Lord, unto me! 

Most of us know that problems don’t disappear overnight, yet we can testify that God’s mercies are new every morning. We can all find God’s blessings in big and small ways each day if we make a point of looking for them. Great is God’s faithfulness. 

Pray 
Lord, when life is dark and there is little light to see, help me to see your compassion poured out on me. Shine the light of your love on us each day so that we can see your blessings. Amen. 

 

 

Practice What You Preach

Read
Matthew 23:1-12
“You must be careful to do everything [the Pharisees] tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.”  Verse 3 (NIV) 

Reflect 
Over the years I have met all kinds of Christians. Or at least they claimed to be Christians. The ones that I had the least sense of connection with were the ones who could quote chapter and verse to prove their point. Not because they knew the Word (I envied that part of their life) but because they used the Bible like a battering ram to beat anyone into submission who did not agree with them. 

The Pharisees were religious leaders who wanted people to keep the law of Moses. So, they built up all kinds of rules around the basic law, and they burdened the people with them. In the process, many of the leaders got so distracted by the rules that they forgot the heart of the law (love God; love your neighbor), and they did not practice what they preached. 

In today’s reading, Jesus let the Pharisees know what he didn’t like about them. Jesus agreed with a lot of what the Pharisees taught. Jesus was a faithful Jew, so he thought the Pharisees had good things to say about what it meant to love God and to serve God. But Jesus showed that the Pharisees cared more about the appearance of loving God than about actually loving God. 

Following Jesus does not mean throwing out all religious traditions. Religious tradition helps us to keep our focus on Jesus and we can have many different practices. Jesus knew that faith is meant to be practiced in community. We cannot be Christians by ourselves; we live within the guidelines of a community of other Christians. 

But following Jesus also does not mean following the rules just for the sake of the rules. Jesus always called his disciples to put people first and traditions second. Jesus challenged the Pharisees for making the rules of the law more important than people. He called them to show love to people, as the law was intended to help them do. Jesus calls us to love people today too, following his excellent example. 

Pray 
Father, thank you for giving us your law of love. By your Spirit, help us to love you and others. Amen. 

 

 

Called by Name

Reading 
Mark 10:46-52 
Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”   So, they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. 

 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.   The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road. (NIV) 

Reflect 
On occasion I can feel like I am just another follower of Jesus. Who really knows me? Who cares about me, apart from those that depend on me and those who love me? The Gospel of Mark tells of many other healings by Jesus without ever giving them a name. They were just a man in a crowd or just a woman with an illness for years 

In our text today Mark takes the time to name this blind man, Bartimaeus. We are told his name and we are told that Bartimaeus followed Jesus after being healed, and this event happens only a short time before Jesus goes to Jerusalem to die on the cross. 

Jesus told Bartimaeus that his faith had healed him. Bartimaeus believed not in himself but in Jesus’ power to heal. When he heard that Jesus was near, he called out “Jesus, Son of David,” a royal title. And when Bartimaeus went to Jesus, we read that he threw his cloak aside. Bartimaeus was willing to toss aside perhaps the only thing he owned in order to seek Jesus. And when Jesus asked what he wanted, he simply said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” 

No matter who we are, we can approach Jesus with the same kind of simple faith. We can trust that Jesus will heal us and save us by his power alone, and we can follow him. We can know beyond a shadow of doubt that Jesus knows us and knows us by name (John 10:3). Like Bartimaeus we are important to Jesus, regardless of our position in life. 

Pray 
Jesus, help us trust in your power to heal. Give us faith like Bartimaeus. Help us to know and understand that Jesus knows us intimately and loves us. Amen.