Archive for June, 2016

Time Alone With God daily devotional: Matthew 7:1-5

Time Alone With God daily devotional

Matthew  7:1-5

Judging Others
7 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Consider: Christians often get uneasy with Jesus’ command, “Do not judge” (7:2). They fear the wrong kind of tolerance. They’re afraid that we will abandon the call to live a holy life if we don’t clearly label some acts as sinful. After all, how can we live, raise Christian children and grow in grace if we don’t judge what is right and what is wrong? So we need to understand what Jesus meant by the word “judge.”

In the original language of the New Testament, the word for “judge” here is the same word that Jesus used in John 3:17, which is usually translated “condemn”—“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” That gives us some insight into what Jesus meant when he commanded, “Do not judge.” Of course we will judge some actions to be right and some to be wrong. But Jesus is pretty clear that we are not to stand as condemners of any person.

Now, at this point, many Christians fall back on the old aphorism, “We hate the sin, but love the sinner.” I think we need to be careful with that one. While it is literally true, to most people that does not feel like a loving embrace. It still feels judgmental.

So, how are we to approach this whole issue of discerning and judging what is right and what is wrong? Jesus made it very clear. We spend more time on our own sins than on the sins of others. As Christians, we should be more concerned with how we can be more loving than how we can straighten out some other person.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (7:3-5)

When I am fully aware of my need for grace, I am empowered to give grace to others. When I realize my lack of love, I pray for help rather than focusing on your lack in some other area. This humility empowers me to love like Jesus, who did not come “into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world” (John 3:17).

Pray: Ask the Lord to help you with any planks that may be blocking your vision and your love. Praise him that he lovingly purifies us if we humbly come to him. Then ask him to help you plant the grace he’s given you in the lives of others.

Time Alone With God daily devotional: 1 Corinthians 5

Time Alone With God daily devotional

1 Corinthians 5

New International Version (NIV)

Dealing With a Case of Incest

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this. So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present,hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh,[a][b] so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.

Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister[c]but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.

12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.”[d]

Start

Consider: As you can see from even a quick reading of 1 Corinthians 5, the Corinthian church had some major problems. The situation outlined here is mind-boggling. People in the church (perhaps even some of their leaders) who claimed piety were engaging in gross immorality. There was no repentance there. Paul was shocked—“And you are proud!” (5:2). And so, says Paul, “I have already passed judgment on the one who did this” (5:3). This may feel at odds with Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount when he told us not to judge. But it really is in harmony with Jesus’ approach to sin and to sinners.

You’ll notice that throughout Jesus’ ministry he showed great patience with sinners, but great anger toward hypocrisy. He was tender and forgiving toward tax collectors and prostitutes. But some pretty fiery rhetoric came from his lips directed at the religious, judgmental Pharisees. Why would he say to religious people, “tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you” (Matthew 21:31)? It all had to do with authenticity.

When we come to Jesus acknowledging our sinfulness and our incredible need for grace, he accepts us without condemnation. This is the nature of God.

     “A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17)

     “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit…” (Isaiah 66:2)

This is what Jesus meant when he began the Sermon on the Mount with these words…

     “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)

We should never fear the wrath of God when we humbly seek his forgiveness and his grace. We should never fear condemnation when we live in relationship with him, knowing that we will always depend on his grace and never on our own righteousness. But we should fear for our souls when we flout his grace with arrogance and hypocrisy.

If you remember the plank in your own eye and your need of grace, you’ll be okay.

Pray:  “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Matthew 6:9-13)

Time Alone With God daily devotion: 1 Corinthians 5:9-13.

Time Alone with God daily devotion

1 Corinthians 5:9-13

New International Version (NIV)

9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister[a] but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.

12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.”[b]

Read: 1 Corinthians 5:9-13

Consider: We need to take another look at 1 Corinthians 5 in order to address our relationship with those who do not claim Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. I am grieved when I hear Christians slandering those they consider to be outside of the faith. I often hear hateful language from self-professing Christians toward those they seem to despise—people they believe to be immoral. But Paul could not be clearer…

     “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?” (1 Corinthians 5:12)

In other words, if you don’t think they’re Christians, you have no right whatsoever to judge them. He goes on to say…

     “Are you not to judge those inside?” (1 Corinthians 5:12)

We should not be angry with those we think are non-believers. We should be angry with believers who show contempt for them. When I’m judging sinners, I’m out of step with the Sermon on the Mount and 1 Corinthians 5. When I’m condemning hate speech from believers, I’m in harmony with the words of Jesus and Paul. (Paul particularly singles out the believer who is “a slanderer”—5:11).

Now, let’s keep perspective. When Paul encourages us to judge those on the inside, he’s not talking about brothers and sisters who are struggling in their walk with Christ. Throughout his letters he’s very clear that we are to be patient with and watch out for those brothers and sisters who are weak in their faith. We are constantly encouraged to forgive one another and to be tolerant of each other’s failures. It is obvious from the context of 1 Corinthians 5:12 (see the entire chapter and yesterday’s devotional) that Paul is talking about blatant, arrogant hypocrisy—the kind of “yeast” that can work through the church and destroy weak believers.

It comes back to the beginning point. I must start with me. I should have no patience with slander, hate or a judgmental spirit emanating from my life. If I hold myself accountable to the command to love, and if I’m humbly asking God to help me with my planks, then I will have the vision necessary to love those outside the faith and be helpful with the specks of sawdust inside the body of Christ.

Pray: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24)

Time Alone With God daily devotional: Mark 4:21-25

 

Time Alone With God daily devotional: Mark 4:21-25

A Lamp on a Stand

21 He said to them, “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand? 22 For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. 23 If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear.”

24 “Consider carefully what you hear,” he continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more. 25 Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”

 

Read: Mark 4:21-25

Consider: Again we hear Jesus’ words, “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (4:24). But in this instance in Mark’s gospel, Jesus is speaking on a different subject. When Jesus made that statement in Matthew’s gospel (in the Sermon on the Mount), he was talking about judging and condemning others. But here in Mark, he is speaking about the gift that has been given to us and how we respond to it.

In this short parable about the lamp (and the parable that precedes it), Jesus is talking about the good news—the way of Christ—which will be revealed. What is often hidden“is meant to be disclosed” (4:22). The gospel will bear fruit, but will we allow that fruit to be borne through us?

N. T. Wright says that “Jesus seems to be telling his followers that the level to which they pay attention to what he’s teaching them will be the level at which they receive the benefits of the kingdom.”

This is not to say that we earn God’s grace. His grace is freely given. But Jesus is saying, “If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear” (4:23). Pay attention to what God is doing. And as you listen and immerse yourself in him—as your “measure” is your whole being—you will receive his measure, the measure of all the fullness of God.”(Ephesians 3:19).

The “fullness of God” must be what Jesus had in mind when he said, “and even more.”

     “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more.” (4:24)

Pray: Ask the Lord to give you ears that hear, eyes that see and a heart that is given totally to him.

Written by Phil Stout, Lead Pastor of JAXNAZ church

 

Time Alone With God Daily Devotional

TIME ALONE WITH GOD DAILY DEVOTIONAL

WRITTEN BY PASTOR PHIL STOUT

6/13/2016

Read: 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

2 Corinthians 12:7-10

New International Version (NIV)

7 or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

START
Consider: People have often speculated about what Paul was referring to when he said that he was given a “thorn” in his flesh. The word “flesh” almost always refers to the body, though Paul used that term in other ways as well. If it was a physical malady, it could have been almost anything. Paul had suffered beatings, sleep deprivation, malnutrition and imprisonment. I have no doubt that Paul lived a significant portion of his life in chronic pain. So he, like all of us, asked God to remove the “thorn.” He pleaded for healing.

He didn’t get the response he wanted. God didn’t promise to remove the pain. But God did make a promise. Paul said…

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” (12:8-9)

People have often used this verse to debate if, when or how God heals. But I don’t think that is the issue that Paul is addressing here. There is something about the very nature of God that Paul wants us to see.

Our whole understanding of the Messiah—the Christ—is that he conquered by suffering. He became the Lamb that was slaughtered for our sins. He chose to save the world not by killing, but by dying. He turned upside-down every notion of strength that this world embraces. And Jesus Christ taught Paul that he could also conquer by his suffering—that Christ’s power in Paul “is made perfect in weakness” (12:9).

What is true physically is also true spiritually. It is not in spiritual strength and might that we conquer. We don’t overcome sin, addictions or injustice by strength of spirit. We overcome by total dependence on the grace-giver.

Pray: “Lord, teach me what it means for me to say what Paul said—‘when I am weak, then I am strong’ (12:10). Help me not to fear my weakness, for that is where I find you.”

Time Alone With God daily devotional

6/14/2016

 

TIME ALONE WITH GOD DAILY DEVOTIONAL

WRITTEN BY PASTOR PHIL STOUT

Matthew 5:1-12

New International Version (NIV)

Introduction to the Sermon on the Mount
5 Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them.

The Beatitudes
He said:

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

 

START

Consider: The Sermon on the Mount is the first of Jesus’ teachings recorded by Matthew. It answers the question, “How should we live?” It cannot be emphasized enough, for Jesus closes it by saying that if you listen to that sermon and do what it says, you are building your life on a solid foundation that can withstand any storm. He also said that if you ignore that sermon, what you’re building will collapse (7:24-27). If we neglect the Sermon on the Mount, we become “Christians” in name only. We claim a grace that we do not live.

I hope you see how important Matthew 5-7 is. And I hope you see the significance of the opening words…

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (5:3)

Jesus began his ministry by blessing the spiritually destitute. The sinner. The one who claims no spiritual power. The one who can take no pride in his or her own righteousness. Poor. Poor in spirit. And blessed!

This is counterintuitive. We think that God blesses the strong in spirit. We think that good people are the ones who are singled out by God for blessing. But our own perceived “goodness” and our own “strength” just keep getting in the way. When we humbly bring our sinfulness and weakness to Christ, he promises us the kingdom of heaven—the new reality he brings to earth.

Pray: I thank you, Lord, that my poverty of spirit is not my demise. When I own it, admit it and bring it to you, you open the kingdom up to me. May I never allow spiritual pride to keep me from your kingdom. When I am strong, help me to see that it is your strength working in me and that your strength is made possible by my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:10).”

Time Alone With God daily devotional

TIME ALONE WITH GOD DAILY DEVOTIONAL

WRITTEN BY PASTOR PHIL STOUT

6-15-2016

 

Luke 18:9-14

New International Version (NIV)

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector
9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

 

 

Start

Consider: Jesus’ kingdom has rightly been called the upside-down kingdom. His words always flipped the values of this world so that down was up and up was down. In this simple parable he taught us that the good guy’s prayer wasn’t heard while the bad guy’s prayer was.

There are usually multiple layers to Jesus’ teachings. The truths contained in his parables find meaning in our lives as they lodge in a different areas of our experience. Today I want us to look at this parable as something that doesn’t simply apply to a one-time experience, but to the unfolding of our daily lives.

The tax collector in Jesus’ parable represented the worst kind of sinner that the first century Jews could imagine. He was a cheat, a turncoat and someone who helped the Romans oppress God’s people. Yet, in this parable he was overcome by his own sin and Jesus said that he “went home justified before God” (18:14).

The Pharisee, who had been given God’s truth, had somehow distorted God’s grace into some form of merit that he had achieved.

We don’t want to be Pharisees. After receiving “the incomparable riches of his grace” (Ephesians 2:7) we dare not grow judgmental of others. That would distort and pervert our understanding of grace and cause us to delude ourselves about who we are and what we have accomplished.

So every day we approach God as tax collectors. No, we’re not forgetting that he has already forgiven us. But we are reminding ourselves that without God’s grace we are not worthy to “even look up to heaven” (18:13).

That posture of humility reminds us of our poverty of spirit, which reminds us that the kingdom of heaven is ours (see yesterday’s discussion of Matthew 5:3).

Pray: “Lord, teach me the liberation of humility. Teach me the freedom that comes with grace. Teach me the joy of seeing your power ‘made perfect’ in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).”

Time Alone With God daily devotionalT

Time Alone With God daily devotional

Written by Pastor Phil Stout

Friday, June 17, 2016

Read: 2 Peter 1:5-7

 

2 Peter 1:5-7    New International Version (NIV)

5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.

Start

Consider: “For this very reason…” What reason? Let’s go back to the statement we considered yesterday.

“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness… he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature…” (1:3-4)

We have been given all that we need to participate in the divine nature—the very life of Christ. “For this very reason” we are filled with awe, wonder and gratitude. We want to know him more. We want to live in greater intimacy with him. So “for this very reason” we…

“…make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.” (1:5-7)

This is a beautiful description of Christian discipleship—of growth in Christ. But Peter is not simply talking about what we do, he’s reveling in why we do it. We don’t add disciplines to our lives to make us better. We don’t approach growth in the Spirit as an exercise in self-improvement. Peter is not presenting himself as a spiritualized version of a life-coach. This spiritual growth isn’t even about us. It is simply the natural response to sharing the life of Christ—participating in the “divine nature.” We have been so loved that we only want to love in return. We have been given so much that we only want to give in return.

The divine nature includes the nature of giving, sharing and loving. As we participate in that shared life of Christ we discover that we are freed from our ego—our need to think we are good. We just want to know him at a deeper level.

Pray: “Lord, add those things to my life that help me to love like you love. I want to give back to you what you have given to me.”

Time Alone With God Daily Devotional

6-18-2016

-Time Alone With God daily devotional

2 Peter 1:3-8

New International Version (NIV)

Confirming One’s Calling and Election
3 His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

 

Start

Consider: Have you ever heard someone describe the Christian life in ways that made you feel like you could never measure up to that high of a standard? Sometimes we hear the faith presented as an uphill trudge that causes us to stumble repeatedly, falling backwards instead of making forward progress. How can we possibly be encouraged when we think we are called to the impossible?

If we don’t hear Peter’s heart (and all of his words), this great passage could discourage us. Look at those qualities that Peter tells us to add to our faith…

“…goodness…knowledge…self-control…perseverance…godliness…mutual affection…love.” (1:5-7)

None of us feel like that is a description of how we consistently live. None of us would check those off of our list as completed tasks. We don’t feel like our lives measure up to those ideals.

So let’s go on. We don’t want to miss the beauty of Peter’s challenge. The joyful part for me comes in verse 8 where he calls us to “possess these qualities in increasing measure.” He is not asking us if we’ve arrived at perfection. He’s encouraging us to grow—to experience the life of Christ “in increasing measure.”

Therein lies all the difference. Instead of being discouraged at who I am or what I’ve done or what I haven’t accomplished, I’m called to the joy of knowing that he will increasingly open my capability to share in the “divine nature” (1:4)—to share the life of Christ.

I look forward to the day when my knowledge will increase along with my self-control. I’m glad that the Holy Spirit will empower me to persevere. I’m excited to grow in mutual affection with my sisters and brothers. And I’m even optimistic enough to think that sharing in the divine nature will make me good and more godly, exemplified by love.

We’re not there. But we’re going there.

Pray: “Lord, again today, I open myself to you and ask your Spirit to fill my day by filling me. Give me this day the qualities that you want to see in me in increasing measure. I won’t strive to accomplish righteousness. But I will ‘make every effort’ (1:5) to allow you to do your work in me.”

Bible Studies: The Secrets of a Spiritually Prosperous Life

Bible Studies: The Secrets of a Spiritually Prosperous Life

by Wil Pounds

The Secrets of a Spiritually Prosperous Life

What are the essentials of a growing mature intimate love relationship with Jesus Christ?

Christ is the author of God’s kind of life in the believer. It is the normal Christian life.

Vance Havner once said, “We are so subnormal that if we came up to normal, the world would think we were abnormal.” And so it does.

In order to have God’s kind of life we must become acutely aware of our spiritual need.

THERE MUST BE AN AWARENESS OF OUR SPIRITUAL NEED.

Has the Holy Spirit made me aware of my spiritual poverty?

Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:30). Jesus used a powerful word for “poverty” meaning such a person would literally starve to death if he doesn’t get immediate sustenance. The person described is an absolute pauper; he is the lowest kind of beggar. His life depends upon his begging for every piece of food.

Of course, Jesus wasn’t speaking of physical needs, but spiritual poverty. We can’t even become Christians without a sense of our spiritual poverty. Every individual must come to a deep consciousness of his sinfulness and a realization that without Christ he is lost and does not know the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Therefore, we must each one turn from our sins and unbelief and ask Jesus Christ to be our Savior. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).

This is how our new life in Christ begins, but it does not end there. It is only the beginning. Jesus came to give us more than an insurance policy. He came to give us abundant life which is the kind of life God has.

Are you thirsty?

Moreover, this principle of realizing our spiritual poverty is not only true of the person who has never become a Christian, but it is also true of believers. We grow spiritually as we become aware of our personal needs and turn them over the Christ. John 7:37 refers to Jesus in the Temple on the last day of the great feast of the Tabernacles. On the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’ But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:37-39).

Psalm 63:1-2, vividly reminds us of this truth.

“Oh God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly;
My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You,
In a dry and weary land where there is no water.
Thus I have seen You in the sanctuary,
To see Your power and Your glory.”

Do you have this spiritual hunger to be more like Jesus Christ? Do you thirst for a more intimate fellowship with Christ? Hungering and thirsting leads us to true happiness.

THERE MUST BE AGONY OF THE SOUL BECAUSE OF THE AWARENESS OF OUR NEED.

Have you mourned over your spiritual poverty?

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). Jesus used a strong word meaning to mourn as if one is mourning for the dead. The conviction of spiritual need becomes so powerful in the soul that the individual mourns over his condition. It is to feel the pain, sting, and hurt of the realization that I am not as good as I thought I was. There is a sense of spiritual poverty and the agony of it.

Have you died to self-interest, selfishness and arrogant pride? Dying to self is a painful process. But death to self is the way to the fullness of life in Christ.

DAILY DEVOTIONAL
A Free Gift for You

There is no other way but the way of the cross. Have I grieved and mourned over my spiritual condition? Do I see myself as a dead man? Do I mourn spiritually over my spiritual need as one who mourns over the death of a loved one? “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24). Previously Paul had stated, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (2:20).

Not only must we become aware of our spiritual need, and grieve over it, we must abandon ourselves to Jesus Christ. There is awareness of our need, agony over it and abandonment to Christ as our only hope.

THERE MUST BE ABANDONMENT TO THE SAVIOR.

Has the Holy Spirit brought you to the place where you are sick of self? Our narcissistic filled society puts the emphasis on I, me and mine. We must come to the end of our selfishness. Our fleshy, sinful nature wants to worship self rather than the Lord Jesus Christ.

The apostle Paul in Romans 6:13 says, “do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.”

One of the verses I first memorized after I committed my life to Christ was Romans 12:1-2. “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Such a spiritual transformation comes through an intense hunger and thirst for God. Do I hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness? Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6). It is to have such an intense hunger and thirst that you want the whole thing. You want the last bit of bread and the last drop of water because you are so thirsty. Do you want the righteousness of God in like manner?

In Matthew 6:33, Jesus said, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Do Christ and His righteousness have the highest priority in my life? Do I want at all personal costs to be in a right relationship with God?

There must be a wholehearted unreserved abandonment to Jesus Christ. Am I willing to get serious with God and the Christian life? The normal Christian life is one in which the Holy Spirit is appropriated by faith to reveal Christ at work in us.

What is the spiritual need the Holy Spirit keeps pointing to in my life? Am I willing to agonize and grieve over the awareness of that need? Have I abandoned myself to Jesus Christ as the only hope for spiritual vitality? Am I willing to appropriate the presence of the Holy Spirit moment by moment?

THERE MUST BE THE APPROPRIATION BY FAITH OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.

It is not legalism.

Our fellowship with the Spirit of God is by faith, and not by works. “This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?” (Galatians 3:2) One of the great lessons we learn in Paul’s letter to the church at Galatia is that the Spirit does not respond to methods, programs and man’s gimmicks. He is a person and He must be treated as a person.

It is a daily blessing.

It is not a “second blessing” type of experience. It is a daily blessing. It is our response to the Holy Spirit creating in our lives a hunger for Christ to be preeminent. Has the Holy Spirit revealed Christ in you? Has He revealed Christ deep in your inner soul?

The apostle Paul prayed for the church at Ephesus that God “would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man; so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” Then at that point Paul just breaks out with a great doxology. “Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:16-21).

Paul couldn’t find words fast enough to communicate what was flashing through his mind. Literally, “But to Him who is able above all things to do exceedingly above . . .” God’s blessings exceed some number or measure, over and above, more than necessary. It is intensified by adding a preposition ek, adding “the idea of exhaustlessness,” and huper, “above.” His grace goes “beyond all things, superabundantly, and over and above.” Marvelous is God’s provision. And just to think, these promises are good forever. This grace will never come to an end.

Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be severely tested. He was tempted to use the power of the Spirit to change stones into bread to satisfy His real hunger. Why did Jesus refuse to do so? He knew that the power that filled Him was power to do the Father’s will, not His own will. The presence of the Holy Spirit equipped Him to triumphantly complete the mission His Father had given Him to do, even if that involved hunger, pain and suffering. He had nothing to prove and nothing to lose.

Simon the magician in Acts 8:9-23 was a crude dude who wanted lights, camera, and action. Now he would have done just the opposite of Christ. He would have been prime time news tonight.

By simple faith we receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit equips us to fulfill God’s eternal purpose in our lives. In that equipping process He conforms us to the image and likeness of Christ so that we can be His messengers to a lost and dying world.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 3:5). This “gentleness” of which Jesus speaks is strength. It is the strength of a wild stallion under perfect control of its bridle. It is the absence of pride. It is power under control. Such a person is a God–controlled man. He is under the control of the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit–controlled life is a complete breach with the old ways of life dominated by our sinful nature. It demands faith and commitment to Christ. It is a call to continual reliance on the Holy Spirit for daily living. On the negative side, the crucifixion of the flesh is not something any one of us can do by ourselves. We need help. The Helper comes along our side to give us His strength.

The exchanged life is a life of faith.

Key Words Bible Doctrines

Just as we were saved by faith in Christ, we also live the Christian life by faith in Him. It is by simple faith that we live from day to day the kind of life that pleases Him.

The apostle Paul in Romans 8:13 said, “If you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Paul is reminding us that this is a continual reliance on the person of the Holy Spirit who dwells within our bodies because we are now His temples. Moreover in Galatians 5:16-25 Paul tells us that we are to “walk in the Spirit” (v. 16). If we are to continually walk in the Sprit we must be “led by the Spirit” because He does the leading (v. 18). He leads and we walk with Him hand in hand. That is what it means to “live in the Spirit” (v. 25). Therefore, He is in control of our lives. That is what it means to “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). When someone is “filled” with wine he is under the influence, or control of the alcohol content. When we are “filled” with the Spirit we are under His control. It is a daily, moment-by-moment, relationship with Him. When He is in control we experience Spirit–controlled worship (vv. 19-21), Spirit–controlled home life (vv. 5:22-6:9) and Spirit–controlled warfare and witnessing (vv. 10-20). It is a walk of faith.

“I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). The one who justifies us by faith also sanctifies us. He gives us His strength, joy, love, steadfastness, and self-control. As we give Him our weakness, He gives us His strength. We hand over our guilt and He gives us His forgiveness. He sustains us with His peace as we hand over our stress, anxiety and inner struggles. We hand Him our faithlessness and He gives us faith. He gives us His power in place of our weakness.

“And what mutual agreement does the temple of God have with idols? For we are the temple of the living God, just as God said, ‘I will live in them and will walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people’” (2 Corinthians 6:16, NET). How do we live in His abundance? “I will live in them and will walk among them.”

Following this appropriation by faith of the Holy Spirit there is a moment-by-moment abiding by faith in Christ.

THERE MUST BE AN ABIDING BY FAITH IN THE SAVIOR.

This is a mutual abiding.

“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5).

Lord Jesus, will I see You today? Remind me of Your steadfast presence. “Apart from Me you can do nothing.” That is the hardest lesson for most Christians to learn. And there is no other way to live the Christian life.

Abiding is obedience to His will.

“The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us” (1 John 3:24). If I love Him I will have no problem with my attitude toward keeping His commandments. It is a matter of the heart. Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). When the heart is right we abide in Him and we sense His presence.

Abiding is not striving or struggling.

“Remain in Me and I in you,” said Jesus. This is a living relationship. It is not striving or struggling. It is resting in the Him. It is a matter of surrender. It is making ourselves available to Him so that He can live His life in and through us. This is a life of obedience responding to His love.

Hudson Taylor’s says it best:

When my agony of soul was as its height a sentence in a letter was used to remove the scales form my eyes, and the Spirit of God revealed the truth of our oneness with Jesus as I had never known it before . . . “But how do you get faith strengthened? Not by striving after faith, but by resting on the Faithful One.” As I read I saw it all! “If we believe not, He abideth faithful.” I looked to Jesus and saw and when I saw, oh, how the joy flowed!) that He had said, “I will never leave you.” “Ah, there is rest!” I thought. I’ll strive in vain to rest in Him. I’ll strive no more. For has He not promised to abide with me––never to leave me, never to fail me? And, He never will!

Let’s fix our eyes on Jesus.

The Amplified Bible on Hebrews 12:1-3 reads as follows:

Therefore then, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses [who have borne testimony to the Truth], let us strip off and throw aside every encumbrance––unnecessary weight––and that sin which so readily (deftly and cleverly) clings to and entangles us, and let us run with patient endurance and steady and active persistence the appointed course of the race that is set before us, looking away [from all that will distract] to Jesus, Who is the Leader and the Source of our faith [giving the first incentive for our belief] and is also its Finisher, [bringing it to maturity and perfection]. He, for the joy [of obtaining the prize] that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising and ignoring the shame, and is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God. [Ps. 110:1]. Just think on Him Who endured from sinners such grievous opposition and bitter hostility against Himself––reckon up and consider it all in comparison with your trials––so that you may not grow weary or exhausted, losing heart and relaxing and fainting in your minds.

THE EXCHANGED LIFE IS A LIFE OF ABUNDANCE.

How quick we are to try to put the cart before the horse. You can’t get happiness, joy, abundance without first receiving His righteousness. Happiness is a byproduct. Joy is the outcome of His life in us. Abundance in spiritual life is the result of Christ in us. It is not doing, it is receiving. J. B. Phillips paraphrased Philippians 4:13, “I am ready for anything through the strength of the One who lives within me.” That is “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” I am sufficient because Christ lives in me.

Jesus compared it to a river overflowing.

John 7:37-39, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’ ” But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”

It is full of abundance. John 10:10b, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” The secret is that His sheep hear His voice and obey Him. “When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice” (John 10:4). Am I sensitive to His voice? Is my ear quick to hear the sound of His presence? Who knows what He will say or where He will lead us if we only make ourselves available to Him.

We become invincible.

Jesus described the change in our lives when we are allowing Him to exchange our inadequacy for His all sufficiency. He said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:9-12).

That is the only way we can ever be salt and light in a spiritually dark and corrupt world.

Daily Devotion: The Model Prayer: Forgive Our Debts

Daily Devotion: The Model Prayer: Forgive Our Debts

Message by Wil Pounds

The Model Prayer: Forgive Our Debts

Why is it so hard to forgive?

Only a person committed to Christ dare pray this prayer. “Forgive us our debts, as we ourselves have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12 NET).

These are the most frightening words in Christianity.

This part of the prayer wakes us up spiritually and make us think about what we are saying.

Do we have an unforgiving spirit? If things are not right with other people, how can they be right with a holy God?

Jesus taught His disciples to pray, “Forgive our debts, as we also forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).

“Our debts” is a common word for legal debts, but here it is used of moral and spiritual debts to God. We are sinners who have wronged God. “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). “If we say we do not bear the guilt of sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. . . If we say we have not sinned, we make him a lair and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:8, 10 NET).

We are sinners who are constantly in the need of forgiveness. We have obligations to God. We owe God a debt. We need Him to cancel our debt because as sinners we can never repay it. We are spiritual debtors in the need of God’s saving grace.

“Forgive our debts,” means, “to send away, to dismiss, to wipe off, put away” (cf. 1 Jn. 1:7-9; Eph. 1:7; Matt. 26:28). From other Scriptures we learn that God provides forgiveness on the basis of the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ. Nothing can be added to that. Our forgiving disposition does not earn God’s pardon. Our forgiveness is based entirely on God’s unmerited favor and grace, and not on any merits on our part. It is the divine grace of God in Christ that saves us (Eph. 1:7; 2:8-10).

The act of forgiving others does not merit an eternal reward or gain for us salvation or eternal life. However, when we forgive others it is evidence that the grace of God is at work in our hearts. That which is impossible for us to accomplish in our own strength God enables us to do by the power of His indwelling in our hearts. If we hold on to our bitterness and grudges and unforgiveness, we need to examine ourselves. The apostle Paul admonishes us, “Put yourselves to the test to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize regarding yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you–unless, indeed, you fail the test! (2 Corinthians 13:5 NET).

The grace of God in the believer’s heart keeps bringing him back to the sanctifying truths of God’s word. “But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleaning us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 NET).

In the most hurtful experiences of life we forgive, and we to choose forgive again. It is a process whereby we confess our sins and choose to forgive the person who has offended us. It is a choice we make once and for all to let it go and trust God with the consequences. And everytime the “old man” brings it back up we choose to forgive again. Our old sinful nature will remind us of the hurts of life.

When we choose to forgive we demonstrate that we are children of God and we have experienced His saving grace. By nature this is not something we do on our own. Human nature says take charge, get revenge, get even, don’t let them do this to you. However, we have become new persons, a radical change has taken place in our hearts and we cannot live in the character of the person we were before we came to Christ. The power to forgive comes from the new life in Christ.

Salvation always begins with God’s electing grace and never with us (1 Jn. 4:19; Jn. 13:15; Eph. 4:32; 1 Pet. 2:21). The evidence of that saving grace is how we respond to the circumstances of life.

Jesus taught the disciples to pray, “Forgive our debt as we forgive our debtors.” The idea can be paraphrased: “Forgive us our sins in proportion as we forgive those who have sinned against us.” Jesus says with powerful words in verses 14-15 that if we forgive others, God will forgive us; but if we refuse to forgive others, God will refuse to forgive us.

“For if you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive you your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15, The NET Bible).

No amount of trying to make excuses, or interpret the words in a way that caters to our sinful human nature won’t work. Human forgiveness and divine forgiveness are relational. Jesus says our forgiveness of others and God’s forgiveness of us cannot be separated. The are related to one another.

This prayer forces us to our knees in humble confession and repentance.

Do you remember Peter’s question about forgiveness? “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus’ response was unnerving, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (Matt. 18:21-22). Then Jesus told a parable on forgiveness and concluded, “‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart” (vv. 23-35).

Jesus said forgiveness must be present in us if we are to receive the Father’s forgiveness. We must be willing to forgive others if we have experienced His forgiveness. The person seeking forgiveness must have first taken forgiving action with respect to those who have sinned against him.

Jesus keeps bringing us back to a spiritual birth, a radical change in us, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; what is old has passed away, what is new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NET). Forgiveness is evidence of that radical change in our hearts.

Has anyone in this earthly life arrived at this perfect state of forgiving? Let’s face the reality that only Jesus Christ has been able to forgive perfectly (Luke 23:34). Our forgiveness is so imperfect.

All excuses laid aside, we are forced to come to God and deal with these issues of forgiveness and receiving forgiveness daily. This prayer for forgiveness should be a daily priority in our lives.

Jesus expected His people to forgive others, and He gives assurance that the forgiveness of God is certain. In order for us to enjoy God’s forgiveness of our sins we must forgive our debtors. We get back what we give. Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy.”

What we are humanly unable to accomplish, God enables us to do by His power working within us. It is His grace within us that gives us the desire and ability to forgive our neighbor. When we do take action to forgive we have a credible witness to our lost neighbor. He can see the grace of God at work in our lives. He will see the change and ask, “What makes you different?”

Vengeance belongs only to the Lord (Rom. 12:19). We are to hand every situation over to the Lord and trust it to Him. We can find no greater example of this action than in Christ Himself while hanging on the cross. He prayed, “Father forgive them, for they now not what they are doing” (Luke 23:34; Jn. 13:12-15; Eph. 4:32; 5:1-2; Col. 3:13). The forgiveness of Christ must have startled those who were hurling insults, curses and abuses on Him in the hour of His death. One of the criminals saw the difference in Christ and responded to His love.

There is a tremendous sense of inner peace of mind and heart when we choose to forgive. God’s name is glorified because we have been obedient to His command.

Only the power of Christ living in us can empower us to forgive. “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law” (Rom. 13:8).

Selah!

Message by Wil Pounds (c) 2006

 

 

Daily Devotion: The Fullness of God’s Love

 

Daily Devotion: The Fullness of God’s Love

Ephesians 3:14-19

New International Version (NIV)

A Prayer for the Ephesians

Read: Ephesians 3:14-19

14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family[a] in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Consider: How can you know something that can’t be known? It sounds impossible, but that is what Paul prayed for the Ephesian believers (and for us). He prayed that we would “know this love that surpasses knowledge” (3:19).
Well, the only way we can make sense of that is to try to understand what Paul means by knowledge. And it’s obvious that Paul is speaking about two different kinds of knowledge. There are some things we can grasp with our minds. We can know the story of Jesus’ birth, life and death. But the love of Christ surpasses that capability. I can’t contain his love in my thinking and reasoning.

While that may be obvious, Paul needed to remind us. It is easy for us to try to “know” Christ in the wrong way. It is our nature to approach all of life from a rational point of view. We try to figure things out. We make reasoned decisions. And if, at some point we fail to live life in that manner, we chide ourselves for being “irrational.”

Well, to know the love of Christ is not rational and it’s not irrational. It is what one author likes to call “trans-rational”—it transcends our knowledge or, as Paul says it, it “surpasses knowledge.”

That means that you and I need a different capacity—a spiritual capacity—to know that love. Paul said that capacity is given to us from “the fullness of God” and he prayed that we would be “filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (3:19).

Pray: “Lord, I open myself to you and ask your Spirit to fill me this day. By your presence in me, I ask that today you would help me ‘to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.’ I know this can’t happen in my mind alone, so help me to see you today with new eyes, in new ways.”

Phil Stout, Lead Pastor, Jackson First Church Nazarene

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