Daily Devotionals

Grace Alone
Mar 24, 2017

I am pastor, a child of God, and I have been a follower of Jesus Christ for over 30 years, so this is hard for me to admit. If I am honest, however, I have a difficult time accepting that salvation is free.

I have never liked giveaways or freebies. Something for nothing just doesn’t seem appealing to me. I like tick for tack. Work for pay. Hustle for success. As an athlete would say, “I love the grind.”  I love working hard and reaping the rewards. A sign in my office reads, “A man reaps what he sows.”

In Ephesians 2, we read this:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.
— Ephesians 2:8

God does all the messy work, and all I have to do is accept the free gift of salvation. Salvation is so easy for the believer. The work has been done. On several occasions, I have heard evangelists and pastors mention the free gift of salvation as the main selling point. “You don’t have to do anything, Jesus paid it all,” they cry.

How could someone reject the free gift of salvation? Answer: they don’t look at free salvation as the selling point, but rather the sticking point. The idea that a person has a problem, needs a savior, and can do nothing to earn salvation is humbling. For the prideful, it is humiliating.

Some people, including myself, struggle with free. They want to earn. They want to work and, more importantly, they want to be recognized for their efforts.  They want the glory. They want to be known as the ones who rescued themselves from the depths of hell.

Pride is the reason many people don’t accept the free gift of salvation.  Many miss out on the life-saving relationship with Jesus Christ because they can’t humble themselves to simply receive.

Has pride stopped you or someone you know from receiving the free gift of salvation? My prayer is that you would humble yourself today and receive what Jesus is giving you.

Daily Devotionals

Mar 23, 2017

A friend of ours is currently going through a very painful, ugly and mean divorce. The story isn’t anything unique or new. One day, her spouse woke up and decided that he didn’t want to be married any longer. Maybe it was the younger, slimmer, more athletic, sexier co-worker’s flirtatious remarks or advances. Maybe it was the gradual drift of shutting down and emotionally disconnecting after countless times of being dismissed, mocked, ridiculed, or taunted. Maybe it was a combination of months, or years, of selfishness. Regardless of what the motivation was, it always boils down to selfishness and deceit by at least one, if not both, parties. I recently read the line, “You don’t really know someone until you know what they want.” That may be true, but a deeper and more probing question is “Why do they want it?”

If you don’t believe me, consider the concept of motivation, i.e., the why behind the things we do. Jump on a site like Amazon or Barnes & Noble and look at the countless volumes of self-help books. Emotional, physical, spiritual, intellectual. Advancing, excelling, exceeding, dominating, winning, climbing, pushing. Consider why it is that you’re reading How to Win Friends and Influence People or some other book on leadership. Truly consider why it is that you’re eating bark and tofu. Consider why you’re spending countless hours training. Why? So that you can say, “I’m the best?” To get the trophy, award, ribbon or record? To achieve, accomplish, gain and conquer all obstacles in your way? The truth is that our motivations reveal futile efforts to fill the infinite void and eternal question of inherent value. We want to answer the question “What am I worth?” but “Why?” sheds light on things unlike any other question.

Why did that couple get married in the first place? Why did you get married? Why do you want to get married? Counselors tell us the reason divorce is so common is because people get married for the wrong reasons: pleasure, convenience, finances, fear, security, insecurity, social or cultural norms, attention, pressure. What about when the pleasure ceases due to accident or age? What about when convenience becomes inconvenient? What about when the layoff happens, and that affluent lifestyle can’t be maintained or advanced? What about when those fears or insecurities are conquered? What about when the norms change, the attention ceases, or the pressure abates? As it turns out, it’s not really what we want that matters most, but why we want it.

Ephesians 2 begins with a universal truism on the human condition:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins
— Ephesians 2:1

Paul backs up that idea in Romans 5:

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—
— Romans 5:12

When we read on in Ephesians, we find out the universal human sin/death condition can be altered:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—
— Ephesians 2:4-5

That’s what God did, and how he did it, but it still doesn’t answer the deeper question of why. That’s the unfathomable power behind Ephesians 2:7.

Why did God bring us from death to life?

so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
— Ephesians 2:7

God didn’t swindle us into temptation, sin, and an eternal death sentence simply to rush in at the last moment and play the role of twisted cosmic hero. Last week, a friend of mine asked, “Why doesn’t God just make us love him?” I smiled and told him, “If we are made to do it, then it certainly cannot be called love.” At one point, we had a choice to esteem, adore, trust and love him. We all decided universally, collectively and individually that independence, autonomy, rebellion and rejection were the ways to go.

I read an article on motivation recently. An accurate summary might be that our motivation for doing anything falls into one of the six following categories: incentive, fear, achievement, growth, power or social. What a horrible, yet accurate, portrayal of the human sin/death condition. Thankfully, God doesn’t operate under the limitation of human constraints.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
— Isaiah 55:9

God wasn’t incentivized to create the heavens and the earth. “One more universe there, buddy, and you’ll get a salary bump of 2.5%!” God wasn’t motivated by fear. “Oh, me! If I don’t create humanity, what am I going to do for all eternity?” Not by achievement. “The award for most-improved god goes to…” Not by growth, by power, nor social void. Rather, God did what he did so that “he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”

Why? Why did God create the heavens and the earth, establish Eden, create humanity in his image and likeness, breathe his breath of life into us, expel us from the garden, promise a serpent-crushing champion, bless Abram, call Moses, appoint Israel as a kingdom of priests, deliver us from slavery, provide us with a King, reveal himself through Scripture, foretell of his personal advent, allow himself to be born in a feeding trough, turn his face resolutely toward Jerusalem, endure ridicule, mocking, nails, thorns and excruciating pain at Calvary, and die? Why?

…who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross…
— Hebrews 12:2

This devotional began with a statement: “You don’t really know someone until you know what they want.” We took it a step further and posed a deeper and more pressing question: “Why do they want it?” That’s how you really know someone.

The old saying goes, “Actions speak louder than words.” God might have created us and merely boasted about his extravagant, boundless, incalculable love for us for all eternity. But our God isn’t one of cheap, idle, hollow words. It would have been one thing for God merely to send us a magical book filled with history, poems, wisdom and songs, only to stop there, never actually coming, never dwelling with us, never enduring, never experiencing shame, regret, fear, depression, isolation, loss and utter rejection. Instead, the light of the world stepped down into darkness, went to and endured the cross for the joy set before him, “so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”

It’s one thing to admire or merely bask in that amazing grace. That’s not who followers of Christ are called to be. Grace transports us from death to life. It also transforms us from selfish, autonomous consumers into what Paul wrote about in 2 Corinthians:

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
— 2 Corinthians 5:20

Have you repented from sin and been brought to life in Jesus? If so, you are now an ambassador of Christ. Live out that grace as Jesus did: for the joy set before you. The joy of seeing his grace transport our brothers and sisters from death to life. So, now what? Dive into the divine narrative of God’s mission with reckless abandon, bringing the immeasurable riches of the gospel of his gracious kindness with you wherever you go.

Daily Devotionals

Earned by God and Given to Us
Mar 22, 2017

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
— Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV

In these two verses, the apostle Paul tells us that salvation is a “gift of God” and it is “not a result of works.” Have you ever wondered why God would simply give us salvation and not make us work for it at all?

Think about it. Why does God have to be the one to do all the work to save us when he didn’t do anything wrong, and we did everything wrong? It seems to me that we should have to spend every waking moment of our lives trying to work to earn our salvation, since we are the ones that rebelled and destroyed our relationship with God in the first place.

I’m not the only one that feels that way. Look at all the other religions and cults in the world. They obviously agree with my reasoning. Look at the followers of other religions and cults and you will see people trying their best to earn their way back into the good favor of their gods.

You will see people living their lives hoping that, at the end, their list of good deeds outweighs their list of bad deeds. They believe that, if it does, their god will receive them into his presence. You will also see people living their lives making sacrifices of one kind or another, hoping that their sacrifices in some way make up for all the wrongs they have committed in their lives.

Whether it be one’s best attempts at obedience or one’s sacrifices or a combination of both, it all amounts to people trying to work their way back into the good favor of their god. This describes the followers of all the other religions in the world. And this is proof that, deep down, they believe that it is man’s job to earn his own salvation.

Here is a simple summary of the beliefs of all other religions and cults:

  1. Salvation is not free. It must be earned.
  2. Salvation is earned through obedience and sacrifice.

Now, let me share with you a simple summary of the beliefs of Christianity, so you can compare.

  1. Salvation is not free. It must be earned.
  2. Salvation is earned through obedience and sacrifice.

Whoa, wait a minute! Something’s wrong! It can’t be correct to say that both Christianity and all the other religions and cults in the world share both of these beliefs, can it?

Well, it is true that Christianity and all the other religions and cults in the world share both these beliefs. Like other religions, Christianity also believes that salvation is not free and that it must be earned through obedience and sacrifice. But there is one major difference between Christianity and all the other religions and cults of the world:

In other religions and cults, man must earn his own salvation through obedience and sacrifice.

There is a fundamental flaw in all religions and cults that believe that man must earn his own salvation. The flaw is the belief that man is capable of earning his own salvation. In the Bible, God tells us that man is dead in his sins (Ephesians 2:1) and is unable to do anything to bring himself back to life. Dead men are not able to bring themselves back to life. If a dead man is ever to live again, it will be because he is resurrected from the dead by God (Ephesians 2:5-6), who alone has the power to raise the dead to life.

In Christianity, God earns man’s salvation through obedience and sacrifice, and then gives that salvation to man as a free gift.

God stepped down from heaven, clothed himself in humanity, and was born as the man Jesus.

Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.
— Philippians 2:6-7 NLT

In the person of Jesus, God perfectly satisfied his own requirement of perfect obedience that we were unable to satisfy.

He is holy and blameless, unstained by sin.
— Hebrews 7:26 NLT

In the person of Jesus, God gave himself as a perfect sacrifice for our sins and satisfied his own requirement that all sin must be punished.

Christ offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins.
— Hebrew 9:14 NLT

In the person of Jesus, God raised himself from the dead and proved that he had successfully earned our salvation through obedience and sacrifice.

God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead after you killed him by hanging him on a cross. Then God put him in the place of honor at his right hand as Prince and Savior.
— Acts 5:30-31 NLT

In the person of Jesus, God offers salvation to all of us who will give up trying to earn salvation ourselves and will trust in the obedience and sacrifice of God alone to be saved.

Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law.
— Galatians 2:16 NLT

You see, in Christianity, salvation is both earned and a free gift. God earns it and gives it to us as a free gift.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
— Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV

Daily Devotionals

So Help Me, Me
Mar 21, 2017

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
— Galatians 6:14

Forty years ago, John Denver, George Burns and Teri Garr teamed up in a delightful movie called Oh, God! The story captures a down-to-earth supermarket manager named Jerry (Denver), who is chosen by God (Burns) to spread his message, despite the skepticism of the media, the religious authorities and his less-than-supportive wife (Garr). Along with the barrel of laughs you might expect from an old man claiming to be God, there are many thought-provoking lines in the script. For example, when a puzzled Jerry asks God, “Why me?” God replies, “Why not you?”

And one of my favorites:

GOD (BURNS): If you find it hard to believe in me, maybe it would help you to know that I believe in you.

But the one line that caused a theater full of people to burst out in side-splitting laughter is when Jerry takes his claim of having seen the Almighty personally and being God’s messenger to court. Just when he thinks his effort to vindicate himself is going to fail, leaving him to look a fool, God (Burns) appears in the courtroom suddenly, without opening the doors, and asks to be sworn in. The judge allows him to proceed.

COURT CLERK: Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?

GOD (BURNS): So help me, me.

Cute, from a Hollywood perspective, but for a man to make such a claim? Preposterous. Who would dare? However, should we think that our having been born again is the result of personal effort, something we have done and continue doing to have and maintain a right relationship with God, then such is the claim we make. “So help me, me.”

If, indeed, God’s granting you a place in heaven is the result of human effort, then praise be to you. Go ahead, pat yourself on the back and give yourself a high-five. You didn't need Jesus. You did it. The cross was unnecessary, and grace is nothing more than the returning of thanks, a prayer we offer at mealtime.

Sound ridiculous? It should, because it is.

Salvation is contingent upon your acceptance of God’s gracious gift alone. Not even your faith is a contributing effort. That, too, is a gift from God (see 2 Peter 1:1).

In the Ephesians volume of MacArthur’s New Testament Commentary, John MacArthur writes:

“The story is told of a man who came eagerly but very late to a revival meeting and found the workmen tearing down the tent in which the meetings had been held. Frantic at missing the evangelist, he decided to ask one of the workers what he could do to be saved. The workman, who was a Christian, replied, “You can’t do anything. It’s too late.” Horrified, the man said, “What do you mean? How can it be too late?” “The work has already been accomplished,” he was told. “There is nothing you need to do but believe it.”

Daily Devotionals

The Easy Yoke
Mar 16, 2017

How do you kick back and relax?

Do you sink into your favorite recliner in front of the TV? Do you lounge on the couch with a blanket and a good book? Do you walk around with a large piece of wood fastened to your neck?

The last option doesn’t sound too relaxing, which is why it seems strange that Jesus would use this mental image to describe what it means to rest in him.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
— Matthew 11:28-30

A yoke (that crosspiece of wood fastened around the necks of two oxen working at a plow) doesn’t connote the idea of relaxation and rest. Instead, it conjures up an image of hard, physical labor. How can a yoke be restful?

It is restful because it is his yoke. Jesus’ yoke.

We have to remember who he is talking to in this passage. Specifically, he is speaking to “all who labor and are heavy laden”. It seems that his target audience already has a yoke around their necks (whether they realize it or not). Some may wear the yoke of comparison (always feeling the need to be as good as or better than the next guy) or the yoke of performance (trying to live up to our own or someone else’s standards). Or, as it was in Jesus’ day, it could be the yoke of the law, the system of religious rules that weighed down those who tried to live up to their rigid requirements.

Jesus’ yoke, by contrast, is easy and light. It is restful because it is based, not on rules and requirements, but rather on a relationship of grace, trust and forgiveness. And freedom.

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin… if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
— John 8:34, 36

Ironically, the yoke of Jesus — a symbol of his mastery over us — actually brings us freedom.

Those who understand this irony and allow that easy yoke to be slipped gently upon their necks will find the amazing relief of having their heavy yokes lifted and the unbelievable joy of serving a Master who is “gentle and lowly in heart”. Our act of surrender, rather than putting a heavy burden upon us, actually removes the yoke that is already there and replaces it with one that is easy and light.

Now, doesn’t that sound like a yoke worth wearing?

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