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No Substitutes

brown cookies on black metal grill
 
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” Galatians 1:3-7

Accept no substitutes.  While generic drugs and no-name breakfast cereals have their place, there’s also a time to say, “Accept no substitutes.”  For example, your mother’s chocolate chip cookies have never been beaten. The green ceramic pot your third grade daughter made for Mother’s Day is the most beautiful piece of sculpture ever. 

Paul has a similar view to the familiar gospel that he has shared with the Galatians. The Gospel is absolutely unique and no other “gospel” can compete.  Like most original products, the Gospel of Jesus begins with an amazing, new idea:  God becomes man.  Galatians 4:4 says, “In the fullness of time, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman…”  Only the true Gospel has this idea and direction—God comes to us to be fully man.  But original ideas and products are expensive.  Yes, and the Gospel is costly, but God bears all the cost himself.  Galatians 4:4 continues, “God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law to redeem those who were under the law.”  The impossible price changes when God pays the price by his own Son’s death.

Still, good ideas, whatever their cost, have to work.  The ultimate proof of this Gospel is in the resurrection.  Only in the true Gospel do we have the news that Jesus shows himself to be Son of God in power through the resurrection of the dead, Romans 1:4.  Here is an idea that has no substitute, no comparison.  God takes on our flesh, pays our price and rises from the dead. Accept no substitutes.
 
Heavenly Father, help us to know and hold onto the true Gospel.  We’re often tempted to get by with the substitute of our own promises.  Remind us that there’s only one Gospel, the truth that Jesus has taken on our flesh, died beneath the cross to make the payment, and risen from the dead to show the truth of his message.  Help us to accept no substitutes. In Jesus’ name, Amen.


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Living in Peace with God

white ceramic teacup on white ceramic saucer on table

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 5:1

As I write this today, peace would certainly not be the first word to come to mind when describing the state of affairs in our country. There is a level of unrest that has not be seen on such a scale in many, many years. Some have compared the recent magnitude of protests to what was seen in the 60’s. There are calls from across the land for peace and justice for all of our citizens. But both can be elusive.

This week I would like to invite you to consider what God says about peace. Reflect on it from three perspectives: peace with God, peace with myself, and peace with others. God most certainly has something to say about this and we would, as always, benefit from listening to Him.

Peace with God should be easy; after all, God loves us! If that’s true (and it is) how could we not be at peace with God?

As His children by baptism, we have the peace with God that Paul describes in Romans 5:1. But it was not always that way. Prior to God’s gracious gift of faith, our sinful nature put us in the position of being an enemy of God. The apostle James makes that clear when he writes, “Whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” James 4:4b

While we live in a world and a time where peace is challenged, we know that nothing can take away the peace that we have with God. Today we pause and thank God that He has done what is necessary for us to no longer be His enemy, but rather His beloved. Typically, peace is the result of two parties agreeing not to harm one another, to live cooperatively. In the best of cases, peace brings with it mutual support and a beneficial relationship that grows over time. Each party brings something to the table that strengthens the relationship and makes peace desirable by both.

But what do we have to bring to God? What can we offer that would cause Him to desire peace with us? Nothing, not a thing. God gives us His peace out of pure love through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus. Consider the words of Paul later in Romans 5, “For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” Romans 5:10

The peace that we now have with God opens the door for peace with ourselves and others.

Father, thank you for the peace that I have with You through the life, death, and resurrection of my Savior Jesus. Your love for me is beyond my understanding but that makes me all the more grateful. Even in times of trouble, may the peace that I have with You always bring me great comfort for my soul and all that I need to face the day. In Jesus precious name I pray, amen.

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Turn to Jesus

man holding his hands on open book

54 Now when they (the Jewish leaders) heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at (Stephen). 55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. 58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.  (Acts 7:54-60)

As they were stoning him, Stephen turned to the Lord.  Notice that he doesn’t call out for the Lord to stop his execution.  Instead, he simply calls out for forgiveness.  Their forgiveness!  Forgiveness for those who falsely accused Him of blaspheme because he preached the life-giving Gospel of Jesus.  Forgiveness for finding him worthy of death on trumped up charges.  Forgiveness for taking his life in such an unjust and inhumane manner.  He knows that his work on earth is completed.  He has shared the Good News with the people.  He has been rejected, but Stephen still loves these people to whom he was sent.  They have not only rejected the messenger, they rejected the message.  This is exactly what Jesus said would happen.  The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me (Luke 10:16).

We learn from Stephen to turn to Jesus.   Odds are, we are not going to be executed for our faith, but there are those times that living our faith brings with it ridicule and question.  Recently someone asked me how I can be nice to those who have treated me with disrespect.  They questioned my sincerity.  Was I being fake?  Responding to ignorance and spite with love and care is a Jesus-thing.  Jesus is the one who said, You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:43-44).  How can you do that?  Try doing this:

  • Remember that God loves us, not because we are so good, but because He is so good! God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
  • Pray for a heart to love the unlovable.
  • Pray for the person who has opposed or offended you. It’s hard to hate someone when you’re praying for him/her.
  • Say nice things and do nice things for that person. It’s also hard to hate while you’re doing nice things.

So, what if the person continues to offend or shun you?  Keep praying.  It’s important to be the one who loves rather than the one who hates.

Prayer: O Holy Spirit, bless me that I would not harbor hatred in my heart.  Give me the faith to rise above any desires to return spite with spite.  Instead, allow me the privilege of loving the unlovable.  I pray this in the name of the resurrected Jesus.  Amen.


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Things of This World

person's hand holding book page
 
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions —is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”  I John 2:15-17

It’s such a fine line: to enjoy our earthly possessions as gifts of God’s grace or to obsess about the things of this world and covet our neighbor’s stuff.  How are you doing?

The devil works in two different ways here.  Sometimes, he tries to make us feel guilty for enjoying life.  Instead, we ought to give thanks to God for whatever blessings He gives us in life.  But other times, he dangles possessions and the things of world in front of our eyes to tempt us to look for meaning and purpose in the things of life, instead of in the Author of Life.

It’s a fine line:  to enjoy our earthly possessions as gifts of God’s grace or to obsess about the things of this world and covet our neighbor’s stuff!  Let’s be honest, most Americans have enough disposable income to veer off into “possession obsession.”  (Or, for those Americans who don’t have enough disposable income, there’s always credit cards.) 

Why do we struggle so much with this?

It’s a simple answer, I think.  We’re looking for fulfillment in things that can’t bring it.  Whatever your “shopping therapy” or entertainment preferences are, the short-term high that they bring cannot provide the soul contentment that we need.  Only Jesus fills that hole.

So, what can we do?  First, thank God for all His gifts.  Second, search your heart for unhealthy attachments to worldly things.  Third, confess your sins.  Fourth, know that you are forgiven in Christ!

Heavenly Father, sometimes I’m too attached to the things of this world.  Forgive me.  Help me to be grateful for all that You give me, but help me also to not hold on tightly to the things of this world.  Rather, by Your Spirit, give me strength to hold on tightly to Jesus, who alone fills the needs of my soul.  In His name, Amen. 


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Create In Me a Clean Heart

white printer paper on macbook pro
 
54 Now when they (the Jewish leaders) heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at (Stephen). 55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. 58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
(Acts 7:54-60)
 
Have you ever wondered what your last words on this earth would be?  Stephen, as his life is taken from him by an angry crowd calls out, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.  Stephen quotes His Savior, who spoken those words from the cross, having fulfilled all that was necessary for our salvation.  Charlemagne, the Roman emperor who died in 814, uttered these same last words, as did Christopher Columbus in 1506.  I always hoped I would have the privilege of leaving this world with these same words on my lips.  It would be a privilege to die with these as our last words.

It is also a privilege to begin each new day with these words on our lips.  Each day is a gift from the Lord.  Our gift to Him is the manner in which we live that day.  It is so easy to begin our day, rehearsing the “To Do” list that stands before us.  Our plans can take priority.  Our goals can become our god.  Often we find ourselves asking the Lord to bless what we are doing.  Perhaps it would be better for us to begin the day praying for the Lord to lead us to the things that He is blessing.

Our gifts and talents and abilities are a gift from God, to be used to serve Him.  The best way to serve the Lord is by serving others.  How are you making a difference to the people around you?  Your “To Do” list is important, but it must include caring for others physically, emotionally and spiritually.

We live in a fast paced world, which has recently come to a near halt.  Perhaps the Lord is offering this time for us to reconnect with those who could use a word of encouragement, a word of care, a word of compassion.  Are you making a difference for others?  If not, join King David who prayed about his spirit, saying, Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me (Psalm 51:10).

Prayer: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.  Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.  Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you (Psalm 51:11-13).  I pray this in the name of Jesus.  Amen.

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