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(Can be found under DESIGN tab)
DEVOTIONS FOR MEN
While one of the criminals crucified next to Jesus hurled insults at Him, the other put his faith in Christ. The first man (and nearly everyone else around) was basically asking the age-old question, "If you're so powerful and so good, then why....?" and making the equally common demand, "If you're really God, then prove it by...." The second man started out mocking Jesus, too (see Matthew 27:38-44 and Mark 15:27-32), but after watching and listening a while, he changed. He admitted that he himself DID deserve his punishment but asserted Jesus' innocence. Then, rather than demanding that Jesus rescue him physically, this man asked Jesus to "remember" him in His kingdom (see Luke 23:32-43). Who was this man? What can we learn from him--and what Jesus said to him?
The most accurate translations call the two men crucified with Jesus either "criminals" or "revolutionaries," but their specific crimes are not identified. While he's most often referred to as "the thief on the cross" and some non-biblical sources claim his name was Dysmas, these are only traditions. While all four gospels mention him, he is not referred to outside of Luke's account of Christ's death. Even Luke--the only gospel writer to record this man's change of heart and Jesus' reply--does not provide any specific background information on him in the text itself. Clearly, his encounter with Jesus matters more than his backstory.
This man's salvation was Jesus was both universal and completely unique. It was universal in that all of us have sinned and can only be saved through Christ (Romans 3:23, John 14:6). It was unique in that he is the only person saved while Christ's sacrifice was being made. While Jesus was, in that moment, both the final Sacrifice and the Ultimate High Priest, this man was not saved according to the requirements of the Old Testament Law. Similarly, Paul clearly explains in Romans 6:1-14 that baptism represents the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Since Jesus had not died, been buried, or rose again at the moment this man was saved, his story has nothing to say about the importance of baptism for the rest of us. It does emphasize the unique and complete authority of Christ Himself as THE Savior, THE Messiah, THE Christ.
Check back here soon for a discussion about where and what Jesus meant by "Paradise." In the meantime, may we all respond to Jesus the way this man did--humbly, with complete faith and no demands.
Speaking while being crucified made the torture even worse. Every breath required Jesus to push up on a huge nail through both His feet and pull up on nails through His wrists, scraping His raw back on the rough wood of the cross. Those who had Him crucified continued to shout insults, and those who had physically beaten and crucified Him surrounded Him. Still, Jesus made the effort to say seven things from the cross, and the first one was, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." (Luke 23:34, NIV).
Jesus did not take sin lightly. He never justified sin or endorsed compromise. In fact, He called His followers to perfection--godly behavior that flowed naturally from heart that had been transformed by God Himself. To fully understand what He said on the cross, we must examine other things He said. In this case, take a moment to read John 8:2-11. Everything He said in that story is a clue about His perspective on sin and forgiveness.
1) Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.
Jesus is NOT saying that her sin (or the sin of anyone in that crowd) was OK. He is NOT saying that they are wrong to call adultery wrong. He IS saying that we are all guilty of sin, and that we should forgive as we have been forgiven (see Matthew 18:22-35).
2) Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?
Jesus is helping her understand that her life was not over. Instead, He is inviting her back into her own story. Note that He does NOT say, "It's OK. I know you loved him, and he loved you. Don't let anyone tell you that adultery--or anything done out of love--is wrong." He is simply helping her notice that her accusers have decided not to press charges. The verdict is still guilty, but no sentencing will take place. She is free to go.
3) Then neither do I condemn you. Now go and leave your life of sin.
To condemn is to sentence, to write off, to label, or to give up on someone. Jesus' words and actions had nothing to do with the rightness or wrongness of her actions. He simply refuses to send her to her punishment at this point in her life. He paroles her. He gives her a chance to do things differently.
God's love and mercy must never be misinterpreted as endorsement of sin or some kind of obsession with accepting and loving everyone with no regard to behavior. One of the best examples of the kind of redemptive love God has for His people is in this clip. Note that the father doesn't just accept His son's failure to win or blame that failure on his energy. Instead, he comes alongside him, helps him up, and helps him FINISH. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kZlXWp6vFdE
“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
As a new Christian becoming just familiar with the teaching in the Bible, there was a lot that I knew would be challenging. But when I first came across the above Scripture, I couldn’t understand why or how this would be expected. Some circumstances are tragic! Though I began to follow it as best I could in blind faith, it was several years later before I began to understand the purpose and the wisdom of this instruction. Here’s some of what I have learned as I have matured in my faith.
First, it’s faith in God’s sovereignty. He has promised that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). We don’t always readily see how god could work for good in some things, but we walk by faith, not by sight. He is glorified by our faith, and we grow by exercising our faith.
Second, and by no means the last benefit, having a thankful mind-set helps us to keep our minds on the Spirit’s leadership seeking understanding or what God wants to accomplish. Grumbling is caused when we only look at things from our perspective and how circumstances make life difficult for us. It is dishonoring to God, and it is dishonoring to ourselves. That’s why we need to follow the directive in Philippians 2:14: “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’”
There are three attributes that keep us connected to God during troubled times—trust (faith), waiting, and hoping. Trust is initiates the other two. Without trust (faith), there would be no waiting, no hoping. So trust is what our Father desires most.
Waiting and hoping are evidence of our trust. They also keep us connected to God. Waiting for God to work keeps our eyes on him and keep our trust alive. Hoping will strengthen our ability to wait and enhance our trust.
If we only say we trust without any real ability or desire to wait, our trust is false, and our hope is eclipsed by doubt. Hope looks to the future in which God will glorify himself proving himself to be faithful and true. It also keeps us focused on our reward for faithfulness and our inheritance in Heaven. So hope even has benefits for the present.
Because we are God’s children, we don’t just pass time in our waiting. We wait expectantly, trusting while we wait that our hope will prove to be more than just empty hope. It will become reality.
“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see . . . And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:1, 6).
Though many things in life feel random and wrong, remember that God is sovereign over everything. He can do as he promised to make all things work together for good, but only to the extent that we trust him. Every problem can teach us something and transform us little by little into the image of Christ. Problems can be a stumbling block or a stepping stone. It will depend on whether we react with trust and faith, or not. The choice is up to us, and we will have to choose many times each day how we will react.
The best way to have problems become a blessing is to thank God for them. This opens our minds to understand how God could use them for good and for growth. God will not necessarily remove our problems, but his wisdom is sufficient to bring good out of every one of them.
Problems become bigger problems when we resent them, fail to see how God may want to use them, and we try to handle them ourselves. And feeling helpless and overwhelmed by a problem and choose to go it alone. But this is when we need to involve God and walk with him in dependence. As we face the problems of life, this choice will be continually before us.
The problems we face are really trials. James 1:2-4 tells us to “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”. These trials/problems are gifts from God to grow us and remind us to rely on him alone.
Many voices vie for control of our minds. We can often find ourselves running around in circles trying to obey the various voices trying to direct our lives. This results in fragmented, frustrated patterns of living. We must learn to discern what is God’s voice, and what is not.
The Holy Spirit is always trying to guide our thoughts, but so is Satan. What makes it so confusing is that Satan disguises himself so we are often unaware that what seems innocent and unconnected to our walk with God is just another diversion to occupy our minds and take our focus off of the Spirit’s lead. Satan’s most effective disguise is SELF. He likes to keep us focused on what is appealing to our selfish desires and interests. We must not fall into this trap. Instead, we need to keep our focus on the Spirit’s leading and walk closely with him, listening for his directives, and enjoying his companionship.
Refuse to let the other voices draw you off track and make you ineffective and unfruitful. Jesus said, “My sheep know my voice and follow me wherever I lead (John 10:4).
There are many reasons why certain jobs require specific clothes. Many of them are practical reasons. The scrubs most medical workers wear are durable, comfortable, and easy to clean--and they easily distinguish them from anyone needing their care. Firefighters' uniforms share these same basic characteristics and add fire resistance, reflective tape, and wide-brimmed protective helmets.
Many uniforms are also symbolic. Almost every aspect of military and police uniforms mean something--and even the way they must be maintained represents their wearers' values. To wear a uniform--any uniform--implies that you are part of the group that uniform represents. To wear a uniform implies that you have done whatever that group requires for membership, that you are capable of doing whatever members of that group are typically capable of doing, and that you are somehow in touch with the rest of that group should backup be required. Costumes, however, are all about the wearer, not about a group.
Costumes are usually worn out of respect or honor (the way little boys love to dress up like soldiers, policemen, firefighters, cowboys, and superheroes), but they never look like the real thing, no matter how realistic they are. Other costumes are worn to express derision or prejudice, or simply as a disguise. No matter why they are being worn, however, costumes only speak of the costume wearer, not of whomever the costumes represent.
Don't miss this distinction in Ephesians 4, where Paul is clearly explaining how believers are to live out their faith, how "the mystery of Christ" changes their identity from the inside out, and they truly become part of God's family. Not only that, choosing each day to "put on the uniform" and "do the job" (see v. 22-25 especially) we can grow up and become even more like Christ (see v 14-16). Using Paul's metaphor, believers "putting on" the old, sinful nature is like wearing a costume--or worse, wearing the uniform of the enemy. Our identities have changed. On the other hand, "putting on Christ" becomes a daily ritual of donning the uniform that represents our new identity, our new role, our new team, and our new commanding Officer. Read Ephesians 5-6 in this light, and see if it doesn't open up some brand new things for you--no matter how familiar this passage may seem.
To modern American ears, the phrase "the mystery of Christ" might sound almost quaint. When we hear the word mysteries, we tend to think of crimes to be solved by legendary sleuths like Sherlock Holmes or The Hardy Boys. Worse, when we hear the word "Christ" we tend to think picture the historical person of Jesus Christ more than instantly start contemplating His role as THE Christ. This was not the case for the people of Ephesus.
To the Greeks and Romans in that era, mysteries were deep truths and questions about the unknown and unknowable. If they knew the word Christ, they knew it was a translation of the Hebrew word Messiah and that it meant something about the Savior they were looking for. The mystery of Christ, then, was something deep and unknown about the long-awaited Jewish Messiah that--if revealed--would be a MAJOR revelation. Nothing quaint about that; this was big news. And it was:
Ephesians 3:2-6 (NLT) Surely you have heard about the administration of God's grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation...in reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God's holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.
Imagine the impact of this passage the first time it was read to a multi-ethnic church made up of Messianic Jews and new non-Jewish converts. Imagine hearing that all the laws and rituals that had once divided them so sharply were merely pictures of the difference between holy and not holy, between those who follow God and those who do not--not practices that were near and dear to God's heart, in and of themselves. Imagine hearing for the first time that such outward, confusing, and exclusive practices as circumcision were not actually as important to God as everyone assumed--that they just represented His desire to set His people apart---that they would be "in the world but not of it."
With all this in mind, please take a moment to click the link below re-read the following passage. (One of the most commonly quoted scriptures, its context is rarely mentioned.) Then, after reading it, pray through Paul's prayer for the Ephesians for someone you love. Ephesians 3:14-21.
All art critics agree that "great" art communicates what the artist meant to communicate and influences and inspires other artists. All well-known masterpieces (the Mona Lisa, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, etc.) meet both of these criteria. So does God's masterpiece.
In the first three chapters of Genesis, we learn that human beings were the pinnacle of God's creation. In their original form, everything about our souls, minds, and bodies was perfect and deeply symbolic, revealing specific things about God. His image was revealed in all the similarities and all the differences between male and female--and in the nature of their union with each other and with Him. Sin vandalized God's masterpiece and nearly obliterated its original form, and most of what remains is distorted, hidden, or destroyed. This is why much of what we believe about being male or female or human--and most of what we believe about marriage and love--barely resembles God's original designs. Still, artists and storytellers have always been inspired by the human body, the human spirit, the human will, the mysteries of love, and everything else that does remain from God's original--vandalized or not.
In Ephesians 2:1-10, Paul says that sin does more than distort God's image in us; it kills us. Left to our own devices, he says, what most human beings call living is actually death. Rather than communicate God's perfection and beauty and inspire creative expressions of these ideals, our actions tend to make others doubt His goodness (or even His very existence). On our own, we tend to inspire only selfishness and more sin. But then God, the Artist, steps into His wrecked studio and begins to work again...
God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can't take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God's masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago. (Ephesians 2:8-10, NLT)
Throughout the rest of this letter, Paul explores this amazing truth: though we are God's masterpiece (which means He alone deserves full credit for anything good in us), He creates and recreates us to DO specific things, to live a certain way. In both its original form and its fully restored form, God's masterpiece (us) exists to communicate His truth and love and to influence and inspire others.
This is the first of a series based on Paul's letter to the Ephesians. Before reading the stuff we write, you should take a moment and read Ephesians 1 for yourself. (The link provided takes you to www.biblegateway.com, where you can access multiple translations from whatever digital device you prefer. We also still recommend a printed Bible and a place where you can be alone for awhile. Do what helps YOU connect to God.)
It's impossible to miss Paul's focus on Christ in this chapter. He begins the letter by identifying himself as "an apostle of Christ Jesus" who is writing to "faithful followers of Christ Jesus." In fact, He specifically refers to Jesus more than 23 times in the 23 verses of this chapter, clearly presenting Christ as the nexus of God's plan for humanity from before creation and for all eternity. Check out the last few verses:
I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God's power for us who believe Him. This is is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated Him in the place of honor at God's right hand in the heavenly realms. Now He is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else--not only in this world but also in the world to come. God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made Him head over all things for the benefit of the church. And the church is His body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with Himself. (Ephesians 1:19-23, NLT)
Here's the problem: when modern Christians hear that someone is "preaching Christ" or "focusing on Christ," we tend to assume that they concentrate on His death. We love to offer people forgiveness, a hope of heaven after death, and a chance to know God based on Jesus' sacrifice on the cross--and this is not a bad thing. Without Him taking our punishment, we would have no hope of forgiveness or knowing God, so of course we must teach and celebrate that moment. Still, as great as the cross was, it's only a small piece of God's big plan or what Jesus meant when He said He was THE Way, THE Truth, and THE Life (see John 14:6).
Re-read the passage above--which completely focuses on Jesus--and notice that the only time it mentions His death is in verse 7 ("He is so rich in kindness and grace that He purchased our freedom with the blood of His Son and forgave our sins") verse 14 ("...He has purchased us to be His own people...so we would praise and glorify Him") and 19-20 ("...This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated Him...). Everything else Paul says about Jesus in this passage refers to the LIVING Christ.
We miss the whole point of both passages if we believe God's ultimate desire is to forgive us. Jesus did not just die to pay for our sins; He also died so He could conquer death and unleash God's mighty power in our lives. As Jesus Himself said in John 10:10, "...My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life."
I’m sure we all want to live in ways that glorify the Lord. We start the day with that intention, but we often get thrown a curve. Is there a better way to prepare for the day than just good intentions? We would feel more prepared if we could have an agenda all printed up for us showing all the twists and turns so there would be nothing unexpected that would catch us off guard.
But there is a better way to be prepared for whatever we will encounter in our day. Spend quality time with God at the beginning. Let him prepare you for the day that is before you. He knows exactly what each day will have in store for you, whereas we only have vague ideas about it.
God will not show you what is on the road ahead, but he will thoroughly prepare you for the journey. His living presence is your companion each step of the way. Stay in continual communication with him calling on him whenever you need to redirect your thoughts. In this way you can walk through the day with your focus on him. His abiding presence is the best guide available.
In the sixth chapter of Ephesians Paul admonishes us to put on “the full armor of God so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” Each piece is important, but for this moment I want us to think about faith.
We should approach each day with the awareness of who is boss: it’s our sovereign Lord. Are we aware of his sovereign presence and his authority to orchestrate the events of our life? We often misinterpret his involvement when our day doesn’t go as we had planned and only consider that Satan is at work. Perhaps that when we need to be looking for God’s involvement. He might be doing something important in our lives that is different from what we wanted or expected.
It’s during those times that we need to pray and seek what God’s purpose may be rather than figuring out why it’s happening on our own. Even if we can’t understand the “why” initially, we need to trust in him and believe that he works for good in all things for his children. If we are to live by faith, don’t you think our Father wants to wean us from depending on ourselves, others, or the right circumstances in life?
We should strive to trust him in more and more areas of our lives. Those things that tend to make us anxious and doubting are growth opportunities. There are blessings hidden in the difficulties. If we believe that hi is sovereign over every aspect of our lives, it should be possible to trust him in all situations.
Let’s look again at Ephesians 3:20. The verse says that God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” Therefore we should come to God with positive expectations knowing that what he can and wants to accomplish is probably going to exceed our expectations. Satan will always try to cause us to doubt, but we should let the Holy Spirit guide our minds so we can believe and trust for great things.
The more extreme our circumstances, the more likely we are to see God’s power and glory at work in us and in the situation. Instead of letting difficulties draw us into worrying, doubting, and tempt us to work in our own strength and wisdom, we should try to see them as setting the scene for God’s glorious intervention. How much better it is to walk closely with God, depending on his strength, and trusting him in every situation.
We should not be discouraged by the fact that some of our prayers may not yet be answered. Time is a trainer teaching us to wait in trust that God is anxious to work and glorify his power and love. And as we wait, we must keep our eyes and minds wide open to all that he is doing in our lives as well as in our situation.
Power to Prevail
Our devotional thoughts this month are based in the apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus. There are two portions of that letter that deal with the power that is available to us to live and serve victoriously.
In 1:18-21 Paul tells the church that the eyes of their heart will be enlightened so they would know “his incomparably great power for us who believe” saying it was “like the working of his mighty strength which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead . . . “
Then in 3:20 in his benediction to another prayer he says that God “…is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.”
Maybe we’re not sure of and fearful of what that power would be like. Or, are we quenching that power because we neglect God and do too much on our own power without seeking that power. Or do we tend to doubt the potential of great workings of God’s power and expect too little. Are we afraid of the embarrassment it would be to us if God didn’t show up, and no great show of power was experienced? Do we realize how much God wants the opportunity to display his power through us knowing how much more could be accomplished for his glory?
But tying in to our Sunday night’s study “If,” what if through prayer and faith we really believed and expected that power that is available to work in a great, God-glorifying way, and it did?
Will we continue to doubt, or will we start exploring the depths of God’s truth more deeply and exercising prayer and faith to let this power become work in and through us?
New year, new life, or still pretty much the same old me?
Having a close walk with God is a life of continual growth and newness. As we begin this new year, we should not cling to our old ways. It’s important to maintain a teachable spirit and an eagerness to be progressively changed into becoming like our Christ. If we are really seeking God, we should know that it involves being “transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
God is always trying to prepare us for what lies ahead. How can we be ready for new challenges when were the same we’ve always been? Perhaps the one thing that keeps us from growing and changing is insufficient time with our Father. We must take time to be still in his presence and listen. We may say that we just don’t have the time, but the busier we become, the more we need this time apart with him. To be much for God, we have to be much with God.
Remember that our ultimate goal is living close to God and being responsive to his initiatives. God can communicate with us most readily when our mind is uncluttered and tuned toward him. Seek him continually throughout the day. Let his presence bring priority and order to your thoughts and submit to the changes he wants in your life.