Here is another illustration Jesus used: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed planted in a field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of garden plants; it grows into a tree, and birds come and make nests in its branches.” Matthew 13:31-32 NLT
You never know when doing right that “one small thing that matters” can leave a bigger impact than you’d ever imagine.
Listening to Mia tell me about the moments that mean the most to her, and reflecting to my dad the things that he has done for me that mattered deeply, and realizing how much I appreciate my wife for things like another full pitcher of tea magically showing up in the refrigerator — reminds me how important “little things” are in the “grand scheme” of life.
I also think about Paul writing good, loving pastoral advice in a personal letter to his friend Timothy (by way of the Holy Spirit) — versus Paul trying to write a book to live alongside the Pentateuch for all of eternity in a book bound up and marked as holy by the largest and most wide spread of religious institutions of the future.
Don’t fret or be anxious about whether or not your life has made a sufficient impact “so far” — just realize the opportunity that you are going to have with “every little moment” to come. Our passion is the fuel that lights lasting flames, not our striving.
What are you passionate about?
What “little thing” could I do today to encourage, honor or appreciate someone else?
Put that passion to work in one extra “little thing” today!
Commit your actions to the Lord , and your plans will succeed. Proverbs 16:3 NLT
“If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities. Luke 16:10 NLT
I realize that someone might think it quite very proud of anyone to proclaim that “God knows me by name” — almost as if they were implying “God knows me but He doesn’t know you, so I’m better.” I can assure you, that is not the attitude of this song, my worship, or the attitude of anyone who truly knows God and is known by God. This is not a song of proud exclusion or self glorification — but one of utter awe and wonder that the creator or all cares about “even me” and “even you”. It is a declaration that the God of all the universe and all of creation is not a deadbeat, absentee father.
I’m not a professional artist like Tasha Combs who brought us “You Know My Name”, but these are the best ashes I can bring to the altar:
And you can hear this amazing performance by Tasha here:
But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you. O Israel, the one who formed you says, “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord , your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I gave Egypt as a ransom for your freedom; I gave Ethiopia and Seba in your place. Others were given in exchange for you. I traded their lives for yours because you are precious to me. You are honored, and I love you. “Do not be afraid, for I am with you. I will gather you and your children from east and west. I will say to the north and south, ‘Bring my sons and daughters back to Israel from the distant corners of the earth. Bring all who claim me as their God, for I have made them for my glory. It was I who created them.’” Bring out the people who have eyes but are blind, who have ears but are deaf. Gather the nations together! Assemble the peoples of the world! Which of their idols has ever foretold such things? Which can predict what will happen tomorrow? Where are the witnesses of such predictions? Who can verify that they spoke the truth? “But you are my witnesses, O Israel!” says the Lord . “You are my servant. You have been chosen to know me, believe in me, and understand that I alone am God. There is no other God— there never has been, and there never will be. I, yes I, am the Lord , and there is no other Savior. First I predicted your rescue, then I saved you and proclaimed it to the world. No foreign god has ever done this. You are witnesses that I am the only God,” says the Lord . “From eternity to eternity I am God. No one can snatch anyone out of my hand. No one can undo what I have done.”
This past year has been a challenge for me, but I’m so encouraged that He knows me not just by name, but intimately and personally. And I know this assurance is available for everyone who seeks Him humbly and earnestly.
If two people always think the same way about everything, it means that at least one of them isn’t thinking.
When you find yourself wanting your children, pupils, neighbors, or other people to think and behave like yourself — remember that God never meant for them to be that.
If you can look back a year and can’t recognize any ideas or opinions that you’ve abandoned as wrong, it isn’t likely because you were right then — or now. Living things grow. Don’t be dead.
If you can look back a day and can’t recognize any ideas or opinions that you’ve abandoned as wrong, remind yourself that complacency and ignorance are headed a different direction than repentance.
Those who follow The Way are not called to follow other men blindly like sheep. We are called to be Good Bereans. We are called to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. Do not just accept the traditions and teachings of whoever raised you or preaches from your chosen pulpit. Your calling, dear Christian, begs more of you than this. Do not accept “the way that it is” as the way that it should be, but only settle for The Way, no matter how strong the tension it creates. Because The Way of Christ is worth your constant contemplation upon His Will and His Word, which are in perfect harmony.
And a trick of the enemy to get us most quickly out of step in The Way is to have us looking at others instead of looking clearly and firmly to Christ alone. When we compare our opinions of “them” or “they” to God’s perfect plan for these brothers and sisters made in His image — when we grumble (either to ourselves or to others) about “them” or “they” or “he” or “she” — it is agreement with that enemy, the great accuser, that is of greatest probable cause. And if one’s thoughts and words and actions flow from that polluted source, what a great need there is indeed for repentance and return to our first love, Christian!
Friends, we are called to die daily. We are called to take this sword of the Word of God and look upon ourselves clearly and honestly to see quite how different our perfect God is from ourselves. As we draw closer to the Lord, we do not look at ourselves and think, “Oh how worthy I am to be in the presence of God compared to those wretched sinners out there!” NO! GOD FORBID YOU HYPOCRITE! He resists the proud, and only a broken heart and a contrite spirit will our God not despise. The closer you come to God, the lower your penitent head will bow, even as the higher your forgiveness and love towards others is lifted!
Let us not be a stench in the nostrils of God with our stinking thinking, but let us be renewed by the power of the Holy Spirit so that we are granted repentance and wisdom to walk in The Way.
Lord, help us in these things, that we may grow and walk more steadfast in The Way, closer to you each day, more and more aware of your presence in us and through us as your Kingdom comes, and your Will is done, on Earth as it is in Heaven. Amen.
This has been the word of the day in our house. And unfortunately, my wife has been at the receiving end of most of the “poop” today. As I walked through the master bedroom this morning, I encountered one of our dogs, Olive, who had just left us a couple of brown treats in the master bathroom. As she walked past me, knowing that she was about to “get caught” for this transgression, she squatted and began scraping her behind along the carpet — leaving a long, thick, dark stripe in the bedroom before I could grab her up and prevent it. As I walked into the bathroom, I found the “nuggets” (as Mia and I call them for humorous effect), picked them up with some toilet paper and flushed them. I continued on to my own destination to participate in a much cleaner activity of bodily function than Olive had demonstrated, but I told her that it would be okay and that I wasn’t mad at her. But I had to quickly let the dogs out and get back to work, hoping that my wife would have time to clean up the new racing stripe addition to our bedroom carpet when she came back through the house. I had to hurry back to work in my office, because things were busy, busy, busy.
While all of this was happening, I had assumed that Mandee was somewhere nearby and would be leaving shortly for work herself. However, she was also already dealing with a cleanup situation. I won’t go into details, but sometimes elderly grandparents that are receiving caregiving in your home — well, they need cleanup. So she came upstairs from the downstairs apartment already running late because of a poopy situation, and I got to share with her what was going on up here. Cleaning up poop is not fun. I don’t like it. Mandee doesn’t like it. You probably don’t like it either.
Sometimes other people “poop on us” metaphorically speaking, with how they act towards us, how they judge us, how they treat us or exclude us. But just like I didn’t grab something and swat Olive, and just like Mandee didn’t gripe at or embarass Nana, and just like Mandee didn’t get mad at me because I couldn’t clean all of it up because of my meetings and work obligations — we don’t need to use “them pooping on us” as an excuse for us to return the favor.
And the famous comment about opinions being a lot like the exterior tip of our colons “that everyone has one and they all stink” is pretty accurate on this topic as well. It’s because none of us are perfect. We are all broken and imperfect. And even with some of us who are going through this process of sanctification by the power of the Holy Spirit, we’re still imperfect throughout that process on this side of eternity. So judging and comparing others is just as useless as blindly following others or as not seeking to grow and change ourselves each day. It’s maddening how easily we can aim the EXPECTATIONS of growth and improvement and change towards others while rarely using it in a healthy way ourselves to be humbled, repentant, and constantly growing.
If you have been struggling and you don’t know why, I want to introduce you to two times in Jacob’s life.
At Bethel, Jacob saw a ladder going up into heaven… but at Jabbok, he wrestles with the Lord, he is broken, and he sees the Lord “face to face”.
So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” Genesis 32:30 ESV
Every believer needs a Bethel experience to get to heaven, but every believer also needs a Jabbok experience to make us fit for use here and now.
And God can’t use you until He breaks you.
The two names made me think about how in the south, I’ve seen many “Bethel Baptist Church” in different towns — but I get the feeling that if there was ever a church named “Jabbok”, it might be more likely to be a revival, a service ministry, or a Pentecostal church because the focus isn’t on evangelism/salvation, but on service.
That isn’t a dig at my beloved Baptist brethren — it just points out a difference in purpose like a hand is different than a foot, but both are necessary for the whole purpose and proper working of ther body.
At Bethel, Jacob saw a ladder going up into heaven… but at Jabbok, he sees the Lord face to face.
“Some people can’t praise God and give Him glory because they haven’t been broken. They can’t shout and lift their hands and glorify the Lord. They are still too full of their pride. You still got good health. You still got enough money. You still got enough friends… God hasn’t broken you yet… and that’s why you can’t shout with enthusiasm. But just like you need a Bethel, you need a Jabbok.” – from the Youtube sermon I’ve linked below
What a convicting message for me to consider. But when I start looking at what the scriptures, I see that it isn’t just “what I’m loudest about” but that language like “don’t let any” and “only such speech” are the kinds of words used to describe how we are to live and speak and behave as vessels of the holy spirit of God.
Do not let unwholesome [foul, profane, worthless, vulgar] words ever come out of your mouth, but only such speech as is good for building up others, according to the need and the occasion, so that it will be a blessing to those who hear [you speak]. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God [but seek to please Him], by whom you were sealed and marked [branded as God’s own] for the day of redemption [the final deliverance from the consequences of sin]. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor [perpetual animosity, resentment, strife, fault-finding] and slander be put away from you, along with every kind of malice [all spitefulness, verbal abuse, malevolence]. Be kind and helpful to one another, tender-hearted [compassionate, understanding], forgiving one another [readily and freely], just as God in Christ also forgave you. Ephesians 4:29-32 AMP
Lord, help us.
You know what, friend? We have an opportunity to repent in this area of our lives. We have an opportunity to be quick to listen, slow to anger, and show to speak — like Almighty God is with us.
As we’ve heard before, the first step towards recovery is admitting we have a problem.
Instead of getting offended at “such a preposterous accusation” when we read such a convicting question — what if we realize as a Christian that we got mad or dismissed a question where the bar was set much lower than the Word of God calls us to live. And for those quick to throw out any commands as “old law”, that’s Paul in the new testament, friends. That isn’t law — that’s whether we are walking with God as vessels of His holy spirit or not.
This morning, I am considering the word “intentional”.
As I woke up this morning to the darkness and the sound of hard rain, my waking prayer was, “Lord, don’t let it be 6:20 yet.” Because 6:20 is pretty much the latest that I can get up 7 days a week to let the dogs out in the morning and it not throw our morning routine completely off schedule (and not leave us with puppy surprises on the floor inside the house). And the Lord was faithful when I looked at the clock and the first digit was either a 4 or a 5, and I settled my mind for a prayer of praise before falling back asleep.
And 6:00 came and my Monday morning alarm went off — reminding me that today usually includes a commute into the office. My normal intention for Monday mornings is to make the hour commute into Greenville, SC (where our office is) from Campobello, SC (where we live) — and work the rest of the week from home. But weather, driving conditions, evening maintenance work requirements, and other requirements can affect that schedule.
This got me thinking about how having intentions and justifying not following through with those intentions can be a bad thing. In fact, the better we are at planning and envisioning the future, and learning from our past, the greater chance that diverting from the intended path is going to be a bad thing. So, as I get older, I pay attention to these “adaptations” and “reactions” to insure that I’m not slowly giving up on my intentions and direction to be distracted away to something else.
I began to wonder about this from a Biblical perspective. I realize that God is all knowing, and that He does not change — and I realized that we “adapt” either because something happened that we didn’t plan for, or because we have abandoned our original intentions for something else. But God isn’t surprised by anything, and He doesn’t change because of the circumstances surrounding Him. He has a plan and a purpose that will not be thwarted.
So this had me wondering about my own life and how much of it is intentional versus how much is changed, swayed, moved, affected by whatever is going on around me. I wondered how easy or difficult it might be for something around me to influence me to react, to adapt, to divert from my intended plan. To put this in human terms, think about advertising, and click bait, and sponsored search results, and posts/articles with “trigger words” on the Internet and how these are used to distract us away into where someone wants us to go. Now imagine an unseen spiritual enemy who can do the same thing to tempt us away from our life’s purpose and has learned what bait works generation after generation and time after time.
If I’ve had vision and am pragmatic, my plan is to “Work in the office on Mondays unless I have scheduled maintenance or the driving conditions are bad”, then waking up to rain on a Monday and rejoicing that I can sleep in a bit longer is an intentional plan that I’ve made that makes sense, is efficient, and is effective. But if my intention is to “Work in the office on Mondays” but I have no solid plan to make this a reality — and I rarely am there because I wake up and “struggle against my intentions” to constantly adapt, or come up with excuses, or justify my abandoning my original intentions — this does not make sense, is inefficient, and is ineffective.
Don’t misunderstand, I’m not trying to advocate the chains of OCD schedules and plans — but I’m talking about having vision and being pragmatic — both of which are how we see God operating — and both thwart the opportunity enemies to sway or distract us from our path and purpose — and both can be seen as valuable even to a person who isn’t spiritual.
I am given the flexibility to make either wise or foolish decisions — in my life — at my job — with my faith.
If I make foolish decisions (and I do), my best path is to learn from them, communicate honestly and in a timely manner with those involved, and be intentional about how to handle the situation in the future — and to be intentional. But if I’m constantly abandoning “my intentions” to chase after some distraction — a distraction indulged can become a “new intention”. This is how whole lives and families are uprooted and shattered on the rocks when a lack of purpose and firm footing exists and people are dragged this way and that way by circumstances, by feelings, by desires, by manipulations, by temptations, etc.
What do we see as The Way?
Follow God’s plan (be intentional)
Remain steadfast in trial
Ask for wisdom
Grow in wisdom and peace walking God’s Way
It is useless getting mad, if instead we:
Do it my own way
Are ruled by our desires
Doubt or don’t ask to know God’s Way
Insist on being foolish and resisting the surrender that would free us from slavery to the tricks of the enemy
And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to follow Me [as My disciple], he must deny himself [set aside selfish interests], and take up his cross daily [expressing a willingness to endure whatever may come] and follow Me [believing in Me, conforming to My example in living and, if need be, suffering or perhaps dying because of faith in Me]. For whoever wishes to save his life [in this world] will [eventually] lose it [through death], but whoever loses his life [in this world] for My sake, he is the one who will save it [from the consequences of sin and separation from God]. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world [wealth, fame, success], and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed [here and now] of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory and the glory of the [heavenly] Father and of the holy angels. Luke 9:23-26 AMP
Consider it nothing but joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you fall into various trials. Be assured that the testing of your faith [through experience] produces endurance [leading to spiritual maturity, and inner peace]. And let endurance have its perfect result and do a thorough work, so that you may be perfect and completely developed [in your faith], lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom [to guide him through a decision or circumstance], he is to ask of [our benevolent] God, who gives to everyone generously and without rebuke or blame, and it will be given to him. But he must ask [for wisdom] in faith, without doubting [God’s willingness to help], for the one who doubts is like a billowing surge of the sea that is blown about and tossed by the wind. For such a person ought not to think or expect that he will receive anything [at all] from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable and restless in all his ways [in everything he thinks, feels, or decides]. James 1:2-8 AMP
Tonight, I walked into a cigar lounge in Boiling Springs where I had never visited before. I grabbed a few sticks, sat down in a big, comfy chair and started reading quietly in Genesis from my phone.
But fairly quickly, conversations struck up and I was making new acquaintances. And no one batted an eye at my answer that I missed an old gathering of guys where we got together for cigars and Bible study — nor was anyone surprised as we discussed everything from man caves, shooting pool, playing poker, singing karaoke, sports, politics, raising kids, or whatever anyone wanted to talk about.
As people came and left, everyone interacted as if we had all been friends. People from completely different races, political backgrounds, economic levels, careers, ages and sexes were not only walking through the doors — they were all on equal ground as we talked and shared, laughed, etc. Even as a man from a different race and religion that I had never met mentioned his father’s recent eye surgery, and I asked about how he was recovering, and even as I asked for his father’s name so that I could pray for him — there was no offense, there was no opposition, there was no pretense.
I couldn’t help but think of Jesus and why he preferred “eating with sinners” to eating with the religious leaders of the day. And I wasn’t looking at these men and assuming they were hellbound and needed me to save them — I was seeing the same need for relationship, the same need for interaction, the same need for hope, love and truth as the people I will sit beside tomorrow morning in church.
These men weren’t shocked or repulsed by the natural, honest references to Jesus or the Bible that came out in my conversation any more than they were shocked by my talking about my job or my hobbies — because I wasn’t trying to force them to convert to my career or hobby any more than I was trying to force them to convert to my religion. Jesus is just as big a part of my life as anything else (actually bigger), so it was natural for Him to come up in conversation without trying to force or manipulate the conversation in that direction.
I neither had to hide who I am in Christ Jesus, nor did I have to fit in to their conversations. When the topic of conversation was something I didn’t know anything about, I admitted as much and they didn’t think me less of a man, etc. In this, I saw how I will share my faith openly and genuinely when it is a valued, core part of who I am, and I was not hated, shunned, or rejected — because they respected how I respected them as well.
It also reminded me of the times when I have been able to share my faith naturally in the workplace, in the streets, inside the jail, inside bars, inside strip clubs, in my home, in singing groups, in the presence of drug dealers, prostitutes, criminals, pornographers, convicted murders, rapists and child molesters — and even with people who think themselves to be “quite honorable and religious”.
I understand that many people won’t understand why I more often sit at tables “with those people” instead of at tables with leaders, politicians, and honorable folks that I also know personally. I understand that some would be afraid to be close to the dangers of the dark world that surrounds many of these people and places. I’m not judging you. You go where you are called. I’ll go where I am called.
These are “my people”. I walked with these people when I was still one of them, and the Lord protected me even when I was walking deeper into the darkness with them. Now that I am walking with Him, I carry Him with me. I walk as an Ambassador of Christ — naked and unashamed of my faith, my God, my weaknesses, my conviction, my salvation by grace through faith, and the new creation that I am in Christ Jesus.
I say this to encourage you. Look past what you “think ministry looks like”. Know your own testimony. Know Him so close and personal that His Word is on your lips even more than your greatest hobby or interest. If He is not truly first in our life, we need to fix that. If we are not excited about Him as much as that new purchase, we need to fix that. And when He truly is our first love — there is no fear in our excitement about Him. And genuine excitement is peculiar, is even so curious to others that it is contagious.
We do not live in a place where people haven’t heard the name of Jesus. People who are in the bushes and the brambles and the shadows around here — many have heard the name of Jesus and seen it blasphemed time and time again by people who neither love them nor truly love the Lord. I know many people who have never turned their back on the Lord, but they have turned their back on the organizations that are loud and proud of their self-righteousness and their expecting people to meet their expectations of holiness — when they are far from guilt beneath all the whitewash. I know children who are abandoning “the church of their youth” because they must in order to not depart from the Word — because they feel Jesus is nowhere to be found in those places. WE MUST REPENT!
I love the Church. I love the Saints. I love the Lord. I love you. I love these new people that I am meeting.
I will not delay in sharing my faith as it is part of me and is clearly and naturally on display as a huge part of who I am — nor do I need to manufacture a pretense in order to walk them through a Roman road tract before they leave my presence each time we meet. I look forward to each time that I get to lift up the name of Jesus in their presence, and I trust that He continues to draw men to himself. I look forward to those moments the Holy Spirit stirs me to press in deeper and share my testimony and this hope that I have in Christ Jesus — and I’m eager to make disciples and baptize whoever will believe with their heart that Jesus is Lord and Savior and confess with their mouth that God raised Him from the dead to life, just as we have been raised to newness of life.
I want to encourage you to not just be religious, and to definitely not be complacent about your faith. I encourage you to examine your own testimony and to see who might be “where you were”. If (like the elder brother of the prodigal) you were called out of decades of sitting in a church pew and going through the motions to a real, alive, Holy Spirit empowered walk with God — that testimony needs to be shared with the religious and the complacent to know the love of God that stirs us into truly loving and serving others. If (like the prodigal) you ran into the darkness only to turn back to run home to the Lord — that testimony needs to be shared with those in need of the love of God that stirs us to truly loving and serving others. If you don’t have a testimony, you need to spend some time with God and get that right while there is still time.
Lord, let our love be genuine. Let our lives lift a pleasing aroma to you. Amen.
But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us spreads and makes evident everywhere the sweet fragrance of the knowledge of Him. For we are the sweet fragrance of Christ [which ascends] to God, [discernible both] among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the latter one an aroma from death to death [a fatal, offensive odor], but to the other an aroma from life to life [a vital fragrance, living and fresh]. And who is adequate and sufficiently qualified for these things? For we are not like many, [acting like merchants] peddling God’s word [shortchanging and adulterating God’s message]; but from pure [uncompromised] motives, as [commissioned and sent] from God, we speak [His message] in Christ in the sight of God. 2 Corinthians 2:14-17 AMP
You [believers], like living stones, are being built up into a spiritual house for a holy and dedicated priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices [that are] acceptable and pleasing to God through Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 2:5 AMP
Therefore become imitators of God [copy Him and follow His example], as well-beloved children [imitate their father]; and walk continually in love [that is, value one another—practice empathy and compassion, unselfishly seeking the best for others], just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and sacrifice to God [slain for you, so that it became] a sweet fragrance. Ephesians 5:1-2 AMP
I believe it will be profitable to contemplate the following on this subject.
Christ didn’t lower/eliminate/destroy the law:
“Do not think that I came to do away with or undo the Law [of Moses] or the [writings of the] Prophets; I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For I assure you and most solemnly say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke [of the pen] will pass from the Law until all things [which it foreshadows] are accomplished. So whoever breaks one of the least [important] of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least [important] in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever practices and teaches them, he will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. “For I say to you that unless your righteousness (uprightness, moral essence) is more than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:17-20 AMP
The purpose of the Law is to increase and expand awareness of what sin is (falling short of genuine holiness), and make clear our inability to meet the true requirements of true holiness, and our need for grace as a free gift of salvation from God (and not of ourselves):
But the Law came to increase and expand [the awareness of] the trespass [by defining and unmasking sin]. But where sin increased, [God’s remarkable, gracious gift of] grace [His unmerited favor] has surpassed it and increased all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, so also grace would reign through righteousness which brings eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 5:20-21 AMP
But God, being [so very] rich in mercy, because of His great and wonderful love with which He loved us, even when we were [spiritually] dead and separated from Him because of our sins, He made us [spiritually] alive together with Christ (for by His grace—His undeserved favor and mercy—you have been saved from God’s judgment). And He raised us up together with Him [when we believed], and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, [because we are] in Christ Jesus, [and He did this] so that in the ages to come He might [clearly] show the immeasurable and unsurpassed riches of His grace in [His] kindness toward us in Christ Jesus [by providing for our redemption]. For it is by grace [God’s remarkable compassion and favor drawing you to Christ] that you have been saved [actually delivered from judgment and given eternal life] through faith. And this [salvation] is not of yourselves [not through your own effort], but it is the [undeserved, gracious] gift of God; not as a result of [your] works [nor your attempts to keep the Law], so that no one will [be able to] boast or take credit in any way [for his salvation]. For we are His workmanship [His own master work, a work of art], created in Christ Jesus [reborn from above—spiritually transformed, renewed, ready to be used] for good works, which God prepared [for us] beforehand [taking paths which He set], so that we would walk in them [living the good life which He prearranged and made ready for us]. Ephesians 2:4-10 AMP
The purpose of this grace is not a license to sin, but this call to freedom ands eternal life is a baptism into the death of Christ to be raised to newness and life:
What shall we say [to all this]? Should we continue in sin and practice sin as a habit so that [God’s gift of] grace may increase and overflow? Certainly not! How can we, the very ones who died to sin, continue to live in it any longer? Or are you ignorant of the fact that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We have therefore been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory and power of the Father, we too might walk habitually in newness of life [abandoning our old ways]. For if we have become one with Him [permanently united] in the likeness of His death, we will also certainly be [one with Him and share fully] in the likeness of His resurrection. We know that our old self [our human nature without the Holy Spirit] was nailed to the cross with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin. For the person who has died [with Christ] has been freed from [the power of] sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live [together] with Him, because we know [the self-evident truth] that Christ, having been raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has power over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin [ending its power and paying the sinner’s debt] once and for all; and the life that He lives, He lives to [glorify] God [in unbroken fellowship with Him]. Even so, consider yourselves to be dead to sin [and your relationship to it broken], but alive to God [in unbroken fellowship with Him] in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts and passions. Do not go on offering members of your body to sin as instruments of wickedness. But offer yourselves to God [in a decisive act] as those alive [raised] from the dead [to a new life], and your members [all of your abilities—sanctified, set apart] as instruments of righteousness [yielded] to God. For sin will no longer be a master over you, since you are not under Law [as slaves], but under [unmerited] grace [as recipients of God’s favor and mercy]. What then [are we to conclude]? Shall we sin because we are not under Law, but under [God’s] grace? Certainly not! Do you not know that when you continually offer yourselves to someone to do his will, you are the slaves of the one whom you obey, either [slaves] of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness (right standing with God)? But thank God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient with all your heart to the standard of teaching in which you were instructed and to which you were committed. And having been set free from sin, you have become the slaves of righteousness [of conformity to God’s will and purpose]. I am speaking in [familiar] human terms because of your natural limitations [your spiritual immaturity]. For just as you presented your bodily members as slaves to impurity and to [moral] lawlessness, leading to further lawlessness, so now offer your members [your abilities, your talents] as slaves to righteousness, leading to sanctification [that is, being set apart for God’s purpose]. When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness [you had no desire to conform to God’s will]. So what benefit did you get at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? [None!] For the outcome of those things is death! But now since you have been set free from sin and have become [willing] slaves to God, you have your benefit, resulting in sanctification [being made holy and set apart for God’s purpose], and the outcome [of this] is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God [that is, His remarkable, overwhelming gift of grace to believers] is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:1-23 AMP
The written law can act as a baby sitter of sorts to the spiritually immature who do not understand what sin truly is (sin is not a checklist that some live up to and some do not — all have fallen short of true holiness and require the grace of God through Christ Jesus):
Now what I mean [when I talk about children and their guardians] is this: as long as the heir is a child, he does not differ at all from a slave even though he is the [future owner and] master of all [the estate]; but he is under [the authority of] guardians and household administrators or managers until the date set by his father [when he is of legal age]. So also we [whether Jews or Gentiles], when we were children (spiritually immature), were kept like slaves under the elementary [man-made religious or philosophical] teachings of the world. But when [in God’s plan] the proper time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the [regulations of the] Law, so that He might redeem and liberate those who were under the Law, that we [who believe] might be adopted as sons [as God’s children with all rights as fully grown members of a family]. And because you [really] are [His] sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying out, “Abba! Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave (bond-servant), but a son; and if a son, then also an heir through [the gracious act of] God [through Christ]. But at that time, when you did not know [the true] God and were unacquainted with Him, you [Gentiles] were slaves to those [pagan] things which by [their very] nature were not and could not be gods at all. Now, however, since you have come to know [the true] God [through personal experience], or rather to be known by God, how is it that you are turning back again to the weak and worthless elemental principles [of religions and philosophies], to which you want to be enslaved all over again? [For example,] you observe [particular] days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored [to the point of exhaustion] over you in vain. Believers, I beg of you, become as I am [free from the bondage of Jewish ritualism and ordinances], for I have become as you are [a Gentile]. You did me no wrong [when I first came to you; do not do it now]. On the contrary, you know that it was because of a physical illness that I [remained and] preached the gospel to you the first time; and even though my physical condition was a trial to you, you did not regard it with contempt, or scorn and reject me; but you received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus Himself. What then has become of that sense of blessing and the joy that you once had [from your salvation and your relationship with Christ]? For I testify of you that, if possible, you would have torn out your own eyes and given them to me [ to replace mine]. So have I become your enemy by telling you the truth? These men [the Judaizers] eagerly seek you [to entrap you with honeyed words and attention, to win you over to their philosophy], not honorably [for their purpose is not honorable or worthy of consideration]. They want to isolate you [from us who oppose them] so that you will seek them. Galatians 4:1-17 AMP
It was for this freedom that Christ set us free [completely liberating us]; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery [which you once removed]. Notice, it is I, Paul, who tells you that if you receive circumcision [as a supposed requirement of salvation], Christ will be of no benefit to you [for you will lack the faith in Christ that is necessary for salvation]. Once more I solemnly affirm to every man who receives circumcision [as a supposed requirement of salvation], that he is under obligation and required to keep the whole Law. You have been severed from Christ, if you seek to be justified [that is, declared free of the guilt of sin and its penalty, and placed in right standing with God] through the Law; you have fallen from grace [for you have lost your grasp on God’s unmerited favor and blessing]. For we [not relying on the Law but] through the [strength and power of the Holy] Spirit, by faith, are waiting [confidently] for the hope of righteousness [the completion of our salvation]. For [if we are] in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but only faith activated and expressed and working through love. This [deceptive] persuasion is not from Him who called you [to freedom in Christ]. A little leaven [a slight inclination to error, or a few false teachers] leavens the whole batch [it perverts the concept of faith and misleads the church]. I have confidence in you in the Lord that you will adopt no other view [contrary to mine on the matter]; but the one who is disturbing you, whoever he is, will have to bear the penalty. But as for me, brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision [as I had done before I met Christ; and as some accuse me of doing now, as necessary for salvation], why am I still being persecuted [by Jews]? In that case the stumbling block of the cross [to unbelieving Jews] has been abolished. I wish that those who are troubling you [by teaching that circumcision is necessary for salvation] would even [go all the way and] castrate themselves! For you, my brothers, were called to freedom; only do not let your freedom become an opportunity for the sinful nature (worldliness, selfishness), but through love serve and seek the best for one another. For the whole Law [concerning human relationships] is fulfilled in one precept, “Y ou shall love your neighbor as yourself [that is, you shall have an unselfish concern for others and do things for their benefit].” But if you bite and devour one another [in bickering and strife], watch out that you [along with your entire fellowship] are not consumed by one another. But I say, walk habitually in the [Holy] Spirit [seek Him and be responsive to His guidance], and then you will certainly not carry out the desire of the sinful nature [which responds impulsively without regard for God and His precepts]. For the sinful nature has its desire which is opposed to the Spirit, and the [desire of the] Spirit opposes the sinful nature; for these [two, the sinful nature and the Spirit] are in direct opposition to each other [continually in conflict], so that you [as believers] do not [always] do whatever [good things] you want to do. But if you are guided and led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the Law. Now the practices of the sinful nature are clearly evident: they are sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality (total irresponsibility, lack of self-control), idolatry, sorcery, hostility, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions [that promote heresies], envy, drunkenness, riotous behavior, and other things like these. I warn you beforehand, just as I did previously, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit [the result of His presence within us] is love [unselfish concern for others], joy, [inner] peace, patience [not the ability to wait, but how we act while waiting], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature together with its passions and appetites. If we [claim to] live by the [Holy] Spirit, we must also walk by the Spirit [with personal integrity, godly character, and moral courage—our conduct empowered by the Holy Spirit]. We must not become conceited, challenging or provoking one another, envying one another. Galatians 5:1-6, 8-26 AMP
And we see that God’s law has been faith not self-righteousness even from the beginning with Abraham:
What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather humanly speaking, has found? [Has he obtained a favored standing?] For if Abraham was justified [that is, acquitted from the guilt of his sins] by works [those things he did that were good], he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed in (trusted, relied on) God , and it was credited to his account as righteousness (right living, right standing with God).” Now to a laborer, his wages are not credited as a favor or a gift, but as an obligation [something owed to him]. But to the one who does not work [that is, the one who does not try to earn his salvation by doing good], but believes and completely trusts in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited to him as righteousness (right standing with God). And in this same way David speaks of the blessing on the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: “Blessed and happy and favored are those whose lawless acts have been forgiven , A nd whose sins have been covered up and completely buried . Blessed and happy and favored is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account nor charge against him .” Romans 4:1-8 AMP
And Christianity tells us it is the opposite — that our best is filthy rags — that we are incapable of true selfless love apart from the Lord — that anything pure and true in a believer comes from the Holy Spirit of God and not from self. Yet, we seem surprised and offended by people’s weaknesses, hurts, and struggles — and expectant and demanding of others’ perfect outward appearance to meet our standards.
The Kingdom of God definitely turns the ways of the religious on its head.
This morning, I’m reminded that my love for you is my love for the Lord.
Not my studying and digesting and understanding and teaching the Word of God like a good theologian.
Not my defending the Word of God through debate and reason like a good apologist.
Not my singing and praising with voice and instrument like a good worshiper.
Not my touching and healing or casting out evil spirits by the Word of God like a good healer.
Not my speaking prayers with the tongues of angels and tears and pains of heartfelt concern for the needs of others like a good intercessor.
Not my revealing God’s will and bringing a timely and convicting message to the people of God like a good prophet.
Not my delivering the Roman road gospel explanation and offering an altar call for response and baptizing many in the name of the Lord like a good evangelist.
Not my feeding and providing for the needs of others like a good philanthropist.
These things alone can become tasks, checklists, routines, practices — dead religion and self- righteous hypocrisy.
Love makes all the difference.
I love you.
He loves you.
In all the things we will do today, we will show others how much we love them:
By our respect or our disrespect
By our presence or our absence
By our gentleness or our harshness
By our selflessness or our demands
By our patience or our impatience
By our joy or our anxiousness
By our forgiveness or our bitterness
By our making peace or our opposition
By our self-control or our attempts to control others
And the world is in desperate need of love. People are even turning their backs in droves from “the usual religious places” because they are not finding love there — they are looking for Jesus — and are understandably doubtful that He is there amongst all this activity and practice, but where there is so little love.
So let us set our sights on living others, Christian, beloved of God — because they truly are beloved by God. Ands out is our job to show that love to them in the language and manner they can see and understand is real.
Go love greatly! Because we are greatly loved!
The story of Mary and Martha immediately following the golden rule in Luke 10 is not by coincidence:
And he replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart , and with all your soul , and with all your strength , and with all your mind ; and your neighbor as yourself .” Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this habitually and you will live .” But he, wishing to justify and vindicate himself, asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he encountered robbers, who stripped him of his clothes [and belongings], beat him, and went their way [unconcerned], leaving him half dead. Now by coincidence a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite also came down to the place and saw him, and passed by on the other side [of the road]. But a Samaritan (foreigner), who was traveling, came upon him; and when he saw him, he was deeply moved with compassion [for him], and went to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them [to sooth and disinfect the injuries]; and he put him on his own pack-animal, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. On the next day he took out two denarii (two days’ wages) and gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I return.’ Which of these three do you think proved himself a neighbor to the man who encountered the robbers?” He answered, “The one who showed compassion and mercy to him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and constantly do the same.” Now while they were on their way, Jesus entered a village [called Bethany], and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who seated herself at the Lord’s feet and was continually listening to His teaching. But Martha was very busy and distracted with all of her serving responsibilities; and she approached Him and said, “Lord, is it of no concern to You that my sister has left me to do the serving alone? Tell her to help me and do her part.” But the Lord replied to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered and anxious about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part [that which is to her advantage], which will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:27-42 AMP