…Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith… Hebrews 12:1b-2a
So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
Romans 8:12-13, ESV
I recently learned that the devotions I’ve written for my church should be shared differently. Oops! SO with integrity and my Lord in mind, click this link for more:
Let’s face it, Church. As a body, we have become far too flippant about the horrors of sin.
Oh, we see the evil of the world out there and shake our heads. We scan headlines filled with riots and shootings and stabbings and mutter clichés about hell and handbaskets. We think of the Mansons and the Dahmers and keep that odd character in our peripherals while we shop. It’s no trouble for us to recognize the myriad ways our society is sliding faster than every on its downward spiral.
What does seem to trouble us is recognizing our participation in the descent.
The longer I’ve walked with the Lord, the more I’ve realized how great the gulf between His holiness and my depravity truly is. Early in my walk, I came to Him fully armed with a compliment of justification for my crimes:
This isn’t gossip; it’s venting. Or a prayer request. Or concern for the subject of the discussion.
What I think about doesn’t really matter, only what I act on.
My actions aren’t holy because it’s impossible to act holy all the time. After all, I’m only human.
My words don’t honor God because the pain wrenched something odd out of me, or I was startled, or I was careless…
But the truth is, all this and more is mere flimsy fakery.
Gossip is gossip, no matter how much you try to fancy it up.
My thoughts are a reflection of me, and every action has roots in the thought life.
With man, it is impossible to act holy all of the time, but all things are possible with God – and I have been set apart by Him and for Him.
My words are a reflection of my heart. Circumstances don’t cause, they reveal.
Once my eyes were open, a flood of realization threatened to drown me. My crimes against my Creator infested every facet of life. The evil in the world made sense as I realized how much evil each one of us harbors inside.
How much evil I harbor inside.
For my iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me...
I confess my iniquity; I am sorry for my sin.
Psalm 38:4, 18
Too much for me, but not too much for my God. Though I cannot even stand up beneath the weight of my own crimes, my Lord and King bore not only mine but everyone’s on His death march to the cross.
And He did it all crowned with the first symbol of the curse humans unleashed upon the earth when they chose to strike out on their own rather than living in accord with their Designer and the way they’d been designed.
And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands.
I’ll never look at a thistle the same way.
Lord, so great is Your magnificence that even in the emblems of our rebellion, You crafted things of strange beauty. Please forgive us our crimes and our cruel and selfish hearts. Change us so we can appreciate Your grace and mercy and fully recognize our own sorry state. Please open our eyes to see how very far we are from what You created us to be. Thank You for sending Your Son to offer us a way back to You! I pray that each one who reads this and all the names I’ve lifted to You before this moment will submit to Your Way, love Your Son, repent, and follow Your Spirit as He leads into eternal life, amen.
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…. as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.
For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
In a recent group conversation, I had asked for prayers for a family member who has walked away from faith in Christ to return to Him. At the end of our gathering, a sweet friend asked me a question:
Did the person walk away from Christ or from the church?
I did not (and do not) know. But the more I’ve thought about it, I’m not sure if it’s possible to do one without the other.
The church is properly the body of Christ, functioning under His leadership and direction to do His work in this world until He comes again. And Christ – He is the Head, the brains of the operation sending directions to each part to do its part.
With this fact in mind, the more I thought about it, the more I wondered if it is indeed possible to walk away from the Body of Christ without also walking away from the Head…
While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.
Some things never change.
When Jesus of Nazareth walked the dusty streets of the Middle East as a Man, His ministry evoked a wide range of emotions from God’s chosen people. He had His detractors, of course; people who hated His inconvenient tendency to tear down self-righteous facades and expose the unseemly rot within the human heart.
But even among His supporters were an astonishing number who loved Him for what they expected Him to do. They watched His ministry with excitement, anticipating the the moment He would declare Himself Judah’s King and lead them in revolt against the oppressive Roman government. They missed out on the greater freedom He actually came to provide.
Fast forward a couple thousand years, and we find a similar mix of emotions.
It’s not surprising many people continue to hate the uncomfortable teachings of Jesus concerning sin and sacrifice. What surprises me is this: Despite Jesus’s clear statements – recorded in the Word – that His Kingdom is not of this world, there are still SO MANY who are looking for the King of kings to bring political and socioeconomic peace.
I suppose it was naïve of me to believe His followers today would listen to His words more than those who saw Him in the flesh. Both then and now, however, the truth of Jesus hasn’t changed. He didn’t give His life to reform our governments, cultures, or social systems.
He gave it to reform us.
This fact is worth repeating. The Lamb of God was not sacrificed to make the world a better place to live but to save each one of us from the penalty of our own crimes against our Creator.
Jesus came because we are the reason the world is in its present state.
The effects of sin are so pervasive, every element of our lives is twisted by them – including our understanding of right and wrong, of truth and justice. Sin’s putrefaction is so complete as to taint even our most noble deeds with the foul reek of death.
Until the glorious Day when the Lord comes again, this world will not be a nice place to live. In fact, it’s even predicted in the Scriptures that it will get worse.
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.
2 Timothy 3:12-13
For those of us who are truly in Christ Jesus, this is not bad news. The worst other men can do is to kill us, and as Paul wrote, “To live is Christ and to die is gain.”
While we remain here, our mission is to tell others of our great Hope – that although we are born into separation from our Maker with hearts filled with evil in a world corrupted into chaos, our God loves us so much that He gave His Divine Son to bridge the impossible gap so we could once more be reunited with Him, both in the midst of this crooked generation and forever long after this age is ancient history.
This is the Good News. This is the Gospel.
But don’t take my word for it. Search the Scriptures for yourself with a humble and prayerful heart.
I would love to roll my eyes at Peter’s failure by the courtyard fire. After all, mere hours before this triple denial, the man had assured Jesus of his willingness to stick with Him even if it meant prison or death. Brave but hollow words that crumbled under the fierce strain of being noticed by – not a powerful official or Roman legionary – but a servant girl.
Yes, I would like to give a little self-satisfied chuckle at Peter’s crippling fear of the powerless. However, the truth is, I have been just as impulsive in my own walk with the Lord and just as faithless.
On a good day, full of the joy of the Lord and an awe-inspiring sense of His presence, I might swear my fealty, thoroughly convinced in mind and heart of my ceaseless devotion to Him. I will do anything – even die for you, Lord!
But am I truly willing to live for Him?
Like Peter, my denials are not in moments of intimate fellowship with the Lord but when I’m apart from Him, out in the cold and the dark and trying to determine my next steps. However, unlike Peter, my denials are subtle and more difficult to spot.
My repudiations are uglier and more hypocritical than Peter’s because they occur when my proclamations of Jesus fail to match my actual responses to both hardship and pleasure.
Jesus calls us to turn the other cheek when struck, but I’m more apt to strike back in anger when hurt – literally or verbally.
He calls us to lay down our lives for others, but my tendency is to defend my rights from them.
He commands us seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness; I often prioritize comfort, convenience, or even entertainment.
He says forgive; I allow for bitterness and grudges.
And make no mistake, these actions and others like them deny the Lord’s trustworthiness and reality in far more destructive ways than words. By my idolatry of self and self-reliance, by seeking worldly things above His Spirit and Truth, and in all ways where my words of devotion to Him are proven empty, His worthiness and goodness are discredited to a closely watching world.
Oh Lord, forgive my unbelief and overcome it! Shape me into a truly faithful and dedicated disciple who exalts You always in both word and deed, amen.
Questions to Ask Yourself
In what areas of your life do you deny the truth of our faith or the reality of Jesus by your actions or responses?
How can you best show a world filled with anger, fear, and hopelessness that the hope we have in Jesus is true and worth any sacrifice?
Pray for awareness of these sneaky denials in your life and ask for help in better aligning your life with the one Jesus gave us an example of by His.
For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.
2 Corinthians 1:8-9
I thought I’d steal a few precious minutes to give an update from my little corner of the South. A quick note to my Facebook followers before I dive in: Even if this article posts to Facebook, I am taking a break from Zuckerberg’s social media platforms for a time. So if you have a comment to share, please share it here on WordPress… or better yet, consider helping support this writing ministry by visiting my Patreon page! Become a Patron!
I’ll be offering extras for my Patreon supporters, building in more as I go, but this blog will remain free (and sparse so long as our family’s needs require me to work outside the home!)
It’s been an interesting year. I’ve been working part-time at my kids’ school teaching cell phone photography to middle school students – a feat roughly equivalent to swallowing live eels while guiding two dogs, eighteen kittens, and a chicken safely through New York City using a homemade map and the Force.
And while it must be admitted that middle schoolers spend more energy attempting to circumnavigate the school’s network restrictions than taking photos with their phones, it can still be fun to see the photos they do take and hear their thoughts.
Then a week before Christmas break, I came down with the Bane of 2020 – COVID 19. My symptoms were mild and I recovered at home over the break. But a couple weeks after I began feeling better, the body aches and fatigue came crashing back. And again a couple weeks after that… and again… and again…
So here I am in mid-March wrestling with unpleasant facts: Not only am I blessed with the invisible illness of ME/CFS, I also get a free – and equally invisible – membership to the COVID Long Haulers’ Club.
Not fun. Incredibly humbling. But nonetheless, I am blessed.
I admit, this blessing doesn’t really feel like one. If given a menu of blessings, it isn’t one I would have selected. And it doesn’t go particularly well with the 70% pay reduction our family tasted in 2020, nor with the 2-car, 4-driver dynamic we’ve been noshing on since last fall, nor with any of the banquet of bland fiscal fare we’ve been sampling in the last 18 or so months. But it’s a blessing still.
I don’t know when, I don’t know why, and I absolutely don’t know how, but I do know the Lord will use this newest struggle in some way for the comfort of His people. Perhaps in some way I will be able to speak to those who share in this weird and unpredictable cycle of flu-like aching and exhaustion and point them to the comfort I have in Christ.
Or maybe the Lord simply wants to make His power abundantly known in my profound weakness.
I have no idea what to expect. All I know is that I committed myself years ago to walk the narrow, difficult path that leads to life. Whether this current dark valley is a brief foray of reduced visibility or just the beginnings of another steep descent into utter blackness, I have no way of knowing. The road curves just ahead and I have only enough Light for the path beneath my feet.
Still, no matter where this Way leads and no matter how short or long the journey, I know I never walk alone. The Lord Yeshua is with me. Regardless of the personal cost, with Him as my Guide I am in it for the long haul.
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Let freedom ring. Right?
Like nearly every word in this information-glutted world, it’s helpful to know what it is the speaker or writer is celebrating freedom from. Not all freedoms are created equal.
I am very thankful to live in a country which holds (for now, at least) to some degree of political freedom. Of course, as history tells us, power always seems to centralize among the powerful. Though technically a democratic republic, the actual choice is between two groups of wealthy and influential people. I am free to choose which of the two will come close to representing my values in government, or I am free to choose among the varied parties certain to lose.
Even yet, remains a sort of freedom, if one continually reminding me that I am a sojourner here.
For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
But what disturbs me far more than the escalating atrophy of economic, political, and social freedoms in America is the way many of my fellow followers of Jesus seem to confuse these with the sort of freedom the Lord gave up His life to provide.
This is becoming especially evident as those sorts of freedoms become especially more fragile. In this climate, so many well-meaning brethren charge ahead into all sorts of secular activism while waving the banner of the Kingdom of God with zeal. They don’t even seem to realize the irony. Many early devotees of Jesus believed He came as a political King as well.
But what Christ died to set us free from was not political tyranny.
My friends, we may have been sold the fantasy of utopia on earth and been raised in the context of the American Dream, but if we are in Christ, we need to keep an eye on what true freedom is really all about. I’ll give you a hint – it isn’t about guns or masks or toilet paper.
So let’s step take a break from not treading on one another and look at the One we have all trod upon.
Who could be more free than the Author of life? Yet He, the Almighty Creator – this Messiah laid aside His Divine freedom and became a part of His own creation. The Infinite confined Himself to finite boundaries; submitting Himself to being human with all the awful turmoil it brings; to die at the hands of people created through Him, nailed to a tree by iron spikes, both of which were also made through Him.
And He did it to set us free – not from ideologies we feel oppressed by nor from rules that hurt our feelings – but from sin.
The real truth is, we do not take our crimes against God anywhere near seriously enough to comprehend what a gift this is. But that’s a broader topic and I’m already stuffing in too many words for the average modern mind’s patience.
Don’t miss this fact, though: Jesus accomplished our freedom by submitting Himself to death at the hands of Rome – a tyrannical foreign government which occupied Israel at the time. Let that one sink in.
Instead of setting us free to make our own choices, Christ set us free from slavery to the corruption-laced idiocy of our natural bents.
For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.
He did not set us free to pursue our own gratification in any form. Rather, He set us free from the slavish need to gratify the insatiable self.
His Spirit enables us to actually reach for righteousness – something we are fully incapable of while chained in slavery to our own destructive desires. Heck, on our own, we don’t even glance at righteousness, much less reach for it.
That’s the true freedom Jesus offers – the freedom to cover the shriveled sickness of our fallen appetites and our obsessive fixation with self and dress instead in respectability. He offers as a garment His own noble nature; a nature always and forever righteous and free from wrongdoing.
To live forever with Him, forever free from the guilt, sorrow, and shame with which sin stains even our most virtuous and selfless moments.
Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.
The word love has a flexible usage in American English. It refers to anything from a passionate romantic attachment to a strong fondness for a flavor or aroma.
People use love to describe their feelings for their pet, their children, family, or their spouse. Love might describe an act rooted in compassion or an act stemming from sexual arousal or even a score in a tennis match.
You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
Like I said, it is a veryflexible word.
But what does it mean? I guess that’s the problem with English. Love literally means all those things in my native tongue – and more.
"Love is patient and kind...
Even with all this flexibility, we the people still manage to misuse the term. We like to take a word that can perform the grammatical equivalent of a backbend and try to force it into something much more like a Gordian knot.
"love does not envy or boast ...
For example, much of what is perpetrated in the name of love today would be more accurately termed indulgence or indifference. And if we’re brutally honest, sometimes we (myself included) use the word love as a neat slight of hand to cover our own laziness or fear of confrontation.
"it is not arrogant or rude ...
But perhaps the most gruesome twisting of this word comes when it’s applied in the name of my Lord to condone behaviors He actually gave His life to save us from. Or in plain terms, when sin is not only tolerated but celebrated and this celebration is called love.
"Love does not insist on its own way ...
The truth is, sin is serious business. Deadly serious. And Jesus died to set us free from it. Not so we could run straight back into its often inviting – but always lethal – embrace.
"it is not irritable or resentful...
Actual love should desire the best situation possible in the long term for the beloved, not just his or her short-term pleasure.
"Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing...
For example, loving my children means laboring to instill a good work ethic into them both by example and by correcting laziness when it shows – even though it may be easier for me (and more fun for them) if I allowed their lives to be a nonstop Netflix and video gaming binge.
"But rejoices with the truth."
- 1 Corinthians 13:4-6
However, entertainment consumption never pays the bills, so if I take the easy route here and allow my kids a permanent pass on homework and chores, I’m actually inflicting damage by helping form habits and addictions that will hurt them in the long run.
Whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man…
Now take that one example and magnify it into a thousand careless acts of selfishness which impact eternity. Or maybe just imagine a couple thousand years, because eternity is too mind-bogglingly long to grasp. Which would you rather have: 80 years of fun and games followed by 1920 of agony? Or the reverse with unbounded joy tacked on for good measure?
And how many of us truly have agony for all our years? Few indeed, though even then, eternal joy would be worth it.
Now if we really believe what Jesus says, that He alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life; and if we honestly love others, we’ll not only tell them about the glorious freedom from sin and eternal life He offers; we will behave as though we believe it, too.
Sooooo many people use this word, and yet in utter sincerity, I do not think it means what they think it means.
Nerd Alert– brief foray into etymology ahead!!
The word Christian actually comes from a Greek word which was coined not long after the death of the Christ, who was likely called Yeshua by His contemporaries and more commonly known today by the transliterated and (possibly Swiss-ified from the Geneva Bible translation) name, Jesus.
Long story short, His Greek title would have been (transliterated), Christos. Christianos was the Greek derivative used to refer collectively to those who followed His Way not long after His death. The English is easy to spot from there.
But what does the word mean? What, exactly, makes a person a Christian?
I’ve had a virtual conversation with an atheist who believes Adolf Hitler was a Christian. And from his perspective, it makes sense. After all, Hitler belonged to a nation which identified itself as a Christian nation, he mentioned Divine Providence (a way of referring to God) many times in his speeches, wrote about his concept of God and the Divine Image in his autobiography, and even proclaimed Jesus as Savior and Lord during a speech or two.
Surely that’s enough to make him a Christian, right?
After all, if yours truly, a mother of three, suddenly chooses to identify as a man, I can be a man – thus saith the progressive logic of the current century and thus the atheist’s puzzling little piece fits, though admittedly the picture is more a puzzle assembled than if it remained in scattered pieces.
The truth is, Hitler also used the term Christian while remaining ignorant of its actual meaning. Consider this quote straight from the pen of the mustachioed Austrian madman himself:
It would be better if they left this [missionary] work alone, and if, in its stead, they tried to teach people in Europe, kindly and seriously, that it is much more pleasing to God if a couple that is not of healthy stock were to show loving kindness to some poor orphan and become a father and mother to him, rather than give life to a sickly child that will be a cause of suffering and unhappiness to all.
Adolf Hitler, from Mein Kampf
According to the deceased dictator’s philosophy, the God-honoring Christian thing to do is to sterilize the sick and infirm, allowing them to perhaps raise some healthy orphan rather than perpetuate their inferior genetic stock.
He goes on to sing the praises of eugenics. The gist of this section of merry old Adolf’s autobiography is that allowing unhealthy, crippled, mentally deficient, or “racially impure” (presumably by his standard) people to procreate is an act of immorality.
Logically consistent, but abhorrently far from what Jesus actually lived and died to accomplish. Hitler shaped his concept of God, Christianity, and morality around his lifestyle, ethnic makeup, and opinions rather than shaping his worldview around the actual Christ as presented in His Word.
Like so many of us still do today, deceiving ourselves that we have no kinship with a freak like Hitler. Too many of us fail to see the inherent dangers of redefining what it means to follow Christ.
So is a Christian merely a person who identifies himself with the Christ and calls Jesus his Savior and Lord?
Not according to the Christ Himself:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
The Lord goes on to declare even some people who call Him Lord and do incredible feats – things I’ve certainly never accomplished – in His name will not enter. Jesus labels these Christ-proclaiming high-performers workers of lawlessness, not Christians.
So what is a Christian, if not a person who calls the Christ Lord?
Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.
There’s the start of the definition, though it’s necessary to know Jesus’s commands. Read Matthew 16:21-27, John 13, John 15 – heck, really you need to read the entire Book and study the types of Christ in the Old Covenant before moving on to study the actual Christ in the Gospels and letters making up the New Covenant.
To know what a Christian is, study the Christ. And remember that He tells us we can know them by their fruits.
A person is not a Christian just because they say they are, nor because they do a little Divine name-dropping or throw out a frequent, “Praise the Lord!”
Instead, observe their fruit. Do his actions bring acclaim to himself? Does her lifestyle honor herself?
Or do they imitate the life of Christ?
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ… Read the rest of Luke 2:25-35
Another Christmas morning is in the books. For several weeks now, most of us have been caught up in a whirlwind of parties and preparation, baking and shopping, wrapping and decorating.
Today we stand in the aftermath. The seasonal crescendo has come and gone, leaving behind memories, decorations, and perhaps a few stray shreds of wrapping paper beneath the sofa. The excitement wanes as we once again submit to the tyranny of the mundane.
I wonder… in the days after the first Christmas, did Mary and Joseph experience a similar sense of encroaching ordinariness? Their lives had been turned on end by angelic announcements followed by a singular pregnancy and the anticipation of Messiah.
I imagine the high emotions of those days – awe at the coming task of parenting the Son of God; sorrow over rejection from friends and family who see only evidence of promiscuity in the swelling of Mary’s belly.
But now it was all past. The daily drudgery of caring for the Infant, providing food and shelter, and waiting out the time of purification had settled in.
Do you sometimes wonder, “Is this it?”
Do you think our Lord’s human parents did also?
This is the point when Simeon entered – a full forty days after the drama had faded into routine. But Simeon did not see merely another couple with a child performing the necessary rites of a Torah-observant Jewish family. Simeon saw the glory of the King through the ordinariness of daily Jewish life and new parent fatigue. And he embraced the Babe, proclaiming the good news and praising God as he did.
Perhaps we can learn from Simeon. Perhaps we, too, can diligently seek our Savior in the midst of familiar workaday routine. What if we embraced every tiny glimpse of Him, proclaiming the mercy and praise of God to our families each day as we’re going about the necessary duties of life?
Perhaps we can use this time to teach our kids that Christmas isn’t Christmas because of the gifts and twinkling lights, but because of Christ. Maybe together, we can start identifying Christ in our everyday lives and praising His goodness to all who stand near.
Maybe for us, every day can be Christmas.
Questions to Ask Yourself
What are some practical steps you can take to discover Jesus in the middle of your day-to-day life?
How can you celebrate the birth of our Savior long after the seasonal festivities have ceased?
Try instituting a new habit: With your family, spouse, small group, or a couple of friends, start a daily conversation about where each person saw Jesus in their day. This can be done verbally in conversation or via text, email, or whatever. Just learning to recognize and acknowledge Him in our lives can be tremendous!