Standing in Grace

Two men were once shoveling snow and ice off a concrete ramp at the entrance to a church building. One man almost fell on the slippery surface, prompting the other one to say, “Sinners stand on slippery ground, don’t they?” To which the first man replied, “Yes, and I don’t know how in the world they do it!”

It is indeed difficult to stand firm for the Lord in this sinful world in which we live, but it can be done. Rom. 5:1-2 says, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand…”

We can stand before God because we have been justified. What does the word “justified” mean? It has been said that it means “just as if I’d never sinned”. God looks at Christians as if they had never sinned. How can he do that? Because of our faith in the crucified and resurrected Jesus! Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins and the sins of the whole world. His resurrection proved that he was exactly who he said he was—the Savior of the world who has power over death itself! Rom. 4:25 says, “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.”

The fact that we have been justified through our faith in Jesus brings a tremendous change in our lives. For one thing, we Christians have a hope that others don’t have (Rom. 5:2). The word “hope” in the English language contains a degree of uncertainty. For example, when you were younger you might have hoped to receive a pony for a Christmas present, but you didn’t really think you would get it!

However, in the Greek language in which the New Testament was written, the word “hope” carries with it a certainty that what is hoped for will indeed be attained! We who place our hope in Jesus have an assurance that God’s promises to us will most certainly be fulfilled.

Furthermore, the hope that we have because we have been justified gives us the ability to glory, even in our sufferings (Rom.5:3). We know that God will see us through any and every difficult situation that life brings our way, and we understand that our passing through these trials will help us to become even stronger in our faith. A woman who had recently lost her husband was encouraged by her friends to attend a church dinner. She was reluctant to come, thinking that her sadness would put a damper on the occasion. But she came, and before long she was joining in the conversation and even joked with her friends, exclaiming at one point, “Two weeks ago I thought I would never laugh again!”

Finally, those who have been justified and are standing in grace are in a position to be filled with the love of God (Rom.5:5). The love that God pours into our hearts allows us to love him back in a way that non-believers could never do. That love also enables us to love other people with a supernatural, God-given love. Wouldn’t the world be a much better place if more people stood in the grace of God, showing the hope and joy and love that we all need to see?

Let’s stand firm in the grace that God has given us through his Son Jesus!

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Giving Time

Yesterday was “Giving Tuesday”, a day when people were encouraged to give to charitable organizations. If you let the day slip by you without making a donation to a worthy cause, take heart! Any day is a good day to be generous. There are a great number of groups that could use your support to do the good work of: taking care of the hungry, providing clothing for those in need, buying toys for underprivileged children, supplying medical care for people who need it, and a host of other endeavors, not the least of which is spreading the good news about the salvation that is available through the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ!

So, before you spend all your disposable income on yourself and your family, look to see how you could help out someone who is in need. It’s always a good time to give!

“In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”—Acts 20:35.

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Thankful Enough to Share

Chapters six and seven of 2 Kings record an interesting event in the history of Israel. The king of Aram had mobilized his army and advanced into Israelite territory. He laid siege to the city of Samaria, trying to outlast the Israelites with the hope that they would run out of food and be forced to surrender. The strategy was working. There was such a great famine in the city that even a donkey’s head would bring a big price, if you could find one. Other food was either unavailable or priced at ridiculously high levels. Some even resorted to cannibalism in order to survive.

When the king of Israel heard about the cannibalism, he was shocked into a state of anger and grief, and he blamed the prophet Elisha for the city’s misfortune. All too often, when things go wrong, some people blame God or God’s messenger. In his anger, the king sent an executioner to cut off Elisha’s head. Then the king apparently had second thoughts and set out for Elisha himself, hoping he was not too late to spare the prophet’s life.

When the king arrived at Elisha’s house, the prophet was safe, and he had a welcome prophecy from the Lord. The famine would end the very next day, and food would be available for reasonable prices. The king, yearning for any small glimmer of hope, apparently believed the prophecy. His right-hand man, however, ridiculed the idea, thinking it was impossible. Elisha told him that he would see it happen with his own eyes, but he would not eat any of the food.

Then the story shifts to four men with leprosy who were outside the city gate. Lepers were excluded from society because of their disease. They had to count on other people to bring them food they needed to survive. But because of the famine, no one had any food to share with these four men.

The leprous men realized that they had no other options, so they decided to throw themselves on the mercy of the Aramean army. If they did nothing, they would die. What did they have to lose?

When the four men entered the Aramean camp, they found it abandoned. God had intervened on behalf of his helpless people. He had caused the Arameans to hear the sound of horses and chariots and a great army, so they fled for their lives, leaving all of their supplies behind. So the four men entered one of the tents and began to eat and drink. Then they took silver, gold and clothes and went off and hid the loot for themselves. Then they had a moment of self-examination. 2 Kings 7:9 says, “Then they said to each other, ‘What we’re doing is not right. This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves. If we wait until daylight, punishment will overtake us. Let’s go at once and report this to the royal palace.’”

So they went and told the gatekeepers the good news, and it was reported in the palace. The king was awakened and told of the report. He was skeptical, however, thinking that it could be a trap. His advisors suggested that they send out a scouting party. So that’s what they did, and the scouts came back with the report that everything was just the way the lepers had said. The Arameans had abandoned their camp, and food and drink was readily available.

The people went out to get the food that they so desperately needed, and in the rush, they trampled to death the king’s right-hand man. The prophecy came true! God provided salvation for his people, but the man who doubted this could happen saw it with his own eyes, but was denied the opportunity to participate in the blessed event.

So what important truths do we need to understand from this story?

First of all, we all need salvation. The Bible says that all sin and fall short of the glory of God and that the wages of sin is death.

Secondly, there is nothing we can do to save ourselves. We must trust in the hand of God to do that for us, and in his grace and mercy he has provided salvation for us through his Son, the crucified and risen Jesus. Those who refuse to believe will not receive the blessing of salvation.

Finally, we need to realize that this news is too good to keep to ourselves! Like the leprous men in the Scripture, we need to share the good news about salvation through Jesus with people who are currently dying in their sins. If we are truly thankful for our salvation, we will be willing and eager to share the good news with others.

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Keep the “Giving” in Thanksgiving

As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, it is important that we cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Some feel that people in general are not as thankful as they should be. One grandmother lamented the fact that her grandchildren used to send her thank you notes in appreciation of the gifts she gave them, but now they only send her a thumbs up emoji!

Many people would agree that we could do a better job of showing our thanks to God for all of the many blessings that he showers upon us every day. One way we could do that is by cultivating a generous lifestyle. By sharing our material resources with those who are less fortunate, we give thanks to God for the blessings he so graciously gives us.

In 2 Corinthians, the apostle Paul urges the church at Corinth to be generous. He encourages them to give generously to a fundraising effort for the purpose of sending relief to poverty-stricken Christians in Jerusalem. 2 Cor.9:6-15 contains some teaching that will help us keep the “giving” in Thanksgiving.

This Scripture reminds us of the principle of the harvest. In order to reap a crop, you have to sow enough seed. A stingy farmer who foolishly skimps on seed cannot expect to reap an abundant harvest. In the same way, in order to reap an abundant harvest of righteousness, we have to be willing to share our finances with believers who are in need.

This passage goes on to tell us that it is our choice whether to be generous or not. I am reminded of a story about a church that desperately needed to repair their church building. They called a special all-members meeting to discuss the situation. During the course of the meeting, a well-to-do member of the church stood up and declared, “I pledge to give $100 toward the repairs to our church building.” As soon as the man sat down, a huge piece of plaster fell from the ceiling and crashed down on his head! The man promptly stood up again and said, “I am changing my offering from $100 to $500!” In response to that, a voice from the back cried out, “Hit him again, Lord! Hit him again!”

The Lord shouldn’t have to hit us over the head in order to make us give to his kingdom. We should be self-motivated by a desire in our heart to give. Our giving should not be done reluctantly or out of compulsion, because God loves a cheerful giver. It is up to us to develop a generous heart that has the desire to give.

Reading further, we are reminded that God is able to bless us so that we can give in abundance and still have our needs taken care of. He will supply the seed that we need to sow enough to have a large harvest of righteousness. V.11 says, “You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.” Our generous giving not only shows our thankfulness, it inspires the recipients of our giving to be thankful to God for taking care of their needs. V. 12 continues on this theme—“This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.” We should think of our giving as a way of priming the pump to cause thanksgiving to God to overflow in the hearts of his people.

The next verse says that this fundraising project was a way of proving themselves, and that it had to do with their obedience to God that goes along with our response to the gospel message. We have to ask ourselves if our willingness to be generous passes the test. Does our obedience to God show up in our giving?

The chapter concludes with one of the greatest verses in the Bible on the subject of giving, v.15—“Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” The sacrifice of his only son Jesus on the cross to provide forgiveness for all mankind shows us that God is the ultimate Giver! His children should reflect the Father’s loving mercy that is seen in his willingness to give such a great sacrifice. Let’s do all we can to keep the “giving” in Thanksgiving!

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Let Us Pray!

1 Timothy 2:1-4 is an urgent call to prayer—“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

I am writing this just a few days before the November 8 elections, so this is a good time to think about praying for those in authority. Supposedly, the chaplain of the U.S. Senate was once asked if he prayed for the Senators. “No”, he replied. “I look at the Senators and pray for the country!”

The Bible says that we should pray for all those in authority. When Paul wrote this Scripture, his readers were under the authority of the Roman Empire, and Nero was the emperor. Those in power were not exactly sympathetic toward followers of Jesus Christ! Yet those followers were encouraged to pray for those in positions of authority. This means that we must do the same, no matter which party is in the majority and regardless of whether or not we voted for that particular official.

The government has been established by God to keep order so that we may go about our lives. We need to pray that our leaders will do a good job of keeping the peace and providing a social environment where we can go about our business of living for the Lord.

Our first inclination might be to complain about our elected leaders rather than pray for them. Who hasn’t been guilty of that!? However, the Bible says that it is important that we pray for those in various positions of authority. It might be a good idea to keep a list of public officials– on the local, state and national level–so that we can pray for them by name.

Note that verse one urges prayers for all people. It’s not just the politicians who need our prayers. That word “all” is extremely inclusive, isn’t it? Everyone we know can be the focus of our prayers. Too often Christians limit their prayers to the sick list in their church bulletin. This is indeed a worthy endeavor, but healthy people need our prayers too! We need to pray for the saved and the lost, the conservatives and the liberals, friends and enemies, the morally upright and those living sinful lifestyles. We need to pray for young and old, married and single, rich and poor…well, you get the idea. We need to pray for everybody!

And let’s keep in mind the desired end result of our prayers, seen in the last verse of the above Scripture—God wants all people to be saved! God’s desire is that all people come to a knowledge of the truth and accept Jesus Christ as their Savior! Our prayers should reflect God’s desire for evangelism to take place!

No wonder the Bible urges us to make prayer for all people a top priority! Friends, let us pray!

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The Gospel in Philippians

The letter that the apostle Paul wrote to the church at Philippi was all about the gospel, the good news about the salvation that is available through the crucified and resurrected Jesus. If God would send a letter to your church today, it would probably be much like Philippians, centered on the gospel. Let’s take a brief look at this important New Testament book and be reminded of our mission.

Paul was thankful for the Christians at Philippi, and he prayed joyfully for them because of their partnership with him in the gospel (1:3-6). To be working together with other believers in spreading the gospel message is a wonderful blessing! It is also a duty that we must never take lightly! The eternal destiny of souls is at stake!

We also see that the spread of the gospel cannot be thwarted by any circumstances. Even Paul’s imprisonment served to advance the gospel (1:12-14). The fact that some preached with wrong motives did not hinder the spread of the good news. The important thing was that Christ was preached (1:15-18). Don’t let any unfortunate circumstances discourage you. Keep on spreading the message about Jesus and God will make sure that his kingdom will advance.

1:27 reminds us that our behavior matters—“Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” We must model Christ-likeness in our words and deeds if we want our message to have a positive impact.

Chapter two challenges us to maintain a humble attitude, and it points us to our perfect example in this—Jesus, who although he was equal to God, humbled himself to come to earth and die on the cross (2:1-11). Redemption came through the humble self-sacrifice of Jesus. Spreading that message will come through the humble and selfless sacrifices of Christ’s servants.

Chapter three warns us against legalism. We aren’t saved by our own zeal, but by the grace of God that comes to us through Jesus (3:1-11). Nevertheless, this chapter also encourages us to be active and enthusiastic in living out our faith, with our eyes always firmly fixed on our heavenly reward (3:12-14).

Chapter four contains a call for unity (v.2). Only by working together can we have great success in our efforts. We also see here a call for right thinking that leads to right actions (4:4-9). What we put into our minds eventually comes out in what we say and do, whether it be bad or good. Therefore, let us rejoice and pray and give thanks! Let us think about things that are noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable. Thinking the right things will lead us to do the right things, and that will bring the peace of God into our lives.

Finally, we see that the church at Philippi was a mission-minded church. Their financial support of Paul’s work was “…a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.” (4:18). Let’s do our best to please God with our giving to missions. The good news of salvation through Jesus deserves our financial support.

There you have it. That was a quick look at the book of Philippians. Let this Scripture always be a reminder of our mission to make disciples for Jesus. May God bless our efforts!

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What a Friend We Have in Jesus!

Before he went to the cross to pay for sins of all humanity, Jesus spent considerable time preparing his disciples for his departure. Chapters 14-17 of John’s gospel record a lot of Jesus’ words as he gets his followers ready to carry on his ministry after his death, resurrection and ascension into heaven.

In this section, Jesus talks about friendship (John 15:9-17). Three times in these verses, Jesus uses the word “friends”. It is remarkable that the Savior of the world would call mere human beings his friends! But he does! And he wasn’t just referring to his closest followers. We can be assured that Jesus offers friendship to anyone who will accept it. Let’s see what Jesus says here about friendship.

First, we see that true friendship involves sacrifice. 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Jesus would make the greatest sacrifice imaginable when he willingly laid down his innocent, sinless life to pay the price for our guilty, sinful lives. In doing so, Jesus set the example of sacrifice that we too must follow. 1 John 3:16 says, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” In order to truly love our Christian friends, we have to make sacrifices; sacrifices of time, money and emotional involvement. It is not easy to be a true friend. But then, most things that are worthwhile require effort and commitment.

The second use of the word “friends” in this Scripture is specifically referring to our friendship with Jesus. 15:14 says, “You are my friends if you do what I command.” There is a condition attached to our friendship with Jesus—we have to do what he says! It is ridiculous to believe that a person can lead a lifestyle of on-going, deliberate disobedience to the teachings of Jesus and think that he will be your friend! Jesus didn’t die on the cross so that we could live any way we choose to live. He died so that we could be freed from our sins and empowered by the Holy Spirit to live a life of obedience. Therefore, a big part of our lives must be dedicated to studying the Word of God so that we can live the life of obedience that Jesus requires of his friends. And, of course, the more closely we obey Jesus, the more we are able to be a good friend to those around us.

Let’s now look at the third use of the word “friends” in this Scripture–“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (15:15). Now this does not mean that we are relieved of our duty of serving the Lord. It means that Jesus has revealed to us the higher purpose of our service. Unlike the servant who has no need to know the master’s reasoning, Jesus tells us the purpose of our labors in the kingdom. It is to make disciples for him, thus producing “fruit that will last” (v.16). Because Jesus calls us his friends, we receive the privilege of understanding what our work for the Lord is all about. Rather than relegating us to mindless obedience, Jesus has elevated us to a level higher than mere servants—he calls us friends.

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The Power of an Invitation

The opening chapters of John’s gospel shows us examples of people inviting others to come to Jesus. Since this is an important part of living for Christ, let’s take a look at what happens here and see if we can learn how to do a better job of extending invitations for people to follow Jesus.

John 1:40-42a says, “Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus…”

Here we see that inviting people to come to Jesus should be one of our top priorities. After discovering for himself that Jesus was the Messiah, the very first thing he did was to find his brother and bring him to Jesus. Maybe we should re-evaluate our priorities and put evangelism at the top of the list!

We also see that the first person Andrew thought of was his brother. Out of all the people he could have witnessed to, he thought of his brother first. The people we are closest to are the ones most likely to listen to our thoughts about Jesus and to respond to our invitations. Therefore, we should give our best efforts toward evangelizing family and friends. If we have a close relationship with someone, they are much more likely to accept any invitation we offer to come and experience Jesus for themselves.

We see the same thing happen later in the chapter. Philip responded to Jesus’ invitation to follow him. Philip immediately found Nathanael and told him about Jesus. Nathanael was skeptical at first, but came to check out Jesus and became convinced that he needed to follow Jesus too (John 1:43-51).

Here we see that there might be some initial reluctance on the part of our family and friends to accept the invitations that we offer them to come to church or to truly consider the claims that Jesus made that he was the Savior of the world. Let’s not get discouraged if it takes some time to convince people that following Jesus is the best way to go. Let’s be patient and persistent with our invitations.

Moving on to chapter 4, we find Jesus’ famous encounter with the woman at the well. This woman not only had a sinful past, she was currently living with a man to whom she was not married. But Jesus took the time to talk with her, and she became convinced that he just might be the Messiah. She got so excited that she left her water jar at the well and rushed into town to tell the people there about Jesus.

This was a brave act on the part of this woman. The people of her village probably looked down on her, and possibly shunned her, because of her sinful lifestyle. However, she ignored the stigma and witnessed to them. They made their way toward Jesus to see for themselves what this man was all about. They put their faith in Jesus and accepted him as the Savior of the world, all because of the woman’s testimony.

Here we learn that Jesus can use anyone to bring people to him. It doesn’t matter what you have done in the past, if you put your trust in Jesus and repent of your sins, the Lord can use you to draw others to him.

Finally, let’s remember that the true power of an invitation rests in the personhood of Jesus himself. We are not simply inviting people to a church service. We are inviting them to Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world! That’s a powerful invitation!

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High Price of Lying

Alex Jones

For years, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones relentlessly promoted the lie that the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was a hoax. His false claims added greatly to the pain and suffering of the grieving families. Therefore, a jury recently decided that Jones must pay $965 million to the people who were harmed by his lies. That’s almost a billion dollars! That’s a pretty steep price to pay for lying!

However, the ultimate price to pay for lying far exceeds the amount that Jones has been told he must pay. The Bible says that those who love and practice falsehood will be banned from heaven. Instead, they will be assigned their place in hell for all of eternity (Rev.22:15).

There is indeed a high price to pay for lying!

“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.”—3 John 4.

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Renewed Strength

A reporter once interviewed the legendary baseball player Ty Cobb long after Cobb’s years as a player had ended. The reporter asked, “What do you think you would hit if you were playing today?” Cobb replied, “About .290 or .300.” Since Cobb had been a lifetime .376 hitter, the reporter asked, “Why is that?” Cobb replied, “Because I’m 70 years old.”

You have to admire Cobb’s confidence!

Those who get their strength from the Lord know that we can continue to do great things through him.

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”—Isaiah 40:28-31.

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