Ephesians 2:1-10 – Grace

Read Ephesians 2:1-10

Some of my favorite verses are found in today’s reading. You may know that I grew up in the Lutheran tradition, and verse 8 is a key, crucial verse for us. It is by grace that we are saved, not by the good things we have done. I used to teach songs to our children’s ministry kids that emphasized this truth. It is by grace, grace, grace, we have been saved, saved, saved, not of ourselves. It is a gift from God. The best gift of all.

What’s really cool is that God loves us in our mess. We can be going through some really rough stuff and God still loves us. He knows we aren’t strong enough to stop sinning on our own. We are flawed. We are human. Yet he loves us, and his mercy endures forever. When Paul speaks to the Ephesians of being  “dead in the trespasses and sins” he is very much talking to us as well. Paul said we are made alive together with Christ. God never meant for us to be alone, struggling, feeling like we were suffocating in this cruel world. Continue reading “Ephesians 2:1-10 – Grace”

James 3:13-18 – Where Does Your Wisdom Come From?

Read James 3:13-18

You may have heard the Book of James referred to as the New Testament Proverbs. Certainly it is not just a set of ideas and thoughts but rather a congruent teaching designed mainly for the teachers of the day, but certainly applicable to all. It speaks to us today even louder than ever.

Today we talk about wisdom. Two kinds of wisdom.  Wisdom that is of the world, that is demonic and evil, and the other, good kind, that is from God. So many people are concerned today with social justice and political correctness. At what cost? There seems to be such a sway away from what the Bible teaches. Bible scholars are aghast at the trends we see taking over society and how words of the Bible are twisted to fit people’s evil desires.

James was seeing the same thing and wanted to get things straightened out. He was starting with the teachers, I suppose hoping he could get an army of educators on the right page. He wanted to end selfish ambition and return people to God.

God’s word brings peace to those who listen. God’s wisdom is full of grace and gentleness, both great attributes for people in dealing with others. The “other” wisdom will bring division and jealousy because it is not considerate and giving, only self serving and full of disorder.

So what do we do about it today? How can we change the direction people think and follow?

Have you heard of the starfish story? It’s where they find so many starfish washed up on the beach waiting to die because they are separated from their lifesource–the water. One by one, a young person begins taking the starfish back to the water. When asked what they were doing, how could they possibly begin to save them all. The reply came, “I made a difference for this one.”

That’s what James was trying to do and what we should be trying to do as well. For those lost in their evil thoughts and motives, we need to bring light and truth. With gentleness and grace we need to be the example of true wisdom and let everything that comes from our mouth be helpful and full of God’s love.

Verse 13 says, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.”

Let’s pray. Father God, I am saddened by this world’s lack of focus on you and your truth. Godly wisdom is what I seek. I want to be so full of you and your wisdom that people can’t help but see and notice my gentleness, my grace, my peace and my sincerity. I want to be a full reflection of you. Let my words and deeds be the example needed to set your people free from the bondage of evil desires. Work in their hearts to feel the uncomfortable separation from you. Make their yearning for a relationship stronger than ever so that they will be open to looking for you in places they haven’t looked before. May the sermon of my life speak louder than my words ever could. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Mark 7:1-23 – What’s Inside Counts

Read Mark 7:1-23

Jesus is getting exasperated here! Is that because he is man, or does God get exasperated with us? Did you notice the “edge” in Jesus’ words, even to his disciples?

Jesus even had to leave, walk away from those who were frustrating him. That is a good model for us to follow when our buttons are being pushed. It is always better to retreat so as to avoid saying something in anger that is unkind or not constructive.

What’s happening here? The “churchy” folks are focusing on the wrong law, a tradition set by the people about washing. A “ceremony” they called it. Jesus was upset that the religious leaders were promoting such reliance on tradition, ignoring God’s law. That can be a temptation for us, too. God’s law should always come first.

Can you think of an example in present day? It could certainly be said that the idol of work and money often crowd out God in our life. We all know one of the Commandments is to honor God having no other gods before him. Are you honoring God first? I know I can do a better job of this.

Jesus goes on to get the heart of the matter, literally. He tells us that what we put into our bodies is not what makes us impure or sinful (as they were being taught). It is what comes out of our mouths, our evil thoughts and desires that makes us sinful or unclean. When you think about it, it makes perfect sense to us. Now. We haven’t been brainwashed to think that we need to wash this or avoid that kind of food to be holy. This must have rocked their world.

Today’s reading really personifies Jesus as a “real” person. He showed us a variety of emotions. He also showed us how to deal with them. Keep calm. Retreat to avoid serious confrontation. Explain rationally.

Have you encountered a situation where you were frustrated? How do you react when people insist they are right when you know they are totally off base? Pray and seek God’s peace as you enter these situations.

Let’s pray. Father God, thank you for this lesson today. There are so many times when I encounter opposition. It was helpful to me to see how Jesus handled this circumstance. Help me to be more like him, to watch my tongue and to speak the truth in love. I will rely on you and your wisdom to know when confrontation is going to be helpful and when retreat is the better option. Thank you for the glorious opportunities you have put before me this day. May my heart be cleansed and pure. Replace my sinful tendencies with your grace. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

 

Hosea 4:1-19 – Charges Against Us

Read Hosea 4:1-19

In this Chapter we are hearing of God’s case against Israel. If brought to trial, what has Israel done to break God’s law and his heart. How are they destroying themselves like a forest fire devours?

I might take this a step further. What have we done to break God’s law and his heart? I don’t know one person who is sinless (other than Jesus, of course). I know many who would like you to think they are. Really, though, deep down, we are all sinners in need of a Savior. What’s sad are the many people who don’t know what they need. Look at verse 6, My people are being destroyed because they don’t know me.” We are called to help get the word out.

As I read through the charges here against Israel, I couldn’t help but think of our crumbling world today. Something eerie about some of the similarities. Do we need a Hosea to come speak to us? I’m not sure people would listen any better today than they did in Hosea’s day. The job of a prophet was difficult. People pleasers, like me, would never survive being a prophet.

Let’s look at verse 4, “Don’t point your finger at someone else and try to pass the blame! My complaint, you priests, is with you.” Sobering. The priests were trying to point fingers! I think many of us can remember our own childhood sibling rivalry, or even in our own children. Imagine standing over a shattered vase of great importance. What child would put up their hand and say, “it was me”. More often fingers get pointed, and blame passed around before the real truth comes out.

If we feel like we are better than others, like the priests must have been thinking, we need to stop. We are not better. We may not even be all that good. But we are good enough. God loves us no matter what we have done, what we are thinking, etc.

God’s love knows no boundaries. That’s a good thing when I think of some of the not so wonderful things I’ve done in my life. I’m sure you’ve got things too, if you were honest with yourself. But those less savory choices have made me who I am today. I learned from those mistakes. God did not waste those hurts at all. Now, if I can turn and help someone else get through their time of trial, I am equipped. I am ready.

Was there a verse in today’s charges that spoke to your heart? Think through how Hosea’s message came alive for you today.

Let’s pray:  Lord, I pray for those who don’t know you. Their lives are crumbling around them and they don’t know it. They don’t know the power you give, the love you pour out, the forgiveness and peace. Lord help me to see with your eyes and help me bring them back to you. Show me how you want to use me. I stand ready, willing and able to be your soldier of peace. Give me wisdom. Thank you for the peace that fills my heart. Thank you for your great sacrifice and what that means for me. You are so welcome in my heart, and I love the joy of having you there. In Jesus’ name. Amen.