Christ Lives in Me

April 8, 2017 – Saturday
faith 2
Read: Galatians 2:19 – 21, NIV
Focus: v. 20, NIV

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

It would not be a bad idea to go back and read verses 11 through 18 to get the context for why Paul is writing these words. He is taking Peter to task because he was not acting honorably before both Jews and Gentiles at the church in Antioch. Actually, he was being two-faced about the whole thing and was rightly called out by Paul. When Peter was with the Gentiles he acted just like them and ate just like them but when certain Jews of the circumcision party came to visit (and spread their brand of poison – my words) he quietly defected to them to the extent that even Barnabas, Paul’s co-worker was co-opted into doing the same thing and other Jews who had been working with and eating with the Gentiles also fell away.

Paul is simply pointing out that adherence to rules intended to enforce the Law was now actually unnecessary because we are now in an era of grace and not Law. Verse 21 makes that abundantly clear. Our purpose in these devotionals is to emphasize what was accomplished by and through the Cross. Paul is making the point by using himself as an example that he himself had been crucified with Christ. His point is that the life he now lives in the body is one of faith in the One “who loved  (him) and gave himself for (him)” (vs. 20). The indication in the earlier portion of verse 20 is that not only was Paul crucified (spiritually) with Christ but he was also resurrected (spiritually) with Christ. He is living life by faith and not by works. In other places, Paul makes it clear that works are meant to be an expression of one’s faith and not a substitute for faith.

What kind of life are you attempting to live as a believer? Is it one filled with rules you absolutely “must” keep in order to get into heaven? Or, is it a life that is filled with the freedom that comes from living by “faith” and not works? Don’t get me wrong here – works will come but are more an expression of our faith and not intended to allow us into God’s presence. Only Jesus’ finished work on the Cross allows that to happen when we accept and live the life of faith. Dorcas and others mentioned in the New Testament were often eulogized for their good works but those good works were also recognized as arising from their faith and not as an attempt to somehow get into God’s good graces. Doing good works is a hallmark of being a Christian but it must be understood that the desire and strength come through faith.

The Ministry of Reconciliation

Sunday – March 19, 2017
Reconciliation - Logo
Read: 2 Corinthians 5:11-21
Focus: vs. 19

11 Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. 12 We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. 13 If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

There is an exercise I’ve used a few times in youth ministry over the years. In an attempt to help teens understand why second-hand information is hard to trust, I would speak to the first teen and deliver a basic message. I could be something simple like “red birds love blue skies.” I then instruct that teen to pass that message along the next person, who needs to pass it along to the next. This goes until we reach the last teen in the group and then we find out what message they received at the end of the line. In all my years it has never been even close to the original words uttered.

In verse 20 of our passage Paul refers to us as Christ’s ambassadors. An ambassador, simply put, is one who has the singular job of delivering the message from his leader. He doesn’t have the option of changing the language to soften the message and he certainly doesn’t have the option of delivering a different message altogether. Our president, for example, has ambassadors all over the country whose primary purpose is to deliver messages from him. They perform many other functions but that is the main reason for them being there and the president needs someone he can trust in a position like that. Nobody wants to go to war because the ambassador misquoted the president, either accidentally or purposefully.

So Paul says we are “Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” What is that appeal? “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” This is the ministry of reconciliation that God has given us and we are ambassadors to the world for Him. It was in verse 11 where Paul says, “Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others.” God needs someone he can trust for this job and the only way we can be trusted is if we believe and have accepted for ourselves the message being delivered. This is the pearl of great value and the hidden treasure. This is the Way of the Cross that requires total sacrifice. And the message we have to deliver is about the Living Hope that, last week, we referred to as a warm cup of morning coffee for our souls.

Reconciliation with God is the message we carry. With sin in charge, we are at war with God. Our unholiness cannot stand in His presence. The only way to take hold of the Living Hope that God offers is to be reconciled to Him. We must lay down our arms, accepting Jesus and walking His path. We join God’s side and go forth to persuade more hearts to reconcile with Him.

It’s not always going to be easy. As you read through Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church you will hear talk about all that Paul and the other apostles have suffered for the sake of Christ. These are their credentials, so to speak. They’re task is to tell the truth of Jesus to the world and, often, there are consequences. At one point Paul says they carry about the death of Christ in them all the time as they follow in Christ’s footsteps. Paul knows the end result of his continuing to spread the Gospel but he also knows the end result for the people he doesn’t reach and who never accept the message he has to deliver.

Our task, then, as ambassadors for Christ, is to tell the world around us about the Living Hope we have in Christ Jesus. We have a message to deliver and we don’t have the option of altering the words. This is the ministry that God has given us and sometimes it’s difficult. We live in a world, right now, that doesn’t like the message very much. I’ve got news for you, though: the world has never much liked this message. It has denied it. It has ignored it. It has altered it in order to make it more palatable. It used and abused it. It has even committed atrocities in its name.

It’s the not the ambassador’s job to worry about how the message is received and what the other party does with it – at least not to the point where we soften or change the message to make it more palatable for a world walking in darkness. The world needs to hear about Jesus and what he has done for them but we need to remember their salvation is at stake but it, ultimately, is the responsibility of the one we speak for. And while God desires that all people should hear the message and accept it, the reality is that not everyone will. In fact, the percentage of the truly faithful doesn’t change very much over the years. In America that has been somewhere between 25% and 30% and there are signs that our country is becoming less receptive to the message rather than more so.

Is it our responsibility to reach the next generation for Christ and pass down our faith? Yes, in that we are to deliver the message and be faithful to God’s call as ambassadors for Him. Do we have a responsibility to make the message palatable to the world today? Yes and no. Yes, in that we need to deliver the message in a way that the next generation can hear it and respond to it. No, in that we cannot alter the contents of the message in order to make it more friendly to the world’s current ideals and mores. We can’t fit the gospel to the winds of change within our culture in order to make God more likeable. God’s message transcends all this earthly stuff. If our culture disagrees with God, it’s not God’s fault and nor is it ours. If I disagree with God, I’m wrong – end of story. And the sooner I understand that, the sooner I can be reconciled to Him.

I tell you all this to help you with the task God has given you. You are an ambassador for Him. You carry the message of the Living Hope inside you and that is an awesome responsibility. It’s also plenty to worry about without having to carry the load of the salvation of others on your back as well. Yes, their salvation is what is at stake here but ministering to the heart of a person is God’s job, not yours. We are tasked with delivering the message and God may continue to use us to make that appeal in other ways as we attempt to persuade them of the truth of the message we carry. It may hurt when they reject that message (and I hope you take it seriously enough that it does) but they are responsible to God for the response of their heart, not you. When they accept, we will rejoice with them just like God is doing. A lot of people are not going to accept God’s offer but some are. You and I did and we are not alone.

So what are you doing with the message God has given you? Are you a good ambassador delivering God’s message or are you hiding it because you’re afraid the world won’t accept it? The ministry of reconciliation has been given to you and God desires that as many as possible will be reconciled to Him. You know your part in this. Go. Be the ambassador God has tasked you to be.

To Be Made New

March 15, 2017 – Wednesday
Free
Read: Ephesians 4:17-24
Focus: vss. 22-24

“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

In Paul’s letter to Philemon he appeals to his friend to forgive and set free his slave named Onesimus. It’s a great story that takes a little work to put together but it’s worth your consideration. The letter to Philemon is comprised of only 25 verses but you will see yourself in it. Onesimus was a slave to Philemon, an all-too-common practice of the day and throughout history (God condemns it many times and in many ways but the practice has survived in many cultures throughout the ages). In the case of Onesimus it seems he ran away, possibly after stealing money or some other possession, and wound up in Rome. In that day Rome is where someone in trouble would go to hide among the throngs of people. Philemon, and Onesimus, are from Colossae, and Philemon was a leader in the church there.

Somehow, Onesimus comes in contact with Paul and those with him. Possibly they recognized him from their missionary journeys and the time spent with Philemon. Paul leads Onesimus to Jesus and he becomes a changed man. He is a big help to Paul as he sits as a prisoner in Rome and Paul begins to see Onesimus as a son in the Spirit. They both realize that Onesimus must return to Philemon and set things right so Paul sends him back along with a letter asking Philemon to do the right thing and set Onesimus free. History picks up the story from here and we discover that Philemon did indeed set Onesimus free and he later became a bishop in the church over the region of Ephesus. His story ends in 95 AD as a martyr under the persecution of Nero.

The story of Onesimus is a story of redemption. It’s a story the children of God all share as his life makes a complete change in direction after finding Jesus. He gets a second chance and he dedicates his life to God. I imagine that Philemon, and others in the church in Colossae, were dubious at first. Surely Philemon did as Paul asked him to do but It’s hard to forget and forgive one who has wronged you without having some doubts as to the change of heart that has occurred. So I also imagine that Onesimus eventually proved himself to everyone and it was evident that he was, indeed, made new.

Ephesians 4:23 tells me that I am made new as I put on the new self and put off the old self. I can attest to the changes that happened inside of me when I asked Jesus into my heart and the direction of my life, I hope, has given those around me a good view of those changes as well. I was made new and I am being made new. It’s both a promise and an on-going event in my life.

I am willing to speculate that you see a little bit of Onesimus in yourself. Maybe the people around you were dubious, at first, when they heard you had turned your life around with Jesus. But we serve a God of second chances who delights in making the new you. This new you is “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” It’s both a promise and an ongoing event in your life. What a wonderful thing it is to be made new.

Day 9 – For His Highest Purposes

Monday – December 5, 2016

Read: 2 Timothy 2:20-21
Focus: vss 20-21
Day 9.png
“If you stay away from sin you will be like one of the dishes made of purest gold – the very best in the house – so that Christ Himself can use you for His highest purposes.”

In our scripture today, Paul talks about living in such a way that Christ can use us for a higher purpose. When I entered my sophomore year of college, a dialogue began between me, God, and a senior ministerial student. It started out with my statement that “the last thing I want to be is a minister’s wife!” I arrived at that decision because I had seen the horrendous schedule of the Pastors’ wives in my local church – often carried out with little thanks and some opposition. In God’s providence I became friends with several ministerial students who took it upon themselves to point out that the only life of happiness was one lived in God’s will and favor. If that included being a missionary, or a janitor, or a pastor’s wife, then I had better say yes – or settle for a life out of fellowship with God! Heavy stuff, right? But it took me all year to arrive at a “Yes, Lord, yes” attitude. When that was finalized I sort of relaxed because those friends graduated and then I could safely say that I did not know any would-be ministers – that is, until 2 years later, when I tried out that line on a date and got a, “well, now you do!”  – and the rest is history! Because I chose to be my best for God, He has been able to use me for many years, and in many different ways, to accomplish His purposes. I can really think of no higher and better job than the one He graciously gave to me.

We all want to feel useful and if our life can be spent helping others to find their place in God’s plan, then we have truly served them and Him well. Is that your desire today?

MAR