Never Beyond Rescue

Have you ever felt that you were in such a bad situation that you were beyond rescue? Or in such dire straits that you were beyond recovery?

Paul, the apostle, only recognized after the fact how far gone he had been. Like anyone else, before he knew Christ as his Savior, he had been spiritually dead in his sins and transgressions. And that’s how it is sometimes — we’re already dead, and we don’t even realize it.

But regardless of whether or not we recognize in the moment how desperate our spiritual situation is, or how far beyond rescue we actually are, God wants us to know the reality is that we are never beyond his reach.

He can get to us. He can rescue our hopeless hearts and redeem our sin-wrecked minds. Not even spiritual death can separate us from his powerful love. Because redemption and resurrection are Jesus’ specialties.

And by grace, through faith, he does save us — by hanging on a cross and by rising from the dead!

However bad your situation might be right now, know this! You are never beyond hope or beyond rescue, as long as Jesus is in the picture.

And as the Son of God, the Savior of the world, he is always in the picture!

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, September 23, is Isaiah 55:1 – 57:13, Ephesians 2:1-22 and Psalm 110:1-7.

Jesus, thank you for your grace. Thank you that you always give me hope, because you are the master of redemption, and resurrection is your specialty. I am a sinner, deserving of your eternal punishment. But because of Jesus, I can now rejoice in the certain hope of everlasting life with you.

Header image based on "Peace promise" by Jan Smith, CC By 2.0

When Needy is A Good Thing

David presents an interesting character study. In many ways, he seems so much like he had his act together.

He was a man of great courage and stood up to the giant Goliath. He was a man of great influence. He gathered other men around him and led them to feats of glory. He was a man with great willpower, able to endure extreme hardship and difficulty as he was chased by King Saul.

Yet, when we read David’s inner thoughts in the Psalms, we also see that he was a man with many fears. He was a leader constantly worried and wondering about losing the upper hand over his enemies. He considered himself weak-willed. And he certainly could be. The story of his downfall sin with Bathsheba is one of the foremost cautionary tales in all of the Bible about a lack of willpower.

The more one gets to know David, the more we come to understand that whatever courage, influence or willpower he possessed did not originate with him. They originated with God, and by faith, were God’s gift to him.

David declares himself needy. Then he bursts out in thanksgiving and worship, because his life has taught him that God is extremely close to the needy — he stands immediately at their right hand.

The more I get to know myself (or perhaps, it’s the more honest and real I get with myself), the more I come to understand that whatever courage, influence or willpower I have all comes from God. It’s his gift to me. And that goes along with whatever peace, or whatever joy, or whatever contentment, or whatever love, or whatever… all that I have and all that I am comes from God.

Put simply, I am a person in need. Without God, I really have nothing. But he is always at my right hand to provide for me, to save my life from danger, and to give me the grace I need to overcome the condemnation I deserve.

That’s the way David saw it. And that’s the way I see it too. Without Jesus, I will never have my act together. But with Jesus, my act comes together very nicely.

You see, needy can be a good thing if, by needy, we really mean humility.

“With my mouth I will greatly extol the Lordin the great throng of worshipers I will praise him. For he stands at the right hand of the needy, to save their lives from those who would condemn them” (Psalm 109:30-31, NIV).

Lord, I come, I confess
Bowing here I find my rest
Without You I fall apart
You’re the One that guides my heart

Where sin runs deep Your grace is more
Where grace is found is where You are
And where You are, Lord, I am free
Holiness is Christ in me

Teach my song to rise to You
When temptation comes my way
And when I cannot stand I’ll fall on You
Jesus, You’re my hope and stay

Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You (“Lord, I Need You”, By Matt Maher).

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, September 22, is Isaiah 51:17 – 54:17, Ephesians 1:1-23 and Psalm 109:21-31.

Header image based on "Bruce Nauman: Human/Need/Desire" by Ed Schipul, CC By-SA 2.0

Make the Turn

There’s nothing God wants more than for people to turn to him in faith. God is our deliverance. God is our strength.

He is the deliverance and strength of the entire world. And, as Isaiah told the Israelites, “there is no other.”

He has earned our worship and thanksgiving. But even if we don’t believe that, our knees will recognize it one day, anyway.

So why not make the turn now?

Listen to the sound of God’s mercy and forgiveness. Hear the comforting notes of God’s faithfulness and love, his deliverance and strength. Recognize the pleading voice of your Creator and Redeemer.

And let those grace notes pull you around to Jesus, your Savior.

“Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. They will say of me, ‘In the Lord alone are deliverance and strength.’” All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame. But all the descendants of Israel will find deliverance in the Lord and will make their boast in him” (Isaiah 45:22-25, NIV).

Lord, I hear your voice. I am so grateful for the gospel. May the sweet music of your grace turn my heart toward your merciful heart for forgiveness, new life and salvation.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, September 19, is Isaiah 44:24 – 46:13, Galatians 4:21 – 5:6 and Psalm 108:6-13.

Header image based on "Turn" by Bill Smith, CC By 2.0

Strength in Weakness

Have you ever been in a position where things were going so well for so long that you might have been tempted to think it was all about you? One win stacked upon another for your team. And mixed in were some pretty impressive individual successes as well.

Your team’s win-loss record was flat-out amazing. And your own stat line was even more so. It was not just a single virtuoso performance. It was an entire all-star season for you!

Then came the nagging injury. And you just didn’t seem to have the edge that you once did. You were a bit off your game. Maybe more than a bit. You certainly no longer felt invincible. Weakness began to creep in. Doubt raised its ugly head.

The apostle Paul would have related. He tells the Corinthians of some amazing experiences he’s had as a Christ-follower. Amazingly, Paul had apparently been shown what heaven looks like (much like the apostle John would one day enjoy a similar vision of heaven’s throne room). And he had heard incredible things there, things that he was ordered not to repeat.

After all that, Paul felt like an all-star! And who wouldn’t? But then came the “nagging injury.” Paul was given what he calls a “thorn in the flesh.” The thorn, whatever it was, humbled Paul. It reminded him, “Despite all those wins and all-star experiences, it’s not about you. It’s about Jesus and his grace.”

For us, the beauty of what Paul is saying here is pure assurance. Our weaknesses humble us too. But this plays directly into God’s strength. When we lack humility and think we are strong (or smart, or brave, or wise, or “together”), we have less and less reason to rely on God.

Because we can just rely on ourselves instead.

But when something in life humbles us and we begin to recognize our weaknesses, ultimately we come to realize our only true option is to rely on God’s strength (for smarts, for courage, for wisdom, or for holding it together).

Paul says that, in reality, it doesn’t get any better than this. Because it’s in our weakness that we discover our true strength — Jesus! Jesus is titanium strong and diamond tough. And it’s his power resting on us that makes us titanium strong and diamond tough.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, NIV).

Lord Jesus, I have many weaknesses. Please forgive me for my sins. Be my strength. Let your power rest on me. I want to boast with Paul that though I am weak, in you I am strong.

Our Bible reading for Friday, September 11, is Isaiah 27:1 – 28:29, 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 and Psalm 106:40-48.

Header image based on "Diamond Paperweight 8-24-09 3" by Steven Depolo, CC By 2.0

Incomparable God, Incomparable Grace

Anger is a tricky emotion. It can come out as a loud, violent and destructive explosion. But it can also simmer underneath the surface, quietly, almost unnoticeably.

When that happens, it’s not unusual for the anger to simmer for a long time. Bitterness kicks in. A deep-seated grudge develops. Like soup left to simmer for way too long, the relationship that is impacted by the grudge slowly but surely begins to dry up and evaporate, leaving behind only a hardened crust of the former relationship.

With both Israel and Judah doing the kinds of things that make God angry, it wouldn’t have been surprising had God decided to forsake them forever. It wouldn’t have been a shock if the LORD had decided to hold a grudge against them.

But it’s not in God’s character to nurse a grudge. And that makes him like no other. Because by his very nature, he is forgiving. He does not stay angry. His specialty is mercy and pardon. The thing that absolutely switches God on, that energizes him, is taking our sins and crushing them into dust and then throwing that dust into the deepest part of the ocean.

Our God — because of his grace — is incomparable.

Do you want to stand out in a crowd? You couldn’t pick a better way than to reflect the gracious character of God! And the way to do that is to pray and ask for God’s help and strength to make good choices about your anger.

With the Spirit’s help, choose not to nurse grudges any longer. Select forgiveness and mercy over wrath and justice. Let the thing that energizes you be the joy you get when you forgive someone who has hurt you — perhaps even hurt you deeply. Make showing compassion your daily pursuit.

And as you walk with Jesus Christ, realize that you need to wear steel-toed boots. Because part of the path involves treading sins underfoot and hurling iniquities into the depths of the sea.

“Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:18-19, NIV).

Lord, you have been shockingly merciful and forgiving toward me. My sins have been tread underfoot by you. My iniquities have been hurled into the depths of the sea. Help me to forgive others as you have first forgiven me.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, September 1, is Micah 5:1 – 7:20, 2 Corinthians 5:1-10 and Proverbs 21:17-26.

Header image based on "work boots" by Wayne Truong, CC By 2.0

Don’t Lose Sight of the Benefits

There are a total of 150 Psalms. And this is one of the most beautiful of them. For me, it ranks right up there with the 23rd Psalm.

The key verse is verse 2: Praise the LORD, and do not forget all his benefits.

With God there is always a reason for gratitude and applause. Why? Because with God there’s continually one blessing after another.

And here David takes inventory of those blessings. He calls them benefits. Man, are there ever a lot of those benefits! And like David says, we don’t ever want to lose sight of them.

See for yourself. And take some time today to pause and really meditate on this Psalm. There’s so much here.

Healing. Redemption. Compassion. Grace. Forgiveness.

That’s how great God’s love is!

Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The Lord works righteousness
    and justice for all the oppressed.

He made known his ways to Moses,
    his deeds to the people of Israel: The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
    slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
    nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
    or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:1-12, NIV)

Lord, your healing, redemption, compassion, love, grace and forgiveness are truly amazing. Help me remember all these benefits (and more!) you grant me every day, and praise you for them. Truly, you are worthy of my worship.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, August 26, is 2 Chronicles 26:1 – 28:27, 2 Corinthians 1:1-11 and Psalm 103:1-12.

Header image based on "bible and ballcap" by Eric Golub, CC By 2.0

Give Honor, For You Have Received Honor

God’s love for us is amazing. His mercy and grace are astonishing.

When so many others dismiss you and say, “I don’t need you any more,” God says, “I want you near me. And I will always want you near me. My love for you is faithful.”

When others disparage you and say, “You are too weak. You have nothing to offer us,” God says, “I will strengthen you. You are indispensable to me. My purpose for you is glorious.”

When others disdain you and say, “You are worthless. it would be better for you not to be seen or heard from,” God says, ‘You are my honored child, whom I love. Speak to me in prayer. I do see you every day. My ears, for you, are always open.”

When others despise you and say, “You don’t belong here,” God says, “You absolutely belong here, because you are my treasured possession. My bond with you is unbreakable.”

When others disregard you and say, “I have no time for your suffering,” Jesus says, “I have suffered in your place. Come to me, you who are weary and burdened. My grace and mercy toward you will always be abundant beyond measure.”

Paul speaks to the Corinthian Christians, and his encouragement is clear.

The way we treat each other in the church is not the way we’ve been treated by other selfish sinners. The way we treat each other in the church is a reflection of the way God first treated us.

The way we honor each other in the church is the way God first honored us…

…with his unconditional, unearned, and unimaginable love.

“The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1 Corinthians 12:21-26, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, August 18, is Song of Songs 1:1 – 4:16, 1 Corinthians 12:1-26 and Psalm 99:1-9.

Lord, help me to honor others with love and kindness, as you have first honored me with love and kindness. Jesus, your cross reconciled me and brought me close to our Father. Now may your cross be the inspiration for me to remain close with my brothers and sisters in the church.

Header image based on "India - Chennai - Inspirational wall slogan" by McKay Savage, CC By 2.0

All For The Gospel’s Sake

There are certain things that are worth making adjustments for. Most of us will make adjustments and accommodations for someone we love. Relationships with our boyfriend or girlfriend, our spouse, our children, our parents, even our friends, usually involve constant trade-offs and negotiation.

We do the same when a lucrative job offer comes along. We might even move to a whole different area of the country (or even the world!) for the right work at the right price. And at the very least, most of us regularly adjust our weekly schedule to accommodate the demands of our workweek.

Our health is another of those things we make accommodations for too. If we discover that we have a disease that requires a dietary change, or a schedule change to work with a treatment plan, well, of course we do that! Our health is on the line!

Paul, the apostle, mentions something else — something very important — that he was willing to make accommodations for. And that’s the gospel. Because it was so important to him that as many people as possible hear and know the gospel, Paul was always willing to make adjustments so that he could put himself in a position to teach the gospel and win as many as possible to faith in Jesus Christ.

How about us? Are we willing to make the same adjustments Paul was so that the gospel can be taught? Are we prepared to consider accommodations in our own lives so that more people can be won for Christ and saved for eternity?

Are we willing to adjust our budget so that we can give more to the Lord and his kingdom work?

Are we willing to adjust our schedule to accommodate a growth group or Bible study?

Are we willing to adjust our hearts and make ourselves available to serve in our church so that God’s vision for our church can be fulfilled?

And most of all, as Paul says to the Corinthians, are we willing to adjust our attitudes toward people so that we fit ourselves to them and meet them where they’re at? Are we willing to put ourselves in their shoes, and accommodate to their “style”, so that we can be in a position to share Christ with them?

Why would we want to make all those adjustments and accommodations? The answer, Paul says, is simple.

It’s all for the sake of winning people to faith. It’s all for the sake of the gospel.

“Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23, NIV).

Lord, give me the same willingness Paul had to make adjustments and accommodate people for the sake of the gospel. I want more and more people to know you, Jesus, as their Lord and Savior. Use me, as you used Paul, to be an evangelist to lead people to Jesus.

Our Bible reading for August 15, is 2 Chronicles 2:1 – 5:1, 1 Corinthians 9:19 – 10:13 and Psalm 97:1-12.

Header image based on "Gospel Graffiti II" by Peat Bakke, CC By 2.0

Two Things We All Need

The apostle Paul had some major culture-challenging to do in the city of Corinth. And he couldn’t be too concerned about social acceptance or political correctness. The Corinthians were a tough bunch.

A large part of the issue Paul was facing was that Corinthian culture, religion and morality had trained them to live in a way that was displeasing to God. But they didn’t know this until Paul arrived.

To them, their behavior was not sinful. It was normal and accepted. It was the way their family members and friends all lived. It was the way things were done in Corinth. So Paul had some educating to do if he wanted to teach the Corinthians to switch from what was socially and politically acceptable to what was acceptable in God’s sight.

And Paul knew that the only way his teaching could have a prayer of producing changed lives would be if he connected the Corinthians with the gospel. Yes, he had to be clear about what God considers right and wrong. But that was merely the beginning.

The real change would occur when the Corinthians understood that God accepted them while they were still wrong-doers. And then he washed them clean of their sins. He purified them of their wrong-doing, and the Holy Spirit led them onto a path of life change. Jesus had transferred his status of perfection to them. In God’s sight, because of the cross, their status was changed to perfect and holy.

And those are still the two things we need to have in our lives today. Truth and grace. Law and gospel.

First, we need people in our lives who will challenge the status quo, stand up against the social norm, and make it clear to us what God expects. And we need to hear that straight from God’s word, the Bible. When it comes to right and wrong, we need the truth, not the politically correct. And not the socially acceptable.

But second (and even more importantly!) we need God’s grace. We need to know that because of Jesus, our sins have been washed away. We are now forgiven children of God. Our lives are being transformed by God’s love for us, and our status has changed from sinner to saint.

Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Monday, August 10, is 2 Chronicles 1:1-17, 1 Corinthians 6:1-20 and Psalm 94:1-11.

Lord, give me truth and grace. I need both. But most of all, I need your grace, and I need it every day. Thank you for sending your Son, Jesus, to be my Savior from sin.

Header image based on "Two" by Willi Heidelbach, CC0 1.0 Universal

Lead with Thanksgiving and Faith

When you’re dealing with the people in your life, do you lead with gratitude? Do you begin with faith?

The people in the church at Corinth had huge issues. And we’ll be delving in detail into those issues over the next few weeks. But Paul, the apostle, does not come out of the gate with frustration, anger, directives and discipline.

Given the volume and the size of the spiritual struggles that this congregation faced, I don’t think anyone would have faulted Paul had he led out with a bit of negativity. But he doesn’t. And by taking a positive, encouraging, grateful and faith-filled approach, Paul teaches us a ton about how to deal with difficult relationships.

Be grateful for all people, no matter how much they might test you at times. And when you find it really, really tough to put your faith in a person, or extend respect to them, then turn to God, pray for that person, and put your faith in God.

The reasons for this are obvious, aren’t they? People are sinful, weak and untrustworthy. God, on the other hand, is pure, strong and completely trustworthy at all times.

Even more, by dealing with the Corinthians like this, Paul is truly a reflection of the love of Christ — God’s mercy and grace. He shows us how Jesus deals with us.

Because all of us are “difficult people” at times, aren’t we? All of us require a little extra grace on some days.

That’s just what Paul extends to the Corinthians. And that’s just what Jesus still extends to us every day! Grace, after all, is what truly changes hearts and lives.

So, in our relationships with one another, how about we make this commitment? We will lead with thanksgiving and faith!

“I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge — God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:4-9, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, August 4, is 1 Chronicles 16:37 – 18:17, 1 Corinthians 1:1-17 and Proverbs 19:3-12.

Lord, thank you for all the spiritual blessings you have given me, starting with your mercy, grace and forgiveness. Thank you for the people you have placed in my life too. Help me to be grace-filled and faith-filled as I relate to the people around me.

Header image based on "Gratitude changes the way we look at the world" by BK, CC By-SA 2.0