Endurance

It’s so easy to get tangled up in sin. Walking our way through life is like walking through a thick forest of mesquite trees. The branches and thorns just keep grabbing at us, clinging to our sleeves and holding us back.

Imagine trying to run a race in such a place. You’re trying to make your way through as quickly and directly as you possibly can, but there is always another tree, another bramble, another thorny branch, trying to force you back, or make you go around.

That’s how the author of the book of Hebrews describes the “race” of our life of faith. Greed, pride, lust, despair, depression, anger, hatred, shame and guilt — these grab at our hearts and cling to our thoughts, he says. But we must throw them off and turn the spotlight of our attention away from sin to Jesus.

Recalling the joy with which Jesus ran his race — all the way to the cross! — will inspire us to run with gratitude. Such amazing love and sacrifice will motivate us to be ready to run our race.

Leaning on Jesus will help us be able to dig deeper when necessary, because he is the sole power behind our faith. Jesus is the one who created our faith and he is the one who will bring our faith to a beautiful state of perfection. Faith keeps us going even when times are tough.

Looking to Jesus as a model will instruct us in how a great race is run, so that we can imitate his racing skills and receive our crown. Even now, Jesus sits on his throne in heaven and is fully in control of the world for our benefit. So we do well to consider both his race and his final victory!

We must not grow weary, and we must not lose heart. That’s not easy to do when the briars and the bramble constantly grab hold. But Jesus has already marked out our race for us. He has promised to run ahead and clear a path for us.

The answer to keeping on going despite the challenges and the obstacles is to fix our eyes on Jesus. With the energy he gives us, we will find the endurance to run our race well.

Brush those thorny branches back. And keep on running.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3, NIV).

Lord, help me to throw off the spiritual enemies that want to hinder me and the sin that entangles me. I am sorry for listening to the voice of the world, of the devil, and of my own sinful flesh. Help me to focus my eyes on you, and on your forgiveness, love and power. And give me the strength to run my race with perseverance and endurance.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, November 14, is Ezekiel 26:1 – 27:36, Hebrews 12:1-13 and Psalm 125:1-5.

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Rend Your Heart

It’s the most unnatural thing in the world. “It” is saying we’re sorry for something wrong we’ve done.

There are so many other “better” approaches to wrongdoing — to sin. Or so it seems to us.

There’s denial. “I didn’t do it.” Or, “I didn’t know that it was wrong.” Or, “I didn’t understand what I was doing.”

There’s cover-up. Pointing the finger. Comparing yourself to someone who’s done something “much worse.”

For many of us, confession is not good for the soul. Guilt and shame don’t even make sense. Why should we pummel ourselves? Won’t that just bring us down? Isn’t it just unnecessary negativity? Won’t it destroy my self-esteem and self-confidence?

The Bible contends for another path to understanding our worth. The real way to self-esteem and self-worth is via a healthy relationship with God. And how does a relationship with God become healthy?

One word. Forgiveness.

Are you ready to recognize your need for forgiveness? In the time of Joel the prophet, that was the appeal he made to the children of Israel. Return to God. Recognize that your loving God has only created his laws to bless and protect you. He wants to see you thrive.

Be broken over your sins. They are going to wreck you if you stay on your current path. So, instead, recognize your wrong-doing, and take your guilt and shame to God so that he can forgive you. Simply turn back to your compassionate God and to his ways.

“Rend your heart,” as Joel puts it.

He is kind and merciful. You don’t need to earn his love. He loves you even though you are sinful. And he will always be patient with you. No one wants your relationship to be restored more than he does.

After all, he gave his one and only Son to make that restoration and reconciliation possible. The cross equals certain forgiveness for hurting sinners.

“‘Even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.’ Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity'” (Joel 2:12-13, NIV).

Lord, I am sinful. I have wronged you and I have sinned against my neighbor too. I have transgressed your laws in my thoughts, my words, and my actions. Please forgive me. I want to return to you. I long for your grace and compassion. I know that true peace is found in your sure love for me, a sinner.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, November 1, is Joel 1:1 – 2:17, Hebrews 3:1-19 and Psalm 119:137-144.

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Coached Up!

Every now and then we need to be “coached up.” It’s never a pleasant experience. Having your coach confront you and point out corrections that need to be made can be tough.

It’s usually not that great for the coach either. But what makes it all worthwhile for the coach is when he gets to witness his coaching bear fruit. When positive changes get made, and people line up with the right way of doing things — well, then it’s really rewarding for everyone concerned!

Kudos go to the apostle Paul, the “coach” of the Corinthians. And praise also goes to the Corinthians for taking the apostle’s coaching in the right way.

Instead of becoming angry and petulant about the coaching Paul had given them, they took it in, made the necessary changes and came back stronger than ever. Instead of feeling sorry for themselves and retreating into their shell, they came out fighting and successfully put their house in order.

How do you take coaching from those who care about your soul? Is it tough to take direction and advice? Is it difficult to receive correction? Do you resist admitting wrong, or avoid saying that you’re sorry for sins you’ve committed?

Do you tend to become angry and petulant? Do you feel sorry for yourself and feel a strong urge to retreat into your shell?

Because these are all common temptations for every one of us, Paul carefully reminds us how critically important our spiritual coaches are. And even more, he demonstrates how important our humble attitude is. Godly sorrow leads to salvation. And what could possibly be more important than staying on course to reach that destination!

“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter” (2 Corinthians 7:10-11, NIV).

Lord, I thank you for the spiritual coaches in my life who call me to repentance for my sins. Help me to listen to their coaching and allow godly sorrow to rule my heart. Keep me from worldly sorrow and feeling sorry for myself. I want to be earnest and eager, as the Corinthians were, to clear myself of the tangles of sin and always be ready to walk a straight path with you, longing to please you.

Our Bible reading for Friday, September 4, is Isaiah 5:8 – 8:10, 2 Corinthians 7:2-16 and Psalm 105:23-36.

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All In!

Admittedly, when we look at how sinful we are, things don’t look so good for us. “The wages of sin is death,” Paul writes to the Romans (6:23a).

The law of God seems to relentlessly push and press. We can never live up to it. Sin and fallenness is the wall we all face. And with our life spinning relentlessly toward that wall, our inevitable destiny seems to be death.

Until Jesus.

Through Jesus’ perfect obedience of the law, the power of sin to enslave us is taken away. And because the power of sin to oppress us is broken, death’s wages have been replaced by God’s gift — “But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23b).

Paul tells the Corinthians, “So, with victory over sin and death already yours, be strong. Stand your ground. Don’t hold anything in reserve. Leave it all on the field. Because what you do for the Lord, and for the Lord’s kingdom, is never going to be squandered effort or wasted time.”

Now is the time! Here is the place!

We’re “all in” for the work of the kingdom.

“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:56-58, NIV).

Lord Jesus, through your perfect life, sacrificial death and miraculous resurrection, you have given me victory. May that victory over sin, death and Satan take hold of my heart. I want to be all in for you, and for your kingdom.

Our Bible reading for Monday, August 24, is 2 Chronicles 21:4 – 23:21, 1 Corinthians 15:50 – 16:4 and Proverbs 20:25 – 21:4.

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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.

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Caving in to Sin: The Devastating Reality of the Christ-Follower

In writing the Romans, Paul made it clear that a Christ-follower is no longer under the control of sin. Jesus has emancipated them from the power and authority of sin. It cannot master them any longer.

But the apostle also made it clear that this is not the same as saying that they have been removed entirely from the reach of sin. While sin can no longer force them to do anything, it is still a powerful influence in a Christ-follower’s life.

That’s just being real!

Sin is still going to present itself to us as the attractive alternative, and constantly try to woo and win us over. Evil is going to be a constant presence in our lives, inviting us to do things that are pleasing only to our selfish, sinful nature — but not to God!

In other words, a Christ-follower is not leaving the battle with sin behind when he or she becomes a Christian. The exact opposite! They are stepping onto the field of battle!

And on that field of battle there will be some victories — all to the glory of God, and only by his power! But because we remain sinful, there will also be frequent failures large and small, and some massive. We can expect these defeats to be hurtful and harmful to others, and self-destructive as well.

Which means, in our struggle with sin, while there will be times when we bask in the glory of Christ’s victory over sin (which is also our victory over sin!), there will also be times when we are left feeling destroyed and decimated. Wretched, as Paul puts it.

Yes, the final victory is already ours. But for the battles along the way? Devastating losses will occur, and not infrequently. Paul says it so beautifully here: We remain wretched sinners, but Christ also still very much remains our Deliverer!

Thanks be to God!

“So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin” (Romans 7:21-25, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, July 22, is Hosea 6:1 – 7:16, Romans 7:7-25 and Psalm 88:9b-18.

Lord Jesus, thank you for coming to deliver me from sin, guilt, shame and death. I am a sinner. I am still tempted daily to cave in to sin’s call. Forgive me. And create in me a clean heart. Give me the will and the strength to do your will each day to display my gratitude for your salvation.

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“Return on Investment?” or “Stop the Bleeding!”

Have you ever bought a car that had one mechanical issue after another? Do you recall what you called that car after a while?

Yes. A lemon.

But lemons come in more shapes and sizes than just cars. A house with one structural issue after another can be a lemon; so can an appliance that forces you to constantly call the repair person. An investment in what seemed like a sure bet can be a lemon, too. Ever own stock in Blockbuster, MySpace or Eastman Kodak?

Typically with a lemon, you stop talking about a return on investment and start talking about how to stop the bleeding.

Paul wanted the Romans to become aware of a huge spiritual “lemon.” But this is actually far worse than a lemon. He calls it an actual hazard — a tremendous hazard to life and limb, an eternal threat to body and soul.

It’s a disaster waiting to happen.

What is it? It’s buying in to the “pleasures of sin.” Paul says that those pleasures are very short-lived, and always lead to a very, very bad outcome.

“Buy in to what sin is selling,” he warns. “and ultimately, you’ll become a slave to sin — every last time.”

That sounds pretty “lemonish” to me. But then Paul says even more. Sin can only result in shame and far, far worse, it will lead to eternal death! This is one lemon that will never become lemonade!

Compare that with the return one gets — and all completely a gift! — when one follows Jesus by faith. The result of that, Paul states, is wonderful. It’s holiness, and ultimately, life eternal!

“What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:21-23, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, July 21, is Hosea 3:1 – 5:15, Romans 6:15 – 7:6 and Psalm 88:1-9a.

Lord, send me your Spirit through your Word (through the words like these we read in today’s Bible reading) and empower me to “stop the bleeding.” Help me through a repentant heart to turn my back on the short-lived pleasures of sin that lead to death. Jesus, push sin aside in my heart, and take my heart over. Sin can only destroy me forever. I want the gifts you have for me, not the self-destruction and torment that sin always ultimately offers. Forgive me for my sins, and grant me your forgiveness and mercy. Grant me holiness and life.

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