God’s Grace

Every once in a while, I like to post verses that stand on their own. We have too many people talking these days and I don’t want to be just another voice on the internet. Last week I talked about the law and our freedom from sin. This week explains the whole concept in Paul’s letter to the Romans. Verse 20 is key for our understanding of our relationship to the law. We see again in these verses how we are free from sin and that it is nothing but God’s grace and our faith in Jesus that frees us from our sin. There is a lot of uncertainty in the world right now, but we can be absolutely sure of God’s love for us and our freedom from sin. I’d like to suggest that you read the verses that follow and reflect on what they mean to you. Hopefully, they mean something more meaningful or insightful than the last time you read them.

Romans 3:19-31

19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.

Righteousness Through Faith

21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. 28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, 30 since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. 31 Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.

We are Free!

Reading today’s verse got me thinking about all of the things in my life that pull me in multiple directions or control my time and energy. When you stop and think your daily activities – well, maybe not these days but in general. I know that using the term “slave” isn’t the most appropriate term since it is a reflection of a period when humanity was it worst but, it does describe how something, or someone can have complete control over you. As human beings we like to be in control of the things in our lives and the path that we take. When we have little or no say, we feel enslaved. Right now, is a good example of having no control in your life.

At my peak, I function in at least four different capacities in my life. As a local government consultant, an elected official, a military contractor and a husband/father. These are all awesome roles that I play and are hopefully meaningful to those that I serve. The challenge is that they are usually more in control of me than I am of them. What things are controlling your life? Often, they are things that we simply can’t do without – our job, our family or our parents. Sometimes we can actually effect change that will free us; like spending less time with a friend who taking an emotional toll on us or a hobby that has started to consume ALL of our free time. One of the keys to happiness is to spend time on things that are meaningful to you and that bring joy into your life. Figure out what those things are and break the chains on everything else.

34Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:34-36

We are a slave to sin. This is one of those things that we cannot control. We can’t control or manage it and no matter what we do; we will sin. Jesus said a number of times that we are in Him and He is in us. We also know that what was given to Jesus has also been given to us. This verse reminds us that we are free from sin because Jesus took all of our sins with Him on the cross. He set us free from sin! It’s amazing to me the number of people who feel that they are not worthy to even go into a church because of their sin. “I have to get right with God, first” they say.

We are all “right with God” because of Jesus! The Son has set us free from sin. We are no longer under the law but we have been made right with the law thanks to the sacrifice of Jesus for our salvation. It is pretty clear in the Bible that God has granted our salvation and eternal life in heaven through our faith in Jesus Christ. I am in awe of that! Despite my daily sins, God continues to forgive me. When we hear about grace and mercy, this is the first thing that should come to our minds. We are free indeed! Consume your time with things that are pleasing to God, spend time in the Bible reading God’s word and give your talents freely to those who need it. Let others know what freedom is all about.

Shepherds

This verse is generally perfect when discussing accountability at work or as a bridge to a “take care of your people” writing. Given today’s emotional climate, I’d like to simply focus on shepherding. Looking after the flock is an essential function of leadership, no matter what position we’re talking about. The real issue is how you do it; as a herder you can walk behind them as they walk along the path and keep the strays in line or you can walk in front leading the way knowing that you’ll still have them when you turn around as a Shepherd does. We’re seeing various forms of the shepherd concept of leadership in these trying times, crisis leadership is crucial in getting people to follow. Sheep herders use dogs to chase around the edges to keep the herd moving forward; if you see someone using others to “chase around the edges”, check the leadership style of the one you’re following.

We need leaders who are looking after us and our needs and who aren’t sending others or themselves out to chase the edges. In a time of crisis, we are ALL leaders and can shepherd people toward calm by being reassuring, direct, honest and accountable. As a greater society, we owe each other a little bit of personal accountability – stay home if you are sick and commit to helping those in need. When we return to a state of equilibrium, the world around us will look much different. Everyone will need to work together so that we can all rise up from the new normal. You could be the next shepherd; will you lead from the back or boldly from the front?

Ezekiel 34:12 “As a Shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all places where they were scattered…”

We are God’s sheep and it is great to have a Shepherd that cares about us as much as He does. He gave up His son for our salvation and ever lasting life. God is always present in our lives and will come to our rescue, even when we’ve put distance between us. God’s “rescue” does not mean that we will get what we want, it may mean that we get just enough because the real rescue happened on Easter Sunday. We need to do our best and prevent the need for a rescue in the first place. We should be spending time with God, praying, reading the word and spreading the good news.

Today, more than ever, we need a strong leader. God gave us the perfect one, Jesus. He is patient with us as we make mistakes, He’d hold us accountable as He did with the disciples but, in the end, no matter how many mistakes we make, Jesus will rescue us (usually from ourselves) as the Shepherd does with His flock. On Easter, we were given the grace of God in the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. While you are focusing on being a good Shepherd in your daily life or in your vocation, focus also on being a good sheep (follower). Rejoice that your Father cares so deeply that He will risk a lot to rescue you from all of the places that you can scatter to or from all the trials that this world can throw at you.

Trust in the Lord – COVID-19

COVID-19 is griping the world and it seems as if no one has comfort in anything that is being said or done. All over the world, countries are dealing with the pandemic in very different ways – closing borders, implementing curfews, closing schools, closing restaurants and bars and, cancelling sporting events. It feels like we are all being isolated. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6

Our Pastor wrote these words to the congregation this week:

“Many people are full of fear because they feel helpless.  Many are full of fear because of the unknown.  This is a particularly frightening time for us all. Now, more than ever, we need to trust in the Lord with our whole hearts.  God has promised to be with us in such times.  We can count on Him to see us through this present situation.  His Word creates and strengthens faith so keep your Bibles close.  Rely on His strength and let the Lord comfort you.  Pray for those who are already infected, asking the Lord to bring healing and help to those in need.”

I’m not going to give my perspective on the various bible verses this week or try to make an analogy either. It is best to let the God inspired words of St. Paul speak for themselves. Please stay safe and healthy; measure your actions and response to the circumstances near you, not those of other countries or states. Trust in God to see you and our world through the outbreak.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.

8 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-11

Anytime Showers

Delegation can be a leader’s best asset or worst nightmare. Often times, leaders believe that once a project or program is delegated to someone, they no longer have responsibility for it. Nothing could be farther from the truth! A leader can only delegate the work and the accolades, but they retain all of the oversight and blame for their delegate. “I gave this to ‘so and so’” doesn’t relieve a leader of their responsibility to properly assist the delegate in being successful. Poor delegation is often the cause of workplace frustration. The employee feels “micro-managed” or the leader believes that they “should have just done it themselves”.

Motivation and follow up are the keys to successful delegation. Of course, delegating the right project to the right person is the lock that those keys match. Being willing to work with and teach others is an important part of being a good delegator. You may have yourway of doing something but remember; there is more than one right way to get something done. Learning takes time and patience. What motivates you may not motivate someone else, so ask them how they want the project to proceed; regardless of which side of the delegation you are working on. People will make a mistake, that is how they learn; the key is in how we respond to those mistakes. The leader should be able to catch it early enough to make corrections and the delegate should be open to adjusting their course to achieve success. When the project succeeds, the delegate gets all the credit; this is simple leadership. The project can only fail if the leader does not take an active role in the process or does not provide adequate guidance and this is why the leader takes all the blame. Shower the delegate with support and encouragement and you will not have to worry about the project failing.

Ezekiel 34:26 – “I will bless them and the places surrounding my hill. I will send down showers in season, there will be showers of blessing.”

God has blessed us with showers from above. He created everything that we can see and those things that we can not. How blessed are we to see a sunrise or sunset?  The majestic colors that are created and the shades of light that are cast are unmatched. The shower of blessings that rain down on us each second of every day can not be counted. The human body is an incredible creation that can fight off sickness, repair injuries and respond to the environment around it – we walk around with these blessings!

Unfortunately, we all are condemned to death because of sin. The good news, however, is that we have eternal life not by our own doing but through God’s Grace alone. He sent us a Savior in Jesus who took our place on the cross, a delegate of sorts, to take our sins away forever. Jesus did this so that we could enjoy the accolades that God intended for His children. Not because we deserved it but because He loves us; only as a Father can. God showers us with blessings here on earth but the true blessing is that we have Christ in our lives today and we will have eternal life because of it.

Rest Comfortably

It’s so hard to determine what the truth is anymore. Our connection to current events is almost instantaneous and right away someone is telling us the “truth” behind the story. We’ve seen an avalanche of what is being deemed “fake news”, what is actually fake news in the form of “deep fakes” on social media and disinformation campaigns. What is really the truth anymore? When it comes to religion, we’re in trouble there too; young people are being driven away from organized religion in huge numbers. More than half of those surveyed do not consider themselves Christian anymore. We see moral decay all around us in the news these days and witness long time marriages breaking up.

It seems as though people are having a hard time telling truth from fiction anymore. Leaders have a responsibility to be truthful at all times. People deserve the truth and when leaders are truthful, their followers can begin to understand what is at stake. Trustworthiness is the number one personality trait that people look for in a leader. People have to trust you as their leader; your word is your truth. No one wants to hear the latest spin you’ve got or the “company line” when they ask questions or see you in action; they want the truth, plain and simple.

John 17:17 “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is the truth.”

Fortunately, the bible is filled with God’s truths. We have been given examples of God’s promises and his fulfillment of them. There is no spin on anything in the bible and the only “company line” is “Love the Lord Your God”. The devil would love for you to begin creating your own version of the truth or even your own “take on God’s word”. Keep in mind that saying nothing is just as bad spreading falsehoods.

Life can create doubts all around us; sometimes we are not sure who or what to believe anymore. Despite all of this confusion and our own lack of understanding, God keeps His word and provides for all of our needs. He gives us eternal life in exchange for one simple act: Love the Lord Your God through your faith in Jesus Christ. This truth gives us a life better than we can imagine here on earth. So, despite all of the uncertainty around us, we can all rest comfortably knowing that we can find our truths in the bible and in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

Compassion

What does compassion mean to you? People often believe that it is the ability to feel sorry for others and while some believe that it is showing care for others. I’ve talked about showing grace towards each other as means of sharing the teachings of Jesus, which has been called – being compassionate. I’d suggest that the answer to what is compassion is really all of the above and may include several other aspects that I haven’t touched on. Personally, I find that compassion is best served with part humility and a big component of being genuine about the subject. I’ve had a few people in my life that, after I speak with or see them, I’m left feeling great. They have such a demeanor that you can’t help but be warmed by your interaction with them. They are kind, giving and rarely have anything negative to say.

Compassionate people bring calm, understanding and positive emotions into our lives. They teach us how to look for the good in all things and how to accept the things that we cannot change. Most of us are compassionate about homelessness, poverty, children and the sick. There is a great line in the movie “Back to School” starring Rodney Dangerfield when he’s describing a teacher he has; “He seems to care, about what I don’t know”.

What do you care about and are there things that you should be more compassionate about? Our lives go so fast that we can miss opportunities to be more compassionate about more things. Commit to being more positive and strive to be the type of person that when you leave someone, they have a warm feeling inside because you were there.

“As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him.” Psalm 103:13

God cares for and has compassion on us in all of our weaknesses. How many of us would stick with friends or family that constantly failed to meet our needs or respect what we’ve asked of them? We are weak from the original sin in our lives, yet God is compassionate towards us. Are you that compassionate with people in your life?

As a parent, I am compassionate with mistakes that my kids make, or the challenges that they present or the needs that they have. I’ve often said that the best supervisory training is parenting. God, our Father, has compassion on us too. We see His compassion most brightly in the form of a Savior sent to redeem us for all eternity. I do not fear God as the Psalmist did because of God’s compassion towards me and the grace that He gives me through His son Jesus Christ. Jesus intervened on our behalf with God and now we all can live in peace through Him. Just thinking about it gives me that warm feeling inside.

Wisdom of Martin Luther

On one of my many flights, I was reading from a book titled “Concerning Christian Liberty” written by Martin Luther. Of course, it is a reprint but it has been an interesting read from someone who brought Christianity into everyone’s hands. His study and perspective are based on the writings of the bible; his insights are raw and his life was fascinating. Anyway, as I read this before Easter, I couldn’t help but think that his words provide another great summary of what Christianity is. Enjoy the exerpt:

“Christ was sent for no other office than that of the word… What is this word, and by what means is it to be used, since there are so many words of God? As the Apostle Paul explains: to preach Christ is to feed the soul, to justify it, to set it free, and to save it, if one believes the preaching. Martin Luther references this verse to justify his comments: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”(Romans 10:9) 

“Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believes”(Romans 10:4) and the just shall live by faith. For the word of God cannot be received and honored by any works, but by faith alone. Hence it is clear that as the soul needs the word alone for life and justification, so it is justified by faith alone, and not by any works. For if it could be justified by any other means, it would have no need of the word, nor consequently of faith. But this faith cannot consist at all with works; that is, if you imagine that you can be justified by those works, whatever they are, along with it.

 Therefore, when you begin to believe, you learn at the same time that all that is in you is utterly guilty, sinful, and damnable, according to that saying, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God”(Romans 3:23) 10There is no one righteous, no, not one; 11 there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”(Romans 3:10-12)

 When you have learned this, you will know Christ is necessary for you, since He has suffered and risen again for you, that, believing in Him, you might by this faith become another man, all your sins be remitted, and you being justified by the merits of another, namely of Christ alone. Therefore, the first care of every Christian ought to be to lay aside all reliance on works, and strengthen his faith alone – more and more, and by it grow in the knowledge, not of works, but of Christ Jesus, who has suffered and risen again for him. Faith, which is the brief and complete fulfilling of the law, will fill those who believe with such righteousness that they will need nothing else for justification.”

May the Peace of Christ and the Grace of God be with you this week!

 

 

The Whole Point

Happy Easter Monday! For some reason this Easter really hit home for me from a “Christian Church” perspective. I’ve always known it, but I wanted to write about it this week because, Easter is really the point of our Christian faith. We say at Christmas that we should remember the reason for the reason, but Easter marks the reason for it all. As Christians, we have nothing without Easter Sunday. So, I’m going to write this week’s devotion a little, okay a lot, differently. I want to focus on the whole message of what the third day really represents. I want to share a prayer first:

Almighty God the Father, open our eyes to see hope eternal in the empty tomb and let us rejoice. Through Your only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, You have overcome death and opened the gate of everlasting life to us. Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of our Lord’s resurrection, may be raised from death of sin by Your life-giving Spirit; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

St. Paul writes in a letter to the Corinthians about the resurrection of Christ Jesus. I have nothing to add this week but his words, which were divinely inspired by God. In this letter we see God’s grace; we see that no matter what we’ve done, we are forgiven and; we know that we have hope in our lives. 1Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 3For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,5and that he appeared to Peter and then to the Twelve. 6After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. 9For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.” 1 Corinthians 15:1-11.

I pray that you are reminded that God is with you and that Jesus died for all of our sins. It is because of His death that we now can enjoy eternal life.

The world around you

Today marks the start of Holy Week with the solemnness of Jesus’ crucifixion and His glorious resurrection three days later. This week should be about Jesus. There are a number of verses in the Bible that discuss what Jesus was saying and doing in His last week on earth. It is amazing to read that His disciples did not know what He was saying until it was too late. It makes me think about how I read the bible and what I might be missing. As I considered what to write for this important week, I wondered about the people who know Jesus but like the disciples, do not understand what is happening around them.

I’ve heard people say, “Sure I believe in God and that Jesus was His Son but I don’t get into the rest of the bible”. Perhaps you’ve heard someone say, “I go to church and that’s enough for God to know that I believe in Him”. I’m not warmed by either of these phrases but it is not for me to judge; that’s God’s call not mine. Do you really know what Jesus did for us and continues to do on our behalf? St Paul in a letter to the Philippians said, 12Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose”(Philippians 2:12-13). He suggests that we act the same no matter who is around. I can also hear Jesus saying this to me right now. Re-read it but think of Jesus saying it instead. This verse means much more now doesn’t it?

We owe our salvation to Jesus, who intervened on our behalf, but we owe our eternal lives to God who through His grace and mercy sent His Son to be punished for our sins. We can do nothing more at this point but believe in the word of God that we are saved through Jesus. Mark verse 9:24 says, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” Jesus taught us how to live our lives, what is important in this world and what we can do to enjoy eternal life with Him. If you have ever doubted, simply read the verses about Holy Week and give thanks for ALL that God has done for you. You will overcome any “unbelief” in no time.