August 10: Salvation 101

Read Ephesians 2:8-10

These are some of the most famous verses in Scripture and for good reason. This is Salvation 101 and yet these verses are packed so full that we can miss each important detail if we don’t break it down and understand each one.

Verse 8:

Salvation is

  • By grace
    • Grace is giving something good to someone that they do not deserve.
  • Through faith
    • We have to believe and trust that Jesus paid the penalty for our salvation.
  • It’s not our own doing.
    • Saving is all His idea and all His work (MSG). We had nothing to do with it because it’s impossible to do anything to earn it.
  • It’s God’s gift to us.
    • Wages are earned, gifts are received unearned. A gift does not require repayment.

Verse 9:

  • Not a result of works
    • We had nothing to do with it. You could never do enough works to please God.
  • No one can boast because it’s not a result of works.
    • If humans had something to do with earning salvation, they would have basis for being proud of themselves. Since all we do is agree to receive the gift, there is no reason to be prideful.

Verse 10:

  • We are God’s masterpiece (NLT).
    • Not only did God do the saving, but He did the making in the first place. Humans are the crown of God’s creation.
  • Created in Christ Jesus
    • He has created us anew in Jesus (NLT). Not only did God cause us to be born physically, but He also causes us to be born again.
  • Created in Christ Jesus for good works
    • We are made new in Christ in order to do good works. Obedience is evidence of faith. True faith will result in doing good works. You can’t do works in order to receive salvation, but it is crucial to do works because of  salvation. Christ gave us everything to compel us to give Him all of ourselves.
  • God prepared good works in advance for us.
    • God has a sovereign plan for your life. Things aren’t just random. When you live out God’s Word in the situation that God has put you in right now, you are doing what He planned for you to do before you were born!
  • We had better be doing them (MSG).
    • In light of everything God’s done for us, we need to walk in His good works that He planned for us to do!

Nathan Harley

August 9: Too Big, Too Little

Read Luke 9:1-17

Here is one of the greatest mysteries: God chooses to do His kingdom work through sinful humans.

It’s one of the greatest mysteries because He doesn’t need us. He could do a much more efficient job Himself. He’s not slowed down by sinful desires and disunity. We may never know why God picks us out before we’re born to be His and to join His mission. But He does.

You are probably familiar with the story of Goldilocks. One chair was too big, another was too little, but she found one that was “just right.”

It’s easy to see our task as “too big,” and our skills or resources as “too little.” We’re waiting for our conditions to be “just right.”

We think, “There’s no way we can reach the world with the Gospel. There’s too much evil, too much hunger, too much suffering…”

It can be even easier to think, “I will never be able to bring my co-worker to Christ, I don’t know enough about the Bible,” or “Serving just requires way more time than I have,” or “Going on that missions trip costs too much money.”

In Luke 9, the disciples were presented with two daunting tasks with next to nothing to work with – or so they might have thought. Jesus sent the disciples out “to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.” He told them to “take nothing for your journey.” They probably felt a tad unprepared. A few verses later, 5,000 men (probably 15,000-20,000 people total)[1] needed food and Jesus said, “You feed them.” They had five loaves and two fish. Again – too big of a task, too little to work with.

For the missionary trip, Jesus gave the disciples His Spirit-power to drive demons out and heal diseases. For feeding the multitude, Jesus gave them the food to distribute again and again until everyone was full.

Should we not pack our lunches? Should we not save money? Should we not study the Bible? Is Jesus telling us to be unprepared? No. What He wants is for you to depend on and trust in Him to sustain you – and not just to sustain you, but to make you excel in His kingdom cause!

So even if your circumstances aren’t “just right,” God can use you and He will give you everything you need to be useful!

Nathan Harley

 

[1] Andreas J. Köstenberger, “John Notes,” ESV Study Bible

August 2: Hospitality

Read 3 John 1-15 

Every time I go to Cambodia and Thailand, I am always floored by the hospitality shown. Our brothers and sisters there go way out of their way to accommodate us including preparing feasts for a few of us that could fill a dozen people!

As stated yesterday, preachers, ministers and missionaries traveled from church to church teaching. It was very common for members of the receiving church to extend hospitality to these teachers by housing and feeding them. In 2 John, there was an issue with people housing heretical false teachers. In this letter, John addresses abstaining from showing hospitality to God’s true workers.

The problem was with the church’s leader. Diotrephes apparently had a pride issue. John said that he “likes to put himself first.” He even denied the authority of the apostles and those who would come to teach them doctrine. In his arrogance, Diotrephes not only refused to show hospitality to these brothers, but he threw anyone who helped them out of the church!

Gaius, a man John could trust, was faithful and walked with the truth. John wanted to encourage him to keep on showing hospitality despite persecution from Diotrephes. Showing hospitality, like all good works, demonstrates his faith and allows him to be called a “fellow worker in the truth.”

By supporting the missionaries with food and lodging, Gaius was a participant in the mission of God.  All Christians must be participants in the mission of God.  We are all called to make disciples whether in another nation, another state, in your town or in your house. Whether you pray for missionaries, finance missionaries or house missionaries, you must be a participant in God’s kingdom cause because He loved us first! John Piper puts it bluntly, “Go, Send or Disobey.”

Hospitality can be a forgotten value in our Christian life even though it is all over the Old and New Testaments. In Leviticus, God commands, “A foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” Hospitality in Greek literally means “love of strangers.” [1] New Testament authors implore Christians to show “love for strangers” (Look at Romans 12:13, 1 Timothy 5:10, Hebrews 13:2,  and 1 Peter 4:9).

How are you investing in God’s kingdom cause? How are you partnering with God in His redemptive plan to save the world?

Nathan Harley

 

[1] Spiros Zodhiates, Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible

August 1: Truth & Love

Read 2 John 1-13

The second letter from the apostle John is written to “the elect lady.” This is most likely referring to a local church rather than to a literal woman since John uses the plural form to speak to his audience.[1] John also personifies the Church as a bride or woman in other writings (See Rev. 21:2, 9; 22:17).

The two buzzwords of this small book are “truth” and “love.” The first two verses explain that we both love and know the truth “because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever.” This is the Holy Spirit; the Spirit of Truth.[2] Look at the similarity to what John records Jesus saying in his Gospel, “He will give you another Advocate to help you and be with you foreverthe Spirit of truth…He lives with you and will be in you” (italics added).

In this letter, John insists that truth and love are inseparable! We must demonstrate love, but not at truth’s expense. We must demonstrate truth, but not at love’s expense.

Again, look at the similarity of  John 14:15 and 2 John 6. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” John echoes this in verse 6, “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to His commands.” Our true love is demonstrated by our unforced obedience to Christ’s truth!

John wants these believers to soak themselves in God’s truth because at this time there were “deceivers” among them. He wanted them to be prepared with discernment. There were people who claimed to be Christians and yet denied that Jesus came in the flesh (verse 7). Known as “Docetism,” this heresy claimed that Jesus was an illusion; that He only seemed to be a physical man and thus only seemed to suffer and die on the cross.[3]

It was common practice for church members to house traveling preachers out of hospitality.[4] Therefore, John appeals to his readers not to be supporters of these false teachers by providing them lodging.

So,

  1. The Holy Spirit empowers us to love and enlightens us with truth. Is He in you? If so, do you allow Him to work in and through you?
  1. Truth and love cannot be separated.  In what ways have you demonstrated truth at love’s expense? In what ways have you demonstrated love at truth’s expense?
  1. We must be armed with truth so that we can shoo away Satan’s false teachers!

Nathan Harley

 

[1] Robert W. Yarbrough, “2 John Notes,” ESV Study Bible

[2] Earl D. Radmacher, Ronald B. Allen, and H. W. House. Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

July 22: Mount of Transfiguration

Read Matthew 17:1-9

Peter, James and John witnessed their Master transformed before their eyes. Jesus was standing radiantly with two Old Testament heroes, Abraham and Elijah. Peter, feeling the need to say something as usual, offers some classic Jewish hospitality to the glorious guests. It’s cMount Hermonlear that Peter and the rest had no idea what was really happening here. I find it somewhat humorous that Peter’s talking is interrupted by the thundering voice of God which seemingly ignores Peter’s offer of hospitality.

After being calmed down from being scared out of their minds, the disciples headed back down the mountain with Jesus. No doubt Peter was thinking, “Andrew is gonna flip when I tell Him what happened!” But Jesus told His disciples not to tell anyone what they saw. Why?

The key is that Jesus said not to tell until He is resurrected.[1] In Mark’s description, the disciples were confused at this and discussed with each other what Jesus rising from the dead might mean. They did not get it. A lot of what the disciples witnessed in Jesus’ ministry went right over their heads at the time. John mentions in his Gospel that they did not understand things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, they remembered everything that was said and comprehended with new eyes.

Jesus appearing with Abraham and Elijah was reassurance that the Old Testament promises of a saving Messiah were coming true. Most believed that the Messiah would be a fierce warrior, though, who would come to conquer Rome and set up a kingdom for Israel. If the disciples told people of the experience they had, this would have just heightened the madness and misunderstanding of what Jesus came to do. Jesus came to seek and save the lost. He was not a political activist; His kingdom is not of this world. He came to die for the world and in so doing conquered death itself.

What misconceptions of Jesus do we entertain in our minds? We may not say it, but we may feel like Jesus is obligated to bless us. We may not say it, but we may act like Jesus needs us to contribute to our salvation. We may not say it, but we may believe that Jesus is uninvolved or ineffective in our lives.

Stamp out the lies Satan tells you with truth from God’s Word!

Nathan Harley

 

[1] Robert L. Thomas and Stanley N. Gundry, A Harmony of the Gospels

 

July 20: Mount of Beatitudes (Sermon on the Mount)

Read Matthew 5:17-48

It’s so easy to view Jesus as the abolisher or fixer ofsermon mount the Law. In the famous “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus declares that that is far from the truth. The Law of God is perfect because the God of the Law is perfect. Jesus has come to fulfill it, not destroy it.

Jesus said, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” This would have been devastating for the audience to hear. If you asked any Jew in that day who was the most godly, righteous person they knew, they would name a Pharisee without a doubt.

Jesus continues with a pattern of “You have heard it said…but I tell you…” Jesus is not referring to hearing from the Old Testament, but hearing from the Pharisees and religious teachers of the day. The Pharisees added hundreds of rules on top of the Law of God to make sure that they kept it. In essence, Jesus is saying, “The holiness that the Pharisees require is extremely difficult for you – basically impossible, but the holiness that God requires is even more difficult – literally impossible.”

He showed that the Law was more than just having enough self-control to not do an outward sin. God needs even our mind and heart to be perfect! Jesus preached that you aren’t innocent of murder if you hate someone and just haven’t physically killed them. You aren’t innocent of adultery if you have a lustful thought and just haven’t physically acted on it. Jesus isn’t abolishing the Law and He is not adding to it either. He is demonstrating what it has meant all along.

The Pharisees looked at the Law and the perfection of God as doable with the right discipline and the right rules around it. They did not look at the Law of God as something so holy and unattainable that they have no other choice but to fall on their knees to repent and trust in Christ.

The Pharisees and many Jews were looking to the WRONG MOUNTAIN for justification for their sins. Sinai was not the mountain from which salvation came, it was on Calvary where the only One to ever completely keep the Law died so that we could have His righteousness.

Today, people fall into the same trap.

Where are you looking to?

Nathan Harley

 

Baucham, Voddie, Jr. “The Law of God In Light of the Kingdom.” Sermon, Grace Family Baptist Church, Houston, TX, April 12, 2009.

July 19: Mount Carmel

Read 1 Kings 18:16-40

Needless to say, this is how I’ve pictured Mount Carmel since my Sunday school days. carmelUnfortunately, the real Mount Carmel is a regular mountain made out of rock, but what took place on it was one of the sweetest victories for God! (Please excuse the cheesiness).

The prophets of Baal spent all day praying, limping around, and abusing themselves to get their god to respond and he didn’t. On the other hand Elijah prayed two sentences and God responded by burning up the sacrifice, the rocks and the water. The clear difference is the one to whom each contestant prayed to.

People are often taken aback and even angered when God asks for our everything, for us to love nothing more than Him and for us to surrender completely for Him. It’s interesting to note that we seem completely fine with everything else in our lives requiring the same thing. In order to find fulfillment and satisfaction, a husband is willing to give up his wife and kids to have an affair, a teenage girl is willing to give up her body and purity for a boy, and a parent is willing to sacrifice family for the pursuit of money.[1] We will never find fulfillment or satisfaction in these places. Just like Baal, they will never be able to give us what we are asking for.

All humans have innate desires to have a purpose in life and fulfillment. All people long for true joy, justice and love. Pastor Tim Keller writes, “We have a longing for joy, love and beauty that no amount or quality of food, sex, friendship, or success can satisfy. We want something that nothing in this world can fulfill.”[2] If we “want something that nothing in this world can fulfill,” then it points to something more beyond this world.

Only a surrendered life to God can give us a pure purpose and satisfaction while here on the old earth and the perfect new earth will finally bring absolute fulfillment of everything we long for.

The band, Ascend the Hill, produced a rendition of the hymn “Be Thou My Vision” to which they added their own chorus. I think that these words are the perfect prayer for your heart that is always looking to places other than Jesus for fulfillment. Pray, “Oh God be my everything; be my delight. Be Jesus, my glory, my soul satisfied.”

Nathan Harley

To listen to the song, click here.

 

[1] Young Man Gives an Unforgettable Speech About Jesus. Produced by Jefferson Bethke. 5 October 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3pqYsZoH8IM.

[2] Keller, Timothy. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. New York: Riverhead Books, 2008.

 

July 18: Mount Zion

Read Psalm 48:1-14

It’s wedding season. You may be going to or are a part of planning one this summer if you haven’t already! On top of that, at Grace Church this week, we’ve been talking about the brutally honest Parable of the Wedding Feast. Believe it or not, this has a lot to do with Mount Zion, but first – what even is Zion?

It isn’t hard to stumble across the word “Zion” in Scripture, especially in the Psalms. It seems to have multiple uses and definitions throughout Scripture though. When first mentioned, Mount Zion was a Jebusite fortress before David captured it (1 Samuel 5:7). This fortress would become the site for the city of Jerusalem where the capital of God’s land was established. Zion/Jerusalem was God’s pride and joy. It was especially cherished by the people of Israel because God’s presence was there!

Zion grew to be used to describe God’s consecrated people as whole. Notice that in Psalm 48:2, it says that Zion is the “joy of all the earth.” As is evident throughout Scripture, the motivation behind God’s choosing Israel was to bring all nations to Himself.[1]

The New Testament uses “Zion” to refer to the New Jerusalem or God’s heavenly kingdom. Today, Christ-followers whether Jew or Gentile have access to the spiritual Zion and thus have direct access to God’s presence! Hebrews 12:22 says to believers, “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven.” New Jerusalem

Christians experience this access to God’s presence in a partial sense now in this life, but will enjoy the fullness of His glory in the next life. When Christ returns, we the Church will be united with Him as His bride! The apostle John reports in Revelation 21:2, “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” The bride will be dressed in the beautiful righteousness that Jesus traded us in exchange for our sin. He left our sin dead on the cross.

Will you be there dressed for the wedding?

Nathan Harley

 

[1] Radmacher, Earl D., Ronald B. Allen, and H. W. House. Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999.

 

July 14: Mount Hermon

Read Deuteronomy 3:1-29

“Deuteronomy” means literally “another law.”  In this book, Moses recounts important instruction and experiences from the previous books Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers.  Here in this chapter, he reviews the defeat of kings/peoples and the conquest of land east of the Jordan.

While the crossing of the Jordan and the conquest of the land to its west was part of the promise of God, two tribes had asked to live in this land.  The Gadites and Reubenites were granted permission.  Together with half the tribe of Manasseh, theirs would be the land from the Valley of Arnon in the south to a northern boundary of Mount Hermon.

There was, however, one caveat for Gad and Reuben.  When their Israelite brothers and sisters crossed the Jordan to engage in the conquest of the western land, their able bodied men were to go along in order to help secure victory.  Only after the other tribes were situated would they be permitted to return to their families and occupy the land from Arnon to Hermon.

God always has a bigger perspective, doesn’t He?  He always wants you to look beyond me and my.  I am sure it would have been preferable for Gad and Reuben to not move beyond the land that had already been secured.  But the Lord wanted them to look beyond their personal interests and even beyond their tribal interests to the broader interests of their brothers and sisters in other tribes.

It is no different for you.  You are instructed to “value others above yourselves,not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Phil. 2:3b, 4)  You are to “do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”  (Gal. 6:10)  If you are a follower of Jesus, you have been given at least one spiritual gift that you are to leverage to benefit others within the body of Christ.  (1 Cor. 12)

Your challenge today…and every day…is to raise your eyes beyond yourself.  It is to look further than your own area between Arnon and Hermon to those areas and people beyond.

sbk

July 5: Go Do

Read Hebrews 13:1-25

It has been an incredible journey through Hebrews which taught that all humanity faces eternal judgment for sin, but Jesus is our eternal high priest who sympathizes with human weakness, and yet offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice for sin.[1] The author emphasized that faith in what God did for us is the only way to please God and to participate in His eternal salvation promises! Perseverance is necessary in the Christian faith, and thus the author warns against a lack of endurance. It’s clear that God’s promise of eternal salvation is trustworthy!

Like any good teacher, the author of Hebrews uses His conclusion to bring some practical applications to the readers. Since Jesus loved us by paying our penalty for sin, we should be motivated to do His will! You can’t do works in order to receive salvation, but it is crucial to do works because of salvation. Faith must lead to doing God’s will because obedience is the evidence or authentication that you have genuine heart-change. If a fruit tree fails to bear fruit, there is no evidence that it is alive!

Read again, slowly, through what God says He desires for us to do. I encourage you to stop at each one and examine your life. How are you doing with this…really?

  • Continue brotherly love
  • Be hospitable to strangers (they could be angels in disguise, you never know)
  • Remember those in prison/mistreated/persecuted (it’s a hurting part of the body that you are a part of)
  • Honor marriage (save intimacy for it and be a faithful spouse)
  • Don’t love money, be content (because God will never leave you or forsake you)
  • Remember your church leaders (pray for them and encourage them)
  • Don’t be led astray by false teachings
  • Be willing to suffer the rejection that Jesus did for the Gospel
  • Praise God with your mouth
  • Do good and share what you have (these sacrifices are pleasing to God)

Before you get overwhelmed or disappointed when you fail at any of these, remember that it is only with the Spirit’s power that you can become more like Christ! Dwell on verses 20 and 21, “Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing His will, and may He work in us what is pleasing to Him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

Nathan Harley

 

[1] Chapman, David W. “Hebrews Notes.” In ESV Study Bible: English Standard Version, 2357-386. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008.