May 4 – Purity

Read 1 Corinthians 6:18 and 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5

It’s all around us. From magazines to billboards, social media to news outlets, movies to late night TV…it seems like we are in a constant battle with immorality. We live in a world where we are one click, swipe or flip of the page away from seeing something that will affect us more than we know.

On the topic of Christian practices and disciplines, purity is close to the top in my mind. Ephesians 4:27 tells us not to give the devil a foothold. One of the biggest footholds we can give Him is a lapse in our personal purity.

No one needs to be told the power of sexual immorality and how much it can destroy a life. Whether it is a well-known issue or lurking beneath the surface, lapsing in our purity can single handedly wreck our life, destroy relationships and set us up for failure in the future.

The people in the ancient city of Corinth were some of the most immoral people in history so 1st and 2nd Corinthians are great resources for strengthening your purity. Specifically chapter 6 contains a basic command in regards to sexual immorality, “Flee immorality”. It’s that simple. Flee from it, run from it, do whatever you can in your power to avoid it. There is a very strict connotation to this. Don’t just bounce your eyes…RUN FROM IT. Paul goes on to say that, “Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body”. When we are immoral, we sin against our very bodies.

Paul also brings up this issue in his first letter to Thessalonica, “For this is the will of God…that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God…” This is telling us that purity is, and should be, a major discrepancy between believers and non-believers. This area is one that many believers struggle with. We can give all that we are to God and still hold onto this and we are instantly doing more damage than good.

If you are honest with yourself, how are you doing with purity? What are some ways that you can strengthen your resistance to temptation? Who is someone that you can come beside and encourage in this area?

JDL

April 22 – Identical walk & talk

Read Ephesians 4:1-6, 17-24

We just finished a devotional series about following God. It seems simple but how often do we find ourselves asking God to follow us rather than being all-in to His plan? The past couple weeks have been a great reminder of what it means to really follow God. Now, for the next several days, we are going to be looking at practical characteristics of a believer’s life.

As of 2016 (according to Barna Research), 73% of Americans affiliate as Christians with 20% claiming to have no faith. As the years pass, we are living in a more progressively secular society. Of the number of Christians, 41% are non-practicing. These are people who claim to believe in Christ but don’t have the fruit to back it up. In the grand scheme of things, what image is this portraying to the world? If 41% of “Christians” are telling/showing people that you can be a Christian and not fully act like one, you can see why this number is continuing to climb.

There are many roots to this problem but one major one is this: who we as Christians claim to be and who we truly are don’t line up. We are claiming to be loving, forgiving, welcoming and caring people but outside of Sunday mornings but many of us are acting the opposite. There was a time in my life where this was the case for me, too. How do we address this epidemic of hostility and confusion towards Christianity?

We are the solution.

Ephesians 4 gives us a great example of having our walk and talk line up. Paul says many things but one seems to stick out, “…walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called…” This is Paul telling the Ephesians believers to live up to the name that they claim.

Today’s reading in Ephesians 4 highlights many ways that we should characterize our life. As you read through the assigned reading, what discrepancies are there in your life? What are some ways that you can fill the gap?

The world is counting on us. The world needs us. The world needs hope and the world needs Jesus. Our world is a very dark place with many people living lives very much apart from Jesus. Let’s both speak the truth in love and live a life of love. Let’s live according to the truth we proclaim. How can we tell people to be something we are not?

May we be a people who follow hard after Christ and influence others to do the same!

JDL

April 21 – Following and Moving on

Read 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

It’s always been an unwritten rule; one of those things that you just live by and don’t question. When you come home from the grocery store it is custom that guys must challenge themselves to carry as many groceries in at one time as humanly possible. We have busy lives and don’t need to spend more time carrying in the groceries than we absolutely need to. So, maybe because we’re prideful and stubborn, we wrap those plastic bags around our fingers and keep stacking away until the trunk is empty. Sometimes we carry so much in at one time that we can skip going to the gym for the next few days. From the car to the kitchen floor, we are fast walking, arms shaking, and an expression on our face that reflects the inner battle we are facing asking ourselves “was this really worth it”.

You know, life is a lot like that. We all have baggage. There are times when it seems that we are struggling to get through life with all this extra weight. When a new opportunity presents itself, we look upon all the baggage we are carrying and doubt that we can ever be free from it.

For a while, we have been talking about what it really looks like to follow God. Are you following hard after Him or are you expecting Him to cater to your desires? Following Christ means a lot of things but in order to follow Him the best that you can, it involves moving on from the past.

In this passage of 2 Corinthians, Paul said that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come”. We are no longer influenced by our past. If God doesn’t hold it against us, why are we holding it against ourselves? When Jesus died on the cross for our sins, He paid for the sins that we would EVER commit and because of that, we are a brand new creation!

If we spend all our time looking at our baggage and telling ourselves the reasons why we will never be anything because of it, we are never going to accomplish all that God set before us. Someone once said, “If the past calls, hang up. It doesn’t have anything new to tell you”. Don’t concern yourself with your past. Live in the forgiveness of Christ and strive to follow Him the best that you know how!

JDL

April 20 – Following and Trusting

Read Proverbs 3:5-6

How often do you find yourself worrying about the future? If you’re anything like me, you at least like to have a little bit of a plan for what is to come. You may find doors of opportunity shutting and you find yourself wondering why and what is to come as a result of this? Your future is quickly becoming different than you had planned. In times like these, you can find yourself beginning to worry.

How easy is it for you to give up control of your future? How do you deal with the unknown? Part of becoming a fully devoted follower of Christ is by FULLY trusting Him with EVERY aspect of your life including your future.

This iconic passage in Proverbs tells us that we should, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding…” How often, when praying about your future, do you give God MOST of your questions and concerns but still rely on yourself to make it work as well?

The next part of our verse says that, “In all your ways, acknowledge Him…” Do you trust that God hasn’t lost the interest or the ability to deal with your problems? It’s easy for us to say “God’s got a plan” and “Trust in God’s plan”. Do you believe it?

These verses end with a promise. If we trust in the Lord and not rely on our own understanding all the while acknowledging Him, He will make our paths straight. Our future is secure.

The challenge we all are facing is trusting God with the unknown in our lives. While it is easier said than done, it is completely necessary. When you enter into the storms of life, don’t think to yourself that this is a result of God messing up or forgetting something. He knew full well what awaited you and allowed it to happen. Why? Because He knows that you WILL get through it with his accompaniment. Part of following Him is trusting in His plan for your life.

What storms are you facing? Do you ever get the sense that you are in the middle of a stormy ocean with nothing but a paddle boat? I can assure you that while it may appear that way, you are not alone. God is with you, He loves you and He wants to see you succeed and you WILL if you trust in His plan for your life.

JDL

April 19 – Following by Imitation

Read Philippians 2:1-11

When I was little there was many an afternoon that I would spend out in our front yard with a baseball bat swinging at air. In my mind I was my favorite baseball player hitting a walk off home run. It was almost like I could hear the roar of the crowd as I connected on the towering shot. I would even practice how I would run the bases after the clutch home run. If my brother joined in on the fun, we would toss these squishy baseballs to each other and take turns crushing them across our street and well over our neighbor’s house. No later after we made contact, we would run back in the house in case our neighbor discovered the balls that were dropping in their back yard.

Much of my childhood was spent imitating baseball players. I wanted to be them. When I discovered that the baseball gene of the family skipped over me and went to my brother, I would live out my baseball dreams vicariously through my imagination and video games.

We have been talking about following Christ over the past several days. Do you want to follow God or are you expecting Him to follow you? The Bible describes many different ways that we can and should follow Him. One of those is through imitation. Philippians 2 describes our need to imitate Christ in one specific way, humility.

Paul encourages the believers in Philippi to have a humble attitude which they saw in Jesus. He, being God, chose to set aside the right to exercise the full rights of His deity, take on the form of His creation, and live a human life knowing full well what awaited Him. He knew that He would be fiercely opposed the entire journey and handed over to the very people to whom He had preached, to be crucified.

Try to wrap your mind around this kind of humility. Jesus literally became nothing for us. We didn’t and still don’t deserve the grace that he showed us. However, He did it so that we could spend eternity with Him.

As you think of your life, who are you imitating? Are you exemplifying imitating Christ to people? In what ways can you show people how much Jesus means to you and how tremendous a walk with Him is?

JDL

 

 

October 22: Will You Be There?

Read Revelation 21:1-27

The story of the human race will end one day. Believers will be raised, judged, and given resurrected bodies. Satan, the great deceiver, will finally be defeated. There will be no more sin. Everything will stand perfect.

Then what?

The last two chapters of Revelation tell us what the eternal state will be like. When the Bible says we will be with God for eternity (1 Thess. 4:17), it means just that; for a time longer than our minds can comprehend. We will be WITH GOD! I can’t even imagine what it will be like!

Revelation 21 talks about the New Jerusalem. After all the events of the End Times have taken place, the entire universe will be wiped away and the eternal state will be ushered in. We know from the first half of Revelation 21 that we will be one with God and He will be living among us!

Verses 10-27 describe the New Jerusalem as it descends from Heaven onto the earth. The city is said to be made of pearls and jasper stones and paved with crystal clear streets, just like pure gold.

Everyone who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ will be in the New Jerusalem. God Himself will be living among us! Revelation 21 tells us no sun or light will be needed because the glory of the Lord will illuminate the city!

Are you going to be celebrating in the New Jerusalem? Time is running out. Do not allow yourself to be caught off guard. Trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins!

What about your neighbor across the street? The cashier at the grocery store? Your co-worker? Don’t you want her to be there? Don’t you want him to know the hope of eternity that decimates all fear and ends all death?

Over the next several weeks, we will be reading through and discussing real stories of hope. It starts tomorrow in conjunction with Grace Church’s Welcome Weekend. Now is the time for your friend, your co-worker and your neighbor to know the true hope that can only come through Jesus Christ. Why not invite them to join us tomorrow? Why not share the truth of your Savior today?

jdl

April 19: The Religion Trap (part 3)

Read John 9:1-41

To parallel our last couple devotionals, the issue at hand today is still that of religion. When we get caught up with the “how” of Christianity rather than the “why,” we fall into the trap of religion. While we may still be doing good things on the outside, as we discovered yesterday, we become lukewarm, which is detestable to God. Around the time of Jesus, there were so many people who had fallen into the religion trap. The religious leaders of that time were so focused on the keeping of the Mosaic Law that they were missing the many things Jesus was doing and labeling them as blasphemous.

John 9 contains the story of Jesus healing a blind man. What started as just another miracle by Jesus turned into something greater when the religious leaders started to complain because the healing took place on a Sabbath, a day in which no work was to be done. The leaders came back and lectured the man asking Him who healed Him. The highlight of the chapter, to me, is verse 25 when they accused Jesus of being a sinner, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know, I was blind but now I see.” This demonstrates just how much the religious leaders were missing the point. They were so focused on figuring out why Jesus broke the law, when in reality; there was a blind man whose sight was restored.

How do we focus ourselves so we do not fall into the religion trap? How do we focus on the “why” of religion instead of the “how”? They “why” of a relationship with God is a relationship that we can have with the Creator of the universe. The same Creator took on human form and came down to earth to live a perfect life only to be nailed to a tree for the sins of the world. The relationship with Christ is the focus of Christianity, not what we can do to maintain good standing with God. The truth is, we are never going to be able to do enough to somehow earn eternal life. It is only because of the grace of God that we are what we are and that is redeemed.

It is my prayer, that you wouldn’t get caught up into the “how” and you miss the “why.” Christianity is all about a relationship with Jesus!

jdl

April 18: The Religion Trap (part 2)

Read Revelation 3:14-22

One of the most disgusting things I have ever drank in my life is lukewarm water. I’m not sure if it’s just me expecting cold water and getting warm water or what. To me, it is almost undrinkable, I can’t even swallow it. Lukewarm water is most detestable to me. More dangerous than lukewarm water is lukewarm Christians. These are people who claim to be followers of Christ, but aren’t growing and aren’t doing things for the Kingdom. Such hypocritical Christians are the kind of people that don’t follow Christ and aren’t convinced the Christian life is worth getting excited about.

You know who hates lukewarm things more than I do? Revelation 3:14-22 is the account of a church in Laodicea. The believers in this church had become lukewarm. They weren’t opposed to God, but they weren’t benefiting the body of Christ at all. Jesus didn’t shy away from sharing His opinion of such believers, “I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” Those are strong words coming from anyone, much less God.

The same mindset is applicable to us today. One of the things God hates the most is lukewarm Christians, people who claim to follow Christ, but their passion and the fruits of their lives don’t back up that statement. So what can we do to avoid becoming lukewarm? I believe it takes having a vibrant relationship with God. Such a relationship should never grow stale and boring. With God, there are new things to learn every day. As a Christ follower, you never “arrive.” Having an attitude of such humility will both mentally and spiritually keep you on the right track.

Next, avoiding any lukewarm relationship involves spending lots of time together. Are you spending consistent time in the Word? One of the biggest challenges for believers is to spend consistent time in the Word in spite of our busy schedules. However, the truth is, we are never going to grow in our relationship with God without spending time in His Word.

Never settle. There is so much to learn about our God, and all we have to do is put in the time and effort. In time, our relationship with God will be vibrant and dynamic. Lukewarm believers is detestable to God, and a dynamic relationship with Him will keep us from that.

jdl

April 17: The Religion Trap

Read Revelation 2:1-7

Math has never been my subject. Through the many years of schooling that I have experienced, math has always left a bad taste in my mouth. Nothing gets me more peeved, more stressed, or angrier than math. My dad would always say to me, “Isn’t math cool in how all the numbers of the problem just work out?” and I never agree. It was always hate-hate relationship. I praise God that I married a woman who is good at math and enjoys handling all the finances.

 

Now that I look back on those math classes, I think to myself that I was so concerned about the problem that I never looked to why I was doing it. Why was I solving this specific problem in this specific manner? In the moment, I would have told you “I could care less” but now that I think back, it makes more sense to understand the why as well as the how.

That is the struggle of most people in different areas of their life. They get so caught up in the mundane nature of their lives they don’t stop to think of the bigger picture. It was also a struggle with churches in the time of the apostles. Revelation 2-3 contains specific letters that John wrote to the churches in that time informing them the commands of God.

The first church is the Church of Ephesus. John goes into detail of the many things they were doing for the kingdom.  From showing hard work and perseverance, casting out of false teachers, and enduring hardships for the sake of the gospel. If we were to stop here, it would appear that the church was doing pretty well.

God then tells them that He holds one thing against them and it is that they have fallen away from their first love, Jesus. This is the trap of religion. The church was so caught up into doing the works of God, that they started to forget why they were doing it in the first place.

If there is one thing you can learn from the church of Ephesus, it is not to fall into the trap of religion. Don’t fall away from your first love. Keep your relationship with Jesus vibrant, remain in the Word, keep sharing His gospel, continue to live life with Him. That is the “why” behind Christianity. We do what we do because it is for the betterment of the kingdom of God.

jdl

 

March 10: Marriage Relationships

Read Ephesians 5:1-33

Ephesians 5 continues the same topic from chapter 4. Remember that chapter 4 talked about how we are to live differently because we are “children of light.” When we have Jesus in our hearts, there is supposed to be a distinct difference between us and those around us.

Chapter 5 seems to take things one step further. While we were previously told we are to avoid our sinful lives, chapter 5 goes into a little bit more depth. This chapter primarily references sexual sin. We are told to not even allow a hint of such sin into our lives. As I’m sure we all know, sexual sin, when given a foothold, can totally take over our lives and leave us distraught. Within the context of Ephesians, Paul seems to be saying that there is so much more at stake than to allow ourselves to be brought into temptation. At the time of Paul penning the letters to the churches in Asia, sexual sin seemed to be running rampant throughout the region.

There are always people looking to us to be the godly example they need. If we continue to live in sin, we are not only doing them a disservice, but we are directly running contrary to God’s plan for our lives. Paul goes into more detail about how this aspect of our lives can carry over into other parts. He goes into describing the marital relationship between a husband and a wife. This is one aspect of the Christian life that speaks the loudest to a non-believer.  When marriage relationships demonstrate Christ’s love, people will be drawn to that.

Christ’s love is further illustrated through the relationship between Jesus and the Church. Jesus gave His entire life for the Church. He spread the good news about Himself so that when He left, people would still follow after Him. Ultimately, Jesus gave his life for the welfare of the Church.

I would hope and pray that none of us will be called to lay down our lives for our spouse, but principally, we should define our family and marital relationships in that way. We should be wholly surrendered to their needs and put them first. Little speaks louder to an unbeliever than a relationship that is God honoring.

jdl