Make the Most of Your Days

This post is part of a devotional series based on our 2020 Bible Reading Calendar.

In fact, you have made my days just inches long, and my life span is as nothing to you. Yes, every human being stands as only a vapor. ~Psalm 39:5

Life is short.

We don’t think much about it when we’re young, when old seems so far away, when we feel invincible, like nothing can touch us. Yet, the older we grow, we begin to realize the brevity of life. Days seem to go by faster. In a blink, you were in high school and now you’re the parent of a high schooler.

The Bible calls life a vapor, especially compared to the timelessness of an eternal God. A vapor–you can think of a cold morning where you let out your breath, a brief cloud forms, and then it fades.

Life is short. We must learn, then, to make the most of our days.

One thing we must keep in mind is even though life on this present earth is short, physical death is not the end of our existence. We have a beginning, but we have no end. Life is short, as some say, but eternity is long. What we do with our today helps determine what will become of our forever.

The way we make the most of our short days is through love.

First, we must embrace the love of God offered us through Jesus. Without Jesus, we stand alone as rebels against God, condemned by his goodness, and far from his joy. Yet, when we receive God’s free offer of love in Jesus, by simple trust, we stand in him as beloved children of God, blessed by his goodness, and flooded with eternal joy. God loves us and offers his eternal love to all who will receive it.

Second, we must respond to love with love. A life found in Jesus is a life meant to love God supremely. We devote ourselves fully to him. We commit to go wherever he leads. Loving God is a grand delight in which we find true, unfading pleasure.

Third, we must love all others. A life found in Jesus is a life meant to love others deeply–our family, our friends, our neighbors, and even our enemies. In love, we happily seek their best. This means that we show them the love that God has for them by telling them of Jesus and by meeting their needs.

When we embrace such a life of love, we will find our days, in the end, not wasted.

Life is short. Love well and make the most of your days.

Scripture quotes taken from the Christian Standard Bible.

vapor 01 (unsplash 03102020)

Image credit: Photo by Zugr on Unsplash

Go and Preach

This post is part of a devotional series based on our 2020 Bible Reading Calendar.

For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How, then, can they call on him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about him? And how can they hear without a preacher? ~ Romans 10:13-14

In a way, salvation is easy to obtain. In some ways it is hard. Our own pride and arrogance get in the way. We’d rather cling to our traditions than to recognize our need for change. We stubbornly hold onto our idols. Those things can make it hard, but if we are willing to let go, then salvation is easy to obtain.

Jesus will not turn away any who trust in him. This is why Paul said, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

But, as Paul went on to say, they won’t call on Jesus if they have never heard of Jesus. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6) but people cannot know the way, the truth, and the life unless they’re told.

So, who is to tell them? Who are the preachers who are sent?

Every follower of Jesus. We are all called to be everyday preachers.

But wait? Isn’t preaching a task of pastors? Yes, pastors are to “preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:2) but they also equip “the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:11-12). Telling others the good news about Jesus is not limited to the pastors.

But don’t we send missionaries? Yes, missionaries go with the gospel. The reason we send them is we can’t all be everywhere at once. Missionaries are trained and equipped to go to places with the good news of Jesus, where we can’t ordinarily go due to personal constraints. Telling others the good news about Jesus is not limited to missionaries.

In the Great Commission of Matthew 28, Jesus told his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey all that he commanded. If you are a follower of Jesus, you are a disciple; and as a disciple you are charged to obey all that Jesus commanded, which includes going and making disciples.

That is the call to all of us to be everyday preachers. The world needs Jesus. Our neighbors need Jesus. Our coworkers and classmates need Jesus. Our families need Jesus. As followers of Jesus, we have the message of hope and joy, so let us tell them so they can hear and so they can believe.

All Scripture quotations taken from the Christian Standard Bible.

friendship 04 (unsplash 02182020)

Courage in the Midst of Darkness

This post is part of a devotional series based on our 2020 Bible Reading Calendar.

Even when I go through the darkest valley, I fear no danger, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. ~ Psalm 23:5

Fear.

We try to be brave. We try to teach our children to be brave. Yet, we each have our fears.

We fear change. We fear the unknown and uncertainty. We fear for our health and safety. We fear for our children. We fear losing our job. We fear losing our freedom. We fear death.

In many ways, such fear is rooted in our finitude. We recognize that no matter how strong we are, there is someone or something stronger. No matter how prepared we are, there are unknowns we could encounter. No matter how healthy we are, death can come in a blink. We do not have total control over any situation.

But when we trust in Jesus as our Good Shepherd, we walk with someone who does.

There is a story in the gospels where Jesus and his disciples cross the sea in a boat. Jesus is asleep when a storm arises suddenly. The disciples, scared, wake Jesus and he, collected, clams the sea.

You see, that is the power of the Son of God. “For everything was created by him… all things have been created through him and for him,” Paul wrote in Colossians 1:16.

In Psalm 23, David said that with the Lord as his Shepherd, he has nothing to fear. The dark valleys of life are those times where fear wants to take hold. Personal failures or uncontrollable circumstances threaten our well-being or that of those we love. The light seems distant. We’re unsure of what will happen.

And where is God? Walking through the midst of it with us. The All-Powerful One, Creator of all things, will not leave our side. His rod and staff, the tools of the shepherd, nudge and guide us. They also fight off enemies that would try to steal us from his grasp.

This is where courage exists. Courage is not found in the absence of things that cause fear. Courage also is not found by looking inward at ourselves. Courage is found by looking outward, upward, to the God who is bigger, infinitely bigger, than all.

All Scripture quotations taken from the Christian Standard Bible.

valley 02 (unsplash 02132020)
Image credit: Photo by LoboStudio Hamburg on Unsplash

The Path to Peace

This post is part of a devotional series based on our 2020 Bible Reading Calendar.

Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. ~ Romans 5:1

What is peace?

We might think of it as tranquility, a quiet morning on the back porch while sipping coffee and listening as the birds begin their songs. We might think of it as harmony, two people interacting with kindness and cordiality.

Peace, in the Biblical picture, is about wholeness. When God created humanity we had an unhindered relationship with him and others. Some might say perfect, but that is not quite so. We were meant to grow in our understanding, knowledge, and love for God and others. Though incomplete, the relationships were good. No strain or division existed. Peace.

Yet, when we fell into sin, choosing rebellion over God, our peace was broken. We became the enemies of God (Romans 5:10) with hearts set against him. Strife with others also entered the world. While we experience moments that may seem peaceful, that deep wholeness in relationship between God and people and between person and person was lost.

On our own, we never would have pursued true and lasting peace with God or others. Human history, sadly, is replete with evidence of this. God, however, is the one who carved the path for peace and makes peace a reality in our lives.

Romans 5:1 declares boldly that we have peace with God through faith in Jesus. Romans 5:2 further states, “We have also obtained access through him by faith into this grace in which we stand.” Jesus is the way for our wholeness to be restored.

Righteousness, as Paul described, brings peace. God is righteous, wholly good with no corruption or evil in him. God is opposed to all evil, so to have peace with God we need the same righteousness. When we trust in Jesus as our Savior-King, immediately we are “declared righteous” by God.

And the reason? When Jesus went to the cross, he became our sin and he gave us God’s righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). It was the exchange of unpayable debt for infinite credit.

Having now been declared righteous, with time Jesus will make us fully righteous. If the declaration, theologically speaking, is our justification before God, the work to make us righteous is our sanctification (a life-long process of being shaped to be like Jesus through his Spirit and word) to be complete, in eternity, with our glorification.

This is a wonderful thing. And also wonderful is that the peace we obtain with God also opens the way for true peace with others. Again, something we will experience eternally with our brothers and sisters in Christ, but also something we can begin to experience now as we treat each other with the same grace, patience, and love that God shows us.

All Scripture quotations taken from the Christian Standard Bible.

brown and green mountain view photo
Photo by Christian Heitz on Pexels.com
Image used with permission: https://www.pexels.com/photo/brown-and-green-mountain-view-photo-842711/

The Righteousness We Cannot Obtain

This post is part of a devotional series based on our 2020 Bible Reading Calendar.

Lord, who can dwell in your tent? Who can live on your holy mountain? The one who lives blamelessly, practices righteousness, and acknowledges the truth in his heart… ~ Psalm 15:1-2.

Psalm 15, at first glance, may not seem depressing, but it is. Unlike other psalms around it, David is not crying out in pain and anguish because of attacks from his enemies. Psalm 15 is a song about dwelling with God.

Something, David says, only the blameless can achieve.

Psalm 15 might not seem depressing until you start to think about that word: blameless; and other words and phrases like it: practices righteousness, does not slander, does not harm his friend, keeps his word whatever the cost.

David is describing who can dwell with the Lord on his holy mountain, but is he describing me or is he describing you? Not if we’re being honest.

We’re not blameless. We cannot achieve the righteousness of which David writes. We are imperfect people who stumble and fail. Gossip and lies, even “little white lies”, come from our lips. Bitterness against a neighbor lingers in our hearts. We don’t always keep our word, even when the cost is low. We all have our sins.

So, how then, do we dwell with God?

On our own, we can’t.

But that’s the point of the Gospel. That’s the point of God’s grace.

God sees us in our failures and sins and he offers us a righteousness that comes from outside ourselves. We cannot achieve it but we can welcome it as a gift. God gave us Jesus, the one person who walked this earth who live a blameless life just as the psalm describes.

Second Corinthians 5:21 reminds us of the great truth that if we trust in Jesus, then his righteousness becomes our righteousness. In him, our way is blameless; because in him, our sins have been judged and paid for.

So, who can dwell in the Lord’s tent or on his holy mountain? Those who trust the grace that God offers through Jesus.

All Scripture quotations taken from the Christian Standard Bible.

mountains 11 (unsplash 01272020)

Credit: Photo by Kyle Johnson on Unsplash

 

Growing in Forgiveness

This post is part of a devotional series based on our 2020 Bible Reading Calendar.

Then Peter approached Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? As many as seven times?” “I tell you, not as many as seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven.”

How many times will we let ourselves be hurt? How many times will we let ourselves be wronged? What is the limit to our kindness?

These seem to be the questions Peter had in mind. Jesus had taught his followers what to do if someone sinned against them. Not thinking of exceptions when an offense is so great that law enforcement authorities need to be involved, the answer for normal offenses is to go to the one who hurt you and seek reconciliation.

But what happens if the same person hurts you again? And again? And again?

According to Jesus, you keep on forgiving.

This is, after all, the grace that God extends to us. When we trust in Jesus, he forgives all our sin, past, present, and future. He gives us a new heart so that we desire, and grow in our desire, to not sin against God. Yet, we are not yet perfect. Our sanctification is not yet finished. We still have moments of rebellion against God, moments where we spurn his grace.

And he keeps providing grace.

Jesus’ point to Peter was not to keep a list. Don’t bear in mind a former offense when considering a current one. People will fail you. Some people will fail you over and over and over. Keep providing grace.

This is not an easy thing, though. Again, because we’re not perfect. So, how do we grow in forgiveness?

First, we should remember the grace that God has shown to us. After answering Peter, Jesus tells a story about a man who was forgiven much who then goes out and refuses to forgive someone else. The unforgiving man is rebuked by his forgiver: “You wicked servant, I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Shouldn’t you also have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” (18:32-33)

This is a reminder that the sum of a person’s offenses against us pale in comparison to our rebellion against God. Think about how much God forgave you and it will spur you to forgive others.

Second, we should pray for hearts of greater grace. When we struggle to forgive another, the answer is to turn to the Author of Forgiveness. Where we are weak, he is strong. Pray and pray more until you are able to find yourself forgiving.

All Scripture quotations taken from the Christian Standard Bible.

photo of clouds during dawn
Photo by Szabó Viktor on Pexels.com
Photo used with permission under CC0: https://www.pexels.com/photo/photo-of-clouds-during-dawn-3227984/

A Fruitful Tree

This post is part of a devotional series based on our 2020 Bible Reading Calendar.

How happy is the one… [whose] delight is in the Lord’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night. He is like a tree planted beside flowing streams that bears its fruit in its season and whose leaf does not wither… ~ Psalm 1:1-3

Bearing fruit is an important metaphor in Scripture. In John 15, Jesus talks about how we only bear fruit if we remain in him and if we don’t bear fruit then we will find ourselves on the outside looking in when it comes to God’s Kingdom.

Fruit bearing is about productivity. But what kind of productivity? If we take Paul’s teachings from Galatians 5 as instructive, then the fruit the Christian life is to be primarily concerned about, the fruit of the Spirit, is growth in Christ-like character.

This is what we know, theologically, as sanctification. God saves us and God changes us. His Spirit is at work within us, transforming us to be more like Jesus, to be more like the men and women God intended for us to be before the fall into sin.

Where does this fruit of character come from?

Psalm 1 tells us that God’s word shapes this fruit in our lives. This should not surprise us, as Jesus also linked abiding in him to his word abiding in us (John 15:7).

What we need to grow in spiritual fruit is a regular, fruitful (if you will) intake of Scripture. Psalm 1 does not simply speak of reading the Bible or hearing God’s word read, both of which are important to our spiritual formation. The psalm speaks of delighting in the word, meditating on it day and night.

Through the Bible plans have value and I think every Christian, as soon as they are able, should read though the whole Bible in a year at least once; but delighting and meditating are more than reading through a plan. It is thinking deeply on God’s word, taking joy in the word, and treasuring God’s word in our hearts (Psalm 119:10).

Some practical ways we can do this include: Praying through God’s word by reading a verse or two and speaking to God what comes to mind; journaling our thoughts on God’s word; memorizing Scripture; taking a moment to think about what we’ve read and how it applies; or talking to another person about what we’ve read.

Such a list is not exhaustive and there are more ways to dwell deeply on God’s word. However we choose, we need to reach deep into the streams so that we might grow to be like a firmly rooted tree, fruitful in every season of life.

All Scripture quotations taken from the Christian Standard Bible.

apple apple tree apples branch
Photo by Tom Swinnen on Pexels.com
Photo used with permission under CC0: https://www.pexels.com/photo/apple-apple-tree-apples-branch-574919/