Law vs Grace

I love lists. I make to-do lists, grocery lists, lists of things to clean, etc. Whatever it is, if I can make it into a list, I probably have.

There’s something about checking things off a list, signifying that that task is done and it’s time to move on.

It’s tempting to make the Christian life into a list. Bible read, check. Volunteer at a homeless shelter, check. Tithe, check. Sometimes I feel like it would be easier if I could just have a list for how to follow God. But the thing about that list is that it’s been tried before. And the people failed, miserably. The Torah was what the Jewish people used to follow God before Jesus came.

There are 613 laws to follow in the Torah. 248 of these are positive (do this…) and the rest are negative commandments (do NOT do this…). Talk about a long list! With all of those rules, I’m sure to break one somewhere and possibly not even know it. But that’s the thing about lists. They are straightforward and leave no room for grace. You cleaned your house on the Sabbath because it was the only day you could? Sorry, you broke that rule. You wore polyester? You broke another rule.

That’s why Romans 4:13-25 is such good news. We don’t have to follow those 613 laws. And when we mess up (which we inevitably will), God’s grace is there for us. And that is great news!

God knows that we could never follow every rule or do everything exactly right. We are imperfect creatures, and our best will always fall short of God. BUT God promised us that we are His children, that He would love us no matter what, and that Jesus’ sacrifice means that we can be God’s friend forever. Grace sets us free from being buried in lists, from the anxiety that comes from never being able to follow all of the rules exactly right. Our faith makes us righteous in God’s eyes, not our ability to complete to-do lists.

(JESSICA ASBELL)

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I Surrender All?

This past Sunday, I was reminded, how easy it is to mindlessly sing songs like “I Surrender All” in our time of worship and never give any thought to what it means to actually live that way.  How willing I am on Sunday morning to give everything to God.  How quickly I take it all  back on  Monday  morning.  If  the  song were  written mirroring  my  life during  the  week  it  would  read  more  like  this:

I surrender SOME, I surrender SOME
Half-heartedly to Thee, my blessed Savior
I surrender SOME.

How simple it seems to surrender when all is going well in my life but how hard it becomes when it’s falling apart.

I had a friend, Traci, who died of cancer about two years ago and I think of her often.  She was in her mid-thirties, had two wonderful little girls and a loving husband.  I watched as she struggled with her battle against cancer and witnessed her walk of faith grow stronger and stronger with each passing day. Just months before she stepped into the presence of her Savior, she penned these words: I am looking each day for God; around every corner, in the sunlight and in the shadows I see Him. I feel His arms around me very close.  If I were given the chance to choose this course my life has taken, do you know that I would actually CHOOSE this life? I never would have had the chance to see Him like this otherwise.

When Traci sang “I Surrender All”, she just didn’t sing it, she lived it!  She understood what it meant to follow God without reservation, with eyes wide open, ready to receive whatever God had for her.  Deep down at the core of who she was, she believed that God was GOOD no matter how things might seem.  She tasted of His goodness and knew Him in ways I only dreamed about.

A few years ago, I came across some verses tucked back in the book of Habakkuk that took my breath away when I read them.  I’m reminded of them as I think about Traci and the life she led. “Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and cattle barns are empty, yet will I REJOICE in the Lord!  I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!  The Sovereign LORD is my strength!  He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights.”  (Habakkuk 3:17-19)

This was Traci’s way of life. No matter what might be taken from her, no matter how difficult the journey, she chose to rejoice in the God of her salvation.  He was her strength and might; her strong tower. I watched as she journeyed, as a surefooted deer, from this life into the next with God at her side!

I thank God for allowing my path to cross Traci’s and for Sundays like this that remind me that it’s not what I say (or sing) but how I live!

(KRISTI HUSEBY)

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A Missions Heart

Lord, I write and pray this prayer to You,
May all who read it pray it too.

Give us all a missions heart,
To pray, to go, or to send—
To every nation, both foe and friend.

You came to earth to die for me,
And to set the captives free.
So may we go,
That the world may know!

And may each missions heart,
Continue to grow,
Continue to sow,
Continue to flow in Your presence.

Thank you for this missions heart,
And as Your Word goes forth,
May we not depart,
From every law and every command,
Even to go to every land.

It’s Your inheritance,
The nations are Yours to claim,
We go in Your Spirit,
In the power of Your name.

Thy Kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
Bless each missions heart,
For the glory of Your Son.

Give us all a missions heart,
To pray, to go, or to send—
To every nation, both foe and friend.

Lord, I write and pray this prayer to You,
May all who read it pray it too.

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Mobilizing The Lay People

Ministry is to be carried out by the entire church, by both the lay people and those who are ordained. In fact, in one sense we can say that the lay people are to be the primary agents of ministry. There are only a few who are specially gifted and ordained by God with the ability to equip other believers. These other believers, these lay people, are the ones who help to carry God’s Word to the world at large whether through missions, ministries of mercy, Christian education, or any of the other means that God may use to build His kingdom.

Our Lord has given us the grand task of making disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20). But we cannot do it alone. No one servant of the Lord can do all that is necessary to lead, equip, and send out His people. That is one reason God has given us the church. He ordained a community to work together to build His Kingdom.

In Numbers 11:14, overwhelmed by the burdens of ministry, Moses cries out to the Lord: “I can’t take care of all these people alone. It is too much for me.” God responds by telling Moses to appoint Spirit-anointed elders to help him deal with the people (Numbers 11: 16–30). This foreshadows our own day, the day in which the Spirit has been poured out on all of God’s people for the purpose of ministry and service to God.

One of the many burdens that church leaders face is the difficulty of recruiting volunteers in the church. Sometimes it can be like pulling teeth to get people to sign up to do the work of ministry. Take some time to look at your church, and see where the needs for ministry are. Then, go volunteer where you can use your gifts in ministry.                                                                    (LIGONIER MINISTRIES)

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Unshakable Peace

Susan lived “the good life”. One filled with prosperity and love. For years, she and her husband    owned   a thriving   business   that  allowed them and their children to be surrounded with beautiful material things. They had a glorious lake home, a lavish boat, and luxury cars. Everything the world counts as gain.

In spite of their earthly wealth, when faced with the truth of the Gospel, Susan and her husband realized that they were spiritually bankrupt and in desperate need of a Savior. Within months of each other, Susan and her husband both accepted Christ and began to thrive in newly found faith.

A few years into faith, Susan was squeezed by difficult circumstances. The family business took a turn for the worse and had to close its doors – leaving many friends and employees jobless. Then the IRS audited her husband. Scary legal ramifications threatened to crush them if large amounts of money were not paid to accommodate accounting debt. They lost everything. Financially ruined and emotionally stunned, Susan and her husband were forced to sell all that they owned.

Years later, they still waded through the deep waters of financial strain. Their debts were far from being forgiven and the economy had grown progressively dim. Through the turmoil, Susan learned to trust in God as her Provider. As she trusted Him, God faithfully filled her with supernatural peace, strength, and joy. She experienced God’s provision through His Word, through His presence, and through her friends. When her pantry had been empty, God knew. He sent friends to her home with bags of groceries and gift cards. When her soul had been discouraged, God knew. He sent reminders of His promises and love through Scripture and through the encouragement of godly women.

Despite the fact that her bank account was still bare and the days were still complicated, Susan considered herself to be wealthier post-loss than ever because she knows the soul-level unshakable peace that is found in Jesus.

No matter what you go through, you can experience unshakable peace, and declare, “I have set the LORD always before me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken!” as the psalmist did in Psalm 16:8. God knows what you have been through and what you are going through. He promises peace to each believer through Jesus.

Part of our unsettled nature is that we try to cling to the things of earth. When we put our trust in things of this world, we give anxiety, fear, jealously, discontentment, greed, and insecurity open access to our lives. Let go of what doesn’t matter. Even let go of those things that seem worth your worry.

Seek God first, friend … above and before any earthly thing, large or small. Have faith that He will meet you at your need. He wants us to trust Him. When we do, He promises that we can live with an unshakable peace that passes understanding.                                                                                    (GWEN SMITH)

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How To Be Biblically Shrewd With Your Money

The Bible tells the Parable of the Shrewd
(but Dishonest) Manager in Luke 16:1-13.

In the parable, Jesus doesn’t praise the manager’s dishonesty, but He does praise his shrewdness. What is shrewdness? To be shrewd means you’re smart, strategic, and resourceful. You see a problem clearly, you know what needs to be done, and then you figure out how to do it. God wants you to learn how to be biblically shrewd with your money for the rest of your life.

From the story, we can learn four things that we shouldn’t do with our money.

1.    Don’t waste your money. Luke 16:1 says, “A report came that the manager was wasting his employer’s money.” Since everything you have belongs to God and is a gift from Him — including your money — then you have to be careful not to waste what belongs to your master.

2.    Don’t love your money. You’ve got to decide if God is going to be number one in your life or if making a lot of money will be your number one goal in life. You cannot serve both. “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Luke 16:13).

3.    Don’t trust your money. I don’t care how much money you’ve got — you can always lose it. The manager learned this pretty quickly in Luke 16:3: “Now what? My boss has fired me.” If you want to be secure, the center of your life has to be built around something that can never be taken from you. And there’s only one thing that you can never lose: God’s love for you.

4.    Don’t expect your money to satisfy. If you think having more will make you happier, more secure, or more valuable, you are seriously misguided, because money will never satisfy: “Whoever loves money will never have enough. And whoever loves wealth will never be satisfied with his income” (Ecclesiastes 5:10). That’s why Jesus says in Luke 12:15, “Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.”

For Your Reflection
•    What would you do differently with your money if you considered with every purchase that you were spending someone else’s money?
•    If others looked at your life and how you used your money, what would they say is most important to you?
•    How can you be ambitious and satisfied with your income at the same time?                                                                                  (RICK WARREN)

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Flee Youthful Lusts… Pursue The Right Things

In 2 Timothy 2:22 Paul tells us to flee and pursue.  We are to flee youthful lust. Now think about that for a minute. Why would he specify youthful lusts, and not just lust in general? (And by the way, have you ever heard of elderly lusts? I’m sure they exist, but the contrast is fairly obvious – as people get older, generally speaking, they grow in wisdom and see their once youthful pursuits to be really not that important after all.) In response to the specificity of youth, it is good to remember that Timothy was still fairly young, and was probably facing the temptations that every younger person faces – the temptation to pursue things that could shipwreck his faith. Paul tells Timothy to FLEE those lusts.

In our youth, we often lack wisdom and pursue things that may seem important, things that seem as though we can’t live without. It is often not until we are older that we see those pursuits as fleeting and foolish. Experience often has a way of filtering out bad choices. But let’s be clear here: Paul is not asking Timothy to wait until he is older and more mature to figure it out. He is telling Timothy to run away NOW from those lusts. It means making the wilful choice to do what perhaps in our immaturity draws us so powerfully away from a healthy and growing relationship with God. We cannot wait until the enticement goes away on its own. It may never go away. Plus, age does not guarantee maturity. Maturity comes when immature people make wilful choices to do what is better or best despite the draw of immature enticements. Maturity is product of discipline.

By telling him to flee, Paul is telling Timothy to run to a place of safety. Imagine a hand grenade being thrown at your feet. What would you do? You could pick it up and throw it away, but chances are you would instinctively run away as fast as you could. Youthful lust is like a hand grenade. It initially looks harmless, but in time, its effects are tragic. We are to flee youthful lusts and run to a place of safety.

Paul says the best way to flee evil is to pursue good. It is not enough to stop bad practices; one must flee and pursue good practices. And take note that these are to be pursued – an active chasing after, taking initiative. We are called to pursue: Righteousness – that which is right in the eyes of God. This speaks of moral integrity; Faith – that which trusts in God enough to follow Him even when we can’t see the results; Love – that which expresses the love of God to others. It means pursuing others as God pursued us – a love in which God sacrificed His only Son; Peace – that which expresses God’s value of relationship with a spirit of reconciliation and peacekeeping.

Consider each of these areas in your life. How are you PURSUING righteousness? Faith? Love? Peace? If we spend our time pursuing these godly qualities, we will find little time to pursue youthful lusts and other things that are destructive and displeasing to God.                                                    (MIKE KURTZ)

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Who Is King?

Make us like everybody else. That was Israel’s essential request. They had been led out of slavery by God… redeemed by God… brought to a new land by God… established their nation by God… forgiven by God as they forsook Him over and over again… they belonged to God!

The very purpose for which He had saved them was so that they might be different from all the other nations of the world… set apart as His people… a holy nation. Exodus 19:6, “…you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

But they did not want to be a city set on a hill for all the world to see and behold the light of God through His people. No… they wanted to be in the valley where they could hide their light under a bushel and party with everyone else.

They rejected the kind of community their King had created them to be.

And they were warned.

Through the prophet Samuel, God warned His people that there is no such thing as life without a king, and any option aside from Himself will eventually fall short. But they didn’t care… and all too often neither do we.

Life without a king simply doesn’t exist.

Everyone has a ruler, even if they believe it to be themselves. As Christians, we have been recreated as a community of King Jesus! We’ve been set apart, made a city on a hill, that through our sacrificial love for one another the world might see a reflection of the sacrificial love of God most clearly displayed through the cross.

But how strong is the temptation to want to be like all the other people of the world. In our own post-modern culture, that temptation specifically takes shape in the desire to be our own king and captain of our soul.

People of God, hear the warning of God through the Word of God… we make bad kings! You have been freely given the greatest King who offers you the greatest joy… Himself! You… we… have been given Jesus! May we be a people, a community who cling to our King!

(SHADES VALLEY COMMUNITY CHURCH)

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