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Chronological Bible: September 20, Living forgiven…

Read:

  • Nehemiah 1:1-11

“‘but if you return to Me and keep My commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make My name dwell there.’” –Nehemiah 1:9, ESV

I have a problem accepting forgiveness. I see my sins, I repent of them, and though Jesus says I am forgiven, I tend to keep re-analyzing the situation, remembering the wrong instead of embracing the forgiveness and moving forward in freedom. My skill at analyzing turns inward and I can focus on that which the Savior says is no longer an issue. This is a chosen prison, never accepting that the love of Jesus is greater than anything I could do to change that love.

I see this same sin in others. As one who has people who report to me at work, I see some not taking their mistakes seriously, and in ways those are easier to handle. There is a process,a procedure, and series of actions that come with addressing that kind of behavior. But my heart breaks and I tear my hair out over the one who will not accept that being 2 minutes late on one day in the span of 1 year is not the end of the world and will not result in a letter of reprimand. “It was two minutes! One time! You’ve apologized! Let’s move on,” is what I am thinking. And yet, I find that the things in life that annoy me most are the very things I do as well.

At work, there isn’t a pre-determined process for getting someone to move on from a mistake. There is no step-by-step procedure to follow that will result in resolution of that problem, for it is an internal problem. And the same is true for whether I accept forgiveness from Jesus. It is an internal issue. He has promised it, He has given it; it is a matter of whether I will take Him at His word. Nehemiah did.

“‘but if you return to Me and keep My commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make My name dwell there.’” –Nehemiah 1:9, ESV

Chronological Bible: September 6, God’s restoration…

Read:

  • Job 42:1-17
  • Ezra 1:1-2:70

The last chapter of Job’s story holds the commonly-taught account of how God restored fortune to Job even greater than he had before. The thing that stood out to me was this:

“And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.” –Job 42:10, ESV

The Lord chastised Job’s friends for their ill-spoken words and sent them to Job with a sacrifice. They also had to ask Job to pray for them, that God would have mercy on them. Job had to forgive his friends. He had to genuinely pray for their deliverance. That was the nature of the prayer the Lord accepted.

It wasn’t enough for the Lord to restore Job’s fortune; it occurred after He restored his friendships. God’s desire for restoration of relationship trumped His desire to give Job back more than he lost.

Have you restored relationships? Have you forgiven those who may have done wrong to you? Or are you holding back? Could it be the vaults of heaven are waiting for you to remove your grudges?

Chronological Bible: August 19, Stepping out of the line of fire…

Read:

  • 2 Kings 25:27-39
  • Jeremiah 52:31-34
  • Isaiah 13:1-14:23
  • Isaiah 21:1-17
  • Isaiah 33:1-35:10

“I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant, and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless.” –Isaiah 13:11, ESV

 

Jesus hates evil in the world. The almighty God created this world, and created man in His image. He calls us His children and made the way for us to come to Him. In our free will and sin nature, we make a mess of things. In His holiness, He sends the ultimate sacrifice that we may come to Him.

He did all of this out of love. But woe to the one who ignores the bridge and continues his evil ways against those who crossed the bridge to God. Covered in His protection, His children will be avenged. Not in human terms, which are so limited, but by His terms. For only He knows the inner heart, the true motivation and possibility in the soul of the one who performs these evil acts.

He does all of this out of love. Not only love for those who choose to follow Him, but for they that have not yet chosen. Imagine being the evil-doer. Imagine acting in ways against a believer that you would eventually regret. You don’t regret it yet, but one day you will. But you don’t get the chance to change your mind, your heart, and your actions. You don’t get that chance because rather than allowing God to do His work, a believer continues to rail against you. You can’t get a breath without someone calling you out in the street and layering insult upon insult. It isn’t a crime you have committed, but a human being is taking their vengeance on you. And in the meantime, your questioning heart wonders why on earth you would want to become one of them.

But Jesus knows the heart. In this example, He knows your heart would change, but it gets harder and harder when the believer won’t stay out of the way.

The person who has hurt you may never turn from their ways, but you cannot know that. Give the hurt and pain to Jesus. Allow Him to do His thing. It got you to the throne; trust Him.

plain & simple: Week 8, What now? Morality…

Morality seems to be a hot-button topic in any group.  Extreme views are given, arguments are had, and fingers are pointed.  Some believe that hiding from the world keeps us away from temptation.  Others believe that God is not terribly interested in our day-to-day lives, thinking that as long as the human mind can justify the action, then God must think it is okay as well.

What is moral behavior?  What is the point of it?  And who is right in all of it?  I submit to you that the answer to each of these questions is this: God.  Any time you try to justify yourself apart from God, you are in serious trouble—that applies to both the legalistic standpoint as well as the relativistic approach.

God is clear on what He expects of our behavior.

What is it?

We are saved.  We are forgiven.  So should we really be worried about our lapses?

Read Romans 6:15-23.  What stands out to you?

What does this passage say about sinning just because we are under the grace of God?

This passage of scripture tells us a truth we often find uncomfortable.  Whether it be because of our country’s history with slavery or not, we are uncomfortable with the notion that we are slaves to anything.  We like to think that we are the ones in control.  However, this passage is clear—we are either slaves to sin or slaves to righteousness.

According to this passage, what is the result of righteous living?

Read Ephesians 5:8-14.  What stands out to you?

According to this passage, what is the fruit of the Spirit?

What does it say about the relationship we are to have with unrighteous deeds?

Examining your own life, what deeds need to be exposed to the goodness and righteousness of the Spirit?  In exposing these deeds, we can then be honest about the struggle and gain help from God in our weakness.

Spend some time now exploring the depths of your heart.
Read Philippians 2:5-16.  What stands out to you?

In verses 5-8, what attitude did Jesus have in his life on earth?

According to verse 12-13, who does the work in you?

If He is the one doing the work, then exposing our darkness to Him is a humble act, admitting our weakness and letting the strength of God be made known in our lives.  The longer we arrogantly believe that we can handle it all on our own, the more lonely our existence will be.  If you want the power of God in your life, you must first come to the place of admitting that you need Him.

What stands in the way of you admitting this now?

What would you like in place of this in your life?

In verses 12-16, scripture has very specific commands for how we should live.  Write those commands.

“Do everything without complaining or grumbling” (vs. 12).  Reflecting on your own life, how often is this true?  James 1 tells of how the tongue is like a fire, setting a forest aflame with a single spark.  Our words are powerful.  Not only do they help to shape our attitude each day, words leave a distinct impression on those around us.

What impression do your words leave on those around you?  Do they tell of the greatness of God?  Or do they describe more the grumbling state of your heart?

Commit today to reframe your life reference—no more grumbling.  No more complaining.  Not only will you experience a more joyful life, you will actually leave a better impression on those around you.

Why is it important?

We know that scripture tells us to be righteous.  We can see it’s fruit in our lives, but still, there is that piece of us that questions if morality really matters.  Here is the issue that may make some eyebrows furrow: your faith is not all about you.

Yes, we discuss at length the benefits of faith.  Studies like this are written so you can examine your faith, your life, and continually push yourself to be more like Christ.  Yes, God imbeds benefits in faith.

But here is the kicker.  The spotlight of your faith is not on you.  In a time filled with “myspace” and “facebook” profiles—where it literally is all about us—we have a hard time grasping how we are just one little piece in a much bigger picture.

So you may not be terribly concerned with your partying ways—yes, you love Jesus, but what’s a good “buzz” every now and again?  People are watching you and judging whether faith makes a difference based on your actions.

You may not be concerned with your vicious tantrums—after all, if that person hadn’t annoyed you or done something you didn’t like, you wouldn’t have screamed at them.  Really?  How attractive is that to someone questioning God?  Why would they want to join a congregation when someone is screaming about Jesus at the top of their lungs?

Or maybe it is an attitude of doing the bare minimum—just sliding by has always worked before, why should you change now.  Really?  People are watching you.  They see you walk into work 5 minutes late every day, they see you take long lunches and leave a few minutes early.  They see you do just enough to get a project done, but not more than that to make it really good work.  And they are used to cleaning up your messes.  Yet taped to your computer screen are verses about Jesus—really?  They spend their time cleaning up your messes, covering all those minutes you are away, and you wonder why they also turn you down when you ask them to attend a function at your church.

They see you flirt with the waitress.  They see you hoard things for yourself.  They see your lack of generosity.  They see your grumpiness, and they see every time you roll your eyes.  They hear your gossip, your complaining, and your rude comments.

And yet, we wonder why people are not coming to the faith.

The spotlight of faith is upon you.  You claim that Jesus is the answer and yet you do so little to represent what He is all about.  Our churches are rife with in-fighting and an unwillingness to hold ourselves accountable for the wrong we do—yet we will turn our finger and point to the world, proclaiming loudly how evil they are.  Really?  Because you aren’t behaving much better than they are.

I know a man who owns a business.  And every single weekday, he goes out to lunch.  He started doing it when his business was small and money was tight.  His business is located in a very poor part of town.  His theory is that if he expects the people in that area to spend money at his place, why wouldn’t he be putting money into theirs?  Once a week, he takes his entire staff out to lunch.  None of them live in that area, yet as the man brings his business to the people he wants to serve, he gets to know them.  And his business is miraculously blessed.  Yet if you ask him what he believes, he will say, “I believe nothing.”  There are reasons for that unbelief—but what strikes me most is that this man, scorned by the church for believing “nothing”, is behaving in a far more Jesus-approved way than many Christians.

Ask a waiter or waitress what shift they hate most, and they will say Sunday afternoons—because that’s when the church people go out to lunch.  And church people tend to be high maintenance and low tippers.  Now, you can blame the waitstaff’s “greed” and you can justify your low-tipping ways, but the truth is this: if you go out to lunch, part of the expectation is that you tip, just like part of the expectation is that you will behave yourself and not throw food across the restaurant.  Yet, the one that actually costs us something is the one we refuse to do.  The one that actually makes a statement that we care about the people around us, that we see how hard a wait-staff job can be—that is the action we become stingy with.  If you cannot afford to tip, then you cannot afford to eat out.

The world is looking at Christians every day and wondering why we think we have the answers when it is clear by our behavior that we are no different than anyone else around us.  And in many ways, we are worse.

And as the excuses are raging in your head, the point is proven.  We demand so much grace and understanding for our own behaviors, and we rain so much judgement down on the behavior of others.

Just like every other area in our lives, we demand the best piece for ourselves and we leave the scraps for everyone else.

The importance of morality is that it sets us apart.

Read Genesis 17:1-14.  What does God promise to Abraham in this covenant?

What does God ask of Abraham as a sign of the covenant?

Read Joshua 5:1-9.  How well did God’s people do at holding up their end of the covenant while in the desert?

What happened as a result of Joshua following God’s command to circumcise the men?

In scripture, the event that immediate follows this second generation of circumcision is the angel appearing to Joshua and speaking to him about the “battle” of Jericho.  I put “battle” in quotes because if you know the story, you know that the people only walked around the city.  God did all the fighting.  It was not a battle by the people—it was God showing His majesty.

Interesting, how God shows His majesty AFTER the people show humility and obedience.  How often do you demand that God show Himself and then you might be humble to Him?

Back to circumcision—Circumcision was a sign, not only a physical reminder that the peole were set apart for God, but also an outward sign to the nations surrounding Israel that they were different.  Imagine the faces as word spread that those Hebrews did WHAT?!?!  All because their God asked them to?!? Really!?!  And then those same nations see the deliverance of the Lord time and time again.

They can see the lengths to which the Hebrews would go to show commitment to their God.  And they would see the mighty power of that God.  Maybe the significant, and in that time disfiguring, pain of circumcision is really quite small compared to all that God has done for His people.

Maybe the significant and disfiguring-to-your-pride sacrifice God is asking of you really is quite small compared to what He wants to bring about in the lives of those around you.  Maybe He is asking you to lay down your pride and apologize to that person you have decided to hate.  Maybe He is asking you to speak kindly to that person who seems to always speak harshly to you.  Maybe He is asking you just stop complaining already.

Maybe He is asking you to do what you say and actually believe that He is, and that He will deliver, provide, and protect.  Maybe He is waiting for you to stop arguing and start believing.

Read Deuteronomy 30:1-6.  What stands out to you?

What does God ask in this passage?

What does God promise?

What is standing in your way to humble yourself and follow Him?

plain & simple: Week 6, Thank God for Christ: Transformation…

It is what often draws us to Jesus—the hope of a different life.  The burden of our sin is heavy.  We know that, no matter how hard we try, we will still be wicked.  We know that the burden will always be heavy, and getting heavier by the day.  The promise of a different life, the promise of a release of that burden—it is compelling.  The transformation we see in others’ lives, the peace we see in their actions—we long for that peace.

The transformation from Christ is just that compelling.

Reconciled to the Holy One

Transformation does not happen when we are still stuck in the mire of our sin-filled lives.  Transformation comes after a very important action—reconciliation.  Only through Jesus, because of His holy sacrifice and resurrection, can we be reconciled to God.  God knew this—He proivded the way for us to return to Him.

Read Ephesians 2:13-18.  What stands out to you?

We were once far off—but Jesus brought us near.  Do you live this reality every day?  Or do you allow your sin to bog you down and keep you from living in the freedom offered through Christ?  He came to bring you peace—live in it daily.

Read Romans 5:6-11.  What stands out to you?

When did the reconciliation come?

What did we do to gain the reconciliation?

Seeing that we did nothing to gain the reconciliation, the next logical question is whether we can do something to lose it.  This is a hard concept for many—we had no control over how the reconciliation came about so it can be uncomfortable knowing that we have no control on whether we lose it.  This uncomfortable reality is addressed in scripture.

Read Romans 10:8-13.  What are the promises given regarding our salvation?

“Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” (vs. 10)

 Ephesians 1:13-14.  What stands out to you?

How is the Holy Spirit described in this passage?

Read 2 Corinthians 1:20-22.  What stands out to you?

If the promises of God are “yes” and the Holy Spirit is both the sealer and the guarantee of our salvation, can we do anything to lose our salvation?

What stands in the way of you believing this whole-heartedly?

Confess your unbelief to God.  He will forgive.  And He will restore you.

Read 2 Corinthians 5:20-21.  What stands out to you?

According to this passage, what are we commanded/implored to “be”?

“Being” reconciled is a state of being.  Just like “being mad” represents a current state, being reconciled is a current state of being.  It is a constant—or is it?

Do you currently live your life in a state of being reconciled to God?  What stands in the way of you doing that?

“Being” involves three steps.  1) Accept it; 2) Embrace it; 3) Live it.

Accepting your reconciliation means living in a forgiven state—not just that God has forgiven you, but also that you have forgiven yourself.  All those sins, past, present, and future, the ones you berate yourself over—they are forgiven.

God has given you a life of forgiveness—what stands in the way of you letting go of the guilt and accepting His forgiveness?

Whatever it is, you need to let it go.  You came to faith believing that God was bigger and wiser and more loving that you.  Do not continue to live in the captivity of your guilt simply because you do not understand how He could forgive you.  It is His decision.  He paid the price, and He longs for you to live like it is done.  Like taking three jobs to pay for a college education that scholarships already cover, you are building a self-imposed debt for a cost already paid.  Accept His forgiveness.  Accept His will.

Once you have accepted that He has forgiven you, the next stage is embracing it.  Be like the child with a new toy that they take everywhere with them, showing it to everyone with whom they come in contact, and talking about it incessantly.  God has forgiven you; embrace it—and bring it with you wherever you go.

The final stage is where the rubber meets the road.  You have done the internal work of accepting His forgiveness and embracing it to bring it with you wherever you go.  Stage three is living it.  Living it means sharing it with others—not only in word, but also in deed.  We talk at length that we should not judge others—yet so rarely do we talk about how we need to forgive others.

Read the following verses and write out what you learn about forgiveness.

  • Psalm 32:1-2
  • Matthew 18:21-35

A changed perspective

Once reconciled to God, the physical world around us does not change.  We can spend years in the faith and still struggle with what goes on around us—whether they be circumstances or societal happenings.

Take Asaph.  A leader in Israel, known by the king.  Asaph stood before the people of God as a messenger.

Read Psalm 73:1-3.  How did Asaph describe his own situation?

What was the root of his stumbling?

Read Psalm 73:4-16.  What things did Asaph struggle with specifically?

In what ways do you struggle seeing the same things happening around you?

How have you responded?

Read Psalm 73:1-3 again.  Asaph attributed his struggle with his own envy of the boastful.  Being reconciled to Christ does not mean we are immune to struggle.  In many ways, we are actually more sensitive to it.  Knowing right from wrong and feeling the spiritual difference, we sometimes, like Asaph, feel greater pain.

So what is one to do?  In Psalm 73:17, where did Asaph find resolution?

Read Psalm 73:18-20, 27.  How does God look upon the evil actions of others?

Continue reading Psalm 73:21-26.  What was God’s response to Asaph’s “foolishness”?

Did you notice the difference between how God views the foolishness of His followers (Asaph) as opposed to the foolishness of those who are not His people?  His grace is amazing, His forgiveness complete.  Being one of His means forgiveness, and a great perspective.  Despite our foolishness, God continues to hold us, continues to be our strength.

Write out Psalm 73:28.

Make it your meditation for today.

Leaving the old ways behind

You have been reconciled.  You have been forgiven.  And God offers you a changed perspective.   He offers you a changed life.

Read Romans 6:5-11.  What stands out to you?

What about your old life has died?

What parts of that old life do you tend to drag with you?

Re-read Romans 6:5-11.  According to this passage what role does that old life have in your new life?

Read Colossians 3:8-11.  What are you to do with the old self?

What aspects of life are you to set aside?

As we have learned before, we cannot rid our lives of one thing without filling that hole in with something else.

Continue reading Colossians 3:12-17.  What are we to put on in our new life?

What else stands out to you from this passage?

Read 2 Corinthians 9:16-19.  What stands out to you?

God sees you are renewed.  You have embraced and committed to live renewed, and the church is to see you renewed as well.  The flip side of this is that you are to see others in the body of believers as renewed.

What stands in the way of you letting go of the old man in others as they live a life forgiven?

Imagine a church where we see each other as renewed.  Imagine a faith where others can see by our actions that their old life can be set aside.  Imagine a body of believers who love one another, see the best in one another, and come together to show the world the transformation possible through Christ.

What commitments do you need to make to be part of making that possible?