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mystery now revealed

In today’s Bible reading, Paul says that a mystery hidden through the ages has been revealed in Jesus Christ: The Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Ephesians 3:6 (CSB)

The Gentiles are included! And not just included, but they’re co-heirs to God’s promise! God’s plans for His people weren’t limited to the Jewish people!

If you look back through the history of mankind, however, this mystery was hinted at in several places. Look at Rahab, the prostitute who concealed the Hebrew spies; she and her family were saved when God destroyed the city of Jericho (Joshua 6:23, 25) In his genealogy of Jesus, Matthew records three other women, all of whom are Gentiles: Tamar, Ruth, and Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba. The mystery, however, was that God’s plan — from before the foundation of the world — was that God would include the Gentiles, not just a few incidental individuals.

God has given us the ability to imagine some pretty spectacular things. And Paul concludes the chapter praising God for His ability to more than anyone can ask or even imagine. Including the Gentiles in God’s plans were outside the realm of most people’s imagination. But God did it.

Application

You may have some big “asks”. Did you know that God can come through, not only according to your ask, but above and beyond what you could ask or imagine? We have a really big God. Seek Him today.

This devotional was originally published June 8, 2019.

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diamond

Today we begin reading through the letter Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus. Ephesians is one of my favorite books in the Bible. I know I said that when we began Romans earlier, but these two books are my favorites. There is so much wealth in the book. And Chapter One absolutely lights me up!

It’s difficult to read this chapter without a sense of excitement as Paul adds thought after thought after thought without taking a breath to finish a sentence as he reflects on the multifaceted blessings we have in Christ.

It reminds me of looking at a diamond with a magnifying glass under a bright light. If you move the light just a tad, you see facets you didn’t see before. And with every note about one facet Paul describes, another one appears in all its brilliance.

Application

When was the last time you stopped to just bask in God’s presence? No distractions. No background music. Just spending time worshiping God and letting His Word wash over you. That’s the kind of feeling I got when I read this a few minutes ago.

Take a few minutes to re-read Ephesians 1. Read it slowly. Read it again in a different translation; if you normally read a more “literal” translation, try it with a less “literal” translation (or vice versa). What differences do you see? As you read and re-read the chapter, what is one thing that you haven’t seen before? What’s another thing you can praise God for?

This devotional was originally published June 6, 2019.

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Paul continues to develop his argument for salvation by grace through faith in today’s Bible reading from Romans 4. If you aren’t familiar with the Jewish Patriarch Abraham, let me briefly bring you up to speed.

Abram and Sarai were an aged couple who had never had children. God established a relationship with Abram and told him to leave his homeland and go to a land where God would show him. Abram packed up his wife, his servants, and his belongings and set out from modern-day Southeastern Iraq to the Northwest, then West, then South and settled in modern-day Israel.

God told Abram that he would be the father of many nations. Despite being very old and Sarai being postmenopausal, Abram took God at His word. Because she knew she would be unable to get pregnant, Sarai offered her servant Hagar to Abram. Nine months later baby Ishmael was born. Abram was 86 years old.

Thirteen years later, God repeats His promise to Abram (who is now 99 years old). He changes Abram’s name to Abraham and He changes Sarai’s name to Sarah. God tells Abraham to circumcise every male in his family as well as his male servants. Abraham obeys. A year later, as promised, Isaac is born. Abraham is 100 years old and Sarah is 90. There’s a lot more that goes on and you can read Abraham and Sarah’s story in Genesis Chapters 12-22.

Note: Islam traces its lineage back to Abraham through Ishmael. However, the Bible presents Isaac as God’s promised child because He was born to Abraham and Sarah.

The key to Abraham’s story is found in Genesis 15:6: Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness. Paul refers to this passage in several of his letters.

In describing what God had done with Abram in Genesis 15:6, Moses (who wrote Genesis) used an accounting visual where Abram’s faith, apart from obedience to the Law (which God gave to Moses four hundred years later), was put in the “Assets” column of God’s Righteousness Ledger.

It’s important that Abraham didn’t just say, “Ok, I believe.” Paul says that Abraham was fully convinced that God was able to do what He promised: make Abraham and Sarah into a mighty nation of people. (Romans 4:20-21)

Application

It’s crucial that we come to God in faith, fully convinced that God has done what He promised in sending Jesus to be the ultimate fulfillment of His promise to bless the world through Abraham’s offspring.

Have you put your faith in God’s promise? Are you fully convinced that Jesus’ death is sufficient to pay for your sin-debt?

You don’t have to have a lot of faith; you just need to have faith. Faith is your response to God’s activity. Believer, when you were given new life in the Spirit, you were able to trust God to make good on His promises. And because you responded to God’s activity, God credited the unlimited righteousness of Jesus to your account on His Righteousness Ledger.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9, ESV)

Note the six things that Paul is driving home in just two verses:

  • Grace is undeserved favor.
  • You have been saved through faith. (passive on your part — something that happened to you — and done in the past)
  • This salvation is not of anything you have done, or will do — or can do.
  • Salvation is God’s free gift.
  • It’s not of works. No one can do anything to gain salvation or contribute to salvation, otherwise, salvation wouldn’t be grace, but wages.
  • Because salvation is a free gift of God despite what you have done (or will do) you have nothing to be proud of, to boast of, to brag of. You were no more deserving of salvation than anyone else who ever lived.

Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
2 Corinthians 9:15 (CSB)

This devotional was originally published on May 18-19, 2019.

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one man buried his talent in the ground
Image source; Lumo Project

Today’s Bible reading includes a familiar parable of the talents. In the parable, a man prepared to go on a journey and entrusted his possessions to three servants. To one, he gave five talents, to another, he gave two. To another, he gave one talent. He gave to the servants according on each man’s ability. (Matthew 25:15)

Matthew doesn’t record any instructions given to the servants. However, in Luke’s version of the story, the master told the servants to engage in business. (Luke 19:13) In Mark’s version, the master told the servants to be alert. (Mark 13:34)

Each of the servants who had been given more than one talent immediately used the talents to get more. But the servant who was given one talent, went out and buried his talent in the ground. Some time passed before the master returned. When he returned, each servant brought the proceeds of his investments. The one who was given five presented ten back to the master. The one who was given two presented four back to the master. Each of these servants were praised for their diligence. But then the one who was given one talent presented his dirty talent. After scolding this servant, the master ordered that the one dirty talent be given to the servant who had earned five.

Application

One might say the master was cruel to take from the man who only had one talent and to give that to the one who had ten talents. But we must realize several times in the parable, we’re told that this was the master’s property. It was never the property of the servants. The master was wise to not give five talents to the one he only gave one to. He would have ended up with fewer talents when he returned from his journey. The master could do anything he wanted with his property, before and after his trip.

This entire chapter is a warning to always be alert. The servants who made more talents did so immediately on the master’s departure. They didn’t wait until just before his return. The didn’t know when he would return, but they wanted to be ready whenever he did. And they knew he would.

Are you ready for your Master’s return? Are you being a good steward of what has been entrusted to you? Whatever has been entrusted to you should be used for His glory, for His honor. And when He returns, you will be required to give an account for what was entrusted to your care. You may not have been given much. Or you may have been given a great deal. Regardless, you will still give an account for how you used what you were given.

Be alert. Be ready. And be busy about your Master’s business.

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Day workers in a vineyard
Image source: Lumo Project

In today’s Bible reading, we read the parable of the Kingdom of God through the vineyard manager. In it, some day laborers are hired in the morning. They agree to work for a day’s wage. Several other times during the day, new workers are hired and agree to work for a day’s wage.

At the end of a hard day’s work, the owner told the foreman to arrange the workers according to when they were hired. Beginning with those who worked the most hours, the vineyard owner paid each worker the daily wage. All were paid the same. Those who worked all day grumbled when they saw that the short-day workers were paid the same as they were.

The owner rightly pointed out that no one was being cheated. Every single worker was being paid what he had agreed to. The key verse here is Matthew 20:15, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” (ESV)

Application

We are so man-centered in our thinking. And that man-centered orientation twists our understanding of EVERYTHING.

I have heard many people accuse God of not being fair. It isn’t fair that God allows some people to live with lots of blessings and excess while other people aren’t even paid a living wage. I haven’t heard as many people decry the ultimate unfairness that some people spending eternal rest in heaven while others spend eternal punishment in hell. That isn’t fair!

No, that isn’t fair…. from our man-centered orientation.

But if God is the owner of the vineyard, if God is the owner of everything, He can do anything He wishes. And being the only perfect being in the universe (or even outside of it!), He gets to call the shots. He gets to determine what is fair and what isn’t. Fallen human beings don’t get to judge the perfect God. Fallen human beings don’t get to make up the rules of how things work and what’s fair and what isn’t.

So, given the fact that God owns it all, given the fact that God is perfect and completely righteous, and given the fact that we are none of those things, the very idea that God would save anyone is simply shocking. That God would stoop to save a single person demonstrates His all-surpassing love, grace, and mercy.

It isn’t fair that God would send His perfect Son to die that even one fallen person would be saved. Not because the person was worth it, but because the offense was so heinous against such a Holy God.

No, it isn’t fair that any be sent to hell. But the more pressing point is that it isn’t fair that God would save anyone. Fair means that every fallen creature that has ever lived spends eternity separated from the Holy Creator.

Trust me: You don’t want God to be FAIR!

You want God to be GRACIOUS!
You want God to be MERCIFUL!

And because God is gracious,
because God is merciful,
He is worthy of all of our praise.

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