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Sacrifice

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Sowing seed

Paul continues to address the Corinthians regarding the financial support of God’s work in today’s Bible reading. He summarizes his appeal, “The point is this: The person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously.” 2 Corinthians 9:6 (CSB)

Note that Paul doesn’t use manipulation. He doesn’t twist Scripture to promise health and wealth if the Corinthians would just plant a seed of faith. No, Paul just puts it out there, saying that God will reward generosity with generosity.

Although Corinth was a thriving metropolis when Paul wrote this letter, the citizens must have had a concept of sowing and reaping. If you want a harvest, you have to sow seeds. If you want a bountiful harvest, you have to sow a lot of seeds. Paul tapped into the people’s understanding of agriculture and presented this principle of sowing and reaping.

Application

It’s easy to look at your paycheck and panic when you see how much of the “gross” is taken before you ever see the “net”. Between taxes, Social Security, insurance premiums, it can seem like there’s not enough left over. As the month goes on, sometimes it can seem like the month goes longer than the paycheck.

So where does God fit in the discussion of money? Well, if you’re a growing Christ-follower, God should fit right in the middle of your budgeting. Don’t just give God leftovers. Give Him your best! Give regularly. Give generously. Give sacrificially. And give wisely.

Give, and it will be given to you;
a good measure—pressed down, shaken together,
and running over—will be poured into your lap.
For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.
Luke 6:38 (CSB)

This devotional was originally published on September 3, 2019.

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What will you do with Jesus?
Photo credit: LumoProject

Dr. Luke continues his narrative about Jesus’ trial in today’s Bible reading. Pontius Pilate is convinced that Jesus is not guilty of anything worthy of the death penalty. He learns that Jesus is from Herod’s district so he sends Jesus to Herod. Herod can’t find anything worthy of death either, so he sends Jesus back to Pilate.

Pilate is in a quandary. What to do with Jesus?

He offers to have Jesus flogged and the religious leaders aren’t interested. Actually, the only thing they’re interested in is Jesus’ execution at the hands of the Romans. If the Romans kill Jesus, then they can always claim that their hands are clean. To them, it doesn’t matter that Jesus is not guilty of breaking the Roman Law. It doesn’t matter that Jesus is not guilty of breaking the Jewish Law. It doesn’t matter that they have to lie — breaking the Jewish Law — to get rid of Him.

Jesus’ only offense is upsetting these religious leaders’ apple cart. He humbly came on the scene without any fanfare, miraculously healing people from lifelong illnesses, delivering people from spiritual oppression, and feeding crowds of hungry people. And He spoke with authority, not as the religious leaders did. (Luke 4:32, Mark 1:22)

How could it be that so many religious leaders could hate someone so bitterly that they are willing to lie and send an innocent man to His death?

The people loved Jesus and He loved them. And that ticked off the religious leaders. The people were supposed to look up to them. The people were supposed to be impressed with them. The people were to love them.

Anger, rage, and jealousy have driven people to do things they wouldn’t have done on their own. When you add more and more people with more and more anger, rage, and jealousy, you end up with a mob rule of anarchy. The religious leaders wouldn’t listen to reason. They had already moved past that.

So Pilate decided what to do with Jesus. He have Jesus executed. And the religious leaders were happy.

One of the criminals crucified with Jesus decided what to do with Jesus. He joined the mocking crowd, “If you’re the Messiah, save yourself!”

The other criminal crucified with Jesus decided what he would do with Jesus. He defended Him and then asked, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”

Application

So what will you do with Jesus? That is the question!

When you cross over to the other side of eternity and face your Judgment Day, the only question that will matter is, “What did you do with Jesus?”

It won’t matter how many times you read your Bible. It won’t matter how many people you told about Jesus. It won’t matter how fluently you pray publicly. It won’t matter if you were baptized. It won’t matter if you went through a confirmation class at church. These things won’t matter.

It won’t matter which religion you claim. It won’t matter how many people you proselytized to your religion. It won’t matter how much money you gave to charitable causes. It won’t matter how many glasses of cool water you offered to thirsty people.

All that will matter is what you did with Jesus.

So?

This devotional was originally published July 27, 2019.

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Jesus has some hard words for would-be disciples in today’s Bible reading. Many would say that Jesus wouldn’t turn away anyone, but He actually does! In Luke 9:23, He says, “Then he said to them all, ‘If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.'” He implies that if someone wants to follow Him, but doesn’t deny himself, or if someone wants to follow Him and doesn’t take up his cross daily, he cannot follow Jesus. In fact, later in the chapter, Jesus says, “But Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:62 (CSB)

A few years ago, John MacArthur wrote a controversial book, The Gospel According to Jesus. He looks at verses like these and rightly asserts that there is no such thing as salvation that doesn’t include Lordship. I remember one of my seminary professors, Dr. Roy Fish, said that you can come to Jesus as Savior and later come to understand Him as Lord, but you cannot come to Jesus as Savior and reject Him as Lord. I think that’s what Jesus is getting at here. Elsewhere, He says that a would-be disciple must count the cost. (Luke 14:28)

Instead, in an effort to count nickels and noses, preachers have softened their evangelistic invitations and offered a cheap grace that doesn’t require a commitment.

But that isn’t the Gospel Jesus preached!

Application

Grace is free, but it isn’t cheap! If you came to Jesus as a response to a preacher’s invitation, yet have never “made Him Lord”, you need to go back and revisit your salvation experience! He is Lord of all, or He is not Lord at all.

I know, it’s easy to “backslide”. But right now, do you have an interest in the things of God? Do you desire to know God more than anything else? Yes, all believers can and should grow in our desire for God and the things of God (not the stuff from God, but the things of God). But do you have a hunger for God? Do you desire to know Him more? Or are you content to do religious things and hope to go to heaven when you die? Let me tell you, that won’t work! Biblically speaking, you don’t have a leg to stand on if you choose to bet your eternal destiny on merely doing religious things. You cannot separate salvation from a desire to know God. (John 17:3)

Spend a little time today asking God to give you a deeper hunger for Him and the things of God. (Colossians 3:1-2) Ask Him to give you a hunger and thirst for His righteousness. (Matthew 5:6) Ask Him to help you seek His Kingdom and His righteousness first. (Matthew 6:33)

This devotional was originally published July 9, 2019.

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A living sacrifice

Today’s Bible reading presents a difficult visual. Paul appeals to believers to present their bodies as living sacrifices. (Romans 12:1-2)

Look carefully at what Paul says. He appeals to believers to present their bodies as living sacrifices in the light of God’s mercies. He doesn’t give the appeal in a vacuum. It’s in the context of the last few verses of Chapter 11.

In just three verses (Romans 11:30-32), Paul uses the word mercy four times before launching into a hymn of praise. Unfortunately, it’s very easy to miss the connection between 11:30-32 and 12:1, given the chapter division in our Bibles. Given that our daily readings were broken between chapters eleven and twelve, the problem is compounded. But in Paul’s mind — and in God’s mind — the intended connection is there.

It’s in light of God’s mercies, Paul invites his readers to die. The invitation to follow Jesus is an invitation to die. Jesus said that if anyone wants to follow Him, he should deny himself and pick up his cross daily. (Luke 9:23) A cross was an instrument of death. Picking up one’s own cross is a willingness to die. And picking up one’s own cross is a daily choice. Paul’s choice of grammar in Romans 12:1 means that one doesn’t just make a one-time sacrifice. It’s a continual sacrifice.

It’s in light of these mercies that he appeals to believers to present their bodies as living sacrifices. Could Paul have been thinking of 1 Corinthians 6:19–20 when he made this statement? I think so.

Don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. So glorify God with your body. (CSB)

Paul says that because God’s Spirit lives in us and we have been bought with the blood of Jesus, we can — and should — glorify God with our bodies. Actually, the context suggests that glorifying God doesn’t stop with our physical bodies; it extends to all that we are and all that we have, not unlike the Great Command to love God with all that we are. (Matthew 22:37)

Presenting all that we are is a daily choice. Every day we make the choice of staying on the altar … or crawling off.

The problem with living sacrifices is that they keep crawling off the altar!

Application

Every single day, each of us has a choice to make. Am I going to continue following Jesus? Am I going to die to my choices? Am I going to pray that His will be done, realizing that that includes that my will not be done?

Every. Single. Day.

Will you stay on the altar? Or will you crawl off?

I like the way that Eugene Peterson translated Romans 12:1-2:

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

Romans 12:1–2 (The Message)

This devotional was originally published on May 30, 2019.

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Adam and Eve are tempted

Paul continues developing his thoughts on justification by grace through faith in today’s Bible reading. He says, “So then, as through one trespass there is condemnation for everyone, so also through one righteous act there is justification leading to life for everyone.” Romans 5:18 (CSB)

Each of us is responsible for our own sin, yet each of us inherited a fallen condition from our first parents (specifically the First Man, Adam) because of one act of disobedience: eating the fruit from the one tree that God had warned against eating.

But that wasn’t the end of the story! Another Man, also called “the Second Adam”, brought righteousness through His one act: sacrificial atoning death on the cross. And in His death and resurrection, He reconciled the broken relationship between God and His people, whom He relentlessly pursues through covenant throughout the rest of the Bible.

As much as sin, death, and judgment followed the one act of Adam’s disobedience, how much more did the one act of Jesus’ obedience bring life, righteousness, and forgiveness. In fact, Paul uses this phrase how much more four times in this one chapter. And counting his final parting shot, “where sin multiplied, grace multiplied even more.” Romans 5:20 (CSB), Paul drives home his point a fifth time!

Application

There is no sin you have ever committed — or ever will — that will ever be so massive, so horrendous, that God’s grace cannot overcome. If you’ve ever felt that you’ve blown it and that you’ve done something God can never forgive, rest assured, you aren’t that powerful! You aren’t that bad. You haven’t surprised God. God’s plan to redeem Adam’s descendants didn’t arrive as Plan B. God planned redemption from before He spoke, “Let there be light.”

Wherever there is sin, there is even more grace. God’s grace is free for the taking from an unconditionally loving, reconciling God.

I love how Eugene Peterson translated Romans 5:20-21 in The Message Translation:

Sin didn’t, and doesn’t, have a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace. When it’s sin versus grace, grace wins hands down. All sin can do is threaten us with death, and that’s the end of it. Grace, because God is putting everything together again through the Messiah, invites us into life—a life that goes on and on and on, world without end.

That’s good news! That’s the Gospel!

This devotional was originally published on May 21, 2019.

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